Welcome to my world

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It occurred to me, astute photojournalist that I am, that my avid readers might like a look at this mysterious Bins you hear so much about. So I took my trusty (hardly) digital camera with me to thrift today, and snapped a few shots. I felt weird doing it--people were not looking at me in the friendliest ways--but I live to serve my adoring public, so here you go:

store from front corner
Here you see as much of the store as I could get in as possible, from the front left (near the entry door).

store from back corner
This is from the opposite side, the back right corner, and is once again as much as I could get in.

av refuse
This is a big pile of VCRs and DVD players. There is always a table like this, with what seems to be rotating stock. Makes me proud to be an American to see this, let me assure you.

clothing refuse
About 1/3 of the store is devoted to these tables of clothing. This is the hardest part to shop in, for me, as sifting through table after table of clothes gets tiring. In the rest of the store, things are mixed up so it doesn't get boring.

general refuse
Most of the store looks like this, with tables (and sometimes bins, like you see in the second picture) of what I'd call "general refuse." Could be anything and mostly it's not sorted in any way. This is my favorite part, because you'll never know what you'll find.

These pictures don't really give you an idea of the enormity of the stuff in this place, but they're a first try. Maybe I will get bolder as a photographer if I keep trying to do this. Looking at them, just like being there, gives me this combination of adrenaline (what might I find?!) and sickness (how did we get to be a society that throws this much stuff away?).

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Images from a birthday

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leo birthday kiss

birthday nap with leo

ata with birthday hat

mark and ata with hats

new painting

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Card

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birthday card.jpg

Received just now, from Jenny.

Indeed.

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Tattoos like mile markers

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Today is my last day of being 28. Rather than bore you and myself with yet another post about how I have accomplished nothing, I thought I'd take you back on a little trip through my tattoos. Ani has a line that says "tattoos like mile markers/mark the distance she has come/winning some/losing some" and it's my favorite thing written about tats ever. That is exactly how I see my tattoos. They are not all things I would choose now, but they represent who I was at the time I got them, and I think it's healthy to look at myself that way--not just as who I am right now, but as the sum of everyone I've been. I plan to keep getting tattoos at regular (or irregular) intervals, keep putting up those mile markers, if for no other reason than to create a living map through my life.

tat #1Freedom: The Tramp Stamp
I got my first tattoo when I was 19, in October of 1998. I thought about it for a long, long time first, and my friend Howell, who drew the design, when through months of iterations of it before I chose this one. I chose the artist pretty randomly, though, by the name of the tattoo shop (Medusa Tattoo & Gallery in downtown Portland). It was important to me to have a woman do the work, and to have it done somewhere clean, but other than that, I had no real idea about qualifications. Two of my friends, an old one from high school and a new one from college, went with me to watch me get it done (interestingly, as far as I know, neither of them have ever been tattooed).

I originally wanted the tattoo to be much smaller than it is, and the artist who did it (whose name totally escapes me now) warned me that I would end up regretting if it was too small and looked like a stamp or a sticker. I allowed her to enlarge the design (and I now know she was right and it is still too small). At the time, I had never heard the term "tramp stamp" and had no idea that was what I was getting. Ha. The process itself was very painful (particularly the bottom of the tattoo, which is directly on the end of my spine and sent shocking pain down into my feet) and I didn't enjoy it at all.

At the time, I insisted that this tattoo was merely decorative and symbolized absolutely nothing. Looking back, I can see that the design itself may not symbolize anything, but my getting it, and getting it in the location I did (where it is easily hideable now, but wasn't so much in those days of baby tees and baggy pants) wasn't accidental. A year into college, I was still savoring my freedom and my ability to do whatever I wanted with my own body and my own life. Though tats were popular then, they weren't nearly so common as they are now, and getting it felt a little bit rebellious, but getting it small and in a "girly" spot kept me feeling safe, too.

I have a vague plan to get this tattoo expanded into a full lower back piece, because I really don't like having a tramp stamp now that every other sorority girl on the block has one. Then again, though, having it in the place and size it is already in is true to the 19 year old me who got it.

tat #2.jpgLove: The Hedwig Tattoo
After my first tat, it took me several years to decide on another one. Finally, in the early summer of 2003, when I was 22, I decided to get one of Emily Hubley's illustrations from the film Hedwig & the Angry Inch tattooed on my inner left ankle. The thought behind the tat was two-part: first, I loved the play and the movie and considered it (and still do consider it) to be the only anthem befitting my generation of fuck ups. Secondly, the image itself, and the myth it illustrates in the movie (told in the song "Origin of Love") speaks to the idea of having "another half," a partner who will complete you if only you find him or her. I have never 100% bought into that idea, but in 2003 I was still in the dramatic stages of new love, and it seemed the best way to symbolize that. And so my Origin of Love tat has one green eye like me, and one brown eye like Mark.

The tattooing experience itself was sub-par my second time around. I went back to Medusa, but this time had the work done by a different artist there, a woman named Fish. As you can see, she did a lousy job. The lines in this simple tat are uneven and it looks very unprofessional. She was also just not very nice. However, getting this tattoo was also my first experience with the erotic aspect of tattoo pain, which wasn't something I have ever forgotten. Mark came with me when I got it, as did our friend and housemate Erica (whose had I had just held as she got her first tattoo at the same shop some months earlier).

It sucks that this tattoo isn't done better, but I am still sort of resistant to getting it fixed or covered. Once again, it takes me back to a time in my life I remember so clearly, a set of thoughts and feelings I can access only through memory, and I don't want to disrupt that. I'm more in love with Mark now than I was in 2003, for sure, but it's a different, more mature kind of thing, and the more grown up me finds the concept of an "other half" not only amusing, but sort of insulting. I like that the tat reminds me that I used to be more romantic, if less assured, and so it stays, in all of it immature glory (I was once asked if I got it done in prison--no joke).

tat #3.jpgPeace: The Dove
My third tattoo is the only one I would get exactly the same way again. I'm not sure whether this speaks more to the quality of the work or to how much more slowly I am changing than I used to. I got it in December of 2005, when I was 26. It was something I thought about for quite a while first. I wanted to get something permanent on my body to attest to my commitment to peace in a time when war seemed to be coming in from all sides, and the image of Picasso's Dove with Flowers stuck in my mind as the simplest and most beautiful way to symbolize that commitment. In 2005, I had given up on my plans to be a public servant or non profit martyr professionally, and I wanted to prove to myself that I was still committed to the world around me, even if I was no longer willing to spend my life in (under)paid professional work towards that commitment. I also wanted my country to get the hell out of Iraq.

Much as I loved the image, I also found it "pretty" and was a bit resistant to it on that front, as I've always kind of disliked pretty tattoos on women. To counteract the "femininity," I decided I wanted to put the tat somewhere less traditionally feminine than my previous ankle and lower back choices, and somewhere more visible. That's why I chose my upper arm (I had originally considered my shoulder blade and rejected it on this basis). I decided to do it on the right arm to balance with my left side ankle tat. Once I'd decided on placement, I shopped for an artist. I wanted to be a bit more careful than I had been before, since this tattoo was going to be so noticeable on my arm. On someone's recommendation, I went in to Atomic Tattoo & Piercing on Burnet in Austin to talk to someone there about doing it, and I chanced upon Jason Masarik. The shop itself made me very uncomfortable, with it's walls of pin-up clip-art style tattoo designs and (then) all-male staff, and it definitely made me realize that Medusa is an "upscale" tattoo parlor, but Jason himself made me instantly comfortable. He recognized the image, and we talked about Picasso as he was getting stuff ready. I may not dig his style of artwork (based as it is on monsters and large-breasted women), but I recognized him as an artist, and that put me at ease.

I got this tattoo alone, and without telling anyone I was going to do it before I did it. It felt empowering. The pain was both bearable and pointedly erotic. And the result is, I think, phenomenal. I rarely go out in public without sleeves and don't get a compliment on this tattoo. Because the color has remained vibrant and the lines look very much like pen or brush strokes, people often don't believe it isn't drawn on but is permanent. Even my mother likes it. It's that good.

tat #4.jpgHome: Alis Volat Prop(r)iis
I have wanted to get a tattoo symbolizing Oregon, my homesickness, and my identity as an Oregonian for several years. I've been through lots of ideas--raindrops, fir trees, etc.--and nothing has felt right. Recently, I decided that the best idea I'd had to symbolize my home state was its motto, "Alis Volat Propriis," or "She Flies On Her Own Wings." On a bit of a whim, on Monday I went in to Atomic to see if I could get someone to do it for me. I wasn't set on Jason, since the tattoo idea was so basic, but he was there and available, so he set right up and did it in just a few minutes.

And lo and behold, it is spelled wrong. The original stencil, which I checked, was spelled correctly. How that correctly spelled stencil dropped at "r" when it was applied to my foot I will never know. And I didn't notice it while I was being tattooed, as it is upside down from my vantage point. When I got home and took a picture of it, though, it became clear.

Honestly, I think it's funny. I am going to get it fixed, because having a misspelled tattoo will definitely annoy me after awhile, but I think it probably serves my pretentious non-Latin speaking ass right for getting a tattoo in Latin. In the meantime, I think it looks great--I love the lettering and the placement on my foot--and nobody is going to notice the misspelling unless I tell them (which, because I think it's funny, I probably will).

I have ideas for several more tattoo mile markers in my head. Large pieces are in vague stages of planning. I want "Chance" tattooed in white somewhere (possibly my inner wrist). I will definitely be getting a Texas-symbolizing tattoo, and it may even be the stereotypical Lone Star. We'll see. In the meantime, I can use the ones I have to trace the path I've come, and I don't regret a thing.

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Yes, I know it's spelled wrong

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Why yes, I think (three days before) your 29th birthday is an excellent time to get a tattoo honoring your beloved and much missed home state.

new tattoo

And an even better time to realize that yes, even though you checked and double checked, it is spelled wrong and you will have to go back when it heals in two weeks and have it fixed.

This, by the way, does not qualify as a life change. And I will confirm that I am not pregnant and not planning to go to grad school anytime soon, either. But good guesses, Ganymede!

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White wine in review: Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc

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Nobilo Sauvignon BlancAnother wine we've enjoyed recently is Nobilo's Regional Collection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. I got the bottle at Costco, for around $8-$9. This is a sweet wine, with a lot of fruity taste, but it's not super sweet. The best word I could come up with for it is crisp. I can't recall what we drank it with, but I think it would be great with spicy food. I loved this wine, in part I think because it's exactly the type of wine I really dig, but also because it's an easily drinkable, economical choice. I will likely go back to Costco and buy a few bottles of this to store up, since I think it was produced in a fairly limited capacity.

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le grand noir labelBy request, I am going to start trying to review the wine we're drinking here on the blog. Hopefully it will be helpful to my fellow wine drinkers, and I know it will be helpful to Mark and I (to remember which cheap bottles are worth buying again).

Most recently, I picked up 2005 Le Grand Noir (Black Sheep) Chardonnay-Voignier at (I think...) Randall's. I'm not linking you to their website, because it's atrocious, but the wine itself was very good, especially for $9.99/bottle. It's a 25% viognier to 75% chardonnay mix, which made me a bit skeptical about buying it, since I don't usually like chardonnay, but the voignier seems to take a lot of the nasty oak flavor out of the chardonnay, and resulting mix is quite good. The bottle heralds it as "deliciously different," which I'd say is a fair assessment. It's not the greatest thing ever, but it's certainly worth 10 bucks a bottle. It's pretty simple, given the bizarre blend, and easy to drink. We had it with some appetizers (hummus, veggies, and pita chips), on a hot evening, and it was lovely.

The wine is 13% alcohol by volume and a half bottle gave me no real buzz and had no ill effects the next morning.

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Stuff I dig

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It's been a long time since I have posted a list of things I am currently loving. And it's that kind of day, so...

ON ruched teeOld Navy Ruched V-Neck Tees. I am trying not to buy any new clothing (thrift only). However, plain colored tee shirts are hard for me to find in my size and in good shape. I think they're just something people hold on to, and they are made so cheaply that they don't last long. So, I sucked it up and ordered some shirts from Old Navy, and I love them. This style is very flattering, they come in tall so they are long enough, they are super lightweight but not transparent, and the colors are fantastic. They were also on sale for I think $7.50 each when I bought mine, so I got one each in hyper blue, French violet, bright guava, and brown earth. Sweet.

Weight Watchers. I never thought I'd be saying this, but the program works. I've lost 18 lbs in 9 weeks, I'm not feeling deprived (at least not very much), and I feel better about myself every day. I am not going to meetings, just using the online function, but it's amazing how helpful the points system is. Somehow it is easier and more intuitive than following calories on Fitday, even though it's based on the same stuff. I got a three month initial membership, which means I only have about a month left. After that, I'll have to decide if it's worth paying for more months, or if I should try to lose the rest on my own. So far, it's been very worth it.

English Premiere League Football. The English Premiere League season started last weekend (soccer-football, for the uninitiated). Mark's been following it for a few years, and recently I've gotten very into it as well. It's a great way for us to bond, and I am really looking forward to months of Saturday mornings sitting on our couch, drinking coffee, yelling at our respective teams (Arsenal and Liverpool).

hummus with pine nutsSabra hummus. Mark and I are both picky about our hummus, and we agree that Sabra with the roasted pine nuts on top is the best you can get at a store. It's also widely available and inexpensive. Can't beat that.


Audubon Birds.
I got a bunch of these little guys at the bins for $0.25 each the other day. They are stuffed birds that make natural bird sounds when squeezed (from real bird recordings). The dogs LOVE them. They aren't the world's best dog toys, as they have plastic bead pouches inside, so the pets have to be supervised when playing with them in case of disembowelment, but to watch the perplexed look on their faces when the birdies sing is worth it. The Purple Martin is my favorite.

hope solo in the goalHope Solo. The USA Women's national soccer team goalkeeper who saved the gold against Brazil. I will never be as cool as Hope Solo. My heart still belongs to Abby, but I don't know that I've ever even seen anything as cool as Hope Solo. Just her name is cool. Hope Solo.

Hearthsong Under the Sea Hideaway. I thrifted one of these little babies for $3 and it made me $61 on EBay this week. Love that kind of profit margin.

Chipotle. They're giving free burritos to all the employees of the university where I work today. Good promotion! The line was too long and the points too high, though, so I passed.

And so ends my list of cool stuff for now. What have you noticed being especially cool lately?

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Ode to Jewel

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jewelAs fits my trend of being at least a couple of years behind in all things pop culture, I am just now finishing up watching Deadwood. I hated the series at first (making fun of it when Mark watched it by coming into the room and yelling "COCKSUCKER!" at inopportune moments), but it grew on me, and frankly, now I think it's brilliant. The writing is great, the acting is phenomenal, and the show it just plain gripping. Also, surprisingly given the context, it treats its female characters better than most of the HBO shows I've watched (I'm looking at you, The Sopranos and The Wire!).

One of the things that really blows my mind about Deadwood, though, is Jewel. Jewel is the cook/maid at the Gem saloon, one of the central Deadwood locations. She is in the employee of Ian McShane's Al Swearengen, the show's most notorious character. Jewel is played by Geri Jewell, and actress/comedian with cerebral palsy.

According to an interview with Salon, Deadwood creator David Milch met Geri Jewell in a pharmacy while he was developing the show and offered her a part. He says he "thought it would be an interesting thing to have a character who was handicapped or whatever the goddamned expression is supposed to be. See how a person who was physically challenged would function in an atmosphere like this." This unsentimental attitude toward Jewel's character, and towards her handicap, permeates her appearances on the show. Al regularly yells at Jewel to "stop dragging that fucking leg!" She's referred to as "The Gimp" and "The Cripple" with regularity. There is no room, in a camp like Deadwood, for pity or special allowances.

There is no room for pity or special allowances in Jewel's treatment of herself, either. Jewel insists that she be taken seriously as a woman, not just as a character with a disability. In the same Salon article, Geri Jewell said "It's very fulfilling for me, having never been taken seriously as an actress. It's a wonderful opportunity to show what I can do besides having cerebral palsy." This gets at the heart of what is so wonderful about Jewel's character. Even when the story line centers on her mobility (as it does in episode 1.11, "Jewel's Boot Is Made For Walking"), it is Jewel's character, her stubbornness, independence, and fearlessness, that makes the story work. When Al asks Jewel why she has been visiting the doctor, she replies smartly, "I'm knocked up." In her delivery of the line, you see Geri Jewell the comedian, but you also see her Deadwood character's insistence that her prickly employer see her not as "The Gimp", but as a woman (and the only woman he spends any time around who is not a prostitute).

Thematically, Deadwood is, in part, about breaking new ground, and the spine and ruthlessness that is sometimes necessary to do so. The show takes place in a gold mining camp, and much of the political drama centers on the battle between the camp's pioneer settlers and the looming government and big business forces. Jewel's character adds a layer to this theme. Deadwood is filled with unconventional women, each breaking ground in her own way (former madam and lesbian Joanie, alcoholic and grieving gunslinger Jane, hard-edged prostitute-cum-accountant Trixie, steely cold widow Alma) and Jewel easily takes her place among them, a woman with a disability insisting on being taken seriously in her own right, outside of her relationship with her employer or her medical needs. Both the first and second seasons of the show end with Jewel dancing, insistent at the end of the first season that the camp's doctor, who has just fitted her with a brace that helps her walk without dragging her leg so much, come and dance with her. "Come on doc," she cajoles, "I'll teach you how!" Jewel insists on humor, on joy, and on being accepted in her hard world as just who she is. What more can you possibly ask of a character than that?

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What did you have for dinner?

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Mark and I haven't been eating all that well at home lately. Between the heat and my Weight Watchers-inspired insistence that all meals be under 7 points, we've been doing a lot of "scrounging," which generally entails my eating hummus and veggies for supper and Mark eating chips and salsa or something similar. Because of this, when I spent the first part of our ride home from work whining about my dire need for iron, I expected that, at best, we'd stop for burgers.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Mark insisted that instead we stop at Central Market and buy a steak to curb my iron cravings. And then, he made me dinner.

Here you see the boy with his meal.

And here, the meal itself.

What you see here is a "cowboy cut" (bone-in rib-eye) steak with a salt, pepper, thyme, and fennel pollen (from our garden!) rub, grilled in a grill pan to medium rare; fresh white corn with thyme butter; and a mixed baby green salad with Cypress Grove Purple Haze fennel pollen and lavender rubbed goat cheese, fresh local figs, and Marcona almonds. We enjoyed it with some really fantastic Brandborg Northern Reach pinot noir (from my home town!). Completely and totally amazing.

There's food, and then there's this. I am a lucky, lucky woman.

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What do Vern Yip and Beanie Babies have in common?

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Back when I used to watch Trading Spaces, Vern Yip was always my favorite designer. I liked his simple, non-silly designs, and he seemed like the closest thing the show's designers had to a real person. So, when I saw that he had another show, Deserving Design, I was all over it. Now that I've watched the show, I love it even more. The premise is simple--Vern goes into the home of "deserving" regular folks and redesigns two rooms--one that they know is going to be done, one that they don't. "Deserving," here, means people who have given of themselves in some way. The most recent episode I saw featured a family who had fostered 62 children, some of them very high needs, and adopted 6 of them (all of whom had to have been under 12). Vern's makeovers focus on what the families actually need and how they actually use their space (and he uses tons of photographs, which I think is great), which is fantastic. What really gets me about the show, though, are the families themselves. The things they give to their communities and the sacrifices they make are inspiring.

So I was thinking about that. And about how, not so long ago, I was more focused on how I could help other people (my monthly giving, among other things). Lately, though, my focus has gone inward in a way I'm not proud of. And while I was thinking, I was, like I often am, thrifiting. At the south bins. Where I came upon an entire table of new with tags Beanie Buddies. Clearly these are no longer collector's items, I said to myself, but couldn't you have donated them to a homeless shelter or something? Kids can still play with them if they don't get destroyed here! And then it occurred to me that I could make that happen.

And so I came, inspired by Vern Yip, to purchase 40 Beanie Buddies. I had no idea how cute these things were! A couple of them (the octopus, the ladybug, the moose...) might have to live at my house and become gently loved dog toys. The rest, though, can go to a local DV shelter, or be saved for Christmas-time toy drives. What toddler is going to care of his/her lovey is still in style?

It's nice to wake up and remember why I'm here.

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Funny

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Well, funny for passers by, anyway. Not so much funny for me until afterwards.

Picture this:

An overweight and completely out of shape woman, dressed in nearly see-through PJ pants that are three sizes too big, a tee shirt that is several sizes too small and shows her belly rolls, and flip flops. With no bra. Running down a residential street at her absolute top speed, after a very short beagle who, despite her 2" legs, manages to stay just ahead of her.

At 2pm.

She's out to get me.

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Thrift Saturday

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Spent a good couple of hours today thrifting with my friend The Princess. The Princess was looking for clothes, so we hit two "real" Goodwill stores, the Research location and the North Lamar one. The Princess had a fantastic day--she tried on probably 20 pairs of jeans at the Research store and ended up buying an amazing 8 of them (she really needed jeans). At the North Lamar store, she tried on a big armload of tops and bought 7, along with a new in package stainless steel and silicone sippy bottle for her little boy. Amazing, no?

I didn't do too badly either. Most of my haul is here:

goodwill 081608

Yes, that is a red tee shirt with Chairman Mao at a turn table. It reads "The Chairman Spins." It was $3.99 and fits Mark perfectly. You also see a couple of yards of sweet 70s fabric, a much needed new drink shaker (ours leaks) and a vintage Trimaway Diet Scale. The fabric was $2.99, the shaker and scale $1.99 each. Steep prices for my bins blood, but still, not terrible.

I also got a set of new in package much-needed cotton sailcloth curtains for our kitchen window, for $6.99. So it was a good day.

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Thrifting without blood

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The last three times I went to the bins, I left bloody. Each time, I reached into a bin and cut myself on something. A piece of broken glass, a piece of broken bed frame, and a third object I could not identify. Cutting yourself at the bins is both irritating and kind of scary. It's irritating because then you only have one good hand to dig through things with, and it's scary because you never know what infectious diseases could be lurking in the bins. An open wound is so not something you want to chance.

A normal person, after this happening three times, would perhaps take a break from visiting the bins. Or at least get some gloves. I, however, am not a normal person, I am an addict, and as such, I went again last night.

The best news? I didn't get cut.

The second best news? I only spent $5 and got all of this stuff:

thrifted loot

Here you see the following:


  • Two new Japanese-art printed file boxes, for Mark, as part of our effort at containing our office clutter, $0.50 each

  • A Better Homes & Gardens sewing manual, for swapping, in excellent condition, from 1970, $1

  • A new copy of Dorothy Allison's "Skin," for me, $0.50

  • An EUC floral wet bag, for a swap, $0.50

  • An EUC sugar and creamed set, vintage Pyrex, to swap, $1.00

  • A whole bunch of beading cord sets and necklace clasp sets, mostly for swapping, NIP, each originally marked $0.99, $1 for the lot

This is the kind of thrifting trip I need to strive for. Low spending, only items that have a purpose, and nothing physically large to take up a lot of space. Plus the Pyrex is SO cute...

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Thrifting+organization=green crafting

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Ingredients:

beads + ribbon

Thrifted wooded rainbow beads + thrifted ribbon

Organization:

jars with beads

Beads disassembled from their original strings and organized in baby food jars. Jars courtesy of The Princess.

Craft:

beaded necklaces

100% recycled toddler jewelry (guarded by Illy).

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Fantasy football

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The Premiere Football League opens next weekend. Mark and I are competing in the Guardian's Fantasy Football League. I plan to dominate. Wanna meet my team?

Strikers:
I'm playing a two-striker offense, with Liverpool's Fernando Torres on one side and Portsmouth's Peter Crouch on the other. In reality, these dudes can't really play together (as shown when Crouch played for Liverpool and ended up on the bench the entire season), but given the individual way fantasy football is scored, I think they're a good pick. I expect them both to have good seasons. On the bench, I have Middlesbrough's Dutch striker, Afonso Alves. I am hoping not to have to use him. If both Torres and Crouch could stay healthy all season, that would be great.

Wingers:
On the wing, I am playing Arsenal's Cesc Fabergas on the left and Liverpool's Yossi Benayoun on the right. Benayoun may not be the wisest choice, but I can't help it, I just like him. Fabergas I expect to have a fantastic season. I have a healthy bench here too, with Arsenal's Sami Nasri ready to come in.

Defensive Midfield:
I am playing a two-man defensive midfield, with the Tottenham Hotspur duo of Jamie O'Hara and Tom Huddlestone. Tottenham are ripping up the pre-season, so I have big hopes for these guys. Nobody is behind them on the bench, but I can switch to a single defensive midfielder if I need to later on.

Defense:
I am not messing around with my defense. Left to right I have Tottenham's Gareth Bale, Liverpool's Martin Skrtel, Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand, and Portsmouth's Glen Johnson. My bench is a little weak here--just Arsenal's Johan Djourou. If any of my starting four get hurt, though, I'll probably just switch up the defense.

Finally, in the goal, I have my all-time favorite goalkeeper, Manchester United's Edwin Van Der Sar. Expensive, but worth it. He's backed up by a fairly new Prem keeper, Sunderland's Craig Gordon. I love Craig Gordon. I hope he shines this year. If he gets really good, I may sell Van Der Saar, buy another midfielder, and put him in my goal full-time.

So that's my squad. I'm so exicted!

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Drinking in Austin

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Last week, Forbes named Austin "the hardest-drinking city in America." In evidence of this claim, the magazine cites a CDC report saying that 61.5% of adult residents of Austin have had at least one drink in the past month, and 20.6% admit to "binge drinking" (five or more drinks on one occasion) at least once in the last month. The article goes on to postulate that these high numbers are in part due to the large population of college students here, who tend to drink a lot and often.

I say "eh."

Yeah, this is a hard-drinking city. People like to party here. I've gone out to drink more here than I ever did in Portland (and frankly it's still not very often). The heat makes me want to drink. The culture makes me want to drink. Some days, being around so many undergrads makes me want to drink. However, I don't get a feeling of depressing alcoholism here like I have in other cities. The drinking here seems, by and large, fun. Portland (number 13 on Forbes' list) was definitely seedier. Interestingly, the U.S. city that strikes me as the most depressingly drunk--Las Vegas--didn't make the list at all.

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Date night recap

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For as long as I've known him, Mark has really liked to go out to eat really nice food. I think it's something he picked up from his parents, who also really enjoy it. When we first got together, it took Mark years to convince me that fancy dining was a good time--I thought it was pompous and overpriced and uncomfortable. After awhile, though, I started to really enjoy it too, and when we lived in Portland, we went out pretty often.

Since moving to Austin, we've gone out less and less. In part, this is because the quality of the restaurants in Austin is just not what it was in Portland. We had a couple of expensive meals that were distinctly not worth it when we first moved here, and after that decided that maybe we needed to wait until we moved to somewhere with better food before we laid down that kind of cash again. More recently, there have just been too many other places we need to put our money for us to spend a lot of it eating out.

Last night, however, we made an exception. Well, kind of. As a thank you for a big project I did at work, one of the professors for whom I work said that he'd pay for Mark and I to go out to a nice dinner. After some discussion, Mark and I decided to take him up on that at Wink. We got an early reservation and decided we'd dress up and go out and make a night of it.

We were not disappointed.

date night markdate night graceHere you see Mark and I poised to leave the house. For the sake of my fashion-minded readers, Mark is wearing navy pinstriped trousers from Calvin Klein (Ross), a short-sleeved red cotton shirt from Banana Republic (thrifted) , Sketchers shoes (Nordstrom Rack), an antique Omega watch (gift from his father), and a faux hawk. I am sporting a black Evan Piccone cocktail dress (Ross), Areosoles wedge sandals (Zappos), a chunky jade scarf necklace (Banana Republic), and an antique beaded purse (thrifted). My unruly hair is pulled back into a ponytail, and I'm even wearing a small amount of makeup (waterproof mascara and Almay lip gloss).

Now, the important part. The food. We arrived at Wink just on time for our 5:45 reservation. The decor at the restaurant was pleasantly understated (I really like their comfy woven chairs) and the dining room is small. We were seated at a nice corner table and our waitress was very knowledgeable and chatty about the menu. At first, both Mark and I were irritated by feeling like she was talking down to us, but as the meal progressed she seemed to realize we were both pretty familiar with food and wine (at one point she asked Mark if he was in the restaurant business) and things got a lot better.

Wink doesn't have a full bar, just wine, so I started with a nice Alsatian pinot gris and Mark had a glass of prosecco. The pinot gris was nice--very sweet, but not cloying, and the sip I had of Mark's prosecco was good as well, though I don't love it pre-meal like he does. After looking over the menu, which changes every day, Mark and I decided to do a few shared courses, rather than each ordering our own appetizers and entrees. We were served warm rolls with butter before ordering, and the rolls, which are not made in-house, but are quite good. There was also an amuse bouche of chilled tomato soup with herb oil that was a tasty starter.

First course: Thunderheart bison carpaccio with shaved trumpets, new potato confit, and porcini mustard

I like carpaccio in general, but neither of us had ever had bison carpaccio before. We've been eating some really excellent bison sausage recently (from Bison Provision Company), though, and have a taste for it. Bison lends itself to this preparation surprisingly well. The flavor is strong, but paired with the amazing porcini mustard, it's not overpowering. The shaved trumpets were a nice addition, as they were surprisingly flavorful, as was the arugula salad this came with, which I would eat with the a porcini mustard dressing all by itself. The only part I didn't enjoy was the new potatoes, which were a little softer and blander than I wanted in this dish. In general, though, it was spot-on. It was also not a super small plate--Mark and I both got plenty. Mark, who is a bit jaded about "new" and "exciting" preparations, said he'd never had anything quite like this before, and really loved it. His next-day review says this is the best dish we had. He calls it the "most successful, most interesting, and most delicious." I liked it a lot, but my favorite dish comes later.

Second course: seared dayboat scallops with Wink pancetta, brussels sprouts, and brown butter mustard

I don't love scallops, but Mark does, so we ordered these for our second course. They were cooked perfectly, and the brown butter mustard sauce was really nice and rich and flavorful--not too much mustard. Mark and I both would have liked there to have been more pancetta in this dish--it's house-made and tasty, but seemed a little sparse. The brussel sprouts were a disappointment--more hard than crunchy and kind of tasteless. The entire dish struck both Mark and I as kind of seasonally inappropriate--more a fall thing than a summer one--but it was still good, if not perfect. Once again, the plate was a totally reasonable size, with two big scallops, the sauce, and a sprinkling of sprouts.

I paired our second and third courses with another glass of wine, a really surprising California Gewürztraminer from Handley Cellars. Gewürztraminer in general is one of my favorite ones, but this one was much less sweet and more minerally than I am used to. Still, it was quite good, if not exactly what I had in mind for this food. The waitress mentioned that this wine pairs really well with spicy food, and I could definitely see that.

Third course: seared foie gras on pain perdu with almonds and strawberry-vanilla purée

Mark loves foie gras. For a long time, I wouldn't eat it, but I slowly came around and I enjoy it as well. I did not, however, enjoy this preparation. Foie gras is really rich stuff. I think it needs something crunchy with it, as well as something with as sharp flavor. This dish provided neither of those things. Basically, this was big chunks of seared foie gras on French toast, with a sweet strawberry vanilla sauce. I took one bite and thought it came off like meat-flavored yogurt. I really really didn't like it. Mark was more charitable towards it, but didn't love it either. That didn't stop him from eating the entire plate, though.

At this point, Mark and I both ordered red wine to go with our final two courses. Mark went with a Rosso di Montalcino that was probably too big for the food we were eating, but was amazingly good. I ordered a northern California pinot noir that was perfectly adequate and matched well with the food, but wasn't near so good as a similar wine from Oregon would have been, at least not to my palate.

Fourth course: countryside farm rabbit loin on rabbit ravioli with English peas, carrots, and arugula

This was my favorite course. I hadn't had rabbit in years, and I love it. The loin itself was good--perfectly prepared, soft, buttery, melting in your mouth--but the ravioli was what really pushed this dish over for me. It was filled with what seemed to be rabbit confit, and I couldn't get enough of it. I was so disappointed that there was only one big ravioli on the plate. There so should have been two. The peas in this dish were a big disappointment, though--they were, I think, intended to be tiny crunchy spring peas, but instead they just seemed to be undercooked mature peas. Once again, I think the problem was seasonality--spring peas do not exist in Texas in August. Overall, though, I really loved this dish and would order it again in a heartbeat. Ideally not to share.

Fifth course: grilled quail breast on wilted radicchio, Japanese eggplant, chanterelles, and lemon verjus butter

Again, spot on. Mark likes quail a lot more than I do (and I hogged most of the rabbit), so I surrendered the majority of the little grilled quail breast to him. I can say it was once again cooked perfectly, though. Unlike some of the other dishes, the vegetables were perfect in this one as well. The little rounds of Japanese eggplant with chanterelles were really excellent in the lemon verjus butter. I don't like radicchio, and this didn't change that, but Mark said the preparation of it was quite good as well.

Dessert: basil infused panna cotta with balsamic, strawberries, and toasted pistachio for Mark; "Wink Trio" sampler plate for me

After spending the whole meal eating communally, Mark and I went our separate ways for dessert. This decision was fueled by my claim that the sampler plate I was ordering wasn't going to be enough for both of us, and by Mark's lust for panna cotta, which I hate. Mark says his panna cotta was very interesting. I say it looked, as always, like a Jello mold. All the more so in this case, since the basil made it kind of green.

My dessert sampler, however, was amazing. It was tiny portions of three desserts: a warm flourless chocolate cake made with 'El Rey' chocolate and zinfandel infused cherries; a traditional crème brûlée served with fresh blueberries and raspberries; and tart lemon curd in a crisp meringue cup with candied lemon zest and raspberries. There was nothing on the plate I didn't love. For the most part, I ate them in order, starting with the intense chocolate cake, cooling my mouth with the crème brûlée, and then zinging myself with the lemon curd cup. The candied lemon zest on the lemon curd cup and the cherries on the El Rey cake were both to die for. Each dessert was very small--maybe shot glass sized--and together they were the perfect amount (I did let Mark try each thing). They went together perfectly, and any of them would be great on its own as well.

I did make an ordering mistake when I ordered a glass of Saracco Moscato d'Asti with my dessert. It was very tasty moscato, but it was all honey and peaches--just too much sweetness, so I had to order a cup of coffee to drink with it instead. As is typical in Texas, the coffee was the weakest point of the meal. It was a custom blend for Wink from Texas Coffee Traders, and it is probably fine for folks who developed their coffee taste in the south, but I'm from the PNW and I thought it was week. Mark had a dessert wine as well, which he enjoyed, but neither of us can remember what it was.

It was about 8:45 when we left the restaurant, and we agreed that it was a fantastic evening. One of the nicest dining experiences we've had in Austin for sure. The waitress mentioned that Wink has a separate wine bar (with over 50 varieties by the glass) and a bistro menu, and I'd love to try that at some point. The restaurant itself is definitely not on the schedule again until the next time someone else is paying, but if you have a love for fancy food and a special occasion coming up, I'd recommend it for sure.

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Here's to mommy blogs

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In the world of interpersonal blog relations (heh), there have now been years of discussions and arguments about "mommy blogs." Mommy blogs, if you've been under a rock, are blogs written by moms. Some of them are all about children, others broach into other subjects as well. Mommy blogs have increased in popularity for several years, on both a small and a large scale (some people have thousands of readers, others blog mostly for the benefit of keeping in touch with friends and family), and have been a presence a BlogHer for the last several summers. This year at BlogHer, my pal Suebob spoke about "childless blogging," in part a response to the mommy bloggers and in particular their appeal to advertisers. Bottom line: mommy bloggers, the attention they have received, etc. has been a hot topic for several years now.

So, since it has already been beaten into the ground, I thought I'd join in with my $0.02.

I don't have children. I don't plan to have children. I don't particularly plan not to have them either, but it's not something on my near future radar screen, for sure. This puts me in the minority in my current age cohort--both in "real life" and online, the majority of my friends have kids. I'd be lying if I said this never annoys me. I like kids, and I like being around them, but reaching the point in your life when your friends start having kids and having their lives change drastically while yours does not can indeed cramp your style and change your social scene. However, I've come to recognize that just as it is my responsibility to accept a friend's partner into my life because she loves that person, it is my responsibility to accept children into my life because my friends have chosen to have them. Once a friend has kids, those kids are part of that package. Yes, it changes things, but maybe it was time for things to change anyway. We're not as young as we used to be. And so life drifts towards more afternoon barbeques and midday brunches, we begin to work around naptimes, and I start keeping toys and games at my house to entertain the littles while their parents hang out. So be it.

Online, though, I am not in any way obligated to interact with parents if I don't choose to do so. Once in awhile, someone I know online, or someone whose blog I like, starts out with no kids and then has a kid (the most recent example I can think of is Allie's pregnancy at My Wardrobe Today; though my friends The Princess and Bomboniera have also had kids in the past year). Mostly, though, the "mommy bloggers" I read have been mommies the entire time I've been reading them. And you know what? They are among the best bloggers out there.

I read a lot of blogs. Craft blogs, thrifting blogs, persona blogs of all stripes. But there are a few mommy blogs that are the consistently highest quality of any of those I read, both when they are talking about their kids and when they aren't. And I think these women deserve any credit they get for their writing. Their kids may give them a built-in source of fodder for their posts, but it is what they do with that material that matters, and what they do makes me laugh, makes me cry, and inspires me to be a better blogger.

Flea of One Good Thing was the first really high quality blogger I ever read. She's written a ton of funny stories about her childhood, her crazy young adulthood, and her adventures as the proprieter of a sex shop. However, her best posts have always been about her children. When her son Alex put his soiled underwear in the coffee pot, her telling of the story solidified for me just how good blogging can be.

There are always naysayers who claim that Dooce doesn't deserve her position as a "celebrity blogger." I've always felt she does, if only for her honest writings about dealing with her depression and her amazing photographs (I love the recent ones of quilts). However, it's her open monthly letters to her daughter Leta that have most consistently amazed me. It's not just the love that comes through in those letters, but the honesty of that love, the admittance of just how hard it can be to be someone's mom, and how little that difficulty matters when it comes to how you feel about your child, that impresses me. I don't know if I would choose to do it quite so publicly as Dooce does, but I do know that if I ever have a child, I will definitely adopt her monthly letter-writing method of record keeping. I can't imagine how those letters wouldn't be priceless to Leta someday.

I've been following Squid's blog, The Adventures of Leelo and His Potty-Mouthed Mom, for years. I've cried while reading her entries more times than I can count. Her post "Music and Violence" earlier this week, though, left me weepy for half an hour. Squid's honesty about Leelo, and willingness to share both his triumphs and his hurdles, takes my breath away. It speaks to her strength as both a writer and a mom that when I read her posts I feel like I know her children.

There are too many other great mommy blogs to name. I love the sardonic humor dished out by Tanis at Attack of the Redneck Mommy, Eden at Fussy, and Mir at Woulda Coulda Shoulda. I am stunned by the thought and style put into posts by Ree at Confessions of a Pioneer Woman at LilySea at Peter's Cross Station. I don't read these blogs because kids are my #1 favorite subject--they aren't--I read them because they're the best blogs I've found.

All of this is to say that I think those of us who are non-mommy bloggers should get off mommy bloggers' backs. The community they have created for themselves is something that can and should be replicated, it's not something our jealousy should make us bitter about. And the work they are doing, both in raising their great kids and in writing about with humor, patience, love, and honesty, is worth commending.

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Little Girls in Pretty Boxes

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little girls in pretty boxesIn celebration of the beginning of the Olympics, I finally picked up a book I've had around and meant to read for a long time. Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters is journalist Joan Ryan's expose of the treatment of young figure skating and gymnastic Olympics hopefuls in the 80s and early 90s. Though it seems somewhat outdated, having been written when the Harding-Kerrigan scandal was still news, the book is no less chilling twelve years later as it was when it was written.

Basically, the book is about legalized and accepted child abuse. Girls who are thirteen, twelve, nine, being forced to train through injuries, berated for their weights, pumped full of drugs so that they can keep going, encouraged to leave school, and even assisted in their eating disorders, all for the sake of a slim chance at participating in the Olympics. Joan Ryan's book is sympathetic towards the girls themselves (she talks mostly to former skaters and gymnasts, not those who are currently participating in their sports), but pretty relentless in going after their parents and coaches, particularly legendary gymnastics coach Béla Károlyi. These people, Ryan argues, value winning far over the health and happiness of the girls they parent or train, to the long-term detriment of those girls.

Each story featured in the book is more horrific than the last. Teen gymnast Julissa Gomez was encouraged to perform a vault she was not comfortable with, fell and broke her neck, and spent the rest of her short life completely incapacitated, unable to move or speak. Christy Henrich, who trained at Al Fong's gym with Julissa until her accident, became an anorexic while she was training as a gymnast and the disease eventually killed her. Both of these stories are just examples of what could happen to any gymnast, at least the way Ryan tells it--nearly all the women with whom she speaks remember being pressured to train or compete when they are injured or not comfortable, being scrutinized for her weight, and taking drastic measures to stay unnaturally small and thin. The skaters to whom Ryan speaks face similar pressures, though their sport is not quite so dangerous. In her discussion of skating, Ryan also spends some time exploring the class dimension that became so apparent in ice skating when Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were both trying to be America's sweetheart.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this book is long on anecdotes and short on evidence. Ryan explains at the outset that she is focusing mostly on the women who did not make it to the gold, the girls whose sacrifices did not pay off. While this may seem to skew the story she tells, it seems fair to me given that the media mostly does focus on the winners. Certainly when reading this while everyone is gearing up for the summer Olympics it seems like the story that doesn't usually get told.

Looking at this year's roster of "women's" Olympic gymnasts, the stories in Ryan's book scare me. Though the U.S. team is a bit older than they were in the 90s (mostly of the team are in their late teens), they are so small. The current age for Olympic eligibility is 16, and some members of the Chinese team (the U.S.'s biggest rival) were scrutinized for possibly being under that age. Nothing seems to have changed.

And yet, will I watch? I don't know. I can't imagine feeling good about it. I believe these girls deserve better. Even a girl who brings home a gold medal deserves better. She deserves a childhood.

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Best posts

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I am trying to put together a few of my best blog posts in a "best posts" category, for the benefit of newcomers to my blog who don't want to wade through a lot of crap to get to the few times I write something worth reading. Regular readers, do you have any ideas of things I should include in this category?

Thanks!

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The pitfalls of being a thrifting goddess

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big pile of thrifted stuff

What you see here is my desk/craft table. Well, you can't really see it, but it's holding up this gigantic pile of stuff. See, this is the problem with being a prolific thrift shopper. What do you do with the stuff once you bring it home? The swappables, the giftables, the things that might come in handy someday...it's all here, taking up half of our office and driving Mark no end of nuts.

closet full of thrifted stuffWhat makes it worse is that I already have a closet full of more organized thrifted stuff, as you can see at left. Those bins are all full, so even if I were moved to organize the stuff that is all over my table, I don't really have anywhere to organize it to.

Honestly, I need to clear things out. If I don't have a specific someone in mind for a gift, and nobody is forthcoming for a swap, I should just donate it all back. An organized house and organized mind and all that.

But I probably won't.

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