Wednesday, August 22nd 2007

More nerdy confessions
posted @ 12:07 pm in [ ]

So one of the items on the 120-Day Plan is to get better at pool. You may remember from the long and detailed “TISA” (Things I Suck At) list that pool is one of the 70+ things on it. I did what you’d expect me to do: I got a couple of books and a practice schedule.

The books clued me in to some key items, and for me, I think the most influential of them are these: 1. How you stand really, really matters a lot. Get a good stance, practice it, and keep it up. Also, don’t wear heels or mess with your footwear too much, because that throws the whole thing off. 2. Your swing should go “through” the cue ball, and not pull back from it once you hit it. 3. Don’t take a shot if you don’t know where it’s going to go.

I practice by myself once a week. I go down to a pool hall not too far from my house where I don’t know anybody. I go in the afternoon, get a table, and just practice hitting balls into pockets. At some point, I’ll practice craftier things like determining where to leave the ball after the shot, getting specific shots, and the like. Right now, I’m just getting controlled and comfortable.

Now so far, as a nerdy confession this seems pretty tame. It’s really just structurally nerdy. Here it comes, though, gentle reader: Know why I’m practicing alone? Sure, it has a little something to do with not being rushed by someone else to take a shot, working on things on my own time, and the like. Much more than that, though, it’s a physics experiment. I want to be left alone to try the same shot again and again, observe the behavior of the balls under certain circumstances, and occasionally whip out a little pad and pen and… [wait for iiiiit...] do some math. Oh yes, it helps me understand how to accomplish what I want to happen, and I don’t want anyone around to give me any crap about it. Now you know.

Friday, August 17th 2007

Megfest 2007
posted @ 11:58 am in [ - ]

I neglected to mention that Megfest made it clear into July this year. The last present was received a few weeks ago, making Megfest 2007 the longest yet. Drunken peasants in the streets for weeks on end any year now!

Wednesday, August 15th 2007

“You look like a Borland!”
posted @ 12:06 am in [ ]

Here’s a depressing question: At what point do I stop being a blogger or an essayist or a pamphleteer and become a eulogist? I wrote this one for my husband to deliver at Grandma Oral’s funeral in about 8 hours or so.

The first time I brought my wife to Kansas to meet Grandma Oral, we went into a local shop and were greeted from behind the counter with, “You look like a Borland!”

“I am a Borland,” I replied while my wife nearly collapsed in hysterics. I guess I wasn’t that surprised. I am very much my mother’s child, and she was very much Grandma Oral’s. What my wife thought was so funny, though, was that someone would know that just by looking at me. Grandma Oral loved living in the kind of community where this scene could happen, and did.

Grandma Oral always loved to tell the story of a single postcard. The postcard came a long way: across a time zone, through several different states and postal centers, across a hundred counties. It was addressed:

Grandma Altoona, KS, 66710

I’m not even sure if I got the zip code right. The postcard found her, though. Maybe it looked like a Borland, too.

Grandma Oral always had good stories. The ones I remember best were Aesop’s fables, and the ones about her own experiences growing up against a backdrop of vivid history. I didn’t realize it then, but she was teaching me. She was teaching me to tell good stories myself, to remember, and to express myself. I remember sitting in her lap in the front seat, neither of us belted in, back when kids got to go through the windshield like everyone else, with her pointing at signs and billboards and getting me to read them to her.

I’m sure most of you heard the stories about her two perfect grandchildren. (It’s not true. I’m the perfect one. My sister is the good worker.) Of course, it wasn’t we who were perfect—it was her unconditional love that was. She spoiled us rotten: bought everything we wanted, fed us anything we wanted, let us run rampant. I spent almost every day at her house in the summer without a shirt on, having the perfect days of a young boy, jumping around on the porch and getting an ice cream sandwich whenever I wanted. Later on, I still got indulged a lot. I could have set her barn on fire and she would have commented on how well the fire was built and how nicely it burned.

Grandma Oral was also as strong in her will as she was in her love. When we would play board games together, she’d beat me every time, and she never just let me win like some other grownups would. She expected me to compete, and to play to win. She wouldn’t shy away from arguing with me, either. Even as an 8-year-old kid who didn’t want to take a bath or come clean about something else I had done, I thought I could take her on in a battle of wills. Boy, was I wrong. Some folks in our family have said I’m like her because I’m a redhead like she was, and because I’m as willful. That’s not quite true, though, because I never won a battle of wills with Grandma Oral, ever, or even came in a close second.

Years ago, Grandma Oral offered me her blue pickup truck. She was experiencing a chronic medical problem at the time. I told her she should get it taken care of, and I’d come out and help out for a little while, then drive the truck back. I got my train ticket, got ready to go, and was then informed that she had decided not to have the procedure. She didn’t want to be recovering during our visit. By then I knew better than to argue about it once Grandma Oral had made up her mind.

I guess some of those lessons took me longer to learn than others—in part because of my willfulness—but I learned them eventually because of hers. I hope her love, and lessons, and will, always show through. I hope I always look like a Borland.

Tuesday, August 14th 2007

Grandma Oral
posted @ 9:40 am in [ ]

On Saturday, Philllip’s other grandmother died. She had just turned 99 last month. I liked her a lot, mostly because she was a strongheaded, low-B.S. lady. Phillip is in Kansas, helping his mom get things squared away and working on what to say. When I think about Grandma Oral, though, I think about the first time I met her.

Phillip and I had been married for a matter of months. It was about this time of year, and we drove out to Kansas to see her. On the way, we stopped in New Jersey and saw his parents. His father gave me some advice that I considered odd at the time and still do, but I inteded to heed it anyway. “Don’t discuss politics with her,” he said, “It’ll only confuse her.” Okay, I thought, I guess I’ll figure out what that means when I get there. He knows her a lot better than I do. I’ll just talk about other stuff and be charming.

As it turned out, we had been at Grandma Oral’s house no less than ten minutes when she brought up politics. I couldn’t weasel out of it either. She looked me right in the eye and put it to me point blank: “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” Oh nooo! The only thing I had been told about this woman by her family was not to do this. Okay, I thought, I guess I’m about to find out what that piece of advice meant. They weren’t there, and she clearly valued directness and honesty enough that conversational attempts at twisting away and running would be seen as a lack of integrity — likely less forgiveable than not seeing eye-to-eye about politics.

“Of course I’m a Democrat,” I replied. “I’m from Massachusetts.” I started the chuckling that would help us all laugh off both those indiscretions and move on before I found out what “confused about politics” really meant. Instead, Grandma Oral asked my opinion of FDR. Dammitt! This conversation was quickly becoming a quicksand trap of family politics.

I should probably mention here that, although I’m very nonjudgmental, there are a few things I do think reveal quite a lot about people’s characters, and one of them is how they feel about President Roosevelt. Me, I’m crazy about him, largely because of how he responded to the crisis of the depression and essentially “betrayed his class” for the greater good of all Americans. That’s a rant for another day, though. The important thing is that she picked something that she would remember and I wouldn’t; that I felt too strongly about to blow off; and that I would both have to answer and had been admonished not to. Looking back on it, I’m sure she did it on purpose. Did I have a clue about history, civics and politics? Was my head on straight politically? Was I graceful under pressure? Could I think on my feet? Was I generally good enough for her grandson? I wasn’t going to produce moronic great-grandchildren, was I?

I did what I thought was the only thing I could do. I launched into how freakin’ great FDR was, careful to back up my analysis with historical points of fact and their lasting impacts. It took less than a minute for Grandma Oral to join me. Bless her heart, she was a hard-core Roosevelt fan, and apparently still argued his virtues to her Republican brother-in-law who would call her up from time to time to fight about it. We had a terrific, animated discussion about Roosevelt and the New Deal — probably one of the best political discussions I’ve ever had. To this day, I’m not sure what she was supposed to have been so confused about, but I suspect my father-in-law’s advice stemmed from Grandma Oral perhaps baiting him into a political discussion at some point and then yanking his chain until he gave up.

“Well?” Phillip asked me when Grandma Oral left the room, “What do you think of her?”

“I like her,” I replied. “She’s a very low-bullsh*t woman.”

She was, too. She ran her farm during World War II when her husband was away fighting. She drove a tractor while hugely pregnant, which must have been scandalous at the time. She taught school for decades, having multiple generations of the county’s families in her class. She was tough and assertive and fiercely independent at a time when it wasn’t fashionable for women to be like that, and she remained so until it was. Apparently, she was right all along.

I also think that Grandma Oral is part of the reason Phillip married me. The female role models in his life — Grandma Oral, Grandma Lois, his mother — were tough, independent, direct, and quick-witted. I don’t think he would have wanted his partner to be docile, or quiet, or without strong opinions, or without a sense of humor, even if he wasn’t consciously aware of it. Being the kind of woman I am scared off a lot of would-be suitors when I was younger, but Phillip always seemed to like it. One of the major reasons I dated him in the first place was because he made me feel like he really “got” me in a way other guys didn’t. Instead of cheesy stuffed animals, for example, he sent me cool used books. He wrote me two-foot by three-foot love letters in crayon, one of which called me a “hot sexy Magna Cum Laude babe.” I’m quite sure he wouldn’t have known stuff like that would work better on me than candy, flowers, and saying I have pretty eyes if he hadn’t been raised and nurtured by similarly “scary” women.

So thanks, Grandma Oral, in whatever form or plane you may be right now. Thanks for educating generations of folks to think about history, and civics, and politics. Thanks for voting for FDR. Thanks for being true to yourself when your whole culture was wrong about women, because it’s women like you that helped it change. Thanks for helping raise a good man right, directly and indirectly through your daughter. And thanks for the FDR question that let us talk about something real. I don’t care about doilies either.

Saturday, August 11th 2007

Cage match: #1 Grandpa
posted @ 8:38 am in [ - ]

So yesterday I saw no fewer than four different objects, each proclaiming their owners to be the “#1 Grandpa.” Now, most people would probably smile and see that as evidence that the owner of said sappy object is beloved by his grandchildren, which is all warm and fuzzy and nice. Me, my first thought was: Wow, a lot of claims to the same thing here. I think we need a cage match. My proposal is to get everyone together who claims to be the #1 Grandpa, and have a giant cage match tournament. The winner would of course get to lay claim to the title. Sure, it could be to the death.

Monday, August 6th 2007

Hedonism Lifecoach and the 120-day plan
posted @ 10:43 am in [ - ]

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about what I wanted to accomplish next, which of my goals for the year I hadn’t met yet, and the fact that I have no idea where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in a few months’ time. I’m committed to teaching through the fall quarter, which ends the week before Thanksgiving. After that, who knows? It seemed like a good opportunity to work on some short-term pieces and goals. The 120-day plan includes elements like putting together a plan for mass publication of the diss, having my next piece of career lined up, making progress with some things I’d like to be better at, trying salsa dancing, and a bunch of other stuff.

One of the things I did was to stop going to the nutritionist I was seeing, because I was kinda miserable and my results sucked. Hedonism Lifecoach says: “Stop doing things that make you miserable and only give you sucky results!” I got a personal trainer instead, who gave me some customized workout plans (which are really good) and a nutrition plan based on the Glycemic Index. I’m crazy about it — it has aroused foodie passions in me I had no idea even existed. It’s all based on blood sugar, which I appreciate because I’m a bit hypoglycemic. Hypoglycemia is sort of the opposite of diabetes: instead of not making enough of your own insulin and having high blood sugar, hypoglycemics make a bit too much of their own insulin and have low blood sugar. It generally involves having to keep blood sugar stable by eating regularly throughout the day, the alternative in my case being getting really light-headed and stupid and sluggish, physically and mentally (yeah, it’s like a window on the current administration’s world — you’d think it would make me more sympathetic). Some people also get cranky or depressed.

Anyway, the idea with using the GI is to eat foods whose sugars are broken down and used gradually and efficiently (as opposed to lots of refined sugars and fake food, which tend to make blood sugar spike and crash), so lots of fresh fruit and vegetables that I like; some whole grains, which are good ’cause they have groovy textures; pleasant dairy products in moderation; the kinds of light proteins I’m big on anyway, like fish, ‘fu, and pulses; and hey, even some red wine now and then. The effect is terrific: it’s all my favorite foods in proportions I enjoy. It’s like every meal is a treat! I also don’t have any cravings at all, not even the late-evening desperate sugar ones I used to get with the previous low-carb, high-protein deal. When I told my new coach what my diet had been like for the past several months and what I missed, she kind of wrinkled her nose and promptly told me to eat all the fresh fruit I wanted. “Nobody ever got fat from eating grapes,” she commented. I would test that, but jeez, the low-GI lifestyle makes for some damn filling meals, which for me are all kind of Mediterranean-based tapas-esque fare. Some things happening or waiting to happen in my kitchen right now:

  • Artichoke hearts (the whole ones, in brine)
  • Tons of fruit: apples, mangoes, bananas, pears, berries…
  • Greek yogurt (fluffy, a lot like sour cream)
  • Kefir (this yogurty drink that somehow gives you a lovely sense of well-being)
  • Pita bread and piadina (Italian flatbread I make myself)
  • Spicy walnuts
  • Caramel-walnut biscotti (made with toasted out flour)
  • Salad with fun lettuce, dried berries, hearts of palm, and toasted walnuts
  • Ezekiel bread (made from a bunch of different sprouted grains–tasty and chewy)
  • Red peppers! Plain, stuffed with goat cheese and olives, topped with hummus… is there nothting they can’t do?
  • Celery juice and carrot juice, still big faves
  • Salsa
  • Caponata (an Italian pepper-based vegetable spread — I’m working up to using eggplant)
  • Roman egg drop soup (homemade vegetable broth, spinach, eggs)
  • Olive tapenade
  • Red pesto, made from sun-dried tomatoes
  • Pasta again! Yaaaaay!
  • Brown rice
  • Fish tagine, a lovely flavorful Moroccan fish and vegetable stewlike deal
  • Hummus
  • Tuna & chickpea salad (red onions, parsley, olive oil, red wine vinegar — I now officially have no use for mayo anymore)
  • Baby carrots
  • Stuffed grape leaves
  • Bite-sized bits of fresh salmon with mojo sauce
  • A nice peanutty shrimp and snow pea stir fry Phillip made last night with lovely peppers and onions
  • I bet there’s a red pepper frittata lurking in there…

So basically, I get maybe 2 - 5 of these things together on a plate, a few bites of each, tapas style, and it’s fantastic! I want to eat like this for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, August 1st 2007

Requip, or bourbon?
posted @ 8:50 am in [ - ]

Have you seen the commercials for Requip, this prescription for Restless Legs Syndrome? The side effects sound a lot like those for a quart of bourbon: dizziness upon standing up, drowsiness, increased sexual desire or compulsive behavior… Plus, bourbon does not require a prescription. I gotta wonder why the hell anybody would take Requip.