Author Archive

To the Beginning Gardener

So you’re feeling all green and one with the Earth and you decide that a backyard garden is an awesome way to get food. You are right. It is. But don’t let an idyllic picture of a smiling be-aproned lady picking perfect tomatoes be your guide. Let ME do it instead, with my huge filthy boots and many sharp implements.

This is how it starts. There ain’t much to look at.

Choose Wisely – Pick food and flowers you like. Don’t randomly plant shit and then let it get overrun by weeds and/or rot because you didn’t realize you’ll have to eat all those peas or whatever. Generally, if it’s just you, one or two plants will make you all the food of that sort that you would want. So, 1 tomato, 1-2 cukes, 1 zucchini, etc. Multiply accordingly if you got other members of the household who are gonna want some. Be aware that zucchini is prolific as hell.

Equip yourself – Gloves, trowel or weeder, a small spade, a shovel, an action hoe, a rake, a hose with watering attachment, scissors and a knife, and a plastic tub with a watertight lid to keep it all safe in the garden somewhere so you don’t have to lug it all back and forth (this is specific to apartment dwellers and others who end up with community garden situations). You and I both know you’ll just forget it and use the lack of equipment as an excuse to be useless. I know the shovel won’t fit. Leave all that shit out if you gotta, but hopefully you can hide them out of the rain somewhere. At least don’t leave them lying around. It’ll eventually lead to comical happenings that you won’t find comical post-concussion. Continue reading

The Ocean at The End of the Lane: Not an Actual Review of the Book, I Don’t Think

ImageAs you fall asleep, images and sounds and sensations start to move in an almost rollercoaster way, you hold on to what makes sense, dream-sense, and your dream begins. Sometimes I dream about shapes. Just shapes, swirling through blackness, and I think they are small, but they are not, and I am shocked and delighted by my mistake when I realize it. Some of the most impressive things in the world are impressive because of their size. Every waterfall mesmerizes because it is impossible to comprehend just how much water is falling and from how high up.

Franz Kafka was able to put the endless paradox of dreams into words and into a narrative, and Neil Gaiman has been using this device throughout his works, which is what makes him one of my favorite authors.

With The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Gaiman succeeded in transporting the reader to that hidden part of their mind that is only accessible in dreams. He did this even more successfully than he was able to with the Sandman graphic novels, where a great deal of the story took place in dreamscape.

The novel is about a man who remembers being seven years old and what happened when his fate found him. He isn’t having a particularly good time, feeling rejected, forgotten, and hides in his books. His childhood isn’t the kind that people feel nostalgic about, and as an adult he does not miss it. But then this lonely child makes a friend. The event that leads to the friendship is tainted with tragedy, but only tainted, because the story is told through a seven-year-old’s perspective and joy can be found in the smallest things even as the world crumbles. Our nameless protagonist moves between what is hard reality and then fuzzy magic-imbued reality and the transitions are seamless and matter-of-fact. And that is all I’m willing to give away about the plot. Continue reading

Behaviorism and Monsters

So I read a completely fictional book a while ago called “John Dies at the End” and part of the hilarious, but nightmarish plot was an idea that monsters from an alternate dimension are currently training Earth children to become a fighting force numb to empathy and remorse. The way they did it was by introducing video games that were increasingly violent. That’s what started my mind turning.

A (not so) quick psychology lesson on behaviorism before I go into the thought that’s been festering in my mind all morning and has finally burst, spreading it’s pus of paranoia and hormonal imbalance and becoming this article.

These days we call behaviorism ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis. You break each task you want to teach, or maybe learn, into small steps, and focus on each step as a goal until it’s achieved, then move on to the next step, reinforcing presenting behaviors as appropriate to your overall target. It’s really operant conditioning that I’m talking about, the proverbial “carrot and stick.” I’m also talking about shaping, one of the most powerful tools psychologists have.

With operant conditioning, you encourage each step with a reinforcer of some sort, prearranging that behavior. With shaping you look for naturally occurring behaviors that you want to reinforce to ensure they are the ones happening more often until maybe a competing behavior is gone completely.

The point is to change a behavior one very small step at a time. However, this approach is used in a social context, so it’s not just scientists screwing with rats and pigeons and whatnot. So we use it to teach kids with autism how to follow routines in school, though conditioning is truly a part of everything we do to teach anyone anything. How often do you tell someone who helped you that you appreciated it? Guess what, you just conditioned that person to help you again in the future. And you know what? The reason you said thanks is because you’re conditioned to praise behaviors you’d like repeated. Like I said, it’s everywhere.

Now onto what’s really on my mind: the brain-washing alternate dimension monster and the shooter games I so enjoy. I love shooter games, and believe that even people who don’t give a crap about video games can still rock a shooting game and ask for more.  Why do I like shooting things in video games? Because I don’t get to go on out on the range anymore, and because I still like  the fact that I can hit a target or because I’m instantly rewarded with points, and a rating, and maybe I’ll get more than the other players. This “liking” is a bit of dopamine and adrenaline my brain sends along like a favorite drug dealing uncle.

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On Having the Same Bed-Time as a Five-Year Old

You know what I love? Sleep. I just love the shit out of it! Dreaming, getting all snuggled up in my blankets, reading before bed, hearing the voices in my head get louder and louder until it turns out I’ve crossed the line into the unreality of randomly firing neurons. Oh right, already mentioned dreaming.

Koala sleeping on a tree top
Naps wherever!(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Ever since I confused CrossFit and StrongMan, I’ve been hearing about the Paleo/Primal/Ancestral diet. And as an increasingly obese person, I was motivated to learn and try whatever the hell promised me that my backfat would melt away. As I read about it, it became clear that food, although important, was only a part of a lifestyle overhaul. I realize I’m treading real close to new-age-douche baggery here and will try to mediate it with pictures of cute animals sleeping.

In another post maybe I’ll go more into above-mentioned overhaul, but not today. Advice given to those who are trying to make major changes, is to focus on one thing at a time, and tweak and change it until you feel happy with yourself. This is how I ended up self-imposing an 8:30pm bedtime.

So I gotta get up at 5am. Beelzy and I are trying hard not to drown in our own filth while also eating out as infrequently as possible, and on my end, that means 5am wake ups. Simple math means I need to be asleep by 9 to ensure at least 8 hours.

I decided to try this for 25 days, and like many other things I’ve been trying lately, I think I’m mostly gonna stick to this change.

“But that leaves so little free time,” you may say. Yeah, I guess. I get home around 5, so that’s three and a half hours to… Watch TV? Stare at Facebook? Well, that’s what I used to do when I had more bullshit time to kill. Now it’s just 3.5 hours! Can’t help but take it seriously and do some reading or mess around with the guitar or something….

Kicking Television

YOU ARE MY ZOMBIE GOD NO LONGER!!! (Photo credit: dhammza)

And of course I am less tired, more alert, and way less grumpy at the end of the work day. The nights I do stay out, the sleep debt is insignificant in comparison to how badly it affected me in the past.

20100612 - Food Party in Baltimore - Floristre...

Post-party naps (Photo credit: Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL))

Seemingly unrelated, my quest to become less obese has been helped by this whole lots of sleeping thing. I am literally losing more weight and quicker because I am allowing my body the rest it desires, thereby also allowing it to NOT MAKE ME INSANE. When I am tired, or sad, I tend to want to eat something. Often, it’s something that is either sweet, or salty, or packed with fat. When possible, all three, or at least one of those foods, following another of those foods, followed by another until I can eat no more. Since I now have just enough time to eat dinner, be pleased by life, and then go to bed that whole cycle is utterly moot anyway. But I generally have no need to go there, since as I mentioned, I no longer feel near-dead by 5pm, and don’t feel full of hate.

Internet tells me that this happier, saner, more reasonable being I have become is normal, albeit unheard of in the US.

So fuck conventions! And fuck sleep deprivation pride! You’ve been awake and chugging energy drinks for two days straight? Well, I sleep for at least 8 hours out of every 24, and go to bed at the same time as your preschooler! And it feels gooood!

Baby gorilla having a sleep on his mother

That’s some excellent sleeping there. You’re my hero.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Riding a Bicycle for 20 Miles on a Whim

Summer is winding down in Portland, but we still have sunny days and the weather is still in the 70’s for at least a few hours a day. A few weeks ago we were actually going through one of our approximately 3 heat spells, when the weather got above 80 degrees and stayed there for a few days.We don’t have air conditioners, so steps had to be taken.

d42 and I have been eyeing our bicycles for a few years now, thinking about how we should ride them maybe, instead of just allow them to be one more awkward thing do deal with when moving to yet another apartment. All that eyeing finally culminated in us dragging the bikes out into the sun, dusting them off, spending approximately 2 hours attempting to fill the tires with air, and then, finally, getting on and shakily taking off.

The major factor in bikes finally getting ridden is the 40 mile loop called the Springwater Corridor, which starts downtown Portland, continues to about a mile away from our apartment complex and then actually heads into Gresham (where I work) and continues all the way to Boring, Oregon (must have been an incredibly unexciting settlement). Because we are still New Yorkers, it is in our nature to ignore, if not actively frown upon, anything that attracts attention and could be seen as a landmark. This was taught to us by the thousands of tourists that make Times Square an unendurable excercise in angry shuffling along with an enormous crowd that is never in a hurry. And so, we have never gone on this trail. But it has been there, RIGHT THERE, for more than a year, and Oregon’s healing influence has calmed our minds and soothed our souls enough to allow us to show curiosity in our environment again.

So, without really knowing how far it goes, or what it looks like, we found the entry point and began to ride along the flattest, smoothest, most pleasant road I’ve ever been on. The trail is almost exclusively surrounded by greenery, and even when it does go along a road, you are never actually ON the road with traffic. We rode for a few miles, remembering how pleasant it is to ride a bike on a hot day, and began noticing signs that say “Gresham” and even “Boring.” Turns out that if I was to follow this trail on my bike, I would need to cover eleven miles to get to work. Eleven miles is a lot of miles, we agreed, but decided it would be cool to try and do it anyway.

We continued to ride and sip our water. And ride, and sip. And notice the natural beauty, and marvel at the smoothness of the road, and the fresh air moving past us at a cooling speed. We missed the 5.5 mile mark and only noticed the one that told us we already rode 6. We stopped there to consider. Well, obviously 11 miles isn’t that far, because at 6 we feel awesome. The decision was somehow reached to just, screw it, let’s go for 20. Twenty miles. The trail became somewhat less crowded and we were able to ride side by side, conversing, observing the occasional farm lands around us, and how the sun appeared to be setting. Continue reading

And Now, on Hiking.

As I’ve mentioned before, Beelzy and I are now Oregonians. This is confirmed by the fact that we went on a hike yesterday.

I bought a book many moons ago, called “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland” and it sat on my bookshelf for a while. I would occasionally flip through it, dog-ear pages representing possible future exploration, and do very little else with it.

Last week we finally decided that we are being incredibly lame, and on recommendation of some friends chose Eagle Creek to Punchbowl Falls for our first official venture. I packed my brand new hiking backpack with 2 bananas, a baggy of nuts, 4 Lara Bars, and two large water bottles. The hike was supposed to be 4 miles with minimal elevation and I was possibly overdoing on it with all the food, but whatever! I tend to try and take care of all foreseeable circumstances.

Sometimes, I fail miserably.

I told the GPS to take us to Eagle Creek. Turns out there is a TOWN called Eagle Creek that’s nowhere near the Columbia Gorge, which is where we keep the majority of our waterfalls.

After a moderate freakout due to my occasional OCD-everything-must-go-according-to-plan attitude, I made peace with the fact that we just drove for 30 minutes to go look at an elementary school. We figured out where the hell we were and consulted 60 Hikes for nearby natural wonders. Lo and behold, but there is something called Burnt Lake. It’s a 6 mile hike, so a bit longer than the 4 miles we expected, but still cool! No biggie!

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On Gardening

Mock ye, oh experienced gardeners, but d42 and I, not realizing the intense vegetable power of these creatures planted four zucchini and eight tomatoes. Thankfully, only 2 zucchini came up. So we, still not knowing what was coming, planted some squash next to them. Now we have a slow but insidious war on our hands.

This… is… GARDENING!!!!

See how one of the leaves lost the battle against the onslaught of its neighbor? “You’re beeeeeending it!”

We have both had some doing with gardening, as both our parents dabbled in home grown produce. We even both ended up having an adult figure in our lives who thought giving chickens as a present to small children is totally appropriate, so we have some livestock experience as well. However, this is the very first year that we have undertaken, all on our own, to grow us some veggies.

We live in Oregon now, a state where people grow things, make things, chop wood, climb mountains, and probably once knew the beef they are having for dinner by name. In fact, our apartment complex has set aside a plot of land to parcel out to its tenants based on the knowledge that of COURSE city dwellers will want to keep a vegetable garden out back. So we bought some fencing, tomato cages, sticks, manure, cultivators and other tools, and planted a bunch of seeds in early May.

It begins… with tomatoes.. and a few strawberries

Seeds are deceiving. You look at these tiny shit things and think to yourself, no WAY is this going to become something. Like, 1 in 10 chances this is going to survive and become a thing I can eat. So, instead of carefully planting a single seed or 3 a few inches away from another single seed, we just made a trough and poured a bunch in. We planted many things like that, and so this is what it ended up looking like, even after we realized our mistake and thinned ’em out.

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