Won't you be my neighbor?

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I don't really have time to be blogging today, but I need a break and I'm feeling verbose, so lucky, lucky you...

I wanted to write about my neighbors. There are two possible things going on with me+neighbors. The first is that I just have incredibly bad luck when it comes to neighbors. The second is that the problem is not them, it's me. Hopefully after reading these total unbiased accounts of my neighbors, you'll be able to decide for yourself which is the problem.

Note that I am leaving out dorm neighbors here, because that is a whole other problem.

Case study #1: "Arg Fuck"
My junior year in college, I lived in an apartment with my then-boyfriend, Simon. It was my first long-term experience living off-campus and on my own. Retrospectively, the tiny apartment was kind of a hellhole, but at the time I was quite excited.

Or I was excited until I experienced Arg Fuck. Arg Fuck was my next door neighbor, an emaciated man with long stringy hair. Arg Fuck was, in my best guess, a man with a small methamphetamine problem. Or perhaps a large methamphetamine problem. This became apart to Simon and I when we were awoken the first time by his midnight tantrums. These were the most extreme tantrums I have ever had the displeasure of listening to, at least thrown by an adult. They included what sounded like throwing furniture down the stairs and repeated yelling of "Arg! Fuck!" (hence the name). They included screamed phone conversations with one of many women. Then, one night, they included what sounded like physical assault of a woman. That was the first time we called the police. There were at least half a dozen other times in the space of about six months, and many of those came with added bonus of having him come pound on our door after the cops left and scream that he was going to kill us. Keep in mind that this man had a balcony adjoining ours. It was freaking scary. There was also an incident in which he smeared blood all over the walls of our hallway.

We complained to the police. We complained to the management. Nothing happened. It was awful. So after that I moved back to campus. Dorm neighbors may be loud and obnoxious, but at least they aren't usually frightening.

Case Study #2: Don and Pauline
After I graduated, I moved into this great house with two friends, Natalie and Jenny. The "house" was actually a tri-plex, with a small upper unit, a large lower unit, and a small basement unit. We rented the middle part, the landlord, Don, lived in the basement, and another woman, Pauline lived upstairs.

At first, it seemed like a good situation. Pauline was quiet, Don seemed like a pleasant old man (he was in his mid-80s, I'd say), and the house was great.

Then a few things came to our attention:
1. Our thermostat controlled Don's heat as well as our own--and he insisted it be way the fuck up all the time.
2. Don came into our apartment when we weren't there. All the time. He didn't even try to pretend he didn't. And there was a door that connected his place to ours, which locked only from his side. He often left us rambling notes, giving instruction, with many exclamation points and always signed off, "God bless."
4. Sometimes Don would come in when we were there. He called it an inspection. He was a WWII veteran. These occasions were very odd. He wanted to make sure we weren't repainting or anything, he said. What seemed more likely was that he was checking for alcohol and other contraband. He was not just a little bit Catholic and he had very specific ideas about what was and was not appropriate for three young women living alone to have around.
3. Don liked to make rules. No doing laundry at night (we learned of this rule when he came pounding on our door at 9pm when we were doing laundry, screaming at us about how inconsiderate we were), no washing your hair in the shower because it clogs the drain (yeah, right), etc. These rules were subject to change at any time and without any notice, and we may or may not be notified by screaming note or screaming voice.
4. Don was deaf. Don's living room was directly under ours, and although he otherwise lived pretty much in squalor, he had a giant big screen TV with cable. It was turned up so loud whenever it was on that we could not only tell whether or not he was watching a war movie or the Christian Broadcasting Network (his only two choices, apparently), but we could tell which war movie or what the sin of the day was.
5. After we'd lived there for a few months, Don tried to raise our rent by several hundred dollars a month, saying that he'd been mistaken about how much he charged us in the first place. This was only one of several times he tried this. We were always able to talk him out of it, but it was still weird.
6. I could go on and on about Don, but you probably get the idea.

Above us was Pauline. Have you seen What's Eating Gilbert Grape?. The mom in that movie was Pauline, both physically and temperamentally. She had some sort of condition that caused her to be very very obese. What exactly that condition was wasn't ever clear. At first, she was very nice, she invited us up and wanted to meet us, etc. (she was housebound). Then it became apparent that what she really wanted was three free caretakers. She'd call all the time, asking us to run to the store for her, and later to come up and rub her feet. Her heat was always on and her apartment was always at least 85 degrees. And it smelled bad enough to make you gag, literally. I felt sorry for Pauline, she was sick and lonely, but she was also very demanding. Then, one day, I came home from work and kept hearing this weird sound, like a cat crying. I went up to Pauline's apartment and found her on her kitchen floor, having fallen and not been able to get up. I had to call EMS and they send the fire department as well, to haul her back up. It was humiliating for her and for me. She went downhill after that and moved out and into a nursing facility a month or so before we moved out (which we did as soon as we could get out of our lease), and she died a few days before we left.

Case Study #3: The 1331 crowd
The next place I lived was a double-studio apartment in a very rundown building. The price was right, it was the first place I'd ever had of my own, and I was jazzed. And in general, my neighbors were OK. Except. Except that there was an old man in the building, an alcoholic who used to be the building manager and sometimes thought he still was, who would come knock on your door and solicit money. Except that my next door neighbor had a delinquent grandchild who beat on her door and threatened her in the middle of the night every now and again. Except that the person who lived above me bowled in his apartment every now and again. In general, though, it was a step up.

Case Study #4: Jack and Jill
The next place I lived was the upstairs bit of a really great duplex in a wonderful neighborhood. Well, wonderful except for the methadone clinic two blocks away. Anyway, I lived there with Mark and our friend Erica. Below us lived to student from my alma mater. They had annoying matching names, so I'll call them Jack and Jill. Jack and Jill were nice enough at first--they were in their first place, they were students, whatever. Then we realized a few things about Jack and Jill that were a bit annoying. Jack thought he was a musician and played a guitar and sang, often late at night. Jack was NOT a musician. Jack and Jill liked to have loud-ass friends over. Fine, they were college students, whatever. Normal annoyance. Jack and Jill also liked to have very loud, very melodramatic sex. They sounded like porn. We heard everything.

All of that was minor, though, in comparison to the laundry problem. The laundry problem was as follows: the shared washing machine and dryer in the basement was hooked to their water/electricity. They asked us the first week or so we moved in if we�d mind paying them back for the water/electricity we were using, and we settled on a figure of $25/month. We thought that was kind of odd, but didn�t think a whole lot of it, didn�t want to rock the boat, etc. We found out months later than their rent was $50/month less that ours. This was, at least in part, because they had to pay for our laundry use. When we confronted them with this information, they told us we had to keep paying or we couldn�t use the laundry. It turned into a gigantic battle involving the (extremely worthless) landlord. We eventually won, but they hated us from then on and there were a few nasty encounters.

Case Study #5: The jazz musician
This brings us to our current case. Mark and I love our house. We knew when we moved in that we�d be sharing laundry facilities with a man living in a one-room apartment attached to the back of our house. However, he was a nice-seeming old man in a wheelchair, we didn�t share any non-closet walls, and all we were going to be sharing was the washer and dryer, so we didn�t think it would be a big deal.

We were wrong. So wrong.

First, the annoyance was just his music. See, we were told he was a musician. We assumed, stupidly, that meant he was a real musician. He�s not. He plays what sounds like a little kids Casio keyboard. He likes to play it at 8am. Also, he does laundry nearly every day---at least three times a week, anyway.
However, those seemed minor things and we tried to make friends with him. Before we got a dog, we asked him if he would mind a dog around/in the yard, and he said no problem. This was important, because his back door/small deck faces out into the backyard. Which we didn�t realize was shared space. But it is. But I digress.

Once we got the dog, Chance was understandably scared and confused when he went into the yard and suddenly someone popped up out of nowhere in a terrifying machine (wheelchair). We told the Jazz Musician we�d be happy to work with him in making friends with the dog, etc., so he wouldn�t get barked at and stuff, and he said great.

But all he ever did was yell at the dog. To make matters worse, he spread food out not only on his deck (which is low�at the dogs nose level), but in the yard as well. And then yelled at Chance when he ate the food, as I would assume nature for someone of the canine persuasion to do. The Jazz Musician calls the food �bird feed,� but it consists not only of bread and crackers and stuff, but also of whole fruit, sausages, frozen peas, you name it. He also throws cigarette butts out, which the dog, being a dog, tries to eat. We asked him numerous times to stop this, explaining that it is very difficult for us to keep the dog away from him/his porch when there is free food there. He hemmed and hawed and then said he�d stop if we got him a bird feeder to use instead. We got one. He hasn�t stopped.

Recently, the Jazz Musician asked Mark if he could have a word with him. He will only talk to Mark, not to me. OK, whatever. What he told Mark was that he�d like me to stop
�invading his privacy� by �looking in his house� when I was in the yard with the dog.

Yeah. Right. Like I want anything to do with his scrawny ass. If I look at his house, it�s because I�m trying to make sure he isn�t out on the porch, poised to yell at my dog for no reason. However, he sits in his house with his blinds (sliding glass door) open 24-7, often in his underwear. Even though it looks out on what is supposed to be our yard. So I can see why he�d feel like his privacy was in question.

Things got worse when he got a prosthetic leg (he�s a diabetic who had to have one leg amputated last year, hence the chair). Now that he�s more mobile, he wants to use the yard more. And that means we have to keep the dog out of it, because he is certain the dog is going to attack him (which at this point I�m not sure I�d blame him for) or one of his family members (his grandkids come over sometimes, etc.) He says that he�s going to �teach the dog a lesson.� This is terrifying, because if all 87 pounds of him tries to teach my 110 pound dog any kind of lesson, it�s pretty obvious who will come out on the bad end of it. And if Chance hurts him, then Chance gets put down. So we have to keep Chance away from him.

For awhile we only took Chance in the yard on a lease (what exactly is the point of having a yard then?). Recently things came to a bit of a head and our landlord (who is fabulous and 100% on our side, or at least it seems that way) put a fence down the middle of the yard, separating about 1/3 for him and 2/3 for us. So hopefully that will take care of it.

Some more things about this particular neighbor? He is on 19 different types of medication for his various illnesses, yet he grows a giant pot plant outside on his deck and our yard reeks of ganja all the time, even at like 9am. He also occasionally throws loud fits, yelling and cursing at nobody, although it seems, from what I hear (since I care so deeply about him and his life), that he thinks someone is there. He�s also irritatingly incapable of discerning what is and is not recyclable and how it should be separated, so I always have to take his stuff out of our joint recycling bins and put it where it should be.

Keep in mind that these are just snapshots of my neighbor experiences. All of this really happened, but a ton of stuff I didn�t have the energy to write down happened as well. What do you think�is it them, or is it me?

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Ritual

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There are a number of people around school today with ash smudged foreheads. As always, I'm struck by my jealousy of them. Maybe I don't believe in God (and maybe I do...I wish I'd figure that out), but I think I believe in religion. Or maybe not even religion, but ritual. I believe in ritual. I want to take part in these rituals, to feel their importance viscerally. Perhaps more than any other reason, I wish I could develop faith so that I could legitimately do that.

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Getting smaller

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Yesterday, for the first time, someone noticed that I'd been losing weight. At this point I believe I've lost 12 lbs, which isn't that much. In combination with general body tightening from excercise, though, the difference is significant, my clothes are fitting looser, etc.

Even though the weight loss is intentional and I'm working really hard on it and I was in some ways happy someone noticed, it was a very strange feeling to have someone acknowledge that my body is getting smaller. Even thought I intellectually know that even if I weigh a bit less, I'm getting stronger ever day, I still very weird purposefully making myself smaller. I spent so long as a skinny, skinny kid, I still have it in my head somewhere that I should be gaining weight, not losing it.

At 6'O" and (currently) 175, I'm hardly petite. There is little to no chance of my wasting away. So why am I embarrassed when someone notices I've been losing weight? Why do I feel the need to minimize it, saying, "I've lost a little bit, but it's not a big thing"?

It's a strange connundrum. Realistically, I don't think there is every going to be a "right" size. If I don't lose a lot more weight, I'll continue to feel "too fat." If I do lose a lot more, I'll progress directly from "too fat" to "too thin." There won't be anything in between. Is there for anyone, or is this just another lovely side effect of being a woman in this culture?

If it is, it fucking sucks.

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Agnes

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I have a great aunt...well, let's back up. Technically, she'd be my step-great-aunt. She's my stepfather's aunt. But my mom and my stepdad have been married since I was 4, so it's not a distinction I've ever really made. Anyway, I have a great aunt named Agnes. I wish I knew more about her life, actually, but the pieces I do know amuse and inspire me--she went to college at Stanford and became a nurse, even though she was born in 1912 or something on a farm in rural Oregon. It sounds like she sort of always did just about whatever she wanted. She apparently married a real asshole and that sucked for a long while, but he was dead before I was born, so I don't have any first hand knowledge of that part.

The part I do have firsthand knowledge of is her in old age. And she was a pistol! I remember once, after hearing I'd been sick with an ovarian infection, she wrote me a letter counseling me about safe sex and including the memorable phrase, "I, thank God, have never had VD!" Keep in mind that she was nearly 90 when she wrote this and you can begin to see how funny she was. And she valued education really highly, and having no children of her own, spread her wealth around to help a bunch of us in college. She sent me money every month for quite a while when things were tight, and I couldn't have made it through undergrad as well as I did without her.

She's been in an assisted living place for two or three years now, because she's gotten weak and because she doesn't see well and sometimes gets confused, etc. And this morning, my mom sent me this email:


Agnes had to be moved to a nursing home 2 or 3 days ago. She fell a couple of times- didn't break anything though. She fell in the night and was slightly dehydrated when they found her in the morning, but she's alright that way. She just is too weak and dizzy to stand up on her own. I think she had some small strokes too because the right side of her face droops, she only talks out of the left side of her mouth and it takes for ever to get a sentence out - but it's not garbled. Also when I saw her yesterday she didn't seem to be moving her right hand. I didn't ask if she could though because I didn't want her to obsess about it. Anyway, I'm taking Thurs & Fri off and packing all her stuff up (nothing heavy though) so George and who ever he can find to help can move it to storage this weekend. We need to get her out by the end fo the month which is Sun. or it will cost another $2000. When I visited her yesterday the only thing she seemed to want to talk about was you. She wanted details on what you are doing - in college and what your future plans are. Then, it took her a while to get it out but she said to tell Grace we love her. If you could send her a card - maybe a just thinking of you kind and let her know what you're doing. If you have any photos of you and Mark and the dog maybe you could send her one.

My guilt, she is enormous. I didn't see her when I was home for Christmas. I told myself it was because I didn't have time, or because I had a cold I didn't want to spread to her, but really it was because she's old and she's sick and I don't deal well with that. The place she was in depressed me, and I don't deal well with that. I don't want to remember her the way she is now, so I didn't go visit. And now it looks like I won't get the chance. Subsequent emails from Mom confirmed that she doesn't have much time--and why would she? She's over 90 years old.

It's completely my fault that I didn't see her when I had the chance, and I accept responsibility for that. My question is this: if she is asking/thinking about me, what can I do for her now? Obviously I can send a card/letter and some pictures, but is there anything else?

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Kucinich for President

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I don't know if I have mentioned this before, but my full support is behind Dennis Kucinich for the Democratic presidential nomination. Make no mistakes--I'm not delusioned enough to believe he'll actually get the nomination, but he is the only candidate I support at this time, and I am planning to vote for him in the primary. I'm not a registered Democrat, but they tell me that even us Commies can vote in the primaries out here, so I'll be at my polling place next week.

I support Kucinich for fairly simple reasons: we're in nearly 100% agreement on political positions. See, maybe I have it all wrong, but I thought that was the basis I was supposed to vote on--candidates whose positions I agree with and wish to see forwarded. Am I wrong about that? Because that doesn't seem to be how other people are thinking about things. Mostly, what I see around me are people trying to figure out how to beat Bush. And don't get me wrong, I'm 100% for that. However, I don't know if I'm for that to the extent of actually being able to pull a lever in favor of John Kerry. Besides the facts that I don't like John Kerry and I don't trust John Kerry, there is the little matter of John Kerry and I disagreeing on some essential shit. Does he take a stong stance against capital punishment? No. Does he come out for same-sex marriage rights? No. Does he support single-payer health care? No. So why the hell would I support him? Better than Bush? Sure. But am I supposed to be voting for the less of two evils? Has it really come to that? Is that the best we can do? Is voting a matter of choosing the best option on the ballot, or is it a matter of choosing the option you think might have a chance of beating the worst option?

I've only voted in one presidential election so far, and I voted for a third-party candidate. And no, it wasn't the one all good Dems love to hate. It was whomever the Socialist candidate was, and no, I don't even remember who it was. I didn't like my choices, so I opted out and voted with my chosen party. I don't do that too often--I vote Democrat more often than I don't--but I don't see how much sitting back and accepting the same breed of candidate from the Dems as the Republicans offer is making a damn thing better. Sure, these old rich white guys are a little more "Liberal." They probably won't fuck things up as badly. But do I think they'll institute actual change? Real progress? Frankly, no, I don't. And I don't see how we are going to get to a place of real progress if all the supposed progressives in this country do is play defense. Yes, four more years of Bush would be a fucking nightmare. Yes, I want him out of there. But in the long run, is selling out my principles for another four or eight years of half-assed Democratic rule really going to help anything? Would it be better to let Bush get elected again, let things get four years worth of worse, and then see if people are willing to suggest and fight for real change from real candidates?

Part of the problem, I think, is the entire institution of the presidency. I'm not sure we should keep it at all. Maybe our whole government needs to be reworked into something a bit more representative and a bit less easy to buy or be born into. But where could we possibly start with that? And especially where could we start with it in a time where the best we as progressives can think to do is to try to keep our heads above water?

Don't get me wrong--come Election Day, I'll be rooting for whomever the Democratic least-of-the-evils candidate is. But I don't know if I am going to be able to vote for him.

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Educated Guess

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I've seen two movies (The Triplets of Belleville and Rabbit-Proof Fence) since I last wrote a review, but I'm going to sidebar those for now in order to review Ani DiFranco's new CD, Educated Guess.

To begin with, I have to cop to my history with Ani. I'm one of those uber-fans. I've been listening to her since Out of Range was her new record, which means I'm a fan of (gulp) ten years. I expect a lot from her. She's been the #1 artist on my soundtrack for a long, long time now. And like a lot of her long-term fans, I've been pretty disappointed by some of her recent releases and her shows. I have no idea if the creature Ani sings about is herself, or if the story she weaves is her own, but I've always just assumed it is, and therefore been more than willing to grow with her and accept her expansions (and, in my view contractions) as part of that process. When her politics dimmed in favor of her broken and breaking heart in Dilate, I was right there with her. Even when she insisting on spending numerous albums recording with a band (folk travesty!), I was patient. I didn't fault her for getting married, I like all her phases.

But I think she may have lost me on this one. It's not the music--this album is back to just her, although it's a weird analog recording and some experimental mixing, rather than just her and her guitar. It's the utter lack of hope on the album. Even when she was wallowing in misery on Dilate, I always felt there was humor, hope, love behind the bitterness. And frankly, Educated Guess is just bitter.

I understand that this may just be another one of her turns--the marriage thing didn't work out, either for Ani herself or for the character Ani sings about, she gave herself wholly and now she's disappointed. I can see that. And maybe her hope will be back on later albums--I hope so, and I'll keep trying. But as for this one, I dunno.

The album begins with a short poem, Platforms,as follows:

life knocked me off my platforms
so i pulled out my first pair of boots
bought on the street at astor place
before new york was run by suits
and i suited up for the long walk
back to myself
closer to the ground now
with sorrow
and stealth

The poem sets the tone for the rest of the album, much of which is centered around needing to be alone, reconnect with herself, etc. In the second track, Swim, she sings, "i let you surround me/i let you drown me/out with your din/and then i learned how to swim." Similarly, the 7th track, Bodily, says "you broke me bodily/the heart ain't the half of it/and i'll never learn to laugh at it/in my good natured way/in fact i'm laughing less in general/but i learned a lot at my own funeral/and i knew you'd be the death of me/so i guess that's the price i pay." The trouble is that the way the songs are recorded, the way her voice sounds, the "I'll never learn to laugh at it" seems a lot truer than the "I learned a lot at my own funeral." It's easier to believe Ani is miserable, and harder to believe that she is learning.

Unsurprisingly, the political tracks are the album's strong points. Back to back on the record,Animal and Grand Canyon show the only sparks I can find of the old Ani. In Animal, she bemoans the imperialism, consumerism and "willful ignorance" of Americans, singing, "and there's this brutal imperial power/that my passport says i represent/but it will never represent where my heart lives/only vaguely where it went." Grand Canyon, however, is the real gem, starting out, "i love my country/by which i mean/i am indebted joyfully/to all the people throughout its history/who have fought the government to make right." She goes on to speak specifically about feminism, both acknowledging the work we have left to do and giving a much-deserved nod of respect to those who came before us, which of course warms my heart:

people, we are standing at ground zero
of the feminist revolution
yeah, it was an inside job
stoic and sly
one we're supposed to forget
and downplay and deny
but i think the time is nothing
if not nigh
to let the truth out
coolest f-word ever deserves a fucking shout!
i mean
why can't all decent men and women
call themselves feminists?
out of respect
for those who fought for this
i mean, look around
we have this

The album version of Grand Canyon doesn't warm my heart quite the way the song did when I saw her live last, when she raised her hands and looked around at an audience full of women, saying with wonder, "we have...this." The album track does a good job at bringing back the memory of that particular moment, though, so it's pretty damn good.

Aside from the usual politics and the bitterness and hopelessness I mentioned, the other common thread I see throughout the album is a sense of worldly exasperation with the weaker sex. In Origami, she sings, "i know men are delicate/origami creatures/who need women to unfold them/hold them when they cry/but i am tired of being your savior/and i am tired of telling you why." I was reminded immediately of Ani's much older work (Make Them Apologize, Fixing Her Hair) when I heard that, and it made me happy. It also made me sad, though--she's spent so long trying to make men into what she wants them to be, no wonder she's tired.

The albums final track, Bubble, she hints at another kind of relationship, writing, "i want you to always remember for me/baby, if you can/how much you hated the woman/who made you a man/and remember for me won't you/back further before that/how you loved her like a boy/cried from the joy/when you weren't laughing." If for no other reason, I'll buy her next album to see where that goes.

All in all, this album wasn't any more or any less disappointing than the last few--it has a few bright spots and a lot of darkness. However, I can't write my disappointment in this one off to the music, because all of the musicians are gone. This is raw Ani, all by herself, and I never thought that would be something I'd be disappointed in.

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Tough call

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I got some interesting news today. I was accepted as a member of the 2004 class of Oregon Performance Interns. It sounds like a great opportunity--training, good work, possibility of making a lot of connections, pretty decent pay, etc. The downside, of course, is that it would mean spending the summer in Portland, with Mark and Chancey staying here.

So it's a big decision to make. Not mine alone, of course. Mark doesn't seem to keen on the idea, which doesn't much surprise me. I feel selfish as all hell for even considering it. But on the other hand, if it's a good opportunity and it's only 11 weeks...11 weeks really isn't that long, is it?

As of right now, I don't have other offers, but I am hoping to have a summer offer from the great organization where I currently work. It would be less money, but it would be here...

Ag. I'm probably going to be obsessing about this for awhile. Feedback much appreciated.

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President's Day

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Something unpredecented and unpleasant happened to me this afternoon.

I was walking from the parking lot towards the building where I had class. My school is next door to a presidential library that has a big, if strange exhibition ending today, on President's Day, so there were people all over. It took me like 20 minutes to find a place to park.

Anyway, I was walking along, wearing baggy jeans and a semi-fitted t-shirt with no bra. This is a pretty standard school day uniform for me. Yes, I should probably wear a bra. But I don't like wearing a bra, so if there is any way I can avoid it, I do. Suddenly, someone leaned out the window of a passing car and yelled "boingy boingy boing! Nice tits, bitch!"

What, you ask, is so unprecedented about that? Street harassment is something I complain about all the time, though I have noticed it happens far less here than it did at home.

The individual leaning out the window and yelling at me was unmistakably a woman.

I've been called every derogatory name in the book, had all of my body parts complimented or criticized, been propositioned at least 100 ways, all from passing cars. But I've NEVER been yelled at by a woman before. And it's SO much worse.

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The Banger Sisters

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Banger Sisters movie posterTwo words: don't. bother. OK, so technically a word and a contraction, but you get my drift.

Now don't get me wrong--I didn't expect it to be good. However, Susan Sarandon has surprised me before by turning what I thought would be stupid roles into something worth watching (Stepmom comes to mind). And this film has Geoffrey Rush (Shine, Quills, Frida) in it, so I figured how bad could it be?

Boy was I wrong. Both Sarandon and Rush should be ashamed. The movie is a beginning-to-end formulaic piece of crap. The script is bad. The acting is bad. The premise is stupid. Even the costumes are ridiculous. And the film's warped sense of time is probably the most irritating part. It's set in the early 2000s. Goldie Hawn and Sarandon are supposed to be former best-friend rock groupies who haven't seen each other for 20 years. Early 2000s minus 20 years lands you in the early 1980s. So WHY are they talking about groupy-ing for bands in the late 60s and early 70s? Do the fucking math!

There is really no point in my going on and on about why this film sucked. Consider the premise. Consider Goldie Hawn. I got what I deserved for attempting to watch it in the first place.

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Cold Mountain

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Cold Mountain movie posterI just saw a rare thing: a mediocre book turned into a damn good film. The last time I remember feeling this much better about a movie than a book it was Sofia Coppola's brilliant take on The Virgin Suicides. Obviously, that was a while ago.

I read Cold Mountain probably four or five years ago, and it pretty much left my mind as soon as I put it down. I didn't think it was good or bad--I just didn't think about it at all. Something in the previews made me want to see the film, though, and I am really glad I went with that instinct.

First off, the film is well acted. The major characters (Nicole Kidman as Ada and Jude Law as Inman) are pretty damn good, avoiding the overacting that would be so easy to slip into in their rather melodramatically written parts. The real gems, though, are the supporting cast. Small roles by the truly amazing Philip Seymour Hoffman and Giovanni Ribisi, as well as a surprisingly mature turn by Natalie Portman are fun to watch, but Renee Zellweger is the real star of the show as Ruby Thewes. Partially it is that Ruby is the best written part in both the book and the screenplay, but part of it something Zellweger manages to bring to the role herself. She delivers my favorite line, condeming war for what it is--men's bullshit-- "They call this war a cloud over the land. But they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say 'Shit its raining,'" and she does it fucking perfectly. Just spot-on. She's funny, she's tough, and the juxtaposition of Kidman's spoiled Ada and her self-sufficient Ruby says all I needed to know about the small-town Southern women left behind during the Civil War.

Scenes of the war itself are, as is typically the case, too long and too bloody. We've seen that all before, from Braveheart to Courage Under Fire and in every movie about every war in between. There's blood, there's mud, there's smoke, there's death. If you've seen it once, you've seen it for every war movie, and I for one have no need to see it again. That being said, the cinematography is better than average, and other than a long battle scene at the beginning, the movie doesn't waste too much time on these things.

What it does focus on, and what I found really remarkable about it that I didn't feel in quite the same way from the book, is women struggling to survive while their country is being demolished. Left without resources, without money, and under attack from all sides (the Union Army, Confederate deserters, the Home Guard), we are faced over and over again with women fighting. Not fighting to kill, and not fighting for the almightly Confederacy, but fighting to survive, fighting to keep something for themselves and their children. It's a part of war that they don't like to make movies about, at least not in anything other than the most trite ways.

Another thing I found really admirable about the film was that the romantic relationship between Kidman and Law was not at the end allowed to overshadow the enduring relationship between Kidman and Zelleweger. To me, they were the interested and sustaining part of the film, and at the end they were what remained. You don't see that very often, and I appreciate it.

Finally, I was a big fan of the film's score. The theme song, "You Will Be My Ain True Love" (written by Sting and performed by the amazing Alison Krauss) is good stuff, but what really impressed me was the bluegrass-influenced music that sifted in and out of the scenes. The White Stripes' Jack White plays a Georgia musician in the film, and the songs he sang and arranged went a long way to help the viewer feel connected to what was going on in the South Carolina hills.

All in all, it was a damn good movie and I'd highly recommend it, particularly if you don't want to bother with the book. I definitely think the movie is a better investment of both time and money.

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Network For Good

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Today I learned that you can go here and make online charitable contributions to a whole bunch of charities. Good information to have.

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Loss

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My friend Emilin lost her mom today. I know there is nothing I can say, here or anywhere else, that is going to make that any better. I don't know anything about loss that hasn't already been said elsewhere--I have no advice, no words of wisdom--just my whole heart going out to you and your family today, Em.

If you haven't already done so, go read Emilin's blog. It's one of the most beautiful, terrible, inspiring things I've ever read.

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When the rain turns to ice

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It's Friday the 13th, the rain has turned to ice, and today's play list has a special meaning to me that I'm not going to share. Just the songs. If you can pick out the common thread, good for you.

'Cause I've got a little one who loves me as much as you need me
And, darling, that's loving enough
For a hiking boot mother who's seeing the world
For the first time with her own little girl.

Holly Near, "Started Out Fine"

One night while I was out a ridin'
The grave yard shift, midnight 'til dawn
The moon was bright as a readin' light
For a letter from an old friend back home.

And he asked me
Why do you ride for your money
Tell me why do you rope for short pay
You ain't a'gettin' nowhere
And you're loosin' your share
Boy, you must have gone crazy out there.

Jerry Jeff Walker, "Night Rider's Lament"

Daddy Frank played the guitar and the french harp,
Sister played the ringing tambourine.
Mama couldn't hear our pretty music,
She read our lips and helped the family sing.
That little band was all a part of living,
And our only means of living at the time;
And it wasn't like no normal family combo,
Cause Daddy Frank the guitar man was blind.

Merle Haggard, "Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man)"

I have seen the morning burning golden on the mountain in the sky
Aching with the feeling of the freedom of an eagle when she flies
Turning on the world the way she smiled upon my soul as I lay dying
Healing as the colors in the sunshine and the shadows of her eyes

Waking in the morning to the feeling of her fingers on my skin
Wiping out the traces of the people and the places that I've been
Teaching me that yesterday was something that I never thought of trying
Talking of tomorrow and the money, love and time we had to spend
Loving her was easier than anything I'll ever do again

Kris Kristofferson, "Lovin' Her Was Easier"

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And Mama hollered out the back door y'all remember to wipe your feet
And then she said I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge
Today Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

Bobbie Gentry, "Ode To Billy Joe"

But I'll hang around as long as you will let me
I never minded standing in the rain
You don't have to call me darlin', darlin'
But you never even call me by my name

Steve Goodman and John Prine, "You Never Even Call Me By My Name"

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Love lost songs

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In honor of the impending holiday of doom, today's play list includes some of my favorite lost love songs:

My lover's gone,
His boots no longer by my door,
He left at dawn,
And as I slept I felt him go
Returns no more,
I will not watch the ocean,
My lover's gone,
No earthly ships will ever bring him home again.

Dido, "My Lover's Gone"

It's been seven hours and fifteen days
Since u took your love away
I go out every night and sleep all day
Since u took your love away
Since u been gone I can do whatever I want
I can see whoever I choose
I can eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant
But nothing
I said nothing can take away these blues
`Cause nothing compares
Nothing compares 2 u

Sinead O'Connor, "Nothing Compares 2 U"

And the years have proved
To offer nothing
Since you moved
You're long gone
But I can't move on
And I miss you-
Like the deserts miss the rain

Everything But The Girl, "Missing"

This borrowed dress --
It doesn't do much for me, but it's doing it's best
This stolen purse --
it's got a bad history, but mine is much worse
I've been down on my knees drunk
While you're out doing standup
You're making love to your punchline, baby

When this just ain't my town
I'm just another luxury liner going down
And I guess we're through
Well lucky you

Heather Eatman, "Lucky You"

See the stone set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
I wait for you

Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails she makes me wait
And I wait without you

With or without you
With or without you

U2, "With or Without You"

And I'm here to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away
It's not fair to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me
You, you, you oughta know

Alanis Morrisette, "You Oughta Know"

well we put a thousand miles on that beat up forign car
whenever weather would permit we'd make love under the stars
our happiness completed by being attached and being free
we would each take turns being bobby mcgee
we were headed for salinis, but we hadn't got there yet
some girls you don't remember, some girls you don't forget

Adam Brodsky, "Some Girls"

maybe the moral higher ground
ain't as high as it seems
maybe we are both good people
done some bad things
i just hope it was okay
i know it wasn't perfect
i hope in the end we can laugh
and say it was all worth it

Ani DiFranco, "Hour Follows Hour"

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Where should I live?

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There is a great quiz here that gives you advice on what cities would be a good match for you. My list is long...and strange. Some of them make sense, but fucking Las Vegas is first! Las Vegas?

My list:
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Portland, Oregon
Little Rock, Arkansas
Sacramento, California
San Diego, California
Orange County, California
Henderson, Nevada
Long Beach, California
Honolulu, Hawaii
New Orleans, Louisiana
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Oakland, California
Los Angeles, California
Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana
Corvallis, Oregon
Natchitoches, Louisiana
Salem, Oregon
Riverside, California
San Bernardino, California
Alexandria, Louisiana
Monroe, Louisiana
Eugene, Oregon
Baltimore, Maryland

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Three and pajamas

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A while back, my friend Emilin (scroll down to November 13) introduced me to the "Three and Pajamas Rule." Basically, the rule states that after three problems in a day, you aren't going to be productive (at work or school, say), so you may as well go home and put your pajamas back on, saving everyone lots of time and energy.

Well, by Em's rule, I shouldn't even leave the house today, because I've had three already and it's only 9am. Unfortunately, I don't think my workmates are familiar with the Three and Pajamas Rule, so I'm going to go in anyway.

Here are my three (so far). Please let this be it:
1. I wake up and realize that 1) my lips are so chapped they are split and bleeding; and 2) it's my turn to get up and walk Chance.
2. I get up and get ready to walk Chance, only to have him misbehave right before we're going to leave, in such a way as to require a 20 minute time-out. This is most inconvenient for me, throwing my entire morning schedule off.
3. While Chance is in his time-out, I make myself breakfast of hot cereal and milk. I take it to the office to eat and compute, like I do every morning. Before I can even sit down, I spill steaming hot cereal all over my hand, burning the living shit out of myself, and milk all over my computer table, meaning I have to move everything to take up the sheet that is covering the table and put it in the laundry.

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Oscars

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Note: these aren't the folks I think are *going* to win, these are the folks who would win if I were in charge.

Best Actor: Bill Murray
Best Actress: Samantha Morton

Best Supporting Actor: Djimon Hounsou
Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Clarkson
Animated Feature: Finding Nemo
Art Direction: Girl with a Pearl Earring
Cinematography: Master and Commander
Costume Design: Girl with a Pearl Earring

Direction: Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation
Makeup: Pirates of the Caribbean
Score: Big Fish
Best Picture: Lost in Translation
Original Screenplay: Lost in Translation

Disclaimer #1: If I didn't include a category here, I haven't seen enough of the films in it to have an opinion

Disclaimer #2: Oscar-nominated films I haven't seen include: House of Sand and Fog, Cold Mountain, Mystic River, The Cooler, The Last Samuri, Something's Gotta Give, Monster, Brother Bear, The Triplets of Belleville, Finding Nemo, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Seabiscuit, City of God, A Mighty Wind, and American Splendor, as well as most of the foreign, short film, and documentary nominees.

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Rain songs

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By no means a complete listing, just a few to think about.

It won't rain all the time
The sky won't fall forever
And though the night seems long
your tears won't fall forever

Jane Siberry, "It Can't Rain All The Time"

Woke up to the sound of pouring rain
The wind would whisper and I'd think of you
And all the tears you cried, that called my name
And when you needed me I came through

Skid Row, "I Remember You"

well there is no time there is only this rain
there is no time, that's why I missed my plane

Greg Brown, "Two Little Feet"

There's rain down in the alleys
Rain down in the street
It was raining when we parted
It'll rain next time we meet
And I must, I must be in Oregon.
I know I must be, I must be in Oregon.

Greg Brown, "I Must Be In Oregon"

Buckets of rain
Buckets of tears
Got all them buckets comin' out of my ears.
Buckets of moonbeams in my hand,
I got all the love, honey baby,
You can stand.

Bob Dylan, "Buckets of Rain"

If I wait for cloudy skies
You won't know the rain from the tears in my eyes
You'll never know that I still love you
So though the heartaches remain
I'll do my crying in the rain

A Ha, "Crying in the Rain"

And she laughed
And she cried
She damn near died
On the day it rained forever

Eurythmics, "The Day It Rained Forever"

This old airport's got me down it ain't no earthy good to me
Because I'm stuck here on the ground, cold and drunk as I can be
You can't hop a jet plane like you can a railroad train
So I'd best be on my way in the early morning rain

Bob Dylan, "Early Morning Rain"

I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again.

James Taylor, "Fire and Rain"

I'm walking, I keep on walking down the street
I'm watching, I keep on searching every place I've been
I love her and now I've lost her, and love's in vain.
I watch her funeral in the rain

Chris Isaak, "Funeral In The Rain"

Someone told me long ago There's a calm before the storm,
I know; It's been comin' for some time.
When it's over, so they say, It'll rain a sunny day,
I know; Shinin' down like water.

Credence Clearwater Revival, "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?"

Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion
I want to walk in the open wind
I want to talk like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you

Eurythmics, "Here Comes The Rain Again"

Broken windows and empty hallways
A pale dead moon in the sky streaked with gray
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it's going to rain today

Randy Newman, "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today"

I'm only happy when it rains
I'm only happy when it's complicated
And though I know you can't appreciate it
I'm only happy when it rains
You know I love it when the news is bad
Why it feels so good to feel so sad
I'm only happy when it rains

Garbage, "I'm Only Happy When It Rains"

And as I watch the drops of rain
Weave their weary paths and die
I know that I am like the rain
There but for the grace of you go I.

Simon and Garfunkel, "Kathy's Song"

Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin' for a train,
Feeling nearly faded as my jeans,
Bobby flagged a diesel down, just before it rained,
Took us all the way to New Orleans.

Kris Kristofferson, "Me and Bobby McGee"

I never meant 2 cause u any sorrow
I never meant 2 cause u any pain
I only wanted 2 one time see u laughing
I only wanted 2 see u laughing in the purple rain

Prince, "Purple Rain"

It was the night Rod Stewart played
And we were, were standing in the pouring rain
If I had known it was the last time I would see you again...
I would change everything...

Alanis Morrisette, "Rain"

These train conversations are passing me by
And I don't have nothing to say
You get what you pay for
But I just had no intention of living this way

I need a phone call
I need a plane ride
I need a sunburn
I need a raincoat

And I get no answers
And I don't get no change
It's raining in Baltimore, baby
But everything else is the same

Counting Crows, "Raining in Baltimore"

These are the seasons of emotion and like the winds they rise and fall
This is the wonder of devotion - I see the torch we all must hold.
This is the mystery of the quotient - Upon us all a little rain must fall.

Led Zepplin, "The Rain Song"

It's always one thing or another, seems like we never get ahead
Reaching out for the brass ring, and landing in the dirt instead
We can't get past yesterday, we're only counting down from ten
It seems like every move we make, brings us back where we began
You've gotta Run Between The Raindrops
If you wanna see the sun
Run, Run, Run, Between The Raindrops
Run Between The Raindrops, if you wanna see the sun
Run, Run, Run, - Run Baby Run

Pat Benatar, "Run Between The Raindrops"

I saw a friend who doesn't know
If I'm his friend just yet
His eyes and mouth were widely open
And his jaw was set
Like he'd fell off a cliff
And hadn't hit the bottom yet
I wish he wouldn't pull those things on me
Without a net
Without a net
I had him up to the house one time
And we was having a real good time
Then he went and lain
His Saddle in the rain

John Prine, "Saddle in the Rain"

The sky is crying,
Look at the tears rolling down the streets.
The sky is crying,
Look at the tears rolling down the streets.
I looked out my window,
The rain was falling down in sheets.

Eric Clapton, "The Sky Is Crying"

But baby it's alright
Break this chain of love and madness
It's alright
Take this rain as your new address
It's alright
Take this rain
It's alright
Take this rain
You're going to be free

Jackson Browne, "Take This Rain"

My tea's gone cold, I'm wondering why I
Got out of bed at all
The morning rain clouds up my window,
And I can't see at all
And even if I could it'd all be grey
Put your picture on my wall
It reminds me that it's not so bad
It's not so bad

Dido, "Thank You"

I thought I heard you laughing
I never wanted to make you cry
I only needed a reason
To see a teardrop caught in your eye

'Coz loving you keeps me from the storm
When It Rains in America

Sarah Brightman, "When It Rains in America"

And I don't understand why I sleep all day
And I start to complain that there's no rain

Blind Melon, "No Rain"

And you know the light is fading all too soon
You're just two umbrellas one late afternoon
You don't know the next thing you will say
This is your favorite kind of day
It has no walls, the beauty of the rain
is how it falls, how it falls, how it falls

Dar Williams, "The Beauty of the Rain"

(Many thanks to Rain Songs a la Carte for the help with this list.)

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The devil you know

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The devil I know has returned. It's pouring here. Flooded streets and sidewalks, slow traffic, no visibility, getting soaked just getting in the car pouring. It seems as if it's never going to stop. My back yard is a lake, I had to ford rivers to take Chancey for a walk this morning.

And with the return of the rain, like clockwork, the return of the depression. Getting out of bed may well have been the biggest accomplishment I will have today. I have two classes this afternoon/evening, and I know I won't be there. I can't imagine getting in the car driving to campus, much less sitting in class. I'm struck with that familiar feeling of not being able to participate in my own life. The only thing that seems a reasonable option is getting back into bed, curling up under the covers where it is warm and dry, and staying there until spring.

The up was a lot shorter than I'd hoped it would be this time. I didn't accomplish much of anything that I actually needed to do. Perhaps the carnage was kept to a minimum, but at least I felt alive.

To come: playlist of songs about rain.

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February

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And we'll gather all our arms can carry,
I have lost to February.

Dar Williams, "February"

february stars
floating in the dark
temporary scars
february stars

Foo Fighters, "February Stars"

You said that this is crazy, you're a half a world away
Well I'm sitting and I'm thinking but I didn't know what to say
So I said something I can't touch, I always want way too much
Anyway

Goo Goo Dolls, "Two Days in February"

But February made me shiver
with every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step

Don McLean, "American Pie"

Shall we remember
December instead
Or worry about February
Mourn our war-torn dead
Never seeing red

Pet Shop Boys, "My October Symphony"

Gee, do you see a pattern?

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34th Street Cafe

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By all rights, this should be a movie review for Cold Mountain. Last night, when I was finally feeling up to food and entertainment again, Mark and I decided to go to the Alamo and see the film and have dinner (the Alamo, for those not lucky enough to live in Austin, is a great local chain of theaters that serve you dinner while you are watching the movie). But we got there to a line approximately 900 miles long, so we ditched that plan and decided on dinner out and then a DVD at home.

So I could be reviewing the DVD. It was Igby Goes Down. However, I think everyone but me has already seen it, and I didn't find it all that interesting, so I don't think I'm going to bother. I gave it a hesitant *** (look to your left). One thing I will say, though, is that I think Kieran Culkin is worth keeping an eye on--he gave a damn good performance.

Instead, I think I am going to try my hand at a restaurant review. We went to the 34th Street Cafe for dinner, and I found it to be good food, medium to bad service, lousy ambiance, and lousy decor. I'd go back, but I'd be more careful when ordering (my entree was really overpriced) and I'd expect to wait.

The wine was one of the highlights of the meal. I've been enjoying a nice sweet glass of white wine recently, so I had a German Riesling that was really good. I don't remember what Mark had, but I thought it tasted like paint thinner. Our appetizer was a quail marinated in a maple and soy sauce over pumpkin raviolis. It has some wilted spinach on the side. It was really tasty, especially the quail skin and the ravioli. It took like 45 minutes or more to come, though, which is a bit much.

My entree was really good, but if I had asked how much the special was before I ordered it, I would have had something else. It wasn't worth $25. It was a pan-seared piece of red snapper over a pesto couscous. I wasn't sure what pesto couscous would be like, but it was amazingly good--sort of creamy and studded with really excellent quality cherry tomatoes and yellow bell peppers. Mark had oriechetta pasta with boar sausage and a chipotle cream sauce. He wasn't all that impressed, but I just had his leftovers for dinner tonight and I thought it was pretty good. The spicy chipolte flavor was a really welcome surprise in a cream sauce, and the sausage had a great flavor.

It took a really long time to get a dessert menu, and when I did, I asked the person who stopped by our table (not our original waitperson, a second person) what was meant by "Mexican Vanilla Wedding Cake" on the menu. I wanted to make sure it wasn't vanilla Mexican Wedding Cake, which would be very different. His smart-ass response was, "It's exactly what it says. Wedding cake flavored with Mexican vanilla." So helpful. I ordered it anyway, though, and it was really good, except that it needed some fruit or a fruit sauce to cut the vanilla/sweetness. It came with one strawberry, and for a piece of four-layer cake, that wasn't enough.

I have to stop here, though, and give Mexican vanilla it's due. Before I moved down here, I'd had things that claimed to be Mexican vanilla, but the stuff they give you under that name here is a totally different (and nearly transcendent) experience. It's amazing. There's something slightly herbal about it, something slightly alcoholic...I can't even explain it. Suffice to say that if you haven't tried it, you should.

Anyway, so that was our meal. The ambiance of the place was very strange and industrial, the plastic chairs reminded me way too much of the ones in my high school cafeteria, and our table was in the path of all of the wait staff, so our chairs kept getting bumped and stuff. We did, however, see a woman in a long shiny leather-esque coat just like Trinity, so that was pretty funny.

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A joke from my management textbook

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Rene Descartes walks into a classroom. The instructor asks if he would like to give a lecture. Descartes replies, "I think not," and vanishes.

What does it say about me that I find that amusing?

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Buildings and bridges

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I kind of feel like shit about myself today. However, coming home from class this evening and opening my mailbox made everything a lot better. I got not one, but TWO gifts from friends in other states! How great is that? I don't think there is anything in the whole world quite as wonderful as getting a package with your name on it. It's not even necessarily about the contents of the package (although both of these packages contained quite wonderful self-pampering treats that I will certainly be making good use of), it is more about knowing that someone took time to think about you enough to not only acquire something to send to you, but also to send it. It's better than email, phone calls, anything, because you have some physical proof right there in your hands that someone cares about you. It's fucking wonderful, and it cheered my whole day. So huge thanks to both of my friends--your timing was impeccable.

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Skinny Cow

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So I hate diet food. I really, really do. My trial of the Skinny Cow mint ice cream sandwich was a complete accident--I was in a hurry at the grocery store and didn't realize I was getting low-fat treats.

They are AMAZING. Seriously. They are as good or better than the full-fat variety, with a really reasonable number of calories and fat grams per. I am IN LOVE with them and have to spread the joy.

On the downside, they are spendy as hell ($4.50 for a package of six). But I hear you can sometimes get coupons on their website.

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How to make bath salts

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It's easy-peasy, as Jamie Oliver the cutie-boy says, so go for it:
First mix up your salts. The kind you use really depends on what texture you are going for. I usually use about 1/2 espsom salts, 1/2 sea salt, and a good amount of baking soda. Mix all that together. Add a bit of vegetable glycerin (about a teaspoon for every two cups of salt, I think). You get get vegetable glycerin at a health food store, generally. Then add essential oils and colors of your choice. The color is the hardest part, because liquid color (I use food coloring, because I'm cheap, but you can get special soap colorant at a craft store) doesn't adhere very evenly to salt. The best thing to do, I think, is to mix and mix and mix and mix with your hands to get the color as evenly distributed as possible, and even then larger grains of salt are going to hold more color than smaller ones, so don't be too much of a perfectionist. Scent is really to your liking--I use a little 1/6 dram sample vial of a scent for about 4-6 cups of salts, but it depends on the flavor. You want the smell to be fairly strong when you are mixing it up, because otherwise you have to use too many salts at a time, and the smell seems to fade over time.

For containers, you can use whatever, but my current favorite are old glass containers from the Goodwill, particularly the heavy glass type with latching lids like folks keep coffee and stuff in.

I think I'm going to try sugar body scrub next, so I'll let you know how that goes.

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