Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Current event

The sound of a car failing to turn over merits a spot on the Top-10 List of saddest audio experiences. That's no doubt why I frowned when I heard just that stuttering sigh-groan on Sunday night.

A jump-start ensued to resuscitate the patient, followed by a tour of surrounding 'burbs while the alternator worked its magic. I boldly shut the car off after 30-plus minutes of driving in order to fill up its tank. To my relief, the restart proved reliable. Luck held through the night, fortunately spent garaged -- Monday morning's start only marred by one hesitant cough before catching.

From work, I called an auto parts shop that, based on online research, had a fitting battery. "Come later in the day," said the voice who answered the phone. "Then, I'll have enough staff for someone to help you." I frowned again, looking out the window at wind-blown snow, thinking about the cold's power to sap a suspect battery.

The afternoon, though, brought sunshine and a start with now a couple of hiccupy hesitations. Driving meant recharging, so I did make it home via one stop at the battery shop.

Turns out the battery that would fit my mobile didn't qualify for the fine print on the large poster proclaiming, "Free Battery Installation!" So, I fastened my DIY courage to the sticking point of one YouTube video and a confirming article by itstillruns.com, a site with a backhanded compliment of a name. Those sources stoked the belief that, yes, I might actually be able to do this myself. My humble socket-wrench set proved just adept enough for the tricky contortions to reach requisite nuts and bolts; really, the wrench, proved too adequate, shearing one screw in half due to my apparent over-tightening. A different auto parts shop bailed me out with a replacement, which I, chastened, fastened with tasteful restraint. (My internal defensive pessimist foresees one or more loose connections proving my next technical downfall.)

For now, however, this story features a happy ending. When I activated the trunk's electric release to stash the old battery, I felt reassured I was back in business. When I turned the key and the engine jumped to life, I felt proud.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Acquired taste

I was set to cook dinner Sunday night for a couple of friends and my wife: a stir-fry of beef, Napa cabbage, onions, garlic, and ginger, dressed with coconut-peanut sauce, served over noodles. I was winging it, working off who-knows-what past kitchen escapades and the knowledge that the presumed eaters didn't have any dietary restrictions or pronounced proclivities.

"Is that coconut milk?" one friend asked, nodding to a can as he did a kitchen fly-by.

"Yup," I said.

"We're not big fans," he said. "Go easy if you can."

Uh oh. I spent a few moments weighing various ratios that might mute the coconut, considering alternate sauce permutations, and finally deciding to forge ahead. My thinking: The sauce would be served on the side, so diners could spoon it on to taste -- or not at all. So, into a small pot to simmer went the entire can of coconut milk ("Bad friend!" my superego scolded my kitchen id), about a half cup of creamy peanut butter, big glug of oyster sauce, splash of rice vinegar, plus a few shakes of cumin and cayenne pepper.

Thirty minutes later, I invited my friend for a taste, warning lightly that I'd opted for the full coconut experience. He sampled from the spoon while I hedged that he could forgo the sauce entirely if its flavor profile floundered... "It's way more peanut than coconut," he said. "I like it. It's delicious."

His wife agreed. They both smiled with satisfaction, I with relief.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Whipsaw pseudo-sonnet

Same day I met a parent to hash out how my interactions with her child
were perceived as piling stress on pre-existing heaps of stress
and, thus, a course change looked like the sole tenable release,
I received a belated holiday card from a separate student

(in the same class, no less) that among other encouragement said this:
"Surprisingly, it is not just the 10 minutes at the beginning of class
that you give the class to read our books that I have learned a lesson from.
I have also learned to work towards my goals..."

I pause to reflect: Ingredients feeding one student's flourishing
echo as identified culprits in another's failing to thrive. 
Has the cliche about one size not fitting all ever landed in sharper relief,
feeling nothing at all like relief?

My brain and heart feel squeezed like accordions
by twists in this knot diabolically Gordian.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Binge watch

Classes resumed today after the extended winter break, which included an extended reading binge. Here's a recap (of the binge, not the break):

Rabbit and Robot by Andrew Smith - This young-adult science fiction depicts a future that's distressingly, black humorously close to our present. Its zany darkness, at times, echoes Kurt Vonnegut.

Assassination of Brangwain Swain by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin - A middle-grade fantasy, this illustrated volume proves a Trojan horse for exploring dueling perspectives (elf vs. goblin!) plus the challenges of empathy.

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka - The writer and artist behind lighthearted fare like the Lunch Lady series and Platypus Police Squad turns serious in this graphic-novel autobiography retracing his sometimes troubled upbringing.

Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore - In this realistic middle-grade fiction set in New York City, the main character Lolly often feels adrift after his brother is killed. That situation introduces one of many hard choices Lolly must make growing up...when to create (often with Legos) versus destroy.

Refugee by Alan Gratz - Three interlocking tales blend realistic and historical YA fiction, showing refugee families from different eras fleeing Germany, Cuba, and Syria, respectively.

Stiff by Mary Roach - This title for older readers could land on a reading ladder somewhere after How They Croaked. It details more than any single reader could ever want to know about what happens to a body once a person dies. Simultaneously riveting and not for the squeamish.

Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds - The patter of the author's familiar urban voice come across loud and clear, with a few extra superhero trappings and a conspiracy spun out by a weirdly hallucinogenic villain. This YA adventure may have asked to me to suspend my disbelief further than I typically will for this genre.