Sunday, February 28, 2010

Good news, bad news, and bird meat.


Wow. There’s actually art to be discussed. It’s some good news, and some bad.

Good news: I finally made it out to Wednesday morning painters, and submitted this little bugger to a member show at Zazzy’s. The show will be up from March until April, if I remember correctly. This little bugger’s strictly not-for-sale, as we’ve already got a place for him on our wall at home, but I’ll be making a companion piece to it as soon as the brass knuckles of inspiration strike.

Bad news: On Tuesday, a prominent member of WMP community died in a bus accident, in Florida. Her husband’s been hospitalized, and, last anyone’s heard, is still in critical condition.

Good news: Art Grrls meeting for March is coming up!

Bad news: As mentioned in the previous post, Virginia is due for less money for the arts. How come anything –culturally relevant- is the first thing to go under the axe? No wonder Europeans think of us as uncultured/we think of Americans as uncultured/we think of ourselves as uncultured. (Damn you, lack of clear national identity!)

Good news: Second round of Straight Dope postcard exchange
is about to take off, and I’m in with some handmade postcards!


A German-Russian friend of mine (hereafter to be called Anya) and I went to see “Dear John”. Mind you, the original idea was to see “Shutter Island”, but some of us (not me) decided that it was a bit too close to the horror, and backed out. “Dear John” is based on the works of the same guy responsible for “The Notebook”, which means that the entire movie is a twisted affair of a love story with none too good of an ending.

Dear John definitely lacked something in the end, but was not a terrible movie, if human stories are what floats your pickle or tickles your boat. I’m not sure what to make of its repeated brushes with the topic of autism; it’s almost as if the directors try to develop it into something meaningful, but fail miserably. Even milder forms of autism, such as the one that John’s father seems to have, is portrayed as one-dimensional and bordering on ‘retardation’. Thinking on it further, this deserves a healthy dose of recreational outrage.

In the end, politics of autism and living with autism is a can of worms that I’m not ready to write about, just yet.

Other non-artsiness!

Yesterday, we went out to Johnson city, the home of the nearest Panera (oh, ye little sourdough bread bowls, how does my heart rejoice in your plump presence!), a living mall (vs. dead mall in another adjacent town), and the only large crafts' store for dozens of miles around, namely, Michael's. At Michael's, I was forcibly removed from the paintbrush isle, but managed to snag two skeins of yarn, one- a variation of chocolate-to-blue, and another a silky, dark cyan-gray. Either one may end up being a scarf. Or a blanket. Or a shapeless blob. Errant makes no promises.

Afterwards. El and I went to a certain Inn for a social occasion. The place is absolutely gorgeous inside, not to mention historical (women's college and a hospital during the Civil war, among other things), with exceptionally high ceilings, and a nice collection of oil paintings on the walls. I'd kill to actually stay there for a day or two.

The party was somewhat awkward, as both of us are introverts, and sitting in the room filled with Elrin's coworkers does not make one an extrovert. (They did have a DJ and strobe lights, though).

The food, catered by the Inn, was satisfactory, with miniature chocolate-dipped cake bits and cups of cheesecake for dessert. El asked for two slices of turkey, got 1-lbs chunks on his plate, and promptly pawned one off onto me. Darling, I might be getting ready to do the entire “till death do us part” thing, but please, don’t make me deal with your excess bird meat.

And then there was Uno. … T’was a rather eventful Saturday.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bad news for the arts.

Funding for the Virginia Commission for the Arts is due to be cut by 50%, and eliminated altogether in another year.
More information on this can be found here.

This is going to hit our museums. With a sledge hammer. William King museum up the hill already needs a serious makeover, and I can’t even imagine what they would do if their funding goes down further.

So.. if you’re a Virginian and you care about the arts (or, hell, if you're not a Virginian, and want to pretend that you are), badger our representatives. NOW.

(I know that I sure as hell have.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Of boats, cathedrals, and small currency.

In addition to the reading categories, I would like to announce the coming of audio book reader-categories, which correspond to reading category ratings, and are as follows:

“A must-read” – “A heavenly soloist, doused in chocolate”
“Read if bored” – “Well-read.”
“Read when there’s nothing else around” – “Plausible vocal range with some minor grammatical…

Oh, what’s the use. Folks who perform audio books can be stuffed into three simple groups: good readers, good readers who need to pay more attention to punctuation, and horrible readers. These lie on a nice bell curve, with maybe a slight lump towards the ‘good readers’. And speaking of bell curves, that’s one more book I need to read.

On a completely off-topic note, I came across a site for a multidisciplinary conference, TED (technology, entertainment, design), and this site’s got some pretty entertaining lectures.

Also off-topically, this little nugget provides read-if-bored content for some of your psychological needs.

One Small Boat
By Kathy Harrison


“Never home alone”
“Kid issues”

Rating: Read if bored, a must-read if you enjoy case study-like writings.

A tale of foster mom, and her flock, both natural, and passing through. In particular, it zeroes in on the effect a girl, “Daisy” on the author and her family, and talks great deal about the challenges and rewards of being a foster parent. Most books written from the first person point of view aim to elicit at least some emotional response, and this one’s definitely done it for me. (Closer to the end, a strong case of RO, or recreational outrage).

As I’ve never before read much on the particulars of foster system (a system more bureaucratic than even the public school one) within the United states, this proved to be an interesting read.

Nickel and Dimed
By Barbara Ehrenreich


“How I failed to thrive on a minimum wage”
“Abrupt relocation with a car, a laptop, and 1000$ in cash: a social experiment”

Rating: A must-read, conditionally.

"Nickel and Dimed" was practically a classic when I was in high school, which is where I’ve first read it. Its contents are basically a summary of a middle-upper class female writer, trying to start from scratch, and on a minimum wage. Her jobs, taken throughout a period of a few months in a variety of cities/towns, range from waitress to a maid. Ultimately, she does not manage to make the ends meet.

When I first read it, I was utterly flabbergasted at how drastic of a situation she put herself in, and how millions of people had to do on less. This reception spoke more of me being a clueless kid who hasn’t had a job in her life, than the actual quality of the book. Still, it’s what I’d call well-written. If you can avoid dwelling on the fact that Barbara’s entire social experiment was flawed from the starting point, and the numerous slip-ups/going over the budget that she’s made, you should read this book. It’s got a lot of positive things going for it, though many of those things (such as the relationship between housing costs and poverty) do not come until the conclusion.

Don’t take me wrong, it was pretty darn courageous of her to go out of her comfort zone and try to make ends meet. Yet, as the author herself mentioned, it was more like ‘playing’ at being poor.

This book came up, because I’ve heard of a different take on the subject, called “Scratch Beginnings: me, 25$, and the search for the American dream”. These two would’ve made good companion-reads. Sadly, the local library’s copy of Scratch Beginnings was checked out, which means more waiting.

Come to think of it, I’ve read Ehrenreich’s “Bait and Switch” shortly after “Nickel and Dimed” the first time around, and was a lot less fond of it.. Will have to see if there’s “Bright-sided: How the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America” can be found locally. If so, perhaps now would be the time to see is Ehrenreich’s gotten better with time.

The Pillars of The Earth

By Ken Follett
Read by: John Lee


“George R.R. Martin’s long-lost twin brother turns to historical fiction”
“The lawless joys of middle ages.”

Rating: A must-read.
Reader rating: Good. Very good. His impression of a pissed-off Prior Phillip made me go "SQUEEE!!!".

I hesitate to term this book a must-read, because I’m only on disk 16 out of 32 (easily the longest single book ‘ve ever listened to), but I’m liking it so far.

Ken Follett was a thriller writer before turning to this extraordinary long novel, and it really shows. There are a few vivid scenes of both sexual and violent nature, which is either refreshing or mildly disturbing, depending on ones’ mood. Either disk 11 or disk 12 holds a particularly bad one.

During Wednesday morning painters this week, I’ve talked to another woman about Follett’s works, and she mentioned that his later books get even more graphic. The local library’s got a sequel in audio book form. There goes the next two weeks. It’s kind of like seeing someone with their pants low enough to show boxers: once you notice, you’ve got to keep sneaking peeks. For the record, boys: this style does not make you look more attractive. But at least –try- to select reasonably patterned underwear, eh?

As I was saying!

The book follows a sizable amount of characters, connected by the overarching theme of the building of a new cathedral in Kingsbury, England. The main characters include the prior of the church in Kingsbury, his master builder, an adjacent bishop, a rather uppity feudal lord, and a number of others. All of their stories weave and interweave within the actual historic events of the time. The conditions in which they live and sometimes die are appropriately ‘realistic’. It’s definitely an engaging bit of literature.

One can’t help but compare it to Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire work, as it’s got similar web of character movements/interactions. Oh, and Follett’s got absolutely nothing against making his people suffer. This is good. Not enough people in the modern world of fiction manage to portray drudgery of everyday life convincingly.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Grape hyacinths

House plants.

The non- variegated spider plant’s decided to produce an off-shoot, which means that I must be doing –something- right. The variegated spider plant is still blooming, and so are all four of the unnamed African violets. Seems that all of the latter are old-fashioned varieties, preferring to rest between massive caps of flowers, rather than flowering continuously. Which is the way I like it. You’ve got a rosette of fuzzy leaves sitting there for weeks, and all of a sudden- Bang! Flowers.

Speaking of flowers, here is one of the grape hyacinths, mentioned some posts ago.

According to the almighty Internet, one can plant the bulbs outside after forcing them. It also looks like hyacinths can be invasive. The second fact I knew already, since there’s some kind of dwarf grape hyacinth, that’s rather common in town during mid-spring. In a parking lot of one restaurant, there’s actually a patch that’s slowly but surely taking over a parking space. Like perfumy mold on steroids, it creeps onward, inch by purple inch


Basement cat was again caught attacking ceiling cat. Since the basement cat is declawed, all that she was doing was batting up an ineffectual storm. The Ceiling cat sat on his favorite footstool, and looked down at her with mild interest. He was probably wondering why these harmless, playful gestures were accompanied by howls of outrage.

To reiterate, the Ceiling cat has done nothing to deserve this treatment.


On Sunday, I had a chance to visit with a friend from a neighboring town (we shall call the friend in question Mina, for the sake of aliases). Her and her husband own a sizeable farm, edged sideways up the wooded slopes of Appalachians. There is much pasture, and a good chunk of absolutely gorgeous (not to mention sharply angled) woodland.

The views from the upper pastures were to die-for, with crests of the mountains spanning half of the horizon, and only an occasional sign of human habitation. Within the forest, oaks and pines mixed with tulip trees and an occasional cedar; some of these provided support for wild grapes and poison ivy (I’ve never before seen a poison ivy trunk that was as thick as my arm. Those things are scary), as well as what I later identified as catbrier . Hollies and rhododendron occupied lower tiers, along with something that may or may not have been low-bush blueberries. An occasional multiflora rose, a problem even all the way out here, made its presence ‘felt’.

There’s a fair amount of wildlife in those parts. While we saw only a few birds and the neighbor’s dog (who decided to follow us for miles at an end), there were some signs of deer damage (especially on Mina’s recently planted bushes). A ripped-up rotting tree we’ve found halfway up the slope was likely a sign of bear attention. Of course, there were also cows. One can’t have a pasture without cows. Or, how shall we say it… cow by-products.

The outing was threaded with local human interest stories, and an entertaining venture all around, that is, besides being the most challenging 3 hours of hiking that I’ve done, up to date.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Spring is here!


Nothing substantial is up. Arts Depot is getting a new exhibit in, as is William King museum. Not sure what the latter is, but the former is promising to be just as, or slightly more than, entertaining than the watercolors and the giant hanging fish that they’ve got hanging in there right now.

Part of the present Arts Depot show is called “Ice fishing”, and features three-foot-long ceramic reproductions of aquatic life, such as salmon, walleye, and beer bottles. The high points of exhibit, for those of you who may have missed the opening, were:
1. The day when the heating on half of the gallery was out and Wednesday morning painters had to move their tables among the fish.
2. When a small child of one of the painters tried to ride one of the afore-mentioned fish. To be fair, the fish’s attachment to the ceiling withstood the assault of a 5 year old with flying colors.


A downy woodpecker dropped by to investigate the suet feeder! Haven't seen him since, though..

The robins are here, therefore the spring is coming. Either that, or they are the proverbial early birds that do not agree with the concept of worm hibernation. There’s either one very persistent pack, or a group of similarly sized packs, in the general vicinity.

These unseasonal visitors assault the rare worms which do surface, and amuse us greatly with their peculiar method of movement: hop, hop, hop, GLARE. Hop, hop, GLARE. Rewind, repeat. Snobby little bastards.


The grape hyacinths, acquired on sale as a baggie of bulbs, have been successfully forced to bloom indoors! Granted, they are more leaves than flowers, but the flowers –are- cute, and are pleasantly scented, something like a mix of lilac and lily of the valley, if somewhat faint. Will try to get a picture of that on Tuesday, once more of them come into bloom.

The black spots on hoyas aren’t getting any better. They aren’t getting any worse, either. Something to be thankful for, I suppose. Its sunny place has been taken up by a wandering jew, which is turning an absolutely gorgeous, iridescent purple. Green’s disappearing. Posted on gardenweb about whether or not that plant’s getting too much light, guess we’ll see what the masses have to say.

Other than that, Elrin is getting emotionally ready for the spring container-gardening season. (More plants!) On the agenda are scarlet runner-beans, tomatoes, peppers, basil, chives, and possibly a few other herbs. Depending on what we can squeeze in. Let me tell you, not having a backyard –sucks monkeys-.


Saturday was the first warm day in weeks, with temperature reaching low 50s. El and I spent a cheerful morning making oreo truffles , after which a walk was mandatory. For the record, some of the truffles can still be found in the fridge. We’re not monsters, you know.

Sugar Hollow park is a charming little loop of trails, cutting across woodland, pine plantation, some boardwalk-covered wetlands, and across a dam. The view from the dam encompasses the surrounding mountains, carpets of forested hills, and a conveniently placed strip-mall. Malls and giant bill-boards on sides of mountains are something that people should be drawn and quartered for, though the former at least has some practical humane value.

On the walk through the park, we saw a large quantity of ducks in the wetlands.

Some weren’t too certain about their physics.

A turtle was also out, which is pretty amazing, considering that this is the middle of February, and turtles should be sleeping, along with frogs, lizards, and a bunch of other cute things that people really shouldn’t be afraid of, but are.

There were also flowers. We haven’t figured out how to take really good close-up pictures with the new camera yet, but I’ll make a note that there was at least three flower types. One was a light blue birdseye speedwell (Thank you, Reader’s Digest North American Wildlife guide!), while the two white ones (not pictured here) were some sort of a cress, and a complete mystery.

The only (identifiable) birds spotted during this walk were the gang of robins, a few cardinals, and the ever present ravens. Some little brown things did flit about in the bushes, mocking us with their winter (or feminine) plumage… It’s really true. The smaller the bird, the more it fills me with righteous rage.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Some things to mention before starting in on the reviews.

1. It strikes me that the entire idea of ‘rating’ is somewhat overrated. Who am I to put numbers on other peoples’ work? From now on, rather than throwing ill-justified values around, ‘d like to nominate books into several categories. The categories are as following.

“A must-read”
“Read if bored”
“Read when there’s nothing else around”
“Procrastinate about reading”
“Lie about reading, then use Wikipedia/cliffnotes/etc”
“Do not read under any circumstances”
“Burn it! Burn it GOOD!!”

The books mentioned below are going to be somewhat skewed towards the upper spectrum of these, since plowing through a painful book (Edit: thank you to Rachel for catching this shot sentence!) is bad for ones' emotional and socio-economical well being. Time being money, and all that.

2. Both Wednesday morning painters and Art Grrls were cancelled yesterday. Again, because of the snow. Either the nature’s got something personal against artists in this region, or we’re overdue for some great wooly chipmunks.

3. In the past two weeks, books have been coming in interesting matching pairs. (Geishax2, Horrorx2). The trend is set to continue. This time there are only books, though, because Pillars of Earth makes a long, long audiobook. (My recent over enthusiasm with reading horror stories online may have something to do with it, too.)

Ted’s Caving page (Read if bored)
A chilling tale of 2.5 amateur cave explorers, tackling what seemed to be only a hole in the wall. It gets better and better, with a somewhat unexpected end. I only wish I knew if the author wrote anything else.

Guts, by Chuck Palahniuk (Read if bored)
Most of the stuff I’ve read has somehow mentioned human sexuality. This short story falls in line with this expectation, while being both graphic and mildly disturbing in its climax. It’s about a horny guy, and a pool. Definitely not for the weak of stomach.

By Mende Nazer


“Humanitarian issues in Sudan”
“From genital mutilation, to rape, to physical abuse, my true story.”

Rating: Read if bored, bordering on a must-read.

Apparently, this book made some headlines in Europe in the early 2000s, mainly because the woman who was the voice behind it was denied asylum in England. Eventually, after an international outcry, she was able to stay. Her journey started in the mountainous region of Sudan, within a seemingly happy family unit, within a seemingly happy village. The single most traumatic event of her early youth seemed to be the female circumcision, while exciting points included the acquisition of a kitten (later a cat with kittens of her own), a wrestling championship between several neighboring tribes, and wedding of her older sister.

Things went downhill from about the age of 12, when she was dragged off, along with others, by a group of Arab raiders. Mende ended up in a household of a wealthy Arab woman, who eventually shipped her to her sister in England, where escape was possible. The book isn’t exactly what you’d call a ‘masterpiece of English language’, but it is straight-forward and ‘sincere’, if that’s the word for it. It addresses such things as tribal identity, longing for family and friends, and a lack of simple humane treatment.

Human trafficking is still common in Africa. This disturbs me, as does one of the author’s comments about Westerners taking many things (such as personal liberty) for granted. Because we really, really do. But then, again, I don’t believe there’s any modern-day Western countries that have a thing for using war captives as a force of labor?

I’m kind of curious on what Islam’s got to do with it all, and wouldn’t mind reading up on the subject. Also, wonder if the local library’s going to have a copy of the Koran.

Beasts of no nation
By Uzodinma Iweala

“The case of missing past tenses”
“Masturbatory tale by a Harward graduate”

Rating: Read when there’s nothing else around.

If you were looking for a honest-to-god tale from a child soldier, this isn’t one. Not that this book isn’t well-written- stylistically, it’s original. However, comparatively to Slave, it leaves much to be desired. Call me cynical, but this work of a well-off Nigerian, written from a first point of view, even based off of accounts and interviews by former child soldiers, does not come across as ‘real’. Decently structured and based mostly around violence, sex, and horrible conditions, it lacks the anecdotes and little ‘something’ that makes the main character appear human.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Of living things and categorization.


Things have been happening! Things that started with “n”, and ended with “uthatches on our birdfeeder”! Humor aside, it’s been a thrill to see something other than mourning doves, cardinals, song sparrows, tufted titmice, and black-capped chickadees on that dastardly thing. Come spring, we might even get a finch or three on it.

Off-feeder, a pair of eastern towhees* was spotted digging tunnels to China at the base of the adjacent brush. Both song sparrows and towhees have this entertaining way of getting to food.. that is, hopping back and forth on one spot while digging into the ground/leaves with their claws. Dirt flies. Leaves and seeds do too, presumably. When there’s snow on the ground, song sparrows can make holes deep enough to almost completely submerge themselves.

An occasional blue jay would also land to graze under the birdfeeder with the mourning doves, but rarely stays long, and never ascends to the actual feeder. No sight of mockingbirds in the past week, but plenty of passing-by ravens.

(*Field guide to the birds of north America, by National Geographic, is what I use for identification. It has yet to fail me.)


Otherkitty’s been eating African violet flowers, which saddens me greatly. It’s not like there’s much protein in them. Spider plant bloomed with a single mildly exciting white flower, with more to come in the nearby future, if the buds surrounding the lonesome offshoot is anything to judge by.

A violet grown from leaf gotten in a plant trade back in Champaign (almost a year ago) is finally showing some buds. The girl told me that it’d flower white with purple edges, which, if true, would be awesome. The only AV around here that’s even close to white is a wine-colored chimera with faint pink stripes in the center of each leaf.


Birds seen: ducks, crows, golden-crowned kinglets, cardinals, bluejays.

The mountainous wastelands of Virginia have been buffeted with snowstorm after snowstorm this winter, which made our usually daily hikes uncommon at the very least. We did manage to get out for three hours this past Sunday, which almost, but not quite, made up for it.

The first part of the trail is bordered by pastures, so getting a good look at some farm animals or even an occasional groundhog is a standard deal. This time around, a small herd of rather shaggy horses was grazing a short distance from one of the fences; two of these actually deigned to come up to the fence in response to a meager offering of dry grass. So, we got to scratch some horses behind the ears. Which isn’t earth-shatteringly exciting, but still is rather neat: one doesn’t get to be close to large, domesticated animals on a daily basis.

Having left the pastures behind, we then detoured off the main branch of Creeper Trail into a heart-wrenching climb which lead us up, sideways, and up again, zigzagging up a tree-covered slope, and occasionally sliding down on the outcroppings of gravel. El thought he was going to have a heart attack, then didn’t. On the way up, we’ve noticed a pair of tiny birds with golden-red spots on their heads, which were later identified as kinglets. These things were actually smaller than chickadees; barely the size of golf balls.

Eventually, we ended up at a place where a series of paths converged, and decided to go back, only to find a branching off of the trail which we haven’t noticed before. This branching lead to a marvelous little valley, filled with still-green plants (of what sort, I know not), and a number of sink holes.

Sink holes are just what they sound like, holes in the ground, dipping into some cave. The mountains are riddled with them in some places. A number of old trees with low-lying branches were scattered throughout the clearing, their limbs- coated in moss and lichen. The birds were rather prevalent as well, chittering in the trees, and likely glad to be out of the cold.

We stayed in this sanctuary for a good twenty minutes, before turning back. Sadly, I doubt we’d make it there during the summer, as the number of dry stems indicated that we’d have to tear our way through a veritable jungle of fireweed to make our way across.

Monday, February 15, 2010

In honor of getting a follower! ;)

Nut bread.
2 cups flour (I use 1 cup regular white, 1 cup whole wheat)
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup cooking oil
3/4 cup chopped nuts (almonds, pecans, or walnuts. Roast them on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for 3-4 minutes, prior to putting them in.)

For cranberry nut bread:
Add 1 cup chopped cranberries and 1 teaspoon lemon juice.

Mix everything together, grease a 8x4x2-inch loaf pan, pour the mix in, and bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 55 minutes.

White bread.

5 3/4- 6 1/4 cups flour
1 package of yeast
2 1/4 cups milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Mix milk, sugar, butter and salt in a pan, heat up until butter melts. (Or just microwave for a minute.)
Add the liquid mix to 2 1/2 cups of flour and yeast.

Beat the resulting mix with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl constantly. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can.

Turn dough out on lightly floured surface, knead for 6-8 minutes, until it's moderately stiff. Form into a ball, place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for 45-60 minutes, or until doubled in size.

Punch the dough down, turn it out onto the lightly floured surface again, divide in 2. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Grease 2 8x4x2 inch loaf pans.

Shape dough into loaves, put them into pans, cover and let rise for additional 30-40 minutes.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from pans as soon as it's done, and cool.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lack of artsiness, part two.

Another uneventful, nonartistic week has come and gone. Throughout it, I felt utterly uninspired to make anything (yes, even after coming back from viewing a Picasso exhibit in the local museum), and the fact that snow storms have prevented me from going to Wednesday morning painters (Art grrls was rescheduled for the upcoming week) didn’t make it any better.

We did have a rather lengthy, alcohol-spurred conversation with Elrin one evening some days ago, about housewifery, artfulness, and aspirations for the future. And yummy, yummy Irish cream cut almost in half with chocolate syrup. You’ve got to eat it by the spoonful. It’s that good. But El had to have a beer instead, because he’s weird like that.

Here’re some of the things which came of this conversation.

Housewifery (Housefiance-ing? Housepartner-ing?) and aspirations for the future.

These days, staying at home full time is a luxury rather than a necessity. It’s also considered a side-effect of raising children. Errant has no children, so staying at home is definitely a luxury and a drain on resources. Or, it would’ve been, if the entirety of the income from any part-time job out here didn’t have to go into insurance, gas, and maintenance for my car. It’s actually cheaper to not get out of the house.

During the afore-mentioned conversation, an interesting point was brought up: all of my female relatives are stay-at-homes. They might occasionally work outside the home, when the circumstances and downtrodden economy warranty it. This does not prevent them from being talented, well-read, and well-educated (one or more college degrees) women, who wouldn’t leave a mark on the world in a generation or two. While there’s probably no such thing as the “housewife gene”, there probably is a path in life which funnels certain people towards certain things.

In the past several months, I’ve found it increasingly satisfying just to be able to have a warm meal on the table by the time El comes (to the clean and orderly) home. This is odd for a person who tends to have little to no empathy towards other people; doing things for others just for the sake of being nice/altruistic/sociable is something that I understand in theory, but hold no emotional resonance towards. Maybe, like eating green beans, it’s something that comes with age?

Being a homebody does put a hamper on something called a ‘career’. Teaching out here is about the only thing an education/arts major –can- do, and, as El pointed out, about the only way to get ones’ name out into the public. The problem is that a. Some of us would rather hang themselves than teach, and b. We’re moving out of the area within the next five years, as likely as not, anyway.

There’s always a possibility of a retail job, or, if worst comes to worst, something in the local call-center. As entertaining as stories at are, these doesn’t strike me as pleasures that a person should willingly inflict upon themselves or others.

So.. why not be a career house partner? Not to be vain, or anything, but standing around and looking pretty comes naturally, here. If there’s such a thing as a cooking gene, I’ve got it. Same with non-confrontational, placid attitude, and decent taste as far as interior decoration goes. Therefore. We’ve come to a conclusion that if (Gods forbid) something happens to Elrin, I’d have to find some moderately wealthy and religiously conservative gentleman. Never mind that anyone over 30 and without a long-term partner probably has some serious issues.


As mentioned before, there was a Picasso exhibit that El and I went to at the William King museum. They also had a small show of womens’ work from the 1800s, mostly heirlooms passed down in a few families. Overall, ‘d say that we’ve enjoyed this exhibit more so than the cubist one: decorative arts should NOT be underestimated, and there were some rather gorgeous large embroideries on display.

In other news, there’s a Lark books competition for 30 minute ring, with a deadline in mid-March, which is probably going to be entered by yours, truly, if she gets her bum into the working mode.

SNAG educational endowment scholarship deadline is also coming up, which is a good thing if you’re a student in the field of metals, and a sad, nostalgic thing, if you’re not.

The lack of artfulness makes me wonder if I should start doing two book updates a week, rather than a book and an art one. Or maybe another wildlife? (Did see a towhee by the bird feeder today. And a warbler on the walk through the local trail, this morning. If it wasn’t 23 degrees out/if El was wearing a hat, I could’ve probably seen a lot more. Grrrr.).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Current books.

"The Haunting of Hill House"
By Shirley Jackson


“Haunted Consciousness of a Pathological Liar”
“Survivor, the Psychopath Edition”

The contents of the book> 9/10

To your average horror story junkie, this book represents a weekly quota. Unlike your average Stephen King (As Books-a-minute put it, “It was a bright and sunny day, and then the evil came”) or John Michael Crichton (“Something lurks in the bushes, a few inconsequential characters die, and everyone else escapes in a balloon/helicopter/dirigible, etc”), it’s a short, psychologically charged story with a very limited character cast.

Originally, I’ve read it some months ago, but decided to re-read, both because the book is just incredibly good, and because it begged to be compared to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. It’s kind of ironic: when idly browsing library shelves, I tend to select books by male writers, perhaps because they tend to write in a more action-y way, but in the end, my favorite books tend to be ones written by women. And as far as Hill House vs. Body Snatchers go, it isn’t a comparison at all.

Review of the basic plot in Hill House: a professor with an interest in paranormal finds a creepy little place and decides to collect material for a book by doing some ghost-hunting the Victorian way: aka living in the house and recording, in the company of. Two are women of the said individuals are women: a (possibly lesbian), outgoing Theodora, and a shy, reclusive Eleanor, who spent large portion of her life caring for her invalid mother. The last person present is Luke, a heir to the house, who is required to be there by contract.

The married couple of caretakers supervise their stay, but are an inhospitable lot, absolutely refusing to stay on the premises after dark. At one point, the professor’s wife and her friend also come down, attempting to elicit ‘supernatural contact’ with little to no results.

A series of events happens, resulting in Eleanor seemingly becoming possessed by the house (or possessing it?), and killing herself shortly after being forcibly expelled by her fellow ghost-whisperers.

There are some points which endear this book to me, for instance, the whimsical way in which dialogue between characters takes place, and the amount of fancy or fantasy and fiction that each of the mains manages to weave in around their persona. Chief among these is Eleanor, whom one could hardly call ‘grounded in reality’. During the main characters’ first evening together, they respectfully assign themselves fictional pasts, those of a concubine, wanderer, bullfighter and princess. These assumed roles seem to influence the ways the group interacts with the house itself.

Another point is that from very beginning, the flow of the story emphasizes compartmentalization, both of the house (doors remain shut, rooms located within rooms, rooms with no windows) and of the characters, which drift apart and occasionally start off on stream-of-consciousness ramblings. In the end, the group is broken apart, and its weakest link falls prey, to what, we shall never know. (The progressive decay of Eleanor’s hold of herself is also quite thrilling, if you’re reading with an eye out for that in particular).

In short, an awesome book all around. I’d love to read Jackson’s other works.

Other books:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

By Jack Finney
Read by Kristoffer Tabori


“The Legume Invasion”
“Me Tarzan, You Jane. Them Aliens.”

The contents of the book> 6/10

It’s funny. Before re-reading Hill House, I’d have given it a 7, maybe an 8. After the Hill House.. the character development doesn’t hold up. The story is basically this: a doctor reconnects with his old sweetheart, just to discover that some people think that some other people aren’t what they seem. They are contacted by one other couple, who’ve apparently discovered a corpse of something that looks very much like one of them. The book’s properly creepy up until that point, and up until the author starts to get technical with what these invading shapeshifters actually are, and how they function.

It goes drastically downhill from there, with possibly one of the worse horror-tale endings I’ve ever read. Aliens giving up and drifting away? Pffhhhhst.

The voice-acting> 10/10

The guy’s voice is perfect for reading this type of literature. There’s no what-if’s or but’s around it. Good intonation and range, lovely pauses in all the right places.. Just like with Richard Ferrone, I’m very tempted to start poking around just to see what else he’s read, never you mind the contents.

Geisha, a Life
By Mineko Iwasaki


“Autobiography of a Chronic Workaholic”
“Geiko: Save Plenty on Face Insurance.”

The contents of the book> 9/10

To clarify, “Geisha, a Life” and “Geisha of Gion” are the same book, published under different names in England and the US. This is the autobiography of the woman mentioned in the “Memoirs of a Geisha, and reading it makes me want to drop the Memoirs’ rating to 7 or even 6.

The book serves as a good illustration for the difference between communal and individualistic societies. Dunne deserves a solid punch in the face for blurring the line between geiko, or “woman of art”, and a prostitute. Seems that the entire point of geisha training, and what they are supposed to be embodying, is almost entirely adverse to physically intimate relationships. Not that they don’t happen; just that they are a by-product of being human in presence of the wealthier and more sophisticated layers of the society, rather than a way of making ends meet.

It’s an intriguing line of work, physically and emotionally demanding. The author makes this quite clear, what with her 3 hours of sleep per night during the peak of her career, and a failing kidney. It’s also the only line of work that I’ve ever read about, which was actually conducted in a purely matriarchal system.

To hell with political correctness, and not oogling other ‘cultures’. I find Japanese culture fascinating, though ‘d never want to be a part of it, even if I could.


Anyway, it’s a good book. I really wish Iwasaki would’ve gone more in depth about her last three years as a geiko, but one can’t have everything.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Hoya issues.

The black spots. What are they? Where do they come from? Are they really, as someone on Gardenweb said, spots from overexposure to the sun? Or are they a fungus? Should I panic and liberally douse with cinnamon?

And now for the review.

Hoyas are wonderful. Hoyas are great. For anyone who does not know, hoyas are tropical climbing plants related to common milkweed, possessing waxy green (and sometimes variegated) leaves, and known for their tightly-packed, fragrant, clusters of flowers.

Originally I’ve read up on them some two months ago, and immediately had to have one. After all, fragrant flowers are rather hard to come by in the grand scope of potted plants, and this one even had its own Gardenweb forum section.. Elrin immediately didn’t like the idea. It’s not that he doesn’t like plants (he is indifferent with an occasional “hm, that one’s pretty” reaction): it’s that he thinks I’ve got too many of them as it is. (40 containers, down from 52 earlier in the year, and about a third of them are literally plastic cups with either sprouting seeds (lemon/lime) or African violet babies). So technically, I probably do have too many plants.

But, then—what else is one supposed to do with the extra window space, but populate it with more plants?

Back to the hoya issue, we eventually did find some at a locally owned greenhouse. A little container with three individual rooted cuttings (one-variegated) cost about 8$, which is a bit much, since we later found out that Lowe’s had a much larger basket for about the same price. Oh well!

What the hoya enthusiasts do not tell you is that the plant can go for years without blooming, and tends to be quite finicky about watering. The former you wouldn’t think would be an issue, since our plant’s now on the south side, and the latter shouldn’t be an issue, since I tend to under- rather than over-water. (With the exception of the mosaic plant.)

Rather than forming peduncles and getting to the business of producing flowers, our hoya(s) decided that they wanted to grow, and grow they did, doubling in length and being tame enough to be trained along the tied-twine supports of their small hanging basket. An awesome hanging basket, too, acquired en-batch for 1$ ea at the local flea market. They’ve also developed the above-mentioned black spots. … Guess I’ll go’head and sprinkle them with cinnamon just in case (wonder if pumpkin spice would work? It’s got cinnamon in it..). Any advice would be much appreciated.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Artistic goings on.

First of all, I’d like to announce that the lack of artistic productivity has hit a new low. More time’s been spent repotting plants (a tale of woe in and of itself; one of the two still-surviving seed-grown African violets from last year is in serious trouble, and hoya’s got what I suspect is a fungus) then making things, which is sad.

One thing that was scribbled can be seen above. The bucket of birds. The concept of the bucket appeals to me for many reasons, most of which go along these lines: buckets are meant to carry things en masse, and birds are a good thing. Kind of like bucket of sugar. Or bucket of cash. Except both can be found in nature. Birds tend to not sit still, when one tries to stuff them into a confined space, and considering that they have an escape hatch right over their heads… well.

Long story short, this post is not going to be about artfulness, with one exception. The monthly meeting of Art Grrls is happening this upcoming Thursday, and I’m looking forward to it. The meeting is basically a very loosely connected group of female artists in the region, and serves a networking function, along with the “eat, drink and be merry” function.

Myself and one other girl, who is in her late 20s, are among the youngest. The oldest are in their 70s, if not 80s. (I don’t ask. It’s not polite to ask. Nevermind why.) It’s a cheerful bunch, with plenty of art-related experience and entertaining life stories to share. One of the high points of the gathering is the fact that we tend to go to rather nice restaurants for this. (Last one was at Wildflour, a bakery-cum-fine dining ‘experience’, or a charming little house in the middle of nowhere, Virginia. Yummy pot-stickers, though.)

Nonartistic goings on.

A few lines of wisdom from the local Elrin.

(After watching a movie) “... Why did I try to pause Wikipedia?”

(Upon reading a thread about children on Straight Dope) “Sex is not recreation. Frisbee is.”

Link of the week.

There are very few blogs that I follow with any consistency (read: 1), as the blogosphere is a giant timesink, and one should recognize it as such. Time sinking in and of itself isn’t necessarily bad. Spending time on the computer when you’ve got other errands to take care of is. Can’t dispute the basic contradiction there.

This blog was found while idly searching for the level of daily alcohol intake, which signifies that you are an alcoholic. (The answer is unclear, though most guys can get away with about 3 beers a day. And still stay healthy.)

Fascinating fact of the week.

Last speaker of Aka-Bo, a Great Andamanese language, died earlier this week. (This group of languages was practiced by people from a chain of islands east of India; it is, as a whole, mostly extinct). While poking about the interwebs and searching for information about these people, I came across this little blurb:

The Sentinelese is a group of people inhabiting a little island slightly off the main chain of Andaman islands. They are also among the most socially isolated people on the planet. Meaning, that they react violently towards outsiders, and because their tiny island (72 square kilometers) likely doesn’t have much in the way of natural resources, the rest of the world lets them be. (Likely, if the rest of the world didn’t let them be, they’d die off from foreign diseases.)

Still, their state boggles my mind to an extreme degree. Virtually nothing’s known about their language, though it’s presumed to be some form of Andamanese. Virtually nothing is known about their culture. They’re just.. out there. Little groups of people (only rough approximations of their total numbers have been made, since one can’t really knock on their doors to take a census) are living on an island, in the middle of an ocean. They do not know that there’s the rest of the world out there. Hell, they likely do not know that the world is round. They assault helicopters with arrows, and succeed in driving the said helicopters off.

What do they think of the rest of the world? Of the people who occasionally cross their boundaries? What do they think of the massive ships which were wrecked by their island? (One of these ships is still visible north-west of the isle, if you look Sentinel island up on Google maps, by the way. A wreck in a deep-blue sea.)

I wish there was a way to ask ‘em.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Current books.

Memoirs of a Geisha
By Arthur Golden
Read by Bernadette Dunne

Also known as
“The cave, the eels, and destiny.”
“To geisha, and back again. And to geisha.”

The contents of the book> 8/10

Memoirs might be called a historical novel, based in the early 20th century Japan. The story follows the life of a girl, all the way through her (somewhat deceitful) removal from a poor fishing village, to becoming an entertainer of sorts, or geisha.

Well-written with a good attention to detail, the book contains a rather large amount of metaphors and cultural quirks that makes you want to keep reading, along with truly hate-able adversary characters. The protagonist, for the record, comes off as somewhat sheltered and weak-willed, strewn left and right in an involuntary dance of fate. (Nope, no full-length summary here!)

I’m surprised I haven’t read this book earlier, with how popular it was at the time of its release. The only reason why it’s not getting a 10 out of 10 is the controversy over its accuracy. The majority of the details/events in the book are based off of a series of interviews by Golden with Mineko Iwasaki, a retired geisha.

Apparently, Iwasaki agreed to this under condition of confidentiality, a condition broken by the author. Furthermore, she was offended by the historical inaccuracies (especially the ones dealing with ritualized prostitution) presented within the book.

Iwasaki later wrote an autobiography, Geisha of Gion, which I would dearly love to read before making further judgment on the author of this little gem.

The voice-acting> 9/10

Dunne has a good voice for the job, and her intonation lives up to the intense moments within the story. However, her pauses leave much to be desired. (Generally, one should be able to discern a pause between one sentence and another from pauses in the end of a paragraph.)

Other books:
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Overall- 9/10

AKA “Noah on the budget.”, or “It was believable until the carnivorous seaweed.”

A tale of a son of a zookeeper, stranded on a lifeboat. With a tiger. About a third of the book is dedicated to Pi’s life before this life-changing event, and his wading in faith(s). I especially enjoyed the ending interview.

"Confessions of a Shopaholic" by Sophie Kinsella (AKA Madeline Wickham)
Read by Emily Gray
Overall- 6/10
Audio- 10/10 (One great performance, for the subject.)

AKA “Denial 101.”, or “Financial irresponsibility for dummies.”
The book follows the life of a financial journalist with a serious financial problem. A light, witty read that some girls might find enjoyable. Half way through the book, I sort of lost patience with it, however.

The story follows this format:
1. Main character realizes that she has a problem with her finances.
2. Main character finds ways to resolve this problem.
a. Without doing any extra work
b. Without knowing what the heck she’s doing
3. Main character ends up in deeper debt than before.
a. While making a large fool of herself.
b. And dodging her bank manager.
It was funny the first 5 times, but then it wasn’t. Even a moderately decent ending doesn’t make up for that fact.

Elrin’s book:

"The Last Founding Father" by Harold G. Unger
Overall- 9.5/10
…Apparently, he liked it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Roster: Mushka and OtherKitty

The issue of animals within a rented space is a common one; just finding a place that allows pets and that looks/smells decent is a problem in and of itself. Thankfully, this is not a problem that we’ve had to face this time around, as the current townhouse complex does allow animals, while retaining many of the niceties (such as unstained carpets) of a place that only-recently-did-not-allow-pets.

Which brings us down to the question of what animals dwell within a (not so dark) dwelling of the Errant, and, more importantly, what stories might be gleaned from their furry/scaly/feathered hides. (What use is an animal or a plant if it doesn’t carry an anecdote or three along with it?)

The first on the roster are the cat(s), 1.5 of them to be exact. The case here is the classical “Basement cat vs. Ceiling cat” one, ripe with daily conflicts, quips over the foodbowls, and moral lessons for the nonexistent children.

Basement cat

The name of the kitty is Myishka, or Russian for ‘little mouse’, not to be confused with Mishka, or endearment for the name Mihail, or Mushka, which means ‘little fly’. Ironically, since the letter ‘yi’ isn’t really present in the English alphabet, the cat ends up being called Mushka as often as not.

Mushka is a 10-year-old tortoiseshell, meaning that she is the devil on her monthlies, reincarnated into a feline body. For more information on this phenomena, search for ‘tortitude’ in your friendly neighborhood search engine.

(Though, it’s been proposed that her attitude is a partial side-effect of being declawed at a very young age, what with mom having a leather couch and not wanting any of the cats to scratch it up. Inhumane? Yup. Did Mushka still manage to ruin the couch by other means available to her? You bet’cha.)

A survivor of cancer and 4 years in a house with my mother (I’m not sure which of these feats is more impressive), this cat is temperamental, violent, possessive, and needy. We love her to death, despite her frequent habit of screeching howls, followed by violent assault on whatever body parts of the offending humanoid she can reach. To be fair, she does make a good lap-cat, complete with the catfish complex (will expand to fill a space, no matter how large; she’s not fat, though she used to be, and still has the extra skin to prove it), and lack of shame (will insist on staying on her corner of the bed, no matter what’s going on in other parts of the said bed).

Ceiling cat

Let’s be clear. This is not our cat. It never was our cat. If Elrin gets his way, it never will be our cat. (“No more pets! One cat is enough!”) We just happen to feed and cuddle it, making it a ‘cat with benefits’. The cat originally showed up as a loveable stray, shortly after Elrin moves out to this location. It was cuddled by everyone, and, as far as we know, is also getting fed in at least one other townhouse on our block. Maybe, more. Yet another resident took it to the veterinarian to be fixed, a few months ago.

This phenomenal product of nature is a large male cat, a communally owned male cat, larger than Mushka, whom we simply call “OtherKitty”. I wouldn’t mind calling him “Ryisik”, or an endearment of “lynx”, due to the black tufts on its ears, but, as Elrin said—no more pets.

OtherKitty and Mushka have an interesting relationship; she tries to establish dominance by hissing like a teapot and lunging at him in berserker rage every time she sees him at distance of five feet or less. He just tries to make friends. And play with her. It’s a never-ending, vicious cycle that’s incredibly entertaining to watch.

OtherKitty is the polar opposite of our bitchy lady, being hyperactive, friendly, and never resenting anyone picking him up; bird watching, (unsuccessful) bird hunting, eating cat food until bloating, and napping on his back in the ComfyChair(to be covered at a later post) are his primary hobbies. He also attacks feet, hands, jackets, potted plants, and cords, in wild fits of abandon which we can only hope is a show of youthful playfulness. Gods save us, if he grows up to be anything like the other.