Monday, December 6, 2010

Anyone want to pay $208 to read a book? (Book included.)

I saw this description of a class in my local college's noncredit course guide and nearly fell over:

. . .

New Novel Reading for Fun and Facts: The Castle in the Attic

Enhance your reading skills, build comprehension skills, and increase your vocabulary as you read the novel, The Castle in the Attic. Learn about the main character, William, who can't wait to play with it, he is certain there's something magical about the castle! Join us as we explore the mystery of the castle. Books will be provided.

. . .

$208 dollars??? To read a book??? You've GOT to be kidding me.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Olives of Bliss (aka Castelvetrano olives)

castelvetrano olives
 It all started with an innocent trip to the grocery store. I picked up a deli carton of assorted olives and bit into a kind I've never seen before. It was bright green and firm and stunningly delicious. I think I stopped breathing for a couple seconds. Can respiration halt out of bliss?

I still didn't know what they were called but I eagerly awaited my next acquaintance with them.

The next day, I began the drive home when I got stuck in the most heartless traffic jam ever -- stuck at a light that would not move for 15 minutes within WALKING distance of my precious olives. I thought I was going to shrivel up into a bag of need. Those olives were the only things on my mind; I could practically taste them.

Finally got home and finished them. Now what was I going to do? I'd found them in a supermarket far away. They HAD to be someplace nearby. I put my bet on Whole Foods and made a pilgrimage.


Please don't tell me olives are fattening. YOU MUST TRY CASTELVETRANO OLIVES. They are brined in crack.
A friend following my saga wrote me: "we'd like to schedule some time for an intervention"!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

PSA: Every DAY three 747s crash. Fight cancer.

Every 2 minutes, 28 people die of cancer.

Last year, 562,340 Americans died of cancer. That equals THREE 747s crashing every day.

1 in 1,000 Americans is a survivor of childhood cancer.

In memory of Uncle Paul, Uncle Dominic, Grandma, Karen, Linda's mom, Jackie's sister & mom, John's mom, Sue, and for friends (including bloggers like Suburban Sweetheart) & loved ones who've lost someone to cancer.... and anyone who battled, or is battling a diagnosis... or is standing by bewildered and helpless watching someone else one fight, this is for you.

I chose two charity cancer organizations for my workplace donation this year.

1. One is research-oriented.
There are more than 200 causes of cancer, not just one, and so research is crucial. It takes about seven years and more than a billion dollars to get a drug approved. Last year alone there were 850 drugs in the pipeline but only two approved.

The American Association for Cancer Research

2. The other is for people & families suffering through cancer diagnosis & treatment.
Cancer Care, Inc. offers financial assistance, professional counseling, and help for anyone affected by cancer.

If you would like to honor the memory of someone, you can leave their name in the comments below.

This is for you.

I hope for a cure. And for love, support and help for all in need.
"Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope." 
~Hal Lindsey
*Source: American Association for Cancer Research

Monday, November 1, 2010


I just signed up for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month; an online (and sometimes in-person) movement that encourages writing by offering a sense of community to this normally very solitary process.

I did it because I've been thinking about it ever since I met Karen and she told me all about it and shared her amazing and creative novel idea.

And now she's dead.

She never finished her story.

I did it because that was 4 years ago and I don't know if I have a story in me or not, but I might have something in between all the little shards of this year of wind and fire and sun and rain.

I did it because I want to improve. The only way to do this is to practice, like drawing or dancing. It's okay fall down sometimes. If a toddler were overcome with discouragement at failure the way adults seem to be, no child would ever learn to run. But yet babies fall all the time and get up and keep trying.

"What we call failure is not the falling down but the staying down."
~Mary Pickford

And so this is my year of falling.

And I did it because it is said that writing prolifically and frequently liberates some portion of the self that cannot be unlocked without regular forays into the depths of the soul.
I've never written a novel before. The last time I composed a fictional story was in 7th grade English class. But I am going to try at least a page a day in the hopes that I find gems even among the garbage.

A writer friend eloquently supported this logic during a recent discussion: "I feel strongly that the act of writing every day, whether you produce poetry, prose, or putrescence, is valuable. To me, it's not just the practice of stringing words together; it's practice at entering that realm where I can see the story." 

And of course, NaNoWriMo says (on why we should bother)
Aiming low is the best way to succeed. With entry-level novel writing, shooting for the moon is the surest way to get nowhere. With high expectations, everything you write will sound cheesy and awkward. Once you start evaluating your story in terms of word count, you take that pressure off yourself. And you'll start surprising yourself with a great bit of dialogue here and a ingenious plot twist there. Characters will start doing things you never expected, taking the story places you'd never imagined. There will be much execrable prose, yes. But amidst the crap, there will be beauty. A lot of it.
. . .
Art for art's sake does wonderful things to you. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. It makes you want to take naps and go places wearing funny pants. Doing something just for the hell of it is a wonderful antidote to all the chores and "must-dos" of daily life. Writing a novel in a month is both exhilarating and stupid, and we would all do well to invite a little more spontaneous stupidity into our lives.

 Want to join me? It's not too late. There's a whole month in front of us.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The WMATA trains of FAIL

Saturday I had to go downtown for a memorial service right in the middle of what my mom would say is "en mitten drinnen," Yiddish for "in the middle of things." And so, in the middle of Jon Stewart's Rally for Sanity (see its 100 best signs), I vetoed driving and ended up in the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority nest of f*** which culminated in 2 mile jog/walk from Dupont Circle to Georgetown.

I spent almost the entire train ride trying not to accidentally start a family with the multitudinous strangers whose lower limbs, vying for space, found themselves wrapped themselves around my thighs during a long, awkward train ride made longer because we kept stopping due to track maintenance and heavy volume. When we DID stop, doors opened and eager riders gazed longingly at us packed sardines and instantly calculated the futility of a fit. Not a single other person was able to squeeze on after Silver Spring, and we weren't even in DC yet . Also, this trek, undertaken after much metro jostling and a sprint up the Dupont Circle escalator of doom (which was broken so no resting!), added a note of comic urgency to the already pressing matter of making a remembrance service on time.

Look at this packed station!
The insanity! Metro photo from Deb

Friday, October 15, 2010


What a day!!
  1. Minor reaction to flu shot, check.
  2. Minor car accident, check.
  3. Minor surgery, check.
  4. Begin reading book about 9/11 death, check.
  5. Scour sympathy cards, pick two, check.
Just about the only positive thing is that I have doctor's orders to avoid situps for a month!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I am the class example!

I started taking an introduction to drawing class last week. The class description specifically mentioned this was for beginners, for those wanting to learn how to draw. NOT for people who already have talent.
I signed up.

The first exercise was a "contour" drawing: stare at an object and trace it WITHOUT lifting the pencil from paper and without actually LOOKING at what you're doing. "Go slowly," the instructor said, "your hand will outline what your eye sees."

Yeah? Here's the "vase" I "saw":

If you need a good laugh, seriously, right now, try it. Trace the outline of something without actually looking at the paper. You've just done a contour drawing!

We practiced this a few times and I kept snorting at my results. I wanted to try using my other hand just to mix it up even though I am NOT ambidextrous. "How much worse could it get?" I thought.

The instructor began circling the room to check on us.
Instructor: "How are you doing?"

me: "Alright, I guess. I tried this with both hands and it's interesting that I can't really tell which hand did which." I pointed to my paper. "See? This was my left hand and this other one, my right."

Instructor: "Which do you prefer?"

me: "I'm right-handed."
He excitedly grabbed my sketchbook and held it up to the class.

"Look! Here's a GREAT example of how you need ABSOLUTELY NO MECHANICAL SKILL WHATSOEVER to do this exercise. None! See? She did this [awful, crude, primitive, toddler's rendition] vase with both left and right hands. If you ask me, the left hand actually looks a little better."

He circled the class, pointing to my scribbles. "No skill! None! It's perfect!!"

I brightened behind the easel, proud of my lack of talent. I was the class example for zero ability!


"See how her brain was less constricted by what she was 'supposed' to be seeing in the left-handed drawing? It's more symmetrical. It's a truer view of the vase."

He delivered the sketchpad back, adding, "See if you all want to try this" to the rest of the room.

(The vases were slightly different.)

The next class focused on "gesture" drawing. This involved scribbling out a shape in 15 seconds.

"It doesn't even have to LOOK like the thing," the instructor stated. "You really just want the *essence* of what it's DOING."

So, uh, here's the chair I was sitting on:

Quite clear, right?

I spent the next 2.5 hours scribbling things and fantasizing about how I maybe should have enrolled in something extremely inartistic like accounting. Every sketch seemed to exceed the previous one by an exponential factor of suck.

Then I got home, threw on some instrumental music and my brain lit up. Inspired, I tried one last sketch for the night:

I've never been able to draw faces before. People in general are extremely difficult. Either I needed those 2 hours to warmup or trance tunes act as calisthenics for the non-visual brain but I felt like maybe this class could actually help me learn to see.

If I could actually learn to create? Bonus.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger (short film clip by Bill Plympton)

Another film I saw at DragonCon: The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger, by Bill Plympton, described in the IMDB as "A children's fable about the power of advertising, the meaning of life and ultimately the test of a mother's love."

See Bill Plympton's blog post for more info.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Skylight, by David Baas (short film clip)

One of the best short films I've seen lately is Skylight by David Baas:

part 2:

These short clips show only about a minute of the very beginning, but the audience I was with was *howling* all the way through. The movie features penguins in their statement about the hole in the ozone layer. If you get a chance, check out a screening. (As of today, nothing's scheduled, but I hope they update their site soon to reflect future indie film showings.)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

an adventurous spine-bending evening

If you've been following my Twitter feed, you know that I've been suffering from the plague. The tentacles of death seem to become boldest at night as they've been reaching through my dreams, yanking me out of the underworld and thrusting me into an amniotic sac of wakeful sickness into which I cannot breathe. I'd juuuust drift off into a sweet slumber (a blissful reprieve from this ailing consciousness) and suddenly bolt upright choking and gasping for air. This has been happening all week. And so I am missing about 5 good nights of sleep.

Sleep-deprivation, incidentally, is an exceptionally cruel torture method. This cold seemed to be getting worse, not better, and so last night, weary as I was, could not rest. I'd get 5 minutes into a dream before being rudely ripped awake in above said fashion. This happened repeatedly for hours.

After a particularly violent bout of choking where I almost died, I started to cry. Uncle! However, I could not even afford myself the luxury of self-pity as tears bring with them their own poison and I couldn't allow an increase in snot production. I swallowed the bitter feelings of the repose-impoverished and decided to try a new game plan. Even overdosing on medicine didn't seem to help so something else was in order.

I'd BEEN sleeping on a stack of pillows up high. I'm a back sleeper, so this felt not unlike lounging on the couch. But it still didn't help. I decided to try sleeping on my side. Note that with the current setup, this approach required a kind of bending of the spine which probably should not occur at all, let alone for 8+ hours straight:

However, I am pleased to report that it seemed to help. I slept!! And the muscle aches don't feel much different so either I'm already so broken it doesn't matter what contorted position I shape myself into at night, or the spine, when heated to a temperature above the bodily norm of 98.6, is able to bend much more gracefully than expected. Experiment to be repeated tonight.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Good morning! Sink and rust.

Rise and shine! Oh, oops. It's Monday. I meant sink and rust!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

To lose one pound, double-click your mouse six million times.

I hate the word "diet." It implies the temporary eating of cardboard-like substances that will melt away all the wrong parts of the body. You can't just pretend I'll never eat junk food again. I mean, seriously.

For most of my life weight has never been an issue. But that all changed when I took CLARITIN. Yep, that's right. The allergy med. It turns out that Claritin makes people hungry. In fact, it's so effective at this that doctors sometimes prescribe it to old people who need to gain weight. This is where I learned that weight, once you put it on, is extremely hard to take off. I wrote this post because I wanted to share what I learned while playing the losing game.

About fat

Researchers are starting to think fat acts more like a system rather than just a lil' ol' cell. Lots of complex stuff happens so I'll cite findings here:
"The medical profession’s advice to overweight patients used to be straightforward: Eat less, exercise more. Today scientists know it’s not that simple. The body monitors—and defends—its energy stores with an arsenal of potent molecules. One of these is the so-called hunger hormone, ghrelin, perhaps the most powerful appetite stimulant yet discovered. In June researchers at UCLA reported how exposure to ghrelin could help explain why some of us consistently overeat." ~Discover magazine
"Ghrelin appears to suppress fat utilization in adipose (fat) tissue. This may explain why dieters who lose weight and then try to keep it off make more ghrelin than they did before dieting. It's as if their bodies are fighting to regain the lost fat, researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. In short, their bodies seem to be trying to hold on to fat stores in case there is another "famine.""

"...Fat cells around the abdomen produce an appetite-inducing hormone known as Neuropeptide Y (NPY). Researchers have always believed that only the brain produces the hormone NPY. But leading study author Dr. Kaiping Yang, found that the abdominal fat in obese rats also produced the hormone.... it sends signals to the individual that they are constantly hungry." ~Natural News
"Eat too much sugar and you may end up storing it in your belly -- when you eat sweets, your body releases insulin which causes fats in your bloodstream to be moved into the fat cells."
I am also convinced (but don't know if research will verify) that the more sweets I eat, the stronger the cravings. Would going cold-turkey suffice? I like sugar too much to find out. I can't imagine myself as the calorie gestapo.

If you are like me, here are some things you can do to improve your health without dieting.

10 Things you can do to lose weight
(9 before I even mention exercise!)

1. Maybe your meds are making you fat. Some medications do cause weight gain. (See Prescription drugs that cause weight gain, by Johns Hopkins Health Alerts.)

2. Get lots of sleep. Being sleep-deprived makes you release cortisol, which makes you hungry. (See Stress affects body and mind from NIH.)

3. Stressed? Do things that calm you -- dive into a good book, take a long bath, listen to good music, practice yoga or stretching. Stress causes cortisol to be released which... guess... yup! It makes you hungry. (See How stress causes weight gain, from the Washington Times.)

4. Don't diet. It lowers your metabolism. Eat small meals every few hours. And eat things that are satiating, like nuts (not too many -- they're good for you but no more than about, say, 15 cashews or almonds or 6 macadamia nuts, since they're so calorie-dense). Also good: fruits, veggies and high-fiber carbs. (See One big meal versus many small meals a day from Columbia University's Go Ask Alice column.) If you're managing diabetes or another health condition, be sure to follow your doctor's nutrition advice: apples may be ok for me but not necessarily for a diabetic.

(My big downfall is managing my cravings so more on that in a bit. We all know what we should be eating, it's just actually doing it.)

5. Don't eat diet soda or sugar-free sweets. Research is showing that eating sweet things makes the brain expect a big caloric intake. And when it doesn't come, it will make you hunger for more until you take in the amount of calories it expected. (See Drink more diet soda, gain more weight?, by WebMD.)

6. Don't drink juice. It fills the body with empty calories and ends up making you hungry. (Juice as bad as soda, docs say, from CBS news.)

7. Get enough calcium and vitamin D. This also helps with mood. Did you ever see the "Got Milk?" commercial portraying an army of earnest men diving for the supermarket's milk stores? It cited a study on calciums association with PMS relief:

See also Dodging weight gain with vitamin D, from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Add extra calcium to low-fat diet from WebMD.

8. Stay hydrated. The body often confuses thirst for hunger and dehydrated people often end up eating when they really need fluids. (Curing afternoon hunger cravings, from eHow.)

9. Fidget. Fidgeting burns calories. (Fidgety folks burn more calories, from

10. Exercise. Ideally, incorporate 3 different kinds of exercise into your routine:
  • cardio (burns fat): you should be able to talk but not sing -- that's a good indicator of heart rate (how to tell if you're working hard enough). Start off doing as much as you can and work your way up. If one minute is all you can do, fine. Before you know it, you'll be up to 2 minutes, 3 minutes, and so on.

    The biggest problem: How to stick to it? Make it fun. If that means kicking it to Beyonce, go! Or get a workout partner or join a gym. Some gyms offer nice perks like a ladies-only section or a cinema room. Working out in the dark while watching movies, totally NOT thinking about how much I hate the treadmill? Awesome.

    Recently I was on a stairclimber when two girls poked their heads into the gym and peered, horrified, at all the moving people and hissed, "SEE! I TOLD you it was full!" before disappearing. There was plenty of room, they just wanted their privacy. I understood how awkward they felt because I was also shy when I first started visiting the gym. I thought everyone would notice the clumsy new person doing everything wrong. I wanted to tell those girls what I know now: no one is judging anyone else. They're all preoccupied with what they're doing, no one else is scrutinized with a microscope. It took me a while before I realized this but it was months before I felt comfortable. (Your experience might be totally different than mine though; I can be freakishly shy sometimes.)
  • strength training (makes muscle, which also raises your metabolism and prevents osteoporosis): I used to worry that lifting weights would make me bulky and mannish but you know what? Genetics dictates that, not exercise. A male fitness trainer once explained this to me, detailing his own exercise regime while flexing to prove that he himself was not a quarterback despite the effort. Plus, being in shape is sexy no matter how you wear it. And the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn when you're NOT working hard. Also, muscle is leaner than fat so your clothes will fit better even if you don't lose weight. It might even look like you've gained, as muscle weighs more than fat; use your clothes, not just the scale, as an indicator of progress.
  • stretching: I used to volunteer at a physical therapy clinic and learned there that the number one factor dictating how quickly someone would recover from an accident was their flexibility. During a car accident, muscles get stretched and torn. If they're limber, they'll be less likely to rip. My philosophy is, if you do NOTHING else, at least stretch. You'll likely end up motivated to do more. Getting started really IS half the battle -- ease yourself into a regimen for at least 28 days (how long it takes to establish a habit) and see how fluid a routine becomes.

Also? It's about attitude.

Have a setback? Don't be too harsh on yourself. It's not even physically possible to gain massive weight from one bad day or even one bad weekend. The key is to love yourself the way you are, not punish yourself for perceived failures. Your body has carried you a long way and deserves appreciation no matter its shape. Anytime you are working to improve your health you deserve kudos.

Cravings... how to cope. Some thoughts (and your suggestions?)

Every time you have an opportunity to put something in your mouth, think twice about it. Suppose it's candy... ask yourself why do you want this? Are you really hungry? Could your hunger really be thirst? Did you just hear someone else open a candy wrapper and now you want one too? Learn from it and next time you'll be better equipped to deal with this weakness. Expect it. Anticipate the afternoon snack binge and arm yourself accordingly.

I like to snack on chicken broth, artichokes (vinaigrette seems to dull the craving for sweets), tea, sugar free jello, popcorn, plain yogurt and hot chicken wings. (Trader Joe's sometimes carries Buffalo Chicken Wings -- it seems counterintuitive to microwave chicken and be pleased with the results but this brand seems to be an exception). I'm always looking for new ideas too.

So, what do you do to avoid temptation when the cravings hit?

Further reading (not sponsored articles, I handpicked these because I thought the information was sound -- they're not ads):

Friday, July 23, 2010

The (adorable) pest in the house

My dog is a complete ingrate. He makes me feel like I'm living with a homeless person. Or at the very least, a rude and pesky roommate who sees me only as a giant bag of gold, the mere sight of my person only serving as a reminder of money. "Oh hey, it's you. Can I borrow a twenty?"

Except instead of money, the dog wants something infinitely more valuable to him: freedom.

He wants only to go outside.

This is ALL he wants, ever.

Gazing longingly at the seemingly unreachable outside.

"Oh, hey, it's you. Can you let me out?" (<-- if this dog could speak, this is all he would say.) I just took him for a one-mile run. The minute I got home, turned the key and cracked open the front door, he bolted through my legs to the back, sending me spinning. He stood there panting and pleading at the back (as if he had NOT just sniffed the urine of 278 trees, shrubs, and bushes mere moments earlier) and threw himself against the glass, screaming for freedom as if he'd been locked in a tiny crate for 19 hours and OHMYGOD, bladder life is 19 hours and 1 second and if I wait ONE SECOND LONGER he will explode all over the tile floor. And boy will I be sorry.

He shrieks all this at me, warning me there will be trouble. Except he's still panting from the run. He doesn't NEED to go out. There cannot possibly be even an eighth of an ounce left in him. I have no idea why he acts like this.

Some background: this dog has THE. LIFE. He is exercised multiple times a day, fed wild Alaskan salmon, showered with toys, cuddled (but only during thunderstorms, otherwise he does not like to be touched), anti-mosquitoed/ticked/bugged, his cushions fluffed before bed, and he's scratched and scritched in the acceptable places (like, his ass). This is a good life for a creature. Heck, I'd apply but the household is not accepting any new applicants for spoiled beast.

A typical scene: my left foot hovers over the top step as I begin to descend from upstairs. The dog spies this and springs to life from living room.

"Oh hey!! Hey! As long as you're coming down this way, could you maybe open the door? Please?"

But I just let him in 10 minutes ago. I am now on a mission for water, for myself; since no one will feed/water me, I have to do it myself. I check his bowl just to make sure he's not thirsty, and get a glass for me.

He crowds my legs as I'm drinking. Nudge nudge.

"Excuse me. Um, that door over there? Could you maybe just craaack it open? Just a bit? Just a little bit. Please?"

I ignore him and down the glass.

"The DOOR." nudge nudge.

I am unmoved. I start downing more fluid.

"Hm. Maybe you didn't hear me? I just need out. Over there? Let me show you." (Runs to back door, then back to me again.)

"See? Just right there."

I set down the glass again and ignore his request, thinking good, I am using my ape brain to not be manipulated by a canine.

"LOOK," he wags desperately, "there's like RABBITS and stuff back there. You just don't understand. I. NEED. to. GO. OUT."
(a pic in which he finally gets his wish...
Still leaping and screaming and excited....)

His message gets more insistent. Maybe it ends with a good body slam (rattling both the sliding door AND my nerves) or maybe just a twisting leap in the air accompanied by what I call his "nervous yap" -- the noise he emits during a small mammal sighting. It doesn't quite resemble a bark, more like a cross between a freshly disemboweled but living hyena and a barn owl. Whatever it is, I can unequivocally state that it is a most decidedly unrelaxing noise.

And that is how I end my night. Any wonder why it takes me so long to unwind??

Digging, anyone? Bueller?

The dog, blindsided by a cannonball while I watch...

Leaps and bounds happen both IN the house and out.
These are Dan's photos, more pictures of the dog are on his blog.

Monday, July 12, 2010

the perfect target: a "No Target Shooting" sign...

My dad took this photo in Alaska. The "No Target Shooting" sign seems to make a perfect target...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

To the pinch-faced JHU alumnus....

To the pinched-faced JHU alumnus with the overflowing backseat of stuffed animals: judging from the way you hitched yourself to my bumper on this morning's commute, you were not a physics major.

No love,

Monday, June 14, 2010

What jobs did you hate?

I was driving to an appointment recently when I heard severe thunderstorms were on the way. I glanced up at the sky to see the clouds roiling and snapped both these pix (taken within seconds of eachother -- see how different the clouds look?).

When the sky darkens, my spleen wants nothing more then to curl up with a good book and a cuppa tea and revel in nature's symphony.

However, shortly after the tornado watch was announced, I raced home wondering what was I supposed to do if I encountered an actual twister while driving: leave the car and dive into a ditch, or stay in the car? Which is it? (I'm pretty sure the standing advice is, you're screwed, with a hearty BWAHAHAHA from the universe.)
Anyone *like* the idea of being a storm chaser? (I mean, the idea is fascinating but how do you tamp down that survival lobe, the most significant part of the brain that's been tweaked and honed since the dawn of man? The one that says "HOLY &*%$#, that is a swirling tower of death and dismembered kittens and OHGHD it's heading THIS. WAY." Because I'm pretty sure I'd want out of the job at that point.)

Still, storm chaser sounds exotic enough. But what would be your most dreaded job? What task would you avoid no matter HOW much money? Or, what would be so boring that you'd rather be unemployed?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why spleen, where has your spleen been, and is your spleen reproducing? Your questions answered.

Reposted from Formspring (anonymous question site):

Where all has your spleen been?

Farthest-reaching places: London, Japan (Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka, Nikko), Ecuador (landed in Guayaquil and immediately took midnight bus for 8 hour ride up Andes mountains to capital city Quito), Hawaii (The Big Island, Oahu, Kauai) and Mexico (Baja California).

Also a bunch of states: East coast from Florida to Maine. Drove from Maryland to Arizona on central US route. Lived in Flagstaff, AZ for a summer. And visited California and Washington State (Puget Sound area, Whidbey Island) multiple times.

I love traveling! I definitely have wanderlust.

What is the best photo you've taken? Also, what is your favorite photo you've taken, if they are not the same?

My 3 favorite photos (sorry, I couldn't narrow it down to just one!):

1. Black & white composition, taken a few weeks ago from the bushes outside my house:

2. Dreamy African violets, taken from flowers my mom gave me:

3. And lastly, this yellow flower gleaming in Arizona sun:

How do did you get to be so charming and adorable? :) Okay, no, seriously, that's a mom question if ever there was one. Not that I'm your mom. ANYWAY, what was the last movie you saw that you loved?

Awww, love you too mom! hehe

Last movie I saw & loved? Persepolis. Cried while simultaneously enchanted by the people and art of the storyline presentation.

favorite tv show? favorite reality tv show?

I don't watch TV. I wish I did sometimes so I would understand what the heck the rest of the world is talking about sometimes.

When I do indulge, very rarely (like once every couple of months), I like House, Dirty Jobs, Family Guy, Simpsons, Monk.

What reality shows are out there? I don't think I've ever seen more than a few minutes of one before getting annoyed and moving on.

Why Spleen? where did you get the idea from?

I studied premed as an undergrad and just fell in love with the word "spleen."

I am enamored with medical terminology. I read medical texts for fun. Like, I love "uvulopalatopharyngoplasty" -- the name of the operation to remove the little hangy thing in the back of the throat -- but that makes a bad aliases. No one could spell it.

Spleens are popular. There's a whole underground fan base of spleens, identified by the early alt.spleen.faq usenet newsgroup (now Google Groups):

With questions like:

- How do I care for my spleen?
- Are the rumors of spleen violence true?
- How can I keep my spleen clean?
- Can I splendify my spleen by adding aluminum siding?
- When I die, should I convert my spleen to binary and post it to alt.spleen?
- Does trephination hurt your spleen?
- Did Andy Warhol really lose his spleen?
- What did Ricky say when Lucy came home with an extra spleen?
-Lately my spleen has been ordering pizzas and expects me to pay. Surely this is unfair as I have been a good host. Furthermore, how could my spleen be using the phone?

Did you know some people can have more than one spleen? And it's also possible to NOT have a spleen?

Do you wonder what the spleen does? It filters blood. It also plays some role in your immunity.

So I made up the word "Spleeness" -- it's my way of being rich with all things spleen. But one of the first woodburning cuts I ever made said, simply: "Spleen Me" (my polite version of F me or FML (see It just sounded right. I don't know how else to describe it. Spleen lovers, unite!

Where would you want to live if you could live anywhere!?

I need to be near the ocean.

I grew up on the Jersey shore and spent all my time at the beach racing my bike down the boardwalk and finding comfort and solace in the sand and waves.

The NJ coast isn't as beautiful as the shores of the Pacific so I'd pick California as an ideal place but my desire to be near family mucks this up. California, though my heart sings when I visit it, is too far to live.

I also love cities; the nightlife, people, culture, museums, events.

Where I live now (near DC) is pretty cool. I just miss the beach.

What was the best meal you've ever eaten?

OMFG. The first time I tasted bruschetta a few months ago. YES, that the first time.

(I ate it with a spoon, I'm not into bread.) I was bowled over by the magnificence of properly vinegared tomatoes, basil & garlic. It was so good that I stopped at the supermarket on the way home from the restaurant, bought 10 tomatoes and made AND ATE a batch immediately upon walking in the door.

My homemade bruschetta needs work. But man, it was good!

There's also this one Chinese restaurant in Flagstaff, AZ (east side, near the mall) that makes the BEST. FREAKING. hot & sour soup I have EVER. EATEN. IN. MY. LIFE. I regularly drove 10 miles out of my way just to get this stuff.

Writing about it hurts since it's so far away and I can't have it. I might literally be able to eat nothing but else on a desert island for a month.

are you planning to have little spleenesses at some point?

A few questions came in asking if my spleen would reproduce so I'll just address them all here.

I always imagined I'd have kids someday. But I don't have them yet and don't feel ready right this minute, so it's very possible that I may never have them.

I went through this phase where I agonized over not being "ready." I actually went out and bought the book, "Maybe Baby" because that's what I do when I'm ambivalent. I research.

It was a fantastic read: individual stories of the journey into parentdom or childlessness.

What lesson did I learn?

That people are happy *as long as* they have what they want.

This makes sense. It applies to everything in life, really -- a job, love, food, housing, toys, time... not just parenting.

If I *did* have kids, I'm sure it would be a love I'd never known before. I get that. I'm a pretty affectionate & nurturing person and could imagine being a parent. I have such respect for the love & dedication parents give. (Although the exhaustion and resources required terrifies me, which is part of my ambivalence.)

The other part is that I feel, mentally, like I'm 22.

If the urge strikes, then I'll consider it. If not, I'm at peace with that. I wasn't expecting my kids to care for me in the nursing home anyway so plan B still applies. :)

How would you describe your personality?

Goodnatured, happy, intense. I genuinely care about people and enjoy going out of my way to help.

Have a question for me?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tell me you do not see this EVERY DAY.

"I'm speeding down the freeway and I keep seeing this..."
-Josh Cooley (cartoon his own)

The guy who drew this series of cartoons of what goes down on the highway is BRILLIANT. See his full post, but I'm warning you, put down that glass of water now before you ruin your screen. --> onward!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The handsome young man at the post office

So I went the post office around 11pm to use the automated shipping machine. NO ONE was around, the place was absolutely desolate. I was quietly weighing items when I got the eerie feeling that someone was looking at me. Wait, not just looking. STARING. But the door hadn't opened since I entered; was someone already here and I just hadn't noticed?

I turned ever so slowly... and SHRIEKED, flinging mail like the mace I wished I had. Facing me was an eerily-grinning young man, violating the social rules that dictate please do not stare creepily at females in abandoned buildings close to the midnight hour. Every hair on the back of my neck stood straight up.

And then I realize:


Go me. Post office: 1, amygdala: 0

Friday, May 14, 2010

maybe we all just had the worst day

This morning I was standing in line to buy coffee, which I hate but I needed something bitter and caffeinated to pour bitterly into my bitter and exhausted self, wearing what I think is my "don't talk to me or I will CUT you" face, but is in actuality a "holy COW she has bags" face, when I overheard the cashier saying she didn't feel good.

But there she is, every morning, smiling at everyone, her greeting filled with warmth, asking genuinely how each of us is doing.

And I thought of lyrics in the Ani DiFranco song Be Nice:
maybe you don't like your job
maybe you didn't get enough sleep
well, nobody likes their job
nobody got enough sleep
maybe you just had
the worst day of your life
but, you know, there's no escape
and there's no excuse
so just suck up and be nice
And I thought, if she can smile, so can I.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Longest, most-irritating link

I cannot believe someone actually thought it was ok to send this as a link (real URL taken out for privacy):

Most email programs truncate long links. Who would spend 5 minutes cutting & pasting this into a browser??

Monday, April 19, 2010

"are my abs ripped enough??"

I cut this little snippet out of an email I just got from a mother of teenage boys. My inner angsty 16-year old has finally been put to rest. THAT'S what boys are thinking about? Their abs?? sigh. Maybe being male is easier, at least in the romance department

One night, my son was sitting at the table with about 9 other friends, (I was making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches) and he said, "I hate when I keep having the Superman dream and I am stabbed, or something ."

Suddenly all the other guys were like, "Yeah, I hate that dream!"

So I said, "Guys actually dream that they are Superman?"

They said "TOTALLY"

Then they were saying that girls are so weird. When you're on the phone with them, if there is a second of silence, the girl thinks something is wrong.

So I said, "Well, why does it become silent?"

The guys said, "We just like hearing their voices, so it doesn't matter what they talk about. We just let them ramble about nonsense. When they stop its our cue to continue talking. It does not mean something is wrong, usually we don't hear the words anyway, we are thinking are our abs ripped enough? Are we tall enough? Smart enough? And we are scared to say anything because girls can talk without thinking. We have to think about each word or we will end up saying it wrong, and that takes so much time."
So let me try something new and pontificate on my abs....

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

tribute to my friend Karen

I finally got the date for the memorial service and put together a tribute to my friend Karen on my art blog. Read tribute -->

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

google's suggested search is revealing

Just now, while searching for work info, I couldn't help but notice Google's suggested search terms for the word "does":
does he like me
does ups deliver on saturday
does p90x work
doesn't mean anything lyrics
does extenze work
does he love me quiz
does fedex deliver on saturday
does he love me
does the wii play dvds
does rogaine work

Check this out. Out of these 10 suggested search terms, 1/3 wonder "does he like me?" or "does he love me?"

Pretty funny to see what people wonder about.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

injured bird - what to do

(In lieu of TMI Thursday, today's post is dedicated to the topic of bird rescue and contains info condensed from several older posts.)
Because it's springtime and birds are gearing up for nesting, they're less cautious then usual and will sometimes fly into traffic in a mating chase. Please be especially watchful when driving. If you do find an injured bird, don't handle it directly with your hands but use paper towels or some other barrier. (Not what I'm doing here with my bare hands... do as I say, not as I do! lol. I did once handle a bird that was full of mites, that's why it's a good idea to protect yourself.)

"For some reason, this little bird couldn't fly. I grabbed it and rushed it to a wildlife rehabber. Here it is, cupped gently in my hands. Poor thing was terrified. Best thing to do for injured birds is to keep them covered so it can't see (if holding it, cover the face or else drape a cloth over its container), otherwise stress worsens their condition. The rehabber told us we could hold a q-tip near the bird's beak and let some drops of water fall so the bird could take them if it wanted. She also said traditional wisdom for wildlife rehab is not to do anything for the first 24 hours because animals are in shock and need time to calm down."

Links to wildlife rehabilitators:
U.S wildlife rehabilitators
(searchable by state)
Maryland wildlife rehabilitators:
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
1-877-463-6497 or 410-260-8940
*24 hour line that provides names and numbers of licensed wildlife rehabilitators

Maryland Wildlife Rehabilitators Association
(Directory of people who are certified in animal rescue -- sometimes you can bring an animal or bird directly to someone's house instead of a facility.)

Davidsonville Wildlife Sanctuary
Davidsonville, MD

Second Chance Wildlife Center
Gaithersburg, MD

In some counties, you can call Animal Control and they will pick up the injured animal and transport it to a rehabber for you. (I did this last year with another bird -- Prince George's County Animal Control sent out a van to get the bird and bring it to a certified wildlife animal rehabilitation facility.)
It is polite to offer a donation to help with the burden of expenses.
Sometimes the injuries are too great and there is no hope for rescue. I've swerved off the road more than once after seeing a hit to find the poor bird already gone. In those cases, it made me feel better to donate a small sum to a bird-centric organization in the hope that honoring a small creature's life will help another:
It is a myth that touching a baby bird will cause its mother to reject it. If you see a nestling, search for a nearby nest and place it back if you can. More advice on rescuing nestlings -->.

Lastly, here is an excellent resource from the Maryland Ornithological Society on resources for saving birds in Maryland:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Update. And thank you.

Sigh. Maybe I should call this blog "Spleeness's catalogue of loss."

But I haven't lost her yet.

I've been visiting a friend in the hospital the past few of days; someone on the tail end of a brutal fight with cancer that is expected to end soon. It's gutting. I have so much I want to write about but I'm not sure how right now. She's not dead yet. And recording it now somehow feels like I'd be writing a eulogy and I just can't. Right now I am trying to celebrate her life, spend what little time there is left together. Later I will deal with the loss. Not now.

I wanted to thank you for coming to my blog and reading my words. My last post was heavy. But I've been thinking. If loss is what makes us old, then what makes us young must be a sense of community. And I get that from you. In ways you may not even fully realize, you have been here for me.

Thank you.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Visiting Allison.

I began writing this post in a dream.

I was 1,000 miles from home and visiting a college bookstore when I suddenly ran into my childhood friend, Allison, my best friend from about ages 6-12 before I moved away. I was somehow traveling backwards through time. I didn't ask how -- dreams are funny like that. I just knew it was happening.

She was young and beautiful in my dream, a sophomore in college. She was with her boyfriend who I knew would soon become her husband.

I watched her peruse through merchandise and pick up party lights."Ah," I thought. "You were not yet dead." She didn't know that two years from then she'd be gone, a victim of childbirth gone terribly wrong.

I went over and talked to her in my dream, wanting so badly to hold onto our conversation, the connection. Outwardly it seemed light, airy. We laughed together. I winced inside. She couldn't possibly know or understand that her foreshadowed death rattled around in my innards like a broken bottle, that I needed to double over and wrap my arms around myself to hold in the pieces that were coming apart.

One of the tiny lightbulbs dropped on the floor and bounced but did not break. I bent over to pick it up and thought, "Is this what it's like when you travel back in time to spend an instance with someone?" I thought. "Consumed only with when you would lose them, unable to fully enjoy the moment?"

I wanted to cry great racking sobs for the future as I knew how it would play out. I felt shorted. I went back to see her -- worked so hard for this moment -- and yet even then could not bring back the innocence that existed before I knew the pain of her loss.

We continued our light banter. I swallowed more glass. I found her a sweater she could wear on her way home. There was some comfort in giving her that, on that last occasion that I would see her. And we parted. She bought her party supplies. I watched her fade and slowly became conscious that I was dreaming. That's when I began writing this post in my head.

I woke up thinking of her and of all the other losses in my life I would know one day. How I'd be forever changed by each one, bent and gnarled like a charred, twisted oak, scarred by countless storms and fires.

Maybe this is the thing that makes us old. Loss. Because it robs us of our innocence that the world will stay as we know it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Wear a spider on my chest? Really?

I cannot believe I am voluntarily electing to wear a spider on my chest.

I just bought this:

The spiders? They're real. I know because I met the photographer and he told me all about how he took the photo in Cambodia.

Cambodian spiders?

They're WICKED.

Photographer Jack Whitsitt writes:
"At one of the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, I turned around and found this beast hanging right in front of me. It was huge. Usually, when faced with spiders of this size, I just scream like a little girl. This time, though, the legs just creeped me out so badly I just moaned. Neither my wife nor my friends were near by at the time...ugh. But then the photographer in me took over and I got the shot. Finally, I put it on a tshirt because I figure, if confronting the things that scare him makes Batman stronger, maybe I should try it too. ;)"

(Oh and the original photo is here on Flickr.)

Get your own spider tee --> (just don't wear it around me, k? I can *wear* it because I won't be able to *see* it but if you have it on, we can't hug or anything. Understood?)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The wrong way to catch a spider larger than your face

I found this at the Laughing Squid and actually fell OUT of my chair. 1 minute vid. OMFG.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Snowmaggedon, part 2: the aftermath

Tycho gazes down the street.

These people are not going anywhere anytime soon.

Snowmaggedon: the aftermath. It took two of us 8 hours to clear a narrow lane from the front porch to the cars. This is the second time in my entire life that I've ever had to shovel my car to clear it of snow. (The first time was in December's snowmaggedon of, pssht, 16 inches.)

The narrow icy path to the front door. Welcome!

26 inches, on average... but many drifts were higher than that.

Did I mention another storm is coming tomorrow? They're expecting 10-20 inches and windy blizzardy conditions. Wow! Anyone want to move to DC?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The snowpocalypse II hits!

Snowmaggedon! snOMG! DC was hit by the biggest blizzard it's ever seen and it's awesome. (Well, because the roof hasn't collapsed and we still have heat.) There are reports of at least 3 roof collapses in the area (one at a Dulles Airport hanger for private planes, one at a church downtown and another at a house). <-- how much would that suck?

As of 7am this morning, we had 23 inches in our lil' Maryland suburb about 13 miles outside DC. I haven't measured the totals yet -- will tomorrow -- but it's staggering. Maybe around 30 inches? Here are some photos taken around dusk, right around when it finally stopped snowing:

Snow is higher than my knees on the front stoop. And that's WITH the overhang.

Dan, waist-deep in snow, attempting to photograph the dog swallowed alive by the white stuff. The huge lump next to the nearly-invisible canine is actually a car.

A better view of the frozen white lumps concealing what used to be vehicles capable of motion.

Tycho up to his chest in snow. This is his unamused "Byatch, please. Now what??!" face.

But once on the street, playtime begins! Here he is ripping down the road with our neighbor's dobie.

Light bands of pink laced the sky at sunset; first time the sky's been clear in (what feels like) a week.

Tycho has some mad dawg skillz. I bet you didn't know he could conjure a snowball by telepathy alone. It's all in the concentration.

By now, I could no longer feel my face, lips, nose, fingers, toes, or spleen. Neither could the dog, I think, because he was actually eager to go back in (which almost never happens). Also, maybe it's time to take the lights down?

Relief! Hot water, and only hot water, warms teh feets.

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