Dear 43 Things Users,

10 years after introducing 43 Things to the world, we have decided we have met our last goal: completing the incredible experience that has been 43 Things. Please join us in giving one last cheer to all the folks who have shared their goals with the world, as well as all the people who have worked at The Robot Co-op to build this incredible website. We won a Webby Award, published a book, and brought happiness to a lot of people.

Starting today, 43 Things users can export their goals and entries from the site. Starting August 15, we will make the site “read only”. 43 Things users will still be able to view the site and export their content, but we won’t be taking any new content from users. We hope to leave the site up for folks to see and download their content until the end of the year. Ending on New Year’s Eve takes us full circle.

It has been a long ride (one of our original goals was to "build a company that lasts at least 2 years” - we beat that one!) While we wish the site could live on, it has suffered from a number of challenges - changes in how people use the site, the advertising industry, and how search engines view the site. We wish the outcome was different – but we’ve always been realistic about when our goals are met and when they aren't.

As of today, you will be able to download your goals and entries. See more about that on the FAQ page. Thanks for 10 great years of goal-setting and achieving.

- The Robots.

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Tarrador

My God, it's full of stars...



Entries
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43 Day Challenge (read all 7 entries…)
Breathe Fire

Because I don’t learn from past pain and mistakes, I signed up earlier this year for the Firebreather Challenge, which goes down in a couple of months. Right now I am in no way, shape, or form ready for such a grueling obstacle race, but I’m going to work on that.

I spent the last seven weeks working to recover my mental attitude and practice of positive thinking and acting. On the whole I was doing really well. I got knocked back for a couple weeks due to domestic difficulties, but I didn’t quit. I’ve worked to build a foundation that supports the success of my goals, and now I’m ready to test it for cracks and weaknesses.

I’ve laid out a plan of action to train for the Firebreather. It will be probably the hardest race I’ve been in yet. (And if that were not enough, one of the women I work with has been getting me hyped up about the Savage Race, which goes down October 5th) The plan takes into account things like the amount of time I realistically have to work out during the week, what exercises are going to help me the most in preparing for the race, what diet is going to aid me in losing fat and excess weight and putting on muscle and also enabling me to recover. Same with the workout: I have learned in research and hard, cold personal experience that a guy my age cannot push himself as hard as he did even 10 years earlier. More time for recovery, more caution in exercise.

I could say this challenge is all for the race, but the truth is that the race is just a measure of how committed I was to the process of training. Sort of like the journey being more important than the destination.

During this time I’m also going to challenge myself to learn how to actually breathe fire. I think that would be a cool trick to learn.



Maintain and Improve My Fitness For Life (read all 15 entries…)
I Love You, I Love You... Goodbye

I’m going to go on a two month gluten fast. I’m not gluten intolerant (that I know of), but I’m pursing certain fitness goals and breads and other white stuff is off the table.

White rice is easy. Subbing honey for sugar is easy. But it is amazing to me how much of my daily diet is made up of the staff of life. It’s insidiously omnipresent, hence the real challenge. It is breading on fried chicken or fish; it is the bun with a burger; it is a cookie or piece of cake; it is pasta, even home-made; its even beer! Christ! For real? Beer? This sucks.

But I’ve chosen to pursue a certain course, featuring lots of green vegetables, raw foods, super lean meat, and anti-oxident rich fruits. So my homemade breads and brews and Chinese food and other sinners in the house of health must be expelled. Based upon past experiences, I know that wheats and gluten slow me down and make me sluggish. And they interfere with other body functions that need to be speeded up.

It’s hard to break up with food. Like an ex-girlfriend that doesn’t move out, it’s a real temptation to just have a “for old times’ sake” quickie, or a “hey, we’re both here: I’m hungry and you want to be eaten” kind of relationship. So not only does gluten have to be restricted, it has to be evicted. Controlling it around the house is fairly easy. Even if I can’t bring myself to throw out wheat products, I can at least box them up and hide them for 2 months. Work is harder, as is going out. I won’t… _won’t… be one of those people who looks at a menu from cover to cover, painfully debating what I can have or can’t. Not that I have anything against those people, I just don’t want to be one of them…

And if I have to give up beer for 8 weeks, I’m going to fall on the side of the argument that lets me indulge in the occasional measure of bourbon and whiskey. After all, anything taken to extremes is never a good thing, right?



Dine at Tarrador's Table (read all 32 entries…)
Day Glo Cake

A recent corporate event we did had a “glow party” theme. That means it involved a ton of glow sticks, black lights, neon colors and such. Foodwise everything was pretty standard. I was a little disappointed that accomodations were not made by the event coordinater to better illuminate and decorate the food stations. I mean, sushi would be a natural for neon themes and day glow colors, I thought.

During our pre-event meeting (2 days prior to the event), the salesperson mentioned that it was the client’s birthday and that she wanted to do a cake for him. I said no problem. She said she wanted to make it in line with the theme of the event. I said no problem. She asked who I would get to make the cake. I shrugged and said Dulce would probably make the cake and decorate it, with my help. The salesperson asked it I could order the cake to be made at a cake shop and just delivered.

I looked over the edge of my notepad. “It’s four o’clock now. Are you asking if I can get on the phone, order a cake, have it made and decorated and delivered here by 2 pm Thursday?” “Yeah,” she said. “No,” I said.

You know that whiney sigh women exhude when they don’t get the answer they want, when they thought it was clear that the question they asked was the same thing as having made a statement or given an instruction? I get an extended example of this. “Don’t you want to have a real cake shop do it? I mean, I want it to look nice.” Maybe I gave her a look, because she immediately ammended: “Not that you don’t do nice stuff…” She began making big hand movements. “I mean, your not a baker. Baking is a whole different thing. We never bake here for events, we always order from a real cake place. None of the chefs have ever just baked a cake. And this is… well… I just want it to look nice.”

“We got this.” I answer.

“I’m very nervous,” she counters.

“Don’t be. How much are you charging them for this cake, again?”

“Well, I want to throw it in gratis, to show our appreciation.”

“So you want me to spend…?”

“Oh, you can get one for like $25 – $30, right?”

“To feed 50 people?”

“Yeah.”

“No.”

(Whiney sigh). “Really?”

“We got this.”

I quickly sketched out my idea on the Ipad and showed Dulce what I wanted. Her deeply furrowed brow led me to believe she really didn’t understand anything I was saying. I went slowly, and she gave me the nods and okays that indicated she still didn’t understand, but didn’t want to talk about it anymore, either. I found some cake recipes online and gathered them for common ingredients. I tossed out the angelfood cake options. I tossed out the pudding and ice cream cake options. I went into dry storage and looked for some store-bought cake mix. I found only pancake/waffle mix, which I stood and considered for several minutes. No, no, I decided.

I ended up making the cake (and subsequent sheet cake to feed 75 people)myself. All things considered it was the most expedient course to take. I made a two layer cake; a rich coffee-chocolate layer, topped with house-made strawberry gelee (I was out of raspberries) and a topping of chocolate mousse. I made the second layer by adapting a vanilla sponge cake recipe. I cut the cake to the appropriate dismensions and stacked the layers a bit askew to keep with the theme. I rummaged around for a packet of fondant I had bought and never used, and colored it with food colorings I had bought the night before at a great little place called Cake Art. I got my prep person Yoceli involved and had her roll out and layer the fondant, teaching her how to fold and cut and merge the multicolored layers. I didn’t have enough fondant to completely cover the cake, so I colored some buttercream frosting and finished it with that, then garnished the cake with Cake Art stuff like fondant flowers and sprinkles. For the sheet cake I had another staffer whip up a huge batch of buttercream frosting, then divide it into three, then color each batch (electric pink, electric blue, and electric green). He layered it over the sheet cake and we hit it with more sprinkles and decor. Yoceli had tried to get the fondant to lay evenly on the cake, but as it was her first time, it was pretty sloppy. Lacking time to fix it, I did what all cake experts do: I hid flaws with whipped cream.

The cake was a hit and looked great (except for being somewhat lopsided which was from my inexperience, and the fondant being a bit droopy. But in all fairness I think I’m the only one who noticed or cared). Everyone said the flavor was terrific and they loved the layers and the colors. Even the sales person admitted the cake was “cute”, and that she was happy with it. The cost of the cake was about $10 in basic stuff, although I went a little crazy at Cake Art and spent $50 – $60 bucks.

Most important was teaching the staff (and the salespeople) that just because we are small doesn’t mean we can’t do big things. Okay, we are not a cake shop. But we are competent enough to do basic stuff, as any catering kitchen should be. If I had two or three weeks to order a cake and the budget to have it elaborately decorated, of course I’d outsource it to a professional…

...maybe.



Burn Them All (read all 5 entries…)
Burn All The Letters

When in retreat, it is best, in my opinion, to destroy what ever may be left behind so that your opponent cannot use it against you, or that certain information may not fall “into the wrong hands”. This is just common sense, really. Everyone from the Germans in the WWII movies, to the Mission Impossible guys, to Harry Potter practice this proactive policy.

Oh, it’s all nice to say: “Well, you shouldn’t write it if you don’t want anyone to read it…” Balderdash, I say. There is stuff that you know was not written to or for you, so you shouldn’t read it. Anyone who’s had a post from here hijacked and sent to Facebook knows what I mean. And I’m not talking about the “expectation of privacy” that is actually non-existent on the internet. I am talking about people who plunge into your business with espionage-like stealth. Have you ever come across someone cycling through your phone and address book? I have. Have you ever had someone stop behind you while you were on the computer and read a document you were typing? I have. Ever had a girlfriend, wife, whoever, go through your called and received phone call records? I have. I once had a girlfriend who raided my “memories drawer”, where I kept birthday cards, letters and such one night while I was asleep. I got up to look for her and found her sorting out the cards and letters she decided that I should keep, and those I should throw away. “Why would you keep these, especially from your ex-wife. You guys are divorced, you know,” she told me in way of defense. And this was not a woman I was even living with, just dating.

So I became pretty protective over my privacy. I don’t pry into other people’s business, I don’t read mail that gets mis-delivered to my house, I don’t even leaf through magazines in someone’s office or home. And I don’t live my life as an open book. There’s lots of reasons, and they have influenced the degrees to which I open up and expose myself to anyone. Even when you think you know all there is to know… well, you don’t. And you never will. And anything you do know is a privilege I extend to you, not an obligation to divulge things based upon the length or depth of our relationship. I had one friend become quite angry with me once because he found out something about me he’d never known. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about that!” he complained. “We have been friends for years.” “Yeah,” I answered. “Well, we’re not that good o’ friends.”

So over the years I’ve built up a respectable library of private conversations. Most are with myself (journals, notebooks, diaries, etc.). Some are in the forms of cards and handwritten letters with other people. Some are e-mails and text messages. Some really personal stuff exists in the files of 43Things, in posts and PMs. I’m not a trumpeter of 43Things. I don’t tell people I know in 3D life about the site. I don’t cross post to Facebook, and I don’t keep the links that follow back to 43T from Blogger. So, to some degree, I can confess to having two lives: one lived “out loud” where everything I say or do has a real life consequence in reaction or judgment. That’s fine. I can deal with the consequences of what I put out there. The other life is lived in the ether. There I can put out what I think, feel, wish, hope for, hate, regret. I can speak of long exorcised demons and deeply held desires. Or just make a bunch of silly remarks trying to look wry and witty.

No one part of those two lives is more real than the other. No one is more authentic. Because I don’t bring the elements of one into the fold of the other doesn’t make me a liar or some kind of traitor to people on the other side of the fence. It is not necessary for me to be flayed open and displayed so everyone else can feel safe and secure and be able to properly categorize me and know exactly what to expect.

But now there is a sufficient body of “evidence” available that the threat of “worlds crossing over” is real enough that something must be done. In the real world it is prudent to clean out those memory drawers and notes and cards. And nothing cleans like fire. Then there is the sanitizing of all that stuff in the ether. Well, that’s just a matter of delete-delete-delete. Yes, I lose the details and breaths and memories of those documents. There will never be a rainy day nostalgic afternoon rereading old journal entries, cards and letters from years ago, or conversations that sometimes kept me level and sane. But sometimes there is no way to maintain two worlds except to cut the ties that join them. Maybe one day it may come to me just keeping that second world in my head. Of course, even that bastion can be raided by a wily opponent.

This message will self destruct in five…
four…
three…
two…
one…



Run the 2013 Peachtree Road Race (read all 3 entries…)
Ready to Race

I got confirmation that I was included in the race this year. I pick up my number on July 3rd. This will be my 8th consecutive running of the race.

My training has been sporatic (to be generous). Now I need to knuckle down and get serious.



Burn Them All (read all 5 entries…)
Give Them Naught But Ashes

Nothing cleans like fire.

When They want to eradicate a virus, They burn it with fire. When God passes judgment, He burns with fire. When Nero wanted to clear out the ghettos, he used fire. When someone wants to cauterize a wound… fire. Destroy evidence?... burn it. Get rid of garbage?... set it ablaze. Fire consumes and destroys and cleanses like a ravenous dragon.

Fire is how you smelt iron and gold. Only the purest things pass through fire. If you want to remove the impurities and non-essentials from something… forge it in fire.

Fire clears the way for new growth. I used to have a girlfriend who managed controlled burns on state property. Basically, she went around setting forest fires. This is a routine practice used to clear out dead and tangled underbrush and make room for fresh seedlings, some of which are disposed by evolution to only seed with high heat, such as a forest fire. Burn what is useless, make room for new growth. That is why we “fire” employees, perhaps.

Fire scars and changes things permanently, too. Fire is indiscriminate and consumes without conscience until there is nothing left to burn, nothing left to eat. And when all the burning is done it does not linger, it whiffs out of existence. We know what someone means when they complain they “got burned by the insurance company” or “burned in a business deal”, or “burned by a lover”.

For a few days I’ve been contemplating the values of cleansing with fire, with burning things away. Not in the literal sense, just in the figurative sense. Or, maybe in a bridge between the two. I’m still facing choices and challenges of burning away what is useless, what chokes new growth, what destroys permanently. And the damage some burning can do; irreparable damage. Damage that you think you’ve healed from, but that is only because you have not really looked at your scars in the mirror. I’m thinking about fire-breaks and back-fires and scorched earths and scattering ashes.

In his madness, King Aerys II Targaryen repeatedly ordered: “Burn them all, burn them all”, and said: “the traitors want my city … but I’ll give them naught but ashes. Let Robert be king over charred bones and cooked meat”. He supposedly suffered the delusion that he would not die in the inferno, but be transformed into a dragon, and would thus crush and destroy all his enemies. Insane? Sure. But wrong? Maybe not. “Burn them all” implies total commitment to a course of action(to me, anyway). And surrendering to your enemies and opponents naught but cinders and ashes is a time-honored strategy of war, denying them resources to use against you. And who’s to say that the purest version of one’s self will not emerge when immolated by cleansing fire?

My goal, then, is, in the metaphorical fires, to burn away the undergrowth of my thoughts and actions, to encourage new growth. It is to burn and scorch the earth, giving that which opposes me no fertile grounds to seize. It is to burn the raw and impure ore that makes up who I am, and destroy it, and purify it, and have only the iron and gold remain. It is also a goal to recognize and admit that I have scars from being “burned”, and that I have inflicted scars that will never heal, so searing is the damage. Like scars on flesh from a burn, these can only grafted over, never “gotten over”.

That last part is as much about taming fire as letting it run wild.



Fix what is broken (read all 14 entries…)
Redemption Road

You know what I love? I love that movie The Shawshank Redemption. It’s on tv all the time, you can find it on TBS about every 45 minutes. It is a great film that explores the value of hope in what seem to be hopeless situations.

You know my favorite scene? The one where the main character finally escapes and stands in the soaking rain, arms raised, face raised, drinking in freedom like someone who’s crossed the desert to an oasis. And I love the narration: “Andy Dufrense crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side”. Is there a better metaphor for redemption, for recovery, for battling depression? For making your way up from any seemingly hopeless challenge?

But what if that scene had concluded like so much of life seems to conclude: Suppose while he’s standing there, reveling in liberty, guards pop out of the darkness and capture Andy. Suppose they crack his skull with nightsticks and kick him in the face while he’s on the ground in the mud. Suppose they haul him back through the gates and take his clothes and throw him naked into a bare cell with a reeking pot to piss into, and they slam the door and Andy is left alone with no light, no sound, no contact. Hours turn into days turn into weeks turn into months. A monotonous routine of moldy bread and stale water and nameless screws who’s job it is now to break his spirit so hard that hope isn’t something to strive for, it’s something one dare not risk. After all, who wants to crawl through 500 yards of shit smelling foulness I can’t even imagine? Who wants a faint taste of hope only to have it snatched away? Who wants to be punished in darkness and loneliness for that brief breath of happiness?

Relationships shouldn’t be like prisons. There shouldn’t be a warden overseeing a convict, controlling every action, mood, thought. One person should not get that momentary gasp of happiness, freedom, individuality, etc., only to be punched in the solar plexus, knocked to the ground, then kicked in the face.

I didn’t spend years in a dungeon, holding out hope, to be thrown back into a cell. I didn’t crawl through a river of shit to come out back where I started. Maybe I won’t make it to freedom. But I will go down swinging, count on that. I won’t willingly slide back down that slippery slope. I won’t apologize for the 1,000th time. I won’t live in fear and I won’t live in the past. I’m on an upswing for the first time in years. I won’t be handcuffed, strip-searched, or isolated. To keep me from flying, you’ll have to pluck every feather I have. Then break my neck and boil me in a pot.

One message Shawshank drives home is that you never get out of prison by obeying the rules. Brooks, Red, and other characters had followed the rules and obeyed the wardens so long and eventually become so institutionalized that they cannot survive on the outside. Red can’t even go to the bathroom without asking someone’s permission. Andy decided from Day One that he would not die behind bars. It took 20 years and more soul-challenging, hope-stealing, heartbreaking developments than could be expected. But Andy got out because in the end, he conformed on the outside, but never, never on the inside. He never accepted that he was guilty of anything, and never bought into the idea that he was at the bottom of the prison social order.

“Salvation lies within”, the warden tells Andy. “It certainly does”, Andy agrees with the warden (for different reasons). It certainly does, I agree with Andy. Salvation, freedom, recovery and redemption lie within.



Make Some Nice Digital Art (read all 6 entries…)
Value-able Lessons

Not a project, just a practice piece. I’m having to relearn a whole bunch of basics, and doing it on my own through videos, online tutorials, looking at other images, etc. One thing I’ve been practicing is rendering values vs shades of color. While watching one video, the artist mentioned that colors do not create shape or provide depth, only values do that. He suggested that rendering an image in grey-tone values and then layering translucent colors over it, provides a stronger, more interesting image. He said that if an image works in shades of grey values, then it will work no matter what color it is.

So for practice I took a line drawing from the internet and shaded it with layers of grey values. I was going with about four layers, but they became difficult to manage and the shades were not blending very well. The grays all had hard edges and paint strokes. I joined all the layers into one and then was able to shade and highlight the way I wanted. I then added about 12 more layers of various colors for skin, hair, lips, eyes, and clothes. I used 50% opacity and then set the layer to overlay. The shades and highlights that stand out are almost exclusively the grey tone underneath, just tinted with layers of color. It’s no work of art and now that it is completed I can see a number of fundamental mistakes in shading, shadow, depth, etc(again). The other night I expressed some frustration to S. that I didn’t want to have to work at this step by step… I wanted to be good now! Of course it won’t be that way, and shouldn’t be that way. It’s kinda like trying to build a house by watching some DIY Channel episodes. Without a grounding in fundamentals, the house falls down. Same thing in cooking. People ask me what the best books or magazines to read are, or the best show to watch in order to be better chefs. I’ve told them to get a copy of On Cooking or The Professional Chef, and learn their fundamentals. With a solid grounding in fundamentals and an understanding of cooking and food, recipes are almost redundant. Then get a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated.

So, this is the same thing. I need to find articles, books, magazines, videos and other sources that explain fundamentals of color, shape, light, movement, yada-yada-yada… Then I need to practice those fundamentals over and over again. In that way, future works will be built on solid footing, and not get lost midway through creation, or look awful and ready to fall down upon completion.



Do something to improve the house (read all 27 entries…)
Delegate Outwards

After a couple of weeks of kidding myself that “this will be the day” I got out in the yard and mowed and trimmed and hedged and cleaned up, I called our lawn guy from last year and asked him to come over and give me a quote for urbanizing the backyard and suburbaning the front yard.

We agreed on a price and he came out today while we were at work and did all the lawn care as promised. Everything looks back to normal (well, I guess I mean much improved over normal). He weeded out the raised beds, cleared away the pine tree sprouts coming up in the embankment, hauled away the two year’s accumulation of limbs and tree trimmings I’d piled against the fence, leveled and shaped the bushes around the front of the house, cut the turf along the sidewalk with laser-like precision, weeded the drive way, and cut my runaway rosemary plants literally to within an inch of their lives. Even S., who originally balked at the bi-weekly rate our lawn guy quoted, said after she pulled in and saw the yard: “Oh, yeah. I think this is worth it.”

I admit it: there are things I enjoy and do well, and there are things I don’t enjoy and frequently avoid doing until it becomes such a big project that I loathe and even more vigorously avoid. I subscribe to The Joker’s philosophy in The Dark Knight: “If you’re good at something, never do it for free”. Equally, if you are not good at something, farm it out. The amount of money I spend to keep the yard looking trimmed and nice is balanced by the dissipation of stress and the reclaiming of time to do those things I am good at, and enjoy, and hopefully make more money doing.

I was looking for lawn-mowing images to go with this post. I found this one and, well, I just sorta quit looking.



Fix what is broken (read all 14 entries…)
Auto-pocalyse

I knew something was up with the Jeep on Friday. I was running errands and suddenly heard a strange grinding noise under the hood, and smelled something burning. I stopped and did a quick check including the oil, but nothing seemed amiss. I’ve been overdue for an oil change, and the oil was low, but not grievously so. I did add a quart of oil, and planned to get it to the shop the following week. While driving it over the weekend, the grinding and smell got worse.

This afternoon I went to start the Jeep and go to an appointment, but the engine refused to turn over. I tried several times with no success. I checked under the hood again and all seemed in order. On a whim I got a wrench and tried to turn the crankshaft. It would not budge. I’m now very concerned that the vehicle’s engine has locked up. If so, that will mean replacing the engine. Drats.

Now I have to a) get it towed from my house to a garage that I think will do a good job and not bleed me dry, b)prepare for a huge cash hit at a time when we were just about back to where we wanted to be financially, c)rent a car for about a week or two, depending upon how long it will take to replace the engine (if that is the problem), d) redo our June budget and probably our July-August budgets to conform to an austerity package that would make Greece blanch, and e)decide in short order whether to sell the vehicle or trade it in and take on a new car payment with a new vehicle. Frankly I’m scared of replacement engines. And I wonder if the investment will be worth it if I keep the vehicle only another two years as I originally planned.

In the gratitude column I must admit it was better that it broke down in my garage than on the side of the road. And it is better that we did not take it to Florida for the weekend as we originally planned. I can already say from hard experience, the Green Swamp is no place to break down.

Now it is time to see if those AAA benefits really pay off…



Change the Energy (read all 53 entries…)
All The Small Things

“When people show you who they are, believe them.” – May Angelou

Over the years I’ve developed a kind of philosophy about the places I’ve worked or companies I’ve worked with. It began when I worked for a vending company in Florida that allowed it’s vehicle’s insurance policies to lapse without telling the employees who drove the vehicles(including me) that they had done so. There was a big commotion and the company went from assuring the staff that it was an accident to telling them they didn’t know, to telling them there were legal things at play that we did not understand. I came away viewing it in the simplest terms: You only don’t pay for auto insurance when you don’t have the money to pay for it. To me that was the first hint that things were off track where I was working. The next 10 months proved me correct as the company floundered and went under, owing that staff three weeks in back wages. Chalk it up to experience and move on.

There are a lot of ways to view companies and employers. What they say and what they do is often not as important as what they don’t say and don’t do. I worked for a catering company that was in the top 10 in the city in revenue, but one day I found out they had not paid for the insurance of their fleet of vans and had to park them, opting to use the owners’ cars and trucks to deliver food. That small clue told me what I needed to know about the company I was working for: they were on their way down. Sure enough, a dozen other tiny, seemingly unconnected incidents reinforced my conviction. I left the company and a year later they were out of business, having squandered customers’ deposits and produced no services.

I routinely now look behind the bluff and bluster and glitter and glory of companies where I work and seek those few clues, those little bits of information that give me insight into what a company truly believes and practices. I use the same method on crews working for me or that I inherit, and on other places of business where I shop. A dirty bathroom at a gas station, trash overflowing in a kitchen, chronically late staff, consistently early staff, a disorganized cooler or a floor under an oven that hasn’t been cleaned in 10 years… all give me real insight into the character and culture of a company or team.

I use it everywhere except where it might matter most: on myself. I’ll say upfront this method is very imprecise when applied to people. It takes a long curve to make sure you haven’t caught some on a bad day, didn’t tell you the truth because they were embarrassed or tired, is trying to be smarter than they really are, or lots of other variables. Stories about people, particularly gossip, is very unreliable. But, when someone does show you who they are by their behaviors, vs what they profess, believe them.

I’ve shown myself who I can really be, and in the small, daily, repetitive actions I can form a data base of information that tells me how I really am progressing. Example: When I get sick I don’t go to the doctor. I rarely take medication. I have to be really, really, really sick to seek professional help. I once had a UTI so severe I was pissing pus and blood in excruciating pain for two weeks before going to a walk in clinic, convinced I could flush out the infection myself if I drank enough cranberry juice. That one thing, that small thing, tells me I’m stubborn to the point of self harm; a fact reemphasized again and again. For two years I avoided treatment for a chemical imbalance in my brain over which I had practically no control. I remain stingy with delegation and information convinced that no one can do a job as well as I can, so I end up working too much and stressing myself too much. That tells me I have issues of insecurity and fear of failure.

I can make a list or pluses and minuses. Knowing myself I think I can gauge which decisions or actions were made for what hidden reasons. I don’t think I’ll get them all. But if I applied the same analysis to myself as I do to external thinks I encounter, will it tell me all I need to know about myself? Maybe I can find that pattern or series of consistent events that lead to larger scale challenges. If I can do it externally, shouldn’t I be able to do it internally as well?

How exactly is a question. I don’t want to over analyze every thing that I do, and create a sinkhole of self criticism. There are some things I do because that is who I am. I’m conscious of that. There are other things I do and I don’t know why. There is my focus. To seek and examine and change what can be changed. I only came away from Dr. Phil with a couple of worthwhile observations, but one of them is: “You cannot change what you do not acknowledge”.



Try 43 Small-Batch Bourbons (read all 11 entries…)
4. Russell's Reserve

Picked up this small batch bottle a couple of weeks ago. It was a fair price of about $36 and has a ruggedly handsome look to the bottle. But, who cares about the bottle?

This is a bourbon blended by Jimmy Russell, master distiller for Wild Turkey. In my more reckless days I used to drink quite a bit of Wild Turkey, and I used to pay for it big time. It was a great liquor to mix with Coke or Dr. Pepper and get stone-blind & paralytic; which was the goal in those days. I was happy to find the wild booze of my youth has a calmer, more mature, and more sophisticated uncle.

Right out of the bottle Russell’s has a sweet, floral, spicy scent. There are traces of coffee, vanilla, and toffee and the bourbon has a glowing amber hue. The first sip has a bit of a wallop, despite the modest 90 proof, and a lot of upfront spiciness. Strong notes of black pepper, chilies, cinnamon, oak and toasted bread bang around inside the mouth and sizzle the tongue. It goes down nice and smooth, and there is an unfortunate stab of a mediciney flavor. But it only lasts for a moment. Then the hot warmth spreads out and the spiciness fades and there is a flavor of leather, cotton candy, and butter. It has a good mouth-feel, being very viscous, despite the sting and spiciness. There is a freshness to it, as well.

A cube or two of ice brings out the sweetness more, with notes of honey and florals, and pushes down the spiciness. I tried it with Coke, Ginger Ale, and good ol’ Dr. Pepper. For whatever reason, Dr. Pepper blended the best. Maybe I was being nostalgic. I made a cocktail called a Derby, which has bourbon, lime, sweet vermouth, and Grand Marnier. I thought the lime would be a nice compliment to the spiciness and pepperyness of the Russell’s. I was not wrong, it was pretty good. Cookingwise I made up a Coca Cola/Bourbon Apple Caramel Tart for a small tasting we did for some Coke reps this week. The bright flavors melded well into the coke syrup, and the addition of tart apples and sweet, house caramel sauce made for a good dessert. I did add just a pinch of cayenne to set off the heat a little more in the dish.

I don’t see this as a long and slow sipping bourbon. I found I drank it rather fast (it does not seem to linger on the palate very long). I can’t see enjoying it with a big fat Dominican (cigar) or swirling it in a sifter while watching the sunset. Like it’s Wild Turkey young ‘un, it seems to fit into a shot glass better, or to be the kind of whiskey you drink while playing poker or grilling steaks or watching porn. It is big and loud and takes up a lot of room and demands to be noticed. But it is good company, never the less. Very enjoyable.



The Big Project: Adopt (read all 11 entries…)
Houston, We Are A Go.

This goal, a secret one which I’m going to open up and reveal very soon, has been over two years in the making. Many reasons. But every hurdle has been overcome to get to this point, which is the “live” portion of our project. I’m excited to be to this point, but also a little wary and dulled at the prospect of more waiting…

But I’m mostly excited.



Make Some Nice Digital Art (read all 6 entries…)
Why Try?

I have always had a passion for art and being creative. As a kid I drew and painted all the time. I went through pad after pad of canvas sheets and tubes of paint, smearing and stroking and trying to make what was in my brain materialize on the canvas. I got a little better with regular practice, but that is not to say I was ever very good.

When I got out of high school I applied to the Ringling Art College in Sarasota, but my portfolio was not accepted. I took art and design classes at the community college. I tried to get the instructors to help me elevate my level of skill, but I was often beyond the level the class was at in terms of design, proportions, perspective, color and form. I was not really at the point where I knew how to take the next steps, and didn’t get the kind of education I really needed. I graduated with an AA in Art and Design, which I quickly found to be of not much use in the working world. I did a few graphic artist’s jobs, but within a couple of years I was looking at getting married and the paltry and inconsistent income I had from working in the art field was not going to be an option.

I put my pads, paints, pencils, etc, away and went to work in different industries. Art, design and form always played a part in my various jobs, but not a big part. I went for years and years without really drawing or painting or creating any art. I got into the culinary field and got a degree there. I found art and color and form and design to be very important in what I do. It has fulfilled a part of my artistic, creative soul. But lately I have been craving more.

I discovered “digital art” a while ago while trying to clean up and fix some photos I had taken. I found a program called GIMP which works fairly well for me, and is free online. It let me doctor up photos as I needed, but also allows me to stretch my creative muscles again and try something more creative. I recently bought a Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet that allows me to draw on it and have those movements transferred to my onscreen project as if I were drawing on a pad of paper or canvas (it takes practice and a different set of motor skills, however). In one setting I can paint, draw, chalk, airbrush, pastel, acrylic, or photo-enhance a project. There is no paint to clean up, no pencils to sharpen or put away, no canvases to make room for, no tarps to spread, no smelly solvents to pour. There are no trips to the art market to match a color or brushes to replace. When I am done my project takes up room on the computer, not in the house. And if I don’t get to it for a week or two… no big deal. Nor do I have to wait for paint to dry. And if I do something I don’t like, there is no need to scrap a canvas or scrape down layers of paint. I just click and erase. When I am ready to display said art, I can take the file to Office Depot or where ever and have it printed to my specifications, on archival, acid-free paper suitable for framing.

Some people (my mother included) have already told me that this is not “real art”. There is no texture or depth or layering. If I don’t like the tint or hue or contrast I can just go and adjust it in the computer so I don’t have to think ahead and plan like real artists. Okay, fine. It’s not real art, if that is how you feel. I’m not trying to be a “real artist”. I’m working… very hard… to reclaim my soul and spirit from the darkness and the bleak. I haven’t tried to paint or create anything worthwhile in years and years. Scribbling around like this makes me happy. It fulfills part of me. I enjoy it. I like learning about it, practicing, screwing up and dumping a couple of hours’ worth of work without any fiscal or material loss. I think with practice and self-training I will get better. I think one day I could build a portfolio suitable for gallery exhibition (as an amateur, of course). I think I could one day have a piece of my art on display on every continent in the world (I saw this on someone’s blog. She was an artist and her goal was to have someone from the internet buy some of her art, from all the continents. So far she’s conquered three. I thought that was a bold goal and very worthwhile, so I kinda adopted it for myself, too).

As it has been my whole life, my vision and imagination outstep my actual skills. This will be a long learning process, and a long self-education process, and a lot of practice before I am able to translate those ideas into digital form. But I’m excited about the challenge and it has been so long since I was excited so I am going to work at it and work at it. Worthy pieces (not perfect, just worthy) will be posted here on occasion.

I created the image above by drawing and painting over a stock photo of a man’s eye. Technically woeful but a nice try, I thought.



Savor the Flavors of Atlanta (read all 26 entries…)
Frescos

Chianti Braised Short Ribs at Frescos. A nice dish that could have been done better.

Down in Florida visiting the family for Memorial Day. When I left this town the height of culinary culture was Red Lobster and Carrabba’s, and you had to wait a couple of hours to get into either one on a Saturday. Things have changed in my home town.

I got up Saturday morning (we arrived around 1am after an 8 hour drive)and was going to go and visit the Auburndale Farmer’s Market, however my sister came over and agreed to go with me and S. and suggested we go to the downtown farmer’s market. I no longer have visit local farmer’s market as a goal, but I still try to visit new and interesting ones when I can. At this one they had blocked off three blocks of Main Street and had an assortment of produce bearing vendors. We wandered around and got some fresh beignets and some organic kale pesto.

I found an advertizing magazine that showcased some of the restaurants around Main Street Square. One was called Frescos and had some very interesting looking photos of featured food. I asked my sister about them and she said they were on her shit list because she went in there one morning for coffee and bagel and the staff person who was ringing up a large order didn’t acknowledge her right away. She left in an insulted huff and had not been back. I’d been itching for someone to be rude to me so I said we’d go down there and pay them a visit and see if they ignored me when I asked for coffee and bagel.

The restaurant is a short stroll from the square and had both indoor and outdoor seating. They need it because the place is small. On average the size of a common living room. I went in and was immediately met by a smiling man who asked me if I wanted to sit inside or out. I told him I wasn’t going to do either and could I please see the dinner menu. I querried him on a few menu items and his answers were competent and satisfactory. I saw several items on the menu that intruiged me and I decided to come back that evening for dinner.

From there we made our way out to Plant City to a blueberry winery and spent a couple hours there sampling wines. We drove home and I slept (noisily, I was told) on the sofa for about an hour. I got up and dressed and suggested to my parents and reluctant sister that we go to Frescos for dinner. I called ahead and although they don’t take reservations, they agreed to reserve a table for us if we were going to arrive within 30 minutes.

We arrived and the place was mostly full but kinda quiet. The live music was setting up and my sister bemoaned how much she hated eating while someone was playing music. We were re-greeted by the smiling man who shook my hand and led us to a table with a reserved sign on it. I picked up a beer menu with about seventy varieties of beers, and twenty different craft beers. I ordered a craft hard cider and looked over the menu again, even though I was pretty sure what I’d be getting. Our waitress was named Ashley and she was prompt, friendly, and professional. Everyone made small orders (Dad got a chicken Caesar salad, Mom had the pan fried trout and havarti grits, Sis settled for Drunken Shrimp and a side of risotto, and S. got the Ahi Tuna small plate and the Shrimp and Scallop Linquini). I built my meal out of some small plates, having the antipasta platter, California Spring Rolls, Ceviche and the Chianti Braised Short Rib. I recognize it is one of the dreadful consequences of going someplace with a foodie such as myself that there may not be much in the way of shrimp salad or grilled chicken biscuits or Redi-Mix mashed potatoes ala Applebee’s, Morrisons, or Chik-Fil-A. You go out with me and most times we are going to go someplace where the food is interesting and uncommon. I used to feel guilt about it, now I feel sorry for people who are missing out on opportunities. You can’t eat fried pork chops and turnip greens and Uncle Ben’s rice at every meal, for chrissakes.

The singer amped up and began some gentle easy listening ballads from the ‘70’s, which I tortured my sister with by singing along. Our food came in a very respectable amout of time and I had a great deal of fun consuming, debating and analyzing everything, from sauce to filling to garnish to preparation. Most of this debating occured as a monologue, since my family was mostly unresponsive to my observations.

I’ll say that I liked everything I had. There was nothing that was a disappointment or that I wouldn’t order again if I had the chance. That said, I have to say also that although I found the menu interesting and ambitious, the execution left something to be desired. Like a really pulse-pounding, exciting, thrill a moment movie trailer that makes you want to go see the film, only to find out it stars Steven Segal. Most things were technically competent, just lacking in passion, zing, joy, soul, love… what ever the magic mojo is, it didn’t have it. I crunched into the California Spring Roll and said: “Oh, I am totally gonna steal this for my own menu… but make it better.” Sister’s risotto had great base flavor, but was over-cooked and under seasoned. It was a good dish that fell short of great by a lack of zeal. S. said her liquini noodles were under cooked, and her ahi tuna was over-cooked, a high crime in my own kitchen (albeit it may be the “culture” around here to eat ahi tuna on the more done side). Short ribs fell apart under my fork and were accompanied by a great ginger-carrot slaw, but lacked a moist glaze or gravy or sauce which left it a little dry. The ceviche was nice, but clearly had been made hours (or even a day) ahead of time and was fully cured. Despite extra ingredients like tomatoes, onions, and peppers, it lacked punch or roundness or depth.

For dessert S. got a creme brulee and I got an apple crisp. My parents just kind of sat looking bored, not even having gotten anything to drink besides water. The creme brulee was competent, but not flavorful. Nothing to make it stand out from the 1001 other creme brulees in the world. I take that back. There was one thing I’ll remember. It was garnished with whipped cream from a can. Sac le bleu! My own dessert was served in a mini cast iron skillet and was hot, but not bubbling hot. It had a big scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle. Again, lovely idea, creatively presented, no points for excellence. Like a gorgeous woman in a tight red dress and killer high heels who struts along and turns an ankle, lurching to the side and flailing to recover. I was satisfied, but I wasn’t wow’d. Since I punished everyone with the trip I picked up the tab and we came back to the house.

I asked my mother if she enjoyed the dinner and she said: “Not really. It was just too fancy for me.” She’d had some trouble with the menu, unable to discern appetizer from entree, and uncertain whether to choose soup or salad. “Fancy?” I thought. “You had fried fish and grits.” But I have to recognize that my palate and adventurous eating habits are not shared by my more traditional, predicatable, safe-eating family members. It kinda saddens me that something I am passionate about is of almost no interest to my family. Oh well, they have 364 days to eat Shake-N-Bake and canned green beans. I’m not asking for much.



Try 43 Small-Batch Bourbons (read all 11 entries…)
3. Four Roses

Recently went to dinner at Table on Main, a nice restaurant in Rosewell. We sat outside under huge blooming wisteria trees and had a very nice dinner. Before dinner, while we were looking at the wine list, the waiter mentioned that the owner was a bourbon fan, and that the bar had an extensive bourbon list. Funny how the Universe throws me these opportunities out of the blue. I asked for the list and chose a small batch bourbon called Four Roses, distilled by Four Roses in Kentucky.

I learned that bourbon, for the record, must be at least 51% corn, mashed and fermented. The remaining grains can be diverse but are usually barley, rye or winter wheat. Four Roses makes their small batch blend principally about 75% corn and 25% from rye. I got my bourbon neat in a common tumbler and took a deep sniff. There was definitely an upfront alcohol burn from the dark honey colored liquid (90 proof). It was also fruity like apples and star anise, and rich blackberries. The first taste over the tongue was nice and sweet, like caramel popcorn or roasted marshmallow, then it bled away to a nice woodiness, definite corn flavor and sharper citrus notes with vanilla. The burn going down was not as strong as I expected coming from the scent. It was smooth and easy. I was left with an aftertaste of sweet pipe tobacco, licorice, and a peppery sweetness. It did not linger long, though. Even though it has a big, bold flavor upfront, it is basically a limited range of flavor, without the layers of subtlety of other bourbons I’ve had.

I had them make a Sazerac cocktail with the bourbon, but I wasn’t too crazy about it. I thought it might go well with the anise flavors but those actually got washed out. And I’m not much of an absinthe fan anymore… not after that weekend in New Orleans…

I didn’t try it in a recipe, but I could see making a Four Roses and orange glazed cake with it. I didn’t drink it with ice or water or coke, but I imagine those ingredients would wake up the strong tastes and wash out the less up front ones. It is a nice bourbon, and one I could see myself ordering again at a bar. I won’t run out and get a bottle, though. I checked the price the other day out of curiosity and it is a reasonable $32 at the store.



Try 43 Small-Batch Bourbons (read all 11 entries…)
2. Eagle Rare 10 Year

Had the chance to taste this very nice bourbon recently, and was impressed enough to hunt down and score my own bottle. I paid $21.00 for my bottle, which is a steal. But on average the bourbon is available for $35 – $38.

It is made by the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY and is a single barrel bourbon that is still considered a small-batch, although it doesn’t carry any of the info such as barrel number, bottling date, etc. The bottle is tall and elegant and simple, like a very classy woman. Also like a classy woman, she is so much more than she appears.

The color is a beautiful, rich bronzy topaz that is almost reddish. When the cork comes out there is almost a floral fragrance. My first date with Eagle Rare was a rushed shot glass bolted down between courses at work. On this night I pulled down a heavy tumbler and splashed a generous three or four ounces into the glass. The bourbon had very nice legs when swirled, and an initial nose of grain, tobacco, leather, and cardamom. The first taste was almost like a very sophisticated sherry, with additional charcoal, oak, vanilla, pepper, toasted grain, and traces of overripe fruit (flavorful, not spoiled). Swallowing was surprising easy for a 90 proof bourbon. It went down very smoothly and carried warmth vs. stinging heat. The flavors turned dry and spicy, making me think of beef jerky and dried persimmons and very old canvas (I dunno, that’s just what came to mind). After a few seconds there was a follow-up burn, but very gentle, with an oily, honey’ed, roasted almond taste that lingered in a very pleasant way with just a little bit of bitter acidity. So smooth was she I was able to sip the whole 3 or 4 ounces in under 30 minutes watching GOT on HBO.

The following Sunday I knocked out menus, schedules, payroll, grocery orders and prep sheets with a balloon glass of Eagle Rare on the rocks next to me. The cold and the water diffused some of the earthier flavors and maintained the sweet and spicy tastes. Later I paired it with Coke, Ginger Ale, orange juice, and composed into an Old Fashion. All were good, but this is a complex bourbon that really deserves to be enjoyed on its own. Over about two weeks I drained the bottle and even S., who is not a bourbon/whiskey fan at all, thought it was very smooth, flavorful, and lady-like.

I was actually a little jealous of sharing my bourbon with a food recipe, but I did use around 1/4 cup to make a bourbon-butter-cream sauce to go over white pepper seared scallops and red onion linguini pasta. I reduced the bourbon with a mash of roasted shallots and garlic, added some heavy cream and let reduce more, then swirled in some butter and emulsified, then finished with lemon zest and tarragon. I tossed this with the caramelized red onion pasta I made, sprinkled with flakes of shaved Asiago cheese and topped with grilled asparagus and orange juice-marinated sea scallops that had been crusted with white pepper and seared. The flavors were great, but I felt like the sophisticated elements of the bourbon got lost in the competition for flavors. I think this would be a good bourbon to blend with white chocolate and make truffles with, crusted in toasted peanuts.



Dine at Tarrador's Table (read all 32 entries…)
Tasty Mini Tacos

For an event we made some mini chicken tacos. We cut and fried mini tortilla shells and filled them with a creamy chipolte chicken salad, topped with spicy mango slaw and avocado-cilantro puree.

It is on thing to get great reviews from the customers. But when the customer is only getting three out of four tacos because the servers cannot stop snacking on them… well, I guess that is a kind of compliment, too.

They didn’t even have the decency to look embarrassed!



Do something to improve the house (read all 27 entries…)
Prettying Things Up

Haven’t had time to really work on the garden, and the season is slipping on. May just shoot for a late summer autumn garden now, which I have not done before and might be fun.

We need to finish our reconstruction of the raised beds and trellises along the fence. Teenagers keep jumping over our fence to cross the neighborhood, damaging the fence and now they have broken a slat on S.’s bench. Damn the HOA, I’m going to see if Home Depot sells razor wire and put an end to this rude trespassing.

We did get to Lowe’s for some paint for a room and while there S. got some very pretty marigolds to line the steps leading up to the garden.



15 Minute Solutions (read all 18 entries…)
Pantry Raid

I set out to make a 15 minute clean sweep and reorganization of the kitchen pantry. It has become not just a food storage area, but a general drop-off point for all kinds of stuff, some not food related. It is also relatively generous in size, and somebody’s law of something dictates that available stuff will swell and expand to fill all available areas unless rigidly controlled. So the pantry is full of all kinds of stuff that either have never been used, or were used once, or get used sporadically, or get lost in the shuffle and repurchased until we have multiple containers.

15 minutes actually turned into 1.5 hours and a lot of gathering, reorganizing, dumping, and relocating. During the course of the clean up I came across buggy pasta from 2 years ago, 5 different kinds of rice, 4 kinds of grits, 6 types of flours, 12 kinds of teas, 5 flavors of honey, 2 kinds of agave nectar, 6 heretofore overlooked bottles of our favorite wine, 12 types of dried fruits, 3 kinds of oatmeal, 7 kinds of ancient grains ranging from buckwheat to red quinoa, 5 lbs of graham cracker crumbs, 5 kinds of dried seaweeds, hemp powder, 3 flavors of olive oil, 2 varieties of balsamic vinegar, 8 varieties of dried and canned beans, 4 types of canned tomatoes, 4 kinds of salt, 5 types of chocolate, shredded coconut, coconut oil, coconut water, coconut milk, and coconut flavoring, a post-apocalyptic stash of sugar, malted milk and rum, and a bottle of lemon rinds soaking in grain vodka (my lemoncello project, lost and overlooked).

When the reorganization was finished everything was back in its designated area and it looks like a serviceable, efficient pantry once again. Now I have to summit the task of actually using the items in the pantry (what the hell am I going to do with 32 oz of tamarind paste?). A lot of stuff went into the trash. A few items got transferred to the refrigerator or the spice cabinet. Those will be the targets of my next 15 minute clean ups.



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