Italy — Day 1

Air travel is miserable — that goes without saying these days — and rarely is it more so than on a 9-hour flight to Venice. Even worse, making the trip on what appears to be an antique 767: table trays that are broken; seats that do not recline; and there are no USB ports — what is this, a Conestoga wagon even?

Yes, we’re off again, this time to Italy. “Where in Italy?,” you might ask if you’ve never met my lovely first wife [LFW], because the answer is invariably “All of it, Katie,” and we’re starting in Venice. [1]

We started packing yesterday.  In what is now the Cutest Photograph on the Internet™, Cecil the Pest helped by packing his elephant:

He is An Goofball.

The flight was long, of course, but there were Alps:

Hartsfield-Atlanta may be efficient and huge, but does it have water taxis?

The ride into town, so to speak, was fun, zipping along in the boat, bouncing off waves and wakes. We arrived at the Grand Canal, and yes, it’s grand.

We are traveling with Gate 1, our first time with this group.  (You may recall that last spring we did the Danube with Viking River Cruises.) We have been put up at the Hotel Bellini, on the Grand Canal.

We strolled along our street, had lunch at Trattoria Pedrocchi, and strolled around some more along the Grand Canal and some side streets.  I was greeted warmly by a lovely long-hair black cat, who plopped for a belly scratch. I did not get a photo of him/her, but around the corner was this regal beast:

She deigned to sniff my hand.

We headed back to check into our rooms, whereupon we crashed until the official 6:00 meeting with Ignazio, our tour manager.  A lovely dinner at the hotel restaurant, and one last passeggiata along the canal.

Tomorrow: Murano and its appalling glass, plus San Marco Square and Harry’s Bar maybe!


[1] This is our standard warning that we have four almost fully functioning adults living our house, so to those among my readers who are compulsive burglars—as my LFW seems to think you are—you can give that idea right up as a bad deal all round.

New Cocktail: The Golden Quartz

I’m not sure about the name,[1] but it’s better than the scurrilous suggestions I got on Facebook…

The other night I craved a sweet, dessert kind of cocktail, and for some reason this cocktail invented itself.

The Golden Quartz

  • 1.5 oz vanilla vodka, preferably homemade
  • .75 oz pecan liqueur
  • .75 crème de cacao

Stir with ice, strain into a coupe. No garnish, no bitters.

It’s sweet but not cloying, with a nice layering of the vanilla, chocolate, and nuttiness.

Vanilla Vodka

Take one or two vanilla beans and split them down the middle. Plunk them into a bottle of vodka and let sit for 7–10 days, testing after one week. Remove the beans.  You can strain the seeds out through a coffee filter, but you can leave them in as well.

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[1] edited to change the name, in fact, from Amber Quartz to Golden Quartz

Labyrinth update: The Final Corner

The northeast corner of the labyrinth has been neglected for years.  Nominally a quiet sitting area, with a redwood glider nestled among ferns and lily-of-the-valley, it became an overgrown dead-end — lovely to look at, but useless as a meditative station.  Also, the redwood slats were rotten.

So when my brother-in-law Daniel made us a lovely bench for Christmas, I knew it was time to rework that corner. I pulled out the glider and began yanking out the undergrowth, clearing a spot for the new bench.  I cut a 3×5 foot piece of RAM board to give me a guide as to how much flagstone I needed, and to keep some of the undergrowth from growing back.

This was over a month ago, and that’s where the trouble started.  For years I have been heading out to Mulch & More on Highway 34 for my flagstone needs, but this time I was told they had a new policy: whereas before they had an open pallet of flagstone standing on its end so you could riffle through like records,[1] now they leave it lying flat and you have to buy what’s on top.

However, what was on top were small pieces of flagstone for which I had no use. I asked about the policy — they changed because they were getting stuck with “a lot of waste.” Hm, I thought to myself, and now you want me to buy your waste?

But I was determined to kill with kindness.  I kept going out there twice a week, smiling and waving and cheerfully leaving when there was nothing I could give them money for because no one else had given them money for the stone I couldn’t use.  Finally, this Monday, there was a piece of flagstone on top I could use.  I bought it, pointedly telling the office staff that it was great I could finally give them money for one piece of flagstone.  The young man who assisted me out in the yard confessed that he thought the policy was self-defeating, but what is one to do?

I posted about it on Facebook, and Craig recommended I try Vining Stone out in Sharpsburg. Yesterday I drove out there, and you will scarcely believe this, but even though they have basically the same policy, they’re not idiots about it. (Their words, actually.) I came home with plenty of stone to finish my project.

First pass:

I had to take all of that out in order to till the soil and rake it flatter.

Second pass:

Still in rough shape.


For an Abortive Attempt, it will do. I’ll revisit it in the coming week. I can reshape some of the stones for a tighter fit, and I’d like to make the apron circular.

The next Successive Approximation will find a way to include these:

Anybody got a way to drill large holes in flagstone?

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[1] Yes, records. I’m old. Get off my lawn.

A disgusting embarrassment

Holy crap.

There is so much wrong with this that I don’t quite know where to start.

1. Why would you give a “crazed, crying lowlife” a job at the White House? Especially one that you gave open access to the Oval Office? And paid more than anyone else (citation needed)?

2. You “guess it just didn’t work out”?? What kind of lame-ass statement is that? Is that how you hire everyone in the Current GOP Administration — just roll the dice and hope it “works out”?[1] Is this your vaunted “business experience”?[2]

3. Did you really mean “dog,” or did you not have enough tweet characters to type “bitch”? I can’t imagine it was reticence that stopped you.

4. That first sentence is a right mess. “When you…, …. I…” is just disordered, and I use the word deliberately.

5. And above all, this is the President of the United States issuing this statement. The person who stands for our country, whom we would like to imagine personifies the qualities of our nation that we value. This would be embarrassing enough if he were still a private business failure, but he is the President. Of. The. United. States.

What is to be done?

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[1] viz., Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Bannon, Tom Price, Seb Gorka, Scott Pruitt, et al.

[2] Yes.

New Cocktail: the Hot & Sour

This is a beauty: the Hot & Sour

The Hot & Sour

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1 oz Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur
  • 1.75 oz Oleo Saccharum sour mix
  • 2 dashes Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s Dandelion & Burdock Bitters

Shake with ice, pour into cocktail glass, garnish with lemon peel.

Very very nice.

Oleo Saccharum Sour Mix

There are multiple versions of this recipe online. This is the one I’ve settled on, but you can do all lemons, or any variety of orange instead of grapefruit.

  • 1 grapefruit
  • 1 large lemon
  • .4–.5 cup sugar
  • .5 cup lemon juice

Peel the grapefruit and the lemon. Place the peels in a medium bowl; add the sugar.  Muddle the peels with the sugar about a minute.

Leave for 4–6 hours.  The oils from the peels will puddle at the bottom of the bowl.

Add the lemon juice and stir to dissolve all the sugar.

Strain into a container. Refrigerate and enjoy!

Dear Amygdala-Based Lifeforms…

So yesterday afternoon, the Current Disgrace tweeted this:

I am not going to get into all the LAW, ORDER [,] and JUSTICE that the Republican Administration is doing all over the place at the moment.[1] Rather, allow me to address the premise of the direct intravenous shot of fear and anger he’s giving his amygdala-based followers.

Seriously, if you are one of the amygdala-based lifeforms who follow this man, I need you to stop and think about this. This man is telling you that one of the two major political parties in this country has as their policy goals “anarchy, amnesty [,] and chaos.”  He wants you to believe that one of the two major political parties wants gang warfare,[2] and drug epidemics as their party platform.

And taking “jobs and benefits away from hardworking Americans”? What the hell is he talking about?[3]

Does any of that make any sense at all, if you stop to think about it? We will all pause to allow you to stop and think about it.

NO, IT DOES NOT MAKE ANY SENSE AT ALL. Whatever the Democratic Party’s political goals are, they do not include destroying this country. THINK ABOUT IT.

Having given it some thought, the amgydala-based lifeform’s brain, in fear of being cut off from its oh-so-intoxicating hit of fear and anger, does a record scratch: “But… OKAY THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE BUT IT’S STILL TRUE!! MAGA!!!!!”


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[1] But I will mention that a man who doesn’t use the Oxford comma is a moral monster who should be shunned in any case.

[2] Like in Honduras or El Salvador, which REFUGEES ARE FLEEING FROM TO OUR BORDERS, KENNETH? But let that pass.

[3] I have to assume that he is not talking about his own trade wars — soon to bring job losses near you — or his own party’s budget — which, since it’s ballooned the deficit to trillions, now needs to be “balanced” by cutting your Social Security benefits.

Happy Independence Day

(Originally published 7/4/14; republishing because it’s still true)

On this lovely July 4 morning, I know before I even go on Facebook that statuses will have appeared overnight like toadstools encouraging us all to be grateful to our armed forces.  I would like to respectfully decline.

It’s not that I’m not grateful for the men and women who—these days—volunteer for this most awful of jobs, but gratitude is not what the people who post these things are generally and actually suggesting.  They want us to worship our military strength.  I actually had someone tell me recently that I should “know my place” in regards to those (including him) who “fought and bled” for my freedoms. (Being the gentle soul that I am, I did not respond that my “place” was, as a civilian, the boss of him.)

So I would like to remind everyone that what we celebrate today is not our military victory that made this nation de facto independent. What we celebrate today is the IDEAS that made us the nation that we became.  We celebrate John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and Button Gwinnett, whose erudition and interest in political philosophy drew from sources both ancient and contemporary to formulate something the world had never seen before: a nation of principles.

Did we have to shed blood to attain and confirm those principles?  Indeed—we were fighting even as the document was drafted, edited, and ratified.  But we were not founded as a nation of war; the Constitution actually forbids a standing army.  We were founded as a nation of theory by men of thought.  And that is what I celebrate today.

What Ben Hill shows us

I don’t know if you’ve ever been on the internet, but if you have and you follow politics at all, then you have probably run into the bad faith argument which argues that nuh-uh Democrats are the real racists because Lincoln freed the slaves and the Democrats founded the KKK so there. I have blogged about it here.

One evening recently, having driven home around I-285, I found myself wondering exactly why we have a road in Atlanta and a county down south named “Ben Hill.”  Why the two names? For a millisecond I thought it was some weird fluke in history that we were honoring a Jewish or Arabic Georgian, but that thought dissolved immediately in derision. I was back to wondering who “Ben Hill” was.

Short answer: U.S. and C.S.A. senator, Benjamin Harvey Hill. Complicated fellow, but apparently well respected enough to have a county named after him 25 years after he died. (Still no answer as to why we use his whole name.  What’s wrong with plain old Hill County?  But I digress.)

Here’s the eye-opener, though: in the Wikipedia article on the county itself, there’s a chart of presidential elections and how the county voted.  Go have a look.

From 1912–1960, solid Democrat. Then, suddenly, in 1964, Republican. And in 1968, Independentand except for a couple of aberrations for Southern candidates, it’s been solid red ever since.

Is there any doubt about what happened? You might think that suddenly the population of Ben Hill County became concerned about their stock market investments and other typical Republican issues, but you might be A Idiot. (Have you ever been to Fitzgerald? I have; my mother was born there.) You could try to resist linking the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 to the switch, but 1968 gives it away: they voted for George Wallace, people.  Hmm.

So yes, once again, the Democratic Party was formerly the party of racist voters. A century ago. But Ben Hill County puts it right out there: those voters have switched their party allegiance, and it ain’t because they’re concerned about their stock portfolios.


New Cocktail: The Camino Flores

This one sprang from a desire to use my new bitters from Amor Y Amargo bar in NYC, specifically the Colorado Lavender bitters from Cocktailpunk.

Also, I had bought a while back a bottle of St. George Pear Brandy.  I should have known better, but hope springs eternal and St. George is usually not wrong.  The problem with pear brandy is that the flavor overwhelms anything you put it in; nearly ten years ago we were in Key West and during a rainstorm took shelter in an outdoor bar, where a young man who had fled investment banking for the island life struggled with us to make a cromulent cocktail using the stuff.  He failed, and I haven’t succeeded myself.

Until now.

The Camino Flores

  • 1.5 oz gin (Sipsmith preferred)
  • .75 oz lemon juice
  • .5 oz simple syrup
  • .25 oz pear brandy
  • 2 good squirts of lavender bitters

Shake the first four ingredients with ice; strain into a coupe. Dribble the bitters on top. Garnish with a lemon twist.

I go back and forth as to whether it’s cromulent or not, but others have told me it’s interesting enough.  I may try again tonight with maybe 1/3 or 1/4 oz simple syrup.

Anyway, enjoy!

(h/t to Marc for an idea for naming)

Wait, *that* Lottie Moon?

Lottie Moon-1.jpg

You remember Lottie Moon, don’t you?

She was the closest thing we Baptists had to a saint and/or martyr. She selflessly devoted her life to bringing the Word of God to the heathen Chinee, working her fingers to the bone for those little yellow children, and eventually dying for her efforts.

Every Christmas we had the Lottie Moon Offering, the Southern Baptist GoFundMe for foreign missions.  (We had another saint for home missions.  Can’t remember her name. I think she worked with the little brown babies out west.)


The other night her name came up for some reason, and I did a little dinner table research on her.

Y’all — Lottie Moon was a kickass trouble-making feminist with a professor boyfriend who himself got kicked out of Southern Seminary for his progressive ideas! She is a Netflix miniseries waiting to happen!

Why were we never taught this??[1]

Read all about it here.

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[1] Actually, I know perfectly well why we were not taught this. It didn’t fit into the Paulian Pauline schematic that women should keep their mouths shut. This is the church that would have elected me — me — as a deacon before they would have my mother.