Pandora’s Box

Let me tell you how I spend my day. I get up in the morning, do the routine stuff like brushing teeth and showering, get dressed, hop in the car and go to work.

When I get to work, I power up the laptop, grab a cup of joe, maybe grab some wheat toast, plop down at my desk, put on the earphones, fire up Pandora and get down to business.

Pandora is my friend all day long. I listen to everything from country to hip-hop to music from the 70s and the 80s. I listen to Metallica and Motorhead and then switch over to Seal and Sade. I listen to The Clash and Cheap Trick and switch over to Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. I listen to Ray Charles and Wilson Pickett and switch over to Foo Fighters or Uncle Tupelo or Mason Jennings or Norah Jones or Michael Buble. It’s awesome.

If I hear a song I like or a new artist I’m curious about, I create a whole new station based on that one item and while away the hours following threads of music, finding new songs I enjoy. I thumb things up, I thumb things down and bookmark songs for later research and consumption.

Anything by Coldplay gets an automatic thumbs down, by the way. Ditto for Snow Patrol. I have wide and varied musical tastes, but I’m not without my limits. Go cry somewhere else, Emo boy.

I don’t like The Killers either. That dudes voice gets the hell on my nerves.

Anyway, occasionally I find something worth purchasing. That’s when I turn to Amazon.com. I only buy music that is free of digital right’s management encumbrance and Amazon, besides being one of my favorite sites, makes it easy, does it cheaply, has most everything I want to find and doesn’t make me install memory-hogging bloatware. (Are you feeling me, iTunes?) Amazon always gets my business for movie downloads and most of my other Christmas shopping but that’s another post for another day.

Tonight’s purchase is “Trouble” by Ray LaMontagne. He shows up on several of my Pandora stations and I always seem to like his stuff. “Hannah”, from album above, is a song I find myself singing or humming hours after listening. Something about his voice gets in your head. It’s probably trite to call it “haunting” but I think the word fits. Maybe it’s just husky. I dunno.

The good news is that, through the magic of the internet, you can listen for free. I was going to send you to Free Napster, a site I use to screen music before purchase, but find it’s easier to just embed the YouTube video.

The video is obnoxious, amateurish and distracting but the recording quality isn’t too poor if you just want to listen.

Enjoy. And let me know if you want me to burn you a copy of the CD.

Death, Taxes and Movies

I am, as I type, watching the credits role on Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven“. As most of you know, I don’t have television, but I do watch the occasional movie. This one I watched online from Amazon.com’s Unbox service.

Let me just tell you, I love this movie. This movie is the movie I want to make one day. I am a huge fan of Western’s in general and of Clint Eastwood’s Western’s in particular. There’s something emotionally satisfying about a movie in which a very bad man does very bad things to very bad people. It gets down to the very basics of human nature and you don’t have to do a great deal of thinking to get something out of the movie.

You can do some thinking. You just don’t have to.

Another movie like that is “Taken“, a movie I saw on Saturday night. It’s a very streamlined movie. A guy has his daughter kidnapped. A guy promises to get even with those who took her and a guy hits a whole lot of people in the face to do it. It’s so straightforward that you get the feeling that the writers knew the movie was about a guy who hurt a lot of people and then they came up with a reason for him to be doing so.

Really. The movie is sooo basic. You expect this movie to star someone like Jason Statham or Daniel Craig or Matt Damon. It’s a “Bourne”, “Transporter” or “Bond” type of film. (The new Bond, anyway.) But this one stars Liam Neeson, a person I consider to be a more serious actor. (Craig is someone I consider to have decent acting chops as well.)

This also makes you think the writers said “what if we made an ass-kicking movie with a serious actor?”

As it stands, Neeson’s acting was pretty much the high point of the movie. Sure there’s a whole bunch of emotionally satisfying ass-whipping handed out, but the plot is so cobbled together that it detracts from the movie. The movie doesn’t start until Neeson starts hitting people and ends as soon as he stops hitting people. All the rest is just an excuse to get him there.

That being said, if you like that kind of movie, definitely go see it. Just don’t expect it to win any Oscars.

Not like “Unforgiven”. I’m watching it again, as I type. I cannot tell you how much I love this movie. He kills lots of people.

I also did my taxes. It’s like death and taxes. But with movies.

Beer of the Night: Unibroue Fin du Monde

*Whew*

That was close. As promised, I changed the domain name for the blog to http://www.talesofacharmedlife. The blog did not like that at all. Changing the domain name for the blog apparently disables all access to it. In changing the domain, I also locked myself out. It’s only thanks to my l33t computer hacking skillz that I was able to avert a minor catastrophe.

I’m sure at least one of you noticed the blog was down. I know that not all of you had plans for a Friday evening. Admit it. At least one of you sat home playing on Facebook all night long. It’s okay. I’ve done it myself a few times.

But not tonight. Tonight was guys night on the town. Jimenez, J-Biz and I hit up Zucca’s Pizzeria in Decatur for dinner, a frosty adult beverage and good Christian conversation.

The original plan was to take in Leon’s Full Service, the new effort from the owner’s of Brick Store Pub, the favored watering hole for beer connoisseurs in the Atlanta area. Unfortunately, upon arrival, we learned that the place hasn’t officially opened. Tonight was an invitation-only dry run and the place doesn’t open to the public until the 9th. Two more days and we would’ve been in!

As a consolation, we decided to just hike it over to Brick Store and drink and dine the night away.

Nothing doing. Brick Store had an overflow crowd pouring out onto the sidewalk and we couldn’t wait the hour it would’ve taken us to get a table. Some of us have rampant metabolisms that just don’t tolerate delay.  After a quick walk around the block and an aborted decision to dine at Thai Me Up, we decided that pizza was the better part of valor, so we headed over to Zucca’s.

Unibroue La Fin Du Monde
Unibroue La Fin Du Monde

Fifteen minutes later, we had beers in hand and dinner on the way. I started with a non-descript pale ale but finished with a beer I’d seen but never before tried, Unibroue’s Fin du Monde. The main reason I’ve never tried it is because it’s not a cheap beer. It was $8.50 for the pint tonight and I was the only one brave enough to spend that kind of dough on beer.  (I lucked out because J-Biz and Jimenez decided we should go three ways on the check when it arrived. I definitely owe you guys.)

At 9% alcohol by volume, it’s a heavy beer but not the heaviest I’ve tried. It’s kind of spicy but goes down smoothly.  I hate trying to describe beers. It’s like trying to justify art. I feel like I come across as some kind of pretentious fraud when I try to describe beers. I don’t know if it’s fruity or flowery or has subtle undertones of anything. I just know if I like it or not.  And I did.  But I’m pretty easy. I like lots of beers. If you want the description, here’s what the site has to say:<blockquote>La Fin du Monde is a deluxe beer made by triple fermentation and a unique way of straining the yeast. This method produces an unexpectedly subtle flavour. With its champagne-like effervescence, it has a vigourous presence in the mouth, which accentuates its strong personality. Slightly tart, with the balanced flavours of wild spices, malt and hops, it belongs to the class of great Trappist beers and, in this regard, is a North American first.</blockquote>

I guess I’m better at beer than I thought since I did get the spice bit correct before viewing the description above.

Anyway, dinner was a good time. I haven’t had much occasion to catch up with either of the gentlemen involved since they became blissfully wed and it was good to catch up with them. Both of them have been a big influence on me since I came to Atlanta, whether they know it or not. Both of them were in my small group (bible study for the uninitiated) for eighteen months or so and they have both been positive examples of what I think  a Christian man should be.  I’m sure I’ll have stories to share involving one or both of them in the future.

But not tonight. It’s late and I’ve just about had it, what with having to fix the blog before being able to post this. Hope everyone’s well and hope your Friday treated you well. Night, all.

Pig Candy

Hey, Mike, here’s a bacon recipe for you, just in case you, you know, get tired of eating your bacon straight up.

Thanks, Ma, for suggesting the recipe the other day on my post about Chocolate Bacon Candy Bars. After some digging, I managed to find the recipe and thought I’d share with everyone. I hope to put up all of mom’s recipes at some point and this gives me something to put on the blog without actually having to come up with something on my own! You’re the best, Ma.

Without further ado: Pig Candy.

Okay—if you just can’t stand calling this Pig Candy, you can call it Glazed Bacon. Either way, it tastes great. Thanks to Fred Thompson, the Weekend Gourmet for The News & Observer, for sharing this recipe. He suggests sprinkling the bacon with about 1-and-a-half teaspoons of red pepper flakes, but I found that to be way too hot. I suggest you sprinkle a few of the strips very lightly with cayenne pepper and sprinkle the rest with brown sugar alone. You can decide then what suits your own taste without ruining a whole batch.

    16 slices (about 1 lb.) of high quality bacon
    1/2 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar (or more)
    Cayenne pepper (optional)

Prehead oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a broiler pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil and place a wire rack (or the broiler rack) on top of this. (Yes, you really should do this or you will be cleaning that pan into next year.) Put a little oil on a paper towel, and rub the wire rack lightly with it. Arrange the bacon in a single layer on the rack. Evenly sprinkle the sugar (and pepper if you decide to use it) on top of the bacon slices.

Bake until the bacon is uniformly very crisp and very brown. This will take 30 to 40 minutes. Remove bacon from the rack onto a plate. After the bacon has cooled somewhat, you may pat away any remaining grease lightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make pig candy. One of you loyal readers (either of you is fine) will have to make this and either let me know how it is or feed it to me. I suspect the effort is beyond my bachelor skills at this point. I don’t foresee myself taking up cooking any time soon.

It is bacon, however, so it might prove worth the effort.

Stay tuned for more of Ma’s (plagiarized!) Recipes. She stole put a whole bunch of supposed family recipes and family anecdotes together in a cookbook for all of her children as a Christmas gift in 2007 and I think them worth sharing.

De Rigeur

Just winding down from a long day and, though I have nothing worthwhile to say, I thought I’d jot down a few notes for my increasing horde of followers. I’m up to 80, count ’em, 80 page views today. It is the best traffic day of this young blog by…tens of page views at least. Thanks to all of you for stopping in. I’m sorry I don’t have something more worthy to share with you.

It’s not been my intention to share daily life here on the blog. My intention has been to practice my writing by telling tales. I have plenty of them and several of my good friends…well, one of my good friends (that’s you, L), has been encouraging me to write them down.  Some of them are on the old blog and some of them exist in oral tradition only. I think I’ll gradually move some of them from the old home to the new and, hopefully, will find time, energy, motivation and inspiration to pen the others.

I’ve been thinking of other ways I’d like to use this site and have hit upon some things I’d like to do. For one, I’m going to change the domain associated with this blog and use the current domain, charliestafford.com, as a broader umbrella. The blog will be my writings and the domain will a house for other projects.

The new blog domain will be http://www.talesofacharmedlife.com. I get a domain for free with my hosting so I figured I’d go ahead and grab it. And as long as I’ve got it, I might as well use it. It’s a little longer than I’d like but it should have the benefit of being easy to remember, at least. I’ll give you all a day or so to update your links before pulling the switcheroo.

I’m sorry to say it but I think that’s it for the evening. I’m tuckered out from a long day. I have less than half an hour to unwind and meet my self-imposed schedule for bed.

After all, I have to get up and do this all again tomorrow.

Feeding the Hungry Beast, Part II

Gyminee. Not just for crickets.
Gyminee. Not just for crickets.

I started a new exercise routine a few weeks ago and it finally seems to be taking effect. I tore something in my knee in September of last year and was pretty sedentary for the later part of the year and gained a few pounds. I joined the gym and started swimming laps, deciding that was the quickest way to return to fitness.

I’m in my third week and I’ve lost…(eight+seven…carry the one…add it up) .8 pounds. That pretty much blows since I’ve been swimming at least four days a week over the last two weeks. And I hadn’t even lost that until I stepped on the scale this morning. I actually gained a little weight over first two weeks of the program. It would be some consolation if my body fat percentage had dropped but that rose a little as well. You can say that I’m a little disappointed in my progress so far.

Granted, I have been working my way back slowly. Swimming has started working a lot of muscles I wasn’t working on a regular basis even when I was running four and five times a week. I definitely could feel progress in my muscles even if I didn’t see it on the scale.

Yesterday, I discovered a new website to help me motivate myself and track my progress. I’ll even go so far as to credit it with helping me lose my first .8 pounds. The website is Gyminee. It’s a social network for fitness junkies or people who are just trying to shed a few pounds. It has tools for helping you set goals, plan workouts and meals and track your progress.

The thing I’ve found most useful is the nutrition log. I am the kind of person that pretty much assumes I can eat whatever I want as long as I’m exercising. The nutrition log gives me a calorie range for each day that will help me reach my weight loss goal. It also lets me know how many calories I consume in the form of carbs, protein and fat, giving me a target range for each.

Did you know that peanut butter, besides being high in protein and salmonella, is also really high in fat and calories compared to say, chicken salad? It’s true.

Anyway, I ramped up the number of laps over the last four days and I’ve been eating to stay in my calorie range and I am starving! I cannot keep myself fed. My metabolism must be ramping up because it certainly feels like my body is consuming itself.

I eat and my body immediately demands more. I had breakfast and barely made it an hour before my body began to demand more. I had lunch and decided that, upon finishing lunch, I’d just go ahead and have my snack. And then I had second lunch. And second snack.  I feel like a freaking Hobbit. Pretty soon “elevenses” is going to be a regular meal for me.

Speaking of which, my stomach is growling.  I have to go find something that is high protein, low fat and low carb. I do not know how people can consume that many grams of protein in a day and not bust the carb/fat limitations. It’s killing me.

Suggestions?

Feeding the Hungry Beast

Ah, feeding the blog. It’s an old, familiar feeling. This is why I stopped blogging in the past. It becomes a obligation rather than a pleasure and the pressure to create content for your readers to consume turns blogging into something of a chore. But…I also think once writing becomes habitual, it’s not so bad. So here I am, trying to start a new habit.

It helps that I’m totally obsessed with traffic to the blog. I have no less than…(one there…two there…two there…) six different ways to check visits, page views, etc.  Speaking of which, I need to check at least two of them to see how I’m doing.

Thanks to all of you who’ve stopped by to read and comment. There are a lot more of you than I thought I’d have at this point. Don’t think you aren’t appreciated, because you are. I’m adding many of you to Google Reader just so I can keep up with your blogs in return. It’s only fair, right?

Okay, this not what I came here to post so I’m going to publish and start anew.  See you in a few.

Name the Devil and He Will Appear

Just another guy in a red jumpsuit. Eating bacon.
Just another guy in a red jumpsuit. Eating bacon.

This morning, my mother sends me a link to Chocolate Covered Bacon candy bars.  Being a huge fan of bacon and quirky internet finds, I dutifully blog about it. I even create a whole category for my blog to deal with all the delicious goodness that is bacon. I’m even dreaming up things I personally can do with bacon, just to make the world a better place.

And then I find out that Mike Nelson (of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame) has decided to eat nothing but bacon for the entire month of February. Mike (of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame) is already my hero. For one, the man appeared in a show, the entire premise of which is based on editorializing bad films with snarky commentary.  Any of you who have ever watched a movie with me know that I idolize the show and, finding the highest form of flattery to be imitation, caption everything I watch with a constant stream of snark.

This may explain why I watch a lot of movies by myself.  I’m sure it explains the great majority of evil stares I get from people around me in the movie theater.

I even went so far as playing trivia and singing karaoke under the pseudonym of  ‘T. Servo’ for several years.

I have to admit, I thought Joel was much cooler back in the day. Mike came into MS3K in much the same way that Colonel Potter came into ‘M.A.S.H.’,  in much the same way that Picard came into ‘Star Trek’ and in much the same way Dick Sargeant came into ‘Bewitched’; they all were the second versions of beloved characters.

But now…the man is going to consume nothing but bacon for an entire month. My heart swells.

And I’m sure his is going to as well. Oh my God. You cannot live on nothing but bacon for a month. Seriously. You will die!

Mike, you’re gonna’ die!  Didn’t you watch ‘Super Size Me‘? That guy nearly lost his liver.

Seriously.

Hey, if you’re gonna’ die, you should definitely get this on film. Do it documentary style and call it ‘Super Size Me 2: Bakin’ in Bacon’. I promise to catch it on opening night.I promise that I will have bits of bacon in my popcorn. I will even bring one of those chocolate covered bacon candy bars. I’ll be true to the theme.

And I promise that I will not shut up through the entire thing.

Chocolate Bacon Candy Bars

Chocolate. Bacon. What else do you need?
Chocolate. Bacon. What else do you need?

Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes Chocolate-covered Bacon candy bars. Who can resist the sweet, smoked sensation of rich chocolate covering salty bacon? It’s two of God’s favorite foods coming together in a match truly made in heaven.

Thanks, Ma, for the link. I’m adding a new category to the blog just for bacon related entries. I feel certain there will be more as bacon is something of a fetish of mine.

Playing Hooky from Church

I woke up this morning fully intending to go to church. I even got up early so I could make and enjoy a pot of coffee before going. I showered, shaved, made sure I had something clean and unwrinkled to wear…the whole deal.

And then I sat down to enjoy a few moments with just me and my coffee. Bad idea. One cup of coffee became two and getting to church early became getting to church just in time. Two cups of coffee became three and getting to church just in time became watching the live streaming version of the service over the internet.

The trouble with this is that my church doesn’t apparently offer a live streaming version of the service over the internet. If they do, I certainly couldn’t find it. And I looked.

So now I’m annoyed that I’m missing church. I can download the podcast later on but I don’t want to download the podcast. I want to watch live. Since I can’t do that, I feel like I’m wasting my Sunday morning. I could still go to church and catch the tail end of the service and do the mixing and mingling that happens afterward but…I hate getting the end of the message before the beginning.

Someone will inevitably point out to me that the church does indeed offer live-streaming and I just missed it. That will annoy me even more.

I’m pretty sure this is God’s way of telling me I should’ve just gone to church.

By way of penance, I’m feeding the new blog. I figure writing is a gift I’ve been given and using that gift is a way of honoring He who gave it to me. That’s part of the reason for starting this blog anyway. It’s a way to use my gifts to honor God. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep it up.

Well, now my coffee is cold and the pot is empty. Was it worth missing church? No. I really should invest in a good travel mug. Maybe I’ll put on my shoes and catch the post-church mix and mingle. I might at least score an invitation to lunch.

Maybe I’ll just make another pot of coffee.