Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006: The Year in Books Meme

This list of books are those I read in the 2006 calendar year. The seemingly random order is simply the sequence in which I read the books. It really seems like there were more, but I fell down on my record keeping in the latter half of 2005, so some of the "missing books" I'm remembering were probably from that time frame. If it's not on the list, I can't claim it for the year. Why, yes... I normally do obsessively keep lists of the books I read. Don't you? In 2007, I'm going to start tracking movies, too. Oh, boy!

I'd love to see this turn into a meme so I can see what you all have been reading, too. I am not going to link to the books, because there are too many, and I am too lazy, and it would take forever. Plus, I think it might have the unintended effect of scaring people away from playing along. So go out there into bloggyland and tell me what you've read. And leave me a comment so I know to come and find you. Now, to the list...

The Future of Life by Edward O. Wilson
True to Form by Elizabeth Berg
Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller
Until I Find You by John Irving
Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent
Life Without Water by Nancy Peacock
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
The Silent Boy by Lois Lowry
Rats by Robert Sullivan
A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler
Drop City by T.C. Boyle
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez
The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult
Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel
A Friend of the Earth by T.C. Boyle
This is Biology by Ernst Mayr
Quarantine by Jim Crace
Property Of by Alice Hoffman
The Legacy of Luna by Julia Butterfly Hill
Maybe Baby edited by Lori Leibovich
The Lady and the Panda by Vicki Constantine Croke
All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreve
Object Lessons by Anna Quindlen
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
The Third Child by Marge Piercy
Nature Via Nurture by Matt Ridley

Friday, December 29, 2006

Enough Already With the Damn Teeth

Yesterday I had a headache all day. The intensity varied, but the headache never went away. At one point I had to stop unloading the dishwasher and lie down because the associated nausea was so bad. So when I got ready for bed last night, I prepared for the situation: sinus pills and my lavender eye pillow within easy reach on the bedside table.

I don’t often remember my dreams. When I do, it usually means I’ve been sleeping poorly, which has been happening a lot lately. Last night was a good example, as sometimes the pain from the headaches can be bad enough to wake me from a sound slumber.

I dreamed that three of my back teeth from my upper left jaw dropped out in one fell swoop. The three teeth were attached to one another, like a little mini-denture. In the dream, I rinsed the teeth clean, then went to the dentist’s office, teeth in hand. I explained to the receptionist that I had a dental emergency. She proceeded to pull the dental emergency velvet cord that was hanging nearby.

Here things get fuzzy and I don’t remember any more details, but I woke up shortly after, with my head still throbbing. I took a sinus pill, and got out the eye pillow, and eventually drifted back into a light sleep.

Then I started dreaming again. In the second dream, I had just woken up from a dream where three of my teeth had fallen out. Naturally I went to a mirror to make sure it was just a dream. During the dream dental inspection, I was happy to discover all teeth were still in place. However, all was not well... I found two loose teeth, both wobbling and making that horrible grinding noise that teeth make right before they fall out.

I had one losing-my-teeth dream already earlier this month. I know this is a common dream, cross culturally. People everywhere dream about teeth falling out with horror. I'm sure it's just symptomatic of my stress about not finding a job, or spilled over holiday stress (the last of my numerous family Christmas celebrations was yesterday evening). But three times in such a short period? When I don’t ordinarily remember my dreams at all? It’s a little much for me. Someone else can have a turn.

Step right up, don't be shy. Free nightmares!

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Christmas Past Meme

I saw that Nadine over at In Blue Ink had posted a picture from her Christmas past, so I decided to jump on that bandwagon. Whee! It's fun up here. This is me in 1976 with my late Grandpa J:

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Finally: A Breather

Today is a break day, a chance to recuperate between the whirling festivities. SodaBoy’s parents left early this morning to drive to his sister B’s house for the next stop on their northeastern holiday tour. B and her husband have three delightful kids, so naturally they will be more fun on Christmas than us. And we need this downtime to catch up. The only gifts I’ve wrapped so far were those we gave to SodaBoy’s parents last night.

We ran a few errands earlier, including a last minute trip to the liquor store so SodaBoy could pick up a bottle of wine to bring for D tomorrow. It is a long standing tradition he likes to act out each Christmas: bringing an extra gift for the hostess. We went to the mega store, where there are acres of booze stretching out in every direction. Sometimes I wished I liked drinking more, because the bottles can be so attractive, and I can definitely appreciate the artisanal aspect to the whole fermenting, brewing and distilling processes.

Booze central was so busy they had a uniformed man out directing traffic. He motioned me into a handicap-designated parking spot, which made me distinctly uncomfortable. What if a customer arrived who actually needed the door-side parking? SodaBoy eased my guilty conscious by making a rapid selection, and we were quickly on our way.

Now that we’re home, SodaBoy is vacuuming madly, putting the shiny new Dyson to work. Our last vacuum died shortly after we moved in, and let me just tell you, masking tape is a very shoddy substitute for the real thing. The throw rug under the coffee table is a completely different color now that it’s clean again.

We’ve had bad luck with other vacuums in the past, but the Dyson uses a completely different technology than traditional vacuums, so hopefully it will hold up better. The five year warranty is longer than any of our previous models have lasted, so there is reason for hope. One definite plus is that so far there is none of that nasty burnt dust smell I hate so much about vacuuming.

I have two loads of laundry running in the basement. Next on my list is watering the tree, folding the laundry, and don’t forget the looming marathon of present wrapping. Ah, the relaxation.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bullets of Holiday Stress

  • It's that time of year isn't it? We all run around like chickens with our heads cut off, and for what? I seriously think it's mostly out of guilt and obligation. OK, that's not entirely fair, but I am a big curmudgeon. We've covered that in enough detail I think.
  • Honestly, I think children are the reason most people carry on with this nonsense. I said to SodaBoy this very morning, "we've got to have a baby to make this whole Christmas thing more fun." Now I'll join Turtlebella on the thinking-about-having-kids-for-all-the-wrong-reasons bench.
  • So SodaBoy's parents are in town for the next bunch of days. Don't ask me exactly when they are leaving, because right about now I can't imagine that far away. Right before Christmas I believe.
  • This left me rushing around madly the last few days, trying to prepare for other upcoming family events. Entertaining doesn't leave much time for anything else.
  • Not to mention cleaning. I swear, we have company so often it's the only time I clean. This isn't a good strategy. If people stop coming, will the house fall into chaos?
  • Now I must rush off and change. As I whined about over at Phantom's, SodaBoy's parents favor early dinners at fancypants restaurants. They do not tolerate denim. I am all about denim. If it's not comfortable, I don't want to wear it. Too bad nobody asked me.
  • I am looking forward to the appetizer at the la-di-dah restaurant we are going to tonight, but after that... I'll be too full to enjoy myself. And being stuffed in fancywear does.not.help.
  • Friday, December 15, 2006

    Bon Voyage, Student Loan, Bon Voyage!

    I sat down this morning to pay a few bills, an exercise in frustration of late with the shortage of funds. Not this time though… today was a momentous occasion. I wrote the check for the very last payment on my student loan. I feel like celebrating. This day has been a long time coming. I didn’t have to borrow any money for the master’s degree, being able to meet my expenses with assistantships and tuition scholarships. The student loan in question dates back even further, to my undergraduate days.

    A number of years ago I realized I had saved up enough so that I could have paid the whole thing off lump sum, but when I looked into it, there was very little benefit. I’d already paid all the interest, and my out-of-pocket expense would have been virtually the same if I wrote one big check, or umpteen little ones. I decided having some personal savings was more important than getting rid of the debt. Student loan is "good" debt, after all. However, none of that dampens my enthusiasm for being free of one more obligation.

    Now I have to consider giving back. Well, not now in the literal sense, obviously. First I have to get a job and get my finances back in order. But as an undergraduate, as the part of the same financial aid package that included the maximum allowable Stafford loans, I also received scholarships every year funded by the Alumni Association. The monetary denominations were small, but it was a state school, and every little bit really did help. I promised myself that down the road, I would give back to help other needy students. [Of course, I was assuming I would be employed by the time I paid of my loans: the innocence of youth.]

    I need to be careful how I go about this, however. The Alumni Association is pretty aggressive about fundraising, and solicit often, by mail and phone, too, which I find particularly repugnant. I will never give money to anyone who calls on the phone, never ever ever. I have no interest in being a member for the sake of membership. I am not very social, and do not wish to support the vast array of get-togethers, golf outings, and homecoming tail-gating parties they are constantly organizing.

    On their website, there is no option to give exclusively to the scholarship fund. In fact, I can find no mention of the Alumni Scholarship whatsoever. Could they have discontinued the scholarship? Why? Why would they do that? What is my obligation here? And how the hell do I honor it?

    Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    On Christmas Trees

    I was working on a puzzle last night while SodaBoy watched some TV, and overheard some heated debate about a Rabbi suing to have Christmas trees removed from an airport in Washington state. SodaBoy was flipping through channels and did not stay on the Faux News station, so I didn't hear the full story, but it got me thinking a little bit. My initial reaction was that it was a frivolous lawsuit: Christmas trees are not a religious symbol. Decorating with lights and greens has been a holiday mid-winter tradition for thousands of years. That was my gut reaction, but I was not comfortable with it.

    It's just not consistent with my normal feelings about this kind of thing. I firmly believe in separation of church and state, and I feel very strongly about it. I wrote last month about my ill ease at being forced to vote in a church, and I support the lawsuit of a Florida man fighting his local election board over that exact issue. I vehemently oppose the teaching of "intelligent design" in the science classrooms of public schools; I also see no room for prayer in public schools. I don't think the ten commandments should be displayed in courthouses or other public spaces.

    All these things smack of government endorsement of religion. Thanks, but no. I'll stick with my first amendment. So as I thought about all these things, my own inconsistency was disturbing me. Shouldn't I be opposed to the display of religious artifacts in public facilities? Well, yes, and I am. My stumbling block was the classification of the Christmas tree as religious: to me it is more of a pagan display than anything else. I bounced my concerns off SodaBoy. He pointed out that the very language is part of the problem. Christmas is a Christian holiday; calling a decoration a Christmas tree makes it by default religious. There is that problematic detail.

    I got online this evening to look further into the matter.

    First of all, leave it to the television to get every.single.detail about the Seattle airport case WRONG. Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky did not sue to have Christmas tree removed; he merely wanted to see the inclusion of a menorah. Which his organization had volunteered to both provide, and set up. The Port of Seattle chose to remove the trees instead of allowing the erection of a menorah. This caused a huge uproar. People wanted their trees back. The Rabbi graciously withdrew his suit yesterday, since he'd never intended for the trees to be removed, and last night airport staff reinstalled the trees. Still no menorah though. Read more here.

    Secondly, I am not the only one who doesn't find Christmas trees to be a religious display. It turns out the Supreme Court agrees with me. Both Christmas trees and menorah displays "are part of the same winter-holiday season, which, the court found, has attained a secular status in US society." The case was decided in 1989. So this entire media hoopla was entirely pointless. The Port of Seattle was completely unreasonable in denying the request to display the menorah, and utterly irresponsible in their decision to remove the trees in the first place. It's non-issue: put them both up, and stop stirring up anti-Semitism.

    So the Supreme Court says I shouldn't feel guilty about not objecting to Christmas trees or menorah displayed in public. Greens and lights, baby, bring it on. Here is our own personal holiday tree:

    Photo by SodaBoy

    And as for the Rabbi Bogomilsky, I wish him all the luck in the world. Now that I've taken the time to learn more about the situation, and understand his good intentions, I can't help but support his cause. No menorah display in the airport might seem like a petty little first world problem, but if no one fights against these unjustices, we will all be the the poorer for it.

    Monday, December 11, 2006

    News and Views

    This morning I went up to the nursing home for a visit with my grandma. I got there in the middle of a program called “news and views,” where a recreation aide took the local daily newspaper and went through it with the residents. This is a nice idea, since some of the old folks have poor vision and can’t read the small print in the papers, and some of the them lack the mental capacity for reading at all, but still enjoy the interaction.

    Maybe she did the real news before I got there, or maybe the aides intentionally focus on the lighter stuff. There was not one mention of war or politics. The aide read the Dear Abby column, and asked around the circle to see if anyone had any advice of their own to give. She read the horoscopes, asking each person when their birthday is, so she could read them their personal prophesy. Some residents clearly follow astrology and gave their sign instead of their birth date, while others were too confused to remember their own birthdays. I was pleased that Grammy answered August 29th with no hesitation; memory is not her greatest strength these days.

    When I arrive in the middle of a program, I usually just sit down next to Grammy and hold her hand, or scratch her back. She is on a floor where the vast majority of residents are wheelchair bound, and trying to squeeze her out through the maze of chairs seems likely to disrupt the program for everyone. As a result, I’ve seen a number of different recreational activities administered by a number of different aides.

    There is a wide range in the quality of these programs, as in all things. Although the “news” was entirely fluffy in nature, this activity seemed to me of higher caliber than some of the others I’ve seen. The level of interaction and participation is what delineates the good programs from the bad. I’ve sat through some of them where the aide just read out lists of words in a monotone, and I wasn’t the only one bored. So I guess what I liked about today’s activity was the way it was done: the recreational aide made such an effort. She didn’t know everyone’s names (this is a large facility) but she spoke in a loud clear voice, smiled a lot, and got everyone to play along.

    Friday, December 08, 2006

    The Best Day of Her Life

    I went outside this afternoon to shovel the driveway, even though there wasn’t really that much snow. A few inches at the most. And since it’s supposed to warm up Sunday, I probably could have gotten away without. But shoveling is a chore that I enjoy, at least early in the season before the novelty wears off. It is a physical task that one completes outdoors, and the best part is the visible progress. I can immediately see the fruits of my labor, which is very satisfying.

    I have never seen so much traffic on my street before. We live on a quiet, residential street that does not connect to anything but a few other similar streets. Normal traffic is limited to residents and delivery vehicles. Today there was a constant flow of vehicles. Not just the sheer volume, but some of the vehicle types, and some of the speeds traveled suggested that these drivers were not residents. I began to wonder if one of the major streets nearby was closed. After I finished shoveling, I decided to walk around the block to investigate the situation.

    The street that runs parallel to ours is a thoroughfare, and it was indeed blocked off, with detour signs directing motorists to my humble little street. I walked the length of the closed block, and saw several work vehicles, and three men standing in the street discussing the circumstances, but nothing beyond that. Nothing that would make clear to me what the problem was. Then I kept walking since I was enjoying myself, despite the frigid temperatures. Another benefit of shoveling is it warms you right up.

    As I approached my house on the return leg of the loop, I could see my neighbors had come home and let Maggie out. Maggie is a golden retriever who is sweet enough in temperament that we mostly overlook her tendency to crap in our yard. She loves cars. Luckily, she expresses her affection in a most tolerable fashion, running the width of the narrow yard, but right up next to the house, not down by the street. [I am always terrified of hitting one of those dogs that actually chases cars.]

    Maggie is in heaven today with this persistent flow of vehicles. Her excitement is palpable. She has completely beat a path down in the snow, running back and forth. I watched her for a while, and she would express her joy by occasionally taking a big gulp of snow as she executed her turn. She is not a barker, but the afternoon has been punctuated by her intermittent and involuntary yelps of pleasure. She is so happy, it makes me happy just to watch her.

    Thursday, December 07, 2006

    Bullets of Banality

  • Our cat rules. It's snowing out, the big-flaked, fluffy kind that is especially scenic. We haven't had much snow around here yet this year, and decided to take a walk up to the open area to see if Elijah would be as enthusiastic a walker in the snow. Short answer: yes.


  • We toyed with the idea of buying a tree today, but it just didn't happen. We did go out to run some errands, but I have one of my evil headaches, and didn't have the energy to wrestle with a tree.


  • We did rule out the possibility of buying a tree at one of the big box stores. Not only do they not have blue light specials anymore, but the store we visited doesn't carry fresh-cut trees anymore either. Only the kind in a box, and they don't even smell nice. Bah!


  • I did get a box of holiday cards while we were there though. Maybe they will help me get in the spirit. Of course I selected a variety featuring cats.


  • I also bought a new shower curtain liner. Fascinating, I know. But I am so damn sick of that Chester the Molester of a curtain that is in there now. This new one might not be any better, but I had to try something.


  • Could someone please rant about how badly sliding glass doors for the shower suck? Pretty please? 'Cause maybe then I would stop coveting them so much. From where I'm sitting now, they look pretty good.


  • Today was the first day this week I didn't apply for a job. Blame the headache. Yeah, that's right, the headache. Blame this entire post on the headache, actually. I just cannot think straight. It's prolly a good thing I didn't apply for a job.
  • Tuesday, December 05, 2006

    Takes One to Know One?

    Many employers now restrict job seekers to online applications. Like most things, this has both pros and cons. One disadvantage is the web sites often have long complicated forms one must complete, frustrating because of their redundancy to the resume, which must also be submitted. Some larger employers design their sites so the applicant only fills out the form once, and then the data is stored under a user profile. But this is by no means universal. An obvious advantage to online applications of all varieties is they save postage. And trips to the post office.

    I wrote a cover letter today for yet another job application, this one requiring snail mail supplication. After printing out the letter and resume, I addressed the oversize envelope and headed to the Post Office, innocently enough. I am always paranoid about getting the proper postage on oversize envelopes that don’t follow standard postal rules. Especially for job applications. Nothing says “hire me” like an application package marked “postage due.”

    I should have been aware enough to look at the calendar and plan for a lengthy visit. It is December, after all. Apparently some people are feeling the holiday spirit, and they don’t procrastinate either. The line stretched practically out the door. I myself am not feeling very festive this year: that’s what unemployment will do to a person. I even toyed with the idea of not getting a tree, but SodaBoy talked me out of that particular brand of heresy. It wasn’t too hard, either. I love me some sweet balsam aroma.

    While in line, I watched the postal clerks patiently explaining the most straightforward things to the customers: if you use a priority mail package, you must ship priority mail; where this slip says, “name and address,” you must write in a name and address; things of that nature. Those postal workers really get an unfair rap.

    I was also reminded of my power for attracting loonies. It’s far too prevalent a phenomena for me to blame the individual crazies, so I can only conclude that it’s me. I must emit some sort of come-hither-and-tell-me-your-woes vibe that only the unhinged can detect. Because tell me their stories they do. Sometimes it’s pretty funny.

    Today, the woman in front of me in line felt compelled to inform me that she’d only eaten a donut so far today, and she’s really not supposed to eat donuts. Huh. And that her stomach has been bothering her all week. I foolishly offered a platitude about there being something going around, maybe she got the bug. Well, that just set her off: she had half her stomach surgically removed twenty years ago, she used to party a lot in those days, she’d gone on a real bender for her birthday, woke up in the hospital, she doesn’t party much anymore, except maybe dinner at the Olive Garden with friends, and…

    ChattyPostalCustomers are generally quite harmless, so I just smile and nod along. But I am never quite sure why these people chose me to talk to over the rest of the masses. It must be the old cliché.

    Sunday, December 03, 2006

    Puzzling Through It

    jo(e) recently wrote a great post about her favorite childhood toys. The best part is you can tell she never outgrew them. Jigsaw puzzles are one of the toys she mentions. I am also a puzzler, although more so as an adult than a kid. I had some early formative puzzle experiences, to be sure. It is with great fondness that I recall an old wooden puzzle of the US where each state was a separate piece. I think I got that as a Christmas gift when I was 5 or 6 maybe. It prepared me well for the insipid little quizzes my 7th grade social studies teacher used to give, where he put cut-out shapes of the states on the overhead projector for us to identify by silhouette only. Ka-ching! Easiest.A.ever.

    As an adult, puzzling is something I've really only come to in the last five years or so. Since we got our dining room table, anyway, because before that I wouldn't have had any surface big enough. I've had friends ask why I do puzzles; I know they seem utterly pointless to many people. Pretty much anything can be described that way, though, right? Pick your poison. Part of it is chaos reduction: it is very satisfying to create order where there was none. Part of it is I can puzzle while SodaBoy watches TV. I like to have puzzle project ongoing most of the time, but I don't usually sit and puzzle for hours on end. More often I'll just place a few pieces at a time while waiting for the water to boil for tea. It's filler fun.

    And when SodaBoy wanted to experiment with time lapse photography not too long ago? A puzzle seemed like a good test run. I picked a small, easy puzzle. SodaBoy set up the tripod, and we took turns taking pictures. Curious about the time lapse thing, I immersed myself and put the puzzle together quickly, over the course of just two days. Then SodaBoy combined them to make this fun little movie, which I present for your enjoyment:

    Friday, December 01, 2006

    Confusion Reigns the Job Hunt

    I ran into an interesting conundrum in my job search this week. It is often emphasized to us job seekers how important it is to address cover letters by name to a specific person. This isn't always possible, in which case one defaults to "Dear Sir or Madam," the salutation of last resort. The formatting for the greeting on a typical cover letter looks something like this:
              FirstName LastName 
    Company/Institution/Organization
    Street Address
    City, State ZipCode
              Dear Ms./Mr./Dr. LastName,
    Filling in the blanks in the above formula is not normally the most difficult part of writing a cover letter. However, I hit a little stumbling block in this case, and I’m actually surprised I haven’t run into this issue before. What is the appropriate title to use for someone with an ambiguously gendered first name? I am not culturally aware enough to be able to distinguish gender for most unfamiliar names. Many non-traditional names are also confusing, both those of the hippie variety like River, and those of the yuppie variety like Taylor.

    In the case of the job I applied for this week, the recruiter’s name was Chris LastName. This particular instance is especially frustrating, since “Chris” is a nickname, and being the contact person for a job posting seems to require a little more formality. Christophers seem to shorten their names to Chris more often than Christines, but it is not a fast enough rule to gamble by: I have a college friend named Christine who often went by Chris. And the dilemma is not limited to Chrises. How do you address Pat, or Jody, or Terry, or Sandy, or Jamie?

    Wednesday, November 29, 2006

    Interesting but Flawed

    Over at Repressed Librarian's, I saw a request asking for readers like myself to help a grad student with his research by linking to this post. Apparently, Scott Eric Kaufman is studying memes, and the speed at which they propagate. The "meme" here is that each person who reads about the study then posts the link and asks their readers to do the same. Many people have already left comments on his blog, pointing out the various flaws in his methodology, some of which he acknowledges right from the start. A major issue I see is that as a meme, this one doesn't offer much to participants: no self-reflection, no self-indulgence, no opportunity to share or write. People don't have the normal incentive to participate in memes (FUN). So don't do it because you want to: link to this cat purely for the advancement of knowledge.

    Tuesday, November 28, 2006

    Sink Patrol

    If such a thing is possible, my posting may be even lighter than normal for the next few days. Mary from No Polar Coordinates will be arriving shortly to stay with us for a few days. As I write this she is barreling down the Thruway, hopefully clear of the fog that obscured the highway earlier in her journey.

    I have violated the universal code of hospitality. Basic etiquette dictates cleaning the house when expecting company, and I did engage in this ritual. My breach of propriety is due to procrastination. I cleaned the upstairs bathroom today, this afternoon in fact. For shame. A guest should never be able to detect that cleaning has just occurred. The idea is to make things appear that they are always clean. I cannot smell any chemicals myself, but I was immersed in them for over an hour this afternoon, so my sense of smell is completely unreliable at this point.

    Why yes, I did say over an hour. Why yes, that does seem excessive. I am beginning to think I am extremely inefficient at this whole bathroom cleaning business. My bathroom is average size, with ordinary fixtures. Except that damn sink! I’m growing to loathe the thing, more and more each time I try to clean it. So I will dispense with some unsolicited advice: never ever ever buy a pedestal sink. Mine looks much like this:


    I did not select the sink; it was already here when we bought the house. It is attractive, and clearly relatively new. The whole bathroom appears to have been remodeled sometime in the last five years. Aesthetics are not the problem. But, it sucks to clean like nobody’s business. All those exposed surfaces, ceramic ridges, water lines. Ugh. If you simply must have one, do yourself a huge favor and consider one with a simpler design, at the very least one without ridges on the stem.

    Saturday, November 25, 2006

    Another Backyard Adventure

    Today was very mild, sunny and warm. It must have been 65 degrees, highly unusual for late November in this area. We wanted to take advantage of the niceness by spending time outdoors, and decided to make some further explorations in our big backyard. It can be tricky departing on foot from the house: our cat Elijah loves walks and always tries to come along. We managed to sneak off successfully, whispering as we speed-walked down the street, only slowing down and returning to normal speaking voices once out of range.

    We took a new route, and ended up scaling a steep wooded hillside on a deer path, which eventually joined up with a narrow footpath. The woods are riddled with trails, made by people and animals both, and especially near the quarry, by mountain bikers. It is our mission to learn each and every one, so excitement ensues every time we follow a new one to its logical end. The footpath we merged with in the steep oak woods eventually connected back with the old tower trail, an intersection we’d noted with curiosity in the past. One mystery solved; happily many remain.


    This area is owned by the university, but is not maintained or used for anything currently. The old tower has long been abandoned, along with the associated building, a tiny cinder block structure with no windows. There was a new development today; someone had broken a padlock on the building, and the door stood slightly ajar. We couldn’t resist peeking inside. It was dank and musty, with an unpleasant and unidentifiable smell. Rusting electronica, empty paint cans, rotted cushions, the usual assortment of crap found in urban ruins.

    Just standing at the base of the tower, it feels like the highest point in the city, and the scenery isn’t too shabby either. But there are always foreground distractions, trees and weeds and such. Someday we’ll go back and climb that tower, right up to the top. Then we’ll talk about the views.

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006

    Photos for Ginny

    As I've mentioned before, I have a big project underway involving scanning old photos of my Mom’s that she unearthed during her move. Phase II is the current stage; phase I was completed almost a year and a half ago now. I had photos printed in triplicate, and gave one set to my sister and another set to my father. I took the ones for Dad and put them in a little album for a Father’s Day gift, which was a huge success.

    They made enough of an impression, anyway, to have been a topic of conversation when Dad and D stayed with my Uncle and Aunt last month on their great pumpkin pilgrimage. D told me that Aunt had requested copies of the pictures with her kids, my cousins. I am more than happy to get extra prints made; this is the sort of dorky thing I get geeked up on.

    However, I am a little worried the hype will overshadow the delivery, because when I went back to the original files on the computer, I only found two pictures with C in them. As they do now, this branch of the family lived far away throughout my entire childhood, so it’s not all that surprising that we don’t have billions of photos of us kids cuting it up together. Nevertheless, I don’t want to disappoint G. They are two great pictures, mind you, but still: it’s just not very impressive a stack.

    I was given Thanksgiving as a suggested deadline, since Aunt and Uncle will be staying with Dad and D for the holiday. I uploaded the pictures earlier today and will pick them up this evening. Knowing me, I’ll be scrounging around tomorrow looking for more photos. But at least I can finally take the little sticky note off my monitor that says, “Photos for Ginny.”

    Sis, A, C, Me

    Monday, November 20, 2006

    Spoilt from the Git

    As I’ve mentioned before, I am not working now, and am busy furiously looking for a job. If it wasn’t for this pesky business about paying bills, I could be quite happy whiling away my hours, but that’s neither here nor there.

    [You know, I’ve never really liked paying bills…] Pipe down, Peter, we all know you get that construction job in the end.

    I don’t seem to have any particularly sought after skills, at least not for this area. I’ve had former colleagues alert me to opportunities far away in distant lands, but for now at least, I’m committed to finding work HERE. And unfortunately, there don’t seem to be too many local employers looking for someone with my education and skills. I might have to branch out a little.

    While browsing want ads, I can’t help but reflect on the various jobs I’ve had over the years, reviewing positives and negatives, things to look for and things to avoid. I’ve had some real doozies, although frankly my worst can’t compare to some of SodaBoy’s stories (ask him to tell you about the shingle sample factory sometime). I’ve actually seen a number of advertisements for vacancies in the field I worked in the for the last 3.5 years, but I know the minutiae of that particular hell, and I am not eager to return there.

    Part of my problem is my frame of mind: I have this naive idea that people ought to be able to find rewarding work. I don’t actually believe that, any more than I believe in Santa Claus, but it was how I was raised, a prejudice I must constantly fight to overcome. It might be a kind of sickness to expect to find a good job, one that is enjoyable; that sort of expectation just sets a person up for disappointment. It is called “work” for a reason, right? Nobody calls it “fun.”

    Another part of the problem is that I have worked some really fantastic, fun jobs. My first job ever, as a matter of fact, was fabulous. I think it ruined me. I guess technically it wasn’t my first job, as I’d been babysitting various neighborhood kids for several years by then. But it was my first payroll job, the first time I paid income taxes. It was the summer of 1988; minimum wage was $3.35/hour. I turned fourteen a week before the cut-off date for eligibility: applications for positions on the State Conservation Corps were restricted to teens aged 14-18.

    The SCC was modeled after the Youth Conservation Corps programs of the 1970s (which were in turn modeled after Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps). We punched in at the central services office for the parks department, and rode to the work sites in a monstrous 15-passenger van. We worked in several local parks, doing trail improvement projects at Second Home Nature Center and Upland Woods Park, constructing gabion nets along the creek banks at the local fish hatchery. There was an educational component, too, five hours a week dedicated to first aid, tree ID, canoe safety. The work was physically demanding, but it was a diverse group of kids, and we were outdoors all day having fun.

    I returned to the SCC in 1989, and got a 20 cent/hour raise, but the program was discontinued after that, to my great sorrow. I doubt I will ever again find a job where the absolute worst thing about it is wearing my hard hat. Of course, I can’t pay the mortgage on minimum wage, either.

    Friday, November 17, 2006

    Juggling Germs

    My grandmother M is in a nursing home. Several years ago, she had a brain tumor the size of a lemon removed, and she never really recovered. The tumor caused memory problems, and impaired her cognitive abilities on many different levels. She’d been physically weak before that, with crippling arthritis preventing her from getting adequate exercise. Grammy was a stubborn one, too, refusing to even consider the knee replacement we all nagged her about.

    Now she is in a wheelchair, too weak to stand, even with assistance. She gets day and night confused, and has no memory of the deaths of her parents or her grandparents or her husband. She has no idea she is 83 years old. Some days she thinks I am her mother; other days her daughter; on occasion, she knows exactly who I am. To me this matters little, as she always knows I am someone she likes, someone she is happy to see.

    Her three children live faraway: in Colorado, Maine, and Michigan. Sis and I are the only grandchildren in the area, the only local family of any kind. So she doesn’t get as many visitors as anyone would like.

    When she was first hospitalized, I was the one to meet her ambulance at the emergency room and haggle with the doctors about keeping her overnight, about getting her into rehab. I was at the hospital, and then the rehab facility virtually every single day. Rehab didn’t work out: Grammy refused to do her exercises, and couldn’t remember basic safety issues like setting the brake on the wheelchair. She was transferred to the long-term care division of the nursing home.

    Once she got settled, I had to pull back a little bit. Visits there can be quite draining, physically and emotionally. I was working a terribly demanding job at the time, and between work and the nursing home, I was feeling stretched too thin. I decided I would try to visit once a week. It seemed like a reasonable frequency. There are a lot of variables, though, and I’m not always able to keep the schedule. And then I feel terrible. This week, for example: I haven’t visited.

    I spent all of Monday night, then much of Tuesday afternoon at the hospital with T and R. Due to the nature of R’s condition, the hospital had them quarantined. They couldn’t leave their private room, and all attending nurses and physicians added extra papery disposable robes over their uniforms before entering. They were obviously considered to be highly contagious, and it was exactly the sort of sickness that is most dangerous for the very young and the very old. I didn’t want to carry those microbes up to the nursing home and risk infecting Grammy and her elderly compatriots, so I stayed away.

    Now, several days later, it seems unlikely that I am still a contagion for that particular intestinal illness, which I luckily never developed (knock on wood). I have developed a slight cold, however. It's nothing major: runny nose, coughing, difficulty breathing, general weakness. I probably picked it up in that interminable hospital waiting room. And once again, I don’t want to share my germs with Grammy. The unfortunate result is a week with no visits.

    Thursday, November 16, 2006

    What Does "Lake Loop" Mean?

    Although no one has specifically asked, I thought perhaps the time has come to explain the origination of the name Lake Loop. Quite simply, I have found that I get some of my best thinking done while walking alone in the woods. It brings me to a state of mind that is completely unattainable for me through any other means, something I struggle even to describe.


    To be clear, I am not a total recluse; I do enjoy walking with close friends or family members. Hiking with others brings it’s own set of pleasures: the intimacy of matched paces, the delight of shared experiences. However, when walking with a friendly associate, the tendency is to lapse towards conversation. This is wonderful for purposes of companionship, of course, but does not lend itself so frequently to peaceful reflection.

    I find loop trails to be particularly satisfying, not just for solo jaunts of introspection, but for hikes of all variety. Something about ending up back where I started without retracing my steps makes me feel like I’ve made efficient use of my time, gotten the most bang for my buck. The loop need not circle a body of water, but that is an added bonus.


    Exploring new areas is exciting, but the contemplative nature of the walk is especially powerful on a familiar trail. There are several parks in my area featuring trails that wind all the way around a small lake. At both Second Home Nature Center and Pretty Colour Lakes, the loop trails are approximately three miles in length.

    As it’s name suggests, Second Home Nature Center is a place I have spent a lot of time over the years. Right from birth, I pretty much grew up there. My ties to the land go back far beyond me, though. Before her death at 99 years of age, my great-grandmother’s house had been in the family since it was built in 1822; her land abutted that of Second Home Nature Center. Generations of my kin have roamed these same woods. I went to the day camps there as a school kid, and volunteered there summers in high school. I could go on and on. My connections to this place are infinite, but for the sake of brevity and privacy, I won’t detail them all here.


    In the summer of 1998, I was in graduate school, working on campus. SodaBoy had recently finished his B.A., and had just started his crummy McJob. He didn’t have a car yet, and was working a strange shift, noon to 9 pm. He’d take the bus to work in the mornings, which was a bit of an ordeal. He had to get a transfer downtown, and would arrive early, often getting a cup of coffee in a nearby hotel lobby before clocking in. He had to leave two hours in advance, even though it was only a 20 minute drive to the office. To spare him the indignity of spending four hours a day on transport, I would pick him up at night (plus the bus lines didn’t run both routes he needed that late).


    Almost every evening that entire summer, before driving over to the cube farm to fetch SodaBoy, I’d head out to Second Home Nature Center, and walk the Lake Loop Trail. I got a lot of thinking done during those laps. So many memories there, so much of my own personal history evoked by the simple, repetitive motion, around and around. If I ever write a memoir, I decided that summer, I would call it Lake Loop. So here I am, all these years later. This blog is not a memoir per se, and I haven’t written much about Second Home Nature Center before, but there you have it. That’s where the name came from.

    Tuesday, November 14, 2006

    The Pediatric Ward

    I slept late this morning, raindrops drumming on the roof. These days that are so cold and wet and gloomy, practically dark at midday: my inner caveman doesn’t like them. Deep in my reptilian brain, the voice says, go back to sleep, can’t you see, today is a lousy day for hunting and gathering, go back to sleep. Good day for it or not, I must go foraging later, with a run to the supermarket, but the inner caveman’s not listening.

    I do have a good reason to be so exhausted. Last night I spent 8.5 hours in the pediatric emergency ward with my friend T and her baby R. Apparently, shortly after we left their house on Saturday, R became violently ill: vomiting, diarrhea, high fever. He had refused all food and drink since then, and the family pediatrician said if he wasn’t drinking again by 5 pm, he’d need to go to the hospital for rehydration.

    After checking in with reception, and then meeting with the pediatric triage nurse, we settled in for a long wait. The emergency room was packed. After several hours in the waiting room, we were finally shown to a room, only to wait some more. The place was so full that several families were stationed on beds in the hallways. The nurse told us that Monday nights are the absolute busiest time on the pediatric emergency ward, but the trend is different for adult patients, who come in Fridays and Saturdays.

    Even after several hours of intravenous drip, R was still dehydrated enough so as to be admitted to the hospital. It was 1:30 am before the room was ready for him. See why I’m tired now?

    Update: D just called, and R hasn’t been discharged yet. D was up at the hospital this morning, but cannot stay because their older son A is also sick, and the doctors don’t want him there. So I’m on my way back up now to keep T company and help her out with whatever I can. My guess is she was too worried about R pulling out the IV to sleep for even a minute last night, so I’ll stop whining about being tired now.

    Friday, November 10, 2006

    Stupid and Lazy

    There is a very real danger that this blog could just become a repository of bitching, a pet peeve central, if you will. Because there are lot of things out there that piss me off, and here is this blank slate just waiting to be filled up.

    See, we went to the mall this afternoon. Already, you are thinking, “boy, for someone who allegedly hates the mall so much, you sure go there a lot.” Just pipe down for a minute, and hear me out. The nose pads on SodaBoy’s glasses were busted, cutting into his nose in a most uncomfortable manner. And we have a kiddie birthday party to attend tomorrow and didn’t want to show up sans gift. So we trundled off, foolishly thinking that since it was a weekday afternoon, it wouldn’t be super crowded; always with the misplaced optimism. Today must be the school holiday for Veteran’s Day because the place was a zoo, but that’s not what upset me. I remember being a kid: school holidays were the best.

    Anyway, the incident that got my goat happened right at the mall entrance, and it’s something I see all the time, not just at the mall. The couple entering in front of us pushed the button that opens the door mechanically, at both sets of doors. I have no problem with the existence of these doors. My grandmother is in a wheelchair, and it is very convenient when taking her for walks to have those push button doors available. I can also see that motorized doors would be helpful to parents with young children in strollers, or even ordinary shoppers laden with heavy bags.

    But when otherwise fit people use them out of sheer laziness, it really burns me up. All that wasted energy for naught. It’s not like an escalator, which runs all day anyway, using the same energy if you climb the stairs or take the lazy route. It is considered not just illegal, but immoral, to take a designated handicap parking space if you don’t need it. Why would people think it was OK to use the handicap door services? There is a little sing-song voice in my head, busily chanting stupid and lazy, stupid and lazy.

    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    I am the Lamest

    Today has been pretty meh. I vomited this morning, which is never an auspicious start, although things often improve after that, because really, they can’t get much worse. For the record, I am not sick; I am not pregnant; and it wasn’t something I ate.

    I had just showered, and the water was backing up a bit in the tub. After I toweled off, I decided to actually solve the problem, so as to avoid a repeat performance with tomorrow’s shower. I really hate standing in shower water, and just forget about baths. I will never be a bath-taker. I don’t dig hot tubs, either. I might be crazy, but at least I’m consistent.

    Since I could actually see something partially blocking the drain, I pulled out the drain stopper, and the attached six inches of hair and soap scum. Ugh. I know, this is a fairly normal occurrence, and not cause for alarm. But I have an overactive gag reflex, so this sort of thing can be a challenge for me. I set the whole mess down in the tub, and retrieved a plastic grocery sack. Placing the entire drain stop inside the bag, I managed to tug loose the slimy monstrosity.

    Problem solved, right? Yes, that would be the case were I a normal human. No such luck. At the moment of separation, just when the mucilaginous hairball broke free from the drain stop, the bile rose in my throat. Luckily I hadn’t eaten yet, so things weren’t as unpleasant as they could have been, but I had already drank both my morning Earl Grey and a glass of orange juice. And orange juice burns on the way back up. [Is that self-pity coming through loud and clear?]

    Anyway, now my pipes are clear, and the water is draining nicely. But you know what? I don’t care how evil the stuff is: next time I’m just using Draino.

    Tuesday, November 07, 2006

    Freedom from Religion?

    We walked over to our new polling station this afternoon and voted. I was delighted to find the old-style voting machines still present; apparently my county missed some deadline and the new electronic machines aren’t available yet. I’ve always loved the privacy enforced by the circling curtain, the feeling of power welling up as each lever is pulled, the satisfying mechanical noises generated by cranking the big handle.

    I was less thrilled about was the location itself: a church basement. I think it was a Catholic church, but the denomination is unimportant. I would have been equally uncomfortable in a mosque, or a synagogue, or a temple, or a chapel. Whatever happened to voting in public spaces? My two previous polling places were a fire station and a public library. This is what I am accustomed to, this is what I expect.

    There is an elementary school two blocks away from the church. Why couldn’t we have voted there? My high school, middle school, and elementary school were all official polling stations growing up. I remember the election days of my childhood as exciting. And it wasn’t a distraction from academic lessons, but rather educational in its own right, a real live civics lesson. I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to finally vote myself. Are kids today being denied that peripheral involvement? For what possible reason?

    Our polling station is not unique either; it turns out many churches serve as polling places, and I have just been fortunate thus far to be able to vote in neutral spaces. There were three separate wards voting in the church basement today, and a volunteer told me this is the first year they’ve all been combined there like that. Then my mother told me she got a card in the mail saying her polling station had been changed from the fire station where she’s voted for the last 20 years to, yep, you guessed it: a church. Coincidence?

    It makes no sense to me. I would even go one step further. I think it’s wrong, through and through, just plain wrong. We all have a right to vote, regardless of our religious affiliation or lack thereof. None of us should be forced to go into a house of worship to exercise that civic right. And if you think I’m being overly sensitive, go ahead and read this. It's not about me.

    It turns out that where you vote, the physical location of the polling station, actually influences the outcome of elections. For example, voters casting ballots in churches, like I did today, are less likely to support stem cell research than voters casting ballots in public spaces. My two points of anecdata suggests to a trend of more and more official polling places being moved to churches. And this frightens me, badly.

    Monday, November 06, 2006

    The Height of Rudeness

    Saturday night we went to the movies too see Borat, which was hilarious, as expected. I know, I know… it’s politically incorrect and horribly disrespectful to a whole assortment of different folks. But Sacha Baron Cohen has an amazing ability to draw out unsuspecting people and make them comfortable, exposing their prejudices for all the world to see. Many of the things people say to him are profoundly disturbing.

    We don’t go the theater often, watching most films at home via Netflix. I think the last movie we saw in the theater was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Saturday night reminded me why I prefer to wait and enjoy most movies in the comfort of my living room. First of all, the mall was sickeningly crowded (and, yes, SodaBoy checked; it was the only theater in town showing Borat). The movie sold out, and luckily the clerk warned us it would be, telling us to arrive early to get decent seats.

    So after getting a quick bite, we entered the theater super early and settled in for a long and tedious wait. The theater was already more than half full, 25 minutes before the scheduled show time. I’d scrounged around looking for reading material, but sadly found only an apartment rental guide. Not terrifically exciting stuff.

    Then the evil witch came in. OK, maybe I exaggerate, maybe she was perfectly nice. But the woman who sat next to me was emanating stink lines the way Pig Pen radiates dirt lines. She must have gone swimming in her dagnasty “perfume.” See, I told you: she isn’t really a nice person. Nice people do not subject everyone in a 20 foot radius to their favorite chemical stench. It’s just not cool. So throughout the entire course of the film, my eyes burned, my nose ran, and I had a headache. Thanks. Thanks a lot.

    Of course I was too chicken to tell her off, and by then it was too late to get other seats with a decent viewshed. But, I really don’t get it. Why do people think such behavior is acceptable? Do they think it makes them more attractive? Because in my book, such smug arrogance with the complete and total disregard for all others, combined with just plain smelling bad, is hugely UNattractive. That evil witch.

    Saturday, November 04, 2006

    Celebrating the Tiniest of Accomplishments

    We moved into our house in May, and had never run the furnace at all until the other night. We lasted to our cut-off date of November 1st, our traditional green light day for turning on the heat for the first time each winter. We were pleased with ourselves, buoyant, even: it didn't seem that cold, maybe we wouldn't even need it right away. But SodaBoy decided that we should perhaps test it out to make sure everything was working correctly.

    Hard to argue with that logic, so the evening of November 2nd, we fired that baby up to a toasty 62 degrees. The familiar smell of burnt dust let us know all was in order: the furnace works. The thing was cranking along, though, completely ignoring my 62 degree setpoint. Up, up, up the temperature went. At 65, I got a little panicky, pressing random buttons in a herky-jerk manner.

    Neither of had ever used a digital programmable thermostat before. There didn't seem to be enough buttons. No matter what I selected, the damn thing was determined to reach 70. Someone had programmed the lousy thing to maintain 70 degrees 24 hours a day. By 67 degrees, sweaty and frustrated, we decided the stupid thing was broken, and shut the heat back off.

    Obviously, turning the thermostat on and off whenever we got cold is not a sustainable way of life in this climate. SodaBoy checked the website and pronounced it useless. I was determined to learn how to use the damn thing, so I played around with it more yesterday. I got into the set schedule menu, and programmed it to maintain 62 degrees during waking hours and 56 degrees at night. And by jove, it worked!

    It is completely and utterly ridiculous how proud of myself I am, but I can't help it. I rock!

    Thursday, November 02, 2006

    Why November?

    I am a bitty baby blogger, new to the game. See the Archives? They are quite desolate. The page setup? Cookie cutter template, no fancy embellishments. [Oh, but I’ve got plans.] I just did my first meme last month. I am not even a very reliable writer, averaging only maybe three or four posts a week. My all time record is three days in a row. So I understand why I wasn’t consulted: no one knows about me. Plus, if they did… well, let’s just say, they are probably not too impressed.

    But, why November?

    I am referring, of course, to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, which officially started yesterday. Basically how it works is you agree to post every.single.day for the entire month of November. Bloggers who already post daily might think it’s absurd; I can’t help but think it’s a little silly myself. We need a whole speshul month?

    But I also think I understand the idea: it’s a challenge, at least for bloggers like me. The lazy ones. It’s not that I’m completely immune to the charms of challenging myself, either. Signing up would almost certainly result in me posting more, if just to avoid the shame of failure. And that would be a good thing, right? If I’m not going to post, why even have this foolish blog? So why, you ask, why didn’t I sign up for NaBloPoMo?

    I hope you’re ready to hear the lamest excuse ever…

    Yeah. See, November’s not really the best time for me. What with the holidays and all. Most years we travel out of state for several days to a family home that, while luxurious, would not be conducive to blogging. We’re not the only ones who travel this time of year, you know. Lots of people do it.

    So what I’m saying is, why not choose a month without a major travel-inducing holiday? How about February? I honestly don’t know too many people inconvenienced by Groundhog Day.

    Tuesday, October 31, 2006

    Happy Halloween, '70s Style

    In honor of the day, Nadine over at In Blue Ink is compiling an assortment of links to the costumed. My contributions include these shots of SodaBoy and I with our respective siblings.

    Me and Sis


    E, B and SodaBoy

    The costumes are dubious at best. SodaBoy is Underdog, but I only know that because he told me. The rest of us... who knows?

    Monday, October 30, 2006

    Similar in Regards To

    I have thus far managed to resist the cell phone craze, despite having several of them foisted on me by well-meaning relatives. [Don’t worry: I still have them. Should anyone want theirs returned, they are on a shelf in my basement.] And I know I shouldn’t imply that cell phones are a passing fad; clearly they are as deeply entrenched in our popular culture as television or the internets. The day will likely come when I will be forced to succumb to modernity, but I'm really not looking forward to it. The problem is, I despise all things phone.

    This extends to the wretched answering machine. I acquired the thing through another foisting, actually, when I was working for the Woodland Agency. My boss worked from an office two and half hours away, and was frustrated by not being able to leave me messages at home, so when she got a new fancy-pants model, the old one came to me. I didn’t feel like saying no was much of an option, but when I moved back east… the thing went into deep storage. We went many years without using it, and only plugged it in recently to aid in the job search. Email, people!

    Luckily, SodaBoy shares my distaste for all things phone. Discussing the issue after resurrecting the fool thing, we discovered that we both hate the way our voices sound on tape. We both think we sound nasally and high-pitched. I confessed that just hearing that whiny not-me gets me all paranoid. If that’s what I really sound like, I probably say “like” all the time, too. [See look: twice in the last sentence alone! I’m doomed.]

    SodaBoy was kind enough to reassure me: he doesn’t think I use the word excessively. Of course, during the subsequent conversation, we peppered our dialogue with it: like this, like that, like whatever. It turns out that even when trying to misuse the word, we aren’t very good at it. We kept accidentally using it correctly, as a simile, and not as a mere interjection. So then we switched the game up a bit and substituted “similar in regards to” whenever like was to be used. What fun that is!

    OK, so we’re big dorks. But, really… you should try it. It’s similar in regards to, totally awesome.

    Friday, October 27, 2006

    Raking

    Today was sunny, the first golden light and blue sky to come our way in what seemed like an eternity. I decided to take advantage of the day and rake the leaves that have been piling up. We have a big Norway maple out front, and the next door neighbor’s red maple had made some contributions as well. The leaves were pretty thick out there. I’d been waiting to rake, putting it off and putting it off. Partially because the weather has been so cold and wet and miserable, and partially because even though the leaves were ankle deep, the Norway’s not close to done yet: it’s still holding onto half its leaves.

    I couldn’t resist the call of the vitamin D though, so I tackled that lawn with a vengeance. We don’t normally go in for the whole suburban lawn one-upmanship, eschewing the lawn services and chemicals and even mowing whenever possible. But I raked the shit out of that lawn: it looks like it’s been vacuumed. There is a veritable wall of leaves at the curb.

    The obvious, visible progress makes raking a rather satisfying chore, at least when the weather cooperates like this. I was way overdressed, having prepared for the indoor temperature of 55 degrees with long johns under my cords, a thermal shirt under the turtleneck sweater, and a fleece vest. The temperature outside was a few degrees cooler, but I was kicking ass, so kept having to peel off layers and hang them on the mailbox. [Back inside, I’ve reapplied all layers, and added one more sweater on top of it all.]

    Now I just have to wait for the rest of the leaves to fall, and I can go do it all over again.

    Wednesday, October 25, 2006

    The Inevitable Poop Post

    During Arlo’s recent visit, I discovered that the two large trash receptacles at the north end of the local city park have been removed for the season. I’d made a habit of routing all dog walks past that corner. The walks are a little less pleasant now that I have to lug steaming bags of turds for the whole duration of the walk. And for the record, insulating them with fallen leaves doesn’t seem to help reduce the stench waves; I’d actually thought there might be a blocking effect, but no such luck.

    I am curious about the whole phenomena of picking up after one’s dog. It is not something I remember from my childhood. My earliest years were spent out in the country, where there were no close neighbors. It wasn’t remotely an issue there. But we moved to a subdivision eventually, and brought the five dogs along. We never once followed them around with plastic bags, and we weren’t neighborhood pariahs or anything. Well, not for that reason, anyway: none of the neighbors picked up after their dogs either. It did get pretty nasty, especially in the spring when the snow first melted. I remember going around the yard with a wheelbarrow and shovel.

    With those memories in mind, I’ve always been grateful as an adult to those dog owners courteous enough to clean up after their pets. No one wants to step on dog shit in their front lawn, an experience that’s particularly bitter when you don’t even own a dog. I wish our current next door neighbors could keep a better control over their charming golden retriever’s eliminations. Mowing the lawn invariably detonates at least one shit bomb. So I definitely recognize the value of doggie hygiene.

    However, appreciation doesn’t necessarily translate into eagerness. The first time we dogsat for Arlo when Dad & D were out of town, back at the old apartment, I asked them, “I don’t have to pick up his crap, do I?” Dad told me I had to watch the neighbors. If they picked up the poos, I had to, too. And that was that, I knew I was doomed. Everyone does it now, everyone who walks their dogs at least. Those who just open the door and let doggy run free seem to be exempt.

    So what happened? Don’t get me wrong. Not having my lawn covered with fecal matter is a good thing. But, when did scooping poop become the norm? What precipitated this cultural shift? How did it go from something peculiar to the expectation?

    Tuesday, October 24, 2006

    The Goods

    Well, this tidy bit of commerce has been completed: last night saw the exchange of one loopy little dog for one highly anticipated clay jack-o-lantern. Dad is already scheming about how to get more of these things, complicated plans involving pallets and half-full semis.

    Photo by SodaBoy

    Amazingly enough, one rinky-dink tea light candle provided all the necessary glow, which is mighty convenient since I have about a gazillion of them. I think we'll keep it on top of the curio cabinet until I figure out how to set it up in front of a window for Halloween night. Which could be a little tricky, since I can't think just what table would do the job, but I certainly can't put it outside and risk a smashing after such an epic journey.

    Saturday, October 21, 2006

    Bringing Home the Goods

    My Dad & stepmother stopped by last night around 7:30 pm to drop off their dog for the weekend. Arlo always stays with us when they’re out of town. Our hospitality services are already reserved up for a trip planned for next July, but this venture was a little more spur of the moment. They were debarking on an 18 hour drive to a southern state, where Dad’s brother lives, and planning on returning Monday, which seems to leave very little room for sleeping. And all this for pumpkins!

    Well, jack-o-lanterns, to be more precise. Apparently on a previous visit with my uncle, perhaps 25 years ago, or more, Dad bought a couple of these ceramic jack-o-lanterns for my sister and I. Sometime over the years, perhaps during a move, they either got lost or broken; no one knows exactly where they went, but the bottom line is no one can find them. I only have the faintest memory of them to start with, so I have a feeling they’ve been missing for a while.

    After all these years, Dad was evidently still carrying a torch for these jack-o-lanterns. He had his brother buy dozens of the things for a program at work. But ceramic jack-o-lanterns are pretty heavy, and shipping turned into a nightmare. So they’re doing the only logical thing: driving down to get them. I guess there wouldn’t be room in the vehicle for two people, umpteen ceramic pumpkins, and one small Australian shepherd, so Arlo’s hanging out with us for the weekend. File this one under People Do the Strangest Things.

    I bet I get a new jack-o-lantern as part of this deal.

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    A Bit Early for This

    Every winter I turn into a dragon. My skin becomes terribly dry. My hands will crack and bleed; knees and elbows turn to leather; large scaly patches develop in strange, unexpected places like the backs of my arms, or my sides. Out of absolute necessity I might get out the moisturizer every few days, but I am not dedicated enough to apply it very frequently. Part of my problem is I detest the slimy feel of the stuff. My first instinct after using lotion of any kind is to run and wash my hands. Most fragrances also irritate me (quite literally).

    I’ve always attributed this dryness to heat. Furnaces seems to crank out excessively dry air, and it would explain why I don’t suffer the same malady in the summer months. So what is my problem now? The early signs have started: my hands are already roughening up. However, we haven’t turned the heat on yet. Oh, there was temptation. It was 54 degrees in the house when we got back from the wedding Sunday night. But we persevered. There are goals to be reached, after all, standards to be upheld. It's been years since we've turned on the heat before November 1st.

    I did go up in the attic and bring the space heater down for SodaBoy the other day. He loves that foolish thing. I haven’t spent much time in the immediate vicinity, though. Why should my hands be dry already? Why, internets, why?

    Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    Call Me a Luddite

    I had a new experience this past weekend, with a portable DVD player, of all things. Mind you, I’ve seen them before from a distance, in other peoples’ vehicles, and always found them very distracting. Especially at night. Especially when they are mounted up high in the vehicle, right by the rearview mirror. The glare those screens produce on a dark night can be virtually blinding. And if they effect me, the driver of a separate vehicle, so acutely, I am pretty suspicious about the impact they have on the attention and focus of the driver of said vehicle. I know some people favor them to stupefy their children during car rides, but I don’t have kids, so can’t appreciate even that dubious boon. OK… we might detect a wee bit of bias here.

    Flashback to Friday. We are three hours into a six hour drive, heading up the northway. The scenery is spectacular, everyone jumping over themselves to point out another scarlet hillside, another rocky outcrop, another pristine lake, another funny sign. Conversation is buzzing. We make a pit stop at a fast food restaurant, get a snack of french fries. When we hit the road once again, T gets out the portable DVD player and starts up a movie. Based on my preexisting notions regarding these things, I immediately feel a little bristly, a little bitter. All of a sudden, I have to keep quiet so as not to drown out the movie; all human conversations cease.

    The sun was still shining; I wanted to continue enjoying the beautiful scenery. I vowed to myself that I would ignore the damn thing, and carry on with my delight; it would just be a solo experience instead of a group one. But the problem is, I am terrible at ignoring a TV screen: it's the main reason I am so ambivalent about them. It is always a companion that initiates viewings. I do enjoy certain shows, but hate watching the crippety-crap that comprises the majority of all programming. I hate how watching TV is such a passive activity. I hate how I turn into a vacant minded slack jawed drone.

    Of course, I inadvertently got sucked into the movie, American History X, which I had never seen before. The movie is profoundly disturbing, featuring racism and violence, tragedy and redemption. Overall, a quality film, although unpleasant to the utmost degree. When it was over, D made a comment about how depressing it was, and T defended herself, saying that’s why she couldn’t watch it at home (they have two small children). And I understand that sentiment: it’s definitely not imagery you would want a toddler waking from a nightmare to stumble upon whilst seeking parental reassurances.

    So even though I liked the film, I don’t think the experience changed my perspective of the technology significantly. I guess it’s cool that such things exist, because apparently much of the world enjoys them. But me? Not so much.

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    The Comfort Meme

    I was away from the internets all weekend, so I'm a little behind the times, but I couldn't resist participating in this fun little meme. I first saw it on jo(e)'s page, and then again at In Blue Ink and No Polar Coordinates. To add to the excitement, I will disclose that this is my very.first.meme!

    Comfort Beverage: Earl Grey tea, preferably organic. The tea must be plain; additives like milk and sugar only sully the simple goodness.

    Comfort Food: Macaroni and cheese, the variety I grew up on, made from scratch. Again, very simple, only three ingredients: macaroni, milk, extra sharp cheddar (and it cannot be yellow). Combine and bake.

    Comfort Seat: The south corner of my green loveseat, with the pillows all rearranged just so and a big comforter for coziness. A cat is a huge bonus.

    Comfort Television: I would have to say Seinfeld, only because I can watch the reruns over and over and over, and it is always funny.

    Comfort DVD: No doubts about this one. The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring. The scenes from the Shire.

    Comfort Music: Tom Petty's Wildflowers. The Grateful Dead's Reckoning. Joni Mitchell's Ladies of the Canyon.

    Comfort Read: Oddly enough, this is the hardest for me to elucidate. I love to read, and as a kid I reread my favorite books ad infinitum. However, I made a conscious decision to move away from that habit as an adult. The problem is not that I wouldn't enjoy rereading favorites; I know I would. However, there are so many books out there I that I want to read but haven't yet. So I tend to stick with the unknown over the comfort. I guess to be cooperative, I will admit to the guilty pleasure of Jean Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear. The quality of her writing got progressively worse throughout the rest of the sordid series, but the first one holds up to many a reread. It even helped stimulate my interest in plants. The internets are also comforting, especially with that first mug of Earl Grey in the morning.

    Friday, October 13, 2006

    Weekend Excursion

    This afternoon, we depart for a drive to Mountainous New England State to attend the wedding of a college friend, B, to his beautiful and charming fiancĂ©e, J. We are traveling and staying with another friend from college, D, and his wife T. Financially this trip didn’t come at the best time, with our underemployment and the unexpected expenses related to Meshoe’s death last month. The wedding is in a touristy sort of town, and hotel rates seem rather high, not to mention the outrageous hospitality taxes.

    All my usual mind-fuckery aside, it should be a fantastic weekend. The drives themselves will be more enjoyable than in any other season, especially since today is sunny and bright. The fall color is brilliant this year, and D has already threatened to make frequent photographic stops, welcome news indeed. And the camaraderie… we expect many other friends from college to be in attendance, people we see terribly infrequently. So I think we’re all pretty excited about the whole thing.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Grumble, Grumble

    I feel a need to complain a bit about women’s clothing. Does anyone on the planet understand how the sizing works? What is this 6-8-10-12 crap? What are the units? Why is there no uniformity? I might wear a 6 from one store and a 12 from another. I might wear a 6 and a 12 from the same store. The numbers seem completely and utterly meaningless. This is part of why I hate shopping so much. Often when I shop for clothes, I get frustrated and buy nothing. Other times, out of desperation, I buy crap I later decide I hate.

    As an example: back in May, I bought two pairs of jeans produced by the same manufacturer. Both were labeled as being the exact same style/cut. I bought one pair in size 8 and one pair in size 10, in different shades of blue. The fit is completely different between the pairs of pants. The size 8s fit great, very comfortable, whereas the size 10s turned out to be both snugger and shorter (a full two inches shorter!). If I had noticed this in the store, I wouldn’t have even bought the 10s, but I suck, plain and simple. I suck.

    Since all his existing jeans were decomposing as he wore them, and multiple holes can get chilly this time of year, we went to the dreaded mall yesterday to get SodaBoy some new jeans. It seems to me, from the outside looking in, that shopping for men’s clothing is much, much simpler. Numbers have units; they mean something. Here in the states, numbers are measured in inches. A 34 inch waist is a 34 inch waist is a 34 inch waist. Also annoying: the department store where SodaBoy bought his new Levis does not stock Levis for women, only hoity designer brands. Sigh. I may have to go back to wearing men’s clothes.

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    The Scan Project

    My Mom is in the process of moving to a distant city in a lake state. While sorting and packing, she discovered a box of family photos from the late 1970s that probably hasn't been seen since. She offered, and I jumped at the chance to borrow them before they migrated westward.

    What a hoot! The 70s clothes, hairstyles, shoes... the whole scene. I spent hours poring over them last night. This morning I started the slow work of scanning my favorites. Here's a little taste: Sis and I, circa June 1978. Aren't we cute?

    Monday, October 09, 2006

    Gathering Chestnuts

    Yesterday was a gorgeous day, warm and bright, the sun dazzling the colors on every hillside. This week is the last pick-up date for city brush removal, although they'll be back later for the leaves, and we should have been working in the yard. Needless to say, we weren't. We tried to go to Brain Rock State Park, but turned around and left after remembering the $6 admission fee is still collected on weekends until after Columbus Day. So we ended up at the Experiment Station instead.

    The experiment station is one of the many properties owned by my alma mater. A tiny little main campus with a small student body, the school prides itself on their properties, owning more land than any other college in the nation. The acreage at the current Experiment Station is quite limited; the original experiment station was bisected when the interstate went up in the early 1960s and the college donated the other half to the city. The remaining portion serves as the college arboretum, and contains a diverse array of beautiful trees. Sections of the trails open up to big park-like areas, with tall trees towering over grassy knolls.


    I had not been there in eleven years, not since I was a teaching assistant for dendrology, shepherding my section of students through the woods. Returning was bittersweet. On the one hand, I loved the courses where we spent the entire three hour labs outdoors, especially the plants courses: dendrology, dendrology II, systematic botany, winter botany. Winter botany was a class I'd begged for; it hadn't existed previously, but a group of us convinced our dendro professor that two fall semesters of dendrology were not enough, and we needed to keep going out to look at plants all through the spring semester as well. And I loved being a TA. It forced me to learn all the taxonomic features, inside and out, so I could teach them. Challenging, but fun. Remembering those days was the sweet.

    The bitter came in when I realized how much I've forgotten. Plant taxonomy has aspects of a foreign language to it. The old adage, "use it or lose it" really does hold true. Before getting laid off in the end of July, I'd been working indoors in the chromatography department of a lab for 3.5 years. Not much opportunity for keeping my skills sharp there. So it was hard for me, walking these trails I had known so intimately... I used to know every single woody species there. I still know most of them, and I still retain the knowledge and skills to key out those I've forgotten, mostly specimens planted in the arboretum, many that I haven't seen in eleven years because I never actually saw them in their natural habitat. But it was sort of a slap in the face to be confronted with all that lost knowledge.

    There is a chestnut tree growing in the arboretum section, large enough to bear fruit. This I remembered clearly; it was always a landmark on my past visits. So yesterday, like every other past autumn visit, I hunted for chestnuts. The search is never particularly bountiful: fresh chestnuts are sweet and tasty, and the squirrels always clean up. I usually find just a few by nosing through the spiny husks littering the ground. Yesterday I found ten, which might not sound like much, but was a new record for me. And you know what the strange thing is? I've never had roasted chestnuts, of holiday song fame. I guess because I never find enough to bother, and I like them raw, obviously. Someday I'll try them roasted. Someday...

    Friday, October 06, 2006

    Thursday, October 05, 2006

    Walking the Cat

    Our cat Elijah loves to go for walks. He trots along behind, stops to smell things, gets all zippy, and bolts ahead. Stops to smell things again while we catch up. It is how we met him, before he was our cat. We went for a walk, and he came along. He is very charming about it, the way he prances so proudly, stopping to be admired. And he doesn't just follow for a little while, then get distracted and melt away, forgetting about us. Nope, not this cat: he's got focus.

    The old neighborhood was more urban, big old houses on tree lined streets just off a busy thoroughfare with a bustling little commercial district. All our promenades were along sidewalks, very tame sorts of affairs. Elijah didn't mind. He loved to walk around the block. So much so that if we were going down to the commercial district to pick up takeout for dinner, we'd have to sneak off, not wanting to be followed onto the busier main street. We were rarely successful. But Elijah knew better than to mess with traffic. He waited patiently behind a privet hedge, and resumed the pitter patter footsteps when we came back his way, laden with catfish burritos or moussaka.

    Our house is only a mile or two from the old neighborhood, but it's more laid back here. We can go for walks around the block without worrying too much about traffic. Except we rarely do, because we have the woods, and we walk there now. Although it seems unlikely that he's ever spent much time in the forest before, Elijah loves the woods. He might play the cool cat and ignore us in the backyard, yet as soon as he sees us heading to the path, he cannot be deterred in his blurred sprint across the lawn and up those first few steps.

    Photo by SodaBoy

    The tiny little path that starts in our backyard empties after a few hundred feet into "the open area," a big field that appears to have been heavily disturbed a number of years ago. Bare gravel is still evident, but succession is at work now, and the open area is flush with pioneer species and exotics: goldenrod, asters, knapweed, sweet clover, butterfly weed, sweet pea, autumn olive, dogwoods, and buckthorn. The open area stretches most of the length of our block, and from it spurs a whole network of footpaths so tiny they are almost invisible.

    We love to go explore those deer trails with Elijah. He crashes through underbrush like a champ, scurries up hills, crawls through ditches, and scampers over berms. Weather does not phase him. We turned back towards home one blisteringly hot summer day when he started panting on a steep hillside, because he certainly wouldn't have the good sense to turn back alone. We still have to sneak off on him sometimes, when we hike to the quarry or the water towers or the cemetery, as he's just too small to go for miles long hikes. It is almost like he is powerless not to follow. If he has any say in the matter, Elijah is a comrade on all foot campaigns departing from the house.

    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    Working for Caesar

    For the last week or so I've been indulging myself and my nerdly tendencies. I suspect not too many of my readers are big gamers, so you'll have to take my word for it when I say I'm not either. I am what those in the industry designate a "casual gamer." I only buy a new game once every year or two. The last game I played with any persistence was Children of the Nile, and that was released in 2004.

    With the exception of Tetris, which is all about nostalgia anyway, I avoid console games, and stick to the computer. First person shooters and sports games of all varieties bore me to tears. The Sims never interested me. I've tried racing games and always get lapped repeatedly as I bobble around in the shrubbery. It is the historical city-building games that captivate me, games with complex economies: agriculture, raw materials, manufacturing, trade, diplomacy.

    Especially in the honeymoon period after first acquiring a new game, I can spend hours at a time completely engrossed, immune to the passage of time. My current obsession is the new Caesar IV, released just last week. This specific game is particularly exciting for me, because of the whole Caesar thing. Computer gaming all started for me with Caesar III, and I have played with enthusiasm every subsequent incarnation Sierra Studios put out, from Zeus to Pharaoh to Emperor, and all expansions, too. I also played the Age of Empires lineage of games. But I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Caesar: he was my first.

    And so I while away my hours, building reservoirs and aqueducts, city walls and gate houses, theaters and actors guilds. Providing goods to the citizens is quite a process. Producing olive oil, for example, requires an olive farm, olive groves, and an olive oil factory. And then the distribution network: warehouses and markets. I had quite a shock last night when I abruptly realized at 1:30 am that I'd been playing for hours without even checking my watch. I quickly took this screen shot, and closed up shop. I might need to take the day off today. Otherwise I'll be dreaming of my miniature Roman empire. Plus SodaBoy might want to play.

    Monday, October 02, 2006

    Tap-a-tap-a-tap-a

    I awoke this morning to a loud, repetitive banging noise coming from the north side of the house. I thought maybe the next door neighbors were having some work done on their home, so I went and cracked a blind and peered through. The noise continued, yet I could see nothing out of the ordinary. I raised the blind halfway up and took in the full view, but with the same results. Definitely no roofers in sight, nor any contractors of any kind. Still with the pounding.

    So I went downstairs, and after putting on the water for my tea, went out on the back porch and from there outside, and around the corner. It was a woodpecker! The both of us were so startled, I didn’t get the best look at it, but it was small: either a downy or a hairy. I see woodpeckers in the yard frequently, in the spruces or the birches at the edge the woods. Flickers, too. I like them. However, I do not like the idea of them boring a hole in my house. Or the possible implications: what if the woodpecker was foraging for food? Are there insects in our siding? I want my house to provide neither bed nor breakfast to these fowl.

    The rest of the morning has been quiet; the bird has not returned. Due to our various states of underemployment, either SodaBoy or I (or both of us) are often home. This is the first time I have heard the woodpecker. And it was very loud. I simply cannot imagine that we wouldn’t have heard it previously were this a return visit, although apparently SodaBoy can sleep through anything. So I tend to think this was a random stop, or else the bird was staking out plans for a new shelter. Let’s hope for the former.

    Wednesday, September 27, 2006

    Dental Awkwardness

    I had a dentist appointment yesterday, just a routine cleaning, but the actual dentist cleaned my teeth instead of a dental hygienist. He did not do a very complete job; he didn’t do any scraping at all and only very perfunctory polishing, flossing and stain removal. I drink a lot of tea, and like my teacups, my teeth get stained. My normal hygienist Irina does a very thorough job. She is patient, meticulous, and hardworking. She will keep me in the chair for an hour if she has to. Dentist had me in and out inside of 25 minutes, and only deigned to remove the stains from the front of my teeth, and not the back as well. Which will make my next visit that much more unpleasant. I do not cherish the whirring grind of the stain removal tool.

    Spacing visits out every six months ensures the stains don’t get too bad. But it was my very insistence at my last visit upon returning in six months that landed me in the chair with Dentist in the first place. For the last few years I’ve noticed the intervals between scheduled appointments creeping up, from six months, to seven months, and eventually all the way up to ten months.

    I finally complained last time, asking Dentist at what interval the ADA recommends cleanings. I admit I was leading the witness, because of course he answered "six months." I then pounced, and asked why I would have to wait ten months to get in for my next cleaning. Basically it boils down to them having too many patients: Irina and the other hygienists are all booked up ten months in advance. So they granted me the privilege of coming back in six months, but having Dentist clean my teeth instead. Foolishly, I accepted, and look where it got me.

    The other negative consequence, aside from poorly cleaned teeth, was actually spending 25 minutes with Dentist. Eeep! I have always thought he was a little creepy, but never really wanted to blame him per se. Isn’t everyone a bit of an anti-dentite, when it comes right down to it? No one likes going to the dentist, after all. It is an unpleasant environment, so I’ve always tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he merely seemed icky by association.

    I have been going to see this particular Dentist my entire life. He gave me umpteen dreaded flouride treatments as a child; he pulled four molars before I got the braces he recommended; he did a great job capping my front tooth to prevent further damage when it chipped. He has a daughter exactly my age, and a son exactly my sister’s age, and we all went to high school together.

    Having said all that, I really don’t know him very well. Most visits, the hygienist does all the work and he pops in for five minutes or less at the very end. But this long history must make him feel some sort of non-existent closeness, because he is forever asking personal questions and passing judgments. For example, SodaBoy and I shouldn’t be living together, as we’re not married. Scandalous! Never mind that it’s none of his business, or that we're more than old enough to make our own decisions.

    Yesterday Dentist sank to a new low. He started off by asking me how old I am, fairly innocuous. I politely told him 32, leaving the still the same age as your daughter part of the thought unsaid. He then proceeded to tell me I need to hurry up and have some babies, because I don’t have forever. There is apparently an expiration date "down there." I steered the conversation away from me at that point, asking about his daughter and her fecundity, since he was so enamored with the subject of spawning.

    But holy WTF? I can’t even begin to wrap my brain around how very inappropriate this line of inquiry is. Am I supposed to thank him for pointing out my declining fertility? Why does he think it’s any of his business? Couldn’t this line of questioning be very painful for some people? What if I couldn’t ever have kids? What if I chose not to have kids? Why should I have to justify anything to him? Would he hassle a 32 year man about hurrying up to have kids? Or is it just women who are subjected to this bullshit?