Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"I've been working on the railroad,
all the live-long day"

I have certain regrets about my educational and career choices to this point.

Poking around the job listings at CSX, BNSF, and UP, I've noticed that no one who works in the railroad industry seems to make less than $20 an hour -- even while undergoing company paid training and apprenticeship. While the hazards of being a carman or freight conductor might not be my first choice now that I have a family, the notion of being a signal worker roadmaster has a real attraction to it even now. Driving around to various right-of-ways, climbing up on signal towers, making sure signals are wired properly -- it all sounds interesting.

I've also been considering the advantages of working as an electrician. While there is a lull in new home starts at the moment, working in a building trade at least offers the opportunity to free-lance and do maintenance or remodeling work for other folks -- and if need be do it cheap too. If I had been a double-e in college it would be even easier to become a contractor and run my own business.

Of course, there's also cooking. After watching one too many episodes of Triple D on hulu, I keep thinking how fulfilling it could be to own and operate a restaurant... or even a vending cart. Cooking is basically just chemistry on a macro rather than micro scale, and people always want to eat -- and eat what someone else spends time preparing for them. Of course, it does seem like a large percentage of restaurants fail in their first few years, but there's always chef-ing for someone else.

When I was in middle school and high school I never gained any particular insight into what I would actually like to do for a living, or what any particular careers might offer me. In college I was (among other things) not really even cognizant of the possibility of graduate study or its potential usefulness for careers other than professor (at least in the natural sciences). Now, eight years out of college, still paying for said college, and trying to support a wife and child a do-over looks quite attractive. The question is, having failed to define or pursue a goal up to this point, will I be able to do so from now on?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Seven hundred words.

Upon re-reading yesterday's post, it is apparent that I haven't practiced this writing thing enough recently, and that it's not quite the same as riding a bike. We shall see if I can do anything about that in the days to come.

Even without reading back through all that has been written here, it seems to me that the posts here have often emerged out of... angst? Put simply it seems that since entering (what has been for me) marital bliss, and no longer being on the prowl as it were, I have seemingly lost most motivation to write. While perhaps understandable, I have some regret at not leaving at least a little documentary evidence of the past few years. Starting yesterday we'll see whether we can rectify this.

And besides, I need someplace other than facebook to post about how adorable CrazyOne is.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

This evening was supposed to be a date night, and indeed it was one, albeit with an unexpected itinerary.

Michelle once again demonstrated the uncanny link our minds have when she independently proposed dining at Saigon Noodles or Sai Bai Thong -- the exact two restaurants I had been thinking of proposing to her. We chose the pho, and risked riling up Crazy One with some iced coffee. Dinner was quite good although left us glad to be stopping at our third destination when we did (see below).

Following soup, we tasted a bit of my parents' dating life by heading to Menards. In her nesting, Miche is anxious to create matching hardware for the antique dresser we got off of CL, so we looked at fixtures and finally settled on making our own from oak dowelling. Next stop (that's third) was supposed to be mini-golf (to be the first time we've gone together), but the sky was taking on a continually darker aspect, so we went straight to my parents house. The garden was doing well, I ate a radish, and we poked around the basement together for some time, finally ending up with a trove of objects to haul home with us.

Last was Woodmans. Once again I was impressed by how perfect a grocery store Woodmans is. It also remains the place to go in Madison to see people of virtually every cultural background on the planet getting food. Simply fascinating.

We watched Pale Cocoon when we got home -- quite an interesting one off. I dig this fellow's other work "Time of Eve" as well...

Friday, June 05, 2009

Momentum. Tempo. Zeitgeist.

Amazing how seemingly small and even insignificant events can change the perception of "how things are going".

67 years, 1 month, and 19 days ago today, the Doolittle Raid -- a militarily insignificant bombing raid on the Japanese home islands -- convinced the Imperial Japanese Navy high command of the necessity of eliminating the US Navy's forward base at Midway in an attempt to engage and destroy the USN carrier fleet.

And then, 67 years ago yesterday, after the American torpedo bombers had been virtually annihilated by IJN Zeros, the Dauntless dive bombers of the USS Yorktown and USS Enterprise appeared over the Japanese Main Force and proceeded to sink three aircraft carriers.

Had the Japanese ignored Doolittle, would this turning point in the Pacific War have occurred at all?

Addendum: For some reason, I always get choked up when I read the story of the the US carrier air strikes on the 4th of June. "What greater love has man than this, to lay down his life for his friends."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Prague Review #2: -- U Bílé Kråvy

Our first night in Prague we were unsurprisingly overwhelmed -- we'd been in Germany that morning, had a longish feeling train ride, and were now in a completely foreign city where we didn't speak the language, and no longer had native speaking hosts/guides. After a long day walking around the city site-seeing, we had returned briefly to our hotel to freshen up and consider our dining options. On the walk back we had made note of a couple restaurants as possibilities, but nothing grabbed us by the collar and shook us to get our attention.

Since we were tired and hungry in our hotel room, we didn't want anything too far away, so that limited our choices somewhat. Out came "La Guide du Routard", our French travel guide. After struggling through an inadequate index, I finally found a section listing a handful of restaurants nearby our hotel's address. Serendipitously, we decided to check out one restaurant called U Bílé Kråvy, based on its brief description in the city guide.

I unwittingly led us a block past where we needed to go, and thinking that perhaps the place was no longer open, we resigned ourselves to a second pick -- with the caveat that we would check the previous block just to make sure. Good thing we did. The restaurant was there, with a cartoonish cow head hanging (check out the websit) from a sign post over the door, and indeed even inlaid in the sidewalk with dark cobblestones. We briefly looked over the menu and then opened the door to go inside.

The entrance bought us down a few steps as the restaurant's location could be described as demi-sous-sol. We were greeted from behind the bar to our right by a fellow who turned out to be the head waiter (of two); a quick "nemluvete czechky" from me and we were being escorted to a table and presented with English menus.

Our table was nestled next to a wall length mural of cows grazing a field. The overall decor was... it hearkened to an old inn, and yet it didn't feel "rustic". The old timbers of the building were visible, and things looked hand-made without being kitschy. Some music played softly in the background -- some of it old French pop (think Edith Piaf), some of it sounding more like Czech folk (although I can't be certain of that). The restaurant was not noisy, but nor did it feel like a tomb. We could hear a party or two from the other dining room (the restaurant seemed divided in two).

Our waiters were both quite courteous and conscientious, and utterly un-French. It was so refreshing to be in a restaurant where one did not feel like a nuisance at best after our experiences in certain cafes 'round here. The gentlemen who initially welcomed us especially was amazingly friendly.

So, overall everything was great, but... what about the food.

Well, first let me say that our experience that night was SO pleasant, that we... decided to go back on our LAST night in Prague as well! So, we got to taste two parts of the menu each. While I think overall we enjoyed our first night just a little bit better (due no doubt to the novelty), I can say with certainty that both meals we had we amazing, and better than (with possibly two exceptions) any meal we've eaten out in France.

Our dinner began both evenings with bread and cheese. The cheese was soft and spicy -- it actually reminded me of the sort of spread one can find in Wisconsin. One night we had the onion soup which was really wonderful -- unlike many onion soups that can become too salty or too oily (or both), this was neither, just a pleasant soup. The only thing "bad" about the soup was the portion, which was so generous as to fill us up partially before our main course.

The main course was about meat -- beef in particular; that sign over the door was not merely decorative. Of four different cuts that we sampled (all medium), all were enjoyable. I can safely recommend both cuts on the menu that involve bacon... one might not expect to combine bacon with fine quality meat, but the chef managed to combine the two in a manner that allowed the beef to shine through, only complemented by the cured pork.

Side dishes are de rigeur. We tried the croquettes, which you must try if you go. I was frankly unimpressed by their appearance on the plate, but the taste was amazing -- soft creamy potato with a fried exterior and hints of spices that must have included cinnamon and others. The green beans were quite tasty as well. The onion cake was quite good, although a bit difficult to eat... we risked ridicule and embarrassment when we tried to break it with a for... the caramelized onions were quite tough -- tough but tasty.

We enjoyed two very fine Moravian wines with our dinner. They were both reds, and both had rather different bouquet and flavor. I was frankly surprised -- I wasn't previously aware of vineyards in Central Europe, but both bottles we had were quite enjoyable -- and given their provenance, were an order of magnitude cheaper than comparable French bottles. I'm going to be on the look out for any Moravian vintages when we get back to the states, although I'm not certain I'll find any.

Our desserts, while not the centerpiece of the evening were still quite pleasant.

It's a bit difficult to estimate cost, since our bill was in Czech crowns, but I think we spent about 70 euros one night and 50 the other night for an amazing three course meal for two with wine. And that was after a 25% tip (as I said, I was impressed with the service... and by the end of the first meal we were already discussing a possible return, so I wanted to leave a good impression). I cannot recommend U Bílé Kråvy emphatically enough as a wonderful place to dine should you ever visit Prague.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Prague Review #1 -- Hotel Anna:

When we decided to go to Prague, I felt like we were setting off into a vacuum. We didn't know the language, we didn't know the city, we didn't know the accommodations. Thankfully, we managed to get lucky. This review is both in thanks to our hosts, and as a help to any other English readers that happen to want to travel to Prague. And of course, the internet never forgets...

Hotel Anna ( was a great place for us to stay. First of all, let's talk location. Two blocks from a metro stop, that metro stop itself only two stops away from the main train station (or five stops away from our Berlin-Vienna train station), it was quite easy to get to without having to choose between hauling luggage across half the city or hiring a taxi. As for getting around once we were settled, there were tram stops at the metro stop, but we didn't even use any public transportation for getting around to site-see -- ten minutes walk max brought us from the hotel to Wenceslas Square right downtown.

The hotel itself? The sidewalk in front of the door has "Anna" written in inlaid stonework. The outside of the building is typical Prague rowhouse, not as spectacular as many of the downtown buildings, but still pleasant. The interior was clean, with an elevator and wide stairs offering a choice for getting up to your room. The staff all seemed quite fluent in English, although given that I heard German guests speaking in English as well, if you're not an English speaker you may be out of luck. The room we had was quite pleasant, with typical European double-beds pushed together, and a spacious bathroom with shower. There was even a separate door between the entry/bathroom area of the hotel room and the bedroom, giving you the option of more quiet in case of hall noise... frankly I wouldn't expect much of that, as there were only about five rooms per floor.

Breakfast was included in the cost of our room, and was a great amenity in this case. Rather than a typical "continental" breakfast of a pastry and coffee, here you could sit down in a very pleasant solarium to a breakfast buffet. Eggs, deli meat and cheese, bread and pastries, cereal, yogurt, fruit, juice, milk, coffee and tea were all available with the only caveat being you were not to take food out of the dining area. In spite of this, we found the breakfast so pleasant and filling that we were able to have only a small mid day snack and then dinner, meaning we basically saved ourselves the cost of one meal a day.

Our bill for three nights was under 150 euros (of course we payed in Czech Crowns), and it would have been hard for us to be more pleased with the place. The only small annoyances were the ultra thin pillows that we had to fold in half, and the half-height holder for the shower head. Other guests included some single gender groups of young folks, and a fair number of middle-aged or retiree aged couples from across Europe, so you might even find someone interesting to chat with at breakfast.


Friday, October 10, 2008


It's still a bit surprising to me that being surrounded by Asians in Paris feels so much less foreign to me than being in Paris at large.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

My mission today was to visit the larger of the two "Chinatowns" in Paris and scout it out. Along the way I hoped to stop by an Office Dépot and one of Paris' game stores, l'Oeuf Cube (Roughly, "The Cubic Egg"). Chinatown was supposed to be located near Place d'Italie in the 13eme Arrondissement -- on the same side of the city as us, but all the way across the river. My intention was to walk there and back, although I had reserve funds in case I decided to take the metro for the return.

It was indeed a long walk, but as always, the interest of the scenery made the walk a pleasant one. One rue in particular seemed to be occupied entirely by the same clothing shop, operated by the same Chinese man, offering the same black clothing, cloned for several blocks. I felt as if I was walking on some sort of treadmill, as every shop I looked in, the same fellow seemed to be staring back.

Office Dépot was of course only a fraction the size of one of its American brothers, and unfortunately didn't have the colored note cards that I wanted... quel dépot, feh. L'Oeuf Cube was a small shop located near a university campus that was packed with games, so packed indeed that I felt sheepish trying to pry any off the shelves in order to take a better look at them.

Eventually I arrived at Place d'Italie (without getting lost at all, despite a longer trip than yesterday -- perhaps drawing out a little map helped), and was... unimpressed. The place was one of the larger ones, but nothing seemed to indicate that this was Chinatown -- the same cafe and brasserie as anywhere else occupied all the choice corners. I did have an address for what was supposedly a well regarded Chinese supermarket, however, and set out to walk the next block or two to find it.

I was seeing perhaps a few more Asian restaurants than elsewhere, but the storefronts were mostly the same old .... I did however run into Tang Frères though -- turns out the brothers who opened the market I was planning on visiting had been very successful indeed and had opened an auxiliary location.

Even though outside I had seen nothing to indicate I was in Chinatown, when I stepped into the market I felt transported. Suddenly I was no longer in a foreign land... I was in Chinatown. Instead of being surrounded by strange French folks, I was surrounded by people who -- as long as they only spoke putonghua -- could easily have been people I rode the EL with in Chicago. Something about seeing so much Chinese script was comforting as well; that plus the fact that a great deal of packaging also had English descriptions -- indeed my beloved Sriracha hot sauce had been imported from the USA! Plus, the prices were much better than even the hypermarché for the sorts of ingredients I like to use: 1 kg beansprouts, 59 centimes; 1 package soba noodles, 59 centimes (found at Woodman's in the US for 1.59!); ramen for 30 centimes a package instead of 70+ at the hypermarché, coconut milk for 69 centimes instead of a euro sixty nine. It was wonderfully comforting to be among so many familiar products once again, and a sight less stressful than the typical French grocery experience. Had I not been limited by what I could carry home on my back, I might have bought much more, but as it was, I purchased a goodly amount for only fourteen euros.

Of course, even with only a fourteen euro load, I was loathe to walk the whole way home so I hopped on the Metro, and after a transfer ridden ride, I was home.

This evening I made a fried rice using leftover rice and courgette from yesterday, and some of the new ingredients I brought home today. It was DELICIOUS. Michelle agreed.

Not only that, but it left me feeling more satisfied than some of the more local fare. Interesting that the most filling meals I've eaten here have been recipes from
foreign lands.

Afterwards, it being a Friday night, we went out for a digestif. We went to Café Martin, a medium sized joint several blocks away on the main boulevard. It was quite pleasant, and fairly French.

As I write this, I can hear a crowd of (presumably drunken) French wandering down the street doing their hearty best to maul a rendition of "Happy Birthday".

And good night to you too!