February 25, 2011

Please do not run over the penguins…

So, I was reading some blogs yesterday and came across this sign from Table Mountain National Park

After chuckling a bit, I thought I would find out more about that national park. I found that it is in South Africa and is home to some tropical penguins. What a concept! Tropical! You can see them here in a picture on a beach. If you look very, VERY closely, you can actually see their little swimming trunks and cool sunglasses.

I was wondering how to deal with the issue of my moniker and impending move to New Mexico. I mean, a penguin fleeing the snow and ice of New England. Seriously? Well now I know. The Fabulous Penguin is a South African Penguin, Spheniscus demersus, also known as the Black-footed Penguin.
This eases my mind a great deal.

(Not the Fabulous Penguin, but an incredible facsimile !!)

It is a pain in my "ass"

So regular readers of this blog know I am a BKA, below knee amputee of my left leg. It occurred 5 ½ years ago. I make due the best I can mostly but every once in a while something happens and it leaves me muttering under my breath. Yesterday was one of those days.

After the amputation, my surgeon talked about the issue of phantom pain occurring in the majority of amputees. Its range is from very mild discomfort to intense, debilitating pain. I have met people all along that gamut. However, a minority of people do not experience any phantom pain at all. While recovering in a rehab facility, I met several BKA’s who shared their experiences. This included some discussion about phantom pain. When I met my prosthetist for the first time while he was fitting me for my new leg, he talked about phantom pain occurrence. Finally I follow a blog by a woman who lost a leg and Peggy talks about phantom pain. She discussed it in her blog here, here, and here. This was something that did not concern me. Until yesterday.

I had experienced itching on my missing foot, on a number of occasions. I even successfully stopped it once by scratching the titanium portion of the artificial limb about where it felt the itch was. However these were mild, painless exercises. About two years ago I began to experience what I can only describe as a twitch or spasm in my missing leg. I happened maybe 3-4 times across about a year, lasting anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour or so. Last summer, twice within the period of a month and three times across the summer, I experienced this twitching for 4-8 hours. Twice it kept me from being able to sleep and once, when I was experiencing some unrelated back pain, it exacerbated the back pain to the point that I went to the doctor to get some muscle relaxers. Since the end of the summer, I had experienced it one more time, several hours worth. These spasms are short, not painful, repetitive and generally a nuisance. That is until yesterday.

Over night I had experienced one or two spasms that woke me but were not too painful. By the time I had arrived in work, they were occurring about every 5 minutes or so and were increasingly uncomfortable. By noon, they were becoming downright painful, the first time I would say that it had shifted to this point. This continued until I got home without diminishing. This was pain, real pain and I did not like it. I took a long hot shower and mrsfabp massaged my stump for a while. Eventually, after about 9-10 hours, the spasms subsided.
You know, generally I do not complain about my lot in life. I just try to deal with each day as it comes along. But this really sucked. A lot. I am hoping against hope it was a one time deal. We shall see.

One of the established uses of medical marijuana is for nerve pain. Maybe there is a silver lining to this cloud…

February 22, 2011

The Blue Canary Cream Ale Report

As has been reported here and on the CSA Podcast , CollegeBoy and I have endeavored to make our own home-brewed beer. It has been an unmitigated success across the board.

A quick summary – we purchased a basic brewing kit from Midwest Supply which came with everything we needed to begin. We also purchased 24 16 oz bottles and 3, 1 liter bottles for putting the beer into. We chose cream ale as the first beer to do, mainly because it is said to be an easy, straight forward recipe that gives you the time to figure out the rhythm of brewing. We have made 3 successful batches of this beer, christening it Blue canary Cream Ale, a tip of the hat to They Might Be Giants and their song “Birdhouse in my soul” which has been the inspiration for our podcast title, and now our beer. This brings us to the next step of our brewing experience.

Of all the hassles of brewing your own beer, the one that takes the most time and energy is cleaning and sterilizing the bottles and caps. The solution is to go directly to a tap system but these can get to be expensive. The question is do we move up to brewing in a draft container so that we have a tap beer – currently we brew in 5 gallon pails and then bottle from that but it takes almost 4 hours to clean, prep, fill and cap the supply. There is an inexpensive kit that allows for the beer to be brewed in 1.5 gallon batches and have a tap adaptor so that you can put it directly into the fridge – like a mini keg. This is the direction I believe we will head toward.

One issue with the homebrew is the fact that it is a bit cloudy. That doesn’t harm the flavor at all but esthetically it is not the best. I understand that there is a seaweed extract that is used to clear the beer. I have research this and it is a cheap, easy to use step in the overall process. Inexpensive too, so this will be included in our next order. This brings us to the next issue.

We have now used a kit three times to make the same beer. The kit is for what is called Liberty Cream Ale. We are feeling experienced enough to try another kit beer that gives a different taste. However we don’t want to make too many changes at once such that if there is a problem in a future brew we can pinpoint the issue. Thus we are going to make the same beer a fourth time, using a different process, directly into a keg from the initial wort. If all goes well with this procedure and process, we will branch out to a second beer. One being considered is honey ale. It would be similar to the cream ale but gets its priming sugar for carbonation from some honey. We will use the kits honey the first time but there is some room for experimentation in using say, a local honey – clover or other type. I expect New Mexico has some good local honeys too so I am looking forward to this variation.

Finally, we have found a great Reddit source of information, the homebrew sub topic. I am planning to write there soon to ask about the mini-keg system and other easy beginner recipes to help keep us moving forward. Until then, we are happy to drink our current homemade beer and enjoy the satisfaction of our accomplishment.

February 16, 2011

The Promise of Spring

What is it for you? Is it the crocus (croci?) pushing up out of the ground and appearing out of snowy patches of your garden? Is it the swelling red buds of the maple trees that give the hills a early scarlet blanket? Perhaps it is some birds, maybe chickadees, doing their “Hey I need a mate for the spring” call.

Many New Englanders will tell you it is the sap buckets attached to majestic sugar maples. All of these visions are a promise, a promise that spring will be here soon, a promise that despite what the groundhog said (inferred?), soon there will be warm rain and flowers and leaves and breezes and life will start again. Sure, there still might be some snow or cold, or grey cloudy days that seem to never end. But there is a promise made and it is always kept.

For me, the promise comes in 4 little words – “Pitchers and Catchers report.” Nothing lets me know that the winter is finished as does these words – in a newspaper, on the TV news, or on the internet, and they have been heard this year. No one has to guess how I feel about winter. I have cursed it, bemoaned it, pleaded with it for months. I wrote about having enough of it. I cannot wait until its end is in sight. Worries of floods from melting snow or the mud season do not even make me flinch, I am ready to deal with these already.

When I was growing up, we depended on the newspaper for these words and usually got just a few lines a couple of times each week for the entirety of the spring. Maybe on the sports news on the radio, someone might report about an exhibition game. Sometimes there was an ad for opening day tickets. These things helped to keep the promise alive.

Today, we are flooded with the internet reports of spring training. I look at no fewer than 10 Yankee Baseball blogs and they are filled with the promise and thus they fill me. Daily reports, hundreds of words, tons of pictures, speculation, prediction, satisfaction. How can you go wrong. It’s like the menu at an all you can eat buffet, have some of this, a little of that, try these and those, go back for a second helping of promise and joy.

I love this stuff. I love the coverage. I love the speculation. I love the chatter. Who looks good, who is fat. Who is throwing the hell out of the ball, who is nursing an injury. Who will be starting, who will make the bench squad, who will try to catch on with another team? Who will go home? Will their head be held high or bowed in embarrassment? Who will win, who will lose?

This is the promise of the spring. I look forward to it each and every year and am never disappointed. It is here right now. Enjoy it!

February 15, 2011

Why I am “T Fab P”, the Fabulous Penguin

All my friends over at the Seth Curry Saves Duke blog sight have been asking me about my nickname since it appeared as my profile name in a comment I made. So sit back, crack open a beer and let me tell you a little story about how I became T Fab P, The Fabulous Penguin.

Back in October of 2007, my family went to see a They Might Be Giants concert in Northampton, Massachusetts. We invited a friend of the family, Steve, who had introduced us to this group maybe 15 years before this when my son, here called College Boy, was just a snotty nosed child. We went to a brew pub before the show and during the conversation, we began talking about podcasts and soon enough, with the addition of much alcohol, we decided to give a try to creating our very own podcast. We enlisted CollegeBoy for technical support, because we were clueless about the mechanics of recording and editing and posting podcasts, and off we were. Not wanting to expose ourselves fully on the internet, we adopted pseudonyms for the show. The podcast, called Countless Screaming Argonauts (from the TMBG song, Birdhouse in your soul) had us adopting the names Maqz and the Penguin, as co-hosts. My moniker, the penguin, came from a long term fascination with the bird, from childhood. This included collections of them in all forms, and this even affected our internet consumption, as our first and most long term screen name was Werpenguin, as in "we are penguin."

The podcast, a left leaning, politics, internet and sports related commentary show, includes a variety of "guests", mostly played by my brother-in-law. He has several recurring roles, including Joshua, an Irish immigrant who may or may not have a green card, Denali, a flamboyant seer who has feelings about future events, Mark Twain (yes, he has contacted us from the dead) and our perennial favorite, Manhattan Man. That character is an edgy, New Yorker with strong opinions and stronger language, quite adept at talking sports, music, movies and books, and has logged easily the most podcast appearances. You may have noticed he commented on the SCSD blog recently related to my nickname because he was intimately involved and responsible for its creation. We have done well over 200 shows in the 3+ years we have been podcasting and in Episode 40, Manhattan Man paid tribute to the Penguin, renaming him, the Fabulous Penguin. Soon, this morphed into T Fab P, also at his behest and a great nickname was born and has been uttered proudly ever since.

This has continued for the last few years and last year included the launch of my companion blog to the podcast, which I called "Penguin Droppings." This blog focused originally on podcast issues but soon became more of a commentary on my own life. As I began to think about and talk about retirement, I began to focus on that process of deciding where and when. New England is just too cold and snowy and icy and the internet led us to the idea of New Mexico, specifically Las Cruces. It has been a struggle for my wife and I (her nickname on the podcast and blog is Mrsfabp by the way) to deal with the anticipated changes (leaving family), house problems in New England (too many to document here) and job issues (I am going to be forced into early retirement), and these have all been subjects of the blog. Through it all, we have continued to move ever so slowly toward that day of reckoning and have done so by always keeping the goal in sight, "making the dream of Las Cruces, New Mexico, a reality..."

So this is my story. Thank you specifically to Shane for encouraging the telling of the tale and to the various SCSD'ers who enthusiastically asked about the name and its origins. To hear about the birth of the Fabulous Penguin go here to the podcast opening, it all happens in the first 5 minutes but you should enjoy the whole podcast...

February 13, 2011

Better than winning the Lottery !!!

What happened to CollegeBoy and me yesterday, was as good as winning one of those Megabucks Lotteries, without the hassle of spending the prize money, and dealing with all the new found relatives, friends and hangers on. We won the Seth Curry Saves Duke Pick Six Contest!

For those who may not follow this blog, I have mentioned Seth Curry Saves Duke (SCSD) several times, including this post where I talked about some of my favorite blogs and mentioned this one and provided a link. This blog is written by Shane Ryan, about the Duke Blue Devils and New York Yankees, and gives a fan’s fan perspective about two of the most hated teams in sports history. CollegeBoy got me reading it because I am a fan of those two teams, because Shane does include other sports related commentary and because he also writes occasionally about the Giants, another favorite team.

So, Shane starts a contest called “The Pick Six” where six people/teams predict 6 sporting events weekly for 6 weeks. CollegeBoy and I figured we could do well in the contest and put our name in and were chosen to participate in the third series of the Pick Six. Each series will advance to a final Pick Six Championship after six rounds of the game. Well we came back from a dismal week five to win and will be carting home the Pick Six trophy to proudly display!

The best part about this adventure was establishing relationships with some like-minded, rant spewing, fan fanatics, who enjoy the camaraderie that sports provides us. CollegeBoy and I enjoyed it very much and look forward to continued commentary on the SCSD blog about the Pick Six and sports in general.

I made a promise that I would tell the people of SCSD about how I got the nickname, T Fap P, The Fabulous Penguin and will do so in a blog post early this week, as soon as I am finished basking in the glory of our Pick Six victory!

February 7, 2011

Movie Review: Due Date

This is a smaller film with a couple of big names in it – Robert Downey Jr. and Zack Galafanakis. The two of them are on the screen maybe 96% of the movie. We see Downey’s film wife for perhaps 2% and a Western Union employee for the other 2% so the film makes or breaks it on the relationship between the two. In some ways it is the remake of the John Candy / Steve martin classic “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” with a updated twist.

Downey and Zack are both in Atlanta, trying to get to LA for 2 very different reasons – Downey to be there for the birth of his first child, Zack to break into the Hollywood scene and get on a TV show. They are thrust together and end up having to travel together by car the whole way. Downey hates Zack (see Martin hates Candy) but by the end of the film, they are buddies. How they get there is the entire film.

This is not some finely crafted adventure film nor is it thought provoking. What it is however is funny! As we left the movie theater, CollegeBoy stated that the “R rated comedy is back" and that is an apt description. I wondered at times how much may have been improvised, especially some of Zack’s stuff as his off beat sense of humor was very evident. He helped carry “It was Sort of a Funny Story” (reviewed here) and did the same for this film. My favorite part of the film was a scene at the Grand Canyon where first Downey needs to explain that it is not mane made and then in a tender moment of the film tells Zack that he did try to ditch him along the way but came back for him. Zack contemplates this for a few seconds then said something along the lines of “well, you brought back donuts so it’s all good”

Overall I give this 3 Penguins

At times we all laughed out loud. There were tender moments, funny scenes and touching ones as well as things that could make someone a bit uncomfortable. But I think this is the context of Zack’s sense of humor and it shines through here throughout the picture.

February 3, 2011

Blizzard Stories 1969

In February 1969, I had just turned 14 years of age. We were still living in our first house on 215th Street, not going to move to the house next door until late that spring. My dad was a supervisor for the Department of Sanitation in NYC still at that time, responsible for the north east section of Queens that included his old town of College Point and the area of Whitestone.

The storm hit NYC on late Friday night, February 9th and continued until early Sunday morning. I can remember standing on the side of the house looking at snow drifts that were easily 14 feet high. New York City officially got 21 inches of snow from that storm but some areas of the city saw close to 30 inches of the white stuff. I can remember we sledded on that snow for weeks.

This is the storm that cost John Lindsay, the mayor at that time, reelection in 1972. The city was a disaster, with unplowed roads, non-moving traffic and a nightmare to recover from. This is similar to what just happened a few weeks ago in the city. One would think that a mayor would have learned from his predecessors. What is it they say, “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” Everything I am about to say, could be said about this most recent storm in NYC. Only the names and dates have been changed to protect the innocent.

As I mentioned, my dad was a Sanitation Superintendent fort the northeast Queens. I can remember him talking before that storm about how the city didn’t want to pay a lot of overtime to the workers so they waited and waited until sometimes it was almost too late. This happened again in this storm and this time the city bigwigs got caught and they paid. Normally if there was a storm like this coming my dad would have been called in Friday afternoon for planning sessions and then sent home to rest in order to return Saturday morning, expecting to work 24 hours or more straight,. He didn’t get the call Friday and he came home, business as usual for the weekend. It was only mid morning on Saturday that he got called in. By then the snow was already a problem as the regular workers, skeleton crew was not able to keep up with the storm snow removal. My dad talked about cars stuck in the streets and the men not being able to plow and what a mess it was.

In the meantime, sections of Manhattan were well plowed and taken care of. This led to charges that the rich neighborhoods in the city got preferential treatment about snow removal, In a foreshadowing of George Bush’s Katrina fly over, the mayor did a tour of some NYC neighborhood hardest hit and was booed in some areas. He was politically devastated and lost the following year’s Republican primary for mayor, ending up running and losing as a third party candidate. Sections of Queens were still not plowed a week after the storm.

As Yogi Berra once said “It sounds like déjà vu all over again!”

February 2, 2011


So maybe in a past life I did something so terribly wrong that I am being punished in this life. Maybe I have been talking too much about getting out of New England and moving to New Mexico so that Mother Nature is teaching me some cruel lesson about the grass not always being greener on the other side of the fence, by reminding me what it looks like to not see any grass. Maybe God or Allah or Buddha or Yahweh or whatever he/she prefers to be referred to as, is just giving me a not so subtle nudge westward. Maybe there really is something to all the talk about global warming causing climate shift and change. After all we just had one of the most humid summers ever in New England and now one of the most snowfall EVA months in January. Maybe I’m just sick and tired of winter.

So far in 2011, we have had 7, yes SEVEN snowstorms leaving at least 6 inches of snow per storm. That is not counting at least one or two that left an inch or so, nor does it count the storm with 8 inches that occurred the day before New Years Eve. Boston, which averages 40 inches of snow per winter, has twice that right now as the snow continues to fall. In today’s Atlantic Magazine web post, they detail all the different names given to snowstorms in this age of social media – Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse, SnOMG a few of the examples. I understand the urban legend now that claims Inuit natives have like 47 different names for snow. I guess they should be consultants on the internet terms…

Our friends in Las Cruces told us this week that they were forecasting the annual Las Cruces Blizzard for this week. This is the picture they sent of their patio.

If you look very, very closely, you can see what appears to be a barely measurable dusting of the white stuff. We call that "a chance of flurries" in New England. They have bone chilling temperatures of 20 degrees at night and mid 50’s during the day. We had minus 14 degrees this past week and minus 9 degrees the day after and have had only 2 days in the last 6 weeks, yes 6 WEEKS where the temperature got above 32 degrees. Our friends will have to sweep off the patio. We have hours of snow shoveling ahead of us to be able to get out of our driveway. That is why I want to move to Las Cruces, to be able to laugh at New Englanders awaiting the next blizzard, and the next, and the next, and the next…

Now, THIS is a picture of a real snowstorm. This is our front porch. We expect to be able to use it sometime by around July after all the snow has melted.

This is a picture of our outdoor bonfire pit. There is a chimney, pile of wood and several chairs under there. As Mrsfabp said, no bonfire tonight!

Enough icicles to make an elf at the North Pole jealousness.

There is a car under that snow pile...