10/29/2010

Pac-10 Week 9: Epic Battle

My picks last week were decent, but I horribly missed in choosing Washington over Arizona. I thought missing Nick Foles the Wildcats would struggle. Oops. Still, I managed a 3-1 week that put me 38-12 for the season.

This week's marquee matchup features the Oregon Ducks heading south to take on the USC Trojans. There has been a lot of talk coming out of L.A. from SC players and coaches - and a little from Eugene too - with a lot of focus put on the fact SC is considering this their bowl game because of the NCAA sanctions not allowing them a real bowl game this year.

SC-Oregon is usually a pretty good game, but the dynamic has changed quite a bit. How do I know? Well, there is this article I read - which of course I can't find a link to now - about how SC is preparing for Oregon. And what is that? The Trojans, in trying to prepare their defense for Oregon's extremely fast pace, have their own offense accelerating play calling in practice.

Did I get that right? THE USC has stooped to this? Where is the arrogance, the feeling that it didn't matter what anyone else did?

Wow. Anyone else think there is no chance in hell this would happen if Pete Carroll were still around and not coaching the mediocre Seattle Seahawks?

I'm curious to see if it works. Will SC's offense be out of synch because of it? Or will they really push the tempo as well? And will it help SC's defense to practice against that style for two weeks? I personally would think it would take longer than two weeks for SC's offense to actually be able to simulate the speed, but then again I've never played, so who knows.

One thing I do know is this is going to be a very entertaining game. I think the over/under on total points scored should be something like 84.5 - and no, I'm not kidding. It's going to take 45+ to win this game. Maybe 50+.

THE TIERS

Tier 1 - Oregon

Tier 2 - Stanford

Tier 3 - Arizona, USC, California, UCLA, Washington, Oregon State, Arizona State

Tier 50 - Washington State
 
No changes this week. Nothing happened in last week's games to convince me my theory that those seven teams can beat or lose to each other on any given Saturday. However, this week I do believe we'll see some separation.
 
SCHEDULE
 
On to this week's schedule. As always, all game times are Pacific time, followed by the network and the pick. Also, the network and whether or not it's on TV is for Portland - some games may be televised regionally, so if you live in a home market, check your local listings. Rankings are in parentheses (AP, USA Today). The BCS rankings will be ignored for now (and no, not because of what they have done to Oregon).
 
12:30pm - Arizona (15, 16) at UCLA, Fox Sports Northwest - Arizona
12:30pm - California at Oregon State (33t, NR), Fox College Sports Pacific - Oregon State
4pm - Washington State at Arizona State, No TV - Arizona State
4pm - Stanford (13, 14) at Washington, Versus - Stanford
5pm - Oregon (1, 1) at USC (24, *), ABC - Oregon
 
* USC is not eligible for the USA Today Coaches Poll because of NCAA sanctions.
 
While I'm typically on the side of every game should be on TV, I really can't complain about Wazzu-ASU not getting any air time. Yuck. ASU, Zona, and Stanford probably don't need any justification. As for OSU over Cal - the Bears play well about every other week...and they scored 50 last week. The winner of this game is a contender for a Holiday Bowl berth, possibly. The loser? Let's just say losing wouldn't be a good thing.
 
UNDEFEATED WATCH
 
I'm starting this little feature today and yes, this is because of Oregon. Sure, they are #2 in the BCS, but it doesn't matter, honestly. As long as they keep winning they will be fine - any undefeated team from a major conference will be in the championship game (sorry Boise State, Utah, and TCU, but it's true).
 
There are currently seven teams still undefeated: Utah, TCU, Boise State, Oregon, Missouri, Auburn, and Michigan State. Boise already won this week and I've talked about Oregon enough, but what about everyone else?
 
Auburn plays at Ole Miss against Jeremiah Masoli (who is playing well there). Auburn should win.
 
TCU visits a horrible UNLV team and should win handily.
 
Michigan State, the team I think is the weakest of the undefeateds, has to go on the road to Iowa. It would be nice to see Iowa eradicate the Big 10 from national championship contention.
 
Missouri is on the road at Nebraska, which will be a very difficult game for them. I think the Huskers win.
 
Utah will visit a pesky Air Force team, but should also win handily.
 
Every single one of these games has BCS implications, so if you are interested in who is playing in a BCS game I suggest keeping tabs on the scores.

MISAKI
 
Misaki is less than impressed with the idea of a "Golden Bear" and picks the Beavers (I know, big shock).
 
This "Golden Bear" sounds like a big wuss...
 
This Saturday should be very interesting...

10/28/2010

Royal Meow Spoils Our Royalty

Earlier this month I did a post extolling the virtues of the new cat castle we bought our Bengals from Royal Meow. Now, being the proud Bengal owner I am, I noticed Royal Meow had a section on their website with a gallery of various happy kitties on their Royal Meow merchandise, and I thought: "Hey, why shouldn't our cute little guys be on there?!"

So I dutifully emailed the link to Royal Meow, thanked them for a great product, and offered up any of those pics for the gallery if they were so inclined. I didn't in the least anticipate or expect what happened next. (As always, click the picture for a full-screen version. Also, depending on your browser settings, clicking it again could make it even larger.)


Royal Meow emailed me back and thanked me for the blog post and then asked if my cats, the destructive Bengal beasts with the vicious claws, would like to become product testers. In exchange for a brand new scratching post all they asked was if I could document how our kitties used it and any wear and tear it incurred over the next year or so. After talking it over with the house royalty, they agreed. Their only caveat was I would take all the pictures, the attempting to capture and do them justice with video, do any photo/video editing necessary, and write all the blog posts.

They don't ask for much. Well...I guess I do all that anyway, so I agreed.

A few weeks back Wifey and I picked up the post and brought it home to some very excited kitties. Two new toys in the span of a couple months?! Yep, pretty spoiled I'd say.

The post - very solid, very good sized.

Here's some basic details about the post:

1 - The post itself is 36 inches tall and 7 inches in diameter. The top is carpeted and the entire 36 inches of height is tightly wound with sisal rope.

2 - The base has carpet that matches the top, is 1.5 inches tall with a 24 inch diameter. It's not round or square, but cut into a shape similar to a three-leaf clover.

3 - We left the tag on it because, well, they are cats and they like to bat at things.

One thing I really wanted to know was why did Royal Meow offer this to us? I mean, I'm sure I'm not the first person to write about them in a blog, right? As it turns out - and what Wifey and I suspected - is Royal Meow was intrigued by the Bengal aspect. Bengals - as moderately hybrid cats - are larger on average than a regular house cat, more active even later in their years (our twins just turned eight, the other we don't know her age), and have claws that can be particularly vicious, as I've documented here before and have the scars to prove it.

As a reminder, this is what they did to the last post in about two or three years.

These cats are simply going to put more wear and tear on a scratching post than the black and white or the Siamese I grew up with.

I suppose since this is an experiment/analysis I should also put in some details about the subjects:

1 - Only two of the cats - the larger ones, Sera and Moochie - have claws. Lilo was declawed before we adopted her. She will still use the post like she has claws, but I'm guessing as far as wear and tear analysis for a scratching post goes, we have two cats.


Lilo is cute, but she won't do any damage to a scratching post.

2 - Our cats are indoor only. This means they won't spend any time working their claws outdoors and we greatly prefer they don't do it anywhere else in the house either. They don't really listen, but we encourage them towards the posts anyway.

3 - They will have access to the post almost around the clock. The post is currently in the living room, but on the weekends we put them in the spare bedroom at night. If we don't, they bang on our bedroom door at 7am, which is not acceptable. Seriously, they do. They hook one of those claws under the door and shake it - it's quite loud. And freaks me the heck out when it wakes me up.

I guess that about covers it. So over the course of the next year, I'll periodically do a post about the cats and the post, looking to see what kind of damage - if any - they can do. Royal Meow is also hoping for some video; my Nikon camera has video capabilities so recording shouldn't be an issue, and Blogger allows for the posting of video. I just have to work through the process.

Here's some pictures of the cats checking out their new toy. Moochie is the larger spotted one, Sera is the marbled cat, and Lilo the little spotted one.

Moochie got to work on the post immediately, Lilo sitting on top or not.

Sera politely waits her turn.

Any scratching post we get is going to have to support the 19-pound Moochie, who throws his weight around like a sumo wrestler. I thought this string of pictures adequately displayed that. I should note the post so far hasn't moved at all, even with the force created by Mooch throwing himself onto and pushing himself off from the post.

Moochie scratching low, arching his back like he used to have to do on the other posts he has had.

Hmmm...I can get a little taller here...

Full extension! Well, sort of...he could probably stretch a little bit more if he really wanted to...

And climbing! The post shakes a little, but still holds his weight and force it creates with no problem.

Sera seems to really enjoy the base of the post, which doesn't surprise us since she's the one most likely to scratch on the carpet.


Then Wifey had a good idea. She noticed the cats also like to scratch while having their paws flat, rather than always standing up to scratch - what if we leaned the post on it's side? We tried it out and the post was still very stable. Here's a few pictures of that.

Lilo, as per usual, must sit on top of everything. This includes books, the treadmill, and of course, the keyboard.

Sera is still in love with the base, even off the ground.

Moochie simulates climbing the scratching post while being nice and lazy.

I didn't get any good pictures of the two with claws standing on top of the sideways post and scratching, but it did happen. More to keep in mind for next time.

That's it for now...we'll see if they manage to do any damage before next time, and I'll work on the video. Questions or comments, drop them in the comment section below!


10/27/2010

October Tasting/Drinking Notes

Some tasting tidbits from around Portland for the last month, nothing big enough to stand on it's own.

EAT!

Lompoc Brew Pub, Oaks Bottom - Tachos, fish and chips: Lompoc is a place I've been meaning to try for awhile, but mostly for the beer rather than the food. However, they have this thing called tachos, which is quite pheonomenal to see. First off though, the fish and chips:


The fish was actually really good, beer battered halibut that wasn't overly greasy or too thick with batter. The fries, though, were kind of a mess. Don't they look burnt? They didn't taste burnt, so doesn't that mean the oil was old?

Now here are the tachos:


Yep, it's basically a giant nacho, but instead of tortilla chips they use tater tots. A very interesting idea, but the reality of it was just ho-hum. And it was insanely huge...

Hopworks Urban Brewery - BBQ bacon burger and side salad: HUB, as they call it around town, prides themselves on organic, fresh food, which is pretty unique for a brew pub. Too often these places don't put enough emphasis on the quality of the food - HUB gets an A. The burger was cooked just right, the tomatoes were fresh, the lettuce was crisp, and the side salad was much better than what you'll find at probably any other brew pub in Portland (yes, I'm looking at you McMenamin's). Now, that's when comparing it to brew pubs - in the grand scheme of Portland food it was probably just pretty good. I'd go back.

Tasty & Sons (dinner) - melon and ricotta salad with cured meat; pan-fried yellow potatoes with lardons, chives, and sour cream; Best Damn Chicken Strips Ever; Toro burger; chocolate chip cookies and vanilla ice cream; vanilla bean panna cotta with brandy soaked berries; roasted apple with lardons and cheddar, Aunt Paulie's French toast (lunch): Everything except the roasted apple dish and French toast was birthday dinner for Wifey and I - and every dish was excellent. The ricotta and melon salad was a fantastic start and the potatoes ended up being a smashed and fried potato with the normal toppings - and cooked perfectly. The chicken strips were pretty good fresh (and their fries excellent), but they actually were better the next day for lunch. The Toro burger - from John Gorham's other restaurant, Toro Bravo - justified it's top-ten rating. And the desserts...wow. The chocolate chip cookies - while, still, not as good as the ones in our own kitchen - were crisp and chewy, which is difficult to pull off. The star of the night was the panna cotta - I could eat that every day.

The People's Pig (foodcart) - porchetta sandwich: I'd heard a lot of talk about how good this sandwich was - and it is good. It's also quite heavy and not something I need to eat very often, that's for sure. I'd go back, but probably try something else.

Happy Grillmore (foodcart) - spam musubi, The Chuck sandwich: I went to Happy Grillmore basically because it's right across the street from The People's Pig (which has since moved), and I'm glad I did. The spam musubi was very well done and the sandwich fresh and tasty - it doesn't seem like they try to overdo things like many places. If only they were closer to work...

Flavour Spot (foodcart, downtown location) - sausage and maple, MB9: We stopped here for a quick breakfast one weekend because we had Groupon coupons. The flavors were good, but we both felt the general quality was lacking. The waffle was decent, but could be better. The sausage was decent, but could be better. The bacon was decent, but could have been a lot better. Both of us just couldn't help feeling disappointed.

Pastrami on Rye (foodcart) - pastrami sandwich, Best Brownie Ever: I got the sandwich - again, yummy - because I was there, but I really wanted the brownie. Was it the best ever? Well...I'm spoiled to have been chosen by a very, very excellent baker to be my wife, so my standards are high. This wasn't as good as Wifey's, but we both enjoyed it.

Portland Soup Company (foodcart) - smoked salmon and sweet corn chowder, roasted tomato reggiano soup, Tillamook vintage white mac 'n cheese: The chowder had fairly good flavor, but I wanted a little more salmon in it. The tomato is always good - I could eat this for lunch every day of the week. The mac, though, was superb in its simplicity. They didn't go overboard on the cheese - in fact, some might be disappointed in the quantity of cheese - but the flavor profile was excellent.

The Sugar Cube (foodcart) - Hot chocolate malted, creamy tomato soup, Aric A Strata: Normally we go see Kir for sweet stuff, but she had something new last week so we said what the heck. And it was a cold, rainy day - typical Portland October weather. We both thoroughly enjoyed the soup and the strata, which she said was more of a savory bread pudding with goat cheese, spinach, and tomatoes - it was excellent. And the malted? These are to die for, honestly. They may seem spendy, but it's completely worth it.

Meat Cheese Bread - Park Kitchen sandwich, peanut butter and bacon rice crispy treat: The Park Kitchen is a staple for us at Meat Cheese Bread and it never disappoints. This stop, though, was for the rice crispy treat, which they had teased on their Facebook page. I just wanted to taste it, to see if it was yummy or just weird. I'm still not sure what I think. The peanut butter part was good, but the bacon almost seemed to be completely overpowered by the peanut butter. There was a touch of salty and a touch of smoky, but not much.

Little T American Baker - chocolate cake with chocolate ganache: We actually stopped by here for bread, but they didn't have what we needed that day. They did, however, have chocolate cake. And it was amazing. Wifey and I split a slice and we both wanted to lick the to-go container to clean up the ganache.

Bonus coverage - an entire post dedicated to the new Pine State Biscuits location.

DRINK!

Heart Coffee - El Salvador Borbollon: A little while ago Heart stopped carrying our favorite Guatemalan coffee. We tried a couple others but they just weren't what we liked. Then we read on their website they had some new varieties and this one promised milk chocolate, caramel, and orange flavors. Intrigued we gave it a whirl - and are now working on bag number four.

Lompoc Monster Mash Imperial Porter (bottle) - I wanted to get this beer last year but missed out by a few days - it's a small run. Picked it up at Belmont Station this year and while it was okay - the normal chocolate and coffee porter flavors were good - there was something else in there I didn't like, something that made it a tad too bitter for my tastes. Maybe that's what makes it Imperial? Not sure. I've since been told Lompoc's beers are better on tap.

Lompoc Sockey Cream Stout (tap) - Had this with tachos and fish and chips. This was a very thick, almost syrupy stout I personally thought was a tad too sweet. Normally I'm not a stout drinker at all, but this was better than a lot I've had.

Hopworks Urban Brewery Velvet ESB (tap) - This was from Tasty & Sons with the birthday dinner. It's an incredibly smooth beer and HUB's site claims it has caramel and chocolate with a tad of floral - perhaps that's why I like it, having the same flavor profile as my coffee. If smooth is your thing, try this one out. I think it's only available on tap - haven't seen it in a bottle anywhere.

Widmer Barrell-Aged Brrrbon (bottle) - I'm a sucker for beers aged in bourbon barrels. If that's part of what makes up a beer, chances are I'll try it - so when Widmer came out with this Brothers Reserve series issue, I had to check it out. It was disappointing. The bourbon flavor was almost nonexistent, leaving it just a well, regular Brrr, which I'm not a fan of. It's possible this beer should be left to age a little bit more, to really let the flavors develop - maybe if you buy one and keep it for a while it will get better. You can tell me if it does, because I won't be trying out that theory.

Winter's Hill Vineyard - 2006 Late Harvest Pinot Gris (dessert) - Dessert wines tend to be sweet by definition, but this was the sweetest one we've tried - too sweet for us. The funny thing is this is a bottle we bought after trying it at a tasting...so why did we buy it? Who knows.

Alaskan Brewing 2010 Smoked Porter (bottle) - After trying Great Divide's Smoked Porter last month I was excited to check out another; plus, I'd had a couple different Alaskan's in the past and enjoyed them. This one was okay, but I'd recommend the Great Divide offering. There wasn't as much smokiness to this one and it was more bitter - closer to the Monster Mash mentioned above. I've just come to the conclusion, I suppose that I'm a low IBU beer kind of guy. Perhaps that doesn't make me a true afficianado, but I can live with that.

Also returned to Deschutes' Black Butte Porter XXI after hitting the Best After date.

10/26/2010

Black Butte XXI: Best After 10/17/2010

About 16 months ago, right about the time I started this blog, one of my first posts was about Deschutes' Brewery's Black Butte Porter XXI - the special birthday edition of the very popular Black Butte Porter.

I noted in that post these bottles came with a Best After date, something I hadn't seen before. Well, I've had four of these bottles - yep, $12 each - squirreled away, waiting for that best after date to become today. Well, it was actually last week - October 17, 2010.

I was of two minds about this whole saving the beer thing. On one hand I really, really enjoyed the beer as it was, fresh off the shelf. On the other I was promised it would get better and more flavorful with time. Despite wanting to crack one of these in the months between last July and this October, I did manage to wait.

Then I had another thought: what if it's not as good as I remember? This was one of the very first specialty beers I tried and since then I've had, well, a few others. Some I liked, some I didn't. With a palate that has now been exposed to a wider range of specialty beers still think this was the greatest thing ever? I wasn't sure, and that made me a little nervous, because I had managed to wait all this time (and they were spendy).

This time that wax seal had no chance - I'm an old pro by now. I dipped the pointed end of the bottle opener in the wax just below the bottle cap line, scraped away just enough to flip the opener around to get a grip, and pop - it comes off easy.

The nose on this was what I expected, with lots of chocolate and coffee, plus a little maltiness. The color, if possible, might even be a littler darker and richer than it was 16 months ago. And this time, I have pictures!


The flavor was good, but also very chocolate-centric. The coffee flavor is still there, but the chocolate is what really seemed to develop since the first bottle. What also came out is the whiskey flavor - these had originally been aged in Stranahan's Colorado whiskey barrels. And yes, that means the alcohol has really developed as well. I don't recall it being like this last year, but one full bottle of this was more than enough for me - a nice little buzz if you are into that sort of thing.

So was it worth the wait? Were my fears about an expanded palate justified? Well, yes and no. It didn't seem as smooth as I remember, but I think that's more due to the way the chocolate flavor seemed to develop over the past 16 months at a faster rate than the others. It also gave the beer an unexpected sweetness, and coupled with the liquid's thickness made it a tad syrupy.

I still enjoyed it, but, sadly, it's probably not the greatest thing ever anymore - just really, really good.

Should I have not waited? Perhaps, but it really doesn't matter because I chose to wait. And besides, I still have these three bottles of wonderfulness for a rainy winter day. Well, three rainy winter days - in Portland I'll have plenty to choose from.


Maybe I'll share, but you'll have to ask nicely.

10/25/2010

Pine State Even Better Than Before

It's probably been mentioned in this blog once or twice, but Wifey and I are huge fans of the breakfast food. Last year we went to Pine State Biscuits on Southeast Belmont because supposedly they had some of the best biscuits anyone has ever made in history. This place started at the Portland Farmer's Market a few years back and continually rock a giant line every Saturday.

Their place on Belmont - a very small place - also has a long line, always. In our first trip we spent about 30 minutes in line to order our food. It was definitely good and we would have gone back sooner, but that line...sheesh, who has time for that?

Then a couple months ago Pine State opened a second store on Northeast Alberta, one we've been meaning to visit.


It just never fit into the schedule, though. Then last Friday we read on Eater PDX Pine State (this location only, I believe) was going to start opening at 9pm on Friday and Saturday for late-night eats. Typically only open for breakfast and lunch, it seemed like an interesting time to check them out. And we didn't have any leftovers and didn't feel like cooking, so decided to check it out.

We ended up getting there at 9:10 pm. I was a little worried it might be busy, but apparently no one got the memo about the new hours. There was no one else there and for the entire 30-40 minutes we were there the only other customer they had was someone who had apparently forgotten their wallet. No line, no wait = good times in my book.


The inside of the space is clean and open, a very common style for places in Portland these days. Compared to the Belmont location, which has horrible customer flow, few tables, and just generally feels old and inefficient, this location was clean, fresh, new, and seems to feature plenty of room both for customers and for the cooks.

We ordered biscuits and sausage gravy and a sandwich called the Reggie Deluxe. I should note, not everything from the normal menu was available - most of it was, just not all, including one thing we had planned on ordering (the hash ups).

The biscuits are excellent - soft, fluffy, with a good crust and smooth flavor. The gravy has both a sweetness and a spiciness to it, which give it very good depth and range of flavor. Interestingly enough the last time we went to Pine State that spiciness wasn't present, so either they tweaked the recipe or last time someone left out an ingredient. It could be the paprika sprinkled over this dish, but it seemed more to me it was within the gravy itself, the spice, rather than just something topical.


Before we also weren't sure if this sausage gravy was as good as others we have had around town (like The Country Cat or Screen Door), but with the spiciness it's definitely in the same class - and the sweetness makes Pine State's gravy completely unique (and probably not appealing to everyone for that exact reason, but we liked it).

The Reggie Deluxe is what we ordered before. It's bacon, cheese, egg, a piece of white meat fried chicken, and sausage gravy between the famous biscuit. Yes, it's as good and as unhealthy as it sounds. Last time we ordered our food to go so we didn't really get a feel for the epic size of it when piled high on a plate. Wow.


The yellow is the cheese - the egg yolk was a little soft so did leak out when it was cut as well. Look at the picture below - see the crunchiness right below the top biscuit? What looks like hardened sugar? That's the edges of the egg. Yum.


I could eat one of these every day. I'd be dead in less than a year, oh man are they good. Dinner was fantastic - and cost less than $20 with tip - but even so I'm kind of questioning the choice. Why? Well, this is very, very heavy food. For someone who likes to get to bed by 11, it's not the best choice for 9pm eating. Perhaps if you had a big night on the town planned, hitting up some bars and clubs and parties, then having this late could be a good idea. But to eat this and come home and start thinking about bed? I don't recommend it at all.

We will absolutely go back again and recommend Pine State to anyone that asks, but for breakfast or brunch, not for late night. And considering how there was no one else but us there at that time, either they need to do a better job getting the word out they are open, or they did that part just fine and it's just what people are looking for Friday's for a late dinner.

10/22/2010

Taking Away the Color

Black and white photos never used to excite me, but I think that probably is because I didn't take the time to enjoy them. There is something about the removal of color from a picture that takes away the distractions (ooh - pretty colors!) and lets the viewer take in the imagery, to appreciate it more. I think - and this is by no means a professional opinion - you tend to notice the setting and contrasts so much more, the parts of the picture that make it artistic.

Our Nikon has this sweet feature where you can turn on B&W for whatever setting you have, then when you click to take a picture it will save two images - one in color and one in black and white. It's amazing how some pictures don't really catch your eye in color when the color is gone they really jump out.

Plus I like how these sometimes turn out like surveillance photos, like we caught the kids doing something bad. We probably did.

So here's a few, one of each of the kids, on a day where I'm just really tired and don't want to write too much. Besides, a picture is worth a thousand words, right? By that calculation this post is quite productive.

Ruby, the Akita, probably yawning because we bore her. Misaki does this too.


Lilo, sleeping on the TV receiver.


Sera, playing with a catnip mouse on the floor. Looks like we interrupted her and she's waiting for us to go away.


Moochie, in mid-crazy on a cat tree that doesn't fit him anymore. Not sure what he's looking at, but it's sure not the camera.


Misaki, not quite sure about what's going on at the moment. Her look says she's putting up with it, but would rather not.

HAPPY FRIDAY!

10/21/2010

Bad Kitty Has Paper Fetish

If you have followed this blog for awhile then you have met Lilo, our very outspoken and tiny Bengal who was saved from near death while out on the street.

Did I mention outspoken?

She is quite demanding, so much so that when she deems it necessary her yowls can be heard blocks away. She does this when she wants something, whether that be to go out and enjoy the sun in the sunroom, us to sit down so she can be loved up, to be fed...basically anything a cat wants. She's just louder than others.

Lilo: I am pure cuteness!

She will not be pandered to either. "Later" isn't in her vocabulary. When she wants something, that means now, whether you like it or not.

We have a baby gate on the door to our office. Initially we put it up when we first got Misaki, so we could keep an eye on her while working in the office. A side effect was that, if we chose, it could also keep the cats out. That meant work could actually get done - it's difficult to type even an email with a cat on your lap, especially one (Sera) whose claws will sink into your flesh if you move the tiniest fraction of an inch.

Lilo does not like this gate, not one bit. See, she can yell all she wants and we tune her out. It's not that we don't love the little kitty, it's just that we need to get things done.
We have learned Lilo will eventually stop yelling. We have also learned that's when we should really get worried.

Lilo: That gate makes me angry!

See, this little kitty, all six pounds of her, has a paper fetish. She will lick anything paper, and the sound of a cat's sandpapery tongue pulling at 200 pages of a book is akin to nails on a chalkboard. She'll lick anything - mail, books, magazines, notecards, recipes, tax forms...

Thankfully licking is all she does with those. But, other paper? Like toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins? Those are her favorite.

See, when she yells for a bit and doesn't get her way, then she'll disappear. And then we'll find something like this little bit of wonderfulness that was left on the kitchen table the other day.

This is what happens when an angry Lilo doesn't get enough attention.

Awesome.

I can't count how many toilet paper rolls we have lost to Lilo (we've caught her doing it, just not on film, so we know it's always her). We no longer leave out the toilet paper like in a normal household - it's in a cupboard within reach (barely). We have to remember whenever we are going to have guests so we get the TP out - they probably wonder why it's never on the holder.

The paper towels are now on a shelf in the kitchen the cat can't (we think) reach - or, at least, hasn't yet. The napkins, following that little bit of deliciousness above, are now beside them.

We can't leave a single napkin out overnight, because it will be reduced to shreds in the morning when we get up.

Lilo, in the absence of paper to shred, will also just randomly throw things on the floor. We can't leave things on the back of the toilet or on the bathroom counters, because she'll get up there and just bat it onto the floor. She'll also do this with pens - even if we are trying to actively use them - and pretty much anything left on the kitchen table.

Lilo: Don't believe any of this - it's all lies! I am nothing but cuteness and sweetness!

But such is life with Bengals. Thankfully she hasn't destroyed anything expensive (Sera has thrown a Japanese doll case on the floor, shattering the glass, while Moochie tossed a toaster oven off the kitchen counter).

Anyone else have to hide the TP from their cat? Or have a cat that licks books? Or has something significant broken by their cat?

10/20/2010

Pac-10 Week 8: To Go Undefeated...

Last week I managed a 2-1 record - a Joe Halahuni drop away from 3-0 - to push my season record to 35-11 (76%). Just for fun, last year at this point in the season I was 22-7 (started late) - 76%. Nothing like consistency.

With the Oregon Ducks now the number one team in the nation - though not in the BCS - halfway through the season it's time to start thinking about what it takes to go undefeated. And to talk national championship Oregon must go undefeated - if they lose a game they will have no chance.

For one, it takes talent on both sides of the ball. You have to be able to score points and stop the other team from scoring as many - simple as that.

A team also has to have a ton of luck as well. For one, they have to have a favorable schedule. True, Oregon played weak non-conference games, but when they scheduled Tennessee who predicted the Volunteers would be bottom-feeders? That was scheduling in an attempt to get a tough game in, but the Ducks got some luck in playing Tennessee in a down year. They also managed to get Stanford and Arizona - the two other ranked Pac-10 teams - at home. Still, they do have road trips to USC, Cal, and Corvallis still - nothing to turn up your nose at.

A team also must get lucky with injuries. So far the Ducks have avoided major injuries to star players. They will be without top reserve running back Kenjon Barner (concussion), but the starters are still healthy. Quarterback Darren Thomas tweaked his shoulder against Washington State, but he's now being labeled just fine.

And it's not just the team's injuries - it's opponent's injuries as well. For example, this week Oregon will visit UCLA without it's first-string quarterback. That's nothing new to UCLA, but if the backup was better he'd be starting, so there will be a dropoff in talent.

The Ducks still have a very long ways to go and some very tough matchups, but if they do the inexplicable and finish undefeated it won't be simply because they are talented - it takes luck to get there.

THE TIERS

Tier 1 - Oregon

Tier 2 - Stanford

Tier 3 - Arizona, USC, California, UCLA, Washington, Oregon State, Arizona State

Tier 50 - Washington State

These new tiers reflect my new feelings about the Pac-10. Oregon is at the top - they will be favored in every game the rest of the way, at least until Civil War depending on how the Beavers play in their next five games.

Stanford should also be favored the rest of the way, but they already lost to Oregon, so they have to be second.

The third tier, consisting of the seven remaining teams not residing in Pullman, can beat each other on any given weekend and no one would bat an eye. This is normally referred to as parity and the reason the Pac-10 has traditionally lost luster in the eyes of the rest of the nation, but it should more accurately be referred to as depth. These are not also-rans fighting each other like in the ACC or the Big 10 - these teams are still very good, just slightly flawed.

And Wazzu? Yep, they are coming closer to the pack. I don't think they get to the third tier by the end of the season, but they were competitive again last week. Nice improvement.

SCHEDULE

On to this week's schedule. As always, all game times are Pacific time, followed by the network and the pick. Also, the network and whether or not it's on TV is for Portland - some games may be televised regionally, so if you live in a home market, check your local listings. Rankings are in parentheses (AP, USA Today).

THURSDAY
6pm - UCLA at Oregon (1, 1), ESPN - Oregon

SATURDAY

12:30pm - Arizona State at California, Fox Sports Northwest - California
2pm - Washington State at Stanford (12, 14), Fox College Sports Pacific - Stanford
7:15pm - Washington (37t, NR) at Arizona (15, 18), ESPN - Washington

Oregon State (34, NR) and USC (26, *) are off this week.
* USC is not eligible for the USA Today Coaches Poll because of NCAA sanctions

Surprised by the Washington pick? Don't be. They are better than some think and Arizona really struggled without quarterback Nick Foles last week. If the Huskies play defense like they did against Oregon State it will be a long day for the Wildcats.

Then again, most Pac-10 teams are all over the place, so I might be just as likely to pick right using a dart board for that one (and the ASU-Cal game).

MISAKI

With Oregon State off this week Misaki is being nice and cheering for Dad's school.


At least, I think that's what she's doing...


Maybe I'm wrong. I'll believe what I want to believe...

10/19/2010

No One Wants My Money

We keep hearing about how bad the economy is, about how desperate people are for work, and how people are doing pretty much everything they can to get by. Perhaps this is true some places - and yes, my belt has gotten a little tighter (but I really don't want to get into my belt size) - but it sure doesn't seem to be true around where I live.

Which is doubly odd, since the last I checked unemployment in Oregon was something around 12%, among the worst in the nation.

This year it was time to get my roof re-done. I set the money aside and even found a roofer, recommended by my father. In early February I noticed some water in the attic during heavy rains, so I called the roofer to see if he could check it out - call it a test run before I wrote the big check. He came out the next day, looked around a bit, couldn't find anything obvious, added in some caulking near the area it seemed to be leaking, and said to call him if that didn't work and he'd come back.

He didn't even charge me for it, because he didn't feel comfortable saying it worked.

Now me, as a consumer, was extremely pleased with this attitude and the job (it did work, in fact). I asked him for a quote to do the roof (not a tear-off, just a new layer of shingles per his recommendation) and he gave me a very excellent quote. He had just done my parents' roof and they were pleased, plus they had hired him on a recommendation from someone else. The roofer said to just call him when we wanted to get on the schedule and he'd get it done this summer.

Sounds fantastic, right? Yeah, I thought so too.

Now, admittedly, I probably waited too long to call him - it was the middle of June. I should have done it in April to get on his schedule - he's apparently popular. But still, I called, left a message, and he called me back a couple of days later. He said he would get out a sample board to me that week so we could choose a color for our shingles (something I never even knew was possible, nor really care, honestly). Great, let's do it.

A week passes. Two weeks pass. I call and leave a message, then two. Another week passes...then another... Apparently the roof getting done is not happening. At this point I'm sick of this. I mean, seriously? If I can't get a phone call back - and email wasn't an option - then what exactly should I do? By this point it's later in the summer and I've resigned myself to the fact I'll just have to start the process all over (well, preferably without the leak). And, it's late enough in the summer it will probably be next year.

Then, about a week after I decide this, I get a phone call. He is very polite, apologizes for not getting back to me (but he was "busy"), and says the sample board will be out that week. And this time it was. And I said okay like I didn't have enough self-respect at that point to walk away - I mean, he did have something I wanted (sure as hell wasn't doing the roof myself). The board did come out, we made a choice, and then a week later they started work.

Now, they did good work, even pointing out and replacing a couple pieces of plywood that were starting to get a little soft. It took five days, but could have been faster if they worked more than four hours a day.

I can't be mad at the price nor the quality of work - I was pleased with both; what drives me crazy is the communication. I would have been fine if after the initial summer call I had been told we'll get back to you in September. Great, fine, I'm cool with that. But no reply? No indication of anything whatsoever? Here I was, practically waving my money around, and seemingly being ignored.

Then again, I just validated the entire business model (and the communication) by being there ready and willing when the call came. (Make your own similes here please, I have mine.) Apparently I'm just an enabler.

Then there is the sunroom window. Remember that? Click this link for a little recap, but here's a quick reminder in a picture:


That was back in July and I haven't had it fixed it yet. However, with winter and rain coming, I figured it would be a good idea. I figured this a few weeks ago and still can't get anyone to look at it.

Believe it or not, finding a place that replaces windows is much harder than you think. I contacted a few window places who either don't do sunrooms or don't do one-off type of projects - they only do replacing windows on an entire house. Finally, though, one of them recommended a place that does do fixes and replacements. I checked out the website and this seemed exactly like what I wanted, so emailed them to be sure sunroom windows was something they did.

Yes, sure, they absolutely do that. They even gave me a very rough quote, which was within the range I was hoping, so that was fine with me. I said sure, send someone out, and was told someone from Scheduling would give me a call. That was over a week ago and still I haven't heard anything. How backed up is Scheduling they can't make a phone call?!

And no, I didn't follow up until just yesterday, but even then I called the number and left a message (the voice mail said all lines were busy, whatever that means), explaining who I was, that we had talked, and I just need to schedule someone to come check it out. That was in the morning, and typically one would expect a call back later in the day, right? Well, almost 24 hours later still no call.

Again, I'm basically waving money around, begging someone to come do a little work for which I will gladly pay, and still I can't get anyone to even return a freaking phone call. How ridiculous is that? Are these companies, in this area with this unemployment in this economy, really that busy? They have so much work coming out of their ears they can't make a call? I don't ask for much - just give me a timeline.

Of course, again, when they do call I will be very happy and bend over backwards to get this done, because I need it done. And, again, I will have validated both the business model and the way they communicate. Again, I'm the enabler.

Just on principal, I hate myself for that, honestly. I hate the fact businesses jerk you around with little regard for customer service - again, I'm just talking very simple communication, I'm not asking for dinner and flowers - and we just have to deal with it. I'd love to be able to say screw it and find someone else, but that's much more difficult than it sounds. And even then, who knows what you are getting? You choose a place for a reason - usually recommendation - and if those don't meet basic standards how can you expect better from a place where you have no recommendation? It's not like a restaurant where if you have one bad meal you are out $20-30 and simply don't return - these are things I'll have to deal with for a much longer time (and every day) if they aren't done right.

From where I stand it makes no sense. Seriously, what do I have to do in order to make people want my money bad enough to do something that is there specialty? That they purportedly have a business that does this work on a daily basis?

Why do I have to deal with this when it's their business?

I guess I need a recommendation for a place that will replace a single window. I must just not be looking in the right places, because I only seem to find the ones with absolutely no business sense whatsoever. All I want is for someone to fix my window and take some money...one wouldn't think that would be too difficult to find.

10/18/2010

So I Got Pulled Over...

Taking my Escape to the dealership for a little maintenance last week I got pulled over for speeding. It was a tad embarrassing, since the motorcycle cop was literally right next to the dealership, so I didn't realize he was pulling me over until I was pulling into the dealership.

Fun times. I pulled into a parking spot with the officer behind me and was able to enjoy the focus of all the car salesmen while waiting for the officer to do his thing.

Not like they had anything better to do, since people don't buy cars anymore, but still.

The officer was very polite. Asked me if I realized I was going 58 in a 45 (honestly, I didn't - 50 maybe, but didn't realize it was that high), accepted my insurance card even though it didn't indicate taking effect until the next day (that's what I get for replacing it early), and then he even did what I didn't expect at all.

He left me go with a warning.

What? Really?

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate it. I have no desire to write a $200 check for a speeding ticket, but I didn't expect that at all. I've always wondered what makes an officer simply give a warning rather than a ticket. Did I look particularly honest? And why go through the process of pulling me over if he's not going to give a ticket?

Maybe someone else has insight here, because I sure don't.

If I had received a ticket, it wouldn't have been the first one. Twice I've been nailed for speeding with photo radar, I did stupidly run a red light once, and then I got caught speeding (my first ticket) somewhere in central Oregon on the way home a long time ago. None of those were cheap and you just end up feeling like an idiot - it's a complete waste of money.

(Speaking of the photo radar, how stupid do you feel then? Both times I received that picture in the mail with the bill I was smiling clearly. Both times I also knew it was coming and hoped it wouldn't - like the two other times I swear the camera flashed at my car.)

I've been let go before, too. Once near the Rose Garden I was pulled over at night. I literally had no idea why, because I wasn't speeding or anything. Turns out I had forgotten to turn on my lights, but with all the street and surrounding light I didn't even notice. Whoops. Another time I was pulled over in Beaverton for what I thought may be speeding (thought it would have been really ticky-tack), but apparently the officer didn't approve of the crack in the windshield of the old Honda. That officer was not polite. He claimed the crack was in my vision (it was along the lower part of the windshield), but apparently had never driven an Accord - I barely saw it from my seat because of the position of everything. I didn't fix it - ended up buying a new car not too long afterwards so whomever bought the Honda off Craig's List got to deal with it.

Holy crap - I'm beginning to sound like a regular criminal here. How often have you been pulled over?

Every time I see the flashing red and blue - you know, because I see it all the time or something - it reminds me of the first time it happened.

I was a senior in high school and a friend and I both worked as tutors to Japanese exchange students. We also both lived in a rural area outside of Oregon City, so after work we got in my car and took the country roads towards his house. It was after 9pm in the winter, so it was very dark and I was in the habit of pushing the car as much as I could around the curves of the windy roads, just like we did every time after work.

It also happened to be a little bit foggy. Not dangerous foggy, but just foggy enough so things not right next to the road were unclear. It was also enough to know I had a car following me that looked to be somewhat like a Ford Taurus, but that was all I could derive from the rear view mirror.

This car would not get off my ass. I pushed mine a little harder, drove through a small town, slowing down as necessary, then cranked it back up as the road straightened out.

And then the lights came on.

As I pulled over I was freaked out. If I got a ticket my parents would kill me, and I was hoping all the required info was in the glove compartment. Then I told the cop the car wasn't mine, which got his attention until I explained it belonged to Mom and Dad. (Speaking of Mom and Dad, I don't think they've ever heard this story... Surprise!) After freaking us both out a bit with the prospect of a ticket, the officer let me off with a warning. I was so relieved I didn't know what to do. And then, after I pulled back onto the road so did the cop, following me some more before eventually turning off.

Then - of course, the part of me that wasn't sweating and didn't have shaking hands - was pissed, because this cop had followed me so closely for roughly eight miles before pulling me over. In fact, part of the reason I had hit the gas so much was because this car was following so close. Sure, I was speeding, but I also felt like I was induced a little bit.

Then again, at 17 you always think you are right (well, because you are), so perhaps my recollection is a little skewed in that direction.

Perhaps the most important question now is will I drive slower? Um...maybe. I'll try and be a little more aware of my surroundings.

How about you, dear reader? How many tickets have you gotten? And what was the first time like?

10/16/2010

I Recommend Checking the Fridge

Last night we got home from grocery shopping and had to put some things in the fridge. Fridge, though, is packed full, so I suggested checking the expiration date on some marinade we had bought a while ago, to see if it was still good.

It was not. Really not. I think it had a 2009 date. Whoops.

So that started off a frenzy of checking dates on all sorts of condiments and jarred items in the fridge. Yes, this is what I do for fun at 9pm on a Friday night. Is it any wonder Misaki is always yawning at us?


By the time we were done going through things there was plenty of room in the fridge for the new groceries. Um, yay us?

Since we like to think of ourselves as somewhat socially responsible I now had a big group of glass jars to clean out so we could recyle the bottles. The list looked something like this:

French's yellow mustard (okay, no glass, but still)
KC Masterpiece BBQ sauce (again, no glass)
Oyster sauce
Thai chili sauce
Olive tapenade (for sandwiches or crackers)
(2) Williams-Sonoma marinades
Heinz 57 steak sauce
A-1 steak sauce
Worcestshire sauce
Salsa (okay, I really should have known better - of course that was bad!)
Guacamole mix (just add avocado! - ditto the salsa)

And there were probably more - that list is embarrassing enough. And yes, there were multiple items with a 2009 date. There were also things that had no date where we just made a judgment call.

I will say I don't think we used any of these expired. Maybe. I guess I can't say that with any kind of assurance.

I'm of two minds about all of this throwing away stuff. One, most of it cost a decent amount of money, so that sucks. Then again, it was spent so long ago and - for some of these - for a specific purpose which probably turned out yummy, so maybe it was worth it.

Another part of me felt satisfied. I mean, these items are where the majority of hidden sodiums and sugars come for people. Now not only is it out of my fridge but them being expired is one indication perhaps we're eating better than we used to. Or, at least, I can tell myself that, regardless of whether or not it's true.

I'm also not entirely convinced all of that stuff was bad. I know dates are required by the FDA and generally they are a decent guideline, but they are hardly the last word in good or bad. Then again, why would I go out of my way to risk it?

This is also a vicious cycle. We'll now probably end up buying another jar of something here and there as we need them for specific recipes, and at some point in the future do this all over again. It's funny, I can't remember my parents ever doing this - condiments didn't go old in our house.

So here's just a tiny bit of advice, dear readers (all three of you). Take a gander at those jars in the door of your fridge. Have any of them expired? And have you been using them despite them being expired and not known it? And how disgusted are you after doing that?

Who wants to come to dinner?

10/15/2010

Pac-10 Week 7: Quiet Week

It's pretty clear now no one has any idea what to expect from UCLA or California. Going into last week's matchup many, including myself, figured it would be a close game and UCLA had an excellent shot to win. California blew them out. I don't think anyone outside of Berkeley saw that coming.

That blowout and Washington looking horrible left me at 3-2 on the week, saved from falling under .500 by Oregon State's huge - and costly - win in Tucson against the Wildcats. Overall this season I am 33-10 in picking winners.

There were two horrible injuries for the Oregon schools as well. First Oregon running back Kenjon Barner got absolutely pasted by a Washington State gunner on a kick return, leaving him unconcious on the field. There was helmet-to-helmet contact, but not flag was thrown. Barner was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and kept overnight, but has since returned to Eugene. His status for the next game is unknown. (Darren Thomas, who suffered a shoulder stinger, is expected to be fine.)

You know, the NCAA (and NFL) have strict rules on the books about helmet-to-helmet hits, yet they very rarely call them. How many times is a guy laid out, the replay show helmet-to-helmet contact causing the player to lose conciousness, and there is no flag? 80% of the time? Higher? Football is a violent sport no doubt, but the officials aren't helping anything by seemingly missing every brain rattling hit. Call it more and it will happen less, as simple as that.

For the Beavers it was wide receiver James Rodgers, the stud senior, who was yanked awkwardly as he appeared to score a touchdown. He went down in a heap and had to be carried off the field. MRI results showed he's done for the year. While the injury hurts Oregon State, wide receiver is a position they do have a lot of depth at. Even though he's a senior Rodgers qualifies for a medical redshirt and could get one more season - as a Beaver fan that would be great to have him back. Good luck getting better James.

There was no flag on the play that caused Rodgers' injury as well (well, there was, but it was called back for illegal man downfield). At the point the defender tried to strip the ball and caused Rodgers to twist awkwardly he was already crossing the goal line. Had the defender actually stripped the ball, it wouldn't have made one shred of difference.

Oregon and Oregon State should be fine despite the injuries because of their depth, but both injuries shouldn't have happened in the first place.

THE TIERS

Now for this week's tier breakdown:

Tier 1: Oregon

Tier 2: Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona

Tier 3: California, USC

Tier 4: Arizona State, UCLA

Tier 5: Washington

Tier 90: Washington State

With the win in Arizona Oregon State moves back to Tier 2. Zona stays because they are still a pretty damn good team capable of beating anyone.

After dominating the Bruins, Cal and UCLA swap tiers. Do I feel good about their placement? Not really.

And then there is the Washington schools... After a pathetic showing the Huskies get dropped to their own special tier. Yay Huskies!

Check out the Cougars - moving up! They may still not be that great, but two weeks in a row now they have been very scrappy. They may surprise someone yet.

SATURDAY SCHEDULE

On to this week's schedule. As always, all game times are Pacific time, followed by the network and the pick. Also, the network and whether or not it's on TV is for Portland - some games may be televised regionally, so if you live in a home market, check your local listings. Rankings are in parentheses (AP, USA Today).

12:30pm - California at USC, Fox Sports Northwest - USC
4:30pm - Arizona (17, 20) at Washington State, Versus - Arizona
7:15pm - Oregon State (24, 29) at Washington, ESPN - Oregon State

Oregon, UCLA, Stanford, and Arizona State are off this week. Oregon and UCLA will meet next Thursday, and then be off for another 9 days.

* USC is not eligible for the USA Today Coaches Poll because of NCAA sanctions.

Not a lot to debate here - no upset picks. Arizona should win handily, Oregon State SHOULD win by at least 10, and USC is still plenty good to win their home games against schizophrenic teams like Cal. I'm thinking 3-0 this week sounds pretty good.

MISAKI

Yep, you guessed it - she's picking the Beavers again.


Next week's piece will be done on Wednesday, since Oregon and UCLA play Thursday night.

10/14/2010

Gotta Get It Right

For me as a writer my number one guideline is believability. I, as the writer, have to make you, as the reader, believe in the reality I am creating. If for some reason I fail to do that the reader will take notice - perhaps only subconciously - and they won't have as enjoyable a reading experience.

That doesn't mean stories have to be feasible to everyday reality - hardly. In fact, most stories are completely otherwise.

The reason a book that does so well with a cast of vampires isn't because vampires themselves are necessarily believable, but that the author has created a reality where they are. That's a foundation of the story.

To be a successful writer of fiction you have to set the stage for certain points that are reality in the story. You create the setting for these truths, you introduce the truths, and you must absolutely stay true to those foundations throughout the entire story. If at any point you step outside of those parameters, it's a failure.

Why am I bringing this up? I'm a voracious reader. I usually read a book every week to ten days, and I generally read fiction - for the most part popular fiction. Books that have been published in this arena have normally been very well edited and checked for these kinds of things, but just recently I've finished two novels where, to me, there were failures.

I won't name the authors or the titles because that's not important. Both books were enjoyable and for all other intents and purposes well written. But here's what bugged me:

1 - In one novel the reader is presented with one main character following another to a specific destination for a certain length of time. This is followed immediately afterwards by a scene where one of those characters is doing something completely different before arriving at the same final destination. After reading it twice I'm convinced these two scenes were meant for the same section of time in the book, almost as if one should have been cut; or it should have been re-worked to be better integrated with the timeline or along a different timeline.

To me this is a failure of editing. As someone who writes I can see missing this, though I would hope I would catch it myself. Then, it should have been flagged in the process before publishing. The end result is the reader is left confused - no longer am I enjoying the story but I'm asking myself what the hell just happened?

If I ever get published and something like that happened to me, I'd be thoroughly mortified.

2 - In another novel the reader is given a reality where much of the story happens in flashbacks. The father is telling the daughter a long forgotten tale involving the disappearance of her mother. At first the flashbacks are presented in short, one-on-one conversations, but later when the father inexplicably disappears the rest of the flashback is presented as a letter written to the daughter.

The problem for me here was the letter was over 300 pages long and was presented as something written in a fairly short time, a time meant to roughly coincide with the father's planned disappearance. The "letter" was also extremely detailed, recalling conversations and minute details from 20 years previous, which also entailed scenes where scenes from 20-30 years earlier were recalled with the same detail.

Sorry, I just can't buy it. The facts were good, the story was good, the characters were good - but I couldn't buy into the concept of 50-year-old conversations being recalled clearly to the tiniest detail sans notes or anything else.

Great story, but it lost me by asking me to buy into a reality I just couldn't.

It's true my experience with this two particular novels may not be the same as someone else's. But, as a writer, I have to strive to create a reality where everything I present and everything my characters do is true to that reality and the parameters I set, be it time, place, technology, character traits, or anything else.

Last thing I want to do is end up an example in someone's blog talking about something that didn't work for them.

Characters have to follow the same rules. When a writer presents a character to the reader s/he is given certain characterstics, certain truths - if the character then does something much later in the book that seem incongruent with how a character was presented, it's going to catch a reader's attention and detract from the enjoyment of the story.

I've also found myself more and more looking at these types of things critically as I read. Part of me is learning how to be better at the craft of writing, while part of me is also looking for things I perceive as failures in order to not make the same mistakes.

Before it was just reading for enjoyment; now it's just as much research - but in a good way.

This are the things that keep me awake at night - or might anyway, if I got more than five hours of sleep.

Any other writers out there read like this? Or have any other examples of something in a book that really lost you as a reader?

10/13/2010

Is There Value in Online Writing Classes?

I don't know the answer to this, so I figured I'd ask, well, the world.

I like to consider myself a writer but have had very little actual training. At the same time I'm in the group who doesn't believe training is a necessity to being a good writer. Grammar and structure, sure, but I have a strong belief some people just are better at it than others and innately grasp the concepts quicker. I also think good writers can be developed - I've seen it happen.

Writing has always been something I've just done. Other than English assigments I didn't do much of it all until my senior English class when we were given the opportunity to write whatever we wanted. I liked it and was given positive feedback that I should do it more. When I was in college I kept a journal during my summer in Italy, the only time I've ever done that (well, until this blog). When I got back to the University of Oregon I signed up for a Creative Writing class and had a blast - probably the most fun I had in a class in college.

Of course, it was fall term of my senior year, so it was a little late to really change my focus without spending much longer (and much more money) in college, and I was ready to be done. I received positive feedback from peers and the teacher there as well. Keep writing, I was encouraged.

Since then I have done that, but it's been mostly sportswriting - again, until this blog. I haven't really done much at all in the fiction space, which is where I'd like to move into.

The local community college offers online writing workshops. A little lost with exactly where to begin this fictioin odyssey, I'm thinking it might be interesting and helpful. Perhaps I'll get a better feel of where to begin, which seems to be my problem. It might also force me to plan things better, to set myself up with a schedule.

I know some other writers have taken community college workshops and found benefit. Is it worth it? What about the online aspect - is that something I should try to avoid? What kind of time commitment did it demand?

Or is this notion of something like this a little unnecessary? I guess perhaps I'm just worried it will be too much or too little.

I think the part I'm least sure about is the online part. I've taken classes online through the day job and found them less than worthless. Conversely Wifey is taking a course right now that she is enjoying. Subject matter is going to play an important part of that, but to me I would think person to person contact would be a helpful thing. Can this be replicated online? For the price maybe it's worth it just to see how it goes.

Maybe I'm just whining - sign up already, right? I think I probably will, Wifey thinks I should - I'm just unsure as to what to really expect.

I would love to hear anyone's ideas or experiences with online (or offline) writing classes, so please, leave a comment!

10/12/2010

Done With Cheering the Road Team

Have you ever gone to a sporting event and cheered for the road team? Did you have a good experience or not?

For me it's been a mixed bag. I've been the road fan a few places since I got out of college, and at this point in my life I think I'm just about done with it.

Think about it. When you step into a stadium 99% of the people there are rooting for the home team and wearing that team's colors. If you are wearing the colors of the other team you stick out like a sore thumb. The home fans automatically tab you as different, as an outsider, and as people are wont to do they act accordingly - and it can be very, very unpretty.

That's not an indictment of sports fans in general - most of them are very nice and understanding that the team one cheers for is a personal choice that should be properly respected, but as with all things it only takes a few jackasses to ruin the whole thing.

I remember back when I was a student at the University of Oregon I went to a game at Autzen Stadium against Washington State. As a student I was in the student section, but inexplicably a couple Washington State fans were a couple rows behind my friends and I. I personally don't think Autzen is overly hospitable to visiting fans anyway, but to come sit in the student section? Predictably they had to deal with a bunch of crap from drunken students and by halftime they had left, perhaps to find a place to sit that wasn't as unwelcoming.

That has been something that has always made an impression on me for some reason. For one, why would you put yourself in that position? Sure, you want to cheer your team, but at the same time - in my mind - you can't complain when you know what you are walking into. Again, that's not condoning the behavior - it's instead an understanding of the setting and knowing a positive outcome is less than likely.

I've put myself in that same position in four different venues in the past ten years.

Cheering Oregon State at Husky Stadium


Back in 2000 Wifey bought us season tickets for the first time to Oregon State football. For my birthday she took me up to Seattle for the weekend and we went to the Beavers-Huskies game, sitting with her uncle who is a Husky himself and a season ticket holder. She also bought me a Beaver shirt to wear for the occasion.

We got there early and walked around the stadium a bit, checking out the scene. People were nice to us, perhaps because they didn't at that point feel the Beavers were a threat, and we even got to pet the official Washington Husky (which, I should point out, is actually a Malmute). There were no catcalls or rudeness, but then again the student section was on the opposite side of the field and we were with Huskies, which I have since learned is usually helpful (going with home team fans).

After the game - which the Huskies won, the only game Oregon State would lose that season - I was in the long line at the bathroom. The guy next to me nudged me and, smiling, made a comment about "at least you aren't a Duck." I just smiled. I'm thinking had I been wearing green and yellow my presence wouldn't have been treated the same way. I also am pretty sure it could have been different had Oregon State won that game.

Husky Stadium, in my experience as a Oregon State fan, seems to be a decent place for the road fan.

Cheering the Portland Trail Blazers at KeyArena


I'm hardly an expert on fan rivalries - though that would be an interesting topic to research - but my unexpert opinion is that the NBA simply doesn't inspire the same degree of rivalry as football. Wifey - who is (unfortunately, was) a Seattle SuperSonics fan - and I went up to a couple games at KeyArena one year. In fact, I think we went to all four Blazers-Sonics game that season - two in Seattle and two in Portland.

At each venue she wore her Gary Payton jersey and I wore Blazers stuff. I don't think anybody at either arena said anything. This may go back to my previous point about being with a home fan, but I think it speaks more to the nature of the rivalry than anything else. The Blazers and Sonics had a history, but at that point in time neither team was overly good.

I do think the NBA just doesn't foster that kind of environment the way football does. Maybe it's because fans don't tailgate for basketball games, or maybe it's different if it was Lakers-Celtics or Bulls-Knicks, but I don't think so. No one even looked at us twice.

Sadly the Seattle SuperSonics have moved to Oklahoma City as the Thunder and KeyArena is now void of NBA hoops, but it was a decent spot to be a road fan.

Cheering the Cincinnati Bengals at Seahawk Stadium


This is what really ended it for me. The Bengals, who have been our team since Chad Johnson nee Ochocinco was drafted by them in 2001, come to Seattle roughly every 10 years (I have no idea how often it is, but it's rare), so when we were offered some tickets we snapped them up.

Neither of us had ever been to a NFL game before and because of our largely positive experiences as the road fan in KeyArena and Husky Stadium we didn't think twice about Wifey donning her Johnson jersey and me my own Bengals attire. We arrived early to check out the stadium and get the general look and feel of a NFL game.

Seahawks fans are generally considered some of the most boisterous in the NFL and they take pride in things like their team leading the league in false start penalties forced - due to noise, largely. If there is a fan base I've come across that could be described as rabid, it's them.

To say we felt out of place is an understatement. Not only did our orange and black clearly stand out from the Seahawks blue and green, making us obvious outsiders, but it seemed an inordinate amount of fans went out of their way to make comments and even to be somewhat threatening. The comments I expected; but to be a little worried for our personal safety because of the jersey we chose to wear to cheer on our favorite team? That is taking it too far.

The sad part was seeing a few other Bengal fans...like us, they had their heads on a swivel. Eye contact earned a brief head nod, but most time was spent being wary.

After our Bengals lost we had to walk back to the car through the stadiums tunnels to the parking lot on the other side of Safeco Stadium. We couldn't get out of there fast enough - in the car, on the freeway, head back towards Portland. Yikes. I can't imagine how we would have felt had the Bengals won.

Definitely not a place I would recommend wearing the road team's colors.

Cheering the Oregon Ducks at Reser Stadium


If you have read this blog for awhile you know I'm a Duck and Wifey graduated from Oregon State. We had season tickets down at Reser Stadium for nine years, meaning we got to see Civil War in person five times.

I won't lie - the first time I put on my Oregon sweatshirt for a Civil War game at Reser I didn't know what to expect. I mean, sure, I was with Wifey and a few other Beavers all wearing orange and black, so I wasn't going to be left on an island by myself, but what would I have to deal with? Comments? Threats? Civil War isn't necessarily always civil - or rarely is - so what would it be like?

Knowing my minority status I decided to take the only road I could - have fun with it. I laughed off the comments, even the ones I knew weren't made jokingly. I didn't make an ass of myself by being overly demonstrative in the Beaver season ticket holder section when something went the Ducks way. Of course I wanted Oregon to win - in 2000 a win would have put them in the Rose Bowl - but at the same time I loved that year's Beavers team and the fact Oregon State won - which would eventually send them to the Fiesta Bowl - probably made things a little easier. Both teams were ranked in the top ten before the game, so it was huge.

I took the same stance in each of the next four Civil War games I attended, choosing to simply wear my colors and take a laid back approach. In 2002, 2004, and 2006 I saw my Ducks again fail to win. Finally, in the last game I have been to at Reser - Civil War 2008 - the Ducks did win.

I will tell anyone who asks my experiences as a Duck at Reser Stadium have been generally positive. No threats of violence, very few idiots, that kind of thing, though I'm sure others haven't been as lucky. I know for a fact Autzen isn't as welcoming to Beaver fans, both having been there as a student and from Wifey's own experience there.

Would I do it again? Maybe. I think Beaver fans in general are relatively welcoming, just like the Husky fans were to us in Seattle.

*****

But no matter how positive my experience was in each of these places, I've come to the conclusion, at least for me, that it's no longer worth it. If I see another Bengal game in person, it will be on a pilgrimage to Cincy to see it in The Jungle.

For me it's not a matter of do I think I'll have a good or bad experience, it's the fact I'm opening up to something that could be seriously (and unnecessarily) stressful when it's really just a game. Road and home fans are at a game for the same reason - cheer on their favorite team. People - and when I use that term it's for the proverbial group, not any individual or specific group of individuals - generally act with a mob mentality and can be extremely derisive to those who appear different. Sporting events, fueled by excessive alcohol use, tend to be a breeding ground for this kind of thing.

And for me, it's just enough. I'm not going to put myself in that situation. Besides, the view is just as good from couch without having a line for the bathroom.

So have you ever been the road fan? Did you have a bad experience? A good one? Would you do it again? Or was it something you found it's just better to avoid and watch the game on TV?