Friday, August 28, 2015

Key's keys.

Ever come across one of these?

Yep---mystery key.

Why does this keep happening??!?!?

Is what I'd have said as a youth, when the junk drawer in our ancestral home kept filling with keys to which there seemed to be no locks. I thought it was fate, mocking our family name, but eventually I discovered that it happened to every homeowner. 

A key without a lock may seem like a spirit separated from its body, and yet it's not as bad as a lock without a key. That could get you in a real jam. A lock without a key is a problem; a key without a lock is a nuisance. 

Why is a solo key a nuisance? My example is the one above, which I found in a very little-used drawer. It's a Kwikset; that's my only clue. The tag was blank. I know we've replaced several locks---was this one? 

I basically have three choices: 

1) Throw it away and hope it doesn't fit a lock where it might come in handy (even though that clearly has not happened in more than a decade); 

2) Try every lock in the house and see if it works on any of them, and if so, label it correctly; 

3) Put it back in the drawer and forget about it for another 10 years. 

Give ya one guess!

And there it shall probably sit, until I lose something again that brings me to the Mystery Drawer of Hidden Delights, or until we move, whichever comes first. If we move I will probably be forced to check every lock in the house with the key as a service to the new owners, and then throw it away because we got rid of its lock twenty years before. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dog day was ruff!

Yesterday was National Dog Day, an actual sponsored event (unlike, say, Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day) dedicated to the celebration of our little hairy canine chums. And celebrate him we did.

Not everyone does, though. I think I have mentioned that Tralfaz is a really big dog---well over 100 pounds---but friendly to a fault. Really, too friendly; we have to make sure he doesn't run across the street to stand in front of joggers, his face all like, "Hi! You smell like sweat! I'm your new best friend forever!"

The other day I was waiting for a man who was coming to give us an estimate on a job; he hadn't been to the house before, so, it being a nice morning, I sat on the porch with the dog. This way I could greet the man when he arrived, and he'd know he was in the right place. Soon a big pickup came along, and a huge man got out of it. When Tralfaz and I came down the porch steps, Tralfaz on a leash, the guy stopped cold---he looked terrified. I had to put the dog in the house before he'd come up the walk.

Now, some people are badly allergic to dogs, and that can be scary enough. But some people have a phobia, or have had terrible experiences with dogs. I'm not discounting anyone's fears. I just feel bad that the world's friendliest dog (mine) is an unintended victim of them.

What I decided to do was borrow the theme from the old Caspar the Friendly Ghost cartoons and write up a little song we can sing when people come to the house:

Tralfaz the friendly pup
The friendliest dog you know
Though some folks might look at him with fright
The rest of us love him so!

There's no reason to fear
'Cause he's really glad to meetcha
Except for skunks and deer
He's kind to every living creature

Some folks don't understand
And think that he'll eat them up
But we all know and we love him so
Tralfaz the friendly pup!

Maybe it will help.

By the way, Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day was August 8. You missed it. Don't try to do it now, especially if you live near me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A big giant reality show.

I'm becoming increasingly perplexed about the mission statements of cable TV stations. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about them, but I suppose any amount of time could lead one to perplexity.

I'm old enough to remember when TLC stood for The Learning Channel. It really was; there was an absolutely outstanding series in the 90's called The Learning Channel's Great Books, most episodes narrated by Donald Sutherland. In one-hour episodes you could learn about the books' story and the characters (in the case of fiction), the topic and development (for nonfiction), the author, the history, the impact, and the importance of a great world classic. Can you see TLC running that today? The network that does shows about enormously fat people, little tiny people, hugely tall people, gigantic families.... I won't call it the freak show network, as I have respect for the individuals on these shows, but it appears that to TLC it is their mission statement: Freaks On Parade.

But really, all the channels now are sliding this way. They all want a show where you have a family or a business full of oddballs so they can show us their hilarious or touching interactions. Fine---but it leads to shows that don't seem to make sense for the channel on which they appear.

Animal Planet has shows about tree house builders and pool builders. What's that have to do with animals? The tree houses aren't for squirrels. Tanked at least features fish, along with the goofballs who run the business.

Much as I love the Duck Dynasty high jinks on A&E, the Robertsons are not Arts and they are supposedly reality, not Entertainment. Bravo was supposed to be a high-class culture channel once upon a time, not a Real Housewives channel. Not sure how much Discovery is going on with Discovery's Naked and Afraid---the title probably tells you all you need to discover. I guess the car restoration shows on History are historical, but it's a far cry from the all-documentary channel it once was.

Basically I see all these channels slowly tending to put the same kind of shows on, and as they become less attached to their original raison d'etre, the channels will morph into one single channel called Reality. And then you might as well turn off the TV and go outside.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tired of summer?

I passed a scummy pond that had become as green as a crayon, what with stagnant water, little rain, and the stink of rank, August days. Going out of the house at dawn these days has been like walking into a humidor that stores old meat. Then I thought about what's coming.

Dreary gray skies, an endless scrim of snow and mud, darkness and rain and ice. Yippie!

An optimistic chap would think of the advantages of each season. Spring's refreshing rain! Summer's balm of warmth! Fall's wild, colorful parade! Winter's crystal, bracing breeze! But I tend to see the year as a round of sogginess, burns, humidity, slipperiness, freezing, and misery. Yes, something to hate at all times of the year. What an ungrateful slob I can be.

I do understand people who have retired to the south saying that they miss the change of seasons. When you grow up within a temperate zone, your eyes come to hunger for the next season. A friend of mine who spent a couple of years in Quito said, "You can get tired of the perfect weather." Enough of this dull green sward, this blinding sun! Bring on short days and mounds of snow!

I think the great Lileks once wrote that in Minnesota, seasons hang on just long enough to overstay their welcome, and there's something useful in that. If the seasons must change, it's better that we are happy greet them.

Seems like there was a time we felt that way about the seasons of our lives, too, but maybe that's just wishful thinking of the past. After all, St. Paul might have noted that when he became a man he put away childish things, but perhaps he thought of that because he saw men not putting away childish things. It'd be like thinking you could hold on to spring forever. If it doesn't ripen to summer, it will choke to death.

This comes from a guy who likes cartoons and PBJ, so take it with whatever grains of salt you wish.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Enough of this crap!

While walking Tralfaz, my faithful pup companion, we came across this:

I was a bit perplexed by this because the spot where it's posted doesn't look like anyone's property. But there are adjoining houses, and who wants dog poop all over the neighborhood? Children actually do run around barefoot sometimes in suburbia. (We never did that in urbia, broken beer bottles being a fixture of the landscape.)

As tacky as homemade signs such as these are, I'm glad to see them. People in suburbia should clean up after their dogs, even if they think it is on unclaimed land. Even people in the city don't always clean up after their dogs, and it's been the law there since 1978. I don't know if it is the law in the town in which we were strolling, but I doubt they have cops patrolling every residential street on foot, looking to catch poopers in the act.

The thing is, it is rude to let your dog crap on someone else's property and not pick it up. Most people understand that, but judging from the fact that someone saw the need to post this sign, not everyone does.

Tralfaz used to go after other dogs' poop when he was a little guy; a lot of dogs do (dog doo! Har!) and it's a good way to pick up illnesses from other dogs. So I appreciate people making the effort to keep it clean.

And I don't want any people in my own neighborhood thinking Tralfaz is the guy leaving surprise packages. Tralfaz almost never goes anywhere off his home lawn, but when we're out and about I always carry a bag, just in case. (He surprised me once in the town park; in almost a year he had only pooped at home. Fortunately, on a whim, I had grabbed a poop bag before we got to the park.)

So I'm glad people are willing to put up signs to educate those who just don't realize that leaving dog crap around is rude. They may think it dissolves with the dew. They are mistaken.

Speaking of dogs, I uploaded a video of my pal's pup on YouTube -- I'm not saying this dog is cuter than Tralfaz, but this clip---puppy vs. ice cube---may be the cutest thing on planet Earth.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Cooking 101: Home Ack.

Late August is here, and despite my recent warnings to the contrary, many young idiots are heading off to college. Many of these youngsters will be away from home for the first time, or perhaps living in off-campus housing for the first time. For a lot of them they will find that they have to cook their own food. They may have thought they could order pizza whenever hunger struck, or buy a rotisserie chicken from the local supermarket, but that kind of thing gets pricey and cuts into the beer money. Also, how many Cup Noodles and store-brand frozen chicken pot pies can a person stand?

Fred is here to help, youngsters! I started cooking when I was in college, and it was a lifesaver. There's no need to panic: With the aid of a toaster oven and a microwave, you can cook actual food that doesn't suck and will not burn the dorms down. I hope to present some extremely simple recipes from time to time over the upcoming weeks that can be made by people with virtually no cooking skill at all. We have to crawl before we can run, and I don't mean the kind of crawling one sees late in the wee hours on Pledge Week.

Here is a starter recipe, a tuna casserole that was a staple of my recipe book for years until my wife got sick of it.

You Will Need:

  • 1 10.75-oz. can of Cream of Mushroom soup*
  • 1 5-oz. can of tuna (solid white is the best, but anything will do) (except cat food)
  • Half of a 16-oz. box of elbow macaroni
  • Milk**
  • Something to crumble for a thin coating on top -- corn flakes, potato chips, stale (non-moldy) bread, Italian bread crumbs, Doritos, tortilla chips, all good
  • Probably a can opener, although some cans have pull-tops now
  • Spoon
  • An ovenproof container big enough to hold 1.5 to 2 quarts -- you can get a foil one cheap***

2 pints = 1 quart
1 quart = .946 liters, or as close as makes no difference

Also: Something to eat it off and tools to eat it with.

Bring it all back to your toaster oven or, if you're in a house, an actual oven oven. Set the oven to 350 degrees.**** Most new ovens will have some means of alerting you when they reach the target temperature; if yours doesn't, let it heat up for 20 minutes. (You will hear a gas oven stop burning when the temperature is right, but that won't work for an electric oven.)

Take a spoon. Scoop the contents of the can of soup in the container. You will have to open the can to accomplish this. Fill the can up with milk and mix that in the container with the soup. Put the tuna into the container too. Yes, that can will also need to be opened. If you want to get crazy, drain the tuna before adding it, but you can skip that part. Add the macaroni. Put the unused macaroni somewhere safe, preferably in a sealed container or plastic bag to discourage vermin. When the macaroni is mixed in with the soup and milk and tuna, top it with whatever you like as a topper. Don't make it an inch thick; just enough to cover. Stick it in the oven for an hour. If your casserole dish (for that is what it is) has a lid, leave the lid off.

After an hour the tuna casserole should be warm and bubbly. If it instead looks like a charcoal briquette and there is a fireman busting down the door with an ax, then you probably set the oven too high.

One of the nice parts about this recipe is that you don't have to boil the macaroni before you add it to the other ingredients; it softens up as it bakes. If you undercook it the macaroni will be hard, but at least you won't kill anyone because the tuna comes out of the can already cooked.

Another nice thing is that you can fancy it up. Maybe you have a date coming over, or find yourself having to entertain the Queen of Finland due to a long series of comical events. You can substitute Campbell's Golden Mushroom soup for the cream of mushroom; you can add some peas and/or carrots, or a small onion, chopped.*****

This recipe will feed a couple of hungry guys, one guy with the munchies, three women, or five women who pretend they don't eat when they're around one another and then raid the candy machine later.


* I'm not going to tell you to buy Campbell's, but it's like what they do in magazines to avoid annoying advertisers---the size I specified is that of the Campbell's can. So buy Campbell's.

** Don't use chocolate milk, whey protein shake, leftover McDonald's McFlurry, or anything a month past its expiration date. Show some self-respect.

***Don't bring a bucket of water into the store and start filling all the containers to find the right size. They are usually marked. 

**** Fahrenheit, not Celsius. 350 Celsius is 660 degrees Fahrenheit, and you will burn down the dorm. If you are going to school in Canada or something and the oven uses Celsius, set it to 180. 

***** Oooh, Culinary Institute of America stuff! But remember to chop the onion. Don't just put a whole onion in it.