Thursday, July 31, 2008

whale fest 2008

We're off to roll around at the beach like a chuffing, snorting, happy dog. Alright, we'll probably do more of this:

but I'll be snorting on the inside.

We're headed to Emerald Isle for the second annual Beached Whale Fest. There will be martinis, bourbon lemonade, vegetarian feasts, and lots of spf 45 slathering. I feel pretty guilty about the amount of gas we're about burn through, but I'd like to think some of the fossil fuels are balanced out by the fact that we're boycotting the A/C.

Goals for the weekend: take as many unwanted pictures as possible, bogart the guacamole, overdose on NPR, avoid unnecessary grocery items because my budget is already blown on the pending gas station bills, and make a huge effort to listen to the friends that I've neglected during my depressed haze known as "the 2 years I spent hating atlanta (but not all the great people who've put up with my sourness)."

for more great pictures of dixie the rolling wonder, visit her blog

pop quiz hot shot

I always thought Minnesota was over next to Colorado. I know it's lame, but I'm geographically challenged (wiped out in the first round of my 7th grade geography bee), and that's just where I pictured it. As I discovered not that long ago, Minnesota borders Canada and is nowhere near Colorado. Maybe I thought since they're both cold, they'd be right next to each other on the map. Minnesota is where Laura Ingalls and her family had "The Long Winter" and Colorado is where people go to ski, so they're probably close to each other, right? I also thought Missouri was down near Mississippi. Still not certain where that logic came from, but the point is I'm clearly not meant to be a topographer or a geography teacher. There would be some very confused 14 year olds wondering how to get to Minneapolis if I was at the helm of their land based education.

It's only marginally comforting that I'm not the only natural science ignoramus out there. In Affluenza, a college kid is quoted as saying, "I thought potatoes grew on trees." I laughed when I read that, but the chuckle petered out when I got to this "Bioregion Quiz":

1. Trace the water you drink from precipitation to tap.

2. Describe the soil around your home.

3. What were the primary subsistence techniques of the cultures that lived
in your area before you?

4. Name five native edible plants in your bioregion and their seasons of

5. Where does your garbage go?

6. Nave five resident and any migratory birds in your area.

7. What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom where
you live?

8. What animal species have become extinct in your area?

9. What kinds of rocks and minerals are found in your bioregion?

10. What is the largest wilderness area in your bioregion?

I could make wild guesses for most of these questions, but they'd probably be Minnesota answers.

Monday, July 28, 2008

the green epidemic

We had brunch with these lovely home owners yesterday morning. On the menu: banana oatmeal pancakes, a goat cheese scramble, the perfect wheat toast (and I don't even like toast), and for dessert: homemade strawberry sorbet with fresh basil and a dash of balsamic.

I was able to prevent a pancake overdose because I ate a pre-breakfast cliff bar about an hour before heading over to the homestead. I did not, however, refrain from having a cup of coffee with all those sweet bread products (how do you eat pancakes without coffee?). It was cup #2 for the morning, and the repercussions were not pretty. Shortly after we left the table, I felt impatient, nauseous, jittery, and generally unhappy with the world, even after drinking several Nalgenes of water. It's clear that caffeine has a major impact on my ability to be patient and control my reactions to what would otherwise be a normal interaction.

Speaking of not pretty, I've been reading the book Affluenza and it's beginning to really depress me. I won't get into my specific reactions just yet, but if you're looking for an inspiration to get you running full tilt after the "green" bandwagon, read this book. Inspiration may not be the right word. Catalyst by way of grotesque reality checks might be a better way to put it.

The good news is that "Affluenza" has made me appreciate the efforts of people like Jo & Dave (the homeowners) even more. They're both Ph.D. students with a very restricted income, but they were able to buy a house in East Atlanta several months ago. Since their purchase they have made incredible strides toward sustainable living. They installed rain barrels, set up a compost, rerouted the kitchen and bathroom pipes for gray water, added an energy efficient screen door, created several raised bed gardens in their backyard with another set of vegetable beds in front that they're planning to donate, and they even used eco-friendly paint for their interior remodeling (as "eco-friendly as paint can be). They really do have a homestead going, and with a little tweaking in the garden, they could probably get most of their fresh food (a lot of which are heirloom varieties) from their own backyard.

I admit, I've got the bug. I can't wait to attempt some sort of container garden when we get up to NYC. The trick is going to be keeping the damn cats out of it if we can't find a place with a balcony.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

my cup runneth over (with water)

I’m trying to give up soda (3 days and counting). My reasoning is two fold.

Fold #1: it’s expensive. I normally drink 2 sodas a day. The sauce drinks 2-3 sodas a day. That’s a minimum of 4 sodas a day, which means we blow through a 12 pack in 3 days, assuming no one goes hogwild and drinks an extra soda. At $4.39 a 12-pack, we’re talking about $13 a week or $52 a month. Sure, sometimes we score a 3 for $11 sale or maybe a 4 for $11 sale, but that doesn’t happen often enough to factor it into the soda budget.

Fold #2: health reasons. Soda has never really been on my caffeine radar. I only notice the effects if I drink more than 3 in one day and that’s usually more of a taste overload than a noticeable caffeine binge. I scoff at people who say “oh, I don’t drink soda because it has too much caffeine.” I scoff equally as much at the people who say, “I don’t need coffee, I just drink a diet coke for a boost!” I guess you’re doing pretty well if you’re drinking such small amounts of caffeine that a diet coke will give you a fix. Just so you don’t think I’m pro-caffeine, I also scoff at the people who claim that coffee keeps them alert and helps them focus. Perception is reality, so you can pretend that 93rd cappuccino for the week is going to get you through your important meeting, but the physiological evidence for this claim points in the opposite direction. Caffeine actually raises cortisol levels, which contributes to more stress. It’s all in your in head, you caffeine junkies.

Back to the point: caffeine also contributes to muscle tightness. I’ve been experiencing a lot of wrist pain the last couple of weeks (months/years), and I’m looking for obvious ways to make it better (writing this post being in direct contradiction to my plan of action because typing is definitely one of the culprits). There are several vitamins that have anti-inflammatory properties, so I spent the rest of my soda budget at Puritan’s Pride stocking up on Vitamin B, B-12, calcium, magnesium, Vitamin D, and the mother of all joint supplements: glucosamine/chondroitin with MSM. This opposes the first fold of my reasoning to some degree, but I’m viewing it as wise diversion of funds instead of an impulse buy.

I’m also planning to refrain from the following:

- using jackhammers, screwdrivers, and other construction equipment
- Metal bats
- playing my nintendo (sorry Tetris, I'll miss you)
- meat cutting
- handstands
- painting
- writing long letters (that's why you won't be hearing from me)
- rod & reel fishing

You get the idea. Repetitive motion injuries are apparently my specialty. IT Band syndrome, stress fracture, pinched nerves, swollen wrists... I'm beginning to think maybe I was meant for an existence of watching Sex & the City while eating frozen yogurt, taking care to rest in between elbow flexions spoonfuls.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

not my idea of southern hospitality

There's been another spider incident.

We came home from a fantastic dinner date with a couple of friends (mango curry with lime couscous), and I'd just finished putting away the leftovers when I noticed the orange one biting at something in the hallway. I thought it was a beetle because it was brown and about the size of a thumbnail. I made Charrow come look at it and she erupted with "Ew! is that a roach?!" (her personal nightmare) and I said, "No, I think it's a spider." She didn't believe me of course because everything could be a spider in my book. In fact, once I've seen a spider, everything that moves (or doesn't move) is a spider until I look a little harder. For example, the chocolate colored ribbon on the coffee table next to my laptop looks very much like a spider in my peripheral vision.

So the orange one continued to play with the unidentified brown lump while we hypothesized about its species. I don't mind it when cats play with bugs. I find it hilarious to watch Petey (i.e. the orange one) run around the house leaping through the air chasing flies. But then I saw him hunch down and proceed to mouth the lump. The only thing worse than smashing a spider and hearing it crunch is watching a cat eat a spider and think about how it probably wiggles as it goes down. When he lunged in for what looked like the prize winning mouthful, I screamed, the cat jumped 3 feet, and a second later I saw the brown lump with 8 freshly extended legs crawling along the baseboard. The unidentified cat toy was in fact a spider playing dead. Apparently that's what Southern House Spiders do when they're threatened, and it happened again when Charrow caught it in a mason jar covered by the July 7 & 14 issue of the New Yorker (great article about a carbon emissions makeover on the Danish island of Samso).

I know it's silly. I read with my own two eyes (as I covered the picture with an envelope) that this spider is practically blind, isn't aggressive, and can't really bite humans, but it's just too big. I'm sorry, but the phrase "tendency to crawl across anything in their path regardless of whether it is alive" completely negates the part about it probably never biting me. If I see another one while Charrow's not home, I'll be forced to introduce it to my orange and brown reebok hi-tops. Forgive me.

The spider in today's post is the one from about a week ago. I couldn't get a clear picture because Charrow wasn't interested in standing around long enough. It was somehow traumatic for the beast to paw at the sides of my Peanuts glass for an extra 2 minutes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

face stuffing family hopping fun

We went on our summer family hopping spree last week. The majority of the weekend was spent at my mom's in St. Mary's County, MD and for the bookend days, we stayed at the sauce's parental abode in Chevy Chase. Here's the trip in bullet format because I'm sure you're about as interested in a long version as I am in writing one.
  • 1 eastern shore crab massacre with Bud Light available in large trash cans to wash down the bottom feeders.
  • 4 pitchers of bourbon lemonade, 2 of which were consumed solely by charrow.
  • 1 barbecue at the Charrow residence with 5 over-educated twenty something's all vying for the conversational limelight.
  • 1 ewoken Burmese cat that is the size of my foot but still counts as "full-grown."
  • 1 outdoor sculpture garden and indoor arts center with pieces on loan from Olga Hirshhorn's private collection
  • 4 directive statements from an old friend instructing me to start writing a book. Now.
  • 10 pieces of sushi consumed while having lunch with another old friend.
  • 1 free tank of gas and a 40% family member discount from Hertz, care of my online discount sleuthing.
  • 1 very friendly rental car agent that almost blew my "family member" cover by asking too many questions.
  • 472 pictures of Liz's hike through Havasu canyon.
  • 3 helpings of tomato-basil-mozzarella stacks and 1 golden retriever beer.
  • approximately 9 mosquito bites.
And here it is in picture format:

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

say no to cornea discrimination

I've worn glasses since the second grade. There have been many (many) bad frames in my past, some of which could rival these. My eyesight is so poor that the big E on the vision chart looks like a fuzzy black pillow I could take to the waiting room and cuddle with while they special order my out of stock prescription lenses. The "coke bottles" cliché was all too familiar until they came out with light weight lenses and even then, my glasses were always too thick to be hip. Sometimes I think about how limited my life would be if I was suddenly thrust into a world without vision care and the technology to produce contact lenses or worse yet, plain old eye glasses.

This morning I spent 2 hours being oriented to the volunteer program at the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI), and I was reminded that there's a whole population living with vision impairments that make my misshapen corneas seem like a walk in a very blurry park. The director of volunteer services has never been a sighted person. This is something that I'm somewhat embarrassed by, but I've never understood how someone who is blind from birth visualizes things. When I say "there's a blonde man in the feminine hygiene aisle," how would someone who's never physically seen the color "blonde" internally develop the picture I'm trying to convey? Naive, but it's what I was thinking about on the way to the orientation. It's also what I was thinking about while we watched the 1971 video about our guy Jim and his first experience with a blind man.

After a round of introductions and 2 outdated videos (Jim was a good sport as the narrator chided him for his inexperience) we got a tour of the center, which was led by another visually impaired volunteer services coordinator. This same woman gave me my first "sighted guide" experience after the other new volunteers had to run off to their responsibilities. I wonder how funny we looked walking down the sidewalk of downtown Atlanta, an apparently vision impaired woman with a walking stick guiding a person wearing a canary yellow eye mask.

I was only "blind" for 5 minutes tops, but it was not what I would describe as a quick experience. I curbed all temptation to lift my head and search for cracks by keeping my eyes closed the entire time, not that I could have accomplished much because there was a paper towel between my face and the eye mask, which blocked whatever light or peripheral vision I could have cheated with. We walked from the orientation room down the hall to the elevator and then out the back door of the center. It was bring your dog to work day at CVI and my guided tour was timed perfectly to coincide with the beginning of the picnic. So the back doors of the center opened, and I was overwhelmed with the sound of kids chattering, dogs barking, people laughing, all the general merriment of a mid-day break. Up until this point, I was feeling pretty confident about my abilities as a short-term blind person. I could feel the slight change in direction of my guide's elbow. I hadn't kicked her feet once. I'd even managed the tight elevator turn (whose name I've forgotten). But the bustle of the picnic frightened me, and it only got worse with the introduction of street noise as we turned left onto the sidewalk. A few deep breaths kept me from pulling off the eye mask, but I was fully prepared to reject the idea of crossing the street. I could tell we were approaching a corner, and the idea of teetering across a major downtown Atlanta thoroughfare was out of the question.

The rest of the sighted guide exercise was pretty uneventful. I mastered the stairs (both up and down), and I even managed some small talk on the way back to the volunteer room. The majority of the credit goes to my guide of course. She was calm and very much at ease with our jaunt outdoors, which made it much harder for me to give in to the panic.

One thing's for sure: if there's any way to choose your side of the coin in life, I'd much rather be the seeing-eye dog than the master.*

*this is in no way meant to equate visually impaired persons with dogs or to say that a dog would live a more fulfilled life. I'd just be more comfortable licking my own butt than trying to navigate the NYC subway system without my vision.

Friday, July 4, 2008

the fanged beast

Last night I saw the 4th biggest spider I've ever come across in a domestic setting. I was standing in the bathroom getting ready for bed and as I threw an errant piece of toilet paper in the trash can, something moved. When it moved again, I realized that it was a huge (even by my inflated standards) light brown spider with rangy legs and very obvious fangs. The sound I emit during a spider sighting is a cross between a yelp, a screech and what I imagine a yak would sound like. So I yelped from the hallway while the sauce, a.k.a. spider catcher extraordinaire, calmly went about gathering her tools (1 pint glass and a piece of cardboard/stiff paper). I periodically ventured into the bathroom to verify that the spider remained in plain sight (yelping the whole time). Once the spider was contained, I requested once last look at the beast that could have eaten me while I brushed my teeth (yelp) and then charrow set it free outside.

Here's a list of the top 5 largest spiders I've ever had the pleasure of yelping at:

1. Possible tarantula while painting in someone's basement ALONE. It was hairy. It had knuckles. It lunged when I cast a shadow on it. I almost left for the day without finishing the job.

2. Another possible tarantula while shopping at the Eddie Bauer outlet in Fredericksburg, VA. It was crawling along the floor near a circular rack of dresses. I made the mistake of pointing it out to a male store clerk who preceded to SQUASH it. I can only imagine the mess it made.

3. A spider big enough to cover my entire face (no small head jokes from the peanut gallery) on the wall next to the couch in my current apartment.

4. See first paragraph.

5. I don't know if this spider was all that big, but it scared the crap out of me because I came within inches of accidentally TOUCHING it. I was being shown a rabbit's foot fern, which, by the way, has roots that resemble tarantula legs. It should be renamed tarantula fern. When I reached out to touch the scary roots (while yelping), a spider emerged about 1 inch from my finger. There was screaming.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


The major difference between the water in this picture and my current state of mind is surface tension. My energy and motivation levels are sorely lacking this cohesive property right now. At the beginning of the day, I appear incredibly focused (those little check boxes sure do look pretty), but the reality at the end of the day has been far from productive.

Example: I spent most of last week in Los Angeles beyond the grapple of internet and blogs, but yesterday I sat in front of my glowing idiot box for approximately 5 hours and overdosed on everything I had barely noted as missing from my daily routine. Some of it was constructive browsing (i.e. reading things like Get Rich Slowly to nudge myself back on track with incidental spending), but the majority of my sink hole could have been meted into self-disciplined chunks of time.

I was slightly more productive today because I had to work (read: more computer time within a thumb's reach of the chamber pot), but I still feel groggy and compulsive about all the wrong things. Not to mention my wrists are killing me. I think it's time to follow the example of others and work on a little something called flow. One that doesn't involve hyperlinks.

More on that LA trip soon.

[today's picture is brought to you by my leaky dishwasher]