The Story of Betty’s Pizza Rustica Recipe

Had she made it to today, my Aunt Betty would have her 96th birthday.  She was short of it by only a

handful of days.  But this isn’t the story of a loss.  This is the story of a visit, some warm memories and a recipe. 

Not really a recipe.  It’s hard to explain.  If you can make a proper Pizza Rustica out of this, I would like some of the leftovers.  I intend to try to make this.  I promised her I would but we never got really brave enough to try.

Now that she’s gone, and we know where to get the ingredients here in the Sixth Borough of South Florida, we have no excuses.

This started years ago with a different family visit.  We would go from our “Wonder Years” house and life in Cherry Hill, New Jersey for a road trip to Woodhaven, Queens, New York City.  Up the 295 to the NJ Turnpike, over the Goethals and Verrazano Narrows Bridges to the Belt Parkway.  We would eventually be stuck in traffic before we got off that road, then head up Jamaica Avenue to Woodhaven Blvd, to 86th street, near the park and hunt for parking.

Or so I remembered.  We would be Mom, Dad, my sister, and I.  There we would spend a couple days with the extended family.  Some bickering would eventually happen but it was all in the family.   Some would end up in the living room in front of the TV watching the strange-to-us New York TV channels with their similar but different shows, and the party would be going strong.  It never really stopped for sleep, only paused. 

Food that we learned later to call “Italian Specialties” would be brought out in massive volumes.  Lemon Ricotta Pie.  Canolis.  “The Italian Flag Plate” of Tomato slices with Basil and Mozzarella drizzled with fresh Oregano and Olive Oil from a can that was stored on a narrow shelf to on the stairs to the basement.

The oven was running before we finished breakfast and since this memory in particular was a holiday, there were multiple pans cooking early morning.  Toward the afternoon there was this savory pie that I remembered fondly and think of to this day.  Easter Pie we called it.  It was my introduction to some ingredients like Barley and some of that wonderfully sharp “Extra Sharp Provolone” that actually was a little gritty due to its processing that is very difficult to find here in South Florida despite all those New York Transplants we’ve got rubbing shoulders with us.

No wonder why I grew to be a 6’4″ man, you just couldn’t stay small on all of that food.

I was telling this story while sitting on my couch many years later to my Aunt Betty, and how much I appreciated her, the family, and our quirky way of meshing through my childhood.  Her youngest daughter, Darlene and I were only a year apart, and she had told me many times how much she liked coming down for the flip side of the coin visit to our wonder years house and wandering around because it was “So Green and Beautiful”.  It just felt normal to me, where my excitement was walking down to The Avenue, Woodhaven Avenue I think, and exploring those shops and plugging my ears when that loud El train rattled overhead.

When I mentioned to Betty that I thought the recipe was lost to the ages, she started talking about the ingredients. 

I stopped her and said “Maybe we should write this down!”.  I wanted to make it and I knew that this should get back to everyone some day.

While there are many recipes for this pie, this is ours.  It may be missing ingredients, the crust is pretty incomplete for example, but the list is here complete with my own misspellings and scrawled handwriting.

To help find it in the future, the picture above is repeated in text. 

Dough with Crisco and Salt.
No Yeast.

2 Pounds Rice or Barley
24 eggs plus some for brushing the top
1/2 pound Italian Cheese (Locatelli or Parmesan)
1/2 pound Prosciutto
1/2 pound Genoa or Italian Salami
1/2 pound of Boiled or Virginia Ham
1/2 pound of Provolone
1/2 pound of Mozzarella (optional)
1 pound of Ricotta (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/2 pound sausage (optional)

Make Dough into Pie Crust
Boil Rice or Barley
Add eggs
Mix in Cubed Cold Cuts
Salt and pepper
Stir Very Well
Add Top Crust or Strips
Bake 350 to 375F for 45 to 60 minutes but lean towards an hour

“And That’s It!”

Mind you, her ending flourish like anything in an Old Family Recipe misses a few details.  How you cook this was in a massive pan by my memory that is about the size of my own roasting pan.  It is not a small thing either.  Measuring one that is close to my decades old memory is a bit foolhardy but the one I have here for my own roasts is 18x13x3 inches and it does not fit my oven as closely as hers did.

Also, adding eggs, two dozen of them to the rice or barley?  Better make sure they have cooled down “some” or else the heat from the cooked grains will cook the eggs for you before they even get mixed in fully.

She would layer that crust inside the pan, then pour the filling in and cover it up, crimping the sides and poking holes in the top for the steam to escape.

We’re talking 6 1/2 pounds of food to go into the recipe before cooking, and the Rice and Barley (I recommend Barley) will soak up more water weight as well.

It’s going to be a massive pie.  If you do make this and run over with extra filling, make a second one.  Serve it to your neighbors.  Tell them it’s “Aunt Betty’s Pizza Rustica from Woodhaven, NY!”, make up a story and tell them that everyone up there near the Forest Hill Park knew her and loved her and shared in this pie.

Why the story?  It’s not a story, it’s true.

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In Retrospect A Cadillac Wasn’t The Right Car To Take Offroad

Admit it.  We have all done some pretty bizarre or boneheaded things in our days.

If you haven’t, I bet you’re not all that much fun.

Yeah, I said it.  You’re not that much fun.

We all know someone who decided to launch a trash can onto the roof by putting it on top of a piece of fireworks then lighting it in their front yard.

We all know someone who used to build go carts in their back yards.

We all know that neighbor who insists that Raccoons are great pets.

All of that happened in my own childhood in my own sheltered suburban upbringing in the fabled city of Cherry Hill, NJ.

So get off your damn soapbox and hear the story of one of my own boneheaded trips.

You see, I like to travel.  Truly.  I like to get out and explore and see things not necessarily in my own backyard.  I used to go on my bike and ride out of my protected neighborhood to the wild place called Woodcrest Shopping Center.  It would take me out to Berlin Road, then over the I-295 bridge and the NJ Turnpike Bridge.

It was a world away, and it made me feel like I achieved something in my own pre-teen mind even if it was only a mile and a half off from the house.

Later when I got my first car, we started to explore.

I’d go down to a semi-adjacent town to visit a friend.  Somerdale, NJ.  An older settled burb that was a little less Wonder Years than my own home.  It felt different. 

We’d go further on until we got hooked on going offroad.  I still have my third Jeep Wrangler, but the first was a CJ-7.  The CJs were a rough buckboard of a car that were so uncomfortable that I traded it in on a compact car in Indianapolis after going for a visit one year.

But while I had it, I discovered the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

South Jersey is nothing like what “You People” think of when you think of New Jersey.  No closely settled homes in rows where you might get a good meal on a Sunday afternoon, those places have their own charm, if you grew to know them.  They’re also kind of polluted, since they are too close to New York City or Philadelphia.

The Pines are where the roads turned to dirt.  There never was a real reason to settle these areas since the soil was basically beach sand and you couldn’t farm other than Cranberries.  If you look from the skies all you see are pine trees, berry bogs, cedar water rivers, and small towns in the middle of a vast “empty” area.

But if you explore them, you find a beautiful forest unlike any other place that was surprisingly easy to get to.  They’re latticed like a good pie, Cris-crossed by groomed fire-trails so that when the dry summer season hits, the fires can be stopped before they burn down those little towns.

You really didn’t need a Jeep to go through those areas, but it helped.

We’d drive down to the Carranza Memorial and see the monument to the man who died flying back to Mexico to speak in New York about the children’s fate back in the pre-war era.  Those same children saved their pesos to build that monument.  Now, you can get there and picnic easily since the state built a small parking area.

From there you can hop on one of those sand trails and drive almost all the way to the Jersey Shore without ever touching tire to tarmac except to cross over the road.  We’d stop at Apple Pie Hill to take in the view from the highest spot in South Jersey, a whole 205 feet or so, plus the fire tower.  On a good day you can see Atlantic City, Philadelphia, and if you are really lucky and it is clear, New York City was just in view.

Beautiful spot.

But most of that time I did it in my Honda Accord that predated the Jeep.  A 1978 Honda.  You had to hope it didn’t break because parts had to come from Japan directly, and it rusted out by the second year in the front quarter panels because they designed little pockets for water and debris to sit in and corrode.

Surprisingly I didn’t get stuck.

When Mom got her new car, I knew I had to go explore with it too.  Great.  Me and two of my friends piled into Mom’s Car, an early 1980s Cadillac Sedan deVille D’elegance and headed out.

Mind you, since Jim was living in Medford, NJ, a beautiful suburban town on the edge of the NJ Pine Barrens Preserve, we knew we were going to see what this puppy could do.

Great, lets go to Atsion Lake.  Beautiful place where you were supposed to be able to see the Milky Way if the night was clear.  I never did.  I always believed it was a myth living in the light polluted areas near Philadelphia all my life.

But we got there.  Easy to get to, open two lane black top and we could open it up.  Nobody else there anyway.

I got a gallon of Pump Water for a girl I was seeing at the time since she always raved about how sweet the water was there.  It just tasted like iron to me so I let her keep the jug.

After boring ourselves, we hit the sugar sand road that went east toward Long Beach Island.  Not such a good idea.   The first couple miles were great.  We wallowed past a pothole or three, but nothing really tough.

See that’s the problem.  Eventually those roads became the road less traveled.   Bringing a full sized Cadillac on a sand trail made no sense to anyone but us.  The pines closed in on the trail and eventually it got so that the trees were just on each side of the road. 

Beautiful spot but you just knew you weren’t in the right car when driving on the road felt more like you were going through 6 inches of snow.

When is the last time you saw a Cadillac going through a 6 inch snowfall before the snowplow hit?

You guessed it.  About five miles from Atsion Lake, we wallowed to a stop.

Jim said it first: “You’re stuck, Bill”.
“Yeah I know, lets see what happened.”

I was wheel hub deep in white beach sand.  That big Caddy buried itself to the transmission.

I popped the trunk and began to dig.  It moved easily and we were able to free the beast and back out of the road.

“Not a good idea, Guys, lets head back to the lake!”

We all agreed and got everyone back home.   I rolled into the driveway around midnight.  Mom was fast asleep as was Pat.  Giving the car a quick hose down, I washed away most of the evidence.

Mom drove the car to work the next day not knowing what happened.  She did have me hose down the driveway and ask how all that sand got onto it.

“Sorry, Mom, I don’t have a clue.”

Lets just say it was my education leaking out onto the driveway.   We never did the Caddy again.  The Jeep worked fine when it arrived, and until then we fed our offroading needs with my buddy’s CJ-7.

Now that CJ … that’s a story in itself.

But people do ask me why I keep my Jeep.  Because of times like that.  When I do go back to visit friends and family in New Jersey, I intend to do that trip.  It may be the last time I get a chance to go offroad, but trust me, I’m looking forward to it. 

In the Jeep.

Building A Lego Reindeer? Get a 7 Year Old To Help

When I was a wee brat, Mom and Dad were generous with toys.  So much so that every so often they’d gather them up, cart off what they felt were excess and “give them away”.

I learned to hide my favorites, but that wasn’t foolproof.  I still remember that gunmetal grey 1959 Cadillac car that I had, complete with the tail fins, that was a dealer model.  It vanished one day and was never seen again from its hiding place.

But we always had toys, mostly creative ones, since those were the ones that held our interest.  My Lego bricks, our Lincoln Logs, and that Easy Bake Oven of my sisters were scattered all over the Wreck Room.

Yes, Wreck.  As in Disaster.

The little cakes that Pat made were tasty until we ran out of the mix!

I was helping someone Up North decide what he wanted to do for his new toy back around the holidays.  Joe needed a new computer.  The old desktop machine was over 15 years old and he just couldn’t keep it running any more.  After false starts such as buying refurb or laptops, we designed a cutting edge desktop computer that was full of compromises that could be changed out later when finances allowed.

That was the Old School way of doing it.  I have built more desktop computers, repaired them, repurposed them, and recycled them than I care to count.  I’ve repaired laptops, swapped out LCD screens, rebuilt them, and upgraded them as well.   Same thing with the iPhones and Androids that I have here.  

If it’s hardware, I’ll repair or fix it.  When I throw it out, trust me, it’s dead, Jim.

Despite desktop computers being hard to justify and even harder to justify building from scratch, that was exactly what he did.

To thank me, he sent me a token gift.  A Lego Reindeer.  We called it a Moose anyway, since that really is my nickname, kept from College.

I got it, laughed at the comical packaging, and opened the box.  It was there that I stopped.  There was a book and two bags of random parts.  There also was a book.  Helpful pictures telling you how to assemble it using as few words as possible.  Just numbers and colors and arrows.

It didn’t help that their black and brown were so close together in tone that it was almost indistinguishable.

It gathered dust on the back corner of my dining room table for four months until I got a quiet Saturday Afternoon and an empty house.  Empty as in I was the only human.  Oscar the parrot was obsessing over the food I had at lunch and Rack the Superdog (TM) was sniffing around for that last spare cube of pork I always save for him when I have some.

“Here Boy, that’s it, now go on!”  As he chewed up that bit of Char Siu Pork and padded from the room.  Oscar kept saying Hello over and over.

I looked at the book and thought “I’m glad it’s ages 7 to Adult.  Now, where can I borrow a kid?”.

Then I thought better of it.  If I could repair the broken screen in an iPhone, I surely could snap together a pile of 139 plastic bricks and a few extras, I hoped.

Looking at the first assembly, I thought I am glad I didn’t try this at Age 7 and kept with my electronic projects.  The book was intractable.  Sure, it showed you what to do, but the pictures were so close in shades that I had to get out a flashlight that put out a sun’s worth of light into a pinprick just to tell if it was brown or black.  I had to define this color as brown…

It made Ikea instructions look like War and Peace!

Getting through a couple assemblies Rack started alerting as the door slammed outside.  Kevin came in. 

“Oh, you’re finally starting on that Moose!  Need help?”
“Yeah, you have a kid around?  It’s ages 7 to Adult and this adult thinks it’s insane!  I used to build Lego structures left and right when I was small but this?”
“It sure wasn’t like that when we were small” said Kevin as he eyed the tiny little special purpose bricks meant to make a distant relation to a set of antlers.

Kevin disappeared laughing and came out bearing a metal Snoopy Lunch Box that rattled.

“Here, you’re missing a piece!”  He tried to place a royal blue “Classic” lego block in the middle of my Moose Mess.
“Don’t you dare try to leave that here!” I cautioned “It won’t fit!”
“I think you just need a spare piece!”

I looked down at this pile of small pieces, a couple of sub assemblies, I wondered whether I was going to finish it at all.   A weird blue peg flew from the table onto the floor.  Rack went after it and decided it smelled like plastic and not tasty.

“Here, I’ll get it for you, and here’s a second one you dropped”. 

A white block joined it on the table.  After inspecting it closely to make sure it wasn’t a Classic block, I sent Kevin from the room. 

“Don’t you need to add salt to the pool or something?  Go cut the grass!  Annoying thing!”
“Oh yeah, let me go test the pool, I’ll be right back.”

He sets the Snoopy Lunch Box on the table near, but not on top of my collection of Moose Legos.

“Very funny!  Git!”

I went back to assembling sub assemblies.  Got the torso done before he came back into the house.

“I’ll be back later, I need salt”
“I’ll say you do, just take this with you!” I rattled the box of Classic blocks.
“Are you sure you have enough pieces?”
“No, but these won’t help!”

I really wasn’t sure.  Turns out that I was short one brown block and had one black block extra.  Both were these strange coin thickness squares.  I didn’t discover that I was missing a brown block until I went to do the final assembly of my Moose’s Head. 

As a result of helping Joe, I have a Moose with a unibrow.  There’s a black line above the eyes.  It looks like eyebrows.  Of course I put the eyes in crossed.  It made me go crosseyed as well, so it fits.

The moral of this story?  Got Legos, then Get a Kid to do it for you.  Those strange special purpose bricks won’t go anywhere else.  It’s a special purpose set only to build one thing.  In this case, a Moose.

I now am the proud owner of a blocky plastic Reindeer Moose looking thing and a few oddball random blocks.  Perfect to scatter on the floor so barefoot people can find them for me!

“Oh I lost that a while back! Thanks for finding it!” As they collapse in pain on my living room floor.

Karen’s Portulaca

One of these days I will break down and plant some of these little flowers.

The plants themselves have no thorns.  The leaves are succulent.  The flowers are, at least in my mind, intensely colored, and have delicate petals.

That isn’t why I like them.

I had a friend, back in my neighborhood when I was growing up.  Karen was her name.  She’s still around so I should say Is Her Name instead.

A very sweet girl, very gentle soul.  We became friends as children and stayed that way for most of my pre-college years.

We had a few interests together.  We’d go back into the fields near the 295 Hill and look for blackberries, poke around in the pond looking for tadpoles and frogs.  When we got into riding bikes, she’d have her doll in the basket of her bike, I’d pull a Tonka Truck behind me, and we’d ride all over the little neighborhood.

If you’re thinking Wonder Years, yes, it was that time and it was pretty much like that.

I always had a little garden in the yard where I’d grow a few flowers.  Someone one year gave me some Zinnia seeds.  They grew great in the climate of the South Jersey Prairie where we lived.  I cleared out the weeds, stuck them in the soil in nice neat rows and they’d bloom in insane color combinations.

Karen didn’t want Zinnias.  The leaves were a little rough to her hands.  She went to her mom and dad and asked for some seeds that same year and came home with some Portulaca.  We didn’t know what they were called other than what her mom called them “Rock Rose” or a “Moss Rose”.  No pointy thorns in these to stick little fingers, they grew well in the poor soil in the little container garden near her back door.  I’m guessing that her mom was feeling a little homesick for her own native Maine since they grew well there.

Every year we’d have our respective flowers.  Zinnia in my yard, Portulaca in hers.  It might have been a Thing.  That was what Karen Grew and this was what I Grew.

When we grew, we seemed to stop planting them at the same time.  Every year we had set aside seeds and would plant them in spring around the same time in late April.  I guess it came a time to set aside childlike things and move onto others.  I got into electronics, she had her piano, and we eventually grew up and away.

Walking around here, these flowers were a bit odd.  A little incongruous.  Tropical flowers these were not.  Maybe that is why they were blooming in Late September, the weather is finally cooling down for us.  Never mind that Karen’s back porch container garden was blisteringly hot in full sun on those summer days in South Jersey.  South Jersey itself is hotter than South Florida is in High Summer, so that may be why these little flowers are doing so well around the mailbox around the corner on the neighbor’s front yard.

But no matter where they are, those little flowers will always be to me, Karen’s Portulaca.  Even if it reminded her mom of Maine.

Yes, the View Really Is Different Up Here

I found out that my high school class was having a reunion in a couple months. 

I won’t be there.  It’s just not in the cards.  The trip is too far, and so forth.  Wouldn’t mind, but it’s just not going to happen. 

It got me thinking about those things, reunions.  They’re great for getting caught up with what happened, but someone said that after a while they become a party for finding out who had just died in the last five years.  After all, you keep in touch with those who mean the most for you, and while you have good intentions, those connections fray after not seeing people.  The Prom Queen and King may have been the most important friends you had ever had when you were in those hallowed halls, but move away, and they fade to black.

Cue the picture of the old school tv set with a dark screen and a white dot fading into the past.

There were some friends I had in high school that I did keep up with for years after graduation.  Some even made it into college with me and into later life.  Jim was one of those people.  He was probably one of the most gentle people I had ever had the pleasure to meet.  When I made it to Drexel University, his room was about three floors below me in the same dorm, Kelly Hall.

Kelly Hall was this concrete block slab that overlooked the campus from a high point on a hill.  If you were lucky enough to have the right window, you had a panoramic view over the train yards, past Fairmount Park, and Center City Philadelphia beyond.

I can’t say I remember my view being all that spectacular, and neither was Jim’s.

Since many of our classes were the same, we’d hit the books together when his roommate wasn’t there.  The little 12 by 8 room made out of highly painted concrete blocks wasn’t made for comfort, but utility.  Late Teenage Boys can be incredibly destructive.

It did help to have him there, studying on Chemistry, Calculus, and various Computing courses, so we spent a lot of time there.  Eventually our classes diverged, but our visits didn’t. 

He did have a roommate there, Joe.  Joe didn’t have any classes or common interests there so he was not in the room too much.  Nice enough sort, he eventually became a Resident Advisor for a while.  Not really sure what that gave him other than being the guy in the hallway that they paid somehow to listen to guys complaints. 

But he did have the patience for that sort of thing.  Listen to complaints, act on them, and generally be involved.

One of those days toward the end of a term, he stopped me.  He said that he could always tell when I was in the room that day.

“How on Earth can you tell?”

Now Joe was a full foot shorter than my own 6′ 4″.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, mind you.  But Joe had something of a valid complaint.

“Every time you are here, everything is moved out of reach!”

We all had a chuckle out of that, but I had to explain “It’s part of the territory, it’s a tall guy thing.”.

I realized he wasn’t getting it so I noticed a chair.  When I told him to stand on it, he did so reluctantly.   We stood eye to eye for once.

“Now, look around the room.  What do you see?”
“Wow, it really is different up here”
“You’re right, it is.  I’ll try to make it a point not to move things, I’m not doing it to annoy you”.

From that point on we became a bit closer friends.  I stopped putting the snacks out of reach, he didn’t have a complaint.

The crowd moved apart after that.  We all went on Co-Op and when we came back, Jim moved back to his family home in Medford, NJ.  We didn’t see each other in school all that much more.  With a changed major, and the discovery that the dorms really weren’t as good as the basement of the library for cram sessions, things became more focused for the eventual graduation.

This story came to mind with the coda that Jim’s gone.  He passed a couple years back.  A good friend who died in a car crash on an icy South Jersey road in Winter.  Another good reason not to like Winter, it takes good people away.

Even if they do put things on the high shelf.

Reimagining the Desk – A Journey With A Stiff Neck

One of the earliest things that I had written about was my living room.   Specifically, I took a picture of my chair, my laptop, and the rest, and I then told the story of the Poang and how I tend to sit in my chair and write.   I also do more than that, all sorts of software development for fun and profit, as well as pretty much treat the thing as an office.

There’s a problem.

I originally thought that it was a Tall Guy Problem.  It’s not.  It’s simply a problem.

After reading Reddit and the Tall Subreddit where people take random selfies looking uncomfortable because the world was not engineered for someone over 6 feet tall, I came to the conclusion that Mom was Right.

My posture had become awful and my coveted chair was contributing to it all.  Back pain, stiff neck, and general achy self were some of the things I had noticed.

Yeah I know, Hey, Bill, Take Control.  Grab the Reins.

Ok, Smart Alec that lives inside my head, what do I do?

The house I live in has my desk.  The desk is in the Florida Room.  That room needs insulation and since the exposed beams warm the place to another five degrees F warmer than the rest of the house as soon as the sun starts to bake it, I had abandoned my desk almost immediately after I settled into it.

Don’t ask, it’s too warm to use.

The Ikea Poang in the middle of the living room is under a vent and a ceiling fan redirects the air conditioning so it’s comfortable.  I used to say that it was the coolest seat in the house, but I’m not so certain.

What I did was to relocate to the dining room.

I have an old 1950s or earlier solid maple table in there with matching solid wood chairs.  When Mom got this set, I took a liking to it.  I saw an opportunity when she started complaining that it didn’t do well in her kitchen in Barclay Farms, Cherry Hill, good ol’ New Jersey.  So I “helped her out” of it and it’s been with me ever since I moved into my first Philly apartment.

After waking up with a proper stiff neck that never went away and some other disturbing creaks and cracks that were getting more insistent, I tried some minor changes.  It convinced me that while this isn’t perfect, I’m onto something.

Ergonomically speaking, your eyes will track to the center of the device that you are using.  In my case it is a 16 inch wide laptop.  If I put that on my lap, it will create some problems.

The worst problem is that since I slightly recline in the Poang, the view to the laptop means that I am looking down.  In the more than 10 hours a day I am sitting there using the laptop, my head ends up with chin literally glued to my chest.  That is not a good position.  Not at all.

The laptop had to be raised off my lap and placed onto Mom’s Maple table.

Good first step.  Now, slide back… great!  But those chairs are stiff.  Nobody wants to sit on an un-padded wood Captain’s Chair for hours no matter how nice it looks.   Plus the angle is still “down”.

I slid the chair aside, moved the Poang in.

It’s much better.  My eyes are dead center on the monitor.  The picture I took from my right shoulder, while it is out of focus, is perfect for showing the view I get from the bouncy chair.

One problem.  I am an excellent touch typist.  Mrs Momarella and my good friend Donna W. from High School taught me well.

The laptop is just below shoulder height.  That doesn’t make for comfort.  In fact, I tried typing that way for all of five minutes.  My hands nearly came off at the wrist.

Seeing that I can type with my eyes closed almost as well as I can with them open, I needed something else to happen.

I pulled the captain’s chair out again and used it for a platform to set the track ball.   It’s a big clunky thing that uses up my USB port and won’t sit on the arm of the chair.  Since this is “work hour use only” no worries there, I’ll just “own” using my dining room as my office.

One more thing.  Keyboard.

My old school IBM Model M Keyboard with the clicky keys!  Lets try that first. 

Nope.  It drains too much power to use on the USB converter thing.

Digging through the Parts Cabinet, I found an old Microsoft wireless keyboard.  That is on my knees right now just inside the picture.  It works “well enough” but I still want my PS/2 Keyboard.   Once I find my powered USB hub, I know that it will drive the keyboard I really want to use. 

Too bad you can’t get those clicky keyboards with bluetooth though.   It’s 1980s technology that will work because it’s just that good.  Too well designed to toss with real mechanical switches on each key.  They weigh almost as much as the laptop does.  I have about 4 of them in the house buried under the bed because when people tossed their old PCs, the keyboards would end up at the computer shows being sold for a mint.

If 5 dollars could be considered a mint.  Now they go for between 80 and 200 US Dollars more on auction and reseller sites.

No, I won’t share.  Get your own.  Besides, I may figure something else out with my coveted clicky IBM Keyboard Model M.

Yes, I have Ideas.

For now, I have my Tall Guy Adaptation.  It really isn’t about being tall though, it’s more about looking at how you are working and making sure you are sitting at the right place to put your head when you work.  When I touch type… I can set my head back and close my eyes, like this paragraph was typed.  If your are smaller and have a shorter torso, like about 95% of humankind, you can vary the height of everything so that you can work with it at ease.  That is why most “office chairs” have those adjustments to make things more comfortable.

But Laptops?  I’m beginning to realize that they just aren’t meant to live on your lap for 10 hours at a stretch.

Besides, if you do, these days, you will end up toasting your legs.  I’ll leave Mom’s Table to handle that for me.  I’m nice and cool listening to music on headphones, typing on my lap, and resting my head back with my eyes closed.

Yes, I can do this with my eyes closed.

Really.

Writing can be an effortless experience.   If I could only have told my 12 year old self who was bored hearing about all that in English Class in Mr Custer’s Sixth Grade Class in Stafford School on Berlin Road in Cherry Hill.

Boring as hell but useful.  Not everything can be an adventure novel after all.   Some come with a beige cover and will bore you to tears but you will use it every day of your life.

Just like that table and laptop combo.

Now oddly enough, before I wrote this up and headed on my little obsessive journey for desk nirvana, the Washington Post had written an infographic on this same subject.  I’ll make it a point to get out of my desk and chair more often, or I’ll at least try.

Since the poster is at this PDF link, it won’t fully display here.   On the other hand, I see that picture below and think… Is THIS what I put my body through?  YUCK!!!!

Dad’s 8-Track, My First Big Fix

Being That Kid, the one who gets into things, can cause problems. 

Some kids were destructive.  They grew up to do things like be demolition experts or construction engineers.  You know the kind, they’d love to break things just to see how it worked.

In my case, I used to break things to fix them.  Sure, I loved to see how they worked, but I’d get things people would stop using because there was a minor problem and then repair them and say “There, better than new because it has a history”.

Ok, maybe I wasn’t THAT well thought out as a wee brat, but you get the picture.

I would fix my things, things around the house, and neighbors stuff.   Kept me busy and kept me from being bored.  I was the kid who rebuilt a switch on a radio that popped open once when I went to New York City to visit my Aunt Betty and Uncle Sal.  Those old “Double Pole, Double Throw slide switches” didn’t always hold together as well as they should.

My sister has a strong memory of my bedroom being crammed full of electronic “projects” in various states of repair and disrepair stacked chock-a-block in every cranny I could make.   Add to it the potted plants in the windows and the big fish tank, and that bedroom was a very full room over the garage.  If I had the storage for the stuff, it would have made this hobby a lot more manageable, but it wasn’t to be.

One day a new project appeared.   Dad brought in his 8-track player.  He had it in his big Buick Limited that eventually became my car once he passed on.   The player was his pride and joy, and when we’d go down to Glassboro for a Saturday Night Out with Ann-Ann and Uncle Frank, he would slap in some of His Music and we’d go down The 295 to Delsea Drive in style. 

This was where I got my love of Glenn Miller, The Dorseys, and The Andrews Sisters to this day.

We stopped listening to His Music after a while and I never really put it together why.  We’d find something else, Middle of the Road music, most likely and glide down on our visits.

That 8-track player appeared in the house with a warning to me:  Don’t Touch That Player!

Being the curious pre-teen that I was, we all knew that wouldn’t work.

The player sat there in its yellow/beige plastic housing with Buick on the faceplate staring at me.  For a while it taunted me until I took the time to find the dreaded Phillips Screwdriver.   It was going to be looked at.  Time to take it apart.

I got the plastic housing apart, then the metal case came off in short order.  Metal Case?  Remember those?

Looking inside of the unit it was very obvious what was wrong.  The unit had thrown its belt and it was no longer attached to the motor.  That belt would move the tape around inside the cartridge and make everything work.  I tightened the screws on the motor so that things sat where they should, then stretched the belt taught.  Sealing things up I put it all back together.

Dad came in shortly thereafter.

“Bill… what.. are you doing?”
“It’s your 8-track, I fixed it!  It was simple!”
“I told you not to!  Umm…”

The conversation went back and forth and eventually he calmed down and we took it out to the beast of a car sitting in the driveway.  Plugging it back into the weird connectors that the car had for this purpose, the 8-Track was now plugged in.

Success.  The Time-Life Swing Era Collection for 1936 came to life with the Toy Trumpet song joyfully playing on the South Jersey Prairies. 

I got a strange look that I now know as “Kid, back off, this is my toy, you could have broken it once and for all”. 

“Thanks, Bill, we’ll have music now!”

Feeling proud, I handed him the little piles of sheet metal screws and the #2 Phillips screwdriver and we replaced the unit in the car.

To the day that we finally got rid of the car, that 8-track sat there with Pride of Place.  Every time I would get in the car and knock my right shin on it, I’d remember the day we put it back in the car.