Snack Time!

I am a big fan of dried meat products. Beef Jerky is one of my favorites, though I have some alligator and wild boar jerky coming, just to try. The outlet mall in Des Moines has a whole store devoted to jerky, and I look forward to traveling there once it’s safe to do so. (Note, I don’t receive any money from any of the following links, these are strictly my personal preferences and discoveries)

The jerky I get from the Stanhope Meat Locker is the best I’ve had anywhere, but isn’t available unless you live in Central Iowa and can make a short drive. I highly recommend it.

The other dried meat I’ve tried recently is something called biltong. Biltong is different from jerky in that it is air dried rather than cooked. The variety I tried had a slight vinegar taste, which wasn’t bad. The big difference I noticed was that it wasn’t as salty as the jerky I’ve had, which isn’t a bad thing. Biltong is much more like eating dried beef rather than shoe leather, which a lot of jerky tends to be like. I will probably order more at some point.

I also receently discovered kamut, which is a toasted wheat product. It has a nutty flavor and can’t be beat for crunch. They have a sea salt and a churro flavor. The churro flavor is great for just grabbing for breakfast or sprinkling in with oatmeal or yogurt. The sea salt flavor is great as a quick snack or to add some extra crunch to a salad.

Small Victories

Assembling anything has been a nemesis of mine since my kids were small and even before that. There is something about following a lengthy set of instructions to the end that drives me absolutely berserk. When I was a kid, I didn’t like putting together models for the same reason. Between that and getting lightheaded from the glue, I wasn’t a big fan.

I did have a small victory this weekend though, as my son and I managed to put together a charcoal grill without either of us getting angry and walking away. I should explain that my son is 19 and still knows everything. I, on the other hand, and at 58 have become firmly convinced I know nothing. Hence the initial disagreement about whether or not it was necessary to read and follow the instructions for building the thing. I was a firm yes vote, and I will admit, I did say “Because I paid for it, that’s why!”

It really wasn’t that difficult, though there were 24 separate steps, which needed to be completed in order, accompanied by a set of diagrams that were apparently designed by someone with MC Escher’s sense of proportion.

This is roughly what I thought I saw.


We managed to only have to redo two steps, one at the beginning when we couldn’t figure out which way the main fire box went together, and at the end when we put the hinges for the lid on inside out. But we did get it put together.

It’s sitting in the garage now, waiting for it to stop raining, so I can christen it with burgers and some very good wieners I bought from our local meat locker. I am somewhat of a purist when it comes to wieners. I want them spicy and with natural casing. Yes, I know what the casing is made of, but you don’t get a good snap any other way. I really like my local meat locker as they make very good wieners and exceptional pork sticks and beef jerky. I have some of it at my desk right now, and my dog is staring at me intently in hopes I will share.

Time to crash. Other things to get done now.

FML

If you haven’t yet hear the abbreviation, it stands for “F* My Life”. Normally, I’m a pretty easy going person. There are days when it feels like karmically speaking, I must have been a real prick in one of my past lives. I say that because I can’t think of what I’ve done to deserve what I’m going through in this one.

I got permanently laid off at the start of April, which was its own set of pain and anguish. I’ve never gotten laid off before, so I do ask myself sometimes what I did to deserve getting let go over other people. I try not to dwell on it, mainly because it’s not terribly constructive or useful. I’ve had a few interviews and lots of leads, so I’m hopeful that this will pass.

In a way, it was fortunate that I got laid off right after my former employer paid out the annual bonus, as I had that plus severance, plus my federal refund come through just as my water heater decided to spring a massive leak. With labor, it ended up being almost a grand, which is money I would not have had on hand if I hadn’t had a sudden influx of cash. I’m waiting to see what catastrophes will happen when my stimulus check shows up. The refrigerator has been making funny noises, and the oven burns everything, so I’m thinking they are going to be next.

We were pretty lucky though, we got the new water heater in two days after it went out and only had to take cold showers for one day. Actually nobody took a shower since we had noplace to be other than in the house since Covid pretty much makes going outside something we only do when absolutely necessary.

The flooded basement did have one positive effect, all of the water flowed into the main half of the basement, so we were able to haul the carpet out and dispose of it relatively easily. We’re probably going to replace it with vinyl flooring, since that will deal with water much more easily if we have another problem, though I can’t imagine what that would be unless the sump pump goes for some reason. I probably need to have it checked.

We also had to trim back a tree that was growing over our yard since a large branch was resting on our power line. That was making my wife and I both nervous, but we got it all trimmed down. That’s kind of a fun process to watch, mostly because 1) I don’t like heights at all, and 2) There’s a sort of strategy they execute in bringing a large branch down without becoming an America’s Funniest Video entry.

Things have settled down finally, so now it’s just a matter of figuring out where we go from here.

Design

I found a neat little website while looking for pictures of art deco theaters for inspiration for a story. Messy Nessy Chic is a website that features design oriented stories, often about overlooked corners of the art world, and the world in general. Stories that I found particularly interesting:

There are lots of great places to find interesting stories. Here are some of my favorites:

Masks

This is the first draft of a story I wrote for my writer’s workshop. I will be posting this story to RoyalRoad.com as the first story in a larger collection.

I only forgot my mask once before, when I think I was 14 or 15. Mother and Father made such a fuss, that I tried very hard to remember it after that. Father’s wrath was terrible, but Mother’s anger hurt more because it was expressed as disappointment rather than as rage. I could hide from Father, but the guilt and shame at having disappointed her was inescapable. “Remember what happened to your brother, Ella.”


My brother Paul had forgotten his mask one day while he was away and had never returned. I still kept his last letter in a box under my bed along with a drawing I had made of him just before he left. He was very proud of that picture, and said it was a perfect likeness. I could see his love for me every time I looked at it, especially in the brown depths of his eyes.


“My Dear Ella,” He had written. “I will be home soon. Give Mom and Dad a hug for me. Tell them that they were right, the outside world is a scary place, but it also has its charms. I’ve met a wonderful girl, and I am looking forward to bringing her for a visit. I also found something I think you will really like and will bring it home for you when I return.”

That was the last we ever heard from him. After that, Paul became more of a cautionary tale than anything else. I’m sure my parents both grieved his loss in their own ways, but they never mentioned his name other than to remind me to make sure I wore my mask anytime I stepped outside the house.

The house was a two-story Victorian on Bank Street, in a neighborhood of otherwise unoccupied, rundown houses. Many of them had been vandalized, but that stopped afterwhile. Destruction loses its thrill when no one appears to care about what is being destroyed.

Our house was originally a painted lady, adorned in pastel shades of spring, but Father had covered it in a riot of vinyl and aluminum siding, whatever he was able to salvage in his travels through the city. He could only stay out an hour or two at a time, it was too dangerous, otherwise.

In the end, the house resembled a house designed by a cubist, its squares of contrasting color confusing the eye from realizing that it indeed was looking at someone’s home. This may have been the reason people were prone to keeping their distance.

The roof was much the same, with asphalt shingles of multiple shades. It might have looked odd to some, but we were dry, even in the strongest storm. The house was our nest, our castle, our shelter against the outside world.

The outside world was a scary place, Mother told us, full of dangers that we were ill-equipped to handle. Mother kept the curtains closed most of the time, in order to block the view. Paul and I both believed her, as we didn’t know any different.

She insisted on us homeschooling rather than letting us leave the house, not wanting to submit us to the risk that our masks would slip and expose us to danger. “Some parents aren’t afraid to let their kids be exposed to the poison outside, but I am unwilling.”, she told us. “You must stay here, inside, safe with your father and me. Even he only goes out when absolutely necessary.”

When we became teenagers, normal adolescent rebellion made us question this. Was it really that bad outside? We’re the dangers posed really so hazardous?

Paul resisted more than I did. His readings of the books in our library seemed to make him more curious about what lay beyond the confines of our home, which was not what was intended at all. He started sneaking out, waiting until Mother and Father had gone to bed and slipping out the back door to go exploring. He would return an hour or two later, telling secret tales of parties and gatherings which painted gossamer pictures in my imagination, and made me wish to escape as well.

It was three months later when he left and didn’t return. I hid in my room for the next few weeks, not wishing to face either Father’s anger, or Mother’s anxiety. I was worried too, but at the same time, I envied Paul for having the courage to escape.
We started to get letters. Paul had gone to the city, had found a job and started working. He seemed very excited by all of it. The final letter sounded so hopeful. Mother had largely stopped worrying.

Father had begun to even joke and laugh occasionally. Then we heard the news. Paul had forgotten his mask one day and would never return home again.

“I told him. I told him not to forget it, didn’t I tell him?” Mother sobbed as she collapsed on the floor. Father just shouted about Paul being a stupid fool, and that he had known this would happen.

My freedom was greatly restricted for the next month. It took me some time to persuade my parents that I was trustworthy, and had no desire to wander from the safe haven they had created. But I was lying to them and to myself. I still desired the world that Paul had told me about. I still felt the pull of the outside world, drawing me out of our cloistered existence.

I started sneaking out, much as Paul had, meeting people my own age and making friends. That’s how I met Eric.

Eric was a little older than I was. His hair was the most beautiful shade of red. He wasn’t a ginger, his hair was more auburn than the brilliant orange most gingers seem to have. His eyes were the same shade of brown as my brother’s, and as we came to know each other, they began to hold the same concern and caring that my brother’s had.

I remember one night, we managed to find one of the few movie houses still open, and watched a double feature of the 80s film “Cat People” followed by “An American Werewolf in London”. We laughed ourselves silly at how bad they both were, and I think I started to fall in love with him, just a little.

Other dates followed, and I started to imagine what a life with Eric would be like, even children. These were thoughts that were new, almost disturbing, in the narrow confines my parents had defined my life.

We were at another double feature, this time it was the “Mole Men from Venus” and “Invasion of the Ant People”.

Eric looked at me and said “Ella, I’ve been meaning to tell you something. We’ve been spending so much time together, and I have to admit I’m falling in love with you. But it wouldn’t be fair for us to go further without letting you know the real me.

“Eric, I’ve been feeling the same way.” I answered. “I have wanted to let you know my true self so badly.”

He kissed me then, and everything just felt right. As if my entire life had been leading up to this moment, where I could truly be myself, free from my parents’ fears and my own insecurities.

We took off our masks and revealed ourselves to each other there in the theater. That’s when the screaming started.