My Prime Directives

Several of the other Nano Poblano participants this month have posted entries which led me to respond with comments about the set of rules that I have taken to calling my Prime Directives. Yes, that’s a nod to Star Trek, because of course it is.

Obviously I have to obey certain rules and customs to get along in this world, like wearing clothing to the grocery store and so forth. “Thou shalt not give people involuntary haircuts.” Aside from the basics, I don’t have a lot of rules though.

Being an adult with no real requirements on my time besides work and basic existence means I can pretty much do my own thing, and that means I get to set my own rules for getting along in life.

That’s where my Prime Directives come in.

This may not be a complete list- sometimes I add or remove directives on the fly, as they occur to me. I might also have forgotten something as I write this up.

For this precise moment in time, at least, and in no particular order, this is my list of Prime Directives.

Rule the first: Be kind.

This means exactly what it says. I try to be kind to other people, and I hope very much that when most people think of me, they think of me as a kind person.

Sometimes I’m bad at this one. Very few people in this world have seen me truly angry, but those who have seen my anger know that I can be a spiteful, vindictive, cruel bastard. I have Bruce Banner’s problem. It’s always there, the rage, right under the surface. I try to negate that as much as possible by choosing to be kind whenever possible.

It seems like the thing to do.

Rule the second: Never eat anything bigger than your head.

This one is lifted from a 1976 B. Kliban book I read when I was a kid. When I was little, it was funny to me, but as I got older, I realized it’s actually really, really good advice. I have stomach issues, and eating too much is a trigger for Very Bad Things to happen to my digestion. Plus I could make some earnest noises here about moderation being good for you, I guess.

Rule the third: Share the music.

Music is life. Music is very often the one thing that truly saves what’s left of my sanity – if I don’t listen to it for too long, I get cranky. It calms me, reduces my anxiety, helps me concentrate, and elates me.

If I had to choose, right now, between a life without delicious food or a life without music, I would say “sign me up for the cream of wheat, and then let’s go to a concert.”

It’s precisely because I love music this much that I believe it’s important to share it. When I was in high school, I made mix tapes. Later in life, I made mix CDs. Even now, sometimes I’ll put together mixes to share with people- the method changes over time, but the goal is always the same: “Let me play this amazing song for you! I hope you love it as much as I do!”

Music is life. Sharing the music means sharing life. It’s that simple.

Rule the fourth: Embrace your whimsy.

I am a silly, silly man, and don’t you forget it.

My second favorite thing to do with other people, right after sharing music, is to make them laugh. I’ve said on numerous occasions that my resting state is whimsy, and I think that’s basically true. If I am drained of my other emotions, and free of anger or ennui or despair, then what remains is just pure unbridled whimsy.

Leaning into my own whimsy helps me keep things light. Embracing my inner Muppet keeps me balanced.

Rule the fifth: Never wait longer than 70 minutes for a theme park ride.

This one is just good common sense for logistical planning. No ride is worth standing in line for more than an hour and ten minutes when you’re surrounded by the entire rest of the theme park. Especially when the entire ride only lasts five or six minutes. Just go do something else instead of waiting in line. You’ll definitely have more fun that way.

A Questionable Rule the sixth: Nothing good happens after 2 AM.

While I never heard this one articulated until I was watching “How I Met Your Mother,” it’s an often true statement. I can think of many, many times that I’ve stayed up late on the off chance that something cool would happen, only to have nothing happen, or worse, to have bad things happen instead.

I marked this one as “questionable” because I can think of a handful of times that I’ve had really cool stuff happen well after 2 am. Only a handful, though. Most of the time, it’s just better to go to sleep.

Everyone says you should get enough sleep, right?

Rule the seventh: Family is important.

I am fortunate to have a fairly close-knit family. My siblings and I get along really well, despite all the times they’ve tried to kill me. This extends to more than just that first ring of family, too. Just last week, I had lunch with my cousin because she’s not far away and I enjoy her company. It’s important to me to try to nourish those relationships when I can. Speaking of which- Happy Birthday, Older Brother! (Even though I’m positive you’ll never see this blog post.)

Obviously this Directive doesn’t work for everyone- I have loads of friends who don’t speak to their birth family or have disowned parents or siblings over long and sustained pain. That’s why this isn’t just limited to families of blood. Families of choice are important too.

The people you choose to thread through your life are another kind of family. I have friends all over the world, and many of them are, in my estimation, a type of family. There are people in Germany who are dear to me, and people in Orlando, and people in Long Beach, or in New Orleans, or in South Florida.

Family is important, whether you grew up with them or added them on later in life.

Do you have any Prime Directives of your own?

42/52 (and 21 of 30!)


The most boring decision I’ve made all year.

Since I arrived in Arlington, I’ve been trying to find the One True Grocery, and my search has been unfulfilled so far. I mentioned back on the first of November that I’ve been to a crazy number of different grocery stores since my arrival, and I still haven’t settled into a grocery routine here.

When I moved to Germany, I did some of my grocery shopping at the Globus near the office, but the vast majority was at the Kaufland a few minutes away from my apartment. Since I was walking to and from the grocery store there, I fell into the habit of only getting what I could carry. When I repatriated, I started grocery shopping with a car again and the amount of food that I bought was significantly larger. I have a tendency to overbuy, and it’s something I’ve mentioned before in this blog.

Here in Arlington, I’m somewhere between the two extremes. I’m not buying a lot of food, and that is in part because the grocery stores haven’t thrilled me yet. It’s really tough to top Publix. I’ve been to many different stores here so far, and these are my impressions so far:

  • Harris Teeter – I Teetered my Harris on my first day in Arlington, and I haven’t been back. The one I went to was a two-story affair with a very confusing layout. It looked to me like what might happen if MC Escher was really into neon and wanted very much to make a knockoff of Whole Foods. I have not yet been to a second Harris Teeter to see if a different location might suit me better.
  • Giant Food – I’ve been to two different Giants now. The first one was like a dirty, poorly stocked Winn Dixie where nineteen out of every twenty people completely ignored the directional arrows on the floor. The second one was a bit better, but I still had trouble finding everything I was looking for.
  • Safeway – I’ve been to three different local Safeways so far, and the closest location off Lee Highway is the one I’ve actually gone back to more than once. They have a decent selection, and their Zebra Cakes are always really fresh. (Snack standards are important.) I was thinking that they reminded me a lot of Albertsons, but then I found out while fact checking this post that they’re actually a subsidiary of Albertsons now, so that tracks.

I haven’t bothered to shop in Target, Trader Joes, or Whole Foods, even though they’re reasonably close. I haven’t even seen a Wal-Mart, even though there’s gotta be one nearby. And last but not least, everyone keeps telling me Wegman’s is great, but I haven’t felt like driving half an hour each way for groceries.

If even a single one of these stores carried absolutely everything I wanted, I would keep going back to that one over and over again, but some things are just incredibly difficult to find.

For example, my favorite pickles are Claussen, but they’re not carried anywhere locally except for Wal-Mart. I did try Vlasic again, and I immediately regretted that decision. They taste like turmeric and existential dread.

As an aside, when I couldn’t find Claussen in six different stores, I turned to the Internet for reassurance that they were still being sold, and I was treated to the most delightfully unlikely sentence I’ve ever seen online:

“The Federal Trade Commission blocked the proposed merger on the grounds that it would have severe anticompetitive effects, leading to a monopoly in the refrigerated-pickle market.”

So that’s where things stand with the Great Grocery Selection of 2020. They opened a Wegman’s in Tyson’s Corner this week, so maybe I’ll finally give that a try this weekend. Or maybe I’ll finally give in and just go the Instacart route. If you’ve read this post all the way to the end, then bless your heart! It’s definitely not my most interesting work. If you’ve read this far, you deserve a treat, like a cookie or a White Claw or something. Treat. Yo. Self!

Do you have a favorite grocery store?

27/52 (and 6 of 30!)

Nanopoblano and a brief update.

Back at the start of the year, I said that I was going to try to do at least a post a week, thinking I should be able to come up with something bloggable that frequently without too much difficulty.

Then the pandemic happened, and most of the things that are interesting enough to talk about went away- travel, concerts, going outside a lot… each of these things vanished and I spent more than half of the year (so far) in my apartment, without anything interesting happening. The blog posts have fallen off as a result.

Enter Nanopoblano! Nanopoblano is “the Internet’s least-official November blog challenge.” Basically, it’s a bunch of people who commit to following one of several paths- some people will post every day for thirty days, some will commit to engaging with the other participants. The recommended way forward is “10 days of posts, 10 days of reading/commenting, and 10 days of sharing posts through any other platform.” I’m going to go my own way a bit and try to do the 30 posts in 30 days route. It might be the kick I need to make blogging a habit again. I might suck at this too, but I’m at least going to try.

Team Tiny Peppers, 2020!

Now that I’ve got the Team Tiny Peppers housekeeping out of the way, I can detail some of the myriad ways that I’ve been spending my time since I arrived via the Amtrak Auto Train in the last post. The last post which was nearly 90 days ago.

  • I’ve been setting up my apartment, more or less, once the movers brought my stuff. There are still lots of things to do.
  • I’ve been exploring my neighborhood.
  • I’ve updated my voter registration and been to the DMV.
  • I’ve been working a lot, naturally. I enjoy my job- it’s challenging and busymaking and really doesn’t require more comment than that.
  • I’ve been ordering a LOT of GrubHub- like too much. Seriously it’s so easy, which is very empowering for a wannabe agoraphobe.
  • I’ve explored a few local monuments and touristy things and taken lots of photos- I’ll make a post out of these because I’ve got pictures.
  • I had a houseguest for one weekend a while back when my longtime friend Lorrie visited. We went to some of the aforementioned local touristy things and even had lunch with another friend who went to high school with us.
  • I purchased and returned an uncomfortable, inadequate sofa. This is also going to get its own post because I have analysis, lessons learned, and – of course – photographs.
  • I’ve been to a crazy number of different grocery stores since my arrival because I still haven’t quite settled into a preferred grocery option. Long time readers will remember that I had the same problem with grocery shopping when I got to Germany. It’s really tough to top Publix. This is probably going to get its own post as well.
  • I’ve been having at least one meal out every week or so with one of my local friends, but I haven’t gotten to see everyone I know around here because some of my local people are skittish about going anywhere during a pandemic. I don’t blame them for being more cautious than I am, but I miss seeing them. I did have dinner once with my cousin but then got wildly side-tracked with things- I definitely need to share more meals with her now that we’re geographically close for a change.
  • I went to an actual concert in an actual venue with an actual live act and an actual audience. And it was actually weird.

And that’s pretty much it! I nearly traveled to Florida for a family thing, but did not. I’ve had lots of canceled events and trips, and it’s just been day in and day out of the same stuff, most of the time. There are seeds in the above list of longer posts that are going to be coming throughout the month, but this is where I’ll leave it for the moment.

See everyone back here tomorrow! Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

How have you all been for the last 90 days?

22/52 (and 1 of 30!)

The sixth stage is lunacy.

Happy Rex Manning Day, everyone!

I was supposed to be in Washington DC right now. I had the hotel and airfare booked. I was going to work from DC for the week, and hang out in various neighborhoods to see what the food options were like, and maybe go to a concert midweek. I was going to look at apartments, hang out with friends a little, and maybe even see my cousin.

I was hoping to see the cherry blossoms while I was there. Of course, the cherry blossoms hit peak bloom about two weeks earlier than normal, so that was a wash. And then there was a pandemic, and everything got cancelled. Everything was pushed off and postponed and scrubbed away.

I wanted to talk about how all my canceled plans have me feeling adrift in this post. I wanted to relate it to the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, but every time I tried to write it that way, it just felt forced. Contrived. Besides, Homer did it better anyway.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. People close to me have lost family members to Covid-19. Others have lost their jobs as entertainment industry jobs shut down. I know that I’m incredibly fortunate to have employment that is unaffected by the pandemic, but I wrestle with these two notions:

Having all my concerts and trips be washed away like a sandcastle at high tide is incredibly depressing. I am incredibly bummed that all my plans have dissolved as concert venues close and travel becomes unsafe- but I simultaneously feel guilty about feeling bummed, because other people are facing harder losses. I’m sad about the stuff I don’t get to do, and I also feel terrible about being sad for the stuff I don’t get to do.

But enough of this navel-gazing- let’s talk about what I’ve been up to in order to pass the boundless time!


Firstly, an update on the data loss I wrote about in the previous post: I received the new NAS hardware at the end of last week, slapped the original drives into the new enclosure, powered it up, and… miracles occurred. Everything was still there.

I did some reconfiguration on the new hardware, ran a disk check, and started some proactive replacement of the older, smaller hard drives. I couldn’t have asked for a happier ending on what could have been a data-loss tragedy.


Secondly, I cut my own hair last week. Yes, really.

I have no idea when the hair places will reopen, and I was starting to feel desperate and fluffy. I discovered that one of the electric clipper thingies in my cabinet had a plastic spacer to keep it from being full buzz cut, and I set about trying to make myself look a little less like a Q-tip.

Luckily for me, my hair is pretty simple. I keep it short to begin with, so clippering out the sides did most of the work in making me look less fluffy. I tried to use the fingers-and-scissors thing that hair stylists do on the top of my head, and all I really succeeded in doing was scraping up my knuckles.

I can’t see the back, so I know it’s kind of a disaster. I suppose I could set up a complicated series of mirrors to retry the back, but I’m not quite that ambitious.

All in all, this could have come out so much worse.


Lastly, I tried a thing that I saw on BookFace, because it looked interesting, and I’m here to share my results with you all.

I started with a box of cornbread mix, some beef franks, and a muffin pan that had me wandering around the house singing, “Do you know the muffin pan? The muffin pan? The muffin pan!”

I used a box of “instant” cornbread mix. This is pretty simple stuff; it just needs eggs, milk, and butter.

My chosen meat was Hebrew National beef franks. There are several good options for the hot-dog part of these, but I’ve consistently enjoyed the flavor of Hebrew National.

Step one is to mix the eggs and butter. For what may be the first time ever, I have managed to melt butter in the microwave without a) having it spatter all over everything requiring a massive microwave cleaning, or b) breaking a glass because I misjudged how long to heat it.

I just want to take a moment to address the fact that my eggs and butter combined in some sort of mystical foodie sorcery to pretend they were an avocado.

And now I wonder if I could have managed to add avocado to this recipe…

The recipe called for milk, but I don’t keep actual milk around, so soy milk had to do. It worked fine though.

Pay no attention to the Pasta Boat in the background of this photo. It is NOT my most prized kitchen plastic. Shut up!

It was at this point in the cooking process that I remembered that landscape photos look better on the web than portrait photos do. OOPS!

It only took a few minutes of hand whisking to get the mixture ready to go. I don’t have a hand whisk. This is an electric mixer whisk attachment that I was just using by hand, because I am fancy.

A little PAM sprayed into the muffin pan (the muffin pan, the muffin pan) kept the mixture from sticking to the metal during cooking. They just popped right out after.

Based on the advice of a friend, I tried two hot dog delivery methods: upright and chopped.

During the cooking process, the upright ones did not stay upright. I don’t know if this is a failing of my dough or just gravity at work. Maybe I wasn’t chopping them at appropriate right angles.

The clear winner was the chopped hot dog muffins, because they delivered considerably more hot dog with every bite. All in all, I would call this entire experiment a delicious, delicious success.

What have you been doing to keep busy in quarantine?

15/52

Things end.

This week, I received a notification that AOL Instant Messenger is ending.    On December 15th of this year, the service that was the biggest part of my social life from the mid-1990s until just a year or two ago will go offline for the last time.

Up until fairly recently, I was always logged into AIM-  if my computer was on, my screen name was active.  At one point, I had collected nearly a dozen screen names-  some were used for work, but most were personal.  AIM was the way that we spoke between departments during my early years at my previous Mr. Company, because nobody had invented Slack yet and “team chats” were a fairly nascent idea.

Lately, the AIM buddy list is a ghost town-  there are only a handful of people who still connect, and most of those have their screen names configured to mobile devices.  I would venture a guess that at least half of them don’t even realize they’re still signed in- it’s that slow there now.

AOL Instant Messenger is just one more thing in the ever-growing bucket of things from my past that are gone now, things that I miss quite a lot.   AIM and Yahoo Messenger, both removed from heavy usage by their parent companies were one giant part of my life for most of the last twenty years.

So too was LiveJournal, at least from 2002 until around 2011.  The communities there were wonderful, and I made fast friends through those interactions.   I’ve been commenting in recent posts about the process of going through my old LiveJournal to move worthwhile content over here to WordPress while simultaneously preparing to close out the original LJ.  This is for two reasons:  The first is that LiveJournal was purchased by a Russian company a few years back and they have since moved their data from US-based servers to hardware that is actually located in Russia.  The second, and far more personal reason to close out LiveJournal is that it’s a ghost town-  most of my closest LJ friends have since deleted their accounts, and there’s only a handful of people from my list who still frequent the platform.  Posting there in 2005 was like being in a well attended warm and friendly party.  Posting there now is like shouting into an empty factory.

Things change, time passes, and many of the things that I love have faded away.

When I moved to Orlando, there were two restaurants downtown that I really enjoyed:  Frank & Steins, which was a delicious hot-dogs and beer joint, and the Red Mug diner, which was a 24 hour diner at first.

First they cut the Red Mug in half-  they said that the right side would be a new Poke concept restaurant.  Then they cut the 24 hour aspect on weekdays, saying that it was summer hours and you could still go there in the middle of the night on Friday and Saturday nights.   Finally, they said never mind all that other stuff we said, and we’re just closing the place up.

Frank & Steins was closed up to renovate and reopen as a “food hall” concept, but all the super delicious food on the original menu is gone, and my tongue weeps in gustatory grief.

I was going to include Smash Burger in this list, because the one in Oakland Park closed, but I was delighted to find this chain is alive and well in Central Florida.  Smash is one of my top-five favorite burgers, although my brother doesn’t like it so much.

So many of my memories are about food, now that I think about it.  My mental map of my adopted German hometown Regensburg is marked almost entirely by where the food is.    And then there’s the Navajo.

The Navajo sandwich was a Cheesecake Factory staple for years-  chicken, avocado, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and a dash of mayonnaise served on this delicious thick sourdough bread, and I would order it more than any other thing in the restaurant.  When I came back from Germany, the Navajo was nowhere to be found.  Gone from the menu, without a trace.    A Google search shows that I am not the only person who laments its absence from the menu.  Someone even set up a Twitter account as the sandwich looking for work, but even that faded out after 2013.

Damn, now I’m hungry.

What thing do you miss that is gone from your past?