Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rare Species

True, it snowed here yesterday. But I bet SoCal doesn't have bread-and-butterflies.

You will of course remember the bread-and-butterfly from Disney's Alice in Wonderland. This is one case in which Disney improved on the original. This is John Tenniel's drawing from Through the Looking Glass:

That's the kind of insect I used to be terrified would crawl across my face at night. I would blame this on Tenniel's dour imagination, but here's the description he was drawing from:

'Crawling at your feet,' said the Gnat (Alice drew her feet back in some alarm), 'you may observe a Bread-and-Butterfly. Its wings are thin slices of Bread-and-butter, its body is a crust, and its head is a lump of sugar.'

'And what does IT live on?'

'Weak tea with cream in it.'

A new difficulty came into Alice's head. 'Supposing it couldn't find any?' she suggested.

'Then it would die, of course.'

'But that must happen very often,' Alice remarked thoughtfully.

'It always happens,' said the Gnat.

WHAT KIND OF CHILDREN'S STORY IS THIS?! It's amazing to me that the Victorians didn't just creep themselves out, right into extinction.

John Tenniel, by the way, lost an eye fencing with his father when he was twenty.

Just wanted to throw that out there.

The non-scary bread-and-butterfly was given to me by Matt on the occasion of my unbirthday yesterday. It is very charming AND magnetic, and it is perched on top of my refrigerator. Thankfully, I can provide weak tea and cream DAILY.

Monday, March 30, 2009

SoCal in Bloom

I was stuck in an edit bay all weekend, but this is what it looks like outside. I hear it's snowing in New York.

Friday, March 27, 2009

However, there was no mention of my future success as a naval officer.

Since I have no earthly idea how tarot cards work (I only bought them because who could pass up tarot cards made up by Edward Gorey?) so I just swirled these in a pile and drew one. Ta-da!

According to the little book, this means, and I quote:

hereditary weakness
loss of money
a false statement
morbid dependency
staggering sickness
an overdose
unstable furniture

Hmm. Unstable furniture. That sounds familiar.

*In case you had no idea: "In modern idiom maintenance is the support of litigation by a stranger without just cause. Champerty is an aggravated form of maintenance. The distinguishing feature of champerty is the support of litigation by a stranger in return for a share of the proceeds." Once again, Wikipedia, I am indebted to you. Please don't be lying to me.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Picture of the San Andreas Fault

yes, I know, it's thrilling. When it shifts, the stream that runs along the hill shifts as well. When a channel is separated from the rest of the stream it is called a beheaded stream.

And here is a photo of a Kangaroo Mouse, to show you that not everything about my weekend was educational and dull. Some of it was downright adorable.

Just Inching Along

This weekend I stood on the San Andreas Fault. Not as thrilling as one would think.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"So... you're going to suffer... and you're going to be happy about it?"

When normal people are under a certain amount of stress, they get irritable, or start drinking heavily, or take up smoking, or if they can afford it, develop a cocaine habit. What I do is step up the quality of the tea I drink. I am now on the hard stuff. Goodbye Salada, hello loose-leaf Yorkshire Gold.

The problem with loose-leaf tea is that it's too finely-ground, and much of it goes right through my tea strainers. Generally all the little bits and pieces sink to the bottom, and I am left with this:

It's not gross, it's my future! I have studied this carefully for at least two and a half minutes, and matching it up with some creepy tasseology website, I've concluded that my tea leaves are malfunctioning. I see nothing here but blobs. No owls, elephants, ships, tractors, ladders, fish, butterflies, or in fact anything more distinct than a pile of dirt. Maybe I'll make my fortune in construction work. When I get home, I'll try out my Edward Gorey Fantod Pack and see if it sheds any light on this. The Fantod Pack is way more specific, if about fourteen times as puzzling.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Post That Really Shouldn't Be About Bears, Yet Somehow Is

This post should be about the 2.2 million dollars California spent to put on ANOTHER election today despite the fact that we had one two weeks ago and will have another one in two months... but it's not.

I was doing some research and every other candidate on the ballot had "unemployment" and "healthcare" as a priorities, except Marvin Leon Evans:

But what will all the unemployed people do if you take away bear hunting?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cultural Reference Mismatch

Bumper sticker on American car on American highway: "My other car is the Tardis."

In e-mail from distinguished (aren't they all?) Briton: "Yoiks, as Scooby-Doo would say."

Some days everything seems designed to give me pause.

Mainly Filler

Hello, everyone. I am supposed to blog on odd weekdays, which went terribly well last week because there were only two odd days and I happened to have a good deal to say about Samuel Beckett and raisins. Unfortunately, those were my last two ideas. So, um, here is what I did this weekend: cleaned the kitchen, vacuumed, read half of BookForum, did my taxes, listened to strangers discuss Clytemnestra's murder of Agamemnon, and saw a movie. Observations:

1. My kitchen was already clean.
2. If you have been walking through mud, wipe your feet before going inside, stupid.
3. BookForum is great. And somehow seems infinitely less pretentious than the New York Review of Books.
4. You should be able to designate what you'd like your taxes to be used for. There are some large holes in the road on my way to work that I'd really like to have taken care of.
5. Agamemnon totally deserved it. I never liked him.
6. Clive Owen has a weird face. The theory of beauty that rests on symmetricality is completely bogus.

Okay, that's all I've got. Maybe next time you check in, Ivan will have posted and it will be an interesting story about bears (which is the request I got for this post and could not fulfill because I have zero bear stories. I have a rabid raccoon story, some very ugly cat stories, and a story about a dog that rolls in poo, but no bear stories. I'll see what I can do about that).

Friday, March 20, 2009


Yesterday I purchased a Bear Can and instead of driving to my friend's house for dinner, I decided to walk the mile and a half... with my Bear Can. Because how many opportunities in life will I have to walk down the promenade with a Bear Can? Not many, my friends. Not many.

Carpe Diem.

image via Modern Hiker

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Recommended Daily Dose

This is a 4.5 lb. bag of raisins. It expires in May 2009. Since I discovered it hiding at the back of my cupboard last month, I have been eating raisins in the morning, in the evening, as a side, for dessert, sometimes as a whole meal, and it still has 3.5 lbs. of raisins left. If you do not hear from me for several days, please break down the door of my apartment. Inside you will find one giant raisin, about 5' 2'', prone on the floor, blinking up at you. That will be me. Let us hope that however Willy Wonka handled Violet Beauregard will also work for me -- but if not, please call all of the tabloids. If I'm going to be a human raisin, I'd like to be a filthy rich one.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lady Bird, Lady Bird

The presence of wildlife is so rare in Los Angeles that a sighting is a remarkable occasion-- it's akin to a celebrity sighting but sounds like "You're not going to believe this! I saw a POSSUM on La Brea last night!" and then everyone tells you about the time they saw A DEER on Lauren Canyon-- an ACTUAL deer!

And a few weekends ago while hiking I saw BUGS! Ladybugs! It's ladybug mating season on the Mische Mokwa trail-- it wasn't full tilt yet, but there were still piles of them throughout the meadow.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day Part Two: The Irishman's Lunch

Guinness with . . . Guinness bread.

"What?" you say. "I thought Guinness was basically bread." Not so, my friend. There is also such a thing as Guinness bread. And I can only assume that the Irish frequently consume meals made entirely of Guinness and Guinness products, as this is what I have been lead to believe. NPR this morning said that even in times of economic hardship, the Irish will sell their cars and give up foreign vacations before cutting down on time spent at the pub. So there you have it. This is an authentic Irish meal.

Main ingredients:

Also milk, also butter. But those don't have pretty packaging.

Molasses is creepy. You all remember the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when Tasha gets eaten by the black goo monster? (Ivan says it is also called tar.) Well, molasses reminds me of that stuff.

It barely reflects light. Do not trust things that do not reflect light.

Buying Guinness on St. Patrick's Day is for some reason vaguely embarrassing. Buy your Guinness several weeks beforehand. Or ask me for some. I have five bottles left and will probably still have five left by next March.

This bread weighs about five pounds. Good for eating, also good for deterring intruders. I have not yet tasted it because it's too hot, but I'll report back. Ivan is very impatient to know what I am cooking and is probably mildly concerned now that I've asked her about Tasha's death-by-tar while cooking.

Educational link:
Courtesy of Ivan: Armus, the molasses monster.

Bonus Feature:
A terrible St. Patrick's day joke: What is green and sits out on the lawn?





Paddy O'Furniture

You're welcome.

Monday, March 16, 2009

St. Patrick’s Day Part One: Please Love Beckett As Much As I Do!

When I was a sophomore in college, I had some kind of weird job that involved reading biographies of writers and summarizing them. This job was given to me by a professor who came to be known as Mr. Rochester, and whose real name I can no longer remember. Nor do I remember why Megan and I called him Mr. Rochester, except possibly because he had a kind of nefariously harmless quality, which is an odd combination for an English professor. He had an empty bottle (maybe two) of absinthe in his office, and frequently seemed to not really know what was going on, which is why despite repeated attempts to ascertain what precisely the point of my job was, I never succeeded, and spent a year getting paid for being of zero use to the college. It was the best job I ever had. I now have an amazing number of inside jokes with myself concerning Samuel Beckett and W. H. Auden (oh, wait til I do my Auden post! It’s going to be great!)

I bring up Beckett because it is St. Patrick’s Day, and therefore a good time to talk about your favorite dead Irish writers. Mine is Beckett by default, because I saw Waiting for Godot before I read Araby. Sucks to your asthmar, Joyce! Too slow!

Beckett, should you not recall, was "an Irish writer, dramatist and poet. Beckett's work offers a bleak outlook on human culture and both formally and philosophically became increasingly minimalist."

Samuel Beckett, bleak minimalist.

But Wikipedia is so... pedantic. I would have said he was a moody genius with a dark sense of humor and rather engaging hair. He is the one who said the following more or less famous things:
• “Where I am, I don’t know, I'll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” (The Unnamable)
• “We are all born mad. Some remain so.” (Waiting for Godot)
• “Here form is content, content is form.” (about Finnegans Wake)
• “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (Worstward Ho)
• “If by Godot I had meant God I would have said God, and not Godot.” (about Waiting for Godot)

For your edification I have here included the highlights of my notes on Beckett’s life. This is a brief overview, and I warn you, it is mostly not funny:

Beckett was born on either April 13, May 13, or June 14, 1906. It is not clear, nor is it clear why it isn't clearer.

His father was all right, but his mother “was a severe and aloof insomniac who removed the carpets in the house so that she could walk at night in bare feet” which you cannot deny is creepy. She was a plague on poor Beckett until she died.

On Beckett’s Relationship with James Joyce: “Beckett’s relationship with Joyce ran into problems when Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, decided that she wanted to marry Beckett. Beckett’s interest in her was limited to his fascination with watching her go insane, which she did.” He later corresponded with her and helped to pay for her treatment.

Beckett’s Relationship with the Yeatses: Beckett was friends with Jack Yeats, the painter, and knew his brother, too. “To be noted: Beckett did not like W.B. Yeats personally, although he did apparently enjoy ‘Sailing to Byzantium’.” I myself find Yeats to be kind of batty, but I like that poem, too.

Beckett’s Relationship with Ireland: Beckett spent most of his adult life in France; several of his works were originally written in French. When in Ireland (where his mother lived) he was typically reduced to this: he took to his bed “permanently, lying rigidly in the fetal position facing the wall. He lowered the blinds and spent his days in darkness with the blankets pulled over his head. Nothing and no one could get him to move.” This is the part I remember most vividly, and also where I learned the word “psychosomatic,” which is a very good and useful word!

Beckett’s Street Smarts: In 1938 or so, Beckett was randomly stabbed in the street. The French government forced him to press charges, and the assailant was sent to prison for two months. Beckett said of this, “There is no more popular prisoner in the Santé. His mail is enormous. His poules shower gifts upon him. Next time he stabs someone they will promote him to the Legion of Honor. My presence in Paris has not been altogether fruitless.” Curiously, I remember this as one of the most cheerful parts of his life story. Beckett enjoyed the attention, and Joyce paid for a private hospital room.

Beckett and the French Resistance: “Here is a dramatic story about Suzanne [Beckett’s main squeeze, for lack of a better term] saving Gloria, their resistance group: Suzanne was to deliver information to a pair of sisters, but when she arrived at their apartment, they were surrounded by German soldiers. Suzanne told them she had come to tell the sisters that her husband had set their cat’s broken leg. The soldiers wanted to see the cat. Fortunately, Beckett and Suzanne did have a cat with a broken leg at their apartment, but they also had evidence of their resistance activities—most conspicuously the camera that Beckett sometimes left lying around. However, when she got there, not only was the camera gone, but on the table was a well-used copy of Mein Kampf, which Beckett had been making notes from. The soldiers were satisfied.” Also, Beckett once hid in a tree while soldiers patrolled the street below him. He received the Croix de Guerre for his resistance efforts and didn’t tell anyone.

Fun Fact about Waiting for Godot: “Incidentally, ‘Crritic!’ was one of Beckett’s favorite curses, and he liked it better than the French Ultimate Insult, ‘architecte,’ that was included in the original.” If you have not seen or read Waiting for Godot, you should take the next opportunity to do so, as it is remarkable. Oh look! Here is a link! You can read it now! Go ahead, I'll wait.

About his Novels: In 1950, a publisher named Lindon agreed to publish Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable. After visiting him in London, Beckett returned to France upset because, in the words of the biographer, “Lindon was such a nice young man that he (Beckett) was sorry to be the instrument of his bankruptcy.”

Beckett and the Nobel Prize: “On October 23, 1969 Suzanne answered the phone and was told that Beckett had been awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize for Literature. She turned to him and said, ‘Quel catastrophe!’” Beckett declined to attend the festivities, and sent Lindon instead. The Irish ambassador was irritated.

Beckett’s Death: In 1986, Beckett was diagnosed with emphysema. A friend wrote, “He understood his particular illness, explaining the mechanics of it as might a scientist. His brain wasn’t getting proper circulation of blood. But when he detailed the sensation—how the problem was manifest in his particular body—he was all writer: succinct and artfully clear. ‘I am standing in quicksand.’” He died in 1989.

And that concludes Part One of my St. Patrick’s Day post. Cheer up, Part Two will be happier.

(Since I can’t really tell from my notes what is a direct quote and what isn’t, here is the biography I read: Bair, Deirdre. Samuel Beckett. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.)

(I didn’t think I would ever need a citation at the end of a blog post.)

(Thank you for reading this far.)

Bear Repellant

While discussing bear-proof canisters with Kumi and Jeff:

J: Kumi has the perfect plan for bear-proofing a tent. Tell her, Kumi.
K: See, it's genius-- you string up hot dogs in a circle around your tent, that way the bears just eat the hot dogs and leave you alone.
J: I've tried explaining this just makes campers the chewy center of the hot dog ring, but she doesn't believe me.
K: bear proof. I'm telling you.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Strange Ice Formations

I have nothing witty to say about this. It's ice in strange formations. Self-explanatory.

On my trip to Boston last month I spent a couple days with my college roommate, Betsy. Betsy lives in a fabulous apartment... though now that I think about it, when I lived with Betsy, we didn't have heat, so OF COURSE the new apartment seems luxurious. I remember the year we had a party and someone peed in a drawer. This was revolting enough, but then it froze and we had to thaw the drawer to clean it out. So the fact that liquids remained liquids in Betsy's post-college apartment was enough to make me love it. Reason number two to love Betsy's post-college apartment: when she gave me the tour she said "Don't worry if there are strange sounds over the living room, the guy upstairs has a ball pit". How awesome is that? Reason number three: over breakfast I was trying to check my email and one of the wireless networks was called xkcd. After seeing that I started to geek out a little bit. I professed my love for the webcomic and told her how someone awesome must live in the building and how she should find them as they are most likely a kindred spirit. And after that speech we packed up for a day around town and left the lovely, heated apartment with definitely cool neighbors and I saw THIS:

And then my head exploded.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th (February Edition)

Little brother and I went out to dinner while I was in Boston and after we finished binging on seafood and charging it to our parental units, I had him walk me to my friend's house. The friend texted me directions and I read them out loud to my brother-- "so we get off the train, go through the shopping center, take a right on Elm" "Hold up" says my brother "you want me to walk down Elm Street, in the dark, on Friday the 13th. Oh hell no. detour."

And that's the story of how an MIT student made me walk six blocks out of my way to avoid dying in a fit of superstition.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Joshua Tree Incident

Back in January I spent two weekends in Joshua Tree National Park. The first weekend was uneventful, the biggest challenge was learning to play chess during breakfast one morning. That game is mentally taxing. The second weekend was like something out of Man vs. Wild. I love that show, but I am not qualified to be lost in the wilderness like Bear Grylls. I do not have it in me to eat yak eyeballs or drink my own urine, though thankfully survival on this trip didn't come to that.

We set out early on a Saturday morning through the Wonderland of Rocks. The Wonderland is amazing. Piles and piles of boulders to play on and once you get over the crest of the hill of rocks-- more piles and piles of rocks to play on! The goal was to get from the Indian Cove Campsite to the Boyscout trail where we left half of our cars. Now, somewhere in the middle of navigating toward the trail, we walked up the wrong pile of rocks. And then we walked down the wrong pile of rocks. And then we (there were 9 of us) walked up and down a few more wrong piles of rocks and at this point we started to realize we're all bruised and bleeding and, though we're still in good spirits, we're fast approaching exhaustion. And the sun is setting. And then the sun actually sets. And then there are the nine of us, huddled on a boulder in the middle of the desert, getting mighty chilly and raiding everyone's bags for emergency supplies. And even though it was 35 degrees out and all I could think about was that down jacket I left in the car, the stars were breathtaking. Of course no one could sleep because you'd have that dream where you're falling and you wake up with your heart racing... and realize that you really could have fallen 20 feet and broken your leg! Not conducive to sweet dreams.

Around 4:30am everyone gave up on sleep and waited patiently for the sun to rise. The group decision was to retrace our steps back to the camp we set out from and that was all well and good, but there were spots where the "solve" for getting off a boulder was-- I kid you not-- grab this tree, swing to the right, balance on this ledge, then jump the four feet to the next one. I wouldn't do that if my legs DIDN'T look like they'd been beaten with a baseball bat. But you learn to ask for help and rely on other people and we all got back to the bottom by mid-morning. Upon arrival at camp we kissed the ground and broke out the food. Oh the food! The cookies and salami and eggs and bacon and doughnuts and coffee and beer and water without iodine! And then everyone passed out in the sand. I believe I used a rock for a pillow because after that night, it seemed downright comfortable.SO, the lessons we have learned: Always go hiking with emergency supplies. It gets bloody cold in the desert at night. And you should never wear a skirt when your legs look like this: It brings up uncomfortable questions about domestic violence and the answer "I fell off a rock and landed in a cactus" never really sounds legit.