When Did I Become Such A Hippie?

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Domestica,House,Rambling,Reflection | Friday 20 March 2009 9:00 am

I have two rainbarrels.  I have a compost bin.  I take full advantage of Austin’s new bulk recycling services.  I’m going to be growing herbs, and I have seeds germinating for a vegetable garden.  At this rate it won’t be long before I’m half-baked, listening to the Grateful Dead and Phish, and eating an earth shoe while twisting my hair and beard into matted dreadlocks.

Seriously, I never thought I’d be this into this sort of thing.  For years I’ve wanted to grow an herb garden, but never got the momentum up to do it.  Enter Sweets, who comes from a society and culture, and specifically a family that have maintained a garden and have been growing part of their own groceries for many generations.  Almost every home has a garden space, and yards — even tiny ones — are commonly converted into vegetable gardens.  It’s a sensibility and value that’s passed down through the generations.

The big push for this sort of thing came during World War II, when England was not only diverting all its resources toward the war effort, but also reducing its dependency on outside supplies as supply vessels can easily be (and frequently were) sunk by enemy craft.  We here in the States, while being severely limited by rationing, were never crippled by the imminent threat to our very borders.  Growing vegetable gardens did become a means to supplement our personal food supply, but it wasn’t strictly a necessity — tightening a belt isn’t the same as not being able to get supplies at all.  Come the end of the war, we weren’t picking up the pieces after the Blitz and trying to get our country in order, and the need to grow food rapidly dwindled as the US got back up to speed and entered a new era of prosperity.

Even as the need diminished in the UK, the desire remained.  That sense of accomplishment and self reliance became a part of the DNA of the country as a whole, and gardening is a skill taught from parents and grandparents to children.

Nowadays, there is a renewed movement in the US starting to growing edibles again, and it’s in a small way influenced by a shrinking economy, but mostly it’s the sensibilities of the modern hippies/new-agers/tree-huggers/etc.  A new generation of folks are more environmentally conscious, and they’re making that thoughtfulness into a viable industry – the happy balance between good intentions and profitability, and that’s how you get the most people on board.  Recycling is gaining momentum in a lot of municipalities, folks are repurposing a lot of second-hand items and junk these days and there is a big, big push to take care of one’s own piece of the environment, and that includes growing a garden.

Sweets, interested in starting with an herb garden, suggested that we do so, and it snowballed into moving forward on a small vegetable garden.  We’re going to be growing the herbs in pots, in order to make them movable and reconfigurable.  We have a good spot for the garden proper, but we’re going to start small this year and expand as necessary in the seasons to come.  We’re looking at spring and fall plantings, and Austin climate being what it is, we ought to be able to keep fresh veggies of one sort or another in the house for the better part of the year.

Frankly, once the initial setup is done, there is minimal expense involved in maintaining and carrying on from year to year.  You can put as little or as much into as you please — from simple planters on an apartment patio, to serious composting and rain harvesting — or you can take the middle ground like we have.  The City of Austin has an excellent water conservation plan (can you say “drought zone”?), and they are offering rainbarrels at a serious discount.  You place them under your gutter downspouts, and use the collected water for your garden and other non-potable uses (and both of ours filled up after one evening of rain).  Simple and easy, it saves a bit on our water bill, and it means I’m not using treated water for my garden.  We also bought a small compost bin that will let us use yard trimmings, fall leaves and certain kitchen waste to fertilize our garden as well, reducing the expense of fancy fertilizes, and saving our water table from the same.  Frankly, I’m two parts stingy to one part environmentally conscious… you find your motivation where you can.

In the past recycling was never anything I was very vigilant about.  If it was convenient, I did it, if it wasn’t… well, I have never argued that I wasn’t lazy.  In NOLA, we did aluminum cans, and that was about it.  I wasn’t sorting my recyclables, and I didn’t much feel like having to determine what could and couldn’t go in the bin from a very selective list.  Austin started out that way, but about three months back they replaced all the tiny curbside bins with gigantic 90 gallon wheeled cans, and they pretty much take anything, and there is no sorting involved.  That caters to even lazy old me… make it easy, and more people will get on board.

The bottom line is this: gardening is frankly a bit of fun, even at this early stage in the game.  It’s fascinating to take the seeds and watch them sprout — it’s like a magic trick.  The work involved leads to a tremendous sense of satisfaction, and you want to shout “Look what I did!  Me!  The guy who killed a Chiapet in elementary school!”  And then at the end of it all, you have tasty things to enjoy.

Now excuse me, I have a shirt to go tie-dye.

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Carnival Starvation.

Posted by DmentD | Links,Rambling,Reflection | Monday 9 February 2009 9:27 pm

It’s starting.   Can you feel it?

That jittery flutter in my brain has been making my skull itch for about a week now.  It’s carnival season, and I can feel the pull in my very bones.  It’s something I’ve taken for granted my entire life — sometimes loving it for the joy of the sensation of community and being with my friends acting like a fool, sometimes loathing it for its intrusion into my life, sometimes avoiding it like the plague for fear of going homicidal on the the mass idiot crowds — but it has always been there.

I miss it.  And I never realized how much I would until it was no longer a part of the background noise of my life.  I’ve been away from NOLA long enough now for that sensation of something… missing, right around the beginning of the year, to become prominent.  The colors are duller around Austin, the air is missing the tinkle of the familiar old carnival classics — the ones we’ve been playing for well over 40 years now, and nobody ever questions why that tired old music from 50’s, 60’s and 70’s is still the signature music of the season… it just is.  It’s part of the DNA of the city.

Rifling through my music collection, I was heartbroken to find that none of my Mardi Gras music survived the flood, and I had never converted any to digital.  I have been asked no less than four times in the last few weeks if I had any to play… and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t.  I just got the faithful old classic, Mardi Gras In New Orleans, and have been listening to it and smiling so broadly, I swear my grin is going to meet in the back, and pop the top of my head clean off.  I’m putting out a call for anyone with more of the same to help me bulk up my collection, pleaseandthankyou.

The itch is scratched, but it’s not gone.  It’s gonna take being shoulder to shoulder with a rowdy rabble of the unwashed masses, watching the lights, smelling the diesel, screaming my throat raw, and reaching higher to grab the useless — and ultimately worthless except to my starving soul — trinkets that symbolize not just a season, but a part of my life that won’t ever fade.

“Every year, at carnival time, we get a new zoot!
– The Wild Magnolias

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Pause For Thought.

Posted by DmentD | Reflection | Tuesday 6 January 2009 12:45 pm

“The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are.”

– H. L. Mencken, Smart Set (December 1919)

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Snow Down A Little.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Pictures,Rambling,Reflection | Wednesday 10 December 2008 12:15 am

Ok, Son of the South be damned, snow still holds some sort of magical sway over me.  Used to be I’d see it once every 10 years or so in NOLA, and it wasn’t a very overachieving form of snow… small flakes that didn’t softly pile up on the ground, but instead elbowed the flakes below them into “almost sleet”.

Last year in Austin I was witness to a proper snow.  Big fluffy puffballs of pocket lint, gracefully and slowly poking Galileo in the eye by bringing air friction into the mix and gently moseying down to the ground to gather into downy piles.

Tonight I had the strange fortune of driving through that same sort of snow.  The temperature today started at a high of 79 degrees, and plummeted to 32 in a matter of six hours, bringing rain with it.  The rain, ever the ambitious one, moved on to become pea sized hail, then promptly lost its motivation and became rain again.  After picking Sweets up from school the hail started again, then rapidly became little soft blurs in my headlights that I realized was snow.  Big, proper fluffy snow again.  And I was driving it it.  Trying desperately to pay attention to the road because all I wanted to do was focus on the snow as it blew through the arcs of the streetlights.

Ok, so snow is no big deal… to anyone who lives outside of this temperate region of the South.  We have three and a half seasons down here, and none of them include the need for chains on tires (unless you want that extra traction for offroading).  And a snow shovel is used to pick up after the horses in the parades.

It was fun and novel, and I get to feel like a kid again making mud angels (I didn’t say it accumulated much on the ground, now did I… you just get to enjoy it floating through the air).

I leave you with a picture of our mailbox.

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*shudders*

Posted by DmentD | Links,Rambling,Reflection,Stress | Monday 8 December 2008 12:57 pm

Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please.

I, as you know, was born and raised in south Louisiana.  The glorious land of high humidity, warm temperatures, narrow minds, and expanded appetites.  Louisiana, the land where residents routinely dine on mass quantities of the aquatic equivalent of the Madagascar hissing cockroach, and prehistoric reptiles that would be just as happy dining on mass quantities of you.  A land where the scrapings of a pig’s scull are gelatinized, molded, refrigerated, and served on crackers under the dubious label of “head cheese”.  The land where fresh roadkill is just a time saving step toward getting your grocery shopping done (and consequently the former home to one of the oldest leper colonies in the U.S.).  I am now keeping my food heritage alive and well in Austin… Jeebus help them all.

I tell you, as a man raised in that gastronomical environment, I am disgusted and mortified by the tale of the wee orlotan, a bird from the bunting family that is the size of a lark.  And I figure if it has that effect on me, then who am I to not share it with the people I love the most.  Here — stolen shamelessly from the pages of the St. Kew Inn newsletter — is the finest description of what has me tweaked almost beyond words:

After netting, the bird has its eyes poked out and is kept in a cage where it gorge feeds on millet, grapes and figs until it gets about four times its normal size.  It is drowned in Armagnac, and then roasted in a very hot oven for about 6-8 minutes.  The great experience is entirely in the eating.  Firstly a traditional embroidered napkin is placed over one’s head – some say this is to enable the diner to inhale the earthy, rich aroma, others say it is to hide one’s head from God for one’s gluttony and shame.  Then place the piping hot bird in one’s mouth leaving the head dangling out, bite it off and discard.  Inhale rapidly through the mouth to cool the bird down and allow the ambrosial fat to cascade down one’s throat.  When cool, slowly begin to chew.  In a glorious 15 minutes, work through the breast and wings allowing the delicate cracking bones to lacerate the gums and allow one’s own salty blood to mingle as one moves on to the inner organs.  Devotees claim they can taste the bird’s entire life as they chew in the darkness: the wheat of Morocco, the salt air of the Mediterranean, the lavender of Provence.  The pea sized lungs and heart, saturated in Armagnac are said to burst in a liqueur-scented flower on the diner’s tongue.

Mmm, mmm!  There is nothing quite like having a bird (blinded, fed to the point of bursting, drowned in brandy and roasted whole) — feathers and all — popped straight away into your maw to sear your mouthflesh.  The delight of prizing the head off with your teeth is nearly as wonderful as shredding your gums with its tiny, brittle bones.  I mean, come on!

This lovely dish/ritual comes to us courtesy of the French, who have had a hit-and-miss relationship with their influences on world gastronomy (admittedly, mostly “hit”, but still…).  The cherry on top is that it was as late as 1999 that they outlawed the preparation and sale of the orlotan as a dish, but it took till 2007 to outlaw consumption.

This ranks up there on the squick-me-out-scale alongside the Dirty Jobs episode where Mike was docking the tails of sheep, and castrating them with his teeth.  I was squirming in my seat the whole episode, and frankly had to avert my eyes a few times out of sympathy.

Oh Jeebus.

Thank you Sweets for intoducing me to the orlotan.  You never fail to surprise me with the things you know.  I will have my revenge one day.

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Its’a Birthday Time.

Posted by DmentD | Reflection | Thursday 13 November 2008 6:55 pm

Meh.  It’s my birthday.

I’ve never been one to go ga-ga for my birthday, or expect the known free world to acknowledge my existence, and shower me with love, attention and adoration just because this is the day I was born on a few ice ages ago.  I have good friends and family, and well wishers, and if someone wants to make a deal of it (big or small), I’m grateful and happy as can be — and usually just a wee little less happy than that to let it slide without a peep.  I love when people remember, and don’t fault those that don’t (hell, I never remember anyone else’s, so why should I get even a little upset if they don’t remember mine?).

I’ve never felt the pressure of age or getting older, and never looked forward with fear, dread and loathing at the big waypoint birthdays — 20, 25, 30, etc.  A birthday to me is a way to mark the time as it passes: “Oh, its been another year.  Neato.”  Currently my age is somewhere between speed limits on surface streets, leaning toward the direction of multi-lane, divided roads.  Talk to me when I hit highway speeds.

Today I do feel a little down and drained, and I think it has to do more with spending the last four days performing an archaeological dig in my server room at work to unbury years of neglect, and many generations of lazy techs letting shit slide rather than do things the right way, rather than today having anything to do with a biological coincidence.  I’m feeling a bit quiet and a smidgen low.  *shrugs* This too shall pass.

You’re only as old as the girl you feel… and if that’s the case, I’m damn near a spring chicken.  Who am I fooling — I’m a gray, grizzled, wrinkled old cock.  *grins* But, I am very immature for my age, so I have that going for me.

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Change Is In The Air.

Posted by DmentD | Links,Reflection | Wednesday 5 November 2008 12:23 am

Well, it’s pretty much over — and the Old Boys are out, and the new young Hooligan is in.  Dear Jeebus, please let there be a fresh breath of air somewhere in the years to come.  Let’s see if business as usual really does become business unusual.

While surfing my usual haunts tonight, I stumbled across the most sobering post I’ve seen yet with regard to this election, and I’d like to share it to help temper the blind celebration and enthusiasm that is running rampant around me.

Don’t get me wrong — there is cause to celebrate — but please do bear in mind that we are still talking about politicians here, and a force much larger, and with more impetus than simply pulling a lever can stop dead.

We’re standing on the tracks, trying to reverse the direction of a train that is barreling at us at top speed by merely throwing our hands out before us and locking our elbows.  Congratulations, the impossible has happened and we weren’t instantly pulverized by the train… but it’s still pushing us backward as we dig our heels in to stop its progress.  We still have to bring it to a halt and push it back down the tracks from whence it came, but it’s a heavy sonofabitch, with a hell of a lot of momentum behind it already.  Honestly, I think the best we can hope for is to steer it to the nearest junction and switch it to a different track… which still requires a lot of energy.

I don’t think one term is enough to gain back a lot of ground, but if the Hooligan can be more human than politician, we may slow the ugly beast down, and maybe open a few minds in the process, giving us some momentum of our own.  It has to start somewhere, folks, and this is as good a way to start it as any.

Just don’t stop pushing, and don’t ever take your eyes of our leaders for one second, because a politician — after all is said and done — is still a politician.

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A Year In Time.

Posted by DmentD | Domestica,Reflection | Monday 22 September 2008 2:39 pm

It’s been a year to the day since Sweets and I finally admitted to each other — and ourselves — that we were head-over-heels in love.  We count this as our official day, even though we had been talking and making goo-goo eyes at one another over a video connection for many months prior.  It’s the day we couldn’t hold back any more, and let drop the guard around our hearts.

It’s very strange — and neither of us can explain it — how two people from two dramatically different backgrounds, cultures, and living half a world away could find one another in a random encounter on the Internet… one that had nothing to do with making a romantic connection.  Not only did we manage to stumble across each other, but as time crept along, we found out that we were very alike and compatible.  Now that Sweets has been here for six or so weeks, we’re discovering that we get along very well in close quarters as well.  We’re both silly, geeky, very odd people with similar senses of humo(u)r.

I do indeed love you my sweet girl, and this last year has just zoomed by.  Now that you’re here, I can only hope time slows down a bit so I can enjoy having you near.

Happy A-day, my little honeybee.

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Best Foot Forward.

Posted by DmentD | Aggravation,Reflection,Stress | Tuesday 16 September 2008 11:51 am

Soooo, I did a stupid thing on Friday.  At GonzO’s hurricane party I hopped down from a height of about 3′ and rolled my right foot under me, effectively spraining it mildly.

I was standing on the head of DeJockamo’s cousin (currently “on loan” and living happily in GonzO’s yard) and peering over his fence and into the empty lot next door to see what Cleo and Puck were barking at.  Cleo, a pug/Jack Russell terrier mix, had succumbed to her instincts and efficiently dispatched a rat to its heavenly host earlier in the day.  I was attempting to see if there was another one — or several for that matter — wandering around and making the dogs go batshit loco.

Finding nothing of interest, I hopped off the concrete idol.  Whilst in mid-fall I noticed that where I once had a clear landing zone, I now had a fuzzy face with an adorable under-bite, and a pair of soft brown eyes staring up at me.  Cleo had maneuvered herself directly under me, finding me suddenly more interesting than the non-existent rats.  I shifted my weight and adjusted my feet so I wouldn’t squish her, and I came down hard with most of my weight on my right foot.

I felt it roll on the uneven grass, followed by a sharp pain in my ankle — but no pop or crack sound.  I immediately made my way to somewhere I could stand and support myself, and evaluated what damage I had done.  My ankle hurt like hell, but I could bear putting my weight on it, and the initial pain was starting to dull (thank you endorphins!).  After ten minutes there was no noticeable swelling and I could walk, albeit favoring my non-injured foot.  Ten minutes later I had a small egg of swelling on my outside ankle, and a tiny bit on the front of the foot.  I was reasonably sure I hadn’t broken anything as I could support my weight, and my foot/ankle didn’t swell up like a ham attached to the end of my leg.  I attribute this to the fact that I was wearing my tactical boots when it happened, and the tight lacing and high sides are designed to minimize foot and ankle trauma.

I iced the foot for an hour afterward, and was able to hobble around with my weight partially on it.  I was even able to drive with surprisingly little difficulty, to pick up Sweets from class and to get us home.  Walking was much easier and less painful after driving… using the foot to operate the pedals seemed to have warmed the ankle up a bit and loosened up the stiffness.  When I lay down for bed, there was only minor swelling and no bruises to be seen.  I had a nice little elastic ankle brace of Sweet’s to use to keep compression on it.

Waking up Saturday, I had shockingly little pain in the ankle — just tenderness and stiffness.  My range of motion had increased, and lo and behold, the bruise had finally decided to show.  It spread, over the course of the weekend, from my heel all along the side of my foot to the arch, and a lovely bruise also formed under the outside of my foot as well.  I kept it elevated and iced on-and-off all weekend, and have been able to walk normally for the most part.  The bruises are starting to fade, but here they are for what it’s worth:

After a day of work yesterday, and a little shopping afterward, I’m finding my ankle to be a little sore — it’s the most walking I’ve done since banging it up on Friday.  Also, the swelling is going down, so that’s contributing to it a bit too.  Ibuprofen is my friend!

So, it was a damned stupid thing to do, but it could have been worse.  I now have a reminder for the next month or so of my own idiocy… like I don’t have enough reminders already.

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Delayed Reaction.

Posted by DmentD | Reflection | Monday 11 February 2008 11:00 pm

Ok, this may be too late — nigh ought two and a half years too late — but it is still worth a read.  Likely some of you have read this, and you’ll have a nice smile at reading it again.  Likely some of you haven’t read this, and it ought to make you feel like I did, having just read it for the first time… I laughed, it warmed my heart, I nodded in complete agreement the whole time, and it made me terribly homesick all at the same time.  And for those of you not natively from South Louisiana, this ought to give you fantastic insight in us, your friends from that hot, sticky, wonderful part of the States (and that goes double for you, Sweets, seeing as you’re starting from a whole different part of the world).

Enjoy.

Dear America,

I suppose we should introduce ourselves: We’re South Louisiana.

We have arrived on your doorstep on short notice and we apologize for that, but we never were much for waiting around for invitations. We’re not much on formalities like that.

And we might be staying around your town for a while, enrolling in your schools and looking for jobs, so we wanted to tell you a few things about us. We know you didn’t ask for this and neither did we, so we’re just going to have to make the best of it.

First of all, we thank you. For your money, your water, your food, your prayers, your boats and buses and the men and women of your National Guards, fire departments, hospitals and everyone else who has come to our rescue.

We’re a fiercely proud and independent people, and we don’t cotton much to outside interference, but we’re not ashamed to accept help when we need it. And right now, we need it.

Just don’t get carried away. For instance, once we get around to fishing again, don’t try to tell us what kind of lures work best in your waters.

We’re not going to listen. We’re stubborn that way.

You probably already know that we talk funny and listen to strange music and eat things you’d probably hire an exterminator to get out of your yard.

We dance even if there’s no radio. We drink at funerals. We talk too much and laugh too loud and live too large and, frankly, we’re suspicious of others who don’t.

But we’ll try not to judge you while we’re in your town.

Everybody loves their home, we know that. But we love South Louisiana with a ferocity that borders on the pathological. Sometimes we bury our dead in LSU sweatshirts.

Often we don’t make sense. You may wonder why, for instance — if we could only carry one small bag of belongings with us on our journey to your state — why in God’s name did we bring a pair of shrimp boots?

We can’t really explain that. It is what it is.

You’ve probably heard that many of us stayed behind. As bad as it is, many of us cannot fathom a life outside of our border, out in that place we call Elsewhere.

The only way you could understand that is if you have been there, and so many of you have. So you realize that when you strip away all the craziness and bars and parades and music and architecture and all that hooey, really, the best thing about where we come from is us.

We are what made this place a national treasure. We’re good people. And don’t be afraid to ask us how to pronounce our names. It happens all the time.

When you meet us now and you look into our eyes, you will see the saddest story ever told. Our hearts are broken into a thousand pieces.

But don’t pity us. We’re gonna make it. We’re resilient. After all, we’ve been rooting for the Saints for 35 years. That’s got to count for something.

OK, maybe something else you should know is that we make jokes at inappropriate times.

But what the hell.

And one more thing: In our part of the country, we’re used to having visitors. It’s our way of life.

So when all this is over and we move back home, we will repay to you the hospitality and generosity of spirit you offer to us in this season of our despair.

That is our promise. That is our faith.

Chris Rose of The Times-Picayune

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