Snow day memory

For what seems like the thousandth time this winter, we have snow. Lots of snow– well, lots of snow for this part of Michigan, but probably not much by UP or Buffalo, NY standards. So I am home with Will, also home from school. We are about to go shoveling, but for some reason, I am thinking back many years ago to a less significant snow day.

In 1988, after I had graduated from the University of Iowa, I moved to Richmond, Virginia to start the MFA program in creative writing at Virginia Commonwealth University. For the first time, I was living far from the midwest and alone in a pretty sketchy part of town near campus. My apartment was on Franklin on the first floor and in the back, right on the alley. I don’t know what it’s like there now, but at the time, that was a really good spot to find drunks and bums if you were looking. I used to hear them back there all the time. My apartment consisted of one main room, a kitchen, and a bathroom, all laid out in a row. My typical way of getting the day started was I would stumble out of bed, go through the kitchen, and into the bathroom to look out the window at something that wasn’t the alley before doing my business and getting in the shower.

One day in late November or early December, I got up, did my usual walk, and when I opened the window, I saw snow flakes. Just flurries, but big and giant white flakes. And, I don’t know, I had a moment of real home sickness and missing the chill of Iowa and the real snowfall we would have had there by now. Anyway, I closed the window and went through my usual routine, and by the time I looked out the window again, the snow had stopped. I started the coffee and while it was making, I turned on the radio to hear some semi-hysterical disk jokey going off about the snow, about being “real careful” out there, etc. What weather babies, and most of my time in Richmond just confirmed that impression.

Anyway, I don’t know what this has to do with much more than a few flakes of snow right now or not, but it’s what came to mind. And now to the shovels….

RIP, Gary Gygax

Gary “AD&D” Gygax passed away. As geeky IT web site “The Register” put it:

Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax rolled a natural one on his fortitude save today, dying at level 69 at his home in Lake Geneva.

Best known for developing D&D with Dave Arneson in 1974, Gygax helped formulate a pen-and-pencil role playing ruleset that would become a touchstone for modern gaming across its genres.

My own AD&D phase was in junior high/early high school, with a few gaming sessions all the way into early college years. Truth be told though the people I hung out with were more likely to play Traveller or Runequest. Will is getting the itch to play these games already, playing a kind of watered-down version and also making up a version with some friends at his school. I suspect Gary would be proud.

It’s more than a book store; it’s a really big book store with gadgets

As a winter break family outing yesterday afternoon, Annette and Will and I went to the new Borders after we picked Will up from school. And yes, our family is such that going to a book store is considered a “family outing.” This new store is a “concept store,” and fairly accurately summarized in this article, “Borders Celebrates Grand Opening…” Borders, which has its headquarters in Ann Arbor and which has been hemorrhaging money for a few years now, sees the store as at least one of the futures of the business. I guess.

Anyway, the store is located in a big-box strip mall over near Ann Arbor-Saline Road in the space that used to be a CompUSA store. One of the reasons why Borders opened this store here is because the Borders suits are here, and when we were there Tuesday, there seemed to be tours of various Borders employees underway, which was a little weird. It’s a big store with snazzy lighting and furnishings and all of that, kind of arranged in a sort of wheel/spoke pattern. In the middle, there were sections of food and wine, travel, exercise and diet, and something else I’m not remembering.

My wife the Children’s Lit professor scholar noticed that a good half of the book space of the story could be included in her classes: besides a big children’s book section, there was a lot of “young adult” and whatever the book category is called for the kind of junior-aged high school kids, and a very large section on Manga, Anime, comic books, and graphic novels. So much for the “kids today” not doing any reading– or I guess the “kids today” just aren’t reading “Literature,” which was sort of shoved off into a corner of the store.

But probably more than half of the store was devoted to the miscellaneous stuff that all big box book stores sell nowadays (stationary, candy, bags, notebooks, etc.), music, and “gadgets.” Over in one corner they had a LongPen station, which was (apparently) invented by Margaret Atwood to do virtual book signings. I couldn’t find a picture on the very bad LongPen web site, but basically, it’s kind of a station sort of thing a bit bigger than an ATM with a camera and a microphone, a screen that would presumably show the author doing the signing, and a surface where you put your book and the mechanical pen thing. I dunno. The argument is that these people are saving the environment by reducing travel. It seems to me though that they’d do a lot more environmental benefit by publishing fewer books on paper and making eBooks compelling and affordable. Really, I think the main reason for the device is that Margaret Atwood (and others like her) must really hate to travel.

And then on the other side of things, somewhere between a half and a third of the store, is a very large technology stuff/gadget section. They had the Sony Reader on display, which makes sense as a book store techno-gadget (and after playing with it for about 10 minutes, my reaction to the grey and $300 price tag was who in the hell would want to buy this thing?), and they also had a display of those frames with the electronic pictures in them and some exercise gadgets, too. They were selling FlipVideo cameras and other digital cameras (I knew way more about the FlipVideo than the sales dude), and there probably were some non-iPod mp3 players in there too. They had some computer kiosks where you could download mp3s to your iPod (or whatever) right there, or you could burn them to a CD, for about a buck apiece, and they had a station where you could print out your digital pictures. And then they also had a station where you could print a customized book (I couldn’t get that thing to work) and a station where you could do family genealogy (??).

Anyway, it was an interesting idea and I’m sure it will evolve, but right now, it had the look and feel of a bunch of stuff thrown against a wall to see if it would stick. eBooks and custom printing of trade books hasn’t quite taken off yet, and it seems to me that the only people who would use an in-store/f2f service to do things like download mp3s to a disk or print digital pictures are folks who aren’t all that comfortable with technology in the first place. And genealogy? Seriously?

So we’ll see what happens over the next couple years. We did all spend some money there. I bought Blogging Heroes more or less as a risky but potential BAWS resource since I have not had any luck so far getting high profile bloggers to participate in my survey or case studies. Though after looking it up on (which is what I link to above), which features some free chapters and a $5.38 price tag, I feel like I’ve been ripped off, which is not a good feeling to have upon reflecting on a new store.

On the road again

A few random thoughts from Bowling Green, KY, where Will and I are staying at the halfway point on our return from Orange Beach, AL, to Ypsi:

  • Will and I actually started with a detour to the beach because, as we were leaving, I was struck by the fact that we had spent so little time near the Gulf. So we went to a park that was way out of our way and went down the long beach and touched the water, which was warmer than I thought it would be.
  • There’s a disturbing number of newish sushi and/or Japanese steak places in rural Alabama. And when I think of rural Alabama, I think….
  • When driving in the midwest/northeast, I scan the lower end of the FM dial in search of a public radio station. In Alabama, this section of the radio spectrum is dominated by Christian radio. I dunno, that’s a weird contrast to me.
  • Alabama is one long-assed state, like 400 miles from bottom to top. That’s a lot of, um, sweet home.
  • I only ate BBQ once on this trip, and it was just okay.
  • The Jack Daniels distillery was a very tempting stop, but it was 25-30 miles off the Interstate, and that’s a lot of miles/time to spend on a beverage I don’t regularly drink. Now if it was a scotch….
  • Bowling Green, KY, is kind of similar in some interesting ways to Bowling Green, OH. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, it has a blue collar tang to it (they make corvettes here) has a university, and it does not appear to have a decent restaurant (and thus room service pizza, which isn’t bad). Will and I drove around and did see a lot of pretty old houses.
  • The pool and hot tub at this hotel has a saline solution instead of chlorine for some reason. I got into the hot tub, so I started and end the day in salt water.

Anyway, tomorrow drive-drive-drive and then home.

Alabama Roadtrip, part 2 (Mission Accomplished)

I see you, too!

We started out Saturday morning with benigets, a little driving around, and then out to the Fort Morgan State Park, which is out at the end of one of the barrier islands under Mobile. This was Will’s idea. While driving around and looking at beaches and stuff, the grandparents were chatting about things we could do. They mentioned Fort Morgan, Prince William said “this is a good idea,” and off we were go, 30 or so minutes later.

Actually, it was a good idea. It’s a very old Fort, dating back from the war of 1812, and involved in some Civil War stuff. It had been “updated” over the years as a defensive post during WWI and WWII (I think) with some concrete bunkers and batteries for big cannons and stuff. It looked like the kind of place that would be a cool set to make a student movie. Some great views, but I was surprised to see dozens of off-shore oil rigs out there. If you look carefully over Will’s left shoulder, you can see one.

Went to lunch, and then we went on a dolphin cruise on this boat. I was a little dubious of the whole thing, especially since I do not enjoy boating in any shape and/or form. But it was a very pleasant day and a pleasant ride. We saw a surprising number of dolphins, and a bunch of them even ended up chasing after the boat and jumping out of the water.

Here’s some video; it doesn’t really do the experience justice though:

That night, we went to an extremely popular faux redneck place called Lulu’s where the entertainment included a band made up of guitar, harmonica, bongo-like drumkit, and tuba. One of their songs was “I Hope There’s a Trailerpark in Heaven,” or something like that, which fit well with a song I heard earlier in the day that had the line “It’s snowbird season, why we can’t shoot ’em?” (BTW, here’s a link to a bizarre video where this song is set to a clip from the cartoon series Teen Titans). It kind of sums up the whole area down here, really. It’s a land where Jeff “you might be a redneck if…” Foxworthy is surly worshiped like a God.

The big highlight of today was a trip to the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. We took a tour of the main floor of the museum, and Will was just enamored with the retired pilot tour guide, hanging on every single little word. A lot of our fellow tour patrons felt the same way, basically because many were either ex-military folks or just airplane/Navy geeks. One guy was mumbling to himself about the connections between the various planes and Star Wars and Star Trek. Another guy kept nodding in agreement with everything the tour guide said. Or maybe it was a nervous tick, I don’t know.

There was also a bus tour through a parking lot full of planes they couldn’t get into the building. The tour guide was just horrible, but despite that, this was one of the highlights of the trip for me. For this part of the tour featured this plane:

W's Mission Accomplished

Don’t recognize it? Well, you remember when Bush landed that plane on the carrier and declared “mission accomplished” with the Iraq war, right? Of course you do, but here’s some footage from Fahrenheit 911 as a refresher. Well, guess what happened to the plane?

W's Mission Accomplished Plane close-up

Yep, there it is. I dunno, but it seems a pretty preposterous place for the plane used in one of the most dubious stunts in recent American history, if you ask me. “Mission Accomplished” sent to the back lot of a museum.

Anyway, here’s a link to a flickr set of the trip so far. There will probably be some more, but I need to get caught up with some school work over the next day or so first. Well, that, and play some golf.

Alabama Roadtrip, part 1

As I type this, I just got done looking through some materials for my online class while at the condo my parents have rented in Orange Beach, Alabama– aka, the Redneck Riviera, or, if you believe that it is only the panhandle of Florida, near it. A few thoughts/highlights so far:

  • We didn’t get as far as we would have preferred on Thursday because a) it was Valentine’s and Will was not about to leave school and miss out on the candy, b) Survivor was on at 8 pm (must-see watching for Will), c) Lost was on at 9 pm (must-see watching for me– and I thought it was excellent), and d) traffic in Ohio really sucked.
  • I was rather surprised at the number of accidents and other emergency vehicle personnel I saw on the road. Of course, considering that I drove just shy of 1,000 miles in two days, maybe it isn’t surprising.
  • Possible stop on the way home: Jack Daniels. Just for the tour, people.
  • The only real photo op so far was at a rest stop near Huntsville, Alabama, where they made these rockets:


    I also like Will next to this proclamation:

    We dare

    Apparently, it’s the state motto. But shouldn’t that be “We dare to defend our rights?” Am I missing something here?

  • Biggest food screw-up of the trip: passing on the local BBQ place in Birmingham in favor of what I thought would be easier and faster to eat while driving food at Burger King.
  • You know, I see plenty of older cars like mine with lots and lots of bumper stickers on the streets of Ypsi-Arbor. You don’t see as many on the Interstate. And you don’t see any other Darwin stickers down here, either.

Anyway, a combo of some fun and some work for the next few days. I’m sure there will be more updates.

(Faux) Mardi Gras Party, 2008

Party Pictures We had our second annual Mardi Gras Party last night, and a good time was had, me thinks. Annette and I have done a fall party of Indian food for several years now, and we decided last year that February was a good time to have another party, especially since it is cold and dreary and kind of the low-point of the school year. So Mardi Gras it was then, and Mardi Gras it was this year.

Well, sort of. Purists will note that “Fat Tuesday” was last week, so technically, we should have had this party last weekend. But scheduling conflicts and all the rest postponed it. No one seemed to mind.

The pre-party planning/work started with a bit of a bang, and I mean that in a bad way. I slipped and fell about halfway down the basement stairs and I managed to land quite hard on my ass in the process. I don’t think I broke anything too significant, but I had the wind knocked out of me pretty good and I was kind of dazed for about the first hour or so of the festivities. This morning, I’m not so much hung over as I am sore. Sitting down is a delicate matter.

I uploaded a boatload of pictures to my flickr account here, or, if you’re a facebook kinda person, you can go see them over there, too. I didn’t actually take any of these pictures– Becky S. started playing with the camera, and, 70 some odd pictures later, I had a bunch to share. Note how many of these pictures Andre manages to get in. My favorite is this one where he must be going for the cover of Teen Beat.

Of course it was great to have so many good friends, work colleagues, neighbor-types, kids, etc. But what I like most about Mardi Gras is the food, and we had WAY WAY too much of it. Here’s what we had, along with my own biased reviews:

  • Muffuletta sandwiches. I vaguely followed this recipe on Food Network. They were pretty good, though I think they could have been a little juicier/oilier.
  • Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice. Mine was based on this one, without the meat of course. They disappeared, so I guess that’s a good sign, but personally, I kind of thought that they needed something… like sausage….
  • Chicken and Sausage Gumbo. With a kind of lame roux, lots of okra, etc., and based on a Weight Watchers recipe, so sort of healthy. I’m planning on it for dinner tonight.
  • Shrimp Jambalaya. Something of a disappointment because the rice never really cooked to my liking. I tried a recipe from a Cajun cookbook that said to cook it in the oven instead of on the stovetop, and I think that was where I went wrong. Some people liked the slightly crunchy rice though, and it did make for excellent left-overs for lunch today.
  • Annette’s Mom’s Famous Jalapeno poppers, which are halved jalapenos stuffed with breakfast sausage, cream cheese, and parmesan cheese, and then baked for about 20 minutes. Excellent as always, though we made way too many.
  • Shrimp cakes, which is a Emeril Lagasse recipe that features an amazing cream sauce. I thought these might have been a mistake when we were frantically getting stuff ready at the last minute because they are a little on the complicated side of things. But man, are they good.
  • King Cake, which is more of a sweet bread/coffee cake than it is a “cake” cake. There are a bunch of different recipes out there, but I followed this one and it turned out pretty darn good.
  • And assorted fruits, veggies, and fine cheeses, and some goodies just for the kids.

So by next year, maybe we’ll figure out how to streamline this a bit and how to gauge how much food we actually need. And now, I’m going to go wash some more dishes.

Welcome to (or should I say, Krause 2.0?)

Welcome to this, the new and all-in-one Krause blog. Steven D. Krause’s Official Blog readers, meet Steve Krause’s Unofficial Blog; SKUB, this is SDKOB. All one big and happy family/identity.

What is this and why now? Well…
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