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.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Are you with us or against us?

That is the question I need to ask the Westside Aquatic Center.

First it was the hot water heater for the showers (which, as the PP recently noted, is now lying on the grass outside the back door).

Then there was some kind of electrical problem that cancelled practice Monday and Tuesday.

Now there is a mechanical problem, too, related to the motor that turns the pool pump for water circulation. No practice today or tomorrow--MAYbe Friday or Saturday.

Meanwhile there is all this turkey and pie and wine staying the course around my middle.

These desperate times of terror may drive a goddess to actually go (gasp) running!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

If you want to end war and stuff, you've got to sing loud.

It has long been a tradition in my family to listen to "Alice's Restaurant" on Thanksgiving. It all started about 19 Thanksgivings ago (that's 19 years ago on Thanksgiving), when my aunt and uncle were visiting us in Newport News, and together with me, a high school boyfriend, and my parents, we got talking about that song, how it takes place on Thanksgiving, and about how we should listen to it on Thanksgiving. And so we did: some people were sitting in chairs, and others were sprawled on the floor, and we were all full of turkey. Full bellies did not stop the giggling and the singing, though. And given my family's tendency to multiply jokes with repetition, it was not long before "I wanna keeuhl!" became the repeated line around the Parcheesi board.

Now when my family celebrates Thanksgiving it is usually done with another family, who have become like family over the years. This is no ordinary Thanksgiving celebration. Everything starts on Tuesday night with Dungeness crab, brought fresh in suitcases by the family members flying in from San Francisco, who until the wine-buying options in Newport News recently improved, also brought with them several cases of wine. (There was one sad year when all the suitcases made it through except the one with the crab.) Then on Wednesday it is over to my parents' house, where my mother constructs a striper feast. November is prime striper season, as you may know, and there is one person in our clan who used to fish for it all the time before he moved inland to Kentucky. Now we all benefit from his nostalgia, because she has a mighty fine crumb topping that she bakes on it. This year, I understand, there was fish leftover for the first time in my memory. Then Thursday is the turkeystravaganza, usually featuring something like 30 people, all in one dining room. After dinner there is always the mother of all napkin battles, followed by Christmas crackers and everyone wearing paper crowns while reading dumb jokes aloud.

Then we adjourn to the living room to find bits of chair or floor, for the ritual listening. Some people have a hard time keeping from saying the lines along with Arlo. There is significant eye contact when he says, "Let me tell you about the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts." Then at the end we all rouse ourselves from triptofan dreams to sing along.

In fact last year at the PP's and my wedding, when the DJ was seeming not to show up, we thought perhaps we could have everyone sing something together--something everyone would know the words to. What we came up with was
You can get anything you want
At Alice's Restaurant
You can get anything you want
At Alice's Restaurant
Walk right in it's around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
And you can get anything you want
At Alice's Restaurant.

Can you imagine 100 people standing up at our wedding, singing a bar of "Alice's Restaurant," and sitting down? Friends, it could have been a movement--but the DJ did show up.

But back to Thanksgiving. This year, we had a small group here at our house--myself, the PP, his mother, his sister, a longtime friend of mine from work, her husband, and their bitty baby. We had crab appetizer, a beautiful turkey, cranberries, two kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables, pumpkin pie, and carrot cake--and wine. But this was not the occasion for Alice's Restaurant.

But fortunately last night we went over to other friends' house, where there was a veritable family and friend posse. They had leftovers and we had leftovers, and bottles of wine were opened for the cause, and together we ate another Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat. Then after pie, we adjourned to a living room, moved parts of wooden train sets aside, and pulled up chairs and floor for the ritual listening. It turns out that someone else there had had this as a family ritual, so she and I were always giggling in advance of the same expected pleasure of a storyline known too well.

Given the situation in Iraq, I don't think we made much progress on ending war and stuff, but it was good to know we had done our part. And even though we were not singing in unison with the crowd in Newport News, I'd like to think we had a bit of a doppler effect massacree going on. With four-part harmony. And feeling.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


No, this is not going to be a "thank goodness nothing new started hurting overnight" post.

But I am thinking about what it is we feel thankful for. I cannot list everything, or you would spend the entire day reading my various thankful blog posts, instead of watching football as you should.

Right now I just want to say "Thanks!" to the Yale hospital folks who figured out what was going on in my uncle's heart and got it patched up. It really is remarkable, when you think about it, that doctors can send one of those tiny cameras up an artery from somewhere near where your leg joins your body, and look around inside your heart. THEY CAN LOOK AROUND INSIDE YOUR HEART, WITH A LITTLE CAMERA. Then they can take a little tube, put it inside the part of your heart that is not staying in the position that it should, then send the world's tiniest balloon in pump the tube up to where it should be. Are you pausing with me for reflection?

One of the real highlights of this fall was the phone conversation I had with my uncle, the night after he had this procedure done, a full day after he had gone to the hospital because his pulse would not come down. I can so easily go back to the moment of that conversation, sitting by the little gas fireplace in my study, wanting to physically feel the warmth that I both needed and received from hearing that he was going to be OK. It was one of those magical times when you believe and really do feel that a telephone can make a connection with someone 833 miles away.

So I am thankful for that voice-carrying technology, and for the new technology inside his heart ("a stent in my heart to match the bolt in my wrist," he said). And I am thankful for my uncle, and for the chance to have more conversations like that one.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

London Bridge is falling down.

I am not sure what it is about this time of year, but it brings out my ailments. Last weekend it was a mysterious and previously unsuffered stomach ailment (thank heavens for the PP, willing to venture out to the Kangaroo Mart circa 2 a.m. in search of meds) followed the next day by Super Sinus Headache. What a mostest hostess I made. This weekend it's the one-two punch of the shoulder on my right side and my right calf. And no, this is not the shoulder that bothered me last month, although my massage therapist points out that it continues to be a disaster, just more quietly now. No, this is the other shoulder, which I injured last night--are you ready for this?--erasing a white board. Yes friends, I have reached the point in life where I cannot risk such a task without hurting myself. Then thanks to Jacques Monod sleeping around my legs during the night, and my trying to move around her, I awoke suddenly (c. 3:30 a.m.) with a killer calf cramp. Curses!

But that has not slowed down the Thanksgiving dinner preparations, no no no. I have had the wine purchased for several days now (and not drunk any of it, thank you very much.) I got a fresh free-range drug-free turkey from the poultry students, picking it up on Monday. Trips to the state farmers market and various groceries got all the ingredients I could think of. Those who know me well know that several forgotten items will reveal their identities tomorrow, just in time for Substitutions R Us.

Now's just the cooking. So far the cranberries are done (and the PP found some of the freshest cranberries I have seen this side of a Maine bog at the Marché Frais today), the giblet stock is made, the sausage (fresh Italian variety--yummy) for the stuffing is cooked, the pomegranate seeds are removed from their membrane home (for serving as aperitivo in the prosecco, just to insure that all my guests have to spend half the year in this part of the world), the beautiful bread for the stuffing is drying, and I just remembered I need to get the white wine chillin (like Bob Dylan, natch).

And that is about all that can be done until tomorrow, when I'll chop vegetables to roast with rosemary and olive oil, get the bird ready for its final suntan, peel the potatoes (and not put the peels down the disposal this year) for mashing, and make the stuffing. Other guests are bringing dessert and appetizers, which means that as far as I can tell, things are under control.


All to say, we are well on our way to a Thanksgiving dinner that can't be beat. I hope you are, too. Here are some good reminders from the Gurgling Cod:
The LA Times has a detailed story on the definitively best way to cook a turkey. This bird seems to bring out a lot of this kind of thing, suggesting perhaps that the turkey is not, inherently, delicious. News flash: it does not matter.* Poach the damn thing in Proseco, put it in a hammock lined with George Foreman grills, or go sous vide, as your tradition and preference move you. I said it before, but it bears repeating -- the excellent thing about this holiday, and the reason why today so many of us will be cooling our heels in Mpls, Atlanta, Detroit , Charlotte, Denver, or Pittsburgh airports, pondering the second 20oz draft, while keeping an ear cocked for any information on the status of the flight home -- is that it is about the asses in the seats around the table, not what's on the table. If you are giving thanks for your $15/lb-studied-Sanskrit-at-Wesleyan-heritage-turkey, or that you'll be able to watch the Lions, Cowboys, and the Bayou Classic on a plasma screen TV, you are missing the point. Count yourself blessed for the people at your table, raise a glass to those who are not, and pour out a bottle or two of the nouveau for those irredeemably absent. It is, if you do it correctly, a holiday about hanging out with people you love, eating food, and watching football on television. With attorneys in Santa suits already revving their Harleys for the inevitable toys-for-tots rides that a sheen of altruism on the naked consumerism of the Christmas season, I encourage you to spend this weekend focused on gluttony and sloth, and leave the greed until December.

I'll be feeling grateful for my family and friends who can be here and also for those of you who are too far away to break bread together. To you, I raise a glass to say (with feeling), Come on in it's around the back, just a half a mile from the railroad track....

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday Random 10: My friends have passed out on the landing (good night).

This afternoon estaminet makes an appearance here in the upstate. How cool is that?

The plan for tonight is to hit the town in search of a Dinner of Many Places--perhaps crab nachos here and a fancy drink there, more to eat somewhere else, and maybe a pastry somewhere or the other.

Tomorrow afternoon we have other plans, which means we'll need to hit the grocery in search of such items as pimento cheese spread, cheetohs, ice cream, and perhaps beer from some local spot.

While I wait for her to drive six and a half hours or so, I have plenty of time for this. Apparently my music device is excited, too, because random track 10 even came from one of estaminet's own mixes.

Have a great weekend, everybody--and Go Blue!

1. "Your Dictionary," XTC (Homespun)
2. "Suits Are Picking Up the Bill," Squirrel Nut Zippers (Perennial Favorites)
3. "Zydeco Homebrew" (Louisiana Cajun Classics)
4. "Wish You Were Her," Billy Bragg (Don't Try This At Home)
5. "I Wanna Be Your Lover," Prince (The Hits and B-sides, disc 2)
6. "The Boxer," Simon and Garfunkel (Bridge Over Troubled Water)
7. "Bathtime in Clerkenwell," The Real Tuesday Weld (I, Lucifer)
8. "Le cose in comune," Daniele Silvestri (Italian Cafe)
9. "Sueno," Gipsy Kings (Allegro)
10. "Chocolate," Snow Patrol (How to Get the Most Out of Your Mixmaster)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Court's in session (now here comes the judge).

OK, OK, no more politics: I am afraid that if I write another political post, Joe will taunt me a second time. (Go, Joe, by the way, kicking butt in the 50 fly!)

Take a moment today and wish NCMarcus a bon anniversaire: even though it is many years ago now that we would always celebrate together, and even though birthday cards do not seem to be something I am capable of getting into the mail, I always think of her mid-November, of chocolate bricks and somewhat less successful chocolate mousse, of swingset conversations and beachwalks, of rose crusades, of too much Depeche Mode, of too many black turtlenecks. Now she's a mom too, and with a new idea of what a birthday means. So I, too, thank her mother for the work of bringing her into this world, and even though I know that was a huge labor for her, November 15 is still for me and always a celebration of Maman Marcus herself.

Now, the news.

You will be pleased to know that although my plea of guilty was accepted today in court, I got off without a fine. I hardly had to explain a thing, which is a shame, because I had a D.A. MacCoy-style argument planned, to explain to the jury why condemning me to punishment beyond what I have already endured would not serve American justice or make the city safe. Might have worked, too, except that there was no jury. The judge seemed to understand, though, that I neither meant to do it nor planned to do it again.

All in all, it was not much of a Law & Order scene. No blond assistant DAs, no inspiring oratory, no tricky message at the end. The main message seemed to be that if you can get off work to get to court and explain your sad self, then the system will not punish you as it would if, say, you might lose your job for missing work. The courtroom of our fair city was not as glamorous either: the dark wood paneling surrounding the judge's dais was diminished a bit by the flush fluorescent lighting and old-school ceiling panels.

I am curious, though: the judge suggested defensive driving classes as a way of getting rid of the points on my license. Maybe I did not make my situation clear to him: it was in trying to remain aware of the jackass behind me who was driving like, well, a jackass, that I did not see the light change. I am curious to see whether this kind of matter might be covered in the class: which parts of driving is it that I am supposed to be defensive about? More than likely, in being a Hermione-like too-many-questions-asking presence in the classroom, I'll just force the teacher to flunk me for spite.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Well, I'll be.

It's only too bad the whole thing didn't last long enough for estaminet's friends to get the t-shirts printed. But maybe that's a small price. (I still want one, though.)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Uh, is that IRAQ-Contra?

OK, after a bit more reflection, I wonder what we gain from having Robert Gates instead. Are we expected simply to celebrate the exit of Rumsfeld (as I did) without considering who enters? Or is this the Bush administration's attempt to prepare itself for Ortega's victory?

Look at the time....

Is it too much to hope that this is just the beginning?

Tester, we love you.


Now come on, Webb.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Must I paint you a picture?

My new mix and my election mix from 2004 (sadly appropriate this year too) are up at Art of the Mix.

An Open Letter to the readers of xtcian

Dear Readers of xtcian,

I don't understand why, but for some reason the comment I am trying to leave this rainy election day morning keeps getting rejected for "questionable content."

Ian had written a post about today's election, about trying to deal with one's anger about one's nation's direction, about what it means to hope that perhaps this election might bring change. He closed by saying, "And in the community spirit, I'd like to leave the comments open to everyone who would like to add One Thing to Consider when voting in today's election. It can be anything. Simply write down the one element you would like every fellow voter to know before they pull the lever. It's your last little whisper in the ear before the curtain closes."

Here is what I tried to write:
If like me, you live in a state where there is a so-called marriage amendment on the ballot, please think twice (or even three times) before you vote in favor of writing bigotry into your state's constitution.

Not that racy, is it? Or even particularly witty. When I first got the questionable content error message, I even tried taking out "bigotry" and putting in "unfair discrimination." But the message came up again. I cannot figure out what the content in question is, but consider me pre-empted.

So instead I'll point you to the Gurgling Cod's very good arguments against our state's question #1.

Thanks, and happy voting,

Monday, November 06, 2006

Lucky me.

Don't you wish you were me? Well, OK, not usually, but today you do. Do you know why? Because tonight I have time to cook a nice dinner for the PP and myself, and I get to listen to a brand new mix while I'm doing it. How lovely it is to come home from the grocery, having gotten everything I need, only to find a CD-containing-padded-envelope in my mailbox! Simply delicious listening, coming my way now. NOW don't you wish you were me?

An Open Letter to The Cats.

Dear Cats (that means you):

Since this is fall break, and that means I get to work at home (at my very own desk), and get some extra sleep, and maybe even read some things for fun--for three entire days--we need to set a few ground rules.

I understand that the desk is popular space, and that the two of you have arranged shifts so that we do not both of you up here at the same time, with all the hissing and growling that ensues. I appreciate that. But here are a few additional requests:
1. No biting on the desk. This is my space, and you are welcome to visit it, but you are not welcome to bite me when I do not clear my arms from in front of the computer keyboard, or when I try to type instead of petting you.
2. Be careful with the tail wagging. There are some important things on the desk that I would prefer you did not knock over. Similarly, please refrain from batting pens and paperclips onto the floor.
3. That is my water. I know it looks fresh and tasty, but if you get your pointy little head stuck in the glass, don't come crying to me.

1. Pillows are for human heads, and you should not walk around on them while the PP and I are trying to sleep.
2. You weigh approximately 10 pounds, and that means you should not extend your body to fill up 2/3 of the bed.
3. The alarm clock is your signal that you can start meowing to wake us up. No food is going into your bowl before the alarm clock goes off. Really.

1. If I am sitting on the couch and reading, you are welcome to join me, but please do not position your body between my face and the book.
2. If I get up from my spot on the couch and you promptly claim it, I am allowed to pick you up and move you when I come back. No crying.
3. Please see rule 3 in category #1 above: it also applies to drinks on the coffee table. You should not look surprised when you find that what is in that glass is bubbly water or beer.

Thank you for your kind attention and compliance. I believe that now we can all get along much more easily.

Yours sincerely,

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Everything in Winston-Salem is against the law....

Today it is Winston-Salem, so it must be Thursday. I have committed to way too much travel this month: 2 weeks ago to Tulsa, now to Winston-Salem, next week to Charlotte. Luckily neither today's nor next week's trip requires the quart-sized ziploc bag. But I do have a bit of driving ahead of myself. Just call me the low-paid daddy singing the high-price blues.

But won't you join me please in welcoming the arrival of Fall Break? Hooray, Fall Break.

Hope you enjoy the upcoming weekend. I know I will, because after I get back from giving my lecture, the PP are declaring a moratorium against answering the phone, checking e-mail, grading papers, doing house-related projects, and overexerting ourselves generally.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

More on SC Constitutional Amendment Question 1.

estaminet asked: "Is your proposed amendment worded like ours [Virginia's], i.e. so vaguely that it threatens many other issues, like legal recourse for victims of domestic violence, etc.?"

Thanks for asking! You bet it is!

Here is how the question will appear on the state ballot:
Question 1

1. Must Article XVII of the Constitution of this State be amended by adding Section 15 so as to provide that in this State and its political subdivisions, a marriage between one man and one woman is the only lawful domestic union that shall be valid or recognized; that this State and its political subdivisions shall not create, recognize, or give effect to a legal status, right, or claim created by another jurisdiction respecting any other domestic union, however denominated; that this amendment shall not impair any right or benefit extended by the State or its political subdivisions other than a right or benefit arising from a domestic union that is not valid or recognized in this State; and that this amendment shall not prohibit or limit the ability of parties other than the State or its political subdivisions from entering into contracts or other legal instruments?

Yes []

No []

Explanation of above:

This amendment provides that the institution of marriage in South Carolina consists only of the union between one man and one woman. No other domestic union is valid and legal. The State and its political subdivisions are prohibited from creating or recognizing any right or claim respecting any other domestic union, whatever it may be called, or from giving effect to any such right or benefit recognized in any other state or jurisdiction.

However, this amendment also makes clear it does not impair rights or benefits extended by this State, or its political subdivisions not arising from other domestic unions, nor does the amendment prohibit private parties from entering into contracts or other legal instruments.

As Uncle Zoloft has noted, here are a few things that the so-called explanation does not mention:
> South Carolina will directly violate one of the bedrocks of our Constitution and country, "equal protection under the law."

> South Carolina same-sex couples and their children will be relegated to second class citizens and denied rights accorded to every other South Carolinian.

> Government will tell state institutions and private corporations that they may not offer benefits to same-sex couples and their families.

> South Carolina will directly violate "the full faith and credit" clause of the Constitution. Same-sex couples who have been married in Massachusetts or another country will find their legally recognized marriages nullified in our state.

>Common law marriage will be eliminated.

> Domestic violence laws, protections and support systems will fail to include same-sex couples.

And as Walter Ezell pointed out in today's G-ville News, "It will complicate matters for the state's universities, in outlawing benefits for same-sex partners of the universities' employees."

Monday, October 30, 2006

I'm afraid to watch.

Those of you not living in the Great State of South Carolina may not be dreading next Tuesday as much as I am. Or maybe it is next Tuesday night, or maybe next Wednesday, but probably just next Tuesday.

Some of you may even be crossing your fingers in advance of election day, hopeful that some incumbent or another in your state will get the big thanks-for-the-memories boot. I am not particularly worried about that, though. I have long since given up hoping that Democratic challengers will have their day in the state I have come to call home.

But what I am really dreading is what I am nearly certain will be the passing of Amendment 1. You can read a pretty decent summary of the provision and the hatred and intolerance it will write into our state constitution here.

There have been opinion pieces and letters back and forth in the G-ville News for the past several weeks. The PP even wrote a pretty good letter (not published yet--in true G-News fashion, it will probably be published next Wednesday).

So why am I so certain? Not just because this entire region is held firmly in the grasp of baptofascists. Not even just because we tend to be a redder than red state. But partly because it was only in my first year of living here that interracial marriage became legal.


I clearly remember driving to work one day in the first week or so of my first year of teaching here, and getting disgusted by a long exchange of homophobic "humor" on a radio show. I changed the station, only to land on another such exchange. Where have I landed, I wondered in despair, trying not to arrive at the office in tears.

A lot has changed since then, although not as much as I might hope. There has been a lot more willingness to discuss BGLT topics on campus, and our university non-discrimination clause now even mentions sexual orientation. I remember being warned when I was first here about members of my department making thinly veiled threats to other members about revealing their orientation to unfriendly administrators. People speak more openly now. You still hear plenty of jokes about queers, and all too many people are comfortable snickering at them, but still. It's better.

Tuesday may be a big reminder that it is not that much better. The PP keeps trying to point to signs that the tide is turning, even here. He even tries to read the drive for this amendment as a sign that things are changing. But it's a constitutional amendment, I remind him. The constitution!

If you know anyone here in SC, or if you live in SC, or if there is a similar provision on your ballot this election day, please get your ass, or your friend's ass to the polls.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Stump the DJ.

So the PP got some new speakers and speaker wire, to hook up some music for us in our new fab living room. We have our old stereo back in the den, with the TV, and we have been known to play it loud enough to hear it in the dining room, but still. So now we have speakers, and he is on the verge of wiring them (through a P2C2E) to play music from my computer.

Given that Halloween is just around the corner, and that holiday is a big one in our new neighborhood (our neighbors claim that it is impossible to buy enough candy), he asked me to pull some scary music to play when he opens the door.

It turns out this is harder than either of us expected.

Sure, sure there is the toccata and fugue that folks have played from their Halloween porches ever since the baroque period. And soundtrack music from Psycho and such. But what else?

I tried out "Dead Man's Party," but he pointed out that lyrics don't count, and the music is not scary. Ditto with "Thriller" and "Freaks Come Out at Night," although we are considering looping that great Vincent Price laugh from the former. "Bela Lugosi's Dead" did not scare him at all, and he noted that the kiddies will not know who Bela Lugosi even is--let alone that they should be very afraid of Bauhaus. We tried Sex Mob, whose rendition of "Live and Let Die" on Din of Iniquity is certainly a little creepy, but really the only thing ultimately scary there is how much people can drink and still play music. And Elvis Costello's "Spooky Girlfriend" is hardly intended for the 12 and under crowd. I pointed out to him that any child who could listen to Pink Martini's version of "Que Sera, Sera" without fainting of fright must have nerves of steel, and he conceded that one. I think the scariest stuff I've found so far is Bone Machine, which certainly does not require the lyrics to be creepy, although they are scary in themselves.

But really, I am stuck. Ideas?

Toss frantically.

I'm not sure whether I beat the Gurgling Cod to the Sunday NYTimes, or whether he hadn't noticed a food-related item in the Book Review, or whether he is just not leaping fingertips-first to his computer at such an early post-DST hour, but I can tell you that I read Henry Alford's review of Amy Sedaris's new book on entertaining myself, and did not hear about it on someone else's blog.

I imagine that you too will want to run out to find the book, especially once you read this section about "freshening up her cheese balls":
This method of replenishing and re-forming round globs of nuts and cheese so they can be served at a second gathering is a good shorthand for Sedaris's cooking style, which is the heart of the book (more than 200 recipes are included). In the kitchen, Sedaris is a magpie, a recycler of both foodstuffs and already published recipes. She is not afraid of the phrase "two cups potato chips, crushed."

Friday, October 27, 2006

Friday Random 10: I'm not a circus star I don't need a bodyguard Edition.

Dedicated readers of this dedicated foe of evil may now be asking themselves, "Since when did this become an exclusively Random 10 blog?" To which I respond, after protesting that I just wrote yet another post about swimming, "What is there worth saying that cannot be followed by a list of 10 musical tracks?"

Besides, I have been too surly and stressed out lately to say anything not laced with profanity.

But because you are all so nice and patient, here is one piece of free advice for you: do not believe anyone who tells you that it would work to spend time in Tulsa without a car. Do not believe them when they claim that you could call a cab, or use a hotel shuttle. These are lies. If you do not have a car in that city full of amazing art deco buildings that are largely standing empty, you will eat every meal in the hotel. Every. Last. One.

1. "Like the Way She Moves," Chris Isaak
2. "Love Minus Zero," Leon Russell (Leon Russell and the Shelter People)
3. "Functional," Thelonious Monk (Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane)
4. "Love Among the Sailors," Laurie Anderson (Talk Normal: Laurie Anderson Anthology, disk 2)
5. Track 9, Faye Wang (a disk whose title and whose track titles I cannot read)
6. "If Only I Had Known," Peter Erskine Trio (Time Being)
7. "Hop Along, Let's Get Her," Henry Morrisson, John Davis and group (Southern Journey, vol. 12: Earliest Times)
8. "Mississippi," John Linnell (State Songs)
9. "Shy," Peter Murphy (Deep)
10. "It Takes Two," Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock

p.s. According to my internet sources, the real lyric is "I'm not a sucker so I don't need a bodyguard," but I like it better the way I heard it back in circa 1989. So there.

Going postal.

Our new swimteam participates in the US Masters Swimming Postal Pentathlon, where you swim five events in one session and submit all the times as a group. They call it a postal meet because you swim the event in your own pool and then mail in your results. There are three different distance groups. The sprint, which we did Wednesday night, has a 50 butterfly, 50 backstroke, 50 breaststroke, 50 free style, and 100 individual medley. Then there is the middle distance event, with 100s of each stroke plus a 200 IM. And then the “ironman”—200s of each stroke plus a 400 IM.

Too bad I’ll be out of town visiting family for that last one.

Postal events are a little strange, compared with real meets. For one thing, they happen during practice time, which may or may not be ass early in the morning or else at the end of a workday. Also, even though you might dive from blocks, the adrenaline levels are not quite the same. Plus no officials, so a little less pressure on the legality of turns. But all this to say, postal meet times are hard to compare with regulation meet times.

The way we did it was to warm up for 30 minutes, then swim one race every fifteen minutes. We swam in two heats, and happily the PP and I got to swim in the same heat for all the events. If you read about the Columbia meet already, you might already be anticipating the rematch on the 50 free.

This meet confirmed something I already knew: that I am not so hot at the 50 distance. Each of the races felt fine, but I did not really feel like I hit any kind of stride in any of them, until the 100 IM, which felt like an almost perfectly swum race for me. I did have a best time in the 50 back, but I had not swum that race since April 2004, and after all I have been working pretty hard to get that stroke together. Our coach even said one of the other coaches was commenting on how good my backstroke looked. (But recently our coach had noted that when I’m swimming backstroke I look like a turtle on its back. Nice.) But it was a lot of fun to do these races with the other teammates—and heck, practice was a LOT shorter than usual, even if the intensity was higher.

And the PP did whoop up on my ass during the 50 free. We were both of our regular meet pace, but he beat me by about a second. I’m sad to say I never got a lead on him, and by the end all I could see out of the corner of my goggles was his bright red swimsuit.

Bad news is that racing at night is no good for my sleeping. I suppose I could have predicted that.

Swimming the 100 IM made me excited about the middle distance races, which we’re doing the Monday before Thanksgiving. Stay tuned.

50 FL :34.48
50 BA :38.69
50 BR :37.89
50 FR :34.30
100 IM 1:17.29

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Wednesday Random 10: Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain Edition

I've been tinkering with my mp3 player: after about a year and a half, I have taken the classical off.

Why, you ask?

I don't listen to it that way.

I do listen to plenty of classical music, mostly on the CD player in my study, and sometimes on the CD player in the living room, and occasionally from my computer's speakers, where I have all my CDs digitized (13,950 tracks and counting).

But I do not listen to it in the car, because the car noise (whether from our noisy old car or the open windows) makes it hard to deal with highly variable dynamics. And mostly these days, I listen to the mp3 player in the car--where I also enjoy playing with the random feature. And frankly, I don't care for random programming that moves back and forth between, say, Gogol Bordello and the slow movement of a Vivaldi concerto. I am all about eclectic, but that does not work for my moods.

So for the last couple of days I have been enjoying Radio Isis on my new long commute. My mp3 player is very fond of Howlin' Wolf, it turns out, as he makes a better than statistically likely appearance in my random samplings. And I love the transitions I would never have thought of myself. Besides, I do not always think broadly enough about what music might work for me at any given moment, and the random feature brings me things I had forgotten.

So! A big set-up for today's early Random 10. I'll be at a conference the rest of the week, so a Friday post is not in the cards:

1. "Trappola Mortale," Nicola Conte (Bossa per due)
2. "Margarita," Grupo Niche
3. "Miracle," Swati Natekar (Essential Asian Flavas)
4. "Buggin' Out," A Tribe Called Quest (The Low End Theory)
5. "The Whistler," Doctor Rockit (Indoor Fireworks)
6. "Fennimores Lied," Ute Lemper (Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill)
7. "Everybody Needs Somebody," Wilson Pickett
8. "Pony," Tom Waits (Mule Variations)
9. "Ooh Child/Redemption Song," Molly Johnson (Another Day)
10. "It's a Blue World," Lionel Hampton

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Mug!

Explanation here.

(Just so you know, it is not easy getting an autofocus camera to take good pictures of etched glass.)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Meet Report: SC SCM Masters Champs

Greetings from the ass-resting period following the South Carolina Short-Course Meters (SCM) Masters Championship, held in Columbia, SC this weekend. Because we had wedding festivities to attend yesterday, the PP and I drove down this morning (leaving at 0:dark-thirty).

One hour and forty-five minutes of darkness and driving later, we arrived at the beautiful new Drew Pool in the Drew Wellness Center: it is a 25 yards x 25 meters pool in a beautiful sun-filled natatorium, with high ceilings, decks flush with the water level and seriously non-turbulent lane lines.

I had not been sure what to enter, since we have only been back in the water consistently for not quite 2 months, but I signed up for the 200 IM, 100 BR, 100 FR, and 50 BA. Then today, at the last minute, I deck-entered the 400 FR. It was the last event of the day, and I thought that would be the smart time swim such a beast of an event.

The very exciting part of this meet was being at a meet with a TEAM. There were three other swimmers (besides the PP and me), and our couch regularly travels to meets, too. It was fun to cheer on the other swimmers, and feel moral support from them. But what was REALLY fun was finally being able to swim a relay. I swam the first leg in the 200 meter mixed (that means 2 men + 2 women) free relay, where everyone swims a 50. There was only one other relay team swimming, but it was still a blast.

I was happy with my individual results, particularly given where I am in the season. I had a best time in the 200 IM, a so-so time in the 100 BR, and first-time SCM swims for the 100 FR, 50 BA, and 400 FR. It is hard not to be in the shape I was the last time I raced the 100 BR seriously, and so not able to pull a lifetime best time, but it is important, I guess, to race at different points of the season, to remember how to race and to be able to tell when I am having a lifetime-best swim.

Because it was a fairly small meet, they swam men and women together, so the PP and I ended up in the same heat of the 100 FR. Over the years, our times in that event have been very close, sometimes with him beating me, sometimes the reverse. But we have never gotten to swim in the very same heat--and in adjacent lanes! I have never kicked harder in a freestyle swim than I did today, trying to kick my husband's ass.

And I did--heh. I can revel in this now, but I am certain that he won't let it happen next time.

The highlight of the meet, surprisingly enough, was the 400 free. Before the swim, the coach said, "So, do you have a plan?" and I wanted to say, "Yes, to just rest it." But instead I said I would swim it like a 200 free, just longer: out fairly quick on the first 100, then dial back a bit on the 2nd 100, then pick it up on the 3rd 100, and crank it home for the 4th. He suggested I not dial it back too much on the 2nd, but otherwise, cool. So I took off, and of course my first several strokes were too fast, but I settled into an even, steady, strong rhythm pretty quickly. "Wow," I thought, "I feel like I am swimming on top of the water, instead of in it. I hope this will last."

Reader, it did.

I kept my pace pretty steady for the second 100, rather than dialing back, then I felt good building the 3rd and cranking the 4th. My splits showed that I did indeed negative-split the last 3 100s. And it felt awesome!

I think that a real difference this year has been the amount of distance-oriented training we are doing. This team does a lot more sets involving long (which to me means 200 yards and more) swims, and partly because of my shoulder troubles, I have been varying my strokes a lot more, swimming a lot of individual individual medleys (i.e., disproportionately little fly). This kind of swimming made the 200 IM seem like a breeze, instead of a chore. And it made the 400 free feel great.

Because it was a small meet, I also managed to score the high points trophy for my age group. How cool is that? It is a beer mug that says "South Carolina SCM Championship High Point." Heh again. I have never had the highest number of points in my age group in a meet where they were giving awards for it.

So that was more competition in one day than I have had at a meet in a good long time, and it felt like just what I needed, after not the week that I needed.

Now it feels awesome to sit on my butt. Enjoy the rest of your weekend, out there in blogland. I'll be sitting in front of the TV, perhaps drinking a beer out of my fab new mug.

200 IM 3:08.81
100 BR 1:30.26
100 FR 1:15.12
50 BA :43.19
400 FR 6:08.86
200 FR Mixed Relay 2:35.86