In an effort to force myself into something resembling a healthy lifestyle, I've signed up once again for an organic produce home-delivery service.
I haven't been enrolled in one since I received the (now defunct) Pike Place Market Basket delivery service a number of years ago. I ended up letting it fall by the wayside after I moved onto the boat, because I simply didn't have the room to store the abundance of produce I'd receive on a weekly basis, or the ability to cook a lot of it in proper fashion.
Of course, nowadays just about every major grocery chain does home delivery of some sort, even these guys for crying out loud (funny, how occasionally some old-fashioned practices come back into style.) And of course, anyone who lived in Seattle during the dot.com heydays of the mid-to-late '90's fondly remembers long-dead sites like HomeGrocer.com, MyLackey.com, and - my personal fave - Kosmo.com, all of which went belly-up around the turn of the Millenium (I mean, who could possibly have guessed that a business model centered on quick home-delivery of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and the latest Adam Sandler video from the local Blockbuster by an army of spandex-wearing bicycle messengers would be a money-losing proposition?), so it's not like this is all that new or innovative, but for some reason, it just sort of clicked with me.
In fact, I hadn't really even been thinking about it, but, when I randomly ran across a link to the web site, and looked at the pricing ($25 a week for a single person), and the quantity, which seems like a reasonable amount to consume in a seven day period, I thought "what the heck?". The nice lady I spoke with over the phone assured me it was perfectly okay to skip a week's delivery if I hadn't used up everything from the previous week, and that I could always request to either have specific items not delivered (which will no doubt occur as soon as Brussel's Sprouts come into season), or even substitute larger quantities of other items to make up the difference.
Really, it's kind of a no-brainer. I get a weekly delivery of fresh, organic local produce for a reasonable price, and - purely out of my ingrained sense of guilt over wasting food - I'll find ways to cook up and eat as much of it as I can. Plus, I remembered one of the interesting aspects of this type of service was that you frequently received items with which you may previously have not been all that familiar, and so you get to learn about the food, how to prepare it, what it goes with, and the services themselves generally provide a handful of recipes to help guide that process.
So, first delivery is on Monday. We'll see what's in the basket.
How I Hate To Be Late, Hurts My Motor To Go So Slow
I broke the throttle cable on "Little Nellie" over the weekend (second one since I bought her), and had to wait until Tuesday to pick up a new one from the dealer.
Installing it was a piece of cake, even on a dark side street, and I managed the whole affair in about a half-hour, then drove "Red Dwarf" back home, hoofed it over the hill to where "Nellie" was parked, and brought her home.
When I went out to go to work yesterday morning, the cable was completely jammed - no give at all, from either end - and after about 45 minutes of fiddling with it, I finally gave up. When I got home from work last night, it was loose again, leading me to the conclusion that there must be some moisture in the sleeve that covers the cable, and that it had frozen solid overnight (temps have been down in the teens & twenties the past couple evenings).
I drove it to my rehearsal last night, and got a couple of mild admonishments from cast members who are also bike owners, basically warning me that, if the outside temps are cold enough to freeze a throttle cable, they're cold enough to freeze lots of other things, including standing water, and that it's not really a good idea to be driving on two-wheels under those kinds of conditions.
This morning was a repeat of yesterday: the throttle wouldn't budge, so I had to drive "Red Dwarf" two days in a row. Fortunately, I recently discovered the covered parking garage next to our building where we rent stalls is just tall enough for me to clear the overhanging pipes and whatnot, so I can at least get it inside and not have to worry about finding limited street parking.
But, I guess I've learned that lesson: no more scooting in below-freezing temps.
Let Me See What Spring Is Like On Jupiter And Mars
Virgin Galactic, the partnership of recording mogul Richard Branson and aeronautical engineering genius Burt Rutan unveiled "spaceship2", their planned commercial sub-orbital launch vehicle today. Basically, it's a larger, slightly modified version of their X Prize-winning "spaceship1", which was the first commercial vehicle to achieve sub-orbital flight a couple of years ago.
Although it looks like flight testing could begin as early as this year, apparently there are still some significant technical challenges to be overcome, and the 100 or so folks who've already ponied up $200K apiece for the first flights will probably have to wait until 2009 or 2010 until the vehicle is "man-rated" and approved for commercial flights.
Still, it's an exciting bit of news. In a year or two, real people just like you and me (assuming of course "you and me" had a couple hundred thou burning holes in our pockets) will be able to take brief jaunts up to the edge of space, bounce around the cabin in microgravity for a few minutes, presumably make liberal use of easy-to-reach "space-sickness" bags, and then experience the roller-coaster sensation of a 6-g deceleration back into the atmosphere.
After that, orbiting hotels and vacation getaways to the moon should be just around the corner, right?
A couple of weeks ago, I got involved in a discussion on the topic of "what's the one thing we were promised about the future that you wish we really had?", one of those speculative, non-controversial subjects that you get into on social occasions when everyone is tired of talking work, art, politics, and sports. And of course, most of the usual items came up as a matter of course: where's our personal jet packs, or flying cars, or cybernetic implants or what-not?
Most of the people were in their 20's or early 30's, so they can be forgiven a certain lack of perspective on the subject. After all, they hadn't even been born during the hey-day of "the space race", and one or two were even too young to remember the Challenger explosion, so it was no surprise most of them culled their ideas of our ideal, promised future from - most likely - Hollywood science fiction films they remembered seeing as kids.
When it got around to me, however, I think I had a bit of a different perspective on the matter. "The thing about the future I miss most," I started, "was that it really never happened at all." That earned me a few quizical stares, "If you grew up in the 1950's or early 1960's, 'the future' was about more than self-driving cars, and self-cleaning homes, we were expecting to charge out into the solar system with the determination of an army going into battle. By now, we should have been landing on Mars, and building permanent bases on the moon, and even sending manned expeditions to Jupiter or Saturn. But, as soon as we hit the first big milestone; landing on the moon and returning to earth, we just - stopped."
And that's the sad part about "the future that never was", because we COULD HAVE DONE IT. Von Braun & Co. had the whole campaign mapped out back in the late 1940's, and most of the technical details were solved by the mid 1960's. But, as soon as we "beat the Russians to the moon", people began acting like that was the entire point of the exercise, like there were no goals beyond just that one. They got bored, they said it was too expensive, that we had pressing problems here on earth to deal with first, etc., etc. But you know what? We haven't solved any of those "pressing problems" 40 years down the road, and the expense today of such an undertaking compared to then is significantly higher.
The truth is, we just lost the collective will to do it, that's all.
And so here we are today, seven years beyond that "magical" year of 2001, and a few visionary billionaires are finally getting around to putting us back on-track. I'm still hoping I'll get to see that Mars landing in my lifetime; maybe even some modest outpost on the lunar surface. I'd trade the jetpacks, and hovercars, and meals-in-pill-form, and robot housemaids, and all the rest, just for the knowledge that the Human Race had finally made a couple more baby-steps off our increasingly inhospitable little ball of mud, and out into the big, wide, universe, where presumably there are plenty of other little balls of mud for us to muck up - or maybe we'll have figured out how not to do that by the time we get there.
The new cell phone arrived on my doorstep yesterday afternoon, so I went down to the local proprietary brand telephone store after work to get it activated, and to add data service to my account.
The kids at the store (and I DO mean "kids" - I don't think a single one of them was over the age of 30) were very helpful, but unfortunately, completely incompetent. After waiting around for half an hour while KidA tried to access my account online, and KidB tried to help her find the service plan I wanted, and KidC looked on giving various unhelpful suggestions, while KidD searched through drawers and cupboards to see if they still had any blue tooth stereo headsets in-stock (which, of course, they didn't), they finally told me, "Okay, everything should be working. Just turn the phone off for about 20 minutes, then turn it back on." I purchased a mini-SD chip from KidD (which, not surprisingly, had been price-stamped $20 below what the computer said it should sell for - and for which he gave it to me at the deeply discounted price anyway), and headed out to my meeting.
After the meeting was over, I decided to test the phone; no signal. I went home, got online and tried to change some settings on my service account, none of which seemed to help either. After that, all that I could really do was to turn it off, plug it into the charger, and hope for the best in the morning.
As of this a.m. still no signal. When I got to work I called the toll-free activation hotline number I'd been given by the nice CS lady I'd spoken with last week, and after more than an hour of fiddling, the rep was finally able to: A.) update the phone type that was listed on my online account; B.) cancel the incompatible data plan that the kids at the store had incorrectly enrolled me in last night; C.) re-enroll me in the correct data plan; D.) activate the phone; E.) send a test call to ensure it was working; and F.) verify that the data account was working correctly.
Once again, Customer Service to the rescue.
So, I now have access to both my work and home email accounts, I've downloaded my MS Outlook contacts & calendar from my work computer, briefly browsed the Interwebs, checked my voice-mail, and received two product solicitation text-messages from my service provider. Presumably, I can also listen to music (some of which I'll download this evening), watch videos, take and upload photos, and who knows what-all else. And I can conceivably do all this anywhere in the world I can pick up a signal.
You're Talkin' A Lot, But You're Not Sayin' Anything
Oh, I guess the one bit of minor news from last week was that I lost my cell phone Thursday evening/Friday morning, somewhere between the aforementioned SLOG meetup and work, when I discovered a dangling piece of the phone holster still attached to the belt clip hooked to my haversack sans the cell phone itself. Realizing that it could be literally anywhere between those points, attempting to recover it seemed ludicrious, although I did make a call to it, just in case anyone had found it and picked it up; no luck.
So, I had to get a new phone. Now, my inner geek has been pining away, like a Norwegian Blue for the fjords, for the new-fangled Moto Q from Motorola, a nifty, all-in-one PDA/phone device (similar to a Blackberry) that would allow me to also (mostly) dispense with my 5+ year-old Palm Zire. The only problem? My wireless service account wasn't due to roll-over until April, meaning I wasn't eligble for a phone upgrade until then. I could get another phone similar to what I already had, but then I'd be locked into another two-year contract.
What to do? I called my account provider, and a very nice customer service rep was able to reset the date of my service contract, so that I could upgrade without penalty. But, naturally there was a complication. The phone I wanted was available, but for some reason the additional $150 rebate offered on the web site wasn't if I ordered through her. However, through some back-door wheeling-and-dealing, she was able to put me in touch with their web site CS Dept., who was able to sell me the phone with the rebate intact.
So, I now have a brand-spanking new, top-of-the-line Moto Q9 winging its way to me, courtesy of FedEx, and some very helpful reps at AT&T Wireless.
Was off-line all weekend due to my upstairs neighbors frying their DSL modem. Fortunately, I was well-supplied with reading material and cooking projects to help stave off the more pronounced effects of any latent withdrawal symptoms (although I did manage a brief visit to the local public library branch to check email on Sunday).
My assignment for Saturday was to provide a hot meal for my new-parent-friends Ida and Yellow Dog. After mulling over several possibilities, I finally elected to go with a cassoulet, a traditional French peasant dish; essentially a "chili" (slow-cooked beans and meat), but an inimitably Gallic version in execution and presentation.
I used a variation of the recipe from the Julia Child's, "The French Chef Cookbook", but deliberately set about making a half-sized portion, since it was pretty clear the first time I made this several years ago that I'd need a casserole dish roughly the dimensions of a football stadium to hold the contents of the full batch.
Now, the great thing about cassoulet, aside from being one of the most indisputably delicious meals I've ever eaten (even the canned version I bought in Paris many years ago was amazing), is that it allows for a versatile assemblage of ingredients, mainly predicated on what types and cuts of meat are used. The traditional recipe calls for lamb or mutton as the main ingredient, but any combination of meats will do (although apparently almost all cassoulets use an abundance of pork products). I elected to go with duck (fairly common), along with turkey (dark meat), bacon, ham, and kielbasa (again, some sort of pork-and-garlic sausage is considered de rigour). Basically, you cook most of the meat in one pot, letting all the flavors blend together, while the beans, along with a few vegetables, an herb packet, and the bacon and ham cook in a separate pot. Once all the meat has been cooked down, skinned, deboned, and drained of excess fat, and the beans are just slightly undercooked, you spread alternating layers of beans and meat in a casserole dish, add sufficient liquid to just cover (first using all the meat juices, then however much bean juice is required to round that off), throw some bread crumbs on top, dribble some melted butter over that, and cook it for an hour and a-half until it's all bubbly and forms a nice brown crust.
Doesn't sound too tough, eh? Well, the real secret is to do the prep cooking one or two days ahead in order to allow maximum absorption of all the flavors, then do the final baking stage right before serving. And of course, as with similarly prepared dishes, it just seems to get better with age. So, I did Phase I Friday evening, before heading off to the theatre's late night cabaret, and finished things up Saturday afternoon.
And here's how it turned out:
Keep in mind, that's a four-quart baking dish filled to the brim - comprising half of a normal recipe.
After that, it was simply a matter of scooping a generous portion of the finished product into a plastic container and tossing it into a paper bag, along with some salad fixings, and a couple of creme brulees I'd made earlier in the day (and don't let the frou-frouness of creme brulee fool you for a second - anyone who can boil water, beat egg yolks, and safely utilize a blow-torch can make it), then schlepped everything over to Chez Ida-Dog.
When I got there, Ida met me down at the front door, explaining on the trip up four flights of stairs that this was only her second or third trek down from the apartment since arriving home, because um, er - apparently it takes a while for things to "get back to normal" after child-birth, and um, ahh - walking up-and-down stairs hinders that process.
Inside their cozy apartment, now filled to the gunnels with all manner of yet-to-be-used baby accoutrements, baby Nora was sleeping peacefully in the arms of her Auntie Erin - so cute!
I didn't stick around long, just enough to get a good first-hand look at the new kid - lot of hair on that new kid! - impart a couple of instructions regarding the assemblage of the salad, and then headed home to finally get a taste of some yummy beans-n'-meat concoction.
It's Only Been A Month Or So But That Old Car's Buggin' Us To Go
The Mom's and Dale should be well on their way home at this hour.
I went over and helped them pack and load up the truck last night, inheriting an absurdly large quantity of canned goods and frozen meat in the process. Understandably, they didn't want to drag it all back home, where presumably there's plenty more of the same anyway, and by the time we filled the back of the king cab and half the bed with boxes, bags, sacks and parcels, there wouldn't have been all that much room left for it anyway.
Dale looked vastly improved, although he's still got a long ways to go in terms of a full physical recovery. But, he's definitely on-the-mend. They'll probably be back up again sometime late spring for a few days to do some follow-up tests, but otherwise, the treatment program is complete, and there's a better than good chance the melanoma will stay in remission. Just in case though, Fred Hutch will be keeping about 6.5 mm T-cells "on ice" until then.
So, now we're heading into a New Year, with all the attendant trials, tribulations, and hopefully the occasional triumph in the offing. My schedule certainly doesn't slow down all that much in the near-term, what with work, theatre projects, and impending tax season just over the horizon, but there should be just enough down-time mixed in to keep me relatively sane, and with the ability to do laundry on a regular basis.
Who knows? Maybe I'll even be able to start getting back into the gym on a regular basis.
And a date or two somewhere in there would be a nice change of pace. Will have to see what I can do about that.