Friday, November 30, 2007
Thursday night's Western lesson was not an unqualified success. Na rabote, we are gearing up for our big meeting, and there are many things that need to be done quickly and well, and what those things are changes a lot. I was doing well staying zen until an unannounced last straw was set in place late Thursday, then I had a quiet mental fit (the secret of being considered calm and level headed in the workplace, it turns out, is making your inner monologue have the meltdowns). The resulting off-kilterness hadn't entirely faded by the time I got to riding, where dammit I was paired with Cappi rather than Doc. To be fair, Mr. Cappuccino behaved well for the first half of class, apparently because he and Evil Grayson were turned out together during the afternoon and celebrated by running, full speed, for most of an hour. All that goofiness had left him stiff and tired, so riding him was like sitting in a chair with one leg just slightly shorter than the others. Teacherwoman Mk2 insisted that he wasn't lame, but he felt just that tiny bit off, a tiny bit that was like fingernails on a blackboard two rooms over. When I tried to canter him, too, I got a pretty clear response: "Okay I will canter two strides and am stopping now." Over and over, that's all I could get. No doubt I was doing something wrong, but it got to the point where I was angry with myself, ready to snap at the teacher, pissed off at the horse, and generally having a crap time, so we went back to walking exercises and then called it a night. (Horseperson wisdom is to end each class with a success, so that the horse walks out thinking of the ring as a place where he is competent. It works on riders as well.) In the past I have ridden while angry or really upset, and the guilt about how it must have felt for the horse has lasted much longer than the memory of whatever got me torqued. These days I make an effort to fix my mood; if I can't, I just call it a day. Why did the Scots invent Macallan, if not for such occasions?
The weekend calls for packing and purchase of essential travel items, such as meal-replacing Clif bars (we're pretty close to developing the food pills of 1920s' SF, it seems), yarn, and an iPod. The veterans of past iterations of our big meeting emphasize the importance of small comforts, due to the lack of larger ones in the average 18-hour workday, and knitting is a useful boredom-alleviation device for those of us monitoring lectures we don't understand. Perhaps I will knit a red blood cell.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
It's been hard to get excited about heading to Seattle in February. I have nothing against the city, given that my past brief acquaintance with it has consisted mostly of flying through it on beautiful summer days, the mountain bright under an early-evening full moon or gleaming against a perfect blue sky.* But I do have something against the month, multiple family birthdays and concomitant opportunities for cake notwithstanding, and the few SeaTackers I know grumble about how February is particularly dreary. I was not, as the surfers of my youth would have had it, stoked about the prospect.
HOWEVER. As has been amply established here, my affections can be bought with food. It's common knowledge that Seattle has good coffee, and I follow Orangette's lyrical descriptions of things she's made and eaten there with a voyeuristic glee, but somehow it took hearing about Mario Batali's father's Seattle-area salumeria for it to click that, you know, it might be worth it to sneak out of the hotel, umbrella in chilly paw, and hit the streets for some caloric insulation. Now the NYT has put up a Frugal Traveler article about living off the city's happy hour food, and I'm starting to feel serious hunger pangs. Cascadia's alpine martini, in particular, sounds like heaven: "a vodka martini garnished with Douglas-fir sorbet and an actual cedar frond...crisp, aromatic, inventive and cold, cold, cold." Maybe that's not the traditional remedy for the wintertime blues, but doesn't it sound lick-the-glass amazing? I could find out how the Daily Dozen Donut Company's products measure up against Krispy Kreme's (although it's clear that the name wouldn't scan right in "Doughnut Girl," the world's best song about love, junk food, and Route 1). After Weebat and Herr Professor talked me into a recent jaunt to a local crab house and thereby reminded me of how good snow crab can be, I'm a-drool at the possibility of having some of it superfresh down at the Pike Place Market. And all this is just scratching the surface of the options within an easy walk of the convention site...oh, how choirs of angels sing.
In other words, February in Seattle may well turn out to be just as grey and gloomy as the doomsayers predict, but I'm worrying less about seasonal affective disorder and more about the chance that work will keep me from eating my own body weight in three days.
*I still wonder why I was the only person the Seattle customs guy pulled out for a series of pointed questions about purchase and/or use of illegal smokeables during my Vancouver sojourn and whether had I brought anything of the sort back with me. It can't have been that serious an investigation, since he relied on the "are you telling the truth? really really?" interrogation technique rather than, you know, actually searching me, and I don't think I looked so much stoned as post-camping scruffy (granted, a fine line). I was very polite, because Customs officials have vast power to make your life a living hell, but eventually I said, "Really, I was kayaking every day for a week, I needed every bit of lung space I had, and I don't smoke anything anyway. Do you want to check my bags?" He sighed and waved me on my way to a cab (which later caught fire on the road, for reasons that the driver did not sufficiently explain). Seattle ain't responsible for any of that, though; it's just an odd story.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Random note: I do not want this shirt, but I'm happy that it exists. [H/T Cleolinda]
The Atlantic continues to tempt me with its evil tempty wiles. This time the editors have republished a weirdly contemporary 1957 article, "Sex and the College Girl." Worth a read, if only to further nail down the coffin lid over the idea that the 1950s were a pure asexual time when everyone knew their place and were happy about it. The dating culture described has changed some since the article first saw the light of day, but the intricate calculus around it still rings a bell.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
As a distraction, I am trying to come up with a list of mood-enhancing supplies for a forthcoming week-long conference. Energy bars and fruit and bottles of water are all very well, but around day four something stronger will be indicated. My go-to recipe for truffles (chocolate, cream, butter, and scotch) got nicknamed Naughty Chocolates, but y'all, Dagoba's chili-laced Xocolatl is downright kinky. It's expensive and dark, with a slow burn that builds as the spice prickles through the slightly sweet and undeniably rich chocolate base, and it fades away to a hint of cinnamon and a whisper of citrus. This isn't a treat to snarf down in a search for a ten-minute energy fix; this is something to savor without interruption, phone turned off, lights down low, and a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. (Available as a bar or as hot chocolate, be still my beating heart, and offering some healthy goodness in the form of cacao and capsaicin. You know, if that's what you're into.)
ETA: Some spoilsport must've told the NJTP Starbucks franchise that "éxito aquí" does not mean "exit." Now all the lines are properly labeled "salida." This is a loss.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Thursday, November 22, 2007
moar funny pictures
Weebat points out the NYT article in which high-tone chefs, asked what restaurants they themselves like, cite Joe's Shanghai. Soup dumplings FTW! "I love going there and ordering the pork dumplings. Lots of pork dumplings." Word, Chef Sandoval. Personally I am biased toward the crab/pork dumplings, but it's a minor point.
The cats who live on Los Padres' porch have been driven mad by the scent of turkey. Their afternoon kibble was topped with the uneaten leavings from the bird after the main platter was cleared before dish-washing commenced, and now we are afraid to leave the house lest we be buried under piles of desperately yowling cats. Mental note: Do not let the felines develop tryptophan habits.
The average American eats more than 4,000 calories at Thanksgiving. U! S! A! U! S! A! Aerobic exercise for today: Laughing self conspicuous at this.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Mann's premise, which he supports with data from linguistic, historical, and archaeological analyses, is that the enormous mass of historical material on civilizations in the pre-Columbian Americas is presented poorly or not at all in most schools and the popular press. He tackles several common misconceptions among lay readers, including the ideas that Indian civilizations were relatively small or isolated, that native groups did not manipulate the surrounding ecosystems extensively, and that the European advantage in technology was the deciding factor in most Indian/European encounters. Mann's counterevidence often left me boggling quietly and trying to adjust to new interpretations of old data: He suggests that disease so far outstripped the progress of colonists that it is almost impossible to accurately estimate the original population of the two continents, but that archaeological and extant text data indicate that the population was almost certainly drastically greater than most of us think; that the enormous herds of buffalo and flocks of passenger pigeons observed by early explorers reflected an ecosystem reacting to the removal of human predation on managed species, rather than a natural bounty; that Indian government provided a model for Revolutionary War activists and Enlightenment philosophers; and that the Amazonian basin's nutritional abundance is in part the result of earlier civilizations' creation of flood-plain orchards. All of that is plausible, but how many of us learned anything like that in school? Did any of us doing our elementary-school Pilgrim pageants ever hear that Plymouth was built using material scavenged from the grave mounds of Squanto's decimated village, or that he may have picked up the trick of burying shad with the corn during his time as a captive in England?
The book has a few flaws. As Mann admits, he's probably getting minor details wrong, but in a lay-oriented survey of thousands of years of material, that's a forgivable offense. I got a bit bogged down in the academic in-fighting about teosinte's role as a maize ancestor, and thank God that there isn't a quiz on the Mayan political scene (although I did get the point: war and backstabbing and economic pressures and drought, oh my). It's more of a starting point for research than a primary or even secondary source, but since those aren't its primary goals, you can take the book on its merits.
It's too much to hope that a book this chock with juicy intel would be well written, but it is. Find a copy for your ainsel; I'll be in the corner, gnawing at the footnotes. Mm, historilicious.
Monday, November 19, 2007
The joys of geekly conversation include being able to mention a possible head injury to one friend and end up with the links to a couple of free iUniversity lectures by a fascinating scientist studying the relationship between chronic stress and disease. I've had mixed luck with iUniversity before: It's easy to fantasize that I'll spend the endless Metro delays learning about Russian novels or basic anatomy, but in too many cases the lectures don't live up to my hopes. Boring speakers, poor sound quality, material that's out of my league...for one reason or another, a lot of the lectures fall short. Robert Sapolsky's "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers" and "Stress and Coping: What Baboons Can Teach Us," however, are completely fascinating, like classes with that one professor who made you consider switching majors halfway through college. He's good at boiling down reams of data into clear descriptions of physiological reactions and consequences, then giving advice on how to be one of the "good" responders. Of course, there's a risk that you'll come away with a neurotic desire to check your various hormone levels multiple times each day to make sure that you're not so stressed that you're prone to disease, and that will both increase your baseline stress and probably cut down on your number of friends, further diminishing your coping mechanisms aiee. Caveat lector. Also, the nonendocrinologically educated among us will get the major wiggins about the Peter Pan story he tells, so if it's important to you to keep a sense of childlike sparkling wonder about the book, (a) you're beyond my help and (b) for pity's sake don't learn anything about J. M. Barrie's early life.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
The culinary traditions are taken so seriously that we have had at least three do-overs. One year I was too sick to eat on the regular day, and life happened for a while after that, so come late winter La Mère went out and found a turkey and the rest of it and sat us all down to the meal because we were going to by God give some thanks, and none of us was disposed to say her nay. Two do-overs happened during years when we had traveled and been served subpar meals elsewhere (my godmother's third husband poured rum into the stuffing "to keep the turkey moist while it cooks!" and the bird tasted like it had died twitching at the DTs), and we all felt like the seams on our clothes were in the wrong places, bad feng shui of the holiday alimentary system or something, until we had the right version of the festal board.
And, of course, this is all completely normal. Like so many people, I didn't realize until fairly late that anyone else was so benighted as to mess with the clear recipe for success. Sure, there are the bizarre suggestions about things to do with turkeys from Gourmet and Martha Stewart and their ilk, but nobody took them seriously, right? It is a relief, therefore, to reread Tomato Nation's screed on Thanksgiving and the sacred nature thereof and to remember that it ain't the food, it's the family.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Freerice.com is insanely addictive. If you're a vocab freak and/or kept an unabridged dictionary to hand while reading Shadow and Claw, beware that link.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Long story short, it was almost a perfect routine with a major flaw on the landing. Among other entertainments, I managed to get some yarn for a new project and get that under way, after a couple of false starts; I ate good food at (damn, wait: "come you back, you British soldier, come you back to ah") Mandalay and Hollywood East on the Boulevard; I caught "Blade Runner" on the big screen for the first time in...twelve?...years ("That's Olmos? Son of a gun"); and I did a lovely session on Doc.
Well, I say lovely: We were cantering beautifully, he had gotten the correct lead on his worse side, he wasn't just bowling along without listening, all was copacetic. But suddenly there was a lot of joggly sideways motion. I couldn't figure it out; had he suddenly switched to counter-cantering? A quick glance down, and oh fuck, the cinch is loose, the saddle is shifting, and I'm already 20 degrees off the vertical. Whoa, Doc, whoa, hands on the reins pull back. He is not listening; he is having too much fun running. Thirty degrees off and not slowing down. Things are going very slowly. Kick free of the stirrups. A stupid impulse to reach out toward the fence to make sure I don't smack my head on it. Instead I wrench my shoulder on it as the rest of me passes the point of no return. Aaand that's the ground under my right side. Put my head down in the sand for a minute and sigh. It's over. I'm okay. Doc, who stops as soon as I'm off, glances over in mild confusion, because a sideways saddle and a sudden dismount are not part of the usual routine. I sit up and then stand up, pleased that everything works and disgusted with myself for not adjusting the tack correctly in the first place, and start trying to loosen the cinch the rest of the way. It's tricky, because the saddle is now sticking out from his ribs and the cinch loop is right up on his spine, but I manage it and have all his tack off before Pat and Sassy, who are working in the next ring, even notice. I explain what happened. "We didn't even hear you yell!" says Sassy. I didn't. All that work on Cappi has paid off; I don't swear as much when things go wrong on horseback anymore. "Are you okay?" Yup. I get the blankets on, rearrange the saddle, swing back up. We walk for a while to relax, and then we go back in. I feel fine but plan to pop some anti-inflammatories and pull out a heat pack when I get home, just to deal with the inevitable stiffness.
And then I realize that somewhere in the deep, soft, poorly lit sand of the ring, I have lost my keys.
Update: The muscle soreness materialized as expected. More surprisingly, given that I didn't hit my head or have any abnormal neuro symptoms in the immediate aftermath, so did some nausea and a right bastard of a headache. I hied me to a doctor this morning and was told that things look fine but to take it easy the rest of the week. Can I ride tonight, I ask, thinking about Cappi. "I just told you to rest!" says Serbian doctor lady, exasperated. "No horsing. Just cold packs on the muscles and rest." [ETA: The barn has found my keys, oh sweet miracle, and I will watch tonight's lesson even if I can't ride. Technically that counts as not horsing.]
Friday, November 9, 2007
Excerpt: "Gibson and I dueled among blazing stacks of books for a while. Slowly I gained the upper hand, for, on defense, his Praying Mantis style was no match for my Flying Cloud technique. But I lost him behind a cloud of smoke. Then I had to get out of the place. The streets were crowded with his black-suited minions and I had to turn into a swarm of locusts and fly back to Seattle."
Aw man, now I want to fight his brother.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
I got Cappi again tonight, and even taking him out of his stall I could tell he was going to be a handful. The chilly weather had filled him with energy, not that he's a poky creature at any time. I cinched my helmet a little more tightly, adjusted his martingale, and hoped for the best. We didn't do too badly during most of the class, what with the trotting and bending and even a laudable shoulder-in. He's listening better or I'm riding better or both.
But then Pat had us canter one at a time at the end of the ring, and that's historically been a troublesome thing with Cappi, who tends to get to where he's supposed to turn left away from the other horses and keep working on his own, decide that they're having more fun, and bolt (see also: adventures in unplanned jumping). I was nervous, because while I've always stayed on it's a bit stressful and makes me feel lame for letting him get away from me, but Pat had a plan. She snapped a longe line on the inside corner of his bridle and sent me out.
Boy HOWDY did Cappi find that confusing. We started trotting, and Pat twitched the line to remind him that she was there, and although he was a little confused, the nudging was fine. Then we got to the Magic Trouble Spot, he bent his head and bolted...and you could have drawn a cartoon thought bubble full of exclamation points right over his ears, because suddenly he was having to spin back around at the pressure of the line, all, "Whoa! What the hell was that!" I clung on and tried not to swear. We slowed down, I got my stirrups back onto the balls of my feet (in times of stress, the human reflex is to go fetal, legs contracting and upper body curling inward to protect the squishy bits, which leads to my stirrups turning into anklets), and we began again at the trot. This time when Cappi bolted, Pat's line almost caught under my foot and pitched me sideways. "You're trying to make sure I fall off this horse someday," I accused her. My adventures in horse-spooking are becoming a barn joke; I really hope that correlation isn't causality here, except in the sense that I'm taking on more problematic horses. She chuckled and promised to look out for the line, now that we had a good fix on Cappi's reactions. And it was only five or six times after that that we got a solid circle at the canter, with no running away or other evasions.
My seat is still not very solid in the English saddle. It's mental, because I do fine bareback and in a Western saddle, but Pat agreed that some more longe work, where I don't have to worry so much about steering and can focus on leg position and seat, will go a long way toward improving my riding. It will also, and this is the BIG SEKRIT, help Cappi be a better partner. If he learns that it's more fun to do what he's asked, rather than whatever he wants (which is followed by people hauling on his mouth to make him stop), he'll be a much better school horse. Fingers crossed.
The only chance it's got is as a bit of circulating data. If you didn't think that voting in the last elections was important or you didn't bother to educate yourself about the candidates, it is time to wake up and take some responsibility. Read, listen, take a break if the sheer grimness gets to you, and then get back on the horse. Make the pilgrimage to the majdan knowing that you can make a difference by speaking up.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Thursday, November 1, 2007
When did steampunk come back around? Even for those of us too lazy or self-conscious to join the dressing up, or to whom the idea of trying to make a DIY steampunk computer set-up is terrifying, the eye candy is sah-weet. I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more of this look once "The Golden Compass" comes out. The steampunk vibe is more organic than pure goth and more interesting than strict Victorian reproductions, but it has a smart brooding edge that pings my inner adolescent. Personally, I covet the Steampunk Workshop's trilobite with cog-laden innards but would not say no to a raygun or even a lapidary pick guard.
In the game of who-influenced-what, steampunk comes across as a concatenation of "Serenity" (which was a little less brass-gears-and-goggles and a bit more cowboy chic), "Stardust" and its flying ship, and "Pirates of the Caribbean," with of course heavy Captain Nemo references, maybe a little Deadwood-meets-Mad Max touch, and the corset/fetish vibe familiar from the goth scene. Eating My Words has a better description of the various fashion phyla that have so far arisen from basic Victorian fashion (if "basic" is the word for it; the Vickies believed in the upholstery school of clothing), including a spot-on note about how quickly certain conventions of pose and costume gel even (especially?) in alternative subcultures.
Unfortunately, given how sexycool I find the whole steampunk ethos, The Difference Engine remains on my No Go list. It would be much more fun to buy some boots.
ETA: Steampunk flux capacitor! Un. Glau. Bich. Even better than the version 2 laptop.