Month: June 2008 Page 1 of 2

Zen Pickle Chip Poem

The pickle chips seem to have disappeared.
What’s that smell?

100 Books

via Ian.

100 books

The Big Read, an initiative by the National Endowment for the Arts, has estimated that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they’ve printed. How do you do?

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince- Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

38 left to go. Some of them I haven’t even heard of! Although I’ll probably never finish Moby-Dick.

Conversion Note.

A growler of beer is 1/2 gallon, or 64 ounces. A bottle of beer is 12 ounces. One growler equals 5 1/3 bottles of beer.

Power-Generating Bra

I heard a rumor about this today…but this is all I could find.

Harnessing the untapped power of breasts.

Dobson F@#$s Up.

James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, did the unthinkable today. In ripping Obama down, he accidentally admitted he was full of crap. Please, I know a lot of folks mean well in listening to him, but the man was not put on this earth to lead people closer to Christ.

Dobson and Minnery accused Obama of wrongly equating Old Testament texts and dietary codes that no longer apply to Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament.
–From Rocky Mountain New’s article

Sounds like he’s trying to say one of two things here:

  1. He can pick and choose what you follow out of the Old Testament.
  2. The New Testament trumps the Old Testament.

Now, if #1 is true, that he no longer considers the Old Testament to be an accurate representation of the Will of God, and any arguments which depend on Old Testament citations are nothing more than friendly disputations between philosophers and not really inarguable or sacred.

And if #2 is true, then any argument depending on an Old Testament citation is to be taken through the lens of Christ’s own words. The guy legendary for throwing the money changers out of the temple, Mr. How-Much-Is-Your-Net-Worth Dobson? Heard of him?

And I seem to remember that this whole anti-gay thing depends on arguments out of the Old Testament, since the New Testament says mostly things like, “Be good to each other. Don’t be a hypocrite. Take responsibility for your actions. God’s will is mysterious, so don’t get cocky.” And that’s just the beginning.

“I think [Obama’s] deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology,” Dobson said.

Actually, um, Mr. Dobson? I think you’re suffering from an attack of Do-Unto-Others-As-You-Would-Have-Them-Do-Unto-You. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Bumper Stickers.

Saturday was a good day. Ray was at a sleepover. We’d just eaten at Mimi’s, which was delicious if not rarefied and always leaves you with the knowledge that food will not be a major concern for the rest of the day. I was with the love of my life, trading sarcastic comments and anticipating later planned activities.*

And then we saw the following bumperstickers:

“I’d Rather Be on Autofollow”


“My Gamer Fragged Your Honor Student.”

A good day.


Tour de Brewery

My boss kindly let me take my last floating holiday off after we discovered the current fiscal year cut off four days before the beginning of the next fiscal year. So I took off on Friday, which promised to be the slowest of the days available (everything went to hell regardless).

So, in the interest of research on Alien Blue, which-as-you-know-Bob, is my story about aliens and beer, I dropped in on a local brewery.

Rocky Mountain Brewery is the new brewery side of My Homebrew Shop, run by Dwayne Lujan. I went on a recommendation by a coworker, in fact, the same coworker whose constant ramblings about his adventures in homebrew that were one of the seeds of the story.

You know what? My impression is that homebrewing is a lot like writing, in that a lot of people talk about wanting to do it but don’t actually get around to it; a smaller number of people (but still a fair amount) do get around to doing it, but in a halfassed way; a small number of people dig far enough into the craft to get any good at it; and a very few people have become very fine indeed, with well-chosen failures and surprising successes.

The brewery seems like it’s on its way toward the last group. Granted, I don’t know all that much about beer, but I do know more than most people do. –I know more about rocket science than most people do, but you wouldn’t want me with one hand on the big, red button, either. I can look at a piece of equipment and tell you whether it’s the fermenter or the lauterer.* I know what fresh hops smell like. I know that Irish moss and isinglass**are good for getting rid of unwanted proteins and involve collagen somehow. But I thought it was good, and I’m excited to go back in a week and a half and try the raspberry cider when it comes out.

So anyway. I walked in what looks like the right door but probably wasn’t. The place isn’t pretty. It’s in a big tin-sided warehouse/garage/redneck strip mall building, and the interior hasn’t been finished off yet. They’ve built a bar for tasting, but some of the drywall isn’t painted, and you can walk right into the brewing area if you feel like it.

I didn’t see anyone, so I wandered through the brewery into the homebrew shop. Thirty types of malt, or more. A fridge that looked like it had been stolen from a good florist was filled with drawer after drawer of different types of hops and mad-scientist vials of yeast varieties. Specialty grains. Malt-in-a-can. Powdered corn sugar. Preprinted wine labels. Caps and caps and more caps. I opened up some of the malt barrels, shoved my face in, and sucked up the smell of a field of late-summer grain toasting under the sun. Ahhhh…

One of the guys came over eventually. He looked like he was barely old enough to drink legally, let alone brew beer that was any good, but he was. Later, I met the owner, but he was extremely busy and seemed kind of creeped out by having a female in his space making direct eye contact–an Iowa grandpa type, if you know it.

I told the younger guy what I was doing–I suspect “I’m writing a book” is kind of like a Get Out of Jail Free Card–and said I was considering brewing a batch of beer on premises, which I am. The homebrew shop has this deal where you can brew a five-gallon batch of beer for about $65, using their equipment and advice. You could do wine, too, but I forgot how much that was. Beginners kits for both, too.

Well, that got me a tour. I feel like…I know more about beer than I did before I walked in there. It’s hard to explain; I feel like I’ve always known the things I know now, only I know that I didn’t know them before I walked in there on Friday.*** At any rate, it connected all my carefully-researched bits of information into a whole.

I tried the Rocky Mountain Brunette (a nut-brown ale) but wasn’t impressed; I’ve never had a nut-brown ale before, and I suspect the whole genre isn’t to my taste. My tastebuds said, “Where’s the porter? Where’s the stout?”

The Smoked Hefe Weissen was worth writing home about.**** I took to it immediately, but the guy I talked to warned everyone else who tried it–I was there for a couple of hours–that they might not like the smokiness at first taste, but it would grow on them. It did.

I’m used to unfiltered wheat beers that feel like you can chew on them, refreshing but mighty in the thews, as it were, so I wasn’t expecting theirs. A light, slightly-filtered beer with crispness and a bite on the tongue, it turned out to be the perfect beer-and-pizza beer. Summer food beer. I wish I’d had crab salad and crackers to eat with it, now that I think about it. Happily, it’ll be one of the permanent beers on the brew list, so I can take home a growler whenever I feel like it, which is what I did on Friday.

Unfortunately, they’d almost been drunk out of house and home since their grand opening, and they were out of the porter and amber ale I’d spied on the list, and the raspberry cider.


So if you’re in town, I recommend stopping by. If you’re not in town, I recommend finding out whether you have a small brewery nearby. It’s a lot of fun.

**Seaweed and fish bladders.
***If that makes sense, cut back on the Dramamine.
****Hi, Mom!

Diamond Age

It’s always interesting to see how long it takes the world to catch up with Neal Stephenson. Maybe that’s why he’s been writing about the past – to give us time.

Diamonds that Fool Experts Grown in the Lab – Smithsonian Magazine

It’s because of these admittedly unglamorous properties that lab-produced diamonds have the potential to dramatically change technology, perhaps becoming as significant as steel or silicon in electronics and computing. The stones are already being used in loudspeakers (their stiffness makes for an excellent tweeter), cosmetic skin exfoliants (tiny diamond grains act as very sharp scalpels) and in high-end cutting tools for granite and marble (a diamond can cut any other substance). With a cheap, ready supply of diamonds, engineers hope to make everything from higher-powered lasers to more durable power grids. They foresee razor-thin computers, wristwatch-size cellphones and digital recording devices that would let you hold thousands of movies in the palm of your hand. “People associate the word diamond with something singular, a stone or a gem,” says Jim Davidson, an electrical engineering professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. “But the real utility is going to be the fact that you can deposit diamond as a layer, making possible mass production and having implications for every technology in electronics.”

JK Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Address.

Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.

You see? If all you remember in years to come is the ‘gay wizard’ joke, I’ve still come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step towards personal improvement.

Bra Shopping.

I’m getting too old to feel obligated to keep my mouth shut about crap like this, so you’re going to hear my bra story.*

I have a new mantra:

I hate my dryer. I hate my dryer.

I’ve never had problems with bras and dryers before. Never. But this one has turned all my bra hooks into dimensional entry points for Creatures which Must Not Be Named But Have Too Many Ooky Tentacles and Consonants.

Take it as a measure of my stubbornness that it’s taken wiping out all my hooked bras to make me change my ways and pull the bras out before they see the dryer.

  1. I don’t buy expensive bras.**
  2. I don’t buy clothes that need to be fussed over.**
  3. I don’t use undergarments to spoil myself.**
  4. I have problems finding bras that fit.**

So yesterday, I put on my last hooked bra on its last hook and went bra shopping.

I promise I will not run my bras through the dryer anymore.

Here’s the thing. My boobs are big. It’s genetics. My Middle- and Eastern- European ancestors bred for flotation devices, not aerodynamics. My breasts were already too big before I had my daughter, and they didn’t get any smaller after I breast-fed. I got over people staring at them years ago–had to; I hate tight necklines the way a cat hates a leash–but I’ve never gotten over the constant battle I have to keep from throwing my spine and neck out of whack. Or the fact that I can’t wear properly-sized shirts, because I can’t button them up. Or the fact that I can’t wear bikinis, and boy, do they make a lot of cute bikinis right now. Or the fact that finding bras that fit involves tearing up my self-image and shoving it down the trash can.

Yes, take a look at all the cute bras on the shelves, take a good look, and wave goodbye, because you’ll never see them again. Flowers? Lace? Colors? These are things for women with smaller breasts.

The rest of us wander the secret back rows of bras for hours, looking for anything–anything!–with our cup-size on it. For a culture that worships women with large breasts, I sure see a lot of ugly beige bras.

It’s like the designers are saying, “Ha! You may have the big breasts, but I will ensure you feel like an unappealing slob, because I hate you! I hate you!”

Now, I could special-order bras, but that would mean I couldn’t try them on before I got them. Please, please don’t add a comment or send me an e-mail or even tell me to my face about how there are lots of places that have nice bras for women with large breasts. I want to be able to walk into a store, try on a cute bra, pick out a cute pair of matching panties, buy a set for less than $20, and go home without feeling like I’m in the Twilight Zone. I want to feel normal.

Of the fifty or so bras I found–among thousands–in my cup size, maybe fifteen were my band size as well. Of the six I tried on (covering all the styles available), one was even remotely comfortable. Because it’s not enough that most big bras are bland as hell, the manufacturers have to add a “feminine” touch and put bits of razor-sharp lace across various areas that tend to dig in after a few hours. –If they could get away with installing thumbscrews or Iron Maidens***, they would.

I took home both of the bras in the “comfortable” model, one white, one (ooh, racy) black. I found one model with pastel green, purple, and black varieties, but 1) they’d put lace across the bottom band and 2) the cups were two layers of paper-thin mesh. Dryer or no dryer, those things wouldn’t last a month. Those bras were there for cruelty’s sake.

I screwed around at a book store after that, because I wasn’t ready to face anybody yet, and if there’s a shopping experience that’ll make me feel better, it’s wandering around a bookstore. My current yoga routine is so boring that I don’t do it on a regular basis, so I stopped at the fitness section.

Brimming with self-pity, I flipped through book after book until I saw a women’s yoga books had a whole chapter on yoga for bulimics. And another on surviving cancer (including breast cancer). On working through osteoporosis.

I quit whining then. I picked up a different women’s yoga book, because it had exercises on strengthening the muscles that support the breasts. Actually, I got it because I couldn’t flip through the first book without feeling depressed.

At home, I tried out the first set (not the breast exercises, did those later), and barely made it through, which is the perfect level for yoga. Too hard, and you’re left shaking and wanting to puke; too easy, and you take it for granted.

Much like life.

*Mark this day. The heck with this keeping the mouth shut thing.
**I tried, but I’m a Midwesterner, and we’re not supposed to do that. It’s too decadent.
***Couldn’t resist.

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