Friday, December 12, 2008

We hope for better things--like bargins on designer handbags!

Has anyone noticed the recent spate of recession-themed articles in the "lifestyle" sections of the New York Times? I can't stop reading them--they're so adorably out of touch!

A story from the Home and Garden section covers (in great detail) the impact of rich New Yorkers firing their domestic help. On the global economy, that is. One employer expressed concern about her housekeeper's financial obligations, and said that she felt guilty for firing her: "It was really hard."

An article entitled "The Great Sale of ’08," simply gushes over the bargains that local department stores are putting up to entice shoppers. And who could resist such deals--$275 for a pair of Prada shoes! (My heart goes pitta pat!)

And then there are those poor people who can't shop the way they'd like, because they feel like it might be in bad taste. Good thing they've found a way to get around that problem--designer parties!


But my favorite are the "belt tightening" stories. The titles say it all.

Great Meals for Two, Under $100 (It’s Possible!)

Time to Tighten Things Up: Energy Saving Tips for Your Second Home



This is obviously hilarious, but also a little bizarre. The front section of the New York Times is full of news about the recession. Over half a million people lost their jobs in November--the largest job loss since 1974--and though it doesn't seem possible, the actual impact is probably much greater. Meanwhile, the "lifestyle" sections are whinging about the price of bluefin tuna and airline tickets.

(It's especially weird when veiwed from the perspective of suburban Detroit. Detroit used to rank 4th in population, but now hovers around 11th, having lost half of it's population since 1950. It is a city so utterly destroyed, that large parts of it are returning to the prairie* and the half mile area between the Detroit Institute of Art and downtown is known as a "Dead Zone". I mean, Detroit's city motto is "Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus," which is Latin for (I shit you not) "We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes.")

On a more personal level, it would be nice to read a "lifestyle" column and find some advice that I could actually use this year. Maybe an article about handmade Christmas gifts? Or kitchen gardens? Or the reuse/renew movement? Or...something?





*If you like the blog entry I linked to, you should click here to see more of Sweet Juniper's lovely photos of Detroit. He's one of my favorite photographers.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Creeping Terror Part 1--Pumpkin Pie

My good friend paisana posted a request for holiday recipes. So here's my pumpkin pie.

Warning: if you usually double the spices in baking, DON'T DO IT HERE. I already doubled the spices, and I can't be held responsible.

Ginger Pumpkin Pie
(makes one 9" pie)

Ingredients:
  • 3 small pie pumpkins
  • 1-1/4 c brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 pint cream (or half and half if you're a pansy)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground ginger (or fresh, if you roll that way...our local meijer didn't have it the last time I tried)
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp grated nutmeg
  • pinch of black or cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • candied ginger

Directions:
  • Cut the pie pumpkins in half, and place face down on a baking sheet covered in foil. Bake in a 400 degree oven until a knife slides in easily
  • Mash the pumpkin using a potato masher, and measure out 3 cups of the mixture. Save the rest for pumpkin bread/muffins/cupcakes.
  • Combine all of the ingredients except for the candied ginger
  • Lay a pie crust in a 9" pie pan (I won't give you a crust recipe. I find that most people either have a recipe of their own, or wouldn't dream of making a pie crust)
  • Slice the candied ginger and cover the bottom of the pan with ginger (don't skimp!)
  • Pour the pie filling on top of the ginger
  • Bake at 425 for 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 275 and bake until the center is firm
Remember--pumpkin is a vegetable, so it is perfectly acceptable to eat leftover pumpkin pie for breakfast. Mmmmm...

PS: the title of this blog post is thanks to my roommate, Matt. If you don't understand it, bother him.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Stories from the polls...



One of the best parts of this election has been how engaged people are in the voting process. I spent most of Nov 4th reading people's stories about voting. And so I decided to ask a group of alums from my college alma mater about their voting experiences...

A poll (in four acts):
1) When did you vote?
2) Where is your polling place?
3) How long did it take?
4) What type of ballot/machine did you use?

And a bonus question: what does your polling place look like?

My answers:
1) 8:30 am
2) down the street (Ann Arbor, MI)
3) 1 hour
4) Scantron baby

Bonus question: The picture at the top of this post is my polling place. Here's another picture


I call it the voting hut. It's built out of cinder blocks and is probably 400 square feet. It's nowhere near as tall as it looks in the picture. The top is all ivy. That thing in the front might be a tree--it's kind of hard to tell. I've always kind of hated the voting hut. It's tiny--barely big enough for two tables and 5 little privacy screens. And it's unheated, meaning that on a typical day in November, it can be a wee bit chilly. But this Nov 4th, I found out that the voting hut is actually kind of unique. According to a random woman walking by as I took these pictures, it is the only single-purpose polling place in the state. Until a few years ago, it was used only one day a year. In 2005, the city council decided to open it up to a wounded bird sanctuary the rest of the year...on the condition that they clean it up for November. So there you go.



87 people answered my poll. About 40% voted before Nov 4th. The rest voted primarily in the morning. The earliest respondent arrived around 5:45 am. I read a lot about long lines in the news, but most people who responded didn't face a wait at the polls--31 people (~35%) waited less than 10 minutes and 64 people (~75%) waited less than an hour. That said, there were a few people who waited 2 hours or more.

Ballot type:
40% scantron bubbles
12% scantron arrows (I didn't know this existed!)
14% electronic touchscreen
5% electronic wheelie thing
23% absentee/vote-by-mail

There were also a few odd voting methods. 4 people faced an old-style manual machine with a big fat lever. 3 people seem to have old paper-in-the-box style ballots. I was surprised at how few electronic machines there were. Ross tells me that many precincts are getting rid of their electronic voting machines. Makes sense--scantron is a tested technology.

What struck me about the responses to the poll was the diversity of people's polling places. Here are a few of the descriptions people wrote...

From Washington DC:
[I voted at] 8AM. Polls opened at 7AM and I got in line at 20 'till 7. The line was already 2 blocks long. The line picked up after an older woman who has been the A through C lady for over 10 years was removed from her post. Sad. [My polling place is a] huge old brick elementary school gymnasium/auditorium. Not many older people. Curiously, I also didn't see any Hispanic voters. My neighborhood is estimated to be about 1/3 Hispanic, 1/3 white, 1/3 African American.

Also in DC:
It's the gym of an elementary school, so lots of posters about good sportsmanship and rules for gym class. Plus! Mats! And basketball hoops!

And nearby, in Arlington VA:
Our voting center is a former school that's been turned into a community center. They still have some after school type programs so lots of inspirational posters in the lobby and what was probably a lunch room where we actually voted.

One person voted in a neighbor's garage:
i thought voting in a garage would be a little weird, but it was actually nice. the poll workers were very friendly and we had plenty of privacy for filling out our ballots. and they gave us chocolate!

Another voted in a local tavern
What does your polling place look like? Like an old lady's house (velvet fleur-de-lis patterned wallpaper, chandeliers, fake white brick paneling)

Another voted at an old-folks home:
[it looked] like an equal-opportunity-housing-for-old-people apartment lobby. with a nice stale smokey smell. a bit cramped. (and yes, I was a bit disturbed by how easy it would've been for me to glance over at the handicapped guy's ballot while waiting in line to receive my own.

In Cincinnati:
I think they hold choir practice in the room we were using-- there were hymns on the chalkboard.

In Brooklyn:
Typical elementary school gymnasium. Extra cute because they were doing a PTA bake sale and a book sale in the lobby and I got to see the kids' artwork in the hallway (they did a project with illuminated letters).

In Kansas City:
The foyer of a squat red brick church. The voting only used the foyer, which left it pretty crowded. If they'd included a class room or other larger room, it could have been much more efficient.

A little difficulty:
Elementary school gym--Ryan wished they had basketballs for people who were waiting in line to play with. They had Chinese, French, and Korean translators, and I think they must have also had Arabic and Spanish, but I didn't see signs for those. We did have sort of a sad experience, which was that they were asking some people (including me) for IDs along with their voting cards (I think it was because a lot of the poll workers didn't speak perfect English and didn't understand when people said their names, but it wasn't cool). Does anyone have ideas about how to report it--there was one guy making trouble over it, which is probably good, although he was being really abrasive about it, which I don't think helped anything.

Not-so-secret ballot:
It's a rentable community center conference room, so nothing fancy - white walls, bluish carpet. Lots of instructional voting posters. Interestingly, none of the touch-screens were particularly hidden from view, so any interested party could see how you voted pretty easily.

From a Chicagoan who waited 2-1/2 hours(!) to vote:
Welles Park looks like an old community gymnasium, and it smells like my elementary school in winter. Not pleasant, but since half the wait was outside and it was a beautiful day, it wasn't too bad.

Elsewhere in Chicago:
Lower level of a church, kinda small, bad/old paint jobs, but nice people, and not a lot of people generally. There was a lady next to me swearing to herself about all the other choices she felt she had to make. I also caught a glimpse of the old Hispanic man next to me and his ballot--for all of the questions regarding whether or not to retain a particular circuit court judge, he marked both "yes" and "no" for every judge. Democratic obligations tell me I should've done something similar, instead of just seeing what the Sun-Times thought I should do.


In Massachusetts:
What does your polling place look like? It's a fire house. Today the fire engine was pulled out so the entire inside garage-area was free. They changed the entrance from the primary so today you had to swing around to the side.
In Chestertown:
It is a pretty dull 1960s brick box fire station.
We voted in the convention hall side (rather than the truck garage side) whose main function is betrayed by the big bingo light board on one wall.

In small-town California:
Scan-able paper ballot in a booth that looked like it was constructed by the high school shop students, with a curtain made from a black trash bag. (yay for small towns!)

In Lewisburg, PA
Blue metal building with one largish room (that smelled like too many sweaty people had been huddled in it) with about 5 offices off of it.

The advantage of absentee voting in St Petersburg:
It was a bar called "The Other Side," that seems to be aimed at foreigners. They had Philly Cheese Steaks (is that right? I've been out of the country too long?!), Grilled Cheeses, and Falafel on the menu, and Newcastle on tap for like 10 bucks. American men sat at the bar with their pretty Russian dates. The consular representative ate something with salsa (rarity in Russia). The bar was filled with mostly Americans, with passports, excitedly filling out their absentee ballots.

And absentee from Irkutsk:
My polling place is quite messy at the moment. It's a small room, full of bed, dresser, desk, chair, bookcase, printer, computer, fax machine, much of which has stuff spread out all over it.

And Paris:
An envelope marked "PAR AVION."

In my dear Iowa:
What does your polling place look like? It's an old house that probably was there before the city built a park around it. The city rents it out for community events. To vote you must walk through the kitchen, get your ballot in the dining room, then vote in the living room, and exit through the kitchen door, making a counter-clockwise circuit through the house.

And Iowa City:
Tears in the eyes of our students this morning when our principal said that today was a historic day and that by tomorrow we would either have our first black president or our first female vice-president. I teared up, and two six grade boys, both black american, swallowed down tears (as boys this age do), one mumbling to himself "it's gonna happen!" I sure hope it does, for me and for you, but really for them.

And Cedar Rapids, IA:
A mini multi-purpose room in a wandering, one-level, 1960's brick jobber.

Issues at a Texas polling place:
The polling place was a small, black baptist church. The line when H. voted at 7:15 was apparently ridiculously long, with the small parking lot in gridlock and people with flyers moving in and out of the line (well inside the minimum distance line). When I got there an hour later I walked right in the door (H. had to deal with the medical center crowd on their way in to work). There was a stray brochure for some Democratic candidates on the sign-in table (WTF? How hard is it to follow some common sense rules?), but I think it had been left by an absent-minded voter rather than set up as an advertisement. There were a bunch of 50- and 60-something ladies trying to help people who probably understood the process better than they did, but it was in a cute old lady sort of way. The voting machines themselves were practically stacked on top of each other with essentially no privacy, and I had a guy next to me helping his dad vote ("OK, now push the button for straight party Democrat . . . no, Democrat, Dad . . . "), but it was no biggie. I suspect that if anybody had audited the polling place they would have had some issues, but given that this is an overwhelmingly Democratic precinct in an overwhelmingly Republican state, I doubt anybody would bother to make a fuss. All in all a pretty smooth experience.

Makes you wonder:
Inside kind of looks like a really small gymnasium with awful fluorescent lighting. It's basically a big room with gray walls and a white-tiled floor. But one of the people working the polls apparently recognized me and said, "HEY! Where do you work? I see you Inside kind of looks like a really small gymnasium with awful fluorescent lighting. It's basically a big room with gray walls and a white-tiled floor. But one of the people working the polls apparently recognized me and said, "HEY! Where do you work? I see you walking to work EVERY MORNING! Your outfits are always so INTERESTING!"

Another Chicagoan:
[My polling place is] the adidam spiritual center... a mysterious temple whose religious practices are completely unknown to me

And another, who voted at the Daley Center:
It was a small room with lots of hallways and twenty or so machines in every available hallway. No natural light, no windows. It was also about 80 degrees.

And yet another:
The inside kind of looks like a preschool. Painted cinderblocks and bulletin boards with pictures of the Special Olympics and, when I was there, little kids carving pumpkins.

Short responses:
Like a boring office building. Like a place you might expect a potluck.
It's one of those church basement multi-purpose rooms, so there were lots of folding chairs, tables, and boring tiles.


Voting in Oregon is by mail: My living room/the mailbox, as Oregon is all vote by mail. However, I actually cast my ballot at the county election office, because I got beet juice on the first ballot and had to trade it in for a clean one.

From Santa Monica:
Brick church with a big steeple, voting area inside the front lobby. Color-coded folding tables for check in, high tables with little plastic privacy thingies for voting.

And Arden, West Virginia Community room of teeny tiny church on the edge of an apple orchard.

And Minneapolis, Minnesota:
It is on the ground floor of some high rise apartments ... nothing too exciting except all of the great neighbohood people that were there.

A church gymnasium:
It was fantastic. The gymnasium was full of bingo stuff and lots of tables all smooshed together. Everyone was waiting in the cold, and excited, and my brother in law (30 years old) voted for the first time in his life. He said never thought he'd vote, but he was really excited about this election.

A county courthouse:
My polling place was a small room, maybe six by ten, with a partitioned table in the middle that made sort of mini-cubicles. I was one of four or five people in the room; two were an elderly couple, of which the woman kept asking in a querulous voice whether Proposition 1 was "that one about the homo-sexuals". (It was.)

An elementary school gym:
Tn an elementary school right around the corner from my building, standing in a sweet cardboard privacy booth with American flags all over it, which was awesome. It ruled to vote in an elementary school gym, although I was sorry to see they still had the damned climbing ropes hanging from the ceiling. Those things were murder. There was a woman in front of me who started to sob as the machine took her ballot. A man-- a stranger to her, I think-- put his arms around her and said "It's a big day. It's a big day."

From an expat in Lesotho:
My office is very bland and full of wonderful printouts about how Jesus is the strongest man ever and how every woman would be lucky to have him for a man. I don't know who put them up or if they are still around. Since I am there about once a week I don't take them down. Otherwise I have a desk with a computer and a big cabinet full of junk that I don't mess with either.

And finally, some drama from elsewhere in Ann Arbor, MI. Just in case you doubted the drama that tends to swirl whenever the undergrads are around.
My polling place was full of college students. Apparently, two of them weren't on the registered voter rolls despite registering, and a large fight had broken out between election judges. They were shouting at each other over the students heads. One bystander was on a cell phone reporting all of the action to an election monitoring hotline. The two unregistered-registered students looked trapped, helpless, and despondent.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Mmm...civic responsibility....

Unless you live under a rock, you already know that today is votin' day.


So go vote!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

MAD for MAD*L


We went to a toy show here in Detroit this weekend. It's hard to describe the art toy movement to someone who hasn't seen these things before. Needless to say, this is not exactly what most people think of when they hear "toy show". Frankly, I wasn't sure what to expect either. Ross and I look at art toys in our local comic shop. Ross has started a small collection of his own. He just ordered this crocodile, which is totally awesome. But since this is really Ross's hobby, I hadn't looked at any of the lead up to the show, and I didn't really know what to expect.

Poster originally found here

The idea behind the show was to get a range of artists to all riff on the same toy blank (a plain white vinyl toy that can be reshaped and painted). The poster above has a picture of the blank that all of the artists used. One of the most interesting things for me to see was how different artists used the blank. Some of the artists basically used the blank as is:











Others modified it, while more or less sticking to the form of the blank:





And still others modified it practically beyond recognition:





Some of them more or less ignored the form of the blank. I was less impressed by that. The artistry on these two was amazing, but it seems lame to just ignore the form of the canvas you are given:





Some of the artistry was just amazing:









I was surprised at how many women were present. I was expecting to be one of the only women in the place, but it was maybe 1/3 women in all. I was even more surprised to see how many of the toys seemed to be geared towards/produced by women:






My two favorites were on opposite ends of the price spectrum.






The balloon on the top was one of least expensive items there ($220). I couldn't believe that it was priced so much lower than some of the other, much less inspiring pieces. The Fortune Teller below was one of the most expensive ($1400), but priced well. I think that it was the first one sold. Notice that the fortune coming out of the fortune-teller's mouth says "You will live happily until Wednesday". Brilliant.





There was, in general, a disparity between the prices of the pieces and my perception of their value. The most expensive pieces were not always my favorites, and yet...well...they were more expensive. It's not that the pieces in the $1000-1400 range weren't good. It's just that some of the pieces in the sub-$1000 range were just as good. Ross filled me in--it turns out that some of the most expensive pieces were done by people who are famous within the (admittedly small) designer toy community. That was really interesting, because as an outsider to the community, those things didn't really mean anything to me. I was only aware of what I saw in front of me. It reminds me of how important it is to think critically about my opinions, and not rely on names. Ross and I have gotten some great pieces of art over the years by looking at the people whose name nobody recognizes. Yet.




By the way, if you enjoyed the pictures in this post, you can find the rest of my photos from the show in this flickr set, including many photos of pieces that I loved, but didn't fit in this post.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My top 15 kitchen items

I have a ton of kitchen stuff. I suppose many people have more. But given the size of my kitchen, I have a lot.

So what do I use most often? Here's a list of my top 15 kitchen items, roughly in order of frequency of use. If I'm having a party, I will often use all 15 of these items. (You'll note that I've cheated a bit, since some of these entries are actually multiple items. Tough! It's my list, and I'll write it how I like.)

Top 15 kitchen items
:
*2 good knives
*LOTS of spoons
*LOTS of cutting boards
*LOTS of nesting bowls--pyrex and stainless steel
*cast iron pan
*dutch oven
*several good pots
*stand mixer
*itty bitty food processor
*cheese grater
*pizza stone
*digital scale
*probe thermometer
*cookie sheets
*round cake pans

BONUS!
Things I don't use often enough to justify the space:
*bamboo steamers
*waffle iron
*big roasting pan
*blender
*rice cooker (this just broke recently, after a short and useless life)

Things that are incredibly useful but I don't use as often as I'd like:
*crock pot
*pressure cooker
*big food processor

Things I kinda wish I had but won't buy until I have more money:
*Kitchen aid mixer
*Big Green Egg (less Macgyver than the flowerpot smoker , but also less likely to start a fire)

So how about you? What kitchen tools would you recommend to someone trying to outfit a new kitchen?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Adventures in Cooking, Part 2: Poured Fondant



Ross asked for a very particular cake this year. Can you guess what it is?

A hint...the cake is bigger on the inside.

.
.
.
.
got a guess?
.
.
.
.
That's right, it's the tardis!


The cake is a dense almond butter cake. I used a 12x18 pan and cut the outline out.

I wanted a really smooth finish on the frosting, so I tried something new--a poured fondant. It's kind of like candy corn, except...um...blue. It's generally used to coat petit fours, but I thought that I would give it a shot for a full cake. The results were pretty awesome, I have to say!








Making the fondant meant cooking 4 pounds of powdered sugar down with a cup or two of water. It took my largest pot, and a crazy amount of arm strength. I added some blue food coloring and poured the hot fondant over the cake. It was easily the messiest thing I've ever done. I wish I'd taken some photos of the process. It looked I'd been massacring smurfs in the sink. There was blue frosting on practically everything, including the floor, walls, and my shirt.

Anyway...

The doors and police box sign are more fondant, piped out of a ziploc bag. After a few hours in the fridge, the fondant cooled into a smooth, shiney shell.

Overall, I was pretty pleased with it. Next time, I'm going to try a 3d version built out of four or five square layers.

The best part of a tardis cake? The special effects!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cutest. Man. Ever.


Today is Ross's birthday.

Happy birthday Hubs!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Words Kate Hates, Part 2

Oddly, most of the words I hate start with the letter "p" (for example, the last installment of Words Kate Hates, which I can't even read because it makes my skin crawl). Maybe it's the fact that so many p-words stand for gross things (putrid, puss, puke) that even non-gross p-words sound like they refer to bodily fluids (plastic, pumice, pal).

However, today I have a treat for you--a word that is both gross and starts with a letter other than p.

mouth-watering


...shudder...


This word in particular has been haunting me for weeks--it's on the menu next to the register at the bread shop that I frequent (yes, the one that is definitely *not* run by the mafia), and my eye is inevitably drawn to it, no matter how determined I am. It's like the incredibly drunk undergraduate girl, stumbling across campus at 10 am. You just can't look away.

It makes me wonder--is it actually supposed to be appetizing? I picture a slobbering dog, right after he's taken a big fat drink of water. In what universe is that mental image appealing?

Monday, October 13, 2008

This blog post brought to you by Roxy....

Roxy can't decide which operating system she likes best.


She likes the Mac because it's easy to use. She's good at expose. Sometimes, things bounce up from the dock and she can try to catch them.

ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssfdsdfdafaewl;kjfdasf;lksr32elkfewjfd
saaaaaaadfadsdffffffffxcsdddddddddddddddaaaaaaaaaaaaaffffffff

dslkafjdeaer2342^lL;KJFDADFDSDVVW
ckjfalhjjjsfdasssdffffffff




But she also likes Linux because random key combinations do the neatest things! Also, it makes her feel hard core. She hopes to meet the Linux penguin someday. And eat him.





sdlkfjdadfkkkkkkkkkkkKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKFFFFFFFFFFFFFF
AAAAAAAAAAAAAASSDFFFFfdffsaaaaHHHHHHHHHHHHDHHSEIRWE324
w@#$!SDKLJSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS
ALASPOORYORICKIKNEWHIMWELL



Hmmm...if only she could reach the space key.

Fortunately, in our house, she doesn't have to choose which operating system to mess up--we have both! Now if you'll excuse me, I have to clear off my desktop.

Roxy's favs:
Favorite part of the computer: the vent

Favorite key on the Linux PC
: definitely caps lock

Favorite key on the Mac
: toss up between expose, and whatever makes the most beeps

Favorite part of using computers::
getting thrown off of them

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Brand new monocal


I broke my glasses playing volleyball today. I'm choosing to take this as a sign of how "hard core" I am--despite the fact that the last time I broke my glasses playing volleyball, I was in middle school and decidedly not "hard core". I wasn't quite hard core enough to mend them with athletic tape and continue playing, though. The line between hard core and total dork is pretty thin.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ironically, the ringtones suck

I've never had a stellar track record with cell phones (one of my early cell phone was killed when I dropped it off a 30 foot cliff while climbing in New Mexico). However, this latest string of phones has got to break some kind of record for shittiness. About a year ago, I got a razor with my new contract, and despite treating it very kindly, a structural problem in the hinge made it unusable after only 11 months. When I called in my warrenty, I asked if they could send me a different kind of phone, but they claimed that "it was impossible on their computer system". The razor they sent me worked for less than a month before refusing to recognize any input from the keypad. I had a long, heated discussion with a customer service representative, waited on hold for 15 minutes, and was rewarded with the evil customer service rep's sunny twin, who told me that "as a valued customer" I was eligible to receive a phone that didn't suck.

All of which is a long way of saying, I now own a phone that is way cooler than I am. An example: the customer service rep asked me whether I wanted a black or a white model. I figured I'm definitely not pimpin' enough to rock the white cellphone, so I asked for black . What they didn't tell me is that it's black and metallic orange. The color of cool, apparently. The rest of the phone kind of fits that general cool-dude vibe--the keypad slides out from behind the screen, it plays mp3s and video, and the whole thing puts on a mini lightshow when I get a call or message.

It's enough to make me want to put on a polo shirt, pop the collar, and head down to the local dance club.

As you might expect, I don't actually use most of the phone's features (although I did set the light show to "glimmering ice"). In fact, the only feature I use regularly is the nerdiest one possible...the pedometer. It's a really simple application, yet totally addictive. An accelerometer in the phone counts your steps for the day, and estimates how many miles you've walked. The count automatically starts over at midnight every day, and it stores your daily stats, so that you can track it over time.

I am totally obsessed.

Today marked the first full week of data from my new toy. This past week was a fairly low walking week. Ross and I usually take 2 or 3 recreational walks each week, including a walk to the farmer's market, none of that happened because of project get-a-job-already. Nonetheless, we averaged 3.6 miles a day. The high value was 4.7 miles (a day with a super short lunchtime walk) and the low was 3.0 miles. I'll be interested to see how it changes over time--especially as winter descends and I start debating whether the world outside my bed is really all it's cracked up to be. When I start graphing the results and running multi-variate regressions to determine the effects of temperature, percipitation, and workload...well...you all will just have to stage an intervention.

Friday, October 3, 2008

I'm not dead! I swear!

So it's been a while, I know. I have a good reason, though. If you might remember from my list of goals, I am going on the job market this year. Given the amount of time that particular goal is sucking up, I am hereby revising my list of goals.

Goals for 2008-2009
1) Get a job.
2) Stay sane.

I think that I can accomplish that.

Anyway, this is my way of saying that posting might slow down a bit. I'm hoping to use blogging as a break from writing my thesis. However, that activity competes with such perennial favorites as eating, sleeping, petting my cats, and kissing my husband, so that may not happen. In the meantime, here is a short play-by-play:

1) The kitten is huge. Like, the size of a small adult cat. We're thinking of renaming her Mongo. I need to take more current pictures, but here's one from a few weeks ago. Maggie is still unimpressed.

2) The garden has been hugely productive. We've had over 100 tomatoes, probably 25 Anaheim chilies, a ton of carrots, many many lemon-drop peppers, pounds of potatoes, and more lettuce than I know what to do with. Our plot has to be cleared out by the 16th. I'll try to do a final count before then.

3) I got an Ipod touch.
Ok, so it actually belongs to Ross, but he lets me play with it, and I'm plotting a way to steal it for myself. So it's kind of mine already.

4) I think that the bread shop around the corner from me is run by the mafia. I would go into more detail, but I wouldn't want them to find out. In fact, on second thought, I definitely don't think that the bread shop is a front for an illegal drug business. Not at all.

5) I have developed a tremendous addiction to the show House. Ross is even more addicted than I am, which seems impossible considering how much of my addiction is fueled by Hugh Laurie's devastating attractiveness. I even liked him as Bertie Wooster. Ross, on the other hand, has no excuse.

6) I have thoughts on the financial crisis, the bailout, and the presidential and vice presidential debates. Some of them are even worthwhile. But I don't have the energy to write them up. Sorry about that. Maybe next time.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A non-post post...

Sorry for the lack of regular posting. R and I are driving to a wedding in NJ this weekend, and next week I have a back-to-back thesis proposal defense/ field prelim exam marathon. So I may not post until weekend after next.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Czeching in...oh yes...yes she did.

Ross and I are safely back in the US of A, and though it is perhaps unforgivably dramatic, I really did feel like bending down to kiss American soil when we finally got through customs. Parts of the trip were excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Olomouc with Brandon (aka "big brother"), Lucie (aka "the mad Moravian") and their families. I think that we will go back there someday. I also throughly enjoyed seeing my old friends Ross (the other) and Hilary (of less than a shoestring). There was even a handful of time in Prague that was worthwhile. Maybe tomorrow I'll tell you about our morning in a deserted park, picking plums or the afternoon we spent in a print shop paging through folio after folio of artists' work. However, the majority of the time we spent in Prague was various shades of yuck. Prague is awful. Airlines are awful. Airports are awful. And...dare I say it...many Europeans are awful. Well, European tourists are awful, but in August many Europeans ARE tourists...so, there you go.

Long story short...Moravia is lovely, and Brandon, Luc, and their parents are some of the best hosts on earth. However, we've officially sworn off travel for a while--especially international travel, and ESPECIALLY international travel passing through the Amsterdam airport.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

It's not art and it isn't fair!


A few weeks ago, Ann Arbor was mobbed by over 500,000 slavering tourists, armed with fanny packs, silly hats, and extraordinarily bad taste. Their target? Art Fair. When you combine the four composite art fairs into one giant franken-art-fair, it is the largest fair in the country. And boy does it feel like it when you live here.

Ann Arbor residents divide into two camps regarding Art Fair--those who tolerate it, and those who hate it with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. Ross and I fall into the tolerance group, not because we're extraordinarily tolerant people (Ross? tolerant? Ha!), but rather because we've chosen to take it as a challenge. Over the past four years, we've developed an arsenal of techniques that make Art Fair bearable...or even (dare I say it?) enjoyable.

Number 1: treasure hunt
Although it can be easy to forget, there are some worthwhile artists at art fair. Every year, Ross and I set a budget for Art Fair, and every year we find enough to make us curse our graduate student salaries. We tend to use the brute force method--walking through every bit of the fair looking for the occasional gem in a sea of turned wood bowls and 80s cokehead glass. However, there are ways to reduce the bad art:good art ratio. The key is to understand how the four Art Fairs differ.

Like some kind of large-scale Improv Everywhere event, the four art fairs that comprise (capital A) Art Fair all feign ignorance of the others' existence--as if they all just randomly decided to have a giant art fair on the exact same day (don't you hate it when that happens?). This creates a vast spectrum of art fair quality, which can help narrow down the search. But bear in mind that the variance is often just as important as the mean. As a true geek, I find this easier to illustrate using a diagram:

These hills represent the number of artists of a particular quality at each art fair. The North University art fair is the oldest (so old that it's website is actually www.artfair.org) and easily the best, on average. When the other art fairs joined in, it appended "The Original" to its name, much as "The Original Ghostbusters" did when that cartoon with the big purple ape showed up and sullied the brand. The South University fair is the second best. The basic stuff at State street is just as good as the North University, though North U seems to have the cream of the crop. The State/Liberty fair is generally pretty bad, but there are some surprising bright spots, which are the source of the long right tail on that distribution. Bringing up the (extreme) rear is the Main Street (summer) Art Fair, which is generally so poor that Ross and I don't even go.

This year, our budget was limited because we've already bought a metric ton of artwork. We bought an ink drawing from a guy in the "emerging artists" section of the South University fair, a photograph from a guy in the North University fair, and a pair of miniature leather-bound books at the State street fair. We considered, but did not buy a set of woodcuts from a guy we've bought from before, a photograph of a crumbling building, a three-dimensional paper sculpture made of woodcuts, a tiny painting on wood, and a print from a guy who does amazing work with negative-alteration.

Anyway, if you live in Ann Arbor, and haven't at least tried to find good art at Art Fair, I think that you're missing out. It's like a huge treasure hunt...a really easy one...where the pirates want you to find the treasure.


Number 2: drinking games.
The fact of the matter is, most of the art at Art Fair is really bad. In fact, that seems to be the factor that causes otherwise normal residents to froth at the mouth come the end of July.

They turned our town into a county fair...for THIS? they say.
(Editorial note: it isn't even a GOOD county fair--sure, there are funnel cakes, but there are no farm animals, lumberjack competitions, or busts of the governor sculpted out of cheddar cheese. Lame)

I, on the other hand, find it difficult to take the quality of the artwork personally. After all, someone must want this crap--otherwise it wouldn't show up again year after year--and if I went around taking ugly house decorations as a personal affront, I couldn't continue living in my current neighborhood (GO BLUE?)

Besides, there is one thing that makes bad art better--gin and tonics. With that in mind, we have developed a drinking game based on both the art fair itself and the art fair attendees. Unfortunately, that means walking the streets with an open container, which makes concealment the first order of business. There are three general strategies for concealing a fine alcoholic beverage (note: none of them involve a paper bag).
  1. Mystery liquid in a Nalgene--This year, Ross and I just carried our Margaritas around a gray Nalgene bottle. On the one hand, it's damn easy. On the other hand, it's so easy that you get no style points.
  2. "No officer, it's just gatorade"--you could just pour some rum into your diet coke, but the real superstars devise a drink that simply matches what should be in the bottle. My favorite? Mike's hard lemonade masquerading as Vitamin Water. Bonus points if you can convince someone that you're drinking it for the vitamins.
  3. The trogan horse--last year, several people were bold enough to spike the iced lemonade they bought AT ART FAIR ITSELF. Ballsy. Real ballsy.
Then, you need a list of rules. This year, Ross set up a doodle page for rules. This is the list we used at this (second annual) event:
  • Art on a stick (1 drink)
  • Super-saturated photograph (1 drink)
  • Art lady jacket for sale (1 drink)
  • Art lady jacket in use (2 drinks)
  • Physicist selling magic wands* (3 drinks)
  • Romance-novel style painting of brother and sister** (2 drinks)
  • Manufactured product being passed off as art (1 drink)
  • Artist producing art next to a booth (1 drink)
  • Hat made of balloons (1 drink)
  • Fanny pack (1 drink)
  • Kid on a leash (1 drink)
  • Dog in a stroller (2 drinks)
  • Nude--not so tasteful (1 drink)
*He makes Harry Potter wands, and even had a booth at the theater for the opening of one of the movies. He was at Art Fair in years past, but nobody spotted him this year
**This one is really creepy. Last year there was a guy who would paint a portrait in a style that could only be described as "romance novel dream blur". Last year, there was a portrait of a brother (age 11) and sister (age 9) looking into each others' eyes. The little boy's shirt was unbuttoned to the navel. I shudder just thinking about it.

Last year, we saw super-saturated photographs everywhere we turned. This year, it was the art lady jackets that drove our race to the bottom. Outside of Ross's building, we found three booths in a row selling art lady jackets. Brutal. When you're finished, you can head into a local bar (usually inexplicably empty) and chortle knowingly at the folks walking by with their art on a stick.

Doesn't that sound better than locking yourself in your room for a week?

Pun alert!

Dude! We're jammin'!


No...seriously. We're making blueberry jam. With ginger and lemon.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Warning--economics being used for a purpose other than originally intended...

Ross and I are going to the Czech republic next week to attend the wedding of one of my best friends in the whole wide world (hi Bro!). While we can't technically afford this trip, we've decided to go anyway. There is a short list of people whose weddings I am NOT allowed to miss, and this is one of them. So off we go--and we'll have a fantastic time, I'm sure.

But this brings up an interesting point--namely, being a graduate student is strange (note that this is different than saying that graduate students are strange...though that is also usually true). It is strange because of the kind of social limbo it leaves you in. Though we are students, we are clearly not kids. I own a house, have two cats and a husband. Most of the day, I sit in an office in front of a computer, just like the average late-20s office monkey. Undergraduates, on the other hand, drink peppermint schnapps straight from the bottle, yell obscenities at 2am, and play drunken slip-and-slide on the front lawn. (Although, now that I think about it, drunken slip-and-slide doesn't sound half bad-- aside from the whole throwing-yourself-at-the-ground thing). On the other hand, we are not quite adults either. Between us, we make an amount of money that nearly qualifies us for food stamps. Neither of us owns what you would call a "professional wardrobe" and my usual summer work uniform includes shorts and a beer t-shirt. I often wonder why anyone would pay me for what I do.

But that's not the strange part--I mean, plenty of people make less money than we do, live a more student lifestyle, have jobs with an even more lax dress code etc etc. The strange part is that all of that will change in a blindingly short span of time. In a little over a year, I will be making something on the order of 3-4 times my current yearly salary. My department will pay for me to travel. I will occupy and office with fewer than 4 other people. I will easily be able to afford all of the Things (yes...Things...as much as I hate it, four years of graduate school has taught me that I do want Things, even if they aren't the traditional huge car, McMansion kind) that I've put off buying. And I will probably have to stop wearing beer t-shirts to work.

On the financial side, this anticipated bump (if you can call a 300% increase a "bump") in my income makes it difficult to be too concerned about debt today. In economics, we have an idea called "consumption smoothing." Basically, if you expect your income to increase, you should borrow and spend some of that future money now. The reality is obviously a little more complicated (credit card companies are evil, after all), but I'm trying out a new mantra: consumption smoooooooothing...consumption smoooooooothing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Things Kate hates #432: "Red Noise"

"Red Noise" is what I call the high-pitched whine emitted by some electronic devices.

Red noise is amazingly common, and becoming more so as electronic devices invade every conceivable nook and cranny of the world. I often leave a restaurant and discover that I was feeling cranky at dinner because one of the 700 billion electronic devices was buzzing its way slowly and inexorably into my skull. The library uses red noise to scare birds away from its gigantic windows. Even the brick for my laptop produces a whine when it heats up.

I once spent a week searching for the source of an extremely loud, high-pitched noise in my living room. No one else can hear it, which lent a certain tinge of insanity to the whole thing (I have unusually good hearing for someone my age--I had to get a hearing test because I have terrible tinnitus and my hearing is "extraordinary"). After unplugging nearly everything in our (tech-heavy) house, I tracked the noise to the mini touch screen monitor connected to our server, which we now leave turned off unless we're using the computer.

The latest whine in my life is particularly unusual, because there isn't even a physical device involved. It accompanies the financial report on CNBC (I don't actually watch said financial report, but it plays on the tv at the coffee shop I frequent)--they have a neon (slime) green slider graphic, which creates a whine every time it slides back and forth. I know--a digital graphic of a slider doesn't actually slide and thus the slider itself doesn actually make noise. But that's kind of the point--there is absolutely no physical reason for this graphic to make a noise, and yet it does.

So my question is, why don't businesses work harder to eliminate these noises? Is it just that they don't know about it (though surely the 19 year old restaurant wait staff can hear it?) or do they not care? Are young people just less likely to complain than old people? Do they figure that enough Red Noise will eventually yield White Noise?

Anyway, I'm starting a revolution. I just wrote an email to CNBC about their stupid graphic. Die red noise! Die!

Friday, July 18, 2008

...and pretty girls all in a row


Our garden has been progressing by leaps and bounds since my last report. We lost a few plants to a late frost in May, but the rest are thriving--and we've almost doubled our cultivated area since then.

The biggest part of that area was freed up when I dug the last half path (you can see our general scheme in the picture above--three long beds, divided with two paths and capped with a shorter horizontal bed, which is behind the camera in this shot). This gave us two more half beds to work with. Ross used the first to try out a new planting system of his own devising--he dug a series of shallow sub-beds, separated by long thin mounds. He filled the sub-beds with more hot pepper seedlings, and cauliflower and broccoli seedlings and on the mounds, he sowed lettuce and kale seeds. This system seems to have worked really really well! Elevating the fast growing seeds let him mulch around the slow-growing seedlings right away, and the plants won't shade out the lettuce as quickly this way. I wish we'd done all of our beds this way. It would have saved a lot of weeding.

Those seedlings all came from the batch that I grew inside this spring. We don't get much indoor light at my house, so the first seeds to germinate reached sun-ward somewhat pathetically, and eventually sprawled all over each other in a big tangled mess. I needed a way to get them more light, so I rigged up a makeshift indoor lighting system out of three lamps (shades removed), a bench, two overturned garbage cans, the lid from a large rubbermaid box, several cardboard boxes, and a buckets of homeowners insurance. I think that the combination of bare light bulbs and combustibles made Ross nervous (he didn't go so far as to disassemble it, but he did start keeping a glass of water within reach on his nightstand) but it did keep the seedlings from doing the too-little-sun limbo. Unfortunately, the lights were so hot that I couldn't put them close enough to the plants--the heat of the bulbs sucked the moisture out of those little plants quicker than Daniel Day Lewis with a milkshake straw. Next year, I'll just give in a buy a real, honest-to-god set of grow lights. Or maybe a local pot head will have a garage sale...


Anyway, we have more seedlings than we know what to do with, including a whole passel (herd? pod?) of hot peppers, which served as a nice replacement for the plants we lost to frost. If all goes well, we should have a bumper crop of colorful peppers later this summer. It will almost (almost!) make up for the fact that I couldn't find seeds for my beloved hatch chilies.



On both sides of the garden we planted potatoes next to the fence. Our fence is only 3 feet tall, and the deer view it more or less the same way I view a sneeze-guard. But I figured that since the leaves of the potato plant are poisonous, the deer will at least have to work a bit to graze on our garden. They've really taken off these past few weeks (the potatoes, not the deer), and pretty soon we'll be able to cover them in straw (again, the potatoes, not the deer). I read somewhere that if you cover your potato plants with straw after they flower, they'll produce potatoes in the straw as well as underground. Since you only have to dig through the straw to find them, they are really easy to harvest that way.

Next to the potatoes we planted two rows of onions, and next to the onions some little bitty purple basil seedlings. (they deserved a chance after they fought their way back from the grave inside).

My mom clued me in to planting legumes (tall and thin with lots of small leaves) with melons (ground hugging and sprawling with big sun-sucking leaves) so I planted a double row of snap peas among our ambrosia and water melons. They are currently sprouting and remind me of an orderly line of school children. Pretty soon, we'll have to put up a trellis for them.

We were skeptical of our special "cold climate" artichokes, but they seem to be enjoying the Michigan summer. They are already looming over the lettuce we planted between the rows. I'm still doubtful that we'll get artichokes before they plants are killed by frost, but it would be really cool if we did. A farmer visiting Ann Arbor from upstate told us that artichokes are largely a weed in this climate. The normal varieties don't grow fast enough to produce artichokes in our short growing season--and since they're a relative of the thistle, they can be extremely difficult to get rid of. Ours are supposed to be annuals. I guess if we see artichokes in this plot next year, we'll know that we were wrong.

The eggplant are not doing as well as we'd hoped--we lost two to frost, and the remaining two are growing really slowly. These are called "black beauty, which seems a bit arrogant for a vegetable.






Most excitingly, we've gotten our first harvests! The first to come out were the mustard greens and radishes, followed by the curly green lettuce you see around the artichokes in the picture up above.


We ate the radishes on salad--they're spicier than the ones you get in the grocery store, and beautiful with their bright white centers and deep red skins. I'm sad that some of them got away--we let them sit in the garden for too long, and they became caustically bitter. We'll be more on top of it next time.

I fried the first batch of greens (mustard and radish) in bacon fat and studded them with bits of Polish bacon. The second set I cooked with some onion, garlic, and balsamic vinegar and served to folks at a barbecue. The last of them I blanched and froze for another day.

We've also started to get peppers (two long deep green ones, which we picked before I left for chicago but I didn't get a chance to take a picture of). Soon we'll have more tomatoes than we know what to do with. It's amazing what FULL sun will do for tomatoes--last year our plants reached 7 feet tall and we got less than 10 tomatoes. This year we have ten times that many so far--on plants less than 3 feet tall.

I love our garden. If it wouldn't make me a terrible wife/catowner/graduate student, I think that I would spend every day there. I've always loved growing flowers, but vegetables are even more wonderful. Close up, they're even more beautiful than flowers (witness the number of pictures in this post) and...well...they make me feel maternal.

As much as you can feel maternal towards something you will eventually eat.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pantry Raid

The backstory: I've always hated the pantry in our kitchen. The shelving inside was poorly laid out, and we really couldn't fit all that much inside. Here is the photo I took at our housing inspection 3 years ago

This photo is also a nice illustration of the overall look of the kitchen before we moved in. The woman in the picture is the last owner--she tried that wall color on two walls before deciding it was a terrible idea and giving up. We painted over it before we even moved in. The light fixture was also terrible. It was ugly as sin (strike one, brass...strike two, random curlicues...strike three, frosted glass globes) and Ross was always hitting his head on it (no small thing when the attachment between the fixture and the ceiling is a solid brass rod). We replaced it with a more attractive, lighter (read: more head-friendly) fixture from IKEA. It now looks like this (although we have a different picture hanging on the wall):



Anyway...since the pantry was near useless, we were using a set of wire shelves, which made the already-cramped kitchen even harder to use (I don't have a picture of the shelves, but there were three of them, and they took up one entire wall of the kitchen).

The objective was to redesign the pantry to make a useful space and get the wire shelves out of the kitchen. Ross tore out two little bookcase-style shelves in the pantry. We planned on 4 new shelves, about 12" deep and spanning the entire width of the pantry. The nice man at Lowes cut two pieces of birch plywood into four shelves. Ross cut some narrow wood into rails for the shelves to rest on, leveled them, and screwed them into the walls. Meanwhile, I painted all of the shelves. We had one slight hitch with the painting--when we went to buy a second can of paint, they sold us "base 5" instead of white. It took us a while to figure out what was going on, because while it looks white in the can, it goes on basically clear. Anyway...after approximately 42 coats of paint and a truly heroic amount of cleanup on Ross's part, we have our new pantry:

The bluish glow you see near the top of the picture is the battery-powered led light Ross installed (read: stuck to the door frame) to illuminate the top shelf. We installed the rack on the door almost as an afterthought--there was plenty of room for it, and it adds an appreciable amount of storage. The bottom of the pantry houses the recycle bins. The cat in the foreground is looking for stray bits of kibble that Ross might have missed when cleaning the floor.

If you are really interested in pictures of our pantry, Ross has posted more here.

Triangle of Desire


Triangle of Desire, originally uploaded by rcoconnell02.

The wireless network at the Kellogg school of business won't let me upload anything to any server (or download my mail to Thunderbird...grrrr) so I still can't get the pictures into the garden post.

However, I can give you this great picture that Ross took of Maggie and Roxy Anne. Note the relative positions of cat, kitten, and tail.

Bad decision in 3...2...1...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

GAMES 2008: the Revenge of Nash

Just a note to say that I'm on the road again--I'm attending a really great conference in my field, which has an almost comically megalomaniacal title--The Third World Conference of the Game Theory Society: GAMES 2008. Last week I was explaining to people why I was going out of town YET AGAIN, and had considerable trouble making myself understood. Is GAMES 2008 a variation on comic-con? Do you have to wear a wizard hat? It does sound a bit dramatic, given that we're mostly doing math..and is that the Third World-congress, or the Third-world Congress?

Anyway, the talks have been great and I've been getting some great research ideas. But there aren't many graduate students here, and try as I might I couldn't find anyone who wanted to go to a bar...so I'm kind of stuck in my room tonight.

I'm staying in one of the dorms on campus, which was apparently designed by evil trolls. The buildings are squares with a courtyard in the middle--basically one long, square hallway stacked on top of another. This would be ok (every room gets a window...albeit at the expense of a whole lot of wasted space) but the architect/troll made no effort to distinguish one side of the square from another. Every hallway is the same as every other hallway, which makes it very difficult to keep track of where exactly you are. Moreover, every door is identical to every other door--it took me 10 minutes of wandering around, trying random doors before I finally found the bathroom.

More irritating is the fact that only two of the four corners on this floor have a stairwell, and of those two corners, exactly ONE takes you to an exit. And since all four corners are FUCKING IDENTICAL...well, let's just say that Lewis Carrol couldn't have designed a better rabbit hole. This morning, I set out looking for the exit, tried a few doors, and suddenly found myself back outside my room. Creepy.

So here I am, a bit bored, but afraid that if I leave the room I'll never find my way out. So I guess I'm warning you that you might be getting more than one blog post tonight (if I can manage to make the wireless work--otherwise you might not even get this one). I'll start with the garden post that I've had completed for a week except for the pictures stuck on my camera. Then...well...we'll see how bored I am. You may get that wedding post after all.

(By the way, this is one of only two events I've been to where the line for the lady's bathroom is SHORTER than the line for the men's (the other was RAGBRAI...most cyclists are men). I had kind of gotten used to the fairly mild gender gap in economics as a whole, but economic theory is a whole different can of trout. I'm used to being in the minority, but damn...)


UPDATE Getting a connection was harder than it should have been. I braved the magical stairwells to use the wireless at the business school, but the wireless access pass they gave me at registration doesn't seem to work. I don't have an ethernet cord with me, so I'm using the cord in the lectern of one of the classrooms. But I'm pretty sure they don't want me doing this, so I probably won't get the garden post up until tomorrow. Ah well.

Friday, July 4, 2008

More cute kitten pictures than you probably needed...

Ross showed me a way to make a slideshow. So bring on the cute!


Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

We interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcast to bring you a scene of unbridled cuteness...


We have our kitten! If you can bear turning the cuteness level up to 11, there are more pictures over on flickr.

And yes, we do have pink bedroom walls.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

We're in Oregon right now, for Ross's 10 year high school reunion. For the past few years, Ross has been trying to get me to try golfing (he was, after all, successful in addicting me to skiing just a few years ago). I've been resisting, because...well...golf is boring, right? My dad used to call it a good walk, ruined. And then there is the fact that golf courses tie up a large amount of land (and in the west, water) for the enjoyment of a small number of (mostly rich) people.

But Ross puts on that sweet face, and who am I to resist his charms? So we went to Beer Creek Golf Course, a tiny course of par 3 holes, with no hole longer than 300 yards. And although I hate to admit it, I actually had a pretty good time. Mind you, I'm not completely converted--I was ready to be done around hole 6, and golf courses are still a waste of land a money--but as a way to enjoy time with my sweetie, it wasn't half bad.

Here's the talley:
9: number of holes we played
6: number of holes I enjoyed
80 yards: length of the shortest hole
2: number of times I needed to yell fore
1: number of times I actually yelled fore
1: number of golf bags I hit
3: the size of the group I nearly hit on the next green over
3: number of balls Ross lost
0: number of balls I lost (Ross claims that I wasn't hitting them hard enough to lose them)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Goals--Update!

Remember my post about goals? Have you been on the edge of your seat, wondering how I've been doing?

Well too bad, because you're getting an update anyway.

1) Run/Bike/Swim a triathlon: some progress
I haven't done this yet, but I *have* fixed my bike and I've been looking at what event would fit into my busy summer schedule. I'm thinking maybe the Claire Lake Tri/Du. I'm contemplating doing the duathlon (2.4 mile run/ 13 mile bike/ 4 mile run) instead of the tri, mostly because I don't want to have to add a swimming workout into my schedule. And since 4 miles is about the maximum I've ever run before, a 2.4 mile run followed by a 4 mile run will be quite a challenge. The 13 mile bike ride will be pretty easy--the bike distances on tris are comparatively short at all levels (even the ironman--I'd take a 100 mile bike ride over a marathon any day). Hopefully Ross will train with me--and by "train with me" I mean run with me--not bike along behind, whacking me on the butt with a spatula (ala Run Fatboy Run).

2) Take all of my (important) pills: yes!
We'll have to ask Ross, but I think I've been really good with this. Unfortunately, despite how well I've been treating it, my body has been conspiring against me. I went to the doctor because I haven't been feeling well, and left with a blood test, a prescription, a multivitamin, and an appointment for a hearing test (don't worry--the worst it could be is a food allergy). Oh--and I also have a bunion. Apparently, I'm 67 years old.

3) Take care of my back: uhh...
Not really. Not only have I failed to keep up with my core exercises, I managed to hurt my back gardening last week (or maybe it was the half ton of books at the Great Media Divestment Project). The good news is, that unlike the last time, it took me only a week to start walking normally again! I can even pick things up off the floor without making a sound like a pygmy hippopotamus!
Um...yeah...need to redouble my efforts on this one.

4) Bike a Century: some progress
So far this summer, there seems to be little time for biking. But my plan is to schedule my rides, and work towards replacing my old regular ride (Dexter--25 miles) with a longer one (Chelsea 40 miles). My friend Ann, who is now practically a PROFESSIONAL CYCLIST (Hi Ann!) has promised me a century ride later this summer. My dignity tells me that I need to get my butt in gear, lest she doesn't drop me like last last month's egg salad sandwich.

5) Climb a 5.10: Thbbt
This may happen by December. It may not. Climbing shoes are about the worst thing in the world for your feet (I'll try to post a picture sometime...it's a pretty dramatially shaped shoe). But I can't realistically blame my lack of progress on the bunion. We just haven't gotten to the climbing gym--and probably won't until it gets cold outside.

6) Finish a Second Paper: Slow but steady
This is what I've been doing instead of biking and climbing. But it is paying off. I have...well...something. Whether it is better than the paper I have already finished remains to be seen, but at the risk of bringing the force of the universe down on my head, I'll say it's looking good so far.

7)Go on the Job Market: All systems go!
Good thing too.

8)Get Married: Check and check!

Next mission: safety pins!

A couple of years ago, I bought a jersey dress from H&M for a wedding. I love that dress--it's cheap, attractive, and I can wad it up in a ball, throw it in a suitcase, or shove it under the cat for 8 hours without it wrinkling. So this year, I bought another--a green wrap dress.

Unlike the last one, this dress is a true wrap--it goes on like a coat and ties on the side. As it turns out, every wrap dress I've had prior to this point was a fake--a detail that I failed to appreciate until this morning, when I walked out the front of the building and promptly flashed everyone in the street. Turns out, there's a bit of a wind tunnel effect on our block.

Frankly, it was more attractive when Marilyn Monroe did it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

WE GETS A KITTEH!!


WE GETS A KITTEH!!, originally uploaded by rcoconnell02.

We're adopting a kitten! She's a maine coon mix (her mom is 18 pounds and may be a full-blooded maine coon). We have to wait another 2 weeks before we can bring her home (she needs to be at least 3 pounds).

Name suggestions?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Great Media Devestment Project...

My folks have been thinking about starting a used book selling business for a while, and this year they decided to take the plunge, and get a booth at the Printer's Row book fair in Chicago. It sounded like fun, and my mom promised me a cute little hardware store apron to store money in, so we drove down for the weekend to help out.

An aside: Printer's Row is an interesting part of the city. My grandfather worked in the printing industry there, back when it was a heavily industrial area--it was such a bad neighborhood that he wouldn't let my grandmother visit him at work, and he refused to park his car there. But a combination of the death of the printing industry in Chicago and the general gentrification of the South-loop area means that the old factories and paper mills are now pricey lofts. My grandfather would be shocked.

Anyway...the Printer's Row book fair has been around for a long time (23 years) and attracts a wide variety of booksellers, including national chains, museums, individual publishers, and "independents"--a category broad enough to encompass Powell's bookstore, the guy who sells only rare architecture books, and HJ booksellers (that is to say, us). The wares sold span as wide a variety as the sellers--brand new best sellers, tattered paperbacks, rare books, seconds/damaged books, overstocks, authors and/or (that "and" is really a bitch, I hear) publishers hawking their latest offering(s), art taken from cut-up books, old magazine covers, posters, and all other conceivable works on paper. We fit right in.

Our booth consisted of a table, with an L-shaped arrangement of bookselves around one side. We were selling a mixture of cookbooks culled from my mom's collection, mysteries and science fiction hardbacks, children's books, and a sometimes-odd mix of non-fiction (including, among other gems, a set of books entitled "The Bottom Line" from the years 1992-1996, published by "Boardroom Classics"). We were basically selling the dregs of my folks' personal collection, so we started off at $3 a book or 4 for $10. My friend Dirk balanced off the other side of the table with his collection of art posters (including a lovely 1979 Lichtenstein poster for the exhibit "Art for Art's Sake").

The first day, we sold around $700 worth of books, easily making back the $200 buy-in cost and the second day, we sold an additional $500 worth of books, bringing our total for two days to $1200--that is approximately 800 items, 40 square feet, or 600 pounds, for those of you keeping track. That, despite getting caught in a micro burst that nearly sent a 30'x30' tent sailing over our heads, 100 pound weights and all.

Ah yes...my old friend the tornado siren. Unfortunately, the weekend had a wee bit of drama. On Saturday, we'd had a late-day rainstorm, which was unpleasant but short-lived and pretty innocuous. The next day, at around 11:30 am, we received news from the organizers that we should be expecting "some weather" to come through in about 1/2 hour. We expected the same short rainstorm we'd experienced on Saturday, located our plastic sheets for quick recovery, and went about our business. At 12:30, it started to drizzle, so we covered the books. At 12:40, the sky opened up and the wind swirled up violently, ripping the tarp off the tables of the seller in the tent across the way. We secured our tarps just in time to see one of the 30'x30' tents in the street start to lift off, moving towards us. As it moved, it exposed more of the next tent to the wind, knocking down several bookcases and causing it to start to move as well.

This was about when I realized that this was no normal storm. The tents at this fair are provided by the city and they are not lightweight. They are also weighed down by 55 gallon drums on each corner. Later that day, I tried to move one of the drums and couldn't budge it at all. So this was some Major Wind. When the tent started moving across the street, my sister and Dirk both raced over to help hold it down. Between the two of them, they probably saved it from taking off, 55 gallon drums and all. As it was, the tent had moved about 10 feet to one side. The seller at the tent next door lost considerable stock when the bookcases blew over--I would guess that the weekend was more-or-less a loss for them. Fortunately, our table was shielded from the worst of the wind--a considerable bit of luck, since the sellers at the table 20 feet down the street from us were close enough to the cross street to get blown to shreds. They had actually closed up shop before the storm started because the fair-weather wind was so bad that bystanders were having to hold down the books for them during gusts.

As is usually the case with this kind of storm, the drama was done after about 15 minutes--by which I mean that we were left with pouring rain and lightning, rather than pouring rain, lightning, AND gale-force winds. So we decided that maaaaaybe we should go get some lunch. After lunch, we wandered back to the booth, figuring that the fair would be pretty much over, since...you know...one of the tents NEARLY TOOK OFF. But when we got there, we found a guy waiting for us in the still-drizzling rain, in the hopes that he could buy two of our VHS tapes.

Yes, you heard right. He was waiting--in the rain--to buy two VHS tapes. Tapes that, at that point, we would have been perfectly happy to seen stolen. Moreover, contrary any kind of logic, we did a brisk business for the rest of the day. Who'd have thought?

(By the way, this weekend marks the second (maybe third, if you count sandstorms) time in my life that I've been stuck outside in severe weather. Someday I'll have to tell you about being in a tent during a tornado, which is bit more dramatic.)

Anyway...Ross and I didn't leave the fair empty-handed (how could we?) and and despite feeling like a bit of a book-glutton, I can't help bragging about our great finds. So here's a list of our aquisitions...

From the Art Institute's damaged and overstocked table:

From the movable type seller:
  • Numbers 0-9 in various fonts ($5 total--wood type)
  • Two parentheses, a colon, a curly bracket and a large skinny X ($7 total--metal type that we will use to make a little text guy with a mustache and eyebrows--just think about it for a moment)
  • A type drawer ($20--Ross is going to use this to hold his burgeoning collection of star wars micromachines...no...really!)

From an art-on-paper dealer:
This was the deal of the century. We were browsing through the bins at a tent selling a variety of art works on paper. Most of them were cut from books or magazines (which we refuse to buy on principle--don't cut up books!), but in one bin marked "African American Artists" we found a whole mess of original, signed(!) woodblock prints from an artist named E.W. Washington. I haven't been able to find anything about him online, but his work looks a bit like the illustrations in Lynd Ward's wordless books. The prints are from about the same era as the wordless books--1917 through 1940--and while they aren't quite as good as Lynd Ward, they are still pretty amazing. We paid less than $70 for three prints.

From Drawn and Quarterly:
3 graphic novels for $36. It's a bit unclear exactly how much of a discount we got. After the big storm, Ross asked if they were selling for retail (Drawn and Quarterly tends to be more expensive than most graphic novel publishers). The two guys behind the table looked at each other, shrugged, and said "How about...half off?" We snapped up three books before they had a chance to change their minds.

And finally, some things that we didn't get:
  • A field guide for US troops in Australia (1942) (the same time my grandfather would have been there--but $15 was too much)
  • A number of pages cut from Lynd Ward books (don't cut up books!)
When what the last time YOU sold nearly a half ton of books?