February, 2005

28 Feb 2005, by

Weekend Dreams

I had several vivid dreams this weekend, but I was very busy and blogged other things instead of the dreams, telling myself that I could always blog them later. But the dreams, they disintegrate little by little. You hardly even notice, but then you check the mental spot where you stored them and there’s nothing left. I must be better about recording the dreams. I have only a line or two that I jotted down briefly to go on, and none of the dreams themselves.

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It’s been a while since I’ve indulged in a really good rant, but earlier in the week I was really, really torqued, so I’m going to vent here. Our town (and by this I mean our actual mini-city, not St. Louis itself) in conjunction with another nearby town, delivers us a weekly newspaper, free of charge. It’s a cute little thing, filled with letters to the editors, upcoming city council meetings, notices on city wide ordinanaces, and interviews with local high schoolers. It’s very Mayberry, I quite enjoy it. This week when I went to pick up the paper from our driveway, there was a tightly rolled, rubberbanded paper next to it. I picked it up and opened it, only to be assaulted by a noxious, racist screed. I’m not going to detail the group, or link the websites provided, or anything of that nature because the less publicity they get the better, but the piece was filled with usual resentment-mongering diatribes against Jews, segregation and so forth, containing “articles” with such lead lines as “Since my release from prison in 2002…” and “Euro Americans are forced to live with other ethnic groups…” and an awful, awful “Kid’s Corner” that was such an instrument of hate-breeding that it made me shudder and for once be grateful that my child cannot yet read.

The reasons this torques me so intensely are three-fold. One is tangentially related, and has more to do with social attitudes at large than this paper specifically. The commonly held (and expressed) notion is that the South is the bastion of racism. I’m not going to dispute any allegations that racism is alive and well in the South. In fact, I’ve talked here on the blog about instances of racism so profound I had difficulty accepting they occurred in my neighborhood. On the other hand, in my decade or so living in the South, never have I had flung upon my doorstep such a despicable platform of hate, never was it assumed that I would want or accept such a thing, and never was the widespread, blanket dissemination of such a screed condoned by anyone that I knew. So you can imagine that I’m a little tired about hearing all about the racist South, when it’s not until I move away that something like this happens to me. Look to your own beam, Midwest, before nattering on about the South’s mote.

Secondly, and more to the point, I really resent the fouling of my community by such garbage. I would not be surprised if this delivery campaign had been orchestrated by people who don’t live here, who have never lived here, and who don’t intend to live here. At least, one can hope that such is the case, and that these peddlers of inflammatory dissension are not my neighbors. I am a librarian, so it follows that I’m a defender of people’s first amendment rights to say whatever they please no matter how foul or nonsensical such utterances may be. However, though I would not dream of denying anyone their mouthpiece, I am still really angered that someone thinks spreading this vile propaganda was worth the trees and ink. It still bothers me that people use their opportunities to speak freely no better than to spew lies and bigotry. And it really bothers me when their spew ends up on the driveway of my home. I expect better of free-thinking citizens in the twenty-first century. I hate to see my confidence in people’s ability to be rational and civil dispelled.

Lastly, it makes me really angry that these people chose the exact same day and time of our newspaper delivery to deliver their own paper and that they couched it in the language of news. I know that it can’t be helped, really, there’s nothing the paper can do to keep people from piling stuff next to it, but it gave the real paper a stain by association. The two were lying side by side, a desperate attempt at legitimacy on the part of the racists but an inevitable, unavoidable link between the two created by everyone subsequently picking them up together. Intentional, I’m sure, as the outrageous claims pronounced in the distasteful racist piece could only benefit by the appearance of endorsement from the real local newspaper. The reason this is a rant, however, and not a meditated piece on the ills of racism is because I know that there’s nothing at all that can be done (and possibly nothing that should be done) to stop this. It makes me unreasoningly angry that it happens and I just can’t help but fume about the whole thing, even though its likely just the price I pay for living in a land of tolerance.


iTunes says I was listening to Monday Night from the album EP2 by Zero 7 when I posted this. I have it rated 4 stars.

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Today I’m going to do another reader question. I can hardly contain my glee, too, for unless someone has a particularly twisted sense of humor, my reader question comes from author Neil Gaiman himself. Longtime readers of the blog know that hardly three entries go by without my mentioning him in some capacity (his works, things he’s said on his blog, the dreams of mine in which he has appeared, etc.) so you can imagine my shock when this comment appeared on my entry reviewing the book Flights: “You’re much too kind in your opening paragraph — I honestly don’t expect anyone to like everything I write. (That includes me.) Still, I’m puzzled by your use of the word ‘blasphemy’ in describing ‘The Problem of Susan’ — could you elaborate? (Er, that’s not a trick question. I’m really interested in where you feel the blasphemy was.) “.

Now I know that technically anyone with a web browser can stop by and read anything I’ve written here and further that anyone can leave a comment (except you, spammer). That’s part of the point. Still, I’m just a regular person, and I hardly expect to be noticed by a celebrity. Especially not a celebrity whom I admire and whom I have elevated to heroic status. There aren’t too many of those. It was a little like watching a statue turn its head as you walk around it to stare back: magical, flattering and just a little bit scary. So since this extra cool famous person leaving a comment thing has happened to me, you can understand that I must draw attention to it and while I could do that by writing a long “HOW COOL IS THAT!” entry I feel it’s better if I just use the question he asked as the basis for an entry. And provide an answer. Right. I’m going to answer the question.

However, I cannot do that without explicitly detailing what happens in Neil Gaiman’s story “The Problem of Susan”. Also I cannot do that without talking about sex (I have to say this, because my mom and dad read the blog and they might feel funny reading things I write about sex). Consider all that disclaimering your spoiler warning. Proceed at your own risk.

As I said in my original review, I have always been interested in the question of Susan, or as Gaiman puts it, her problem. At some point she stops going back to Narnia while the others still do. She’s more interested in lipstick and nylons, according to Lewis’ text. This suggests, of course, a sexualization. Awakening to the carnal might shut the doors to Narnia. As I’ve also said before, I have trouble with this explanation. One reason is that maturation as a human being involves some degree of sexual awareness and (in normal people anyways) sexual interest. This is something that cannot be escaped or avoided, and so it doesn’t seem fair that this normal result of growing up should close the door. If there were an original sin issue, then it would apply to all the children, as that is a stain we are all born with. It’s not simply a question of age, either, as Peter continues to return, and he’s the eldest. It’s a thorny question. Perhaps Narnia is closed to her not because she craves attention from boys, but because she’s no longer interested in it. Maybe lipstick and nylons are not supposed to be representations of womanhood and sexuality, but of materialism. Though why pick nylons and lipstick to illustrate that? Maybe the message is about vanity? At any rate, Gaiman’s Susan has not lost her interest in Narnia and still longs for the forbidden place, it seems, as she has grown up to study (and teach) children’s literature. Though possibly this lifelong study is not a desire to go back but a desire to understand. I fully expected that Gaiman’s treatment of the character would study the loss of innocence implied in sexual interest, and explore sexual thoughts as an irrevocable progress to adulthood. The choice of portraying Susan as an elderly woman was interesting as well (she’s maiden and crone, but never mother), and I was riveted for the first section of the story, until Greta came on the scene. Greta was a necessary plot device, I suppose, but I didn’t care for her. And I was not prepared for her dreams of Aslan and the White Witch copulating. That both appalled me and filled me with revulsion. Aslan is a representation of the divine, the White Witch a representation of unshakeable evil. The two do not come together and get it on. It was ok for him to eat the girls, mind you. That did not seem blasphemous despite the actively sexual connotations in the act of consumption. Neither did it seem blasphemous for him and the witch to make a pact and divide the spoils. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the divine becoming intimate with the profane. It was wrong, wrong, wrong and I had a completely visceral reaction to it. I find it odd, myself, but undeniable. (Maybe this is something that can be taken as a compliment? Sometimes artists try to evoke this sort of reaction). I must also mention that I did not think any of the conversation between the two women was blasphemous. I thought all the questions raised were important ones : whether God enjoys misfortune, whether Susan requires some repentance that the others do not and why, and whether there’s something about her we haven’t been told. The cat and mouse speech was pretty clever, too.

I should note that I particularly liked the bits about the train wreck and the bodies in the school building, as well as the use of dreams, and the language of the story as a whole. I just could not get past the lion and the witch having sex. I’m perfectly willing to accept that the problem is mine and not a flaw of the story itself.

For what it’s worth, two other people whom I foisted the volume upon and subsequently demanded their opinions on the contents therein both told me they didn’t care for that story (and both spoke well of Six Hypotheses, which was my favorite in the book, and one liked the Gene Wolfe story and the other one said he didn’t get it). A small sampling, of course, but at the time I remember thinking that the story was either too difficult, or not all there, or only right for a very few people. And by the way, I never pictured myself reading that story again, since I didn’t like it at all, but I didn’t feel like I could be quite as specific as I wanted to in this entry without looking it over once more. New things have jumped out at me on a second reading. There are a lot of not-Narnia things going on that probably went over my head the first time. It’s obviously a rich and complex story, and it makes me all the sadder that I can’t properly enjoy it.

Oh, and in case you’re reading Mr. Gaiman, let me just say while I have your eyeballs that Coraline is a terrific and extraordinary book. Almost as good as the Alice books, in fact, and you’ll know from my URL and my website layout how huge a thing that is for me to say. They are both books to be cherished.

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I don’t watch TV, but this still makes me laugh, especially the progression from mild distaste to utter confusion and disgust. So go read the funny Things I’d Probably Say If the Bush Administration Were Just a Weekly TV Show and I Were a Regular Viewer. [Link courtesy of someone in my friendly chizat room, I don’t remember who, though it was probably Legomancer].

iTunes says I was listening to At the River from the album Essential Selection Vol. 1 (disc 2) (Mixed by Fatboy Slim) by Groove Armada when I posted this. I have it rated 3 stars.

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I don’t want it to be said that I don’t look after my readers, so here’s a couple of answers to reader Elaine‘s question “…what are roux and andouille?” from a non-cook’s perspective (my own).

Roux cooked in a skillet
Roux is a rich, dark brown gravy made by combining equal parts of some kind of fat (I use canola oil because of the high smoking point, but I think butter’s most commonly called for) that’s been made very hot and flour. The flour should sizzle as your add it and you have to stir, stir, stir so none of it sticks and burns. A good iron skillet, well-seasoned, is indispensable for this project. It’s the base for many gravies, sauces, and (of course) gumbo. Roux 1
In grocery stores in Louisiana and Mississippi you can buy the flour and oil mixture cooked together already, so that all you have to do is heat it up, which is what I was referring to as cheater roux. It cuts prep time down a great deal, as making the roux alone can take a good half hour.

Here’s a basic recipe for roux, from The Joy of Cooking’s entry on Chicken Gumbo, p. 119:

…Add to the skillet 1/2 cup vegetable oil {note: your skillet is already hot from having browned the chicken in it at this point}. Whisk in 1/2 cup all-purpose flour. Cook, stirring often over medium-low heat until the roux turns reddish brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Gently stir with a long-handled wooden spoon, using caution, because the roux is extremely hot and sticks to the skin.

As for andouille, it’s a type of sausage. It’s usually pork and usually coarse ground, which I think is some of what makes it successful in gumbo. A cajun smoked beef sausage is also suitable, if actual andouille can’t be found. Also, according to this website, I should be subbing kielbasa (which is available here) for andouille in a pinch. Maybe I’ll try that.

iTunes says I was listening to I Should Know from the album Dirty Vegas by Dirty Vegas when I posted this. I have it rated 4 stars.

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It’s that time again, time to go over yet another short story anthology. I was pretty excited about this one, but ended up having to really struggle to get through McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories edited by Michael Chabon. I think it took me the better part of two weeks to read, and it only has 15 stories. Some stories were so long, and the buildup painfully slow, that I lost interest in the middle of them. If I can put the thing down for two days in the middle of your story, somehow it fails. If I’m not drawn back to it, and I’m not curious to see how it ends or what happened to your people and finishing your story starts to take on the sense of a chore, something’s not right about it. I wouldn’t deem any of the stories in it terrible, but some of them felt clunky and awkward and others dealt with subjects I’m just not interested in at all.

The contents listing is below, where I’ll discuss each one briefly.

  1. Margaret Atwood – Lusus Naturae : This was a disappointing way to start off the volume. I loved Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and would once have considered her among my favorite authors, but increasingly I have found her writing to be thin and wandering. This story should have been pretty strong, told in first person by an outcast, but it read like a summary of a story rather than the story itself. It also unsuccessfully tried to break the traditional short story unity (time, place, location) by spanning a lifetime in about six pages. It is probably the weakest story in the volume and it struggles with what it’s about. Needs more focus. I think had Atwood’s name not been attached to it, it would have been rejected. Then again, it’s possible I know nothing about how publishing works, and someone out there thought this was great stuff.
  2. David Mitchell – What You Do Not Know You Want: This was an intriguing piece of work. I think it must have been well-executed. I felt an inner struggle while reading it because I wanted not to like the story because I didn’t like the voice of the narrator. I’m fairly sure that voicing the tale in the words of a despicable character was intentional on the author’s part and I think it was compellingly executed. The story itself is strange, though, and you’re never sure what’s magic and what’s just broken in this guy’s brain. I suspect it draws on mythologies I’m unfamiliar with and that some of the characters would have more meaning for me if I knew more about what they were supposed to represent. I didn’t love this piece, but I can tell it’s good anyways.
  3. Jonathan Lethem – Vivian Relf : This story was well-written, but it did nothing for me. I thought it would grip me actually, since it dealt with deja vu, but it kind of uses that as a starting place and then immediately proceeds to depart from that to nowhere I’m interested in and ends up being a tale about relationships and moves from party to airport to dinner party to places where people are anonymized and I think I get what is being said but zzzzzzzzzz….
  4. Ayelet Waldman – Minnow: I was predisposed against this story, because of disparaging remarks made by Poppy Z. Brite in her journal a few months back, but I actually quite liked it. [SPOILER] Yes, the breast milk sex kind of squicked me, but I thought it fit and it worked in the context of the story.
  5. Steve Erickson – Zeroville: Blah blah blah, lots of references to movies I’ve never seen, talk about filming techniques yadda yadda, interesting premise and you really had me there for a minute with the talk about the left-hand side and the right-hand side, but really, a story about films? I could sort of sense the tension building but since even the resolution requires having analyzed movies I haven’t even heard of to be understood, this one was one of those stories clearly not directed at me. I give it a resounding shrug.
  6. Stephen King – Lisey and the Madman: Hmmmmm. What to say about this one? I liked it, I really did. It was quite an intense character study. It was well-paced (as to be expected, that’s King’s greatest gift, in my opinion). And yet. The writing was sloppy in places. I was surprised. Maybe he just tossed it off quick-like and didn’t cut the pieces that needed cutting. It also went on just a tad too long. There was a point to that, the slow time and the dragging and how everything was captured by Lisey’s eyes, every detail. But, it needn’t have been quite so long to have made its point, I think.
  7. Jason Roberts – 7C: Wow. This was the standout story of this volume. I’ve never heard of Jason Roberts. The blurb says this is “his first published fiction” but I don’t know exactly what that means. Is he a science writer that has just turned his hand to fiction? Is this the first thing he’s written? I don’t know. It’s a great, great story, though. Grips you, creeps you out, and leaves your mind whirling when the implications of what’s happening set in.
  8. Heidi Julavits – The Miniaturist: This story was well served by having been preceded by Jason Robert’s. It’s the same tone, and while not as ambitious, is carefully structured and well-told. A solid, enjoyable read. At about this time, I started again looking forward to the stories in this book.
  9. Roddy Doyle – The Child : Which is a shame because this story was mightily ehhhhh.
  10. Daniel Handler – Delmonico: But then there was this charming little piece, which I really enjoyed, despite its being steeped in worn archetypes. The setting and the people were great.
  11. Charles D’Ambrosio – The Scheme of Things: Only it was followed by this one, which is the one (there’s always one) from this anthology that I completely forgot and needed to look back into the book to remember anything about. It wasn’t terrible and I liked it while I read it but it didn’t stick.
  12. Poppy Z. Brite – The Devil of Delery Street: This story, like King’s, was a type of character study. I quite enjoyed it. I like reading about New Orleans, though, so its appeal may not be universal.
  13. China Mieville – Reports of Certain Events in London. Ok, this Mieville guy is just the bomb. How come no one is recommending his books to me? I’ve got to get Scar or Perdido Street Station and soon. This was the story in the work that made me sit up and go, “Ooooooh, I wish I’d written that.” Everything about it was artfully done. China is like one of those close up magicians who makes you think if you went home and practiced a couple of times with a deck of cards you could probably do this same thing and wouldn’t that just rock? I’m sure it’s harder than it looks, though, since the story I’ve read recently that works in the same way as this one with bits of found and described media as the focus of the narration had some holes and fell rather short of this. [That was “The Prospect Cards” by Don Tumasonis from The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Volume 14, which I reviewed here.]
  14. Joyce Carol Oates – The Fabled Light-house at Vinya del Mar: JCO is almost always, for me, a delight to read and this one was no exception. I love the way she gives respectful nods to all the authors that came before her. This was a creepy story, told in a fairly standard (for horror, anyways) journal style.
  15. Peter Straub – Mr. Aickman’s Air Rifle: I enjoyed this story a great deal, but I suspect it has more meaning for published authors. The characters are, after all, a plagiarist, a publisher, a famous author and a reviewer. Yes, there’s plenty of jokes told about all types in it. It was a great ending note for the volume, horror with enough humor mixed in to keep you from having nightmares. I admit that I’ve never known what people see in Straub, but this story has gone at least a small ways to helping me see his gift.

One of the best things about this volume was the artwork before each story done by Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame. All of the art was really good, and in some cases led me to eagerly anticipate stories that later turned out to be duds, but that’s hardly his fault, is it?

Overall this is a volume I do not regret reading, but am very glad I did not purchase. There are not enough stories here that I would be willing to re-read to make it worth the price, nor is there anything in it that I would classify as essential reading, so that I might want to own it for loaning purposes.

iTunes says I was listening to It Makes Me Wonder from the album Songs In Red And Gray by Suzanne Vega when I posted this. I have it rated 4 stars.

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I have never been, nor likely will I be, a paragon of domesticity. Despite my mother’s home ec degree, and her thousands of attempts to teach me to do useful things like sew, when a button falls off in my household it is boy-scout stitched back by my husband or sits in a pile until my mother comes by (this usually takes years). I won’t say I love cooking, either, but I like to eat good food and there’s something about eating a good meal prepared by your own hands that is very satisfying. So our new economic situation has thrown me into a role I’m not used to. Few of our meals are eaten out, as had previously been the case, and many more of our meals are cooked by me. We used to share cooking duties fairly evenly, but now that my husband has no grill and I have no job, almost all the meal preparation falls to me. This isn’t an onerous task. For one thing, our house has a gas oven, which I love and think makes better tasting food. Armed with a great kitchen, I have started to prepare ambitious meals that used to intimidate me. Last week I roasted a whole chicken. I regularly make my own chicken stock. A couple of weeks ago I tried my hand at crockpot chili, with not unsatisfactory results. I have even made several pots of gumbo from scratch.

When I first embarked on the gumbo preparation, I foolishly did not know that I would be making gumbo from scratch. I did not realize that I would have to make my own roux, for example. I’ve always just used a store-bought, cheater roux because making roux is notoriously difficult to do well and amazingly easy to burn and it takes a considerable investment of devoted time. You need a really hot skillet, but too hot and you have disaster, and you burn a single speck of that flour and it’s toss it out, clean the skillet and start again, while your house stinks to high heaven. Yes, I had to do it twice the first time around. But holy cow, who knew that I wouldn’t be able to buy roux at the grocery store? I guess I don’t really live in the South anymore. Also unavailable at the grocery store is any kind of decent andouille, which I sort of expected, but I did not expect to be unable to find any kind of cajun smoked sausage at all. There’s like seven billion different kinds of sausage in the grocery store here, far more varieties than you can find in Jackson, but despite the fact that you can get Italian salsiccia, Polish sausage, seventeen flavors of German brats, forty kinds of hard salami, and on and on and on, none of that is cajun smoked or southern style or suitable for gumbo. So there’s one thing I miss at least from where I used to live. (Some foods and some warmth and some friends and Sophia’s Montessori school would be the whole list of what I miss. Ok, maybe the smell and sight of the wisteria in my yard.) But back to gumbo : I make the chicken and sausage kind, and the first time I had to use some local sausage, which wasn’t quite right. So when I went down to Jackson after Christmas I stocked up. Thank goodness for the deep freezer. So, what I discovered was this : it is hard to make your own roux, but the gumbo tastes way, way better when you do. Best gumbo evar. I’m serious, it was better than any gumbo I’ve ever had in any restaurant or anyone else’s home or any that I had made previously. I’ll repeat myself here : eating something that good that you made yourself is very satisfying.

All this cooking has changed the way I purchase and use food, to much improved efficiency. Today I had the very unusual experience of cutting up the last onion in a bag of onions, without having had to throw a single one away. Ok, I exaggerate, there was one small one at the bottom that I didn’t use and had turned black, but still. Usually, I buy a bag of onions and use maybe half of them. I had taken to buying them in singles instead of by the bag, whenever I knew that I was planning to make something that called for onions. But now I use them all the time, almost every day. There’s also the bags of carrots we eat before they go bad, the stalks of celery we use in everything, the fresh fruit that gets eaten instead of thrown away. Even if I do have to throw out something fresh, I don’t feel guilty about it, because I toss it into the pile for the composter. Granted, I haven’t yet (nor do I even know how to) actually used any of the compost I’m cheerily generating, but I have some grand plans to work on an herb garden. I’m looking forward to snipping herbs to wash and put into things instead of buying them, since they are a pretty high ticket item. Overall, we are saving money. In a way, we should expect to pay a little more in groceries than we were in the past, because we are eating at home more. However, even with the money we save from not eating out, our absolute dollars spent at the grocery store still needs to go down. It’s not because we aren’t being frugal and making good use of what we buy but rather so we don’t exceed our current meager means. I scour the ad pages, now, and make meals based on what’s on sale. This isn’t always a hardship. Lent season in a strongly catholic area has made some great fish reasonably cheap, so that we had delicious fresh salmon filets last week and smoked salmon this week. Yesterday we only spent $95 dollars on our weekly grocery run, which meets my under-$100-a-week goal (but not the ideal of $75-$80 a week). That was with ten dollars worth of food for a food pantry, though, and luxuries like hard cider for my husband at six dollars a six-pack and green tea for me, so it’s really not too bad. There’s places we can continue to cut to meet the ideal, but most of those I’m reluctant to do unless all else fails. I buy a lot of organic produce (though obviously I can’t afford to get everything organic) and prefer it. I can trim the bill by getting conventional produce, but what I really want is to buy more organic instead, so ending that trend will be a last resort. I’m pretty much unwilling to compromise on milk at all, for Sophia’s sake, even though I know the organic is at least twice the cost of regular, and sometimes more than that.

This probably isn’t terribly interesting, and exactly what you could read in a thousand women’s magazines were you so inclined, but it occupies the space in my mind that used to be taken up with php scripting and database design, or library cataloging and reference work, and I find it uses the same sorts of skills, so I share. Specifically, there’s a level of menu organization and shopping planning required to make this work that I never did before, because I just didn’t feel like I had the time to. See, I used to select what to eat from what I had on hand, that is, from what was already bought and available. Instead, now I have a table with ingredients for meals I can fix, and a table with what’s on sale, and I do a join, and that’s my grocery list (plus the things we ran out of). Then, there’s a list of menus which I sort by last used, exact match, and last used, type, and come up with a week’s worth of menu, based on what I have and what I’m buying. Just like database queries, see? Additionally, if I’m stuck for menu ideas, I just use my template, you can picture it like css, so that all the weeks resemble each other. You can expect a big meal on a Monday night (if it’s big enough, like a roast chicken, a repeat on the Wednesday), pasta or pizza or something quick on a Tuesday, something ethnic on either a Wednesday or on the weekend (Indian, Thai, Mexican), and popcorn, oatmeal or leftovers on Friday. The beauty of this is twofold : one, I have the system in place (the database schema all worked out and the data loaded, though I still add rows from time to time with new recipes or whatnot) so that if I should return to work all the heavy lifting is done and I can continue to use the system and two, going to a list to see what’s for dinner is surprisingly mentally freeing. It’s not as if I didn’t choose what I was going to eat, I just chose it earlier in the week. And flipping things around and re-arranging what falls when on an existing menu is far, far easier than coming up with one on a day-to-day basis, so there’s still room for spontaneity. An hour’s planning at the start of the week saves me much panicked decision-making every day. What they say about organization saving time and money is really true, at least in database design and in the kitchen.

I know my readers (all four of you, as my friend Legomancer says of his own blog) are mostly non-gardening types, like myself, but if any of you know anything about herb gardening and can give me some pointers (such as what I need to plant right away and what can wait a couple of months), and maybe even recommend a beginner’s book or (better yet) a step-by-step website that might show me how and where and in what order to proceed, I would greatly appreciate it. I’m really hoping someone can help me with this, as it’s not as esoteric a question as why some YEC’s don’t believe in plate tectonics, which was my last request for help, and went unanswered.

Moving on, we had a truly very pleasant anniversary celebration, proving that money doesn’t necessarily buy happiness, I suppose. We spent $100. I promise to talk less about money in the future. I think it’s kind of gauche, actually, but I’m really talking more about budgeting than actual money and just naming the price so as to be accurate. At any rate for that price we fed the parking meter, saw The House of Flying Daggers at the wonderful old-style theater the Tivoli, ate at Blueberry Hill , had three scrumptious chocolates from Salvato’s Cioccolato and Confections, and paid our babysitter for watching Sophia all afternoon. I love, love, love living in a city (ok, technically just outside a city). The area that we wandered around in for our celebration is called the Loop, and it is full of a variety of little restaurants, an inviting used and new books bookstore (the kind with an art gallery upstairs), and cool shops of a wide, eclectic variety (a pair of tobacconists, a really nice comics place, a piercing/tattoo parlor, a bike shop and more). There’s a walk of fame with brass stars. It’s less than 20 minutes from our house.

The movie was great, it’s exactly the sort of film I like to watch: some thrills, some spills, some struggles, some tears, all charted out with gorgeous cinematography and a fast paced twisting plot. It’s the best movie I’ve seen in a long time. I noted to Kurt after we left the theater that it was the first time in – well, ever – that I’d been in to the movies and thought that all the previews I’d seen were decent and felt that all the films advertised might be worth watching (there were only three, which helped, I’m sure). Usually when I go to the theater the previews are painful to watch, and I find myself continuously horrified that people spent millions of dollars to produce such atrociously bad stuff. I always chalk this up to my being not much of a movie goer and not really getting it, but it turns out there are previews which can garner my interest when I see them. Somebody out there is making movies I wouldn’t mind watching.

The hamburgers at Blueberry Hill are among the best I’ve ever eaten in my life. For my Jackson readers, they compare favorably to the Cherokee Inn’s delicious burgers. The atmosphere was delightful as well.

Walking into Salvato’s Cioccolato and Confections was like going home. I mean that. Assorted bombonesAssorted bombones in heart-shaped boxI love chocolate, and although there are places where one can get seriously good chocolate in the U.S., there aren’t that many, and often the chocolate to be had at these places is imported. Even when good chocolate is available, I’ve never been able to go into a store and see the rows and rows of “bombones” the way you do in most “confiterias” in Argentina. (I have no idea how you’d say confiteria in English. Pastry and sweets shop? Dessert store? Yummolicious goodness? Bakery plus plus?) Bombones are small, beautiful, delicate confections. It’s not a word that translates directly. I’ve never seen a bonbon approach the glory of these little treats. All you can ever find around here are truffles, which may be quite tasty, but have no visual artistic component to complement the gustation, if you know what I mean. So you can imagine my joy when I walked into this shop and saw the glass counter with rows and rows of chocolates that that looked like these things from my childhood :
Assorted bombones in square box I peered and peered at all the different offerings, carefully reading the descriptions below each tray. I finally came up with three pieces to take with me and eat. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm, chocolate. They were gone before we’d gotten all the way home. The perfect end to a perfect anniversary celebration.

Have I mentioned that I love living in this town? Yeah, well, that’s probably its own entry, so it’s just as well I haven’t said anything.

In closing, Hunter S. Thompson was not a cultural touchstone for me. The anniversary of Malcolm X’s death speaks to me more directly than Thompson’s suicide does. I can say nothing about the gonzo journalist, and have never read anything by him. Almost every blog I’ve read today has done some sort of fawning or eulogy or remembrance. This is where my outsider status comes in. It’s not that I don’t know who he was, it’s just that there’s no significance to it for me. I try to blend in, but it’s clear I will never be everyAmerican.

iTunes says I was listening to .38.45 (A Thievery Number) from the album Sounds From The Thievery Hi-Fi by Thievery Corporation when I posted this. I have it rated 4 stars.

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Some of you may remember that I earlier posted my thoughts on something Lois McMaster Bujold said during a speaking engagement at the National Book Festival about different types of readers, and the act of visualizing a story as opposed to absorbing the story through non-visual means, particularly focusing on the words and the language used. Several people made comments to me about that entry (not on the actual blog, of course, but in other conversations with me), so I thought it might be appropriate to link to this conversation (in which I am merely an observer, not a participant) about that same question taken from the business end : how do writers approach the writing of a story? Is it visual? Is it words? Is it movement? Scent? Action?

I’ve also been thinking about Neil Gaiman’s story in the Smoke and Mirrors collection about going to Hollywood and writing a screenplay (“The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories”). It wasn’t my favorite story in the collection on a first read, but I’ve found that I’ve been turning it over in my mind since I’ve read it and finding new and interesting things about it. It was a little like the movie Barton Fink but sweet and melancholy instead of insane. There’s a couple of running gags in it: one is that everyone he meets in L.A. tells him who Belushi was supposed to have been with when he died, and the other being that everyone in L.A. is a screenwriter. I feel a little like that, today, like everyone is a writer. When I think of the number of people out there writing fanfic and the number of author’s blogs and the number of wannabe author blogs (of which, I suppose, this is one) it’s a little bewildering. I can’t imagine there’s room in all this flood of verbiage for my voices. How will I make myself heard above the drone and babble?

iTunes says I was listening to Gouge Away from the album Doolittle by Pixies when I posted this. I have it rated 3 stars.

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