Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ask me anything, I've probably read about it.

I finally finished my New Yorker-thon that I started a few weeks ago, in time to start my reading challenge for 2013.  Covering all of 2011 and 2012, I read about:
  • Tina Fey's recollections of writing for SNL,
  • The science of "crowd crush," 
  • The long-term health effects of childhood trauma, 
  • The return of harbor seals to New York City, 
  • Modernist "sous vide" cuisine, 
  • Political assassinations in Guatemala, 
  • The neurology of time perception,
  • A midwestern blogger with pretensions of living the pioneer life,
  • Death penalty mitigation,
  • The development of Mac computers, 
  • PepsiCo and the obesity epidemic, 
  • Technological intricacies of animation at Pixar,
  • The hype behind acai,
  • The problem of insight with mental illness,
  • Public resistance to vaccines, 
  • Whether college is for everyone,
  • A father's account of his daughter's death from a rare brain cancer, 
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe's role in beginning the civil war, 
  • Online dating sites,
  • David Sedaris' take on learning foreign languages, 
  • The devaluation of friendship by social networking sites, 
  • Edible insect proponents, 
  • Paleogenetics,
  • Secularism as lack of God v. secularism as affirmation of the here and now, 
  • Bullet-proof fashion,
  • The life of the lone druggist in a former Utopian town,
  • Shoplifting, 
  • Norton Juster & Jules Feiffer's Phantom Tollbooth as a celebration of the liberal arts education, 
  • The pros and cons of decriminalization of drug use in Portugal,
  • The future of Planned Parenthood and the war on women's rights,
  • When the double jeopardy rules get broken in a murder trial,
  • A profile of the rapper Drake,
  • The placebo effect in medical research,
  • Guinnessport (the undertaking of world records), 
  • The worlds oldest temple in Turkey and how it affects our view of religion,
  • The psychology behind layaway purchases,
  • Profiles of the creators of Portlandia,
  • The ethics of teens being tried as adults and serving life without parole,
  • The invisibility of the old, 
  • Saving rare tortoises from extinction, 
  • The brainstorming myth,
  • Cyber bullying,
  • Surgical face transplants,
  • Training police dogs,
  • Influenza pandemics,
  • The case against having kids,
  • Stimulating t-cells to fight cancer,
  • Couch surfing as a way of travel,
  • Internet dating in China,
  • Working as a suspect in police lineups,
  • Forensic linguistics,
  • The violence of German fairytales,
  • Cheating in marathons,
  • Efficiency in Big Medicine,
  • The reckless use of young informants by the police, 
  • The negative effects of antibiotic use on the human micro biome,
  • Profile of a personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman,
  • Retirement coaches, aaaaaand
  • Psychochemical warfare.
Whew.  I'm ready for a nice, easy novel.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A snapshot of my life:

Me: "Oh my God!  That's so funny! Did you see that church sign?"
Friend: "The Baptist church?"
Me: "I don't know.  It said FWB Church."
Friend: "Free Will Baptist."
Me: "Oh. I thought Friends With Benefits."
Friend: (turning to look at me) "Friends With Benefits?! That would never have occurred to me."
Me: "Well, Free Will Baptist would never have occurred to me."
Friend: "That's because you're going to hell, Sugar."

Monday, December 24, 2012

This year, I'm focusing on what blessings life throws me.


I have my kids back, finally, and we are trying an Italian Christmas Even tradition, Festa dei Sette Pesci (Feast of the Seven Fishes). But we're not Italian and there are only three of us, so instead of seven different seafood dishes, I made one with seven kinds of seafood. Because who's gonna stop me? I went with pasta with a tomato-based sauce that included shrimp, bay scallops, sea scallops, calamari, crab, salmon, and clams. And settling in to watch that feel-good 1926 silent movie Christmas classic, "Metropolis." Oh, okay, we make it up as we go along.

Wishing you all a season of peace.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Starting Winter.

I celebrated the world not ending by going with a friend for a soak in Hot Springs. Different tub than I usually get, but still right on the creek. The naturally warm water, piped up from underground, is heavenly on a cold morning.
A pair of pileated woodpeckers flew around the trees around the tub.
A fat squirrel appeared almost immediately. Apparently I'm not the only one who brings food to share. At first, he only took the peanuts I tossed to him.
After a while, though, he figured out how to open the plastic bag and help himself. He seemed to be taking the peanuts away to stash.
We drove around a bit up over the river.
And then a short walk before lunch.
Up in the mountains it had snowed overnight.
It was a gorgeous day, cool but sunny.
We tried to walk this trail, but ran into a little snag.  We found another trail farther along that wasn't flooded out.
Not a bad day.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Buying Christmas.

I saw this plastic container of bland plastic Christmas ornaments and was struck by the label. If Christmas tree ornaments have no meaning for you, why have them? In fact, isn't that true of anything you own? Why have anything in your life that doesn't serve a purpose or bring you joy?

Around here, people will say things like, "I have to wait for my check before I can buy Christmas," or "We aren't even going to be able to buy Christmas this year." Well. I'm not even a theist, but I know one thing - Christmas is not about the gifts. A patient was telling me that her middle schooler presented her with a list that included an iPhone, an iPad, a laptop and a big screen television. She was agonizing because this kid still believed in Santa (or claimed to, anyway), and she didn't want to spoil the magic. However, they are behind on their mortgage and other bills. In my gentle, indirect way I said, "I think it's high time you introduced your daughter to reality."

I buy my kids Christmas gifts, of course, but not extravagant ones. I have a small budget for gifts and I wouldn't even consider going into debt for them. They told me this week that their favorite thing was the stockings I fill. And trust me, there's nothing expensive in them. Our focus is on the time we get to spend together during the holidays. My sons were telling me that they have classmates who routinely get pricey electronics and large amounts of cash ($1000 sometimes!) from their parents at Christmas. I said, "Wow. Well, I'm afraid that's just not possible for me." My older son replied, "Yeah, but their parents aren't paying for them to go to college." I thought back to my patient who was inclined to cave into the demands of her child and yet would not be able to send her children to college. Buy Christmas? Not in this house.

(A song composed of angry tweets from disappointed kids last Christmas.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A little musical rant for the holidays.

Woo hoo, I won a couple of Christmas CD's over at Lilly's Blog, and they arrived today! Adding them now into the rotation now. I don't remember how I found her blog, but I've been reading regularly since I did. And that was even before she gave me presents. Many thanks, Lilly!

And this brings us neatly to my topic: Christmas music I hate. You heard me. I'm not really a Grinch, but there are songs that get played this time each year that I just loathe. Tonight, I took my kids to a restaurant to save me having to cook (have I mentioned how this is a crazy time of year in my business?) and that awful song with the dogs barking to the tune of "Jingle Bells" came on.  It was new to my older son, and he immediately started laughing. He said, "Can you imagine the poor musician?  His boss calls him and says, 'Hey, I want you to make a remix of Jingle Bells using... (mimics inhaling on a joint)... dogs.'"  Later he started absent-mindedly singing to himself, "Bark, bark, bark... Oh my God! Worst. Earworm. Ever!"

In fact, I don't like any "funny" Christmas songs, and I don't reserve my ire for songs sung by dogs and chipmunks. "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" isn't funny. It's stupid. I don't know if it's mocking Southerners or just a redneck version of comedy, but I don't like it.

There is the entire class of songs that merge Christmas with sex that make me want to puncture my own eardrums. I like Christmas. And I love sex. But there is nothing sexy about Santa Claus. Nothing. I am actually personally repulsed by Santa Claus and I'd lay money on him being a pedophile. Creepy old guy inviting children to sit on his lap. So "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and "Santa Baby" make me physically ill.

Rock and roll Christmas songs, too. Ugh. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"? No. Springsteen's version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"? Oh hell no. And "Jingle Bell Rock"? No, please, please, please no. And curse you, Billy Idol, for making a cover of this song and ruining your bedroom voice for me. I want "White Wedding" back, untarnished by the image of you looking smarmy as you sing this awful song.

Sappy Christmas songs. Wham's "Last Christmas," a whiny little song about being hurt in love. Oh, who hasn't been? Don't sing about it to me at Christmas, I'm having a hard enough time as it is. Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmas Time." I don't even know why I don't like it, I just don't. Or what about "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Look, it's great to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. I'm all for that. But I've got news for the Band-Aid folks - a third of that country's people are Muslim and there are a number of other religions (Judaism and Ba'hai, for instance) represented. So should they even know it's Christmas? How about we just help out and not push religion into it?

There is probably a special level of hell reserved for me just for saying this, but at the top of my list are songs by children. Don't get me wrong - if I go to a school program where kids are singing, I get as teary-eyed as the next person. But for the love of all that is holy, don't put them on the radio. And especially don't put them on the radio singing maudlin songs. "Christmas Shoes." Holy God. This one, if you've not had the misfortune of hearing it, is about a poor kid who doesn't have enough money to buy his bedridden dying mother shoes to wear when she meets Jesus. Because apparently Jesus would snub her if she wasn't wearing pretty shoes at the moment of her death. In bed. Honestly, what kind of Savior would that be?

So, you're asking yourself, what's her problem and doesn't she like any Christmas music at all? Well, yes, yes I do. Classics, for instance. I like Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole. Sue me. And I like instrumentals.  What's wrong with a nice acoustic guitar? And I like modern versions of classics that make them interesting. Like this cover, which sounds like it could have been recorded in Appalachia:
And old songs that you don't often hear, like this story of the shepherds responding to the call to go to the manger. (It's on the Kingston Trio's "Last Month of the Year" album, music that for me means all that is good about my family.)
And this understated, mildly jazzy version of "Greensleeves." If I ran a radio station at Christmas time, you can bet there would be fewer sappy/silly/icky songs and more of the sort that fill your soul.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I've spent the weekend reveling in having my older son home for Christmas break.

My younger son and I had picked out a white pine and put it up two weeks ago, and I put the lights on it, and then kept it watered and waiting until we were all here. I have the sort of household where an impromptu concert might break out at any moment. My younger son bought himself a violin and is teaching himself the Irish ballads he loves. My older son in turn bought a banjo, which he was instantly able to play as he is already proficient on guitar, bass and ukelele (and piano and saxophone, but those are a little different). I am convinced his brains are in his fingertips.
A moment of tree-decorating silliness, when they gave the star balls and insisted on a photo before I had them move the ornaments to other parts of the tree.  Incidentally, the are only an inch different in height, but my younger son was bare-footed and his brother had on boots. Today, my older son was telling me that if he could strike one fruit from the earth, it would be tomatoes. I asked about cantaloupes, a food he loathes. He said, "They  aren't fruit." "What do you mean they aren't fruit?" I asked.  He said, "They are Satan's testicles."  "What?!?" Straight-faced, he insisted, "Cantaloupes are manifestations of Satanic testicular spheritude."
Still, I'm glad to have the kid home. It warms my heart to hear the boys talking and laughing together, and makes me happy to have him sitting here in the den with me, playing whatever instrument is at hand.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Challenge met!

I used to be a voracious reader. As a kid, I once set fire to bathrobe and blanket I'd draped over a plastic mushroom lamp in my bedroom (yes, it was the '70's) so that I could secretly read late into the night.  I had a hard time explaining the melted lamp the next day. After that, I took to lying on the floor reading by the tiny bit of light coming in under the door from the hallway. In high school, I made my way down the hallways between classes reading a book as I walked, and then tried to read surreptitiously under the desk. When I had my first baby, I'd sit in an armchair for hours holding a book off to whichever side he wasn't nursing on at the moment. Later, when I was reading the Harry Potter series to my boys, I discovered I could read one page aloud while silently reading ahead on the opposite page. Occasionally, when something bad was coming up on the next page, I'd say, "Oh no!" and the kids would yell, "Mom, don't do that!"
But in recent years, I'd stopped reading much just for fun. Life got in the way - the pressures of running a household on my own with the endless projects required by purchasing an old house, managing a private practice, various relationships. But at the beginning of this year, my sister called my attention to the Goodreads website where you could challenge yourself to read a certain number of books in a year's time. I set a goal of a couple of books a month and started reading. By July, I was well ahead of schedule, and bumped the 24 up to 36. A couple of days ago, I finished the last book, with half a month to spare.
I'm taking a book break for the last bit of 2012, before I start the 2013 challenge. In the meantime, I'm plowing my way through a stack of New Yorker magazines I brought home from the office. There were a dozen or so from 2009 and 2010, and tonight, I start in on the 2011 pile. I just read the parts that interest me - articles on biosynthetics, the oddly conservative founder of Whole Foods, cryonics, building safe cooking stoves for impoverished African countries, changes in the cookbook industry, the problem of intersexed athletes, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, rising health care costs, Michelin guide restaurant inspectors.  So much to read, so little time!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dinner with friends, part 2.

And yet another friend offered to make me dinner the other night.
His house is in a very rural area, with a herd of cows watching from the next field.
Before dinner we took a short hike along the lake. The forecast had called for rain, but fortunately it stayed clear.
The trail follows the curving shoreline. He runs about 15 miles at a time and much faster than I do, so hiking seemed like a better bet for me.
It was too close to the day's end to walk long, so we headed back before it could get dark. Besides, I was hungry. Shrimp and pesto fettuccine, bread, plenty of malbec. Not too bad and it was nice to have someone cooking for me.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dinner with friends, part 1.

I had a social sort of few days.  One night, I made dinner for a friend's birthday - lemon shrimp pasta, salad, bread and coeur a la creme with raspberries and chocolate stars for dessert.  I had a heck of a time making the candle stand up in the cream on her plate, but what's a birthday without it?
Another night and another friend had me heading downtown.  From Thanksgiving through New Year's, I think, there's a covered ice rink on the walking mall, and lights everywhere. I had time to kill, so I looked in the little stores and took pictures.
When I stopped in front of this pub, a man sitting at one of the tables outside smiled at me and said, "That's right, this is the place!"  I should have let him buy me a beer.
On the other side of the square, a man was caught up in the holiday spirit and danced to Christmas music on a boom box. Some of the ice skating kids had stopped and were watching him twirl in his strapless scarlet dress.
We ate outdoors. It was a beautiful night - never even warm enough to put on the jacket I'd brought with me. I got fish tacos and a piece of cheesecake. My friend and I split a bottle of a red zin-syrah blend and talked until they were shutting down. She and I seem to close places down when we meet - we never run out of things to talk about.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Lately, we've been getting perfect running weather.

One rainy day a while back, I hit the gym early and hopped on a treadmill.  I was in a running mood, so I plugged into my music and turned the speed up, and ran for 50 minutes. A couple of treadmills down was an older woman. I overheard her say to the man next to her, "Why is she doing that? Doesn't she know it's easier if you walk?"
When the weather cooperates, though, I much prefer running and walking outside. Generally, I go out to the lake.  I often run first along the road that skirts the water, including that first stretch of park at the bottom, and then out along the dam. Round two is along that squiggly path through woods and hayfields. I wish there was more of that dirt path to run, instead of so much pavement.
I use a running app on my phone, which announces at five minute intervals my distance and pace. Usually 3 or so miles, but last Sunday I managed 5.3 miles. I had been running a nice steady almost 12-minute mile (I know, I'm slow), but the last half mile I felt like I was running through mud, and my pace bogged way down, too, until I just quit. Still, this is my new record for distance, so I'm feeling pretty good about it.  And I'm enjoying it, which is the main goal.
Also? It allows me to have a dinner like this without thinking twice about it.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Children of the cotton.

Heading south to Georgia, I know I'm getting close when I see the cotton growing. When I was a kid and working in a fast food place, people would come in after a shift at the mill with bits of cotton in their hair.
From a distance, it sometimes looks as if there has been a dusting of snow. I always like seeing the cotton fields. It feels like home to me.
But this picture that was in the paper Thanksgiving day? That's just creepy to me.

Monday, December 3, 2012

When computer gods are frowning.

I spent a couple of hours on the phone this morning with Gloria, the friendly tech support person at AT&T.  We have DSL internet there, and lately I've had to reboot the modem and router several times a week. A week or so ago, it gave up the ghost completely. I called, told her everything I'd already tried and, thankfully, she did not make me go through those steps again. We worked our way through a variety of diagnostics and ultimately she decided the problem was in the very old modem. With the wireless router bypassed, it's hanging in there, but likely a new one will be required.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... my ailing laptop has developed the click of  death. But only intermittently so the actuator arm must still be able to re-set itself. This laptop is only about 2 1/2 years old but I just don't want to throw good money after bad by trying to fix it. It probably didn't help matters that I've dropped it a couple of times. Anyway, this laptop is too heavy to lug around and I am working my way to pan-computer compatibility here. The plan was to let the iMac be the computer I use for all the accounting and so on, and also for storage of photos and files. And eventually I hoped to get a Mac laptop of some sort to be the computer I take to and from work.  I'd really like a Macbook Air for it's supreme portability. But by eventually, I didn't mean now. In fact, I am waiting for the new version which should be released in 2013, maybe in the Spring?  So la la la, I'm ignoring the sudden startling clicks. But not without precautions - I just transferred all my photos onto a new external hard drive and will copy them onto the iMac. And now I'll just keep using this baby until it implodes.

Friday, November 30, 2012

House of of dogs.

It was my turn to have this kids this Thanksgiving, so we went down to my mother's home in south Georgia. My mother collects dogs, and there is never a time when they aren't watching.
As soon as we walked in the door Thursday, my sister said, "We saved these for you." Because that's the kind of family I have. The kind where we can't make the traditional oyster stuffing without eating some of the oysters raw, and they knew I'd want some. No matter how disgusting they might appear.
Seriously, dogs everywhere. This one is always, always hopeful that someone might be interested in a game of fetch. Somehow, I didn't get a picture of the three-legged dog who easily keeps up with the others.
The weather was gorgeous, and many of the male members spent several hours making a stop action film involving leaves.
Did I mention that there are always dogs around? This ancient, quivering chihuahua seems to be happiest nestled into a chair with you.
The only purchases we made on Black Friday were for that evening's meal, a low country boil. And I did mention the dogs, right? My youngest brother considers it sport to incite them to howling. They fall for it every time:
video

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Musical interlude.

These two little clips are of really poor quality, but I grabbed them with my phone while I was driving. They are short recordings of my boys in the back seat, the older one on the ukulele, amusing themselves by singing Irish ballads. Thought you'd like to know what it sounds like in my car when we travel as a family:
video
video

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Squirrel!

I have found myself a little distracted from blogging lately. The first problem was that my mother's house, where I spent Thanksgiving, is an internet-free zone. Not because she doesn't have internet, but because she doesn't know the password to her wireless and is too passive to call the cable company and ask what it is. So no access for those of us visiting.
Then there is the problem of my failing laptop. When I boot it up, the screen blinks on and off. Eventually it settles into staying on, but each time the flickering gets longer.
Finally, I came home to a million things to do. The end of the year is a crazy time in my business. There's something about the holidays that just ratchets up the demand. Plus all the end of year accounting, and preparing for the arbitrary changes insurance companies make every calendar year. So I'll be busy but around, even if a little less frequently for a while.