A night out on the town

Jackie and I had a night out last night.

We went to the Art Theater to see “A Most Wanted Man,” the latest John le Carré film. Spoiler alert: What a depressing story! Good film, but geez.

After that we went to Seven Saints for Whiskey Wednesday and sliders. This has become our go-to night out while we’re living downtown, because it’s reasonably cheap—half-price whiskey—and not too many calories (as long as we don’t order waffle fries, which we don’t).

Yesterday was “Irish and International whiskeys.” The last two international Wednesdays I’d had Japanese single malts—once Yamazaki and once Nikka, both excellent. This time they were featuring an Irish whiskey from Powers Distillery, so I tried that. It was good, but not as good as either of the Japanese whiskeys (which are both as good as the best Scottish single malts I’ve had).

After sliders, we went to Dublin O’Neil’s, a newish restaurant that’s trying to go for the feel of an Irish pub. We don’t eat there much, because they bring way too much food, but on Wednesday evenings a bunch of local musicians show up for a jam session of Irish music. It’s an odd mix of people and instruments—there are many more squeeze boxes of various sorts than you’d usually put together in a band—but pretty good music played with enthusiasm. Last night there was also a flute, a fiddle, a 4-string banjo, and a guitar.

We ordered beers (Harp was on sale cheaper than Guinness, so we ordered that, although I think I’ll go back to Guinness next time) and listened to Irish music for most of an hour. The musicians were still going strong, but it was past our bedtime, so we headed home.

A loaf of white bread

Jackie and I bake all our own bread. I can’t remember the last time we bought a loaf of ordinary bread, although we buy other kinds of bread products from time to time (croissants, english muffins, etc.). We take turns baking, and are pretty jealous of our turns. Except for when Jackie broke her wrist and I got to bake all the bread for 7 or 8 weeks, I don’t think I’ve baked two loaves in a row more than a couple of times, and I think Jackie got two turns in a row only once.

We’ve had a sourdough starter going for at least fifteen years now. (We call her Bubbles.) I wrote about how we bake sourdough bread in a Wise Bread post a few years ago.

Every loaf is different, of course. Some have butter or olive oil, others don’t. Some have sugar or honey or molasses, others don’t. Some have salt or baking soda, but usually neither. Some include large or small amounts of rye or barley or oats or other more exotic flours, others don’t.

Still, most of my loaves are pretty similar—a cup of bread flour, up to a cup of non-wheat flours, and then the rest whole wheat flour. But it occurred to me a couple of days ago that in fifteen years of baking—probably 400 loaves over that time—I’d never baked a loaf of white bread.

So, a couple of days ago, I decided to bake a loaf of white bread.

I read a few recipes for French country sourdough before I started, just to see what they all had in common, which is how this loaf ended up with a little salt and a tablespoon of white sugar. Except for two tablespoons of flax-seed meal, the flour content was entirely bread flour.

What a great loaf of bread! Not so much with the fiber, I guess, but tasty. We immediately thought of all sorts of things that are especially good with white bread—garlic bread (which we had last night with spaghetti) and french toast (which we had that morning with grade B maple syrup). This loaf went so quickly, I got special dispensation to do a second just the same (or else I wouldn’t get a grilled turkey and cheese with mustard sandwich or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich).

We won’t be switching to white bread of course. There’s a reason we’ve made whole-grain loaves for fifteen years. But I’ll remember this loaf. Once or twice a year seems like a much more reasonable frequency for white bread than once or twice every fifteen years.

New Salem and Washington Park

Jackie and I went to Springfield yesterday, to visit our old friend (and my officemate for many years) Chuck McCaffrey.

We had a great time. In the morning we went to Lincoln’s New Salem, a sort of reconstructed frontier town of Illinois in the 1830s. Except for their sad lack of exhibits on witch trials, it was excellent. In the afternoon we went to Washington Park, a public park in Springfield, which is a great park. Mostly it was just a chance to spend a few hours with Chuck—we don’t see him nearly enough—and a chance to do some walking.

Today, in order to make up for the woefully deficient coverage of witch trials in New Salem, we went to an exhibit at the Rare Book Room here at the University of Illinois Library called Fire Burne & Cauldron Bubble: Witchcraft at the Dawn of Modernity, which was mostly an exhibit of books that advocated and justified the witch trials in England in seventeenth and eighteenth century England and Scotland.

Our next place

jackie-winter-palace-celebratory-beer

So, we’ve not been making progress on the waiting list at Winfield Village. Actually it’s worse than that: We’ve been making backwards progress.

When we first got on the list, we were #5—but they said we were #2 to be called next, because several of the people ahead of us had already been called and had passed because they weren’t ready to move yet.

Then next time, we were #5.

We stayed at #5 for a while, but then a few weeks later, we were #7. How can that be? Well, two ways. First, several people who had been waiting for townhomes had decided to give up and move to the list for apartments instead, and they order people by the date their application became active, rather than the date they asked to be on a particular list. Second, people who already live at Winfield Village who decide to move within the complex skip to the top of the waiting list.

Last week we checked and learned that we were #10.

This was not as discouraging as you might think, because it actually simplifies our life. We had talked about various strategies for temporary housing to span a gap between when we needed to move out of our summer place and when our new place was going to be available. Clearly, those plans would not need to be actualized. Any possible move-in date was far enough off that there was no reason not to just go ahead and sign a one-year lease.

Of course, this necessitates yet another name—for our next place, after our old place and our summer place, but before our new place at Winfield Village.

My propose, which Jackie enthusiastically accepted, is that we call our next place for after our summer place our winter palace.

We’ve so much enjoyed living right downtown that we focused our search on this area. Jackie found a place about a ten-minute walk from here—two blocks further from West Side Park, but about five blocks closer to the library. I called right after lunch. We went to see the place at 2:30, read the lease standing out by the landlady’s van, signed it, and I wrote a check for the damage deposit.

Our winter palace will be ours starting August 1st.

After we signed the lease we walked to the library (I had a book on hold), then to the Blind Pig Brewery where Jackie bought us celebratory beers, which we drank in the beer garden:

jackie-winter-palace-celebratory-beer

Livin’ TV-free

For reasons too tedious to go into, Jackie and I never upgraded to a digital TV. We had an old cathode ray tube Sony, and were still watching TV on that.

One reason that we hadn’t upgraded was that our old TV was heavy. The two of us together just barely got it up the stairs and into our apartment. I was literally afraid to try to carry it back out, even with two of us. We’d about resigned ourselves to buying a new TV from some local store that would do delivery and setup, because those stores will generally haul away your old TV as part of the deal. (Around here you can’t just put a TV into a dumpster; you have to recycle it in some way.)

As part of moving, though, we donated a bunch of stuff to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which will accept old TVs and other electronics, and for $10 will send a truck to pick up your donations. We jumped at the chance.

The TV went about two weeks before we moved into the summer place, but we’re still TV-free, because the summer place doesn’t have a TV either.

Since we were getting rid of the TV and packing up the DVD player, we went ahead and turned off our disk subscription with NetFlix. We kept our streaming subscription, and have actually watched one thing since moving, mainly as test that it would work.

Aside from that, though, we’ve been livin’ TV-free.

In the short term, it’s great. We could watch stuff on the big desktop screen (although there’s no good place for a second person to sit in front of the computer), or on the laptop screen (although it’s kinda small for two people to watch, unless they sit right together and put the laptop right in front of them), but we don’t.

Instead, we’re reading books. I’ve read more fiction in the last three or four weeks than I’d read in the previous three or four months. (Oh, and once we went to the theater! The local Art Theater had a late showing of Serenity. What a great movie to watch with an audience!)

I don’t expect we’ll stick with our TV-free lifestyle once we have our own place. We’ll probably get a bigish flat-screen TV. Maybe a blueray player. Probably turn our NetFlix disk subscription back on. We enjoy watching the BBC and the Nightly Business Report and the PBS Newshour and various TV series. We enjoy watching movies on disk and episodes of old TV series on streaming.

But in the meantime, we’re enjoying livin’ TV-Free.

Hey! I wrote a novel!

It kind of snuck up on me. I hadn’t realized how close I was to being done with an entire draft.

After a couple of awkward starts, things had been going along pretty well until about spring. That’s when I started drawing more directly from the text of the short story that had been the basis of the novel, pulling the scenes from the short story and slotting them into the right spot in the climax of the novel. Except that process went very badly. They didn’t fit well. The tone was wrong. The characters had drifted. I kept finding small off-hand remarks to set up some thing or another, and realizing that in a novel there should instead be a whole earlier chapter to set that thing up. I kept finding that once I’d written those scenes, there was nothing left of this scene. It was such a struggle, I became discouraged. Progress ground almost to a halt.

A couple of times I got back to it, grabbed a scene, and reworked it—deleted the one-line remark and added the earlier chapter, reworked the interactions so that the characters were true to how they’d developed in the novel up to there, added full-blown scenes where the short story version had just had a brief reference that the hero had done something. But I found all that work hard and not much fun, so I kept not doing it.

Since moving to the summer place, I’ve been trying to reestablish a habit of daily writing, figuring that it should be as easy right now as it will ever be.

Today is my birthday, which I took advantage of by choosing to set my schedule exactly as I wanted—I got up, did a little social media stuff, had breakfast, read a little, then sat down to do some writing. I spent a good long while on one scene, because it had a lot of compressed action that needed to be more fully worked out in a novel-length work. Then the next scene went very quickly, because it was short, and then the next scene went quickly, because it was just about right in terms of tone and character. And then I realized that it was the last scene! I had finished my novel!

There’s a whole lot left to do, of course.

Although I tried to get the set-up stuff inserted as I went along, a lot of it is missing, or only present in vestigial form. I have to fix all that.

Probably a bigger deal, there were many little clever bits that might have set up something neat, but didn’t, and many short turns down side roads that seemed cool, but that didn’t end up leading anywhere. I need to locate each of those and think about whether it does lead somewhere—and then make sure that the “somewhere” it leads to is actually in the text and not just in my imagination. The others, of course, need to be ruthless pared away.

Most important, in the writing of the book I’ve finally figured out what it’s about. That too needs to end up in the text, and not just in my head. In particular, there’s a lot of economic and political stuff that kept showing up in my brain to be stuffed in the book, but didn’t all show up at the right points, so ended up getting stuffed willy-nilly into whatever corner happened to have a bit of space in it at the moment. Those bits need to be pulled out and carefully tucked into the right corner, now that I can see the whole thing and can figure out where they really go.

So, a lot of work to do—but it will be a lot of work on a novel! A novel that exists! A novel that I have written!

Moved!

2014-06-16 13.14.26

We have moved!

We’re not in our new place yet, just our summer place, where we’ve actually been spending our nights for a week now. Our days, though, have been spent at the old place, finishing up the packing. We filled the last box around mid-day yesterday.

Today the movers came and moved everything to our storage unit.

Jackie did great work on the move. She not only did much more than her share of actually packing things into boxes, she also ordered the boxes—and did an incredibly precise job of it. We filled almost 60 book boxes, a similar number of small and medium boxes, somewhat fewer large boxes, and a few specialized boxes (extra-large, electronic equipment, mirror, wardrobe). Jackie figured out how many of each kind to order, and when we were all done we had 3 extra book boxes (one or two of which we will use to pack up the tools that we kept on-hand in case we need any during the cleanup), 1 small and 1 medium box.

I also credit her hard work with saving us money on the move itself, which came in at about $150 below the estimate—mainly because with everything properly packed in advance, the movers were able to just load and unload, without having to fiddle around with stuff that wasn’t quite ready.

Here’s the living room early in the move—piles of boxes, all the shelves empty:

2014-06-16 09.13.30And here’s the living room late in the move:

2014-06-16 13.14.26And here’s the view from near our storage unit:

2014-06-16 10.25.54Tomorrow is my birthday; we’ll take the day off for some celebratory relaxation. The next day we need to go back to the old place and clean it, then schedule a walk-through with the management to make sure there’s no damage. It’s in very good shape, but I’m still mentally warming up to argue that “normal wear and tear” for a unit we’ve been living in for 14 years is more than might be expected after a 1-year rental. Hopefully it won’t be necessary.

After that, we’re pretty much on vacation for the rest of the summer! I’ll be able to focus on my writing. Jackie will be able to focus on her spinning. (Not her weaving, as the loom is packed. Also not the knitting—she’d intended to have some knitting yarn, but used so much as packing material to go around fragile items, she ended up going ahead and packing the knitting needles as well.)

There’s a bunch of cultural stuff in Champaign in the summer that we hope to do, including Friday Night Live every week, and the annual Blues, Brews, and BBQs, not to mention the Taste of Champaign. It’ll be really handy to be so close to downtown for all that.

We can spend June and July enjoying all that, before we have to start worrying about where we’ll live in the fall. Hopefully, Winfield Village will get us a move-in date in good time, but if they don’t, we have lots of options, from visiting relatives to just renting a regular apartment, to taking an extended camping trip. (We made sure to bring our camping gear to our summer place, rather than packing it up.)

On the move

Moving is a big disruption and a lot of hard work.

I’ve moved enough times to know all about the big disruption, but it turns out I’d had a skewed perception of the amount of hard work involved.

As a software engineer, most of the times I’ve moved it was because I had a new employer, and my new employer paid for the move. A guy (or two or three) would show up and pack all my stuff in boxes, and then a couple of guys with a truck would load everything up, drive it to where I was going, and then unload the truck into my new place. Still a big disruption. Still a lot of hard work—but only a fraction of the total work involved.

I’ve done a few local moves without movers—with friends or relatives to help—but I now realize that it was back when I had a whole lot less stuff than I have now.

Turns out, I had no idea how long it would take to pack everything up, doing it ourselves. As I said, in the past it was always a day’s work for three people or less. Jackie started packing weeks ago, and I now see that she was very wise to have done so. If we hadn’t started until last week, or even the week before, we’d be nowhere near ready—and utterly exhausted. As it is, we’re just about ready, and only moderately exhausted.

She did the same thing the last time we moved, but that was back when I had a full-time job, so most of the packing happened while I was at the office. I knew she was working hard, but I didn’t know how hard.

Both last time and this time we’ve hired movers to do the loading, driving, and unloading. It’s a very modest amount of money. (A low single-digit multiple of the cost of renting a truck and buying pizza and beer for your friends who help—assuming you still have friend young enough to fall for that.) Plus, the movers show up with a dolly and do in two or three hours what it would take you and your friends all day to do.

Our summer place

Our summer place

Anyway, we’re about set. We’re already living part-time at our summer place. (That’s what we’re calling it now, to distinguish it from where we’re calling our new place—where we’re hoping to end up in the fall. I like the sound of it, like it was an estate in the Hamptons or a at least a cottage on a lake.) We have things well-enough in hand that I’m confident that we’ll be ready in advance of the mover’s arrival.

We’ve been able to do things at a sufficiently moderate pace that we were able to do a lot of decluttering as we went along. The Habitat for Humanity ReStore not only accepts donations of old electronics, for $10 they’ll send a truck and a couple of guys to load everything up and haul it away. We’ve also made repeated trips to the Idea Store, which takes all manner of things that can be used in student art projects, and uses the profits to fund enrichment programs for the schools.

Less clutter is nice. Very nice.

Shoulder rolls and precisions

In a very small way, I’ve been persisting with my parkour training.

I’ve been practicing my shoulder rolls with some success: I can now do shoulder rolls from a kneeling start on both left and right shoulders. With that under my belt, I also did some from a standing start on my right side. I want a little more practice before I do them from the left side.

Next will be to do them at a run, and then to do them after dropping from a height. (Not a high height—I don’t want to hurt my feet, ankles or knees—but I want to develop the ability to drop from a height, absorb the impact of landing, and then go into a roll if necessary. It seems like a useful skill.)

The other thing I’ve started with are what the parkour folks call a precision: a jump to a specific point. You’ve seen them in movies where the actor (or a stunt man) jumps from one beam to another over a gap, or jumps from the top of one wall to the top of the next wall.

In the interests of not killing myself with my practice, I’ve been doing all my jumps at ground level, jumping and then landing on a curb. I’m not jumping very far—I still have no explosive power—but so far I have reasonably good accuracy. (The curb is maybe 6 inches wide, and I’ve managed to land on it, and to not topple over, pretty much every time so far.)

The distance I can jump is growing, which I think is just improving neuromuscular recruitment. (That is, at the level of the muscles, I’m getting better at firing off each phase of muscular contraction at the best moment to launch myself, and at the level of the limbs, I’m coordinating my arm and leg movements so that everything works together to launch me the distance I’m trying to go.)

In other news, packing to move proceeds apace. We’re soon to be at the point where we’re living in our summer place as much as we’re living in our old apartment. And we’ve learned that we’re #2 on the waiting list for Winfield Village

Packing lists

When I was in boy scouts, one of the scoutmasters suggested creating a packing list for camping trips. His key suggestion was to update the list after a trip, adding anything you’d wished you’d had, and thoughtfully deleting anything you’d brought but ended up not using. (Thoughtfully in the sense of not deleting your first aid kit just because no one had gotten hurt on that trip.)

I immediately recognized the value of the idea, but I never really put it into practice, mainly because I was no good at preserving the master list from one trip to the next. That problem was eventually solved by computers.

My oldest pack lists go back to 1992, when Jackie and I took a vacation in London and Wales. Our itinerary was complex, because we were driving to St. Louis and spending the night with my mom, and then flying to London from there, and reversing the process for the return home. The pack list for that trip has things broken down by stages:

  • Worn to St. Louis
  • Carried to St. Louis and worn on plane
  • In carry-on
  • In checked luggage
  • Left in St. Louis, for return drive

The key, though, was that instead of making the pack list on paper, I put it in a file on my computer. Then, the next time I went on a trip, the file was still around. I used it as a starting place to make my next pack list.

I’ve kept the basic format for twenty years now—stuff to pack, sorted by bag. At first I editing the old list for each new trip, but I long ago started letting old lists hang around, and eventually came up with a file name format to include the destination, the number of days, and the season. When I’m planning a new trip, I can quickly look through the old pack lists, find one with some overlap in terms of season and duration, and then use it as the basis for a new list. Because text files take up essentially no space, I’ve let old lists accumulate (in a small way—I’ve got a dozen or so).

Those old lists came in handy again just recently, as we’re preparing to move into our summer sublet. As it happens, I have an old pack list for a multi-week summer outing in furnished digs: my Clarion pack list from 2001. I’m having to adapt it—I don’t need the books by Clarion teachers that I was bringing to get autographed—but it’s not only a good guide, it’s a tested guide.

I strongly recommend making pack lists, and then keeping your old lists forever. You never know when you’re going to take a similar trip.