The Great Plotnik

Friday, August 31, 2012

The New Label

After great wrangling with the Avery design site, which turns out to only work in Mozilla but not in Safari: Here is the 2012 label for 

2 Queens Kitchen

Plotnik had a bunch of other ideas to put on the label, but the label has to really be quite small when you've got to try to get it onto half pint or pint containers, or small bottles of hot sauce.

He thought of several tag lines, like

"Pull my finger, Grandma..."
"From Your Finger to Rosie's Nose"
This kitchen been Belly, Belly good to me"

But. Better this way.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What to Do at 5am

Plotnik seems to sleep until 5 am. Then a stupid dream wakes him up, and no matter how stupid the dream, he is now awake worrying about It.

So this morning, after he dreamed that his wife was going off with -- well, the idea is beyond believable, in the light of day, and should be equally so in the darkness of the other side of the moon, but there Plotnik was, tossing and turning, thinking "what? With HIM?"

So he got up, walked upstairs, looked out on the deck, then ran back down to get his IPad with the StarWalk App, because a gigantic star was hanging low over the avocado tree.

He pointed the IPad and StarWalk told him he was looking at Venus, huge in the foreground and, above that to the right, Jupiter. The little red dot you can't see here was a satellite called Zazum.

(There were three large moons of an unknown planet visible on the left, but they turned out to be smudges on Plotnik's monitor.)

Conceptually, Plottie is always stumped by this stuff. For starters, we all know Venus is closer to the sun than we are, and Jupiter is way out there on the other side of us. And yet -- here I am, and there those two planets are. How can we be between them?

Well, a little thought clears that up, but how about this: if you forget to power down StarWalk, and you sit it on the kitchen table, it looks through the table and the center of the earth and tells you you are now staring at Pluto and the Sun. Through the kitchen table.

That's too much for 5am.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How to Replace Old, Rotten Stairs

First you call Mike Schwartz. This is the most important part. Yes, it's true, a carpenter named Schwartz.

Then you rip the old, rotten stairs out. That was last week. You go to the lumberyard and buy new wood, gasping at the price of one piece of redwood, let alone a dozen, plus pressure treated risers, clips and wood preservative. That was also last week.

Next, you have your meeting.

Then you watch Mike use a power saw with his own thigh as a brace. This could be Kaiser's new logo. There is no book on carpentry that doesn't tell you to NEVER NEVER use a power saw this way, but every carpenter Plotnik has ever seen does it just like this. They also put wood in the saw guard to block it, so the power saw can more easily sever their femural artery.

(And yet, carpenters most of the time go home in the afternoon with the same amount of limbs and digits that they had when they showed up at work that morning. They lose eyes and teeth in bar fights, but practically never screw up with that saw.)

Next, Mike figures out the angle for the stair risers and scribes the first piece of 2 X 12. Your job was to help him get the lumber off the truck, though you watch very carefully, so next time, before you call Mike, you will be able to assume the same restful,  though helpful, position against the fence.

You get to paint the copper green on all newly cut surfaces.


Give a carpenter a hammer and a level and he can build anything. Also, cool pro-grade power tools. More on that in a moment.

Mike attaches the first redwood stair and then you use his MAKITA 18-VOLT VERY SMALL cordless screw gun (Birthday Present Alert, ahem ahem) (MOM knows what it looks like) (NOT the old, blue one with the very heavy battery, but the new LIGHT one with the tiny battery) to screw the clips into the stairs, while nailing the clips into the risers. (For further information on screw gun, you may phone home.)

Before you know it, you're done.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Apples to Apples

It's August in Saint Plotniko, so it could scarcely be more beautiful. No cloud cover, so the sun is hot, but not too hot, and the wind is soft and the clouds are fluffy. The apples are red again this year -- we never have figured out why they were green apples for the first ten years we lived here, but as we've pruned and shaped the tree the apples have become far more plentiful -- and now they are red and green.

The white datura are in their prime right now. Here you see them in the corner of the "living room," formerly the Home of Lamar Odom, along with that phalenopsis orchid that has been in bloom since April, and the bulbous plant, whose name we don't know, that Elsu gave us at least ten years ago and just keeps getting bigger, as long as we ignore it and don't give it any water.

It took the expected twenty minutes for Plotnik's rage over yesterday's Plotzer trade to die back. It didn't hurt that one of the players acquired from the Red Sox in that trade hit a three run homer in his first at-bat with the Plotzers. This is not to say that good results trump common decency, only that in the end a fan is a fan is a fan, y'know?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Put a Number on Their Back

So apparently the Plotzers are trying to buy their way into baseball success. This is really bad, nauseating stuff. So we can be the new Miami Heat or New York Yankees.

It's bad for baseball. Teams ought to be forced to stay the same from the beginning of the season to the end. It shouldn't be the same rich teams, every year, buying the good players from the same poorer teams at the end of the year.

250 million dollars.

The guys who own these teams -- it's Financial Steroids. You ingest vast amounts of capital and it makes your balls so big you think you can buy anything. In the end, does it all come down to money? Is this what we fans are supposed to care about -- which real estate developer developed more shopping centers last year?

If so, put a f___ing number on his back and trot  him out on the field. Let's see if he can hit a curveball coming at his head.

If the game some of us have rooted for for the better part of six decades has sunk this low, where all the talking is done by money and performance enhancers -- it's time to re-think. Really.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Why Plotnik is Updating Less

Yes, that's a bear skin.

Plot was asked yesterday if he's bored with blogging, because he doesn't seem to update as much as he used to?

Well, here's how it goes.

* It used to be about food. But after awhile all food pictures look the same.

* Or baseball. But think about it: you juice up, your team wins a few hundred games with you on the sauce, and probably no one gets caught. You win a lucrative new contract. And if you do get busted: whoa, too bad. You get penalized fifty games but you keep your contract and your team keeps all the wins.

Baseball hgas gotten to be like cycling now. Even Lance Armstrong, the first, last and best liar, even better than Barry Bonds, has finally stopped pretending he was clean.

(Not Barry, of course. It was flax oil that gave him cojones the size of beach balls.)

* Plot writes a lot of music. But he has never figured out how to put music on his site -- only video.

* Isabella is growing up. We don't get much to report on these days. And, anyway, your children or grandchildren are way more interesting to you than to anyone else.

* Or curmudgeonly musings about life. Even he is bored with that.

So what's left?

* Politics? Plot and Duck are planning to be out of the country during the last weeks of the election. The thought of listening to any more fat-assed corporate lies from Mitt Romney or whining The World is Ending Right NOW begs for money from Move-On.Com, or endless robocalls at all hours of the day and night from both sides, makes the thought of staying home while my country farts out its next president absolutely intolerable.

I mean, come on. It's all coming down to the N----- in the white house, like we'd all hoped wouldn't happen. People get stupider every year. All the fancy pretend outrages cannot hide the fact that Obama has done a great job saving this country from the hole the Republicans threw us in. So if you vote against him there cannot possibly be any reason except the obvious one. This makes Plotnik very sad.

It also makes him sad to think that if Romney gets in we will almost certainly go to war with Iran, to thank Florida for putting him over.

Plotnik thinks nobody needs to hear any more paranoid musings like these, but seeing as there seems to be no current movement to give Florida back to the Spanish and Texas back to the Mexicans, it's probably better that Plottie not update as much as he used to.

Yes, those are moose antlers.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Warm Chow and Fast Boats on a Windy Day

As reported earlier by The Great Mushnik, yesterday was one of those only in San Francisco days. In the first place, it was sort of chilly. In the second place, the food was really good.

Ms. Mush and Mr. Silent B. took the Duck and the Plot out to lunch for Duck's belated birthday. In the proud tradition of Birthday Zen Master Punk, Ducknik has been milking her birthday for weeks.

The 45-foot America's Cup catamarans were practicing out by Crissy Field and Fort Mason. These are not the gigantic 72-footers they'll be using when the Cup takes off for real next year, but these little boats were still quite a bit larger than anything else out there with a sail.

Every one has a corporate logo. When they tie them up to rest, they feed them cash.

 Although the boats also carry national flags, like the Republic of Korea's entry below, there is no requirement for the captain or any of the sailors to actually be from the country whose flag is painted on the boat. Plotnik's assumption is all the sailors are very bad boys from Southern California whom the Tiapos women can't ever get enough of. You can see Alcatraz in the background, where those bad boys used to end up.

 Afterwards, a trip through the Italian-American Museum at Fort Mason, to see the exhibit on Italian-heritage major leaguers throughout history, was absolutely wonderful. If you're a baseball fan you don't want to miss these fabulous photos and stories. From Ernie "The Shnozz" Lombardi through the three DiMaggios all the way up to Barry Zito and Dave Righetti's dad, this is not only fascinating but it's free.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Four More Bridge Pictures

Above: Two Medicine Falls, Glacier National Park. Below: On the Stone Arch Bridge, Minneapolis.

Above and below: Lake St. Mary, Glacier National Park

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fun Then Fog

Sunday was Fun Day in Napa at Chef Sarah Pickle's house. People's homes come to resemble the people who live in them -- Pickle's home is warm and bright, surrounded by trees and pots of sweet-smelling kitchen herbs. The thing Plotnik loves about her side of Napa is real people live there, not just the mega-wealthy. He took home stalks of culinary bay leaves and lemon verbena, plus oranges from Eric's out in Hayward.

Really, really good roast chickens.

And it is hot up there. Blessed heat without demon humidity.

Driving home across the Bay Bridge it was hard for Plottie to realize he lived underneath that thick bank of fog that takes beauty and turns it gray. If he could have, he'd have stopped and turned around.

It's all relative. That night a friend needed an emergency favor. She lives up on Diamond Heights. When he got up there it was miserably cold. It rained fog, with wind straight in the face. Plot realized it's not so bad down in the valley where his fog is not so angry.

As always, it's about friends getting together. These summer Tiapos meetings are maybe the best ones of all.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Heading up to the Shnapa Valley for a Sunday Tiapos this afternoon at Chef Pickle's house. Pickle is cooking, and when Pickle is cooking, we come.

Last night Plot and Duck got a great text from The Great BZWZ, who is in Wales, saying:

"Sitting at the Black Lion Pub in Derwenlas. Just walked around town and now drinking beers in the pub of our forefathers."

BZ has now seen the village where her mom's Welsh family came from, and the village where her dad's Polish family came from. For certain, the Jenkinses and Thomases are standing up and cheering right now.

After getting that message from BZ, what's a family to do? Plot and Duck went down to Roosevelt Tamale Parlor for dinner.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Hanky Girl came over for dinner last night. She told us this story about her mom:

Hanky is an only child. Her mom was getting old, had some dementia and couldn't hear. She refused to get a hearing aid. But finally she relented. They spent over $4,000 for the hearing aids, of course not covered by insurance.

Her mom wore them one day and then they got "lost." They looked everywhere. Hanky figured her mom had just inadvertently flushed them or something. They were never seen again.

Until her mom died a few weeks ago. The funeral home gave her mom's effects to Hanky Girl. She looked into a little pocket in the purse where her mom kept her crackers. There were the hearing aids, covered with cracker crumbs.

So the moral of this story, children, is...what, exactly?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Other Wild Animals

Grizzly bears and black bears were not the only wild animals we saw in Glacier National Park. There were also these mountain goats:

This ptarmigan...

This extremely vicious cow...

This beautiful (ly sauteed) trout...

This venerable moose (over 100 years old)...

This Long Island Duck...

Her merganser family...

This Barefoot Gander

And finally, this wonderful and rarely seen Minnesota Cousin. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Few Trip Photos

Using the IPad Blogger App, Plotnik was only able to post one photo per blog while he and Duck were up north. Guess what: the blogs are more interesting. So from now on, only a few per post.

Here are some of the places we saw: North Dakota from the train window:

Minneapolis from across the old Stone Arch Bridge.

The Prince of Wales Hotel in International Peace Park, which is in Canada, at the upper end of Glacier National Park in Montana. This shot is how the place looks at night:

Here's how it looks from the Bear's Hump, a strenuous hour or so up the hill behind it.

From many miles away you can see how the hotel sits at the base of the Bear's Hump. We took the previous picture from the top of that hump.

 There are some photos you just have to stop and take.

This one too:

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ducknik's Birthday Breakfast

...was a piece of cold pepperoni pizza eaten on a rock down by Swiftcurrent Lake, staring out at crystal clear water, mergansers swimming, ptarmigans fluttering, glaciers melting, soft ripples breaking the surface as fish jumped to catch low flying insects. We bought the pizza yesterday and protected it from bears with a sign.

Late last night the two travelers drove a mile down the road, parked the Rented Subaru by the side of the road, opened the sun roof, stuck their heads up and pointed their eyes towards Perseus, just a few inches to the right of the Big Dipper. Immediately they were rewarded: a huge shooting star flashed across the low sky in front of them, right to left, glowing yellow as it was consumed by Earth's atmosphere. During the next hour and a half the full Perseids meteor shower whooshed above them, as they used the Star App on the IPad to identify that bright star (Saturn) and that constellation (Cassiopiea) and that red and blue fast moving flash(weather satellite).

Saturday, August 11, 2012

This Land is Their Land

Today's post was sent to us by Great Plotnik Travel Correspondent Hanley R. Plotnik.


This Land Is Their Land

"But did you accept Him as your personal savior?" says the young man with yellowing  teeth and a scruffy goatee.

"I don't like that kind of question," says the middle-aged woman wearing a Disney t-shirt and a crucifix the size of Fantasyland around her neck. She and her friend were taking up four seats at a table in the crowded Observation Car and I asked if they could please move over and make room.

Looking at me, she says "This has been the worst year of my life, what with the ar-tha-ritis and the di-a-bettis and... "

"But have you accepted Him as your personal savior..." says the young man, touching his hand like a mosquito on her fleshy arm.

"Let's go," I say to Barb.

She nods and we keep walking. The dining car is still three more cars in front of us. It has been a ten minute slog forward, from our "roomette" three cars back, in the rear of the train, through crowds of elderly tourists, many with limps, falling from side to side and slip-sliding towards us us like carnival bumper cars as they attempt to stay upright as the train wobbles along the track.

The Empire Builder is filled to capacity with codgers. Young people don't take the train. They're in a hurry. Older people have the time and you cannot beat them to the dining car. They must have put their names on the list at 6am.

I'll tell you who rides The Empire Builder.  Wobbly geezers. People who can't squeeze into airplane seats. Women on Christian Travel Tours. Families with lots of kids who live along the line in places like Minot, North Dakota or Havre, Montana, or on the Blackfeet reservation. People who are poorer than the plane but richer than the bus.

In St. Paul, high on a hill, we toured the palacial 1891 home of James J. Hill, President of The Great Northern Railroad. The Great Northern built all the trains and laid all the track that became The Empire Builder. James J. Hill was a real Emperor.

But that was The Great Northern, not Amtrak. As a romantic memory, Amtrak stimulates the American heart. But as transportation, Amtrak is a joke, especially on the long hauls. Trains are never on time. You fall behind.

But behind what? On an airplane you are meat. Uncomfortable, unhappy meat. The train takes forever but you walk around. You meet people. Earlier, we sat in the Observation Car with a dairy farmer from NE Iowa and his nineteen year old son and talked about cows, and silage, and feed, and drought, and how you need two acres to feed one cow and they were milkin' eleven hundred head.

I asked the Dad whether he thought his life was easier or harder than his grandparents' who lived on the same property.

"Theirs was harder physically but they lived better lives," he said. "They worked 'til they dropped but they had neighbors, friends. We have machinery but worry all the time about how to pay for it. We never sleep."

We share our breakfast table with two large ladies with Kentucky, with those same pendulous crosses around their necks. They have grits, we have potatoes. They are from northern Kentucky. Barb's mom was from southern Kentucky.  The women say "that's all right, Honey," just like Auntie Melba.

There are a lot of Mennonites on the train, thin Christians. I get the homespun trousers, the suspenders, the white caps covering the girls' hair, the beards on the men. I don't get the silly page boy haircuts. Why does every boy have to have the same haircut?

Religion. There's a volunteer park ranger on the train. He lives on the Blackfeet reservation so he must be native American. As we roll through Montana he talks about all the dinosaur finds in this area.

A child asks: "How old are the dinosaur bones?"

"Well, do you believe in evolution or creationism?" he says. "If you believe in creationism those bones are no more than around 4,000 years old."

"Yeah, but what if you don't?" somebody else says. The ranger hems and haws and won't answer. He changes the subject.

Later on, in Glacier National Park, another ranger tells us native Americans always avoid controversy. Religion is complicated for them.

In James J. Hill's day, religion was simple: God gave us this prairie and I'm going to build on it. Amen."

Hill's Great Northern Railroad built all the wonderful old chalets in Glacier National Park, a hundred years ago, when the train was luxurious and a place for the wealthy to play.

Now it moves like a cow, swishing its iron tail. It stops. It waits. It chews its cud. It's August and very hot on the prairie. This does something to the iron in the tracks. Trains can derail. We're falling further behind.

Again, behind what?

As we move further west, hearing the train whistle all around us, and the tireless thrum of iron wheel on iron track, the view from our roomette window becomes drier, hillier. Cows change over to sheep. You see a few trees. But it's still wheat, wheat, wheat. And now there's oil. Rail spurs filled with tanker cars, and petro villages with new prefab housing for imported oil workers. Company towns. Locals are fighting it but they can't deny history. We will drill for it and frack it and crack it and put it all onto trains and trucks or into pipelines to send down to the refineries in the gulf. Montana and North Dakota couldn't stop it, even if they wanted to. Jobs. This is what people see, not world politics, not the death of the prairie, not a pipeline owned by Canadians and transnationals, crossing our land, a pipeline that could be sold to anyone in the future. We get a few jobs and they get a thousand miles of our country.

Shouldn't this be obvious? Shouldn't somebody say something?

"Keep government out of it," says the dairy farmer.

"Creationism," says the volunteer ranger.

"Accept Jesus," says the kid with the yellow teeth.

"Oil," say the people.

 The scenery falls away, hour after hour. Up here, this land is their land, not mine.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday Afternoon in St. Mary, Montana

Until now, no internet, no newspapers, no cell phone, only glacial lakes, forests, old picturesque national park lodges and a brown bear cub jumping across the road in front of us, rearing up and turning tail back into the bushes. Everyone is afraid of bears this year - late berry season, bears crazy with hunger.Flags are at half mast for the 19 year old park worker who left on a hike by himself and has never come back.

It's all about glaciers in Glacier National Park -- but the glaciers are disappearing fast. 1n 1900 there were 150. Now there are 25.

In South Africa there were 10  sacred animals you were supposed to see. We saw 9 of 10. Since we got here we have seen three of the Nothern Five: bears, glaciers and huckleberry pie. Still looking for mountain goats and shooting stars.