Thursday, December 27, 2007

'tis the season to be plotting

Christmas was pleasant. I made a necklace for my grandma. The SP made a jewelry box for my sister. To each other we gave personal protection devices and insulated clothing.

Since we were both working on handmade gifts, we begged/borrowed/stole several movies. While stringing beads I watched the Disney pic Ratatouille, which was witty, effective and fun. It also prompted me to look up James Beard's recipe for ratatouille, which is a sort of vegetable casserole from Provence. I'm not a frequent eater of eggplant or zucchini, but anything layered with olive oil and basil is a candidate for my kitchen.

We watched Lonely Hearts, a neo-noir piece based on a true crime story. I'd seen a trailer for this a while back, but must've missed it in the theatres. Do NOT miss it on DVD. It's both intense and underplayed, textured, twisted and mercifully subtle. I was particularly fascinated by Salma Hayek's "damaged goods" femme fatale. She's not just vamping and slinking around, she's clever and resourceful, viciously passive-aggressive, and successfully demonstrates the self-centeredness at the core of every sociopathic personality. From the editorial description on Amazon: "Director Todd Robinson is the grandson of the real-life Elmer [Travota's character], and did the film as an homage to the case that consumed his grandfather." I highly recommend it to those with a taste for noir.

Movie number three was "Waitress," which could be considered a comedy if you are a thinking person. It was funny in the way that real life is often funny, but at the same time it was frustrating, heart-breaking and occasionally sickening. Jeremy Sisko plays Keri Russel's "bad husband" in this movie, serving up even more sociopathic neediness. He's not quite the murdering kind, but he's a soul-sucking cretin who careens from whining to threatening to belittling in the space of as many minutes. Still, Russel's character hasn't been completely broken down, which is what allows us to like her. She hides money and makes plans to escape, and when she finds brief happiness in an affair with her (married) obstetrician, she uses his strength and affection to remind herself of her own worth, but tells him point-blank she doesn't want him to "rescue" her. The climax of this movie is merely three lines long, but it's vastly satisfying. The only part that felt a bit contrived was the denouement, because a predictable benefactor made everything better (a little *too* much better, in my opinion), but on the whole it worked for me.

Now, the last flick was the one that's been, erm, haunting me the most. I found a little indy production called Sugar Creek at our local Hastings. It was a low-budget thing, debuted at the Little Rock film festival in May of this year. Direct to DVD after that. I knew none of this when I picked it up: it was described on the back as a "supernatural western," the first one I've seen that wasn't a zombie spoof. For an ultra-low-budget pic, the look is rather well-done. The colors are washed-out and bleak. I'd guess that the writer/director is either into Civil War reenacting or knows people who are. Someone has obviously tried to make the clothes look period; the basic cut and fabrics are right, but the details are lacking (colors, trimmings, hair, lack of hats) and nothing is worn-in or distressed properly. That was the first thing that caught my eye.

The second was, this director has no idea how to do transitions or establishing shots. You spend the first third of the movie grasping for context. It's pretty obvious from the lighting and the tight angles that they had limited space in which to film; for three days and nights the characters chase each other through the same field and a patch of scrub forest. You get a couple shots of a creek, a brief dark scene in a saloon, a shopkeeper breaking up glass bottles in a sack (what shopkeeper and where are left to your imagination--the 90-second intro to Deadwood had more sense of setting than this movie), and a sleazy megalomaniac landowner in a big white house.

The landowner was one of three bad guys in this movie, which was at least one too many. They were all intent on proving how bad they were by striking poses, cussing, saying smarmy things to innocent bystanders, waving their dicks at each other, and delivering speeches on the nature of good and evil--usually culminating with a statement about how they were the biggest baddest evil around.

This is the mark of a mediocre writer, one who hasn't caught on to the show-don't-tell rule. If you want to demonstrate that someone is a Bad Guy, have him walk around doing his daily bad-guy routine. We don't need to hear him talk about it, we need to SEE it. Course I guess when you've only got a half-dozen characters and they're all marked for death, it limits your options as far as sacrificial extras go.

Before I go any further I want to state why I am spending so much time thinking about this movie. The main plot thread worked. At the end, it all came together (mostly) and there was even a little "aha!" with some moral ambiguity that I found pleasing. But the director had no freakin' idea how to string his story together.

Lynette, in my writer's group, once said I was being too coy with the reader-- alluding to information that wouldn't be revealed until later. It was probably the best single piece of advice I ever got from her. Novice writers think that alluding to a mystery or lettre caché creates tension, but all it does is irritate and bore. When you put up flags that say, "Hey, there's a big tortured mystery here!" this reader goes, "aw hell, not the tortured-past again, will you just GET to it already?!" and I throw the book down and go read something that's not so manipulative.

Well, this director had the same problem. And what with his ineptness at showing changes in setting and POV, not to mention the interspersing of at least three flashbacks among the primary thread, it was virtually impossible to make any connection between the scenes. Even if I went back and re-watched the beginning, I don't think I could follow it now. The only reason anyone knows what's happening is because of the throwaway characters who sit around delivering expository speeches to one another.

What's really sad is, I can look back on each scene and say, "that scene was meant to show that the sheriff is a tough badass who doesn't believe in ghosts...." or "that scene was supposed to show us St. Clair had a death wish (or was crazy, maybe)and not really such a bad guy because his wife died and he set his slave free ..." but in the end they were either ineffective or downright digressionary. There were too many main characters and the secondary characters were little better than props to deliver enabling lines, but what this all comes down to is ineffective time-management. You've got less than two hours to tell your story. Which means, in every scene you have to be doing two things simultaneously: developing ALL the characters while moving the plot forward.

Now that I think about it, there are acutally two stories going on here, and the writer/director didn't seem to know which he was telling. The theme throughout is one of redemption and repentance, with mysterious Grim-reaper-like character stalking the Sorta-Bad, Sorta-Sad Man (and incidentally cutting down the Bad Men who get in his way). The implication is that one of the Revelation horsemen has come to collect the souls of the wicked. However at the end we find that the horseman is an old man out for revenge--who then takes pity on the last of his would-be victims because the Sorta Bad/Sad Man (the POV character, ostensibly) was only guilty of non-involvement and apologized for it in the end--after 95 minutes of more non-involvement. The guy wanders around waiting to die, all the while denying that he did anything wrong. He doesn't try to run, or fight, or reason--or at least not beyond a token resistance. How sympathetic can that be?

For me, the movie would've worked better as an allegory of the power of superstition, since the townspeople were all convinced that the horseman would kill them if they interfered. The St. Clair character should've been beefed up and made more ambiguous, the villain of the piece--perhaps even combined with the sheriff character, which would have cut the "I've got the biggest dick" speeches in half. The POV character, the Bad/Sad man brought there for atonement.... well, I'm not sure what could've been done with him. He was a sort of Christ symbol, down to the wounds in his side and the bloody rag around his head, but since he never sacrificed anything nor saved anyone (not really) the point was wasted.

Bottom line, the current-day story and the flashback story don't fit together except in the most incidental and plot-enabling ways. There is no similarity of theme and very little bearing on character construction, since the focus of the flashbacks is on a character that never appears in or influences the present-day action (except via that incidental plot-enabling murder). And since our POV character, the Bad/Sad Man, never speaks or acts in these flashbacks, we're not interested in him, either.

I know, it's an awful lot of attention to divert to a lost cause, and the author will probably find his way here and write long diabtribes defending his vision, but oh well. It's diverting to break the pieces apart and play script-doctor. Keeps the apparatus in shape. My next writer's meeting is January 5 and I ought to knock out the rest of Death by Feng Shui before then; plus another writer-friend gave me a manuscript to read and since Christmas is over I guess I can't put it off anymore.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

vegan á là Orwell

I was reading through my usual blogroll this morning and came across this interesting piece on Culinate, about a world charity called Heifer International. They provide cows and other farm animals to impoverished areas, teach the owners how to raise them, with the provision that any offspring of the donated animals are then given to other members of the community, so everyone gets a chance for better nutrition.

I think this is a great idea. One thing that doesn't really get discussed during war coverage is how the invading armies or insurgents slaughter all the food animals and destroy the crops. A community can't recover from that kind of loss without other animals being imported, and in a very poor area, a cow is worth more than--well, anything. In addition to providing goats, cows, llamas or chickens, Heifer International also teaches about beekeeping, to improve crop pollination and provides small meat animals for breeding, such as rabbits.

Of course there was a line in the article that bugged me: "...some people who do not support meat-eating would rather that Heifer only provide help with animals that can be milked, hens that lay eggs, or crops." I'm not sure if that means people outside the organization who would like to support it, or people receiving help from Heifer, such as vegetarian Hindus, who are not able to make use of meat rabbits.

Being the cynical carnivore I am, the dominoes started tumbling in my writer's mind. In about five minutes I conceived a story scenario in which an aggressive vegetarian faction, combined with rabid environmentalists and the corn industry, has become the dominant lobbying party in America, and Congress has officially made it illegal to raise or kill an animal for food (using them for pharmeceutical and cosmetics testing is still ok, though).

I can envision underground meat parties, people raising chickens in their bathrooms, new breeds of pigs that live in dark basements and are blind and hairless--more like overgrown slugs, really--and street gangs raiding the houses of little-old-lady cat hoarders and stealing her animals to make sausage. Police would detect illegal meat-raisers by sniffing around basement windows with methane-detecting instruments.

Of course, most people would adhere to the no-meat dictate, because people are--excuse the expression--sheep, and tend to reinforce the prevailing ethics of their time. So they'd all be eating massive amounts of grains, fruits, and vegetables, and they'd all be massively fat. Leanness would be considered freakish, a sign of poor health and possibly deviant behavior. The human life expectancy would be a good bit shorter, what with all the diabetes, gout, cancer and heart disease. Probably the birth rate would drop, too, since obese mothers have trouble conceiving, tend to deliver low birth weight babies, and are more likely to die of gestational complications.

The animal population would spiral out of control, with cows and pigs roaming the streets and chickens instead of pigeons roosting in Times Square. The exception would be domestic turkeys, which are so retarded they cannot breed naturally and would exist only in zoos or as exotic, expensive pets.

Meanwhile the earth would be in even more environmental trouble than it currently is. The best pastureland would be given to the animals for grazing, and the ariable farmland would be getting more and more stripped, due to incessant over-planting. I suppose somebody might get smart and use animal dung for fertilizer, but given the chokehold Big Biofarming would have on the industry in such a scenerio, they could probably convince the public that animal fertilizer is dangerous and ineffective as a fertilizer (which in some cases it already is). The extreme levels of methane in the air would hasten global warming.

There would be an abrupt increase in extinctions among wild animals in North America, because the fast-breeding domestic animals would crowd the wild ones out of competition. Food would become more and more expensive, more genetically engineered, more constructed in labs--Big Biofarming would have the market cornered, after all. Humans as a population would get shorter, and dumber, with each generation, from lack of protein. Mutations and birth defects would skyrocket, from the GMO grains and soy. But the animals, at least, would be protected.

Sounds fun... but nobody'd ever publish it.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

disgusting details about fat, scurvy, and fiber

I’m about 60% through the Taubes book now and it’s steadily getting more intriguing.

I like the bit in Chapter 18, Fattening Diets, where the author describes the diets of sumo wrestlers: about 5500 calories a day, very very low in fat (16% of total calories) and high in carbs (57%). And that’s for the top-ranked sumo wrestlers. The lower-tier competitors, who weigh about the same but have less muscle mass than their brethren, eat about 5100 calories a day, but up to 80% is carbs (this means proportionately less protein, hence the reduced muscle) and as little as 9% fat. (p307)

That right there should end the debate about whether it is fat or carbs that make you fat. And please note that the sumo are not fat because they eat so many calories; no, they crave enormous amounts of food because all the rice kicks their insulin levels sky-high and they are hungry all the time. Trust me; I lived with a guy who was sumo-sized for several years and this was exactly how he ate. He liked his meat ok, and he could take or leave butter, but he'd polish off a loaf of Wonder Bread literally overnight.

Chapter 19, Reducing Diets, talks about a guy named Stefansson who lived with the Inuit (Eskimo) for a decade before WWI, during which he ate their native diet of fatty meat and little else, and suffered no ill effects. If anything, he was healthier than he had been on his previous “balanced” diet, as were the Inuit and all the foreigners who came to live with them and adopted the diet.

Laboratory attempts to replicate this diet on volunteers, in the 40’s and 50’s, yielded much the same results. The volunteers lost weight, eating as many or more calories than they had before the experiment, except with the carbs greatly reduced, and while they were losing body fat and inches, they gained muscle, felt more energetic, suffered no hunger pains, and in the case of some female college students, saw their skin clear up.

All of that I knew, and could attest to personally. Here’s the kicker:

None of the volunteers on this diet of meat and fat suffered from malnutrition. They didn’t get beriberi (thiamin deficiency), or pellagra (niacin deficiency) or even scurvy. This surprised me. I’ve heard repeatedly that humans and guinea pigs are the only two mammals who can’t synthesize vitamin C in their bodies, and I always assumed that vitamin C was the only thing I might need to supplement myself with. There is little or no vitamin C in meat, milk, eggs and cheese.

So why did I never seem to be bothered by scorbutic symptoms? I figured it was because I ate enough green stuff, although if I’m being strictly honest with myself, I don’t eat much. More to the point, why didn’t the Inuit and their guests get scurvy after years on such a diet? I'd never seen this question addressed before; it was one of the questions those post-WWII researchers were trying to answer.

Turns out that “high blood sugar and/or high levels of insulin work to increase the body’s requirements for vitamin C. The vitamin-C molecule is similar in configuration to glucose and other sugars in the body. It is shuttled from the bloodstream into the cells by the same insulin-dependent transport system used by glucose. Glucose and vitamin C compete in this cellular-uptake process, like strangers trying to flag down the same taxicab simultaneously. Because glucose is greatly favored in the contest, the uptake of vitamin C by cells is globally inhibited when blood-sugar levels are elevated.” (p325)

In other words, the starches in our diets flush the C out of our systems, while inhibiting the use our bodies can make of the C we get. That would explain those studies that show how mega-doses of C just get flushed out in the urine. The high-carb diets prevent our bodies from absorbing it. So the greater proportion of carbs in your diet—including root vegetables, legumes, and particularly fruits—the more C you need to injest just to break even. And all that pureed fruit juice will do you no good: your body will just soak up the sugars and flush the vitamins right out of there.

I had no idea. But maybe it helps explain why I hardly ever get sick.

Also, that old saw about excessive protein damaging your kidneys? That came from a guy named Newburgh who force-fed soybeans, eggs and beef to rabbits. Rabbits are herbivores—one could hardly be surprised if a diet of this sort gave them health problems.

The human subjects who participated in various high-fat, high-protein diet studies, which Taubes discusses in the last third of the book, suffered no kidney problems, and no problems with bowel disruptions. Lest I venture into the realm of Too-Much-Information, I can verify that my guts work smoother, produce less waste and less odor, when I eat fewer carbs and starches. A friend of mine, who was once diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, reported the same improvement with his change in diet--which makes me cringe for those poor bastards with IBS who are told to increase their fiber.

Frankly, I never saw the point of eating a high-fiber diet. That argument is based on two things: one, that the fiber will fill you up and you will feel less hungry; two, that fiber is ‘nature’s broom’ and will sweep out the nasty bad meat waste.

First of all, eating things that are not food will not stop you from being hungry. The Donner party chewed on shoes, ate paper and boiled rugs for broth, but it didn’t stop them from starving. If you dilute the food of rats with water, they will keep feeding until they bloat, but they will not stop until they have consumed their usual number of calories. It’s a nutrient-balance thing; volume has little to do with it.

Second—what meat waste? The protein is going to my muscles; the fat is soothing my liver, processing vitamins, making my skin and hair silky. So I have to wince when I hear dieticians, particularly the vegetarian variety, pushing fiber on people. All you’re doing is making your bowels and small intestine work harder for fewer nutrients.

Not efficient, to my way of thinking.

Monday, November 26, 2007

reading the manual

I've been practicing tai chi.

I think my brain finally realized we were out of sewing obligations and it could focus on what we wanted to do. And as I said to the SP the other day, I think I'm at a place of better understanding than I ever have been before--I can remind myself to drop the elbows, to round the back, to relax the hip and commit the weight-shift, and actually manage to do those things for a second or two at a time. It's just that the muscles are not trained and they are still fighting the brain.

Sit sat me down a few weeks ago and gave me a mild lecture about this. "You got the knowledge now," was the gist of what he said. "Key now is to repeat, repeat, so sometimes you get it right by accident. Then you remember what it feels like to do it right, and you do that again and again until it's easier to do the right thing than the wrong thing."

"I think the difference is you're starting to believe it now," the SP told me. And he may be right.

It's an axiom of martial arts that the older the student, the more time he spends unlearning bad habits. This is especially true if the student is self-taught or had a bad teacher before. You don't want to admit that you were doing something wrong before, so you fight the new knowledge that may be incompatible.

I taught myself to sew, mostly, so I spent a lot of time reinventing the wheel, and being an impatient child I had no interest in pressing or finishing my seams or any of the neatening and shaping skills that make a garment look professional instead of homemade. But the first time I made a corset, I knew it was not the time to cut corners. The parts were expensive and the fit was crucial to the entire outfit, not to mention my own comfort. It intimidated me so much I actually followed the instructions, which not only turned out a fabulous corset but taught me the value of planning ahead and doing things the right way, instead of the "quick" way. You might say I owe the bulk of my sewing competency to that corset pattern (Laughing Moon Mercantile 'Dore' corset pattern, best on the market).

I went through an even more profound struggle with my writing, because the writing was more connected to my ego, and I'd had too many bad teachers trying to convince me of the "right" way to do things. By the time I was twenty-eight I knew I was a good writer, but I knew also I wasn't good enough and it was terribly frustrating. I couldn't find that extra "something" that would make the story satifying; I didn't even know what it was, and there was no one I could ask. With no better options, I joined and spent a year reading a lot of really bad fiction. Gradually and unconsciously, I realized that a story arc has to bend back on itself to be satisfying, and there was nothing "trite" or "slick" about that, regardless of what my college prof insisted: there was a structure to it, as deliberate as that in a corset.

I found myself writing Quinn Taylor stories in a feverish fugue--story ideas I'd had in mind for years, but never knew what to do with them, how to make them relevant. At some point during that year of critting mediocre fiction, I'd begun to assimilate what Algis Budrys meant by "point," and why Mark Walters kept going on about "transcending the literal," but the only way my unconscious could get the knowledge past my ego was via a new story, since writing for me has always felt a lot like lucid dreaming. Writing "Galatea" was beyond lucid, it was like an out-of-body experience: looking down on my car, and the road, and the countryside I was travelling, able to trace the route at the same time I could feel the gearshift in my hand, my fingers wrapped around the wheel, my foot on the gas. So this is how it works, I thought with awe, whenever I paused to crack my knuckles and stare at the words. And this is how the next scene will work. And I'd go on.

I think the tai chi ability, when it comes together, is going to feel a lot like that. On occasional nights when I'm in the zone, I feel my fingers and body moving, I feel the carpet in the arches of my feet and the air molecules brushing my arms, but it's like I'm watching myself from outside my body. Only for a second or two at a time; but I've read accounts from the masters, and Sit too has said that a fighter must detatch himself in that way. Last Saturday I was working with the new Soccer Mom in class, and she's spastic and bouncy and laughing nervously, but I just strode up and took a stance and waved her to begin the pattern. "You're so serious!" she said after a while. "It's like you're so focused." I was in the zone, so the compliment had no effect on me emotionally, I just nodded and went on the sequence. But now I remember how detached and intimidating Zack always seemed to me. I never saw him outside of class, but inside, he was all business.

It has helped to have some padawans around, so I can watch their mistakes. It has helped also to attend tournament and watch the videos so I can see more advanced people and see what works. It has helped, God help me, to actually practice and pay attention to what my body is telling me and what Sit is showing me. One small concept at a time, applied.

On a whim the other night I went back and re-read Sit's bio and history pages. For years, Chinese names have been so much static in my head, because they all sound alike to my untrained English-speaking ear. But I guess I've been listing to the old man long enough that the sheer repetition has permeated. I've found I can read Pinyin phonetics and hear their pronunciation in my head. I can even pronounce them aloud, enough that Sit can understand what I'm getting at and correct me--a dialogue that goes something like this:

Me: How do you say this? "Coy?"
Sit: Cui.
Me: Cuoy?
Sit: Cui.
Me: Cuoyee?
Sit: No.

And so on. But at least I'm recognizing more of it, so I can follow along and get meaning from it. The osmosis is finally penetrating.

Last night I was doing some high-level qi gong, one which involves swinging the arms forward at an arc. You're supposed to do a hundred repetitions of it. At about fifty reps, it starts to hurt. At about seventy, I had to start slacking the muscles in my upper arms to continue, because the biceps were exhausted. At about ninety, I realized I could swing from the hip (uh...yeah, like you've been told 10,000 times or so!) and spare the shoulder and arms altogether--I had only to stretch the fingertips to keep the arc going. The last five or so were transcendent-- I am still, this morning, trying to remember what it felt like--like a dream you know was a wake-up call from your subconscious.

The salient point here, however, is not that I remembered to swing from the hip--it's that I did the move the prescribed 100 times and got so tired that I was forced to do it correctly.

Crazy what happens when you follow the instructions.

Friday, November 23, 2007

three-second rule

"Okay," Mom said, "Now I'm going to pick up this rack and I want you to slide the turkey off onto the platter--try not to turn it over."

"Okay." She tilted, and I guided with a couple of slotted spoons, and the bird slithered and lurched onto the platter mostly intact. A bit of meat skittered free and leapt of the counter onto the freshly-scrubbed floor.

I bent quickly to pick it up, bare-handed.

"It's hot!" Mom warned.

"I got it!" I said, and shifting it back and forth like a baked potato, I shifted it under the tap and rinsed it off. "What is that, anyway?" It wasn't a neck, and it sure wasn't the liver.

"The gizzard," Mom said. "Your grandpa will want that, wash it off and put it back in the pan; it'll go in with the stuffing and the germs'll get cooked off it."

We are not terribly concerned, in our family, about food that hits the floor or the counters in our house, as long as it can be rinsed off; we keep things fairly clean and figure that any minor extra bacteria strengthens our immune systems. Perhaps because of this, we are a healthy lot. But the gizzard was hot, and I tried to impale it on the meat fork to spare my fingers.

Gizzards are tough, however, and hard to impale. The gush of water knocked the giblet off the tines and straight down the garbage disposal.

"Oh man," I said.

"Ugh," Mom said. "Okay, we don't want it out of there. Fish it out and give it to the dog. Just don't tell your grandpa there was one."

There was a fair amount of giggling and burned fingers as I fished it out of the drain, still steaming. The dog was more than happy to choke it down, gnawing around the edges in the frigid air outside.

"Didn't that bird have a gizzard?" Gramps asked at the dinner table.

Me and Mom and Dad looked at each other, smirking. "Uh..."

"Sorta yes," Dad said, and we cracked up.

"What, did it fall on the floor?" Gramps said.

"Sorta yes again," Dad said.

"That was the first thing," I said.

"I guess the dog got it, huh?"

"Pretty much," Dad said, while the three of us roared and the rest of the family looked at us as if we were crazy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

soapbox break

Two articles of note today. And I apologize in advance for the second one.


First: turkey does not, in fact, make you sleepy.
[The myth] is that there's a natural chemical in turkey called tryptophan that makes you sleepy after the Thanksgiving meal.

Turkey does have tryptophan. But all meat has tryptophan at comparable levels. Cheddar cheese, gram for gram, has more. Turkey gets singled out for no other reason than being eaten during the biggest meal of the year.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. Human bodies need tryptophan to build certain kinds of proteins. There is a sleep connection, though. The body uses tryptophan in a multi-step process to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps regulate sleep.

In essence, big meals with any food containing tryptophan can cause sleepiness. The real culprits are all those carbohydrates from potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, bread and pie. The massive intake of carb-heavy calories stimulates the release of insulin, which in turn triggers the uptake of most amino acids from the blood into the muscles except for tryptophan.

With other amino acids swept out of the bloodstream, tryptophan—from turkey or ham or any meat or cheese, for that matter—can better make its way to the brain to produce serotonin. Without that insulin surge, tryptophan would have to compete with all the other kinds of amino acids in the big meal as they make their way to the brain via a common chemical transport route.

Ergo: eat the meat and vegetables, go light on the startches, and you won't feel so miserable for the rest of the weekend.

I'm fairly sure that the "sleepy-turkey myth" is another one of those memes composed and promoted by the meat-is-murder crowd. I think I'll make up a bumper sticker that says "Vegans for Rickets!"


Second, and far more nausea-inducing, is this nasty little tidbit from Saudi Arabia:
The Saudi judiciary on Tuesday defended a court verdict that sentenced a 19-year-old victim of a gang rape to six months in jail and 200 lashes because she was with an unrelated male when they were attacked.

The Shiite Muslim woman had initially been sentenced to 90 lashes after being convicted of violating Saudi Arabia's rigid Islamic law requiring segregation of the sexes.

But in considering her appeal of the verdict, the Saudi General Court increased the punishment. It also roughly doubled prison sentences for the seven men convicted of raping the woman, Saudi news media said last week.

And I had been under the impression that Saudi Arabia was one of the more liberal, secular Middle Eastern nations.

There's really nothing I can say about it, that isn't already obvious to those of us living in a post-Magna-Carta world. If I were fabulously wealthy and anonymous, I'd employ a private team of mercs to follow up on incidents like this.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

lacking the spirit of gluttony

I hate to say it, but I'm just not in a Thanksgiving frame of mind. I'm looking forward to the days off, and seeing the family, but the whole idea of a massive meal is, frankly, turning my stomach.

I already arranged with Mom to bring over a ham, and my grandparents are providing the turkey. Mother is the champion baker in the family, so she's doing the rolls, two pumpkin pies and a cherry. Then I'll help her fix mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans and salad. I expect she'll have cranberry relish, too; that's another of her specialities.

It's a generous spread, and less obnoxious than some families. We don't eat sweet potatoes, for one thing, and we don't bother with cocktails or appetizers. We make everything from scratch, more or less. Dessert is purely voluntary.

It's just... I've dropped back to lower-carb intake and have lost a couple pounds. I've been gradually sloughing off the five pounds I put on in the first year of marriage.

And the cost of food has gone up so much. I hate to see all this excess. I just did my Monday-night clearing out of the leftovers in preparation for the garbage man on Tuesday, and although we're pretty good about eating leftovers, I still found a couple of dishes in the back that I'd forgotten about.

And maybe I shouldn't have eaten that Taco Bell for lunch. Yes, that's probably where the nausea comes from.

Oh well. It's two more days yet and I'll have class Wednesday night. Perhaps I can work up an appetite. I just wish there were more vegetables involved. Maybe I could roast some and take them. And maybe I'll just have salad for dinner tonight.

Monday, November 19, 2007

marking the end of year one

Sunday was our first wedding anniversary. It was lovely. We slept late, lounged around and read for a bit, went out for brunch around noon, came home and cleaned out the garage, got into some nice clothes and went out for a seafood dinner. And if that's not your idea of a terrific day, well, it's a good thing you're not married to us.

Seriously, the cleaning out the garage part made both of us chipper. The SP's been wanting to do it since I moved in there, we threw out a tremendous amount of stuff that needed throwing out (including, literally, a kitchen sink. And a lavatory sink. And a commode.), stacked up all the lovely bits of wood he's been hoarding for someday projects, and made a nice open bare space of floor where he can put the table saw and start cutting boards for trim and the workbench in my office. He's excited about it. He's so motivated now he's talking about starting on the living room demolition. That probably won't happen for months yet, but the sight of those clean painted walls makes you feel like there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

This weekend is Thanksgiving. Tony's taking Friday off, and we're going to move in the table saw and maybe buy lumber for my workbench. "We're going to get a lot done this weekend," he said. I'm excited!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

wow, I'm that student now

We had a very fun taiji class last night. We started off with the "kicks" form, which is the more difficult tai chi form Sit likes us to use in competition, then did some hand-to-hand, then did some Chen style form and a little more hand-to-hand. Sit taught us a new way to practice 'receiving' an attack, then he slapped us around the room a bit. Of course we were giddy and giggling and enjoying ourselves, which just got him wound up and we got out of there way late... again.

I should mention that I've been having an upswing of interest in tai chi the last month or so. Although I groused and groaned about having the Wookie in class, in part because Sit started over teaching the first form to him, there is definitely merit in re-learning the basics when you're at a more advanced level. It's like picking up a book you've read many times, and getting something new out of it.

As a result of this reviewing, I've been conscientiously "tightening up my form" as my Sparring Parter puts it. For the last two years I've been unhappy with the way I "walk" through my form: appearing to fall into stances instead of shifting with control from one foot to the other. Under Sit's correction, and with the luxury of knowing the sequence already, which allows me to pay attention to details, I have made some serious adjustments to my footwork. Part of it is just planning ahead, knowing what the next move will be, but in order to be prepared, I had to widen my stances slightly, and fully commit the weight-shift from one foot to the other. These two changes together provide more stability and control, but to do them safely and comfortably I found I had to drop my hip and flex the knee, which--coincidentally enough--is one of things Sit has been repeating ad nauseum for the last six years.

Tony noticed the change. "Your horse stance is looking a lot better," he said to me a couple weeks ago. "I noticed while we were in kung fu class, you were the only one without your butt sticking out."

This is high praise indeed.

Furthermore, a few days ago I was working on fan form (the second form I ever learned, and full of deeply-embedded bad habits) in the living room, and he remarked that my back stance was also improved, for the same reason. In all these stances, the joints are supposed to act as shock absorbers, and they cannot perform that function if they are locked and stiff. It takes a very long time for most students to lose that hip tension. Especially if they don't practice much.

Sit's been keen on "discipline" the last couple weeks. He read Chuck Norris' autobiography, and I guess ol' Chuck had some impressive dedication to his training during his salad days. "The secret is to go with your B-plan," Sit said last night. "You make up a list, say, 'I'm going to do an hour everyday.' But that's too extreme, so you fail. So you say you going to do half an hour everyday. That much you can do. So you stick with it."

My plans are even more modest than that, but I think I can do them. For a while I was quite good at practicing, if not daily, then at least 45 minutes, three days a week when not in class. I think now I want to strive for two forms a day--any of the six forms I'm likely to do for competition, done twice a day, at a slow, focused pace, with good structure--plus 30 minutes of meditation in the evening. Meditation is good stuff. You feel great after you do it, but for me it's like writing: I can find every excuse not to start on it until it's too late to do it.

Last Saturday, one of the new students, a guy who's been coming to us about nine months, who teaches Yoga on the side, asked me and Tony what our practice schedule was like. "Uh... one of us says to the other, 'you wanna practice?' And the other one goes, 'nuuhhhh, I'm reading this,' and the first one picks on them until they get up and fight back," I told him. Meanwhile Tony had caught my arms above my head and was dragging me around in circles, dusting the floor with the butt of my sweatpants.

Yoga-boy laughed. "So how many forms are there? How many do you guys know?"

That took some counting on fingers. We tallied up about fifteen forms that Sit teaches, that we know; there are others we've seen but he hasn't taught them during our tenure. Some he has compiled himself, from traditional sources. Some were handed down to him. Tony knows a couple more than I do. A couple that I know, like the Six Elbows Internal form and the traditional tai chi sword form, I only know the first half of, because they are very long forms and Sit wants me to polish up the beginning segments to fit in the 3.5 minute time-limit of competition.

Yoga-boy looked impressed. And I was impressed, too, because I remembered asking those same questions of Zack and Tim back when I was fairly new, and I realized that my Sparring Partner and I have become Those Students--the ones that the newbies look up to. I've complained before about how they slow the class down, and I don't get to learn more form because Sit's time is taken up with them, but the simple truth of it is, I've probably improved more this year than I would've otherwise, because I've been forced to retread familiar ground, cleaning and polishing, and because Sit keeps telling me to stand in front during lessons so the new kids can follow my movements. It makes me a lot more aware of what I'm doing, and I pay more attention to the way he teaches, so if I have to lead exercises I know what he just showed them and can duplicate it. Also, watching their awkwardness in the stances makes me understand my own posture more; kind of like critting other people's stories helped me consolidate my understanding of how to put a plot together.

Of course it's true that you learn the most while teaching others. I just hadn't had anybody new to teach in a while.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

chai custard breakfast smoothie

Take 1 cup freshly brewed chai tea, add: 1/2 cup milk, 1/4 cup cream, and 1 egg thoroughly beaten together. Pour into saucepan; add 2-3 spoonfulls honey or to taste. Whisk gently over medium heat until just slightly thickened (about 3-5 min). Pour into go-mug and drink while driving.


(I had my doubts about all those smoothies with raw egg in them, but then I experimented with making custards last winter when I was sick. When all the liquids are blended together and warmed, the egg is no longer raw. Much more nutritious than a sugary cup of coffee. And nicely warm on a cold morning!)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering

So I'm in the middle of reading Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories. I am likely to be reading it for some time, as it is astonishingly detailed. All that medical-history research I did for Miss Fairweather now feels like practice for this book. But no matter; it's riveting reading. Explains a lot of things I had only suspected or heard alluded to.

I confess, also, that I am reacting to the book rather as a hyperactive Christian would react to, say, The Bible Code or the latest LaHaye dissertation, which is to think here, at last, is the incontrovertable evidence that we were right all along!

Even though I know it doesn't work that way. Forget science: health is a religion and always has been. A quick look at the reviews on Amazon is confirmation: the believers will believe more strongly; the anti-fat, anti-meat crowd will just be further alienated.

It's kind of alarming how people talk about diets in terms of ethics. "Raising meat uses up too much land and energy! We shouldn't be living so well when the rest of the world is starving! Meat is murder!" I've actually seen people claim that the book of Genesis forbids eating meat, which is... um, no. God is pro-barbeque, trust me on this.

And dieters flagellate themselves just like the faithful in the face of disaster. I can't tell you how many women I know who are fat and tired from starchy diets and inadequate protein (or worn down with fatigue and stress from letting life batter them while they wait for Jesus to make it better), with brittle hair and nails and smiles, who just insist they feel so much better since they went vegetarian (since I put my trust in the Lord!). They sincerely believe that 1100 calories a day will make them slim, healthy and happy, if they fill up on water and fiber (if I just keep praying about it), and they just know that thirty pounds (massive debt/brutal husband/parasitic daughter) is going to drop off as soon as I get back to being really good about cutting out the fat (getting active in the church) again.

Funny side note--the folks I know who are most hard-core vegetarians tend to be kind of indifferent about religion--or embrace a feel-good amorphous "spirituality" instead of a particular faith. I wonder why. Maybe it's just the crowd I hang out with.

Ok--y'all know I hate evangelism. I shall strive not to wave the Taubes book in the face of all the rice-eaters I know. But here on my own blog, I will testify! And I will not be ashamed! The truth will set you free!

The 11 Commandments.... um, Critical Conclusions of Good Calories, Bad Calories: (taken from the publisher's site--and even I have trouble grasping some of these, despite my own observations about exercise)
  1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, does not cause heart disease.
  2. Carbohydrates do, because of their effect on the hormone insulin. The more easily-digestible and refined the carbohydrates and the more fructose they contain, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being.
  3. Sugars—sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup specifically—are particularly harmful. The glucose in these sugars raises insulin levels; the fructose they contain overloads the liver.
  4. Refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are also the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and the other common chronic diseases of modern times.
  5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating and not sedentary behavior.
  6. Consuming excess calories does not cause us to grow fatter any more than it causes a child to grow taller.
  7. Exercise does not make us lose excess fat; it makes us hungry.
  8. We get fat because of an imbalance—a disequilibrium—in the hormonal regulation of fat tissue and fat metabolism. More fat is stored in the fat tissue than is mobilized and used for fuel. We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of the fat tissue reverses this imbalance.
  9. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated, we stockpile calories as fat. When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and burn it for fuel.
  10. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.
  11. The fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be.

Monday, October 29, 2007

what have YOU been up to?

I painted the walls of my office this weekend. Sanded the touch-up patches, added a second coat of primer and put on the first coat of paint. The SP helped rough-in the corners but I let him off the hook and finished the rolling myself. It's a small room, after all.

The paint is very antique-looking, kind of an eggshell or cream that has yellowed with age. I think it'll look smashing with the golden-shellacked trim and some rich draperies. The SP said we'd go look at wood for my workbench this weekend. Yay!

We are both ALMOST caught up with our financial situation. I had some back taxes from the divorce; he had some other things to take care of, and while they are not yet completely gone, we've got them scared. All the sewing I did this summer and fall put a nice chunk of change in my pocket, all of which is going to Uncle Sam.

I did buy a couple of small things for myself, however. I got a ruffle-making foot for Vera Bernina, and I FINALLY found some vertically-striped nylons which I've only been searching for since, oh, 2002. They were kind of pricey, but I ordered two pair, one tan & one black, and they were worth every penny. They are gorgeous, smooth, sheer, excellent quality, and fit like a dream. I'm almost afraid to wear them, for fear of snags.

In further garment news, I completed my long tweed skirt and my tweed vest. They look very sharp. I put them on with my pocketwatch and perched a pair of old welding goggles on my head, and how Steampunk am I? The skirt's great, though. Very long, swingy and soft, not at all binding. Probably be very warm in the winter, too, if I put some tights and a petticoat under it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

time flies

Wow, it's October. Like, halfway through October. How did that happen?

I've been sick this week. I think it was the let-down that comes when you get everything finished and finally slow down enough that the germs can catch up. I stayed home Monday and slept about 12 hours and felt better.

So what have I been doing? Well, I sewed a lot. I made three Harley Quinn costumes, as you know.... and I sold about 10 patterns, I'm not sure of the actual number. I found out that one skank who bought a pattern from me 2 years ago is now selling her own made-to-order Harley Quinn costumes in PVC. C'est la vie. If I wanted to work in PVC I'd be more annoyed than I am She does a pretty good job but my hoods look better.

The SP and I have been preparing lightly for a tai chi demo next weekend, during which we will wave our umbrellas and pretend to beat each other up. Sit is emceeing and I'm curious whether he'll make a joke about us being married. The demo is supposed to be in a grocery store parking lot, unless of course it keeps raining.

The advent of the cool weather has made me want to sew something for myself, so while I was home sick I cut out some lovely tweed from my stash to make a three- and possibly four-piece suit. I cut out the jacket, vest and pants, and probably have enough fabric left for a skirt but I may use another pattern for it. It feels very strange to be sewing something for myself. I haven't made myself any non-costume clothes in a very long time.

Let's see, what else?... I believe I mentioned sending "Sikeston" to Baen's Universe back in August. They got round to it rather quicker than I expected, but they turned it down. Said it "wasn't right" for the magazine. I'm not sure what that means, but I was not entirely surprised. Sikeston is a great story, I think, but over at Baen's they like things a bit lighter.

I haven't felt like writing for a while. I thought I might churn out something for Halloween, but it's been awfully busy at work and at home, both. I have no brain cells to spare for plot construction. Oh, that job I applied for? I interviewed with the supervisor and we both agreed I was overqualified for the position. It was pretty much entry-level and data entry. The sad part was, that starting salary was roughly what I'm making now, after seven years here. It's a small market for publishing around here, there's no competition so wages stay low. Of course from what I understand, nobody in publishing anywhere in the WORLD makes a decent living, so I'm in good company.

The good news is, what with me making up a resume and investigating elsewhere, my supervisor finally heard me complaining about how I was stagnated and wanted some new duties, preferably web-based. They are working on getting new people into the department, and when they succeed, I shall be taking on some new duties. Which means I shall be turning the screws for a raise, come April.

But that's a heavy topic, not fun. And I am too drowsy to dwell on heavy topics. It's pouring rain outside and very dark. I think I shall put up Halloween decorations. We're having trick-or-treaters in the office on the 26th and I'll probably dress up. I'm leaning toward a Fairweather-inspired Steampunkish ensemble. I should have enough costume bits to pull that off. Particularly if I finish my new skirt. The SP found a pair of old welding goggles that belonged to his dad, and I already have a pocketwatch, so I can accessorize effortlessly.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

welcome back, Gary!

Gary Taubes, the journalist who wrote, "What if it's all Been a Big Fat Lie?" for the New York Times back in 2002, has a new book out, Good Calories, Bad Calories, which I intend to buy and read as soon as possible. "Big Fat Lie" was the article that touched off the most recent upswing of low-carb dieting, with the attendant articles, studies, convenience food products, and controversy. It was also the article that made me realize why the nutritional information around me was so different from the Health and Nutrition teachings I remembered from grade school, not to mention my own observations.

Taubes' book is about the research he did for the Times article and the research he's done since; more than that it's about the politics and infighting of medical research, and how "low-fat=health" became a meme in America.

Taubes talks about those politics, and the backlash to his article, in a PBS interview:
But [now] everyone agrees that insulin is the hormone that controls the deposition of sugar and carbohydrates and fat in your body. They agree that if insulin levels are high, you'll preferentially store calories as fat; and that as long as insulin levels stay high, you won't be able to get to that fat to use it for fuel. They agree that carbohydrates will raise insulin levels more than -- fat doesn't have an effect on insulin, although if you force-feed enough calories, you can [raise] it. All of that is given.

What they don't agree is that somehow the carbohydrates, the actual macronutrient content of the diet, will do this. [Scientists] will say a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. They'll admit that a calorie of carbohydrates has an entirely different effect on your hormonal system than a calorie of fats. They'll admit that your hormones can control your weight; that insulin and estrogen have effects on weight, hunger, and body weight regulation. But they will never go from the step where they say: Hey, maybe the amount of carbohydrates and the kind of carbohydrates in the diet will have an effect -- through their effect on insulin, through insulin's effect on the deposition of calories, through that effect on hunger -- [on] being a functional diet.

I've been backsliding lately, I admit it. I live in a hippified college town, and I read foodie literature about where food (esp. meat) comes from, and much of the information out there comes from vegetarian or animal-rights sources, who pull no punches in their crusade to make carnivores feel like greedy amoral elitist murderers of doe-eyed animals and third-world children.

While I'm in no way ready to give up eating meat, I do worry about the safety of what I eat, its availability in the face of shrinking farmland, and its environmental sustainability. I worry whether the benefits of being a carnivore (good height, good muscle and nerve development, good teeth) are enough to outweigh the threats of chemical and hormone poisoning. And the cost gets worse all the time, with feed corn being used for biofuels and other Unholy purposes.

But I don't for a minute believe that to stop eating meat is the ethically or environmentally appropriate solution. Raising a pig or a goat or a flock of chickens uses a helluva lot less land and water than growing an acre of soybeans, not to mention the energy needed to process the crop vs. the carcass. Ergo, it's the farming methods, not the product, that needs modification, if you want to feed the multitudes while preserving the soil (goats, pigs and chickens make more soil, too, whereas soybeans merely deplete it). Furthermore, one can eat far less meat (versus vegetable matter) per poundage of human and still be adequately nourished. I will never believe that a child raised vegetarian is getting enough protein for healthy brain and skeletal-muscular development. Period. They may live to grow up, but they will be rickety, weak, and vague. We have canines. We are omnivores. Deal with it.

Occasionally I think I should quit my job and become a radical nutritionist and proactive farming activist, since these topics stir me so strongly. Perhaps one day I will. But for now I'll go order that book, so I have more ammunition at my disposal next time someone sneers at my cheeseburger.

Meanwhile, a Coda: Yesterday I found a headline in Time about low-carb diets and cancer research. Read it. Be enlightened. And lay off the damn soda.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

3:10 to Stupid

Okay, I have to say something about 3:10 to Yuma. I read all these glowing reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and there are precious few new Westerns coming out, so we went to see it for the SP's birthday.

The acting is great. Really. Christian Bale is scrawny and beaten, Russel Crowe is self-possessed, charming and dangerous, and the supporting cast all fits together seamlessly.

But the things they do and the things they say are eight kinds of stupid. As the SP put it, "A whole bucket of stupid. Indiscriminately sloshed and ultimately upended."

Why exactly does Crowe's outlaw linger behind to get caught by the posse? Why does the sherrif send off two of his men as a decoy knowing they will be slaughtered by Crowe's gang--and then linger at the farmhouse through the night? Why do they let Crowe eat dinner with them at the table? Why do they not search him to make sure he is unarmed? Why isn't he in leg shackles? Or tied to the horse, or god forbid, shoved in a sack and tied across the horse? Why is Bale's character, who is supposed to be a sharpshooter, dinking around with a sawed-off shotgun? Where does he get all these guns he keeps pulling off his person in moments of crisis? Why is Peter Fonda's character, who's supposed to be an experienced tough guy, a Pinkerton gun-for-hire, stupid enough to ride within arm's reach of Crowe and get pulled off his saddle? Much less tell Crowe where they're taking him, in case he chances to get word to his gang?

All of this boils down to what I call "sacrificing character for the sake of plot." In other words, your characters are doing things that are unjustified (or inadequately justified) by their earlier behavior, just because the writer needs to keep the plot moving forward.

And we haven't even gotten to the climax yet. That's where things really start breaking down. Crowe and Bale are supposed to have developed a rapport by this time, but I couldn't see it. And I sure couldn't see why Crowe would even budge from his cozy hotel room to be walked down to the station amidst a hail of gunfire. And don't get me started about the scene with the bandits all clustered together beneath the window where the good guys were hiding out, calling for their blood, but none of the good guys thought to take the opportunity and thin the opposition. When Bale's character was supposed to be a freakin' sharpshooter. Seriously, it sucks being a good guy. You can't ever do the sensible thing.

Then, in the middle of the climactic running around, our hero and anti-hero pause to have a little heart-to-heart. And there's a line in there that's supposed to justify everything, but it doesn't. It doesn't because it's basically a non-sequitor to everything that's come before. It's a smirk, a quip. "I've escaped from Yuma prison twice already."

All of which led me to complain that Hollywood writers are so sheltered from real problems, they have no concept of how real people behave when faced with disaster and strife. I guess that's what it was. This screenplay was based off an Elmore Leonard story, and I KNOW Elmore understood what made people tick, and understood that character and plot are interdependent.

As I said above, the acting is great. And I'm inclined to think that's why the characters come off as great. But something got lost in the assembly; maybe on the cutting-room floor, because there were at least two lines in the trailer, good weighty soundbites, that didn't make it into the movie. The result is a lot of characters you really want to love, who stay with you and haunt you like a child or friend gone wrong, a soul you know you can't save from their own stupidity.

the perils of sewing for supervillians

Well, I sold another Harley costume on ebay this week. I was smarter about it this time. I set a reserve and put a Buy It Now price slightly higher than the reserve. And somebody did the Buy It Now. Kind of strange how perceived worth can work in one's favor.

Of course people are still cheapskates. I had a couple of bidders ask whether--if the Reserve was not met--I would offer Second Chance deals to non-winning bidders. I assume that means they were hoping to underbid my reserve and still get a deal for less money. I guess some sellers do this, but since I'm selling something that's not made yet, essentially bartering away my time, I have no incentive to do this. I know everybody wants to get a good deal, especially on something as frivolous as a costume, but if you really want something that bad, cough up the dough.

Similarly, Ebay has a policy against shilling--getting an accomplice to drive up the bid for you. I guess this makes sense, but the bottom line is, either you can afford it at that price or not. And if you can't, maybe you weren't meant to have it. So shilling may be somewhat unethical, but no more than haggling for handmade work when the price is right there in front of you. And if some buyers are deliberately bidding lowball in hopes you'll give it up, and your friend is shilling the bids, but somebody keeps topping the shill, who's really in the wrong? Especially when the Buy It Now option is already there, and one committed fan goes right ahead and scoops it up? Who's the clever one there?

There are indeed those who are willing to pay. I've had at least three emails asking for custom costumes, but I'll probably only have time to do two more before Halloween. One woman wanted hers done in black and silver, so she can wear it to Oakland Raiders games. That sounds like fun to me. I hope she emails me back.

Aside from that, I'd also like to do a Harley Quinn gothic Lolita dress; kind of a little-girl party dress with crinolines underneath and puffy sleeves, only made in red and black. Look cute with fishnets and wrist gloves. I wonder how that would sell. Doubt I'll have time to try it this year.

Anyway, I've sold two costumes and a pattern in the last two weeks, and made about $400. I figure it takes me about 12-15 hours to complete a costume, so I'm still not making a living wage, but in terms of work-hours, my sewing is still more profitable than my writing. And a helluva lot easier to find buyers for.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

ding! dong! the dress is done!

I delivered Amber's wedding dress to her last night. She seemed pleased.

I'm quite satisfied with it, overall. The colors came together better than I expected. I especially like the sleeves, and the oak leaf motif on the skirt.

The Flickr slideshow is here, for shots of the rest of the dress.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled house remodelling.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

thursday clarity

I like Thursdays. We have taiji class on Wednesday nights, of course, so I lose sleep but I gain clarity and mellowness.

My head was in a good place, last night. Watching that YouTube video of the ethnic festival performance, I realized that I am consistently leaning forward in my horse stance. This is not good, because it means that I am tensing at the hip and that creates a disconnect in the body line and robs you of power.

The good news is, once I've realized I'm doing it, I can pay attention and stop doing it. So I felt as if I had better ground connection last night, and that makes a lot of things go smoother.

I've also been pretty good all week about going home and doing a bit of practice, right off, instead of sitting down or fiddling around. I often feel at loose ends when I first get home, because I'm tense from the commute and fidgety from sitting down all day, and I can't decide whether to cook or clean or read or sew or what, and I feel resentful about all of it, so it helps to just pick up a sword and wave it around. Tuesday night I did just that: we went into the backyard and went through the broadsword form several times, just in the nick of time, since we were on the verge of forgetting it. Then we did a little longsword form, just for thoroughness.

I also got eaten alive by mosquitoes. Today I count sixteen bites just on my right leg. And yes, I put on repellent before I went out there; apparently they like me seasoned. We've been talking about building a bat house and maybe putting in a water garden with fish to eat the skeeters. In a couple weeks the weather will cool some and we'll probably do more yard work.

Yeah, my brain's rambling a bit. But I feel good, and motivated. I want to brush up my Chen-style form and I'll have to pester Sit about teaching me more sword form, because our schedule's been disrupted the last few weeks. Although I have kept up with it, so there.

Oh, and I've had two more queries about the Harley Quinn costume in the past fortnight. It's that time of year. I have decided, with an enthusiastic thumbs-up from the SP, to make another complete costume and put it on ebay. I calculate I can make on in a weekend or so, and if it sells like the last one did, I can make a clear profit. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

kung fu at the ethnic festival

The wife of one of my kung-fu brethren took a video of us performing. It's a bit shaky at first, but our form looks good and crisp. I like the way my white uniform looks in pictures.

Monday, August 13, 2007

movie reviews

I saw 2 1/2 movies this weekend. Two of them were quite bad. The decent one is still in progress, as I've been watching it in fits and starts while sewing.

We went out and saw Rush Hour 3 on Saturday. Yes, on purpose. Hey, we liked the second one, it was slick, funny and fast. Guess we should've quit while we were ahead. Not that we didn't get some laughs out of it, but it was ponderous, stupid, and the laughs were a bit forced. Honestly, if we could've just had 90 minutes of Roman Polanski riffing on violence in American cinema, it would've been a marked improvement. And how sad is that, when Roman Polanski is the funniest one in a comedy with two famous comedians?

We also rented something called "Played." It was astonishingly bad. It waffled between ripping off Tarantino in the L.A. setting, and ripping off Guy Richie in the London sequences. Also the plot was transparent and the characters were stupid. I happened to be sewing while it was on and got up to use the bathroom in the last five minutes. When I came back, the SP had switched it off and gone into the construction zone where he was slapping mud on the walls. "Who died?" I asked. "Pretty much everybody," he said disinterestedly.

The third movie is "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer," based on a German novel of the same name. I'm about halfway through it, and it's already been grimmer than the gangster flick, wittier than the comedy, and smarter than either. It's also quite strange and disturbing. The look of it resembles the Branagh "Frankenstein" or perhaps Les Miserables (more grime and gore in the same era). It's not exactly compelling but it's at least got me curious. I'm pacing it out for times when I can sit and hand-stitch and pay a reasonable amount of attention. It may not add up to anything--the ending is perportedly ludicrous--but I'll let you know.

progress in progress

I've been making this wedding dress for a friend of mine. I'm nearing the end. I'm past the part where it looks like nothing but a big mess. Last night I put the piping around the top edge, folded it down smooth and pinned it in place, and my husband said, "Hey, that looks like a bodice now."

The underskirt is finished. I overcast the bottom edge, instead of doing a folded hem, and it made the edge nicely ruffled, like lettuce. I think I may tint that underskirt. See, the dress is made from two different colors of changeable silk, both gorgeous on their own, but in certain lights they don't seem to coordinate. So I think I'll tint the brighter one to tone it down. Rather a terrifying prospect, frankly. It's taffeta and I don't know how the finish will react to being soaked.

The groom's vest is done and looks superb (I copied the SP's gambler vest and did a nicer job than the original, if I do say so myself). I need to make a cravat to go with it, which I shall accomplish tonight. I need also to put sleeves on the bodice, which I shall probably also do tonight. Then I need to bind the bottom of the bodice, add some trim (pearls, maybe?), and drape the overskirt, which is actually the fun part. I also have to hem the velvet cloak. I made the cloak back in May, but I've been putting off the hemming because silk velvet is a bitch to blindstitch. I'll have to do it by hand, and who wants a big lapful of velvet in August?

I'm feeling good about it. I'm into the fun part now. Plus I have a man with a lot of nifty tools who can cut steel corset boning when it's too long. A very generous and skilled man who put another coat of drywall compound on the walls of my office-in-progress this weekend. "I just want to get that part done so I can hand it over and say, 'Ok, your turn--go paint,'" he said.

I'm eager for that part myself. Lately I've been dreaming about a very nice split-level house with wonderful furnishings but no interior walls. The bedroom, dining room, office--everything but the bathroom is raised on platforms or sunk in depressions; separated by steps but open to the sounds and view of the surrounding areas. I think my subconscious is telling me it's time for some mental seclusion.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

silly man

“Though you yourself were raised to believe in demons, and in more recent years have been able to see and hear the spirits of the dead, you don’t entirely believe that demons exist, is that right?”

“I guess not,” Trace said slowly.

“And why is that?”

“I suppose because… all the things that demons are supposed to do, can be caused by somethin else. I’ve seen the causes.”

“Such as drugs, and madness, and war.”


“And you’ve never seen a demon.”

“Not that I know of.”

“Ah.” She looked approving. “Clever answer, Mr. Tracy. I suspect you have seen a good number of demons without knowing them. Unlike the spirits you see every day, which are pale fragments of living persons, demons are whole, sentient entities. There is a reason why the Judeo-Christian traditions portray them as evil tricksters. Many of them can assume the form of ordinary things in our world, either by possessing a living thing or mimicking its form. Many so-called mediums are unwittingly calling up demons in the guise of a customer’s loved ones.”

Trace was appalled. “I knew there was somethin fishy about that table-rappin.”

“Indeed. But let us refocus on our current problem. Something—we shall call it a demon, for the sake of simplicity—is precipitating the murders of innocents in the neighborhood. It seems to be connected in some way with a particular newspaper office, the Village Voice, and possibly this reporter, Mr. Reynolds.”

“But he doesn’t work for the Voice.

“That may not be relevant,” Miss Fairweather said. “Demons have been known to migrate from one host to another, particularly as they become familiar with their surrounds and gain strength. And they tend to gravitate toward a particular type of host, a particular character, if you will.”

“So what do you want me to do when I find it?”

“Exorcise it, of course.” Miss Fairweather looked astonished that he should have to ask.

Monday, August 06, 2007

would you like some starch with that fecula?

This weekend the SP and I went to a pretty nice Italian restaurant for their prix fix brunch buffet. Said restaurant is the offspring of a fairly well-known celebrity chef who shall remain unnamed; the august personage has very little to do with the story, I only mention it to illustrate that it was not the Olive Garden or somesuch.

Y'all are well familiar with my disdain for excess carbs; ergo I can only blame the waiter's seductive tones as he described the pasta special du jour. Spaghetti carbonara, pesto fetuccini, and ravioli stuffed with something.

Corn, as it turned out. Ravioli stuffed with CORN. How %*#^ing redundant can you get? I watched with dismay as the chef brought round a large skillet full of noodles and forked them onto my plate: easily three times as much spaghetti as I would eat in a meal I had cooked myself, and that was only a third of the offering. It had two tiny little bits of pancetta in the mix, and a vague tang of parmesan. The pesto fetuccini was green and basil-y, but also devoid of protein or fiber (I know the waiter said something about crab in the sauce. I know he did; we both heard it). And don't get me started on the ravioli. Limp, slimy, and full of something else slimy that Mom used to dump out of a Green Giant can when I was a kid.

The SP took pity on me. He'd thought it sounded good, too, but our mistake was obvious. He forked some onto his bread plate and handed over a few choice bits from his steak. Luckily for me, there was plenty of salad, cheese and cold cuts on the buffet so I didn't starve.

Oh, the pasta was okay. It was well-prepared and flavorful, for pasta. But I never did and never will understand the appeal of a plate full of three shades of flour. I felt guilty about throwing it out, but I'd've felt worse if I'd eaten it all.

And the most offensive part was, the SP had to pay $5 extra for his steak, but did I get a price break for the pasta? Hell no. Restaurants like pasta and rice for the same reason they serve fries with everything: it's cheap. And you can put a whole lot of cheap on the plate to make the customer feel full and think they got a good deal.

Bah. I am less enamoured with the Italian buffet today, even though they have terrific desserts.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

first chapter contest/romance contract

There's a writing contest on. Kind of an American Idol for romance writers, sponsored in part by Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster. I'm posting about it not because I'm excited or interested, but because I couldn't care less.

At one time I was so sure that a foot in the door, any foot, any door, would help my writing career. I don't know if I'm more cynical or more realistic, now. At any rate, I don't write romance, and I have zero interest in trying to dash something off in three weeks to try to get under the deadline. I have zero interest in trying to be something I'm not just to get attention. I guess that's maturity.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

from other discussions

Over on Kung Fu Monkey they were talking about the media in general, and in comments the talk veered toward the ever-popular "biased media!" debate. As I said in comments, my rabid-conservative ex-husband claimed the media was all full of pinko Commie fags, and my quiet but stalwartly Democratic SP insists they are all in the laps of conservative fat cats. If we are to deduce anything from this, I'd think it would be that the media is so overwhelmingly negative and focused on tearing down whomever is in power, that they will always seem to be against whatever you are in favor of.

Me, I don't care. Insisting that the media is biased is kind of like stamping one's foot and crying, "It's not fair!" It's childish, and it's more concerned with being "right" than having a meaningful discussion about a subject, any subject at all.

So even if you do perceive a bias in the media, acknowledge it, accept it, and adjust your bullshit meters accordingly.

ADDENDUM: The SP would like me to clarify that he is not one of the folks whining about the bias of the media. He doesn't deny that there is one, but he's good about searching out the better options, like NPR and the Christian Science Monitor. Which I think is the right attitude to take.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

for Lizzie

Into the family room strode a dapper young man in a sack suit and a bowler hat. He tipped the hat and marched toward Trace with his hand extended. “Sheriff Paulson?” he asked.

“No,” Trace said, “I’m—“

“Oh, you must be Mr. Lombard,” the young man said, nodding at Boz. “And this must be your hired man, Aenard?”

“No, this is my partner, Boz,” Trace said. “And I don’t know any Lombard. Who are you?”

“Rex Reynolds, reporter for the St. Louis Times,” the young man bared his teeth cheerfully. “Were you a friend of the deceased?”

“We knew him,” Trace said.

“Didja?” Rex Reynolds pulled a tattered notebook and a stub of pencil from his pocket. “What was his name again? Hershel, wasn’t it? Was it just him or all of them? Looks like a slaughterhouse in here, don’t it?”

“What are you doin here?” Trace asked pointedly.

“Searchin’ out the truth, mister. People got a right to know when there’s a murderer in their midst.”

“There ain’t no murderer,” Trace protested. “He’s dead in the well with the rest of ‘em.”

“Really? I heard there’s a young girl down at the jailhouse with blood all down her dress. Did you know Miss Anna Hershel before she killed her family?”

“That young girl didn’t kill anybody,” Trace said in disgust. “Hershel was a decent fella with two proper-raised daughters and somebody did for them in a bad way.”

“Mind if I quote you on that, mister…?”

“Tracy. Jacob Tracy. And if you’re here to search out the truth you might ask some questions before you start jumpin to hare-brained conclusions.”

“How did you know about the murders?” Boz interrupted.

“It’s all over the streets this end of town,” Reynolds said.

“You mean you read it in the Voice this morning like everybody else?“

Reynolds sucked his teeth. “Hey, that neighborhood rag may’ve been first with the story, but the Times has got the readership, we’ve got the resources, and this reporter is gonna break the case wide open long before Anna Hershel faces a jury. Now stand aside, gentlemen, I need to see the bodies.”

The young man flipped his notebook shut, shouldered past Boz and strode out the kitchen door. It seemed only prudent to follow him.

They stepped into the back yard just in time to see one of the women hauled up out of the well, dripping wet and dangling from the hook that had caught under her arm and neck. Her head was thrown back, her stringing hair partially covering the gaping white-lipped wound at her throat. There was so little blood left in her that the flesh was white as a trout’s, but her clothes were stained a uniform rusty shade from the saturated water.

“Get her down!” one of the men snapped, and two of them reached to catch the body and the line from which it hung. Together they wrestled the sodden corpse over the lip of the well and lowered her to the ground. She still had her shoes on, which struck Trace as somehow inappropriate.

Rex Reynolds gave the pitiful thing a cursory glance and then barged up to the man in charge. “Sherrif Paulson, I’m Rex Reynolds, from the St. Louis Times, what can you tell me about the situation here?”

Sherrif Paulson swayed away from the young man with a wave of his hand, like an ox flicking at a horsefly. “Nothin’ to tell, son, got three dead bodies and a hysterical young girl watched her father go mad.”

“So you believe her story that the father was the killer,” Reynolds said, jotting in his notebook. “How’d he end up in the well, then?”

“She says he slipped and fell,” the sherrif said. “Easy, there! Don’t go tearin’ up the clothes until Doc’s had a chance to look at em.”

“He was a big strong man, wasn’t he? Is that the body over there?” Without waiting for an answer, Reynolds marched over to the quilt-covered figure on the grass.

“Now you just get away from there,” the sheriff began, and was distracted by a shout from the men at the well. The rope and hook jerked up, suddenly slack, and flung a disembodied arm in a gingham sleeve onto the grass.

They all looked at it in varying degrees of dismay. “So tell me, sheriff,” said Reynolds, “you think a fifteen-year-old girl could swing a kindling-hatchet with that kind of force?”

Thursday, July 26, 2007

a Potter-free post or, tournament adventures

We went to Dallas (Plano) Texas last weekend for the annual Chin Woo Association's Tai Chi Legacy Tournament. It's a big one, maybe the second-biggest in the country.

A lot of stuff happened. We did workshops. We did forms. We did push-hands. We ate a lot of good food. Strangely, I haven't felt like reporting any of it. The competitions were not bad, but not very good, either. Both of us have improved since last year, but neither of us had trained for this tournament. I did all right in my first ever push-hands competition, I got bronze, and I think I could've gotten silver if they'd had everybody do two fights instead of using the "bye" system. The chick I fought was kind of wild. She kept breaking contact, which is a no-no and she was warned about it. She was real steady in her low stance but her upper body was easy to move. I was starting to get her figured out but I ran out of time. Final score was 10-5, but I learned a lot and kept my cool. The woman who got silver was actually knocked down twice, and I never lost my footing, hence my thinking that I could've beaten her.

At any rate I don't think the judges were very strict in that ring. Even before I went up, I noticed a lot of grabbing that wasn't being called. But it doesn't matter. I was in a good frame of mind for the fight, empty and ready to learn. I know a couple of things to work on for the upcoming year. The SP and I both received compliments on our form; we were both trying really hard to do "correct" push-hands (I was really trying hard to stick to the rules, especially) but we got beat by people doing rather rough and tumble push-hands. Obviously we will have to help each other practice by doing rough-and-tumble attacks, so we can practice deflecting them softly.

Other things happened, all the little petty scandals and dramas inherent in a gathering of special-interest parties. Remember the Wookie, the sometime-attendee of my Wednesday night class? He met us at the tournament, attended no workshops, did no forms, just sat around for three days waiting for push-hands. In the meantime, somehow he met up with a snake of a master who decided to sic him on another visiting master. So the Wookie approaches this 70-year-old Chinese guy who probably weighs what I do, who came out of retirement to teach workshops at this tournament. The old master is a nice guy, so he invites the Wookie to touch hands with him, and the Wookie lays him out on the pavement. The old master is mortified, of course, and asks who is the Wookie's teacher, and guess what he says?

Sit gave him what-for, in his own quiet way. "I didn't teach you push-hands," he said last night in class, "so don't tell people I'm your teacher. Especially after you push someone down."

The Wookie is either mortified or sulking, I can't tell which. He's not the most expressive human being I've ever seen. I've never seen Sit actually kick anyone out of class, but I've never seen anybody as clueless as this big lump, either. He's wasting the time of the rest of us. The SP refuses to talk to him or even look at him, in part because he had met the old master and liked the guy. I can't quite find it in my heart to be cruel to a big dumb animal, but I may say something to him if the chance presents itself.

If that weren't enough, the Wookie invited along a friend to the tournament, another big lump I'll call Charlie because of his resemblance to Manson. Disheveled, dirty, holey clothes, wild hair, wild look in the eye. This guy claimed to have 30 years experience in Akido ("Maybe he do Akido thirty years ago," Sit snorted.). He, too, came just for the fighting, and he spent the three days before going around the tournament picking fights with guys smaller than him. I saw him wrestle a skinny 17-year-old to the ground and put an elbow on his throat before the kid's teacher intervened. Eventually Charlie picked on the wrong guy, a Chinese named Huong, I think. Huong evidently wanted to start a school in China and came to the U.S. tournament to win himself a grand championship--which he did, very handily. He entered 19 forms divisions, and won most of them. That would've been impressive enough, but he also fought in the light contact sparring and won that. At some point early in the weekend Charlie ran into this guy and started some shit, and got a nosebleed for his trouble. After that Charlie went to the registration board and asked to drop his enrollment in the sparring competition.

Ironically, I never met the guy during the weekend but we all knew who he was, thanks to his tenuous connection to our group. I hope I never do meet him.

Oh, and he lost at push-hands, too. The Wookie won in his division, which prompted Sit, on Wednesday, to suggest he start his own style. "Then you can teach people like you. Hard-style push-hands. Nobody else do that. That's a good idea, actually. You should go do that."

It was very hard not to laugh aloud at that. But Sit was careful to say to the SP and me, privately, "Don't think he's not good. He's very good at what he does. That's why he wins. That's why the old master make a mistake, he think he's not good, because he's a white guy and he talk slow, so the master is not prepared. You can never underestimate somebody. Especially if you going to let them touch you."

At any rate, we are back, and life marches on. The SP bought me a decent metal sword from one of the vendors, and Sit told us we'd resume sword form on Saturday. I'm glad. I like the sword form and I'd like to compete in it next year. Despite my lackluster performance over the weekend I can tell I'm still learning and growing. Sit's been overall quite positive about my application work. I can't do everything just right all the time, but the successes are coming with more ease and more frequency.

In other worlds, I have a wedding dress to wrap up and a bit of writing to do. Miss Fairweather is quietly furious that I have neglected her for so long, and she is demanding an outlet. Stay tuned for details.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Abney Park

Ferris Bueller said a person should not believe in an ism, but occasionally one already believes in an ideal and just doesn't have a name for it. In my case, it appears I've been a steampunkist for a couple years now.

I'd always kind of turned up my nose at Steampunk as a fiction genre, because I didn't care for alternate history and the authors best-known for writing Steampunk were the types I always considered purveyors of techno-porn; I'm simply not interested in all the gears and gadgets. But maybe the time just wasn't right for me. Maybe the movement just needed time to evolve out of prose fiction and into an aesthetic. At any rate, after researching the links for my last post I found myself feverishly surfing for examples of glowing glass, brass, and leather.

(It deserves saying that my husband and I were already leaning in a direction that might be considered steampunk in the look we were designing for our house: rich wall colors, lots of wood shelves and cabinets built-in, pigeonholed storage and so on. But now with the SP bringing out his old metalworking tools and cutting holes in sheets of nickle and brass, suddenly a whole new medium for crafting and decorating has opened up for me.)

Eventually my travels led me to Abney Park. No, not the cemetary in England, the band. They dress like airship pirates from a Wells/Verne novel and they weave techno rhythms and Middle-Eastern wails through their music. It's just damn cool. They've sampled bits from a number of diverse sources and come up with something utterly original that feels like a sound I've been waiting for my entire life. Yes, I am drooling like a fangirl, but just last week I was trolling for a soundtrack to kick-start my Trace writing again, and it seems I have found it.

Here's their MySpace page. Start with "Stigmata Martyr." I'm gonna go scour the antique stores.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

ah, that library smell

Here's a fun little project. I found a book at Half Price Books, The Book of Werewolves by Sabine Baring-Gould. I was perusing for a good witchcraft reference in the Magick section (the modern crap is awful) and I spotted this one and picked it up because the author's name was Sabine. Appealing coincidence, eh? Imagine my delight when I cracked the cover and found it had been originally published in 1865! This copy's a paperback reprint, of course, but the text setting appears to be original; at least it's in a style that I've seen in other 19th-century books. Since it was only five bucks, I bought it, figuring I could recover it in a nice cloth or leatherish hardcover. And after three minutes of Googling, I found a library site on how to do rebinding. Cool, huh?

At least, if you're a geek, it's cool.

Even more cool, and supremely inspiring are these macabre art installations from Alex CF. Last time I checked he had a werewolf research collection up for sale on Ebay; now he's got a Vampire hunter's kit, as well. These are very like the little bits I've built for Miss Fairweather's collection, but on a grander and more comprehensive scale. I especially like the bone fragments molded from resins. I've been thinking of trying something similar. Hell, I'd like to do a LOT more of this sort of thing, but writing and remodelling, alas, take priority.


For further coolness and inspiration, Brass Goggles, a hub for all things Steampunk.

...An online museum exibit to make you really glad you didn't live in the Nineteenth Century....

Shoot, now I found these really cool apothecary jars in all shapes and sizes. Hmm. The SP is making a new hilt for his sword this week, I wanna play too.... No! NO! Write, dammit!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

more reasons to be wary of soy

From The Institute for Responsible Technology, who, among other things, are opposed to genetically modified foods.

Within three weeks, 25 of the 45 rats (55.6%) from the GM soy group died compared to only 3 of 33 (9%) from the non-GM soy group and 3 of 44 (6.8%) from the non-soy controls.
The FDA does not require any safety tests on genetically modified foods.[...] The rationale for this hands-off position is a sentence in the FDA’s 1992 policy that states, “The agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.” [1] The statement, it turns out, was deceptive. Documents made public from a lawsuit years later revealed that the FDA’s own experts agreed that GM foods are different and might lead to hard-to-detect allergens, toxins, new diseases or nutritional problems. They had urged their superiors to require long-term safety studies, but were ignored. The person in charge of FDA policy was, conveniently, Monsanto’s former attorney (and later their vice president).
There have been less than 20 published, peer-reviewed animal feeding safety studies and no human clinical trials—in spite of the fact that millions of people eat GM soy, corn, cotton, or canola daily. There are no adequate tests on “biochemistry, immunology, tissue pathology, gut function, liver function and kidney function,” [3] and animal feeding studies are too short to adequately test for cancer, reproductive problems, or effects in the next generation.

Just soy you know, Monsanto is not only the creator of the pesticide Roundup, they're also the patent-holder on a soybean that's resistant to it. That means they can sell you their seeds, to be planted in fields which can then be doused with their chemicals, whereupon the beans will survive to be harvested and made into everything you, your pets, and your meat animals consume everyday, complete with the chemicals from the pesticide! Ain't science grand!

I'm reminded of a line from Judge Dredd: "Eat recycled food! It's good for the environment... and it's not bad for you!"

Oh, but it is, kiddies. And it's not just for tofu-eaters anymore. Check your labels. I challenge you to find a condiment, chocolate bar, or loaf of bread in your supermarket that doesn't contain either soy lecithin or soybean oil. Go on. Try it. I'll wait.

Oh, and in case you're interested? Monsanto has as many enemies as Wal-Mart. Even if only half of what they've been blamed for is accurate, that's some scary shit they're getting away with.

Now I'm reminded of a line from Jurassic Park: "You guys were so eager to find out if you could do it, you didn't stop to wonder if you should."

Monday, July 02, 2007

My Little Pony never had one of these

Funky-looking horse-zebra cross born in Germany.

Looks like something out of Neverending Story or some CGI fantasy flick. Or P.T. Barnum's collection.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Ok, we all know that credit card companies are snivelling spineless bloodsucking dungeating vultures, right?

I'm down to one credit card now. I paid off the one my ex ran up and let go to collections. I closed it out today, and they owe me $10. They act so surprised when you want to close it.

I paid off the last delinquent bill that my ex claimed he had paid, and hadn't.

I am down to one credit card, ONE--that one is Bank of America, in its current gargantuan-merger personae. It has a fairly high balance on it, a hair under $7000. I keep paying it down, but since all my expendible income has been going toward it, I occassionally have to use it, too. The interest rate on that sucker is 23%. Twenty-three percent. All of which is largely because of my ex letting the other bills get behind. Y'all know that if one card is late, the others will jack up their APR's, too, right? I suppose it's within their right to do so, although I am definitely being punished for the sins of another.

Here's the bitter irony. They keep sending me offers for unsecured loans to "consolidate" my debt at a reduced rate. In other words, they will loan me MORE money to pay off debts I owe to other people, but they will not give me a lowered rate on the debt I already owe to them. This too makes sense, if I remind myself that they are in business to soak me for every dime they can get.

I've applied to my local credit union for a new Visa. I can't be totally uncreditable; my car loan was at a very good rate. But even if they give me a small amount of credit at a better rate, I will keep transferring funds to the new card and paying it down as fast as possible. I expect I'll have the Bank of America card paid off by next spring, after which I am cancelling that account, too. And I hope to God that new legislation gets passed to put caps on credit card interest.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

tai chi/irritating bystanders/sewing

Suddenly, it is the end of June. And we've got 3 1/2 weeks until tai chi tournament.


I am so not in a competitive mood right now. The SP and I just want to hide in our shady air-conditioned cave, with occasional bicycle forays out in the evening for citrus fruits and tandoori chicken. We have had no time to work on the house since, oh, about the first of April. We have made small ventures into the back yard to hack down brush and reclaim the back yard--the SP cut down two 10-foot-tall junk trees this weekend--and I did a great deal of sewing this weekend.

My friend, for whom I am making the wedding dress, has decided to elope, thank Ghod. It was what they really wanted to do, anyway. That means she will need the dress somewhat sooner than planned, but not sooner than I had planned, and this means I don't have to make a dress for myself to be in the wedding. Regardless, I want to get the thing done as soon as possible, so it's out of my living room and neither of us have to worry about it anymore.

That plan, however, is somewhat in conflict with my need to practice. I believe I have made some progress in tai chi this year, only by virtue of attending class regularly and not via any particular effort on my part (This could be self-delusion). However, Sit is making noises about the SP and me doing internal form, a/k/a the taihui form, at competition. I think he may be doing that to scare us. Or possibly as a form of motivation.

I know it well enough, at least the first half of it. It's just really really ugly. I don't have a "feel" for it. My feet are sloppy, my knee is out of place, my hands are not twisted enough, I have too much hand movement. I know these things. Sit took rather a lot of time to drill me on them last weekend. Attention from the master is always appreciated.

Also, I am feeling rather fat and flabby of late so I went over to the vacant mall across the street during lunch to practice a bit. Herein lie the irritating bystanders.

That mall is nearly empty of stores. There's a Macy's at one end, a Sears at the other, and a big swath of the middle has been converted to offices. But the main promenade of the mall is still empty, the stores dark and locked up, and a great many older folks come around from the nearby retirement villages to power-walk in the relative cool. This is great, as far as I'm concerned. They don't get in my way, they're quiet, they're usually friendly, and they keep the place from being scarily deserted.

The only problem is, they want to talk. I'll be standing there at the end of an otherwise deserted hallway, moving my body in strange mechanical ways, hopefully with a frown of concentration on my face, and as soon as they get within 10 feet of me they hollar, "How you doin?" or "What's that?" or "Looking good, there, what do you call that?"

One tiny lady, about sixty, had a very strong eastern-European accent and was clearly hard of hearing. She came up very close and started asking me what it was, where I had learned it, how good I was, and no wonder I had such a great figure. "I'm practicing right now, I can't stop to talk," I said, pointedly. "Oh, all right," she said, and a beat later, "How long have you been doing this?"

Anyway. Now I remember why I never liked practicing in public. I can handle weird looks, it's the intrusion that annoys me. People act as if you're performing. Maybe I should put out a hat with some change.

In other news, Sit and his wife went to China for two weeks at the beginning of June. They have been less than enthusiatic about the trip. "It was crowded," Sit said. "And the food is bad."

He's seemed kind of depressed since he got back. I don't know if it's because the trip was a drag, or he's suffering some kind of survivor's guilt for getting out of China as a young man, or if it's related to his classes shrinking to almost non-existent status. The SP and I are the only ones who come consistently to kung fu anymore, and usually only one other person shows, but it's always a different person, and always a beginner, so we end up going over the same material again and again. Hence, Sit's pushing us to resume the internal form. I feel sorry for him, having two lazy butts like us as his top remaining students.

Still, three weeks until tournament is somewhat motivating. At the very least I can pull out a couple of old forms and brush them up. I'm looking forward to the trip, and the workshops and the interesting stuff, but I really don't feel like competing.