Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Whale Below: ~Fin~

Three big glasses of caffine-laden, passion fruit-infused iced tea, more than one trip to the restroom and repeated playings of my symphonic Pink Floyd and highlights from Wagner's Ring Cycle (without words) CDs resulted, ultimately, in the completion of "The Whale Below" last night around 2 a.m. Nearly four hours of work netted me a little over 1,000 words on paper, which I freely admit is an abyssmal rate of productivity. In my defense, however, I'd like to point out I wrote a good way down two blind alleys before having to backtrack and start over.

The important thing is that the beast is complete. Sure, it took close to two months when I'd planned for two weeks. Yeah, it clocks in at 7,500 words where I'd purposely set out to keep it under 5,000. And did I mention that it's a complete and utter mess? True. I introduce characters only to merge them with others at various points in the story. About 5,500 words in, I realize one supporting character is actually a fellow who already appeared in "Being an Account of the Final Voyage of La Riaza" (or rather, will appear once Interzone publishes that story) so some significant changes need to be made in order to bring him in line with established continuity.

I've got two days before Turkey City with which to shape this mongrel of a story into something more closely resembling a purebred. And after all is said and done, I'm going to have to go through again and do a major dialog polish. And there's no telling what flaws and failings the Turkey Citizens will bring to my attention. But again I say to you, the important thing is that the beast is complete. Hopefully, by this time next week I'll be posting once again about progress on Wetsilver.

Now Playing: Various 25 Classical Masterpieces

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Wine baron

Honey wine, that is. This morning I took a bottle of my Holiday Spice Metheglin and one of my Raspberry Melomel to the Comal County Fair to enter in their homemade wine competition (right alongside the jams and preserves and homemade vinegars). Check-in went surprisingly easy, even though the ladies there acted baffled by the very concept of honey wine. Fortunately, there's a "miscellaneous" category to go along with the grape and fruit wine categories, so my mead found itself a home. Now comes the hard part of waiting for the judging--come Thursday night, will my labors be found worthy or wanting?

Now Playing: Fleetwood Mac Behind the Mask

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Let there be booze

Forgot to mention this the other day, but Mark Finn's "Blood & Thunder Bock" has successfully been bottled. Barring any unforseen developments (like, say, the stuff turns out to be too unbearably nasty to drink) we'll have three whole cases of the stuff with which to party come World Fantasy.


Now Playing: The London Philharmonic Orchestra The Music of Pink Floyd


I've had congestion and related cold-like symptoms of varying degree for the past week, but nothing really bad enough to make life miserable. Calista and Keela have gone through it as well, and seem to have come out in decent shape. Unfortunately, in my case it seems to have escalated--these last two days I've been coughing up industrial waste. It's not pretty. I can only hope the EPA doesn't get wind of it.

Compounding matters is the fact that Orion has come down with this garbage as well. He's congested, and can't breathe easily when he's lying down. Which means he's not sleeping. Tired baby=irate baby. Lisa's not getting any sleep at all and I'm not getting much more. I spent 4 a.m. through 5 a.m. walking him this morning. So not only am I not feeling up to snuff, I'm bushed as well.

And no, I'm still not finished with that damn "The Whale Below." A short story I'd planned on spending two weeks working on has now stretched out to two months. And Turkey City is this coming Saturday. I'm doomed.

Now Playing: Don Henley California Desperados

Saturday, September 23, 2006


I saw the new Dean Devlin-produced WWI fighter ace movie Flyboys tonight. I first saw the trailer about a month ago, and boy, let me tell you I was jazzed for this one. I loves me some biplane dogfight action!

So why am I disappointed? It's not like I don't like the film. I do. There's great stuff here, but like The Blue Max this one's just off in places. The dogfights, of course, are glorious... for the most part. Devlin has bragged in interviews how computer animation allowed them to make the aerial battles more spectacular than was remotely possible with The Blue Max, but the trouble is, half the time I can readily tell I'm watching CGI. The glossy sheen on the images is off-putting. I feel like I'm watching an elaborately-choreographed video game. Another thing that bothered me is the monoculture of airplanes in the film. The Lafayette Escadrille flys Nieuport 17s exclusively in the movie, although they also flew Spads. More annoying is the fact that the only German fighter shown in the film is the Fokker Dr.I triplane. The movie's set in 1916, but the Fokker tri wasn't introduced until 1917--the flyboys of the film would've been up against German Albatrosses for the most part. But more than that, the triplane is made out to be a model of air superiority--it wasn't. Yes, it was the most manuverable plane in the sky and could climb exceedingly well, but the triplane has so much drag that it was slow at a time when speed was becoming the most important trait in battle. On top of that, shoddy workmanship led to the planes having unreliable performance--the top wings literally would fall off during flight. Now the Fokker D.VII biplane--that one really scared the willies out of everyone.

The film's attention to historical detail is abyssmal much of the time. There's a big German land advance on the ground which gobbles up a lot of territory, and nobody seems to notice or oppose. In reality, the Escadrille took heavy losses during the German assault of the Battle of Verdun in 1916, but this, apparently, ain't it. There's also a spectacular battle around zeppelin L-32 over Paris with a Fokker fighter escort. First off, L-32 was a navy zeppelin that was shot down over Britain in September of 1916. But even more annoying was the fact that this zeppelin's making its bombing run on heavily-fortified Paris in broad daylight. Zeppelins were huge, slow-moving targets, so they only made their bombing runs at night. Anti-aircraft fire from the ground would've blow this one to shreds long before it reached Paris. It's the sloppy, cavalier disregard of facts like that really undercuts my enjoyment of the film. I could almost forgive the stereotypical stock characters and paint-by-number Hollywood script on this one if they'd just not be so dumb otherwise. I mean, really. They make the effort to get a lion to play the role of "Whiskey," one of the original Lafayette Escadrille's two mascots, but can't even manage an accurate zeppelin battle? And the way the hero's one-on-one showdown with the Red Baron wannabe "Black Falcon" is too ludicrous for words.

Again, I liked it in spite of its faults, but before I see it a second time I'll make sure to down a couple of beers first.

Now Playing: Phil Collins No Jacket Required

Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday Night Videos

Apologies for no "Friday Night Videos" last week, but YouTube was on the blink. But that may be fortuitous as far as timing goes. In light of this week's coup in Thailand, the video I'd planned to feature, One Night in Bangkok, seems eerily prescient.

I had the Chess album on tape in high school, and although none of the other songs were as striking as "Bangkok," I still played the heck out of it and found it somewhat addictive. There's one particular oddity regarding this song, though. Some months prior to Murray Head's "Bangkok" video and single coming out, I saw a video on Friday Night Videos (or perhaps the WTBS equivalent program) for the song "One Night in Bangkok." Only it wasn't by Murray Head. It was sung by a chorus of women (Bananarama comes to mind for some reason, but this was most definitely not them) who danced around quite a bit, and I recall red was the predominant color in the video. The arrangement and instrumentation of the song was utterly different from the Head version, and I distinctly remember being baffled by the video when I saw it, as opposed to the Head video, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. I never saw that proto-Bangkok again, and have never met anyone else who's ever seen it. Was it a release that flopped, prompting Tim Rice and the others behind Chess to pull the song and rework it? I dunno--this is one instance where Google and Wikipedia are failing me. Does anyone out there know?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Gino Vanelli

Now Playing: Sheena Easton No Strings

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Spaceballs: The Series!

I know Spaceballs isn't among Mel Brooks' best work. I know it's flawed and riffs too heavily on Star Wars--when it branches out and sucker-punches franchises like Alien and Planet of the Apes, that's when it really shines. A couple of years ago, right about the time Brooks was gearing up for The Producers musical on Broadway, he said in an interview he was working on a Spaceballs sequel, since that was the most fun he'd ever had working on a film. Then, after The Producers became a monster hit, he mentioned a Spaceballs musical. Apparently all of those ideas have fallen by the wayside in favor of Spaceballs: The Animated Series!
MGM TV has commissioned an animated series based on Mel Brooks' 1987 "Spaceballs" movie and sold exclusive rights in the U.S. to Comcast's G4 cable network.

Encompassing a one-hour pilot and 13 half-hour episodes, project represents the first scripted series greenlit by the new TV division at MGM, led by Jim Packer, president of the worldwide TV distribution group. Series kicks off on G4 in fall 2007.

Although the movie grossed only $38.1 million in U.S. multiplexes, Packer said "Spaceballs" has become "a successful franchise for our library" through sale in video and DVD and to cable and pay TV nets.

Brooks and Thomas Meehan, who co-wrote the movie with Ronnie Graham, have penned the one-hour pilot, and Meehan will supervise the writing of the 13 half-hours. Brooks will do two of the voices, President Skroob and Yogurt.

This, I think, is good. Brooks really shines when he's doing voice work (listen to his 2,000-Year-Old-Man routines if you don't believe me) and animation is a medium uber-friendly towards wacky SF goodness (re: Futurama). Brooks hasn't had success with his television ventures in the past (why isn't When Things Were Rotten out on DVD yet?) but maybe this will break the jinx? All I know is that I'm looking forward to it.

Skroob the people!

Now Playing: SubVision and Guy Gross Farscape

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Two hours of my life

Ever feel you're being used? They're building a number of new schools in Comal ISD, and Lisa and I were invited to participate in the naming task force. Lisa couldn't go tonight because of Brownies, so I headed over to Smithson Vally High School on my own. Since I hadn't actually been told where the meeting was, I wandered around for 20 minutes or so (that place is huge!) before someone knew what I was talking about and directed me to the library.

I found the meeting, and sat down with the group tasked with whittling down names for the new elementary school on Morningside Drive, which is right next door to us. The suggested name that jumped out at us was--wait for it--Steve Irwin Elementary. Wow. If the purpose of the school's name is to inspire kids and set a good example for them, Steve Irwin wins, hands down. The others in the group thought it great as well. When I got home, I asked my daughters what they thought (since they'd be going to this school) and they started bouncing off the walls. Seriously--Irwin has done so much to educate and inspire children and adults worldwide about conservation, he's an impeccable choice. So what if he's Australian? There's a high school in San Antonio named after Winston Churchill. For an elementary school, I think Steve Irwin's a brilliant name.

Only too bad for Steve-o, because I'll wager cash money the name's already been decided by the powers that be, and our task force is merely going through the motions. Why? Well, the other names submitted were fine, but nothing exciting. It was the usual mix of deceased school officials and generic place names. Nothing offensive, nothing inspiring. Except one name was presented with an overwhelming amount of historical background. It was pointed out to me that each group had one of these submitted for each school--almost as if there was an orchestrated effort to make sure a particular set of names reached the final three for each school. You see, the task force can't recommend a particular name, or even rank its preferences. No, instead a selection of two or three names is presented to the school board, which then makes the final decision. So as long as the right, favored names make it to the final three, anyone want to guess which one will be picked? This is the same school board, mind you, that chose to name the new district high school Canyon Lake--ticking off a lot of people in the process--while insisting there would be no confusion with the existing Canyon High School. Sorry folks, but there's significant confusion and the new high school isn't even open yet.

I'm not a big conspiracy buff. I'm not wholly convinced that some person or group is trying to game the system, but it did strike me as suspicious the way all the submissions were amateur presentations with the exception of one. If they really, really want to name the new school something particular, fine. Do it. Just don't waste X hours of my life on a dog and pony show solely to give your predetermined name the veneer or popular acclaim.

Now Playing: Dvorak Symphony No. 2; Legands Op. 59, Nos. 6-10

Monday, September 18, 2006

My birthday present, Precious

So after I take my Geritol and use my walker to amble into the dining room, my family showers me with presents on Saturday. The three Star Wars DVD releases to be precise, with both the original, "Greedo shoots first" versions, and the super-duper over-the-top CGI-addled versions. I love them both. And then we ate some of my birthday cake, which was a black walnut ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins, topped with a Yoda wielding a light-up lightsabre. Cool.

Then we headed in to San Antonio for the main event. Whenever Texas A&M plays in the Alamo City, there's a Corps trip, with all 2,000 or so CTs marching through downtown on Dolorosa Street. Since they were playing Army, the cadets from West Point had their own, smaller version of a Corps trip as well. First up: The West Point band.


I have to admit I was a bit disappointed by the Army band. It was small--tiny, in fact, when compared to the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band, or any of the Big 12 "show bands." And more than a few of the band members were obviously not students, which struck me as odd, being the dyed-in-the-wool fan of the college game that I am. But at halftime, they had a female staff sergeant who went into serious Aretha Franklin mode for killer renditions of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "America the Beautiful." That rocked.

After the band came the Army cadets. There was a color guard, and a handful of platoons, or ranks, or whatever the official nomenclature is. I was impressed with how many West Pointers made the trip. The crowds lining the street were overwhelmingly Aggies--you can tell by the sea of maroon--but I was surprised by the number of black-and-gold Army supporters as well. All of the cadets got big cheers from the crowd, though. Then a troup of active-duty soldiers from Fort Hood came marching through, which got a big reaction from the crowd.


After the Fort Hood soldiers came the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band. And really, what can I say that hasn't already been said? I love these guys. Their marching drills were particularly intricate at halftime, and they did some things I don't think I've ever seen before. They also botched one move and their straight lines fell into a jumble about halfway through, but the recovery was quick and impressive. A bunch of Army fans sitting beside be applauded enthusiastically when the Army band performed, but they all pulled out their camera phones to take pictures when the Aggie Band was on the field. Of course, my family was enjoying the show as well.


Parson's Mounted Cavalry came next--can't have a parade without horses, can you?--followed by the A&M howitzer (which I did not get a good shot of) and the mule-drawn ammo wagon. And for those of you wondering, neither A&M nor Army fired their cannons inside the Alamodome after scoring. Thank goodness!


And with horses, there comes the inevitable clean-up detail at the end. Right after this pic, a horse left its calling card on the pavement, and the CTs sprang into action. Unfortunately, I had a bad angle and was unable to get a clear shot of the infamous, orange-painted "t.u." wheelbarrow the horse droppings are shoveled into.


With the parade over, we headed down the street to El Mercado, and had dinner at the famous Mi Tierra restaurant. The wait was 45 minutes, and we were starving, but managed to survive. I ordered the Michoacan and boy, was I pleasantly surprised! Very, very good flavor. Highly recommended. We then headed back the other direction to the Alamodome, and passed a bagpiper busking on a plaza above the Riverwalk. This guy's been around for years--I always find his piping somewhat incongruous amidst all the mariachis and Latino flavor--so I finally siezed the opportunity and took his picture. After that, we walked under I-35 with 65,000 other people, waited in line forever to enter the stadium, then took our seats. I've said it before and I'll say it again--the Alamodome is a gorgeous place to watch a football game. There's not a bad sight line in the place. My kids tend to agree with me.


As for the game itself? Well, Army came to play. The A&M sidelines were thoroughly out-coached. It got pretty hairy there for a while. By the third quarter, drunks were stumbling up and down the aisles, making me thankful that beer isn't served at Kyle Field. The Army fans struck me as polite and respectful, and the Aggie fans generally seemed approving of all things Army except the possibility of an upset. I saw a number of A&M shirts with the famous Patton quote on it, but not nearly as many as I was expecting. All our kids were asleep by the end of the third quarter, so Lisa and I had the parental privilege of carrying Orion and Keela back to the car. Calista, being the eldest, was SOL and had to walk on her own. But it was the first time the entire family went to a game together, and day-after reports from the girls give it high marks all around. We'll have to do it again some time.

Now Playing: The Kinks Lola vs. Powerman and the Money-Go-Round part 1

Friday, September 15, 2006

Review roundup

My review of Adam Roberts' The History of Science Fiction is now up over at Green Man Review for your reading pleasure. It was a difficult book to finish, mainly because it was so uneven. Certain sections would just sing, fascinating explorations of SF history heretofore unknown to me. And then the book would stop me in my tracks, bogging down in naval-gazing academia. A mixed bag, yes, but one I'm glad I have on my reference shelf. I like to think I have a better understanding of the genre for having read it.
One thing in Roberts' favor is his thoroughness and attention to history. Whereas Mary Shelly's Frankenstein is the oft-repeated "beginning" of science fiction, Roberts pushes the envelope much further back. The second chapter makes very clear his stance on matters with the unambiguous title "Science Fiction and the Ancient Novel Interlude: AD 400-1600." Following that are chapters on 17th, 18th and early 19th century science fiction, which makes for a broad survey before the book even reaches the likes of Verne and Wells and Shelley who shaped modern SF as we know it. Roberts makes a very compelling case that fantastic literature was a strong and vibrant form (as much as any literature could be) throughout the ancient and medieval world, staking claim to the voyage extraordinaire. No less a writer than Plutarch is claimed for SF, on the basis of his speculative "On the Face Apparent in the Circle of the Moon," as well as Lucian of Samosata, who wrote of a journey beyond the moon in "Ikaromenippos."

I also have a couple of reviews in the new issue of Brutarian (actually a double issue, no. 47 and 48) which doesn't do you much good if you're not a subscriber, but there it is. I review Zoran Zivkovic's Time-Gifts from Northwestern University Press and also his The Writer/The Book out from Prime Books. Not the type of books you'd normally see reviewed in Brutarian, but the editor, Dom, said he wanted unusual and obscure. Zoran's writings certainly qualify as such--at least to Brutarian's audience, but I suspect he's growing less obscure on a daily basis.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Golden Rocks

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Hey! Beer!

The airlock on my fermentation vessel has stopped bubbling, boys and girls. You know what that means? It means I have six gallons of fresh beer ready for bottling. Granted, it's flat beer at the moment, but a wee bit o' sugar in the bottles will soon fix that. Giving it six weeks to age before consumption at World Fantasy Con should be just about right--this stuff should be at its peak. Can't wait!

Now Playing: Various Music from the Motion Picture Pulp Fiction

Monday, September 11, 2006

Gospel truth

Apologies to Bill Crider for this, but I saw it and couldn't stop laughing. Someone asked me the other day why I wasn't getting excited about the "Big Game" in Austin. I pointed out that I'm an A&M grad, and they looked at me uncomprehending. This ESPN U commercial spells it out pretty clearly.

"Taco meat." Bwa-ha-ha!

Now Playing: Derek & the Dominos Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

Unexpected in Aggieland

Friday afternoon my brother John called, asking if I wanted to see the A&M game Saturday. He works for Drymalla Construction, and their clients and contractors often pass along game tickets. So of course I said yes--I hadn't been to a game at Kyle Field since Colorado two years back. Things have changed a great deal since I used to go as a student--and even since I covered a few games back in the '90s as a reporter. There's a real circus, festival atmosphere going on outside the stadium before the game these days. Calista and Keela got to pet some of the horses from Parson's Mounted Cavalry when we arrived, then tried out the various bouncy castle things set up beside G. Rollie White Coliseum.


About that time, we heard the howitzer go off, so we found spaces along the curb to watch the band and corps march in. It's a different route from my "Old Army" days, as the old main entrance in the horseshoe is gone, replaced by "The Zone." So march-in does a 90-degree turn before reaching Kyle, and now enters from the south end of the stadium. It's odd, but the girls got a great view on mine and Uncle John's shoulders. Orion also got a good view from Lisa's shoulder as well.


Our seats were some of the high-dollar, chair-backed ones at the very top of the third deck, nestled under the press box right on the 45 yard line. Lots and lots of Old Ags sitting around us that you could almost smell the money. Not my normal seats, suffice to say. But Orion utterly charmed everyone. It was his first game, and I really didn't want to take him because he doesn't react well to loud, sudden noise. But at 6 months, he reacts even worse to being separated from Mommy, so we took our chances (after all, he's going with us to the Alamodome this coming Saturday for the Army game). He did really well, only getting upset briefly during the third quarter. We gave him a 12th Man towel, and he went to town, waving it wildly and then chewing on it with abandon. He's got the whole Aggie thing down pretty good, I'd say.


And just because you can't attend an A&M game without talking about the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band's halftime performance, I'm throwing in a couple of photos that amazingly turned out pretty well. It got darker as halftime progressed, so the latter photos are more blurred, but these give an idea of some of the drills they did. No criss-cross "impossible drill" this time around, but it was entertaining nonetheless.


The game itself was a great deal of fun. For the first time in several years, the team actually went out and did what it was supposed to do--namely shellack a lesser opponent. As opposed to last week's underwhelming showing against the Citadel, against U-La-La the Aggies played as close to flawless football as I've seen. If they continue the trend against Army this week and Louisiana Tech next week, they might be able to keep Texas Tech from scoring triple digits three weeks from now. As for my opinion of the new 12th Man TV video board, well, yeah it's big, but from all the hype I expected something that would dwarf the entire stadium. I will say I'm pleased they finally got someone who can put together professional-looking video montages and the like. That was nice. The ribbon boards encircling the stadium along the second deck, however, alternated regularly between "very cool" and "annoying as hell." Personally, I deeply miss "Welcome to Aggieland, Home of the 12th Man" on the student side. The whistles and bells are nice, but ultimately all they are is whistles and bells. I'm one for tradition. And honstly, if they can spend the untold millions it took to install all that dazzle, why can they spring for new light bulbs to light up the Kyle Field marquee on the outside of the stadium? I miss that--in the old days, you could see those letter lit up from as far away as Caldwell.

And you pesky kids get off my lawn, too!

Now Playing: Fleetwood Mac Tango in the Night

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Look! Up in the sky!

Driving home from Burnet this evening from a family friend's birthday party, something up in the sky caught my eye. A startling splash of color way up high, standing out against the blue.


What the heck was it? There was no rain, and the few clouds visible were small, puffy and widely scattered. And none were what I'd consider close to this rainbow phenomenon. I stopped and grabbed a shot of it--the colors were really much more intense than what you see here. A real attention-getter. And as we drove along, it grew more pronounced.


So, we've got a rainbow with no rain, and no clouds that are obviously contributing to it. Could this be one of those rare icebows, created by ice crystals formed in the chilly, high-altitudes of the atmosphere? Anyone have any thoughts? In any event, it was quite a cool experience.

Now Playing: Mike + the Mechanics The Living Years

Saturday, September 09, 2006

40 years o' Trek

Okay, so I'm technically posting this a day late. Sorry 'bout that, but I was busy finishing the proofing edits on my story for Cross Plains Universe. Anyhoo, Shane Ivey and myself have a piece up over on RevSF looking back at some of the episodes that made classic Star Trek so, well, classic. And yeah, the rest of the editorial staff chimed in as well. So mosey on over and peruse Star Trek 40th Anniversary: Treks of Choice.

Now Playing: nothing

Friday, September 08, 2006

Cross Plains Gorillaverse

You know, I'm not even half way through Cross Plains Universe and already I've counted three stories featuring apes. Granted, one's a man in costume, but still. Make of that what you will.

Now Playing: Salsa del Rio Que Siga La Tradicion

Friday Night Videos

What could encapsulate mid-80s MTV video culture more than Gino Vanelli's Black Cars? Well, hmm. Maybe Michael Jackson videos. And maybe Corey Hart's Sunglasses at Night. Come to think about it, any Duran Duran video fits the bill. But hey, Gino gets so much less love than those other folks, so Black Cars it is. And if you look closely, I suspect you can see where David "The Hoff" Hasslehoff stole most of his moves.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Violent Femmes

Now Playing: Roy Orbison In Dreams: Roy Orbison's Greatest Hits

Thursday, September 07, 2006


So I sit down to write last night, and what do I find waiting for me in my inbox from Scott Cupp but the PDF proof of Cross Plains Universe for my copy check. The whole frellin' book! We're talking Howard Waldrop, Michael Moorcock, Gene Wolfe... I can only assume this is Cupp's thinly-disguised effort to keep me from writing. Needless to say, he succeeded. I didn't write a single word last night, and I'm pretty bleary-eyed this morning from all the reading. It wasn't all fun and games--I did a quick once-over of my story and found a whole passle of typesetting errors that're going to take a bit of work to straighten out. But man, this is a killer book.

Now Playing: Toss the Feathers Rude Awakening

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Danger! Danger! Danger!

I'm still in shock over the death of Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin from a stingray barb to the heart. When I got the editing job in San Antonio a few years back and my family was still in Temple trying to sell the house, that separation was tough on all of us. The girls and I would watch Crocodile Hunter on Animal Planet together, so one of the first things I did in San Antonio was go to the Discovery Channel Store in North Star Mall and buy a DVD of the show. I gave it to Calista and Keela when I got home that weekend, and it symbolized a kind of bonding amongst us even though we were separated most of the time. So Irwin's death felt, to me at any rate, like the loss of a close family friend.

This morning when I told Lisa, she felt much the same shock as I did. Our thoughts went out to his wife, and two young children--that loss strikes close to home for us. And, much as we hated to, we broke the news to the girls during breakfast. They would hear about it at school for sure, and we knew it'd be better if they heard it from us in a secure, supportive environment. Keela was nonplussed, but she absorbs things in her own time. Calista, on the other hand, was very broken up about it. She's always worn her emotions on her sleeve. Lisa and I did our best to comfort her, but it still troubled her greatly. I think we're all in something of a daze today--I don't think anyone would've been surprised if a croc had finally gotten him, or maybe one of the venomous snakes he's often handling. But a stingray? Somehow, it seems such a senseless, anticlimactic waste...

Now Playing: Billy Joel 2000 Years-The Millennium Concert

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The folly of teal

When I used to hunt--and it's been a while--duck and goose hunting was always my favorite. I liked dove and quail, too, and went deer hunting on occasion. But of all the wild game meats, duck or goose always got my mouth watering (and this does not discount my well-known affinity for good venison). So when my brother John gave me six teal ducks some months back, I was quite excited. I hadn't had duck or goose in years, so I wanted to do something special with them.

The timing worked out today that I was able to fix them for dinner. I'd tracked down a nifty recipe online as well--I wasn't going to simply broil or bake them with vegetables, not with this being the introduction to duck for my family (yes, none of them had ever had duck before, not even Lisa). The recipe was for baked teal in apple cream sauce:
Place onion and garlic in a small, shallow roasting pan. Arrange teal in a single layer, skin side up, in pan. Pour apple juice over teals. Sprinkle teals with paprika, salt and pepper. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Remove foil; add apple wedges. Stir together cream and 1 Tablespoon flour with wire whisk in a small bowl; pour over teals. Bake, uncovered, 25 minutes more or until teals are tender. Arrange teals and apples on hot platter; cover and keep warm. Pour pan juice into 2-quart saucepan; skim off any excess fat. Shake together water and 2 Tablespoons flour in a small jar. Stir into pan juices. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until sauce boils and thickens. Spoon sauce over birds.

The premise here is that the apple would draw out the "wild" flavor of the game meat and make it more palatable for my family, since duck is a very dark meat. The birds had been skinned and cleaned already, so there was much less fat than what this recipe assumes. After cooking it, I suspect that a cider or white wine would go well in the first step. The long and short of it is that it smelled wonderful, even if it did take me two hours to fix, including prep time.

So I fix everyone's plates--side dishes and all--and call them to dinner. Lisa sits down, cuts on her teal a bit, and then asks, "Where's the white meat?" Things went rapidly downhill from there. The less said about Calista's reaction, the better. From my perspective, it turned out quite well. The apple was a bit more muted than I'd expected, which is probably due to my using Galas (which we had on hand) rather than something more tart, ala Granny Smith. I also think, in hindsight, that thoroughly pricking the birds and marinading them prior to cooking in, say, cider or maybe apple juice concentrate with a bit of lemon as well would have positive results. But now I've got four birds and sauce packed away in little Tupperware containers. I'm going to be the only person at Texas State eating teal with apple cream sauce this week, I'm pretty sure of.

Now Playing: Dvorak Symphony No. 2; Legends Op. 59, Nos 6-10

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Strange brew

I took the afternoon off from work Friday. Keela had an allergy shot scheduled, so after that I went in to San Antonio to pick up my birthday present from Lisa--tickets to the A&M vs. Army football game on Sept. 16. The tickets--cheap ones, mind you--are for row 17, section 326 in the north endzone. This puts us in the very middle of the upper deck, between the uprights. I've seen several college games in the Alamodome, and honestly, I can't imagine there being a bad seat in the house. Great sight lines. I'm a happy camper.

After the tickets were secured, I swung over to San Antonio Homebrew Supply. After I brewed some beer to promote Voices of Vision last year, Mark Finn enlisted my brewing skills (or lack thereof) to make some beer in support of his new book, Blood & Thunder, to be distributed at this year's World Fantasy Con. My mission was a success:


I'm making him up a six-gallon batch of beer, which will give us roughly three cases once bottled. For those of you planning on going to World Fantasy and unsure of whether to drink the stuff or not, I'll walk you through the process. Some real homebrew enthusiasts start with raw grain and cook their own mash. I've done that. Apparently I'm not a real homebrew enthusiast, because you can see I'm using a can of Munton's Nut Brown Ale hopped malted barley extract. It's a heck of a lot quicker--and cleaner--that way.


Next, I heat a pot of water and soak the can o' malt for 15 minutes or so to soften it up. Then I pour out that water (there's glue on the can that dissolves in the water) and heat up some more to boiling. At this point I empty the dehydrated yeast packet into a cup of lukewarm water and set it in a corner, covered.


The next step is pouring the malt into the six-gallon fermentation vessel. The malt's consistency is similar to that of molasses, and even smells similar. This is a very nice, clear PET plastic one from Mr. Beer. I love it. It allows one to watch the fermentation process in action--and if you've ever found a lava lamp even mildly interesting, active fermentation is loads more fun. Orion was kind enough to assist.


The boiling water follows the malt into the vessel.


As does two pounds of dextrose, give or take. While I was at San Antonio Homebrew Supply, I flirted briefly with the idea of making it an all-malt beverage, but then decided I'd better not get cute with someone else's beer. Especially when they're footing the bill. That's why I put the toasted French oak chips back as well.


After that, I moved it to the spot of honor in my office. All that was left was to top off the wort with cold water to make six gallons, and pitch the yeast. That's all there is to it. I rarely bother with hygrometer readings for beer, because unless I'm making a barley wine the alcohol content isn't going to vary much beyond the 5-6 percent range.


All that's left is to wait a week or so for the fermentation to die down, then bottle it up and age until the convention. The airlock's bubbling already, so by this time tomorrow my office will be filled with the yeasty smells of fermentation. It'll be almost like a bakery. Almost.

Now Playing: Dvorak Symphony No. 2; Legends Op. 59, Nos 6-10

Friday, September 01, 2006

Friday Night Videos

I discovered the Violent Femmes--as pretty much every other teen of my generation did--in the '80s primarily through the scandalous lyrics of "Add It Up" off their first album. But man, I dug every track on there and became a big fan, snapping up new albums every chance I got. The apex of my love affair with the Femmes came in 1992, when they played the old Deware Field House on the campus of Texas A&M. That remains one of the best concerts I've ever attended. I mean, really, where else are you going to get a 10-minute digiridoo solo?

Gordon Gano is one of those warped geniuses I love so much. The clip above, "American Music," is off their album Why Do Birds Sing? which is on par with their debut disc, widely considered to be their best. It was great in concert, but this video brings a whole new level of subtext to the song. I love it. Enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Triumph

Now Playing: Violent Femmes 3


The air conditioner went out yesterday at the house. So I had to deal with that, as well as bludgeoning our bank account to death in order to pay for the repairs. It's a three-year-old unit, so you'd expect it to have more durability than that, or at least warranty coverage, right? Well, the comprehensive warranty covered only the first year. There is a limited warranty still in effect, but it's apparently limited to anything that doesn't break.

And there was also a parent-teacher conference at school that evening, so life sorta snowballed from there. If you ask me if I got any writing done last night, I'll have to kick you.

Now Playing: Texas State Bobcat Marching Band Texas State Bobcat Marching Band 2003