31 December 2008

She invented the word

Quote from Caroline at age 4: "Daddy, do you know what I call dirty snow?.... "Smagla."

The word has stuck in our family. Dirty snow is smagla. One of those winter things that we forget about for most of the year but spring to mind with the first snowfall, as in, "that's a big pile of smagla in that parking lot, don't step in the smagla, don't track smagla into the house"
Caroline never explained where she got the idea for the word. An explanation may be found if we ever learn more about her childhood encounters with elves. The dictionary of Primitive Elvish hints that smagla may be the ancient root of the elf word "magla" meaning "stained" or "stain". Hmmm, Stained/dirty dirty/stained, there has to be a connection.

If the word ever spreads and linguists want to know it's origin, it came from the mind of Caroline around 1996. This is a pic of her at age 9 in Alaska. She's in front of the toe of Exit Glacier and a large slug of smagla, just outside Seward, Alaska.
There is also a person named Smagla on Myspace, no connection. http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewProfile&friendID=82857194

28 December 2008

Christmass highlights

I never tire of Handel's Messiah and do not know anyone who does. The choir at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Columbia,SC sent chills down my back as they gave a performance on Christmas Eve that our family will remember for a long time. Twenty people sang as though they were 200.
My mother, at age 80, is one of the treasures of Christmas. Simply relentless in her effort to deliver the perfect Christmas experience to her sons, in-laws, grandchildren, and other guests in her home. Like the call to my cell phone at 115 am Christmas morning, she fell asleep waiting up for us... She was downstairs and I was in bed upstairs. Many of the very best memories of my life involve her and Christmas. Not only does she make the days extra special she provides an ongoing example of how despite aging one can still spend that waning energy serving others. Of course we still have petty arguments but they usually blow over as quickly as the arise.
I will remember this Christmass not for who was there but for who wasn't, Rob. Everyone has to endure that first one away from home and it's never easy. Mine was somewhat like his. New guy on the job in a position that demanded the post be manned over Christmas. We hated not having him, but were proud that he has found a promising position in a very tough job market. We missed him a lot and thought of him often during football games, scrabble games, the Christ Mass, the Christmas Day meal. We'll make it up.

Step aside Smithsonian

On a return to Minneapolis from a great Christmas vacation in SC. Never know what claims you'll find in a local paper.
From the Florence, SC Morning News, 27 Dec, 2008, quoting a Col. Rocky Gannon, in a reference to the defunct Florence Air and Missle Museum .....
"At one time, that museum symbolized Florence. It was the most visited attraction on the East Coast from New York to Miami".

16 December 2008

Christmas Time

There are so many things I think about this season that it is difficult to translate to the written word. How I celebrate it. My family traditions. The story as revealed to us in God's word. The sparkle of the seasons. The music. The manger. The contrast between Santa and St. Nicholas.
Gold and silver adorn the stores. Holiday trees are everywhere, though a real Christmas tree with the star of Bethlehem atop, is found only in churches and homes. Funny that this should bother me. There is no Christmas tree in the Bible. Paul and Silas never made popcorn garlands and Peter never had an argument with his wife over what day to take down the tree.
I think about the people who have been such a big part of my Christmas over the years. I think of them often but particularly at this time of year. My Aunts Joan and Joyce. Visits to them at Christmas are interwoven with so many good memories. My brother Rodney and the early morning treks downstairs at grandmother's house to look for our gifts under the tree, then heading back to bed with our stockings in our arms. Mother and Father and all the sacrifices they made to make this day so special for three boys. My own children and the magic of Christmas in each of their eyes. I have never seen a human express such pure joy as my daughter Rachel on the morning she opened a package with a long awaited doll inside. It was a glimpse of heaven, the type of expression reserved the best things in life. Or the end of this. When we enter heaven it must be with an expression just like that, unrestricted joy.
I think of the contrast between my big tough son, and his request as a child for "a little poodle" for Christmas.
I will remember Caroline as she struggled to read the Christmas story aloud when she was six or seven. How proud she was, and how we thought it would never end as she spurned any help and concentrated on pronouncing every word.

I will always remember my grandfather's reading of the Christmas story and the long ritual that surrounded the evening and the waiting to open family gifts on Christmas eve.
My first midnight Christ Mass, in one of the early years of this century. How this old tradition of the Anglican and Catholic church drew me closer to an understanding of the miracle of this day.
Mary, the blessed mother of Jesus. Worshipped by Catholics, ignored by Protestants. Somewhere in my religion there must be a place for her. The Holy mother of our Lord. The special vessel chosen by God to bear his son. We carry Him inside us spritually, but she carried the God who created her, inside her body. Her blood flowed through Him.

In the northern hemisphere Christmas comes when nature sleeps. We wonder if the early day of winter, December 25, is the true birthday of our Lord, or is it an old pagan holiday that the early church adopted? Wouldn't we be surprised to find that this really is the birth date? How wonderful that when all around us is dead, when all the leaves have fallen, when the small mammals are in hibernation, when the world is encased in ice, the manger of Bethlehem sends a message of life and love and warmth and rebirth.

The haunting strains of "What Child is This?". The world still asks that question every day, every sunrise, every sunset. Who is this Jesus, who is this God / this man that we cannot shake from our minds? Why are we so drawn to him yet something in us also pushes him back. We love the baby, we worship the Lamb of God, but we fear the wrath of the Lion of Judah. What does it tell us about ourselves that we spend weeks and weeks preparing for Christmas but spend only an hour or so in preparation for Easter. What does that say about me?
I will join my family on the eve of his birth. At his altar I will confess my sins. I will take his body and his blood. I will remember Mary and Joseph. I will thank my heavenly father for coming to this world just like me, a small helpless boy.

15 December 2008

The last gasp of fall in Minnesota

Tonight: Partly cloudy, low around -18.
Tuesday: Snow likely, 1-2 inches. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 6. Chance of snow is 60%.
Tuesday Night: Snow likely, mainly before midnight, low around -4. New snow less than one inch.
Wednesday: Mostly sunny, high near 10, low around 0.
Thursday: A 50 percent chance of snow. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 18, low around 6.
Friday: Partly sunny, with a high near 17.A slight chance of snow, with a low around 5.
Saturday: A chance of snow. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 10, low around -3.
Sunday: Mostly sunny and cold, with a high near 5, a low around -9.
Monday: Sunny and cold, with a high near 3.

Peggy Noonan on Hyman Roth

One of my favourite articles, that I have shared with many friends and colleagues, by Peggy Noonan. Posting here mainly so i'll always have it handy

Most of the important things you will ever say or hear in your life are composed of simple, good, sturdy words. "I love you." "It's over." "It's a boy." "We're going to win." "He's dead." These are the words of big events. Because they are big you speak with utter and unconscious concentration as you communicate them. You unconsciously edit out the extraneous, the unneeded. When soldiers take a bullet they don't say, "I have been shot," they say, "I'm hit." Good hard simple words with good hard clear meanings are good things to use when you speak. They are like pickets in a fence, slim and unimpressive on their own but sturdy and effective when strung together.

Stop here and go out and rent The Godfather, Part II. In the middle of that movie, you will find a speech that is one of the most famous of our time, and that a lot of people keep parts of in their heads. (If I were making a compendium of great speeches of the latter half of the twentieth century I would include it.)It is the speech spoken by the actor Lee Strasberg, who played the part of Hyman Roth, a character inspired by the old gangster Meyer Lansky. Here is Lee Strasberg's great speech, given as Hyman Roth stood, weak and furious, before cold-eyed Michael Corleone:

"There was this kid I grew up with. He was younger than me, sort of looked up to me, you know. We did our first work together, worked our way out of the street.Things were good, we made the most of it. In Prohibition we ran molasses into Canada, made a fortune -- your father too. As much as anyone I loved him and trusted him.Later on he had an idea: to build a city out of a desert stopover for GIs on the way to the coast. That kid's name was Moe Green. And the city he invented was Las Vegas. This was a great man, a man of vision and guts. And there isn't even a plaque or a signpost or a statue of him in that town. Someone put a bullet through his eye. No one knows who gave the order. When I heard it, I wasn't angry. I knew Moe, I knew he was headstrong, talking loud, saying stupid things. So when he turned up dead, I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we've chosen. I didn't ask who gave the order because it had nothing to do with business. You have two million in a bag in your room. I'm going in to take a nap. When I wake, if the money's on the table I'll know I have a partner. If it isn't I'll know I don't."

When Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola wrote those words they thought they were writing dialogue, a theatrical speech of a major character. But... they were writing a great speech. It is simple, unadorned, direct, declarative. There isn't anything in it that is "eloquent," and yet taken as a whole it is deeply eloquent: It tells you something big in an unforgettable way. There is in it no obvious, signaled rhythm, and yet if you read it aloud you will find in it the beautiful, unconscious rhythm of concentrated human speech. There are no phrases that seem to attempt to conjure up pictures, and yet when you hear it you imagine a Moe Green and see the dusty nothingness of early Las Vegas.It is simplicity that gives the speech its power. Each word means something and each seems to inevitably follow the word that precedes it and summon the word that follows. And so a kind of propulsion is created: It moves forward, and with good speed.One of the great things about this speech is that as you hear it you realize that for the first time you're hearing what Hyman Roth really thinks. The plain and unadorned quality of his words signals this. And we pick the signal up because we have gained a sense in our lives that true things are usually said straight and plain and direct. - Peggy Noonan

14 December 2008

Saving Bedford Falls

I watched "It's a wonderful life" last week. As much as I like the show I believe the character Mr. Potter is at least a little bit misunderstood.

Granted Potter is a bad guy. He's evil and selfish and seeks to use illegal means to destroy his enemies. But many of the points he makes about business and financial management are valid. He is, for example, correct in his criticism of George Bailey for having no personal savings or investments despite having a decent job and a family counting on him.
"What are you but a warped, frustrated young man? A miserable little clerk crawling in here on your hands and knees and begging for help. No securities, no stocks, no bonds. Nothin' but a miserable little $500 equity in a life insurance policy. "
We are never told what George did with all of his salary but the implication of the movie is that he is a kind soul who could not say no to a friend in need. Admirable, at first but in reality George puts the needs of strangers and friends ahead of his family.
Potter is probably correct in his view that George is managing the building and loan improperly by lending to several people whose credit worthiness is questionable. The Bailey building and loan specialized in subprime loans, with a key difference from firms of the real estate boom was that this lender knew the customers quite well, such as the Martini family. George's main criteria for lending is that his customer be a friend and have a job, any job will do.
One thing Potter misses about Bailey is that George's effort are providing a meager stimulus to the Bedford Falls economy and strengthening the working class. By doing so George is making the town more attractive to industrialists such as Sam Wainright who moves a plant to the town at his urging.

Potter provides an overlooked benefit to the community via a means of escape for those caught in a run on the bank. Yes, and by agreeing to buy shares in the bank at half the previous market price. As the buyer in a panicked market, he is speculating that the mass is wrong and providing liquidity for their shares. The masses on the other hand are speculating that Potter is wrong and they will take advantage of his greed by dumping what they think is soon to be worthless stock in his lap. "Better half than nothing" one character says.
Absent Potter, there likely would have been no market for the shares at all. Once he established this floor price, George Bailey was able to convince others that there was value in the institution based on the actions of Potter. Even though acting on his own greed, Potter's offer combined with Bailey's appeal restored a modest level of confidence in the Building and Loan. In shattered markets it is often the speculator who steps in and begins to restore confidence by causing those panicking to slow down just a bit and rethink a rash exit from the market.
Note: it is possible Potter actually started the run on the bank. This would change him from a market speculator, a good guy, to a market manipulator, or bad guy.
Like the story "Wicked", a good tale could be told re-examining these characters, their history, and impact on Bedford Falls.

08 December 2008


Saw the play at the Orpheum Theatre and read the book. Liked the book which makes a very old point that things are not always what they seem, people are not always what they seem, but does so through the retelling of a child's tale.

Our tickets came to us via a corporate contribution to a charity event and were $500 each. The people sitting to our left got theirs on Craig's list.

The staging and costuming was interesting. I often find the creativity in professional set design extremely interesting even when I don't like a play. This one was a visual pleasure.

Not so the story as told by the playwright. The story now is about two girls, one popular, the other not. The popular one is pretty, the other is ugly. They fight over a boy. They make up. The ugly one with the good heart gets the boy. (She also doesn't know her long lost dad, but really does, but doesn't know she does). The pretty one with a pretty good heart becomes famous. The end.

04 December 2008


I was in dallas today. Stayed at some fancy hotel that was so memorable I have forgotten the name. I will remember it for the fact that the when guests walked the halls to their rooms the servants all stopped speaking to one another and stood to the side while the guest passed. Weird. Crescent Hotel, that's it. Rosewood Crescent. Won't be back, it gave me the creeps. However, the room service was amazing. On time and the food was great, especially the chicken soup.

Spoke at an industry event and attended a seminar.

01 December 2008

While Tigers prey, do they pray?

Regarding the season... Oh the pain of heightened expectations. Ten years ago we longed for a season as "disappointing" as the Tigers 9-3. The most dreadful of these is the loss to the gaggle of scallawags to the west. Equally frustrating was the fact that it was not until the last 30 seconds of the last game of the regular season that two members of the family took notice of the team and joined Tigers fandom. Each offered a weak sigh of disappointment on the final play, a field goal attempt in the closing seconds that could have tied the game.

On a completely unrelated matter that just came to mind, scripture suggests we rejoice in our tribulations and suffering. That's hard. Not when the problem is over with but when you are right in the middle of the mess and hurting. Not going through the motions but really rejoicing. Thank you God for everything about this mess I'm in because I know so many blessings will flow from it if I listen to you. Thank you for the pain, the discomfort, the uncertainty. To use a current day example thank you for falling markets and the loss of your dollars and the wonderful reminder of my need for you that flows from this. Thank you for all the things I don't understand. It once took five visits to the doctor on a potentially serious health matter to cause me to pray for healing. Wasn't I tough! On the fifth visit, I chose weakness.

30 November 2008

Thanksgiving - Thirteen thanks

My three children astound me. 2 1/2 grownups (as opposed to the 1 1/2 grownups who are their parents) with the half not neccessarily belonging to the youngest. When I held each of them for the very first time I whispered the name of their savior. It was the first word they heard. All the good things I hoped for when each was born are coming to pass. They have endured their trials in ways that makes me so very very pleased. All of those prayers whispered over each of their cradles have come to pass many many times over. A day does not passed that I am not reminded of some good lesson taught to me by my parents. I believe my children are surrounding themselves with friends who build them up and make them better. I trust they are returning the favor. My ancestors have imbedded in my family a moral DNA with hundreds of years of lessons and examples of right living. They influence us in ways we do not grasp. After 30 years it still confounds me that I have the honor of spending a single day in the presence of my wife. I do not deserve to share the same home with her. The wisdom God granted me has kept me out of trouble and preserved my family from disaster many times. When nature sleeps God covers her in a blanket of white. God has entrusted to me a few dollars and I pray I used them wisely most of the time. I own a Coleman smoker. Pigs dream of the honor of the gentle cremation of a portion of their remains in this chamber. To the craftsman at the Onyx cigar company I toast the Churchill cigar with the maduro wrapper. Equally worthly of praise is the Hoyo de Monterrey, Double Corona, maduro cigar. When I read it is often from the great works of C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. When I gather with my great extended family it is at Roan Mountain State Park, Cabin 5.

21 November 2008


At a very fine luncheon engagement today I was reminded that when it comes to personal service, there simply is no better restaurant in my town than Zelo.

19 November 2008


I did not expect a close this low. I should have.

19 October 2008

18 hours in Phoenix

Noon Saturday, arrive at hotel. Lunch with friends. Hiked a nearby park mid afternoon. Watched football until 5. Changed to tux and left for benefit dinner at 6. Silent auction, lots of bids, no wins. Dinner outdoors, under the stars. great food, good company. Six colleagues, three clients. Back to hotel 10;55. Left for MSP at 6am. A great escape but should have made it last longer.

16 October 2008

A day in the life

0300 - On the treadmill, Asia down, Europe mixed, US futures point to a flat open
0430 - shower, off to the airport
0500 - My shirt is the same color as that of the TSA police
0515 am - In the NWA World Club
0700 - On the plane. Sorry, no coffee, the first class waitress tells my with a smile
0900 - In a rental car. Sitting in the parking lot of the Shop N Save market in Des Plaines, IL. Preparing for a business meeting
1030 - I check voicemail and hear a good friend has died. I think about him for 15 minutes
1130 - At lunch with a client.... hang on.... My job is to bring them out of the valley and over to the other side.
1300 Chicago NWA World Club.
1500 My seat partner in first class works in HR at General Mills and tells me the economy is only going to get worse, much worse..... OOOOH i'm scared. She's also convinced that a bad economy is good for us, will teach us lessons. Good old American values, something about them that they just refuse to die.
1600 MSP never looked better. I think about my friend who is no longer here. Dow up 400.

05 October 2008

The world is getting back to normal

The cubs were swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS over the weekend, complete with a little help from the Cardinals. With all the calamity in the financial markets, a victory by the cubs might have signaled that we really had something to worry about. The world is safe for one more year. Thank you Dodgers and (former St. Louis Cardinals) manager Joe Torre. Had Torre not spent time in St. Louis, he might have taken the cubs seriously and changed his game plan. Had the cubs played their last ten games of the year like the Cardinals (7-3) they would have been marching on.
The undefeated Missouri Tigers are ranked number 2 this week. Things are getting better all the time.

04 October 2008

They're making fun of us....

My latest trip to the capitol of the United States leaves me less enamoured of democracy. Maybe we should keep it to ourselves for a few years until it is hammered back into a shape worth sharing.

This week world financial markets were perched on an abyss, steps away from grinding to a halt. United States congressman knew this but also could not resist picking up pennies in front of a steam roller and snagged pet projects for their backers in the home district. It's a game to them I think. The drug of personal glory and adulation has them hooked. They live in some alternative world where they are important people. Based on their actions, congressmen just don't like Americans much and must be laughing when the cameras are off.

It would have been nice if Congress had been able to debate a rescue program on its merits, or lack of them. Rather, they push America closer to the abyss, hold it by the shirt collar as it sways forward, and wrap us in pork and pet projects while they tell us how much they have helped us.

What congress has is a weird collective form of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. They inflict pain and suffering on the country by creating problems and then solving them, or making real problems worse. The purpose is to gain attention, recognition and personal satisfaction for themselves.

Those things that have the potential to do the most good have and equal potential to do the most harm. We need a congress that honors the citizens who do not need it.

I am ready for a good king. Now Wenceslas, that was a king

19 September 2008

The Articulate Hobo

I met a hobo on Wednesday.

He came up to me and asked if I had lived in Minneapolis for long. I replied and he began to tell me this story of how he and his wife had just landed. Refugees from Milwaukee. She has an illness. They needed money to get a room at a YMCA shelter. He was a professional chef looking for work. His story was a concise 20 second description of his situation and his needs.

I usually pass by all those bearing a "homeless, will work for food" sign. This guy was in my face, looking me in the eye. Not downcast but optimistic. Call me a sucker for a well prepared sales presentation. Before he could finish I handed him a twenty and wished him well.

13 September 2008

Helena, Montana - Tim's Exxon, bad coffee, mountain biking

If my Cafe Du Monde trip is among my best coffee experiences, the cup I had at Gate 2 at the Helena, Montana airport has to be the opposite. Cold, expensive, smelly, old. Otherwise a great trip. My Dad once said there's no such thing as a bad cup of coffee. He was wrong.

One of the most memorable things about this trip was my stop at Tim's Exxon at 1721 Cedar St.

Filled my tank there yesterday morning, using a credit card to pay at the pump. I did not go inside, just a quck stop to fill the rental car on my way to the airport. But that did not stop the attendant from stepping outside as I was getting into my car and saying "Thanks for coming by sir, have a good day!"

That may not seem like a big deal but it was so surprising. I don't think I've ever had that happen before at a gas station, certainly never when paying at the pump. Great way to start the day. If I lived in Helena I would never buy gas anywhere else. Looked the station up on Yahoo yellow pages and found out I was not the first person to experience the great service from these folks.

Prior day, September 11th, was my first attempt at mountain biking, also in Helena with Dave Roberts. Took a bike path uphill for about a half hour. I run every day but the steepness, the elevation and the use of muscles long dormant made me feel like the most out of shape lardass on the planet. Once at the top of the trail it was a great trail gradually downward. Expect that I pushed the bike about two thirds of the uphill portion, just could not get the coordination/rhythym/strength and balance right. Would definitely give it a try again.

10 September 2008

Hey Sanna Ho Sanna

Can Sarah Palin heal the sick? Can Barack Obama calm the storms at sea? Can they unbreak our homes or feed the hungry? Can they forgive me for my sins?

Many find this pair worthy of adulation. For some it comes close to worship.

This parade is a reminder of the God shaped vacumn in each of us and and the silliness in trying to fill it with a human.

02 September 2008

Labor Day Weekend 2008

When you can't decide whether to go back for another serving of chocolate cake or of cole slaw, you know you have found America's finest summer cookout.

Also - if you ever find yourself at gate A6 at the Charlotte Airport, dealing with a large african-american woman with a big smile and a streak of grey hair across her forehead.... give up. She is the worst gate attendant in the Northwest Airlines system. It's not that she doesn't know the procedures for her job, it's that rather than admit incompetence, she makes it up. Wish I could remember her name.

24 August 2008


I visited New Orleans this week, as I do a couple of times each year. Had some free times one evening, which I spent in Jackson Square. It was hot and muggy but with a breeze, which made the out of doors immensely bearable. Spent a nice long hour smoking a cigar and sipping a cup of cafe au lait from Cafe DuMonde. It was so nice I walked back to my hotel, got another cigar and went back for another cup and another hour of sipping coffee and strolling the french quarter. Stray cats gather in the square at sundown, as do the stray souls.

I walked by, but did not dine, at one of my favorite restaurants, Muriels. I'm not one to dine alone and as this was a solo trip I chose to make my dinner from a Lucky Dog and a diet Pepsi. Walked along the wicked end of Bourbon Street.

The rolling of the Mississippi. I have raised my children under the influence of this grand old dragon that slices America in two. I am not sure that I like the Mississippi, not in the way that I like the White River in North Arkansas or the Doe River in Tennessee. Big rivers are killers. The Kenai River is a killer. The Missouri River is a killer. Given the chance the Mississippi would swallow me, while the Doe River would gently push me to her banks.

20 August 2008

The Mother Ship

Yesterday I went to Mass at St. Albans for Father Mike's noonday homily. Funny how phrases that you have heard all your life suddenly hit you. Today it was... "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us"

I think often about the Catholic Church. This is despite the fact, or because, I was raised a great distance theologically from Rome. In my adult life I have been continually surrounded by its influence. It is the moral anchor on social issues of my adult years, and many many theological ones.

It is unwavering.

I think about several key facts about this church. The Catholic Church claims to be the true Christian Church. It is the only major Christian denominations that does. There are more Catholics than any other Christian denomination. It is the oldest Christian denomination. Perhaps it follows that every Christian must at some point answer the question, "Why am I not a Catholic?". We have to face the claims of Rome and accept them or reject them. We cannot ignore them.

The Catholic Church prays for unity among Christians. Constantly. Protestants do not. The weirdest thing about Protestantism has to be the way it ignores this one thing that must grieve the Father, the disunity in the Church. Not only do we ignore it, many denominations are downright proud of how unlike other denominations, particularly the Catholics they are, and how wide the gulf is between this group and that. Protestants boast about a rebellion that should bring us to tears.

If I were not a Christian, this disunity and plethora of variations of Christianity would be the single biggest obstacle to my conversion.

Why am I not Catholic? I am working on the answer. I'm a baptist by heritage, but I take my children to cathedrals and I make sure they know how to spot Peter, the saint with the keys. The first Pope, I'm not sure. I always told them maybe, never told them no. Not much of a hedge, but something.

19 August 2008

Get that saddle back

Pondering the appearance of two would-be leaders of a temporal kingdom in a self-proclaimed outpost of the heavenly one.....

If the purpose of the church is to bring glory to God and to draw people of the world closer to Christ, what role did this event play in that holy mission?

"For while it is possible for a king to wish very much to be a saint, it is not possible for a saint to wish very much to be a king. " - G. K. Chesterton

17 August 2008

The Verdict

Latest smoking attempt a dud, based on family reaction. Beef ribs definitely a mistake, cooked too long. Inside was passable, bark was bitter. Pork ribs on the dry side. Pork shoulder was good but I think heat should have been higher at some point in the process, perhaps the early hours. In the end 20 hours at 175 was not what I thought it would be. Would like to try a roast at the same temp for 36 hours or so. Typically one of my 20 hour roasts would have about 4 hours spent in the 250+ temp range.

16 August 2008

Dry Rub

For those who don't know, Dry Rub refers to one of two ways to season barbecue. There is the wet stuff, all those red sauces. There is the dry rub, a combination of spices rubbed on the meat at the outset and then largely left alone. You have to be good to rely on a dry rub. With the right red sauce you can make anything edible. If you've got the right wood and an experienced cook, a good pork shoulder will almost season itself.

Smoking pork has to be my favourite diversions. I just don't seem to be able to get enough of it. It's becoming one of the few things I really love about Summer. It started out of boredom during long weekends spent alone here during 2003-04. I played around for a time with cheap cuts of meat, chicken and cuts of pork from the expiration rack at Dub's grocery.

Now, five years into this hobby, I am finally turning out meat that is passable. It took a while. Lots of mistakes. My family is the best gauge. Not by what they say but by what they eat. There are times when the leftovers languish and others when they don't make it past 24 hours.

Currently working on the long slow smoking of pork roasts and ribs. 175 degrees and 18-24 hours of smoking. The roasts almost always come out well. The ribs are more difficult. I know there are many who will wrap ribs in foil to seal in moisture but to me this is cheating. I want to create a great rib that comes from nothing but the smoke. Generally I think my ribs are a bit on the tough side. I cook them too hot too long and dry them out. Part of the problem is I never smoke just ribs. I've usually got a roast on that I'm paying more attention to, building that smoke ring.

I like the relaxing nature of smoking. Grilling is hard hot work. You get your hands burned and your hair singed. Smoking is more work just spread out over more time. If grilling is surfing, smoking is strolling for seashells.

I have not smoked beef much. Most folks will smoke a brisket from time to time, self included. Other than that, you probably have to go to Texas for decent barbecued beef. As I write there are pork ribs, beef ribs and a pork shoulder in the smoker. It's 7pm, they've been on about 2 hours. I'll nurse the smoker through the night and then check the product in the am.

15 August 2008

It's my Fault

In the afternoons, San Francisco is like any other big city. Crowds of suburbanites pounding the pavement, moving their bodies back and forth between places of work, dining establishments, and home.

In the morning... San Francisco is special.

In the mornings there is a taste and feel to the air, both crisp and with a hint of moisture. Yesterday morning on the edge of Chinatown I walked down Kearny Street toward Market, past old Chinese women on their way to work at a local shop, past the smiling hobos just waking up, past traders rushing to get in before the New York open... it's hard not to fall in love with this place. Here the smells of the city do not sour overnight, they ferment.

I never miss San Francisco when I am away, but when I am back I always wonder why.

Note: The Ton Yong Thai Cafe at 901 Kearny Street is a great place for takeout and a late night escape from drug-addled prostitutes in pickup trucks. As I stand on a street corner outside a non-descript Hilton at 11pm these ladies remind me of a favourite quote from the heroine in the novel Kushiel's Dart, "When Love cast me out, it was Cruelty who took pity upon me."

12 August 2008

Run for cover

I find it difficult to accept unsolicited advice. My earliest recollection was one summer in my youth when a kid from across the street, a year my senior and the neighborhood blowhard, said "Let me give you a bit of friendly advice for the sixth grade....".

Unfortunately I have been not only the the recipient but also the giver of such at times. Perhaps as one ages it becomes more difficult to keep all this pseudo-wisdom safely locked in the brain.

It's not unlike the feeling I get when peeking at a neighbors scrabble tiles and the struggle to keep my mouth shut when a 50 point word is jumping out of their tray into my face. "Helping" only makes one feel smart and smug, it does nothing for other players.

A self-determined solution to a problem, even if a lousy one, is better than a perfect one constructed by others. You learn by solving problems for yourself.

11 August 2008

Invaders in the Cities

CS Lewis had an insight that I lack..... A passage from one of my favourite books.

"Why is God landing in this enemy occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society to undermine the devil? Why is He not landing in force, invading it? Is it that He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think He is going to land in force; we do not know when. But we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side. God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, alright: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else-something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God with out disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. " - Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis

08 August 2008

Thank you Hans Heider

My earliest known ancestor, Hans Heider, was born in Glashuetten, Oberfranken Province, Bavaria in 1704. At age 25 he emigrated to America, sailing from Rotterdam to Philadelphia, arriving on the ship Mortonhouse on August 17, 1729.