Blessing

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Mark's great-aunt died last night. In her sleep. She was 101.

Sometimes, it's not horrible.

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It is possible I am being overrun

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grace with kittens

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Answering Meg's questions

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As is often the case, Meg Fowler has some thought-provoking questions over on her blog. I'm gonna answer them:

1. What made you decide to be with the person you’re with?
There wasn't really a decision...we just are, and we have been for a long time. When we got together, it was because we couldn't stay apart. And it has mellowed into something else, but it's something equally inevitable. We just are.

2. What made you decide to do the work you do?
Well, my decision to do the specific work I do now was based on deciding it was a good idea to get into grants management, specifically in science, for future employability. Not a very exciting reason. I also have a long-term goal of self-employment, so I try to choose jobs with working towards that in mind. But it's also just a crap shoot, depending completely on what opportunities I fall on and what is available when I happen to be looking.

3. What type of discussion brings out the most passion in you?
Hmm...I tend to get pretty riled up about (dog) breed bans. And the death penalty. But as I get older, I am less and less inclined to get passionately involved in political discussions in general. It just seems a huge waste of energy, and I may have had that energy to spare at 21, but I don't anymore.

4. If you could change three things about your life instantly by snapping your fingers, what would you wish for before the big snap?
-I'd erase my debt;
-I'd turn myself into someone who eats whatever she wants and doesn't exercise and never gains weight;
-I'd give myself the ability to sing

5. What two qualities do you possess that you would never, ever change?
-generosity
-willingness to learn/interest in learning

6. When you come across something you want to change in your life, what’s the first step?

Well, I think the very first step is making a plan. But it's more important to take the first step in implementing that plan (which depends totally on what it is you are trying to change). Myself, I am excellent at plan-making, and very bad at putting plans into action (and even worse at continuing with plans...).

7. At what moment in your day are you most at peace?
On days when Mark gets up first, the time in bed between when he gets up and when I get up are pretty great. I stretch out horizontally across his still-warm side and know I have a few precious moments to stay warm and sleepy. Bliss.

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Thrifting while plus-sized: a primer

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Anybody who has been reading this blog for any time at all knows that I am a voracious thrift shopper (in fact, I have a whole blog archive of thrift-related posts). However, something I may have been less-than-forthcoming with here recently is that I haven't, for the last few years, thrifted much in the way of clothing for myself.

Why? Well, there is a simple reason and it's one I'm not proud of: It just got too hard. Not only did finding clothes in my size in thrift stores take forever once I passed size 14, but sifting through rack after rack of clothes too small for me made me feel bad about myself. And though there was no moment at which I decided to stop trying to find clothes for myself at thrift stores, I slowly did stop trying. I still thrift shopped as much as ever, I just bought other things.

All of this would have been fine, of course, except that it didn't translate into me not buying clothes. It translated, instead, into me buying new clothes. For the last couple of years, most of my clothes (and they are significant) have come from Ross, Target, and New York & Company. I've even ventured to Old Navy and the Gap more often than I'd like to admit.

I have kind of a moral problem with that. I've been buying clothes that were made under bad labor conditions of chemically treated fabrics, then sold for less than they would be worth under a real wage system. And I've been doing it, basically, out of laziness and inability to deal with my own body.

It needs to stop.

And now there is another impetus--finances. It's been years since I've thrifted for solely financial reasons--I mostly do it for environmental reasons now, and because I enjoy it. However, yet another thing you know if you've been reading here long is that I am in debt. A not insignificant amount of debt. And I am committed to curbing my spending and paying that debt off in 2008. To do that, I simply can't afford to buy new clothes. In the past, when I've had a hate-on for my wardrobe, I've thought nothing about finding a sale coupon for NY&Co. and going to drop $200 or so there, or doing something similar at Ross. That can't happen now. If I want "new" clothes, they have to be thrifted. Because it's the right thing to do, and because I can't afford anything else.

Betsy Smith, the Resale Queen, who makes her living buying things secondhand and reselling them on Ebay, theorized on one of her podcasts that women who are what she calls "chubby" hang on to their clothes until they are good and worn out, since they are likely to have had trouble finding them to begin with. Because of this, there is a dearth of quality plus-sized women's clothes in thrift stores. Except, she adds, for clothes in "pre-gastric bypass" sizes, or very large sizes. Those you can sometimes find. This has been more or less my experience as well, and was part of why I stopped trying to thrift clothes for myself to begin with. I started feeling like it just wasn't really possible. I found lots of things up to size 12, and a few size 24 or bigger, but not much in between.

Given the memory of this lack of clothing in my size, it was with apprehension that I set out this weekend to try to thrift myself up some new wardrobe pieces. After all, I am actually bigger now than I was when I stopped thrifting for clothes for myself. However, I felt both resigned to doing it and compelled to prove myself wrong and actually find some nice things that fit. So, I laid some ground rules before ever leaving the house:

1. Actually look. Don't just skim the racks; take the time to look through them thoroughly. Rifling through them and pulling out things that look interesting for a few minutes at a time may have worked at a size 10, but it's not going to do the job now.

2. Look only for myself. Do not get distracted by things I could buy for other people (for me, this is really key). No matter how great something is, if it won't fit or work for me, it's not of interest.

3. Giving up and going to buy new stuff isn't an option. If you don't thrift it, you can't have it.

On Saturday, I made my first try. I spent three or more hours at my second-favorite local Goodwill. When this store first opened, I didn't like it at all, but it has grown on me. It's very large, and that helps. When I entered the store, I identified the sections that might have clothes I could use: sweaters, jeans, pants, skirts, dresses, knit shirts. I skipped the sleeveless shirts, capris, shorts, button-down shirts, and jackets, as those are things I don't wear or won't wear this time of year. The rest of the sections I took one by one, methodically making my way through the aisles. My initial goal was just to get as many things I could reasonably try on as possible into my cart.

Let me break here to say a word about what is reasonable to try on. This is, in my opinion, a very delicate balance. You don't want to leave things that might work for you on the rack, but you also don't want to frustrate yourself trying on tens of things that don't fit. For me, what works is to set a size range. In general (and if you know anything about women's sizing you know this is very general) I wear a 14 or an XL on the top and a 16 or an XL on the bottom. When I'm thrifting, I'll try on anything for the top that is 14-18 or XL, as well as big-looking larges. On the bottom, I'll try on 16-20 and XL, as well as the occasional 14 or big looking large. Dresses that aren't cut close I will go down to large or 14. If something just looks like it will fit me, I'll also throw it in the cart, as things can be shrunk or mismarked.

It took me about 3 hours to methodically go through the relevant sections in this large store. Yes, that's a chunk of time. If you don't enjoy thrifting, it's a big chunk. But once you get into it, it can be very meditative, plus you always see occasional funny stuff. After going through each section, my cart was piled high with maybe 30ish things to try on.

Now on to the dressing room. There are rules here as well:

1. Not matter how great a deal something is; if it doesn't fit you, it's not worth it. There is no price small enough to be worth subjecting yourself to having yet another thing in your closet that doesn't it. Same thing if it's just not flattering.

2. Unless you are a person who both can sew and actively does, do not buy things that need adjustments or alterations. You'll just end up with things that don't fit. There are a few exceptions to this, as in pieces that are really high enough quality to take to a tailor, but generally, thrift clothes should be wearable as-is.

3. If you don't like something, it doesn't matter how cheap it is, how great of shape its in, or what brand it is. There is no profit in having clothes you don't like. And you don't have to justify why you don't like it--just not liking it is enough.

4. Even if the first 20 things you try on don't fit you, the 21st might. You can't stop trying things on until you've given everything in the cart a chance.

5. Yes, thrifted clothes can be overpriced. Just because something fits you doesn't make it not stained/worn out/faded. The object here is to buy things you'll actually feel good about wearing, so skip the crap.

Using these rules, it took me about 20 minutes to try on everything I found. At the end of the marathon in the dressing room, I came out with a great pair of Seven7 jeans (size 14--good thing I tried them on!), a heavy green cotton Gap turtleneck sweater, and a black and white print vintage-style dress (size large--once again, I am thankful for the breadth of my size range). Maybe 10% of what I tried on. But all great wardrobe pieces, and at a total cost of about $20.

On Sunday, I made my second attempt, this time at my very favorite Goodwill. I went in with the same rules, but discovered that I could cut my rack-surfing time down some by skipping past things I know I won't want regardless of size, like faded jeans and very light colored pants or skirts (I just don't do light colors on the bottom). It took me only about two hours to get through the relevant racks, and my cart was loaded with at least 30 items when I hit the dressing room.

This try-on session was slightly less productive, if only because nothing I put on the bottom fit worth a damn. However, I came home with five new shirts (two long-sleeved tee shirts, two tunic tops, and a sweater) and a dress, for about $30, so I consider the trip a success.

Over the course of the weekend, I developed a few more tips to would-be plus-sized second-hand shoppers:

1. Do not rely on the plus-sized section. If your store(s) are anything like mine, the selection here will be spotty and weird, and most of the good stuff will be scattered throughout the rest of the store. To make matters worse, my local stores have started to mix plus-sized and maternity clothes together, as if they are the same thing. Drives me bonkers, and I have written to them to complain about it.

2. Expect it to be difficult and time-consuming. There is just no way around it. If you are above a size 12, and especially if you are above a 14, the percentage of the stuff in the store that might fit you is probably as low as 2-3%, and it's going to take a while to seek that out. Give yourself plenty of time. If being in a store that long irritates you, maybe try wearing headphones and listening to music or an audio book while you browse.

3. Be willing to try things on. This is maybe the most important thing. You have to be willing to try a wide range of things on to find the perfect piece or perfect few pieces.

Basically, like all thrifting, thrifting while plus-sized comes down to patience. It just requires a lot more patience than thrifting-while-size-8. For me, because of my current financial constraints, and because of how strongly I feel against mass produced clothing, it's worth it. I am re-dedicating myself to building my wardrobe this way (with a few caveats, like shoes, which really are impossible to find in my size). But that doesn't mean it's going to be in any way easy, and I forsee coming home empty-handed as often as not.

So, one of the things I am going to be doing in my daily clothing reports is noting where I got the things I am wearing. My hope is that the percentage of my wardrobe that was not purchased new will increase, and reporting on it publicly will help keep me honest.

Happy thrifting!

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Kitten weigh-in, 6 weeks

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The babies are six weeks old tonight/early tomorrow morning, so we weighed them in tonight. They're not as compliant as they used to be, so we have to use restraining measures.

Noel is still the biggest, at 1 lb 9.0 oz.

noel 6 wk weigh-in

Feliz is next, weighing 1 lb 6.0 oz.

feliz 6 wk weigh-in

Yuel, who was the least excited about being weighed, is almost as big as Feliz, weighing 1 lb 5.2 oz.

yuel 6 wk weigh-in

And finally, Holly is still the baby (though she clearly has no idea that's the case) at 1 lb 3.2 oz.

holly 6 wk weigh-in

And yes, I am aware that Yuel and Noel somehow switched names at some point. Now that the kittens are big enough to definitely tell apart, their names are set, but early on I did mix them up. So, for edification, the one with the black nose is Yuel, the big one with the fewest markings is Noel.

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Kittens cubed

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So yesterday I thrifted a couple of brand new pop-up cat cubes (like this) for our pride of cats. The adult cats played with theirs for about 15 minutes (mostly hiding in it in order to ambush one another) and then they were done. The kittens, however, LOVE the cube. Love it so much that I made them a bed in there. And y'all, the cute is almost killing me.

kittens in cube 4

kittens in cube 3

kittens in cube 2

kittens in cube 1

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Couldn't help myself

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Noel

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Today's featured kitty is Noel. Noel can be distinguished by having the black and white face with the fewest markings, as well as by being the biggest of the kittens.

noel


Previously a bit shy, Noel is now the only kitten besides the camera-hogging tabby Feliz, who likes to have her picture taken. She enjoys being allowed out of the kitten room, eating as much soft food as she can get (she's partial to venison & green pea grain-free food), and playing the occasional game of "scratch-post king of the mountain" or "let's pop each other from under the door." Noel is among the more serious of the kittens, as shown in contrast to Holly and Feliz.

holly, noel, feliz<

All in all, Noel is a wonderful cat who would make a fine companion to anyone who has enough spare cash to keep her in high-quality kibble. I feel that Noel will likely turn out to be quite large, so if you need a cat for protection, she's your girl. Does Noel sound like the cat for you?

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More ripping off other blogs

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I'm sure you've noticed that one of the things I'm trying to lately is replicate some of the blogs I love. This isn't to rip off their ideas so much as it is to push myself in new directions and see what new blogging styles might work for me. With that being said, I'm taking a page out of The Windowshoppist book and pointing you, gentle reader, towards a few cute things that are on sale at Sierra Trading Post.

frye bootsDo you happen to wear a size 6 or 6.5? If so, these amazing teal Frye boots are only $79.95 (regular price $190).

ecco shoesI love these Ecco Mary Janes. Unfortunately, my shoe size+white shoes is not a good thing. I like this red/white/orange combo the best, but they also come in white/light blue/dark blue, white/metallic silver, and white/green/olive. They're available in Euro sizes 36 through 42, for $56.95 (regular price $95).

simple sneakersThese are the cutest Simple sneakers ever! And, available in sizes 5.5 through 12, and in three flowered color combos, I could even buy them! Bonus: they are $29.95 (regular price $50).

skirtIsn't this a cute skirt? It's by Royal Robbins, and the original price is $44, but the current price is $17.95. It's available in stone and blue as well as pink, sizes 2-14 (not all sizes in all colors, though).

shirtThis shirt isn't on that great a sale, but I think it's adorable, so I had to share. It's made of 100% merino wool and it's by Icebreaker. Retail price is $54.99, Sierra Trading Post price is $34.95. Sizes XS-XL are currently available. Similar shirts are also available in black, watermelon, brown, and light pink.

dressI LOVE this Teri Jon silk chiffon dress. At $299.95, it's not cheap, but that beats the $627 regular retail price. It's also available in a lighter color, sizes 2-12.

dress2This is another fantastic Teri Jon silk dress. It's 100% silk, available in sizes 2-6, and $219.95 (regular price $418).

If you aren't a regular shopper, or at least check-er, of Sierra Trading Post, I suggest you check them out. Like many discount type stores, lots of crap to sift through, but there are definitely treasures there.

So how did I do?

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family silver book coverI just finished The Family Silver: A Memoir of Depression and Inheritance by Sharon O'Brien. It's very, very good.

The book is partially O'Brien's memoir, partially a memoir of the last three generations of her Irish-American family, and partially a book about depression, both in general and O'Brien and her family's specific experiences. This medley of subjects work perfectly. O'Brien ties her own depression not only to her upbringing, but to genetic inheritance, and makes a strong case for these things being intertwined. She moves back and forth between herself, each of her parents, her siblings, and her more distant relatives, as well as moving geographically between Ireland and several towns in Massachusetts and update New York, weaving a seamless tale that is both enlightening and heartbreaking.

Sharon O'Brien is a professor of English, specializing in Willa Cather (about whom she wrote a biography I am now anxious to read). She's suffered from depression and anxiety since childhood, as do her parents and as did their parents. O'Brien, however, has the distinction of being a member of a generation that has begun to recognize depression as an illness that can be (at least in most cases) treated, rather than a personality problem. Because of this, she's able to distance herself from her depression enough to write about it, and to look back at the history of depression in her family as well. O'Brien also has the distinction of not being self-hating due to her depression, or feeling too guilty for having the help she's had when her relatives (including and especially her father) did not. And her book is much better because of it.

In general, I am not crazy about the way people write about depression. Their experience does not correspond with mine enough for me to feel solidarity, and then I feel guilty for thinking they are whining, or for not being as sick as they are. O'Brien, however, tells her story in a way I can relate to, and tempers her personal depression anecdotes with a fascinating family history, which makes the whole thing go down much easier.

I'd highly recommend this book to those who are depressed, have been depressed, have depressed family members, or are just interested in Irish-American family life in early 20th century to mid-century America. Or just those who dig a well-written memoir.

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The joy of new blogs

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A trip to vote for the 8th Annual Weblog Awards yesterday let me to explore a whole world of new blogs. Most of them I'd never heard of before, and a few I had forgotten about. And now I am in new-blog heaven. So I thought I'd share.

Craft blogs are amazing. I am inspired and fascinated and jealous. A couple of good ones are:
angry chicken, where Amy sews, bakes, cuts paper, and has a fantastic sense of design. Her talent leaves me in complete awe.
I already knew, of course, about Apartment Therapy, but I hadn't checked it out in a while. Now I have, and I remember what's so great about it. I am particularly enamored with the art of Damian Aquiles, made of such great stuff as old paint cans and part of cars, featured on the blog yesterday.
I kind of want to move in with Alicia from Posie Get Cozy. Even if I hated her blog, I'd keep it on my reader to check for new pictures of her adorable Corgi. And I don't hate it. It makes me want to learn to crochet. Plus, how cute is her house!?

As is clear by my last few days of posts, I've been trying to cultivate a little sense of style recently. There are definitely some blogs helping with that. They include:
The Budget Fashionista, which provides a blessedly realistic look at how to look good, complete with shopping tips. My only wish is that they'd say more about the beauty of thrifting.
The DC Goodwill Fashion Blog does, however, focus on thrifting.
I've mentioned her already, but I am greatly indebted already to Allie her blogs Wardrobe Oxygen and especially My Wardrobe Today. Her outlook, "every woman is utterly gorgeous, and can feel beautiful and stylish no matter her budget or body," is something I will be trying to learn from every day in the upcoming weeks.
I don't know if I have already talked about this, but I love the style photo section Dooce is doing now. She features things like beautiful tins of lip balm and perfect blue teacups, and it makes me take a moment to notice the great style of objects in my own every day life.

Finally, I am checking out a few new more multi-purpose blogs. The Live Lightly Tour blog if following a family across the country in a veggie oil-powered RV. Recovering Straight Girl is a hi-larious lesbian blogger from my beloved Portland who says she's "leading the doily dyke revolution." Finally, Waiter Rant is a blog that everyone but me apparently already knew about, but I just learned, and I am in lurve. A waiter telling nasty stories about his customers in a fancy restaurant! What could be better?

Y'all, what did we do before blogs?

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Daily dose of kitty

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Can't help it...

This one is Holly with Leo.

leo and holly


And this is me with Noel. You can't tell in the picture, but he was just about to rip off my nipple with his tiny sharp kitten claws.

grace with noel

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Outfit, 01/24/08

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outfit 012408OK. I'm addicted to doing this now. I'm adding a category for it.

What you see here are tan pants by Banana Republic (but I got them at the Goodwill), a long fitted black button-down shirt from New York & Company over a black cotton camisole from Target, my Clarks boots, and a painted shell necklace I got on one of my recent trips home (made by a local Oregon artist). Not my most inventive ensemble, I'll admit. I'm feeling very depressed about my shoe options recently.

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Kitten Update, Day 37

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It's been a while. I thought maybe you all were missing the kittens.

These first two pictures are rare glimpses of all four kittens, holding fairly still, in the same frame. From left to right you see Holly, Feliz, Noel, and Yuel.

4 kittens, day 37

all 4 kittens, day 37

This picture just shows three of the kittens, Feliz, Yuel, and Noel, but it was too cute not to show you.

feliz, yuel, noel, day 37.jpg

This next one is close-up of Noel, who is still the biggest of the lot--fat little thing.

noel day 37

The next two funny pictures are of my baby tabby, Feliz. In the first, he's showing his mean face, in the second, his table manners.

feliz day 37

feliz's table manners

Finally, here's one of Mama. She's looking a lot better these days--weaning is probably a smart move at this point--the little ones are half her size by now.

mom


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Oscars

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So the Oscar nominations were announced the other day. Even more than usual, I've only seen a few of the films. But that doesn't keep me from having an opinion. So here are Oscars according to Grace:

Best Lead Actor:
Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Best Supporting Actor:
Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson's War

Best Lead Actress:
Ellen Page in Juno

Best Supporting Actress:
Cate Blanchett in I'm Not There

Art Direction:
Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Cinematography:
Atonement

Costume Design:
Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Directing:
There Will Be Blood

Best Picture:
There Will Be Blood

Writing (Adapted Screenplay):
No Country for Old Men

Writing (Original Screenplay):
Juno

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Some stuff I like

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I am inspired, today, to share.


  • One my career role models, Betsy Smith, has a new podcast focused on her job--thrifting and reselling. It's called Resale Queen, and the first episode just went up this weekend. Check it out.

  • Shutter Sisters is a new blog featuring the photography of some fantastic female blogger/photographers, including the supremely talented Karen (from Chookooloonks) and designer of my favorite ever necklace Andrea (Superhero Journal). Definitely worth a look.

  • The Wire. God help you if you haven't already been watching it, as this is the fifth and last season, and yeah, it's the best thing I've seen on TV. Watch it.

  • Mir at shopping blog Want Not tears it up on a daily basis with finding good deals. She recently found $6 organic PJs at Garnet Hill and king sized flannel sheets on Amazon for less than $10. I read her every day and you should too.

  • Several years ago, I read Charlie Wilson's War for a class. I very much enjoyed the combo of informative and entertaining (especially since most of what I was reading at the time was just informative). Yesterday, Mark and I saw the movie. It was more entertaining, but still fairly close to the book and definitely worth watching.

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Waitress

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waitress posterAfter having it recommended to me no less than a dozen times, I watched Waitress the other night. I thought it got off to a good, if not great, start. I immediately liked Keri Russell's character, Jenna, and liked her friends and fellow waitresses Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn ( director Adrienne Shelly) as well. Andy Griffith's turn as Old Joe was absolutely fantastic. I didn't at all understand why Jenna stayed with her horrific husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto), since it took him most of the film to actually become abusive and she didn't at first seem to be afraid of him, but I figured that would work itself out. I loved that pregnant Jenna didn't even pretend to be excited--so refreshing! When she first meets Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion) and tells him in no uncertain terms that she'd prefer not to be congratulated about her pregnancy, I almost clapped.

But the way things culminated really ruined Waitress for me. In my head, the perfect ending was that she breaks it off with both Earl and Pomatter, has the baby, gives it up for adoption (maybe to Pomatter and his wife, since he seems to be so gung-ho about it), and goes away to open her own pie shop. She doesn't wait until after she has the baby to "see the light" and get rid of both skanky Earl and sleazy Dr. P. She doesn't break up with Earl and then leave everyone else in the room to deal with him freaking out why she makes googly eyes at the baby. And, most of all, ,she doesn't suddenly change her mind--a mind that has been pretty much made up for nine months--and get all excited about motherhood.

The ending of Waitress wouldn't have bothered me so much had it not been sold to me--both by the people to whom I spoke about it before seeing it and by the first hour and a half of the film itself--as something slightly subversive (don't get me started on how sad it is that the idea that every woman isn't just dying to have a baby is subversive). It's great that Jenna gets it together to get rid of Earl and end her dependence on Dr. P.--it's just lame that she needs baby-lust as inspiration to do it. Doing what she wants to do with her life and being happy for her own sake ought to be reason enough. Because it isn't, Waitress ends up seeming less subversive and more status quo.

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Good stuff

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Jenn over at Breed 'Em and Weep has a great post up today. Among other things, she writes:

It’s why I like it out here in blogland, because people are less neutral than they seem to be in person. There’s a certain audacity (or idiocy, some insist) to Putting Your Stuff Out There. Certainly the blog idiocy theory has been argued in full. But I see value here, value that I’d like to coax into my real life.

This puts a finger on something I've been trying to articulate for a long time, and I appreciate it. Y'all should go over there and read the whole post.

In other good stuff, we had this amazing spread for our first course for dinner last night:

amazing antipasta

What you see here is (from top left): Marcona almonds, sesame flat bread, chianti salami, Braeburn apple slices, Serano ham, lightly dress microgreens, shaved fennel, marinated fresh mozzarella, lavender dusted goat cheese, and assorted olives.

It was so good I forgot to take pictures of the rest of dinner. I am a lucky woman.

Long live the three-day weekend.


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The mental state of me

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Since I have had not one but several emails over the past few days inquiring as to whether or not I am OK (one of which said that the writer had "sensed a disturbance in the Force," which I am just geeky enough to love), I thought maybe I'd better make an announcement.

I'm just fine. The past couple of weeks (since I got back from Norway, really) have been very tough, but not for anything but the most mundane reason: it's high cedar season in here in lovely Austin, Texas and my allergies have been kicking. my. ass. Basically, I am irritable, stupid, and at about 5% breathing capacity. Also, I snore. So I am a total joy to live with. But it's nothing insurmountable, and in fact I think (knock wood) that the worst of it may have past.

As always, I am astounded and humbled that folks notice, just from online presence or lack thereof, that something is up with me. Truly, I am blessed.

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The red plaid wool shirt

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red plaid wool shirtIt is not at all uncommon for our senses, particularly smell, to bring us back to places or times in our memory. Anytime I smell just-rained-on cement, for example, I feel like I'm in Portland. There is a certain industrial rubber flooring+old rainwater smell that puts me in my freshman dorm at Reed. The sting of camphor in my nose gets me feeling like a sick kid again. These things are, I think, pretty typical.

It is harder to be pulled into memory by visual objects. They're less specific, and more universal, I think. Once in a while you see someone whose smile or head tilt reminds you of someone you used to know, but actually objects are less memory invoking.

Except for a few. And of the few, for me, is a certain kind of red and black wool shirt or jacket. Where I grew up, wearing that type of shirt was almost a sign of manhood--certainly a sign of a certain kind and class of manhood. I remember no time when my step dad didn't have one of those shirts. When I waitressed in high school, the morning regulars who came in for coffee and cinnamon rolls before going to cut trees or run machinery or herd cows often sat in a circle of those shirts. During hunting season, those shirts abounded, being both bright enough to serve as safety gear and warm enough to stand between expectant hunters and cold morning air.

Last time I was home, I pulled a very old example of that type of shirt out of the closet in what was formerly my bedroom. The cuffs were very frayed and the elbows were patched with old flannel. Looking at it, I was momentarily puzzled--it was far too small to be my step dad's, and I didn't recognize it as one of his anyway. Looking closer, it occurred to me to whom it had belonged--my mother's father, who died in 1984. If I crawl back as far as I can into the recesses of my early childhood memory, I can just see him wearing it. Of all of the possible mementos to keep of him, my mom chose that shirt.

Twice in the last few days, I have seen this style of shirt where it doesn't belong. This morning I saw one in a window display at Buffalo Exchange, a store I don't go into anymore, because they are too good to even consider reselling my non-hip clothes. A couple of days ago, I saw a guy on the street wearing one, along with chunky glasses, a fedora, and pegged pants. No. No no no. My memories are not your fashion accessories, dammit!

Whenever anything I remember from my childhood gets twisted into hipness, I get annoyed. The modern cult of Johnny Cash drives me nuts. I loathe haut cuisine updates on country food--chicken fried steak is not meant to be made with expensive cuts of meat, and it should come with fried potatoes, not a gratin. Now this, the iconic red and black plaid wool shirt, taken from its roots in a certain class and geography and made just one more piece of ironically hip clothing.

Which, when it comes down to it, is what is happening to the entire culture in which I was raised, at least in the culture in which I now live. There is no real respect for the conventions, the ideals, or even the food and clothing of country people. Instead, there is this grim twisting of everything that was simple into something ironic. There was nothing ironic about the red and black wool plaid shirts the men I grew up around wore--they were there to keep out the cold, not to make a statement. Now I live here, I don't understand the statement, and I'm left increasingly cold.

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Kitten Update, Day 29

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OK, weigh-in time!

Noel is still the biggest of the bunch. Her Day 19 weight was 12.6 oz, today she's at 1 lb 4 oz.

Feliz is next. He was 11.6 oz at Day 19, 15.2 oz today.

Yule is still after Feliz: Day 19 weight was 11.4 oz, today he is 14 oz.

And Holly is still a teeny little thing. She was 9.8oz, today she is 12.4 oz.

In the past few days, they have learned to play. It's hysterical to watch. Less funny for Illy, I think, as she tries to nurse them or just lie down where they can get to her and they all jump on her head.

We are letting them have free run in the bathroom for as much time as we can now, so they'll be able to play and so Illy can teach them to use the box when she's ready. The picture shows three of them running around in there, with Mom. The fourth was there too, but hiding behind the box. Once again, Feliz seems to be the least camera-shy of the group.

illy and kittens running loose

When she's not minding the young'uns, Illy has discovered she likes to spoon with Atticus. I think she might be going into heat. Wonder if she knows he's fixed?

illy and atty spooning

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Life is too short

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Once again, Karen at Chookooloonks has prompted me to blog on a day when I was really at a loss as to what to write about. She posted a "life is too short" list today, and I'm going to do the same:

Life is too short

...to drink bad coffee.
...to wear uncomfortable shoes.
...to try to hold in laughter.
...to pray to someone else's god.
...to worry about what you can't change.
...to stay with things just because you started them.
...to wear pantyhose.
...to settle for a substitute.
...to stay because it's easier.
...to try to be someone else.
...to not read voraciously.
...to spend too much time planning.

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Not all bad

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Lest you think things at my house are all bad, I give you the following photo series:

mark and leo.jpg

mark and leo 2.jpg

mark and leo 3.jpg

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Baby Catcher

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Baby Catcher book coverI read Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Peggy Vincent this weekend. I felt crappy all weekend, unable to even concentrate on TV, headachy, allergy-ridden, and wanting to nap, and I still read the entire book without even considering that I could be doing something else. That's how compelling it is.

Vincent's story starts with one of the first births she attends, in 1962, as a nursing student at Duke. She spends several hours with a young black woman who wants to give birth without drugs (uncommon in 1962) and who has had two previous children at home, attended by her grandmother (also uncommon). Though the woman's labor is unlike the others Vincent has seen (she makes a lot of noise, sings, yells, and walks around), she can see it is working and tries to keep the other hospital staff from noticing so drugs won't be forced on the laboring woman. Of course, since Vincent is a mere student and the woman is poor and black, a doctor eventually forces her into what sounds like twilight sleep, but the experience changes Vincent forever.

The book goes on to trace, mostly through anecdotes of specific births she attends, Vincent's graduation from nursing school and move to Berkeley, her ten years as an L&D nurse in a hospital and role in starting the first in-hospital alternative birth center in the area, her enrollment in and graduation from midwifery school in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and her twelve years as a midwife in private practice, doing both home and hospital births, throughout the 80s and early 90s. The stories are not 100% happy, but most of them are, and they provide a very clear picture of how variable birth can be.

The book takes an unexpected (to me) unpleasant turn about three-quarters of the way through, when Vincent is sued by a client and even though there is clearly no wrong-doing on her part, her insurance company forces her to settle. And then her insurance company drops her. Without insurance, Vincent can't do the type of private practice midwifery she's become accustomed to and is forced to take a staff midwife position with an HMO, which she refers to as a birthing factory. At the book's end, Vincent is still working at the HMO three days a week and doing a couple of uninsured home births a month, mostly for women with whom she has already worked.

For the most part, Vincent keeps her book personal, talking about her own experience more than national birthing trends. However, her political agenda, one focused on woman-centered home births, is clear. It is not long after Vincent loses her insurance coverage that insurance becomes widely unavailable to all independent nurse midwives, effectively putting them out of business. The 80s, Vincent writes, was the heyday for U.S. home births, and the 90s was a big backlash.

The book is quick, easy read, but also provides compelling evidence of Vincent's political position with regard to birthing without beating the reader over the head. I'd highly recommend it to anyone interested in birth history in the U.S. or alternative births, or anybody interested in birth in general, just for the great stories Vincent tells.

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Sweeney Todd

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sweeney todd posterLast weekend, I dragged a reluctant Mark out to see Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. A macabre musical directed by Tim Burton, starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Seeing that is a no-brainer!

And, true to form, I loved it. The music was not amazing, and neither Depp or Bonham Carter should give up their day job to become a musician, but it wasn't bad, either. The look of the film was amazing. I kept flashing back to my very favorite Burton film (and one of my favorite films ever) Edward Scissorhands, particularly whenever Depp's character, the demon barber, had his razors in his hands.

The supporting cast was not as strong as I'd have liked it to be. Sasha Baron Cohen, as rival barber Signor Adolfo Pirelli (a character played completely for comic relief), was Mark's favorite part of the film, but he bugged the crap out of me. And, sadly, the film didn't make near the use it could have of my very favorite villain of all time, Alan Rickman (though once you've been Snape, really, what else can you do?). I was also not a fan of the film's waif-boy character, Toby, played by Ed Sanders, or the lovestruck sailor Anthony Hope, played by Jamie Campbell Bower (was he supposed to look like a young Johnny Depp? If so, they could have done better). The one supporting role that was well-filled was the Beadle, who was played by Timothy Spall, who you'll remember as Harry Potter's Wormtail. He was so horribly creepy, which worked so well for the film.

So other than the film's general look, including the costumes and make-up (and especially Bonham Carter's--she looked eerily fabulous), why did I like it? Because I thought it was freaking hysterical. Every time Johnny Depp cut someone's throat with his razors and a bright red geyser shot out, I laughed. The song Depp and Bonham Carter sang about baking bodies into meat pies to sell to Londoners? Comic genius. ("For what's the sound of the world out there?/Those crunching noises pervading the air!/It's man devouring man, my dear!/Then who are we to deny it in here?")

But if you don't like Burton in general, you aren't going to like this. My parents-not-in-law, who for some reason saw the previews and expected a nice musical (like what, Cats?) very definitely did not like it. And neither did Mark, who thought it was ridiculous, overdone, and annoying.

But me? Best thing Burton's made since Big Fish, Depp since Fear and Loathing, Bonham Carter since Fight Club. Loved. It.

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Bad news from the homefront

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mom and bellaEmail dispatch from my mom:

Now, the bad news. Bella started having seizures Sat. night she had 5 that I know of. Then Sun. night she had one every 1-2 hours. I think she had been having them during the day Sun. too, I just didn't see any. Mon. she kept having them during the day. When she wasn't having a seizure she was mostly out of it. I didn't see but two, but I know she had some outside too from the way she looked and she was covered on the back with mud (she is on her back when they are happening.) Before when she had them they never went more than two days - and she only had a cluster of 2-4 each day. I thought she would probably be over them and be good for another month or so. But when she was so bad Sun. night and Mon. I knew we had to do something. Anyway, George took me to the school Mon. afternoon and I worked for 1 hr. When we got back Bella was dead on the porch. Evidently she had one that she just didn't come out of, or maybe had a heart attack or something. I don't' know. I had decided that we were probably going to have to have her put down on Tues. but I felt really bad we weren't there. The seizures were awful though and I know she is better off. It's pretty sad though. We feel pretty bad. It helps that Hank is here during the day. I could have dealt with her having a few every couple of months but these were almost non stop and she didn't deserve to have to go through that.

Hope you're in a better place, Bella.

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Podcasts

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So I'm loving me some podcasts recently. I listen to them in the background for much of my work day. And, of course, I need more of them.

Right now, these are the ones I listen to regularly:

By Women, For Women (Seal Press): new episodes every 1-2 weeks, interviews with Seal Press authors
Croncast: Generally published three times a week, everyday ramblings of a married couple in Naperville, IL. Chris is a currently-unemployed tech-person, Betsy is a SAHM/professional thriferer/Ebayer, and they are both pretty damn funny.
F-Word Podcast: only two episodes so far, doesn't seem to be on a regular schedule. Feminist podcast from the U.K.
How Much Do We Love...: Weekly(?) podcast by two twentyorthirtysomethings, focused on the stuff that they are loving in a given week. TV, food, clothes, people, whatever. I haven't been listening long, but am enjoying it so far.
NPR: Movies: self-explanatory
On Point with Tom Ashbrook: daily NPR news program, focusing a lot on elections recently
On the Media: weekly NPR news program
Russell Brand: unbelievably funny BBC comedy program, featuring the new love of my life Russell Brand (thanks Susan!). I think it's weekly.
This American Life: old standby

Given that, do you have any to suggest? Any to suggest I avoid?

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My gifts

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Over at Chookooloonks, Karen has asked a really good and important question:

What are you really good at?

The context of this question was a bit more specific--what gifts do you have that help make the world a better place?

Since I have temporarily misplaced my Maggie Mason book, and since bragging on myself is such a good way tot start the new year, I thought I'd make myself a list of answers to that question here, rather than clogging up Karen's comments.

Things I Am Really Good At

  • Working with animals, particularly dogs.

  • Giving gifts.

  • Baking.

  • Writing something readable quickly.

  • Thrift shopping.

What about you? What are you really good at? What else am I really good at? We should all build these lists and look at them often, I think. Not only to make ourselves feel better, but also to remind ourselves what we we have to share with the world.

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Christmas gift reviews

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So, because I am an awfully spoiled little beast, I got several of the items on my wish list as Christmas gifts. And because I am review-happy, I thought I'd share with all of you how wonderful they all are.

Mark surprised me with several of my wish listed items. One was a hammered silver circle and sea glass pendant from Twigs & Heather. It is absolutely gorgeous, but unfortunately came on a chain too short to comfortably go around my super sized neck, so it is going to have to be fixed/exchanged. He also got me a funky address book and the Alpha Bitch thermal I was lusting after, which I've barely taken off since I got it (though it did garner me some strange looks in the airport).

Family members showered me with red KitchenAid items, including a coffee grinder and a 14-cup coffee pot. I will soon buy the red tea kettle (using the Amazon.com gift card my boss got me, perhaps?) and then my evil collecting will be complete!

Finally, my lovely friends got me a patchwork messenger bag from Textile Fetish. It is truly awesome, but unfortunately not sturdy enough to hold up to everyday use. So it's going to have to be a bit of a special occasion bag.

I also got some cash for Christmas, which I am tempted to use to buy myself a couple of the other things on my list (specifically a piece of paper sculpture and a Broken Plate Pendant). But really, I should just start off the New Year right and put the Christmas cash towards my outrageous credit card bills...we'll see.

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Travel diary

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I have this in the form of a little spiral notebook, which will almost definitely disappear, and I wanted to keep track of it, so I thought I'd put it here. It's the travel diary I tried (and often failed) to keep on my recent Norway trip.

12/29/07, 2:15PM, AUSTIN
In Austin airport. Ate BBQ sandwich. Anxious, but more excited than nervous. Had to buy a little notebook and silly pencil in the airport, as I didn't bring one. Flight is very full--I think an earlier one was cancelled.

12/29/07, 6:10PM DALLAS
Waiting in Dallas. Spending time in airports makes you spend money unnecessarily, I think. I've rented a laptop for an hour, eaten dinner and ice cream, and am now considering seeking out more snacks for the flight. It's a good thing we'll be boarding soon. Or at least I hope we will be--our plane just pulled up to the gate.

I wonder how much worse a 9 hour flight will be? I'm really hoping to sleep--and I have Valium to help make that happen. But I'm also really wanting a cup of coffee...luckily I have a full iPod to keep me entertained if needs be.

I know I'm supposed to be grown up and everything, but I am SO excited. EUROPE!!

12/30/07, 10:22 AM LONDON
I am in London! On the bus between Gatwick and Heathrow. England looks remarkably like Oregon, at least so far. Gray sky, pretty green. Gatwick strikes me as a not very nice airport. The border agent was rude, but my passport has be de-virginized--it now has as stamp!

The area through which we are driving is very rural. I'll have to look and see where the airports are in relation to the city.

Hardly slept at all on the flight, so I'm exhausted. Too excited to sleep now though!

12/30/07, 11:42 AM LONDON
Waiting at Heathrow now, about to have a large English breakfast (with "rashers" of bacon AND sausages!). Paying an arm and a leg for, I'm sure (pounds to dollars being what it is), but I figure this isn't an experience I'll likely be repeating soon.

OK, food is here. Weird, thick bacon, comes with roasted tomatoes. Tasty potatoes, though, and the sausage looks promising. I'm starving.

12/30/07, 4:45PM OSLO
I'm here! Waiting for this very nice train to take me from the airport to the Central Station, where I meet Tony. I hope Susan is still in the dark about all this and going to be surprised.

Now that I'm in Oslo there are lots of languages around me. I know exactly 0 words of Norwegian, but I think that is what most of it is. I just spoke English with a young man in military dress who I think was Israeli.

I hope this is the right train...and that it goes soon. I'm so anxious!

01/02/08 12:15 AM OSLO
Of course I stopped writing as soon as I got here. I also haven't taken a single picture, and tomorrow is my last day. I am having a fantastic time, though. I have seen some of the tourist stuff and will see some more tomorrow, but it is hanging out with Susan and Tony and Harper that really makes the trip great. They are doing so well here--it is just wonderful to see. I was really worried when they moved and they seem to love it here. At this point, I think I'd be half surprised if they ever moved back to the U.S.

Being here is also making me think that living in Europe is a realistic possibility for us, if we really want to pursue it. It is not the path of least resistance, but it could be doable.

01/04/08 11:00 AM OSLO
Well, my trip has all but ended. I am at the Oslo airport, at the gate, waiting to board my plane to London. I have a 5 hour lay-over in London, so I might be able to do something during that time, but my foot is bothering me a lot, so I'm not sure.

It has been a wonderful visit. Susan and Tony and Harper are doing so well, and seeing Oslo was great. You know it was a good trip when you leave wishing you could stay longer.

I just counted, and there is only 12 kroner (between $2 and $3) left in my pocket, so I guess it is time to go home.

01/04/08 4:30 PM LONDON
The airport waiting game continues. It is another hour plus before my flight boards, and I have already been here for a couple of hours. I consulted with a gate agent though, and she said I didn't have time to go in to London.

On the plus side, I have a window seat on the flight to JFK. I am quite tired, too, so hopefully I'll sleep.

It is amazing how happy and peaceful one feels after two weeks' vacation. Going back to work will be rough.

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43 Things, All Consuming

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In the spirit of New Year's goals/resolutions, I'm making a 43 Things list. It's here, if you are interested. I only have 14 things so far, but I imagine I will be adding to it.

And, on Jenny's recommendation, I'm going to use All Consuming to track my movie watching this year. So far, I've seen two flicks, and am about to head out to another one. Watching more movies is a goal for this year!

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2007: The Year in Books

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Inspired by my friend Jenny and her bibliophile record keeping, I give you my 2007 book round-up.

In 2007, I read a total of 75 books. I didn't finish 10 of them (13%) and am still reading 2 of them (3%). 29 of the 75 (39%) were audio books. 23 were fiction (31%), 52 (69%) were non-fiction.

And, following Jenny's lead:
Biggest surprise: Sarah Vowell
Biggest letdown: The Emperor's Children, Sellevision
Favorites: Skin, Above Us Only Sky
Most Overrated: The History of Love, The Emperor's Children
Books I could not finish this year included:
Two carry overs: The Traveling Death & Resurrection Show and The Worst Hard Time
A few that I should have finished but didn't: Jo Freeman's book about the 60s, the Daughters of Bilitis book

Now, if someone can suggest something like Goodreads but for movies, I'll be set...

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Kitten Update, Day 19

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I know you were wondering! Everyone is still happy and healthy and growing, and they are beginning to get a bit friskier and more playful. Updated pictures:

Noel and Feliz
Noel and Feliz are still the big guys, but Noel has overtaken Feliz. She weighed 12.6 oz today, to Feliz's 11.6.

yuel
Yuel is just slightly smaller, at 11.4 oz.

holly
At 9.8 oz, Holly is still the runt. But she's healthy, she's growing, and look how cute she is!

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January Giving

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This month's charity bucks are going to assist those who are in dire straights beginning this year due to the Writer's Strike, which I fully support. There are a couple of ways to send help to these folks, but I chose the The Actor's Fund, since it supports all those in the business, not just those who are in the writer's guild. Given the jillions of "little people" who are likely being laid off due to the strike, many of whom do not have union support, that makes sense to me.

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Repatriation

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I am back in the U.S. of A., with new stamps on my passport, worn in long johns, and an air of European sophistication. OK, well, a stamped passport and dirty long underwear, anyway. The trip was truly out-of-this-world fantastic. I have a little travel diary that I may or may not transcribe here later, but in the meantime, suffice it to say that it rocked. Seeing my friends was wonderful, I loved Oslo, and the whole trip was the perfect mix of touristing and relaxing. Honestly it couldn't have been better.

And now I'm home, and real life will commence. Real life that is going to take some uncomfortable turns for me in the next months. But I'm sure I'll have plenty to say about that in the future. For now, here is a picture of me at the Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo.

Grace at Vigeland Sculpture Park

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Year end meme

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It is making the rounds, so I might as well:

1. What did you do in 2007 that you’d never done before?


Had to wait until the tail end of the year, but I left the U.S.!

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?


Last year's resolutions, or goals, really, are here. I basically failed on all counts. Bah.

I will probably answer this question more completely once I get back to Texas and my real life and all that, but basically, in 2008, I have to get my shit together financially. Really.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

All over the damn place! There are four new little boys in my life this year.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No, thank God.

5. What countries did you visit?
Norway! And the airport in England.

6. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007?


Ability to stick to my goals. Days when my allergies are not killing me.

7. What dates from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Dates almost never stick in my head.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Finally finishing my god-forsaken masters degree.

9. What was your biggest failure
?

Losing even more control of my finances. And continuing to gain weight.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Food poisoning that was pretty much the worst thing ever. Plantar faciitis that makes me angry at God. Allergies that do the same.

11. What was the best thing you bought?


I have no idea. Most of what I bought wasn't worth it, probably.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

My mother continues to amaze me with how she handles her constant pain with good grace. My brother seems to have grown up a lot, which is great. And I am continually inspired by the parenting of my friends N. and Z., S. and C., and S. and T.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?


Michael Vick comes to mind right off.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Gah, I don't know. Stupid stuff I could have done without, mainly. Lots of thrifting. Clothes for my multiple sizes.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?


My trip to Norway. Finishing school. Discovering Buffy. BlogHer.

16. What song will always remind you of 2007?

The one Lindsey sings in Angel.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
 a) happier or sadder?

About the same?
b) thinner or fatter?
Fatter fatter fatter.
c) richer or poorer?

Poorer. Though I actually make more money. Go me.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Traveled. I always wish I had done more of that.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Making empty promises to myself.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

In Oregon with the fam. It was great.

21. Did you fall in love in 2007?

No new love, but the same old love is going swimmingly, which is just as good.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

Buffy Buffy Buffy!

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Michael Vick.

24. What was the best book you read?

Hmm...several come to mind. The Midwife's Tale. Packinghouse Daughter. But the discovery of Marion Winik is probably the best literary thing that happened to me this year.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?


Grace Potter and Christine Kane.

26. What did you want and get?

A trip to Europe. My masters.

27. What did you want and not get?

A paid off credit card.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

I can't think of what I saw this year that were new, but The Farmer's Wife was wonderful.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?


I went out to dinner with friends. I was 28.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?


Again with the debt repayment.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007?

Can you believe I spent money on these clothes?

32. What kept you sane?

The animals. Mark, much of the time. Blogging.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Spike.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

Would you hate me if I said I stopped caring?

35. Who did you miss?

My mom. I always miss her.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

Hmm....I have made some excellent new online friends. And I am awfully fond of my new small friends.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007.
It is not enough to say you are going to do something. You have to actually do it. And international travel is so not that hard.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
Four legs good, two legs bad.

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What I did last night

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In Norway, there are not any regulations on fireworks. What this means, in practice, is that people all over the city set off what we in the U.S. would consider professional level fireworks. In crowds. It is truly freaky. From where we were at a party, sheltered between two buildings and not in a public park or anything, it was mostly just cool to watch, but I cannot imagine that there aren't a whole lot more one-eyed people in Oslo in 2008 than there were in 2007.

This was shot last night, near Oslo's City Hall.

Aside from the freaky fireworks, we had a lovely New Year's Eve. We went to a small party at the home of some friends of my hosts, and everyone was lovely and gracious and easy to talk to. And everyone spoke beautiful English, so I didn't feel out of place not speaking Norwegian. There was a nice dinner, a great quantity of champagne, and a general spirit of merriment. I very much enjoyed it.

There is much to do...make resolutions, identify a January giving recipient, a bunch of year-in-review type posts I want to make...but I think I will put those things off until I get home. The space I am in while I am here can be somewhere in between 2007 and 2008--year limbo. Vacation time.

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