02 February 2014

On watching football

Two weeks ago I posted the following to Facebook:
I have an important announcement: If the Seahawks make it to the Superbowl, I will willingly sit down and watch a football game without my dad. For hometown pride. And for clever commercials and an excuse to eat an entire bowl of onion dip. But mostly for hometown pride.
Note the qualifiers in my commitment: "willingly" and "without my dad." I've never been into football—this is perhaps the one thing my father wished he could have changed about me. I'm pretty sure the only game I've sat down and watched in its entirety without him was on a date in BYU's LaVell Edwards Stadium. For me, watching football was never about the game. It was about spending time with my dad.

Today is the big day, and my dad is no longer here. But I went out yesterday and bought snacks and root beer, gearing myself up for the game. I kept wondering about that—am I going to enjoy watching this? Why do I feel obligated to keep a promise idly thrown out on Facebook? Why do I actually feel invested?

It occurred to me that today's Super Bowl falls on 2 February—just two days before the third anniversary of my dad's passing. He was taken from us suddenly and inconveniently. Learning to deal with his death has been a long road, one I'm still pushing myself along. One thing I've learned is that it helps me to practice grieving rituals, and I think that's what I've turned this year's Super Bowl into.

My dad was more into college football than the NFL, but if he were alive today I think he would be excited to see our old home team make it to the national championship. I think he'd be watching. Maybe he'd go over to my sister's house to watch with my brother-in-law Ted. He'd call me when an exciting play happened, or at halftime to ask, "Are you watching?" even though he knows I'm not really a football fan.

I'm watching today so my answer to his hypothetical question can be "Yes." I think I'll feel like I'm watching with him, or perhaps for him. I don't want to miss the exciting moments he would relish. I can make my voice reflect his, taking the roll of couch-seat quarterback to exult in the good plays and points scored, and condemn the incompletions and turnovers. I'll drink root beer and eat chips and dip and feel like I get a few more hours of quality time with my dad.

Whom I still miss terribly. But I hope that for a few hours this evening he won't seem so far away.

I'm still not a football aficionado and I don't anticipate that changing. But for today: Go Seahawks!

05 January 2013

Books I read in 2012

Inspired by one of my favorite writer/artists David Malki !, I submit to you a short list of the books I read in 2012. This list does not include books I started and did not finish, though it may include books that I finished that I started in 2011 or previously. So, for example, Dracula will have to appear on my 2013 list, since I started it in October 2012 but didn't finish it until today. On the other hand, The Essays of E.B. White gets a place on the 2012 list, even though I started reading it back in 2008.

Following Malki !'s lead, I will note how I obtained the book and the format I read it in, for the sake of mild interest. The books on the list appear in the order in which I finished them.

Castle Waiting, Volume 1 by Linda Medley
Format: Hardcover received as a gift
Not so much a graphic novel as a graphic anthology of stories centered around the castle named in the title. The book was a pleasant surprise--it started out as a somewhat stereotypical fairy tale and turned into a platform for telling genre-breaking stories of all shapes and sizes. The running theme throughout the book was friendship--how relying on one another makes us stronger individually and as a whole. I definitely recommend.

Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke
Format: Hardcover borrowed from scrumpestuous
I enjoyed Cooke's first graphic adaptation of Parker (The Hunter) more overall, but this volume was still good. Of particular note are the various heist sequences. They're broken out and explained with all the quirky charm of Soderbergh's Ocean's 11, and he uses different, creative formats to describe each one. Really creative stuff.

Essays of E.B. White by E.B. White
Format: Paperback purchased used from Capitol Hill Books
I took a while to read this, coming back to it here and there to read another essay. The entire collection is worth reading, though as you may expect some essays are better than others. A few of the more notable pieces:
  • Death of a Pig
  • Bedfellows
  • Here Is New York
  • On a Florida Key
  • Once More to the Lake
  • Will Strunk

Ronin by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley
Format: Paperback borrowed from scrumpestuous
This is one of Frank Miller's classics, but I didn't love it. The concept was interesting and kept me reading, but in the end I was a little confused and didn't feel quite satisfied. Maybe it was supposed to be that way. Maybe that doesn't help.

Batman: Ego and Other Tales by Darwyn Cooke
Format: Paperback borrowed from scrumpestuous
Another small anthology of comics, all Batman or Batman character stories. The best by far in the collection is "Selina's Big Score," which reads a lot like one of Cooke's Parker comics. Gritty and noir, it's a crime story about a big heist, and Cooke doesn't pull punches. Recommended reading.

The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clayson
Format: Paperback borrowed from my brother
This should be a required text for all individuals who are beginning to earn their own money. The eastern parable format was a little tedious at times, but the principles contained in them are sound, and should be learned from an early age. This book is a good place to start for anyone who wants to shape or reshape their financial behavior. Highly recommended.

Some Buried Caesar (Nero Wolfe #6) by Rex Stout
Format: Paperback borrowed from my mom
Any Wolfe novel that gets the titular character out of the reclusive comforts of his Manhattan brownstone is sure to please. This is one of the better Wolfe books I've read so far (and I've read six of them--I'm going in order). I love a good mystery.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Format: Paperback purchased at retail
There's not a lot I can say about any of these books that hasn't already been said, other than that I personally enjoyed them. I jumped on the bandwagon after I saw the movie and I rushed through all three in a matter of weeks.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Format: Hardcover purchased used

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Format: Hardcover purchased at retail
I'll add one more thing here--a lot of people seem to be disappointed or even angry with how the saga ended. I am an outlier--I thought Collins' ending was brilliant and true to her story and characters. I hold her in high regard for having the guts to end her story the way she did. I look forward to finding out what else she'll give us in the future.

Juicy Work: Finding and Following Your Passion by Sandra Mobley
Format: Paperback received as a gift from the author
Sandy is a good friend of my sister's and she gave me a copy of her book when I attended the launch party at her house. I've struggled with trying to figure out what I want to do as a career all of my life, and I know that a significant portion of my peers are in the same boat. This is a good book for creating a frame of reference for figuring out what you want from a career and beginning to plan for how to get it. Definitely recommended, especially to anyone who is trying to figure out how to get more enjoyment out of their professional life.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Format: Hardcover purchased at retail
This is definitely my book of the year. I cannot say enough good things about Rebecca Skloot's master work here. Please obtain a copy through purchase or legal borrowing and read it. Then call me so we can talk about it.

Year Zero by Rob Reid
Format: Hardcover purchased at retail
A fun and relevant read. It's a science fiction farce about how ridiculous and broad-reaching America's copyright and licensing laws are--the ridiculousness is only slightly augmented by the far-fetched but entertaining plot. Assuming the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe (and assuming that they have good taste), the book becomes plausible. Entertaining and recommended.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
Format: Paperback purchased at retail
As I said in my review on Goodreads: "Annie Dillard could write a manual on networked servers and I would get lost in the beauty of her writing." So her writing on writing definitely swept me away. For anyone who writes, or likes to read about writing, or who loves transcendent prose.

07 December 2010


Acts of creation combine the messy with the marvelous. It is too easy, and perhaps too common, to step back and observe a final product and say: Ah! Creativity. Creation. The Created. And I am a witness!

The Created that we perceive is actually the final moment in a process that involved conception, design, structuring, rehearsal, building, destroying, bleeding, and a multitude of other elements and efforts that often stay hidden behind their final faรงade. Some of the greatest works--and the greatest workers--overcome this. The evidence of their creative processes reveals itself. This is why people visit museums to see paintings and sculptures instead of simply looking them up on the internet--we love to see brushstrokes and chisel marks. It's why we attend readings by authors instead of merely staying at home with our books--we want to hear the text read in the author's voice and ask her questions about how it was written. It's why we attend concerts instead of just jacking in to our iPods.

The best concerts I've attended have made me feel as though I was witnessing Creation: Nickel Creek, The Swell Season, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, the Dave Brubeck Quartet. And last night, Andrew Bird.

Bird's performance was stunning and recalled to my mind these other concerts where I felt privileged to be a witness to something new and original and impossible to recreate. But there was something about it that made it seem different from other creative performances I've been to. I'm having a hard time explaining it--even to myself--but I think I've come up with a decent metaphor.

Watching and listening to The Swell Season was like arriving in time for the sunset on the Sixth Day. The majority of the work has been done. The lights in the firmament are in place, the waters and the dry land are divided, vegetation is growing and the animals are up and about. There's man, but he's alone. Aha--now he's not! Off they go into the garden!

So much of what we saw (and were allowed to participate in, bless Glen Hansard), was a unique act of creativity unrolling before us. But The Swell Season had a setlist and they'd rehearsed it in order. The lights were timed to cues that had been set weeks before and run through hours before the performance. The roadies knew when to bring out what instruments. The band knew when to take its breaks and let Glen and Marketa go on without them. The trial and error and most of the creative processes were past.

Being in attendance at Andrew Bird's Gezelligheid concert last night was like arriving midway through the Fourth Day as the seeds of future vegetation are being scattered before the wind. Some may take root immediately while others drift along to find more suitable soils. They're beginning to spring up to see what they'll be, to adapt for specialized pollination, to produce new perfumes and colors and shapes that a moment ago didn't exist.

Gezelligheid is a Dutch word, roughly translated as "coziness." Bird's work in his Gezelligheid concerts is to bring about an informal, conversational performance where he can relax and be a little more intimate (DC's Sixth & I Historic Synagogue was the perfect setting for this). After his opening number he decided to play a familiar song he loved because it helped him to relax. He played a lot of new songs being prepared for his next album. He performed an unfinished number that he said he'd probably never record. He shared a song with us that was written and recorded by The Handsome Family because it had inspired him long ago to reach for something higher in his lyric-writing ("'Delirious with pain, his bedroom walls began to glow and he felt himself soaring up through falling snow. And the sky was a woman's arms.' I can be better. I know I can be better"). Most of this was impromptu and decided as he went, sharing with us what he was thinking about at the moment and what his favorite tunes were right now. He wasn't afraid to improvise, even with the setlist.

And he wasn't afraid to make mistakes or to start over when he wanted to try something different or wanted it to sound better. He laughed at himself when he created a 28-second loop on his on-stage mixing board when the time limit is 26 seconds. He plucked and then replucked and then re-replucked intros and bass lines so that everything would be the best creative product possible. And he let us watch and listen! It was amazing to see and hear a master as he went through the processes of making something astoundingly beautiful and new. It was true Creation, the messy making it even more marvelous than it would have been otherwise.

Instead of using the house sound system, Bird set up about 20
speakers of various sizes and used Victrola horns as amplifiers.

These twin Victrola horns oscillated when Bird hit a pedal, creating a
repeating miniature Doppler effect on the background of certain songs.

This ample amplifier was just in front of where I was sitting. Every
time I looked at it the words "dinosaur Victrola" from Creedence
Clearwater Revival's "Lookin' Out My Back Door"popped into my head.

03 December 2010


I was all set to have a blog post every day this week. I had a great topic that I was going to go on about after a small project to be completed during my morning walking commute yesterday. But the small project turned into a much bigger project that I haven't been able to finish yet, and so that planned post had to be delayed. Stymied, my work day ended and the evening ran away with me. Ah well. Here is a post for today, even if a small one, and an apologetic one at that (and not even an epic apology, like Socrates').

I hope to make some headway on this project over the weekend so that I may blog about it next week.

01 December 2010

Hell damn World Series

fruitatthebottom.blogspot.com is probably written by a female somewhere between 36-50 years old. The writing style is personal and happy most of the time.

Thank you, urlai.com, for determining that my writing indicates that I'm a middle-aged woman. Apparently this conclusion came from analyzing the text of 24 of my previous posts, including (but not limited to):

1. Roll my blues 11/30/2010
2. Don't call him Shirley 11/29/2010
3. A tale of two turkeys 11/28/2010
4. Two things 11/17/2010
5. Mosaic project--YOU decide! 10/3/2010
6. The bluest skies you've ever seen 1/29/2010
7. Chewing exotic 1/8/2010
8. Bison riding...? 9/2/2009
9. Kitchen fail 9/1/2009
10. Genius 8/5/2009
11. Grilled 6/17/2009
12. Old and cheap 4/30/2009
13. Rush Write 3.23 (on 4.08) 4/8/2009
14. Music of the spheres 3/30/2009
15. Snow... snow... snow... snow... SNOW! 1/26/2009
16. Dreams: Soccer and the LOC 1/15/2009
17. Dreams: Nazis and Lamb 1/12/2009
18. Sweet, sweet freedom 12/11/2008
19. Peace on earth 12/11/2008
20. Feeling scholarly 12/8/2008

So what drove this blog analytics site to determine that my writing is 68% female? I can see that I've got a lot of posts in there about cooking... but two of them deal with outdoor grilling. There's also a post that's based around a speech given by Elizabeth Gilbert. Too bad she's more known for the indulgent feminine anthem Eat, Pray, Love than she is for her chronicle of frontier manliness The Last American Man. There's a post that references a musical, too. Ooo, and "Old and cheap" talks about my inability to resist chocolate. Hmmm. On the other hand, I've got posts in which I discuss:
  • Bison riding (surely a manly American frontier activity)
  • Space exploration
  • A dream involving a raucous game of soccer in the Library of Congress
  • A dream in which I fought Nazi stormtroopers and succumbed to an experiment in self-cannibalism
I don't know, urlai.com. I'd say it's more 50-50.

What would make my writing more masculine? What is urlai.com looking for in a man's writing? More curse words? Sports? Violence? Scratching and burping? I'm seriously not sure.

At the very least, perhaps I can take comfort in the idea that I've overcome gender stereotypes and risen to a higher plateau in my writing. Behold, I am the Transcendental Male Blogger.

30 November 2010

Roll my blues

This post goes out to Darrell, who broadly suggested I blog about food. Though broad, it's a pretty good suggestion, and it's one I plan to continually follow up on. (In answer to your question, Darrell, no. I have not read In Defense of Food, though I have read The Omnivore's Dilemma.)

Since I moved to the DC area, I've made breadmaking a focus in my home culinary practice, trying to recreate the warm taste of home that I remember from my formative years. It took a little over a year of baking before I began to feel like I was doing it well, and I think I'm continuing to improve.

One of the recipes that has come to be a standby in my repertoire is for homemade rolls, and it's one that consistently gets rave reviews from those who eat them. The recipe comes from Sue Marten, a woman that was a good friend of my mom's and that was pretty influential in my childhood (as Primary president as well as a Cub Scout den leader). It's actually pretty simple and relatively easy to follow:

1 1/2 cups warm water
1/3 cup of honey
1 tablespoon of yeast
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup of melted butter (or other oil)
1 teaspoon of salt (or 1 tablespoon if using all whole-wheat flour)
4 1/2 cups of white flour or whole-wheat flour or some combination of the two

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease an aluminum baking sheet.

Stir the honey into the warm water until it's mostly dissolved, then sprinkle the yeast on top. When the yeast begins to activate and grow, stir in the eggs and melted butter. Then add in the salt and stir in the flour, one cup at a time. Stir only until the last of the flour is combined into the dough, then sprinkle with a thin layer of flour and lay a cloth over the top. Let dough rise until doubled in bulk. Punch it down and form the dough into rolls, laying them out onto the baking sheet. Sprinkle very lightly with flour, cover with the cloth, and let rise again. Bake for 10-20 minutes, until the tops of the rolls are lightly browned. Cool a bit and serve.

One Thanksgiving I accidentally made the rolls too big and they ended up having a diameter close to that of my palm. I thought it was kind of funny to have such huge rolls until I realized that the leftovers were the perfect size for making turkey sandwiches. Now I make them too big every year so I can slice the extras in half and stack turkey and lettuce between them for the next few days after. I even made another batch of huge rolls on Sunday so I could have more sandwich material.

Incidentally, this year my brother Scott told me that he thought this batch of rolls was the best I've ever made. We discussed what made them good and I think I've determined that the difference came from using a new type of honey--a jar of apple and peach blossom variety that I picked up at the Arlington Farmers' Market. It might be worth a try to experiment with other types of honey to see if it makes a difference in the outcome of the rolls.

Roll my blues away...

29 November 2010

Don't call him Shirley

Many of you may already be aware that Leslie Nielsen died yesterday. Having had some impact on my enculturation as a kid and the development of my sense of humor, I thought it appropriate to write a few paragraphs on the man and his career.

Nielsen did some great work in the field of comedic film, but like any actor he also performed in some really lousy movies. This may have been unavoidable in the last couple of decades, having fallen in as a regular in the Zucker Brothers' films (once a great parody team, now factory engineers of vapid no-brain spoofs). What I'd like to do here in this post is talk about three great works that Leslie Nielsen has left us to admire, lest anyone be tempted to remember him for his role in Superhero Movie. Shudder.

Airplane! (1980) I probably don't need to trump this or worry that it will be forgotten, but I had to mention it first because it is by far my favorite work that Nielsen was involved in. It was also his first major comedic role, setting the stage for the career he'd be known for. My mom recorded this off of television when I was 9 or 10 and my developing sense of humor encountered it at just the right time. I loved the movie as a whole, but to me Nielsen stole the show with his deadpan performance as Dr. Rumack. "Captain, how soon can you land?" "I can't tell." "You can tell me--I'm a doctor."

Police Squad! (1982) Few today remember this short-lived television show with much laud (it got canceled after six episodes), but it was a hilarious work of comedic genius. All the one-liner rapidity and comedic timing of Airplane!, wrapped up in a 30-minute television show. It is renowned in some circles as one of the few shows on TV never to have jumped the shark. One of my favorite gags on the show was the "freeze frame" at the end over which they ran the credits. Rather than broadcasting a still, the actors all just froze in place, sometimes in the middle of pouring liquid (which proceeded to overfill the cup and run everywhere), sometimes in the middle of booking a criminal (who looked around confusedly for a moment before slowly slipping away from the frozen cops and running off).

Police Squad! also laid the foundation for the much better known film The Naked Gun. Not many people pay attention to that movie's subtitle: From the Files of Police Squad! Personally, I think the series was funnier overall than the movie, not to mention a bit cleaner. But then you don't get to watch O.J. Simpson... Oh wait. Maybe that's a good thing.

Forbidden Planet
This was Nielsen's premiere role in film--and a lead role at that! Don't watch this movie expecting the deadpan, wise-cracking Leslie Nielsen you've come to know. He's completely straight-arrow and no-nonsense in this film, the captain of a starship sent from earth to a distant planet to investigate the disappearance of an entire colony. He plays opposite the formidable Walter Pigeon, working off a script that was inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest. Forbidden Planet was one of those early sci-fi films that set the standard for all other sci-fi films to follow. It's also notable as the premiere performance for Robby the Robot, an iconic cinematic automaton who continued to appear in science fiction spots for the next five decades. In the movie's titles, Robby is credited as "himself." And Nielsen got to star alongside him.