Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Like everyone else with any sense, Eyebrows is taking Christmas off. I've been busting my butt through December to get a bunch of work, volunteering, holiday, and other stuff done by various deadlines. I'm going to pretend like I'm back in college and basically sleep until New Year's, so unless the McGee family does something mind-blowingly funny (not just gut-busting, but mind-blowing), you won't see me for a week or so!

Have a very Merry Christmas, everyone, and I'll see you round about New Year's!

PS - my favorite high-heeled loafers have gone missing. It's very distressing. How do shoes go missing? It's not like you can leave the house with them on and come back barefoot!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

It's 1982 in Our House

We lost the remote control to our upstairs TV, which doesn't have TiVo, and we don't have cable anyway, so we're watching The O.C. with NO control over the volume, bad antenna reception, and NO ability to fastforward the commercials.

Commercials are really loud when you can't mute or fast forward them.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

PlayHouse Update

I haven't written anything about the Peoria PlayHouse lately, which will open in the Glen Oak Park Pavilion in 2008 (helping to PRESERVE the historic park rather than building ugly 70s cinderblock palaces of love -- er, learning -- on our open space, but I digress).

I'm eyebrows-deep in putting together the Junior League's semi-annual magazine, so my inbox is full of news about the Peoria PlayHouse.

First off, the PlayHouse is doing a fundraiser with these really fairly neat Design-your-Day calendars. My law firm is one of the sponsors, but I really didn't appreciate how COOL they were until I got one. They feature drawings by local children as the calendar art, which is adorable. The CALENDAR part of the calendar actually takes up most of BOTH pages, giving you a ton of space to write in -- and it features an 8th column on the far left, where you can add up to six family members' names, or categories like "school, work, appointments," or just leave it blank (which we did) to scrawl in notes for the week and grocery store lists.

When I was growing up, my mom had this complicated calendrical system wherein we all had to use code letters to designate ourselves on the calendar and the letter had to be circled. Anything not on the calendar didn't exist. If only she'd had a PlayHouse calendar, she could have just had all six of our names printed on the left-hand side, obviating the need for code letters!

You can check it out and order one here.

And speaking of (or clicking on) the website, I'm told it's getting [10,000] a lot of* unique visitors every month. You can also print off coloring pages of the exhibits, which I did not know until just now.

(*I am corrected and told that the statistical reporting has a flaw or two and it's not clear the # of hits per month!)

Programming continues for the Peoria PlayHouse Junior, where the Junior League hosts little learning-and-playing events out at Grand Prairie. I'm actually going to be helping with one in the spring about -- ready for it? -- STRANGE VEGETABLES! That's right, Eyebrows is teachin' the munchkins about kohlrabi, the outer-space veggie. I already forgot what the date is, but I'll let you know when it's coming up. (Also, I better have a real kohlrabi prop or I shall be sorely disappointed.)

Finally, an easy (and free) way to help out is to go to the Hamburger Helper Hometown Helper website and urge Hamburger Helper to support our project by posting a comment.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Disorientation

In college I used to wake up disoriented a lot, not from liquor (silly people, it took law school to drive me to drink), but because I was constantly moving home/dorm/home/new dorm room/home/dorm/whatever, and I had the same bedding both at home and in my dorm. I'd wake up and take a few foggy minutes to figure out what day it was, if I was late for class, and which bed I was in because I didn't want to fall from the top bunk by rolling over the wrong way.

Back then, I worked on the college paper, as a managing editor my senior year, so my weeks started with Ed Board and paper production at 6 p.m. on Sunday evening, and ran through 4 a.m. on Friday morning when the Friday paper went to press. My bodily clock was never anything vaguely like regular during those years. Which probably didn't help with the disorientation.

So Sunday morning, yesterday, I woke up with that familiar feeling of disorientation, absolutely sure it was Sunday, but with a nagging feeling that I didn't have Ed Board. Had it been cancelled? Had I slept through it? Was it break week? While lying there trying to figure out whether or not I had Ed Board, my husband rolled over and I absolutely panicked:

"OHMYGODTHERE'SABOYINMYBEDANDIBROKEPARIETALSAND MYRECTORISGONNAKILLMEAND -- "

And then it hit me: I'm a grown-up. I'm married. I sleep in a queen bed, not a twin, and certainly not a bunk bed. I haven't rolled the wrong way out of bed in years. I no longer have a job that keeps me out until 4 a.m.

Thus reassured that in fact I had no Ed Board meeting and that every newspaper in America was content to go to press without my help, I went back to sleep.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Stupid Tubes

I swear, ever since the Internet became a "series of tubes," there've been all kinds of problems. It used to be that just my COMPUTER could get viruses, but now that they widened all those wires and fiberoptics into TUBES, it seems that people-viruses fit through too. I, for example, seem to have caught Billy's cold through the tubes. I read his blog post about being sick, and bam, I'm down for the count too.

And of COURSE I have no voice and of COURSE it's the day I have to make 8 billion calls for the Junior League and of COURSE it's the night of my husband's office Christmas party, which is going to have really excellent steak and my tastebuds are not working, and all *I* want to do is crawl into a hole and doze intermittently between doses of cold medicine.

I blame Senator Stevens (R-Alaska). Stupid tubes.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Chicago Lawyer Shooting

I've been thinking a lot about the disgruntled client who shot his ex-lawyer in Chicago, but I'm having difficulty formulating my thoughts into a coherent discussion.

What I can say is that probably every lawyer in the country has received a letter like this, accusing another lawyer of "screwing" the writer and ruining his life. The majority are from prisons, but as this shooting and the Lefkow shooting show, there are plenty of angry lunatics wandering the streets.

I recently had an angry client, for whom I actually WON the case, who shouted obscenities at me and hung up on me, primarily angry that lawsuits cost so much to file, which isn't something I have control over. And I've gotten plenty of calls from clients seeking a new attorney because "My lawyer is stealing my money. He's a liar. He stole the deed to my house." (Seriously. Heard that one.) Some of these people are talking about brilliant, morally upright lawyers I actually know personally and look up to as paragons of ethics! Which means the three possibilities are that half the lawyers in Peoria are living double lives and stealing from their clients, that these clients are lying, or that these clients have no grip on reality whatsoever either due to mental illness, substance abuse, or just plain wishful thinking.

So I guess the whole thing has me a little rattled by the level of crazy out there, and by how many folks blame their lawyers for their problems. I wish I had something more brilliant and coherent to say.

I sort-of get where some of these people are coming from. I get how frustrating dealing with the legal system is. I get how it's ridiculously expensive for a private citizen. I get how when you're dealing with something frustrating and upsetting that you don't understand very well, you can easily exaggerate the events in your head. But I find myself a little rattled and perturbed by how a run-of-the-mill crazy lawyer-hating letter escalated so easily into violence, when I talk to people with similar frustrations probably once a week.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Battle Royale, Nerd Edition

Mr. McGee and I got new bookcases not long ago, and moving around the books has thrown our entire household into disarray. We each entered the marriage with about four full-sized bookcases full of books and our attempts to integrate our libraries have so far failed, largely because we can not agree on organization.

First it's important to know that Mr. McGee is a linear thinker and I am a lateral thinker, and as a result, neither of us think the other's jokes are funny. We're like a Deborah Tannen book waiting to happen.

So Mr. McGee has his books arranged alphabetically by author within subject sections, like a library. I find this possibly the most inconvenient way to organize books in the history of the universe; its only redeeming value is that if you know exactly what book you want, what subject it's in, and who wrote it, you can find it relatively quickly and without help.

I, on the other hand, organize my books around ideas that interest me, with a strong secondary bias to "when I read it." So I have a whole bunch of books that relate to my intellectual interest in liturgy -- some of them liturgy books, but also books of essays, a handful of novels, and some seemingly unrelated books that made me think about something liturgical. In a "real" library, more than half of them would belong in another section. I have one section on evil, another one on Holocaust, and another on Jewish law, which all blend one into the next, generally in the chronological order one interest led to the next. It drives my husband crazy that I have "A History of the Modern World" in my "great theologians" section, but duh, I have to be able to look up what world events were happening when they were writing! He doesn't think Fromm belongs in political theory, but it spurred me to great thoughts on political ethics.

Admittedly this is a system that nobody else can decipher, but *I* can put my hands on whatever I need immediately, and the groupings serve as a sort of road map to my mental history. When they get mixed up from my personal loci of intellectual interest, I get very confused and disoriented. But I can see my husband's fingers practically twitching to rescue that Par Lagerkvist from political theory and put him in fiction where he belongs, or to sort my Holocaust studies into history and commentary, at the very least.

So we're in an uneasy book detente as I defend my illogical organization system to the death and he persists in explaining to me why my system is illogical. I totally agree it's illogical, I just don't think it inevitably follows that merely because it's illogical there's something wrong with it! He finds this exasperating. I think it's part of my charm.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Just $10 a Ticket for Eternal Salvation!

I was talking with some folks today about the commercialization of Christmas and what Jesus would think of a holiday-decorated mall.

It reminded me of when I was in college and some religious group took out a bunch of full-page ads in the campus newspaper. It was some sort of concert/fundraiser thingie, but the ad said, super-gigantic:

IF JESUS CAME TO THE COLLEGE ARENA*
WOULDN'T YOU STAND IN LINE FOR HOURS
AND PAY $10 TO MEET HIM?

I was like, "HELLS NO!" because any Jesus charging you $10 for the privilege of meeting him is PROBABLY NOT JESUS. In fact, I think that would probably be the NUMBER ONE SIGN that your Jesus was actually the Antichrist.

The full-page ads cost about $1600 each, IIRC, and then ran them for a week or so. Attendance was not nearly good enough to make up in fundraising what they spent in advertising (at $10/head we're talking 1,120 heads just to break even before any funds are raised -- and I don't think the venue they were using could seat nearly that many). So not only were they a little unclear on how Jesus works, but they weren't so good with the math, either.

*Actually, it said "If Jesus came to the JACC" which stands for Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center, but I figured only a handful of Domers would know what I meant if I said that.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Zzzzzzzzzz ....

I got a flu shot yesterday. Flu and tetanus shots in particular always make me tired, but this is ridiculous. I was mostly asleep by 7:30 p.m. in front of the TV, out cold by 9 when my husband dragged me off the couch and up to bed, and slept until 10 o'clock this morning.

Now I'm sort-of longing for a nap!

It's good to be married because I drooled on myself while sleeping in front of the TV and he either didn't notice, or didn't say anything. I appreciate that.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Winning Snowmageddon Quote

I think Billy Dennis is correct: Neil Albert Johnson has won Snowmageddon with his excellent statement that

"Peoria is home to the largest manufacturer of Earth-moving equipment in the world. Yet we can’t get our streets plowed in a decent amount of time."

— Neil Albert Johnson, Sports Pundit

Indeed. Shades of Michael Bilandic.

Snowmageddon Pics

Just a few pics from the McGee Homestead of the big storm. (And my knee is much better today. Apparently it was just offended.) My husband took these shots. As always, click to enlarge individual pictures.



Here's how deep we dug out on our front steps. Getting the door open was a bit of an adventure, and as both our front and back doors have storm doors that open outwards, for a while I thought we were going to have to call the neighbor with an attached garage (and door that opens UP!) to come dig our door out enough that we could open it!



Here's the McGee garden, totally buried. You can see a picture of my garden in summer (from a different angle) here. My poor little boxwoods are completely buried, just in front of that line of chickenwire with the posts sticking up, about midway back in the picture. My mums and my burning bush are also totally snowed under. My patio furniture sorta looks like it's having a party, though.



These are a little hard to see, and I adjusted a lot of levels on this photo to try to make them more visible. Because the wind was blowing so hard, we got really interesting patterns and striations in the top of the snow. We had some really pretty ones on the driveway that Mr. McGee tried to capture here.

(Incidentally, you can see my neighbor's plastic basement window-well cover in that picture; one of their covers collapsed -- totally fell apart -- from the weight of the snow. Not that one, though.)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Car Craziness and Feline Foibles, Snowmageddon Edition

We're still basically stuck in the house. I ventured out this morning for a doctor's appointment, well over an hour before I had to be there. In 20 minutes I made it six blocks (the doctor is about six MILES away), got stuck three times (once leaving my own driveway), and lost traction completely twice. Plus I had a near-death experience with another driver who lost control, and I fumed at some JERK who wouldn't let me friggin' off the road when I had my hazards on and was trying to bail on the entire experience.

The side roads actually weren't bad at all, although it's like riding down a rutted country road it's so bumpy. I crawled down the side streets leaving my neighborhood at a respectable 15 or 20 mph. It was once I got onto the main road (University, in this case) that it was a solid block of ice with all the nice traction-y snow cover gone. We were moving 5 mph, and it was okay as long as you could keep rolling, but if you stopped, there was no traction to start again. In my six blocks I saw three cars/trucks lose control and slide or spin, and two left completely abandoned in the road. I decided I do not actually want to see a doctor badly enough to end up in the emergency room and gave it up by pulling into the Walgreens parking lot, stocking up on perishables, then driving back home over the nice safe snowy back roads.

I capped off my HOUR-LONG morning of vehicular terror by slipping in the driveway 10 feet from my house and wrenching the CRAP out of my knee, which is now swollen and tender but still bending. So unless it actively falls off, I'm not leaving this house to see a doctor until the roads are better.

I am both amazed and appalled that so many of my fellow Central Illinoisians went to work today. It's seriously white-knuckle out there.

Meanwhile, the cats have grown in their winter coats, which means Orange Cat's fur sticks out a little more crazily, especially on his tail stump, but Grey Cat appears to have doubled in size he's so fluffy, and his winter coat is the softest thing I've ever felt, softer than mink or anything else. He may be a bit of an ugly brawler, but Grey Cat truly has the most beautiful fur in existence.

Grey Cat, as he does every year, became ABSOLUTELY DETERMINED to make friends with the snow and got really aggressive about trying to escape the house when we opened the door. So we finally let him out in it, and it took 15 seconds, as it does every year, for him to decide that snow is a punishment from God AND HE'S NEVER LEAVING THE HOUSE AGAIN, EVER.

However, he has achieved two of his major life-goals during this Snowmageddon weekend. He's been trying to crawl under the ledge of my desk ever since he was a kitten (when there was much more STUFF under there and no room for him; now he's just too big) and finally achieved his life's dream on Friday (more or less -- his butt didn't quite make it). He spent an hour under there with his eye all crazy and totally determined to stay there forever -- or at least until there was food to be had.

On Sunday we got out the Christmas decorations and started doing the indoor decor, and Grey Cat was pleased to become King of a Very Tiny Jungle. He's been napping in there ever since.

Orange Cat's life goals consist entirely of napping, eating, and purring, so Snowmageddon didn't interrupt him one way or the other.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Snowed In

Here in Central Illinois we're all snowed in, and it's really quite lovely. Now that the storm has stopped it's sunny and brisk outside, not bitter, and the entire neighborhood is out shoveling and chatting and wading down the unplowed, shin-high street to chat. Mr. McGee is ostensibly shovelling the driveway, but he and every teenager in the neighborhood are actually throwing snow at one another with shovels. The cats and I are prudently indoors by the fire.

My neighbors and I are considering pooling our liquor and drinking until we get warm when the shovelling is finished, but with a snow day right before the weekend, nobody's in any hurry to do anything but eat and drink and chat.

Our street is about 12" to 15" deep according to our yardstick; lots and lots of that is drifting. Parts of our yard are really low, but anywhere there's anything for the wind to blow against it's deep -- in some places two feet. The wind is still a little howly but by and large a lovely snow day!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Snowmageddon!

Hoping for the snow day!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Scavenging and Recycling

This is possibly the dumbest question I've ever asked, but I'm hoping someone can explain it to me. I was chatting with a scavenger this morning while he worked my street pulling cans and other metal recyclables from people's trash and recycling bins (it's trash day at Eyebrows' house). It helps him put food on the table, and there are places on the south side of Peoria I've passed many times that advertise for cans and scrap metal and whatnot. They usually pay by the ton, so it's not worth the effort of an individual, but -- and here we get to my question -- why are we asked to pay extra for recycling service when there are companies that want our recyclables and scavengers who are willing to pick it up, sort it, and make money off it?

I mean, it's not exactly the world's greatest job and I'm not so foolish as to think one can make a LIVING at it, but I've read about a lot of folks who do it as a sideline for a little extra cash when their minimum wage jobs don't pay enough. (Although I actually have a friend who guts other people's broken appliances for the copper wiring and piping and splits the proceeds with them -- he got $700 off one pipe-laden thing!) So I'm just curious about the economics -- if it makes sufficient economic sense for individuals to scavenge recyclables, and for some companies to pay for recyclables, why do we pay the garbage guys to take our recyclables away when, in fact, they're a valuable commodity?

(Or at least some of them are. I gather mostly metal and paper products, not plastic.)

Do people just object to scavengers in their neighborhoods, or is it an inadequate way to ensure collection of scrap?

(This would also, I suspect, make an interesting thesis on market economics and supply and demand and government services and all that stuff for some enterprising economics student, since it has all the pieces -- a valuable commodity, a population willing to do the work to make money off it, a government interfering in the market for non-economic reasons.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What Ever Happened to ...?

Plumber man is here and fixing my shower, glorious day. We've had no water pressure for two weeks -- but a constant leak. He's my new favorite contractor because he not only showed up, he came EARLY. (O'Brien Plumbing. Ask for Troy. He likes cats.)

In the meanwhile, I was wondering about a few local stories I seem to have missed the ends of.

Did they ever catch that home invader on Peoria's north side? We were all freaking out, and then suddenly there was just no more news about it.

Aaaaaaand having been called to go look at my new shower, I have totally forgotten my other question. Instead we'll go with, now that my ethnic foods mart has closed, where else can I go for basmati rice in bulk?

Oh, and is there anywhere in Peoria you can rent snowshoes and go snowshoeing?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Mr. Holland's Opus

Mr. Holland's Opus does me in every time -- I end up bawling. I haven't seen it since it first came out, but my parents have On Demand cable.

What does me in isn't the movie itself, though, but that it's so expressive of MY music teachers in elementary, junior high, and high school. By some miracle I became "musical" -- neither of my parents are -- so I can absolutely understand how horrific it is to listen to beginning students attempt to learn to play musical instruments. It doesn't just hurt your ears -- it hurts your SOUL. The kind of gift it requires to listen to a young musician mangle note after note after note is rare and precious. They ought to be paid more than Jack Welch. He just has to run a company. Elementary music teachers have to listen to children butcher -- and butcher -- and butcher the very words of the soul.

I started on piano, when I was six or so, in private lessons with the organist at the Presbyterian church. In second grade, I started on violin. My district had an excellent band and orchestra program, and in second grade, I started torturing professional musicians with my incompetence. I never got very good at violin. In eighth grade, I switched to bass. Bass knew my hands. Bass wanted me to play it. I knew the bass before I ever met it. The bassist before me had graduated, and they needed a bassist. They told me I was too short to play bass, which was an absolute guarantee that I was going to play bass -- I refuse to be told I can't do something. It was in 8th grade, when I started on bass, that they told me I was going to play jazz. OY! An entire new universe!

In high school I played string ensemble, symphony orchestra, jazz band, jazz ensemble, show choir, pit orchestra -- in my senior year, I played in nine performing groups. The thing is, I'm not particularly musical. I wasn't one of the musicians going to Oberlin. I wasn't majoring in music. I played Tchaikovsky. I played Stravinsky. I played Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, and John Coltrane. Gifted, long-suffering musicians taught me. They listened to me. They rebuked me, retrained me, educated me.

At 28, what do I have? I'm not playing with the Chicago Symphony. I'm not playing with the Peoria Symphony. I'm just a lawyer, a lawyer with shelves and shelves of classical and jazz albums, with an iPod stuffed full of the greats.

Most public schools are cutting music. You don't have to play music to learn to read, or add, or find Belgium. It's not "useful." But I have to think that these bureaucrats in Springfield cutting music budgets never marched in high school marching band, or never played in high school symphony. Do they go to the yearly IMEA meetings and concerts? I can't imagine they do. Did they meet Gershwin when they were 13 years old? Did they know that the janitor's favorite piece was "Rhapsody in Blue"? Did they learn to play it to please him? Do they even know there are janitors who love Gershwin?

Cutting music is a mistake. I don't know if I can even list the things it did for me. Perhaps the most important thing it taught me was to work my ASS off, in a variety of styles -- marching band, symphony, jazz band. It taught me to appreciate the past, and be interested in the present, including the Northwestern graduate student's symphonic piece that involved us basses saying, "broccoli broccoli broccoli." (Not so much for me, but he was trying.) I learned leadership. I learned teamwork. I learned -- and this is totally not to be underestimated -- how to put one foot in front of the other in tempo. This is not a skill that comes naturally to me!

Music blew open my brain to a universe of beauty I otherwise wouldn't have access to, and the doormen were brave men and women who loved music so much they were willing to listen to me butcher their great love just so they could open that door to me. Most of us aren't born Mozarts, and it takes the long-suffering music teachers of the world to coax us into the world of notes and rests and fortissimos so we can appreciate the gift they're offering us.

Did music get me into college? I think it's likely. My academic grades kicked ass, but it was music that made me dimensional. But beyond that, music opened my soul to an entire world of beauty and art that, long after my GPA has faded from my memory, continues to feed the very center of my being. Live music, 20 year later, makes me cry -- not because it's so beautiful, although it is, but merely because it's so soul-filling. Once you learn the hunger for music, you're never satisfied without it.

So to me, Mr. Holland's Opus is a love note to the many music teachers who gave me the gift of jazz. Of classical. Of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Who shuddered in their inner souls as they listened to us butcher the basic tunes that form the stepping stones that will one day lead us to Stravinsky, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev.

Those teachers dug a starving hole in my soul, and I'll be filling it for the rest of my life with the transcendence of music --

And I can never, ever thank them enough for that hunger.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

USC vs. ND

So bummed I can't even type. :(

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

That's Perfesser McGee to You

During my last several weeks of infected misery, one bright spot was that I had an awful lot of reading to do to keep me entertained. In the spring I'm going to be teaching a class on business ethics at ICC as an Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, which means I'll be busting my ass for less money than I made in high school as a minimum wage slave. I am PSYCHED.

I'm ever so slightly bemused that I'm a professor of philosophy, since philosophers and theologians have strong opinions on one another and on one another's disciplines (ah, sibling rivalry), but I'm really pumped for the class. I'm happy with the texts I'm using (a rare thing in intro philosophy classes, I've found) and I just really like to teach. (Possibly because I am quite fond of the sound of my own voice.)

I'll also be teaching a second, totally different class in the spring. Through the Peoria Park District, I'll be teaching a class for kids about 8 to 12 on making clothes for American Girl dolls. One thing I haven't really talked about on my blog is my sewing; I embroider more or less constantly. I like to keep my hands busy, and I find it calming. This year I've been learning to make doll clothes -- I can't afford to keep framing as much stuff as I'm embroidering! -- as a way to improve my real-people-clothes-making skills. Making them in doll scale is faster and a lot less expensive, so I can experiment and make more mistakes. (Also I can do it by hand in a reasonable amount of time -- I prefer hand sewing to machine sewing because I do it for relaxation. Hand-sewing for full-sized people takes too long.)

Anyway, while I started it as a way to learn new techniques and improve my skills, I actually ended up enjoying making these tiny cute little outfits. I was never a doll girl growing up -- I preferred Legos -- so my entire family is amused that I'm outfitting this doll with a complete wardrobe, but hello! fashion!

So in the spring I'll be teaching a four-week class for little girls (or boys, I suppose - sewing is a life skill everyone should have at least minimal comptence at!) where they'll make a basic apron, a nightgown, and then, if they have time, a basic dress for American Girl or other 18" dolls. The nightgown is a great base pattern for all kinds of things, from bathrobes to dresses to sweaters, so they'll be able to head home with the pattern and keep sewing if they want to. Plus, do you know what those American Girl outfits COST? Sheesh! $5 in supplies at Hobby Lobby and you can keep your kid busy for weeks making her own.

So come spring I shall be Eyebrows McGee, Professor of Philosophy and Doll Couturier Extraordinaire.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Not Dead Yet!

This is my third official day out of bed, by which I mean I'm only sleeping 12 to 16 hours, and I think I'm going to live. What's more, I may even be happy about it. There's actual groceries in the house, the kitchen is no longer a model of squalor, and I can sit up for longer than 2 hours at a time. Happy days!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Update to the Blogroll

I've finally updated my blogroll over on the left there. Adventures in HTML are always a strain for me, although I think I now have the whole "making links" thing down pretty well. I haven't broken my blog and required emergency digital rescue in like 8 months.

Anyway, I've added Knight in Dragonland and Give Me a Bouncy C over to the "In Peoria" blogs (although technically Knight isn't in PEORIA, but let's not be picky).

In the Elsewhere section, I've added a link to a serialized online novel a friend of mine is writing, Warriors of the Sun God. You should check it out.

I've also added links to two blogs from across the pond that actually have a fair amount in common although they're on wildly different topics. Psychology for the Masses is by a friend of mine who's a graduate student in psychology in the Netherlands, who blogs about psychology in the real world in a way accessible to the educated layman. Myth and Magic in Popular Culture comes from a friend in Sweden with a self-taught expertise in mythology so brilliant she's already been plagiarized and that plagiarism published. She also writes about the intersection of an academic field with everyday life, and does it in a very accessible way.

Also take a moment to note that both of these women are writing on arcane, complex topics in ENGLISH THAT IS BETTER THAN MINE when it's a second (or third) language for each. It makes me feel so embarassingly monolingual.

If I was supposed to add your blog and forgot, send me a link so I can do that. I'm feeling HTML brave and may get to it before, you know, Christmas.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

He Has a Point

Eyebrows: "I guess I have to go to the grocery store. Do you want anything?"

Mr. McGee: "I need syrup."

Eyebrows: "Nobody NEEDS syrup."

Mr. McGee: "But how else am I going to stay this sweet?"

Eyebrows: "..........."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

My Doctor, Unlike the Rest of Peoria, Has No Idea Who I Am

I haven't been blogging much lately because I've been ill, and because it seems like everything in my life has been in the category of "annoying, but not the funny-to-blog-about kind of annoying." Yes, wedding industry, I mean you.

Anyway, I got a sinus infection back in September. September 14, specifically, because I was on vacation and then had to fly transatlantically a couple days later. That's the kind of thing that sears the date into your brain. It's been mostly a low-level sinus infection, the kind that is bad enough to hurt and make me grumpy and miserable, but not bad enough that anyone wants to give me antibiotics for it.

Every time I go to see my doctor, he acts like he has never seen me before in his life. This is a little weird, because he knows who my husband is and remembers, like, every detail about him. In fact, he remembers me when I'm in context with my husband -- we typically go to one another's yearly physicals, primarily because if my husband had an arm entirely cut off and was spurting blood on all available surfaces, when we got to the doctor and they said, "What's your pain level on a scale of 1 to 10?" he'd reply, "Oh, maybe a 2 -- it itches a little bit." In the six years we have been together he has twice required urgent medical care and both times he was an idiot about it, once calling me to say, "I'm gushing blood -- do you think I should call an ambulance? No, I think I'll drive over. It's not that bad." and once refusing ambulance transport from the scene of a car accident and then calling me 20 minutes later to say, "I think I need a doctor." (But when we got to the doctor, he claimed, "Oh, it's not that bad.")

Anyway, every time *I* go to the doctor, he acts like he has never seen me before in his life. I went in for my sinus infection, and he started explaining how sinus infections work to me. This is the FOURTH TIME he's seen me for sinus infections in the two years I've been seeing him. And the FOURTH TIME he's asked me if I've ever had one before. And the FOURTH TIME he's tried to make me go get a CAT scan before he'll diagnose. And the FOURTH TIME he's refused me antibiotics. And the FOURTH TIME he's told me it's probably allergies, not a sinus infection.

This last makes me particularly irritated. I understand how doctors get irate about patients self-diagnosing, so I try to pretend like I'm not self-diagnosing even when I am. However, I've had sinus infections about twice a year since I was 16. I've had allergies for ages. With more than a decade's experience, I'M PRETTY CLEAR ON THE DIFFERENCE IN HOW THEY FEEL IN MY PERSONAL HEAD.

When I was in college, I had a sore throat so swollen I couldn't talk or eat and I felt like crap. When I went to the doctor, he insisted it was strep. I protested (in a whisper) that it didn't feel like strep. He waved off my objection and insisted it was strep, and when the strep test came back negative, said the tests were sometimes wrong, and it was strep. A week later, having not eaten solid food at all in several days, I ended up in the ER for the same thing. The doctor there insisted it was strep. I told him the strep test was negative and the antibiotics obviously were not helping, and IT FELT NOTHING LIKE STREP. He waved off this objection, ran ANOTHER strep test that came back negative, and told me it was strep again.

Well, a week later, I ended up an inpatient in the hospital, semi-conscious for 48 hours and on IV fluids for three days, in the hospital on vicoden and steroids for a week, with a case of advanced, untreated mononucleosis that almost killed me, that the nurse diagnosed as soon as she SAW me, which was GOING AROUND CAMPUS AT THE TIME I GOT SICK!

So you can understand my extra-special suspicion of doctors who refuse to believe me when I say "This doesn't feel like X" or "I've had X 30 times, and this feels like X."

There are basically two kinds of doctors in the world, those who appreciate patients who participate in their own health, and those who find this annoying. My doctor is clearly the 2nd kind. Probably I'm a little more participatory than most people, for two reasons: I refuse to have a repeat of the mono incident, and I'm a lawyer. Someone once told me that the job of being a lawyer is basically to become an expert on a particular area really fast. When I get prescribed a new drug, I go and read all the literature on it. I guess this isn't normal, but I'd do the same if I were working on a case involving the drug, so if I'm putting it in my body, obviously I'm going to do it. I generally ask my doctors to explain the course of treatment and why it's been chosen. Yeah, I'm not a doctor, but I'm accustomed to becoming expert enough on a strange topic to try a case in a very short period of time. If I were trying medical malpractice cases, I'd have to know as much about the particular treatment as the doctors who were doing it.

So the last straw for me was with my doctor this week when he tried to send me for a CAT scan for the fourth time (the man is freakishly in love with unnecessary diagnostics, I swear. I can't tell you how many blood tests I've had in two years with him), looked at my meds and said, "Who prescribed THIS?" in shock and didn't believe me when I said, "YOU, LAST YEAR!" and then attempted to put me on a drug regime contraindicated in the latest literature that I, moreover, personally feel is inappropriate for my situation given my prior reaction to the drugs. It's guaranteed to maximize negative side-effects without adequately treating the condition. He brushed of my concerns (which were carefully couched in "I'm not self-diagnosing" language).

So the upshot of all of this is that I'm in the second month of my sinus infection, which has migrated to my ear and my gums, leaving me with an intermittently swollen right side of my face so I look like a demented, lopsided chipmunk. My doctor won't treat the infection at all unless I get a CAT scan to prove it's my sinuses despite my OBVIOUSLY SWOLLEN FACE, despite my excruciating pain, and despite my objections that it's been a low-level, on-and-off sort of infection (and no longer confined to my sinuses!). In the past I've just waited until a Sunday and gone to urgent care, where they give me antibiotics without CAT scans and can't make me go see my regular doctor because it's a Sunday. But I think we've clearly gotten beyond that point and it's time for me to find a new doctor. Preferably one who believe me when I tell him, "I've lived in this body for 28 years."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Grey Cat Loves Hallowe'en

Grey Cat could tell something was up by 4 o'clock, before the trick-or-treaters even started coming. This is a cat who ADORES Hallowe'en. All the coming and going of all the short people (Grey Cat loves children -- he's like, "Hrm, it SMELLS like a person but it's so SHORT and it keeps tipping over!"), all the different costumes and smells, he just loves it. Gets totally wound up.

I put a chair for myself near the door so I could sit while waiting for the trick-or-treaters and watching Treehouse of Horror ("and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!") and, as usual, the first time I stood up to hand out candy, Grey Cat stole my chair and refused to relenquish it. He's a big cat, remember, about 20 lbs., and a total brawler, so when he decides he's willing to bite even ME to keep his chair, he usually gets to keep it. Besides, I had to keep getting up to hand out candy and he kept stealing it if I threw him off. I ended up having to bring myself a second chair so I'd have somewhere to sit.

He watched with his one wide eye, lit with inner insanity, and not once did he make a break for freedom as he usually does when the door opens. Not when he might miss any of a ongoing pageant of short-statured strangers coming to the house. In between callers, he entertained himself by viciously attacking his own tail and generally being so totally hyper the slightest motion made him jump. Hallowe'en is like metaphysical catnip to him.

He was popular with the trick-or-treaters, too, since he was so big and bold and one-eyed and staring right at them. An excellent Hallowe'en doorman.

We only had around 150 trick-or-treaters this year, which was fewer than last year (when it rained). When we finally ran out of trick-or-treaters, Grey Cat had to gallop around the house five or six times to get out his crazy because he was so wound up, then he collapsed and slept like a very tired log for almost 12 hours, not even waking up to bother me for breakfast at some ungodly pre-dawn hour.

"It's a good thing you don't live in the jungle, Grey Cat," we reminded him, as we always do when he wears himself out and sleeps like this, so heavily we can actually pick him up and move him somewhere else without him waking up. "Tigers would eat you."

He did not even twitch.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Procrastination DOES Pay!

And it pays in Target gift cards!

A few months ago my credit card company had a security breach and so we all got assigned new numbers. This was slightly irritating as I had the old one memorized, but I appreciate the part where they're protecting me from identity thieves. Well, sorta, anyway. I had changed most of my recurring-charge services to the new number, but apparently I missed the Chicago Tribune. Actually, I think the Trib missed me -- before I went on vacation to England, I put the paper on vacation stop and changed my billing info at the same time, and apparently neither went through because I got papers the whole time I was gone.

Anyway, they sent me a letter saying my billing was out of date and I kept MEANING to get to it, but I've been really busy, so I didn't. I finally got around to it today and I'd waited so long to do it that when I called they'd thought I was cancelling and gave me a $25 Target gift card to stay with them!

SWEEEEEEEET!

Procrastination pays off in Target gift cards!

New Phones

We got new cell phones, finally, since Mr. McGee's screen was broken and my battery could no longer hold a charge. I HATE getting new cell phones, because I absolutely loathe learning new systems of how to access my contacts and find new ringtones and get everything set right. I hate moving all the phone numbers over to the new phone. I hate how every phone has a different speed dial system. And I get disturbingly emotionally attached to my phones, so I hate trading them in for a new one. Even, as in this case, when I absolutely LOATHED my existing phone from day 1 because never was a more counterintuitive interface designed by man or beast. I'm STILL emotionally attached to the phone.

Anyway, we got new phones. There were only two phones available to us because we don't want camera phones -- most courthouses in Central Illinois don't allow camera phones in the building. (Neither, for that matter, does Caterpillar. And yet only two models available without cameras!) So I'm pretty happy with my new phone, which has a ridiculously long battery life because it has NO OPTIONS at all, except what I don't like is that I can't download ringtones! It's the basic, stripped-down workhorse model, so no new ringtones for me.

This is tragic, because they were the one "fun" cell phone thing I loved. I don't want to take pictures, or play games, or listen to music, or send text messages, but I am ALL OVER ringtones. When Mr. McGee called me, my phone would play this stereotypical porn music and announce "Incoming ... booty call! Incoming ... booty call!" in a sexy porn voice. (Mr. McGee hated this ring but as I pointed out, it's not like HE had to listen to it.) When my sister, a Domer, called, my phone rang the Notre Dame Victory March. When my brother called, the Super Mario theme song.

But now I have a new, ringtone-less phone, so no incoming booty calls for me for the next two years. It's really sad. On the other hand, the new phone is blue, and I like blue so much it makes up for a multitude of sins!

(Note to tech companies: Make technology pretty and apparently people will ignore lack of features.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

My Dining Room Is Soft and Fuzzy and Furry

Yesterday I learned a very important craft-related lesson, which is that when you're working with faux fur, all cutting should be done outside. In the meanwhile, my diningroom looks like it was hit by a faux fur snowstorm, and I'm not real sure how best to clean it up.

Faux fur hairs also make the hardwood floor ridiculously slippery. It's like a skating rink in there.

I have to admit, though, that it is an interesting change to be covered with faux fur rather than cat fur. At least my clothes have different color hair all over them than usual.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Hrm ... More Missing Stuff

The monster in the house is expanding his repetoire: Now my bodkin's gone missing! Does anybody else even know what a bodkin is? What in the world could my house monster want with my bodkin????

A pair of embroidery scissors has also wandered off. Maybe the house monster is taking up medieval crafts or something. I just hope I don't find either with my bare feet!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Blergh

Mr. McGee and I have caught some nasty autumnal bug. I blame it on the fact that we live less than a block from two elementary schools, where the small children go create their germ stew and we get to see evolution in action as all their little viruses mingle. The problem is that as we don't actually HAVE children, we have no immunity to the world of elementary school superbugs. They walk past our house, sneeze, and I'm sick for two weeks.

I know this is a superbug because while I have terrible fall allergies and catch every limping little weenie-virus floating around Peoria in the autumn because my immune system is too busy attacking tree crap and mold to pay attention to ACTUAL DEADLY DISEASES, Mr. McGee hardly EVER gets sick.

So when he came home yesterday and said exultantly, "I won my jury trial!" (long pause) "I think I'm going to lie down," I knew that we were in for trouble. And indeed, we're both headachy, ear-clogged, nose-running, exceedingly cranky sacks of humanity. We spent most of last night snapping at each other and the cats before sleeping so restlessly we repeatedly woke one another up.

Unfortunately I have to work today; I'd really rather be lying in front of daytime television soothing me with its siren song while I drool gently on my pillow and sneeze every few minutes in a pleasing counterpoint to Judge Joe Brown's smackdowns.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bookshelves!

Having given up - for now - on the idea of a contractor who actually shows up to build us built-in bookshelves, we sprang for a pair of decorative ones in the living room off the rack. They aren't as awesome as built-ins, nor do they hold as much, but they SHOULD get the last remaining few boxes of books up off our basement floor.

We decided my theological library would migrate upstairs, since a lot of the books have nice bindings and since I reference them a lot but just for one or two sentences, so I'm always running up and down the stairs for just a couple things. So today I've been busily ferrying up an armload at a time of theology. I'm done with Bible, liturgy, and ecclesiology and ready to start on theological classics, moral theology, and the problem of evil.

The thing I hate about moving books is that I get very accustomed to my arrangement on the shelves, and then when I move them, it takes me months before I can find them in the new system without endless searching. Of course these shelves are nothing like the shelves my books USED to be on, so everything's moving all over the place. I typically sort my theology books by my areas of academic interest (rather than author or title or religion or even Dewey Decimal topic), so I at least have some flexibility when not quite all the preaching books will fit on this shelf and, hey, didn't I also reference that book a lot in New Testament? But still. Undoing those nice, neat rows and moving my books all around is wrenching and I know two weeks from now I'll be searching madly for my Harnack and he'll be off in some corner mingling with the preachers and I'll be terribly confused.

But still -- bookshelves!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Gardening Roundup

We've pretty much winterized the garden, beyond adding some mulch and raking up the leaves, which means it's time for a gardening roundup!

The big learning experience this year was the new vegetable garden. Next year: Way more lettuce, way less tomatoes. You can only eat so many tomatoes. Your entire block can only eat so many tomatoes. I, on the other hand, could single-handedly keep an entire lettuce farm in business.

One of the first things we learned is that rabbits love broccoli, necessitating a fence to keep out critters. Squash worked well, and was fasinating to watch grow; the beans were not so good. (I think they got some kind of parasite, though.) I was meh even on the beans that did grow. I had a bad year for spices, probably because I was busy with the vegetables. Eggplants are fun, even though I don't like them that much, and Mr. McGee had a GREAT year for peppers. He's actually overwintering them in my basement, which now looks like a jungle. He got a year-end harvest of more than 20 fatalli peppers, and is now giving them to everyone we know. We may have no friends after this week!

I think the biggest surprise for me was the sunflowers, which I ADORED watching grow. One of them grew to easily 15 feet. I'm not such a big fan of sunflower seeds, but I plan to cut the heads off later this week and store them to be put out for birds and squirrels in the winter months. I've briefly considered planting my entire back fence with sunflowers, but that might be excessive.

Carrots and radishes -- my underground veggies -- were a TOTAL failure. I think my soil needs a few more years of amending and loosening. We got a few stubby, thumb-looking carrots, and they tasted pretty good, but it wasn't a good crop.

Elsewhere in the garden, we learned that no matter what you do, squirrels have an evil power to dig up your crocus bulbs. We'll see how many come up next spring; last spring, we only got a handful out of the probably 150 we planted.

The clover was a mighty success. So mighty we're overseeding everywhere and, in a couple of places, trying to grow a clover-only patch. It stayed brilliant green in the drought without us watering, when everyone else's lawns went brown. It attracted bees and butterflies. It required very little mowing. It kept the rabbits out of everything else because they liked the clover better (as did my cats).

I forgot to prune my roses way back around Easter or whenever I was supposed to do that, so I thought, "Hey, why don't I just let them grow crazy all summer and see what happens?" (This is also my hairstyle strategy.) Well, what happens when you let fancy roses grow crazy is that they don't put out very many flowers because they're busy growing buttloads of leaves on single branches that get up to 9 feet long but not any thicker. Also, they'll use your garden furniture as a trellis if they can reach it, which can make for an awful thorny sitting experience. But what was kinda exciting was that if you leave them alone long enough, ROSES FRUIT. Real fruit! Bigger than crabapples!

I knew that roses were in the same family as apples, but when I saw the rose fruit I was like, "Holy crap, those look like apples!" I guess these are what they call "hips," which is not what I thought people were talking about when they said "rose hips" in books, but makes a lot of things make a lot more sense, even though it's a stupid name for a rose fruit. They're awfully pretty, just blushed pink. I haven't done anything with them -- there's only five or six of them -- but they're allegedly edible.

On the insect front, we introduced store-boughten ladybugs and lacewings (as in "don't you dare kill my store-boughten bugs!), which cleared up our aphid infestation lickety-split. We also managed to attract a praying mantis, and we had butterflies galore, including dozens and dozens of monarchs. (Plant milkweed!) Ants continue to defeat my efforts to keep them out from under my new patio, which is a bummer, but I did see this crazy-beautiful bug in my corn. Still no bats, though. I am never going to get bats.

What's on for next year? We're in the planning stages with all those brightly-colored gardening catalogs they send you as soon as there's a bit of chill in the air, trying to entice you to buy 8 zillion flowers because it's cold and dark and snowy and the flowers are so pretty and springy and colorful and unlikely to grow in your region. Mr. McGee has suggested a permanent herb garden, and we have a couple areas marked out by the finished patio that need planting with something before the weeds take them over. We'll also have to have a go at some of the grass that's gotten weedy. Mr. McGee wants to try some berry bushes; I have an idea in my head for a "black-and-white" garden, although I don't know if that's next year. And we're going to get a couple of heirloom apple trees put in in the spring, which will be super-cool. Plus lots, lots, lots more lettuce!

Friday, October 13, 2006

I Think the Honeymoon Is Over

He didn't leave me the last piece of cheesy bread.

Monday, October 09, 2006

ShareWalk: Eyebrows Blew It

I promised, ages ago, that I would promo ShareWalk, which occurred Saturday, on my blog. Share is an organization that provides resources, networking, and support to women (and their families) who have suffered the loss of a pregnancy or an infant. Losing a life that has hardly begun - or never had a chance to begin - is particularly and horribly wrenching, and made all the worse because our society, which doesn't deal well with death in general, has really no idea how to cope with the loss of pregnancy or a newborn infant. In a society that hardly allows mourning to continue past the funeral, we have no real venue for the public mourning of a lost pregnancy or infant.

This was a topic particularly dear to my heart because I did my master's thesis in theology on the lack of liturgical recognition of pregnancy (I'll blog more later on my specific thesis if anyone's interested), and my thesis advisor, Karen Westerfield-Tucker, had written the first Methodist liturgy for pregnancy loss (that is, miscarriage or stillbirth) -- it's "A Service of Hope after Loss of Pregnancy," in the United Methodist Book of Worship. My friends began having babies while I was in graduate school, and since I was at that time doing a master's in theology, I became very interested in the theology and liturgy surrounding pregnancy and liturgy, though I had not been pregnant myself. (And again I resist the temptation to go off on a long theological tangent because that's not the point here.)

While working on my thesis, one of the major topics my liturgy had to confront was the fears unique to pregnancy -- the fear of miscarriage, of mental or physical defect, of pain, or labor, even of death. (Pregnancy is still a dangerous time for a woman.) Even in our churches (and synagogues and mosques -- I looked comparatively at Jewish and Muslim resources), we have hardly any resources to talk about the fears of pregnancy, and almost none at all to talk about the grief of miscarriage.

Miscarriage is the death of hope. It's a loss of a life before that life had a chance to begin. It's hands never held, kisses never given, sweet baby breath never breathed. It can be physically very painful, hormonally nightmarish, and bodily confusing. (Pregnancy, even when it doesn't come to fruition, moves things around in there. Fat migrates. Pants don't fit.) But it's the death of hope, the emotional devastation of the death of a child you already loved when it was in its blastocyst form.

So when some of my local friends involved with Share approached me about promoing ShareWalk on my blog, I was enthusiastic. ShareWalk is a walk of remembrance and hope for women, families, and friends who have suffered pregnancy loss. These local women have started a ShareWalk here in Peoria for those of us affected by miscarriage. I was pleased and excited they asked me to help through my blog.

Well, last Thursday I came down with a nasty head cold that got into my ears, and I spent most of the weekend wishing I could amputate my head or at least my ear canals, and blogging fell to the bottom of my list. (The missing stuff post was a desperation post because I felt the non-blogging guilt.) So the walk was Saturday, October 7, and I totally blew it on promoing it, because this is the first day I've been into my e-mail and a real member of the human race since last Thursday.

So anyway, even though I was late on blogging the walk, I urge you all to support the work of Share and our local Share chapter, to check out their events in the future, and to be aware of the terrible emotional toll pregnancy loss can take on a family. If you have a friend or relative who's lost a pregnancy or infant, give them a hug for me and then be there for them.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Hide the Knives - No, Wait, Someone Already Did

One of the perpetual mysteries of homeownership is where all that missing stuff GOES. For the eight years prior to moving to Peoria I moved, on average, twice a year (in and out of dorms, in and out of apartments, etc.). So anything that went missing either turned up when I moved, or I assumed I lost it during the move. But now that I've been in one place for two and a half years, and now that I'm the grown-up in charge of things like laundry and socks, I'm starting to notice some alarming trends of disappearance.

I have no butter knives.

I know I had twelve, because I bought the flatware-in-a-box set for 12. (At Kohl's, with serving pieces -- it was a great deal). I'm down to maybe six knives, and that includes a couple of butter knives that don't actually GO with the set but were left for me by prior roommates, or possibly just migrated into the drawer on their own; I have no way of knowing. Where the heck are my other six or eight butter knives? Where, exactly, does a butter knife hide, other than down the disposal? (They're not there.) And why are the utensils disappearing at such oddly different rates? I still have all the spoons (soup and desert) and all the dinner forks, but I've lost probably 1/3 of the salad forks. (Look, it came in a box. I promise I don't use two different sizes of forks except on holidays.) Why, while we're on the topic, did I not buy from an open-stock pattern so I could replace them when this happened?

At the same time as all my butter knives are disappearing, I swear I have more kitchen utility knives every day. I already had more than enough, having been bequeathed a set of Ginsu knives by a former roommate, remember those from 80s informercials? Let me tell you, THEY WORK. They can cut those stupid plastic clamshell packages where you usually either gash your hand or destroy the product! I've also used them as saws for minor carpentry projects. Seriously. Anyway, I swear to God, they're multiplying. Every time I go in the kitchen drawer, there are more. Are the butter knives growing up to be Ginsu knives? This is starting to look like the only rational possibility.

Socks don't disappear in my house, but I think my washing machine eats washcloths. I moved to this house with two complete sets of washcloths from the wedding (8 in green, 8 in blue), plus some assorted pre-marital washclothes, maybe five or six, plus a package of 20 cheapies I picked up when we were living in two different states and one of us for some reason ended up with none of the washcloths. So that's about 40 washcloths.

I can find TEN, and only if I fully investigate the entire laundry cycle. Where have the other thirty washcloths gone? How does something like a washcloth just disappear? How have I managed to lose thirty washcloths but no socks? Why do my kitchen dishcloths, which are basically the same thing but a waffle weave, never disappear? Does the Laundry Monster have something against waffle weave?

Some things that disappear are a little more disconcerting. I lost my glasses case about three months ago, which is weird, because I never wear my glasses, so they're always in the case, and I have the glasses, but not the case. I lost a rolling pin that I used to roll out cookies last year, that has disappeared so thoroughly (I searched every cabinet in the kitchen AND my basement pantry) that I actually bought a replacement after having to borrow a rolling pin from my neighbor in an emergency. Where does a ROLLING PIN go? Or even more alarmingly, where's my paper shredder? How does a paper shredder with attached bin go missing? WHERE CAN IT HIDE???

Mr. McGee helps me search, but it seems like serial household disappearances is a woman's concern. He hasn't seemed to notice the dearth of washcloths or the dismaying shortage of knives. His missing objects can usually be called on the phone so they make noise, or found by his wife. Or, as happened the other morning as he was ransacking the house:

"Eyebrows, have you seen my watch? I've been looking for it everywhere and I'm going to be late for -- Oh! It's on my wrist!"

If only my butter knives could be so easily found.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tids and Bits from This Week

Apparently, the state DMV doesn't care if you put obscenities on your license plate as long as they're not in modern English. Yes, I'm talking to you I SWIVE. This particularly cracks me up because I have a special respect for people even more dorky than me. Chaucerian vulgarity on your license plate is spectacular.

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I went to a spa and got myself a hot stone massage, which is basically like a regular massage except that they boil river rocks and then use those to massage you. It absolutely rules. The masseuse noted (as every LMT and doctor I've had since I was 18 has noted) that I have ridiculously tense shoulders, and that I am possibly the tense-est person in the North America. While it is true that Eyebrows isn't so good at the relaxing, I don't think I'm the most tense person on the continent; I just like to store my tension in my shoulders so it's handy if I need it.

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Having lived in my home for two and a half years now, I thought I might as well get around to hanging some family snapshots. Of course I chose two freakishly hot days of October to do it (92 and 95*F) and of course I was hanging them in my stairwell which draws heat like a chimney and is far and away the hottest part of the house when it's stinky outside. Sweating aside, I now have relatives to look at when I go up and down the stairs, and I don't have to trip over the box of "photos I'm going to hang up next week, really, I'm getting to them" that's been sitting in my hallway since we moved here.

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Diet Dr. Pepper is not a good breakfast soda.

Monday, October 02, 2006

It's a Bug-Eat-Bug World

Mr. McGee and I have begun cleaning up the garden for winter, which is both melancholy and satisfying at the same time. Melancholy I don't need to spell out, but satisfying in getting those now-messy beds cleaned up and neat, ready for planting again in the spring. One of both the most rewarding and irritating things for me about gardening is how nature won't stay in straight lines no matter what you do and tends to overgrow its boundaries. It's beautiful, but sometimes the anal-retentive part of me starts to miss order and neatness.

Yesterday we were working outside when Mr. McGee found this praying mantis sitting on the handle of our big shears. I was super-psyched because a) they eat annoying little insects like crazy and b) this means our efforts at maintaining an organic, biodiverse yard and using natural methods of pest control are paying off; mantises are not big fans of toxic lawn and garden chemicals (they die), but they themselves are among the best pest control the animal kingdom provides.

"What a beautiful bug*," I said to Mr. McGee.

"You're so weird. You're scared harmless little squash bugs are going to eat you alive, but a big predator like this with jaws and grabbing arms that might actually take a bite out of you doesn't bother you?" Mr. McGee demanded. (Well, that's the gist of what he demanded, not a direct quote.)

"That's just silly," I scoffed.

"Why is that silly?"

"Praying mantises don't eat people," I informed him. "Don't be ridiculous!"

But (as I said to Mr. McGee) this, ladies and gentlemen, is a beautiful bug. She (he? I haven't sexed a bug since 9th-grade biology) was nearly 4" long and was easily the biggest praying mantis I had ever seen. And she was lovely, all perfectly proportioned, sleek, healthy, in possession of all her limbs and and antennae. She had that endearing mantis habit of looking at you as you go by, as mantids are among the few insects that CAN turn their heads. I'd almost swear she was posing for the camera.

So welcome to the garden, you beautiful green bug-eating machine. Now I'm just waiting for the bats to move in!


*Note to anal-retentive entymologists reading, and I see you over there Uncle Pic!: I know that mantids are not technically bugs.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

In Which My Superpowers Suffer from Kryptonite

Mr. McGee thinks that I have a superpower, entitled "Make Retail Sales Associates Kowtow to Me." I mostly use this superpower when I'm in high-end boutique-type stores and being ignored. As a rule, having worked retail myself, I am endlessly polite and patient with retail salespeople. Working retail sucks. But in certain retail stores, when I am being ignored because the salespeople are profiling me as "too young" or "too poor" or "not trendy enough to be our demographic," I feel obligated to whip out my superpower.

My superpower consists of nothing more than standing up straight, looking extremely bored and irritated, and feeling superior. Mr. McGee was astonished when I used this superpower on our honeymoon and we were IMMEDIATELY served -- and apologized to -- in a boutique that had been ignoring our existence and attempt to buy a costly souvenier for several minutes. My superpower never fails, from the pharmacy to costly East Coast boutiques. My superpower is basically an attitude that says, "I have a great deal of money and if you don't pay attention to me THIS INSTANT, you are not getting a commission." (My superpower is something of a liar.) It's amazing how quickly it works.

This weekend I went to a furniture store. I popped over while running my weekly errands, and I was wearing trackies and a cheerful purple scarf. (24 years of life in the midwest has convinced me the only way to defeat cold weather is with VERY CHEERFUL COLORS.) This is how I discovered that my superpower DOES NOT WORK in the midwest when I'm wearing trackies. Now, on the coasts, trackies are something that Hollywood stars wear to go shopping in. But in the midwest, wearing trackies to shop apparently says, "I am either 17 or have no clue how to dress myself."

The midwest is probably right about this. Full-grown adults don't really have any business appearing in public in trackies unless they have the flu or are actively jogging (something that is EXTREMELY UNLIKELY I will ever do). But still -- my life has three levels of clothing: Suits, which are for court; business casual, which is for client meetings; and schlubby clothes, which are for days when I work the hardest and spend all day THINKING and writing and busting my butt. So it was a little annoying to discover that my most SERIOUS clothes, the schlubby trackies, are the ones that don't get taken seriously at the store. Particularly when I was attempting to use my superpower. Nobody likes to discover Kryptonite.

Not that suits are foolproof. I went right from court to trying on bridesmaid dresses earlier this week, and one of the clerks at the bridal boutique felt the need to inform me I was fat. Guess what store I won't be buying my dress from?

Some things, you just don't need superpowers for.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hostageware, Spyware, and Trojan Horses

I have been totally trojaned, and not in the condom way, in the Greeks-sneaking-into-your-city-inside-a-horse way. I got a nasty computer virus, I think through a windows media file (which I didn't open on purpose!), which carried in its trojan belly some nasty malware (spyware, tracking cookies, etc.) and some hostageware, which I've never had before and which seems ever so much more offensive than the rest. Hostageware is a particular kind of malware that installs itself on your computer and makes you PAY the creator to have it removed. In my case, it's a "program" called VirusBlast! that claims to be the best virus removal software on the internet. Google the name -- their page is the first listing (for God's sake don't click on it!) and the next 100 or so hits you get are for various sites with instructions on how to remove the VirusBlast! virus. That really pisses me off more than malware normally does; a virus disguised as a virus removal software is just kind of sick.

At any rate, it pops up ads every five minutes telling me to pay $30 for their software to clean up my nastily infected computer (thanks for the virus, VirusAss!). I'm pretty good with computer maintanence stuff, since I'm my own IT department, and I run daily virus scans (McAfee), weekly malware scans (SpyBot S&D and AdAware, both free and you should get them), and weekly CCleaner (also free, deletes cookies, internet history, temp files, etc.). I use Firefox, my security settings are high, my passwords are funky, and I have to approve all cookies. I'm thinking of switching to Kapersky AntiVirus (I think that's how it's spelled) when my McAfee subscription comes up for renewal, which has only 3% market share but catches substantially more viruses than the market leaders (according to Consumer Reports) and updates faster. In other words, I am diligent about this stuff.

I've manage to stop the popups, but VirusBlast and its little trojan buddies are hidden pretty deep in my computer, in things I don't know how to fix without killing the computer, so I'm getting help from the fine folks over at BleepingComputer.

I feel really violated. I'm tech-savvy, so I know how tracking cookies, data-aggregators, and so forth invade my privacy. I know how to manage the level of privacy I require. I resent these intrusions into my life, but I know how to repel them. This, on the other hand, is a nasty attack, an invasion of my personal property, no different from someone breaking-and-entering my home or stealing my car.

I am researching legal precedent for tort actions against virus and malware hijackers in Illinois.

I'll be back to fun blogging again soon, I promise, but for now I have to burn this trojan horse to the ground and spit on its smoldering remains. It's time consuming.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Why No Update?

Mr. McGee is cooking up a guest post and I'm waiting on him.

Meanwhile, Orange Cat was indiscreet and that means laundry for me!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Resources for Beating the Electric Rate Increase

Here in Peoria, we're all in a twitter because utility deregulation decided on 10 years ago has come home to roost, and has done so REALLY. EXPENSIVELY. without offering the vast majority of consumers any choice in electrical company (so no rate competition) but hitting us with prospective 55% rate increases. C.J. has covered the issue here and here; everyone IN Peoria already knows how we're about to get screwed* and anyone outside Peoria who cares can go google it up or read C.J.'s posts.

*I'm not entirely sure we will get screwed -- this year, anyway -- because it's an election year, and all available political parties and gubernatorial candidates are saying it's the other party's fault and promising if THEY are elected, they will immediately put in place a rate freeze on behalf of the consumers. Meanwhile, the AG's office is suing the state's electric utilities en masse. All massive utility rate increases should occur during election cycles. It's also sort-of instructive how eager Illinois politicians are to back off a duly-passed (if, IMHO, ill-conceived) law that might snark off citizens in an election year.

Anyway, this post isn't about that. This post is about some resources for people looking to lower their electricity use (and therefore their bills). As regular readers of this blog know, I'm committed to environmentalism for reasons theological, political, practical, and personal. But I'm not committed to living in a cave or giving up daily hygiene practices. So these links have a variety of changes one can make, small or large, cheap or expensive, that will lower the electricity bill at least a little bit. (Those would be practical and personal reasons for environmentalism.)

Power Generation

To start with the most expensive change: If your roof is in rough shape, and you're thinking of reroofing, consider solar roofing tiles. You don't have to commit to huge ugly panels any longer, and costs have come down dramatically. The new solar roofing fits in with common asphalt tiles and serves as your roofing tiles.

SunSlates and United Solar Ovonics are two of the big players in the field. SunSlates are actual roofing tiles with solar panels in them -- the electrical connections are in the tile overlap, so clever -- that you can install as a full or partial roof. The Ovonics product is like a roll of solar sheeting, which is a little hard to describe, but Ovonics claims is more energy-efficient. Both look "roofy" and don't scream "I have hideously ugly solar energy on my roof and my neighbors hate me!" The SunSlates, in particular, look basically like regular roof unless the sun is hitting them directly, in which case they look like very shiney regular roof.

The cost for solar roofing is typically estimated to be 150% to 200% of "normal" roofing, plus $100 or so to have an electrician hook the system into your home's electric. BUT! The State of Illinois WILL PAY YOU to install solar roofing! Check out DSIRE , where you can read about renewable energy incentives. (I've linked to Illinois but they list incentives for all 50 states.) In Illinois, the best offers for homeowners rebate you 30% of the cost of your renewable energy installation at a residential property, up to $400,000.

Many utilities also allow you to sell back any extra energy you generate to the utility, making your meter spin backwards. I know ComEd in Chicago does; I don't know if AmerenCILCO in Peoria does or not. It's worth a phone call to find out. A simple roof installation on a typical home won't cover all your electrical usage year-round unless you EnergyStar the crap out of your home, but when you're producing more than you're using (say during a sunny summer day when everyone's at work and all you're powering is the clock radio), you'll be selling that extra to the utility and lowering your bill.

"But Illinois is so cloudy!" you complain. Ah, grasshopper, UIUC begs to differ. On page 12 (in adobe; page 4 of the internal pagination) of this report, you can see a lovely map of statewide average daily solar production for each of the 12 months of the year utilizing data gathered over the last 15 years. Even in grey January, your solar panels will produce a steady drip of power (plus, no trees will be blocking them from sucking up every last photon of sunlight). You can also read a lot of geek-speak about solar potentiality in Illinois. Interestingly (and not from this report), if you follow Daley's greening of Chicago, solar experts say that Chicago has the potential to generate MORE solar power per square meter of solar panel than Phoenix does, because current solar panels become inefficient at the ultra-high temperatures of summer in the sunbelt! The Midwest is currently considered one of the top US residential solar-generation geographies; for solar-wind combo, we're way up the list (because almost all our cloudy days are windy days). There's basically nothing on the market now for residential wind generators (if you live on a farm, several European companies make modern home windmills for electricity generation, sort of like the big wind turbines but on a smaller scale), but there's some exciting little wind generators in belfry-like structures about the size of a fat, squat chimney currently in testing, so in five years you might be able to combine a solar roof with a little "wind belfry" for home energy generation.

Power Saving

For those of us not reroofing or building new (geothermal temperature control, which Terry Bibo wrote about in the Journal Star, is great for new constructions or more rural homes, but somewhat impractical to retrofit your house with in the city), there are lots of smaller changes to be made.

Energy Star appliances improve every year -- Consumer Reports can tell you all about them. Flourescent Light Bulbs are way better than they were even a year ago. A 15W compact flourescent (fits in your standard lamp fixtures with no adaptors or anything) replaces a 75W incandescent, sips proportionally less energy (that'd be like 1/5 of the incandescent?), and typically lasts a lot longer. (Incandescent bulbs' lifespans are unpredictable because they rely on the decay of the filament and sometimes you get one of those bulbs that lasts for, like, ever; flourescent bulbs are more predictable.)

Compact flourescents still cost more than incandescents, but they're still a savings when you factor in how much longer they last and how much less energy they use. We started with them about a year ago in a couple of fixtures we leave on a lot -- outdoor lights, the basement light by the litterboxes because Grey Cat can't see in the dark -- that I had gotten sick of changing all the time, and we're so pleased we've migrated them into most of our lamps and things. A year ago when I turned on my reading lamp, it would be really dark at first and take a minute to really get going, in that slow-to-turn-on-flourescent way. In just the past year, they've improved so much that they come on bright immediately. They also don't hum, and they cast a warm light, not that ugly green light that highlights all your facial blemishes and pimples.

One of the biggest energy hogs in your house is the clothes dryer, which uses something like 4 times the energy of the washer. The thing about the clothes dryer is, clothes will dry naturally on their own if you leave them alone, and there are lots of good options. You can find those "umbrella-style" clothes lines -- a pole that opens up, umbrella-style, for a compact clothes drying space -- at Menard's, Do It Best, or Lehman's (more on them below). They take up little space in the backyard and many can be taken down in the winter. In the winter, your clothes will actually dry FASTER because our air in the midwest is so friggin' dry in the winter, and they'll release that moisture into your house if you do it indoors. I'm experimenting with that this winter, with drying racks; sometimes drying clothes indoors just makes the whole house smell like wet dog. If I'm doing six loads of laundry, I'm using my dryer. But for smaller laundry days, air drying has worked out well for me.

(Added note: Clothes dryers are really hard on your clothes. As a general rule, air-dryed clothes will last longer and stay in better condition, providing you don't accidentally bleach them by leaving them out for three days in the sun. Air-dryed clothes don't need fabric softener, which is also surprisingly hard on your clothes because it works by compromising the integrity of the fibers.)

If you need to replace your hot water tank heater, why not look into a tankless? (Okay, so for a lot of us, this saves us on natural gas costs, not electricity. But bear with me -- we'll get to the electricity in a minute!) Tankless water heaters, common in Europe and Asia, only heat the water when you need it, typically resulting in a 50% savings on water-heating costs. The electric-heated models are good, but the gas-heated models are fantastic. They can typically heat water for more appliances at once, and they allow you to take a literally endless shower (not that any of you good water-savers would do such a thing!). If you've got six people in the house all showering in the morning, nobody's going to get stuck with a cold shower when the water runs out with a tankless.

So here's the electricity-saving part: with a tank-heater, you not only are heating the water whether or not you're using it, but you're heating up the air around the tank as the tank releases its heat into the surrounding atmosphere. Not such a big deal in the winter, but in the summer, your tank is making your house hotter, and if you're running your air conditioning, you are paying extra in A/C costs to cool that air back off. Which, in turn, cools the tank faster, which causes it to re-heat the water sooner, which makes your A/C work harder. Depending on the efficiency of your A/C and the insulation of your tank, the costs can be appalling.

Modern tankless heaters also claim to last longer than tanks, and parts are much cheaper to replace than the tank. (It's just a few pipes, after all.)

Finally, a couple resources for electricity-saving STUFF.

Co-op America maintains a National Green Pages -- a yellow pages for green businesses. Whether you're interested in solar roofing, tankless heaters, or anything else electricity-saving or green, the National Green Pages will have a listing for a company or six that has it. They also have contractors who specialize in green technology installation, although most "regular" contractors can do these things easily.

And last but best of all, let me direct you to possibly my favorite catalog of all time, the Lehman's Non-Electric Catalog. Originally a store catering to the Amish, Lehman's has every kind of non-electric home gadget, appliance, toy, and doo-dad you could possibly imagine. Their customer service is great and their products are very high-quality. If you really like margaritas, and you need to make them non-electrically, either because you're on rumspringa with a jones for margaritas or because you're tailgating and can't power your blender, Lehman's carries an efficient hand-cranked blender. Seriously. Hand-cranked blender.

They have all manner of drying solutions (clotheslines, stands, indoor thingies); a mortar-and-pestle (combined with a sharp kitchen knife) has basically rendered my food processor obsolete for all but the biggest jobs; and they have everything from propane refrigerators (if you were serious about going off the grid) to woodstoves to oil lamps to kick-ass gardening tools. (Best. Hoe. Ever.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

In Which I Explain How I Decide Whether Bugs Live or Die

I am still recovering from jet lag, being one of those weirdos who gets no jet lag flying east to Europe but is a disaster for a week after flying back west to the U.S. Primarily this means I start snapping at Mr. McGee about 6 p.m. and I'm going to bed really really early. I still haven't liberated my pictures from his computer.

I'm slowly catching up on housework -- the cupboards are filled, the laundry is halfway done, the unpacking is progressing -- but I've gone nowhere with the garden. I went out there thinking I'd plant a late-fall lettuce crop, but the garden has become scary in the two weeks I was gone.

Almost everything is overgrown, often eating up the entire path. There's one crop flowering a really pretty blue. I have no idea what it is. The tomatoes and melons that came ripe shortly after we left but sat unpicked on the vine have turned rotten and are really, really, really gross. But the scariest part is that there are all these BUGS in the squash bed, bugs I have never seen before. I hate new bugs, because I don't know if they're going to, like, jump on the back of my neck as soon as my head is turned, burrow into my spine, and take over my body, yeerk-style, for their evil bug-like purposes.

But the real problem is that with new bugs, I don't know if I can kill them or not. The basic criterion for whether or not I will kill a bug is whether it is going to make an audible SQUISH! when I do so. So mosquitos and ants I kill, but not cockroaches. Anything with a high-quality exoskeleton I can't kill because the squish sound/sensation they make when the guts squoosh in the exoskeleton when you smush them FREAKS THE HELL OUT OF ME. So yes, I actually capture cockroaches and set them free in the wild because I'm too scared to squish them. (Not that we've had any roaches here, knock on wood, but they were friggin' everywhere in North Carolina when I lived in the apartment with the drunken maintenance team. I moved.)

So these bugs in the squash bed, which sit freakishly still for bugs out in the open in the sunlight, probably because it's getting cold so they're not moving around a lot, but POSSIBLY BECAUSE THEY'RE PLOTTING THEIR MASS ATTACK ON MY TENDER PINK FLESH, appear to have a shell/exoskeleton, but they're really flat, and I can't tell by looking how hard it is. And obviously I'm not touching one of those things because I DON'T KNOW IF IT BITES, or worse, burrows into my skin and becomes an alarming parasite worthy of a Discovery Channel documentary on what exactly they do to human hosts and how gross the surgery is to remove them. It looks too big to burrow, but YOU CAN'T TAKE THESE CHANCES with strange bugs!

So I can't tell if this bug is going to make that nausea-inducing squishy sound or not if I whack them with a shoe or garden tool or something, which means that I can't take the risk the bugs would make the vile and frightening noise, which means I can't kill them, which means I can't work in the garden because I don't like turning my back on strange bugs that might eat me for lunch when I'm not looking. No gardening is occurring until my spousal bug exterimator goes and kills them all for me.

Thank God I got married.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Blog Business

First off, I was mentioned on WTVP while I was gone? What was up with that? Somebody share?

For Peggy, on the Rutabagas: You CAN mash potatoes and rutabaga together (roughly equal proportions), but I was actually talking about "mashed rutabaga" -- all by itself -- which you make exactly the same way you make mashed potatoes. Cut into small chunks, boil until fork tender, mash with milk or cream.

For Knight in Dragonland, on the Nature vs. Duct Tape post, who said "I can't tell what's supposed to be there and what's a weed. Let me know if you find some good resources." -- What I did, when we moved, was let everything come up the first year and see what it was. A more scientific method would be to call the county extension from the U of I and talk to a master gardener there. There are various field guides to recognizing seedlings, none of which I can decipher. But I HAVE discovered that things that come up in straight lines are generally planted on purpose. I don't think I'm doing this "clustering to make the best use of space" thing in the veggie garden next year. I'm doing straight, military rows. They were much easier to weed when I could see what wasn't in the row. On a much more practical note, ask your neighbors. They probably at least vaguely remember what was in that flower bed, and if they like gardening themselves, as mine do, they'll be a gold mine of info.

For fans of my felines, they were competently cared for by my baby brother, who gave Orange Cat shots like a champ, but they are happy to be home. Orange Cat purred so loudly last night at the return of the warm sleeping bodies I thought he might go over his monthly purr-quota before he got to mid-month. Grey Cat, on the other hand, got lost in the dark, which he does sometimes, so he sat downstairs crying. I called to him, which usually helps him figure out where he is and where we are and how to get from A to B, but he was too lost and it was too dark, so I had to go rescue him from the mean nasty dark living room so he'd quit crying.

I have the only cat in the world who can't see in the dark.

Eyebrows Digs Archaeology

Mr. McGee and I jetted off September 2 to spend two spectacular weeks at Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields, U.K., in the Newcastle-upon-Tyne metro area, on an archaeological dig organized through the charitable organization Earthwatch.

The trip was a gift from my fabtacular uncle and godfather Pic and his stunningly beautiful wife Patricia. (There is a really good story behind this gift. I'll tell it later.) It was also the first vacation Mr. McGee and I have taken together since our honeymoon four years ago, and the longest vacation I've taken since ... high school? So after two weeks away I'm a little confuzzled about how to start getting my life back together and what to catch up on first - house? work? sleep? Forgive the disjointed blogging until I get my head back together.

Anyway, we went to Arbeia, a Roman fort that's part of the Hadrian's Wall system, although it isn't on the Wall itself. We spent two weeks digging on the site's dig, specifically on the road foundation of the intervallum road (the road that runs around the inside of the fort wall) and the surfaces under the earthen rampart. We dug in a small area of the southeast corner of the original fort (Arbeia went through four phases, I'm sure I'll tell you all about it in future posts).

What did we find? Animal bones, limpet shells, pottery shards, bits of tile, rusted iron nails ... lots of fun stuff. Teeth were my favorite. We also participated in the care of finds after finding, including washing and labelling, and in site mapping and surveying. I was so psyched I learned how to survey. I have seriously always wanted to know what those dudes on the side of the road are doing with their sticks and telescopes. Now I do!

We stayed at a guesthouse about six blocks from the fort, where we were fed like morbidly obese kings who really like cholesterol. I lost weight. (Yay Europe's walkable cities!) The guesthouses, arranged by the expedition, fed us English breakfasts to order (eggs and bacon and toast for me, every. single. day. Heaven!), provided us with packed lunches, and fed us dinner. We never knew what we'd have in our lunches or what would be for dinner. It was great. We'd appear at the fort at 9 a.m., work when and where we were told to, stop for tea, work, eat lunch, stop for tea, work, and go home. Despite working our butts off, it was ridiculously relaxing since someone else made all your food decisions, time decisions, and everything. Most of the time we didn't even know what day it was.

We had the Saturday mid-trip off, and we visited Durham, which has a spectacular cathedral, and then on Sunday we had a group trip to various sites on Hadrian's Wall. Also a 3-mile hike along the Wall. (They put the bus at the end of the route before I got a good look at how hilly it was so I couldn't back out.)

My pictures are currently being held hostage on another computer, but I'll do the full archaeological monty over the next few days. And I cannot reccommend the trip enough -- the specific Earthwatch expedition, the fort and town as a vacation destination, Earthwatch generally. The people of South Shields were welcoming, friendly, fun, and have knock-out accents. The Earthwatch program draws a demographic for whom learning IS recreation, so it's a spectacular chance to be among kindred spirits while learning fascinating stuff, visiting strange and exciting lands, and doing something to advance human knowledge.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Eyebrows Is Back for the New Fall Season

After a grueling 16-hour travel day, starting in South Shields, U.K., on the mouth of the Tyne River where it meets the North Sea, and landing at last in O'Hare in the single most exciting airplane moment of my life (not in a good way) which introduced me to the glorious world of airsickness, Eyebrows is back.

Yes, I actually took those two weeks of blog reruns and snuck overseas for a vacation. A super-fantastic spectacular vacation that I will blog about in excruciating detail as soon as I'm a little less jet-lagged and a little less freaked out by O'Hare's terrifying crosswinds.

I have 51 e-mails (just to my blog address; my personal address was 171 and I can't even bear to think of my professional address!) and oodles of comments to catch up on, which I promise I will in the next week or so. I feel totally mentally revitalized and ready to tackle life again, all except my laundry. I'll give you a vacation hint and say that my clothes from vacation are SO DIRTY it will probably take half a dozen washes to make them wearable again! Can you guess what I was doing on vacation?

(No fair those of you who already know telling!)

In the meanwhile, mega-thanks to my friend and html-guru Star, who blogs over here, routinely rescues me from self-inflicted html disasters, designed my snazzy professional website, and was kind enough to post the blog reruns for me while I was away.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Special Autumnal RERUN: Rutabaga!

The soundtrack of every holiday of my childhood was the sound of rutabaga being chopped. Rutabaga is crazy dense. Picture a round object about the size of an infant's head, but a lot heavier. (Some of them are adult-head size, but my knife isn't that long.) The only way to get through it is to take your longest kitchen knife, sharpen it up, drive it in the first half inch or so, then whack the tip with your rolling pin. Hard. Over and over and over. Repeat this to cut the rutabaga into 1" chunks which you then boil and mash just like potatoes. It's hard, noisy work, cutting up the rutabaga. My mother likes to do the mashed potatoes and rutabaga first thing in the morning, so she just has to heat them up before the holiday meal. And when I say first thing in the morning, I mean first thing in the morning. For twenty-seven years I have woken up on Thanksgiving morning and Christmas Eve morning at about 6 or 6:30 a.m. to the sound of a rolling pin whacking a knife through a rutabaga.

Rutabaga!