Thursday, December 31, 2009

You Say You Want A Resolution...

Yes, it's that time of year again. The time when we all lie to ourselves about how this year is going to be different. But why should I buck the trend? Here are my resolutions for 2010:

  • In 2010 I'm going to get down to my ideal weight. (Yes, this is the obligatory resolution for all women who don't have problems with anorexia.) (Rvan, I might need the month of November off work so I can go on a crash diet if the whole "eating right and exercising" thing doesn't pan out.) (Also, I may need part of December off to recover from the partial/whole leg amputation that may be required if the crash diet doesn't work.)
  • In 2010 I resolve to continue responding to those people aggressively tailgating for no reason by slowing down to exactly the legal speed limit. (Not because it will make me a better person -- I do it because it really pisses those people off.)
  • In 2010 I resolve to turn 42. (I'm pretty sure I've got this one nailed. And if not, I won't care.)
  • In 2010 I resolve to remain single and childless. (Again, shouldn't be a stretch.)
  • In 2010 I resolve to get a first draft of a novel written. (This is a personal growth thing. Don't worry, I won't ask anyone to read it. You don't have to start avoiding me because of that.)
Okay, yeah, that's pretty much it.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Poetry Demotion

Best conversation of the week (as we walked to lunch talking about Rvan's wife who is pregnant with twins):

Rvan: ... and she's having problems sleeping.
Eric: Well, there's four legs to kick her.
Me: And four arms. And four elbows.
Rvan: And four big heads... I mean, two big heads.

So, here's my holiday poem, which I think expresses the meaning of the season quite nicely. There's a few lines that don't scan perfectly, but overall it's quite a masterpiece...

The Night Before Christmas
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was sleeping but I was quite soused.
The socks were still heaped on the floor where I'd tossed them,
In hopes that someday I'd remember to wash them.

The corals were superglued in place on the rocks,
While Cthulhu was chanting "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn,"
And Lucy on the sofa, and I on a chair,
Had just settled down until the next time I had to open the door because she won't go outside to go potty because it's too cold but she has to pee so she'll just stand in the doorway there,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I spilled some good cider as I yelled "What's the matter?"
Away to the window I staggered and fell
The cats scattered quickly, as I said "Oh hell!".

The lights on the dirt of what once was a lawn
Gave the luster of horse poop to the tree which was sawn.
When, what to my bibulous eyes should appear,
But Hot and Hotter who'd come by with three six-packs of beer.

Just kidding you know, it was really a cat,
Who howled to start fighting until I yelled "Scat!"
More rapid than eagles my own cats got riled,
And they hissed and they spit as on the windowsill they piled.

Now Kittenhead, now Crow, now Guido and Scooter!
Even Ripley and Spike came despite being neutered!
To the top of the table! To the top of the Mac!
Til they dashed back the hall, like some kind of wolf pack.

Unlike a thundering herd that across the plain flies,
I soon got quite bored of writing these lies.
But my neighbors heard me exclaim before I finally passed out
"Dammit, Scooter, quit peeing on every damn thing in the house, you bastard!"

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Family Ties

Here's the problem with growing up in a large family: while everyone within your family might be able to remember who you are (and we'll just ignore the fact that I was called Karen-Theresa for about three years by my mother), people outside your family often lump you together.

That might work in your favor if you're Jojo the Enforcer, and you coast by for three years in German class without doing any work because Frau Letang can't imagine a sister of her favorite student ever being so lazy.

On the other hand, it's not such a great thing if you're me and your algebra teacher had just had Mike and Eric (never the hardest working students in any class). Based on my last name, I got to sit in the front and center of the class, and the first thing she did every morning was glance down to see if I'd done my homework.

Worse yet was when people tried to differentiate us. (Granted, our parents didn't come up with the most original names in the world. In fact, when I moved to Concord, strangers would see my name and ask me if I had a sister named Karen (which I do, but she was going to UCLA at the time). I finally realized that there was someone with the exact same name who had graduated from the high school across the street from my apartment.)

Mike was lucky, because he was the oldest. Then there was Eric (the "smart but lazy" one) and Jeff (the "overachiever"). So... by overachiever they meant he was dumb but not lazy? In what universe does that work out? I was the one with the "bad attitude". Or possibly I was a bad attitude. I'm not sure.

It could be worse though. We could have been famous and have people writing about us like the Jonas brothers. Everyone knows that there are three: the talented one, the cute one, and the ugly one. The ugly one (that would be Kevin, for those keeping track, and he's not hideously ugly, just sort of geeky looking) got married this weekend, which is what got me started thinking about this. Maybe he'll get lucky now and get called the "married Jonas".

Whatever. I'm going to take my bad attitude and go finish my potato-leek soup.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ho Ho Ho and all that crap

I was going to grinchify a picture of myself and make my face all green, but Photoshop defeated me this evening. I guess you really do need to read the manual at some point.

Anyhow, here's my list of stuff about Christmas:
  • I heard a new Christmas song on the radio this evening. It had so many double entendres that it was borderline obscene. I was shocked. Not because of the content, but because I didn't think there was a Christmas-themed song I hadn't heard a zillion times in the last ten years. (I would post a link to it, but I can't figure out what it was or who sang it.)
  • As usual, I have no Christmas decorations up. On the other hand, at least I don't have a "tree" in my living room that looks like a disguised cell phone tower, unlike some people I could name (cough, Jeff).
  • How hard is it to crochet? I'm thinking about making these for all my nieces and nephews and calling them cell phone cozies. Yes, I'm that aunt.
  • I've become that aunt because my nieces and nephews have parents with jobs, and five aunts and uncles with jobs, and they have pretty much have everything that they can even think of, much less want. It's a far cry from my grandmother whose doll disappeared in the weeks leading up to Christmas, then appeared with new clothes as her present...
  • Bah Humbug!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Past Imperfect

These kids today have it rough. They say stupid things on Twitter or Facebook and it stays around to haunt them forever. It wasn't like that when we were younger... or was it? I have stuff stored that I'm sure people would love to make go away, such as this picture of Jeff:

Here's a note from Jojo the Enforcer (in block letters about two inches high):
T: Do you have any band-aids? My feet yearn for old, crummy, beat-up tennis shoes.

And my reply:
J: You can't really be a [Last name redacted] if any part of you yearns for anything... Enjoy!

And then there is this undated letter from Jeff. It was written at least fifteen years ago, but it could have been written yesterday, aside from the fact that he no longer handwrites anything.

My Dearest Theresa,
If truth be told (I always liked that saying), I was initially very impressed by the size and magnitude of your latest missive. That is, until I realized that you were using non-college ruled notebook paper and that you filled much of it with cheap laughs (Cauchy-Swartz integral) -- but I do realize that you have too many irons in the fire (I always liked that saying, too -- even if I didn't know what it meant).

By the way, your artist's rendition was quite awe-inspiring -- one can easily see the pain and suffering you must have been experiencing (either that or you have a deep Freudian problem). I especially like the way the instructor's arms were craftily drawn -- indicating the wretchedness of man's existence.
Always remember that the squeaking wheel gets the grease and that after every night there is a day. In fact, life is much like the life of a road. At first, young and fresh and impressionable and then harder and dirtier, soon cracking and giving up chunks to be filled in by men with orange vests. If left uncared-for dangerous accidents can occur.
It's as Chancey Gardner always said -- "After the cold winter, summer will bring new growth."

The funny thing is that he also quoted Chancey Gardner to me just a couple of days ago...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Since you've been gone...

As you can imagine, in a house with multiple cats, a dog, and birds, going on vacation takes some effort. That's effort on the pet-sitter's part mostly.

A few years ago my friend Juliana watched the crew while I was gone for Christmas. I left her a fairly long note that started with descriptions of the cats

Cats [Brandy (Indian name: Pees-on-carpet), Kittenhead (Little-head-on-big-body), Crow (Sits-on-bird-cage), Guido (Gets-into-everything), and Scooter (Pees-on-everything-that-Brandy-doesn't)]

and ended with
If you happen to notice someone inappropriately urinating (ie, on the carpet or the couch), there's a jug of Nature's Miracle on the drier and I'd really appreciate it if you could just splash some on the spot -- I'll clean up later. Most of the wet areas in the back of the hallway are Nature's Miracle -- don't worry about those.

[BTW, now I remember why I took the carpet out of the hallway. Good times, good times...]

Then I left.

Here are the notes I found when I came back, in very neat penmanship that is second only to my mother's:

Thursday am:

1) Brandy came into the kitchen when I opened the canned food, but she didn't eat any of it this morning.

2) I'm sorry to report that there's been a Cappelini Incident -- when I came in this morning I found that a bag of Angel Hair pasta had been removed from the cupboard (along with a bunch of other things) and a bunch of it had turned into a toy. I figured that the damage was already done, so I left it out for them to continue playing with. (Apparently, it's Good Fun!) Anyway, it'll help keep them from turning their devious little minds to further evil... maybe.

3) Guido is a juvenile delinquent.

Friday am:

1) Brandy didn't eat any of the canned food again this am.

2) Sorry about the kibble & litter messes -- I couldn't find a broom.

3) Guido likes pomegranate.

Amazingly, the house was still standing when I returned.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

It's Aht, dammit!

For all those people who lacked appreciation for the realistic snail portraiture evident in the last post, I offer you the following picture.

I think you'll all agree that my rendition was spectacular.

While I'm on the subject of incredibly life-like art, I've also produced the following:

"Work, last week"
Medium: bird pellets

I could let you figure it out yourselves, but I don't have much faith in the art appreciation talent of those around me. It's obviously Rvan pushing me under a bus. The red thing at the back is the quality chicken. (If this doesn't make sense to you, that means that you still have a chance of living a fulfilling life full of joy and wonder. It also means you haven't had to work with me on and off for the last fifteen years.)

Let me focus (as if I could actually focus the camera, but we won't go there right now) on the detail in the lower right corner.

You can tell that the figure on the left is me because of my calves. And the other figure is Rvan because his head is so big and he isn't bending any joint in his body.

Take that, Rembrandt!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Snail Space

Alright, I got home late and spent an hour (one hour!) trying to get one of my snails to move to a spot where I could take a picture. (Okay, I realize that this makes it sound as if I really have no life. Let me clarify -- I kept checking on the snail as I was doing other things, like reading the gossip web sites...)

Anyhow, one of my snails has this big long algae strand attached to the top of its shell. It makes sense, I guess, since it can't reach back there to clean. With the bright green algae floating in the water, the snail looks like it's trying to imitate one of those troll dolls.

However, my attempts to get a picture were an epic failure. So I've improvised.

This is exactly what it looks like:

"Troll Snail"
Media: Bird pellets on plastic cutting board

Don't hate me because I'm such a talented artist...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Worst in Show?

So, they recently had a big dog show and this year decided some sort of terrier was the best. And by best, they mean best represents the guidelines that a bunch of breeders got together and decided would be the new goal. Then they practiced "line breeding" (which would be termed "incest" if we were talking about people) until they distorted the dog enough to match the imaginary standard.

There are other championships, of course, and some of them (eg, sheep herding) actually test the dogs' athletics, intelligence, and disposition. Those dogs are amazing.

Unfortunately I don't know any of those dogs.

However, I do know a dog whom I'd like to nominate for "Worst Farm Dog Ever". Meet Mackie.

Mackie isn't my dog, thank god. He lives out in Oakdale with all of the polo horses.

Here are his qualifications:
  • Guarding: Mackie loves everyone, especially if they have food. A total stranger could walk in, steal everything in the tack room, and walk out again and Mackie wouldn't even notice. The only time Mackie ever barks is when Reba (who actually is a good farm dog) barks at people coming onto the property. Then Mackie runs over and barks at Reba.
  • Herding: Mackie loves to herd the horses. Unfortunately, he always herds them away from the people trying to catch them. This gets really old when you're on foot chasing horses around on a thirty acre pasture. The horses constantly aim kicks at Mackie and there are times I wish they would connect.
  • Protecting: One of Mackie's favorite pastimes is herding the newly-hatched chicks around. This drives the mother hen crazy. For a while everyone thought that Mackie was keeping the chicks from being eaten by the hawks -- then Mike caught Mackie killing one of the chicks. Somehow a few of the chicks in every group survive to adulthood. Amazing.
For all his faults Mackie's still a pretty nice dog. He's just useless as a farm dog. Oh well. At least he's neutered.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Quintessential American Holiday

So, today I
  • played polo (a game invented in Iran)
  • on an Argentinian Thoroughbred
  • while wearing boots from Pakistan
  • and swinging a mallet made in New Zealand.
Then I drove home
  • in my Honda Civic
  • and made French onion soup
  • with cheese aged in a cave in Switzerland
  • while drinking cider imported from England.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Hope you enjoyed the day as much as I did.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


It had to happen eventually.

After a thirty year span, I fell off a horse again yesterday.

We were at the back of the pack when someone hit the ball backward. The horse in front of us turned, and my horse panicked and went sideways about three feet. I failed to make the lateral transition with him and ended up in the dirt. (As a side note: yes, this horse was spooked by another horse. I begin to see why he is no longer playing professional polo.)

In retrospect, it might have been wiser to find out the horse’s name before I got on. In this case, it turned out to be “Ono” or “Oh No!”. No matter how you spell it, that’s not a good name.

As falls go, it wasn’t bad. I landed on my side, but I didn’t get trampled, and I didn’t even get the wind knocked out of me. My hip is turning purple, my left shoulder is a bit off, and I have an odd lump on one shin, but the biggest bruise was to my pride.

As I climbed back to my feet, Ono had his head up and tail straight out as he did a victory lap around the entire arena.

Cocky bastard.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Many Faces of Evil (Part One)

I'm not sure who the first person was who thought "Hey, let's take these nasty, inedible, messy berries and store them in salt and Drain-o for a while. Maybe they'll be non-toxic and tastier then!" However it happened, now there's half an aisle in the grocery store taken up by this crap. And just try to get a vegetarian pizza without olives. I dare you.

The addition of bleu cheese is just icing on the yucky fondant of the stale olive cake. All it needs for the perfect evil trifecta is garlic, and BevMo was out of that flavor. Whitey G checked.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Can You Hear The Pixels Screaming?

The number of the day is 68.

In addition to being the last two digits of my birth year, sixty-eight is also the number of pictures I took (again with the nice camera) while randomly choosing different modes. I'm sure the buttons are supposed to be chosen in a careful, responsible manner, but that's not really what I do. Which might explain how almost all the pictures were worse than the last batch. I even managed to get a completely black picture, which isn't easy with a digital camera.

I think perhaps my next career choice should not be photographer, unless of course I win the lottery in the meantime. And if that happens I can afford to pay someone to take better pictures for me.

As threatened, a few cat pictures.

"Get a life"

Scooter is not amused


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Getting Tanked

So... you know that saying about how it's better to sit in silence and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt?

This post is kind of like that except with me and photography skills.

I borrowed a nice camera from the official unpaid intern of Cece Marie (a site I highly recommend if you are looking for a hostess apron, and I'm not just saying that because the official unpaid intern is my boss) so I could yet again take terrible pictures of my tank.

First I took a bunch and realized why everyone else takes pictures of their reef tanks in a darkened room. For those of you in my own clueless bracket -- taking pictures of something on the other side of glass in daylight gives some great reflections of the person taking the pictures.

Seventy pictures total. Really. Here are the best five.

First, the obligatory full tank shot with full lighting:
Yeah, it's not really in focus in the front, but that was the best of a bad bunch.

Next up, the same thing with just actinic lights on:

Next, a shot that doesn't really show much of the coral, but does show a couple of different types of macroalgae. I think the macroalgae are some of the coolest things in the tank.

Next up, the Duncan, which is growing two new heads (neither of which can be seen in this photo, of course...). There's also a Blastomussa in the background on the other side of the tank:

And finally, the "they're so easy to keep that most people don't even bother" corals which are my favorites:

Honestly, I think most of the improvement came from using a tripod. I may keep the camera another night and try again tomorrow with lighting changes.

Or maybe I'll just take a few hundred pictures of my cats. You've been warned.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Polo Chronicles, Continued

Now that the temperatures have dropped from hellish to chilly, I've gone back to playing polo most weekends. My riding has improved enough over the last year that I've gone from beginner to intermediate status, which means that I can usually stay on the horse as long as it doesn't do anything stupid, like spin, leap forward, or run backwards.

However, the pool of available horses in Oakdale is constantly changing as Mike wheels and deals and tries to find homes for the horses of retirement age. This means that I can never figure out which horse is safe for me to ride, and I have to rely on people who know the string better.

Here is an actual conversation I had with Mike and Shauna yesterday. I had gone over to grab my helmet after tacking up the horse...

Shauna: Who are you riding this chukker?

Me: Starlight.

(Both Mike and Shauna stop moving for a moment.)

Shauna: Who told you to ride Starlight?

Me: Heeder.

Shauna: He told you to ride Starlight? Really?

Mike: What did you do to make him mad at you? Are you standing in the way of his promotion at work?

Me: So... you think I shouldn't ride Starlight?

Mike: Oh, no. You'll be fine.

With friends like these, who needs enemies? Anyhow, I rode Starlight and it all went well. Or, at least, I didn't fall off. I count that as a win.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Senility Now!

When I was about nine years old, I wrote a series of first person mysteries which prominently featured the phrase "and then I, the great detective, ..." before some lengthy piece of exposition multiple times in each story.

Sadly, all those stories have been lost to humanity, and my writing style has changed*, but I work with someone who reminds me of this type of storytelling almost every day. He insists upon giving the blow-by-blow of all his bug fixes, including false starts and unnecessary detours. If he's really proud of his work, or especially perplexed, you get to hear the same story as he goes from cubicle to cubicle, telling it to everyone. All the non-computer geek people are probably thinking how boring it would be to listen to someone give a monologue about coding, but trust me, it's boring even for the computer people.

Some (okay, most) days I don't have a lot of patience for this sort of thing.

Anyhow, I do try to be somewhat polite. Jeff used to chant George's mantra "Serenity now" every once in a while. That didn't help.

My mom has a necklace which has a little silver ball that makes a nice little tinkling sound. It was originally called a serenity ball, but somewhere along the line she referred to it as a "senility" ball, and that's the name that stuck.

So, now you know. If you happen to pass my cubicle at the right time, you may hear the cry "Senility now!"

Because let's be honest, at least I have a shot at senility someday...

* (Now my fiction is mostly written in third person.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It's My Party, I Can Sleep If I Want To

Things to do on your 41st birthday:
  • Wake up at 7am, but only because the cats haven't caught on to the idea of a time change.
  • Go back to bed after feeding said cats. And the dog. And the birds.
  • Wake up to your phone ringing a few times. Ignore it.
  • Wake up because someone is knocking on the door. Find out that Ponch (aka "Hot" of "Hot & Hotter") is on the porch asking if today would be a good day to fix the hole in the overhang.
  • Make up some lame-ass excuse to explain the fact that it's 1:30 in the afternoon and you've obviously just woken up.
  • Do the dishes.
  • Eat some leftover Halloween candy.
  • Read.
  • Make pumpkin curry. Meh. Maybe it wasn't very good because of the three ingredients that weren't at the store. Or maybe it just wasn't a great recipe.
  • Read twenty variations of "Happy Birthday" written on your Facebook wall.
  • Read some more.
  • Bake the pumpkin seeds with cinnamon, sugar, and pumpkin pie spice. Decide that you like plain salt better.
  • Continue reading.
  • Consider going back to bed.
Yep, another pretty exciting day.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


The annual Halloween potluck is tomorrow, which means that I just finished making a big pot of vegetarian chili and two different recipes of cornbread.

I haven't made any of these particular dishes before, and with my well-known aversion to following directions, it probably doesn't matter. The chili smells more like curry to me (which makes sense given that it has cumin, coriander, and cinnamon for seasonings). I've made corn bread many times before, but I'm trying something new with jalapeƱos, corn kernels, and cheese. And then I modified it for the second batch to use habaneros instead of jalapeƱos. We'll see if any of it is actually edible.

Potlucks are the best time to try new dishes as far as I'm concerned. If it's a total disaster nobody will know you made it and there will be plenty of other food to eat. If someone really likes it, they will seek you out in order to get the recipe. And usually you don't end up with too many leftovers, which is a huge plus if you live alone and don't relish eating the same thing for the next week and a half.

So, really, there's no downside. Oh, sure, there's always the possibility of public humiliation, but who better to accidentally poison than your boss and most of your coworkers?

The humiliation factor is nothing like the bouquet toss at an outdoor wedding I went to fifteen years ago... The bride (who generally wasn't too bad but had definitely developed a bit of bridezilla attitude by the time the ceremony took place) forced all of the single women who hadn't already fled the reception to stand in a group near the pool. Then she stood about ten feet away and tossed the bouquet high in the air.

We all took a step back and the flowers hit the concrete with a wet splat. (In my defense, who's ever heard of a wedding without at least one woman diving for the bouquet? I was just getting out of the way.)

The bride marched over, picked up the bedraggled flowers, and hurled them at the closest person. She was not a happy camper.

Maybe that's part of why I avoid weddings. But I still don't mind occasional potlucks.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Such a Literary Family

This evening I shocked the obnoxiously smiling grocery clerk when she asked if I had any big plans for Halloween. My answer: "Give candy to the little bastards so they won't egg my house." She stopped smiling after that.

(Normally I don't mind the cashiers and their attempts to be friendly since it's a requirement of the job -- this one is just over the top and she bugs me.)

Anyhow, for this evening's post, I'm going with two letters. Both were written on tissue paper and accompanied handmade Christmas ornaments that I received as part of a package while I was living in Germany.

Letter # 1 (from Jojo the Enforcer):

Dearest Theresa,
I decided I would be nice just this once and write to you on tissue paper. (Save money, of course.) By the way you better like the hot chocolate, it weighed a lot. Hope you like my present. I did it last night when mom reminded us she is mailing it tomorrow. Last night was an earthquake and me & sis were alone (mom & dad were cleaning up at the gym.) It measured a 5.0, but it was scary. On Tuesday night I get to go see the glory of christmas at the crystal cathedral. I'm going with the gym team because sue can get the tickets cheap since she is going to dance in it. Last Wednesday she was at rehearsal and one angel's cord broke. She was supposed to be 50 feet but the cable person decided to lower her and got her too low. When he tried to pull her up the cable snapped. She was 15 feet when it happened (no serius [sic] injuries.)

Well, Bye

(P.S. Karen copied my tissue paper idea!)

And then the other letter from K-poo:

Dear Theresa,
I'm writing to you on tissue paper to save money. It was Johanna's dish week on Thanksgiving. I hope it's going to be her week on Christmas. I hope you like the gift from Ubar [my budgie]. I made districts in gymnastics, as you know, and I made state too! They are having a contest in the paper about the person that can finish the story that they had in the paper the best wins $25 and thier [sic] story is printed in the paper on Christmas. Bye,
From Karen.

P.S. I didn't copy Johanna by writing on this!

This stuff is way funnier than anything I could come up with.

Friday, October 23, 2009

You Have Old Mail

(Seriously, I was done with this post two hours ago, but Blogger was having issues. Then I got sidetracked reading a thread about the worst DIY project I've ever seen, and now it's almost 1am. I'm going to bed now.)

So I stayed home on Wednesday (just because I could) and instead of getting anything done, I sat around and read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It's an entertaining book, told through a series of letters written to and from an English writer immediately after WWII ended. Most of the letters touch in some way on conditions and happenings in Guernsey during the German occupation.

(My sum total of knowledge about Guernsey before reading this book: Guernsey was the original source of Guernsey cows. I could never remember the difference between Guernsey and Jersey cows. I think they're both small and brownish, but I could be mistaken.)

Anyhow, the letters that make up the novel are witty and clever, and as you might expect, this requires a huge suspension of disbelief because who writes like that? However, since we all know that everyone in post-war Britain was witty and clever, I was able to get over this hurdle.

However, just for comparison's sake, here is an actual letter I received from K-poo (on bright orange paper) while I was living in Germany. (I'm assuming that I had given her some stationery as an incentive to write...)

June 4, 1989
Dear Theresa,

You know on the card you sent me, you said that I looked like one of the gators on the front. Well, theres
[sic] three so the other two must be you and Johanna. I think you gave me this as a hint to write to you. (Actully [sic], I know you did.) Anyway, I liked the colors, but theres [sic] only one of each color so I can't write with these all the time. I wrote you with one of the colors that I liked best. The other color I liked best was the hot pink. Well I think your trick worked. I did write to you. Sorry this letter wasn't very long. Be seeing you soon.
Karen (B.)

P.S. This week is my last music lessen [sic] till next year with Mr. Orr.

[sic] I love my rat.

(Then, in a different handwriting style (big fluffy letters) on the end of the page...)

Hi! now you can't tell me I didn't write. Johanna B.

So, yeah, not a lot of references to Charles Lamb, or Jane Austen. In fact, other than reiterating the fact that they were both writing to me, there was not a whole lot of information in the letter...

While I was looking though my old letters, I also found an envelope that has scrawled in big angry letters "Warum haben Sie keine Namen an Ihren Briefkasten?" This was from the evil postman, chastising me for not putting my name on my mailbox. Ah, life in Germany...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Maybe it's another drill."

Well, the five year old's birthday party was this weekend, and you know what that means... Okay, aside from a short term boost in the economy as the entire output of China is funneled into his living room. No, the important thing here is that the party was the deadline for the storm trooper cake.*

Now, I know I've had a couple of misfires on this whole project, but everyone knows I never really do anything until the last minute, so I figured there was still a chance that it could all turn out alright.

I did decide to do it from molded Rice Krispies treats instead of cake mix, mostly because I like Rice Krispies treats better. Also, molding something seemed a lot more forgiving than cutting pieces off a cake.

Anyhow, Jeff and I whipped up a double batch and began the process...

My two fears were that I would burn my hands molding this, and that it would set too quickly. Both fears were unjustified. We had lots of time to tweak things, and it was pretty much room temperature after about a minute. If you do this at home, make sure you have an extra set of hands to help compress the Rice Krispies. Also, Crisco is your friend.

Next we covered the base with the marshmallow fondant. The source of many of our problems at this point was the web site from which we got the recipe for marshmallow fondant. It called for two pounds of powdered sugar, and at one point says to add 3/4 of the sugar, but that extra half pound is never accounted for. I suspect it was supposed to be kneaded in at some point. As it was, the fondant was very saggy...

I think this was the point when Jeff, in a heretofore unseen streak of perfectionism, began referring to this as his Alan Smithee project. I've done enough of these things to know that no matter how bad it looked at this stage, it could have looked much worse. Like a true diva, Jeff eventually changed his mind again and re-attached his name to the project.

A little black food coloring later, here we have the final product. I think it looks great. The only part I wasn't really happy with was the mouth line because there was no way to make it look like anything but a mustache. It sort of makes him look like a bad guy from a Clint Eastwood movie.

We referred to him as "Pancho the Storm Trooper".

Anyhow, it turns out that most kids prefer Rice Krispies treats to cake and the whole thing was eaten. And now the saga is truly over.


* The other important thing that happened was that my nephew finally remembered my name for the first time. However, apparently he only has one slot for that sort of thing since he forgot K-poo's name as a consequence. It worked out great for me since K-poo got him a nice gift and he can't remember which one of us gave it to him.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Spectacular Failure #2

Okay, so apparently marzipan is not my medium either.

After the huge success of the marshmallow fondant storm trooper, I decided to try modeling in marzipan.

First off, the pre-made marzipan (imported from Denmark with no expiration date) was hard as a rock and could only be formed into a solid log with dimensions to fit in the box. Luckily, I had a backup plan, in the form of almond paste, which makes marzipan when mixed with powdered sugar and a little corn syrup. That, at least, could be dented.

I'm sure you'll agree that the results are spectacular. "Wow" is the appropriate response here.

In this next image, the storm trooper is being menaced by Cthulhu (aka, the unknown tentacled being from my reef tank). The part of the rock is being played by my Blackthorn cider bottle. (I suggest that you consume a bunch of it and view these photos again -- it only makes it funnier.)

You can tell the storm trooper is frightened because his arm is sliding off.

Perhaps I'm not ready for prime time, but who cares? My skills can only improve from this point onwards.

In other news, I remembered that I was supposed to put extra shells in the tank so the hermit crabs don't kill off the snails when they need a new shell. I couldn't find exactly the right shells, but I found a bag with a bunch of different types. I threw some in the tank.

Both hermit crabs were extremely excited about this one. It's about ten times as big as either one of them, and I don't think there's any way they could ever grow large enough to need that shell, but it's good to dream. This seems to be the hermit crab version of a deluxe apartment in the sky. If I didn't refuse to name the invertebrates, they would henceforth be known as George and Weezie.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

These Droids Have Bad Motivators, Too

This is what you're supposed to do on Sunday...

A few hours later the dog had shifted position...

(And yes, I do check sometimes to see if she is still breathing.)

While I was outside, I got a shot of the nice new fence.

And then I had help while surfing the web.

And people wonder why my goal is to become a shut-in...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Now with More Crappy Photos!

So, I haven't seen the tentacled being since I accidentally dropped a rock on it while prepping the tank for photos. However, I'm sure it will show up again, especially if it's something that I don't really want in my tank.

In the meantime, I fed the coral some mysis shrimp today. (Some of the coral in my tank is almost purely photosynthetic, but some do better with supplemental feeding.) I thawed a cube of little frozen shrimp, and then tried to put just one on each head of the coral with a turkey baster.

Here's an exercise for anyone reading: Go get your turkey baster, mix some fish flakes (or something appropriately flakey) with a few tablespoons of water, then suck in up in the turkey baster and try to administer just one drop to something at the bottom of a few gallons of water. It's not as easy as it sounds, and that's why there are dead little shrimp all over the tank. Anyhow, the coral were all very excited and I got to watch them eat. Very cool.

And then something (crab? large shrimp?) ran out of a hole in the rock, grabbed a dead little shrimp off the sand, and ran back in. Bizarre. I have no idea where that one came from.

Again, I took a bunch of really blurry pictures and this is the best of the lot. The Blastomussa polyp on the right has a fuzzy little shrimp going down the hatch. (The mouth is the darker spot in the middle of the bright green.)

And just because I think it's so cool, here's what the Xenia does when all the pumps are off. It's moving all on its own in this clip.

(Um... okay, you may have noticed that this is a still picture. That's because I'm giving up after trying to get the 15 second video to load for the last two hours. Just imagine the little polyps opening and closing like tiny little fists. Using your imagination is good for you...)

Someone today said they would never put a Xenia in a tank because you shouldn't "plant weeds", but I think it's just the coolest thing. What's a weed anyhow?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tanks a Lot

I'm telling you, for sheer entertainment value, the nano-reef is hard to beat. I know you might find it hard to believe, since there's not even any fish in there, but there's always something going on.

It's a little stressful, too, of course. After having to float ice every few hours to keep the temperature down low enough not to kill the coral and snails, I finally bought a chiller. But before I could even figure out how to install it (which, sounds like it should be easy, but isn't), suddenly it became winter and I had to install the heater to keep the water warm enough not to kill the coral and snails. The only reason that I don't have the central heating on in the house right now is because less than a week ago I had the A/C on, and I'm too stubborn to switch from one to the other without at least a month in between.

Then there was the night that I realized there were hundreds of tiny little bugs crawling all over the rocks. I've learned to love these copepods because they're a sign of a healthy tank, but for the first few minutes my skin was crawling.

And then yesterday, after what, two or three months of the rocks being in the tank, I saw long tentacles coming from a hole in the rock, going around the corner and grabbing at things. Holy crap. The tentacles have to be at least four inches long. They're really skinny and translucent, but still, how did I miss seeing this for months? True, they all sucked back into the rock when I changed the lighting, but still.

I think the aliens have arrived...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Top 10 Ways To Procrastinate When You Ought To Be Writing

  1. Wonder if you can get the exotics pathologist (who is one of your Facebook peeps that you've never actually talked to in person but seems very cool and also writes fiction) to proofread the fictional pathology report (after it is written, of course).
  2. Consider getting a word count widget, like the one Cherie Priest has on her blog.
  3. Remember that you need to get Cherie Priest's latest book (Boneshaker).
  4. Remember that the Kindle version of Boneshaker isn't for sale until a few days from now, so you can't order it yet.
  5. Watch the reef tank for a while. Wonder why the Xenia is so tightly curled up.
  6. Wonder which pseudonym to go with when the book is finally written.
  7. Hey, there are probably some shows in the queue...
  8. Why is the Xenia so tightly curled? Check the specific gravity of the tank water just in case there is a salinity problem.
  9. Check Facebook for the fifth time in ten minutes. Surely somebody must be doing something interesting...
  10. Remember that it's Thursday and thus blog day...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sturm und Drang Trooper

As promised, version one of the storm trooper cake project.

Yeah, it looks a little bit like a seagull was having some intestinal problems before flying into my house, but surely you can see... okay, so I won't have to pay royalties to Lucas any time soon.

That was done with a modified marshmallow fondant. Modified because I just can't follow directions ever. Anyhow, I think attempt number two will be with marzipan. Mostly because I like the taste.

On a brighter note, I made a really good salsa verde out of the tomatillos in the garden. However, it's a good idea to cut serrano chilis in half before roasting them because otherwise they plump up and explode. The oven may never be the same.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bits and Pieces (just like head cheese without the gelatin)

Ugh, I recently saw a picture of a slice of head cheese and I was truly disgusted. How does that qualify for the title of cheese? There's no cheese in that. I don't think they sell that around here. But yeah, this post is like that, except there's no tongue involved.

  • The fence: Hey, it's a work of art, all N-8 feet of it. There's just that last section that... is still not done. It's very weird, but I have faith that Hot and Hotter will return to finish if only because they haven't gotten paid yet.
  • The chiller for the aquarium arrived today. Yay! Unfortunately I am not feeling like figuring out the installation tonight, and I'd rather be around (and awake) when it's first installed, so I'm going to wait until the weekend to set it up.
  • It's Jojo the Enforcer's birthday today!
I've been reading a bunch of stuff about cakes lately (in preparation for the Lego/Star Wars birthday cake that will be made, and damn it Eric, we do too have enough talent to make it), including the absolutely hilarious Cake Wrecks. (Just go look up the origins of the phrase "Happy Falkersatherhood". Really. It will make your day.)

Anyhow, I was reminded of the first "special" cake I made, which was for Jojo's second birthday, which would have made me not quite thirteen. It was the first cake I'd ever made from scratch, and I hadn't really done any baking at all up to that point. I mixed it all up and put the pans in the oven, and then looked at it in dismay twenty minutes later. All the oil had risen to the top, and the solid components were flowing like lava at the bottom of the pan, with occasional gaseous burps. My mom took a look at it and asked "How much flour did you add?" and I replied "There wasn't any flour in the recipe." Well, yeah, there really was, I just missed that line. Whatever.

Try number two was better. Eventually it had pink icing and little marshmallow elephants held together by toothpicks. Sort of like Rvan's infamous "Spikes of Death" meal, but different. It just goes to show that you shouldn't even try to make a meal that requires toothpicks to stay together...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On The Fence

So... for the last seven years, my neighbors (Jill & Larry) and I have agreed that we need a new fence. About once every three months we would repeat the same conversation. ("We really just need to replace this whole fence." "I agree.") And then we would nail another piece of wood to the drunken meanderings of rotting pine and forget about it for another while. Whole sections of the fence were held up by a) ivy, b) rope tied to a tree, or c) a rusting trampoline. I once stupidly trimmed an oak branch that was growing over the fence, then had to jump back when an eight foot section of fence came crashing down.

Anyhow I finally told my neighbors that I would pay for the fence if they would do all the arrangements for it. Sure, that doesn't make any sense from a monetary standpoint, but they currently don't have a lot of extra money, and I still have a hole in the overhang from where a branch crashed through it four years ago, so we know that I'll never call anyone. The thought of getting quotes and dealing with strangers just makes me want to go take a nap. (I really need a personal assistant to deal with this sort of thing -- but then I'd have to hire a personal assistant. You see the problem, right?)

Within two weeks Jill had hired someone. She gushed about the job this guy and his crew had done for a friend of hers.

Then I met Ponch, who looked like he ought to be modeling for "Fencers of the West" calendar. And then I met his ridiculously good looking co-worker who looked like he ought to just be modeling. And then I started to wonder if I was paying thousands of dollars for Jill to have a temporary cabana boy. I mean, as far as I know she and Larry are very happily married, but maybe that's what the housewives of Woodland do. Which would be fine and all, I guess, but we really do need a new fence.

Lucky for me, these guys actually seem to know what they are doing. I don't think I've seen more meticulous work. This fence is going to be a masterpiece.

I wonder if they do housework...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Reefer Madness (*)

We had a couple of cool days and I immediately decided that there was no way my nano-reef tank could possibly overheat (again) until next summer, so I ordered a bunch of coral. From Wisconsin, where there is apparently the Less-great Barrier Reef.

Anyhow, the package got shipped overnight via FedEx, and once again, I am amazed at the FedEx tracking system. No matter how long I procrastinate and stick around the house, they always manage to deliver the package fifteen minutes after I leave. Either they have a hidden GPS unit on my car, or there's someone hiding in the tree across the street with binoculars. It's uncanny.

So the box sat in the 90 degree heat all day until I came home. However, the company I bought it from deals with FedEx on a daily basis, so it was a packaging marvel, and it was so well insulated that the contents of the box were still cool. The plug of each piece of coral was rubber-banded to a square of styrofoam, and floated upside-down in a one-liter bag of water which was then quadruple bagged (which explains how five tiny pieces of coral had a shipping weight of 10 kilograms). Lots of thought went into this packaging, but it was still a long, rough trip.

At first glance I thought all the fragments were dead, but aside from one frag that fell off the plug and thus sloshed around in the bag unhindered, everything perked up within an hour of going in the tank. The problem child was all slimy and basically unhappy, but I'm crossing my fingers that it survives.

Here are some fuzzy pictures. (Surely this must be some defect in the camera, right? Maybe I need a different lens or something? Because this couldn't possibly be because I can't take a picture to save my life, right?)

With the lights on:

And with just the actinics:

(It looks much better in person -- the green really glows.)

And my favorite, the silver branch pumping xenia:

When the water is still enough you can see the individual branches moving.

In other news, some guy named Ponch is going to be putting up a new fence for me tomorrow. I'll miss going over to my neighbor's house at 11 pm because my dog has gotten through a gap in the fence and can't get back, but I guess somehow I'll survive...

* Thank you, Rvan, for coming up with the silly title of the day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I suck (no, really!)

So, tonight I did my first ever water change on the new reef tank.

Up to now the tank has been cycling and I haven't had any creatures (other than hitchhikers that came with the rocks) that needed protection from nitrates. But I tested my water last week, and the ammonia and nitrite levels were zero, so I ordered a "clean up crew" consisting of a couple of types of snails and some scarlet legged hermit crabs.

Ordering the invertebrates was a bit of a pain because most places require bulk purchases, which is what you would need for a 75 gallon tank, but not for a 14 gallon tank. But I finally found a place that would let me order a few at a time. I learned some things:
  1. I may have ordered a total of 8 creatures, but they sent almost twice that. I think they assume there will be some loss in shipping, probably because
  2. They sent me mail saying the order had been shipped six hours after it had been delivered to my porch where it sat all day long.
Despite this, everything survived. I had a bad moment when I looked in the bag with the hermit crabs and saw detached legs in one corner of the bag, but there are three shells and three hermit crabs with all of their legs, so either one of them molted, or a few extra parts were thrown in the bag for free.

Naturally, the next day I didn't turn on the air conditioning and it got over 100 degrees, and the tank was 90 degrees (optimal temperature is about 80 F) when I came home. But they all survived even that.

With all the extra snails, I was worried that some would starve to death, but these guys seem to be like a Caltrans road crew -- most of them are standing around doing nothing, and one snail is cleaning the heck out of the glass.

The wavy lines in the foreground are the cleaned areas.

Here's one of the hermit crabs. I don't know if they do anything to clean the tank, but it's fun to watch them climb around the rocks dragging the big shell behind them.

In any case, I needed to do my first water change, so I mixed up the salt water and then got ready to siphon out the two gallons of old water. I was going to just submerge part of the tubing and kink it off to get the siphon started, but the tubing I have doesn't kink well, so that didn't work. After five or six tried I realized that I was going to have to suck on the tube to get it started.

I don't remember the last time I siphoned something, but I do remember that it took a fair amount of vacuum. Maybe I was using defective tubing or something then, because when I sucked on the tube this time, the only reason I didn't get a mouthful of nasty salt water was that the tubing was five feet long.

(Okay, I'll pause here so you all can make all the hilarious dirty comments now and just get it over with.)

Anyhow, the water change went well, and I'll be ordering coral soon. Or, at least, as soon as I figure out how to keep the tank cool on hot days...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cooking For Real People

Let’s face it – there are a whole lot of cooking shows out there already. Do we really need another one? I would argue yes we do, for the same reason that although there’s a lot of porn out on the internet (at least that’s what someone told me), what we really need is for the second season of Castle to bring back Nathan Fillion. (Monday, Sep 21 for those who haven’t yet marked your calendars.)

My point is, the current cooking shows on television are for people to sit on the couch and watch while the frozen pizza is in the oven. Nobody has kitchens like these chefs, and we sure as heck don’t have all the fancy cookware. Nobody I know would (intentionally) light something on fire in the kitchen. It’s all just food porn.

No, what we really need is a cooking show for people who not only don’t cook, but also don’t have anything that didn’t come from Target or Costco in their kitchen. A cooking show for real people.

Here’s what I would cover in the first episode of "Cooking for Real People":

  • Knives – yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard about how important it is to have the right knives, and a dull knife is more dangerous than a pit bull on meth, and blah, blah, blah. You know what I have? A set of serrated knives that I bought at Costco twenty years ago. Most of them are technically steak knives, but there’s also a cleaver (never used) and a bread knife (which I once used to shorten the pressboard when I goofed while putting the entertainment center together). I chop things every day, and I’ve never sharpened these knives. And I haven’t cut myself with them either since I finally stopped holding the bagel in one hand while slicing with the other. Fancy chefs are horrified by my knives, but I say screw ‘em. They work great.

  • Pam – Want to avoid greasy food? Don’t roll things around in a bowl of oil, just spray Pam on them. It’s faster and you don’t have to wash an extra dish. (That last bit is important when you only have two bowls of any decent size.) It’s just olive oil anyhow.

  • Old Spice – Not the cologne (although, that’s really something to avoid – I knew someone whose dorm room walls were basically rotting and he covered the odor by sprinkling Old Spice in the carpet – I will take the resulting stench with me to the grave). No, I’m talking about all the spices that came with the spice rack you bought two decades ago. Yeah, everything is over ten years old now, and those cooking show people keep trying to convince everyone to throw out spices older than six months. Those people are on crack. I don’t even go through that much salt in six months. It you can’t see bugs in it, I say it’s still good. Just add a little more than the recipe calls for. (But maybe not so much with nutmeg – I found that out this week.)

  • Measuring – This may be the only thing I agree with the chefs about – measuring is for wimps. The size of your palm doesn’t change. Figure out how much of your cupped hand is covered by a teaspoon and use that for measuring. Your prep time will decrease. Granted, every once in a while you may completely miss the mark, but you can always claim that the problem was that your spices were too old.

That’s it. The Food Network should be calling any moment now…

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Family That Keeps the One Year Old Out of the Toilet Together Stays Together

So, I went down to Orange County to visit family this weekend. It turns out that I am related to these people. Here are some highlights of the trip:

  • My dog came with me. Dogs aren't allowed in my parents' house. I slept in the garage with my dog. My parents' garage is cleaner than my house, but has many more mosquitoes.
  • It took my three year old nephew Aiden two days to get over the fact that I don't like garlic.
  • My 14 month old nephew went running back the hall with a remote control. After some discussion of who was supposed to be watching him, my sister-in-law followed him into the bathroom and gasped. Jojo the Enforcer (the little devil's mother) started laughing and said "I guarantee that means the remote is in the toilet."
  • When I left, K-poo was sitting on the bed with Aiden, flying a rocket ship to the Sticky Planet while following the pirate treasure map. Part of flying the rocket ship involved the three year old wearing K-poo's oversized white sunglasses and iPod earbuds. It was a good look for him.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wasting Away Again In La La La La Land...

When are they going to invent a transporter already? This is the sort of thing I wonder as I'm stuck in traffic in LA. In order to visit family in Orange County, my choices are
  • Get locked up in a little metal box with horrible air and no personal space. And pay for the privilege.
  • Drive.
Driving really is the more attractive choice. Unfortunately, there really isn't a way to get from Sacramento to Orange County without going through LA.

Here is the Los Angeles that I know:

I see the same thing every time. In fact, traffic is all I see. I used to try to time things so that I would miss "rush hour", but then I realized that rush hour extends from 6am to 10 pm, and sometimes later.

It took roughly three hours to drive what should be a two hour drive through Los Angeles. I had lots of time to take pictures because this was my speed for a significant part of the trip:

Fortunately, my navigator doesn't mind stop and go traffic, so it was alright in the end...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Lest You Think I Only Make Fun of Other People…

I hate getting my hair cut. I always have. I don’t like people touching my head, and sitting still for half an hour while either trying to make small talk with someone or having to listen to other people talk is just torture. I really don’t care what my hair looks like, I just want it to be short enough that it doesn’t tangle too easily, and in a style that doesn’t require me to do anything other than brush it in the morning.

Back when I was in college my friend Stephanie convinced me to go to a more “edgy” salon. (Honestly, I think this may be the only time I ever went to go get my hair cut with someone else.) While I was waiting for my turn we talked about what I wanted. I believe my exact quote was “I don’t really care as long as they don’t shave my head.”

However, when I was sitting in the chair, what came out was something along the lines of “Do whatever you want to do.” Naturally the stylist immediately whipped out the clippers and set to work. I thought Stephanie was going to stop breathing because she was laughing so hard.

The thing is, it looked pretty good. And it was really easy to take care of. It wasn’t long enough to tangle, and there really wasn’t all that much to brush. The only problem is that 1) I didn’t (and still don’t) wear makeup, and 2) I didn’t (and still don’t) wear dresses. Apparently “short hair” plus “no makeup” plus “jeans” equals “male” to a small but significant percentage of the population.

Let me just say, if I were a guy and had a butt this big, I would cry.

In the Santa Ana train station, the bathrooms are down a short hallway – the men’s bathroom is halfway down on the left, and the women’s bathroom is at the end.

I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, plus my leather jacket, Doc Martins, and I was carrying my guitar case. But again, let me stress, if I were a guy and had hips like this, I would never leave my room. Ever.

Anyhow, I walked down the hallway, followed by two guys probably in their fifties, with slight Southern accents. As I passed the men’s bathroom, one of them called out.

“Son… Son! You’re going the wrong way!”

At this point I realized they were talking to me and I paused and considered turning around, but then decided that it just wasn’t worth the effort and the all-around embarrassment. I kept going into the women’s bathroom.

As the door closed behind me, I heard him drawl to his friend, “Well… I guess he didn’t care.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Please Recycle After Reading

So, I've been working at the same company off and on for about fifteen years. In that time we've changed names at least four times, moved the location of group at least twice, centralized and decentralized a couple of times, and redone the organizational chart at least every six months. But the most interesting change has been the progression of the recycling effort.

When I first started, there was a bin in the break room for aluminum cans. I think that was about it. If you needed to recycle anything else, you gave it to Rvan, and he took it down to the county recycling.

Then we were each assigned a big white box, about eighteen inches high, with the footprint of A-size paper. On the box was printed all of the things that you could (paper) and couldn't (Post-its, plastic envelopes) put in the box. Those boxes were great, not for recycling, but as an easy supply of scrap paper and a time-based filing system. The one time someone came through and emptied the boxes, there was general outrage because we no longer had those scraps of paper that had design notes that you thought you were done with but really weren't. At that point we still had aluminum recycling in the break room.

In the cycle after that, the company went whole-hog. Our standard black plastic trash cans were labeled with a big fluorescent "recycling" sticker, and a tiny little piggyback bin was attached to the side with a round "Basura" sticker. The aluminum recycling bin was taken out of the break room because it was theoretically redundant.

(Sidenote: Okay, granted, 99% of our cleaning people have spoken Spanish as their native language (and you could get some interesting but scary stories from the Guatemalan about being beaten by the female police officers in his native land), but isn't it just the tiniest bit racist to assume that they can't figure out what the word "trash" is? After all, if I can figure out "basura" and I don't know Spanish, surely someone living in this country who is making a living cleaning office buildings can puzzle out one word of English, right?)

Anyhow, the reversal of the big and little cans confused a lot of people. Some followed the labels, others followed the prior purpose. After I worked late a few times I realized that it really didn't matter since the person emptying both the recycling and basura bins went around with one big trash can for both of them.

As it stands now, we each have our own (unlabeled) standard-sized trash can. And there is can and bottle recycling in the break room, along with non-confidential paper recycling in the copier room.

But if you need to recycle anything else (batteries, cardboard, etc), you give it to Rvan.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Gloves Are Such A Handy Thing

After untold weeks of tearing up my hands while ripping out dead ivy, I decided to actually wear gloves this weekend. Usually I just go out there and start yanking, and only when I'm about to pass out from the heat do I notice that my fingers are more sausage-like than usual, and I have blisters.

Of course, wearing gloves requires first finding them. My garage is a tad disorganized. Or, really, it's organized in a LIFO (last in, first out for the non-computer geeks out there) fashion -- everything I've used in the last two months is piled right by the door, but things I haven't used recently are in the unlit areas.

(Jeff's shed/garage is much more meticulously organized, but has similar results. In searching for gloves, he found all the left gloves, but the right gloves were somewhere else. That's just crazy. My method at least makes some sense.)

So I finally found two gloves, and then I had to do the spider stomp dance on them. Scrawny Mike claims that the twist method is better, but I figure that will just slightly injure and seriously piss them off -- if I'm sticking my fingers in there, I want them dead.

Anyhow, I yanked a whole bunch of dead ivy out of the ground until I filled up the bin.

Naturally, when I took off the gloves I didn't have any blisters on my palms, but the stiff leather had rubbed off all the skin on two of my knuckles. Sometimes you just can't win...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

From the "What Were They Thinking?" File

This is my cats' new favorite toy, made of brown cloth and feathers:

It was originally attached to the new scratching post, but that only lasted about ten seconds.

It travels all over the house, and I'm continually almost stepping on it.

I call it the "Turd'n'feathers". Because really, that's what it looks like.

Obviously the people who make this thing don't have an ancient, occasionally somewhat fecal-incontinent dog running around the house.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Happy Blogiversary To Me!

At some point in the last couple of weeks, I actually passed the one year mark for this blog. That's a true accomplishment considering that I only had about three months of stuff to talk about.

It may not seem like such a big deal to most people, but that means that twice a week for the past year I've forced myself to sit down and write something. And yes, on rereading them, some are truly awful, but there's a couple of funny ones in there, even if I'm the only one who laughs at them.

And at times I may be the only one who laughs at them -- I honestly have no idea who reads this crap. I haven't put a traffic counter on my page because a) that just seems a little too much like work, and b) I tend to get a little obsessed sometimes and that's not something I want to obsess about.

So here are my blog goals for the next year:
  • Keep posting stuff. Good, bad, whatever. I'm all about the attendance award.
  • Continue to tell embarrassing stories about my brothers and sisters. And Rvan, whose head is large enough to qualify for admission to my family.
  • Limit the posts about my cats to one per quarter. (Really, you don't know how lucky you are...)
  • Learn how to use my camera a little better. (Because I shouldn't have to photoshop in arrows to explain what I'm referring to...)

There you go. Who says I don't have goals in my life?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Who's Ready to Rock?

Things on the nano-reef front have taken a hugely exciting turn (which isn't really saying much since previously the tank held nothing but air...).

On Tuesday I got my shipment of live rock from Florida. I've learned a couple of things since then.
  1. I'm really not very good at "aquascaping". Seriously, how hard can it be to arrange rocks? And yet...
  2. If you have semi-healed blisters on your hand from yanking out ivy without gloves, putting your hand in salt water is not the most fun thing in the world.
  3. I really, really suck at photography.
Keeping those things in mind, here are some pictures.

The obligatory full tank shot

One of the rocks: the red/purple/orange stuff is Coralline algae. The little round white thing over on the right side just below midline is a Spirorbid worm (I think) which is a filter feeder. Maybe I should have cropped the picture more...

I'm fairly certain this is a sponge. But I could be completely wrong.

Evidence that some life survived the shipping process! (Worm tracks in the sand.)

So yeah, that's how the tank is going to look for a while until it finishes cycling and I spend even more money on it.

In the meantime maybe I'll read the manual for my camera...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Band Bingo

So Jeff over at View from the Cloud wrote a post about an afternoon spent "volunteering" at a concession stand at the Metrodome to help defray his daughter's band expenses.

I have no children (and for that let us take a moment to run through a list of the entire pantheon giving thanks), but I was in marching band for one entire year, so I felt a little obligated when my parents needed someone to volunteer at the weekly bingo game to work off Jojo the Enforcer's band debt eight years later. Eric was in band for all four years in high school, so he really should have had to volunteer four times, or even more since he played the sousaphone and basically sat on the sidelines mixing lemonade during hell week while the rest of the field band (including me) tried to perfect patterns other than wavy lines.

As with all things related to marching band, this experience was truly hellish. The only up-side was that it was over in a day and I didn't have to listen to beginning flute players butcher anything. I'd never actually been to a bingo parlor before (or even to a high school gym while it doubled as a bingo parlor on the weekend), so I had no idea what to expect. Here's what I learned:

  • If the AARP ran a recruitment drive at a bingo game, pretty much everyone there would qualify. By at least twenty years. This wasn't a game for people that had anything else going on in their lives...
  • Those old biddies could get nasty fast. And the old men, too. It didn't take much to set them off -- someone winning a game twice, a caller going too quickly, the pull-tab seller trying to calculate the amount they'd won instead of taking their word for it, all were grounds for letting the inner demon loose.
  • There seemed to be a basic lack of understanding of the term "random". I have never seen so many people with so many different superstitions in one location. First they had to fight for their lucky seat, and then they had to pick the right cards from the stack to purchase. One guy had cloves of garlic set all around his cards. Another lady had troll dolls set facing each of the four directions. Everyone had "lucky" daubers. These people were crazy.
  • Anything less than four packs a day was considered amateur. By the end of the afternoon even the gym ceiling fans couldn't keep up with the level of smoke generated. I wanted to burn my clothes after I left. (On a side note, I can't imagine that smoking in the building is still allowed -- those old geezers must have been really put out when that change took effect.)
  • Every loss was due to a conspiracy. On the other hand, these people were pretty much equal-opportunity haters. Depending on who you talked to, the Jews were running the game. Or the Mexicans. Or the Protestants. Or the Poles. Or any of the other groups that were responsible for every disappointment in life. These people weren't shy about voicing their prejudices. The only thing they could agree on was that the other bingo game in town was definitely fixed.
Anyhow, I survived. Eric survived, too, although I thought he was going to slug some old lady about halfway through the day. I think she could have taken him, though. I would have bet on it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Things I've Carried

It's list time again...

Topic: Things I've purchased over the years without having a way to bring it home

  • A bird cage. When I got my "free" cockatiel about nine years ago, I needed to get a cage. So Eric and I took a trip to downtown Walnut Creek and I purchased a full-size cage which was one solid piece. Then we tried to fit it in the trunk of Eric's car. No go. Eventually we abandoned the car and pushed the cage home (~4 miles) on the bike trail. But hey, at least it had wheels.
  • A Christmas tree. While I was living in Germany I had no car. But it was Christmas, and I was downtown, and I decided my dorm room really needed this 4' live tree in a one gallon pot. That thing just got heavier and heavier as I lugged it the two miles home. People looked at me strangely. But it was only really painful when I was a few hundred yards from my dorm and realized there was a tree lot at the local market and they were selling the exact same trees. (The damned thing died in a couple weeks. Typical German ending.)
  • A ping pong table. Rvan and I took a trip to Sears to buy a ping pong table. It obviously wasn't going to fit in, or on, his Probe, so Jeff came with the Impala. He sailed up in front of the store entrance and we proceeded to tie the table onto the roof of the car. When the Sears employees saw what we were doing, they came out and made us sign a stupidity waver saying that we wouldn't sue them if something happened on the way home. It's somewhat embarrassing when people who are stuck working retail jobs think you're being stupid.
Now I just have to work on getting fourteen gallons of distilled water home...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Wonderful Blizzard From Paws

So I bought a used 14 gallon tank for my new nano-reef a few weeks ago, but it has been sitting on the floor of my living room since then because I didn't have anything to put it on. Yesterday I finally went out and bought a kitchen stand that looks sturdy enough to hold over 100 pounds of water.

You'll notice that I still don't have any water, rock, or sand in there since I didn't quite make it to the aquarium store. But, you know, nano-reefs require lots of patience (or so everyone says) so don't be rushing me! After I get the salt water and live rock in there it may still be six weeks before I can add any coral.

(And if you want the specifics about whole ammonia goes to nitrites which go to nitrates which get taken up by plants or macro algae or dumped during water changes, go look it up yourself. What's cool about it is that it's the same process (on a smaller scale) that happens out at the water treatment plant where I took a tour during one of my biology classes. )

Anyhow, here is the stand with the empty tank.

And here is the packaging after the cats descended on it.

If you look closely, you will notice that even the pink elephant got dragged into the fun.

Turns out that tiny pieces of styrofoam (or whatever the generic name for it is) are a pain in the butt to clean up...