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Movin' On Up

I've finally bitten the bullet and registered my very own domain! Yay! Henceforth, new posts will appear at http://www.cheerfulstoic.com for your reading pleasure. (Note: if that doesn't work for you, visit me at http://cheerfulstoic42.blogspot.com and try the main link again in a day or two.) It's a bit bare-bones right now but it'll get better as I figure out the new setup. Archives will remain here until I can sort out how to move them. If any webgeeks out there want to help I'd be super appreciative.


I Think They're Competing on Price

Eating instructions on the back of my complimentary in-flight "gourmet" pretzels:
1. Think about our wonderful low fares at airtran.com as you open packet.
2. Place a pretzel in mouth. With each crunch, be reminded of our low fares.
3. As you swallow, remember again just how low the fares are.
4. Repeat until packet is empty.
5. Keep empty packet to remind yourself to book at airtran.com, where you'll always find our lowest fares.

The pretzels tasted like cardboard.



I'm thinking about what purpose (if any) this blog serves in the age of Facebook and whatnot. Who actually reads this?


Things I've Liked on the Internet Recently

How Jelly Belly invents flavors
AI based on swarm behavior
What nerds fight about on Wikipedia
St. Petersburg: Now and Then photos of the siege of Leningrad melded with modern images
The Minimum Wage Machine I've had so many jobs that felt exactly like this. Check out his other work too!
The Language of Food Only four posts, but this blog combines my favorite things - food and words.
The Great Typo Hunt I admire these guys, even as I shake my head at the ultimate futility of their quest.

And now, Oregon Trail movie madness! A trailer for the (sadly, fictional) Oregon Trail motion picture:

And a 1996 mini-documentary on the history of everyone's favorite educational game:

Also, if you are not already subscribed to Mental Floss's outstanding blog, I highly recommend it. Many of my best links come from them.


Sweet Victory

On Saturday night we had a monumental party - an Iron Chef Throwdown. This entailed me taking on my mother's boyfriend Jay in a head-to-head competition for ultimate culinary glory. Jay and I both made dishes for three courses, each one showcasing a different Not-So-Secret Ingredient, and then our dining guests voted for the winner.

First Course - Battle Avocado
Beer-battered fried avocados with shrimp, scallop, crab, and snapper ceviche (me)
Seared sea scallop with guacamole salad and jalapeño pesto (Jay)

Second Course - Battle Duck
Coffee-cardamom grilled duck breast in fig-balsamic sauce with pear-onion potato hash and grilled broccolini (me)
Award-winning duck gumbo with fried boudin balls (Jay)

Dessert - Battle Chocolate
Cappuccino fudge cheesecake in chocolate sauce (me)
Duo of bread puddings with sweet cherry sauce and crème anglaise (Jay)

The final result: my cuisine reigns supreme! Yay! I think it was probably the dessert that put me over the edge: Jay isn't much of a baker and I've been cranking out sweets since I was twelve or so. On the other hand, he has much more experience cooking duck than I do, so it was pretty close. And damn he's great with sauces! The event turned out to be a huge logistical undertaking, but fortunately Mom's really good at that sort of thing so everything went pretty smoothly and everyone had a great time. I think she's ready for a break, but Jay's already plotting the next installment.


Leaving on a Jet Plane

Dear American Taxpayers,

You will doubtless be delighted to hear that I will be flying back to DC on some airline I've never even heard of (AirTran? WTF?) that isn't even part of any of the airline alliances. I will have to pay to check my bags and won't earn any frequent flyer miles and will have to make a stop rather than flying direct, turning a simple three-hour flight into an eight-hour ordeal including a needless three-hour layover in Atlanta. And all this is to save the U.S. Government a few measly hundred dollars and to save you personally some tiny fraction of a cent. I hope you're happy.

Love and Kisses,

Life in Limbo

Time passes. The sun comes up. The sun goes down. I sleep, eat, read books, stream Netflix, and hang out in Mom's pool, tossing the occasional tennis ball for the dog. I thought that I would be bored stiff after two weeks, but it seems that - like everyday people who find new strength and courage in difficult times - I have adapted to this unusually idyllic lifestyle by tapping vast stores of indolence I had no idea I possessed. It's going to be tough to give this up in September, though I imagine my parents would put a stop to it sooner rather than later if State wasn't going to do it for them.

This strange languor is compounded by the fact that, for the forseeable future, I am not in charge of my life. Beginning September 13 I hand over many of my Big Life Decisions to the U.S. Government. They will tell me what my job will be and where I will live while I do it. I'm a control freak, always have been, so this scares me a little. But even worse than the lack of control is the lack of foreknowledge; until such time as these pretty major decisions are revealed to me, I can't plan. I can make no firm plans for anything past mid-October. I don't know if I can come home for Christmas. I don't know if I can go to the SAIS reunion in Bologna next May. I just have to wait and see what happens. I suppose this is what various gurus and life coaches call Living In The Moment. I hear it's a good thing, and I suppose it has its benefits. But I'm a planner by nature, and having even the relatively near future shrouded in an impenetrable fog of uncertainty is pretty frustrating.

I felt the same way during the long job hunt, always facing an array of possible futures depending on how this or that interview went, and it was horrible. It's much more pleasant this time. If I must spend a few months in life's waiting room, it's much easier to handle floating in a swimming pool with a cocktail than in grinding poverty and soul-sapping temp work. And this time I know for sure that it's only temporary. One day in October The Plan will be revealed to me, and I can take that plan and make plans of my own.

And You Get There in a Car

I've always been amazed when watching the Discovery Channel to see members of various indigenous populations ascertaining from something as seemingly innocuous as a broken tree branch that a wild boar has been by here in the last hour, or some such useful piece of information. Amazed by this insight, I marveled at the way indigenous groups, unspoiled by Civilization, were so in tune with their environment. Now, having returned to Houston after essentially five years of absence, I realize that I too was in tune with important aspects of my environment, and those skills have now deteriorated with years of disuse. What skills, exactly? What part of my environment could I judge quickly and accurately based on tiny observations? Traffic.

I used to know all the handy back routes and was able to look at a particular piece of roadway or even just at the clock and accurately judge the fastest and least inconvenient way to reach my destination. I was intimately familiar with traffic's ebbs and flows in my own little section of the Greater Houston Metropolitan Area and I always knew where the freeway construction was and how much additional time I could expect it to take.

After five years of walking and public transportation, traffic examination is no longer second nature. Often I don't even think about traffic, even at a time I know is rush hour, and am surprised to see so many cars impeding my path. And when I do try to plan for the traffic, I find that I no longer know which lanes I need to be in where and cannot choose between the freeway and the feeder and the backroads. I feel like a bumbling European explorer in the deepest darks of Africa, except that I've been here before and really should, and used to, know better. And by the time I get my traffic sense back again I will be heading back to DC, where all I really need to know is where Metro is doing track maintenance and where to stand on each platform for the best chance of getting a seat on the ride home.


An Ode to Niko Niko's Potatoes

There are many things I love about Niko Niko's. I love their soft fluffy pita bread. I love their tender juicy souvlaki. I love their tzatziki - always creamy, never watery. I love their huge portions for low prices, although this is not quite so important now as it was in college. I love their staff shirts, which exhort patrons to "try my Greek honey balls." I love their Greek honey balls. But mostly I love their potatoes.

I can get a souvlaki sandwich anywhere, but those potatoes only come from Niko Niko's. I pity other patrons who get rice or fries with their meals, because the fools are missing the taste sensation. Neon yellow, buttery, slightly tangy, and paprika bespeckled, I dream about these potatoes when I am not in the Greater Houston area. And when I am in town I rush down to eat those potatoes until I can eat no more. I did this today. It was wonderful. The souvlaki was good too.


Things I've Liked on the Internet Lately


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