Sunday, November 15, 2009

Apartment Pictures, take two

Okay, now in addition to my office, I have photographed the bedroom which is ... 90% finished. There are some finishing touches, but this is good enough for now.

This is the only photos I'm posting with no flash. The apartment is a duplex with the bedroom downstairs, which is actually the basement of the building. Because of that, the light is always bad down there. We need to get some better light fixtures to really light it up. Also, I realized belatedly that there was still a laundry hamper on the floor in this photo. I removed it for the rest.

The wall color is truer in the no-flash photos. All of the flash photos make the paint look really, really blue when it's really more of a slate blue/grey. We are using the computer as a television and it's living on my dresser for now. Eventually we want to mount it to the wall on a swinging arm so we can tilt it around. For now, it's fine there. The chair in the corner is my boyfriends; I call is the gold monstrosity. He is planning to break it down and recover it. In the meantime, I have covered the most offensive parts of it with a strategically placed kikoy.

This is the corner of my dresser. All of the boxes hold my jewelry. I got the vase in Cancun with Cari. (quote: "Look, all our vase are belong to us!") The prints on the left are some I got the first time I was in Paris. The prints are the back are by Stephen Huneck and B and I got them when we visited St. Johnsbury. There is actually a third, larger print that will be hung with those two that is currently at the framers.

The corner, with another shot of the gold monstrosity. The open shelving holds our extra linens. The cushions on the top go outside when we use the backyard. The curtains are blocking the door to the backyard. (The building in on a hill where the street level is on the first floor, but the backyard level is the basement.)

The other side of the room. The two large prints are mine, also by Rafal Olbinski. The shelves on the back wall have B's ipod dock and our "books to read". Two of those books are his. He seems to think you have to read all of the books that you have before you can buy more, crazy boy. The vase on the top shelf is an old McCoy vase I found cheap in a thrift shop and I liked the asymmetry of it. I am in the process of hunting for an appropriate mirror to put over my dressing table and we still need to tack up the cords.

This is the library desk I got from B's father. B helped me refinish it. The chair is his, and I actually quite like it except that his roommates cat tore a hole in the side. Thus, it is a second, less- monstrous upholstery project. But it is the perfect size and style for my table. My perfumes and cotton balls are on the table, and the little wicker box is B's garbage can. The clothes hamper currently lives by the table, but eventually there will be a small, 20 gallon salt water fish tank there to house B's clownfish.

The last wall. The wardrobe is from Ikea, and B wants to change out the doors for something less ... translucent. The fruit seller lithograph we both loved and he bought it in a housingworks auction.

Last but not least, an aerial view from the stairs.

Also, for those that are curious, here is the before and after on the library table (taken in my old apartment while I was packing, so forgive the mess!):


Sunday, November 08, 2009

The New Apartment

So, I will be posting photos of the new apartment as we get the rooms together. This probably shocks no one, but the first room I managed to get in what I consider to be photography-worth shape is my office.

This is the view from the door. My office is 8' x 10'. The top of my bookcases have some special stuff - other than the ipod dock, there are my antique cameras (a gift from my boyfriend's father), my painted ostrich egg from South Africa and the bleached coral which represents the last items from my salt water tank (which did not survive the move - but I will be back and better and bigger than ever!) The rug is hand woven and purchased outside of Oaxaca, MX.


Here is another view of that wall. The Tosca poster is by Rafal Olbinski and it is the only polish surrealist reproduction poster I have. The birds I got in Xi'an from a street vendor and the green painted fabric art I got in Kenya? I think? Maybe South Africa. It all starts to blend together.

The paint color is Benjamin Moore "Spring Green". The stainless steel cabinet is an old hospital blanket warmer that I found at a thrift shop for $100. It weighs about 700 pounds and my boyfriend said he refused to move it for me ever again. The candle stand will eventually find a home in our bedroom. The print on top of the cabinet I got in Stockholm at the Medieval Museum and the Manhattan print is from Ork posters. I actually need to get a new one as that one was water damaged in the last apartment.

My desk area. The paper lanterns are Ikea. And as a side note, my mom got me the stuffed monkey from Starbucks. I saw it from afar and started ranting and raving about how toy makers always put tails on their gibbon stuffed animals. I opened the tag to wave it around in an indignant flourish and saw that it was supposed to be a mangabey. Carry on Starbux, carry on.

The other half of my desk area.

Back wall. Basket is from Kenya and the carved animals are from South Africa.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


1. I have moved. Moving was terrible, moving was awful and I love all of my friends for helping me. But the worst thing about the move? All of my fish died. Every last one of them. I had a massive tank crash overnight and I woke up to a stinking tank and dead fish. About a third of my corals have survived and are living in B's tank. It is really depressing. I'm trying to look on the bright side - I was going to order a new tank anyway, so I went ahead with that and I am going to start fresh and clean. No more pests (which is what caused the crash in the first place). The apartment is eerily silent - no whir of pumps, no gentle trickle of water. Just ... silence. It has actually made it a little hard to sleep, so much so that B offered to put a powerhead in a bucket of water for me if it would help.

2. We thought we were going to have a whole week to move me, but instead we only had one day. We also scheduled a Halloween party at our new place. Surprisingly, we managed to pull it off with a minimal amount of boxes, and derived great satisfaction from the jealousy of our friends for our real estate success.

3. I saw Margaret Atwood last week and she was great! She signed TWO of my books and I am really looking forward to reading Year of the Flood. It will be the tenth Atwood book that I have read (preceded by (in order): Handmaid's Tale, Cat's Eye, Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, The Penelopiad, Bodily Harm, Lady Oracle and Oryx and Crake.) Thus far, I've felt that she has only made two missteps - Bodily Harm and The Penelopiad. It's funny because I recently finished Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin and I was as disappointed in it as I was in The Penelopiad. Maybe feminist authors are stifled by the constraints of a previous story? Either way, Lavinia was dull dull dull. Next up is actually the Butcher Boy for my book club, so I don't have to try and finish this month's book in three days like I did last month.

Okay, I think that's all I have for now.

Monday, October 26, 2009


One of the things I do for my classes is force my students to go to the zoo and actually look at animals in real life. They always complain before, but they end up really enjoying it in the end. Usually I just send them on the own, but we've had beautiful weather this October, so I decided to go along as well.

This was my first trip into the new Madagascar exhibit at the Bronx Zoo, and I must say that is pretty impressive. I like that they have different enclosures representing the different ecological areas in Madagascar. A lot of people think that is is all rainforested, but that is actually not true.

Primates are so photogenic.

Okay, how about a couple of other animals ....

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I am moving. How, how HOW did I amass so much stuff in such a small space? I haven't been posting a lot of photos lately. I have a backlog, from the summer, from Vegas, from Pennsylvania but I've been working and getting my things together to move.

Here are two small offerings from Franklin, PA.

Oh, and my baby has blue eyes!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Apple-y goodness

I just got back from Franklin, PA - home of my boyfriend's parents. [insert ominous music HERE]

It was actually a really good time. His parents are both very, very nice and didn't even ask me if I wanted to go to church with them. His dad is a retired electrician who has gotten into selling antiques. He has a garage full of stuff he's picked up at auctions, yard sales and flea markets and he pretty much just let me go shopping in it. I picked up two, working antique cameras (picture of those and from them forthcoming) and a gorgeous library desk with serpentine legs probably circa 1925 for my television. B and I are going to refinish the table which is covered in horrific paint to make it look like zebra wood. We think the table is made of walnut and poplar which should stain up really nicely when we are finished with it. B's mom wanted to feed us the entire time, and food from Easten Pennsylvania is very midwestern. Mmmm, mashed potatoes and chicken fried steak (chicken fried chicken for me) and their "secret family receipe" which involves boiled eagle brand milk, canned pineapple, whipped cream, and about two pieces of iceberg lettuce, which is what I guess makes it a "salad". I also met two of his three sisters, his grandmother and his aunt, as well as some assorted neighbors and friends from high school. Growing up in a small town is very different than where I am from.

This was also applefest weekend. The air was crisp and cool, but not too rainy. Sadly the leaves haven't really started to turn yet, but I came home with a peck and a half of fresh picked apples from one of the orchards over the hill. I got a half peck of Macoun, a half peck of honey crisps and a half peck of empire apples. I probably won't eat them all before they start to go soft, but when that happens B and I are just going to make applesauce of them and jar the rest. I also got a gallon of fresh pressed apple cider (like, pressed two days before I got it) which is DELICIOUS. Unpasteurized. Awesome. The best apple cider ever. B got five gallons of it to make hard cider; mine is destined for mulling spices and some Meyers dark. His mom also gave us a bucket full of fresh peppers from the garden, and some frozen deer steaks and sausage (not in a casing, frozen flat somehow). Since his dad is going on a hunting trip in Colorado next week, I think they figured they might as well clear some space for the deer and elk that are coming back with him. I have never eaten venison, but I am game to try it. (Get it, game? game?!)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fall + photos

Mmmm, fall.

Last night was the perfect night, and I slept so well. It was cool enough with the window open that I needed no fan or air conditioner. I curled up under the comforter and sheets on my bed and thought happy thoughts as I drifted off to a perfectly comfortable sleep.

I owe everyone a long entry about my trip to Las Vegas. Suffice it to say, we had fun.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Ignorance is not blissful for other people.

One of my facebook friends posted this like today from the Seattle Strangler with the comment "Jaw-Dropping":

Apparently, there is going to be a referendum on Washington's ballot in November seeking to overturn the legislation giving same-sex couples (those that have been domestically partners, NOT married) the same rights as married people. The reporter at the Strangler decided to call up some of the donators and signers of the petition to find out why. Why does this matter so much to people?

I wish I could say that their ignorance was shocking, but I cannot. I can say it is disgusting. It is amazing how ill-informed people are, and how people allow their prejudices to get in the way of common sense. One person's response to why the contributed and signed this petition? "My main reason is that I don't want our state to, well, to put it bluntly, I don't want our state to legalize sodomy." Another person says, "It is not a civil-rights issue; it is a health issue." He goes on to say that homosexuals are, " incubators of a lot of the bacteria.. It is common for homosexuals to have hundreds of different sexual experiences with people—they do fisting, they do water sports, and on and on. There are bacteria that are called 'gay-related syndrome' or something, but it is not healthy. And by using lots of antibiotics against them, the antibiotics are no longer usable because they don't work."

That last section especially gives me a headache because it reminds me of some of the student answers I receive on essay exams. I can tell that they've been in class, but the information I've given them has somehow gotten hopelessly scrambled in their brain and spewed out in a nonsensical pattern.

Mostly, I think it's sad that there are people who are so determined to discriminate against homosexuals that they don't even want to allow domestic partnerships. It seems very sad to me that people don't want to allow other people who are committed to one another simple familial rights, like hospital visitations, joint health insurance, and inheritance rules in the case of the death of one partner. What does it really matter? I hope everyone who said that discrimination was dead in America when Obama was elected president reads this article.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Today's recipe!

From Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

Risotto-Style Barley

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 or 2 shallots (I used 2), chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp sea salt (I forgot this, but then I just salt to taste)
2 cups barley
1 cup good quality white wine
6 cups water
1 orange
Grated zest of one lemon (I skipped this and tossed some lemon juice in instead)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream (I used sour)
2 big handfuls of arugula (I used a little more)
Handful of toasted walnuts

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add the onions, shallots and garlic and salt, and saute until tender. Add barley and stir until lightly coated. Add wine, and allow to soak into barley. Then add 6 cups of water, one cup at a time. Only add more once the first cup is absorbed. The barley is cooked when there is not much assistance. It will not be as creamy as arborio rice. I left it on the brothy side, as the cookbook recommends.

While the barley is cooking, peel and segment the orange. Reserve any juice the leaks out. Cut the orange into small pieces. Once the barley is tender, add the cream, cheese, orange and citrus juices. Taste and adjust seasoning, then stir in the arugula. Garnish with the walnuts prior to serving.

This recipe is really good, though I think I would half it next time. The book says that it is for 4 to 6, but I think it's more like 6 to 8. I will be eating this easily for a week - I think I'm going to freeze half of it. This would definitely be great during the winter time, and I think it would be awesome with little clementine segments instead of navel orange segments, which is what I used.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Food, Food, Food

One of the things that I am trying so so so hard to do is cook for myself as often as possible as opposed to eating out. Eating out has become such a habit for me, but I have a revelation when doing it in California. In CA, they have started giving out the nutritional information with the menus at all of the restaurants. Holy crap have I been eating way worse than I thought I was. I used to cook for myself all the time, when I had a subscription to Cooking Light. Since I am a single person, I've noticed that as long as I cook about four recipes per week, that gives me enough leftovers for dinners and lunches, and then I buy cereal and fruit for breakfast.

I started on Friday night, and I kicked it off by cooking for both me and my boyfriend. I'm trying hard to concentrate on eating a lot of fruits and veggies and whole grains, with meat and other animal products taking more of a back seat. I had enough leftovers for two more meals, even after I fed both of us which was good.

I'm going to keep the recipes that I have made here because it is convenient and easy for me to tag them and keep track of it.

From Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

Wheat Berry Salad
2 cups soft wheat berries, rinsed (I used hard)
6 cups water
2 tsps sea salt (I used regular)

grated zest of one orange (I omitted this)
1 tbsp lemon juice (I also added a tbsp of lime juice)
1 tbsp minced shallot
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
juice of one orange (I use an extra large one)

3 generous handfuls of spinach
1 c. toasted pine nuts
1/2 c. crumbled feta (I use more, and in blocks - vegans can omit this - B did because he is lactose intolerant and tries to minimize his lactaid intake)

Combine wheat berries, water and salt in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for an hour or until plump (if you use hard ones, you will need 2+ hours for this). The berries should stay al dente. Drain and season more with salt.

To make the dressing, whisk together dressing ingredients. Salt and pepper to taste.

Toss hot wheat berries (I actually cool them) with spinach, pine nuts and dressing, then top with feta. Taste for seasoning and sprinkle with more salt if needed.

This is one of my favorite recipes, and the recipe that made me buy this book. I get wheatberries at the organic grocer.

Shredded Green Beans
3/4 lb green and/or yellow beans, tops and tails removed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or clarified butter (I used oil since B is lactose intolerant)
2 tbsp water
Grated zest of one lemon
Grated zest of one lime
1/4 cup chopped chives
salt and pepper to taste

Slice the beans on a diagonal into 1/8 inch pieces - or use a food processor at low speed and do this a handful at a time. (I cut them like I would green onions.)

Heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add the bean and stir until coated with oil, then add the water. Cover and cook 2-3 minutes, until the beans are brightly colored and tender. Remove from heat and stir is zests and chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This was a nice, fresh, lemon-y tasting green bean recipe. I loved it.

From Cooking Light

Black-Eyed Pea Cakes with Adobo Cream

1/2 c. fat free sour cream
1 tsp adobo sauce (I used 3 tsps of chipotle adobo spice for extra spicy deliciousness)

1 can no-salt added black eyed peas (I used dried and boiled them for an hour)
1/4 c. dried bread crumbs (I needed 1/2 cup to make my cakes stick better)
1 tbsp chopped onion
1/2 tsp bottled minced garlic (I used fresh and used two cloves)
1/2 tsp ground cumin (I also added 1/2 tsp cayenne)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 large egg white, lightly beaten

1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1/4 c. jack cheese

(1) Combine first two ingredients for adobo cream sauce and set aside
(2) Place beans in a medium bowl and partially mash with a fork. Stir in breadcrumbs and next 7 ingredients. With floured hands, divide pea mixture into 4 equal parts, shaping each portion into 1/2 thick patty (I made 8, smaller cakes which stuck together better than trying to do them larger).
(3) Heat oil in large, non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add patties to pan; cook 2 minutes on each side until golden and thoroughly heated. Remove from pan and top with cheese and adobo sauce.

I would make these again, no problem. It was super easy, and I could have done it all in about 20 minutes. I used a cast iron pan to do the bean cakes and that worked really well.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A few more photos ....


Dr. BH - name those birds!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Murder List by Julie Garwood

On my trip up to Spokane, WA I had my first ever experience listening to a book on tape. It was a little weird at first since it has been a great many years since anyone has read to me, but after a few minutes, I got the feel of it. It's a little like watching a movie with subtitles; at the beginning, it feels arduous, but by the end, I don't even notice I am reading them.

I was busy, so my mother was tasked with the job of renting books on tape. The first she chose was Rain Gods by James Lee Burke. We made it through the second disc before deciding to turn it off and use the radio instead. I don't know if it was hearing the book aloud, but I do not much like James Lee Burke's writing style. There were too many flourishes and descriptions that seemed unnecessary and out of place. The story wasn't particularly compelling - what we made it through - and my mom and I found ourselves talking over the disc which we felt wasn't a particularly good sign.

We finished the second audio book, Murder List by Julie Garwood. I would give this book two stars at the very best. Though it was classified as "romantic suspense" (please remember, not my book selection), it should have been classified as "suspense then romance" as that's really what it was. Garwood's book was badly written, sloppily planned, and poorly read.

The writing simply wasn't very good. The dialogue was predictable, as were many of the plot points. She used many of the same phrases over and over again. However, I have been known to excuse poor writing for good storytelling, but sadly in this case the storytelling was worse than the writing. The book started with a prologue which was meaningless to the plot (though the epilogue did make mention of it). The first half of the book sets up a relationship between three best friends who decide to investigate - on their own - a manipulative therapist. If the book had continued in this vein, it would have been fine, but it did not. Halfway through, Regan (the main character) parts ways with her best friends and is given a bodyguard. The rest of the story takes Regan from the cool, capable woman we were introduced to into a gibbering idiot who has to rely on her hunky bodyguard for everything. Also, don't bother to try to figure out the mystery - it is impossible, as the solution relies on characters the reader is never introduced to.

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

The reader of the book was also not very good. She used weird accents for some of the characters which seemed to come and go. Her voice for Regan made it seem like she was a whiny little girl instead of the corporate businesswoman she was set out to be. The voice for Sophie (one of the friends) sounds like a woman who smoked cigarettes for forty years.

I do not recommend reading, nor listening, to this book.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Update... of sorts.

I've been in the Pacific Northwest. It is beautiful and restful and I'm a little sad to be trading in mountains and trees for concrete and heat in New York. Oh well.

Rosalia, WA

Steptoe Butte
Steptoe Butte, WA

Biggs, OR

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

I have only this to say about Crater Lake


I have been in California for the past two weeks and am now on the road to Washington.

Had a fabulous birthday in which B and I ....

(1) went hiking in Point Lobos State Reserve;
(2) had an hour long massage (part one of my bday present)
(3) did a little wine tasting, followed by dinner (I bought 6 bottles of wine - well, B bought two of them for me.)
(4) ruined the massage by spending our last three hours of the day on the boardwalk riding old people rides and playing mini golf.

Birthday = good.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


The cats stole the top piece of my tripod.

Things I found while looking for it:

- 2 bottle caps
- 3 ball point pens
- 8 furry mice
- my powerpoint remote advancer
- $1.23 in change
- 1 cotton ball
- 1 wooden block
- 2 balls with bells in the them
- 3 paper clips.

Things I didn't find:

- bit the goes on the top of my tripod

...... sigh.

Monday, July 20, 2009

And even more reviews....

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
© 1999, rating: *****

When I was a junior in college, we did a mock trial case based on this book by Jon Krakauer about his Mt. Everest Experience. At the time, I didn't read it - probably because I was so immersed in the case and I didn't really have any free time to read what I wanted to read. Eight years later, I finally read it.

Into Thin Air is a memoir of Krakauer's ascent to the top of Mt. Everest during one of the deadliest single events in the history of Everest Expeditions. The year that Krakauer climbed the mountain, eight people died during the ascent to the peak due to a deadly combination of an unexpected storm and a series of small mistakes. Jon Krakauer's description of these events takes the reader from his initial training to go up Mt. Everest, through the entire climb and then into the aftermath of the incident. Something that bothered me about Into The Wild was Krakauer's clear admiration for the idiocy of Chris McCandless and his man-beats-nature attitude. This book lacks of that. Krakauer admits early on that in this case, Mt. Everest wins the battle between humans and nature. This book really is absorbing and even though you know how it is going to end, it does make it a less interesting read.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
© 2008, rating: ****

Loving Frank is the story of Frank Lloyd Wright's seven+ year affair with the wife of one of his clients, Mamah. The story is told from Mamah's perspective as she deals with having an affair, leaving her husband, getting a divorce and being in love with Frank Lloyd Wright, who quite honestly comes across as self-centered and narcissistic through most of this book.

This was one of our book club selections, and I have to say that while I probably wouldn't have selected this book myself, it was an easy read and it led to a lot of great discussion. Despite the fact that this book was written about the early 1900s, Mamah is a very modern woman and many of the questions and trials she faces are the same as the ones that women face today. We all had to keep reminding ourselves that we were reading about 1910, and not 2009. The end of the book is shocking and I won't give it away, but we had a lot of discussion about that as well.

So, in the end, I do recommend this book even though it wasn't something I would have chosen for myself.

Two books reviews ....

Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk
© 2009, rating: ***

Pygmy is the lastest offering from the totally screwed up mind of Chuck Palahniuk. This is only the third book that I've read by him, and it did have a different feel to it than the previous two. Pygmy is the story of a teenager from an unnamed totalitarian state who travels to the American midwest as a terrorist in a plot called "Operation Havoc". No, I am not kidding. While in the midwest, he has to do what he can to fit in with his host family (comprised of "host cow father", "chicken mother", "pig-dog brother", and most importantly, "cat sister") while carrying out his subversive plan.

I bought this book for my boyfriend for his birthday and told him that I wanted to read it after he was finished. He liked it, me ... not so much. So I'm glad I didn't buy it for me. There are some scenes that are very funny, like when Pygmy tries to make sense of school dances, church ceremonies and spelling bees. I also thought that the interspersion of Pygmy's terrible experiences in his home country with those in America were also interesting in the parallels and the ways that they were different.

I think that this book failed in two ways - the first was the language. It is written in an odd style of pidgin english. For instance, in the chapter about the school dance, one of the sentences reads, "Occasional male student approach female, request mutual gyrate to demonstrate adequate reproductive partner, fast gyrate to display no cripple. No genetic defect to bequeath offspring." The entire book was like that ... it was a little like reading Chaucer in Middle English; the first few chapters were difficult, but my mind did get into the rhythm of it.

The second place this book failed was the ending. Holy crap it was silly, especially considering the kind of story Palahniuk was trying to tell. Perhaps it would work on the big screen, but it was not a fitting end to this story.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
© 2007, rating: ***

Junot Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize for his multigenerational family about American immigrants from the Dominican Republic. The book is entitled The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but the majority of the book is actually about his family members; the sections about Oscar are relatively brief. In fact, if there is any main character in this story, it is the fuku, the curse that follows the De Leon family through the generations.

Oscar's grandfather Abelard supposedly said A Bad Thing about Trujillo - an offense punishable by death during the Trujillo dictatorship in the D.R. From then on out, a fuku followed his family, preying upon each generation one by one. We as readers hear about Oscar, his sister Lola (in her voice), Lola's boyfriend Yunior (in his voice), his mother Beli and his grandfather Abelard in alternating chapters in the story.

In the beginning, I found Oscar a compelling character. An "anti-Dominican Dominican", he is overweight and in love with "the genres" - sci fi, fantasy, role-playing games. He has few friends, and no girlfriends, but when he falls in love, he loves with all of his heart. However, as the book goes and on we see more and more of Oscar from the viewpoints of other people, I found him to be more and more irritating in a way - though perhaps that is a sign of good writing, and I was seeing Oscar through the eyes of Yunior. Truthfully, the most compelling character for me was Lola, and her portions of the story were briefest of all.

I wanted to like this book very much - it was our book club selection for this month and I was really looking forward to it. Where the book fails for me is not so much in the story telling but in the writing. I actually quite liked the style of the writing, but Diaz intersperses a lot of spanish into his text with no translations. While it gives the story greater realism, it is distracting and annoying for those who don't speak spanish. Also, since much of it is slang, the online translators don't do much. Additionally, Diaz includes lengthy footnotes about the history of the Dominican Republic as background information for those that don't know. I found the foot notes also to be a distraction ... which is too bad, since there were some funny bits tucked away in there. Finally, it takes a long time before you figure out who the narrator of most of the story is and how it came to be. When the narration begins to switch all over the place, it was distracting to try and figure out who was telling which portions of the story - which is important, because there are biases in the voices of the narrators.

So all in all .... three stars. I'm not sorry I read it, but it will likely be one of my most disappointing books of the year. We will be discussing this book in book club tomorrow and maybe I'll like it better when we are done.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


The first cat I got was a stray kitten. A feral cat had kittens in a large planter on her front doorstep. She worked with the kittens as they were growing up, got them used to being around people and handles, got them used to being provided cat food to eat and then offered them up for adoption. After two of the kittens disappeared from her front porch (taken by some passers-by) and the last one was left sad and alone (her words, not mine), I took in the final kitten - or else, I would have been guilted to death. That is how I acquired Cleo, and that is basically how I've acquired all of the cats I grew up with. Most of them have just come in from the outside, strays that my family took in over the years.

My other cat is a blue-point ragdoll that I got from a couple who was about to have a baby and decided they didn't have time for their cats anymore. He is an enormous long-haired cat and the first purebred cat that I have ever owned. When I got him from the couple, he had a couple of small mats in the back of his fur that he would not let me brush or cut out. He'd let me brush his back, his sides, his tail, but he would not let me touch his butt or his "pants" with the brush. As a result, the fur got more and more and more matted over time until VF started calling him "Rastacat" (which is only slightly better than my friend D's nickname for him - "Jabba the Cat"). I decided the only thing I could do is get him shaved. This decision launched a campaign from my boyfriend and D to give Blue a lioncut.

The lion cut is demonstrated here on this small, puffy dog taken from cute overload. Please note that what little dignity this small, puntable dog had was ripped from him by the lion cut.

My cat is dignified! He is regal! To give him a lion cut would make him the laughingstock of all cat kind. He would look utterly ridiculous, and while it would make for many amusing photographs of him looking disgruntled, I am not going for it.

When I looked into groomers to have him shaved, I contacted someone who was recommended to me. When I told her what had happened to my cat, she laid a colossal guilt trip on me - I was a negligent owner, his skin was probably really irritated under those mats, he could have parasites, I should have had it taken care of months ago. Then she told me she would have to charge me upwards of two hundred and fifty dollars to shave one 18lb cat.

Ultimately, I decided to get a second opinion. I went across the street and asked the veterinarian if they would shave him for me. They told me sure, said it would be fifteen bucks and that I could grab the cat and bring him over that minutes. Done and done - and no lion cut, much to my boyfriend's dismay.


But really, Blue needs all the dignity he can muster.

In all seriousness, for anyone considering the acquisition of a ragdoll cat .... they are wonderful kitties. Blue has an awesome temperament and he is great with my other cat. While he does not love to be hugged and cuddled, he does tolerate it very well. However, maintaining their coats is kind of a pain.

In other pet news, at the bottom on my apartment food chain, I was glad to see that my clownfish started hosting! They are hosting my rhodactis mushrooms. In the wild, they would host anemones, but clownfish will often take a proxy in captivity. Since these guys are odd, captive raised hybrids (Amphiprion percula x Amphiprion ocellaris (Australian black color variant), there was a big question as to what anemones they would decide to host in. They opted for something like a carpet anemone in my tank (more like the male A. ocellaris parent). Once they start hosting, assuming the one that is becoming female accepts the smaller male, they should start spawning! Of course, if the female decided that she doesn't like the little male, she will rip his belly out and leave him for dead. I love ecology.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince!

Last night, VF and I joined a slew of Hogwarts bedecked youths and went to the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. We grabbed dinner at 9:00pm and went over to stand in line about an hour later. Silly, silly adults - what were we thinking? When we arrived for the line standing, the line already stretched away from the theater, down the street and around the corner. We took our places in the line and VF, demonstrating remarkable foraging skills, found an old desk chair someone put out on the street for us to take turns sitting on. Many of the people walking past looked at the pair of us with envy, and we basked a little in it. Joining us in line were many Hermiones, Harrys and Rons, as well as a Professor Snape, a Bellatrix LeStrange, a Draco Malfoy, and a TV News cameraman. While the youths in line waved at the camera with shouts of "Weasly is our King!" and "Hi Mom", VF and I hid out faces.

Apparently being at the end of the line was not the end of the world, as we were able still able to get perfectly good seats - and we did so without running through the theater, screaming about passionate love for Daniel Radcliff. We settled into our seats, I pulled out my Gryffindor scarf to keep me warm (yes, I do have one) and we waited the hour for the movie to start.

There is something magical about seeing the opening night show with the true fans. Every preview was met with screams and wild applause, including the one for G.I. Joe which looked positively wretched. The most promising preview of the night was the one for "Where The Wild Things Are" which looks very good. The most puzzling preview of the night was one for a movie based on the Sherlock Holmes mysteries - only, the movie has been made as an action/adventure flick including Holmes in a boxing match and hanging off of a cliff. Maybe my mind is a little fuzzy, but I don't remember Doyle writing any kind of scenes like that for his protagonist. Also, and maybe this is a case of my liking the series so much as a kid, I have trouble picturing Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law as Watson. Law is too pretty to be the affable Watson and Downey Jr. is too rough around the edges to be the meticulous and mysterious Sherlock Holmes.

After the previews, it was time for the movie to begin. Since anyone who has stood in line for hours to see this film is a true fan, the theater settled down immediately. There was little talking during the movie except for laughter in all the right places and enthusiastic cheering and clapping at the end of the movie. Truthfully, this installment of the Harry Potter saga deserves the clapping at the end.

Part of the success of this movie is that the book is much shorter. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is probably my least favorite book of the series, but this was easily my favorite movie thus far. When I read it, I commented that I thought it would be almost better as a movie than it was as a book. Because it is shorter and concentrates on one major plot point, it is easier to bundle it into two hours and forty minutes. The greatest problem with the last movie (my favorite book and I thought the worst of the movies) is that there was so much information in the book - all of it important in the end - that the filmmakers had to make a very choppy film in order to fit it all in. People who had not read the book were lost, bored and confused (at least, that is what I gathered from my sample size of three).

This movie does an excellent job balancing the interpersonal relationships between the main characters and the developing love stories between them and the darkness of the rise of Voldemort. The actors playing Harry, Ron and Hermione have all grown up and become far better actors. I thought Daniel Radcliff was particularly good this time around - he has been honing his acting chops on the London theater scene, so that is not particularly surprising. The girl who plays Lavender Brown hits just the right note playing a lovesick teenage girl. Sadly sidelined in this installment were Professor McGonagall, Hagrid, the Weasley twins and Neville, but it was nice to see Tom Fenton (as Draco Malfoy) and Michael Gambon (as Dumbledore) take a more integral role. Malfoy in particular had become something of a one note character in the last two installments, so it was nice to see some depth in this movie. Jim Broadbent is another perfect casting job as Horace Slughorn.

All of the Harry Potter purists will complain about the parts of the book missing from the movie - no funeral scene, no huge magic fight in the castle, skirting around how the twins paid for their joke shop (since they left out Harry's winning from movie 4), pretty much all but one quidditch scene, some of Dumbledore's memories of Voldemort are left out, and no mentions of Dumbledore's wand (important for movie number 5). But none of those - except possibly the bits about the wand - were integral to the story of the Half Blood Prince or the two movies that will make up the end of the series.

All in all - if you are a Harry Potter fan, you shouldn't be disappointed in this movie. But if you haven't read the books, or at least seen the last four movies, you will likely be lost. David Yates is back directing the two parts that make up the last book in the series and this bodes well for a fantastic three part finale worthy of the books.

At least, in my opinion.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Vermont Part III

... picking up where I left off ...

After we stayed the night in the cabin on the lake, it was off for a day of sightseeing. We decided early to take as much time as we wanted in the morning and afternoon so that we wouldn't hit New York City until after midnight. We decided we'd prefer to get into the city in the middle of the night than sit in the parking lot of I-95 after a holiday weekend. One of the taxes of living in New York is the time tax for entry and exit - the city does not let go of its prey easily.

After a few wrong turns in the back roads of Vermont, we crested a little hill heading towards the town of Cabot, VT. On the way there, we stopped so I could take a photo of this random little shack in the middle of a field.

Little House


Cabot Creamery, one of the oldest farmer-owned cooperatives, was the first stop on our vermont tour largely meant to torture my lactose intolerant boyfriend. The tour was $2.00, which was approximately what the tour was worth. We watched a little movie about the history of the creamery, learned a few factoids (Cheddar cheese is naturally lactose free! Gloves are less sanitary than bare hands! Mechanizing the plant didn't push people out of jobs, oh no it didn't!), and then we got to see cheese being made. Great blocks of cheese, and great vats of cheese curds, and cranes patterned like a Holstein cow (no, I am not kidding).

Makin' Cheese

After the tour, we got to taste all of the cheeses. Good God they were delicious. The boyfriend was tempted into taking some of his moo pills by the habenero and the chipotle cheese and the sounds of my lips smacking. I walked out of there with about two pounds of cheese and it is delicious. In fact, I'm eating a little piece right now - aren't you jealous?

After that, it was a trip to a roadside attraction that my boyfriend found. Turns out there is a man in Vermont. And that man makes art out of spiderwebs. He is likely the only "spider web farmer" in the United States. When one is so close to something so bizarre, the only possible thing to do is to take a look. After a quick detour for some good eating at Ed's Barr-B-Que in Barre, we were there.

Ed's Barr-B-Q -- I took this quick shot as we were leaving the restaurant to post on the interwebs. The food here really was delicious, the beer selection excellent and the service was fantastic. If you happen to be in Barre or heading through Barre, I can't recommend it enough.

We met Will Knight, owner and proprietor of the spider web farm. Sadly he had already harvested earlier that morning, but we got a chance to paw through his most recent pieces. Will Knight is the kind of guy you could probably talk to for hours and seemed to have many stories to tell. While we were there, we saw two cars pull up Spiderweb Farm Road (yes, that's the road he lives on), take a spin around, and drive away. This message goes out to all of those who do that - if you've made it up the road, why not stop for a minute? Take a photos? Chat with the proprietor? You might actually like something. B ended up bringing home two larger piece, while I settled for a very small piece of web memorabilia. I should have worked up the courage to ask him to pose for a picture, but instead I settled for asking him to sign the back of my spiderart (the smaller pieces were unsigned).

Spiderweb Farm II
The sign says "Spiders at Work". And yes, you can buy those in the shop too.

Spiderweb Farm I

Having come this far through Vermont, we decided to make one last tour stop in Waterbury, VT - the home of Ben and Jerry's. This tour was slightly more expensive than the Cabot Creamery Tour at $3.00, but we got to see another movie and we got to watch ice cream being made. At th end of the tour, we all got a scoop of Ben and Jerry's Mint Chocolate Chip (their flavor of the day) and I watched B take approximately 20 of his moo pills to get the whole thing down. I told him I was happy to take the terrible burden of finishing his scoop, but he declined. We weren't allowed to take photos in the factory, but we were allowed to photograph the end of the tour.

Top flavor hallway
hallway featuring the top 10 flavors - (in order) Cherry Garcia, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Chunky Monkey, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Half Baked, New York Super Fudge Chunk, Phish Food, Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, Peanut Butter Cup and Vanilla Sorry Stephen Colbert but Americone Dream was not up there - but not yet in the flavor graveyard either.

We also walked around the grounds to the "Flavor Graveyard" where all of the fallen flavors are memorialized. B and I were both shocked and saddened to see that our beloved coffee,coffee buzzbuzzbuzz! was among the dearly departed. Its tombstone read: Its heady buzz made us zoomzoomzoom! / Bounce off the walls like a rubber room / Now this zippy flavor's gone / But caffeine headache goes on and on.. Disregarding the fact that I'm not sure a rubber room bounces and the possibly improper use of the apostrophe, it is a fitting tribute to one of my favorite flavors.

Flavor Graveyard
Flavor Graveyard

Silo Diptych

Ben and Jerry's Industrial
Factory Building Exterior

We thought that this was going to be our last stop, but on our way out of Vermont we saw a sign on the side of the road for the Morrill Historic Homestead. Never one to pass up a brown sign, we headed off in search of this place. We figured it would be closed, but we might be able to take a look at the grounds or at least see what it was. Apparently it is Vermont's first national historic landmark and the grounds were totally open for us to tromp around in, and peer in through the windows of the various houses. I wanted to take a walk up a pretty path, but once more the squelchiness of the water soaked ground prevented my efforts. I haven't finished all of the photos of this area, but I'll leave you with one two of the pretty little creek tumbling along the property line.

On our way out of Vermont, the almost full moon was rising and it looked far closer than normal. And this seems the right note to end on, so that will have to be that.

The moon is closer than it appears