Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Joy of Jalapeños and Other Green Things

Growing up, I never saw a plant reach maturity. Every plant that came within a 50 foot radius of my parents' house had about thirty seconds to pull up its roots and skedaddle to Goshen before the dreaded Hales Blight would begin to curl its gnarled fingers around its stem and squeeze the living photosynthesis out of it. Even my stalwart cactus, Ernest, which proved to be more resilient to the blight than other plants, ultimately succumbed and shriveled into something resembling Mick Jagger before a Botox treatment.

Memories of Ernest and the other dead plants of my childhood have made me wary whenever my wife has suggested that we grow something. So, when we started buying seeds and tilling a large garden in our backyard, I kept thinking to myself "Maybe we should buy some pigs, too, for when our garden turns into a GIANT MUD HOLE."

Of course, I never said that out loud. That would have made me the pig in the mud hole, so to speak.

As usual, though, my fears were unfounded. The garden flourished and I learned that a cucumber tastes a lot better when you don't have to pay for it. And that tomatoes are the rabbits or Angelina Jolies of the vegetable world.

I also have learned that the jalapeño are a fun pepper to have around. No one in my family really likes hot peppers, so the jalapeño plant has kind of become my Giving Tree. Whenever I need to feel better about myself, I head out to the jalapeño plant and exploit it for all it's worth. So far I've made jalapeño sauce, salsa, and pickled jalapeño. I also have dreams of baking jalapeño poppers as soon as I figure out what a "popper" is.

Getting back to my Giving Tree comparison, though, my jalapeño plant is no piece of self-less greenery; if you take from it, it takes from you--with a vengeance. As I was making my jalapeño sauce, the fumes from from the stewing peppers nearly turned my throat into jerky. My wife had to evacuate the kids to the upstairs floor where we keep the gas masks and HAM radio. It also solved our ant problem.

Then, later, when I was chopping up jalapeños for homemade salsa, I made the mistake of touching my lips before washing the jalapeño juice off my fingers. That's not something I'd recommend doing, folks. Even if you don't like your lips.

So far, the only jalapeño recipe that hasn't hurt me has been the pickled jalapeños. Don't be surprised, though, if you hear that I've spent a week in the hospital for botulism.

Anyway, I'm happy to say that the Hales Blight is not a problem in my wife's garden. Which is great since I have no clue where to buy a pig.

A Low-Tech Endorsement

My loyal acolyte, Brandon L. Brooks, writes a blog called "Barch's Blog." While it is not as entertaining as the Low-Tech World, it is not a bad place to go to find out about architecture, music, politics, technology, and anything else Brandon feels like writing about.

I bring this up only because Brandon recently reminded me that the Low-Tech World has been "deader than Ted Kennedy" lately. (Those were, to the best of my knowledge, Brandon's exact words--slightly paraphrase.) I also bring it up because Brandon wants more people to read his blog and learn his opinions on Jim Croce and Michelle Obama's fashion sense.

So, if you want something good to read--go here.

Also, if you want to make my day, leave a phrase of my choosing as a comment on his most recent posting "Dashcode and Eclipse," which is his pro-"Team Jacob" review of the most recent Twilight movie.

The phrase is: "Large Marge sent me."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Seems Cool. Nice Guy. Overall, Terrible.

My more loyal readers will remember that I once received some negative feedback from a few--well, more than a few--angry students. I am happy to report that I have not repeated that experience. Selling out is a small price to pay for a good review.

That's a joke, by the way.

Still, I continue to have a low rating on ratemyprofessors.com, that nefarious online soapbox for yellow-bellied students who have nothing better to do than ruin teachers' lives...anonymously.

Here are the two negative things that have been said about me, neither of which is very original or clever:
"Got and NP [NOTE: that's kind of like an "F," but not really] for no apparent reason. Really hard on grading compared to other professors I've had. We're not all in English majors, and seems to completely disregard that fact. Overall, terrible."
"Seems cool. He is a nice guy, but he is really hard. He expects a lot from his students, like everyone is in an english major."
Ironically, the first review--which I think is the more angry of the two--rated me as "average quality," while the second review--which is shamefully passive-aggressive in its attempt to compliment me--rated me as "poor quality".

The one good review that I got says this:
"requires a decent amount of work, but if you put in a good amount of time and work, you will do well."
Of course, this review is something of a Pyhrric victory since its author forgot to capitalize the first word of the sentence. Still, I'm glad he or she wrote "you will do well" rather than "you will do good". That nearly justified my continued existence on earth.

Obviously, I don't take ratemyprofessors.com seriously. In fact, I don't care what people write about me on the internet.

It's not like anyone important gets on the internet.

Besides, I really shouldn't take anything to heart that was written by someone who was bored enough to log on to ratemyprofessors.com, seek out my name, and slander me and my posterity.

Good grief!

One thing that does bother me about my reviews on ratemyprofessors.com, though, is my "hotness" rating. "Just for fun," the website offers students the option to rate their professor's appearance as "hot" or "not". When professors are rated "hot," they get a red-hot chili pepper icon next to their name. So far, I don't have a chili next to my name.

I guess my students didn't see that part of the survey.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol: A Review

Recently, I picked up a copy of Dan Brown's newest novel The Lost Symbol (Doubleday, 2009). Although I hated Brown's last novel (the best-selling cheese festival, The Da Vinci Code), and doubted whether I even had the time to read all 509 pages of this one, I decided to give it a try.

I started reading it last week, but I only made it through the second sentence. Here is why:

"The secret is how to die.
Since the beginning of time, the secret had always been how to die" (3).

That is a direct quote, folks: the first two sentences of the book.

"Since the beginning of time"...come on, Dan Brown, you're a professional novelist! You can do better than a college freshman!

Call me picky, but that's why I stopped reading the book. I couldn't get past those lame first sentences. Besides, I still need to finish the fourth Twilight novel.

Better luck next time, Mr. Brown.

(Also, just in case anyone was wondering, I didn't buy the book. I checked it out of the library using one of those handy self-check-out machine that make it possible for you to check out any book, DVD, or CD without worrying about whether or not the librarian is judging you.)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ballet Recitals and Little League Failure

Last month my oldest daughter had her first dance recital. She did about as well as any five year old could do with limited dance experience and a tea cup tied to her head.

Going into the recital, I was nervous for her. I had spent the past week worrying that she would be the kid everyone in the audience felt sorry for. Images of her tripping over her ballet slippers or falling off the stage kept me awake at night.

Worst of all, I spent too much time worrying that I would finally learn what it must have felt like for my parents to watch me embarrass myself during the one summer I played little league baseball. I was an extraordinarily untalented right fielder back in '87. To this day I don't blame my parents for wearing dark glasses and false beards at each game. I would have too. After all, what parent wants to admit that their kid's the one who clears his throat every time the coach tells him to "choke up," or who squints like Popeye every time someone tells him to keep his eye on the ball?

Fortunately, after watching the opening act of the recital--a thrilling tap-dance number by a chorus line of elderly hoofers--I realized that I had nothing to be embarrassed about.

As it turned out, my daughter did a fine job. All the worry was for nothing. Still, one of the hardest parts of parenting is letting your kids get into situations where they could fail and bring shame upon the family. But these situations are a part of growing up. If you deny them to your kids, you run the risk of them turning into Boo Radley--or worse, professional bloggers.

Of course, I sometimes wonder if I would have been better off as a Boo Radley than a failed little league right fielder. I mean, that definitely would have stopped my chain-smoking ex-coach from suing my parents.