Saturday, November 24, 2007

Let the good tidings begin, whatever they are

The building managers in the mall above 19 Minutes World Media Heaquarters put up the garland and Christmas lights on November 2nd this year.

It snowed, a beautiful, light, fluffy cotton candy snow, across the upper Midwest, Wednesday morning and afternoon.

My wife and I found ourselves at the Mall of America yesterday, Black Friday. We have Chanukah and Christmas presents in place.

Yet, I was having a hard time reconciling all of this with the notion that the holiday season is beginning.

I'm currently at the Caribou Coffee in Eagan, Minnesota. Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" is playing on the sound system here. That is, perhaps, the worst holiday song ever written.

Now it feels like the holiday season.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Bill of Writes

Right. I’m still out here, even though this space has been dark for some time. Much of my spare time has been consumed with writing. And as an author I know pointed out to me, “You can either write about writing, or you can just write.”

I’m just writing.

But there will be more.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Harumph.

It's taken us three days, but we've finally been able to figure out what was causing all the strange characters to show up in our most recent blog post. Which is no longer our most recent blog post, since I've written this.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Don't Sit So Close to Me (2007 remix)

A couple of things in the 19 Minutes Universe today, neither of which adds up to anything extremely useful, but I thought they were interesting:

The bus I take to 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters is also used to get Milwaukee high school students to and from school. As I may have noted in this space previously (but which I can’t seem to locate at this point), I apparently give off some kind of Don’t Sit Next to Me Under Any Circumstances vibe, so I don’t really get much insight into these students’ lives.

But we reached the point on the trip today when there were no other seats available. Really, every single seat, including the one next to the guy with the two large garbage bags (full of, um, I’m not sure) on the bus filled up before the one next to me, despite my recent application of anti-perspirant. And so one of the students braved whatever strange aura I give off, and sat down next to me to go about her morning ritual of listening to her iPod at brain-frying levels.

And that would be about it, except that I noticed the text book on her lap. A history book, called “The American Pageant.” The same history book I used in high school, twenty-one years ago. Which isn’t all that remarkable, I suppose, considering the book is in its 13th edition. What strikes me as remarkable is the fact that I remember the name of my high school history textbook.

Onward.

On another note, I’d like to point out that I was WAY ahead of the curve on the whole iced coffee phenomenon.

As an iced coffee fiend, I’m enjoying the ubiquitousness of frostly caffeinated beverages. As far as I’m concerned, McDonald’s iced coffee is a wonderful invention. They could start serving the stuff at Linens-n-Things, or One Hour Martinizing, or Radio Shack, and the world would be an even better place.

That’s why I was dismayed when I stopped in at a local, Milwaukee coffee purveyor Wednesday, only to find out that “iced coffee went out of season on Tuesday.” Wednesday’s high temperature in Milwaukee: 91 degrees. Sounds like hot chocolate weather to me.

But maybe I'm ahead of the curve there, too.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday afternoon band names

First off, there's relatively new material on our spin-off blog. If you're too lazy on a Friday afternoon to go looking down the right column for the link, here it is.

Monday's show is recorded, and the climate control system here in the basement of the Shops of Grand Avenue is set comfortably on the "lukewarm sauna" setting, so our brains at 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters are coming up with nothing more complicated than hypothetical band names. On today's chart:

  • Bulbous Coffee Can
  • Croutons of Various Sizes
  • Soggy Cake Cone (feat. Dratsuc Nezorf)
  • My Wife's Birthday

Actually, that last one is more the current state of affairs than a good band name. So it goes.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Mainely lobster

Not long ago in this space, shortly after returning from a brief road trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we published our first-ever dining guide, helping our millions of hypothetical (and 11 actual) readers wondering where to get the finest Cornish pasties in the greater Ironwood, Michigan metroplex.

We're just back from what's known as Midcoast Maine, where we managed to consume a year's worth of lobster in the span of a week. We thought, then, that we'd provide a similar public service in regard to eating lobster. (By "we", of course, I mean "I". One lobster roll is more than enough to meet my wife's lobster needs for the year.)

I had lobster at a variety of co-ops, roadside stands, and restaurants, and came to the following conclusion:

You just can't go wrong with lobster in Maine. I mean, you probably can, but you'd have to try pretty hard. Like, you'd need to eat at Red Lobster or something.

While we're at it, another conclusion: Everything is better with drawn butter. Except, maybe, for beef jerky.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A stroke of Nalgenius

It seems trite to say that this is one of those "only in the Midwest" stories, but it does seem unlikely that this would happen in, for example, Newark. Or Long Beach. Bear with me.

It's a month ago. We're at Target, the one near Miller Park in West Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Of the three Milwaukee-area Targets we see fit to patronize, the West Milwaukee Target is the only one with a layout I can wrap my brain around. There's another Target, about four miles away whose layout is exactly the opposite of the one in West Milwaukee. This is a problem for me, because my wife is liable to send me out to Target to buy, say Sensodyne-brand toothpaste, because my autopilot will send me to the Sensodyne location imprinted in my brain, and I will return home with an acetylene torch, which might void the warranty on her electric toothbrush. So I go to the one in West Milwaukee.

None of this is especially relevant to the story that follows, but now you have some insight into my shopping psyche.

As I was saying, it's a month ago. We're at Target, the one near Miller Park in West Milwaukee. We're looking for something that comes in at a cross between a messenger bag, a backpack, and a purse, for Gretchen (to carry around her acetylene torch). Our three-year-old, apparently confident that she's mastered her tricycle, which she has owned for a month and can almost pedal up a 2% incline, decides to check out the bicycles in the next section over. "Checking out," in this case, means touching each one to see which is most likely to fall over on her so that she can injure herself, and we can sue Target for negligence and get an out-of-court settlement of 300,000 tubes of Sensodyne toothpaste. Somehow, Sylvi manages to escape the section with out breaking any bikes or bones. My wife survives another unsuccesful search for the perfect bag (enabling us to adopt bag shopping as a hobby for the indefinite future), and we go on with our day.

Halfway home, we realize Sylvi's water bottle is not in the car. Not, under ordinary circumstances, an especially big deal - only we're rapidly approaching nap time, which means that she's adopted the timbre of voice known as the International Symbol for Three-Year-Old Meltdown, namely a whine on par with a Boeing 717, or possibly a tornado siren. Plus, it's a real, live three-year-old-sized Nalgene bottle, which is de rigeur for hip three-year-olds at the zoo. So I employed the lose-lose option, which was to drop Gretchen and Sylvi off at home in a futile attempt to distract her from the trauma of Water Bottle Loss long enough to get her to nap, and I went back to Target in a futile attempt to locate the water bottle - an effort that involved an overly long conversation with the disinterested person manning the lost-and-found and a 25-minute wander through every aisle I remembered walking through earlier.

A month passes by. Sylvi has gotten over the trauma, but also has lost her status as Best-Appointed Toddler at the zoo. Still, she's hydrated, so it's all good. Gretchen has found a bag that can accommodate a driver's license, chapstick, a couple of diapers, and five years' worth of receipts, or the new Harry Potter book ("Harry Potter and the Sensodyne Brand Toothpaste") if you take everything else out of it. Now, we're at Target looking for a bag for me. My laptop, anyway.

Not only do we come up with a laptop case, but as we traverse the luggage aisle, Sylvi notes, casually - as though she had just been waiting for a trip back to the luggage aisle for the last month in order to point this out - "Oh, there's my water bottle."

Not only had the water bottle not been thrown out, taken by someone, or sent to lost-and-found, it hadn't been moved. It was still half-full of water.

And after we got home from Target today, Sylvi took a nap.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Spinning off again into Outer Blogospace

Not that our fourteen loyal readers were necessarily complaining about the littany of Crohn's-related posts, but on the off-chance any of you were getting tired of references to my surgical scar and my pants size, we've decided to add a new 19 Minutes spin-off to the blogosphere. There will, naturally, be some cross-posting, because a) I'm not that creative, and b) really, you can't read too many references to my scar.

But it seemed to make sense to put some of that material in a place where people with some interest in health-related material might find it. So Crohn's stuff moves here, and we now return to writing about infomercials, comically bad drivers, and belly button lint.

Speaking of which, there's much less room in my navel these days for lint, on account of my scar.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The weighty responsibilities of pants

One of the odd side effects of Crohn's disease is the vague sense of emasculation you get. If you're a guy, anyway. And not literally. But my crack medical team has me taking calcium supplements, which Walgreen's packages in a very manly pink-and-purple box. If the color scheme wasn't enough, they're called, helpfully, "Calcium for Women." It's cool, though. They taste pretty good. Better than the fish oil capsules, anyway.

My real preoccupation, though, is a strange level of concern with my pants size. Seriously. Compare the number of references to my pants in this feature before April (9) to references since the surgery (4). Okay, not a good example. But really, the fear of dropping a pant size or two is always out there, since it represents losing weight, which in turn represents my intestines, again, trying to kill me. A heavy thought to lay on Dockers, to be sure.

But pants have again been playing on my mind recently. I wore blue jeans today for the first time in more than three months. Not something that should be commemorated with a bank holiday, but it's also not something I ever expected I'd say in my life. Frankly, three hours without wearing jeans used to be a long time. One of the key reasons I've spent a career in public radio is the general acceptance of blue jeans as business attire.

But the abdominal surgery kept me from wearing a belt for a month, and I feel about as comfortable wearing jeans with no belt as I do wearing a monocle, or a New York Yankees cap. And the thing was, after a month, I decided I liked the three pairs of pants in the rotation, none of which required a belt. The beige convertible pants, the beige sort-of-but-not-really-khakis, and the olive linen pants eliminated all the excess angst of the dressing process (which, to be fair, was not much to begin with).

Two months in, I still hadn't worn a belt. But I started getting weary of finding new ways to wear a pedometer, a key card, and a cell phone with no belt, so I gave in. And finally, after three months of wearing the same three pairs of pants at work (with thanks to the patience of my co-workers), I added the jeans to the rotation this morning.

Maybe I'll wash the other three pairs now.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

And on Bastille Day, too

We're pretty sure this is a fever dream, but the "World Cup of American Football" appears to have been played over the weekend, resulting in a football headline of the variety that we're also pretty sure has never before been written:

Korea shocks France

Because you were wondering, we'll note that Korea's big victory was a 3-0 win earned with a field goal (by noted Korean kicker Choi Kyung Ho, no less) with 2:09 remaining in the game, played at Kawasaki Stadium in, um, Kawasaki? Kanagawa? Okay, here's a map:

It will surprise no one that the American team won the World Cup of American Football. It will, perhaps, surprise a few people to note that the previous two championships were won by Japan.

That's really all we have to say about the World Cup of American Football, except that the Swedish team has the following word prominently displayed on its website. We have no idea what it means, but it is worth reproducing:

Här!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Notes from the haystack

There are a lot of things that make Crohn's Disease not much fun. Right off the bat, there's the constant desire to spell it "Chron's." Then, there's the onion ring prohibition. And the constant uncertainty over pants size. Plus, you have your minor issues, like pain, fatigue, and digestive distress.

Mostly, though, it's the feeling that the medical world is constantly doing something to you. If they're not taking large amounts of intestine out of you, they're putting probes into you, each one in a place less pleasant than the last. (We're thinking of spinning off a book: "From Colonoscopy to Cystoscopy: 50 Internal Organs to See Before You Die.")

Not a few times during the past eight months, I've gone through a test and felt, with some relief, that they couldn't dream up anything worse... only to find out a day later that not only *could* they dream up something worse, but it's something that strains the boundaries of worse.

But since my surgery in April, the total number of items poking and prodding me has been kept, blissfully, to a minimum. The exception has been one little needle every month. One lonely cc of cyanacobalamin, a.k.a. Vitamin B12. B12 deficiency is a pretty common issue in Chron -- er, Crohn's, and I'd gotten used to getting the shot once a month. I'd also gotten used to my doctors and nurses pointing out that one of these days, I ought to learn to give myself the shots. I thought it was a nice sentiment, and one I looked forward to hearing every thirty days for the next, oh, ten or twenty years.

But at my appointment last month, Sarah, my nurse practitioner, sounded a little incredulous that I'd want to come in every month for the rest of my life, just to get jabbed with a 1 cc syringe. And so I thought, Hey, it couldn't be that painful to give myself a shot, right? I mean, I enjoy removing splinters with a sewing needle, and my favorite part of eating pizza is scalding the roof of my mouth. This is just like that, only more sanitary, right? Right? Millions of diabetics give themselves shots every day. Wilford Brimley gives himself shots. It couldn't be that rough.

So I got the prescription for the syringes. I got the prescription for the B12 (which, honest to God, showed up with a label saying it was for someone named "Myrtle"). I got a lesson from one of the nurses at the hospital, who sent me home with some syringes the size of javelins to practice. She suggested I practice on an orange, but I thought they looked like they'd go right through it, so I practiced on the tires of my neighbor's pickup. Mostly, I practiced getting nervous. And I got pretty good at that.

And so I stalled. I stalled long enough that I went from thinking I could use the B12 to really needing it. I stalled long enough that my mother-in-law, a nurse, came to visit, and I seriously considered just having her give me the damn shot. But she wasn't planning on visiting every month for the indefinite future, and so I settled for having her supervise.

I washed my hands. I cleaned the top of the vial. I cleaned off my skin. I drew 1 cc of cyanacobalamin into the syringe. It's just like burning the roof of my mouth with a pizza, right? Except that it's a very sharp object that I'm about to jab into my gut. Plus, no pepperoni.

The needle was about a half-inch long and it went into the wad of skin almost without effort. And after my hands stopped shaking, I actually pushed the plunger down and gave myself the B12. It was, in all, an enjoyable experience, the First Shot of the Rest of My Life. And I look forward to the energy it'll give me. I might need it, if my neighbor figures out what happened to his tires.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Because you were hoping for more band names

Two band names, courtesy of a Saturday afternoon at the Starbucks in Wauwatosa Village, Wisconsin:

The Smoking Nurses
Billy Idol Blowing His Nose

I should at least explain the second one. Amazingly enough for 2007, there was, at this particular Starbucks, a teenager doing his best impression of Billy Idol, circa 1986 - spiky blond hair (not quite bleached enough), black t-shirt, black pants, boots, the big cuff bracelet thing going on. The only thing that blew the look was the cold he had going on, which necessitated that he make constant trips to get more napkins so he could blow his nose.

Also, I'm not 100% sure whether Billy Idol had braces in 1986, but I don't remember seeing them in the video for "Rebel Yell."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I'll take that slaw, but hold the Mayo

I've lived in plenty of places in the past thirty-eight years. An apartment above Willson's General Store in Lisbon, Iowa. A former Catholic School building (from the Church of the Immaculate Conception, which -- given my dating ineptitude in those days -- was appropriate) in Decorah, Iowa. A very large house divided into much smaller apartments in Postdam, New York.

But to my knowledge, all of the twenty or so places I've called home are still standing. Until, apparently, soon. Word has reached 19 Minutes International Media Headquarters of the impending demise of the College Apartments in downtown Rochester, Minnesota.

Frankly, I'm not sure how to take this news. The College Apartments were apparently the swankiest apartments in town when they were built. In 1914. By the time they housed my white naugahyde couch and Toshiba T-1200 laptop, in 1994, they were, well, okay. Reasonably priced. In decent shape. They had high ceilings and big rooms. They also had no air conditioning and a cockroach problem. Bats occasionally rode the air currents around my ceiling fan, and my car was broken into outside (which was, to my knowledge carried out with a different kind of bat).

It was the first apartment I'd had that accommodated more than one friend at a time. In an inspired bit of smug self-satisfaction, it played host to an occasional gathering of radio and newspaper reporters to mock the 10:00 news on TV. Then, we started making more friends in television, gave up the "Mock the News" parties and moved the gatherings to Newt's Bar.

And it was a comfortable place to come home to after getting my wisdom teeth out at the Mayo Clinic. I remember very little about returning home that day, actually. But fortunately, a friend, fellow radio person, and fellow College Apartments dweller drove me home after the surgery and - after I had stopped giggling and snorting from the anesthesia - left me to the cockroaches and the bats. [It was coming down off the anesthesia, I believe, that I struck an important bargain with the roaches - they would never leave the friendly confines of the kitchen, and I would refrain from blasting them with aerosol air freshener.]

And yet, the College Apartments were never what you'd call homey. [Or "homie," for that matter. But then again, everything in Minnesota is just a little too Minnesotan to be called "homie."] They looked like sort of a tudor bungalow on steroids, a strangely placed apartment complex in the midst of Rochester's forty gazillion modern hospital buildings.

My friend Matt once noted that the ideal view of Rochester was in his rear-view mirror. And I shed few tears when I moved out of the College Apartments in 1996. But part of me can't help but feel like Snoopy when he found out the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm had been replaced by a six-story parking garage. Especially given that the Mayo Clinic, which owns the building, has no plans for the site. (So yeah, why not just knock it down?)

But there is some good news to report. Willson's General Store in Lisbon, Iowa, may be long departed, but the building appears to have been reborn as the Lisbon History and Culture Center, which - if the center's website is to be believed - will play host to the big Cabbage Weigh-off in August.

So who says you can never grow home again?

Twelve years

Jodi Huisentruit went missing on her way to work as an anchorwoman in Mason City, Iowa twelve years ago today. We've blogged about this before (and also, improbably, talked about it on TV), but it's worth noting that she's still missing.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Ironwood Dining Report

I'm a firm believer in eating local specialties. As long as they don't involve sheep's intestines or cobra hearts, that is. On our annual trip to Maine, I try to squeeze in at least a year's worth of lobster and locally made ice cream into a week's vacation. And so last week, as my wife and daughter and I traveled to the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I went scrounging for the local delicacy: Sloppy Joe on a Stick.

No, really, U.P. cuisine is all about pasties - basically, ground beef, potatoes, and sometimes other vegetables inside a pie crust pocket, which in turn is served in a little wax paper pocket, so you can throw it in your lunch bucket, if you happen to be a miner in the 1800s, or you can eat it while you're driving your pickup and talking on your cell phone, if you're a resident of Ironwood, Michigan.

My wife and I elected to eat our pasties at her grandmother's house, a technique I'd also recommend, as long as you call her in advance. [On a related note, if you do call her, she'll answer on an honest-to-God dial phone, which actually actually makes the following ringing noise: "Ring."] Our second night in Ironwood, we tried pasties from a different shop than we usually bought them, at which point, we became obsessed with comparing the variety of pasties available across town.

Because you will no doubt all be flocking to Ironwood, Michigan, immediately after you read this, I hereby present the Official 19 Minutes Guide to the Pasties of Ironwood, Michigan. None of them should completely frighten you off:

U.P. Pasty Express. If you're driving in from the west (which means you will have just reached the edge of the earth), the U.P. Pasty Express is the first pasty shop you will encounter on U.S. 2. It has a downtown outlet, too, improbably called "The Famous Pastry Kitchen," the extra 'r' apparently thrown in to confuse tourists. The Express outlet, which isn't any faster than the downtown outlet, is a storefront in a tiny strip mall. Like all the pasty shops we visited, the pasties are cheerfully baking away in a little oven behind the counter. The pasties here had the most distinctive crust of any that we had - a chewy bread crust seemingly from the sourdough family. The filling was less exciting - it would take a tough, Finnish miner to love the meat, potatoes and onions inside. Fortunately, there are a lot of descendants of tough, Finnish miners still left in the U.P., so the Pasty Express still has plenty of devotees. I am not one of them.

Joe's Pasty Shop. Joe's is the pasty shop you'd first encounter if you were driving in from the east (which means that you will have already been driving past the edge of the earth). Joe's has a drive-through window on U.S. 2, which is, tragically, closed on Sundays and Mondays. Fortunately, they, too, have a downtown outlet, and it's reportedly open seven days a week. Joe's traditional pasties - as opposed to the Cornish pasties, which also include rutabagas(!) - are consistently strong. They contain plenty of onions, too, which gives them a distinctive taste, but also makes them literally hard for me to stomach. The real highlight at Joe's is the concept of the breakfast pasty - which replaces the standard filling with eggs, ham, bacon, and cheese (and potatoes and a scattering of onions). My wife considered it a life-changing experience.

Rigoni's Bakery. Rigoni's was the wildcard on this trip to Ironwood. We had never even noticed it before, but it's across the street from a boat shop owned by relatives of my wife, and they pegged it as their favorite, so we gave it a try. It quickly became my favorite, as well. The beef was the highest quality of the three, and was a greater proportion of the filling than what we found in any of the other pasties. The crust was flaky and light, and the whole thing gave just the slightest hint that maybe we were eating something that doesn't quite qualify as health food. The only caveat is that they ran a little low on inventory towards the end of the day, so you'll probably want to make your Rigoni's run before 4:30 in the afternoon.

So there's your guide to the Pasty Shops of Ironwood, Michigan. Tune in next time as we try to locate the restaurants in Ironwood which offer cobra hearts.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Frights of passage

Lots of excitement around the 19 Minutes home office recently, as our daughter turned three years old over the weekend. But the annual rolling over of her odometer itself wasn't the real excitement; rather, it was that this year also marked Sylvi's first real birthday party.

Sure, there had been party-like events before. She actually celebrated her first birthday with her friend Phoebe, who is nine days her junior. But that was less a party than it was an experiment to see what would happen if we put frosted cupcakes in front of little kids with only a handful of teeth. Not much, as it turned out. Sylvi enjoyed moving the frosting around with her finger, and Phoebe tasted a little before turning more to the Osmosis School of eating.

And last year, Sylvi had only been in the neighborhood for a few months by the time her birthday rolled around, the result being a friend-deprived birthday celebration in the dining room mostly remembered for its hippo-shaped cake.

But in the past twelve months, Sylvi has developed both a network of friends and a taste for frosted pastries, so we figured to have found the appropriate formula for a birthday party. The only issue was what the party would physically look like. It's been a while since I've been plugged into the birthday party scene, and turns out that there are a lot of new types of parties that have sprung up since my parents brought me and six of my friends to a George Washington University basketball game in 1979.

Here in southeastern Wisconsin for example, there are a variety of different "fun" facilities which discerning parents apparently choose in an effort to keep cake frosting out of their DVR machines. All of them, for some reason, seem to be in corrugated metal buildings, in industrial parks, in distant suburbs inhabited by people with pickup trucks larger than at least three of my past apartments. Sylvi has been invited to several of these, including one in a corrugated metal building with a pool (at which it took her 45 minutes to decide she wanted to get in, leaving her a good 15 minutes of swimming enjoyment, before cake, ice cream, and the 40-minute ride home), and one in the playroom of a corrugated metal building that also housed a kiddie spa where kids can get pampered to take their minds off the day-to-day stress of reading Dr. Seuss and eating American cheese. For these parties, parents are also required to invite every child their son or daughter has ever met, in the hopes that the combined eBay resale value of the presents will be enough to offset the cost of renting the unit of fun.

So for those reasons, plus the fact that my wife and I would prefer to be locked in a room with a Yanni CD on infinite repeat than hold a party in a corrugated metal unit of fun, we decided to aim for a more low-key party. This was fine with both the parents (for example, our friend Mary, I believe, was actually looking for us to set a low-key party precedent) and the kids - who rarely ask for corrugated metal in the context of fun.

So with "low-key" in mind, we divided up the responsibilities for the party. Sylvi would be in charge of turning three. My wife, Gretchen, would get to send the invitations, go grocery shopping, make the cake (a watermelon shaped/flavored cake), provide the other snacks (watermelon), mow the lawn, and otherwise get the backyard ready for partying, three-year-old-style. After a joint trip to Target to pick out party favors, I was left with one vital responsibility: buying balloons the morning of the party. I believed I had gotten off easy. I was incorrect.

Sunday morning at 10:00 had me en route to a dollar store about fifteen minutes from our house. I've always been of two minds on the dollar store concept - on one hand, I'm a little suspicious of what happened to the merchandise to cause it to land in such a store. On the other hand, I can get behind a place where I can calculate the total cost by counting the number of items in my basket. Regardless of my sentiments, I was informed balloons were available there, and so it was my Sunday morning destination.

It had been several years since I'd last encountered a dollar store, and as my helium professional inflated the ten balloons on my list, I took a few minutes to walk around the store to see what else might make a good addition to the, uh, party oeuvre. I was delighted to discover that not only can one buy helium balloons and knock-off frisbees for a dollar, but also copies of Bob Dole's memoir and something called an ovulation predictor. I resisted the urge (telling myself that neither quite fit with the watermelon theme) but left with plenty of great ideas for future (and highly inappropriate) party ideas.

I also left with ten Mylar helium balloons, which seemed like an appropriate number, until it dawned on me that a) there was a stiff breeze blowing through the parking lot of the Dollar Tree store in West Allis, Wisconsin; and b) I needed to somehow get all ten balloons into the hatchback of a Jetta wagon. It took a good fifteen minutes, but I managed to get all the balloons in the car at the same time, and also provided the good people of West Allis with an enjoyable new spectator sport.

But I made it home with plenty of time to spare and at long last, our backyard gleaming with the reflection of sunlight off of ten Mylar balloons, it was party time. And the party was both low-key and enjoyable, notwithstanding Sylvi's initial panic that her friends were there to abscond with all her toys, which resulted in a mad dash around the backyard in an attempt to hide all her things under her shirt. A quick re-briefing session later, she was outside and hugged each of her three guests as they arrived. The watermelon cake came out perfectly, and the kids all thought the actual watermelon was great, to the extent that we had to keep reminding them not to eat the rind. Also, "pin the tail on the donkey" was played, for reasons that are still not entirely clear to me, except for the fact that it was my idea.

The party favors were a hit, too... with the kids, anyway - Mary complained that flashlights, stickers, and M&Ms exceeded low-key limits, but my philosophy is that party favor bags can contain gold bouillon, as far as I'm concerned, as long as they don't include anything that could be considered a noisemaker.

So in all, the birthday party was a swell experience, and we're looking forward to planning next year's event, as soon as we can coat our house in corrugated metal.

Friday, June 08, 2007

A jolt from the remote

It was a long day in the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, so we decided to wind down this evening with a little TV, now that we're probably safe from having to watch any more replays depicting the demise of our beloved Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup. People say that television in 2007 is awful, that most of it lacks the high-minded ideals of the classic era of TV, when innovative producers created shows like "All in the Family", "Sesame Street", and of course, "Three's Company" and "Charlie's Angels."

To those people, I would like to note that there is much to be learned from an evening's winding down in front of the television.

For example, from watching just a few minutes of the Fox Soccer Channel, I have learned that there is a group of leagues called the "USL," and it features some of the stupidest franchise names in the history of organized sports. The game FSC was televising this evening involved a team called "The Montreal Impact," which sounds more like a sociological phenomenon than a soccer franchise. "The Impact" is an even more ridiculous name than "The Montreal Machine," which was a short-lived team in the "World League of American Football" in the early '90s. I can report I was one of four people who purchased a Montreal Machine cap before the team disappeared.

The WLAF eventually became NFL Europe, which has inflicted team names such as the "Frankfurt Galaxy" and the "Scotland Claymores" on the world. These names, again, do not compare to names in the various leagues of the USL, which also include "The Central Florida Kraze", "The Vermont Voltage," and their sister team in the USL women's league, "The Vermont Lady Voltage."

But that's not all I've learned this evening. I've also discovered that the network operated by the National Basketball League shows highlights from the daily media availability at the NBA finals, giving fans yet another opportunity to learn for themselves that no one has ever said anything remotely interesting at a press conference, unless you count the occasional profanity-laced tirade.

But I didn't only learn about sports this evening. I also learned that people will apparently do anything to land a slot on a reality show, ranging from planning their weddings before a television audience to subjecting themselves to an intervention. Fortunately, as with the sports highlights, I did my best to learn these things without actually watching the networks involved.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

...and their hit single, "Ozone Warning"

Today's great potential band name, brought to you by the Milwaukee Air Quality Index:

The Fine Particulates

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Milking the home improvement theme

There's lots of dust flying at the 19 Minutes homestead these days. My wife and I live in a 1925 prairie bungalow, which is - according to the experts I've interviewed for this feature - architecture-speak for "small, old house." One of the selling points to the house, as we saw it a little more than a year ago, was that it was seemingly in pretty good shape.

And it is in pretty good shape. But as with all 82-year-old houses, there are some things that need work. Unfortunately, in the case of our house, it's often hard to find these things, because they're covered in eighteen layers of paint. (Sometimes, in fact, we find the parts are constructed solely of paint.) Apparently, the standard home improvement model employed by the last several home owners was from the Paint Over It-school - a school, I'll concede, I belonged to until recently.

(Actually, as a long-time apartment renter, I belonged to a related school - the Spackle Over It-school, or more frequently, the Plug Holes in the Wall with Toothpaste-school.)

As a result, my wife, who is definitely the Tom Silva of our marriage, spends much of her free time with the heat gun, peeling the eighteen layers of paint, and the power sander, dealing with the aftermath. Mostly, I stand by with the fire extinguisher, in case we accidentally set the house on fire, which has only happened once. Her latest project has been to restore the milk delivery door (or possibly, the ice delivery door) on the side of the house to its former working condition.

She had removed the door last week, stripped the paint, repaired, the wood, and repainted it. But over the holiday weekend, we added the power sander to her arsenal. This thrilled her so much, she re-sanded the door and repainted it. I entered the picture when it came time to remount the door in the frame, which meant I could finally demonstrate my home improvement expertise, namely knowing the word "shim." But after installing the hardware, placing it in the door frame, finding out that the door wouldn't close, and reinstalling the hardware, the milk/ice/book depository door is in working condition, probably for the first time in fifty years.

To celebrate, we're considering signing up for one of the area's actual milk delivery services. They, of course, provide customers with a delivery box for milk.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Scar & Buyer

Here in southeastern Wisconsin, those of us with digital cable television not only get your major networks (CBS, NBC, CNN, ESPN), your major network's close relatives (ESPN 2, C-SPAN 3, BBC America, the Fox Soccer Channel), your minor networks (Fuel, Logo, American Life?), and your minor home shopping networks (the Product Information Network? The Celebrity Shopping Network?), but we also have the exciting opportunity to watch home listings, 24 hours a day. It's sort of like a shopping channel, only the products tend to run a few dollars more than "simulated gemstone" jewelry.

And yet, the network, operated by Shorewest, a local real estate company, is oddly mesmerizing. That's partly because it's entertaining to hear the same vaguely insipid phrases used repeatedly over the course of a half-hour ("There's a place for everything in the eat-in kitchen...", "An artifical fireplace flanked by bookcases creates a dramatic focal point...")

But invariably, we end up watching it whenever - as we did this weekend - we have out of town visitors staying with us. For a while, my wife and I thought it was just a channel-surfing quirk: it's an odd channel, and there are lots of pictures of the unique diversity of homes in the region. But it dawns on me that the real estate prices, as much as the architecture, are something of a tourist attraction in this part of the world. Houses here are not the cheapest in the country. What they are is normal; what most of us in Generation X grew up accustomed to. Smaller and/or cruddier houses are less expensive - like dilapidated houses in bad neighborhood. And larger and/or nicer houses are -- get this - more expensive. Nice houses on lakes, say.

It's not a radical concept, or at least it doesn't seem like it. But several of the places we've lived in the past have experimented with another model - they've decided that all houses should be expensive. Thus, Shorewest TV at 11:30 p.m. Maybe not as cool as the Calatrava, but unique nevertheless.

And finally this evening, we at 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters would like to apologize to anyone whose delicate sensibilities were offended by the picture of my surgical scar posted on this feature several days ago. I thought it was a fairly innocuous, yet accurate representation of the strange little line that now makes its way up my abdomen. My wife, however, points out that it makes my belly button look like a softball.

So tonight, we'll try again, but instead of doing my own stunts, we're going to turn things over to an actor's portrayal, starring Lyndon Johnson as Mitch Teich:


Overall, I'd say it's an Oscar-worthy performance, and all I can say is I wish I'd thought of holding a press conference to show off my scar.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Drivers' re-education

It was an exciting evening yesterday in the garage of the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters, as we got our driving privileges back after six weeks, in which the closest we'd come to driving was changing the CD (currently playing: "The Backyardigans - Groove to the Music"). They were never - technically - revoked, but we figured there are enough naturally bad drivers in the greater Milwaukee area that there didn't need to be a percocet-fueled, artificially bad driver on the roads, too. Not this one, anyway. But we're down to just trace amounts of the painkiller in our system, and so we elected not to take advantage of my wife, who has been the official 19 Minutes chauffeur for the past six weeks, for last night's drive across town.

We're a little ashamed to admit that it was a bit intimidating, partly because we're not yet used to the feel of driving in boxers and we were a tad worried that it might be, er, distracting. (I'm sorry, officer. No, I don't know how fast I was going. I was, uh, making an adjustment.) More to the point (so to speak), or, to be brief, everything - since the surgery - has seemed faster and louder. Or maybe we've felt slower and quieter. Probably both. Like we're listening to a Chipmunks single at 33 r.p.m. , and it takes a minute to realize that something's different.

[Note to young readers: that's a reference to records, which were the things that came before eight-track tapes, which were the things that came before cassettes, which were the things that came before CDs, which were the things that came before you started getting all your music for free from Dave, down the hall. Nowadays, your best hope for seeing records is to go to a 1950s-themed restaurant and look for circular wax things hanging from the ceiling. Or, check out a cabinet in the house I grew up in and look for a thin black object with a label reading, "'Convoy', by C.W. McCall". ]

And throw us onto an interstate, and everything seems really fast. More than a few times in the past six weeks, we've ridden along in the passenger seat and had to close our eyes for the onramp from Highway 41. We considered trying that yesterday, but the ramp was still metered at that hour, and we were even more concerned about that potential conversation with the arresting officer than the boxers one.

So we set out, with our eyes open and our boxers on, across southeastern Wisconsin. We've written about what's wrong with Milwaukee-area drivers in the past, namely that they're aspiring to be as bad as Chicago-area drivers, plus they're holding a bratwurst in one hand, a cigarette in the other, all the while dialing a cell phone and apparently trying read the serial number on the bumper of the car in front of them.

Fortunately for the sake of future driving adventures, but unfortunately for the purposes of this blog, nothing especially interesting transpired on the highways of southeast Wisconsin last night. We made it there and back with our car intact, and no need for new boxers when we got home.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Scarplace

There are apparently two kinds of people in the world. Or, at least, two kinds of readers of this fine feature:
  1. People who read the previous post and wanted to see pictures of the spiffy pants I've acquired. I'm not sure what bizarre turn of world events has occurred that would lead me to post a link to a picture of my pants, but here you go.
  2. People who read the previous post and who were disappointed that the reference to "show[ing] off my scar" linked not to a picture of my scar, but to an article about the pop singer Anastacia, and her very own Crohn's-related scar. If you aren't one of those people who wanted to see the scar, you might want to avoid scrolling much further.
I'm still trying to figure out the whole scar business. Thirty-eight years is a long time to get used to your real estate looking a certain way. On the other hand, after five days in the hospital and a month at home, you figure there ought to be some kind of visual proof that I had more than a hangnail removed. And as one nurse pointed out (at 4:15 a.m., no less), it's probably better that I have a scar and no internal damage than no scar and a lot of internal damage.

But it's a doozy. My surgeon (who, you'll recall, described what came out of me as a "football-sized kielbasa"), thought it was ten inches long. Even allowing for a couple of turns, I measure it at more like eight or eight-and-a-half. Anyway, I am not the only member of the family who doesn't necessarily look forward to getting into a swimsuit this summer.

Still, it's going to stick around, and so I ought to get used to it. I have noticed, for example, that when you add the belly button, it looks, just vaguely, like the old flag of the Soviet Union. But in my case, I'm sickle no longer.

All right. Because you asked.

Monday, May 21, 2007

No shirt, no shoes, no mental energy

My time away from the office has given me an opportunity to devote considerable mental energy to a variety of pursuits, such as the unfairness of forcing "The Price Is Right" contestants to guess the price of a collection of books.

But it's also forced me to reconsider my connection to the world of fashion. (Or, rather, "fashion.") That's mainly because for the moment, wearing a belt or heavy-duty elastic in close proximity to a nine-inch abdominal scar is only slightly less painful than holding a belt sander to the same place. So, I've made a few modifications to the wardrobe:
  1. Boxers. It's a different feeling, to be sure.
  2. Pants with a half-elastic waistband. But more significantly;
  3. I have recently procured a pair of pants that have been labeled "stylish." This was purely an accident. My sense of style has been described as "schlep," ever since my 10th grade history teacher, Mr. Schultz, declared, "Mitch? You're a schlep." The new pair of pants feature both linen fabric and a drawstring. They were on sale. They - as noted - have been described as "fashionable," a label that will hold until I spill mustard on them.
So it's a different look. At least below the waist. As for the top, I'm thinking of looking for something different. Maybe I'll take a cue from the entertainment world and go for a little something that shows off my scar.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Land of 10,000 steps

So I had a month away from work. I had envisioned this month as a period in which I'd spend a lot of time in bed at first, gradually increasing my activity level, so that by the time I was ready to return to work, I'd be comfortable having my wife drive me to work, and I'd be able to walk from the car into my office. Then, I could show off my scar.

As it happened, my "Days Spent Mainly In Bed" scoreboard never ticked higher than "1" - the day of my surgery. By the time I left the hospital, I'd worn a path around the North Tower of Froedtert Lutheran Memorial Hospital, which conveniently has a large square circuit path that leads through the cardiac unit and through some of the public areas of the hospital, a fact I had to keep reminding myself as I adjusted the bag attached to my catheter.

But the point is, from the time I made it home, I was already at the stage of my recovery in which I was ready to Increase My Activity Level. As anyone who has faced a potentially long recovery can tell you, it's important to have an environment that makes it easy, even pleasurable, to exercise. Fortunately, my neighborhood is just such a place - lots of pleasant, tree-lined sidewalks, blocks of moderate length, and - most importantly - a donut shop just a quarter-mile walk from my house.

Especially at first, a quarter-mile was the perfect distance -- just long enough that (after major surgery) I was pleasantly winded by the time I got there, and in need of a nice, donut-eating breather. And likewise, the walk back was just long enough to leave me pleasantly winded and in need of a comfortable couch by the time I got home. Plus, I could justify the donuts as long as I was getting in that half-mile roundtrip walk.

The walk also put me in better touch with my neighborhood and its people, whom I can now divide into three groups: People with kids whom my wife and daughter know from various playgroups and other activities; People with kids whom I recognize from the donut shop; and people without kids whom neither my wife nor I knows.

(The problem is, I'm usually unable to distinguish the first two groups from each other. Typically, I'll be sitting in the donut shop, and I'll see a woman - sometimes a man and a woman - with a couple of kids, and I'll recognize them, but have no earthly idea whether I've been introduced to them, or whether I recognize them just because I've recognized them before. They all recognize me, of course. I'm the weird guy staring at them in the donut shop as though I recognize them.)

But sooner or later, that situation was going to end, unless my employer allowed me to produce my radio show from the donut shop. So without the quarter mile trip to Cranky Al's to inspire me, I needed a new gauge for my recuperative progress. So I've employed the services of a $5.99 pedometer from Target.

The medical, or at least the pedometer, industry believes you should walk at least 10,000 steps a day to reap the benefits of walking as exercise. My trusty pedometer helped me close in on that goal in two key ways:
  1. I've learned that my walk to the bus in the morning is about a half-mile, or around 3100 steps.
  2. The pedometer was so sensitive that crossing my legs while sitting at my desk generally registered as a step, and I apparently cross and recross my legs roughly 1100 times every day.
You'll notice I've switched to the past-tense. This is because in a tragic turn of events this morning, my pedometer fell into my cup of coffee and has suddenly became not sensitive at all, even less sensitive than guys in beer commercials.

In a staggering bit of frugality, I've taken it apart and put it back together several times, and I am pleased to report it no longer is non-functional as a result of falling into my coffee. It is non-functional as a result of my taking it apart and putting it back together so many times.

So I will be forced to find another way to chart the progress of my recovery. And thankfully downtown Milwaukee affords several opportunities - Dunkin' Donuts outlets at 2700 and 3300 steps from my office.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Sens-ational recuperation

Well, plenty has happened since there was activity in this space. There was, of course, the matter of the "football-sized kielbasa" (as my surgeon put it) that was removed from my abdomen. (And yes, you know you've had abdominal surgery in Wisconsin when your surgeon uses a comparison that includes both football and sausages.) That large object was otherwise known as "half of my colon," or "what had been tormenting my digestion for the past twenty years or so."

You would think that having your plumbing rerouted after thirty-eight years would mean bizarre dietary restrictions for some time after the surgery. You'd be right, but only to the extent that bagels were good and cucumbers were bad. We went out for Chinese food the night I left the hospital. (In retrospect, that may have been pushing the envelope a bit.)

But before I recap the life-changing past six weeks or so in this space, we must discuss an event of more profound proportions.

I'm not sure how my life - or the lives of many of us -- evolved to the point that the actions of men with bats, balls, and gloves, or sticks, pucks, and helmets on a television screen can move me to tears. I mean, the whole time in the hospital, I received not one get-well card from the Ottawa Senators.

But for the last ten years, my mental health, between approximately September and June, has been inextricably linked to - let's face it - an obscure hockey team from a place most Americans couldn't find on a map, even if it was a map of Ottawa. More than once, I've worn my Senators jacket in public, only to have someone come up and say, "The Senators! That's pretty neat. It's so cool that Washington has a baseball team again."

For the seven years I lived in Arizona, I dutifully showed up in Phoenix whenever the Senators played the Coyotes. There were always about twenty Sens fans at those games, and whenever the Senators scored, our "Whooo-hooos!" resounded through the arena like the cheers of Harold Stassen supporters at the Republican National Convention.

So the Senators play hockey. They have stars named "Alfredsson" and "Redden" and "Spezza "and "lesser" known players named "Corvo" and "McAmmond" and "Preissing". The one player that casual hockey fans have probably heard of is Dany Heatley, and that's only because he was involved in a reckless crash in his sports car a few years ago that killed a teammate.
What I'm saying is, you've never heard of most of them. And truth be told, if I wasn't an overly zealous Senators fan, I wouldn't, either.

And yet, for some reason, for the past decade, whenever the Senators win a game, I'm one - maybe two - iotas happier for the next 24 hours. And for most of that time, the Senators have won far more times than they've lost. But in each of the seasons they've reached the playoffs - the last nine years in a row - their season has ended with a loss. And usually an agonizing, annoying, and, well, cruddy loss. They've never had the puck bounce off a live lobster in a luxury suite and into their own goal, but it's been close.

This afternoon, the Senators beat the Buffalo Sabres to advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since the team joined the National Hockey League in 1992.

They may well end this season with a loss, too. But today's game kind of makes up for the missing get-well card.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Weight off my shoulders

After major, heavy-duty abdominal surgery, you would think there would be more complicated, involved instructions for my recovery than, "No heavy lifting for six weeks." But that's basically it. They're kicking me out of the hospital around noon today, and I spend the next four weeks recovering at home.

Weird.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Old Crohn Medicine Show

To my loyal readers (the four of you know who you are):

We noted in this space some months ago that we're dealing with Crohn's Disease around the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters. We're about to engage the battle, along with the services of (I hope) a very talented surgeon. We leave for the hospital in about five minutes.

There will be a terrific story to tell. But we've gotta go through it to get through it.

More to come. I promise.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

If only I could write music

Another band name... I'm thinking this one would be made up of country balladeers:

Tex Deductable and his Cowboy Accountants

Friday, March 02, 2007

Readers' Indigestion

If Readers' Digest ever started a vaguely tasteless anecdotes column, I'd have one for them. Maybe they'll send me $300:

So I'm sent on a mission. To Walgreen's. To buy, er, feminine products. It was a big deal early in marriage, as it is with all men, until they finally come to the following important realization:

Hey! Lighten up! The cashier doesn't think they're for you, you stupid idiot!

So as I say, I've done this before, and I always carry a cheat sheet, because God forbid I buy the products with the wrong set of accoutrements. (Yes, I am aware that the accoutrements matter. Forget I mentioned it.) So I'm at the Walgreen's, carefully studying my little scrap of paper and reconciling it against the labels on the 386,295 slightly different-yet-strangely similar-looking feminine hygiene products (flex-wings? dri-weave cover? menthol?) and I look over to my right, and there's another guy, on the same errand. He's wearing a baseball cap and carrying an instrument case which I believe holds a snaredrum. He looks over at me, laughs, and says: "Man, I got my wife's shit memorized!"

Thursday, March 01, 2007

...and Mitchy T on handkerchief

Is there a band out there called "Post-Nasal Drip"? There must be, but I have yet to locate it. Their first album could be called "Mucinex."

Monday, February 26, 2007

The shape of pizza to come

I've looked back at the photos and reconsidered the shape of my proto-pizza. It is not Antarctica, as previously claimed. It is Australia. G'day, pizza fans.

There go Mitch's dump trucks

I have a dream. Not nearly so profound a dream as Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior, but a dream nevertheless. I will tell you about this dream as long as you promise not to laugh, the way Juan Epstein’s girlfriend did in an episode of “Welcome Back Kotter,” when he told her he always wanted to own a fleet of dump trucks, so that when one of the dump trucks went by, everyone would say, “There go Epstein’s dump trucks.” If you will promise not to laugh, I will promise not to mention the words “dump truck” again in this posting.

My dream is to own a pizza place. I have the perfect name picked out for this pizza place, but I will not tell you, because it is so perfect, you will feel compelled to steal it and open your own pizza place. It is not “Domino’s”. Suffice it to say that there will be a theme, and the name of each individual pizza will revolve around that general theme. The name is that good.

But that is not the point. The point is, I am a journalist, and therefore have little experience making pizzas. That has changed recently, thanks to our neighbor, Susan. Susan is an educator, and thus you would not imagine that she has pizza-making savvy. You would be wrong.

Shifting out of that strange narrative tone for a minute, Susan had me and my wife and daughter over for a pizza dinner recently, and I was stunned to find out she was making her own pizza. But she was, and it appeared not to be too challenging. Of course, my role in the pizza making was limited (spreading pepperoni on top of the cheese), while hers was a little more involved (making the dough, making the sauce, rolling out the dough, chopping up the ingredients, etc.), but it led me to believe my dream is within reach.

So, thus empowered, with Susan’s recipes for dough and sauce at hand, I recently set about making my own pizza. My wife and daughter scattered to the living room, while I set about creating a masterpiece. But first, I had to locate the appropriate CD to accompany pizza making. Settling for some reason on Bebel Gilberto, I returned to the kitchen, only to decide I needed older clothes for pizza making. (You’ve probably already gathered that some of my trouble is in setting appropriate pizza-making priorities.)

The sauce came together without too much trouble. It seemed to be a matter of, mainly, dumping stuff into a pot and stirring, which is the kind of culinary art I can get behind. The dough, on the other hand – a different story. There were all sorts of cautions to use water at the proper temperature, and to add flour periodically, to make sure the dough didn’t stick to the side of the bowl. My trouble revolved around our electric mixer; namely, that I had no idea whether I was using it correctly, or if I even correctly identified the “dough hook” attachment. I was never quite sure I wasn’t using a left-handed pasta inverter, or a feta cheese crumbler.

After coming to the conclusion that the wad in the mixing bowl bore a passing resemblance to dough, I followed the directions to let it rest for a half-hour. Of course, by this time, the sauce was long complete, so I entertained myself by deciding whether, as a pizza maker, it looked better to wear my baseball cap backwards. I decided it did.

Next up, cutting the dough into thirds and rolling each into a ball. This I did, though he balls looked more like movie-style blobs of slime. No matter, I figured, they’re just going to be flattened out, anyway. Then, they each got to rest for another ten minutes. I decided to speed up the process next time, I’d just add some Tylenol PM to the mixture.

Finally, the moment of truth. Rolling out the balls of dough. It turns out that the ball shape is pretty important, so that your finished pizza is in the shape of a circle, rather than what mine turned out to look like, which was Antarctica. I called my wife and daughter in from the living room, and we added our variety of toppings to our Antarctic pizzas, and waited for them to bake.

In the end, they were… not entirely unlike pizza. Pretty decent, actually. The crust was more doughy than you might want to eat in a restaurant, but the sauce was excellent, and none of us were hospitalized. I’m definitely on a pace to open my pizza place, inasmuch as my wife is insisting it wait until after our daughter graduates from college, or roughly 19 years from now.

Friday, February 23, 2007

We're still here

Hello.

We've been neglecting this space in recent weeks, mainly because we're working on another, super-secret, writing project that we'll probably start blogging about at some point, but not at 6:25 on a Friday morning. But the truth of the matter is, as far as that project goes, we are officially On A Roll, and are worried that the writing Karma gods only allow us to be on one roll at a time, lest we get salmonella poisoning.

We will return to this space again soon. Perhaps later today. The nice thing about that sentence is it is appropriate, no matter what day you're reading it.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A tsimmering issue

We have a pretty busy kitchen at the 19 Minutes home office. Partly, that's because even with a pretty well-behaved two-and-a-half year old around, there are only so many restaurants that serve grilled cheese, and only so many occasions on which we want to spend an hour trying to sneak bites of our food while attempting to convince our daughter into staying in her booster chair. On the other hand, watching Sylvi order her own meals is pretty entertaining ("I want grilled cheese and moolk!", she says happily, while the waitress attempts to discern what "moolk" is).

But really, the kitchen is busy because it can be. For seven years, we lived in a townhouse with a kitchen that would have looked appropriate in a 737. And after five years, we dispensed with what was formally known as a "dining room table" but more colloquially known as "the repository of car insurance bills, 74-thousand credit card offers, and the L.L. Bean Early-Mid Winter Pre-Boxing Day Sale Catalog" and decided to embrace the notion of eating on the couch. So there really wasn't much incentive to be much more ambitious than frozen pizza. (Dining tip: For a unique twist, try adding Froot Loops to your frozen pizza. I never have, but I'll be curious to hear how it tastes.)

But now safely ensconced in Wisconsin (and you try finding another rhyme for "Wisconsin"), with a bright, yellow kitchen that features - yes - both counter space and cabinet space, we've gotten more ambitious. Ambitious to the degree that by the time Sylvi is 10 years old, she may never see us cook again, because we will have filled eight auxiliary freezers with enough leftovers to last into the Chelsea Clinton Administration. (Granted, she may still be ordering grilled cheese at that point.)

My wife is especially enjoying the opportunity. Last week that manifested itself in my mom's recipe for something called "tsimmes". Or "tzimmes", if you prefer. (Or "simmis". You get the idea.) We are, you'll recall, a Christmas tree-and-menorah sort of household. But despite her Lutheran-ness, my wife enjoys getting in touch with her inner Jewish chef. She makes a fantastic kugel. The problem, though, with most Jewish recipes - at least those handed down from generation to generation - is that they don't quite have the, um, specificity that your typical Midwestern Lutheran recipe might have, which can sometimes lead to unexpected results.

Typical Midwestern Lutheran recipe (written neatly on 3X5 index card)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 12 oz. box, vermicelli noodles
1 8 oz. can, cream of mushroom soup
3 large carrots
dash of garlic powder

Typical passed-down Jewish recipe (written on coffee-stained paper that, on closer inspection, is the back of a form letter from 1973)

Preheat oven to [obscured by coffee stain].

medium-sized brick of cream cheese
box of egg noodles
4 T sugar [or maybe it's "4 t" - you can't really be sure]
4 apples (I use Jonathans)

You get the idea. Anyway, tsimmes is a beef roast-and-potatoes-and-sweet potatoes-and-carrots-and-honey dish that my mom used to make while my brother and I were lobbying for pepperoni pizza. My mom was kind enough to provide her recipe - in electronic form, actually, and with a pretty good level of detail.

My wife adapted it a little - employing a crock pot, for starters - but otherwise followed the recipe pretty closely. It turned out pretty well, though not as thick as my wife thought it
should be, considering a major section of my mom's recipe involved the thickening process. So we checked in with my mom and the following conversation ensued:

Me: So, Gretchen made your tsimmes recipe tonight.

My mom: Really? How'd it come out?

Me: Pretty good. But we had a question about the - what is it called? The
einebrine?

Mom: Right, that's the thickening. It's like when you make gravy.

Me: Right. She followed the directions, but all it did was clump up in three
or four places.

Mom: Yeah, that's what usually happens with mine. Except when I forget and
don't do the thickening at all.


In the spirit of things, I made pepperoni pizza the following night. But at least it wasn't frozen.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Apropos of nothing

Another random band name, this one for an Irish rap act:
Homie O'Pathic

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mundane News Alert, Vol. 1

We're overdue for a bath here in the 19 Minutes home office, but we wanted to relate a new, part-time quest we're on, and about which we'll try to keep you up-to-date: The Quest for the Dullest News Story of 2007.

This idea came our way on the bus this evening. Milwaukee County busses, you'll recall, are equipped with something called "Transit TV", which beams everything from trivia questions supposedly written by Pat Sajak, to weather forecasts for sporting events taking place in domed stadiums, to (really) tips for tying asparagus. In between the produced features, the network also features the first two or three sentences from stories on various newswires (a technique that renders cleverly written features completely unintelligible).

And so it was that I found myself considering this evening, "What could possibly be less relevant to the Number 31 Bus Experience than the news that furniture maker Ethan Allen reports a drop in quarterly earnings?"

I thought about it for a while, and considered going on a Quest for the Least Relevant News Story to the Number 31 Bus Experience, but then I thought it would be a challenge to report the results to a reading public that's probably not entirely familiar with the Number 31 Bus Experience, and so that would necessitate a lot of explaining each time there was an update, and frankly, I'm not that motivated. (But while we're at it, "The Number 31 Bus Experience" would make a swell name for a budding garage band.)

So instead, I've decided to go on a Quest for the Dullest News Story of 2007.

With that backstory now lodged, kidney stone-like, in your mind, the first contender comes to us from the North Platte Telegraph, from North Platte, Nebraska. I thought about disqualifying entries from Nebraska on the grounds that all news there is inherently dull, but relented after deciding any story with the word "unicameral" in it at least elicits a snicker. Anyway, I was disappointed to have missed this item on the Number 31 bus today:

Agenda action items carried over from cancelled meeting
If tonight’s agenda for the Mid-Plains Community College Board of Directors looks familiar, it should. All of the action items were carried over from the Dec. 20 board meeting that was cancelled due to adverse weather.

I imagine faithful readers of the Mid-Plains Community College Board of Directors agenda series were disappointed when they received their latest issue, only to find it was a rerun.

And while we're cruising the papers, a runner-up from the Rutland Herald in Rutland, Vermont:

Mold found in temporary office trailers in Bennington

Having worked in plenty of office buildings, let me just say that I've never worked in a place that someone hasn't - at least twice a year - sent out a nasty officewide e-mail decrying the state of decaying food in the office refrigerator. In fact, I've had some co-workers who routinely got mustard stains on their news copy - which was difficult, considering that copy was on their computer's hard drive. (Cymbal crash.) Fortunately, we never got to the point where we had a slow enough news day to report on it.

Anyway, that's the first go-round. Feel free to nominate any news items you run across that might contend for the title. Or sit back and wait for us to feed your Dull News Weekly Requirement.

Further bulletins as events warrant.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Blather, rinse, repeat

New rule of thumb: Never allow a new showerhead to raise your expectations excessively.

I like changing the showerhead, mainly because it's the kind of do-it-yourself homeowner project that's visible enough that it seems to carry with it an implication that it took a certain level of skill to carry off. You can drop it into conversations with friends or neighbors: "I was changing the showerhead the other day, and you wouldn't believe how much corrosion I ran on the shower stem." (This statement also wins do-it-yourself bonus points for also featuring "corrosion" and "shower stem", the latter being a term I thought I had just now made up, except that it seems to be the actual name for what I thought it was.)

Of course, changing the showerhead is probably the easiest do-it-yourself project in the bathroom. It narrowly edges out changing the toilet paper, because with the toilet paper, you always run the risk that you'll orient it with the tail facing the wrong direction.

We changed the showerhead because our previous one could blast graffiti off a subway car. This made for an invigorating morning ablution, but also depleted the hot water faster than one might like - faster than the shower at our apartment in Flagstaff, where the hot water heater was, I think, a Thermos bottle. (Also worth noting was the fact that we changed our showerhead in Flagstaff, too, a feat that so impressed our landlady that she regularly brought it up as evidence of my apparent DIY skill - and a statement I never disavowed, regardless of the fact that my wife was the one that changed the showerhead in the first place.)

So the highlight of a recent weekend was a trip to Home Depot, despite the fact that it always takes me 45 minutes to find what I'm looking for there (say, lightbulbs) and I always vow never to return. We spent a fair amount of time chasing our two-and-a-half year old away from whatever sharp objects she could find, and debating whether $79 was too much to spend on a showerhead. "Yes," was our answer.

We settled on one that promised a spa-like experience, as though rain would fall on our shampoo-laden hair.

And it's fine. I've never been to a spa, but it seems unlikely that this showerhead is replicating a $500/day experience. It does feel like a gentle rain shower, provided you live in a part of the world where the ground is porcelain and the rain is hot.

All this is to say that I have a new rule of thumb: Never allow a new showerhead to raise your expectations too much.

But you knew that already.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Maximum Bob

We were pretty star struck by an interviewee in the 19 Minutes World Media Headquarters yesterday. There aren't too many faces - save for family members - whom one can say they've seen on a semi-regular basis since practically the day they were born.

I wasn't watching too much television in the first few months of my life, in 1969. My parents tell me they woke me up to watch the Apollo 11 landing on the moon, but I'm not sure Neil Armstrong's visage was absorbed into my young psyche. But an addition to PBS's programming lineup in November of that year had a greater - or at least more immediate - impact.

If you mention the name "Bob" to someone younger than, roughly, 40 years old, they'll wait for a modifier. (In my life, there have been plenty of noteworthy Bobs - Radio Bob, Uncle Bob, Shish-ka-bob, Captain Kangaroo, etc.) If no modifier is forthcoming, it can only imply one person: Bob from Sesame Street. His real name is Bob McGrath.

Bob is in Milwaukee this weekend for an appearance accompanying the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra during one of its "Kinderkonzerts" (gee, can you tell this is a city with a German heritage?). And part of the interview was about his commitment to music education. His character on the show is a music teacher, and the real-life Bob worries that school budget cutbacks that eliminate music programs are creating a "cultural wasteland" in our inner cities, while the well-heeled can still afford to send their kids to private music lessons.

But mostly, I wanted to know about Sesame Street. I watched it through my childhood, watched it through my brother's childhood, and then it mainly disappeared for a few years from my consciousness. But one fateful night in college, a few of us ("odd ducks", you might call us) were perusing the comprehensive selection offered at the one video store in Mount Vernon, Iowa, when we skipped over "Diehard 2", and our eyes came to rest on: "Monster Hits". And, "Sing Yourself Silly". Which we, naturally, rented and watched that evening (though not, it should be noted, without an alcoholic beverage or perhaps two on hand). But before the night was out, we were singing along with classics like "C is for Cookie" and "Fuzzy and Blue", and newer classics like "Healthy Food", Cookie Monster's highly entertaining if half-hearted rapping effort to get kids to add things like tuna and trout to their diets, in addition to cookies. I wound up owning second-hand copies of both of those video tapes, along with a copy of the seminal history, "Sesame Street Unpaved" - all well before actually having a child. And I'll probably still be watching them well after my daughter has moved on to reruns of "Grey's Anatomy".

Sesame Street's Bob has outlasted all my other childhood icons - Walter Cronkite, Hawkeye Pierce, Dwight Evans, Cheech and Chong. So, yeah, it was an uncommon opportunity.

And Bob, thank goodness, was terrific, spinning yarns about Ralph Nader's appearance on the show (he asked to change a lyric in "The People in Your Neighborhood" to make it grammatically correct) and doing imitations of Elmo. He was also amazingly candid about the direction the show has taken in the past 10 years or so - which has been a nagging thought in the minds of almost everyone who grew up with Sesame Street. Bob, diplomatically, didn't put a value judgement on the changes (less exposure for the neighborhood, more computer animation, targeting a younger audience), but he did say - a little wistfully - that part of him misses the fun they had producing the show in its early years.

The other side effect he noted is that although the current generation of kids is still watching Sesame Street, the time has probably passed in which four- and five-year olds recognize him coming out of a store.

37-year olds are another story.

Friday, January 19, 2007

19 Minutes responds to its readers

So, reader sentiment was running pretty strongly against New Layout #1, which was of course created because the 19 Minutes Technical Support Staff accidentally ruined the previous layout by tinkering too much with code that it didn't know enough about.

For those of you who missed it, here is what the brief tabloidization of this feature looked like:




In any case, the 19 Minutes Technical Support Staff hopes this latest redesign is easier on the eyes of our tens of thousands of loyal readers. Feel free to check in with your thoughts. Or feel free to switch off your computers and go on with your lives. Eat dinner. Read a book. Read the back of the cereal box. We'll wait.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Okay.

What does everyone think of the new look?

Another dubious public service

I’m usually something of a mess when I make it into my office. And usually, that’s the fault of my iPod, in the sense that I try to be friendly when I walk in the door. That’s difficult when you’re listening to music at potentially unhealthy levels, so my entrance usually involves a complicated ballet of removing gloves and ear muffs, and juggling them with my mug of coffee, all the while attempting to switch off the iPod and remove the headphones.

Yesterday’s arrival yielded an even more impressive picture, as I walked into the office with my jacket open, one ear bud still in place, and the other hanging at my side. Of course, that meant I was immediately greeted by our arts producer, who wanted to introduce me to the guy she was about to interview.

That guy turned out to be Milwaukee singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey, who shook my hand and immediately wanted to know what song was playing on my iPod at that instant in time. Thankfully, it was “Blown Kisses”, by Minnesota singer-songwriter Martin Zellar. Thankfully, because if your introduction to a reknowned singer-songwriter is going to be the name of the song you’re listening to, you don’t want that song to be “Surrender”, by Cheap Trick. Mulvey was duly impressed by my iPod selection. I made a mental note to check out Mulvey’s latest CD. Sheepishly, I admitted that the previous song I had listened to was “Surrender”, by Cheap Trick.

Regardless, it brought to mind a feature that’s appeared in several places (most notably around here, in the “A.V. Club” section of The Onion) in which people switch their iPods to shuffle, and then discuss – or in some cases, rationalize – the first five songs that show up.

So, not that you asked, here’s how my iPod shuffle shakes out, starting sheepishly with:

  1. “Surrender”, by Cheap Trick. Okay, we’ll file this one under “guilty pleasure”. The first-ever rock concert I ever attended was a 1979 Cheap Trick concert at, yes, the Agridome in Regina, Saskatchewan. It was not long after their “Live at Budokan” CD (er, LP) came out, and their North American tour was paralleling a cross-country trip my family was taking. Really. Had we not seen them in Regina, we could have taken in a Cheap Trick show in Mitchell, South Dakota or Pocatello, Idaho. My connection with the group has faded since I was 10 years old, though I can still manage to name all the members of the band (Rick, Robin, Tom (Bill? Dan?), and of course Bun.) I’ve never fully comprehended “Surrender”, though its refrain (“Mommy’s all right, Daddy’s all right – they just seem a little weird…”) always seemed like a nice sentiment, and one that I hope my daughter will someday take to heart. Peter Mulvey, to his credit, gave me a pass on this one, since Milwaukeeans have apparently adopted the Rockford, Illinois-based group as a “local band”.

  2. “Blown Kisses”, by Martin Zellar and the Hardways. I’ve been a fan of Zellar’s since I was a news reporter in Rochester, Minnesota, and hung out regularly at a bar that incessantly played his “Born Under” CD. If Bruce Springsteen had grown up in a small, industrial midwestern city, he may well have evolved into Martin Zellar, who writes with an uncommon empathy for his fellow humans and a heartbreaking understanding of his own failings. Besides that, it’s worth noting that the version of the song I was listening to is from his “Live – Two Guitars, Bass, and Drums” CD, and is WAY better than the studio version.

  3. “Got My Own Thing”, by Liz Phair. Great – what is this, “Mitch’s Guilty Pleasure Mix”? I figure I’m too male and too old to like Liz Phair, but there’s something about her raw, in-your-face attitude that I find appealing. That said, her older stuff (from her “Exile in Guyville” era) is a better illustration of that attitude than this track, which is from her latest effort, “Somebody’s Miracle”. Regardless, I like almost the entire newer CD, in that guilty pleasure-sort-of-way.

  4. “Your Life Is Now”, by John Cougar Mellencamp. I have no idea why this song is on my iPod. I don’t really like it that much – it is, I gather, supposed to be inspirational, a call to action, but – starting with the title - it has all the subtlety of a cinder block through a plate glass window. It sounds a little like it should be the theme to a prime-time drama on the CW network, which is to say it has a catchy melody line, but can easily be boiled down to a 30-second version in syndication.

  5. “Why Not Wyoming”, by Amy Speace. Ah, yes, that’s much better. Thematically similar to the Mellencamp tune, in that it also gets at the endless possibilities that stretch in front of us. But it appeals much more to my metaphorical nature than the previous Mellencampiness. I don’t know a great deal about Amy Speace, but she has a nice voice with plenty of range, a good ear for lyrics, and a very nice cowboy hat. I can’t decide whether I like the song’s gratuitous public radio reference (“...drive until we fall asleep/Listening to ‘FUV…” – a reference, I’m assuming to New York public radio station WFUV), but the song has a nice, soaring feel and a little hint of pedal steel guitar, which always conjures up the image of wide open spaces. Plus, it provided the inspiration for the title of a swell previous blog post. I really like this song.


So there you have it. And if none of this was the least bit interesting to you, consider that it probably took less time to read than it would have taken to listen to each of these songs.

Also, be thankful I didn't have to rationalize Song #6 - "Doin' the Pigeon", by Bert.