Tuesday, September 30, 2008


My yoga teacher says that I am very good at practicing.

Thanks, Mom and Dad. ^__^

When I was in high school, I probably practiced the piano more than any of my peers; in college, probably less than any of my peers (although the time I devoted to practicing remained the same throughout).

Now this learned diligence is paying off in my Ashtanga class, and I got to start seated postures today.

Another "I was a piano teacher, so I know exactly how you feel" moment: I had to cut out of one of my Mysore classes early last week (you know, the ones that start at 6 a.m.) because I needed to get to work early for a special meeting, and my yoga teacher gave me this look like "You mean there are things that are more important than your yoga lesson?!"

Unfortunately, there are a few things more important than Ashtanga class -- but not many!

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Rant Against [title of show]

Today I could write about the economy, but I'm finding that the more I read about what's going on in the financial world, the less I understand it. This makes me feel stupid, which I don't like. But when NPR spends all of Morning Edition talking about how bad the bailout is for the taxpayer, and then the NYT explodes with how awful the not-bailout is for the taxpayer, I find myself... more than a little confused.

So I've re-adjusted my cash-flow budget so that I might save a little more. You know, 'cause saving is good. (The one thing that really frustrates me about all this financial talk is everyone focusing on keeping "credit available to the American consumer, so they can go about their day-to-day lives." Wasn't it credit that got us into this mess? Where's the focus on building an economy where the American consumer can live within his/her means?)

And I've re-adjusted my rant towards something I can understand, and something which seems to me to represent everything that is wrong with
everything, right now.

[title of show].

What is [title of show]? It's a new musical. About writing a musical. It was profiled on NPR, and it's the new hot thing, and the authors used a combination of YouTube and The Secret to get the musical on Broadway.

There have been musicals about writing musicals before, the most notable and comparable example being Merrily We Roll Along. But Merrily was also about what happens
after the musical goes to Broadway, and how to balance fame and family and old friends, and what happens after you become un-famous and nobody remembers you.

[title of show] is about a group of people who want to go to Broadway so they can meet Ellen DeGeneres. There's no show-within-a-show; the musical being written is the musical itself. Literally:

A, D, D, D, F sharp, A
Will be the first notes of our show...

And later:

Maybe someday we could get a theater
And if not this festival then somewhere out west

TV actors in our show, what could be swee-ater?

Thanks. Great.

We could get that woman who was on Empty Nest

Dinah Manoff, she’s awesome!


She was in Grease


And Leader of the Pack!

We could
Ask significant questions
We could
Get important points across

Like are we writing for art
And is art a springboard for fame
And will fame get us a sitcom
And a sitcom get us on Ellen

And will Ellen get folks to like us
And if they like us
Will they mike us
Me and You

And it goes on like this.

It's the same thing all over again. Jeopardy becomes Deal Or No Deal. Presidential candidates who are statesmen become "Russia's flight pattern over Alaska makes me qualified to handle foreign policy." And now Broadway's newest star is this musical about writing a musical about... nothing at all.

And the fact that I can't understand exactly what is going on with this Bailout or No Bailout thing makes me feel stupid, which all seems related somehow.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


After watching the debates (and being surprised at how well McCain turned out -- where were the verbal gaffes? the inattention to detail? the inability to understand the world around him?), I have only one real question:

Why weren't either of them wearing those bracelets? They both seem to have promised their respective constituents that they would proudly wear the bracelet to remember the service of our troops, but neither of them seem to have made good on the claim.

I know that if Obama and McCain wore every bracelet or button, or kept every trinket that was offered them, they would implode under the weight of it all -- but it seemed odd that McCain told that "I promise to wear your bracelet" story (and Obama followed up with "well, I promised to wear a bracelet too!") without raising up his wrist to show all of sentimental America that he had kept his promise.

I mean, McCain wasn't even wearing a flag pin. Clearly he can't be trusted.

Pictures From My Life

Still no digital camera, but here are a few shots from my cell phone:

This is part of what I get to see on my daily walk to work. I'm continually fascinated by DC architecture.

This is a shot from the Ghana Cafe, where I was enjoying a very nice meal until I started getting hit on by a passer-by. I guess there are a few downsides to cafe seating.

This is from the Adams Morgan Day festival. There seem to be one of these festivals every week (this week it was the Crafty Bastards festival), and all of the food booths serve pad thai/fried rice/egg roll. This place, however, decided to add a little something extra to the menu.

Blue Builds A Bed

My bed arrived yesterday. Early, in fact. I was given a delivery window which began at 9 a.m., but the bed was here by 8:30. Not bad.

The first thing I did was unpack the vacuum-sealed, flat-pack mattress (and watch it wiggle and shimmy itself back to regular size), so I could go back to sleep! I got the Sultan Heberg, the cheapest of Ikea's spring mattresses, and all in all I'm quite satisfied with it. Not quite as firm as I would have hoped, which surprised me (I was taking bets on the spring mattresses being firmer than the foam ones) but I seem to be sleeping on it just fine. Also it kind of smells a little bit like chocolate.

The Dalselv bed itself came packed in a box about five feet high and six inches wide/deep. The putting together part was very easy, once I sorted out the minutiae of two hundred different screws, and it went up in a little over two hours.

And here's the picture:

Not bad, eh? And check out that parquet!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More Books I Have Or Haven't Read

Jezebel just released a list of 75 Books Every Woman Should Read, in response to Esquire's 75 Books Every Man Should Read.

How many have I read? Let's see...

(Like we did for The Big Read list, the books I've read are in bold.)

First, the ladies:
  • The Lottery (and Other Stories), Shirley Jackson
  • To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
  • The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
  • White Teeth, Zadie Smith
  • The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende
  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
  • Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
  • The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
  • Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
  • The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Beloved, Toni Morrison
  • Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
  • Like Life, Lorrie Moore
  • Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
  • The Delta of Venus, Anais Nin
  • A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley
  • A Good Man Is Hard To Find (and Other Stories), Flannery O'Connor
  • The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx
  • You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down, Alice Walker
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • Fear of Flying, Erica Jong (this book is perpetually checked out of every library I go to!)
  • Earthly Paradise, Colette
  • Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt
  • Property, Valerie Martin
  • Middlemarch, George Eliot
  • Annie John, Jamaica Kincaid (for a moment I thought "yes," but then realized I was confusing it with Katie John)
  • The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir
  • Runaway, Alice Munro
  • The Heart is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
  • The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
  • Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
  • You Must Remember This, Joyce Carol Oates
  • Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
  • Bad Behavior, Mary Gaitskill
  • The Liars' Club, Mary Karr
  • I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
  • A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  • And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
  • Bastard out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison
  • The Secret History, Donna Tartt
  • The Little Disturbances of Man, Grace Paley
  • The Portable Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Parker
  • The Group, Mary McCarthy
  • Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  • The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
  • The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne Frank
  • Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  • Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag
  • In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez
  • The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
  • Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
  • Three Junes, Julia Glass
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft
  • Sophie's Choice, William Styron
  • Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann
  • Love in a Cold Climate, Nancy Mitford
  • Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin
  • The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
  • The Face of War, Martha Gellhorn
  • My Antonia, Willa Cather
  • Love In The Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Harsh Voice, Rebecca West
  • Spending, Mary Gordon
  • The Lover, Marguerite Duras
  • The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
  • Tell Me a Riddle, Tillie Olsen
  • Nightwood, Djuna Barnes
  • Three Lives, Gertrude Stein
  • Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
  • I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith
  • Possession, A.S. Byatt
15 out of 75. Not good.

Now the gents (sorry about the hyperlinks; the list came that way):

The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain - YES
Affliction, by Russell Banks
All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren
American Pastoral, by Philip Roth
American Tabloid, by James Ellroy
Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner
As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text, by William Faulkner - YES (was my text "corrected?" I don't know...)
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Blood Meridian, Or, the Evening Redness in the West, by Cormac McCarthy
The Brothers Karamazov: A Novel in Four Parts With Epilogue, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Call of the Wild, White Fang, & To Build a Fire, by Jack London
Civilwarland in Bad Decline: Stories and a Novella, by George Saunders
A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
The Continental Op, by Dashiell Hammett
The Crack-Up, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Deliverance, by James Dickey
Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouac
Dispatches, by Michael Herr
Dog Soldiers, Robert Stone
Dubliners, by James Joyce
A Fan’s Notes: A Fictional Memoir, by Frederick Exley
For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
Going Native, by Stephen Wright
A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories, by Flannery O'Connor
The Good War: An Oral History of World War II, by Studs Terkel
The Grapes of Wrath: John Steinbeck Centennial Edition (1902-2002), by John Steinbeck
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, by Hunter S. Thompson
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara
The Known World, by Edward P. Jones
Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings, by Jorge Luis Borges
Legends of the Fall, Jim Harrison
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families, by James Agee
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov - YES
Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry
Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis
Master and Commander, by Patrick O'Brian
Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie - YES
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer
Native Son, by Richard Wright
One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey - YES
Plainsong, by Kent Haruf
The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain
The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene
The Professional, by W. C. Heinz
Rabbit Run, by John Updike
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe
A Sense of Where You Are: A Profile of William Warren Bradley, by John McPhee
The Shining, by Stephen King
Slaughterhouse-five, by Kurt Vonnegut
So Long, See You Tomorrow, William Maxwell
Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron - YES
A Sport And a Pastime, James Salter
The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John Le Carré
The Stories of John Cheever, by John Cheever
The Things They Carried: A Work of Fiction, Tim O'Brien - YES
This Boy’s Life: A Memoir, by Tobias Wolff
Time’s Arrow: Or the Nature of the Offense, by Martin Amis
Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry
Underworld, by Don DeLillo
War And Peace, by Leo Tolstoy - YES
What It Takes: The Way to the White House, by Richard Ben Cramer
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories, by Raymond Carver
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami
Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson
Winter’s Bone: A Novel, Daniel Woodrell
Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin
Women, by Charles Bukowski

8 out of 75. Even worse.

Oh, and the only book on both lists is Sophie's Choice. Interesting. I tend to share Gloria Steinem's view on Sophie's Choice: "On an enormous canvas of concentration camps, human suffering, child murder, and insanity, the author has painted a portrait of a white southern sex-obsessed young writer who finally succeeds in losing his virginity."

Movie's pretty good, though. ^__^

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Politics, Policies, and Personalities

A friend (who did not grow up in the US) was complaining to me the other day that "Americans vote based on personalities, not on policies."

To which I responded, rather vigorously, that even if we wanted to vote based on policies there wasn't a lot of real information out there; how could we really determine what a campaign's policies were if Exhibit A continually contradicts itself ("The fundamentals of the economy are strong... no, they're weak... no, the American worker is strong..." and arguing for both more and less federal regulation in the same sentence!) and Exhibit B promises hope-&-change but is just a smidge vague on the specifics.

"I was listening to NPR the other day," I said," and they were interviewing both Obama and McCain's economic advisers, and the interviewer asked each of them how their candidate planned to help the American worker. And both of these people said the exact same thing: they plan to create more jobs and improve health insurance. And the interviewer didn't press any further. So how are we supposed to honestly evaluate these policies?"

In short, of course it comes down to personality, or to the few clear-cut policy issues like abortion/guns/gays.

Unless there's a font of detailed policy information out there that I haven't yet found; somewhere besides the NYT and Wonkette and Salon (okay, I know it wouldn't be on Salon, but...).

Where should curious Americans go to make their educated political choices?

Cash-Flow Budgets Are Awesome

Yesterday I sat down and made a cash-flow budget through the end of the year. It was, in short, a revelation.

I learned about cash-flow budgets in the "introduction to non-profit management" course that I begged my department to let me take in my last semester of grad school (on the argument that most directors in America ran their own theatres, after all -- even though I wanted to take the course for entirely different reasons). That single course, incidentally, has proven to be so fundamentally helpful in my current job; if I hadn't known how to create/read a balance sheet, for example, I would have been completely lost. (And yes, I emailed the prof to thank him and let him know how valuable his course had been for preparing me for the "real world," and... never heard back.)

Anyway. So a cash-flow budget is a way to evaluate how much money an organization (or a person) will have at any given time, and to estimate how much money an org/person can spend during any given time period while still maintaining enough funds to cover future expenses.

How to make one:

  1. Set up a spreadsheet with three columns devoted to each calendar week. (Sure, you can go daily instead of weekly if you want, but unless you're making gobs of transactions every day it doesn't really make sense.)
  2. The far left column contains the labels: Current balance, Debits, Credits, Adjusted Balance. (Or New Balance, if you like shoes.)
  3. The middle column contains the figures; your current balance, your debits, your credits, and your adjusted balance. I'm assuming you know how to use the SUM feature to create the adjusted balance. ^__^ The adjusted balance, of course, becomes the current balance for the next week.
    1. The figures you enter into the middle column are both estimated and actual. Most people, I'm guessing, know some credits/debits for certain; bills are due during X week, the paycheck comes in during Y week. On the other hand, I have a good idea of how much I spend on groceries every week but can't predict the figure to the penny, so I entered an estimated debit, which I will re-enter as the actual cost once I actually go out and buy the weekly groceries.
  4. The far right column gives you the opportunity to label each credit/debit "groceries" or "rent" or whatever, just so you can remember what they are.

If you set it up correctly, your "adjusted balance" total at the bottom will give you a clear picture of whether you are going to spend yourself into the ground or whether you are going to make enough money to cover your estimated debits.

Now here's where the fun part comes in. The first time I ran my cash-flow budget, I looked at my balances and thought "wow! look at all this money!" And then I thought "but you're not yet counting all the random expenses that pop up during the week -- meeting up with friends for dinner, stopping by CVS to buy a new lipstick, etc..."

So I put in a weekly "mad money" figure just to see what would happen. I started with $300. Not good. If I spent $300/week on fun stuff and impulse buys, I would be broke by November.

I kept playing with numbers until I found the one that made sense with the rest of my projected spending and which still allowed me to save as much money as I would like to save. It's much smaller than $300, but it's more "fun money" than I've ever had in my life.

And the best part is knowing that, obviously, I don't have to spend it all every week, but I can, if I want, spend up to $X weekly on incidental stuff and still have more than enough in all other areas of my budget. Or I can start saving it towards something bigger (say, a new friggin' laptop).

Or I could get it in cash and start rolling around in it like they do in the movies. ^__^

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Even in Arcadia...

(Image from Questionable Content. Buy their stuff; it is cool.)

I am spending the happiest part of my life worrying that it's all going to disappear.

There are so many things I love about my life right now: my yoga class, my morning walk through Dupont Circle, my breakfast of yogurt-banana-Kashi, my job and all the interesting things I get to do all day, my apartment and its bookshelf and papasan and sunset-overlook windows...

And, not unrelatedly, the fact that I'm -- for the first time ever -- earning enough money not only to survive, but to live with a sense of relative, if modest, luxury. (In other words, my bookshelf came from Target, but my soap came from Lush.) I am earning more money than my expenses, which should make me happy.

And it does. But it also makes me spend all-too-valuable time wondering if it will all end somehow.

It doesn't help that banks are collapsing and stock markets are falling as we speak, and it certainly doesn't help that we're entertaining the idea of electing a VP-cum-President who thinks that starting a war with Russia is a good idea. (Very relieved to know that Ms. Palin was, in fact, wrong about the way NATO works and we would not be "forced" into war with Russia were Georgia to join NATO.)

And it certainly doesn't help that I spend a piece of every beautiful morning walking to the office past row after row of architectural marvels, all of them only high enough so I can still see the sky, and thinking "if we attack Russia, they'll attack DC and destroy all of these pretty buildings..."

Part of me knows, obviously, that this kind of thinking is self-indulgent.

The other part knows that on some level it is true. Maybe not the Russia part (I hope not the Russia part), but certainly the idea that "this too will pass" applies to good times as well as bad.

Ultimately I'm afraid that I will lose all of this and have to crawl back into somebody's basement with the crickets and the spiders. Or have to spend a week eating a botched pot of dal because I can't afford to throw it out. Or give up this job I really like for... telemarketing.

I suppose, in the end, the only real solutions are:

1. Enjoy now while it's happening.

2. Save as much money as I can, in the process.

And vote Obama.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Dream Apartment

When I walk in, the first thing I see is the bookcase. Not very full yet, because most of my books are still in storage at my parents' house. It took me two hours to build, mostly because I built it incorrectly the first time and had to take it apart.

There are three candles on the bookcase: vanilla, linen, and sandalwood. (The linen one smells like dryer sheets. ^__^)

Next to the bookcase is the papasan, which is by a window -- one of three set against the studio's back wall, all large, all westward-facing. The apartment's built on the edge of an overhang, so the windows have no bars; any potential threats would have to climb up a 100-foot cliff to get in.

To the left of all of this is the walk-in closet which also serves as a passageway to the bathroom. I love this area. I can shower and tumble right out into my clothes. Everything is arranged by color and all the hangers are facing the same way.

The bathroom is done in green and ivy and it smells like expensive soap. (One of the nice side effects of using Lush products is that it makes the entire bathroom -- especially the towels -- smell really good.)

On the right side of the apartment is the "dining nook," which is about 5'x6', big enough for a four-top if everyone is cozy. Windows on both walls, and the view is fantastic; all treetops and sky.

Through the dining nook is the kitchen, which is quite big enough to satisfy my standards. Gas range, four burners. Eight cupboards. A hook for the apron I made in seventh grade Home Economics.

The rest of the space is waiting for the bed, which should be arriving next weekend.

Oh, and the best part (aside from the view, the kitchen, the walk-in closet, and the papasan)? Parquet floors.

One of these days I'll buy a digital camera and show you all some pictures, but it's probably better if you all use your imaginations because then you can project your own dream apartment onto these details, and everyone will like what they see. ^__^

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Blue Buys A Bed

Today I bought a bed.

From Ikea, natch, and I was lucky in that the bed I liked the best was also the one that was the least expensive, so I didn't even have to argue with myself about whether to get this one or that one... Dalselv all the way.

I bought a mattress, too; the whole kit, and it should arrive in under two weeks.

It's so weird that I've bought a bed. Not that it was a particularly large purchase; thanks to Ikea pricing, I was able to get myself set up for $399 (shipping included). But I've never bought a bed before.

Nor have I ever had a -- dare I use the phrase -- "big-girl bed" before. With one exception (the Year of the Walmart Futon), I've slept on the same iron-frame twin bed since I was nine years old. (Yes, it traveled around with me from apartment to apartment.) Even when I was looking at the Ikea beds I thought to myself "well, I could order another twin, they're cheaper and I'm used to sleeping on one..." but then I thought "no, this is ridiculous, I'm a full-grown adult" and ordered a full-size bed.

Not a queen, though. That felt like too much bed. And certainly not a king; there's only one reason a woman in a studio apartment would invest in a king-size bed, and it's NSFW.

Yay bed!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Growing up in the boondocks, I had never heard of Lush (the all-natural organic body shop) until about six months ago. The first time I went into a Lush store I had to be literally dragged out because I wanted to smell everything.

I never bought anything, though, until two days ago.

Shopping at Lush is an unusual experience. The sales staff all look like goth grrls, with the chains and the piercings and the black fingernail polish, and yet they are so perky when they start talking about the soaps. It's like their dye jobs are black, but their voices are BRIGHT PINK. With BUBBLES.

They also want to show you everything. Now, a clever salesperson might figure out, after handing me a few soaps to sniff and sample, that I reacted much more positively to the soaps that smell like baked goods than I did to the soaps that smelled like citrus-'n-lawn-clippings. (No offense to Jungle, seriously. Just... I do not need to wash with something that smells like yard.) So I kind of expected my happy helper to start pulling out the obvious choices: Porridge, Honey I Washed The Kids, Gingerman, etc. Instead she showed me everything in the store, and didn't ever stop, even when I lingered over something, to say anything useful like "would you like me to put some of that up at the counter for you?"

At the end I finally had to stop her and say "look, I think I've decided." I ended up with a sort of soap sampler platter: palm-sized chunks of Trichomania and Seanik for my hair, Porridge and Figs and Leaves for my skin, and a bottle of Sonic Death Monkey shower gel, which smelled so good I couldn't stop sniffing it and which a smart salesperson would have tried to upgrade to the larger bottle. (A smart salesperson would have had that shower gel sale closed the minute she saw my reaction to my first inhale. Instead she said "Why don't you come over here and look at this Lemon Fruity Thing?")

I've had the chance now to try everything out, and here are my reviews:

Porridge, despite it's delicious smell (warm oatmeal with brown sugar and molasses), isn't much of a soap. It melts away too quickly and leaves my skin feeling a little sticky.

Figs and Leaves reminds me a lot of the Mysore Sandal Soap I used to buy in Hyderabad -- same kind of scent and feel -- but although it is a fine soap in itself it just makes me miss my sandal soap and wish I could buy that instead.

Seanik seems to be a strong overall shampoo and I like the idea that a single bar will last me for over two months.

Trichomania almost made me cry. It promised to make my straight hair curl, and really I should stop believing things like that, even from all-natural organic soap shops, because all it did was tangle my hair into a gigantic knot which took me nearly fifteen minutes to comb out -- and it completely dried my hair out, too (I'll have to attack it with a deep conditioner tomorrow to make up the damage). Surprisingly, it did live up to its promise and added a bit of wave; but it was not worth the cost. I probably shouldn't have picked a shampoo that seems to share its name with a worm that lives in uncooked pork.

But to make up for everything else... Sonic Death Monkey is the best and most awesome kind of soap I've ever used anywhere. I want to buy bottles and send them to everyone I know, although if there's one thing I've gathered from the various Lush product reviews it's that different soaps seem to work well for different people. Some people like Lemon Fruity Things, some like nasty shampoos, and I guess in my case I like the combination of coffee, orange oil, lime juice, and hemp. ^__^

Yay soap!

Sunday, September 7, 2008


It is the pride of Persian households, Madhur Jaffrey writes...

It is the pride of Persian households, rich and poor, to provide rice that has crusted at the bottom and sides of the pot so that it can be inverted onto a plate like an upside-down cake. Pieces of this crisp crust are always offered to honored guests first. Making the crust is both easy and infuriatingly confounding at the same time.

I'll chalk one vote up for "easy." The trick with kateh is to get the rice to crust at the bottom of the pot without sticking to the bottom of the pot, and perhaps because my pot was absolutely brand-new, it worked exactly as the recipe said it would.

The rice crust tastes almost exactly like rice cakes. ^__^ It's a shame I haven't any honored guests around to share it with.

Also: have to note that Ms. Jaffrey's suggestion to cook rice in as little water as possible and allow it to puff up, primarily, in steam made this batch of rice just about the most delicious batch of rice ever. Will cook rice in this method henceforth.

I love kitchens!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

My Rant Against Sarah Palin

I'm, like, unhealthily obsessed with Sarah Palin right now.

I keep scanning feeds hoping to find breaking news along the lines of "Palin found to be doing something incredibly illegal; VP candidacy dropped."

There's something heartbreakingly, mindbreakingly wrong about the way in which she is being embraced by her party. Forget her family drama; forget the gun-toting and the abstinence-teaching; forget the fact that we saw Levi, last night, smacking a big wad of gum as he joined his new family on the Xcel Energy Center stage.

She's unqualified. She's so unqualified.

And we live in a country where her claim that she can be Vice President because she was a mayor and a hockey mom is embraced.

What's difficult is that it's a variation on the same narrative that Obama fans love to love about Obama: a person rising out of obscurity, against all odds, shattering barriers at every step.

So I can understand why Palin fans love the same story.

But she's so unqualified.

She admits she knows nothing about the world outside America and has, in fact, left the country only once in her life.

And sure, she's down-home, just like us, drives a minivan, doesn't stand on ceremony. Future son-in-law chewing gum on the national stage? No big deal, we're all friends here.

(Side rant: that one thing -- that stupid little wad of gum -- strikes fear into my heart. It speaks to a lack of attention to detail and nuance. No one; not Sarah, who, to be fair, probably didn't know about it beforehand, not Todd, not Bristol, not even the assistant stage manager standing in the wings with the family before they went onstage; no one told Levi to get rid of the gum.

Which means they didn't notice, which is bad, or they didn't care, which is worse.)

And she's so unqualified.

Even if she hadn't lied about her policies and past decisions, even if she hadn't exploited her daughter to cover her ass, even if she hadn't delivered a nasty speech insulting her opponent... even if she were kind and sophisticated and intelligent... she's completely unqualified.

She's never been part of the world; only part of America. And that is not what we need in a Vice President right now.

I Should Really Tell Consumerist.Com About This

So about a week ago I got a notice from the Illinois Tollway saying I had three unpaid toll violations.

They were kind enough to provide me with a blurry picture of something that might have been my car but might also have been anyone else's car, and the dates and times I illegally blazed through the tolls.

Thanks to my blogging, I had a pretty accurate record of where I was on each date in question. On one of the dates, I had in fact been visiting a friend in Chicago; but on the other two, I wasn't even in the same state.

So I called up the good people at the Illinois Tollway, since the bottom of the notice said that I had the right to request high-quality images of the violations in question.

My CSR told me that she would be happy to mail me the high-res images, but that it would cost $1 per image -- a fact which my notice conveniently left out.

And then she said something surprising. "Um... I think there must have been a mistake. I'm looking at these images right now, and they're of three different cars."


We finally agreed that one of the three cars was mine (she described it to me over the phone) and the other two were most certainly not. I also found out (because I didn't remember not paying a toll on that particular trip) that sometimes drivers who do pay tolls still get recorded as violations "if they don't stop their car long enough at the toll stand."

At that point there was no real way of proving whether I did or didn't pay a toll in Chicago on that particular day, so I paid the fine for the single incident and the other two, as they were clearly not my car, got dismissed.

But... seriously? Three different cars? And I had to pay to see the images that proved they weren't my car? And you can get charged a violation if you don't stop the car long enough as you throw your quarters and dimes down the chute? What kind of an operation is the Illinois Tollway running?

And how many people just pay up, without doing any fact-checking?

My Worst Nightmare?

Last night I dreamed that Sarah Palin became president....

and John McCain was in a permanent vegetative state, hooked up to eternal life support in Puerto Rico, having already changed the Constitution in several key places with an added amendment that no one could change the Constitution back as long as he was alive, which, thanks to modern technology, could be for thousands of years...

(The real question: Why Puerto Rico? My dream's explanation was that since McCain wasn't physically in the lower 48, he could therefore control the entire country "from afar.")

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

It's Not (Necessarily) About Class

One of the reasons the whole Bristol Palin thing made me so uncomfortable was because it brought up my latent fears of being "classist."

Because, as I noted in this post, it isn't actually the pregnancy that makes me cringe. Pregnancy is a biological imperative. It happens, and people choose to deal with it in different ways.

And, as Obama reminded us, his mother was only eighteen when he was born.

But there seems to be a difference between Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr., and Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston, and that's where my classist sensibilities spring up.

Or, as I said shamefacedly to a friend, "It's not about the pregnancy. It's because the whole family's... trashy."

Which means low-class, which means I am an evil elitist.

But my friend countered by saying it wasn't really about class. It was about the Palin family's deliberate presentation of the anti-intellectual spirit. It's about the Palin parents' choice to create a home where viewpoints were not explored and multiple perspectives were not considered. It's also about a family's choice to take pride in their ignorance -- not only of Alaska's proximity to Russia or what a Vice President does all day, but of all those trixty little things that used to be considered "manners" and which have something to do with not posting "I'm a f**king redneck" on one's MySpace page and not exploiting one's daughter to take the heat off of oneself.

Like the NYT says, tonight Sarah Palin is going to "take aim at the Washington elite."

Oh, but there she is... so I had better stop blogging and watch the speech.

Talking Points

Because we were talking about politics at work...

I realized that no, I don't exactly know what the Republicans' policies are, not beyond the vague talking points, nor do I really understand how they hope to implement them over the next four years.

And then I realized that it didn't matter.

The Republicans, as a group, could have the best ideas and policies in the world. The Republican Party could know how to make gold out of iron and then distribute the gold over magical rainbows to the entire world.

But it doesn't matter because they pick, as their figureheads, people who think that Iraq is next to Pakistan and Alaska is next to Russia.

And then: why do they do that????? Yes, I know that they want to represent their candidates as "ordinary," non-arugula-eating Americans. But isn't there a single Republican candidate out there -- isn't there even someone who comes across as "down-home" and "ordinary" who can also use persuasive, accurate rhetoric?

The whole thing makes me want to slam my head into a wall.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Everyone In America Should Watch Howards End Right About Now

This is the scene (actually, the passage of the book) that has been running through my mind since the Sarah/Bristol Palin story broke.

(If you don't want to watch the four minutes: Anthony Hopkins' character, early in his life, fathered a child with his [unmarried] mistress. Now Emma Thompson's character accuses him of being a hypocrite because he is condemning Helena Bonham Carter's character for being unmarried and pregnant.)

That's half of it.

But there's another half, too. The "I'm a f**king redneck" half. The sort of squalid glee with which the "see, Bristol couldn't have been pregnant... because she already was pregnant!" announcement was made.


In the Howards End world, characters hinge on honesty and intelligence (and connection -- but I'll leave Forster's epigraph for another discussion). Jacky Bast is not condemned because of her status as Henry Wilcox's mistress; she is condemned for her lack of intelligence and her choice to remain ignorant (and flaunt it, like our "f**king redneck" friend). Likewise: the scene in the clip above isn't about pregnancy or marriage, not really; it's about honesty.

And there seems to be a great lack of honesty -- and intelligence -- in this situation.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Buried Child: Political Quote Of The Day

From Mark Murray and Reuters:

The 17-year-old daughter of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is pregnant, Palin said Monday in an announcement intended to knock down rumors by liberal bloggers that Palin faked her own pregnancy to cover up for her child.

So... Palin says "See! I have proof that Trig isn't the secret lovechild of my teenage daughter, because seventeen-year-old Bristol was already pregnant when Trig was born! Nyah nyah, liberal bloggers!"

That is at least eleven levels of saddening.