It’s been eighty-four years since the last post. (Just kidding, it’s been two months.)

Today is Pepper Day!   While Nano Poblano is only in November, Pepper Day is the 22nd day of every month, so it's extra Peppery!  Post something today.  A blog, a photo, a poem- anything at all! Tag it PepperDay!  Enjoy, and Happy Peppering!

I didn’t intend to take a two-month break between the last post and this one, I just didn’t have anything I really felt like writing about. It’s not for lack of content though- I was fairly busy through March and April.

First of all, there was so much movie and tv action. Shows I love like The Flash came back, Marvel’s Falcon and the Snowman started up, and we got movies like Godzilla vs Kong, the four-hour Snyder cut of Justice League, Raya and he Last Dragon, and Coming 2 America. All in all, it’s been a good few months to be stuck without a lot to do. Speaking of which…

I attended a bunch of virtual lectures. Profs & Pints is an organization that gets professorial types to lecture about various topics in bars, hence the name. Most lectures are 60-90 minutes and conclude with a question and answer period. Since lockdown began, they’ve moved online, which allows you to watch interesting lectures about fascinating topics from home. There was a really neat one about Krampus back in December. I’ve attended lectures about Persephone, about social media, about sexual deviancy, about introductory Irish, about the history of pinball, and more. Each lecture is $12, with forever-replay. That link again: https://www.profsandpints.com/online-talks, and there’s one tonight about the 1814 Burning of Washington, which promises to be super neat.

I went through a bunch of dentistry. I don’t think anyone cares about the details. Let’s just say that the whole process was stressful and expensive, but that’s dentistry for you.

I flew again! Specifically, I went down to South Florida for just a few days. Flying was different now, but also reassuringly the same as always. Delta has been blocking off their middle seats, which made for a less crowded flight, but my return was on Jetblue and that plane didn’t have middle seats. The Florida visit gave me a chance to see my mom and my siblings, and I spent some time with my best friend. There was even a hockey game (Panthers beat the Redwings handily.) The trip was also supposed to be timed for the unveiling of my dad’s headstone, but those plans didn’t pan out so I’m going back for a lightning-fast weekend toward the end of May. There was even the briefest of visits to the beach, which is now required since I don’t live in Florida anymore:

I visited the Silverball Museum. On the Florida trip, I ticked another box off on my long-standing list of places I wanted to check out. The Silverball Museum is a pinball and vintage game museum in Delray Beach, Florida, but this museum takes the form of a playable arcade. All the machines are set to free play, and admission to the museum allows you to play anything you like. They have all kinds of amazing vintage pinball games from the 1950s to the present. They also have game cabinets with MAME setups that include all kinds of early 1980s arcade games. I played much pinball, some skeeball, and enough Joust to prove that I remembered how.

I ran a 5k. DC Fitness did the “HerStory 5K” on March 20th, and I ran it. It was a virtual 5k so everyone ran their own path and then submitted the results later; I was something like 144th. And by “ran a 5k,” what I really mean is that I ran>fastwalked>ran>gasped>wheezed>ran some more>gasp-wheeze-grunt>fastwalked>ran a bit… and so on. My endurance has suffered from being inside for most of the last year. I want to enjoy running, but honestly, I don’t enjoy it at all.

I finally saw the Cherry Blossoms in peak bloom. I’ve been trying to see the cherry blossoms in peak bloom for years. Either I’ve missed them by a few weeks, or I’ve been unable to travel to them like in 2020. I even missed the cherry blossoms in Tokyo by just a few weeks. After years of just missing them, I finally managed to see these things in person. All it took was living less than three miles from the Tidal Basin.

I got the Covid-19 vaccine. My state has been trucking along, and as of this writing, 40% of the adult population of Virginia has had at least one dose of vaccine. I was given the one-and-done Janssen vaccine on a Saturday, and I spent the following two days recovering. About twelve hours after the shot, I had chills and body aches like crazy. The next day I was burrito-wrapped in a blanket on and off for the entire day, just super tired and cold. I slept a lot. Each successive day after that I was much better than the previous day, and by midweek everything was completely normal again. I never measured a fever of more than about one degree over my normal temperature, but I was still sweating like crazy while I slept. The weirdest side effect was a problem with escalation changes- I didn’t go out much during the few days post-vaccine, but I did take the elevator down to the lobby to pick up food at one point, and going down my head felt like it was going to explode. All the side effects are behind me now, and now I’m just waiting for my inevitable superpowers to form. [/obligatory vaccine/X-Men joke.]

I amused myself with Photoshop. I bought some corn starch so I could try a new recipe, and the brand name of the corn starch suggested a joke that made me giggle. I Photoshopped it into reality so that I could share the laugh with everyone else. (You can see what it looked like originally over here on Amazon.)

I celebrated Rex Manning Day. It’s every year on April 8th, and you mustn’t dwell. National Egg Cream Day was also March 15th, if you’re tracking that sort of thing.

I am absolutely certain that I missed something else from the last two months, but this seems like a good place to pause.

What have you been up to for the last two months?

9/52

PS, It’s Been Twenty-Five Years

Today is Pepper Day!   While Nano Poblano is only in November, Pepper Day is the 22nd day of every month, so it's extra Peppery!  Post something today.  A blog, a photo, a poem- anything at all! Tag it PepperDay!  Enjoy, and Happy Peppering!

As part of my annual goodreads.com reading challenges, I just finished “Postscript,” Cecilia Ahern’s followup to “PS, I Love You.” “PS, I Love You” was a story about a woman named Holly who starts receiving helpful letters from her recently-deceased husband. The letters send her on a journey where she rediscovers herself, finds a new path forward out of her grief, and so forth. It became a movie with Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler. The sequel picks up about seven years later, with Holly in a new relationship. When she retells the story of the letters from the first novel on a podcast, she gets pulled into helping a group of terminal patients who want to do the same thing, leaving messages behind after they die.

Ahern writes about grief with such insight that I was positive that she was writing from personal experience. As it turns out, she’s just a really gifted writer of fiction and a keen observer of humans being humans. In her own words, “when I wrote PS, I Love You, I was 21 and a lot of people asked if you hadn’t experienced grief. How can you write about it? But I do think that grief is made up of so many emotions that we do experience from the moment we’re born. We know what it’s like to feel loss, to feel alone, to feel uncertain, to lose a sense of ourselves and our identity. Grief is all of those things.”

Yesterday was twenty-five years to the day since the death of someone I loved with all my heart. I don’t talk about her as often now as I used to, but the people who have known me the longest know all about that part of my life because I wouldn’t shut up about it. Truth be told, I thought I had mentioned this countless times already on my blog, but I searched my own words tonight and I don’t see a single post talking about it.

For the three or four of you who don’t know the story, she died suddenly on February 21st, 1996. It was tragic and unfair and it really fucked me up for a long time. In the years that have passed since then, I’ve made an uneasy peace with some aspects of her passing. Twenty-five years is a long time to ponder things. I believe now that she didn’t love me as much as I loved her, but that’s not important. I know what she meant to me, and how that has shaped my life in the years since.

Which brings me back to Postscript, and the part of the novel that pushed me into writing about it here:

There is so much about me that Gerry wouldn’t recognize. I am older than Gerry ever was, I know things that he never knew, that he will never know. And it’s the little things that stop me in my tracks. He never lived to hear the word “hangry.” Every time I hear the word I think of him, he would have loved it when his belly was full and hated it when it was empty. The invention of things he would appreciate. New phones. New technologies. New political leaders, new wars. Cronuts. New Star Wars movies.

“Postscript,” Cecelia Ahern

…and this is a true thing. She would barely recognize the person I am now, despite my mostly-never-changing face. I’m more than twice as old now as I was when she died. Pre-1996 Steven was much more of a live-action Muppet than present-day Steven. I’m quieter now than I used to be, less boisterous. Her death was a catalyst for the path my life took afterward.

I’m certain that my friends have noticed in the years since that I take a truly insane number of photographs. I take pictures at family gatherings, parties, special events, and even just regular day-to-day things. (Seriously, let me show you my astonishing collection of photos of the avocado toast I’ve eaten over the years.) I’ve taken tens of thousands of photos in the last decade or so, and part of that is because of her. There are no photographs of her and me together. I have only one photograph of her, just one. It’s off to the right there. I realized years later that I needed more photographs of all the people in my life because you never know when you won’t have another chance to take their picture.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I had been able to save her. The question, “what if I’d been there that day,” is a slow-burning poison, because it’s not something that can be changed. And if it could be changed, it would unravel the fabric of the person I’ve become in the years since. Less than two years after her funeral, I made a decision to enroll at the University of Central Florida to finish my degree. In the years since then, I’ve owned a home. I’ve traveled extensively. I’ve had more than a few failed relationships. I’ve come to know my own heart more precisely than younger me did. I’m not certain that any of that would have been in my path if she was still alive. It’s a dark trade-off to consider, but it’s another true thing.

Whenever I write about her, I feel self-indulgent and mawkish, and it’s NEVER what I was trying to say. My words are never equal to the burden of my heart. I will probably delete this post after a day or so.

Here’s to you, Vanessa. You changed my world when you were alive, but you changed it even more when you died.

Would a younger you recognize the person you are today?

8/52

Mulled Wine on a Cold Day

Today is Pepper Day!   While Nano Poblano is only in November, Pepper Day is the 22nd day of every month, so it's extra Peppery!  Post something today.  A blog, a photo, a poem- anything at all! Tag it PepperDay!  Enjoy, and Happy Peppering!

A few weeks back, I mentioned the seasonal return of eggnog and Glühwein, and while I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my nog all this time, it wasn’t until a few days ago that I finally had a chance to crack open the bottle of Glühwein I picked up from Trader Joe’s.

A quick refresher about the beverage: Glühwein is mulled wine, served warm. I’ve talked about it a number of times on this blog. It’s usually part of my retelling of going to a Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) with friends.

I don’t think I’ve ever talked about sharing Glühwein with office-mates, though. I spent three Decembers working in a German office, and it was a semi-regular occurrence during the season that someone would heat up a bottle or two of Glühwein or Glögg on the stove, and then would summon everyone to the office kitchen to share in the drink. (Glögg is also mulled wine like Glühwein, but it’s from Sweden instead of Germany.)

We would linger around the kitchen and enjoy the drink and chat about absolutely anything. Sometimes there were seasonal treats, like Stollen, which I do not like at all. Even the Muslim guy who didn’t drink alcohol would still come to the kitchen and hang out. Technically, drinking at work was against the rules. I don’t feel bad about spilling the tea though, because the company no longer exists and it’s fairly unlikely anyone will get in trouble now.

Connoisseurs of Glühwein will tell you not to heat it in the microwave, since the delicate blend of spices can be easily damaged by that much rapid heat. Instead, you should pour your preferred drink into a pot and heat it gradually over the stove. Stir it often, and don’t let it come to a boil!

Once the drink is heated, pour it into an appropriate vessel to drink it. Coffee mugs are fine, but I chose to use my glass from the 2013 Kuchlbauer Christmas Market in Abensberg. In hindsight, I wish I had thought to keep one souvenir glass from every Christkindlmarkt I attended over the years, but I only ever brought this one home.

Have you had Glühwein this year?

53/52! Goal achieved!

Prowling on little cat feet, December is upon us.

While I have been writing a post for every day of November to be a part of NanoPoblano, I have also been reading the posts of the other Peppers. Their lives and their writings are amazing, and I am reminded of something Ray Bradbury said:

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”

– from “Zen in the Art of Writing,” by Ray Bradbury

It’s been lovely to watch each of my NanoPoblano compatriots tipping themselves over each day. I wanted to also say thank you to those of you who spent time reading along and commenting during this NanoPoblano month- having comments to read and interact with made it a far more entertaining venture than simply writing into the void.

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do for the last post of November- I considered a recap of the month, but considering how much I dislike clip shows on tv, that seemed ill advised.

I considered a few brief thoughts on some random links and articles that I’ve been collecting all month, like geese and egg creams and weird winter relationship rituals, but I don’t think I want to do that right now. Maybe I’ll come back to that in December.

I thought for a while that perhaps I’d talk about all the things that I want to do when the pandemic is over, or the things I’m looking forward to coming up. I don’t want to do that now, though, because looking forward when there’s still so much Covid to endure just seems like a special new form of torture. We’re not there yet.

I considered wrapping up with a post I’ve had stewing for a while about St. Elmo’s Fire, growing up, and suffering through limerence… but that post isn’t cooked all the way through yet, and if I serve it too early, it will give my friends food poisoning.

I thought about posting some photographs of food, because good lord I sure do take a lot of photos of food, but this isn’t Instagram and I’m not a food blogger, although I sometimes pretend to play one on TV.

I thought I would have trouble coming up with something to write about every day this month, but I never really wanted for ideas, even if sometimes those ideas were a little cheesy, and even if sometimes I had trouble finding the time and concentration to make them real.

I am delighted by the fact that I can make a blog post out of all the things I’m not making into a blog post. I like the weird symmetry of that.

One last thing, before I turn my attention to an unrelated but very important piece of bloggery… I cannot believe that not a single one of you commented on my “Chairman Meow” joke during the Hong Kong posts!

And now for something completely different:

As we roll into December, I begin the annual challenge of Whamageddon. The rules are very simple:

  1. The objective is to go as long as possible without hearing Wham!’s Christmas classic; “Last Christmas”.
  2. The game starts on December 1st, and ends at midnight on December 24th. (I use my local time zone, but not everyone follows the rules in an identical way.)
  3. You’re out as soon as you recognize the song.
  4. Only the original version applies. Remixes and covers do not send you to the fields of Whamhalla, although they might raise your pulse a bit.
  5. If you like, post on social media with the #whamageddon hashtag when you get hit.
  6. The intention is that this is a survival game, and not a battle royale. In other words, don’t be a dick and don’t play Last Christmas to your friends. No Whammied Rick-Rolls, please.

I play Whamageddon every year, because it’s a really silly bit of fluffery and I enjoy pretending to anguish over my fallen brethren as they ascend to Whamhalla. Two years ago, I was taken out by a Wham-grenade planted by someone I trusted, foolishly. Last year I survived despite some perilous journeys to places where piped in Christmas music is the norm.

This year will be strange. On the one hand, I work from home and live alone, so my media control is pretty straightforward. On the other hand, I sometimes take the metro and go into places where I have no control over what I might hear. Even a walk across the street to get a sandwich might expose me to The Song.

Will you join me on the battlefield? Will you play Whamageddon with me? C’mon, it’ll be fun!

How was your NanoPoblano month? And will you play Whamageddon starting tomorrow?

51/52 (and 30 of 30, y’all! ::dusts off keyboard::)

Five Stars.

I am stingy with my five-star ratings.

I’ve been tracking the books I read on Goodreads.com for about ten years now. 257 of them are in my “read” category, and of those 257, I gave ten books five stars.

When you’re rating a book and you mouse over the stars, here’s what the mouseover text says:

★ - did not like it
★★ - it was ok
★★★ - liked it
★★★★ - really liked it
★★★★★ - it was amazing

Well obviously these are very, very high standards and are not to be taken lightly. Most really great books don’t top a four-star rating for me. The vast majority don’t even break three stars, to be honest. And for me to call a book amazing, it has to blow my socks off in a particularly memorable way.

When DiAnne talked about books all the way back on day 9 of NanoPoblano, I considered a top ten list… but top ten lists shift and shimmy based on mood and the passage of time. My five-star books, on the other hand, remain five stars.

With that in mind, I’d like to share six of the books that I rated five stars on Goodreads.com. These are all fiction, although not all of my top-rated books are.

The Girl Who Drank The Moon – Kelly Barnhill

This book is the newest one on the list by a wide margin, and was also the 2017 Newbery Medal winner. The story is full of magic and moonlight and witches and one Perfectly Tiny Dragon, and I don’t want to say more because it would just spoil the story- you only get a first time reading book this magical once. This is technically written for young readers, but I enjoyed it perfectly well as an adult. The story definitely did not go where I expected it to go, and I’m in love with half the characters, especially the aforementioned Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Really now, who doesn’t want their own Perfectly Tiny Dragon companion?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (series) – Douglas Adams

The link above is to the “Ultimate” edition, which really just means “five of the novels and a short story.” I love this entire series, end to end, and I have for most of my life. I started reading this series when I was about nine years old, and I remember being absolutely delighted when new books in the series kept coming out over the following years- my first exposure with the habit of great genre titles to make you wait for the next installment.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide series has been books, radio shows, an LP, a television miniseries, still more radio shows, comic books, trading cards, and so much more. When I went to Edinburgh in 2012, the entire trip was built around the fact that the cast of the radio show was doing a live performance, with Neil Gaiman as the voice of The Guide. Going to that show was the culmination of three decades of love for the HHG franchise. The entire series is fluffy good fun and I enjoy re-reading it once every few years.

Pyramids – Terry Pratchett

While all of the Discworld novels are entertaining, the seventh book in the series is somewhat separate from the rest of them- it has no shared characters from the rest of the series, and has little to do with the story arcs from the other novels.

The book is a hilarious satire of religion and faith, set in the desert kingdom of Djelibeybi, which is basically Discworld’s answer to Egypt. The story is about a twelve-year-old Pharaoh named Pteppic (the P is silent), newly graduated from the Assassin’s Guild, as he tries to meet his responsibilities, build a pyramid for his recently deceased father, and deal with a headstrong handmaiden named Ptracy. (Again, the P is silent.) There are mad priests, sacred crocodiles, and a mathematical genius named You Bastard who happens to be a camel.

I’ve always been a little bit fascinated by Egyptian culture, pyramids, and the like, so this was just a delight to read from cover to cover.

Stranger In A Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange Land is another one that I like to re-read every so often. First released in 1961, it tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human being who was raised on Mars, away from any other humans. The story begins with his return to Earth, and shows him learning to deal with other people and their complicated lives for the first time. So-called “Human Nature” is alien to him, and he introduces the world to his own beliefs and values.

This book is the origin of the term grokking, or “to grok,” a word that has its own Wikipedia page and is now in the dictionary. The Library of Congress named it one of 88 “Books that Shaped America.”

It’s really, really good.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch – Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

Whenever someone asks me what my favorite book is, I usually answer this one. I love it dearly and it’s another one that I re-read once every few years. Here’s what it’s about:

What if the end of the world was going to happen next Saturday, just after tea, and the major players in the end times have misplaced the antichrist? This book is the story of that eventuality. Among the very large cast of characters is Aziraphale, the answer to “what if C-3PO was a fussy angel instead of a fussy droid,” a fast-talking, fast-living demon named Crowley, witches, Witchfinders, hellhounds, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and of course the antichrist.

Good Omens was notably adapted for television last year, and that was one program I had been waiting for since the first time I read the book in the early 1990s. I was utterly convinced that it was completely unfilmable, but if modern technology can give us a convincing Balrog and an updated Howard the Duck, it can certainly show us the end of the world. It turned out to be completely delightful and I’m incredibly happy with it, but it still only captured about two-thirds of the wonderfulness that is this hilarious, amazing book.

Still Life With Woodpecker – Tom Robbins

While most of this books listed in this post are in no particular order, I chose this one for last because it is the only title that is neither science fiction nor fantasy. Still Life was written by Tom Robbins in 1980, and it concerns the love affair between a red-headed environmentalist princess and an outlaw.

The novel repeatedly addresses the question of “how to make love stay.” Although it is set in more or less the real world, it most definitely has elements of fantasy. It is at times quite funny as well.

As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve also been looking at other people’s reviews of these books on Goodreads, and this one is divisive- a great many people leaving reviews did not like Still Life With Woodpecker. Ah, well, to each their own.

What are some of your top-rated favorite books?

50/52 (and 29 of 30!)