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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Almost the Oatmeal

Got to the Spokane Poetry Slam at the Lantern Tap House last Sunday.  The only other time I competed was six months ago.  It's good to be among writers.  It's less and less weird to be around people who know me as "Eighty Six".

Last time I felt I did great.  I delivered with strength from memory and only paused to remember once.  I entertained the crowd.  The judges, however, were not amazed.  I was one-tenth of a point from last place.  Now, at a Slam judges are chosen voluntarily from the audience.  Often they need to be pushed.  The sport prefers judges without much poetry experience or preconceived anything.

So you never take the numbers too seriously.

This time I finished two-tenths of a point out of third.  I did stumble a bit on my second piece.  Ironically, it was the one I thought I knew best: "She Scratch the Record".  My first piece was new and I was worried about that.

So a stumble kept me out of third.  Had I finished #3, I would have bumped the Slam points leader Chris Cook into fourth, scored one point myself and won third place prize.  First place was $50.  For second and third: a box of oatmeal.  Peaches & Cream and Apple Cinnamon, respectively.  My wife and kiddos eat Apple Cinnamon all the time. My sons would have probably preferred the oatmeal over $50, which is inedible.

Don't worry about us.  We still have oatmeal in the pantry.  Nobody's starving because I got excited and hurdled a couple of lines and had to back-track.

Yet, I would have liked the point.  I have a realistic chance of finishing in the top eight and therefore getting a shot at the finals in May.  A top four finish there would give me a chance to represent Spokane at the National Poetry Slam.  I just have to finish up strong.

Travis Naught took second.  Never anything wrong with finishing behind him.  Always funny, sharp and in touch with himself.

And Katie Laughlin just crushed it.  Both of her pieces successfully established a core metaphor and carried it through, with a balance of smart and sexy the way the crowd likes it.  Halfway through her second reading I though "yeah, she can beat me" before catching the second meaning.

Well, close but no oatmeal.

PS: Writing on the blog daily is nuts.  I can do it, but I'll write little else.  More important to me is finishing the Marcel story by July and finding another place to write about football.  I'll still be putting stuff here, but that rigid schedule I mentioned two weeks ago is out the window.

Friday, February 14, 2014

How To Buy Cigars

Some places on this planet, it's tough finding good cigars.  I have very few choices.

A couple of shops with limited selection where a good stick costs at least $7 are within 10 miles of me.  These shops are open regular business hours and are not there for me when I have a late night want.

I can go to the cigar bar I used to work at where I'll spend at least $12 for one but most likely will spend a couple hours there, have a few drinks and drop a bill.  That's if I don't go to the attached casino.

But I'm a cheap dude and work late.  If I want a puff after midnight, I have to plan ahead.

Good news.  This is the 21st century.  And every once in a while, I do plan ahead.  I've learned a couple things about getting good cigars at good prices.

Step One: Get a humidor.  I posted on that last week.  Get it seasoned.  Now you can buy in bulk and store them.

Step Two: Buy some cigars.  You want one now.  Just buy a few.  Put them in your box.  Read "Cigar for the End of the World".  Now you can be patient for a good deal.  

Step Three: Sign up for the mailing list on the following sites and a few more.  Make looking for deals a hobby.  Things go on sale for 60% off or more all the time.  You just need to wait for a bargain to pop up on something you like someplace.  Easier to do with a cigar in your jaw and a few in your humidor.

These guys seem to have the best buying power of anyone.  Always grabbing things for their closeout corner.  Always putting good stuff on sale.  Check them daily.  The Joe Cigar deal is great.  They always do a weekly and a weekend sale plus occasional 24 hour deals.  When you see a good one, pounce.

They rival CI in ability to get great product at great prices.  Plus, I can always find a free shipping plus 10% off coupon online.  Just search for "thompson cigar coupon".  I hate paying for shipping.  Avoid their cigar club, unless you consume mass quantities.  They'll want to auto-ship you stuff that's not as cheap or good as you like.

Not as solid as the other two, but they produce their own house brands that are good buys.  So does Thompson, but I've tried neither.  I always find a name brand one I like for a good price.

Also with a solid selection and good sales.  You never know when a steal will show up.  Keep an eye on them.

This is where I got my humidor.  They have a questionable selection of cigars, but you can nab a combo deal.

Bottom Line
Make shopping online a hobby.  Get on the mailing list for a bunch of sites and cruise them.  Stuff goes on sale for only hours sometimes.  When you run into 10 LGC Serie Ns for $37 plus a $10 gift card, grab them.  Tomorrow, they will be gone.

Happy smoking and shopping.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What My Gorgeous Illustrator Did in our Dining Room

When you buy a house, you fill it up with all the things you need: appliances and furniture.  You do necessary repairs.  You customize things, like new paint and curtains.  Then you have these blank spaces on the walls.

We bought a new dining room table built from dark wood.  We repainted the kitchen and dining room in a warm soft brown.  Then we needed something over the table.  Too much wall.  Not enough personality.

So my wife got some canvases.  She's fond of multi-panel works and did an attention-grabbing triptych for our entry way.  She imagined a four-panel rectangular collection in the shape of a window.

She got to work.  She created some patterns I liked then painted over them.  Her standards are always higher than mine.  Eventually she had a finished product utilizing the primary colors from the room.  To me, it reminds me of rising steam, growing trees and lightning.

Now, she always disagrees with me because she lacks confidence in her own ability, but I know she can do more of this.  With practice, she can expand on this style and do custom pieces based on primary colors in any environment.  "No, I can never do that," she would say.

How to bring out confidence in a budding artist?  It takes positive feedback from unbiased sources.  To have your husband say it is great is one thing.  To hear it from a stranger is another entirely.

On the eve of Valentine's Day, I'll take this platform to express my ongoing adoration for my wife.  This painting style encapsulates what she brings to my life.  She knows how to strip away all that's unimportant.  She can make something beautiful from something simple.  She is a gently curving collection of ribbons.

And women who paint are sexy.

Miluji tě,  Miláčku.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What is a Ten-By-Ten Poem?

I'm not saying I invented it.  Not saying that at all. The world of poetry is huge.  Somewhere someone at some time in history or today is using the same form.  But I didn't get it from anywhere.  It just made sense.

The Ten-By-Ten.  Ten syllables per line.  Ten lines per stanza.  A nice little hundred syllable machine for performing poetic work.

It's like a shortened sonnet.  A square window.  Anyway, I've written about it for Bright Hub.

Then read this:


Two dudes walk down stairs, around the bend, bounce
Into a pair of ladies. Eyelashes.
Green eyes and blue. Brunette and blonde. Done up.
Bright smiling teeth, earrings twinkle like ice,
Flowers and gems in their hair, showing throat
And neck, dresses fit right, curving from top
To bottom. They whisper and climb the stairs.
High-heels. Calves. Tassels on skirts, hips swishing.
“Come down off the ceiling,” Will says to Chance,
Slugs his shoulder. “You sprang like a kitten.”

“Those things scare me to death,” Chance says. “Spooky.”
Will gets more beer. “Those things? Explain yourself.”
Chance sips. “What if they don't like me? Say no.
I talk to the next girls. They don't like me.”
Will throws up his hands. “Who cares? Their problem.”
“But wait...” Chance holds up one finger. “What if
It works?” He takes a deep swig. “She likes me,
Wants to have my kids, a house. My whole life:
Me and her?” He looks around at sculptures,
Paintings, dresses and suits. “That's scary stuff.”

The chandelier hangs with glass slippers, lit
With neon tubes. Will shrugs. “I don't think 'scared'
Is the right word.” Chance lifts his eyebrows. “Oh?
Increased heart rate. Sweaty palms. Trembling hands.
Adrenalin. You start hunting for doors.”
He leans against the wall. Looks left and right.
“You're creeping through the jungle. A tigress
Leaps out and stares you down. How do you feel?”
He kills his beer. Hands in pockets, he drifts
Past tasteful male nudes and cryptic abstracts.

They re-climb the stairs, stroll the mezzanine
Over a sea of slick-haired gents in silk,
Ladies with pearls, curls, and plunging necklines,
Pairs towing each other from art to art.
A canvas covered in bright red lip-prints
To form a field of flowers. A collage
Of scavenged kitchenware, pot-shards, hot-glue.
“You know, I didn't meet Jane being scared,”
Will reminds Chance, who laughs. “You got lucky,
Captain Braveheart. Pulled her name from a hat.”

Will shrugs. “So I scored a hot lab partner.
Had the nuts to ask her out.” Chance nods: “True.”
They stop. The brunette and blond have found friends,
Chat and giggle in a ring. One's pregnant.
They rub the bump, coo, and pass ultrasounds.
“Feel that kick?” Chance makes eye-contact, blushes.
“Going for more drinks,” Will says. “Good luck, bro.”
Chance takes his hands from his pockets, freezes
Between the group of girls and the back door:
“Emergency Exit. Alarm Will Sound.”

Now write your own for me.  If I like it, I'll put it here.  Put it in the comments and I'll have no choice.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

My Three Culinary Shadows

Three pantry ingredients I can no longer be without.  Each member of the trio brings an essential element, but lurking deeper within are mysterious savory subtleties.

I cannot be without molasses, balsamic vinegar and soy sauce.  I mix them together for marinades, glazes and vinaigrettes.  I use them as a triangular base to build bigger flavors.

They each come from different parts of the world, but combine to create something of a different planet entirely: sticky yet sharp, sweet yet earthy, salty and round.

Let me tell you what I love about each of the Three Shadows:

Molasses: The dark, syrupy by-product of extracting sugar from the cane.  White sugar bores me.  I prefer turbinado sugar for my dry rub and molasses for wet applications.  Molasses brings sweetness, but also a savory rich darkness.

Umami.  That fifth flavor, along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter.  I like my ingredients to bring more than just one note to the song.

Soy Sauce: Fermented soy beans with roasted grain, salt and yeast.  Aged then filtered and bottled.  From wine and beer to salami, kim chi and bread, where would we be without fermentation?

For allergy reasons, we use Tamari gluten-free in my house.  I often use soy sauce instead of salt.  Together with molasses, it balances the sweet with salty while delivering its own version of umami.

Balsamic Vinegar: The boiled and aged pressings of Trebbiano grapes.  Reduced over the years in casks of various woods.  I'm not using the century old stuff here.  Just the $3 a bottle stuff.

It brings that necessary tangy acidity with its own sweet woodsiness.  I like vinegar for providing a penetrating sourness and aroma.  It adds tart to the sweet and salt of the other Shadows, again with its own style of umami.

Where's the Heat?

The only core flavor not represented here is spicy. Add it in your own favorite way.  A hot sauce of some sort would be appropriate.  Something smokey like a chipotle works well.  If simmering the Three Shadows into a thicker sauce, chili flakes or poblano peppers make a good fourth player.

Already Asia, Italy and the Caribbean are represented.  Pick a spice from anywhere on the globe you like.  You know the heat tolerance of your audience.  Don't burn them.  Just wake them up.

How Will You Use Them?

Play around as you like, but here are three ideas:

Vinaigrette: Add one part each to three parts of toasted sesame oil.  Heat the molasses first or it will be too thick to mix.  Add Sriracha or another chili sauce to taste.  Shake well.  Adjust the proportion of Three Shadows to suit your preferences for salt, sweet and acidic.  Put this on salad, cooked vegetables or whatever you like.

Glaze: Add the Three Shadows in equal parts to a saucepan.  Add dried or fresh whole chilies.  Apply low heat and stir often.  Reduce it to the consistency of honey.  Remove the chilies.  Then drizzle over your favorite cooked meats and grill quickly.  Do not allow it to burn.  Or place the cooked meat directly into the pan and stir to coat.

Marinade: Microwave the molasses until warm then stir in the other Two Shadows.  Add hot sauce to taste.  Consider adding dried herbs or a squeeze of citrus.  Place in a zip-top bag or sealed container with your meat.  Top off with apple juice, wine or beer.  For small pieces of meat, let rest in the refrigerator at least overnight.  For larger cuts, marinate for a few days if possible.

I will revisit my friends, the Three Shadows, with future recipes in more detail.  Until then, play around with them and enjoy.