Sunday, January 31, 2010
This is what I have to say. James Cameron has alot of nerve. He has alot of nerve thinking that his "artistry" should take up three hours of my time. The same movie could have been made to be about an hour long and you wouldn't have missed out on any of the plot. He also has alot of nerve thinking that he can make a movie that theoretically champions the biological sciences while at the same time not getting a single scientific fact right throughout the movie. The most glaring flaw, of course being that, Mr. Cameron does not understand the third grade concept of photosynthesis nor does he understand the periodic table. Somehow, in a world full of trees, the air is poison and void of oxygen (Meanwhile the human beings inhabit a future planet earth that they still call home and manage to live on despite there being "no green things." I am not sure where the oxygen is coming from in that world, because the air should be poison there). Then, humans are in this fantastical, mythical planet to find some made-up mineral that doesn't exist on the periodic table, as if the very notion of molecules is different in this strange place.
And we wonder why Americans are such scientific idiots these days. Apparently, even the Hollywood "champions" of science and nature are intent on ruining it because they don't understand it.
Don't even get me started on the ridiculous plot, terrible dialogue and the unsympathetic native people. I didn't see one cute and fuzzy thing worth saving on that wretched planet. Even the animals looked ridiculous.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Here they are:
A Bend in the River: V.S. Naipaul: In my latest round of reading books on the Congo, I realized that up until now, I have neglected to read the most important fiction work ever situated in the Congo. I started it approximately an hour and a half ago and have worked my way through the first 55 pages. I was hooked at the first line, "The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it." The fact that I have become so engrossed in a book featuring a shopkeeper as the main character who passes the first 55 pages of the book not doing much speaks to the power of the writing and the character development. Simply wonderful. I am contemplating staying up all night to read the entire thing.
A Burnt-Out Case: Graham Greene: Again, this book I also realized that I needed to read in my latest round of Congo non-fiction reading. Haven't started it yet, but a book that takes place at a Congolese leper colony I am sure will hold my attention.
Beneath the Lion's Gaze, Maaza Mengiste: I am a sucker for the next big fiction writer to come from the African continent. In fact, new African fiction writers are about the only type of fiction that I have really delved into in the past few years. The author Uwem Akpan, who wrote the beautiful collection of short stories told from the point of view of African children Say You Are One of Them, has given this writer praise so I am expecting good things.
Bloodroot, Amy Greene: Yes, I am capable of reading fiction books that do not take place on the African continent and this book proves it. It takes place in rural Appalachia and has something to do with some tragedy that haunts a family through several generations, and I have heard good things, so I am taking a chance. The author is from East Tennessee and still resides there, which gives me much respect for her because I appreciate the tradition of writers who stay in the place that they write about instead of running off to large metropolitan areas (or living in those places all along and never really encountering rural America in an authentic way) and think they still possess a clear insight into the goings on of rural America.
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway: Nope, I haven't ever read it. Yes, I realize that admission is probably embarrassing. It and Death in the Afternoon are the two Hemingway books that I never swallowed, so I figured that since I was going to Southern Spain in a few months I was long overdue to actually read at least one of them. The Spanish Civil War sounds a bit more interesting to me than bullfighting, so that is why I went with this one.
The Ornament of the World, Maria Rosa Menocal: Of course one non-fiction book had to make my list. This one discusses the tolerant religious society of Southern Spain in the Medieval Period. I want to understand all of those alhambras and alcazares that I am looking at when I go there, so I thought this might be a good place to start.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
The above video is a segment from the British series "The Inbetweeners" brought to America thanks to BBC America. Beware: there is some strong language in parts and you should not watch it if this will offend you. However, I am posting this because never before has any television show describing adolescence so clearly crystalized a moment from my own adolescence. The applicable moment to which I am referring can be seen in the above clip at around minute 7:00. William, the new kid at school, is trying to purchase a few pints for the friends he so desparately wants but is being firmly turned down by the bartender. In a moment of frustration, he starts screaming about how everyone else in the pub is underage, but they are being served (it is more hilarious than that). The result is that the bartender kicks everyone out of the pub at the exact moment a school official enters the pub to see all of the students that had been drinking. The result of that is, of course, that William now is even more disliked at school than he was before as a direct result of his effort to make friends.
When I was a freshman in high school, I was painfully shy. If one thinks I am shy now, then imagine my present shyness raised by the power of 10. My only ally in making friends at a high school where the only person who knew my name was my older sister (and everyone else simply knew me as Sarah's sister) was a backpack full of chewing gum and Lemonheads candy. Every day, I would stock my backpack in the hopes that people would ask me to share and that would be my pathway to friendship. My tactic wasn't that successful in encouraging deep friendships, but by the time early April rolled around, I had made a few friends and had emerged from oblivion on the school's debate team where even a few upperclassmen had noticed me enough to have a very noteworthy and self-esteem raising conversation about how "cute I was." (Of course, that discussion came prior to one of those unfortunate haircuts that I mentioned in a previous blog entry. Nope, after my haircut, one of the dreamy upperclassmen who had been involved in the cute Leslie conversation came up and asked me why on earth I would cut my hair. Cue: end of Leslie's "cuteness"). Nonetheless, in early April, when the State Debate competition and its accompanying trip to Tampa rolled around, I felt that I had somewhat emerged from social Siberia.
The particular moment that once again returned me to social oblivion started small, as those things do. I was hanging out with my friend Drew, when we noticed that the boys he shared his hotel room with were lighting pizza boxes on fire on the balcony. They then started experimenting with cans of hairspray as lighter fluid. Next, they moved on to setting bottles full of rubbing alcohol on fire. They were teenage boys, and it didn't strike me as an important question to ask why they were all experimenting with arson. I had a camera handy and snapped a few pictures of the shenanigans before Drew and I decided to go to my room and watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail. While we were enjoying the film, the boys upstairs were being apprehended by a security guard and turned over to our disapproving debate coach, Ms. Hess. The legend of the Pensacola High School debate team was that you were never really officially on the debate team until you had been kicked off at least once. These boys were summarily kicked off, but during their interrogation, my name and Drew's name emerged and we were called up to Ms. Hess's room. My camera and its evidence of the pyrotechnics were immediately conviscated (my first lesson about how to be a poor criminal was this episode). During my interrogation, I countered with one innocent defense after another (I failed to plead the 5th, as I should have done). Finally, overwhelmed with being in serious trouble for the first time in my life I cracked, "I don't see why I am in trouble, EVERYONE KNEW WHAT WAS GOING ON. EVERYONE KNEW ABOUT THE FIRES." Ms. Hess stood there, incredulous for a moment or two. After that, the reaction was swift. She and her henchmen (the other parental chaperones) did a door to door sweep of the debate team hotel rooms, telling all of the debate team members that I had told her that everyone was involved in this nefarious activity. Suffice it to say, there were no "cute Leslie" comments from the seniors after that. No, they instantly hated me because I had ruined their plans of getting drunk with the vodka that they had carefully smuggled on the trip, concealed in shampoo bottles. Everyone was now in trouble. My presumed friends (aside from Drew, who was the person that I was actually trying to protect) turned on me in an instant and wanted nothing further to do with me. In one moment, I had alienated pretty much everyone around me out of sheer frustration. But like poor William in the above clip, I had failed to realize just what damage I had done. Fortunately, I wasn't threatened by the school nutcase with a stabbing, because the debate team was far more subdued than that. However, social isolation once again became the rule with me.
Sadly, I never really fully recovered from this episode. I made superficial friends in high school, but no one there (apart from Drew) ever really trusted me again. And high school was one sad exercise of social awkwardness followed by another.
Poor William. I understand. Believe me, I do.
This dog has made all of the difference in my life. Today, I read this article in New York magazine about The Rise of Dog Identity Politics and it made me think about how I identify myself has changed since Knightley came into my life over a year ago. While some people think that "becoming a dog person" means that you become overly focused on a non-human creature that spends most of its time sleeping, eating, pooping, barking, and wagging its tail and that you check out on human interaction, I have found that the opposite is true. Knightley has made me a better person. He has made me a nicer person for humans to be around. I view myself as a dog person who for the past several years had a void in her life because she lacked a canine companion. Now that I have one, I feel like a more complete human being. That may sound silly, but for a whole host of reasons, I will detail how Knightley has made me a better person.
1. He has made me a better neighbor. Before I had Knightley in my life, I pretty much was oblivious to the people who lived in close proximity to me unless we had some other connection. Knightley is a friendly dog who loves meeting people, the exact opposite of me without him. When we go out on walks, he wants to greet every person he passes (and every dog that he passes, even the ones that growl at him). Therefore, I end up meeting many of them. It turns out that I can make small talk with strangers in those rare instances where my dog is involved. But it is more than that. Walking with Knightley has made me care more about my neighborhood and appreciate it more. We notice things things about it (Knightley mostly the individual smells of places, and for me, I mostly notice the looks of things and the people) that I wouldn't notice. It makes me care more.
2. A walk with Knightley instantly releases my stress in a way nothing else ever has. Every day, barring a torrential downpour or subfreezing temperatures, when I come home from work in the afternoon, Knightley and I take an hour long walk meandering through Capitol Hill. Some days we walk to the Capitol itself. Other days, we head over to Eastern Market. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what the destination is, all the matters is that we are outside walking together. Whatever might have been stressing me out that day is instantly forgotten.
3. Forget about a walk with Knightley easing my stress, seeing him the moment I come home from work relieves my stress. Knightley is always excited to see me. When I look at him, instant happiness. (See how well Knightley must be doing with calming me down? It is the middle of college basketball season, North Carolina is in the midst of its worst season since Roy Williams arrived in Chapel Hill, and I am okay.)
4. He makes me less materialistic. Having a dog, one realizes that most things in life have a limited shelf life. When Knightley was a puppy, he tore holes in my expensive skirts and favorite jeans. He chewed up my reading glasses. As I sit here typing this right now, he has attempted to chew up my diploma from the University of Washington (perhaps his way of telling me that MLIS degree was ridiculous). But I don't really care about these things. Before I had Knightley, I spent loads of money on clothing and shoes. Last year, my greatest expense of my disposable income was spent on vet bills, toys for Knightley and his treats. I don't mind that my wardrobe is more limited than it once was. A healthy dog is reward enough for curbing my selfish spending.
5. Knightley makes me more empathetic. This is discussed in the article, but I believe it is true. Having a little living creature in my life that cannot articulate when he is sad or when he feels pain gives me the opportunity to try to gauge for myself his feelings and reactions to things. This carries over to people. I am more perceptive about the emotions of other people because I love a dog who cannot tell me how he feels.
6. Knightley helps me understand and prepare for death better. This may sound a bit morose, but because I love a dog, I think about death. The fact of life is that dogs don't live as long as people do, and so as Knightley ages, I think about how that is one day less that I will have to spend with him. I think about the other dog that I love so much, my Mom's dog Ralphe and how sick he is and it makes me sad. But, because we know that our time with these animals is so limited, we treat them better and we don't take them for granted. I know I don't. Every time I see Ralphe, I get sad, thinking it might be the last time that I see him, because I am unable to see him that frequently. So, it makes me want to maximize the time that I am with him, because he gives so much love to the people he is with and deserves it in return. That recognition with animals carries over to the people I love, recognizing that time goes faster than any of us want it to.
7. Knightley makes me believe that I could be a good mother. Perhaps this is too personal, but before Knightley came into my life, I had serious doubts that I could ever successfully nurture another human being. Sure, training a dog isn't the equivalent of raising a child, but Knightley has taught me that I am capable of doing it. I can't really explain it in terms other than that without getting way too personal.
8. Knightley teaches me to be loyal and to love unconditionally. When I am home, Knightley follows me everywhere I go. When I am cross, he forgives me immediately. He licks my tears when I cry and sits next to me on the couch when I am depressed and lacking in motivation. Human beings are complex creatures and have many moods, and I am no exception. But in spite of myself, Knightley always is there for me and never leaves my side. When he is with me, he reminds me that I need to be as quick to forgive and as loyal to those who I care about. Not only that, but he loves all people, not just the ones in his immediate family and social circle. He doesn't know or understand that people can be mean and so he gives everyone a chance. Sure, one of his favorite bathroom spots may be the lawn in front of the Heritage Foundation's building, but he never dislikes people based on their political preferences. He is altogether immune from the artificial divisions and the us versus them politics that permeates American life. Every day, I hope that I can become a little more like that.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Hopefully, I won't be lamenting longer hair by next week, but I probably will. I always think it is such a great idea to cut my hair off and then I soon after regret it and miss longer hair. Rash decisions to cut my hair off were regretted in notable haircuts of 5th grade, freshman year of high school, freshman year of college and post-law school. I am soon this will, at some point in time, be added to that list.
2. Lots of time with Knightley: My dog is the best, even when he looks cross with me as he does in this picture. When David is out of town, Knightley always sleeps on the bed beside me, but sometimes he doesn't like when I insist that he move off my side of the bed.
3. Learning Spanish: One of the perks of working at an academic institution is the fact that you get to learn for free sometimes. Thanks to Georgetown's online access to Rosetta Stone programs, I am learning Spanish (from Spain, not Latin America) for our trip to Spain in May. It is so much fun, even if I have problem rolling my r's.
4. Planning trips: The good news is that learning Spanish will definitely be put to good use, as we have actually booked our tickets and accommodations for our trip to Spain in May I can hardly wait. However, fortunately, to tide me over, there are other great trips upcoming: New York City for President's Day Weekend (finally!), Hilton Head in March with my family, Williamsburg in April for a conference where I am presenting, and then Spain in May. After that, the good times will roll on as I will be going to Texas in June to celebrate the arrival of Melissa and Jordan's baby. Of course, the downside to the travel is that for most of those trips, Knightley won't be able to go.
5. Experimenting with pan sauces: I love mastering new cooking techniques, and there is nothing like a good pan sauce to add something special to otherwise boring weeknight dinners. The best part about a good pan sauce is that it can be whipped up with the staples that you have in your pantry and fridge but it just makes the meal seem like something more special. Here is a particularly fantastic pan sauce, perfect for steaks, from Cook's Illustrated:
Red Wine Pan Sauce with Mustard and Thyme
Makes about 1/2 cup, enough to sauce 4 steaks.
2 medium shallots , minced (about 1/4 cup)
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 cup dry red wine , such as Cabernet Sauvignon
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 6 pieces
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
ground black pepper
Follow related recipe for Pan-Seared Steaks. To same skillet used to cook steaks (do not clean skillet or discard accumulated fat), add shallots and sugar off heat; using pan’s residual heat, cook, stirring frequently, until shallots are slightly softened and browned and sugar is melted, about 45 seconds. Return skillet to high heat, add wine, broth, and bay leaf; bring to boil, scraping up browned bits on pan bottom with wooden spoon. Boil until liquid is reduced to 1/3 cup, about 4 minutes. Stir in vinegar and mustard; cook at medium heat to blend flavors, about 1 minute longer. Off heat, whisk in butter until melted and sauce is thickened and glossy. Add thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaf, spoon sauce over steaks and serve immediately.
6. Gilmore Girls episodes: David gave me the complete series for Christmas, and I cannot rest until I watch the whole thing from start to finish, all seven seasons. Yes, even the seventh season and that dreadful series finale that I like to pretend didn't happen. Nope. In my ideal Gilmore Girls world, Lorelai ended up with Chris and Rory ended up with Logan. Period.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Paul Farmer's amazing work in Haiti has been chronicled in Tracy Kidder's classic Mountains Beyond Mountains . Do you still need to be convinced of this organizations worth? Well also consider that Partners in Health has been on the ground working in Haiti for over 20 years. In a crisis like this, you definitely should consider donating money to organizations that already have an on the ground presence that is robust and respected.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I added the Doctors Without Borders widget to my side menu because among the millions of needs that the people of Haiti have tonight and will have tomorrow and the many days ahead, medical attention is certainly most acute. Over 80% of funds donated to Doctors Without Borders goes to providing medical services. We can all do something small for the thousands of people in Haiti who are facing a sleepless night of being scared, possibly injured and homeless. These are our brothers and sisters, people who like us have family members that they love and who, possibly, they have just lost. Good medical care is only the beginning of their needs right now.
Like many Americans, I have no discernable skills that are of immediate benefit to people in a natural disaster of this magnitude. However, I can donate money to try to get those skilled volunteers there and with the supplies that they need to save lives.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
This list will also serve as list of things that anyone can purchase for me if there are any upcoming holidays that proper etiquette requires a gift be given; like Valentines Day, or an Anniversary, I am looking at you, David.
Here is one of the dresses I bought from the Gap (that spurred this indulgent, consumer-oriented excess) - perfect to layer, wear around town, and for packing light:
Last year I didn't buy a new swimsuit, so dissatisfied was I with my physical appearance. This year, I hope the healthy eating and the exercise will motivate me to purchase a new one, and this Gottex swimsuit, in the most recent Nordstrom catalog is the one that caught my eye:
Lastly, when I saw these Sperry Top-siders in the January Nordstrom catalog, I thought to myself, now those are the perfect Hilton Head shoes. I also thought they might be good walking shoes for Andalusia in May. And if not, I will fully be prepared for any yachting emergencies that I might encounter.
Now I realize that wanting a pair of topsiders officially makes me 200 years old. That is okay, I am perfectly fine with being unhip and uncool. And I have always been slightly out of touch with my own age group.
Friday, January 08, 2010
People, don't move to DC. Stop it. The traffic sucks and I am tired of it taking two extra hours to leave or enter the city while I am stuck on 95 trying to spend a weekend in North Carolina. Now if you make my rent even higher by your insistence on moving here, then I am really not going to be happy.
Just think about how you won't be able to vote if you live here except for an ineffective city government that is the biggest waste of bureaucracy ever. You will have no say in national politics with your vote. Then think about how frightened you are by the threat of crime, even though the likelihood is that you have never lived in a place that has significant crime. But you are afraid of the possibility of it, and therefore DC should be frightening to you. I am talking to you, earnest college graduate, who expects to subsidize the ridiculously low wages that you will be paid by working on Capitol Hill by getting your parents to pay your $2,000 a month apartment rent. Don't move here! Turn around. I am sure Omaha or Detroit or San Francisco needs you.
Granted, I haven't lived here that long, so who am I to judge, but the fact here is that I live here now, so I call dibbs.
Thursday, January 07, 2010
This isn't any sort of "Lifestyle Blog" that tells other people what they should try to eat, buy, make, decorate, wear, etc. because so little in my life would most people wish to emulate. I may subscribe to the Gwyneth Paltrow Goop Newsletter because I am fascinated by the array of diet "cleansing" options available to insecure women these days (myself included), but the likelihood that I will eat at one of the restaurants she recommends in Barcelona is pretty low. Frankly, it is too exhausting to even try to keep up with everything that his hip and cool these days. Plus, I will be honest; I don't know anything about where to buy cutesy homemade things and don't have the patience to search a website like Etsy. I am still trying to keep strong on my boycott of goods made in China and that takes enough of my smart shopping efforts (my new camera was made in Vietnam, which was a close enough call). What I write here is for illustrative purposes only and should in no way be construed as advice given to any other person. This merely reflects my taste and preferences, both actual and aspirational.
That being said, I am trying to eat healthier this year. After the December sugar near-overdose from the dessert party, I have been off sugar for awhile and plane to stay off of it awhile longer. We are planning a trip to Southern Spain, Gibraltar and possibly Morocco for later in the spring and the anticipation for that has me hooked on olive oil and spices. Monday night I made Moroccan-spiced sea scallops and lentils for dinner (Moroccan spiced means a combination of cinnamon, cumin, and coriander; Why is it that all of the best spices start with C?) and that kind of flavor is what I want to use as a substitute for sugar and carbs. I made some fantastic eggplant Parmesan last night, which maybe wasn't as good for the fewer carbs idea, but was delicious nonetheless. I can't reiterate this enough and this might be one of those times that I stray over to the advice side of things, but oven "frying" (brushing a hot baking sheet with light oil and then placing your breaded eggplant on it) your eggplant instead of pan frying it makes all the difference (and this is advice that I only pass along if you don't already know this from America's Test Kitchen).
I do not write this to point out that I am cooler or know more than anyone else (which may be the purpose behind some of these other blogs that I think are designed to make others feel inadequate for their lack of creative talents), but as a way of publicly reminding myself that I have pledged to eat healthier this year. Therefore, people who read this are allowed to publicly mock and shame me if they see me indulging in cupcakes, french fries or other less than healthy treats. Most distressingly, this may mean fewer indulgences at Chick-fil-A (only on roadtrips, and no waffle fries!).
On the exercise front, I have to admit, I kind of love the pain that accompanies a really great workout, or waking up sore the next morning after a good workout. Appreciation for that kind of pain could benefit me for when I am wearing a swimsuit, hopefully, on the Costa del Sol.
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
Nonetheless, there comes a time when I will upgrade. Namely, I will upgrade when I find that something new has some advantage over the old. Well here are the advantages to my two new gadgets: size. David gave me one of those Flip HD recorders for Christmas (which is how I made that video recording that I posted a few days ago). It is tiny and it fits into my pocket. I purchased a new Nikon Cool Pix Camera with the Best Buy gift card that my mother gave me for Christmas because it is smaller than my old digital camera. That was my reasoning (and I should note, that my reasoning is as silly, as flawed and as subject to scrutiny as the average person who insists they need an iPhone). I was tired of a bulky camera taking up valuable space when I travel. It turns out, it takes better pictures too. As usual, Knightley was my model as I tested it out.
I told him, "Give me distinguished!"
He had no problem turning in a heartbeat when I then commanded, "Give me playful!"
Monday, January 04, 2010
I have distracted myself briefly with the January issue of Vanity Fair, featuring an interview that makes me love Meryl Streep even more. I love how she points out about raising three daughters, "As girls grow up...as soon as boys come into the picture, you figure out that you have to modify that assertiveness thing in order to even be acceptable, let alone appealing, within the cohort of girls as well as boys...I can't remember the last time I really worried about being appealing." I love that observation, and I love the fact that she is a successful actress in spite of the fact that she has no desire to be "appealing." Too bad in Hollywood, it is only Meryl Streep who is exempt from all of those requirements about appearance that seem to dictate the standards for every other actress. Or perhaps it is just that Meryl Streep is the only on assertive enough to stand up for herself and demand something more, which makes me respect her even more. The quotation also reminds me of someone else that I greatly admire, my sister, Sarah. Of all of the women that I know, Sarah is the only one that I know that at no point in time ever dialed back her own intelligence or assertiveness for the sake of pleasing someone else. That is why she is where she is today.
After reading The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy, I thought that that the decline of the hereditary landed gentry class was due to a number of factors: the declining value of agricultural land and rents in Great Britain, the increase of taxes, particularly estate taxes, the sheer loss of aristocratic blood during World War I, etc. However, Charles Spencer (yes, Diana's brother) posits in Vanity Fair that divorce and spendthrift young wives are to blame for the death of stately estates and homes in the UK. Debauched aristocrats marrying social climbing ingenues is nothing new in Great Britain, so I am not sure that I completely buy into Spencer's argument. Just look at the laxity and depravity of the Prince of Wales' circle during Regency England or the Happy Valley set of colonial British East Africa. I think that what Spencer should have focused on is how modern estate planning laws have changed the restrictive entailment that kept the estate from passing from father to son. However, modern family law and estate planning laws that now break that hereditary expectation are what lead estates now passing to the Anna Nicole Smiths of the British kind. I still don't think that has as much to do with it, though. My aunt and uncle are friends with a Scottish couple who live in North Carolina. The husband works as a surgeon, the wife as a veterinarian (that is how my aunt met her because she is Aunt Sarah's vet for her horse farm). The husband is set to inherit a very large estate in Scotland, but because of the expectation of extremely high estate taxes, he and his wife work in the US and save every last penny they can to anticipate the high cost of inheriting the sizable estate. Of course, the future cost of heating a home with 35 bedrooms also is cause to save as well. Maybe in Charles Spencer's world there are greedy soon to be ex-wives waiting to pilfer the estate, but it seems like the more reasonable (and less misogynistic) explanation is that the cost of maintaining the great estates is just too high in this day and age.