A league of their own: WPS

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wpslogo.jpgI've mentioned before how much I love women's soccer. Sadly, this love didn't come about until after the last attempt at a U.S. women's professional soccer league had crashed and burned.

But it's all better now. Yesterday was the inaugural game of the new Women's Professional Soccer League (WPS)! My most favorite player, Abby Wambach, captained her team, the Washington Freedom, in a match against international sensation Marta and the L.A. Sol.

The Freedom lost. And, aside from a promising relationship between Abby and French winger Sonia Bompaster, they kinda sucked. The midfield was a mess. Brianna Scurry was sloppy in the goal. It just didn't look good. The Sol, on the other hand, looked pretty tight. Marta is an absolute force, and U.S. national Shannon Boxx kept everything running very smoothly from the defense. So, even though the Freedom is going to be "my" team, I have to give the Sol credit for making the better go of it this time around.

None of that is really important, though. What's important is that they played. Women, representing at least seven nations, getting paid to play football, in front of a crowd of nearly 15,000. That's how it should be. And it's a long time coming for a lot of the players, many of whom were involved in the fiasco the first time around (and not treated very well at all during those years).

I can't wait to see them live. In the meantime, though, Fox Soccer Channel is featuring them on Sundays, so if you're a soccerhead, check it out.

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How to put time in a bottle

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If you've been reading my complaints here and elsewhere recently (and who can blame you if you haven't), you know that I am at present spread pretty thin and craving more balance and control of my time. I spent a good deal of time yesterday thinking about this, and here's the plan that came to me for how to be a better mistress of my days and hours:

Every activity of any substance that I do should be either a) fun or b) necessary. It's really that simple. I shouldn't be taking up chunks of time, which is currently precious to me, with things that are neither necessary nor enjoyable.

So how to meet that goal? Well, to begin with, I have to learn to take a step back before doing something and ask myself if it is either fun or necessary (or, in an ideal world, both). Many things fall into one of these two categories, and they are, to my mind, good uses of my time. I go to work because it's necessary. I blog because I enjoy it. These activities are off the table.

But what about the many things I do that are neither enjoyable nor necessary? How to I justify them to myself? Some of them are justified as precursors to things that I think will be either fun or necessary. For example, while going to the gym is not fun for me, or strictly necessary, it is step to a goal--a stronger, healthier, thinner body--that both appeals to me as enjoyable and as necessary for a longer and healthier life. These things need to be evaluated. While some of them, like going to the gym, probably need to stay on my schedule, others could probably be replaced with some other step, or taken out of my plan to achieve X fun or necessary goal all together.

Finally, there are things that are not fun, not necessary, and not done in the service of future fun or necessity. Mostly, these things are holdovers. Things I do because I got into the habit of doing them back when they were fun or necessary and I haven't ever stopped. These need to go. It serves no purpose for me to waste precious time doing something that I used to enjoy, or used to need to do, but don't any longer. I think that people often keep doing things they no longer get any joy out of simply for fear of "quitting." That's really counterproductive. While there is certainly value in sticking to things, there is just as much value, I think, in knowing when the useful life of a given activity has passed and letting it go. Right now, I am working to identify these things in my own life. As a start, I'm once again weeding my blog roll of blogs I don't enjoy reading. There is absolutely no reason for me to be spending time going through them if they aren't doing it for me anymore. (Gotta start small.)

A final category I've identified is things I do because I think they're good for me, or better me as a person, or are helpful to other people/the world around me, even though they are neither enjoyable nor needed in my life. These things all need to go. I'm not suggesting we shouldn't do things for people beyond ourselves, but, given limited time, why not find ways to help others that fill a need in your own life as well? Life is too short to do things out of obligation, especially when there are so often other ways to serve.

So, for the next few weeks at least, I am going to be trying to really evaluate my own activities and see which of these categories they fall into. From there, I figure it should be much easier to see what needs to be cut, and I should also feel less resentful about the things I do need to keep doing, since I'll be more aware of the purpose they serve.

At least that's the plan.

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In which I get my woo on (Treasure Mapping)

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Have you all heard of treasure mapping? You can read about it here, but bascially, it means making a collage of your wants/goals for the next year. It's much like the vision boards Karen and Alex did for New Year's, but done on the Aries New Moon instead of at the New Year.

And yeah, it's a little bit woo. Or even a lot. But I did it anyway, last night. And here is my map:

Treasure map

It was a worthwhile exercise just to do it, I think. We'll see how it holds up, but I'm glad I tried.

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2009 Goal Progress Report, Week 13

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A bit better this week...

#1: Read one book per week.
I finished The Last Days of Dogtown. It was neither bad nor particularly good. I'm still listening to The Secrets of the Fire King. Some of the stories are very good, some less so.

#4: Improve my eating habits.
I've haven't been perfect here this week, but definitely better than last week.

#5: Exercise regularly.
I've been to the gym twice this week and gone on three dog walks of 40-60 minutes with the very quick-paced Pepper, so I feel pretty good about this category.

#6: Pay off my credit cards.
I am watching that balance dwindle and very much enjoying the feeling!

#13: Build my freelance resume.
Looks like I have a bunch of new work headed my way in the next week or so. I am feeling pressed for time and definitely need to work on organization and time management to get everything done, but it's still a good thing.

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Pepper

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She's leaving tomorrow, and I can't say I'm sad about that. She has been fun and educational, though!

And I thought you might like to see her.

Pepper and Grace

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Romantic portrayal of the working...man

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Last night, an advertisement came on the TV for some new logging show. This is, by my count, the third logging show in the last few years (preceded by Ax Men and Heli-Loggers), but there may be more. There are also, of course, the fishing shows (Deadliest Catch, Off the Hook, The Catch). Mark loves these shows. So, apparently, do a lot of people.

So what's the appeal? Well, at first blush, I'd say it's a danger thing--the shows purport to show the real world of dangerous occupations. But then I think about other programs, like Mike Rowe's long-standing and quite popular Dirty Jobs, which isn't about dangerous jobs, just about "dirty" ones.

It seems to be an idolization and romanticizing of physical labor. I imagine the audience, relaxing on their couches after they come home from their desk jobs, watching actual physical work on their screens, and feeling on one hand lucky not to have to do it themselves, and on the other hand jealous to not be part of the comradeship and the culture portrayed. Feeling, maybe, like something has been lost. Whether this rose-colored nostalgia is a good thing or not is really questionable, but that's not the issue I'm after here.

Me being me, I also have to notice that all of these romantic brute laborers are men. I've yet to see a reality show about women's work, be it blue collar or pink. Nobody comes home from the office and feels nostalgic while watching waitresses do their day-to-day thing, or catches up with their favorite personalities among the women on the assembly line. It's a long-standing complaint that women are rarely shown working in fictional shows, but the same is true in this new spate of reality programming. If anything, it's worse.

We really have no cultural idolization of the working woman. When we get all gooey and nostalgic about the working man, in the back of our minds isn't his wife at home, minding the hearth and the kids? Why, if we're using this financial crisis and the associated flagellation as an excuse to idolize previous hard-working generations and the few people in our own generation who still work like that, are women exempt?

I grew up in a culture in which hard physical work was valued for both genders. My stepfather is a timber faller, so he falls right into the current work-worshipping, but my mother works just as hard. I remember a summer she spent spending 1/2 days waiting tables and 1/2 days doing summer cleaning at the school--that was absolutely hard physical labor, for which she was paid remarkably little. My grandmother, until she was in her 60s, worked at a tree farm, planting and cultivating trees, every day. And the women I knew worked just as hard in their homes as outside them, not just keeping house and raising kids, but tending huge gardens, tending livestock. Taking care of their families in a way that is just as nostalgic to most now as the occupations portrayed on those shows.

My grandmother used to say that a man works 'til the day is done, but a woman's work is never done. Why, then, can't someone highlight the labor of women? Would anyone watch that show?

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More makeup reviews

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Was that last post a little much for you? Yeah, for me too. Let's go back to frivolity, shall we?

Since I wrote this post on makeup, I have tried several more things. Let's review them!

Boots No7 Soft and Sheer Tinted Moisturizer: ($12) I tried this stuff based on the fairly good reviews it got at Makeup Alley. And I hated it. Too thick, too much like regular foundation, and it felt really oily. Fail.

Juice Organics SPF 30 Light Tint Moisturizer: ($12) This one I tried because they had it at Ross (I think maybe it has been discontinued?). Again, hated it. Too thick and sloppy and greasy.

Jane Be Pure AquaCeuticals Sheer Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30: ($7) Strike three! This is actually the worst tinted moisturizer I've tried--it smells and feels just like sunscreen, and the colors are really dark. Ick. So I'm still using the Physician's Formula Organics stuff, which is working out OK. I did order some Clinique to try, though, since I learned Sephora has free returns.

Clinique Almost Powder Makeup SPF 15: ($22.50) Using this is one of the reasons I'm starting to believe that expensive makeup might be worth the money. This stuff is great. Goes on really evenly, looks natural, and feels totally weightless. Definitely a keeper.

Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey: ($14) Black Honey Clinique lipstick is one of those makeup products that has almost a cult following. And while I do like the shade--it's super easy to wear and looks great--I don't love the formula. It is pretty matte and it wears off really quickly. I do wear this a lot, but it takes constant reapplication. I may need to try a lip primer.

Nars Blush in Orgasm: ($25) Just like everybody says, this is the perfect blush. It's like I can't screw up with it--it looks great every time. I'm really, really happy with it. I am considering trying it in another color for a little more dramatic look, but honestly, I am so happy with this one I probably won't.

Almay Nearly Naked Touch Pad Liquid Makeup SPF 12 in Neutral: ($12) This is another one of those $3 Big Lots purchases, and I adore it. I use it when I have no time--just a few swipes of my fingers and my skin is evened out, nothing else necessary.

Revlon Luxurious Lengths Mascara in Blackened Brown: ($7) This is the mascara I am currently using, and it's neither bad nor great. It doesn't cause the length luxurity is promises, but it does better than anything else I've yet tried. And it was a $3 Big Lots purchase, so I'm not complaining.

Jane Be Pure Mineral Eye Lighters in Rose Quartz: ($6) These are a new addition to my makeup routine, bought on clearance with a coupon at Walgreen's for about $1, and I love them. Eye shadow, for some reason, intimidates me--I feel like I am going to overdo it, but these are subtle and I like that you have several complimentary colors to chose from/use together.

Jane Colorsticks Eye Crayon in Mercury Rising: ($4) This was another $1 Walgreen's impulse purchase. I'm not 100% sure I am using it right, but I like how it makes my eyes look lightly sparkly.

e.l.f. All Over Color Stick in Pink Lemonade: ($1) Wooed by the super low prices, I made a big order from e.l.f. a bit back. So far, I have been roundly disappointed. This color stick doesn't seem to actually do anything. It doesn't show up on my face, and on my lips it makes me look ill. Not even worth the buck.

e.l.f. Shimmering Facial Whip in Pink Lemonade: ($1) Another fail. This shows up alright--it looks and feels like grease paint. Just ew.

e.l.f. Eyeliner and Shadow Stick in Green/Moss: ($3) I tried this because I am coveting the similar product from Stila. The quality, however, is way lacking. The eyeliner sort of goes on, but the eyeshadow just doesn't even make a mark on my skin unless I push down hard enough to actually hurt my eye.

e.l.f. Plumping Lip Glaze in Mocha Ice: ($1) This is the only e.l.f. product I have tried so far that I haven't totally hated. It goes on with no tingly feeling at all, but my lips did seem slightly plumper, and I like the neutral color. The trouble is, it only lasts for a few minutes before re-application is needed. I guess for $1 I should probably expect that.

I think that's about all I've tried recently. I'm also obsessing with nail polishes and perfume (Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab) these days, so probably there will be upcoming posts on that. When did I get so...girly?

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Believe in me, help me believe in anything

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"Jesus said, "I tell the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live."
John 5:24-25

I went to my coworker's funeral today. As part of the service, the pastor (rector? priest? not sure) read an essay my coworker had written on the verse above. Basically, the essay expressed his great joy and slight amazement in being saved, and in believing that because he knew God and believed in His son, Jesus, he did not have to fear death, but would live eternally. This isn't exactly a new concept to me--I may be ignorant of religion, but I'm not that ignorant. I get that believe=live eternally is a basic premise of many Christian denominations. But I'd never heard it put quite so clearly before. It was basically described as an unbelievably good deal.

Which, of course, it is. All you have to do is believe in God and that Jesus died for our sins and you get an eternal reward? Pretty sweet.

Except when you can't.

I tried to believe in God. I've been trying to find Him, to find a faith, for many years now. And I'm not closer than I was when I started--if anything, I'm farther away. I've visited churches of many denominations (most of the major Christian branches as well as Quakers), and I felt nothing. I have never felt God inside me. I think, sometimes, that I do, but upon examination, my feelings always come back to me, not to an outside higher power.

Do I get points for trying? If they're right, and their God does exist, and all you have to do to live eternally is believe, do I get points for wanting to believe? I don't think so. I think I'm damned with the rest of the unbelievers.

After the service today, another co-worker, who described himself as a "fellow Atheist" (which I don't think is quite true of me, but whatever), asked what I'd thought of it. I said that I've been to enough funerals at this point where the major gist was "believe as the deceased did or you'll never see him in heaven" not be bothered by it anymore. It wasn't true, though. In truth, the idea that my lack of belief points not to a lack of anything believable, but to a failure in me, terrifies me. It's not just that I'm afraid I'm going to Hell (or just dying without an afterlife), but I'm afraid that I'm wrong and I'm missing something basic and important in this life because of it.

A while back, I was in line at a store and when I asked the clerk how she was doing she replied, "I've been saved and He is with me! I am always doin' fine." Normally, a statement like that would give me an internal snort, but that day I took pause. She seemed honestly to say that her faith made her happy all the time. Of course nobody is happy all the time, but isn't there some evidence that believers are generally happier?

More and more, I don't judge religious people. I envy them. And listening to the store of my coworker's spiritual journey today, in his own words, did, in a strange way, give me comfort. Even if I don't believe, and I am scared, his belief apparently helped him not to be scared. Even if ultimately the heaven to which he believed he was headed doesn't exist, there is definite value in living your life and facing your death believing there is something like that coming up next. I'm glad he had that. I'm glad his family, who shared his faith, have that. I just wish I did too.

*Post title with apologies to The Counting Crows

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Waxing poetic about discount stores

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I love a good bargain. This if, of couse, one of the reasons why I thrift shop (though at this point it's not the most important one). Coupons thrill me. I love clearance racks.

And I love, love, love Ross. More recently, my Ross love has expanded to include Marshall's, as well. I still don't quite get T.J. Maxx.

Anyway, I've been cleaning up at Ross and Marshall's lately, so I thought I'd share with you a few of the discoveries I've made therein.

abba shampoo.jpgAbba Pure Basic Shampoo and Conditioner
I bought an 8 oz bottle each of Abba Pure Basic Shampoo and Conditioner at Marshall's a while back for I think $6.99 each. The drugstore.com price on it is $14/bottle for the shampoo and $15 for the conditioner. And I LOVE this stuff. It leaves my hair soft and clean and it smells herbal and nice. Once I'd used it enough to know I loved it, I was delighed to see the same stuff in big liter bottles at Ross for $12.99 (they are regularly about $30). So I've stocked up. Which is good, since apparently Abba is discontinuing this formula.

Seven7 Jeans
My quest for perfect jeans is nearly endless, but I've lately found a pair that is pretty damn close. They are the Seven7 brand dark wash flare jeans. Retail on them is about $60, mine were $19.99 at Marshall's.

EO French Lavender products
The French Lavender line from EO is one of my favorite commercially available body products. I love the subtle scent, and the quality is very good. I've recently bought a anti-stress room spray for $3.99 at Marshall's (regular price $8 or so) and one of these cute "Spa Box" sets for $4.99 at Ross (regular price $19.99). I used the massage candle to figure out how to make my own, and have very much enjoyed the shower gel and bath salts as well.

Ann Taylor lotion
My most exciting recent bath and body care was Ann Taylor body lotions for $3.99 each at Marshall's. It looks as if these have also been discontinued, at least in the two scents I got--Peach Honey Sheer Musk and Orange Nectar Honeysuckle--but when they were being sold I believe they were about $16 each.

simple sneakers.jpgSimple Carousel Plaid Slip-on
One of my favorite things about Ross is that they sometimes carry shoes in my size. They carried these plaid Simple slip-ons in my size, and I love them for that. The shoes are from Simple's Eco line, made with recycled bottles and tired and organic cotton, and they are super cute. My Ross version were $12.99. Amazon has them for $49.99.

Now if I could just find a bag I like...

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Chicken Tagine: A Guest Post by Mark!

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Y'all, I have a treat for you! As you know, I don't cook. 99% of the cooking at my house is done by my partner, Mark. Tonight, Mark made one of my very favorite meals, chicken tagine. And because I am really really nice to him, he agreed to do a guest post so that WINOW readers can create this wonder in their own homes if they have the urge. Sweet! So, without further ado, I give you Mark:

***

Tagine in the potTake one chicken (I like free-range organic ones) - butcher, reserving back for stock and breasts for another meal. Marinate wings, legs and thighs (I leave the wings whole as well as the leg/thighs), with skin on in:
2 teaspoons Harissa (Morroccan spice paste; I get mine from chefshop.com from a line called Mustapha's).
2 teaspoons Ras el-Hanout (Arabic spice mixture; its got like 20 different things in it, including Fennugreek, Rosehips, etc. inimitable in my opinion. Can be kind of hard to find.)
1 tbls olive oil
copious sea salt and fresh black pepper

Rub this mixture all over the chicken parts and leave to marinate for a while (all day would be great, but I've done it just for like 20 minutes and it works fine). Remember to wash your hands. Harissa in your eyes really sucks.

Brown the chicken parts (starting skin side down) in a hot dutch over or other similarly sized dish in some olive oil ( like 2 tsps - not too much). Get some nice caramelized browness all over the chicken but be sure not to let the brown bits in the bottom burn. Keep an eye on the heat and regulate. You should see a fair amount of dusty, henna-colored oil in the bottom.

Once the chicken parts are nice and brown, remove to a dish and add:
1 whole chopped yellow onion - chopped pretty fine, but no need to mince
2 carrots , chopped - abou the same size as the onions.
Use the moisture released from the veg to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the delicious brown stuff stuck to the pan with a wooden spoon. Make sure you get it all up. Add some salt and pepper while you're deglazing - helps release liquid.

After most of the moisture cooks out of the veg - 5 to 10 minutes, add
4-5 cloves of minced garlic
a few tsps of minced fresh thyme (not essential, but nice)
½ of a large preserved lemon, diced or minced (I make my own, but you can use the store bought stuff. Just scrape off all the flesh and dice the skin, including the pith. You should have about a tblsp or more).

Dishing up the tagineStir this around for a few minutes, letting the garlic sauté in the oil and get fragrant with the thyme and the lemon. Then add:
2 cans chickpeas
2 cans tomatoes - you can use whatever format you want here I think. I usually use whole peeled, and crush them into bits by hand as I use them. But you can use diced or whatever too.
1 whole dried bay leaf.
Stir that all around, get it all mixed up, and then add maybe a little more salt and pepper.

Add the reserved chicken back in, burying it in the veg mixture, and add back any of the juices released by the chicken.

Bring to a simmer, cover and let cook for at least an hour at a slight simmer - you should see bubbles, but not many and not too frequently. You really have to keep an eye on the heat. Alternatively, you could put it in a slow oven, but you have to keep an eye on it. Stir and turn the chicken a few times during the cooking, making sure to scrape the bottom.

Towards the end of cooking, remove the pieces of chicken, take the skin off and discard, strip the meat from the bones and connective tissue and add it back to the tagine. Let it simmer and thicken uncovered for a while until it reaches the thickness you want with the shredded chicken in there and its ready to serve.

I check it for seasoning at the end, adding more salt, pepper, fresh lemon juice, thyme (or parsley) or harissa to taste.

I serve it with coucous made with toasted pine nuts and sliced almonds, dried cranberries and seasoned with cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.

***

Kiss the cookGrace again. Sounds good, huh? It's also pretty healthy. This recipe makes about 6 servings, and each is about 7 WW points, by my count (plus however much couscous you eat with it, of course). And it reheats wonderfully, and freezes well.

Don't forget to kiss the cook!

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Owners of labs, I salute you

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Mark and I have found ourselves taking care of a five-month-old black lab puppy, Pepper, for a few days. It's an extreme situation, or I never would have volunteered--a five-month-old lab is, to be blunt, not my kind of dog.

I have to be fair to her: She is very sweet. Completely affectionate, absolutely no aggression, very soft mouth (especially for one who is still teething), and fairly good behavior. But even the best behaved dog in the world is a handful at this age, and a dog like a lab, who is really, really supposed to be doing something and not just lying around at my house, has the potential to be completely insane.

So far she hasn't been. She's been maybe...partially insane? She's trying to play with all three of my old man dogs, none of whom really want anything to do with her. Leo sort of humors her, Ata growls at her if she gets too close to him, and Leo barks right up in her face, which may or may not be his version of a playful gesture. But none of them are exactly frolicking material. So she wants to play with us. And play, in this case, means be right on top of every minute. Me especially--her owner told us that she has much more love for women than for men, and that is clearly the case. If I leave the room for even a moment, she sits at the baby gate and whines. Luckily, it hasn't yet occurred to her that she could clear said baby gate in an instant if she had a mind to.

It's frustrating, because I know exactly what she needs. A long walk, a swim, some time on an agility course, some concentrated training. But we are really not in a position to provide those things right now, which is exactly why we don't foster dogs like her normally. I did walk her for nearly an hour this morning, and will try to take her again this evening (not like I can't use the exercise), but she's not getting the stimulation or the activity she needs otherwise.

Makes me realize, again, how much I admire people who do foster dogs like her. People always think we're saintly for taking the old and sick ones, but in many ways, they are easier. Huey hasn't been on a walk in months, and won't be able to go on anything but a very short one for months more. He spends 90% of his time lying down and watching the world go by because that's what he is physically capable of doing (and because that is the time he's at in his life). We don't just take older dogs and larger breed dogs because we like them and because a lot of people won't--we take them because they are lazy!

The other thing that strikes me is that Pepper is a member of one of the most popular dog breeds in America. Many, many people have labs, and may of them have never even had a dog before and have no idea what they are getting into. Going in blind and then having her kind of energy and chaos in your house all of a sudden has to be awful, both for the dog and for the people. It's a rare person who can give a dog like her the environment she really needs in order to thrive, and the way they can behave when they don't get what they need is so totally disruptive that it suddenly begins to make sense why some people hate dogs.

Mostly, having her here makes me realize how lucky I am to know what I do about dogs and about my own limits. Doing rescue work is incredibly important to me, but I would have to restructure my entire life in order to rescue dogs like Pepper. I'd have to become someone I'm not. And it's not just labs--some of my very favorite breeds fall into that category (pit bulls come immediately to mind). If, back when we had no idea what we were doing, we'd have tried to fit these breeds into what is essentially a sedentary lifestyle, I'll bet we never would have even had a dog of our own long term, much less starting doing rescue work.

So, give us your old, your sick, and your extra large. While an occasional few days with the young and hyper is OK and keeps us on our toes, it only reaffirms my commitment to dogs who, like me, find that the best exercise is a good nap.

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2009 Goal Progress Report, Week 12

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It hasn't been a very good week...

#1: Read one book per week.
Audio: I finished Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist Wife yesterday and started Kim Edwards' short story book, The Secrets of the Fire King today. I've also re-started my membership at paperbackswap.com to try to keep myself in audiobooks.
Paper: Still reading The Last Days of Dogtown. It's not bad at all, but not terribly compelling either.

#2: See one movie per week.
I didn't watch a whole move this week. I watched the first half of Day Watch, but hated it so much I went to bed instead of finishing it.

#4: Improve my eating habits.
I've been sick to my stomach pretty much all week, so I've only been eating what I think will stay down at any given moment. Lots of saltines. And oddly, this seems to have caused weight gain, rather than loss.

#5: Exercise regularly.
Total fail. Haven't done a bit of exercise all week.

#6: Pay off my credit cards.
Set to make another several hundred dollar payment today!

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Living today

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One of my co-workers died last night. It was one of those deaths that flattens everything around it like a sudden and violent storm. Completely without warning, without reason. Hearing about it takes your breathe away and for one moment it is crystal clear that our lives are fragile, and brutal, and brief.

I don't tend to belief in "human nature." More often than not, human nature is what people invoke to explain away their personal bad behavior. Besides that, given the vast range of human experience, as well as our evolution, it's difficult for me to identify anything common enough to be called our nature. That being said, if there is one thing I do think is human nature, it is the need to look at the experiences of others--particularly the tragic ones--and find a lesson for ourselves. I think we use these lessons as talismans. If we can find the lesson in a situation and tell ourselves we've learned it, then we'll be safe. Honestly, it's not one of our better qualities, but I think we all do it.

In this death, I cannot find a lesson. There is no "he shouldn't have done X" or "I can keep this from happening to me if I just Y." There was no bad behavior here, just bad luck.

This makes me want to yell at God. I don't have a God of my own, but the man who died did, so I will yell at his God. Why, God, did you take someone with no warning? Someone with half a life left, with a family, with a seven year old? Why someone who couldn't have done anything to prevent it?

Because He knows I don't believe in Him, God doesn't answer me. I can imagine what He might say if He did, though. That we are hubristic if we think we're owed anything beyond our short, brutal lives. That we should rejoice at the gift we're given and not cry for more.

And God would be right. If there is anything that can be learned from a death like this one, it's that. Our lives are fragile, and brutal, and short. That's all we get. And that feeling I got upon first hearing about this senseless, random death is the one I should keep feeling. Only the panic of it will subside, and if I'm paying attention, I'll hold on to the kernel of truth. The only thing none of us have enough of is time, and we absolutely should use what we have to the best of our abilities.

I did not know the man who died last night well, but I can say that I think he had a good time. Nearly every conversation we ever had was about something fun--boating, beer, a new puppy. So while I am very, very sorry that his life was so short, I hope he enjoyed it.

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My thoughts on fat phobes

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This is what 200 pounds plus looks like. It's not pathological, it's doesn't mean someone is sick, it doesn't make them sexless, or indicate depression.

I <3 obnoxious morning Mark

Happy to be of service.

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Still normal after all these years

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Often, when talking about their time at Reed College, you'll hear people say that coming to campus was the first time they'd ever not felt out of place. Suddenly, while they were still weird, it was OK, because so was everybody else.

To some extent, I felt that way, too. There were definitely things that it was OK for me to be at Reed that it had never been OK for me be before--and some of them were fairly major. Being able to show those sides of myself was absolutely freeing. After awhile, though, I felt out of place at Reed, too. Not because I was too strange, but because I was too "normal."

Everything that had always stuck out about me seemed so moderate at Reed. My outlandish clothes were suddenly humdrum (and hey, I wore clothes!). My burgeoning depression was nothing compared to the actual psychosis around me. My sex and drug mores were absolutely conservative. And I was still smart to the rest of the world, but at Reed, I was barely average.

More than anything, though, being at Reed faced me with my own complete lack of creativity. My matriculation happened to coincide with my giving up all hopes of writing fiction, and honestly, there just wasn't a lot of art in me. I had loved theater in high school, but I knew I was out of my league in college and didn't even try. I felt surrounded by this intense creativity. It seemed like almost everybody I knew had it pouring out of them. Two of my best friends were biologists who were never without their sketchbooks. My boyfriend had big plans to turn a recently built campus building into a giant Eye of Ra. I sometimes I went to sleep the sounds of a midnight guitar session featuring another scientist and an economist.

One of the ways that I comforted myself when I was feeling the brunt of my averageness was to tell myself that it was temporary. After all, this was the early-20s super creative time. I was just growing up faster, I told myself--these people would eventually get to be just as boring as I was. They couldn't go their entire lives being able to lecture on the Medicis but not knowing where to buy a stamp. It just wasn't possible.

Fast forward nearly a decade and tonight Mark and I were having dinner with a friend from Reed who always has all the gossip about people we all know. Lots of it isn't surprising--I've gotten used to these people who I used to think of as colossal fuck-ups going straight and being successful; the first acid tripper to turn into a doctor is surprising, but after that it's less so. What gets me, as we work our way through the list, is the people who are still, at 30 or just beyond it, outside the norm. One person is a puppeteer. One is a contact juggler. One is, I kid you not, an actual rock star.

I am still an average person among the greats. I'm not as smart as the friends who now have Ph.D. or M.D. after their names, as successful as the ones with six figure incomes, or as artistic as those who are still committing themselves to creative pursuits. I haven't expatriated or had babies. I haven't written anything worth reading in years. I go to bed early and take vitamins and take care of my dogs and go to my regular job and live my regular life. Most days, that's enough. I know I should just consider myself lucky to have known these odd, brilliant, fucked-up people. But ten years later I'm still sad not to really be one of them.

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Art and toys and trash

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TST jarsWhen I first told people about Jars of Whimsies, I got mixed reactions. Some people thought they looked really cool, others not so much. Then, when I started exploring making them myself, those reactions continued. About half the people I spoke to about it thought it was great (and many of them wanted one or wanted to make their own). The other half thought, basically, that it looked like I was just putting garbage in a jar.

This hasn't offended me in the least, in part because enough people have been excited to convince me that I'm not insane, and in part because at the end of the day, I *am* taking trash and putting it in a jar, so it's not like the criticism is unwarranted.

The more serious I get about it, though (and I'm seriously consumed by these things lately), the more I feel the need to explain just why I think these are so cool.

It started with just a love of the tiny and shiny. I don't know when I started loving miniatures so much, but I suspect it had to do with a many year relationship with a Warhammer 40K dork who spent an inordinate amount of time fashioning little tiny people. As annoying as I found the little dudes, I did admire their tiny details. Anyway, I know my love for the tiny was firmly cemented by the time I graduated from college, as I distinctly remember being presented with a much loved graduation gift of doll-sized kitchen utensils. And as for the shiny--well really, who doesn't love shiny stuff? I think that's just built in. When I got my Jar of Whimsies, this was enough--it was fun to look at and I thought it was cool.

As I've started making this project my own, though, I've realized that it's more than just a love of collections of the tiny and shiny. It has moved, for me, from just whimsies--toys, basically--to something else. Something I'd almost (please forgive me for this in advance) call art.

I've always really wanted to be an artist, and I've tried, but I suffer from a very basic lack of craftsmanship. I'm really just bad at putting things together. I lack both patience and hand-eye coordination. The closest I've ever felt to being an actual artist was with collage pieces, but even then I excelled much more at the gathering of the pictures and words for a collage than at the putting them together. Given my predisposition towards collage, when someone recently referred to the Tiny Shiny Things jars as "collages in a jar," I felt an immediate sense of "Yes! Right!"

But it takes more than calling them collages in a jar to make them art, right? How have they moved, in my mind at least, from "just" toys to art pieces? (As a side note here, I think it's ridiculous to refer to them as "just" toys, as if toys were somehow less legitimate than art pieces to begin with. Toys are just as valuable, and certainly more useful, than most art.) It has to do, I think, with what is going into them. At first, the contents were chosen just on the basis of "this will fit in the jar and I think it's cool." Anything that made me happy to see was fair game. As I make more of them, though, I find myself drawn more to bizarre elements, and to elements that can be read in a decidedly political way--small promotional items have become favorites, as have out of date political buttons. The juxtaposition of these things with the small, shiny toys that make up the bulk of the jars feels, to me, like art.

There's also the origin itself. It is difficult to make something completely out of other people's trash without it being a political and/or artistic statement. I've realized, as I've made more jars, that it is intrinsic to the process, for me, that every single item in them be used. If they aren't made completely of things that have been discarded, then they make look the same, but they don't feel the same and don't have the same meaning. They have to be trash. If they aren't trash, they are just jars of cheap little toys. That might still be fun, but it's not art. While there is a practical reason for using discard items, as far as the cost of putting them together, but what's more important is the statement that they make.

So are the Tiny Shiny Things jars trash? Are they toys? Are they art? I posit that they can be all three, and maybe that being the first two simultaneously is what them the third. At any rate, I'm having a fantastic time making them, and the audience for them seems to be there. I have had a few requests for them and have sold several. My plan is eventually to stock them in the new-and-improved Crushworthy, but until that happens, feel free to drop me an email if you want one. Or, better yet, make your own!

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2009 Goal Progress Report, Week 11

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I've gotta say, y'all, I am pretty proud of how this is all going.

#1: Read one book per week.
I finished last week's audio book, Four Rooms, Upstairs and have moved on to Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist Wife .More impressively, I've finally started an actual paperback book, The Last Days of Dogtown.

#2: See one movie per week.
Mark and I watched In the Heat of the Night this week for the Oscar project. Really good film and Sidney Portier is fantastic. You should see it if you haven't.

#4: Improve my eating habits.
Still trucking on the WW and healthy eating. Still not perfect, but really doing better all the time.

#5: Exercise regularly.
Fell down on this one this week--I've only been to the gym once. In my defense, I haven't been feeling well. Unless I feel worse, though, I've got to go this weekend.

#6: Pay off my credit cards.
Last week's balance was $4,300, this week's is $3,500. Gotta love that.

#9: Journal and blog regularly.
I'm back to blogging nearly every week day and I'm really enjoying it again. I also decided to go to BlogHer this year, which I'm super excited about already.

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Little Black Box

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Have you ever heard of The Little Black Box? Basically, it's an independent company that gathers up samples from lots of indie businesses and puts them together in monthly "black boxes." The boxes are geared and teen girls and women and contain lots of beauty/bath type samples, jewelry, etc. They are different every month, depending on which indie businesses decide to contribute, and not all of the boxes are the same every month, depending on how many of each thing there are, though all of the boxes do have the same general value/number of items. There are a limited number of boxes for sale each month. The boxes cost $23 including priority mail shipping.

I heard about the program a year or so ago and desperately wanted to order one, but didn't have any extra cash at the time and forgot all about it. Then, recently, someone on a message board reminded me about them and I looked them back up. Since there were still February boxes left, I ordered one, and it arrived yesterday.

Little Black Box BagThe Little Black Box is actually a little black bag, pictured at left. I don't know why that disappointed me, but it did. However, packaging doesn't really matter all that much--I was more interested in what was inside!

LBB contentsThe following was included in my February Little Black Box:


  1. From Artists Helping Animals: a sticker, a promotional magnet, and a small plastic owl magnet

  2. From No Duplicates: two (screenprinted, I think?) Christmas gift tags

  3. From babai alainn: a small knitted beanie (doll sized)

  4. From Vegan Etsy: a BOGO coupon for dog treat recipes

  5. From Kreations by Kathie: four small heart-shaped cinammon scented mini scent tarts and a 15% off coupon

  6. From Gems by Jerri: a pair of beaded earrings and a 15% off coupon

  7. From fluffnflowers: four emerald okra seeds

  8. From The Crocheted Baby: a crocheted mini face scrubber (like this) and a BOGO coupon

  9. From a shop whose name I could not read: a small beaded string--maybe intended to be a keychain?

  10. From Bloomhill Baby: a small embroidered guardian angel and a 15% off coupon

  11. From girls just wanna have fun: a crocheted face scrubbie and a 15% off coupon

  12. From Photobeads: a large colorful bead and a small promotional calendar

  13. From Augavino: a photo card and a 20% off coupon

  14. From Hippy Dippy Designs: a pair of beaded earrings

  15. From McGuinness Photography: a photo card and a 15% off coupon

  16. From Cottonwood Herbals: a 4 oz bar of "Clothesline Fresh" scented soap

  17. From Soap that Makes Scents: a lavender scented soap petal

  18. From Cheri's Organics: a small bar of green tea jasmine soap

  19. From Skin Candy: a 20% off coupon, 2 oz rice krispie treats lotion, lavender vanilla shower gel sample, coconut pear body butter sample, and watermelon taffy whipped cream soap sample

  20. From Simply Sentimental: a 10% off coupon

  21. From Lincoln Christie: a glass tile necklace

  22. A PETA sticker featuring a pig barking like a dog

  23. A Little Black Box button

All in all, I was neither blown away nor disappointed. There was nothing in the box I would have chosen for myself, but most of it seems pretty usable and reasonable to pay for. I found the companies that contributed coupons but no merchandise irritating--I shouldn't have to pay for your coupons. I thought the Skin Candy company was generous, as was Lincoln Christie. I would have liked more bath stuff and less jewelry, but I understand that's the luck of the draw. And I still love the concept.

So, I think I will try March's box and see what it holds. The website says it will be on sale March 27. And in the meantime, I'm considering contributing to the boxes once I get Crushworthy back up and running. Little tins of sugar scrub would be perfect, I think...

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An extremist by any other name

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There was a piece on NPR this morning about young Somali-American men disappearing from the MSP area. The young men's families, and now the FBI, believe that some or all of them have gone to Somalia to join al-Shabab, a "Muslim terrorist" organization. Apparently one of them drove a suicide bombing car in Somaliland last fall and killed 28 people, which made him what the piece called the "first American citizen to become a suicide bomber."

Most of the focus of the story was on how these young men are being recruited. Mostly, it sounds as if they are being convinced that undertaking these types of actions will make them good Muslims. This is, one interviewee said, "some extreme interpretation of the Koran." While they are not being physically kidnapped at gunpoint, many of the young men's families believe that they are being brainwashed, using their religious insecurity, into becoming terrorists.

The first thing that came to mind for me when listening to this part of the story was not the bearded Muslim terrorist Americans have been indoctrinated into fearing these past years. Rather, the image that popped into my head was of Edward Furlong in American History X. A young, insecure man in a bad situation, being brainwashed into activities I'd consider terrorist. In Furlong's case, the organization brainwashing him wasn't Muslim, it was white supremacist (and yes, I realize it's a movie and he's a fictional character, but it's not like those organizations don't really exist). I then thought of a half dozen more examples of places and times in which young men have been indoctrinated into becoming killing machines for old men's' causes, destroying themselves, their families, their communities, and anybody who gets in the way. None of the examples that came to mind were Muslim. You can find non-Muslim examples of terrorist indoctrination looking back as far as you'd like (The Crusades?) or as recently as this week in Northern Ireland.

Our media and our government may be interested in having us believe that terrorism is the province of strange dark people who worship a different God than we do and their rules laid down in a different, unholy book, but that's no more true than it's true that a Somali-American boy who drove a car loaded with bombs on the Horn of Africa this fall was the first American suicide bomber. Fanaticism is a province of religion in general, not just religions that aren't yours. The same set of circumstances--poverty, unemployment, disenfranchisement, poor education--lead to a white terrorist as a brown one. There is just as much blood on the Bible as the Koran.

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Things I love

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I'm very review-and-consumption oriented lately, no? A phase, I guess. Maybe I need to put myself back on a blogging schedule so that I will be sure to talk about differnet things. I tend to just sort of write whatever I'm thinking about at a given moment, and if I am thinking a lot about something, like, say, stuff, then I blog a lot about it.

Anyway, here are some things I am loving right now:

BE buxom polishBare Escentuals Buxom Big & Healthy Lip Polish
Even when I didn't like makeup, I liked lip gloss, and now that I like makeup, I love lip gloss. I have lots of lip gloss. And Bare Escentuals Buxom Big & Healthy Lip Polish is my hands down favorite. It's a "plumping" gloss, but it feels tingly in a nice pepperminty way, not weird and chemical. It's scented, which some people might not like, but I love the smell of it and I like that it's not flavored. The color I have is "Brandi", which BE describes as "candied plum." It's not very dark and looks pretty natural on me, so it's perfect for my everyday makeup. It's also just the right amount of shiny and lasts pretty well (though it does require reapplication after eating or drinking). It's a little bit spendy at $18 a tube, but the tubes are huge and I expect will last a long time. I'll definitely be trying it other colors, too, as there are a ton.

kashi granola barsKashi TLC Chewy Granola Bars in Cherry Dark Chocolate
One of the biggest dieting issues I have is breakfast--I hate eating it at home and the work options are generally subpar, so I end up not eating it and then eating too much at lunch. Granola bars are one way around this, but I generally don't much like them. Except now that I've found this granola bar, I do. it's just the right amount of sweet, with chunks of dried cherry and small dark chocolate chips, and SO tasty. Plus they are whole grain based and they give me 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein for only 120 calories, which works out for the diet. And these go on sale at Target 2 boxes for $4 all the time, which works out to only about $.34 a bar.

kaleKale
I am not generally a lover of dark leafy greens. I have very sensitive taste buds, and I find them really strong and bitter. That being said, Mark has been doing remarkable things with kale, in particular this kale and garbanzo bean dish with shrimp that he made last week. Amazing. And kale is a nutritional powerhouse, too--lots of fiber, Vit. A, Vit. C, Vit. K, and beta carotene.

push pinsFunky Chicken Designs
Funky Chicken Designs is my Etsy store of the moment. I ordered some great push pins and a lovely coaster from there for my cube, and I couldn't be happier with them. The quality is high, prices are reasonable, shipping was quick, packaging was lovely, and she even threw in a couple of matchbook notebooks for free. The push pins now hold up my necessary documents and the coaster holds my water bottle. Yay for life in the cube!

sofft calypsoSofft Calypso
My current job requires a little higher standard of dress than my previous one did, so I bought some grown up girl shoes when I started working here. These are my hands down favorite, and are vying for my favorite shoes ever. They aren't uncomfortable and they look fantastic. They have that mix of old-school pump and salsa dancing shoe that just kills me, and they come in great colors. Mine are actually dark blue suede, but I couldn't find a picture of then online. I'd love to buy another pair in the aubergine color pictured here, though.

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Happy Birthday Barbie

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warhol barbie portraitSo today is Barbie's 50th birthday.

Probably unsurprisingly, I'm a Barbie hater. I don't like her and I don't think she's done anything good for female body image and self worth in her 50 year run. I think she's unrealistic, damaging, and frankly kind of creepy.

But when I was a kid, I didn't. I had Barbies, I played with Barbies, I liked Barbies. I wasn't an enthusiast or a collector or anything, but I was definitely pro-Barbie. And you know, I don't feel harmed by it. When I disovered in middle school that I could cinch a belt up really tightly to make my skinny self look hourglass shaped, it was Scarlett O'Hara I was emulating, not Barbie. When I stuffed my bra at my 10th birthday party, I wasn't dressing up as Barbie, I was dressing up as Dolly Parton. I don't ever remember wishing I had a body like Barbie's, anymore than I wished I had a body like Raggedy Ann. Barbie was just...a doll.

Obviously this isn't the experience everybody had with Barbie. There's a woman who spent a half million on plastic surgery to make herself look like Barbie, and I'm sure she's not alone. So what's the difference? Why is Barbie so harmful to some women and girls and not to others? And why do I feel OK being so judgemental about the harm Barbie causes when I don't think she caused any to me?

What's most interesting to me now, on Barbie's birthday, is not her unrealistically thin and tiny-footed and big-breasted body, but the fact that she's never aged. No matter what profession Barbie takes up (doctor, pilot, etc.), she's always unlined and unblemished, firm and young. This makes sense, obviously, given her status an icon to perfect womanhood. Perfect women don't age. And at this point, her lack of gray hair or wrinkles is just about asd unrealistic as her measurements. On designboom, there is a picture of what an aged Barbie might look like, which I think is interesting. It's particularly telling that it's a headshot. Guess nobody wanted to see what gravity would do to those boobs over time.

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2009 Goal Progress Report, Week 10

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Another good week, I'd say!

#1: Read one book per week.
Again, all audio. I finished Jennifer Traig's Well Enough Alone and have moved on to Four Rooms, Upstairs. For next week, my goal is to add an actual paper book.

#2: See one movie per week.
Saw The Man Who Cried (horrible) on DVD and Slumdog Millionaire (eh) in theater.

#4: Improve my eating habits.
Probably didn't do quite as well as last week, but still working on this one and focusing on increased vegetables and making healthier choices every day.

#5: Exercise regularly.
About the same as last week--been to the gym twice for 30 minutes of cardio each time and will go again tonight. Next week I plan to increase to 35 or 40 mintues each visit.

#6: Pay off my credit cards.
I am down to one credit card, and the balance is down to about $4,300. I will have this goal completed before summer!

#7: Save at least $100/month.
Done.

#9: Journal and blog regularly.
The journal is now completely abandoned, but I am back to blogging regularly and am enjoying it again!

#13: Build my freelance resume.
I completed a large volunteer grant editing project this week. It is work I am particularly proud to have been a part of and it's great resume fodder.

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Pet pictures

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Haven't you missed them?

Leo got a sock monkey at the bins tonight:

Leo with sock monkey

Atticus cuddles with his dog buddies:

Sphinx kitties:

Sphinx kitties

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Love creates something that was not there before

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Pardon me while I get sappy for a minute.

In one of my favorite parts of one of my favorite movies, Tommy not-yet-Gnosis asks Hedwig if she believes love lasts forever. They have the following exchange:

Hedwig: Seriously, Tom, yeah. I believe love is immortal.

Tommy: How is it immortal?

Hedwig: I don't know, perhaps because...Iove creates something that...was not there before.

Tommy: What? Like procreation?

Hedwig: Yeah, but not only.

Tommy: What? Like recreation.

...

Hedwig: Maybe just...creation.

In a film that is largely about love, this, to my mind, is the heart of it. Love lasts forever because it creates something that was not there before. Sometimes, it's a baby. For my family, this week, it was--my cousin and her husband had a healthy little boy. And I know, because I grew up in this family, that above all that child will be loved. Not only is he something that was not there before, but the love we will all feel towards him is also something that was not there before. Creation.

Happy Love Thursday, everybody.

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Oh my God I love the Keuring

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keurig mini.jpgI am a coffee snob. I'm from Oregon, so it's pretty much in my genetic make up. And I drink a lot of coffee.

So, one of the issues I immediately faced at my new job was the lack of coffee options. My options were:

1. bring coffee from home
2. buy coffee in the cafeteria downstairs for $1.50/cup
3. buy coffee from the floor's coffee co-op, for $.25/cup

#2 and #3 were both immediately right out, as the coffee in question is the kind that comes ground and possibly freeze-dried in a big can, and that just doens't do it for me. So I did #1, bringing my lovely blue-lidded Nissan stainless mug with me faithfully every morning. The problem with that was quantity--that got me through my first two cups, but then what? And I don't just drink coffee in the morning, so where was my afternoon caffeine? I started drinking soda to replace it, which is never a good thing.

The obvious solution was an in-cube French press. Mark and I prefer to make our coffee with a French press at home, so I am used to the method and I think it makes damn good stuff. The problem with that is that my access to a sink here is limited (there is a break room, but I don't really feel comfortable using it) and I'd also need a hot water boiling pot, and a grinder, which would begin to clutter up my limited cube space. Plus it would get cold in the time it takes me to drink a whole French press pot. Plus I'd be making a lot of noise, which might be a problem. So that was out.

What's a coffee addicted snob girl to do? Several people suggested I invest in a Senseo coffee maker, but I discounted that idea on the basis that really that's not a very big step up from instant coffee (Little tea bag pouches of Folgers? I think not.).

Then I did some research, and it turns out that some of those individual cup coffee makers come highly recommended, and recommended by people who actually like coffee! As I dug deeper, one name came up over and over again: Keuring.

And so it came about that I went to Coffee For Less (through Ebates, of course) and ordered my very own Keurig Mini B30 Brewer. Along with it, I ordered my first box of K-cups, the individual coffee pods the machine takes. The ones I chose were the House Blend from Seattle's powerhouse coffee roaster Tully's, which I'd used in bean form before and knew I liked. The price tag was kind of steep--$80 for the machine and $12 for 24 K-cups--but cheaper than buying my several cups a day would be, even if I was able to do so somewhere close by.

It arrived in just a few days and I brought it to the office and set it up in the corner of my cube. "Set up," in this case, means plugged in. Within five minutes, I had a cup of coffee. The thing is so idiot proof it could be run by a drunk monkey. You push a button, pop in a K-cup, fill the water resevoir, and push go. That's it. Three minutes later, 8 oz of coffee.

And y'all, it's good coffee. It's not quite as good as French press, but it's better than most drip coffee I've had. And it is exactly the same cup of coffee every time--no variations in strength or temperature, no grit. No possibility for human error. For what I wanted, which is quick, easy, good, messless coffee in my cube, it could not be more perfect.

There are, of course, downsides. Many of the reviewers on on Coffee For Less think the machine doesn't make the coffee hot enough. Because I drink mine black and quickly, it works just fine for me. It is spendy, though, with each cup coming in at about $.50 (if you buy them by the case instead of by the box, cost goes down to about $.44, and I'd bet there are cheaper sources out there). It creates waste that I don't like--each K-cup is a use once and throw away deal. There are also a limited number of roasters making K-cups, so you can't get any coffee you want (though it is being made by Tully's and another of my favorite PNW roasters, Coffee People, so I'm good there). All in all, though, I have only one regret about this purchase.

I should have bought the red one.


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Slumdog: Eh.

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slumdog millionaire posterI am about to tell you something that may get me kicked out of the club:

I didn't love Slumdog Millionaire.

It won 8 Oscars. It's an indie hard luck story. It's directed by Danny Boyle, the genius behind Trainspotting. Everybody has been raving about it for months. So yes, my expectations were pretty high when Mark and I finally went to see it last night. And I can't say that they were dashed; it's not by any stretch a bad movie, it's just not that good a movie, either.

First, things I liked about it: The music is incredible--those two Oscars were certainly deserved. The cinematography is very,very good (it's done by Anthony Dod Mantle, who was the director of photography on that extremely problematic Lars von Trier film Dogville, which also had really interesting cinematography). And I really liked the lead, Dev Patel. Also, the dance scene during the credits kicked ass.

But the story just didn't work. The concept is great--a "slumdog" is being questioned about possibly having cheated while winning a million or more on a game show and we learn through his memories why he knew the answers and how he was there in the first place. I definitely could have gone there with them. However, the film honestly seemed to be intentionally making everything trite and formulaic. The major plot accelerator, Jamal's (Patel) search for his long-lost love, Latika (Freida Pinto), left me cold. The relationship that should have been the most interesting, between Jamal and his brother, Salim, didn't really work either, and the portrayal got worse as they got older, with the adult Salim (Madhur Mittal) coming off as more laughable than anything else.

More than anything, as I watched the film, I was struck by how it seemed to be played to an American audience. Very little about it struck me as authentically Indian. It wasn't so much that it seemed exploitative (though it did, and you can read more about that in this Washington Post article), as it was that it seemed like Indian actors and scenery had just been injected into an American plot. I'd thought I was going to the theater to see something new, or at least slightly different, than your average American movie, but at the end of this film, I just felt like I was watching something I'd seen a million times before.

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pepperwood grove old zin.jpgThe 2006 Pepperwood Grove Old Vine Zinfandel is a damn good California wine. At $8 or less a bottle, it's very affordable, and it goes down easy (take it from me, I drank a whole bottle last night). It's a little bit on the sweet side and very soft. There are some berry flavors and an almost vanilla taste in it, but nothing super strong. It fills your mouth up, but it doesn't knock you over or demand your full attention.

This kind of wine would traditionally be paired with something big and gamy, but we had ours with some bacon and kale pasta and it did very well.

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