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Thursday, May 31, 2007

In which I calm a nervous bride and her nervous son

I had an opportunity to do great things this afternoon. Bob and I are playing a wedding Saturday for a very anxious bride. She's a little older than I am; I've known her for a few years. She describes herself as a "detail person," which means she's been sending scores of emails and making scores of telephone calls to us - and probably to all her other wedding service people - for weeks/months.

Her son, in his late twenties, is singing two songs during the service: Kate Wolf's "Give Yourself to Love" and Paul Stookey's "Wedding Song." He's a good musician but his mom has been worrying about his "performance," so she booked me to coach him for two hours this afternoon and two hours tomorrow morning.

He sent me mp3s of himself singing the songs and playing the piano, and I thought they were fine. So I emailed him back and asked sweetly: "Do you really feel you need four hours of coaching on these two songs, or is that your mother's neurosis speaking?"

I went over there today and discovered: like mother, like son. Not only have he and his mother worried each other into a little frenzy, but he has, for some reason, gathered a circle of friends and a girlfriend who are evidently as anxious and critical as he is! So they've been criticizing him, and he was a nervous wreck.

Most people think I'm a nervous wreck, so it was so much fun to be the Zen one today. This is how I coached him:
  • You sound great
  • It's all good
  • Remember to breathe
  • English is, in fact, your native language, so enjoy what you're communicating
  • If you're happy, the guests will be happy; if you're anxious and self-critical, the guests will be unhappy.
  • Remember to breathe
  • It's all good
  • You sound great
This was amazingly successful! Although he still had to break out in spasms of self-doubt and criticism from time to time, he calmed down and started to look a bit less miserable. The bride had requested that I sing these songs in harmony with him, so I did, but mainly I modeled peaceful breathing, sitting right next to him.

While we were doing this, an older man and his grandson arrived. The grandson was carrying a gigantic grandfather clock with a big white ribbon on it. My first thought: "How hideous." They brought it into the bride's hallway, which it filled up pretty completely, and admired it there against the wall. Well, actually blocking a painting, because there was no blank wall space.

The bride and her intended and the son and I came out to look at it. The older man explained how to wind it up, and how she must remember to oil it once a year. He told her it would chime every hour. "Every hour 24 hours a day? Can we turn the chime off at night?" "No, but you can stop the clock."

Pictures were taken and the clockbearers said goodbye. The bride told her groom: "It will have to live at your place." (They live in two different cities and are going to commute and live in both houses.)

Then the son and I sang the two songs for the bride and groom and then he asked me: "Can I still come by tomorrow for one more coaching session?" He's kinda sweet so I said yes.

Then I told him he needs to find some new friends! Maybe Type B type friends, who would be supportive rather than critical, and then I reminded the bride that she needs to be happy and relaxed (she told me she hasn't slept for a week) and nothing else matters. The flowers, the food, the weather - they don't really matter! If she's happy and relaxed, people will have a good time, and if she's tense and miserable, they won't.

And then I left, mighty satisfied.

Hannah: joining a CSA

Hi all,

I just signed up for a Community-Supported Agriculture membership in a farm for this summer and fall. Every weekend, from June 11 to mid October, I get to go pick up a bunch of whatever fruits and vegetables (also eggs, flowers, honey, etc) have been harvested at the New Jersey organic farm that sells the CSAs, from the farmer's market stand 10 blocks away from me. Should be fun! I've heard horror stories of 20 pounds of turnips every week, but I'm going to take a chance on it. It's like a gym membership, but for food, which is much more fun - maybe it'll motivate me to cook. I'll let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I can be much more comfortable and be frowsy and eccentric, and still not look this bad.

I don't follow as many blogs as I used to but I still check in with Go Fug Yourself regularly, to reward myself with pictures like this one. My first thought when I saw this picture was: does this woman have her body on backwards?

In case you're interested in the person behind the dress, this is what the fug girls tell us:

Elena Lenina here has appeared in a number of French-language films, according to our good friends at the IMDb. One of them is called Il Etait Une Fois Jean-Sebastien Bach (translated: Something Something Something, Johann Sebastian Bach) which I at first misread as being called Il Etait Une Fois Sebastien Bach, and thought to myself, "there's a movie about SEBASTIAN BACH, former lead singer of Skid Row? WHERE HAVE I BEEN?"

Oh, heh. I never look *this* weird! So see, I can stay home, wear an old shirt, spend no money at all, and be ahead of the game.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

[Hannah]: Lazy memorial day

New York kinda empties out over Memorial Day weekend - which means it's a great time to stay home, snuggle, watch junky movies, cook, and waste time. The Urban Caballero and I made gazpacho soup last night, which was very tasty except we put in too much onion so it hurt a little bit. It's so hot out - even the cat is too lazy to pounce on us.

Weedwhacker tribulations and reverie

Last year I delivered a Troy-Bilt weedwhacker diatribe and then got a Troy-Bilt TB75SS more or less identical to the one I'd had before that. I loved it for a while and then - its handle broke off. A 20-cent piece of plastic, a ruined tool. I hate waste so for a while I used it thus: get a screwdriver, jam it into the place the handle used to be, push the cable to the "very on" position, remove screwdriver, start string trimmer. This works exactly until you stop once. Then, the engine is hot so when you try to start it again it floods.

Also, somehow I messed up the string head. I thought: "no problem, I'll take the one off last year's wrecked machine," but no, though they looked identical their heads were not compatible.

So I decided, looking over my wasteland of ruined string trimmers, it was time to get a good one. I bought the top-of-the-line Husqvarna, got it home, started it up, it worked perfectly for five minutes and died. It took an extra day to realize that the cap on the air filter didn't tighten properly. Took it back, exchanged it, and spent a couple very happy hours weedwhacking this afternoon.

I promised myself last year that two tanks of gas would be my daily maximum. When I give in to my natural urge, which is to weedwhack for hours till it's too dark to see, my hands get so ruined from the vibration that I can't play the fiddle.

As I hack away in my meadow, feeling grim delight pulverizing thistles and guilt while decapitating clover flowers (and hoping the bees get out of the way in time), I have enough brain cells left over to think, so today I mulled over a recent conversation with long-time friend and singing buddy Beth. She said: "You tell me you feel used up and unnecessary, somebody who didn't know you would think you're a basket case, but I notice you keep doing stuff, so maybe you're not quite ready for the tomb."

See, that's why a person needs a buddy. I need somebody to tell me I'm not quite ready for the tomb.

I realized that what makes me feel most alive is to create things where nothing existed before, particularly things nobody but me could create (because they're so specific to my obscure, eccentric mind). So this summer, when other obligations are few, I'm going to try to write some more songs and paint a lot of peculiar pictures.

Did you hear this on the radio today?

by Billy Collins

It has been calculated that
each copy of the Gutenburg Bible
required the skins of 300 sheep.

from an article on printing

I can see them
squeezed into the holding pen
behind the stone building
where the printing press is housed.

All of them squirming around
to find a little room
and looking so much alike
it would be nearly impossible to count them.

And there is no telling which one of them
will carry the news
that the Lord is a Shepherd,
one of the few things
they already know.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Mike does Illustration Friday: "Cars"



Illustration Friday: "Car"

I don't like aerodynamic cars, I like cars that are like boxes. Because I like corners. I drive a boxy van and when it dies I don't know how I'll replace it: they don't make boxy vans any more. This was the boxiest car I could find on the net...

I drew the car freehand with vine charcoal on the canvas pad, then went over the lines with a ballpoint pen and erased the charcoal. I did the casual blockin above and then I tried to deepen the colors and pay a little attention to the reflections, but it was a failure.

If you want to give it a try, here's my reference photo:


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Voted safe-cellphone legislation and crashed while answering cellphone.

Extracts from the AP wire:
CA State senator Carole Migden was driving erratically before accident 5/22/07
(she was talking on her cellphone)

State Sen. Carole Migden bounced her state-issued SUV off the concrete median on Interstate 80 and nearly ran other motorists off the freeway before slamming into the back of another vehicle last week, the California Highway Patrol and witnesses said Tuesday.

More than half a dozen motorists made emergency calls about Migden's erratic driving before the Friday accident, the CHP said. The rear-end collision in Fairfield, midway between San Francisco and Sacramento, injured a woman and her 3-year-old daughter, who were sent to the emergency room.

In a statement released by her office last week, the San Francisco Democrat said the accident happened after she took her eyes off the road while reaching for a ringing cell phone.

Her state-issued 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid sport utility vehicle then rear-ended a Honda sedan that was slowing to stop at a traffic light.

Migden then got back in the SUV and began talking on her cell phone as police and emergency workers arrived, Jordan said.

Because Migden said she was on state business at the time, insurance paid for by California's taxpayers will cover damages and any other costs.

Last year, Migden voted for a law that takes effect in July 2008 requiring drivers to use a headset or other hands-free device when talking on a cell phone while driving.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wedding musicians: How much would they have to pay you to get you into an outfit like this?

Directed to by that guilty pleasure, Go Fug Yourself, I was riveted in particular by the vision of these oddly-dressed wedding musicians - at what must have been an event to remember.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Telemarketers empty bank accounts of the elderly

I know older people who are gullible and lonely, so this article frightened me.

Extracts from
Bilking the Elderly, With a Corporate Assist
by Charles Duhigg for the New York Times, May 20 2007

The thieves operated from small offices in Toronto and hangar-size rooms in India. Every night, working from lists of names and phone numbers, they called World War II veterans, retired schoolteachers and thousands of other elderly Americans and posed as government and insurance workers updating their files. Then, the criminals emptied their victims' bank accounts.

Richard Guthrie, a 92-year-old Army veteran, was one of those victims. He ended up on scam artists' lists because his name, like millions of others, was sold by large companies to telemarketing criminals, who then turned to major banks to steal his life's savings. Mr. Guthrie, who lives in Iowa, had entered a few sweepstakes that caused his name to appear in a database advertised by infoUSA, one of the largest compilers of consumer information.

InfoUSA sold his name, and data on scores of other elderly Americans, to known lawbreakers, regulators say.

InfoUSA advertised lists of "Elderly Opportunity Seekers," 3.3 million older people "looking for ways to make money," and "Suffering Seniors," 4.7 million people with cancer or Alzheimer's disease. "Oldies but Goodies" contained 500,000 gamblers over 55 years old, for 8.5 cents apiece. One list said: "These people are gullible. They want to believe that their luck can change."

"I loved getting those calls," Mr. Guthrie said in an interview. "Since my wife passed away, I don't have many people to talk with. I didn't even know they were stealing from me until everything was gone."

Although some companies, including Wachovia, have made refunds to victims who have complained, neither that bank nor infoUSA stopped working with criminals even after executives were warned that they were aiding continuing crimes, according to government investigators. Instead, those companies collected millions of dollars in fees from scam artists.

Older Americans are perfect telemarketing customers, analysts say, because they are often at home, rely on delivery services, and are lonely for the companionship that telephone callers provide.

Sweepstakes a Common Tactic

Investigators suspect that Mr. Guthrie's name first appeared on a list used by scam artists around 2002, after he filled out a few contest entries that asked about his buying habits and other personal information.

He had lived alone since his wife died. Five of his eight children had moved away from the farm. Mr. Guthrie survived on roughly $800 that he received from Social Security each month. Because painful arthritis kept him home, he spent many mornings organizing the mail, filling out sweepstakes entries and listening to big-band albums as he chatted with telemarketers.

"I really enjoyed those calls," Mr. Guthrie said. "One gal in particular loved to hear stories about when I was younger."

By 2004, Mr. Guthrie's name was part of a list titled "Astroluck," which included 19,000 other sweepstakes players, Iowa's records show.

The thieves would call and pose as government workers or pharmacy employees. They would contend that the Social Security Administration's computers had crashed, or prescription records were incomplete. Payments and pills would be delayed, they warned, unless the older Americans provided their banking information.

"I was afraid if I didn't give her my bank information, I wouldn't have money for my heart medicine," Mr. Guthrie said.

Criminals can use such banking data to create unsigned checks that withdraw funds from victims' accounts. Such checks, once widely used by gyms and other businesses that collect monthly fees, are allowed under a provision of the banking code. The difficult part is finding a bank willing to accept them. In the case of Mr. Guthrie, criminals turned to Wachovia.

In all, Wachovia accepted $142 million of unsigned checks from companies that made unauthorized withdrawals from thousands of accounts, federal prosecutors say. Wachovia collected millions of dollars in fees from those companies, even as it failed to act on warnings, according to records.

In 2006, after account holders at Citizens Bank were victimized by the same thieves that singled out Mr. Guthrie, an executive wrote to Wachovia that "the purpose of this message is to put your bank on notice of this situation and to ask for your assistance in trying to shut down this scam." But Wachovia, which declined to comment on that communication, did not shut down the accounts.

During 2005, according to the United States attorney's lawsuit, 59 percent of the unsigned checks that Wachovia accepted from P.P.C. and forwarded to other banks were ultimately refused by other financial institutions. Wachovia was informed each time a check was returned.

Prosecutors argue that many elderly accountholders never realized Wachovia had processed checks that withdrew from their accounts, and so never requested refunds. Wachovia declined to respond.

Some Afraid to Seek Help

By 2005, Mr. Guthrie was in dire straits. When tellers at his bank noticed suspicious transactions, they helped him request refunds. But dozens of unauthorized withdrawals slipped through. Sometimes, he went to the grocery store and discovered that he could not buy food because his account was empty. He didn't know why. And he was afraid to seek help.

"I didn't want to say anything that would cause my kids to take over my accounts," he said. Such concerns play into thieves' plans, investigators say.

"Criminals focus on the elderly because they know authorities will blame the victims or seniors will worry about their kids throwing them into nursing homes," said C. Steven Baker, a lawyer with the Federal Trade Commission. "Frequently, the victims are too distracted from dementia or Alzheimer's to figure out something's wrong."

Within a few months, Mr. Guthrie's children noticed that he was skipping meals and was behind on bills. By then, all of his savings — including the proceeds of selling his farm and money set aside to send great-grandchildren to college — was gone.

Today, just as he feared, Mr. Guthrie's financial freedom is gone. He gets a weekly $50 allowance to buy food and gasoline. His children now own his home, and his grandson controls his bank account. He must ask permission for large or unusual purchases.

And because he can't buy anything, many telemarketers have stopped calling.

"It's lonelier now," he said at his kitchen table, which is crowded with mail. "I really enjoy when those salespeople call. But when I tell them I can't buy anything now, they hang up. I miss the good chats we used to have."

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Friday, May 18, 2007

More quotes from Caray, Caray!

From Caray, Caray!

At La Rinconada: Vera told Emilio she had given Alina some tea to help her sleep. Emilio said to himself, "Alina is sleeping." This is Emiliooo in a nutshell. If you ever need a quote to describe him perfectly, this is it. The other possibility is when he unnecessarily announced to everyone in the room who saw it for themselves, "Angel is out of his coma." What an idiot.

...65 days...13 weeks...that must be in dog years...I feel as if I've been watching this show for about 2 to 14 least. It's like being at one of those meetings where people are droning on and on about really unimportant stuff and going over and over things that have absolutely no meaning know the ones I mean...where they give a power point presentation and say exactly what is on the screen , but they say it over and over again and then they distribute papers that are exactly what is on the screen. At which point , I am always saying to myself [at least I think it's to myself although sometimes I may actually be saying it out loud] ''Why didn't you just hand out these pieces of paper 3 hours ago, and we could all be home now???'' ...been there, done that. If you still don't get what I'm implying, I will be doing a power point presentation later. ~~~Susanlynn, getting a little testy

I thought Joanna Benedek looked like she had her face pressed up against a window, except there was no window.

During last night's episode I was thinking about playing a new "La Fea Mas Bella" drinking game. Every time Lety calls Aldo "Mi amor," I could take a swig of drain cleaner!

Like many other TeleNovela characters who shall not be named, Pilar now gets a "My grandchild is an Honor Student at Stalker U" bumper sticker...

I'm not really certain how Rod maintains his physique. He doesn't appear to engage in any substantial amount of physical (or non-physical for that matter) work and spends most of his time moping around or hanging out all day with Mr. James at ye ol' watering hole. Occasionally he runs after people and cars, but certainly not regularly enough so as to constitute an adequate fitness routine. I'm not sure how he made it to Oxford - surely a large sum of money exchanged hands to arrange this. I wish some of the other characters (particularly Aaron) would utilize clear enunciation and articulation in the manner of Mr. James. (His bow tie, cap and argyle sweater must be held up at the tintoreria this week.)

I just realized that Rod frequently walks away from the lavish meals that his fitness-model wife has the help prepare for him. So his calorie intake is likely relatively far lower than that of other Mexican men who have hot blonde wives that arrange lavish gourmet meals on a regular basis.

Ana Leticia . . . she may be a dope, but she had enough sense to rest her head on the table during the board meeting.

His silence is the answer and she bounces up and down and yells a lot of things that weren't in my dictionary.

Dry Gulch Acres creeps me out so much I can barely bring myself to comment on it. I still can't get the image of gloomy Miércoles Addams peering out the window at James outta my head.


Chocolate biscotti

Last recipe for tonight's oneg: chocolate biscotti.

I love dry crunchy things. I still remember with great longing the little tiny bagels we bought in Moscow in 1972. They were hard as bricks and came on a string. Maybe I'd be afraid to eat them now - why didn't our teeth break? - but I love the memory...

So, anyway, I love biscotti but never tried making any before.

I actually thought this recipe was TOO chocolaty but since some people say there's no such thing, here it is.

Chocolate Biscotti

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cups cocoa (next time I would use less)
4 tablespoons melted butter
3 eggs
1 ts vanilla
1 ts baking soda
1/4 ts salt
1+ cups julienned almonds, lightly toasted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients except almonds, mix well, then mash in the almonds.

Make into two long logs on a 9x13 pan (I use a silicone baking liner). Flatten them a little and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven, reduce temperature to 325 degrees.

Let loaves cool for half an hour. Put them - carefully - on a cutting board and cut them - carefully - into 1/2 inch slices. Lay slices cut side down on your baking tray and bake at 325 for 15 minutes. Turn them over and bake for another 15 minutes. When cool they will be hard as rocks, just the way I like them.

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Barb's "best damn cookies"

For tonight's oneg I decided to try some recipes which have been in my box for years but never tested.

Recipe number two is from my college roommate Barb Clark. Barb was from Michigan. I visited her once. Her family reluctantly owned a crazy (inherited) parrot which walked across the bottom of its cage, up the side, across the top, down the other side, all day long, screaming. Hard on their nerves.

I remember thinking back then, in 1973 or so, that these were maybe the best cookies I'd ever eaten. However, I never had the nerve to try them, until now, because I knew the part where the recipe said "spread the dough" would be harder than it sounded.

Kind of like the instructions my ex-husband's dock came with: you build the dock upside down and the last step says: "now flip the dock over."

However, today I decided that, 33 years later, I would ignore my fear. I dutifully tried to "spread" the first batch and it was as ridiculous as I'd imagined - a stiff, sticky dough which clung stubbornly to my spreading device and rolled right up off the silicone pan liner.

The second batch went much better using the technique described below. Perfect! They were as good as I remembered: buttery and crispy and cinnamony and kind of like some kind of Pepperidge Farm cookie but I forget which kind. Thanks, Barb.

Barb's "Best Damn Cookies"

3/4 cup soft butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg yolk (save the white for glazing)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1+ cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix all ingredients except the egg white and the almonds. This makes a stiff, sticky dough. Put dollops all over the bottom of your 9x13 pan and press together into a thin layer (mine didn't stretch all the way to the edges of the pan).

Glaze with egg white and sprinkle with toasted almonds; press together lightly. Cook 25 minutes. Immediately upon removing from the oven, score into squares by pressing into the hot pan with a plastic spatula, but don't try to break the squares into cookies until they're cool. Makes about 40.

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Bettye's coconut chocolate pecan (walnut) bars

It's my yearly turn to show up to at the temple tonight with 120 cookies for "oneg" (refreshment).

I must say, the idea of bribing people to attend services (with delicious treats afterwards) is clever. I bet there are people who, on the line about whether to get up out of their recliners and stagger off to the synagogue, think about the brownies and say, "Oh, I can do it."

This time I decided to try some recipes which have been in my box for years but never tested.

Recipe number one is from my first stepmother, Bettye. My dad met her when, exhausted and disillusioned after a rotten divorce and too many years of running a cut-throat manufacturing company based in Manhattan, he was doing freelance work at "Choretime Farm Equipment" in Alabama. Choretime had a wonderful polo shirt, its emblem a pig wearing an engineering cap. My dad promised to get me one but he never did.

He never told my brothers and me he was getting remarried, he just did it. A year or two later I made my first trip south, combining a visit to the "First Annual Sacred Harp Singing Convention" in Birmingham with a visit to Hartselle, Alabama, where he lived with his new wife and stepchildren.

I remember getting out of the car and staring in astonishment at a harvested cotton field - the cotton balls on the end of the twigs looked utterly preposterous, as though some ignorant, demented set designer had cobbled up this outlandish arrangement.

Bettye was a wonderful woman, salty and kind. My brothers took to her instantly and sopped up the love she offered them. It was harder for me - liking Bettye so much, I felt disloyal to my own mother.

Bettye had a great Alabama accent. When she said her daughter's name, "Joy," it took four syllables.

She was a smoker, which my dad hated but tolerated. She got lung cancer but they caught it early and her prognosis was excellent. Then her only son was killed by a drunk driver who later DROVE TO HER HOUSE WITHOUT A LICENSE (because this was not his first highway accident) to ask her to go easy on him!

Perhaps in fury or despair, she started smoking again. The cancer came back and she died, much too young.

Here is her recipe for a gloppy, delicious dessert bar.

Bettye's coconut chocolate pecan (or walnut) bars

10 tablespoons butter
2-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (around half a box)
2 cups flaked coconut
3 6-oz bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips
2-1/4 cups of Eagle brand condensed milk (about 1-1/2 cans)
2 cups pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Melt the butter in the bottom of a glass lasagna pan and stir in the crumbs; press gently to make bottom layer.

Spread coconut over the crumbs. Spread chips over the coconut.

Pour the condensed milk evenly across the whole mess. Put the nuts on top of the condensed milk. Press it all together a little bit. Cook for 30 minutes.

Important: don't cut into bars until lukewarm or they'll crumble. They taste MUCH MUCH better the next day so make ahead

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

[Hannah]: Uneasy Feeling

So I'm a little freaked out by the GEICO caveman ads (you know, the ads show a caveman in a suit in an airport or something, and he walks by a sign that says "GEICO: it's so easy even a caveman can do it." and he gets upset that this is a discriminatory message.)

What makes these ads funny is that the guy *is* a caveman - hairy, primitive looking, different. He talks about how he deserves respect, and he speaks in a very mature and educated way, but the truth is that he really is a freak - very different from a normal human. Thus, when he complains about discrimination against him, and we laugh, the joke is really on him.

Maybe this is oversensitive, but I'm not comfortable listening to a bit of "we deserve equal rights" rhetoric and knowing that the setup expects me to laugh at that person, going, "ha ha, but he IS a freak who's different from us!"

I think there's a subtext here that's way more loaded than anyone admits.

Better even than putting a blanket over your head?

You can buy your "hideaway cozy" from Rosalie Monod de Froideville:
We all have these moments when we wish the world could just stop existing for a while. Whether it's to get away from a personal crisis or from universal threats, from time to time all we want to do is curl up and hide. Now, for these moments we have the perfect soultion: the HideAway. Pre-shaped in the hiding-position, this cover has a snug fit and is easy to use. you can get into it fast and easy, anywhere and at any time. HideAways are available in a range of positions, materials and sizes. They are compact and lighweight, and stored in the useful carry-on bag, you can take your HideAway everywhere you go.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

[Hannah]: Save the Bees!

My dad and I used to keep bees and I have very tender feelings for them. They're just so good at what they do. We had four hives. Each hive was filled with big sheets of wax, like it was a wax filing cabinet. Since the sheets were just the right distance apart from each other, the bees got happy and they build combs off the wax base we provided to them. In the bottom "drawer" of the filing cabinet their queen would lay eggs, and in the top "drawer" they'd store their honey. They almost never got mixed up about what was supposed to go where - it was just how they liked to do it.

Throughout the summer, we'd keep a big puddle in our driveway filled with water so that if they were thirsty they wouldn't have to go far to drink. Their honey was like nothing I'd ever tasted - a Suburban Back Yard concoction that was actually divine.

Our bees all got wiped out one winter and we weren't exactly sure why, and we never started again. We might have made it another few years, but it felt like a huge responsibility to care for the bees even if they didn't need much. There were just so *many* of them. Thousands! And they couldn't ever tell us what they needed.

You should have seen the look on the face of the post office worker when the bees came in the mail. Bees do not really like going through the mail, and the mail does not like bees. We had to come pick them up at the post office - thousands of them in a little box...

Interesting to note that honey bees are not native to North America - they are European imports. Does their fragility in this ecosystem also have something to do with their foreign ancestry?

How to help the bees.

After reading the article below, I have been abstaining from my favorite outdoor hobby, weedwhacking, because my lawn is absolutely full of clover...

Extracts from
Five ways to help our disappearing bees
Chris Baskind, Thursday, 03 May 2007

You've probably heard about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) or Vanishing Bee Syndrome, the mysterious and rather dramatic die-off of domesticated honeybees in Europe and North America.

In some areas, losses of honeybees are reported to be as high as 75 percent. The situation means a lot more than high honey prices: bees are primary pollinators in both the human and animal food chains.

There are some things we can all do to assist honeybee and natural bee populations close to home.

  • Plant things that bees like

    Bee-friendly plants are easy to grow. Scatter a variety through your yard, ensuring a good supply of pollen through the warm months. A few general pointers: avoid horticultural plants that are "double." These usually have extra petals instead of anthers. And bees prefer flowers that are blue, purple, or yellow.

    Clover is a great choice. Other bee-yummy plants: sage, salvia, oregano, lavender, ironweed, yarrow, yellow hyssop, alfalfa, honeywort, dragonhead, echinacea, bee balm (guess where the name comes from?), buttercup, goldenrod, and English thyme.

    Flowering trees are also attractive to bees. Try tulip poplars, tupelos, oranges, and sourwoods. Don't forget that bees need sources of shallow water.

  • Provide bee habitat

    Unlike honeybees, natural bees make use of many kinds of shelter: abandoned animal burrows, dead trees and branches, and in underground nest tunnels.

    You can help wood-nesting bees by setting out a few inexpensive bee blocks. These are basically blocks of wood with holes of various sizes. Providing a mound or two of loose earth -- particularly if they're close to a water source -- is like opening a rent-free apartment complex for burrowing bees.

    Hosting a few bee shelters will give you the opportunity to watch your visitors thrive.

  • Eliminate garden pesticides

    Pesticides are bad for humans. They're worse for bees. Investigate organic and natural means of pest control. Chemical-free plants and gardens are a friendly invitation to wild bees.

  • Let your veggies bolt

    If at all possible, allow a few leafy vegetables in your home garden to "bolt," or go to seed, after harvest.

    Seeding plants are a bee's best chance to stock up on food before the colder months. Unlike their wasp and yellowjacket cousins, which die out each winter, real bees slow down and wait for spring. Making sure their larder is stocked will help them snap back once the weather warms.

  • Support your local beekeepers

    Beekeeping as a hobby has declined in recent years. Commercial pressures and unstable bee populations has made raising bees less attractive, but we still rely heavily on domesticated honeybees to pollinate our crops and gardens.

    Seek out your local beekeepers and buy their honey. There are health benefits to eating local honey, and keeping small beekeepers in business is good for everyone.

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Hannah's encounter with the Messianic Jew

Wow, allow the proud mother to say my girl wrote her best post ever over at her "other" blog, Fear Not the Gods, called Order, Disorder, and a Brief Encounter with a Messianic Jew. Go have a look!


Monday, May 14, 2007

"Citrus" and "Neighbor" (Mike does Illustration Friday)

While I keep working on my cd cover, Mike did these two illustrations for Illustration Friday.



Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day from Julia Ward Howe

by Julia Ward Howe, 1870

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says, "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing her own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God---
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Work in progress: new cd cover

Click for larger view.



Anybody want to put in a word for the "Good Old Days" ?

Click for a larger view. Found at Today's Inspiration and I'm feeling mighty inspired. No wonder they invented bra-burning.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Bees, part two

From my college listserv, sent by a classmate who commented: "This calls to mind the research from Fraser University in B.C., Canada: Researchers there compared organic, non-organic and genetically modified canola fields to measure bee populations and the impact on pollination. They found the smallest bee populations and the greatest pollination deficits (the difference between potential and actual pollination) in the genetically modified fields. Non-organic fields had a moderate pollination deficit. Organic fields had no pollination deficit. Bees also were most abundant in organic fields while GM fields had the fewest bees. (Simon Fraser University, B.C., Canada)"

No ORGANIC Bee losses

Sharon Labchuk is a longtime environmental activist and part-time organic beekeeper from Prince Edward Island. She has twice run for a seat in Ottawa's House of Commons, making strong showings around 5% for Canada's fledgling Green Party. She is also leader of the provincial wing of her party. In a widely circulated email, she wrote:

I'm on an organic beekeeping list of about 1,000 people, mostly Americans, and no one in the organic beekeeping world, including commercial beekeepers, is reporting colony collapse on this list. The problem with the big commercial guys is that they put pesticides in their hives to fumigate for varroa mites, and they feed antibiotics to the bees. They also haul the hives by truck all over the place to make more money with pollination services, which stresses the colonies.

Her email recommends a visit to the Bush Bees website where Michael Bush felt compelled to put a message to the beekeeping world right on the top page:

Most of us beekeepers are fighting with the Varroa mites. I'm happy to say my biggest problems are things like trying to get nucs through the winter and coming up with hives that won't hurt my back from lifting or better ways to feed the bees.

This change from fighting the mites is mostly because I've gone to natural sized cells. In case you weren't aware, and I wasn't for a long time, the foundation in common usage results in much larger bees than what you would find in a natural hive. I've measured sections of natural worker brood comb that are 4.6mm in diameter. What most people use for worker brood is foundation that is 5.4mm in diameter. If you translate that into three dimensions instead of one, it produces a bee that is about half as large again as is natural. By letting the bees build natural sized cells, I have virtually eliminated my Varroa and Tracheal mite problems.

Who should be surprised that the major media reports forget to tell us that the dying bees are actually hyper-bred varieties that we coax into a larger than normal body size? It sounds just like the beef industry. And, have we here a solution to the vanishing bee problem? Is it one that the CCD Working Group, or indeed, the scientific world at large, will support? Will media coverage affect government action in dealing with this issue?

These are important questions to ask. It is not an uncommonly held opinion that, although this new pattern of bee colony collapse seems to have struck from out of the blue (which suggests a triggering agent), it is likely that some biological limit in the bees has been crossed. There is no shortage of evidence that we have been fast approaching this limit for some time.

We've been pushing them too hard, Dr. Peter Kevan, an associate professor of environmental biology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, told the CBC. And we're starving them out by feeding them artificially and moving them great distances. Given the stress commercial bees are under, Kevan suggests CCD might be caused by parasitic mites, or long cold winters, or long wet springs, or pesticides, or genetically modified crops. Maybe it's all of the above...

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Bees, part one

Extracts from
Bees Vanish, and Scientists Race for Reasons
By Alexei Barrionuevo for the New York Times, April 24, 2007

BELTSVILLE, Md., April 23 — What is happening to the bees?

More than a quarter of the country’s 2.4 million bee colonies have been lost — tens of billions of bees... So far, no one can say what is causing the bees to become disoriented and fail to return to their hives.

As with any great mystery, a number of theories have been posed, and many seem to researchers to be more science fiction than science. People have blamed
    li>Genetically modified crops
  • Cellular phone towers
  • High-voltage transmission lines for the disappearances. Or was it
  • A secret plot by Russia or Osama bin Laden to bring down American agriculture? Or, as some blogs have asserted,
  • The rapture of the bees, in which God recalled them to heaven?
Researchers have heard it all.

"Colony collapse disorder" [is] the name given for the disappearing bee syndrome.

The most likely suspects: a virus, a fungus or a pesticide.

Genetic testing at Columbia University has revealed the presence of multiple micro-organisms in bees from hives or colonies that are in decline, suggesting that something is weakening their immune system. The researchers have found some fungi in the affected bees that are found in humans whose immune systems have been suppressed by the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or cancer.

So far, colony collapse disorder has been found in 27 states... A recent survey of 13 states ... showed that 26 percent of beekeepers had lost half of their bee colonies between September and March.

Honeybees are arguably the insects that are most important to the human food chain. They are the principal pollinators of hundreds of fruits, vegetables, flowers and nuts. The number of bee colonies has been declining since the 1940s, even as the crops that rely on them, such as California almonds, have grown.

Bee colonies have been under stress in recent years as more beekeepers have resorted to crisscrossing the country with 18-wheel trucks full of bees in search of pollination work. These bees may suffer from a diet that includes artificial supplements, concoctions akin to energy drinks and power bars. In several states, suburban sprawl has limited the bees’ natural forage areas.

... Researchers emphasized today that feeding supplements produced from genetically modified crops, such as high-fructose corn syrup, need to be studied.

Mr. Hackenberg, the beekeeper, agreed to take his empty bee boxes and other equipment to Food Technology Service, a company in Mulberry, Fla., that uses gamma rays to kill bacteria on medical equipment and some fruits. In early results, the irradiated bee boxes seem to have shown a return to health for colonies repopulated with Australian bees.

"This supports the idea that there is a pathogen there," Dr. Cox-Foster said. "It would be hard to explain the irradiation getting rid of a chemical."

Still, some environmental substances remain suspicious.

Of greatest interest are the "systemic" chemicals that are able to pass through a plant’s circulatory system and move to the new leaves or the flowers, where they would come in contact with bees.

One such group of compounds is called neonicotinoids, commonly used pesticides that are used to treat corn and other seeds against pests. One of the neonicotinoids, imidacloprid, is commonly used in Europe and the United States to treat seeds, to protect residential foundations against termites and to help keep golf courses and home lawns green.

In the late 1990s, French beekeepers reported large losses of their bees and complained about the use of imidacloprid, sold under the brand name Gaucho. The chemical, while not killing the bees outright, was causing them to be disoriented and stay away from their hives, leading them to die of exposure to the cold, French researchers later found. The beekeepers labeled the syndrome "mad bee disease."

Bats again, oh no!

Two years ago, in August, we discovered a maternal colony of bats in the attic and I took this picture.

I was worried (because bats get rabies and have cooties in their guano) and delighted (because bats are excellent, interesting creatures which consume mosquitos). I'd never managed to get them to live in the bat house my dad gave me - but they love that space behind the louvered vent...

They came back last year. However, when I started running the whole house fan, well, they didn't like that, so they left.

I was relieved (not to have so many bats and so much guano in my attic) and disappointed (because I let all those little mothers go homeless).

Well, they're back. I don't know what to do. There's a big pile of guano under the fan and evidently there's no safe way to dispose of it!

Also, I want to run my fan, it keeps the house cool. But I don't want to disturb the little mothers. They make cute little squeaking noises and creep slowly across the hardware cloth I put up to keep them from getting into the rest of the attic.

Check this out! Yikes!

Preventing Histoplasmosis

Histoplasmosis, a fungal infection of the lungs, can be contracted by exposure to areas where bat droppings have accumulated; a thorough cleaning of such sites is recommended to help prevent histo infection.

Cleanup of Bat Guano Accumulations

Trained personnel should remove any remaining guano using approved protective equipment, and using methods to prevent aerosolization of guano.

Wear safety goggles, rubber gloves, Tyvek suit with elastic cuffs or seal the glove/sleeve interface with duct tape to protect personal clothing from contamination with infective organisms. Rubber boots or Tyvek shoe covers should be worn if workers will be walking on the bird droppings.

Once the work is complete, in an excrement free area, remove the protective clothing, and place them in plastic bags prior to removing respiratory protection. Treat disposable clothing believed to be contaminated with disease agents as an infectious waste. Contact Hazardous Waste Technician at Environmental Heath & Safety, for further information (extension 4356).

Nondisposable work clothing and respirators should be removed, placed in a plastic bag, and sealed. These items must be disinfected in the bag before final cleaning and reuse. Workers must not wear their own personal street clothing under the disposable coveralls.

Removal should entail wetting down material to be removed and possibly utilizing HEPA vacuums for removal.

Thoroughly clean visible and accessible area of the interior walls where bats were know to roost, or where guano was observed. Use an approved disinfectant.

If complete elimination and cleaning of inaccessible areas is not feasible, those areas should be isolated and enclosed to prevent future exposure to aerosolized particles.

Monitor those who may have been exposed to aerosol particles during this work for any adverse health effects. This includes those involved in the cleanup, and those may subsequently return to the area, such as employees or residents. Monitoring would include identifying any signs and symptoms consistent with histoplasmosis, such as malaise, fever, chest pain, dry or non-productive cough, headache, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, joint and muscle pains, chills, and hoarseness.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

I hate suspense.

So I want to know if it's odd that I like mystery novels - and detective stories and the occasional spy movie - but I hate suspense. Ever notice that every single suspenseful movie has a scene of somebody's drawers being rifled and we're afraid the bad guys are going to catch the rifler? Oy, this is more than enough suspense for me. Going through somebody else's drawers: the very thought gives me chills.

I watched Arlington Road with the kids a few years back and jumped about three feet in the air when - eek, Joan Cusack unexpectedly appeared outside a phone booth!!

Is it odd that after I've read the first chapter or two of a suspenseful book, I flip immediately to the last chapter? I need to know who is going to survive (I don't want to get attached to a goner) and who the villain is (so I can have the pleasure of noticing the clues that get salted through the exposition).

My opinion: real life is scary enough - and you can't flip to the end to see how it's going to turn out.

On my telenovela blog we have a "NO SPOILERS" rule because a lot of people are infuriated if any future happenings are revealed - myself, I read ahead whenever possible. I don't even understand what's good or fun about surprises!

Every day I go on the elliptical trainer and watch old movies and TV shows. Usually I'm seeing shows that aired years ago; everybody else has already enjoyed the suspense, so most of the time I can find a site online (like where I can recaps of every episode all the way to the end of the series.

But currently I'm in the middle of MI-5 (Spooks) Season Three and guess what, I can't find any good spoilers on the net! How can this be? I want to know what's going to happen! Otherwise how do I know if I want to watch or not?

Anybody who knows me has heard the story of how my mother forbade me to watch horror movies when I was a kid - they gave me terrible nightmares or gibbering insomnia.

But one famous babysitter couldn't believe I was that sensitive and let me watch "Attack of the Crab Monsters" with my younger brothers.

So all my life I have recounted the story of my hanging in there, on the edge of my seat, until a single giant crab claw was seen tap, tap, tapping in the doorway.

At that point, overwhelmed by terror, I ran sobbing to my room and caused such a ruckus the babysitter called my parents and they came home and my mother, all dressed up, in perfume and dangling earrings, knelt by my bed and tried to calm me down.

It didn't work, partly because I was inconsolably terrified by the tap, tap, tap of the crab claw but also because I knew she actually wanted to strangle me for disobeying and cutting her party-time short.

Anyway, a couple years ago I rented "Attack of the Crab Monsters" and watched it with my son. I was ostensibly doing it to show him how ridiculous horror movies of the 50s were, but secretly I wanted to know if I would still be terrified.

When we got to the famous tap, tap, tap scene I'd remembered all those years - I was indeed a little bit scared - but I didn't run away - and so I discovered the infamous giant crab claw was in fact a chimera! The tap, tap, tap had been a FALSE ALARM! The tap, tap, tap was just an electric wire in the next room, being thwapped against the ceiling by a fan.

I had run away screaming without having seen the crab monster at all! The crab didn't appear for another few scenes! It seems my overactive imagination had INVENTED the giant crab claw memory which horrified me for years.

As you can see from these movie posters, the crab monster was nothing to write home about. It was as flat as a huge dinner plate and made of papier maché or the like. It was probably maneuvered with strings and rods and it moved very, very slowly, with much flapping and clacking of its unconvincing body parts.

"Slow down, slow down, let me catch you!" was my son's unimpressed comment. He has a soft spot for kitschy retro stuff but this movie was too lousy for even him to enjoy.

My conclusion: it's the things you conjure up in your mind that are really terrifying. As soon as you see the papier maché crab, the mood is blown.

This Roz Chast cartoon, one of my favorite cartoons of all time, was one of the first pictures I posted on this blog.

Why not a movie where nice people treat each other well and do fun things and then say "See you tomorrow" and go home and get a good night's sleep?

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Planning the "perfect wedding."

There are a lot of things I'd rather do with $28,000.

Extracts from
Doing time in the wedding-industrial complex
By Meghan O'Rourke for Slate Magazine, May 5, 2007

Earlier this spring, my boyfriend and I went to look at wedding invitations. We were keeping it low-key, we thought; we were busy with our jobs; we were skeptical, slightly, of weddings. Several weeks and four visits to the stationer later, we still hadn't chosen an invitation, though we had spent more hours than I care to name studying hundreds of possibilities—letterpress flowers, engraved champagne glasses, be-ribboned envelopes.

In the interest of pressing forward, I left the task in my partner's capable hands ... when my fiance finally told me his choice ... I heard myself utter the words, "But cream is too dark—and I really preferred the square!"

What had happened to me?

Fluster over weddings in America isn't exactly new: In Father of the Bride (1950), Spencer Tracy plays an upper-middle-class father confounded by the costs and commotion of putting together a wedding. But the angst has become more pricey and pervasive.

... No wedding planner is going to play the cynic. And so every exchange you have with wedding planners is coated with a patina of sentimentality—with the pretense that you are dealing in emotions rather than commodities. "Tell me the story of your wedding," they say, as though sitting you down for a heart-to-heart.

We succumb in part because the real story of a wedding—its central point—has become increasingly obscure, even as the average price of one has soared (to nearly $28,000 in 2006). ... It is not clear what is "different" about life post-marriage, other than one's tax form—and the unnerving prospect of divorce; after all, many of today's couples are children of divorced parents and know firsthand just how precarious the institution is. So the wedding becomes an exercise in magical thinking: If my teeth are white and my linens match my napkins, he and I will stay in love forever. This is the "impending transformation of [our] inward self" (as Mead puts it) that we're seeking in the "outward accumulation of stuff."

Fantasies may be great in marriage, but they are rarely a very firm foundation for it, and pre-feminist "white blindness"—the term wedding-industry types use to describe the state of near abandon that comes over even the most reluctant bride—is, well, infantilizing. ... Trying on a lavish dress bedecked with almost imperceptible crystals, I found myself strangely smitten ... No wonder one consultant at an annual wedding-industry conference told his audience, "You are selling dreams, and you can charge anything."

The pernicious thing about the wedding industry's consumerism run amok is precisely its rhetorical pretense that the endeavor is entirely anti-consumerist. You're made to feel guilty if you try to cut corners, as if to do so is to cheapen your love. As a friend warned us back when we started the process: "You just have to accept that you're going to be a sucker."

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Investment advice for my daughter.

My daughter, amazing little thing that she is, has actually managed to save some money and has put it into a mutual fund! I laughed when she asked me for investment advice, here's the best that can be had:

Will Rogers on investment

"Don't gamble; take all your savings and buy some good stock and hold it till it goes up, then sell it. If it don't go up, don't buy it."

Hope that helps!

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Botox: "If you're playing a mom you need to look like a mom."

Extracts from
The Backlash to Botox
TV Studios See Shortage Of Lined, Lively Faces

By Brooks Barnes for the Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2007

As an aging divorcee on the CBS sitcom "The New Adventures of Old Christine," Julia Louis-Dreyfus struggles to grow older with dignity, often sparring with the more-Botoxed-than-thou moms at her son's private school. In one memorable scene, Ms. Louis-Dreyfus, 46, ends an argument with the "meanie-moms" by shouting, "At least I have my original face!"

She's one of the few. The rarest commodity in TV these days, say veteran casting directors: stars without Restylane-frozen faces and collagen-inflated lips. Indeed, studios say there's a shortage of familiar faces that look their age.

Studios ... have started doing more screen tests ... in part to see how overzealous cosmetic treatments will play on screen. In recent years, Warner Bros. has doubled its casting staff in foreign countries like England and Canada where Botox is less common. And writers, particularly for daytime shows, say they now sometimes write plastic surgery into roles to explain to audiences why characters have retreaded faces.

"We try very hard for authenticity," says Marcia Shulman, Fox's executive vice president of casting. "If you're playing a mom you need to look like a mom. Otherwise it takes viewers completely out of the show."

A rival studio says it made an offer to a star this spring on the highly unusual condition that she "lays off the injectibles."

Both TV and the movies have been coping with the effects of cosmetic treatments and plastic surgery for years. But the problem is greater for television shows, because there are more close-ups. As in movies, peer pressure and a cultural fixation on youth play a role in the Botoxing of the small screen. (While facial surgery and treatments are more prevalent among actresses, casting directors say that actors are also loaded up with injections.)

Giant flat-screen TVs ... [are] showing facelift scars, overly peeled and pulled skin and extra-firm foreheads. "The Botox used to be less noticeable but high def has changed that," says one network president. "Now half the time the injectibles are so distracting we don't even notice the acting."

Network and studio executives say television is already suffering from a plastic surgery hangover in one important genre: comedy. Successful sitcoms, including "Old Christine," typically feature actors and actresses who use a heavy arsenal of facial expressions. Failed comedies -- for example, "Hope & Faith," "Listen Up" and "20 Good Years" -- often feature performers that border on cardboard caricatures. "Frozen isn't funny," says Mr. Thurm.

Some comedy stars have joined executives in sounding an alarm. Delta Burke, famous from 1986's "Designing Women" and a star of ABC's "Boston Legal," says she's trying to cut back on Botox. "When I'm watching myself I'm not moving," the 50-year-old star told a TV magazine last month. And "Desperate Housewives" star Teri Hatcher, 42, recently told Oprah Winfrey that she stopped using Botox "more than a couple years ago...

Two major casting directors say they recently considered Melanie Griffith, famous for 1988's "Working Girl," for TV projects but ultimately deemed her "uncastable" due to her extra-plump lips and rigid-looking upper face.

Still, CBS just hired Ms. Griffith ... Perhaps CBS is counting on reviews similar to one she got last season for her work on the failed WB sitcom "Twins." Wrote critic Joel Rubinoff: "Melanie Griffith -- virtually unrecognizable after plastic surgery, Botox, you name it -- is lovably vacant as the ditzy mom."

Saturday, May 05, 2007

On silence and a detested color.

This is the 1,435th post on Pratie Place; from Day 1 in January of 2005 through most of last year I posted devotedly every single day. Obviously, since then I've become a more occasional blogger.

The morning after mid-term elections in 2002, I turned on the radio as usual. I was muy impactada to hear there had been a rout and the Republicans were everywhere. My response? I turned off the radio and stopped my newspaper. The blackout has been more or less continuous ever since.

Once in a while I relent - I peek at the headlines or turn on NPR for a moment just to see if the wind has shifted - for good or ill - for instance, is a hurricane coming? Sadly, what I hear in these sporadic 20-second blasts of misery convinces me the boycott must continue. One unfortunate consequence is that I don't have much access to the funny or interesting stories I used to blog about. I had to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The Wall Street Journal recently had a story on how people at luxury resorts fight furiously for the "good" lounge chairs near the pool. They sabotage each other, shout ... give huge tips so the workers will overlook their flouting of the "rules" .... furiously disdain chairs in "Siberia" ... well, once I would have blogged about that but now it makes me too irritable. It's not good for my blood pressure to think about it.

Also, my life has become so solitary that I'm no longer in the habit of speaking or writing. Studying, painting, playing tunes with Bob - this is what I do now.

I'm sublimating my disgust with the world; I'm finding and arranging songs of murder and disaster, and doing painting studies for the cd cover. There's no end to the number of wicked people I'd like to put in my "Last Judgement Day" parody, but there is a definite limit to how much space I have... I wake up thinking, I'd like to get back to that painting. And I do. That's the time I used to spend blogging...

So while I was painting this morning, I was thinking about how much I hate the color "Royal Blue." I once had a not-very-good red bicycle (a Schwinn) which I loved; my ex-husband, who was at that time a bike mechanic, convinced me to get a much better bike. Sadly, it was only available in royal blue. "You'll get used to it," he promised.

Well, I had that bike for years, I commuted on it while we lived in Cambridge, Somerville, and Belmont. Every single time I got on that bike my first thought was: "I hate the color of this bike."

So just now I remembered a royal blue jumper I had when I was eight or nine years old. It was brand new for my birthday, and I was wearing it that birthday morning. My favorite aunt had promised to take me, just me, to New York City for the day. I was so excited and sat on my bed, waiting, waiting...

... but the night before something bad had happened. I hated fish sticks and my mother served them often. That night, I had rebelliously put my fish sticks in the garbage. I wasn't a crafty kid so I didn't bury them, I just laid them on top of everything, so when my mom looked in the garbage, there they were, lying on top.

"Did you throw your fish sticks away?" she asked, and I said no, and I kept saying no, stubbornly. I was a poor liar, and an infrequent liar, but once I dug my heels in there was no turning back.

My aunt - my mother's twin - had gotten into the act; she said "If you don't tell the truth, I won't take you to New York tomorrow." What a horrible threat! But it was too late, I couldn't yield.

Sitting on my bed next morning, I thought she would forget, or would relent. But when she appeared, she was as unyielding as I had been the night before. Because I'd lied, I would not get to go to Manhattan. I cried for most of my birthday.

I still feel sad about not going to NYC that day. I'll never get that day back, and now, my favorite aunt is long dead and gone.

What do you think? Can a person get to hate a color just because it's associated with a terrible memory?


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

[Hannah]: Gardening in Los Angeles

Hi all,am visiting family and doing some work in Los Angeles now. I always get a kick out of how people garden around here (my family lives in Santa Monica). They all have this distorted version of how gardening works, because the ground is so fertile and the climate is so mild and sunny that just about anything will grow beautifully, and all you have to do is stick it in the ground. My uncle, for example, has a fruit tree garden. How? He bought a couple orange trees and put them in the ground. More in the mood for grapefruit? No problem! He buys a grapefruit tree and puts it in the ground. In two years - boom, grapefruits. Avocados work the same way.

I took a jog around the neighborhood this morning and was also amused by how people "landscape" around here. Because anything is possible, there is no particular look or feel to the neighborhood - it's incredibly gorgeous but also ADD. One neighbor has decided he lives in an English garden, and planted a lawn, some deciduous trees, a green hedge, and a white picket fence. Another neighbor thinks she lives in the desert Southwest, and has gone with the bare earth/clay tiles/flagstones look. Still another has gone with "mysterious tropical rainforest" and has planted exotic flowering trees so thickly that you can't see into the yard at all.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Happy May Day, evil hamsters everywhere

Found at BoingBoing, this was young Schecky's response to the prompt, "write a springtime poem." (Click for a larger view, and don't miss the hidden vertical message.)

I think I love Schecky.

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