Saturday, December 30, 2006

Shimmy Shimmy, Ko-Ko Bop.

I thought I had a pretty good New Year's Eve party planned. There will be champagne with pomegranate seeds in it (for extra festivity). There will be a sit-down dinner, featuring a fabulous (if I may say so myself) Asian-inflected panko-topped baked salmon and some vegetables or other. There will be desserts brought by my guests. There will be plenty of wine for everyone. There will be an array of ridiculous hats that people can take turns wearing. There will be leftover Christmas crackers, with the dumb jokes, the little toys, and the hilarity-generating paper crowns. There will be "Dance for Our Evil Pleasure."

What? You have never played "Dance for Our Evil Pleasure"? The game started from a game I used to play at New Years with my friends from college. At that time it was called "Crazy Crazy Eights," and basically you play Crazy Eights but we made up a whole array of special "values" for each number. There would be a large poster on the wall, so that you would know what it meant to play any individual card to the person sitting next to you. Sure, there were things like "draw 4" or "change direction of play" like in Uno. But then there might be:

King = drink
Queen = remove an item of clothing
Jack = change direction
10 = wear something dorky on your head
8 = wild
6 = draw four
5 = drink some more

You get the idea. Then one year we added

7 = dance for our evil pleasure

Everyone else got to choose the music and you had to dance to it until we thought it was hilarious enough and then you could sit down.

So for our friends last year I decided that we were all drinking plenty, and probably no one was interested in undressing, and frankly everyone was already wearing hilarious hats. What was missing? Dancin'! So we assigned "dance for our evil pleasure" to several different numbers and away we went.

You should try it with your friends, but first you need to collect an array of appropriate music. Here are some tracks I can personally recommend:

"Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen
"Rock Lobster" by The B-52's
"Walk Like an Egyptian" by The Bangles
"Deep in the Heart of Texas" by Gene Autry
"Dancing Machine" by The Jackson 5
"The Ride of the Valkyries" by anyone at all
"Brick House" by The Commodores
"Hit Me with Your Best Shot" by Pat Benatar
"Axel F" by Harold Faltermeyer
"The James Bond Theme" by the Monty Norman Orchestra
"Land of 1000 Dances" by Wilson Pickett
"Honky Tonk Women" by The Rolling Stones
"I Wear My Sunglasses at Night" by Corey Hart
"Milkshake" by Kelis
"Jam on It" by Newcleus
"Arabski kjuchek" by Yuri Yunakov
"Soul Bossa Nova" by Quincy Jones
"Balkanization of Americanization" by J.U.F.
"Grazing in the Grass" by Hugh Masakela
"Middle of the Road" by The Pretenders

But really the possibilities are endless!

Well, anyway, I thought my New Year's Party plans were the very best of the best, until I came across this! Now, that would seriously rock.

I hope your New Year's Eve is fun and safe. What are your plans?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Perchè oggi è giovedì.

You're right: it is not really Thursday yet.

Several years ago, when I was spending the summer in Roma, I went to a restaurant (not far from the Campo dei Fiori) with friends. The woman who owned the restaurant explained the specials to us, listing off several delectable items, and ending with, "e gli gnocchi, perchè oggi è giovedì"--and gnocchi, because today is Thursday. I ordered them, of course, but I thought, What is so special about Thursdays and gnocchi? Is there something Romans know about Thursdays that I don't? And how long will it take me to learn it? We pondered this at length over dinner, and very quickly "Perchè oggi è giovedì" became a catch-all explanation for many otherwise inexplicable things.

Two years ago, over Christmas, my mother and I made gnocchi. She had made them before, with friends of ours from home who used the authentic recipe of a particularly culinarily talented grandmother, and they were always a treat to eat. But I had never made them. We tried using Mario B's recipe which called for a 2:1 ratio of potatoes:flour, as well as the inclusion of an egg and some oil.

Friends, we worked that dough, adding and adding and adding and adding and adding flour for the better part of an hour. And adding. Sure, it was a humid day, but please: these are supposed to be simple, right? Luckily they came out well, not at all rubbery and not at all falling-apart-in-the-cooking-water, and a wonderful meal was had by all.

We knew, though, that there was something wrong with this recipe, because surely making gnocchi is not supposed to take all day. We vowed to make them monthly, so that we could get the hang of it.

We did not do this.

In fact, I have not made them since then, until Christmas Eve. This time we started with Marcella Hazan's recipe, on the theory that everything I have ever made from her cookbook has been perfect and reasonable. But we consulted numerous other cookbooks, too, finally concluding that to her 1 pound:1 cup::potatoes:flour arrangement we should add salt (1 teaspoon for 3 pounds potatoes) and one egg. Marcella says the egg can make the dough tough, but that sometimes its omission can lead to a gnocchi disintegration disaster (not her words, more's the pity). We decided that risking the former beat risking the latter.

THIS WAS SO MUCH EASIER. Indeed, boiling the potatoes was the biggest part of the process, but that allowed time for extensive research in the cookbook library. Then after some peeling of hot potatoes, and running of hot potatoes through the food mill, we added most of the flour, added the egg, and started to make the dough.

Things became dough so quickly! Not like last time when we thought we had moved into a potato glue factory.

Here is the dough being rolled into little snakes:

Here is a dough snake being cut into little globs:

Here is NOT the authentic forking technique, but the technique that my friend's culinary grandmother prefers:

I prefer the authentic technique, where you roll each gnoccho over the tines of the fork, but the PP did not get a picture of that.

Here they are, ready to go in the boiling water:

I made two sauces, one the traditional sage butter sauce, and the other an olive-oil based conglomeration of prosciutto di Parma, toasted pine nuts, olives, and sundried tomatoes. The latter was very tasty, but the former was a bit better suited to gnocchi, because it adhered better to the little grooves.

And the good news? We made a big ol' batch, so there is a dinner's worth of the little nuggets in the freezer for the PP and me to enjoy soon!

I coulda been a contenda.

Last night at swim practice we had a bit of change of pace--much needed, I think. Granted, I was thrilled to be back in the water after a couple of days of shut-down (one of which, technically, was Sunday, when we never have practice), but any routine gets to be, well, routine after you do it for, say, 5 months straight.

Part of the issue, I suppose, is my attempt to be less goal-focused in my swimming, to enjoy it for itself. The downside of this approach is that it gets easier to slack at practice, or convince myself I am too tired to go swimming, or otherwise to be lame. And the sense of routine does still accumulate, for even though I am not counting down to May as I did last year, I am still aware of the passing of weeks and days.

Lately I have been trying to counteract this sense of routine with a more of-the-moment approach to thinking about practice, and that helps. Instead of trying to get through a set, or thinking about how tired I am, or wondering whether I took a set out too fast or too slow, or thinking always about the person in lane 3 and whether I am lagging or leading, I am trying to focus instead on how the swimming feels at any given moment. What is it like to be kicking in streamline, looking at the I-bars in the ceiling? How is my hand placement doing on freestyle--am I getting power from the power part of the stroke? How to enjoy the pleasure of a great streamline or a really long wall?

But last night one of the people who usually swims in the morning but was forced to swim in the evening since there was no morning practice yesterday, said to Coach, "We never really had a special before-Christmas practice. Could we have an after-Christmas special? You know, do something different?" "Like play waterpolo!" I exclaimed, and he immediately assented.

I did not know at that time that he had played waterpolo in college, and so had another guy on our team. But after 3500 yards of swimming, we spent the rest of practice playing a sort of modified half-court game in the diving well. One person was always the goalie, and when the ball changed teams you had to take it out past the diving board, and we were three on three, hats v. skins, which meant boys v. girls.

I don't think we actually kept accurate score, in part because we never fully settled on whether a goal had to go between the rails of the ladder or just hit it, but things seemed pretty fairly matched. Nobody played particularly rough, although I heard that the PP was bad for grabbing an opponent's ankle as she was swimming for the ball.

But all in all the game reminded me why I did not last long in co-ed club volleyball in college: I was just too daunted by going up against a huge guy to take a shot or defend the goal. It's frustrating, too, because I have decent ball-handling skills, strong legs for treading water, reasonably quick movement in the water, and in a low-key game like this I was able to score a couple of goals.

But the important part was the break of routine. Coach pointed out towards the end that we probably could put together an awesome synchronized swimming team....

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Saturday Random 10: What happened to Friday? Edition.

Oopsie. It appears that Friday kind of slip slid away. So it goes over holiday break, I guess.

Here's hoping everyone out there is enjoying the holidays, wherever they have taken you, and whatever new additions to your family you have around. I am happy for the time with my parents visiting and the opportunities for extra swimming, which is just what the body needs this time of year, if you know what I mean. And for a change, I seem to have my act mostly together--tree up and decorated, outdoor lights and garlands up, grocery shopping done, Christmas cards done, gifts wrapped, stockings hung by the chimney with care.

I have recently rebuilt my two Christmas music playlists, so in honor of that, here is a Random 10 taken entirely from one of them. Originally I had everything together, but Andy Williams singing "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" can be a rather abrupt transition from the Monks and Nuns of Prinknash & Stanbrook Abbeys. So now I have one big mix with the more classical stuff (easily the majority of what I have) and another little one with Sufjan Stevens and friends. This random 10 comes from the former. (I should note that the classical mix also has some music not specifically for Christmas (Hildegard von Bingen, Arvo Pärt, Erik Satie, etc.) that to my ear sounds wintery.):

1. "Angelus ad virginem," New York's Ensemble for Early Music (Nova: A Medieval Christmas)
2. "Greensleeves (alternate take 6)," Vince Guaraldi (A Charlie Brown Christmas, with bonus tracks)
3. "Evergreen," London Symphony Orchestra (Winterscapes)
4. "Let There Be Peace on Earth," Peter Kater (For Christmas)
5. "Vox clara, ecce, intonat," Anonymous 4 (On Yoolis Night)
6. "Motet: Singt, ihr lieben Christen all," Hazel Holt & Maureen Keetch (Sopranos); Roger Norrington/Heinrich Schütz Choir (A Baroque Christmas)
7. "Senher Dieus-Lux refulget," Boston Camerata, dir. Joel Cohen, Sharq Arabic Music Ensemble (A Mediterranean Christmas)
8. "Ego Humilitas," Sequentia (Hildegard von Bingen: Ordo Virtutum, disc 1 of 2)
9. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people," London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Sir Adrian Bolt (Handel: Messiah Arias)
10. "Magnificat Antiphonen - II O Adonai," Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir / Tönu Kaljuste (dir.) (Pärt: Beatus, Choral Works)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Heh heh heh heh ... wipe out.

OK, so in a fit of ill-advised non-thought, I updated my music software on my computer and, in the process, wiped out my playlists, along with some random pieces of track data here and there. Mostly there. Anyway, what is most frustrating about this is that at one point in the past I had managed to back up the playlist data, which means that at that point in time I actually knew where on my computer it was stored. Couldn't find it yesterday, of course.

I realize that this same thing has happened to other people, because I remember reading about it and thinking Oh. Poor. Man. So now we can add to that, Oh. Poor. Goddess.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I've been memed!

Joe tagged me, so here goes:

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate? That depends—which one has the whiskey in it?

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Santa wraps presents, for goodness sakes! How else is Santa supposed to destroy his knees except by sitting on the floor with his legs folded, wrapping gifts?

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? And why not both?

4. Do you hang mistletoe? This year—you bet. The PP and our neighbor went out on a great mistletoe-conquering mission, and they came home (OK, only from about a block away, and no, there were no shotguns given this is within the city limits) with two giant “sprigs.” Ours is hanging in the living room, like a battle trophy.

5. When do you put your decorations up? LATE. Outdoor decorations went up on December 7, but the tree went up, um, today.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Roast beef tenderloin with red pepper cream sauce. Mmmmmm.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? The time I was wrapping presents with my Dad, and he asked me to wrap one of his for him. It was just a brown cardboard box. On Christmas morning I realized it had been a gift for me. I don’t remember now what it was, just that great hilarious feeling of having been “gotten.”

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? Can’t remember what year, but I cried and cried!

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Indeed, and on Christmas Eve Eve, and on Christmas Eve Eve Eve. We just cannot help ourselves.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? First lights, then the angel (see #17), then decorations, some old, some falling apart, many handmade.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it? I love it, but today it is 75 degrees!

12. Can you ice skate? Yes, but it isn’t pretty.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? No.

14. What's the most important thing about the holidays for you? Being with family, staving off the darkness, reveling in great food and wine, celebrating the return of the light.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? Big chocolate cookies.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Honestly, my very favorite tradition goes with Thanksgiving, not Christmas.

17. What tops your tree? A cast-iron angel. Do not mess with the cast-iron angel.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving? Please see #3.

19. What is your favorite Christmas song? “The Carol of the Bells,” sometimes called the “Ukrainian Bell Carol" or some other such thing.

20. Candy canes? Sure, but they tend to stay around too long, and then melt and leave sticky candy-cane-ness all over whatever they are in or on. Blech.

21. Favorite Christmas movie? Does A Charlie Brown Christmas count?

22. What do you leave for Santa? XO Armagnac.

Monday, December 18, 2006

By popular request...

Meet Report: TG Holiday Mini-meet.

This past weekend was the Holiday Mini-meet, though I am sorry to say we did not compete. Well, not that sorry: all the competitors were ages 5-11.

We did, however, have quite the time at the meet.


Here's why:

Some of you might recognize a strong family resemblance between Santa and the PP. And don't you like Santa's "boots"?

Sad for Santa, though, it was about 80 degrees and 100% humidity inside the natatorium, which made for a very sweaty Santa. He was festive, though, giving away hugs, handshakes, and candy canes. He had some funny things in his sack, too. He'd say to a kid at the meet, "Would you like a treat?" to which they would respond, "Yes!" and then he'd pull a milkbone out of his sack. "No!" they would cry, and then he'd give them a candy cane.

A number of folks noticed that this was the skinniest Santa they had ever seen. When they noted that to the head age group coach, he would reply, "Well, he works out."

Santa posed for many pictures, with kids, with parents, with meet officials, with coaches--even with all the little kids on our team. All the kids in the photo were wearing their blue swimsuits and green caps, and there in the front was Santa. I asked our coach afterwards, "Did the new kid in the red outfit get any best times?"

"In every event," he answered.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Postal Iron.

You may recall that my swim team has been participating in the Postal Pentathlon. Back in late October we did the sprint distance, then in mid-November we did the middle distance. I did not blog it at the time, because I kept waiting for our coach to send out the results, which, thanks to Thanksgiving and the chaos of the shut-down pool, never happened. The middle-distance swims went OK, but I was a wee bit disappointed in my performance. I did not have the word for it then, but it was the gibestkt rearing its ugly head. I finished the swims fine, but my times were horrid, my body was tired, my get-up-and-go was nowhere to be found. Needless to say, the PP trounced me on the 100 free.

All this to say, last night was the Ironman: 200 butterfly, 200 backstroke, 200 breaststroke, 200 freestyle, 400 individual medley.

I had been planning to spend the better part of this week in New Jersey, visiting with a certain new addition to my family and his lovely parents. But thanks to the gibestkt, I postponed the trip. I am very sad not to be hanging out with my little cousin, even if he is in constant spit-up mode. I am also sad that I suddenly found myself without my excuse for why I could not swim the Ironman.

But I am proud that I did it.

The PP and I decided that we needed to approach this the way we approached our first triathlons and first long running races: just finish it. I pushed the swimming a bit, but I certainly did not treat these as races the way I would an isolated 200 or 400 in a meet.

For me this was the very first 200 fly ever. I have dreaded this event. There is a postal competition called the "check-off challenge," where, over the course of the year, in official meets or in your own pool with your coach timing, you try to swim every single event: that is 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 1650 free; 50, 100, 200 of breast, back, and fly; 100, 200, and 400 IM. None of those ever kept me from signing up for the check-off challenge except the 200 fly, which is appropriate, since their t-shirts a couple years ago read, "I am not afraid to swim the 200 fly." I have always been free to admit that Yes I Am Afraid. Very. So I had been relieved when the date that Coach announced for this particular postal event was a time I'd bee away. Too. Bad.

The 200 fly was bad, yes, but nowhere near as bad as I feared. I did not take it particularly fast, and I did take a few extra breaths on many of the turns. (My coach friend who got me ready for Nationals last spring advised me and PP to think of the 20 fly as 8 x 25 of fly. That did help.) But miraculously my hips never sank during the swim, and I was able to breathe every other stroke for the entire thing--thanks in part to pauses on walls, and thanks to a bit of drill (extra kicks between pulls) along the way. I looked up to breathe during my cool down, and I could see Coach standing on the side of the pool, looking at me and clapping.

After that it was not so bad. This was also my first 200 back, but I have swum plenty of backstroke in practices: it is not impossible--it is just not pretty. Coach says that when I swim backstroke I look like a turtle on its back. I'd be offended if he weren't right.

I was a little dreading of the 200 breast, because I was not sure if I could ease off enough to do it at a pace befitting the Ironman, but it was fine. Something like a 3:06, which is quite a lot slower than my regular competition time. I did manage to swim very long strokes, though, averaging 7 strokes per length.

And the 200 free was even fun. The PP was swimming in the lane next to me, and he started like a shot. Dang, I thought, I cannot keep up with that. But luckily for me, the PP does not sustain a fast pace all the way through a 200, so, to use Coach's words, I "torched him" at the 100 turn. Luckily the PP is cool about this. The woman in the lane next to him on the other side, who is quite the distance swimmer, was gaining on him at the end. "I think she would have had you at the 300," I said. "I would have had him at 210," she said. Nothing like a little competition among friends. Bicycling magazine had an article several years back titled, "Why do we only care about beating our friends?"

The 400 IM went just fine, too. Again, the fly felt much better than I expected, and swimming 100 of it went smooth and although I was out of breath at the end (let's just say not the longest streamline ever on my first length of backstroke), my stroke held together all the way through. I even pushed the breaststroke a little, and had enough to pick up the second 50 of free.

I would like to note as a p.s. that I did all this while suffering a bit of, shall we say, intestinal distress. Nothing serious, but irksome--and in the bathroom was not my first choice about how to spend the time between events. But it does make me certain that I am an Ironwoman, at least in the postal sense.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Now, with video.

Quick post today, because all in an effort to get myself out of the house before I spend another day not getting any grading done, I have not put on my warm fuzzy clothes, nor turned up the heat, nor turned on the little gas fireplace in my study. But there is coffee!

I just wanted to quickly note that there is now video available of the Anderson Christmas parade. Those of you not from the upstate, or who did not happen to listen to Morning Edition on December 4, might not understand why that is a big deal, so let me tell you.

On Monday, December 4, I was brushing my teeth and The New Bob Edwards read as he always does a funny little anecdote at 6:30. Usually these clips are not about the Upstate, but this one was about this parade. I nearly choked on my Crest. (But, really, I have to ask why it is only things like this that get my area on the national news....) Meanwhile, the PP had just brought in the paper, and had read the same story on the front page, and so was in the process of extricating coffee from his nose.

Turns out that the driver of a float for some dance school or another was doing a bit of nipping while driving the float, then seems to have caught a dose of road rage, because he pulled out of his place in line (behind some slow-ass tractor) and sped away at something like 60 mph, while all the little dancers in their little waltz of the flowers tutus were scared out of their minds.

Friends, is this the Christmas spirit?

The Anderson Police Department says no, and has slapped a DUI on his ass. But what we were wondering, was, "Did anybody get it on tape?????"

So were the authorities and all the news outlets in the area, and for several weeks the TV news and newspapers and everybody kept saying, if you have video, call this number.

Somebody did. Heh. Admittedly, it is funny, but not as funny as the whole thing was in my end-of-term-sickened imagination.

OK, now off to a coffeeshop for grading.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


This is a rough time of year, as nearly anyone will tell you. It is the end of semester for anyone living an academic life, and that means Everything Wraps Up Now (except meetings with administrators, who live a 12-month lifestyle, and thereby forget the deadlines others are sweating). It is winter, which makes for frequent dreary skies. It is the holidays, which brings all kinds of pressure, sadness, anxiety, topped off with a larger dose of bad traffic than anyone can experience while maintaining regular blood pressure. This is how the Furies punish those of us who get our summers off--by combining outrageous amounts of work stress with the expectation that we give to others of our time, hearts, and shopping energy. And on the eighth day, the Furies created the MLA--mwah ha ha. You thought you had a holiday break? Think again!

I am dodging the furious MLA this year, thanks be to the Kindly Ones.

(No thanks for the cold, Kindly Ones.)

Several years ago the PP and I were eating lunch with my grandfather and some of his friends in Assisted Living Land. You should know, for this story to be funny, that the PP has quite the receding hairline. Anyway, he was telling a story about something or another that was supposed to bring some virtuous end, and one of my grandfather's feistier ladyfriends leaned over the table and said, "But it doesn't grow hair, does it, PP?"

All to say, it doesn't make the traffic go away, does it?

It is about this time every year that I look at all my commitments and deadlines and wonder what I was thinking and how in the world this will all come together. (Insert tears of desperation.)

All to say, it doesn't get the Christmas card made.

estaminet late last night accidentally coined the perfect word for this feeling: "gibestkt." Indeed. It is the perfect word for it: you do not really know what it means, you have a hell of a time spelling it, but you know it is bad and makes you feel sort of ill. And it all sounds so Germanic, like a horrible syndrome. Or a monster from Beowulf. Or the actual name for the wolf in the Grimm's brothers' tales. Or something only Heidegger could have come up with to describe the horrors of Being in Christmastime, and you know what that means--all the philosophers who follow him will leave it untranslated in their texts.

All to say, it doesn't get the exams graded.

Perhaps this time of year brings out the small confessions from those of us who under the surface of competence have to exert a little more effort to keep it together. Ian's post for today is about the small correctionals, or what he calls "Tiny Corrections Over a Long Period of Time." (Thank the Kindly Ones he wasn't writing in German, so we do not have to leave his term untranslated.) He wonders what we can achieve not when we expect immediate results, but when we continuously make tiny changes and then wait patiently to see results later.

I am wondering whether this idea might offer some easing of gibestkt. You know, instead of clearing the decks all at once and saying, "Forget Christmas! Buy your own presents! Make your own dinner! No Christmas card this year!" we do not let it get that far. Surely there are little valves that we could open up at, say, midterms, or even earlier, so that the gibestkt does not all build up this much?

This is the question I will be pondering over the holidays, in anticipation of my New Years Resolutions.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Friday Random 10: "Ow, my Everything!" Edition

No swim meet for us this weekend: both the PP and I, perhaps exhausted by our adventure at Garden Ridge, seem to have come down with colds. And while the prospect of spending several hours in a drafty nautitorium wearing wet clothes does sound like exactly what we want when we are sick--oh yeah, and Friday afternoon rush-hour Atlanta traffic--we decided it might make more sense to be home, rest, and get better, so we can survive the final end-of-semester and holiday push.

All to say, I feel like a wimp.

So, to forestall further self pity, I'll do this:

1. "Roumania," J.U.F. (Gogol Bordello v. Tamir Muskat)
2. "Assassin," Quantic Soul Orchestra (Stampede)
3. "Time of Our Lives (f. Vega 4)," Paul Van Dyk (Reflections)
4. "Olerê Camará," Alcione (Brazil Classics 2: O Samba)
5. "Juke Box Saturday Night," Glenn Miller (The Unforgettable Glenn Miller)
6. "Please Please Me," The Beatles (Please Please Me)
7. "Como Fue," Ibrahim Ferrer (The Buena Vista Social Club Presents...)
8. "Flowin' Prose," The Beastie Boys (Hello Nasty)
9. "All This Useless Beauty," Elvis Costello (Extreme Honey)
10. "Don't Care," Klark Kent (These People Are Nuts!)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Deck your own halls.

Look out, folks. The PP and I have started our Christmas decorating.

We were shamed over the weekend by our neighbors, who were in the midst of hanging light icicles from their eves. "Be warned," they said, looking down from the ladder. "You live next to the Griswolds!" They told us they were not sure whether their transformer could handle the load. They told us that should their house catch fire, we should let the muthafucka burn, because, after all, who wants a half-burnt house?

It turns out they have a great looking set-up, with wreaths and garlands and ribbons and the aforementioned icicle lights. And a spotlight, which shows off their wreaths at night. This spotlight is almost not noticeable from the street (unless you get to wondering why you can see the wreaths at night), but from inside their living room, apparently, it looks like Close Encounters Does Christmas.

Oh man, we thought. And all we were trying to do was go for a walk, get a little sun, and take a wee break from work. Now we have Another Project To Deal With. So in walking around the neighborhood we thought about options: lights or no lights? how to attach wreaths? should we put an inflatable santa on our roof?

Before you know it, the PP had a plan.

We both took Wednesday off work and we went to Garden Ridge in search of garlands, ribbons, and fresh wreaths. That last part was my insistence, because I thought the fresh ones smell nicer and the fake ones might look, well, fake.

Do not go to Garden Ridge if you are afraid of Christmas, or if you are looking for real greenery, or if gigantic inflatable snowglobes give you the heebie-jeebies, or if you have problems with the phrasing "All Christmas On Sale," or if you are inclined to grow impatient with other shoppers who are trying to decide which kind of ribbon to buy while standing with their gigantic cart blocking the aisle. While you are there, you must beware of men creating hazards by trying to dodge slow-moving carts, and of your eyes' tendency to glaze over as the sheer magnitude of the season numbs your soul.

We found cheap-looking garlands, but the PP did not want them. "They look cheap," he said. We found pre-made bows, but no no no I wanted to make my own from ribbon. We found the ribbon, which was loosely sorted by color, and found a decent red with gold accents. We found candle rings made of fake cranberries that I thought I could probably deconstruct to affix to our wreaths. I was looking at the fake fruit, trying to decide whether to go Williamsburg in my wreath decor when the PP showed up with an armful of "holly" sprigs, with "pinecones" attached. We decided little fake cherries would be more visible from the street than any of the other things, found more expensive garlands that looked more convincing and even had "pinecones" and "berries" in them. "Should we get snowman heads for the wreaths?" I asked. "Just keep moving," said the PP. Then the PP: "Look! 60 gift bags for $6.99!" See? This is the kind of thing that can happen to you at Garden Ridge.

Then to Lowe's for wire ties, and to the Marché frais for real wreaths (with real pinecones!) and a chicken potpie for dinner (because unlike some people, I don't make my own) and home we went.

You know? Our little array of "garlands" and wreaths with "cherries" and homemade bows does not look half bad! The only trouble is, you can't see the wreaths at night. Perhaps if we arranged some kind of spotlight....

Monday, December 04, 2006


A while ago, Joe asked for a swimming post, and perhaps by now he has given up on me because I have not delivered.

Well, here is why.

This has been a strange re-thinking kind of semester for me (forgive me: we fessing types measure time that way), particularly in the world of swimming. For the last two years, I have been all about the goals: get a national cut, get prepared for nationals, race at nationals. This year, in part because of our move, and in part because I need to know that I am capable of dialing it back sometimes, I am swimming without a goal. Yes, I am swimming because it helps to keep me healthy, and because I enjoy it, and because it is fun to push myself, and because it keeps me from taking my colleagues' heads off in meetings (mostly). So I have reasons, but I am not seeking best times, or trying to perfect anything.

Which is good, because my training log does not look good. I tried to upload the Excel graph of my swimming yardage and time from the last three months, but could not, so let's just say there was a significant downward trend. Thanks to travel, fatigue, and the stupid pool being busted, my monthly average yardage for November was 8,950 where it was 13,300 in September.

Word problem: How will this affect Isis's performance at the meet this weekend?

This weekend is the St. Nicholas SCM Invitational, held in Marietta, Georgia. The last time we went to this meet I nearly lost my mind in the Friday-afternoon Atlanta traffic. Lucky for me, the PP has offered to do the city driving this time. (Word problem: Did the PP also almost lose his mind during that trip, thanks to my driving?)

I am scheduled for entirely too many events, but the one I am dreading the most is the 200 breaststroke. At this point, if you have followed my swimming posts, you are asking, "But why? You love to swim that event and you kick ass at it!" But friends, it is hard to do something poorly that you know you should do well, and that, I fear, is what might happen.

At practice on Saturday, after a week-long closure of our pool (I did get in a short solo swim at my old pool), I felt as though I had forgotten how to swim. Where do I put my hands? How do I get any power from my pull? Why am I so tired? What is this strange thing they call the backstroke? I turned to the PP at one point and asked what I was doing swimming a meet next weekend. He pointed out that probably everyone on our team feels that way.

That was a good thing for me to think about, which I did for the remainder of that set of 200s. Now my plan is to go to the meet and just have a good time. I do not have to have a best time everytime I swim. Hey wait, wasn't that the plan for this season anyway?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

An Open Letter to Tim on his Birthday.

[Aside to readers who are not Tim: Did you know that today is Jarrett's birthday? I would tell you to leave him a comment, saying something birthdayish, but of course his site has been deluged with comment spam (happy birthday, indeed). So you can't do that. But won't you join me in contemplating his greatness right here?]

Dear Jarrett (though there are those who call him ... Tim):

Greetings and salutations on the occasion of your most illustrious birth! (And hi, Mrs. Tim's Mom. I still have not practiced in an awfully long time. But nice work on the birthing!) Here is hoping that you are not being pounded (as we speak) by the horrid remnants of the horrid winter storm of late, but rather that the sun is shining on you in all (NOTE: not quite all--e.) your glory with all its glory.

Happiest of happy birthdays, mein bruvver! This is your sister, visiting Isis and sending you wonderful, warm, bacon-wrapped well-wishes for your big day. Are you having cake? Wrapped packages of love? Are there...balloons? You are great and full of greatness and deserve all kinds of fun things. Like balloons. Helium balloons too, shiny metallic ones, not those piddly kinds you blow up yourself which smell like old toys. But that's beside the point. Happy birthday! I love you!

Yes, cake is an important part of things. And bacon. Or bacon cake. No, stop that, it's silly.

But maybe worth investigating. I mean, how bad could it be? If you leave off the frosting, I bet it would be delicious.

Or if that sounds altogether too disgusting, you could just settle for ... a omelette. Because I KNOW that you do LOVE eggs.

But wait! Bacon is good with syrup, right? How much of a leap is it from syrup to cake? I mean really.


Okay. I'll be good. (sulking)

But back to you. Because after all, it is YOUR birthday. We are most grateful for this day to tell you how grateful we are for all your greatness. And this is not just about all the mighty mighty mixtapes (though those did come up in conversation today...). Nor is it only about The Way You Rock Out. And although it is not only about the pleasure we take in reading your blog, I do want to say how MUCH I enjoyed your recent travel post in all its lyrical beauty. Rather we are thankful for the brilliant, hilarious, ridiculous, insightful (slather, slather, slather--e.) AHEM! and now I should say INDULGENT friend that you are.

Have yourself a most rocking of days.

Isis & e.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Friday Not Random 60: Looking good, hanging with the wild bunch.

Over at xtcian (p.s. thanks for fixing the comment feature), there is memage going on, and it is a hard one to resist:
I almost never do memes, but I liked what my brother Kent did today: post the top songs of the year he turned 18. He (and the guys who did it first) bolded songs they liked, crossed out songs they disliked, and left the other italicized. I'm not tertiary enough to get away with that, so I'll post the top 60 songs from the year I turned 18. That glorious annus, 1985. And offer a little comment on each.

What is excruciating about this meme, is that these are so not the songs that were formative to my youth, or even my days in high school (such as they were), or even my sense of what the 1980s were, musically. Better for that latter experience are Jarrett's "Your Scary 80s" mixes, based on what he thought was good and bad from those years, the bad largely determined by the Supa DJs of the Carver bus--oh yeah, I had my funky bus pass for that, Tim.

No, by 1989, my magic year, "classic rock" had reared what I now know was its ugly head, and I was more interested in the WNOR top 100 (will "Stairway to Heaven" get it this year or will it be that Bob Seeger song again about life on the road?) than in whatever was happening on Z-104. Furthermore, by that year "alternative" had appeared, and Carol Taylor had started doing a once-a-week show on WNOR featuring more out of the way stuff. Thanks in part to mixes from my friend Cindy (she was a COLLEGE student!), old mixes from other folks, and a lot of rooting around in record stores, I was (in my very own emo way) rejecting the pop stations and listening to entirely too much old Peter Gabriel, old Talking Heads, Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, etc.

What this list does bring back, though, are the few high school parties I attended. These were largely populated with my underachiever and over-socialized classmates walking around with beers in their hands saying, "I am SO drunk!" Sure, sweetie. And we are all impressed by you.

So moreso than having my annus mirabilis revealed with this list, it leaves me wishing I had kept mix tapes I made in those years. (My catalogued collection of same begins in my freshman year of college.)

But here is my list, and like Ian, I'll make some comments in italics, and although there are only a few worth making, let's see if that old teenage emo voice comes back.

Pop Radio Top 20: 1989 Yearly Chart

1 "Another Day In Paradise," Phil Collins (oh, indeed, as was every day at MHS)
2 "Miss You Much," Janet Jackson
3 "Cold Hearted," Paula Abdul
4 "Don't Wanna Lose You," Gloria Estefan
5 "Like A Prayer," Madonna (life is a mystery, but not really the way she meant it, I fear--perhaps Alanis Morrissette should have been paying better attention)
6 "Forever Your Girl," Paula Abdul
7 "We Didn't Start The Fire," Billy Joel (no, we certainly didn't)
8 "Lost In Your Eyes," Debbie Gibson (I am sure that my romantic life could have been richer if I could have OMG OMG loved this song)
9 "If You Don't Know Me By Now," Simply Red (you will never never know me, and that goes for all of you, class of 1989!!!)
10 "Right Here Waiting," Richard Marx and his haircut
11 "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)," New Kids On The Block (do you 4 punks know what forever is?)
12 "Listen To Your Heart," Roxette
13 "Straight Up," Paula Abdul (oh oh oh)
14 "The Look," Roxette
15 "Toy Soldiers," Martika
16 "When I See You Smile," Bad English
17 "I'll Be There For You," Bon Jovi (does everyone is pop music land write song lyrics as if they were signing yearbooks?)
18 "Blame It On The Rain," Milli Vanilli (did we think then that they were singing, or had our sense of postmodernism already developed?)
19 "She Drives Me Crazy," Fine Young Cannibals (now this song I still enjoy, and it is not just because of Roland Gift's fab pixie hairline)
20 "(It's Just) The Way That You Love Me," Paula Abdul
21 "Eternal Flame," Bangles
22 "Heaven," Warrant
23 "Girl I'm Gonna Miss You," Milli Vanilli
24 "Rock On," Michael Damian
25 "The Living Years," Mike & The Mechanics (OK, now I hated this song so much that even now--17 years later--I can feel the rage rising at the mere imagining of its opening notes)
26 "On Our Own," Bobby Brown
27 "Cherish," Madonna (there are reasons I came to really appreciate Madonna, but this is not one of them)
28 "Good Thing," Fine Young Cannibals (see above, #19)
29 "Hangin' Tough," New Kids On The Block (oh good lord)
30 "Satisfied," Richard Marx
31 "With Every Beat Of My Heart," Taylor Dayne
32 "Two Hearts," Phil Collins
33 "Express Yourself," Madonna (put your own love to the test)
34 "Real Love," Jody Watley
35 "When I'm With You," Sheriff (does anyone remember Sheriff?)
36 "Batdance," Prince (admittedly, a strange bit in the purple one's career, but I am very fond of this soundtrack album and very sad that I cannot find it digitally)
37 "Born To Be My Baby," Bon Jovi
38 "Don't Rush Me," Taylor Dayne
39 "If I Could Turn Back Time," Cher
40 "Rhythm Nation," Janet Jackson
41 "So Alive," Love & Rockets (I thought this song was so romantic--really this time--and I would drive my little shit car around listening with my windows down. I wanted to be one of those "doo-n-doo" girls at the end...)
42 "Every Little Step," Bobby Brown
43 "Baby Don't Forget My Number," Milli Vanilli (uh, too late?)
44 "My Heart Can't Tell You No," Rod Stewart (yes it can)
45 "Angelia," Richard Marx
46 "Soldier Of Love," Donny Osmond (Donny Freakin' Osmond??)
47 "Armageddon It," Def Leppard (until this song, I had no idea that could be a verb)
48 "Don't Know Much," Linda Ronstadt w/ Aaron Neville
49 "Girl You Know It's True," Milli Vanilli
50 "Cover Girl," New Kids On The Block
51 "Wild Thing," Tone Loc (this one really brings back those irksome parties)
52 "Wind Beneath My Wings," Bette Midler (ARRGH!!! This song was played or performed over and over in all the end of the year awards ceremonies! It was supposed to be some kind of tribute to parents and now I see it is one of the de rigeur songs at wedding receptions. If only we had stopped the madness before it started!!!)
53 "Sowing The Seeds Of Love," Tears For Fears (when TFF took their sad fall)
54 "Buffalo Stance," Neneh Cherry
55 "When The Children Cry, White Lion
56 "Shower Me With Your Love," Surface (no thank you, I'll wash myself)
57 "The Lover In Me," Sheena Easton
58 "Love Shack," B-52's (I got me a Chrysler, it seats about 20, so hurry up and bring your juke box money! Ah, Fred, you still got it.)
59 "You Got It (The Right Stuff)," New Kids On The Block
60 "I Like It," Dino

A NOTE ON METHOD: because I am that kind of goddess, I am going to comment that determining what "the top hits" of a given year are is no easy task. Looking on google, I found that the first several lists were all different. Then I found this compendium of lists, all determined by different parameters. So then after some comparisons there, I found that this list best reflected my oh-so-glorious senior year of high school. RIP.