Thursday, October 15, 2009

Karma points

If you haven't been over to the Expat's blog lately to see her store's playfully elegant card sets, now is the hour. And should you be interested in burnishing your karma a bit, really bringing out that old dharmic sheen, you can go to Tomato Nation and check out today's entry. Long story short: The Expat and I have a vested interest in kicking cancer in the nards, and getting kids into biology and chemistry is an investment in the longer-term vision of said antineoplastic pummeling. If you donate to one of three Donors Choose projects aimed at giving kids more resources with which to science (shut up, it's totally a verb), you can enter to win one of the card sets.

The benefits of participating are important enough to render in bullet form:
  • Help kids!
  • Get a tax write-off!
  • Feel that altruistic glow!
  • Get thank-you letters from students! (I got one last year that said, I swear, "Thank you for the paper and pencils. Now we can have homework every night." Hee-larious.)
  • Be entered to win swag!
  • Maybe win the swag, which will be delivered by yours truly! (Possible FedEx codicil goes here.)
  • ...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Still not dead

Y'all, I have not been having a good few weeks, so please forgive the paucity of postings. But big hugs to everyone and hey! I am working on fixing the problems! This requires locking Warren Ellis in a keg full of ferrets and a fuse wire; this also offers possibilities for solving the world's energy problems.

To make up for it, a return to Desultory Reviews: The Midwife edition.

I picked up Jennifer Lee's Worth's (nee Lee) book about her experiences as a lay midwife working with a religious order in London's East End after the war on a whim. Turns out, it is not the kind of book that should be taken lightly. It should be used to whack, with great force, the heads and shoulders of people who say that women's history hasn't been hidden, because the book is chockful of social history in an area that's traditionally been considered, let's use the technical term, icky. Because girl parts! And while the book is autobiographical rather than designed to help the reader deliver a baby, the details—how rooms were prepped, what prenatal care involved (boiling urine! Mm!), and how preemies were cared for—are still engaging. Doubly so her description of her fellow midwives. Sister Monica Joan, who proves that half-senile monastics can out-Hybrid the best of BSG, steals the show. Big thumbs up.

There were two complaints worth airing: First, it's not clear that this was intended to be one of a trilogy, so the author's hints about her Forbeeden Luv get a bit wearing, especially when you realize on the final chapter that she's not going to tell you what the story was. And second, the extensive glossary on Cockney pronounciation and slang feels like Worth's hobbyhorse, something an editor should have gently pried out of the book. Less rhyming slang; more Sister Monica Joan!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tishialuk girls are neat and tidy

So, again, apologies some more for the sporadic nature of the updates. Life has been happening, not always smoothly, and I haven't been in the writing space mentally in a while.

When last we met, we were farewelling Doc and wishing him all the best at his new home in Brandywine, where he was going to make a fine lawnmower. When I came to class last week, however, he was still peering out over the door of his stall, inspecting a new arrival with his usual bonhomie. Huh, sez I to the barn staff, quoi le hell? Oh, said they. About that.

There are three sides to every story, yours mine and the truth. Some sort of miscommunication or misunderstanding had occurred, and the owners of the Brandywine Equine Shady Acres or whatever it's called had not understood that (a) Doc is skinny, (b) Doc is in fact quite ill, and (c) it's not so much a retirement situation as a hospice. They just took one look at his increasingly bony frame and pointed out that the neighbors would, with reason, call the ASPCA to report a starving animal. The officers would then probably call for him to be put down, and while that might eventually be the fate of most retired horses, the imminence of Doc's likely end did not appeal.

It's hard to fault the would-be Tooks for the decision, and it's hard to fault the barn for wanting Doc to have time as a pasture creature. They continue to treat him like a king and have accepted that he will stay in the barn until he shows signs of actual discomfort. For the moment, he's eating well, though his body doesn't seem to be nourished by the food. He whickered very loudly when he saw me; I was abashed, since, thinking he would be gone, I was un-pommed, and gave him alfalfa cubes instead. He took them with a look of resignation (and I stocked up on fruit at this weekend's markets).

Manny and I continue to struggle along together, but after our lesson last week he colicked up and tried to roll under his next rider. Another horse had done the same; since both had been vaccinated that morning, one wonders whether their systems might've had one thing too many to deal with. I don't know about Sunny, but Manny cribs like crazy; it might not take much for his GI tract to get hinky.

All is not hooves, however. I finally got over to the local university follow-up program to hear what fun things await the nearly 20-year (this December! party in New Orleans! celebratory Mezze of Destruction for all!) cancer survivor. They'd given me preemptive homework, or maybe it's more fun to think of it as a quest: get a reedonkulous number of tests, including the dreaded mammogram, which on women with small boobs is pretty much pointless torture. But I did it, so I got to spend a few hours at the pediatric cancer center, talking with a social worker, the resident, various nurses, and a sweet medical student who looked about 12 and said that she'd never listened to a peds survivor's story before. And man, mostly the time was spent talking, with brief breaks for a physical exam and basic stats. They wanted a full family history, the cancer story, the pericardial-problems saga, whether I've got PTSD (yes, kind of, but it's not debilitating), and what problems I've encountered with physicians.

In exchange for all my yapping and for a vial of my blood ("I'm bad with sticks and I have a three-strikes rule." "I'm good and I have a one-strike rule"—she wasn't lying, I got a Bugs Bunny bandaid, and although I don't get swoony after needles, they wouldn't let me get up without someone at each elbow), I got the rundown of do's and don'ts. DO keep exercising. DON'T overdo it. DO eat healthy. DON'T do eight shots in half an hour (ah, the joys of a hospital on a college campus), and DO drink only in moderation (fortunately, they cleared continued research for that J Martiniol abstract that IE and I have been preparing, as long as we don't try to rush the speriments). DO go see a pulmonologist; DON'T smoke ever (no fear). DO get flu shots; DON'T get The Hamthrax. And so on.

There wasn't anything terribly surprising in their recommendations or warnings. I know my liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs didn't exactly benefit from the treatment; I know I'm mostly fine. What did come as a bit of a shock was the constant comment that I'm unusual in being this up to date, and that I'm far from the first person who had to work through grief at the realization that cancer never really leaves your life.

Also surprising: how great the peds space was. I was VEXED not to have brought my camera; the firefighter action figure lying on top of the sharps box in the bathroom was a study in composition. Kids are allowed to choose a ceiling tile to paint, so there are flowers and motorcycles and a gold-toothed pirate skull and sailing ships to stare at as you lie on the table. Treatment rooms are decorated as Sesame Street-esque storefronts; I was interviewed in Joe's Barber Shop, which is a black joke and fucking hilarious under the circumstances. A large section of the waiting area is full of child-sized crafts tables, with an arts coordinator in a paint-covered apron helping kids decorate bowls and vases in tempera and glaze. I grumbled about having blood taken and asked jokingly if there were lollipops in the offing; "No," said the nurse calmly, "But there are M&Ms at the desk; take some on your way out." Well before I got to the desk, the social worker poked her head back in: "The catering service drops off bag lunches for patients who've had to be here for a long time. Would you prefer ham and cheese or peanut butter and jelly?"

The biggest difference from what I remembered was the lack of wailing. The social worker, who's been in oncology for more than 20 years, explained that the sedative that did for Michael Jackson is extremely effective—and safe, when used with observation—and is now standard for kids who are getting spinal taps. You used to hear the most blood-curdling heart-breaking howls from children who saw the LP tray; now, they're conked out and don't wake up until everything is over with. As someone who had a hideous experience with her second tap, I say 'BOUT TIME.

Given all this plushy treatment, my plan to spend a day being self-indulgent seemed a bit, er, self-indulgent, but no weakness! I ate my lunch in a park, reading a book about how a catastrophic flooding of the Black Sea may've been the root of the Flood myths in Sumerian and Hebraic culture, then went to Aveda for a spa massage: lotions and scrubbers and more lotion and paraffin and more lotion and Saint Petersburgundy, please. Thence to Le Pain Quotidien for hot chocolate and a croissant, and then off to Firefly for fried things with cheese and a couple of wondrous strange cocktails with a friend, who joined me in eavesdropping on the unsuccessful blind date next to us. "Oh my god, the word Jager should not come up in your first meeting with someone." "Her body language: 'I am not impressed.'" "'But I'll be nice.'" "'But this is a one-time thing.'"

And so to bed.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I aten't ded

It just feels that way. Lieber Gott, this year is packed with worky event.

Many of you have been kind enough to send good wishes to my beloved Doc. Your strength is the strength of ten, and he has done unexpectedly well. He's gained back some weight and isn't spasming much, so after a bit of waffling and many consultations with the vet, the barn has decided he's stable enough to survive the trailering to a farm east of DC, where he will live out his remaining time as a pampered lawnmower. Further credit to the staff: At my lesson last night, no fewer than three employees stopped by to remind me that he would be leaving this weekend. I stopped by his stall, where he was bright-eyed and big with the cupboard-love nickering, and gave him one of the season's first apples. The vet's best guess now is that cold weather will pose a real problem for him, but for now, he's relaxed, comfortable, and probably 90% apples by weight; I could not wish him better.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sins of omission

Somehow in my voracious hoovering up of all things Golden Age SFian (as we all know, Bob, the Golden Age is from 12 to 13), I entirely missed Frederik Pohl's work. Sure, he may've snuck in as a short story here or there, since our basement library, where my mother's meticulously organized science fiction shelf—alphabetical by author for standalone novels, year of publication for anthologies and Amazing Stories back numbers—had its share of bricklike Year's Bests. But he never really stuck out (and my habit of ignoring bylines didn't help), so I glided past him with little more than name recognition.

A few years ago, though, Pohl spoke at the National Book Festival, mostly humoring questions about what Robert Heinlein was like and seeing the tent fill up with Neil Gaiman fans hunting for advance seats. He was thoroughly gentlemanly and, though obviously getting on in years, sharp and gracious, not to mention funny as hell. I promptly started haunting the used bookstores, huffing dustmites and getting gleefully confused by his Heechee books; of course if we encountered alien technology, we would spend the first thirty years trying to figure out which bits of it were valuable and which were junk food wrappers. I didn't want to slap the narrator halfway across the room, he used Ya as an initial for the character's Russian wife (too many people would've used Y), and the people in his stories seemed three-dimensional even after they'd crossed the event horizon in black holes. I've been kicking myself about the missed chances ever since.

And now, come to find out, he's got a blog. God bless the future; it's not everything we hoped for, but in some ways it is much much more.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What's up with that thang?

It's something of a relief to find that we're not the only delegation in Morelia who fretted about the local violence. We've been updating our senior staff daily about the state of affairs, and we've quizzed various hotel employees, merchants, and Marcos, the most patient driver who has ever chauffeured American visitors about the city, only to hear that the problems, while acute, do not generally seem to involve the civvies. It's a give-and-take limited largely to encounters between the forces of law and those of chaos; those not buying/selling/trading/transporting drugs or attempting to interfere with same seem to have been left mostly (though, tragically, not always) alone. But even attendees from within Mexico were worried, and most of them have been quite relieved by the situation now that they're here. Things downtown are so resolutely mellow that it's hard to remember that there are concerns.

Morelia has a beautiful soaring 17th-century cathedral in the middle of town, flanked by twin plazas that serve as the center of social life for the residents. On Saturday nights, the town sets off fireworks before illuminating the cathedral's facade and towers, and there is general festivating. In honor of our conference, the town added another pre-illumination fireworks show, this one on Thursday night. The main drag was closed to road traffic, smoochy couples and young families thronged the street, teenagers in vaguely colonial costume handed out fliers for a living history production, and music about the rockingness of being from Michoacán pulsed over the speakers. At a prearranged moment, the lower windows of the cathedral began to strobe red and yellow, the music soared, and fountains of white fire rose from the front gates, then the central facade, and then the towers; mortar shells in the plazas rose into the sky, whistling sharply and exploding into flecks of gold and green. The display went on for about five minutes, everyone craning to see the showers of color directly overhead, and then it was over and we joined a line to get into the cathedral to hear a concert. Nota bene: The Orquestra Juvenil de Morelia does astonishing things; their "Marche Slav" was amazing and the organist's rendition of the "Toccata and Fugue" was masterful.

We were all very chuffed to have gone. But this morning, one of the hosts relayed a story to us that made us feel as though our preemptive worrying had been very small taters. "I talked to an attendee this morning, and he said, why there was nothing in the news this morning or warnings to the members? Because he was out last night near the plaza before the concert, and the police had closed the road, and then he heard shootings! He says this is a very dangerous place." Somehow the flocks of people heading cheerfully toward the explosions did not suggest that perhaps he was overreacting.

Of course, if you are a defenseless pineapple, mango, or jicama root, this is indeed a violent area. The gaspacheros show no mercy.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Behind pink walls, somewhere there's a blog

ARGH. I forgot to bring my camera cord, which means no uploading of photos until I get back. I'm taking them like a mad thing, though sadly I did not catch the dyslexic bus labeled "Colectivo Moerlia," being at the time too busy trying to both process the semiotics of a Mexican-style chibi Virgin of Guadalupe helium balloon and not spill my gaspacho, a cupful of chopped jicama, mango, and pineapple mixed with lemon and lime juice and layered with salt, chili pepper, and finely shredded queso blanco, a snack so sublimely juicy and generously scooped that it's served in a cup inside a plastic bag.

TRAVEL IS SO MUCH FUN, Y'ALL. And I shouldn't shout, because it's annoying and it makes the altitude headache (which, fine, I am an outlier for having one at a measly 6,000 feet, but oh God knowing that does not help) worse. But they make the Coke here with pure cane sugar instead of our agrosubsidized corn syrup, and I've seen a dude with a mullet dyed electric blue, and the Key limes stuffed with sugared coconut cost about ten cents. Some shouting is warranted. VIVA!

Friday, August 14, 2009

In haste, for I am laggardly and sick of packing

Is there any DNA evidence that The Park Bencher and I might be sekrit Siamese twins? Because I'm starting to wonder. She has yet to post any woebegone moans about missing the chance to see Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson, and Paul Krugman at the same Worldcon party, which one can only assume was epic and healed hundreds of undeserving Canadians, but E-doppelganging.

The postponed-for-swinely-flu trip to Mexico is back on, and I leave tomorrow. Concerns about violence in the state, which is earning itself a name for drug-related shootings, have been somewhat assuaged by the assurances that the bullets are targeted at authority figures who've had the nerve to interfere with local entrepreneurial efforts and have studiously been aimed away from tourists, which, I think you will agree, is among the most conditional reassurances ever. Nonetheless, we have agreed to endeavor to avoid finding ourselves in a position to make any trouble for the area businessfolk, or indeed to involve ourselves in their endeavors or draw their attention in any way. Don't mind us, we'll soon be gone.

Y'all be good.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The things we carried

Turns out it's a good thing that I'm on my new kick of not leaving the house without a bullet-proof layer of SPF Avogadro's Number, because mosquito-repellent toxicity can maybe get me instead.

I spent six weeks during the summer before senior year working at an archaeology field school in Alaska's squashy bush country. Taiga, or huge flat stretches of land where the permafrost level is about 6 inches below the surface, is mosquito-breeding heaven: With almost no hills to speak of, drainage is minimal, and water that doesn't make it to one of the slow-moving rivers ends up pooling in large shallow ponds on top of the frozen zone, broken up somewhat by muskeg, a squodgy mass of vegetation that has been described as feeling like wet mattresses. Mosquitos breed there in astronomical numbers, providing a bountiful food source for the local avifauna and attacking anything warmblooded without mercy. 

Most of Alaska's wildlife is at least somewhat protected by thick bushy fur, so given the choice between trying to find a landing place on a bear's snout and diving for unprotected human flesh, the average Anopheles alaskabastardicus will invite three million of her fellows to join the Homo sapiens buffet. Oh, and due to circumstances beyond our control, we spent a night and most of two days without a netted outhouse. Our bare bums must've seemed like Christmas to the skeeters, and we all swiftly lost our senses of humor about bites in private places. We spent the six weeks in a permanent haze of Deep Woods Off, pure deet smeared on our clothes, and incense-like smoke from mosquito coils, which contain some sort of insect neurotoxin that probably doesn't do much good for humans. From where we sat, slapping incessantly at the bugs, going without some sort of chemical protection would've been the road to madness. Even our two vegans weren't above cheering the deaths of our hungry tormentors.

Obviously deet isn't really good for you, though it was the lesser of two evils. As we packed up, one of the other students grimaced, "I have a new baby niece to meet when we get home. Better hit the sauna for a few days first; if I touch her now, I think she'll shrivel up like plastic in the microwave." We did end up spending quality time in the McGrath firejumpers' sauna, trying to sweat out all the toxins in the haze of menthol-oiled steam (and the story about how that evening involved meeting various locals whilst mutually nekkid was funnier after the fact). Maybe it worked: Sarah's niece survived her first encounter with her aunt.

I'm still going with sunblock. Should the fates call me back to the bush in high summer, too, I'm still bringing the Off.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

It's not a tumah

Hey, guys, know what I'm going to be a lot more careful with in the future? Sunblock. 

As a responsible if reluctant adult, I went in for my annual dermatology check-up so that no Japanese Fighting Moles can steal a march on me. I don't tan for fun, but I rock the pseudo-Victorian pallor that is my birthright without always slopping on some SPF or pulling on a hat, and of course there's the tiny fact that I let some irresponsible types nuke my chest for a few weeks.

ANYWAY.  A few weeks ago, I noticed an oddly textured patch on my left cheek, and when the dermatologist took a look at it she announced that it was either a very odd-looking oil gland or an early basal cell carcinoma. I glared at her: "And by basal cell carcinoma you actually mean an early-stage, surgically treatable tumor with clear margins that'll be no problem at all to resolve, RIGHT?" She blinked. "Right." "Okay then. Biopsy that sucker." "You're not...upset?" "What, over something that'll be easily got rid of? No." And, oddly, that wasn't a lie; give me something uncomplicated with an easy solution, and I'm a happy camper.

The most unpleasant part of the biopsy was the anesthetic, because for some reason our hindbrains react poorly to the sight of a needle anywhere near our faces, and because even with a skilled needlesmith (as the nurse was), lidocaine itself burns like fire. Four slightly abraded minutes later, I was out the door, wishing that beauty spots were still de mode, because on whom, exactly, are those peach-colored bandaids inconspicuous? 

The office called the next week to say the magic b-word, and if the phone slipped out of my hands because I'm bathing in SPF 45 these days, who is to blame me?

Friday, July 31, 2009


UpDoc? Anyway. Everyon's favorite redhead is doing well, still inspiring the envy of his neighbors with a stream of treat-bearing visitors and admirers. If he were in normal condition, he'd be gaining weight from all the extras he's getting; instead he's ribbly and a bit bare of hair around the ears and forehead. The few nips he'd gotten during his first spate of turnout have faded, so either the staff have figured out the herd dynamics or the horses have.

In other four-legged news, Manny appears to have dropped weight. He is cribbing worse than ever—I tried to shut the gate to class and couldn't pull it out of his teeth—and has gotten even more sensitive about his girth area. Suspicion falls on an undiagnosed ulcer. He still hasn't quite managed to bite me, though that's partly because I've been careful to have help around for grooming and tacking up. He behaves somewhat better when someone with a dressage whip stands near by to poke him lightly in the chest at the first sign of toothy tendencies.

This weekend will involve forced sociability, as friends and I are hosting a baby shower for the lovely Ginsays. We've told her where and when, but not what sort of festivities there will be, and she's agreed to be surprised by whatever we do. Since this shindig will involve me cooking, traditionally my weakest point, the biggest surprise may be whether anything I bring is edible. Updates if we all survive!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

An apple a day

...does apparently keep ill health more or less at bay. I've stopped by to see Doc several times in the last few weeks—with the summer camp schedule futzing with dressage, it's been irregular—and indulged his desire to mug me for his favorite addiction. He's still sweet about it; a whicker and the occasional half-step forward, with a look of undisguised eagerness, are as far as his dignity will allow him to venture. I try not to disappoint him, but the finite number of apples that I (a) carry and (b) consider within the bounds of "don't cause him colic" guidelines let him down. Although his appetite seems sound, he's thin and not regaining weight, no doubt due to whatever's gone wrong in his innards. But a merry heart he still hath, except maybe when the deer come too close to his turnout space. He has yet to reconcile himself to their presence; he has never cared more than the idle flick of an ear about dogs or coyotes, and we had great fun doing cutting maneuvers to drive a bold fox out of the ring one autumn night, but deer give him the wiggins.

There's a horse-trading bit of doggerel about white legs:
One white leg, buy him
Two white legs, try him
Three white legs, look well about him
Four white legs, do without him.

Doc, as can be seen, sneaks in under the wire, though at this point most people would probably see his other problems first. Luckily for him, everyone at the barn adores him—he's fast becoming the Mister Chips of the stable, although spotty elder Jackson has seniority and little flash bastard Chia, a pinto pony of malicious intelligence, is a strong favorite among the tweens. My biases in this case are well known, but I'm impressed by how many other adult riders of all skill levels have had fond stories to tell about him. These days, Doc's hope that all bags will contain apples are rarely disappointed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

And scarr'd the moon with splinters

IE complains that I earwormed her with the inevitable "Walking on the Moon" reference. Surely this is the fault of the Police and I am blameless.

Geek time! In honor of the anniversary, the BBC recently presented a haunting photo from the latest pass over Tranquility Base, showing the ant-trail of footprints between the landing module and a set of scientific instruments. So much effort for such a tiny set of dusty waffle-stomper marks.

I got tingles when the rebroadcast reached, "Houston, Tranquility Base here," and damn if it doesn't sound like Armstrong was a little choked up too. It's a long way from home. Glorious, beautiful, frightening, and sad.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Now where's me flyin' Chevy?

NASA is observing the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar mission by streaming the mission's recorded radio transmissions in realtime. Listening to it today, I realized that being up there and hearing that the module was now, say, 25,000 nautical miles from Earth would've made me scream, "Turn this ship around RIGHT. THE HELL. NOW!" in a voice that, vacuum be damned, would've been heard. The engineers and astronauts sound practically bored, which is a testament to their training.

The fortieth anniversary is traditionally celebrated with rubies, which would make a strange match for the cold gray-white of the lunar landing pictures.

The picture he was cleaning showed an armored figure standing in a desolate landscape. It had no weapon but held a staff bearing a strange, stiff banner. The visor of this figure's helmet was entirely of gold, without eyeslits or ventilation; in its polished surface the deathly desert could be seen in reflection, and nothing more. This warrior of a dead world affected me deeply, though I could not say why or even what emotion it was I felt. In some obscure way, I wanted to take down the picture and carry it--not into our necropolis but into one of those mountain forests of which our necropolis was (as I understood even then) an idealized but vitiated image. It should have stood among trees, the edge of its frame resting on young grass.
—Gene Wolfe, Shadow of the Torturer

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ticky Doc

I stopped by the barn this weekend to check on my favorite redhead, and he's doing surprisingly well, which goes to show what I know about horse health. His bloodwork shows that he hasn't had a miraculous remission, but he's cheerful and active, thoroughly investigating bags even after it has been established that they no longer contain apples, that said apples have joined the orchard invisible, that they are in fact ex-apples. (He also, scuttlebutt says, yoinked a Mott's juicebox from an unsuspecting moppet last week and chewed on the cardboard until all the fruity goodness was gone. Bad Doc! Hee hee hee.) The barn staff are in no hurry to see him go, so they're taking a wait-and-see approach: As long as he's comfortable, they're content to keep him as a companion rather than a working mount.

Doc's also getting some T-Touch biofeedback work, which doesn't seem to hurt and may even help. I used to be adamantly anti-alternative medicine, but the years are softening me to the idea that treatments aimed at improving quality of life are not incompatible with those extending life. If Doc doesn't object to massage or having his Reiki fields realigned, and the person doing the work is happy in it, mazel tov.

The barn went through a brief span a few years ago where there was a leetle too much personal drama—some intramural adolescent-type dating, with Divers Alarums and Scenes to go with it—but it is now on a really solid footing, at least from my perspective, with a focus on managing the animals and the business rather than anyone's hurt feelings. At least, that's how it seems to me as a student; there isn't much turnover among the boarders either, though since it's the only barn within the city limits, their options may be more limited.

Here's to Doc's continued good health! Bumpers, gentlefolk, and no heel taps.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Covering the topic

I've been rereading Francis Spufford's excellent, illuminating The Child That Books Built: A Life in Reading. It's one of those rare books that keeps making me want to yell, "Testify! Sing it! Yes, brother, yes, you are so right!"

On learning to read: "By the time I reached The Hobbit's last page, though, writing had softened, and lost the outlines of the printed alphabet, and become a transparent liquid, first viscous and sluggish, like a jelly of meaning, then ever thinner and more mobile, flowing faster and faster, until it reached me at the speed of thinking and I could not entirely distinguish the suggestions it was making from my own thoughts."

On reading horror and having it get under your skin (or not): "You lay down the Stephen King, give a comfortable shrug, and never think about it again unless you want to, you lucky bastard."

On the nature of addiction: "I don't quite read a novel a day, but I certainly read some of a novel every day, and usually some of several. There is always a heap of opened paperbacks facedown near the bed, always something current on the kitchen table to reach for over coffee when I wake up. Colonies of prose have formed in the bathroom and in the dimness of the upstairs landing, so that I don't go without text even in the leftover spaces of the house where I spend least time. When I'm tired and therefor indecisive, last thing at night, it can take half an hour to choose the book I am doing to have with me while I brush my teeth." By this point I'm hooting with laughter, the pleasure of recognition joined to the knowledge that this is a ridiculous way to live.

I need to hunt up Spufford's book on exploring the Antarctic, but niggling suspicion says that it won't elicit the same desire to shriek amen.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sadness grows

Seesterperson and I decamped for parts Jersey Shore early this morning, and what with the constant nomming and occasional breaks to go stare at the waves, I hadn't logged in until late tonight. Things you don't want to read: "You need to check in on Doc - he's not long for this world. Very sorry."


ETA: I went to visit him on this (Tuesday) evening and got a slightly clearer story. Doc has been displaying signs of pain and listlessness, and the vet has finally determined that he's probably got a liver tumor. Shortly after that discussion, Doc's heart rate spiked so much that the barn didn't think he would survive the ride to the reserve barn where the horses go for their regular vacations. He's stabilized now and is eating like a...well, he's eating, and he doesn't appear to be in pain.

I got the okay from barn staff to treat him like fragile royalty, so we walked just across the street to a small field on Glover for some grazing in ordinarily verboten territory. It was a beautiful evening, warm but not hot, and the light everywhere was rich and buttery. I noticed that Doc's right foreleg spasmed a bit unless he had much of his weight on it, but it didn't seem to bother him; he munched away with abandon. What distressed me came about 30 minutes into his grazing: Midchew, he lifted his head about a foot off the ground and opened his mouth as though he was trying to yawn, but his tongue seemed frozen and his entire head shook. It didn't look voluntary. Alarmed, I walked him back to the barn; he wheezed a little and needed a rest break to cover the few hundred feet. Once he was home, he went back to his hay and grain and apples (love you, buddy) as though nothing was wrong, but it's clear that his time is limited.

The barn's concern is keeping him comfortable. As his blood chemistry deteriorates, he is at risk of progressively more serious neurological symptoms, and now they're trying to balance his quality of life against the grief that putting him down will cause. I am glad to have made the time tonight; I don't know much about end-stage diseases in horses, but my guess is that he won't see the end of the week, and he deserves a clean death.

Doc will always be, in my memory, the stoic, calm, unflappable—apart from his suspicions about deer—hard-working creature who taught me to manage a canter bareback, to see an honest heart inside an unbeautiful exterior, and to accept progress when it came and to otherwise savor whatever I got. I hope that he knows, somehow, how many people he's taught and how well he has been loved.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another buzzer to the joy center

Whilst in Chicago, I stayed in a very nice hotel near the lake and was 100% determined to get in a C25K run along Lake Shore Drive. I brung my shoes and workout gears, and I publicized my determination just to make it harder for me to back out.

Unfortunately only from the perspective of my goals, the folks and I managed to fit in drinks at Naha and dinner at Frontera Grill the night before. Now, Naha's specialty cocktails are something to behold and even more to bedrink, and to apologize for receiving my credit card with a hasty, "Thank you, sir," the bartender and his manager distributed a wealth of house-made truffles, and Frontera more than lived up to its billing, to the tune of two appetizer plates, some agua de jamaica, and a shared strawberry agave-shortcake plus hot chocolate. I got back to the hotel feeling calorically overendowed, and thus it was that I made a great mistake the next morning.

I ran without breakfast. Without coffee, even. And it was raining.

So boring story short, it sucked rat. I was puny. My legs felt even more like cement than usual, and I felt as though my engine was running on fumes. I kept moving for about 40 minutes, but very little of it was even at a jog. Fail. FAIL. I sogged back toward the hotel and resigned myself to sorrow.

As I squelched toward the lobby, the doorman at the hotel ("Tony," said his badge, though I'd usually call someone of his age Mister LastName rather than by his first name) hailed me: "Miss. Miss! Someone left something for you!"

The folks being at another hotel and La Mère a fearsomely early riser, it was possible. I altered course.

"Can I get your name, just to make sure?"

I told him.

"Yup," he said, nodding. "Doorman named Tony said this was for you." And he reached into the valet stand to pull out a bottle of water.

I burst out laughing, taken off guard and charmed out of my shoes. "Bless your heart!" (I get Southern when I'm surprised.) "Do I look that bad?"

"Nope. Look good. But like you need this."

I went upstairs grinning my face off. That's probably not the classic runner's high, but I'll take it.

A warning letter to my Exilim, and then wedding stuff

Dear camera,

We're learning to make peace with one another, you and I. I no longer leave you in a jacket pocket before taking a nap on the beach; you no longer attempt to take pictures of my purse's interior when a stray housekey gets frisky with your on button. I figured out how to white-balance some of my pictures; you've given me some good low-light shots despite my fumbling. I thought we were cool, little camera. But we have to talk: flashing a picture of a full battery two seconds before you give up the powerly ghost does not constitute advance warning. And doing it right before I have the chance to get some unglaubich shots at a pan-Slavic wedding reception? Well, you can see why I felt hurt. But I'm trying to move past it, little buddy. We've had such good times, and if you can just communicate your needs more clearly, I'm sure we'll have some more and that I won't have to take a crab mallet and do anything regrettable to your autofocus.

With conditional affection,

Per Orthodox tradition, the choir lurks on high and discusses everyone's outfits while the guests assemble; once the groom shows up, the director usually insists that they work for a living. I had a cute dress and my most fabulous pink shoes, which I can wear only about once a year, because they hurt like fire and sin.
We suffer for the occasional "daaaaamn, girrrl," even if it's only in our own heads and mirrors.

You want pomp and circumstance at your wedding, I'm telling you, go Orthodox or go home. Rings, crowns, handfasting, candles, you name it. The crowns are for glory and martyrdom and making the couple turn their heads verrry verrry slooowly.

Drinking from a common cup. They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and there are probably few prayers like those of a woman in a white dress drinking red wine from a cup she's not holding herself.

The groom's side at this wedding instituted a whole pageant-sash thing that I haven't seen before, but it helped those of us who didn't know who was doing what, because it meant each member of the party was labeled by role and national affiliation. "Ah, you're the best man! And Serbian! So you're supposed to know where we get our shots of slivovitz after the ceremony!"

"Oh, the slivo's being poured by the inhospitable dingus who won't share it with anyone he doesn't know? You'll be hearing about this again."

And then there was accordion music and flinging of coins and great being-radiant on the parts of the bride and groom.

"May you see your children's children, like olive shoots around your table."

Monday, June 22, 2009

No fluff today

I had a silly post lined up for this evening, including some shots from the wedding I was at last weekend, but getting a stream of phone calls from people worried that I was dead in a horrible Red Line wreck means I'm not in the mood. For the record, although that's my regular commuting route, I wasn't on the trains and I have a reliable way home. Be well, you guys; not everyone is okay.

Red Cross DC, should it move you.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"A political statement against the lack of joy on the planet"

Sometimes you can't face the serious stuff full on and you need a hit of straight happiness. This is for you.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What a rough beast

I leave the office for one measly extended weekend of eating marathon meals and drinking mighty wines in Chicago, and everything goes to hell, such that by the time I get home o'nights all I want to do is kerflop into bed. Stories about the weekend of feasty goodness and watching TheVoice marry her feller are on their way.

Manny has now been visited by an acupuncturist-cum-chiropractor, who did many woo-type things and left him with a batch of Chinese herbs. The barn staff find this a tremendous source of amusement, particularly the one labeled "for weakness of the hind end." When it comes to horses, I have set aside my usual cynicism about alternate therapies, because some animals genuinely do seem to benefit from them, and the placebo effect isn't the probable cause. Still, I agree with one staffer, who summarized Manny's current regimen succinctly: "He needs to chill the hell out and gain some weight. Dude, the herb he needs is not Chinese." (Except that it maybe is, who knew?)

We had fun, though, with only me and Small Woman, on Grayson, in the class. Pat set us doing mirrored exercises, circles at each end of the ring and then swapping off, which we managed with elan and even panache. Then she had each of us do a Preliminary-level dressage test that she made up on the fly, reading us the moves as we went. I was startled by how hard it was and how well Manny did, and speaking for myself it was also engaging to focus on a variety of moves in sequence, rather than the usual routine of doing one maneuver repeatedly before switching to another.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

But when the wind is westerly

Manny has been colicking lately, so I took Lear back in hand last night. Turns out that while he helped prepare me for Manny's appalling ground manners, those same nasty habits have made Lear seem practically sweet by comparison. That and, of course, Lear has had more time to learn that trying to bite me is a quick way to hurt himself, muahahaha.

But oh lordy had I forgotten what it was like riding a horse whose brain is 50% Skittles. The gate end of the ring is haunted like whoa horsie whoa, though more on Lear's right side than his left, and the arrival, at the nongate end, of a visitor—who was perfectly behaved, quiet, not prone to wave pompoms or do anything otherwise obnoxious to the equine sense of calm—was further cause for ear-pricking and nervous sidling.

There were only two of us in class, me on Lear and Small Woman on Grayson, so we got a lot of work done, even to the point of trying the half-pass a few times. Lear went on the bit maybe 60% of the time, though it was a struggle to keep him there and not periscoping whenever we approached the gate. I sat through two spooks without much event and counted myself lucky.

And then, 10 minutes before the end of class, one of the barn cats happened to walk past as we were passing the gate, and suddenly Lear lost his marbles, all "JESUS CHRIST IT'S A LION GET IN THE CAR OH SHIT I DON'T FIT IN THE CAR"-style. He went up, sideways, and down all at once (so says my memory); I lost a stirrup and the reins and couldn't even manage to grab his mane. He bolted down the ring and zeroed in on Grayson's ass, which of course is prime "kick me" territory. And Small Woman had stopped him dead, for some reason, oh God we were coming up fast fast fast.

My adrenal glands appear to be connected to my drill-sergeant bossypants synapses. Visions of bloody thrashing catastrophe dancing in my head, I bellowed a voice-of-brass "MOVE!" at the top of my lungs and was distantly amused to notice that while I couldn't get my shit together to control the horse, I was yelling from the diaphragm and not shrieking from the throat.

Through all of this, Pat was calmly chanting, "Sit back, relax, sit back, back, relax, let him have his head, sit, sit deep, reeee-laaaax." In peaceful moments, I can accept that it's probably better to have someone giving you solid advice and not adding to the general panic; at the time, though, it feels a bit condescending, like, would you please validate my freaking out here and reassure me that it's scary?

The whole thing took maybe three seconds, and Lear calmed down, I swallowed my heart and coughed it back into its accustomed place, and we did some steady walking exercises to wrap up. Yes, I took Lear back to the Place of Terrible Horror; he flicked an ear and moseyed by it, and I resisted the temptation to smack him stupid for his new blasé attitude. Scare us both out of a week's life and then act as though it's just so last year? Twerp.

With that, I'm off to Chicago. Y'all be good now!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

There is a palm in Gilead, said Jack

Pete Souza's White House photos are an excellent antidote to bad news. He's been posting some wonderful shots on Flickr, well beyond the usual grip-n-grins and signings.

Official caption: President Barack Obama shakes hands with a French veteran during the 65th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France June 6, 2009. The man was knocked aside by the crush of people after the president's speech, and a White House aide brought him over to meet President Obama.
Unofficial caption: Dammit, I'm-a cry.

Miro, Miro, on the wall...

We do the Harrison Ford "do not even" finger-point all the time in my family. The Obamas: They're just like us! Except with an organic garden and some nuclear codes.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

It comes like windows breaking

Summahtime! I loves me the sun and the energy it brings, if not so much the ambient humidity and strange storms that wake me up in the early morning hours with a noise like bowling balls being dropped into a car compacter.

The sunlight is helping with my effort to keep on track with workouts, too, grumbles about the warmth notwithstanding. I'm grimly determined to run in Chicago this weekend, partly to stay with the C25K program and partly to offset the caloric potential of the festivities, which, since it's a wedding hosted by Serbs, probably include hepatotoxic doses of hooch and staggering amounts of good food (I'm not clear on the reason—the proximity to Greece?—but Serbian cuisine beats the hell out of most other Slavic culinary arts). Anyroo, things keep ticking at Big Sexy Gym, where I'm getting in treadmill time, yoga classes, and weights classes on a semi-regular basis. I'm still taking the all-levels yoga class, and what I learned last night is that when the teacher sets the heat above 80, even my toes sweat. Now that's inner peace.

What with all this healthfulness, and working with another pediatric survivor, it's been percolating in my brain for a while that enrolling in a long-term follow-up clinic is long past due. There are a couple of local options, one at Johns Hopkins and one at Georgetown (fellow survivor goes to Dana-Farber, but if pressed she might admit that having their patient coordinator schedule her appointments around Red Sox games is part of the appeal), but since I can walk to GU, I've decided to start with them and see how it goes.

Today I got a call from the NP in charge of the program, and she talked me through some basic history and what kinds of tests they'll want to do before sitting me down for a strategy session with an MD and a social worker. It sounds like it's time to get comfy in overstarched arse-baring hospital cotton: To start with, I'm supposed to line up tests of my bone density, lung capacity, cardiac function, and blood counts, plus the ever-popular squarshing of the boobs. All of which I should've gotten done earlier, but survivorship is an emerging field, and in my day (creakypants), patients weren't automatically fed into a follow-up system once they'd cleared the five-year remission checks. At least my optometrist has been checking me for cataracts, which are a potential side effect of steroid treatment (...huh), and thanks be to all the heavenly powers that I'm spared a GI series.

As we ran down my current fitness regimen, the NP asked, "Got any lung impairment?" Beats me; my problems with running might be that and might just be that I've never been too consistent about cardio work, because it's harrrd. She gave a cheerful verbal shrug: "Well, I'd bet you've got some damage, but as long as you're not working until you pass out, go ahead and keep exercising. It's really important for your long-term health." Me and my sweaty toes say thankya, sort of. No free passes in this life (except on bench presses, which she told me not to do unless I want to tease the fates, and as I look back over the last 18 years of doing bench work, all I can say is oops).

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Offered without comment

Chi-infused t-shirts. Don't worry: The energy infusion doesn't wash out in the laundry.

Friday, June 5, 2009

I should not use a brother thus

Update from a stormy night: Manny has stopped rooting and is now trying to figure out how to go on the bit. You can tell, because when he's cued he grinds his teeth on the snaffle until it sounds like someone's trying to start a mower in the ring. Our conversation Wednesday night went grangh grangh grangh YOU'RE ON THE BIT YAY HERE'S A BIG RELEASE GOOD BOY grangh grangh. It's as though he spends the days after each lesson thinking about what he was asked to do, then the next time, eureka, what's next. [ETA: D'oh. I need to check into this a little more.]

Unfortunately, his mouthiness continues to be a problem; he bit the ever-living shit out of one of the instructors while she was standing in his stall (she didn't have him on a lead rope, and she wasn't looking at him, two big mistakes with this particular horse and, really, any horse you don't know well). She didn't try to yank her arm away, so instead of a gaping exsanguinating wound she's got a perfect set of teeth marks in her inner forearm. Yikes. The barn is planning to move him away from Sterling, whose stall-proud shenanigans aren't helping Manny's whole "my food mine mine mine MINE biting you now" attitude. In the meantime, they've taken to saddling him before students arrive, always leaving his halter on while he's stalled, and plastering warning labels on his door. For my part, I stay well out of reach until I've poked his haunches away from me with the end of a dressage crop or a longe whip. We also did some of his de-aversion ear-petting therapy during the wait on crossties; 20 seconds of that, and his whole body relaxes, then he sighs deeply, leans his head into your chest, and commences to lick and chew like a Monty Roberts demo vid. Very cute.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Dick (Uncut)
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorEconomic Crisis
Jon Stewart, my other crush boy. No horse connection, just love.

Friday, May 29, 2009

But some of them had got the luck

Summer scheduling hurrah! Not content with allowing us the freedom of casual togs during the warm months, my office has added swing-time hours, so half a Friday every other week is available for personal skidding doorwards at 12:30 (work permitting). Wine with lunch? Don't mind if we do.

I took my first afternoon for purely selfish purposes: some catching up on BSG 4.5 (mutiny! Felix, you eedjit!) via Hulu and thence to the gym for off-hour treadmilling, since the DC humidity is in force and so are the regular afternoon gullywashers. My gym is almost abandoned during the workday, permitting freedom from the whiteboard reservations system and the opportunity, in my case, to go spectacularly purple about the neck and face without having many witnesses.

I had only begun to warm up, however, when one of the training staff paused in front of my machine and waited for me to pull out my earbuds. "Hey," quoth'a cheerily, "I'll be setting up a chair in a few minutes and offering free ten-minute massages. If you're interested, let me know and I'll put you first on the list." TANSTAAFL: "What, free? Like, not free-if-I-buy-stuff, but free?" "Yep. Wanna?" "Um. Even if I'm kind of sweaty?" "Even then."

Well hell y'all. Come the chance to live off ill-gotten gains, I would definitely add a masseuse to my retinue, and it's not like I couldn't run afterward. Justification in order to my own satisfaction, I moseyed over casual-like. It's so unbecoming to rush for freebies, my deahs. Had I known, I'd have sprinted, because dear God. "You should spend some time on the table," said my new BFF, working at the knots in my erector spinae. "Let me do some myofascial work. It's all tension along here." First of all, who has sales resistance when you're massaging their aching bits; second, this is a predictable but effective way to make your case; third, no kidding: riding and a tweaky hip take a toll. "You're riding? Girl, in a saddle, all that shock goes straight into your back; make sure you get some core work in." Turns out that he rode as a kid, mostly hunters, so we neeped about horses as 10 minutes turned into 20. Bliss. BLISS. I'm sold on the idea that this guy could make a real difference in my back and my worldview, and if I can also get a biweekly freebie, well, so much the better.

The C25K proceedeth apace. Over drinks at the Gibson last night, Mizerock (who knows I'm neurotically self-conscious about my level of running fail, and who himself runs for the sheer joy of it) pointed out that a friend of his just did her first 5k at a 17-minute-mile pace. My challenge is simply sustaining running; I can walk a 15-minute mile easily, but running that distance is another kettle of fish. Ah well, my foot is on the path and all that. Behind our efforts, let there be found our efforts.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Martial arse

Manny hasn't bitten anyone lately, but don't tell him that; boy was a sharky beast last night, with the fangs and the gnashing. His niptiousness is manageable on cross-ties, but when we got down to the ring and I went to check his girth, he tried Grayson-hard to make his opinion known. I knew what was going to happen when I started to tighten the cinch, but I misjudged it a little: Instead of seeing my flat hand right near his eye as he whipped his head around, he came around faster than I could get it out and and smacked cheek first into my outgoing fist. Oops. At least there wasn't a gap between action and consequence, which might've made him think we were playing a game. He seemed to get the message, and tightening the second strap was uneventful.

Once I was in the saddle, all my love for him came back. Not only has Manny almost entirely stopped rooting, between last week and this he figured out that I'll give him breaks and that he's allowed to reach down during the stretchy trot, so we bumped along comfortable with his nose in the dirt and his back relaxed for a good five minutes. Manny is the first barn horse I've been genuinely tempted to buy: He's young, he's getting fit, he's smart, his conformation is (I'm told) excellent, and if he can get past his worries on the ground he'll be entirely swoon-worthy. Pat and I are trying to schedule round-pen sessions to teach him that people are the boss of him all the time, every time; if we can get that into his head, he'll turn into one of the most popular horses in the school. Hm. On second thought, maybe we should leave him troublesome.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mysterious creatures

I am celebrating the long weekend by decking my kitchen with spatters of flour and bowls of shoggoths yeast sponges for various attempts at not-so-quick breads. The tasty results conflict with my continued efforts to stay with the Couch to 5K (hah, typed "Couth to 5K," which is like the running except in white gloves) but are good with strawberry-rhubarb jam.

Today, fortified with barbecue, La Mère and I popped over to a NoVa Chinese supermarket, Great Wall, to see about getting supplies for tea eggs. Somehow, the place stocks everything you could possibly want except whole star anise in something other than a one-pound jar ("Son, your great-grandmother bought these spices back in 2009. And unless you squander this patrimony, your great-grandchildren will have enough left for them. It is one of the treasures of our family"). Tea for the tonsils? Chicken extract with ginseng rhizomes? Big crystal chunks that look like rock candy, carefully labeled "alum"? Mysterious cuts of beef marked "meat department"? Yes, yes, and oh yes. Durian, whole, or as ice cream, or in moon cakes. Glistening bins of live snails. Masses of frozen dumplings: cabbage, mixed vegetable, pork, seafood, red bean, or lotus. An entire aisle of sriracha and suchlike heating delights, including bottles of "chily oil," ginger oil, and tiny whole fish in pepper oil. Huge jars of dried scallops, with big warning signs: "Do not sample or eat!" Inscrutable vitamins: "Sheep placenta—with RNA/DNA! From 100% healthy sheep!" The aisle labeled "American foods" started off with white bread and peanut butter, but by halfway down gave up and segued into mochi, bao, yucca extract, and pickled galangal; another aisle, more confusing labeled "Asian foods," mixed Thai, Indian, Chinese, and Vietnamese junk food with abandon. "Hardly worth going to China," murmured my mother. "This is stuff I haven't seen since Beijing."

Not wanting to tip off Il Padre, a reliable overshopper who tends to lose control in good ethnic supermarkets, and disappointed in our hopes for a reasonable amount of spices, we escaped with just my personal indulgence, a couple of red-bean mochi. At $1.29 each, they're a fiendish bargain.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Side effects may include Barry Manilow

Back to the barn after a week off, hurrah. I was one of only two students who showed up, so I smothered a flicker of guilt and picked Manny out of the line-up. He's been nasty this week, and probably due to his starveling history is very defensive about his food, so getting him out of his stall took two alfalfa cubes and a gentle poke with a spare longe whip to get his haunches pointing away from my various vital parts. Almost the literal carrot and stick there.

He made such horrible faces and threatening gestures while he was cross-tied that Pat came to help out, using her powerful horse-fu to get him to stand calmly, eyes half-closed, with his forehead firmly buried in her chest as she stroked his ears and told him what a handsome boy he is. That put the kibosh on his fussing; he bloated a bit for the girth, and he still takes a minute to relax about having his hind feet lifted, but he didn't try for mayhem.

And oh do I love riding him. We took advantage of the two-person class to do a lot of cantering, both in circles and around the entire ring, because both El Bandito and I need to get our legs under us better when things speed up. This morning my lower back is all hinked up from working hard at keeping my seat down in the saddle, doing lengths of sitting trot, and coping with Manny's intermittent attempts to yank his rider into the pommel groin-first; time for further abs work y/y? Y.

Manny is starting to figure out that his violent head-ducks are not acceptable, so when we did the stretchy trot, where you try to get the horse to reach down for the bit and stretch out its topline, he would do it for about two strides and then jerk his head up guiltily. Oh Manny. (See? SEE? Manilow everywhere. Ghastly. My boy's full name is Downtown Man, and as long as I can hum "Downtown Train" while thinking of the Tom Waits original, we're borderline okay. Barry M. is beyond the pale and into the infrablack.) You poor confused beautiful little creature. Stop trying to bite everyone and your life can be so much better.

There was one bit of Lear news that gave me an illicit frisson of glee. The newest student in our class, a German girl who puts me eeeever so slightly on edge with her attitude about the standard of riding in our class and in America overall, tried out the big galoot while I was off tucking into crab salad and caramel/chocolate decadence last week. Oh sweet angel of revenge: Although she's a strong rider, she found him difficult to handle. Ahem. Excuse me. Hee. Not to gank the quote from Elizabeth Bear or anything, but Philo of Alexandria put it well: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is engaged in a great struggle." And that goes double for anyone on Lear.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Inconstant craving

Ordinarily, I can reassure myself that whatever I'm yearning toward, I want because it provides some vital nutrient of which I'm running short. Steak? Iron. Eggs? Vitamin A. Beer? Vitamin Ah. But nutritional science sheds no light on why I woke up on Monday with a profound jones for pancakes. My workday morning ritual being one that runs on split-second timing to accommodate the maximum number of whacks at the snooze button, I couldn't get around to dealing with this pressing breakfast situation until today.

As is so often the case, the web proved a boon ("The internet isn't for porn," Gee-Clef commented the other day: "It's really for whatever obsessive people want. Granted, what they usually want is porn, but that's not what it's for"). Behold the glory that is the cinnamon sour cream pancake recipe over at culinary blog Whipped.

Granted, busting out the mixer just for egg whites seems like needless hassle—so much effort on a Saturday morning, isn't that contra some ley naturam?—but it pays off in pancakes so delicately fluffy that they practically float up to your mouth without the intervention of fork or fingers. I halved the recipe, since this was for my own solitary consumption, and can say with reasonable assurance that had I made the original quantity, I'd have et the lot. These are the perfect match for red currant or lingonberry jam, something that doesn't overwhelm their natural sourness with too much sweetness (I used maple syrup this time, but next time, red fruit all the way). Not a recipe for every day, at least not if your ambition doesn't involve outgrowing successive pairs of pants, but for the occasional random craving, I'll subscribe to the Nanny Ogg school of nutritional medicine: "A bit of what you fancy does you good."

Stupid allergies

President Barack Obama bends over so the son of a White House staff member can pat his head during a family visit to the Oval Office May 8, 2009. The youngster wanted to see if the President's haircut felt like his own. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
First there's the laughing. And then there's the big-time sniffling. (Fortunately, there is also more giggling. Pirates!)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Oh but of course

It's Police Week. This explains why my train ride home yesterday was briefly enlivened by the sight of fully uniformed police-types who bore a striking resemblance to Mounties standing clustered on the Judiciary Square platform. I figured they'd been bused in to help counsel all the downcast Capitals fans streaming homeward, Ovechkin jerseys drenched with tears.

Of a usual Wednesday night, I'd've been at the barn and remained ignorant of the whole Caps/Pens farrago until WTOP woke me this morning with the soothing sounds of half-hourly sports and traffic and weather on the 8s. Instead, I spent the evening doing an amateur anthropological observation at one of DC's formal events,wherein "formal" meant that the dress code was listed as "business," and the resulting sartorial confusion led to a variety of peculiar outfits and a remarkable (for DC) lack of flip-flops. There was wining and dining, there was heavily funded schmoozing, there was the requisite Obama shout-out, there was a very random celebrity guest and whoa-hey-hi also her bosoms, there was a clip of Harry Connick, Jr., playing the physician in charge of the Herceptin trials (me, privately, to fellow survivor and seatmate E: "Did any of your docs look like that?" E: "Um, no." "Mine either. Rip-off!"), and then there was shuffling off to scrum for taxis. My new black heels, though remarkably cute and comfortable for the first few hours, left me with monster blisters that I'm having to baby today.

Speaking of de feet, how much do I love my new running socks? SO MUCH. So much love! They've helped minimize the agony that has been taking my couch-to-5K slacker self out on the hills of 16th Street, far from the madding treadmill. I may be sucking wind and moving at an arthritic shuffle by the end of each session, which Robert Ullrey still tells me is fine, the lying sadist, but thanks to magical seamless-sock technology at least my toes are comfortable.

Monday, May 11, 2009

More legs = less cuteness (no kittens here)

Yours truly is not genius material, as proved by the fact that I cheerily slung my bag of Metro essentials (book, keys, iPod) into the trunk of Iosif's car with the camera still in it before heading down to Hungry for Music's crawfish festival. Not to fret, there is no theft in this story, only the sad song of lost opportunities and the lament that I can only tell you about the fun of crawdad munching, at least until Iosif comes through with his pics [ETA: the harrah, the harrah! no, honestly, what the hell is to be done with my hair?].

Crayfish! Arthropodically delicious! Much less work than crabs and much more tastiness than lobster. Grip the head and tail, wrench the body torsionally, scrape off any offensively ooky innards, suck de head, peel a segment or two off the abdomen, and bite out the pinky-size bit of tasty tail meat. Repeat. Break for beer or corn or bread. Shove away from the table, grab a snow cone, stroll around, and back for more. I got enthusiastically into the crowd-jostling scene around the crayfish trough, where everyone positioned themselves, paper plates at the ready, waiting for the large aproned men who entered yelling, "Hot hot hot, make a lane, make a lane!" and slung steaming potsful of scarlet critters down the length of the table. Frantic scrabbling with plates (pah), shovels (bah), and bare asbestos fingers (yay!) ensued, everyone piling bugs onto their platters and eventually triumphantly breaking free to look for seats and wet wipes.

Two observations. First, it was odd but flattering—and amusing—that the guy at the check-in thought I was eight years younger than I for trulio am, though that's still old enough to get a beer bracelet and therefore no problem atall atall. Second, okay, there is absolutely nothing wrong with piling your crawdad heads in neat rows around your plate. Crawhenge! Tamercraw! Stop taking pictures!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Like kittens through the hourglass...

Serialkarma says she called in kitten emergency today, and first let's give a brief bow to her employer for recognizing this priority. Te salutamos!

Unfortunately, KE is not as whimsically fun as it sounds. If anyone of an engineering mind has suggestions for how to rescue a small kitten that has fallen to the bottom of a six-foot-tall fence post made of PVC pipe, head on over and let her know. So far, suggestions have included some variant on giant chopsticks, flooding the pipe and hoping the kitten floats (if it doesn't, of course, its problems are over), drilling a hole near the bottom of the pipe and trying to scoop the delicious kitten marrow out of this tube without having said tube fall on anyone important, fishing the cat out by getting it to cling to something, and, perhaps most sensibly, leaving a length of matting hanging into the tube so that the kitten can climb out on its own (which SK has done). It's all Perils of Pauline-meets-Acme Products over there in Brooklyn. Animal services is there but stymied.

On the up side, SK has gotten suggestions from as far away as Bangkok. Go help, if it's in your power.

[ETA: Kitty rescued yay!]

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Oh do I have a new sweetie

Lear is back from vacation! He celebrated by promptly tossing a shoe. The perversity that surrounds that horse's every move approaches fractal levels.

After a little meebling over the Learless horse list, I decided to take a new chance, which paid off. I rode Manny, the barn's newish still-too-skinny TB, and now that there's all this stuff about Manny Rodriguez in the news talking about how bad he is, I keep thinking, "No! It turns out that his ground manners are getting better and he's lovely under saddle!" Which is all sorts of entertainingly wrong as soon as the "oooh, riiiight" moment sets in a picosecond later.

Nobody else showed up for class, so Pat (riding the pinto pony) worked with me and Manny until I was sweating profusely and Manny spontaneously shed half his coat. He's got the willingness of a good TB without having any of Lear's squirreliness; we did canters and circles with no objection, and he even bends and yields pretty well, if without Lear's bouncy esprit or strength, which'll maybe come when he's got some more muscle on. His one bad habit, probably born of his lack of fitness, is to lunge down for the bit, pulling me out of the saddle (how have the boys been managing to ride him? he yanks his rider right into the pommel), so today I am a mass of achy pains due to the Venning of that and my own lack of fitness. Bridging the reins helped somewhat, because it limited how far he could pull, as did pushing him forward whenever he rooted, but it was exhausting work. Still, I was surprised and pleased at how much fun he was, and Pat's emphasis on teaching him proper ground manners so that he can stay in the barn has paid off.

Simply because Lear isn't a push-button pony, I'm likely to keep riding him; he needs to work, and there aren't many students in our class who would feel comfortable with him. But I told Pat that I'd happy to work with Manny in the future, toaster-rack ribs or no, my sore bits or no. Here's to a time when we can work together without one of us feeling pummeled the next day.

Friday, May 1, 2009

But the red mare played with the snaffle bars as a lady plays with a glove

"So is that Zeus you're on?"
"Nope, this is Bill."
"It's not Zeus?"
"Er, no. It's Bill."
"But you rode Zeus last week. Isn't that Zeus?"
OH MY WANING PATIENCE. "No, it is not Zeus. It is still Bill."
"Oh. Well, I thought it was Zeus."

As may be surmisable, Teddy Bear Bill, my partner for the week, and Zeus, from last week, are both smallish copper horses, but they are by no means twins, and also I was not in the most patient mood. Bill and I got off to a zippy start: I got on carrying my crop, at which point he started running swiftly along the walls, refusing to stop or even slow down until I dropped it. He stayed quick for most of the hour, and, as usual with school horses who are new to dressage under a beginning rider, any leg pressure translated to fast-go-fast, as did the presence of another horse's butt in front of him or any insecurity in my seat. Riding horses like this has the virtue of showing me how much progress Lear has made in the last year. We did better at the sitting trot, though my erector spinae muscles went plink a few times (aging sucks), and it turns out that Bill's got a fantastic canter, an easy fast rocking gait that's both exhilirating and relaxing. "Too much fun!" yelled Pat. "You are having too much fun!" Guilty, guilty, guilty. Bill's another pony who could do with less grain, but while his small barrel makes him a challenge for the long-legged among us, he's not a chore as a partner.

Pat contributed to the gaiety of nations by riding the entire class on a boarder's paint pony, who careful study shows is short in the legs and chubby in the body. Her flash colors and perfectly trimmed mane and tail (there is no equivalent to the love a thirteen-year-old girl will lavish on a horse of her very own, even if sometimes that means a horse has to wear a pink halter with green Izod gators on it) hide the disproportion pretty well until you see her in motion. Having Pat on horseback meant keeping track of another set of hooves and personalities, but it's always instructive to watch a good rider, even when she's on an undertrained horse.

Lear continues to be de vacaciones, and with luck he'll come back next week without further disorder to his his tendons. Life caught me up and I didn't mention it at the time, but during our last session together two weeks ago, he started stumbling in an odd way: We'd be going along smooth as paint, and suddenly his left hind would fail and it would feel as though his rear end had dropped out from under me. It got worse as class went on, especially at the trot; the idea of it happening at the canter brought me out in a fine sweat. Toward the end of class, after a particularly bad slip, we just went into the center and watched everyone else work. I couldn't find heat or swelling in his legs afterward, which is not to say it wasn't there, and we referred it to the front desk for vet follow-up. According to them, some swelling did show up the next day, but they're not sure what the injury was. Yeesh, horses are fragile things.

Speaking of fragile ponies, though, the Post reports that I Want Revenge's trainer is apparently an unrepentant doper. Count down another year when I skip the Crown.

TALert! TALert!

Be sure to check out this week's "This American Life." It's the episode that was recorded on stage and broadcast live to movie theaters all over the country last week (and you can see it again on May 7, if watching a radio show tickles your fancy...and it should, because there's visual stuff too, and Ira Glass put in a joke for you, just for you!).

IE and I caught the show at Mazza and adored it: funny, sad, strange, funny again. I was glad that the theater was dark, because Dan Savage, of all people, had me in tears. It's easy to lose track of what a good writer he is, what with the deliciously scandalsome topics he usually covers; his essay in "Return to the Scene of the Crime" is an excellent reminder. Sniff. Stupid allergies. Anyway, Mike Brubiglia's great, and Joss Whedon did a song from the "Dr. Horrible" companion show, "Commentary: The Musical!" and while he's no Denyce Graves, he's singing about zombies and meta and the nature of fame, so much is forgiven.

Oh, and it's the First of May, so if your local meteorological conditions and legislation permit, you know what to do.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A short summary

The group hosting this week's planned event in Morelia decided to postpone the meeting until July. So hurrah, I have done all my laundry and somewhat straightened up my place and gotten my packing list in order and yet don't have to actually go through passport control or explain why my Chapstick isn't in a one-quart plastic bag.

On the other hand, aw, just a little bit. This trip sounded fun, before words like gripe porcina and cubrebocas started being bandied about. Let's airdrop in some Tamiflu and get our southern neighbors back on their feet.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Practically Twitterable

Dammit. This may put a real crimp in next week's travel agenda.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Slightly frazzled update

To the bullet-points of lazy hastiness!
  • I rode Zeus last night, Lear having been sent off for vacation. Zeus is new to our class, a strange copper-colored animal who looks like a QH from the chest back and a scrawny Morgan otherwise. He's very forward-striding, which makes him good on trail (I'm told) but once at any kind of speed in the ring he does. Not. STOP. When I asked for the canter I got several laps of hand gallop; eventually I had to spiral him into a circle to get him to come back down. More to the point, oh my God he does not bend to the right. At all. EVER. It was like riding a close-paren, and after a few minutes I felt like I'd been cranking a mower from the effort it took to keep him from collapsing in half to the left. The barn assigned him to the class "because he needs dressage," the way stiff office workers need yoga, and truer words et cetera. But riding him is exhausting work, like teaching spelling to a four-year-old who's breakfasted on Chocolate-Frosted Sugar Bombs. This pony needs less grain and a lot more work. And also not to step on my foot argh argh argh ya bastard move argh.
  • C'est fini the mini-med course. The final presentation was on reconstructive plastic surgery after breast cancer, and the presenter was kind of an asshole. First off, he apologized for the "adult" material, which consisted of before-and-after neck-to-hip naked shots of women who got the surgeries. If you're lecturing on breast cancer, trust me, we know. Boobs. Gotcha. We've all seen 'em. Second, he implied that all surgeons should ask small-breasted women whether they've ever thought about implants, because when you're dealing with a disease that attacks a major part of your appearance, what you really want is someone implying that you weren't so hot even before the cancer diagnosis. Finally, he made some snarky remarks about feminists thinking his work isn't important. Started, comma, do not get me. True, the presentation involved some useful intels, like that you should consult a plastic surgeon before going in for general breast surgery, because that'll get you better cosmetic results, but he ruined what could've been an excellent lecture by being condescending and a little creepy.
  • Wanda reported back on the Arizona round-up: dusty, understaffed, and fun, with an all-girl ground team to pin the calves (up to 300-pounders, aka all hands on deck cow) while Alex handled the branding. Aw. She got to ride a barrels horse who by the sound of it could've done the cattle work without a rider: "Coalie would spin on a dime and roar off after a cow that cut off where she shouldn't be, and he was completely unafraid of their horns and their bawling...all I had to do was keep him from running over Cynthia! When the calves were finally done and let go, he put his nose down to move along the little ones; it was sorta cute, no way to have a nice picture of that." Jealousy gnaweth my entrails.
  • I'm trying to get back into C25K. Last year I'd worked up to half an hour's running at a stretch, then let it lapse entirely, so it's back to square one. I find it hard to be disciplined about running programs, but I'm trying to do this (again) because I still have dreams where I find myself running and it's easy, and I think, "Oh. How silly not to have realized," but then I wake up. So I'm trying to bridge the gap. But...
  • Mexico! High altitude! Long scheduled workdays! Oh well. Rockninja and I fly out Tuesday, while those in command arrive on Wednesday. We're all a-flurry with trying to plan things, and I'm channeling my nerves into wardrobe angst and stress about my rusty Spanish. But there is balm in Gilead: One of our partners is coming up from Argentina and called with an important question: "Apart from dulce de leche and alfajores, what should I be bringing you?" Oh man. MAN. I will be worse than Zeus.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Winning the lottery

Genetics are less of a crapshoot when there's evidence suggesting that you were cloned in your mother's basement lab. Long story short, my first-ever cholesterol check (I know, I know, save your nagging) came up super-bueno, despite my marked carnivorous tendencies and slackerly exercise ways. Apparently this is a trait on La Mère's side of the family, and it's true that the women on that half of the tree tend to live long lives while never giving up their steak habits. Maybe the LDL piggybacks onto scotch molecules that are moving toward the liver.

The mini-med lecture this week was on cardiac health and tipped me off to the online Framingham calculator. If the math is right, my chance of a stroke or heart attack in the next 10 years is below 1%. Celebratory Squeez-Bacon for all!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cultured individuals

As someone who never really found the joy in cooking, I am always pleasantly surprised when my kitchen endeavors turn out as they're supposed to. This culinary trepidation is related in part to the incredible trauma that ensued when a high school friend and I decided to essay making kulich one year. Kulich is an ambitious multi-stage undertaking that probably shouldn't be entrusted to by kids who are easily distracted by, if memory serves, mocking Kevin Costner's accent in "Robin Hood: Prince of Cheese." Then, too, for reasons largely outside our control, namely that the local firebug set alight the woods behind her house just as we started the first kneading, we got sticky yellow dough all over the place as well as the phone when we dialed up the guys in big red trucks. (Imagine the thrill of said friend's mother, who had overcome her doubts about leaving us alone with this ambitious baking project, on returning home to find the firemen deploying hoses toward her back yard, a thin pall of smoke over the block, and her neighbors standing on the street staring toward her home. Thank God for the person who caught her by the shoulders as she barreled toward us, shook her firmly, and said, "Elaine. ELAINE. It wasn't. Your. Kids. And everyone's okay.")

Anyway, once in a great while I find a recipe that calls out to me in its simplicity and promise of tasty result, and if it involves the lazy chef's friend, the slow cooker, well, sign me up. So finding out that you can make yogurt in a crockpot with a minimum of skill sounded just the ticket. The local farmers market has a new vendor, Clear Spring Creamery, that carries whole unhomogenized milk. It was fate.

The tendency of people to talk to one another at farmers markets, in defiance of the modern rule that we politely ignore one another, is a mixed blessing, but this time I'm grateful for it, because the guy next to me mentioned that his family makes yogurt at home and that you can just put the stuff in the oven with a light on, even if you're not using a gas oven. Hm. That offered a lower potential for disaster than the original instruction to wrap the crockpot in towels, so I tried it.

Half a gallon of milk, some Chobani plain yogurt as a starter, into the oven with the lot, and lo, when I crawled out of bed today, ecce marvolo! A giant crock of tangy-smelling...stuff! I drizzled honey onto some of it for breakfast. Wow. No wonder some people enjoy this cooking business.

Friday, April 10, 2009


I don't write much about my job here, because they're watching I'd rather keep my work and personal lives separate to a largish extent. But I do like my employer; we get to wear metaphorical white hats and enjoy literal bennies. One of the highlights of the latter is a full week dedicated to "we love our employees" activities, wherein there are catered meals, classes on gardening, seated massages, drawings for prizes, and other entertainments. It's dot-commular, except that we're intentionally not-for-profit.

This year I'm entering a couple of shots in the staff photography contest. Il Padre's skill with a camera has not transferred; whatever advice he's given about composition and technique has, quark-like, gone straight through my skull without penetrating. But even a blind pig et cetera, and I quite like the two pictures I'm entering.

This is the back field at my grandmother's, after a storm moved through. The thunder-heavy front rolled across the county as we were driving back from a hamburger supper at the local KoC hall, and had I not had my grandmother and great-aunt in the car I'd've pulled over 20 times to get pictures of the light shifting through buttery yellow into unearthly oranges and grey-blues, with a double rainbow arching huge across the sky. By the time we were home and I could run out to get this picture, the second arc had faded, but it doesn't matter here. The spanish moss in the trees by the watering tank makes them look strange and menacing, although to my knowledge they've never gone walking.

Getting good upward shots with a point-and-shoot in Recoleta Cemetery is a bitch. The lanes are narrow and the tombs poke up inconveniently; back up far enough to get something entirely into frame, and another bit of stonework is almost bound to jut into your field. This is some comfort when I look at all the pictures for which that excuse doesn't work. (Fortunately, certain subjects are so jaw-dropping that a photographer's lack of skillz is immaterial. Click the link and ask yourself about the person who chose that monument.) I'd be happier if this angel's wings weren't clipped a little, but otherwise it's not entirely terrible.

The prize for this contest is bragging rights: The winning entries are printed and framed in the office gallery. But everyone's pictures make it into the permanent slideshow, and keen competitors sharpen their lenses for the next year.