Friday, November 14, 2014

We Aren't Really Party People

My father is retiring in January. He's worked for the same medical group since he finished his residency in 1975. My father has never missed a day of work due to weather. He's been a valued part of the hospital and I'm constantly told how wonderful he is.

To celebrate his retirement my sister started planning a party for him. A gathering where we would invite all of his coworkers, and all of our family, and my parent's friends to celebrate his long and productive career. She started planning the party..., until she talked to my dad about it. And he thanked her for the idea but said, "we're not really party people."

When my sister told me what he'd said I was a little surprised. My dad is outgoing, often the one telling jokes at any gathering. But at the same time this is true. We aren't party people. As a family it is rare for us to have a party. I know my parents had their friends over when we were younger but it was never what I would call a party. Birthday parties normally took place at a location outside the house (think Chuck E. Cheese). And tonight we'll be going out to dinner to celebrate my birthday.

It's strange but I don't feel like I missed out on anything by not having parties when we were younger. I'm more than happy to celebrate life events with a good dinner and some time with family. I'm introverted enough that parties are stressful and I often want to flee shortly after arriving. It's not that I don't like people, I just get overwhelmed. I think my childhood would have been stressful had we been party people. But we aren't. So we'll celebrate my dad's retirement with a family gathering, getting all the kids together for a weekend. And tonight, I'll celebrate my birthday with a glass of wine and a great dinner. And that sounds perfect.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

I'll see you in court!

It's pretty rare when the words in the title are followed up by anything pleasant. But today was a bit of an exception. As I headed out to work this morning I told Jess that I'd see her in court. And we both had smiles on our faces. 

Today Jess' name change became legal. We filed the paperwork in September and had been waiting for the courts to set a date. I'd already sent back my notarized form saying that I was aware of the name change and didn't object. But Jess' lawyer thought it would be best if I was present just in case there were any questions. I'm glad I was there to support Jess. We were both questioned lightly but by the lawyer. The judge was all smiles. It's not often that a judge gets to make someone's day. 

All and all the process took 20 minutes, not counting the waiting to have a court date set. Everyone (at least in Iowa) is allowed one legal name change without cost. Jess has just used hers. And I don't think I've ever seen a smile so radiant. How often can you say you spent part of the day in court and ended up happy?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum

I get on kicks every once in a while (and by that I mean all the time). Jess calls them my obsessions. My current one is Alan Cumming. Ever since I saw my first Alan Cumming movie (Circle of Friends) back in the early 90s, I've paid attention when I find movies with him in it. As I sit down to watch I always say, "Oooh this has Alan Cumming. I love him." But he's never been one of my kicks. Until now. Suddenly I'm watching movies with him in them, listening to interviews, getting excited to read his new book, and watching YouTube video after YouTube video. It's a fun kick. Alan's a really fantastic actor but he also has a lot of traits that I admire: intelligence, honesty, energy, passion. Plus he's vegan. What's not to love?

Joel Grey as Emcee, singing Money with Liza Minnelli

One of the best things though about this kick is that it has introduced me the fantastic musical Cabaret. After all Alan won the Tony for his performance as the Master of Ceremonies in the 1990s revival of the musical, playing the part that Joel Grey played in the film. Alan's version is a tad...raunchier. And a bit darker, than the Joel Grey/Liza Minnelli one. It's not a show for children, either for the rather erotic dancing or for the dark Nazi undertones. Before this kick though, I'd never seen the whole musical. I'd seen bits of the costuming and heard a couple of songs (who hasn't heard "Money"?). But I had no idea how deep and potentially dark the musical could be. I thought it was about a nightclub after all.

Alan Cumming's Emcee in Willkommen

I should have known it would be dark. After all, it's about Germany during the rise of the Nazis. In the late 1920s Germany was a country of decadence, as expressed by the club. Like our 1920s, dancing and drinking and sex were all the rage. The play focuses on an American writer who comes to Berlin, the nightclub singer who moves herself in with him, the landlady at his boarding house, and her admirer, a grocery man who happens to be Jewish. The Nazis rise to power takes the form of a man who befriends the writer and then wrecks havoc in the life of the boarding house. And overseeing all of this is the Master of Ceremonies.

The music is so catchy. I've been singing Willkommen, Mein Herr, Money, Two Ladies, and Life is a Cabaret since I started watching the musical. I've seen several versions now (not just Alan's) and I like all of them. I just love the mix of energies, one upbeat and a bit sexy, and the other dark and grim. I have favorite versions for each song and I'll listen to them over and over. The dancing and acting is just spectacular. And the story makes me laugh and make me sad. A well told tale. Now I just need to see it on stage.

Over the weekend my sister and I were planning to get together on Saturday. That morning she started her text with "Guten Morgen Fraulein". When I texted her back she apologized for the German but said that she'd just seen a stage production of Cabaret and had German on the brain. I couldn't believe the coincidence. We've been trading our impressions of each of the different versions since then. It's fun that we both found this musical at the exact same time. And it's even more fun to have someone to share the excitement with.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

New Floor

As I'm sitting upstairs I can hear pounding, grinding, and sawing coming from below me. Honestly it's gotten so that I don't even notice the noise. I'm sitting upstairs writing, emailing, and more often checking Twitter. But below me are two men installing our new floor.

We've lived in our townhouse for over 9 years now. And during that time I've been talking about replacing the living room floor for about 6 of them. I think the carpet is original which would make it nearly 20 years old. And being off-white means that it looked bad from the beginning. So when we had to redo the floor in the kitchen a couple years ago, I knew it was time to start thinking about the living room.
The floor in the kitchen which will now be in the rest of the downstairs. 

We're getting the same laminate as we have in the kitchen and I really think it's going to open up the room. Even just moving the furniture and all the other stuff out has made the room seem huge. I never realized we had that much space. It just means that I'll need to get rid of things rather than bring them back down.

I haven't been down there to peek yet. I'm trying to give the guys as much as privacy as possible. After all they're the ones doing the work. But I'm pretty excited. Goodbye hideous carpet. Goodbye vacuuming downstairs. Yay new floor!

{Edit: 10 minutes after I posted this they called me to tell me that they had finished with the main work. Here's what the floor looks like. The room is huge. It echos. I love it!}


Friday, October 3, 2014

Insomnia, Again

My mother tells me that I was one of her best sleepers when I was a child. I slept heavily through the night for years, barely waking for anything. All the way through college, very little disturbed my slumber. Even the dorms weren't loud enough to wake me up. I would drop into bed around midnight and sleep straight through until morning.

Flash forward 15 years and I'm dealing with insomnia, again. Ever since I left college I've become a light sleeper. I wake at the tiniest noise. And often can't get back to sleep. Several years ago I went through a seven month period where I couldn't fall asleep. I was lucky if I got 4 to 5 hours a night. Now I can fall asleep, but I can't stay asleep. I'm waking up four or five times a night and struggle to get back to sleep each time. I stare at the ceiling or lay there listening to Jess sleep. I've started sleeping with earplugs in again but I think they're more of a problem right now than a solution.

The problem seems to be my anxiety. I've had social anxiety for most of my life but in the last decade it has started amplifying, leading to anxiety attacks and insomnia. It's confrontation that's the issue. My previous bout of insomnia stemmed from a neighbor who would have wild parties. The few times I went to tell him to keep it down didn't go well. Nothing physical or really all that mean, but it set me back. So I would lie awake on perfectly quiet nights waiting for the noise. This current bout is about a new neighbor. We share a wall and he's a true night owl. One night I woke at 4 a.m. to find him blasting music. Jess went over to ask him to turn it down and he did. He's been quiet and respectful every since. We've hardly heard a peep from him. But I can't seem to shake the anxiety. I lie awake listening for the music. And I can't sleep.

I'm writing this because I find that talking about my anxiety seems to make it less intense. I often journal about my anxiety attacks but I never really talk about them here. I know that I'm not alone with anxiety issues and certainly not alone in my fear of confrontation. It's right up there with fear of death and public speaking. Currently I avoid it at all costs. But I'm beginning to wonder if that is hurting me more than anything. Would I be less anxious if I felt that I was more in control? Would I still not be sleeping if I felt I could tell this kid what I thought? I know that it's all a matter of facing my fears, but that's hard to remember at 3 a.m., a time that's never been comfortable for this early bird. So I'll ask. Have you ever faced insomnia? What worked? What didn't?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Comics Issue

I got home from the library at 2 this afternoon with a stack of nine books. Two were easy reader children's book, one was an overview of a filmmaker's career, one was a creativity guide, and the rest were graphic novels. I read a lot of graphic novels. I love the blending of words and images. I love the creative stories that seem to only flow out of the blending of art and text. And I love the art. But a lot of people will tell me that graphic novels, comics, or even comic strips aren't real reading. There continues to be a stigma attached to this kind of reading. I couldn't disagree more.

I grew up on a rich diet of books which included picture books, chapter books, comics, and comic strips. Some of the earliest adventure stories that I fell in love with were Uncle Scrooge comics. Each thin paper comic contained an adventure that often spanned the globe. I would get sucked into the stories. I can still picture Uncle Scrooge in his adventure for the golden fleece or making his way into the valley of Tralla La (the Carl Banks version of Shangri-La). I had no idea at the time that I was learning bits of greek myth or about mythical utopias. I just knew that I loved the stories.

As I got older I fell in love with comic strips. I read Calvin and Hobbes, Wizard of Id, The Far Side, and Bloom County to name a few. There were other comics, ones that weren't in our local paper, that found their way into the house in the form of collections. My mother supported us kids as readers, in whatever form that reading took. So we had hundreds of these comic collections mixed with our paper comics that included Archie's, Mickey Mouse, and Casper. We were allowed to read anything we wanted as long as it was kid friendly. And we did read. I can't remember a moment of my childhood where I wasn't reading or thinking about books to read. We were blessed.

I worry about kids now whose parents keep them from comics. Parent who say that graphic novels and comics aren't real reading. As if reading a chapter book was the only form of book for kids once they can read on their own. Like the mistaken idea of taking picture books away from kids after they can read on their own, I think that this does more to keep children from becoming readers. Much like picture books, I think graphic novels are essential reading for kids who are learning to love words and stories. A story can be told in many ways. Like a great film, a graphic novel uses both dialogue and image to tell a more complete story. A child who is encouraged to read whatever they would like (within reason) will become a reader. They will read for pleasure. They will read to learn.

Now I'm not saying to never pay attention to what your children are reading. I've read graphic novels that were disturbing for me as an adult. I've also read word only novels that have done the same thing. My mother was careful to screen what we read for adult content. Things we read that were more advanced were discussed. But we were never told that we couldn't read some type of format. When I went back to reading picture books my mother gave me a stack of books from our old library. I have dibs on some of our comic book collections. I read constantly as a child, in all formats. And I don't know if I would have been as large a reader if I hadn't been granted so much freedom in deciding what I wanted to read. I know that I would not be the reader I am today without that combination of art and words.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Gen Con: Hobbies and Crafts

I've been meaning to write this post for two weeks now. Of course it would help if I ever had a night at home before 9 o'clock. I'm in the middle of a busy stretch. But now I have a couple minutes. And I'm going to get this out so I can move on to other things. After all, it's been almost a month since Gen Con.

Every time we go to Gen Con, I come back inspired from all the creativity and energy I see around me. Artist's Alley is filled with incredibly talented artists and I always seem to pick up a print or two. I have more art than I have walls now. I am always in awe of how creative people are. I'll post later about the paper sculpture I purchased which hangs in my car. It's my favorite thing from the whole con.

But this year I was drawn to some of the great sewing pieces I saw and the incredibly detailed miniatures that were on display. I took more pictures of the miniatures than I should have. But I was just struck each time by how amazing they were. Miniature painting is something that I've been thinking of getting into. I picked up a starter kit last year, only to find that all the paint was too dry to work with. I would like to start painting, although looking at the ones on display is both inspiring, and a bit daunting.

Seriously, look at that detail

I loved the personality on this piece. Love this little guy. 

And of course, the dragon. Fantastic!

The sewing I took pictures of was also a bit of wishful thinking. I'm still terrified of the sewing machine. I know it will try to eat my fingers. Jess tells me that there's nothing to it, but I think she's lying. Still clearly there are plenty of talented people out there.

I think this was all hand-stitched, so there is hope. But isn't it incredible? Love me some Cthulhu.


I stopped this woman as she was eating lunch. I felt bad but I loved the skirt so much. The back was also covered with emblems. Such a simple design but such fun. I had to stop her and compliment her on the skirt. She was very gracious about it.

What I love about Gen Con is that it's not just one type of art. There are the professional artists certainly. And the creative cosplayers which continue to stun me. And the hobby enthusiasts who make and create. But there's also the creative art that just appears at the show.


The robots above were built out of Legos for a giant game of RoboRally. Some very familiar faces to make the game even more interesting.


And this octopus was created on site, out of cards, by someone who just happened to like building card structures. By the end of the weekend he was destroyed for charity. Temporary art. No wonder I come home inspired.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Gen Con...The Costume Edition

Mystery Men!

I've been back for almost a week and this is the first chance I've had to download photos and decompress from this year's Gen Con. For those of you who aren't familiar, each year Jess and I travel with my family to a gaming convention in Indianapolis. We play games, we play-test games, we talk about games, we eat lots of fantastic dinners while talking about games, and we look at costumes. Sometimes gaming costumes, most times not.

Don't know the character (anyone know?) but love the costume

We had a blast as usual. I always eat too much and don't play enough and this year was no exception. But we did end up coming home with three new games to try, some books from our favorite webcomics, and some cool steampunk accessories. I also found a writing quill which I think will get a lot of use for drawing. I came home with a lot of energy for creating.

These guys were huge hits of the convention. Love the Lego hands on Batman

We didn't spend quite as much time with family this trip and I feel a little sad about that. While looking through my pictures from the trip there are only two with family members in them. The evenings we spent with everyone but most of the mornings and early afternoons were just Jess and I. Not that I didn't have fun, but I would have loved to play more with everyone. I've really missed gaming lately. Jess and I have decided that we'll pick one day per weekend to play one of the games we have. Otherwise they just sit and gather dust and we only play games when we're with other people.

With Starfleet Airship Division. After I took his picture he gave me some Starfleet cash

As you can see, the costumes were just as good as usual this year. Each time I go I am blown away by people's creativity. And I come back wanting to make a costume for the next time we get to a convention. I had tossed around the idea of a simple Portal costume but never ended up making it. Perhaps next year. My next post will look at some of the crafts and hobbies that I was blown away by. I need to do more creating.

My mother, finds Waldo (my father). His costume was a huge hit. People even chased him down the street for photos. 

The man in the suit and tie is supposed to be Tony Stark. He had the arc reactor in his chest (although the blue glow didn't come out in this photo) and would toss out cheesy lines as each person took a picture. He was hilarious. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

R2D2

In a couple weeks, Jess and I are heading to a big time geek convention. I'll be donning my Star Trek uniform, wearing my cool RPG t-shirts, and carrying all my necessities in this adorable bag.


We found this at Target two weeks ago and we both instantly fell in love. And we weren't the only ones. Before we even got the bag out of the store we had a woman stop us to see where we'd found it. The woman at the checkout smiled and chuckled when she rang it up. We've had a couple of friends over in the last two weeks and all of them have mentioned it. It's the perfect bag for a geek convention.

For one moment I debated buying it. And then Jess pressed the button. I instantly put it in the cart. Love!

video

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Transitions

In a way this post is four and a half years in the making. Four and a half years ago my life changed in an unforeseeable way and I've been keeping it a secret. That's a long time to keep a secret, but it wasn't my secret to tell. I've kept quiet from family, friends, and the world. But now, finally I'm able to talk about what has been going on in my life these last couple years.

Right about the time that I broke my ankle, Jeff and I had a discussion where he came out to me as transgender. At the time I didn't know the word and neither did he. What he told me is that his outside gender didn't match his inside gender. He didn't feel comfortable in his own skin. It was through the research we've done in these last three years that we heard the term transgender. The formal definition is, "a term for people whose gender identity, expression, or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth".

That first discussion led to others. Many others. We talked for years about what this meant. In the beginning Jeff hoped that he would be okay just using feminine expressions to make himself feel better. But we both quickly realized that it wasn't enough. We started talking about what would happen IF he transitioned. Then it became WHEN.

In January we decided that there was no reason for him to be miserable any longer. We decided that Jeff would become Jess in August. Three weeks from now I'll be married to a woman. Not legally a woman but a woman in appearance and hopefully as perceived by the rest of the world. I'm starting to change my "he" to "she". I'm trying to get used to the new name. People who spend time with us regularly have been told. The support has been tremendous, both for her and me. Her office is making adjustments and will handle everything there. Everyone has told me that it will take time for their impressions to change, but that they will continue to spend time with us. It's been an eye opening couple of months.

And an eye opening couple of years. I've started reading books on gender expression and the very big difference between sex and gender. I've had more discussion with Jess then we've ever had. There have been tears and there have been laughs. Jess seems happier than she's been in many years. And I'm happy about that. For 15 years I've loved him. And now I think I'm going to love her just as much. It will be a transition. For both of us. But we're prepared to see this through together, as friends and companions. And still married.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Zooland

When I was young my mother did much of our clothing shopping at a tiny chain store called Richman Gordman. The store was only located in Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas and had very few locations. But one of those locations was about a mile away from my parents. And like a Kohl's or a Gordman's (the current iteration of Richman Gordman), the store carried a variety of everything. There was clothes and shoes and housewares. But it was even better than Kohl or Gordman's because, Richman Gordman had Zooland.

We kids loved to go shopping because of four fiberglass animals that were set up in one of the back corners of the store. There was a big blue and red elephant that was a slide, a green hippo that was a tunnel, a yellow kangaroo that had both a balance beam and a climbing area, and an orange camel that was a fort. My favorite was always the elephant. In between his front feet was a set of stairs that spiraled up to his head. And the slide was his trunk. I loved going down the slide but I really loved the red twisting stairs inside. The play area was a dream play area. These four animals seemed huge and magical (at least to my tiny self). I can still remember the feeling of the painted fiberglass of the elephant's trunk. To say that I loved this playland was an understatement.


Of course as I got older, I got embarrassed by the play area and stopped going there to play. And then I got too big to climb on them. I think I was 13 or 14 when the store near us closed, but I'd stopped playing in Zooland a long time before. In my youth I didn't even think of where the animals would be shipped to. I know now that many of them went to private buyers. Just recently I started to get nostalgic for some of the things of my childhood and I went looking for pictures of the animals. But I found even more than that. I found out that Omaha Children's Museum not only managed to find some of them, but have refurbished them as playground equipment in the museum. They have all four animals and a whole new generation of children are playing on them. I think I need to take a road trip. If you're in Omaha and stumble into the Children's Museum to find a woman weeping next to a blue and red elephant, don't be alarmed. It's just me, reliving my childhood.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Brazil

This afternoon* I started humming along to Aquarela do Brasil. It's a catchy upbeat song, but I only really hum it when I'm frustrated at work. I blame Terry Gilliam. Well blame's the wrong word. I'm a Terry Gilliam fan but one of his movies ruined me. When I say that Brazil by Terry Gilliam is one of my favorite movies, it should tell you something about me. At least if you've seen the film. I'm actually surprised that I haven't mentioned it here before. It's such an odd film.


Brazil is a dystopian satire starring Jonathan Pryce as a mild mannered businessman in a horrible bureaucracy that becomes obsessed with a woman from his dreams. He's investigating the death of a man at the government's hands after a technical mix-up when he runs into the exact woman. And suddenly he's involved with an air-conditioning terrorist, his dream woman, a sadistic friend who tortures people for a living, his plastic surgery obsessed mother, and a government that will control people however they can. Did I mention it's an odd film?


The movie was made in 1985 so don't go watching it expecting the visuals to be amazing. In fact some of the dream sequences make me cringe a little. But the world that Gilliam creates is what makes the film so incredible for me. The look of the stores and restaurants. The winding corridors of the bureaucracy where Pryce works. The tiny cars and the billboarded roads. It was the first time that I saw real true world-building. Gilliam creates a world that seems far fetched but it also seems real. And he uses that world to paint some interesting pictures of our world.

I've always loved dystopian stories. I think I'm drawn to the darkness of them and the dreams of escape that the story normally tells. The government in this film is not some faceless organization like in many other dystopians. In this one, we see inside since Pryce's character works for the bureaucracy. And that makes it all the more creepy. Michael Palin manages to make torture seem both horrific and all in a days work, something that still stays with me.

I mentioned it was dark right?

This is a thinking man's acid trip of a movie. Brazil is one of those movies you have to watch to understand. It's quirky, disturbing, and very silly. Just what you expect from Gilliam. And it's still one of my favorite movies.

*{by this afternoon I mean a week ago when I started this post}

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Imagination Series

I might be late to the party, but I just stumbled upon a rather fantastic video series called The Imagination Series. I had been looking at the Webby 2014 winners and the series had won for Drama Series. The project, which was sponsored by Bombay Sapphire gin, asked filmmakers to take a very basic script (just dialogue really) and to create a film based on the script. The videos were judged and five were chosen as winners. The Webby website linked to Room 8, the third movie of the winners. I watched it and I was hooked.

I've seen each of the five winners now and I am floored by the creativity put into the films. Each film includes some sort of object that the characters debate about opening. The lines are the same. "Don't open that", "You might regret it", "I'll take that chance", and "Would you have believed me?" are some of the lines that get repeated through all of the videos. But that's where the similarities end. Two of the videos are magical realism, one is filmmatic, one is animated, and one is dark realism. And all of them are wonderful pieces of film. Very professional.

This was such a unique idea for me. Take one script, send it out, and see what comes back. I was impressed with the diversity and imagination behind each of the videos. And I guess that's the point. The winners are: Water SongThe Mrs.Room 8CrabConcrete  I've linked to each videos Vimeo page. I recommend watching all of them for comparison. Most are only 4 or 5 minutes. Room 8 was my favorite. A little bit dark and seriously cool. A wonderful idea and a great video series.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Why I Can't Have Nice Things

I am notoriously rough on my possessions. Clothes have to be able to survive both the washer and the dryer to live in my house. My shoes generally only last a year or two. I've dropped my phone three times now in the 6 months I've owned it. It's not that I mean to destroy things, I'm just clumsy and unthinking sometimes.

I've owned my beautiful Canon Elph camera for only about a year and a half. I've been careful with it. I've never dropped it. Tried to keep it clean and dry. I've even kept it out of my purse so it won't hit against my wallet. Seriously I've babied this thing. And...it's broken. I took it out to the lake a month and a half ago to take some early morning bird shots. I turned it on to have the lens instantly retract. Lens Error. I started it again...and again...and again. When I finally got the lens to stay out, the zoom won't work at all and all of the images are vignetted. I looked for camera repair places in town with no luck. And Canon will charge me $190 to send it in for them to fix. Sooo...
Meet my new camera. I've been chomping at the bit for over a month now to get a new camera. Going without has been hard. My phone just doesn't cut it. I've been reading reviews to find something in my price range. And I've been focusing on getting something that's a bit more rugged. Meet the blueberry. It's a Fujifilm FinePix XP70. It's waterproof to 33 feet, dustproof, freezeproof to 14 degrees F, and most importantly shockproof at 5 ft. Which means that I might have a chance of keeping it working for a couple of years. I played with it for a couple hours last night right after picking it up and I think I'm going to like it. The photo quality is very good, it's simple to use, I like the feel. The zoom isn't anywhere near as good as my previous. But it's a fine camera that going to be great to get outdoors with. I'll even take it snorkeling and diving with me. It isn't quite as amazing as my Elph was, but it might, just might be Catproof.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Distraction

Work is hard
Distractions are plentiful
And Time is short

Adam Hochschild

I was reading a really interesting New York Times article about education recently. I was half way through the article when I decided that I knew what it was saying and moved on to a different article. Again I read half of the next and moved on. The initials TL:DR popped into my head. And that's when I knew I had a problem.

I hate the initials TL:DR, which stand for Too Long, Didn't Read. I hate them because of what they say about our society, about our loss of concentration. I should be able to read a 2 page article without getting impatient. If I can't concentrate for more than 5 minutes, that scares me. I shouldn't have to have my information fed to me in less than 140 characters. Heck, I shouldn't have information fed to me at all. I should actively seek it.

About three years ago I noticed that I'm losing my ability to focus, both when reading and in life in general. I'm struggling more with concentration, a vital part of learning. I jump from thought to thought.  It's more obvious at work, if I'm not interested in a topic. I just can't bring myself to think in-depth about things. It started slow, barely noticeable. I would put my book down after twenty minutes. I would grumble as I went to the second page of an article. Now I get impatient with a YouTube video that lasts more than 7 minutes. None of this is good for me. I want to create things in my life. I want to study and learn. I have to have both time and focus to do those things. So I'm going to pare down, get rid of some of those distractions that keep me from focusing. First to go: social media.

I won't be shutting down my Facebook page, like Jeff did, but I won't really be spending much time there. I feel guilty for that. I know that there will be birthdays that I'll miss, and celebrations that I won't know about. I know that I'll miss updates from friends but so much of Facebook lately seems to be recycled shared posts. I'll still probably check once a week or so just to see what each of my friends is up to, but I won't be responding. And I'm sorry for that. I'm weaning myself off Twitter, something that is harder than I expected. I'm even staying away from news sources like Huffington Post and Buzzfeed. I want to refocus, and those sites aren't geared towards focus.

I don't want to lose contact with people so I'll be focusing more on email in the future. I'll still check personal messages on Facebook. I'll try to stay in touch with people. And I'll hopefully be blogging more. I want to focus on writing. I want to study more. I'm hoping that dropping some of the distractions from my life, will let me focus more on personal connections, not just liking something you've shared from another person's page. As the quote above says, distractions are plentiful and life is short. I'm going to see how I use my time as I strip out those distractions. I may just waste it, but I'll be doing it in hopefully more constructive ways.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Brady and Grant

A year or so ago I wrote a rather tragically maudlin post about passion and madness and showed a photograph of Charles Baudelaire that I'd always loved. You can find that post here. I was thinking about that photo again because I stumbled across another photo that I've loved all my life and can't tell you why.

I'm reading a book about writers and artists and dignitaries crossing paths in the past. The friendships that developed from a chance meeting or a business arrangement between two famous authors that is rarely known. An 8 year old Henry James sits for a portrait by Mathew Brady because his father wants a photo. A literary critic happens upon a lunch with Walt Whitman. And the current story is about the collaboration between Mathew Brady (photographer extraordinare) and Ulysses S. Grant. The first photo show is the one below. One of General Grant at his base camp.

From the Britannica 

I saw this image decades ago and instantly became fascinated with Grant. Perhaps it is Brady's skill as a photographer that made me want to know more about this man. Perhaps it's the dark but bold look on Grant's face. I've seen other pictures of the General, many of them by Brady, but none affect me the way this one does. I remember clearly looking at the picture and instantly having a gut reaction of fascination. I have a copy of Grant's autobiography waiting to be read. He was a deeply flawed individual but those often make the most interesting people. I've read accounts of his life but I've never read his own words. I know that he died days after finishing it. When his name was mentioned as a book lover my ears perked up. But before I knew all that, I was still fascinated. That one image was enough to make want to know more about a very unusual man. That says a lot about a photograph.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Image Dysfunction

I was bored one afternoon and decided to use Google Images to see what came up for my name. If you haven't googled yourself you should do that regularly to see what others see when they look for you. But this time I didn't use my whole name, just my first name (Catherine). And the results that came up were interesting. Did you know that there is an erotic video game out there called Catherine? Neither did I, until now. Most of the images that came up for my name were scantily clad women (and Catherine Zeta Jones who was sometimes scantily clad).

So then I typed in a different women's name, just to see what would come up in Google Images. The results were a little less scantily clad but I didn't have to scroll very far to find a mostly naked woman. And then another. And then another. So I tried a different woman's name. Same results. I went through friend's first names and family first names and always came up with similar results. There were some names that had fewer scantily clad images but ALL the women's names I typed in brought up at least a couple nearly nude images. ALL of them. Every single one.

So I played the same game with men's first names. And that's when I got disturbed. There were almost no scantily clad images of men on Google Images. There were a few shirtless pictures but that was it. No matter how far I scrolled down on each one I could only find one or so nude image or less. And I started thinking about what this says about society. For the record I don't think this is an issue with Google Images. I don't think that this is an algorithm gone bad. I think this is reflection of what type of images get posted online. And I worry about what that says about what society feels a woman offers in worth.

I would say that a majority of the images for men's first names were headshots, often in business or professional attire. While there were plenty of images of actors and models, almost all of them were dressed. And the images tended to focus on their shoulders and above. In contrast, most of the women's images were full body shots. Often in less clothes than more. The ones that were fully dressed were often showing good amounts of cleavage. But it was the full body portion that bothered me. Apparently we aren't all that interested in what women have above the shoulders.

Now I should say that I have no issue with women (or men) showing off their bodies. I like erotic images and porn as much as the next person. What got me thinking about this post was wondering what statement this says to the younger generations about how we portray women. If they go to look up their first name and all they find are images of scantily clad women, what lesson does that teach? Do they see that they can be a doctor, or a writer, or a soldier. Or do they see that women who take off their clothes get attention.

Perhaps I'm thinking too much about this. But it made me angry. I want to see women who are valued for their intelligence and creativity and professionalism. I want to see women who show grace and kindness and drive. And at work I see these people. Out in society I see these people. But when I look online, all I see are scantily clad women. No matter how innocent the search.

If you try this experiment let me know what you find. Go to Google Images and type any women's first name in and scroll down to see what type of images you get. Do the same with men's first names. Let me know what you find. I hope my searches aren't indicative of anything. I hope I'm wrong. But I tried a lot of names. And I can see patterns. It's a bit disturbing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Memories of TV Shows Past

I woke up on Sunday with an image in my head. A cartoonist and her colorist sit at drafting tables across from each other. I knew it was from a TV show. One I had loved many years ago but that was all I could remember of it. Oh and I know the actress was named Lea or Leah. In this modern age of Google and IMDB it didn't take me long to figure out which show I was thinking of. The actress was Lea Thompson, and the show was Caroline in the City.

The show aired from 1995-1999 and I think I watched every episode. I was enamored with the lifestyle of Caroline Duffy, Lea Thompson's character. To me she lived a perfect life, drawing comics during the day while wisecracking with her hilarious next door neighbor Annie, her colorist Richard, and her on-again, off-again boyfriend Del. I loved her apartment, an impossibly spacious place for New York City. And I quickly developed a crush on Malcolm Gets, who played Richard, the angst-ridden and sarcastic but cultured colorist who underneath had a heart of gold. Richard was just about the perfect man for the person I was at that time.


And apparently still is. I watched a couple of episodes over the last two days and I quickly found myself back in the world. Not only did I remember the characters, I remembered the episodes. Almost 15 years after the show ended, I can still remember the episodes. I must have watched the show over and over. And I'm still in love with Richard. There's just something about his dry wit, his slightly patronizing tone, his angst, and of course that soft heart, that still speaks to me. Add in the fact that he's an artist, and I'm done for.

But the whole show reminded me of who I was at the time. I had dreams of being a writer, living in the big city, trading barbs and sweet jabs with neighbors and coworkers while getting paid to write books. I wanted that spacious apartment. I can see clearly why the show appealed to me. And still does appeal to me. It may be a blast from the past but it stirs up hopes and dreams that still haven't gone away. All from one TV show. Now back to binge watching episodes.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Defense of Eating Meat...from a Vegetarian

Now at last I can look at you in peace; I don't eat you any more. 
--Franz Kafka while admiring the fish in an aquarium. 

In November 2007 I became a vegetarian. I do research for an economic development firm and the more research I did into meat production, the less I could stomach the idea of eating meat. After weeks of feeling guilty I just stopped all meat consumption. For a month or two I was pescatarian (eat fish) but shortly into 2008 I stopped doing that as well. And a great weight lifted off my back. I didn't feel guilty anymore.

Now I was never a big meat eater to begin with. I'm not a fan of the textures of most meat. So giving it up wasn't a real problem. Except when it came to Jeff and I cooking. Jeff's a carnivore. I often describe him as a meatatarian. Meat and potatoes and not a lot of vegetables in his diet. So we don't cook well together anymore. But I made him a promise when I became vegetarian that I would never try to convert him. And he made a promise that he would never push meat on me. And that works for us. I think it should work for people in general.

I read an article today about the pig production industry. Pork and bacon are not something I could ever go back to, even if I went back to meat. I was reading the comments on the article and there was a lot of vitriol from both vegetarians and meat eaters. There were many names called and there were several "I hope you die" statements. It was vicious and mean. And it was disgusting. I read only a couple comments before I closed the page. We fight about a lot of terrible things.

And I got to thinking about my vegetarianism. I don't eat meat as a choice. I think that's the right choice for me. I don't want to deal with the guilt I feel is associated with meat consumption (see Kafka above). And while I'd love to see more people eat less meat (or the industry become more humane) I'm not going to lash out at people who do eat meat. I don't eat meat, that's my choice. You do eat meat, that's your choice. Nothing I say is going to change your mind and nothing you say is going to change mine. If we're each comfortable with our decision than we can leave each other alone. I'm going to save my energy for the fights that need fighting (like changing the industry) and leave the individuals, who just want to eat what they want, in peace.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Something Silly

Sometimes when I get bored, I'll play around with Microsoft Paint. I'm not much of an artist but I love to play with shapes. One afternoon, playing with ovals, I came up with this scene. Please be aware that no digital olives were injured in the making of this picture. Their counterparts in my fridge weren't quite as lucky. 


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Florida Fauna

Cormorant right off shore

As I mentioned before, we saw a lot of art museums in Florida. My family visited two places regularly whenever we went to a new place: an art museum and a zoo. As a family we appreciate animals and birds. Both my parents and I are birders and we are all fans of getting to see animals and wildlife whenever we get the chance. I did a lot of birding in Florida. We saw Anhingas, cormorants, ibises, pelicans, and tons of gulls and sanderlings. The favorites were the tiny sanderlings that fed at the shore, running in and out of the waves. Birds were everywhere. It was wonderful.

Great Egret just hanging out near the Ringling Art Museum

Birding was done on the beach and in the car, but we spent plenty of our time looking at other things. Our first full day in Florida, we headed out to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, to see both their star (Winter, the dolphin from the movie Dolphin Tale) and the rest of the aquatic residents. Clearwater's Aquarium is a rescue and rehabilitation center for marine creatures. Winter, the big attraction, is a dolphin who lost its tail in the lines of crab trap. The aquarium has taught Winter to swim with a prosthetic tail. We watched one of the training sessions as they explained how the dolphin got around regularly with and without the tail. Winter was interesting but I was more captivated by some of the other less famous residents.

Winter with her prosthetic tail

There were injured turtles who couldn't submerge after collisions with boats or fisherman which was heart-wrenching. I was so happy to see that these beautiful but damaged creatures had a place to go where they would be taken care of. There were otters, one of which had been hit by a car and the other that had been orphaned at too young an age for rerelease. But my favorite was a dolphin named Nicholas whose mother had beached herself (because of an illness) when Nicholas was very young. Both dolphins had been horribly sunburned and Nicholas' mother had died. The dolphin was now 11 and was quite the flirt. He'd swim by and check us out and pose for the camera. The white on his topside is where he was sunburnt. But my favorite part of the aquarium was talking with the volunteers and trainers. Everyone was so passionate about helping injured animals. It was incredible to see these beautiful animals being rescued and cared for.

Nicholas flirting with us

On Thursday my parents and I ended up in downtown Tampa to see the well recommended Florida Aquarium. After touring I can see why it was recommended. I don't remember the last time I visited an aquarium that I enjoyed so much. This had fish and birds I'd never seen in zoos or aquariums before. There was whole section on seahorses and other similar style fish, most of which were new to me. There were local Florida birds in vast open areas of the exhibition (one poor man even got pooped on by a Roseate Spoonbill). The main tank had a wall sized glass and benches set up, to just sit and watch the schools of fish swim by. As we were heading out a woman with a penguin in a cart stopped to tell us about them. The aquarium was both educational and beautiful. The fish and birds were well kept. Everything was sparkling and clean. It was lovely to see so many creatures well cared for at both aquariums.
Roseate Spoonbill with great aim

Seeing animals in aquariums is one thing, but seeing them in the wild is always a huge thrill for me. On Wednesday we drove north to Crystal, Florida to swim with manatees. Sadly I have no pictures of the day. I didn't bring my camera on the boat and I don't have anything that would work underwater. We had hoped to get the chance to swim with these incredible creatures and I'd found a number of companies that offered excursions. We chose Manatee Tour and Dive, because it didn't have pictures of people touching or hugging manatees on their website. I wanted something that respected the space that creatures need in the wild. They were a fantastic organization. We went for a two and a half hour tour with Captain Casey who took us out snorkeling to see these incredible animals. I had no clue how big manatees really are. They are like small cars underwater. My favorite encounter happened by accident. As we were heading back to the dock, Casey turned the boat back around after spotting a lone manatee out by an underwater spring. It was incredibly clear water and there were hundreds of fish around. But it was the manatee that made me catch my breath. We watched it surface to breath twice, completely undisturbed by us. The second time it rose, it stopped to watch me for a second and then returned to the bottom to rest. It was huge and slow and covered in algae and I realized just how beautiful and old these creatures look when they aren't in a zoo and scrubbed clean. Gentle giants of the water. So beautiful. So peaceful. It was an amazing day and an amazing trip.

The curious Epaulette Shark that walked rather than swam

Sandy the Penguin in his rolling glass wagon

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Profusion of Art

While we spent plenty of time at the beach in Clearwater, art museums were probably our largest activity. Over the course of seven days, we managed to hit five art museums. Did I mention it was rainy and cooler most of the trip? But the real reason is that my family loves art museums. Well, museums of any kind. Growing up we would hit most of the major museums in a city. Tampa and St. Pete were no different.


One of the main reasons I got invited on this trip is because my mother noticed that St. Petersburg is the home of The Dali Museum, a beautiful modern museum featuring almost 100 of the master surrealist's works. I've been a Dali fan since I was a child. At one point I saw his Cannibalism in Autumn and was instantly hooked. Over my life I've had nearly a dozen books of his work. So we spent our first full day at The Dali. Sadly I couldn't take any pictures of the actual art. But I did get the picture from outside (above) and the joy of standing in front of his work. It was amazing to see the individual brush strokes for some of pieces. I could recite titles (and Dali has some wild ones) for most of the paintings. There were only a few images that I hadn't seen. There is something breathtaking about standing in the presence of such masterpieces as The Hallucinogenic Toreador or Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko). These are huge wall sized works and each brush stroke is so incredibly precise. Even his small works are filled with little details that made me take my time with each painting. It was well worth the visit for this fan. And my sister said she was an avid fan by the end of the museum.


The exhibition across the hall for Andy Warhol interested us far less and we only gave the pop culture icon a cursory glance. Then we headed a couple blocks away to the Chihuly Collection. Dale Chihuly is the master of glass. Every time I've gotten to see his work I've fallen more in love with his colors and shapes. We moved from room to room, just gasping at the large installations. The museum offered a lovely setting for his work. My favorite has to be the one below. The boat was the size of a room and filled to the brim with glass. Thankfully I could take pictures in there. And I took many. I'll have them spread out throughout the post, because this was really one of only two museums that allowed pictures.


Emilie left us very early on Thursday morning and took all of the best weather with her. So we headed indoors to the Tampa Aquarium (that will be its own post) and the Tampa Museum of Art. The museum is in an incredibly modern building that was a work of art in itself. The antiquities were what drew us the most. It's hard to not be awed by pottery and sculpture from before the common era. A marble bust caught my eye quickly and I was shocked to see how good it looked considering it was 1st century c.e. The rest of the museum is currently featuring an exhibition from GraphicStudio, a print studio that operates out of University of Southern Florida. Some of the prints were fascinating. It was certainly more my style of art than my parents. I found and fell in love with the work of Christian Marclay. I loved his mixture of prints and sound effects, particularly a room long scroll of sounds. I'll be looking at more of his work. My favorite piece of the day was the statue in the second story balcony, In Mortal Repose by Diana Al-Hadid.


The next day we finally made it back to St. Petersburg for the recommended Museum of Fine Art. This lovely old museum was filled with antiquities, modern art, impressionists, and some fantastic sculpture. They had three Monet's that quickly caught my attention. I've become fascinated with the Impressionists lately and Monet in particular. I was also reading a book about his Seine series and was delighted to find one in the museum. The Asian collection was wonderful although my favorite may not have been the most exotic. There was a collection of materials a scholar would have. I spent at least 20 minutes looking from object to object, just enraptured. Leave it to me to find the book/learning related art. It was probably the most diverse, and most interesting collection we saw the entire week.

The last museum we saw was the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. And yes, that Ringling. John Ringling founded the Ringling Brothers Circus and went on to great fame and fortune in the circus business. He turned that profit into a very lovely house and rather extensive art collection. We drove down to Sarasota the last day of the trip to view the Circus Museum and the art museum. I have to admit that by the time I got here I was a little tired of art museums. So I didn't give this museum quite as much attention as it deserves. I wrote down three different artists I liked but mostly I just moved from room to room, seeing what caught my eye. My absolute favorite was the piece below from an artist I'd never heard of. I'll be checking out more of his work. It was a lot of art over a couple of days but looking back, I was glad we saw so many different types of art and find something to inspire at each one.

Roman Courtship by Sir William Reynolds-Stephens

Sunday, February 16, 2014

I've Still Got Sand in my Shoes


It was cold but felt wonderful
I've been home for a week now and am only finally readjusted to life. I spent the week before in Clearwater Beach, Florida and am missing the beach so badly it's painful. Back in December my parents mentioned that they were thinking of taking a trip in February to get away from the cold and snow. I happily volunteered to keep them company. My little sister and I ended up accompanying my parents to one of the prettiest beach I've seen in a while.

My parents in front of our beautiful hotel
We stayed on Clearwater Beach, just outside of Clearwater/St. Petersburg. The hotel was amazing, the kind of place that gets featured in Travel and Leisure magazine (a magazine I love). It was the Sandpearl Resort, and it was every bit as lovely as the pictures. The weather was warm and lovely the first two days and then became cooler and rainy. Of course by cooler I mean 50s, which was at least 50 degrees warmer than it was here.

The view from the balcony
We had an amazing trip. We swam with manatees, saw some incredible artwork, ate great food, and spent lots of time relaxing. I'll be sharing most of my pictures over the next couple of days. But today is all about the beach. Clearwater Beach is a pristine stretch of white sand. This is sand so soft that your feet melt into it. There is nothing course in this sand. There are shells everywhere. I brought back a small collection of them. It was one of our favorite pastimes to walk the beach and collect shells. Most of the time, with the mist and rain, we had the beach to ourselves, as my sister demonstrates below.

My sister enjoying the beach to herself
My sister on our long walk
The Gulf was way too cold for swimming but we walked in the water. I spent half of my time with the bottom of my pants soaked. But I loved the feel of the water on my feet. I'd forgotten that the sun could provide warmth. I'd forgotten that there is water that didn't freeze in the winter. I sat out on the balcony in the room and wrote and thawed. A wonderful trip.

 Watching the sunset as we did every night. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On My Own

Tonight I'm uploading the last of my CDs to my computer, so I can get rid of the discs. After this I'll have no more physical CDs in the house, which I'm pretty excited about. I haven't bought a CD in almost 10 years now. I don't have a CD player in the house anymore. So it's time for them to go. I'll load what I want on my iPod and back up the rest. Think of the space this will save.

I just finished loading the 2 disc Broadway version of Les Miserables. It was one of Jeff's CDs. I had the London version on cassette (remember those?). I've never been tempted to "walk the boards" as they say, but if I were to act, it would be in Les Miserables. And I know exactly the character.

The first time I heard On My Own, sung by Eponine, I was in love. I loved the song from the very first verse. Perhaps it's all the unrequited romances I've had over my life. Perhaps it's my more tomboyish (or at least not girly) demeanor. But Eponine has always struck me as a kindred spirit. And not just because she's an alto and a brunette, both of which are rare in most musicals.

She's a melancholy character, prone to imagining things. The first verse of On My Own is about her imagining herself walking with Marius. I can't tell you how many imaginary walks or imaginary conversations I've had with characters or with people I know. I instantly connected with her because of her solitary imaginative walks. She pretends that she's independent even though she's longing to be loved. She is strong and just wants to be one of the guys. I see so many parallels it's as if they wrote the character for me.

So if I ever get the acting bug, I'll audition for Eponine. I can sing her pretty well in the car or the shower. I sing On My Own or Little Fall of Rain, at least once a month. I should be getting good at it by now. Perhaps one day I'll take the chance.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Lost in YouTube Land

Hi, I'm Cat and I'm a YouTube addict.

They say the first step is admitting that you have a problem. Well I have a problem. For years I followed webcomics, collecting comics like they were postage stamps. I'd read the entire archive and then add them to my list of daily or weekly reading. Then I did the same with blogs. I still follow over 120 blogs and 30 webcomics and that's pared down from two years ago.

YouTube has been just as addicting, if not more so. At least when I finish one webcomic it doesn't instantly direct me to 30 or 40 more just like it. I can lose hours just clicking from one video to the next. Mostly I start with the channels I love (which I'll link to below) but then it just branches from there. And suddenly I've spent four hours watching 3 to 7 minute videos.

I blame Jeff. He got me started with a YouTube channel called Smarter Every Day. Destin Sandlin makes educational videos of the stuff he finds fascinating. Fortunately for us, it's really fascinating stuff. He tries experiments, he shows examples, and he makes videos with so much enthusiasm that you can't help but be intrigued by his subjects. Just watch a few of his experiments and I know you'll be hooked. It's incredible stuff. I learn something new with each video. But once I started watching Smarter Every Day, it opened up the doors to all the other educational videos out there.

Periodic Videos, created by Brady Haran, is a channel that focuses on chemistry. They started out by going through each of the elements in the periodic table. It is a mixture of narrative, experiments, and some of the wildest hair you'll ever see. I'm only halfway through their archive of 500 videos but I never get tired of watching their work.

CGP Grey creates very professional looking animated videos to discuss politics, geography, and sociology, among other topics. Each episode is meticulously researched. It's a great mixture of entertainment and education. Grey's wonderful sense of humor and personality keeps me riveted to subjects that would normally leave me cold.

MinutePhysics by Henry Reich uses drawings to explain incredibly complicated physics topics in a video that's only a couple minutes long. Henry manages to make the topics seem simple and understandable with his drawings and his easy explanation. I've learned more watching that channel then I ever did in my high school physics class.

Veritasium by Derek Muller also explains physics and science topics. Derek normally starts each video by presenting some of the misconceptions about that topic and then uses experiments to show the correct reason why things work the way they do. I find it both interesting and humbling to realize that I often have the incorrect assumption about how things work. All of his videos make me want to learn more about the topic at hand and even more importantly, make me want to try experiments of my own.

The Brain Scoop with Emily Graslie was one I wasn't sure how much I'd like at first. Emily started out presenting videos of her work in U of Montana's Biology Department. She dissected a wolf, taught us about pangolins (one of the coolest animals ever), and showed us the fascinating animals in the school's collection. She's since moved over to the Field Museum and her videos now cover that amazing museum, which is my favorite place in the world when we go to Chicago.

Recently I've started getting into Numberphile, also created by Brady Haran. Jeff started watching this mathematics video series a year ago or so, but I struggled with it at first. I've never considered myself very good at math but these videos are making me see that it's just a matter of looking at things in the proper light. Some of it may still go over my head but I'm started to see patterns, and deciphering the language that is math.

But it's not all educational. I listen to most of my music on YouTube. Even after I've bought the songs and they are on my iPod, I find myself pulling up the videos. YouTube allows me to jump from song to song, using the suggestions on the right side. I've found some great new music that way.

My current fascination is John and Hank Green, collectively known as the Vlogbrothers. I'm a little late to the party since they did their well known Brotherhood 2.0 years ago. But the video correspondence between the two brothers makes for both entertaining and educational watching. I had originally found John Green through his work with Mental Floss (even before I found out he was an author) and Hank as the creator of The Brain Scoop. But since discovering their year of video correspondence and other videos, I think I might become a full fledged Nerdfighter.

I know that I've barely skimmed the surface of what's available on YouTube. There's plenty of material that I try to stay away from. I'm not looking for stupid human tricks. And I only occasionally watch funny cat videos. But I know that there are plenty of other videos out there that will both entertain and educate me. There are creators making some of the most unique and fascinating material being produced right now. YouTube has become a classroom. And I'm so glad I've found so many ways to learn.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Huginn and Muninn

I have a thing for the corvids. The Corvidae family of birds that is. You probably know the most famous member of the family, the crow. I've written about my love for crows here. Ravens, crows, rooks, magpies, and jays make up the most well known species of birds in the family. And they are all pretty cool birds.

Mythology has used crows and ravens in the past to symbolize intelligence, resourcefulness, tricksters, and sometimes death. The birds occasionally get a bad rap just because they can be scavengers. But my favorite corvid reference comes from Norse mythology. Odin was claimed to have two ravens: Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory) which he sent out everyday all over Midgard (earth) to gather intelligence and collect memories. Odin is often pictured with the birds and since ravens are one of the cleverest of the birds this spy-like ability seems perfect for them.


I love the images and the idea of Huginn and Muninn. While reading some of the Norse stories I was instantly drawn to the two birds, much like I was drawn to the story of Fenrir, the wolf. But as a writer the birds have even more significance. I live in my thoughts and memories most of the time. These two concepts are central to writing. So the birds mean a lot to me. The moment I learned of them I wanted to get a tattoo of them. I'm thinking about putting them on my shoulders, one to a side. I too want to be like Odin, sending out my thoughts and memories into the world and seeing what comes back. Of course it doesn't hurt that they are corvids. Cool birds, and a cool mythology.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Why I won't lose weight this year

The greatest airplane flight I ever took was from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia. Even considering the fact that it was a 16 hour flight during which I didn't sleep a wink, it was a wonderful flight. The airline went out of its way to make us happy. Socks and eye masks were standard amenities. There were popsicles before take-off, hot towels before landing, two tasty meals that I actually wanted to eat, and orange juice as we taxied to the gate. And cookies. More to the point, Biscoff cookies. It was my first introduction to the greatest airline snack of all time.

For those who haven't had the pleasure, Biscoff cookies are a shortbread cookie with a touch of cinnamon. For me they taste a little like a mild gingerbread. Spicy and crunchy and far better than the standard fare of peanuts or pretzels which you often find on flights. The Lotus company makes the cookie as a with coffee snack but they have become synonymous with airline travel.

Well, Jeff and I haven't been traveling much lately but I found out recently that I can still get my shortbread fix. We were in the grocery store picking up peanut butter when I happened to glance at the top shelf. And my mouth dropped open. Then I started salivating.  There was a small jar of Biscoff Spread. Cookies I can spread on toast, or dunk chocolate bars in, or even just eat with a spoon. I've managed to go through half the jar in a very short period of time. Even as I type this I'm licking a spoon covered in cookie goodness. So much for those weight loss resolutions.


And many of the baking blogs I follow have started to post recipes that include this lovely spread. I'm trying to decide if I'm going to mix this heavenly delight with other things or if I'm going to selfishly eat it plain, spoonful after spoonful. Happily I know that once this jar is empty it's only a short trip back to the store for more. Even though it isn't as exciting as hopping on a flight somewhere and unwrapping the crunchy cookies, I think the spread is the better option. After all, it's like cookie dough but in spreadable form. YUM!

A Matter of Degrees

It is 8 degrees out right now (feels like -5). Tonight the wind chills will be 20 below zero. The high predicted for Monday will be -4. I don't even want to think about what that night will bring. It's winter, and I'm whining.

Years ago I made a deal with myself that I would only complain about one season. Winter is it. It can be 106 with 80% humidity and I won't say a word. But -4 is some kind of ungodly number. I feel bad for the birds I watch out the window. I'd invite them in if I could. I'm not sure how the rest of the animal kingdom is doing it.

Me, I'm hermiting. I didn't leave the house yesterday. I'm not planning to leave the house tonight. I'll go home, change into sweatpants, put on my slippers, and curl up under a blanket. And all that in a warm house. For the last three days, this has been my routine. New Year's Eve was cold, so we stayed in. Yesterday was barely 10, so we stayed in. And tonight we'll stay in.

I know I've grown up here. I should be used to this kind of weather. And in some ways I am. I can deal with the cold. I just don't want to.