“Mojave Classics”

Listening to my iTunes collection, I remembered in a flash why I’d called one certain playlist the “Mojave Classics.” It is, I promise you, a tale most improbable.

You see, back in 1990 a number of us decided to caravan down to the Mojave Desert for a weekend of shooting and relaxation. There were several of my friends and their wives, and me and my good friend Sharon. But there was a catch.

The girls insisted that it’d be great fun to have a formal dinner down there, right out in the middle of nowhere. That meant dressing up. That meant tablecloths and a fancy formal dinner. Oddly, none of the men objected. I was appointed to put together suitable music for our evening in the desert. For our special dressy occasion, I chose formal Classical, selected mostly from around the renaissance period.

Try to picture us there after dark in the Mojave. We men dressed up in semi-modern suits and ties and western boots. We sported western hats and impressive period sidearms. My single-action, ten-inch barrel .44 magnum and holster hung prominently below my suit jacket. The ladies dressed closer to the style of a hundred years ago, in full, flowing costume-style ball gowns and old-fashioned bonnets. They did a great job.

Our long table was covered with white linen, place settings of real silverware, a ham, sliced cold cuts and vegetables, and the mandatory wine bottles. Candles and lanterns lit the scene well. A wonderful time was had by us all. In no time we were “well on our way.”

Given that we were car-camping, we weren’t really that far from the access road that brought us there. Mind you, all this time, the boom box was blaring out my classical baroque and pipe-organ music.

We saw car headlights approaching up the road. At just that point, JS Bach’s “Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Scrhitten (Cantata BWV 78)” started playing.

Now, this stately music is still far too lively to be played in a church. It is just right for the entertainment of a king or duke who can afford to keep a pipe organ and entire brass band ensemble on call in his castle, impressing and entertaining two hundred guests and visiting nobilities.

As that car approached our camp, it slowed down. Windows rolled down. It stopped. Shocked faces appeared in the car windows. Jaws dropped. It was as if they had all just seen ghosts from the past. They drove on again, very slowly, quietly and respectfully. They’d just witnessed  something to tell the grandchildren.

Great memories are priceless. We can carry them forever, wherever we go. Sometimes a simple trigger event like a song on a playlist can summon a whole feature-length memory like it was just yesterday.

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Corn on the Cob the Easy Way!

IT WORKS! I think it’s better than boiled or steamed, too. I hadn’t eaten corn on the cob for many years because it’s such a pain for one person, one ear of corn. I have two more corn ears and plan to buy more as long as it’s in season.

See: SFGlobe’s short 22-second video on Facebook.

Corn-on-the-Cob

If you can’t reach the link, or just want the bottom line:

  • Don’t husk the cob(s). They cook in the husk which preserves their moisture,
  • i.e. leave the cobs intact inside their husks.
  • Don’t wrap them in anything or put them in a microwave bag.
  • microwave for 4-4/1/2 minutes.
  • remove from microwave with a hot pad.
  • CUT the stalk and about 1″ of husk off with a sharp knife.
  • squeeze the pointy end and the cob will slide out of the husk.
  • this method removes the silk too.
  • ready to eat. Butter and serve. HOT!

I couldn’t get the cob to slide out as quickly as the lady in the video on my first try, but slide it did. I think the trick is to squeeze the husk right up at the tip and work your way down – with a hot pad, of course. Practice makes perfect. Delicious!

 

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Welcome to My Notes

Featured

Welcome to Summitlake.com’s My Notes department. As distinct from our “Writing” department, My Notes contains my shorter and more informal personal posts on whatever subject happens to come to mind.

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“So You’re The One!”

The software industry works best with a large number of buyers. Customer feedback and bug reports are a critical source of product improvement. But what happens when no customers call or write?

Long before I joined the software industry, someone had to design the software system that would keep us all employed for a number of decades. On an IBM mainframe, we ran COBOL, a legacy business programming language with roots in the 1960’s. Buying mainframe time was always hideously expensive.

That’s why Dave, our chief programmer and system architect, bought a COBOL emulator program on floppy disk that could be loaded onto an early Macintosh personal computer.

Using just his Mac, Dave was able to design and test large parts of our software system. It was as complicated as the New York City transit system. He’d then load that prototype code onto the IBM mainframe for rigorous system-level testing, which is what I did there.

Dave had a problem with his Macintosh COBOL program, so he called up the company that created it. “One moment,” they told him. They transferred him to Customer Service, where Dave told them what he needed to know. “One moment,” they said again, and he was put hold for about five minutes.

Finally, someone came onto the line, where Dave again explained the problem, and asked if they had a fix for it.

“So you’re the one!” the guy said. “What do you mean, ‘I’m the one?'” Dave asked.

“We only sold one copy of that program. We always wondered who bought it!”

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Götterdämmerung, Me and the Opera

I love classical music, and I have a lot of it. I know and love a number of classical composers you may never heard of. But I just never “got” the opera. Some of the most interesting people I know love the opera of Verdi, Wagner, and so many others. They can’t get enough of it. Lord knows I’ve tried, but I have always been totally tone deaf to opera as I understood it.

Yet, while I’m not even religious, I love the solemn and devotional church liturgical choral works of Lassus and Tallis.

There are also some decades-old reasons why I should have warmed to opera.

In my youth, I loved Beethoven. In particular, I loved his Ninth Symphony. Now, in the final movement “O Freunde, Nicht Diese Tone!” I found for myself an absolutely spellbinding male and female vocal performance, as stirring as any performance with the human voice I have ever heard.

Similarly, in the second and third movements of Berlioz’s “Romeo et Juliet” I found equally heroic vocals that literally moved me to tears as a youth.

Those are both symphonies or “choral symphonies” of a style popular in centuries past. Yet, put on “Barber of Seville,” and you’ll put me to sleep.

There are some classical opera selections you already know, and probably just don’t know it.

1. If you’re old enough to remember Disneyland (the TV show, 1954-1958), chances are you remember Disney’s animated color spectacular “Wind in the Willows.” The music from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was taken from Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries (part of his celebrated Götterdämmerung cycle). This music was also featured in the film score of Apocalypse Now (YouTube HERE).

2. Kohler ran an ad for its bath fixtures starring a singing plumber and an operatic shower. The music is reportedly from Act III of Vincenzo Bellini’s ‘I Puritani. I found a direct link to Kohler’s commercial: HERE (Kohler): . (In a December 11 post last year I incorrectly identified that opera as Lakme.)

3. British Airways ran a “Flower Duet Lakme Commercial” HERE (YouTube)  featuring the best-known aria from the opera “Lakme” by Delibes.

4. Perhaps the most famous opera you know (but never heard of) was from Verdi’s “Marcia e ballabile” in his opera “Aida“, HERE (YouTube).

The other day PBS ran a special on the elaborate stage preparations for their epic 15 hour HD production of the complete Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen. It promised to be as innovatively staged as anything from Cirque du Soleil. The snippets of music they included were … well, Wagnerian. I thought I was ready for the real deal.

Tonight, PBS hosted the last of the four operas in the Ring cycle, Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods). It sounded to me like yodeling. I lasted 15 minutes. I guess there’s just no hope for me.

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Black and Decker Toaster Oven

I worked part-time in the Sears Electrical Department in my college years. We sold tons of earlier iterations of those popular kitchen appliances, 90% of them in the Christmas season on Saturday Specials. I developed a distaste for the whole category, and, in over 40 more years, never had one in the house or apartment.

A couple of weeks ago our 8 year old $100-plus Cuisinart four-slice toaster crapped out. What was particularly irritating was the way it died. Toasting regular bread, I pushed the plunger down and the whole mechanism just collapsed, as if made of tin foil. The outer shell had been made of plastic, and that had developed heat cracks over the years too. Repair it? I just threw it in the trash.

Now, I do a lot of microwaving, which is fast and energy efficient, but it doesn’t brown food dishes such as packaged casseroles. It makes no sense to fire up the oven for a single serving. So I began researching toaster ovens on the web!

As we’d expect, one can spend hundreds on these things, but I can’t. I loath digital displays and touch pads on home appliances anyway. They are harder to see and set than old-fashioned knobs, and all I want to to is cook the food, not program it. I have the same issue with digital camera menus, noting that one manufacturer, Fuji, even makes a full digital with retro manual controls imitating the film SLR’s of yore.

So I found Black and Decker made a toaster oven for only $39.99, and decided to buy it. I bought it at Ace Hardware, just down the street. How good could it be at that price?

Black and Decker Countertop Oven, Model TRO480BS, $39.99

The B&D model toasts, broils and bakes. It has mechanical knobs for all the settings and adjustments, two adjustable rack levels, a bake pan and a crumb tray, and a bell timer. At about 16″W x 9″H x 10″ deep, it requires little counter space. It will hold a 1 quart Corning Ware casserole dish with cover, about 7 inches square. It has a sturdy, solid feel in use, and is of all-metal construction except for the generous glass window door.

So far, I’ve used it for sliced french bread, bagels and a frozen turkey casserole tray. The toast and bagels come out perfectly in about 4 minutes, and you don’t have to worry about thick bagels as you do with toaster slots. In my opinion, my slices come out more evenly and consistently toasted than with the old Cuisinart.

For the frozen casserole, I precooked it with the microwave to save time over cooking instructions in an oven. I finished it off in the Black and Decker, giving a perfect browned crunchy top.

I really like being able to see the meal’s progress in the oven. In a toaster, the first sign is the smell or the smoke. But with the B&D I’m learning I can trust settings I’ve already used before.

You wouldn’t try to cook the Christmas bird in this device, or rotisserie a chicken. For one or two people, this does much more than a toaster, and it does it better. FIVE STARS in my book. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

View giving idea of size. The included baking pan is shown in front.


 

LINK to Black and Decker page for this item

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AZ Thunderstorm!

Looking out the window, I’d thought of taking a dip in the pool. Pretty windy! I went outside to look around. Light rain, then, ka-BOOM! Okay, no swim this evening. Light rain, just enough to tease the the landscape plants a little bit, but the patio’s still too hot to stay damp. Heat lighting: a parade of kettledrums dances invisibly across the sky. I step out to the pool to inspect what looks like a bird’s nest, blown into the pool. There’ll be lots of skimming tomorrow morning! Then, a blinding flash-CRASH, very close! I wait for the sound of the fire engines, but it never happens. Now, light rainwater trickles lightly down the downspouts. Open the windows and sliders: free air conditioning. This Arizona springtime T-storm may not be much; we’ve seen a lot worse here. But it’s enough to keep me indoors!

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May There Always Be a Dialog

Excerpts from a letter to a friend:

Our best minds have pondered the question of individual responsibility and group accountability for millennia.

The Buddhist approach is partly to remove one’s self, metaphorically or physically, from the artifice of the daily stress cycle to contemplate what is really important and what can be done to achieve it. Happiness or contentedness is part of that equation …

The socio-political approach is to categorize and classify everything and all the players into neat little artificial groups, and assign goals to each. This has the advantage of presupposing the experiment-designers have some knowledge of which values can properly give rise to those goals, and the safety of insulating us from having to account for the pesky, unpredictable individual. As I once wrote in an essay I called “Black Elk Speaks” (yes, concerning Niehardt’s book):

“The thought occurs that it would be a bad thing to try to needlessly integrate the vision of Black Elk with my own, or into our present circumstances in the United States. There is a certain value and dignity in keeping these things separate from each other in understanding, for they are different experiences and have their meaning in different worlds. The Western rush to explain everything in terms of other things which are also not truly grasped leaves a vacuum, the filling of which is only approximated by art.”

Tribalism and elitism seem to go hand in hand with each other, and with the racial, ethnic, economic and other minority divides you observe. We have done a better job of breaking down elitism, in an average decade, than most other countries did over their centuries. We all just have a long way to go.

The answer will never come from one individual like you or me, nor even from some great future prophet. Humanity needs to evolve, and our particular “in” with evolution is education, as it has been for 100,000 years, and I don’t just mean science and math, either. 🙂 That will make us or break us, particularly the 🙂 part. It is not the sound of just the one right butterfly, it is the sound of them all taking off by the hundreds of thousands into the wind.

If you remember the TV commercial about cowboys driving huge herds of cats, ponder for a moment how one herds a cloud of butterflies, and you’ll have our answer.

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Ethnic Intolerance

Today I was obliged to respond to a disturbing Facebook thread. I put it in my Facebook status, in preference to escalating heated emotional posts, to bring the topic to a wider audience. I share my remarks below.

I recently read a Facebook post embedding a YouTube video of inflammatory pro-sharia-law comments. The video was shot in a London district protest demonstration. The Facebook comment thread that followed contained pointed ethnic slurs. One of those slurs was against our own President. That kind of talk can’t be dismissed idly.

1) An ethnic slur against the President of the United States is an attack on ALL Americans and what this country stands for.
2) The YouTube video was uploaded anonymously by someone who wanted to be called “BurnIslamBurnAllah.” This should have been a clue. It focused on irritatingly offensive pro-sharia extremist statements apparently made around the time of the 2011 UK riots.
3) That’s no more representative of one billion Muslims than “End of the World 2011” Harold Camping typifies 300 million Americans.
4) We need to “get a grip …” Drop Mars-Invades-Earth hysteria.
5) Since last year’s London riots, the UK has faced up to the fact it still needed to address ethnic situations similar to what we in the US (for the most part) got through decades ago.
6) Even friends and very nice people are getting too much news from YouTube videos instead of real journalism.
7) Don’t expect to counter sharia law extremism with homegrown extremism and intolerance. Islamic or Christian hate talk, it’s still extremism.

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Collective Guilt and the Third Reich

Someone recently sent me a short essay on the rise of the Third Reich, the History of World War II, and the Nazi mind-set that started it. Below I’ve excerpted from my rejection letter.

I’ll have to pass on this. It is one of the most written-about topics in the history of the Western World.

I don’t think we can reduce Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” or Hannah Arendt’s signature work “Totalitarianism” down to half a page.

The rise of Nazism was the result of several phenomena in deadly combination: group-think as you write, and also militarism, racial and ethnic hatred, a dysfunctional German economy thanks in no small part to the vengefully and poorly engineered Treaty of Versailles, the German turn to mysticism and determinism as the source of authority of the state, and a poisonous political apparatus gone viral … a certifiable national psychosis.

Any idea of a disease of shared history, a kind of collective racial guilt, will never fly at summitlake.com. If there is any validity to some aspect of that notion at all, it is to be found in the trend to simplified effortless no-work answers, but the guilt of acceptance lies with individuals, not a race, nation or its leaders. Only individuals can empower tyrants and monsters. You and I are not responsible for Dachau, the Civil War, or Rick Santorum.

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