Friday, March 30, 2012

Or Maybe Not

A recipe for hard “boiled” eggs, which are actually baked in the oven, is making the rounds of Pinterest these days. With Easter coming up, it sounds like a great way to cook a large batch of eggs for dyeing without the struggle to keep them from cracking in the pan. I decided to try it, using only two eggs before committing myself to more.

I preheated the oven to 325º, as the recipe suggested (although it does say you can go as high as 350) and baked the eggs for the recommended 30 minutes. I then put them in a bowl of ice water for ten minutes, again, strictly following the recipe.

My results were disappointing. The eggs were not completely cooked, with a small section of the white of each being runny and a small part of the yolk not being completely firm. The brown spots that appeared on the shells did not completely disappear when the eggs were cooled, although the recipe said they would. There were also some brown spots on the egg whites themselves, although those parts tasted okay. Finally, the eggs were not easy to peel, as promised.

I could try again, either raising the temperature or increasing the baking time, but I suspect that while the eggs would be firmer, the brown spots would be more extensive. I don’t see the benefit of using this method over my regular method of boiling eggs. I’m sure people have had success with this recipe (maybe my old oven is just wonky), but if you plan to cook your Easter eggs this way, I’d make a small trial run first, especially if you plan to dye them. The brown spots could be a problem for dyed eggs.

Handy Man

John is up in the attic adding more insulation. I may have mentioned this before, but before my husband got his degree in civil engineering, he got one in construction. He can do simple electrical work and plumbing in addition to rough carpentry, painting, and other household repairs. He can also cook and sew, but those skills are self taught.

So as he prepared to take off to the big box hardware store this morning to buy the insulation, a song popped into my mind. Sure enough, it was on You Tube, because everything is on You Tube.

And for you youngsters who only know the James Taylor version, this is the original version. What can I say? I’m sorry my generation hogged all the good music.

On second thought, no I’m not.

ETA: The song Amaryllis linked to in the comment below is so perfect I wanted to see if I could embed the video here (lyrics may not be safe for work):

And while we're at it, here's another song on the same theme, although this man is a little more specialized:

Thursday, March 29, 2012


This morning was the first chance I had to make my trip to the Y, since we were out of town earlier in the week. John is outside painting the eaves, so I went by myself. The only remaining exercise bike of the type I like was right near a woman who was talking on her cell phone.

I had brought my Kindle to read while I pedaled, so I completely understood needing something else to do while on the bike. What disturbed me is that the woman next to me had apparently never been taught the concept of “inside voice”. Not only could I hear her side of the conversation clearly, but I suspect most people in the large, open gym could.

Not that she was discussing her hot affair with stud muffin Jorge or ways to hide money in offshore accounts. She was discussing problems with her child’s teacher and mentioned the teacher by name. I wasn’t exactly getting a helicopter mom vibe, but no one is going to say “No wonder the kid has problems. Those parents just don’t care”, either.

I could not think of a polite way of asking the woman to speak more quietly. For one thing, I would have had to interrupt her, and judging from the timing of her comments, her conversational partner was having difficulty getting a word in edgewise, let alone anyone else.

Besides, what I was reading was a frivolous mystery novel, not anything that required all my concentration. If I had wanted to, I could simply have pretended to read and gotten a complete education in the politics of our local school district’s gifted and talented program, a subject of interest to me in the past when my son was in the program, and that would have whiled away my time just as well. As it was, as hard as I tried not to eavesdrop, it was just about impossible not to hear.

What went through my mind, however, was how this conversation could come back to haunt Mom on the Phone. One of the first things they taught to us as baby speech pathologists was not to discuss clients in public places, even just by first names,  because you never know who is listening. MotP had mentioned Miss Dove (not her real name) by name, and since she was no doubt exercising near home, it is not unlikely that someone who knows Miss Dove could have heard her and passed the comments along, especially if MotP makes a habit of holding conversations like this in public places. I’ve been in the position of having people confront me over comments they heard about second hand, and it does not go well*. It’s hard to resolve a conflict when you have wrong footed yourself that way.

And the interesting thing about MotP is that she was a thoroughly nice woman. One of her concerns was the need for fund raising to help students who might not be able to afford an upcoming school event. She discussed the problems of finding time for self care among the overworked teachers or volunteers, I’m not sure which, and toward the end of the conversation offered some supportive words for the friend on the phone. She wasn’t doing anything wrong, she was just loud. I would just as soon have stayed out of her business, given the option, but I suspect if I actually knew her, I’d like her.

Lesson learned, at least, regarding my own public conversations. I really need to use my inside voice.

*Yeah, I know, if MotP reads this, it could get interesting. 

A Day at the Beach

Last summer I really wanted to go to the beach. We actually did take a trip to Galveston right after my husband retired, but the weather that week was uncharacteristically cold and rainy, and although we got to sit out on the beach a few times, going in the water was out of the question.

Some time around the Galveston trip, I broke my foot, and it took the whole summer for it to heal. I had a soft cast on it that I couldn’t even dunk in the bathtub, let alone the Gulf of Mexico. When I finally got the cast off in August, I had hopes for the weekend after Labor Day. Then we heard about the state retirees’ association bus trip to Branson, and decided to do that instead.

So two weeks ago, when my husband asked what I wanted to do for our anniversary, I had an immediate answer. I wanted to go to the beach. In fact, I wanted to go to Pensacola, but was willing to go to Dauphin Island, which is a little closer, and near Mobile if he wanted some nightlife. After a little checking around, hubby suggested Gulf Shores instead. I had never been to Gulf Shores, but friends have gone and love the place.

Then hubby had another bright idea. Instead of staying at an expensive hotel on the beach, we could spend a lot less if we stayed 12 miles from the beach at a hotel in Foley. The hotel was right on Highway 59, and the beach was a straight shot to the south of it. 

The day before we left, John started packing sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, cookies and fruit in our cooler to take with us for picnic lunches. The hotel provided breakfast, so the only meals we would need to eat out were two dinners. Even for my normally thrifty husband, this was a little overboard. OTOH, his usual MO at the beach is to allow me about an hour before he starts asking what we are going to do next. So the picnic lunches sounded promising: I might actually get to spend a good part of the day in the surf and sun.

I suppose I should explain why my husband does not like sitting on the beach. He is very fair skinned and burns easily. Not only that, but his hair is thinning and he can even get sunburn on his scalp. I, on the other hand, have skin tones of a warm Mediterranean olive and with reasonable access to sunscreen, rarely burn. I don’t think I ever had a sunburn as a child, back in the days before SPF anything, even though my grandparents had a summer home on the water* where we went crabbing, clamming and puttering around in grandpa’s little boat.

John also needs to be in perpetual motion. When we got home from our trip yesterday, he spent the afternoon doing his laundry, gluing down loose carpet in his car and putting more insulation in the attic. As I write this, he is outside prepping the eaves in front for repainting. I, on the other hand, have an endless ability to sit and loaf. I can work hard when needed, but I don’t go out of my way to look for things to do.

We arrived Monday around one. Check in time wasn’t until three, so we went straight to the beach and ate our picnic lunch, but we weren’t dressed for splashing in the surf. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Fort Morgan, a pre-Civil War fort that was important in the Battle of Mobile Bay.

Tuesday morning, we were up early and I finally got to go to the beach. “I just remembered something,” I told hubby. “We forgot to pack towels.”

“The water is still too cold to go in,” he opined. “No one was in the water yesterday.” I put on my suit anyway, after a liberal slathering of sunscreen. Hubby put on jeans, a ball cap and a long-sleeved polo. I started to picture a very short and uncomfortable hour or so on the beach.

When we got there, people were in the water. I left my shorts on over my bathing suit and strolled down to the water’s edge to at least put my toes in. On the way I saw the one person on the beach wearing more covering than my husband - a woman in a jilbāb and headscarf, watching her children play in the surf.

The water is cold at first, but as I got used to it, I strolled in further. I decided to go back to my chair, take off my shorts and get all the way in. “It’s not bad once you get used to it,” I pointed out to hubby, who was reading a paper and eating the cookies he brought with him. A gull swooped down and grabbed a cookie out of his hand. I left him swearing at the gull and went off to enjoy the water with a growing crowd of other people. At some point I renewed the sunscreen and fed peanuts to the gulls before spending more time cavorting in the water, walking up and down the beach, and hunting for seashells.

We hung around until an hour after lunch, by which time my skin was starting to feel a little prickly. Then we went shopping at the big outlet mall across from the hotel. We went back to walk on the beach at sunset and listened for a while to music from a nearby club. 

The next morning, as we were packing to leave, I noticed that John is sunburned. Everything from his eyebrows down to the V on his chest where his shirt was opened, including his ears, was cherry red. “I thought my hat would be enough protection, but it wasn’t.” I, on the other hand, have one nasty burned patch on my left shoulder where I missed with the sunscreen and otherwise look like I haven’t been near a beach for a year.

My precious baby. He spent half a day roasting on the beach with nothing to do just to make me happy. That’s true love.

*Okay, I know that sounds luxurious, but for “summer home” picture a rundown bungalow they got at a distress sale price and for “boat” picture a rowboat with an outboard motor. I grew up in a working class home where we never had to worry about food or necessities but we wore a lot of hand-me-down clothes and summer trips to grandpa’s were the only vacations we ever took, and they were usually day trips.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Usually on Friday mornings I go walking at the mall with my friend D, but she’s out of town, so I went to the nearby park by myself instead. I got a full night’s sleep for once, probably because I shut the cats out of my room, so when the alarm went off at 7:15 , I rolled out of bed and pulled on my exercise clothes. It seemed kind of dark for 7:15, but when I checked my weather app, it said “mist” and reassured me it would be clearing. I added a hoodie to my attire and went off to the park.

“Mist”, as it turned out, was a euphemism for “solid curtain of white three car lengths ahead”. The park is only five minutes from my house, but the traffic on the road they have been ripping up forever was bumper to bumper, and I had to watch carefully to make sure I didn’t miss the entrance to the park among the orange traffic cones. As  it turned out, both the car ahead of me and a Ryder rental truck ahead of it were also heading to the park, so I followed them into the entrance.

My plan was to park by the dog park and circle the 0.6 mile “extended loop” that goes around the dog park and the fish pond before looping back around to the pond and crossing over to the half mile wooded path. As it turned out, I had taken the second entrance into the park, and with visibility so poor, I could not see where I was. There is a small traffic circle at the entrance, and circling it 3/4 of the way should have taken me to the dog park, but took me to a playground instead. It took me three tries around the circle to get to another road to the circle from the missed entrance and the dog park. 

Meantime, I kept seeing two people in jogging suits walking around the park, apparently out for exercise like me. I wonder what they make of seeing the same green Mustang apparently tracking them around the park. Do they know it’s just a lost and very non-lethal old lady?

I wanted to park by the dog park because I figured at that hour of the morning, it was the most likely place for early risers. Only one person was there, though, a park worker putting liners in the trash cans. The dog park is the donation of Raising Canes, a local fast food chain named after the owner’s dog. There are three of their dog parks I know of around town.

Once I’m out of my car, the mist still closing in around me and very few people around, I wonder if this is a good idea. The park is small, not like Central Park or even City Park in New Orleans, but in the mist it seems eerie, not the safe gathering spot it usually is. I circle the dog park and then the fishing pond, seeing only one person besides park personnel, a man with a few fishing poles. The fishing pond is really not much bigger than an Olympic size pool; I’m sure the only way they can keep fish in it is to stock it monthly. “Catch anything?” I ask. “A few small ones I threw back.” 

I think about how a smile and a fishing pole make the man seem non-threatening. He could be a serial killer for all I know. It wasn’t that long ago that serial killer Derrick Todd Lee managed to lure several woman from their homes nearby, torture and kill them before dumping their bodies. Back in those days I was scared to be in the house alone, even though I was not in his preferred area or demographic. I made sure to take my morning shower before my husband left for work.

The “serial killer”, unaware of all this angst, takes his pole and heads for his car.

Meantime, a woman with two dogs has arrived at the dog park, and a jogger has joined the two walkers I saw earlier. I decide to take the wooded trail. The wooded area is small, obviously since it’s only half a mile around, and dotted with benches and picnic shelters, as well as bluebird houses placed at intervals by optimistic park staff or volunteers. The trail is wide enough to accommodate  maintenance vehicles. I’m not heading out into the wilderness, but I feel reckless as I leave the paved path for the isolation of the woods.

I never know whether I am too fearful or not fearful enough. I shouldn’t be fearful of taking a short stroll in a neighborhood park off a busy road, and normally I’m not. I don’t usually worry about whether strangers trying to catch fish are really looking for easy human victims instead, because something like 99.999999999% of the time, they’re not. I don’t usually mistake a small patch of woods about the size of three or four square blocks of my neighborhood for a hiding place for evildoers. I’m pretty sure it was just the fog making me scared.

I don’t know how to read the crime news and assess my own risk and act accordingly. What I do know is if I ever become a victim, someone, somewhere, is going to say “What was she doing out in the park at that hour of the morning” as if taking a walk is the equivalent of crossing a six lane street in the middle of the block with four trucks coming up the hill.

So should I be scared? This morning, I was.


I don’t remember where online I heard of the book, The Viral Storm: The Dawn of A New Pandemic Age, by Nathan Wolfe, but wherever I did, I saw it and thought, “I want to read that.”

It belongs to a whole subset of books that I want to have read, more than that I want to read, because while the information in them is interesting to know, I have the attention span of a flea. And while The Viral Storm is written for a popular audience, it’s not an easy read. It took me over a month to slog through it.

It was a worthwhile read. I was amused to see that one of the reviews on Amazon contained this line: “While reading the first 100 pages or so I was pretty sure I picked up a book about primate behavior instead of viruses.” The book is about pandemics, what they are and how they spread. Primate behavior, according to the author, has a lot to do with how humans acquire viruses from the animal world and how we spread them. When the first apes decided to add meat to their diet, they exposed themselves to microbes in the blood of their prey. Chimpanzees and bonobos hunt meat, particularly monkeys. It is likely our last common ancestor did,  too.

Why is that relevant to pandemics?

Hunting, with all of its messy, bloody activity provides everything infectious agents require to move from one species to another. The minor skirmishes our early ancestors had with other species probably resulted in minor cuts, scratches and bites - insignificant compared to the intense exposure of one species to another that is a direct result of hunting and butchering.
The chimpanzees who were devouring their feast of red colobus monkey in the Kibale forest that day were an instant, visual example of blurring the lines between species. The manner in which they were ingesting and spreading fresh blood and organs was creating the ideal environment for any infectious agent present in the monkeys to spread to the chimpanzees. (Kindle edition, location 558-571)

Wolfe spends the bulk of his book on the human behaviors that make pandemics possible: advances in domestication of animals, in travel, and in medicine. Living in proximity to livestock exposes us to their diseases. The rapidity of airplane travel means a traveler can pick up a disease in one place and spread it in another, sometimes before even showing symptoms. The medical advances that save lives, like blood transfusions and organ transplants, also open up a direct route for microbes to get from one body to another.

Wolfe also discusses new ways of tracking pandemics. Borrowing from a term used by intelligence communities, he talks about listening to “viral chatter”, reports of low level incidences of viral infection that need watching. One of his projects is getting hunters of bushmeat to use baseball-card-sized sampling papers to take samples of blood from the meat they hunt and drop it off in easily located collection spots. This allows researchers to check for microbes that may be making their way from the meat into human populations.

Wolfe also cites a 2009 Google study that shows that search patterns of individuals “provide a sense of what individuals are becoming infected with”. 

With the vast stores of search data kept by Google and the US influenza surveillance data collected by the CDC, the team was able to calibrate their system to determine the key search words that sick people or their caregivers used to indicate the presence of illness. The team used searches on words related to influenza and its symptoms and remedies to establish a system that accurately tracked the influenza statistics generated by the CDC. In fact, they did better. Since Google search data is available immediately . . . Google was able to beat the CDC in providing accurate influenza trends before the traditional surveillance system. (Kindle edition locations 2768-2764)

Okay that’s scary, and not just in the “I could get sick and die” sense of scary, but it is also impressive.

So read the book. It’s well worth the time.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Can't Breathe

Like everyone else in the country, I have been riveted by the story of Trayvon Martin, the beautiful young boy who went out for some Skittles and an iced tea and never came home again. It is particularly poignant for me because it comes months after the murder of a young member of my family, my cousin Al. Al was only two years older than Trayvon. Unlike Trayvon, Al did not go out to buy Skittles. He went out to buy drugs. Unlike Trayvon, Al was white. So unlike in the case of Trayvon, Al’s shooter, who was black, was arrested two days after the murder. 

I don’t blame Al for his murder, even though he was involved in an illegal transaction. The murderer had a grudge against him and would have used a bag of Skittles to lure him in if he could have. I don’t feel sorry for Al’s murderer. He is a person who saw murder as a defensible solution to an interpersonal problem, which makes him a menace to society. I want justice for my cousin. I think that’s the least he deserves.

I also want justice for Trayvon. I think that’s the least he deserves, too.

I have no idea what Trayvon’s parents are feeling, but on some level, I know what murder can do to a family. Murder turns the universe into a malevolent place. Murder is not just a sudden, horrible death, it's a personal, sudden, horrible death. Murder is intentionally cruel. Murder rips your heart out. 

It’s horrible when someone hated a person you love enough to consider that person not worthy of life. What must it be like when the murderer considered your loved one not worthy to live not because of who they were, but what they represented?  Murder turns the universe into a malevolent place when it’s caused by something, no matter how trivial or unworthy of blame, the victim did. Even more does murder turn the universe into a malevolent place when it’s because of who the victim was.

I look at Trayvon’s picture and I almost can’t breathe. There is at least hope for justice for my cousin, although he deserved so much more. He deserved to live out his life. Where is the hope for justice for Trayvon? He deserved to live out his life, too.

Monday, March 19, 2012

At the St. Patrick's Day Parade

Saturday being St. Patrick’s Day, we betook ourselves to the local St. Patrick’s day parade. Next to the Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade, the St. Patrick’s Day parade is the biggest parade in Baton Rouge. Like the Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade, it started out as a small neighborhood parade and got bigger over the years. 

When you live in the coastal south, winter is parade season. We have Christmas parades, Mardi Gras parades, and the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but if we have a Fourth of July parade, I couldn’t tell you. I’ve never been to one.

One feature of parades around here is that they attract small religious groups handing out tracts. I don’t know whether it’s the draw of large groups of people anchored in one spot, or whether it’s the presence of Demon Rum, not to mention people having fun in general, but you throw a parade and there they are.

Saturday, I collected four. The first two were fairly simple ones of the sort you could print up on your home computer, being given out by Trinity Baptist Church. They apparently had a assortment, since my husband got “How Many Sins Does it Take to Send a Person to Hell?” whereas I got “Will You Go To Heaven When You Die?”* The answers, in case you are wondering, are “one” and “no” respectively.

The other two are slicker products, printed up by religious publishing houses and acquired by local groups for distribution. “The Only Doorway” has a picture of gates on the front (they aren’t pearly). It’s printed by the Fellowship Tract League of Lebanon, Ohio, but has a stamped address on it of a ministry in Richmond, Texas. I find that puzzling. Don’t they have St. Patrick’s Day parades in Texas? Why come all the way here to Louisiana? We get a lot of Texas traffic coming this way to the casinos, but surely the casino goers wouldn’t be handing out religious tracts.

The last one is the slickest of all (literally, as it’s printed on slick paper). On the front, it has a picture of Mardi Gras beads with the words “may I ask you a question?” It’s from EvanTell in Dallas, Texas, but it has the address of a local ministry (well, 50 miles away) printed, not stamped, on the back. 

The question it asks is, “Has anyone ever taken a Bible and shown you how you can know for sure that you are going to heaven?”

I live in Louisiana, what are the odds that I’ve never seen a Bible, or heard someone preach about it? More to the point, I’ve been going to parades since I was in my twenties, what are the odds that I haven’t seen one of these messages before now?

I have to admit, I was being disingenuous when I said, “I don’t know whether it’s the draw of large groups of people anchored in one spot, or whether it’s the presence of Demon Rum, not to mention people having fun in general, but you throw a parade and there they are.” The tracts are part of a larger turf war. Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are Catholic in origin, and the tracts promote theology that is, so far as I can tell, Baptist. They aren’t printed for the purpose of converting the heathen, otherwise instead of using the Bible as a starting point, they would start by offering evidence that the Bible is a trustworthy document. The aim of these tracts is to convert the wrong kind of Christians (whether Catholic or not) to being the right kind of Christian. Then another kind of Christian can label you the wrong kind of Christian and start all over again.

*Throughout the post, I’m following the capitalization used on the respective tracts. Yes, I know it’s not how they taught us to do it in grade school. I never get it right, either.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Sign Said

Yesterday and today I was running errands that took me out of town and to parts of town I don't usually frequent. That gave me a chance to see unfamiliar sights. Apparently I was seeing things in the more than one sense.

Coming back to town from Gonzales, I saw a sign for a business called CG Flirtation Group. I was a little puzzled, but thought it sounded promising for a new post-retirement career.

A second look revealed it said, "Filtration Group".

Life is filled with these little disappointments. Today while going to drop off some donations for a charity garage sale, I saw a truck parked by the side of the road with a sign advertising 

Sheet Sets
600 thread count
Egyptian Cotton
Full, King, Queen                 $20

I wasn't the least bit tempted, because I follow the Post Office rule that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. As I got closer, I saw in small print between "Sheet Sets" and "600 thread count" the words "feels and lasts as well as". I'll be the judge of that, thank you.

I'd hate to have to make a living selling things out of a truck on the side of the road, though. I'd rather work for that flirtation group.


This all started with a tear in my underwear. A one inch section of seam had come unstitched, and I could have thrown the article out, but that seemed wasteful.  I could easily sew that section up with a running back stitch, overcast the seam, and it would be good as new, right?

I even knew where to find needle and thread. Thread (in the right color, no less) is kept in the sewing machine cabinet. Needles, however, are in the large plastic bucket where my husband keeps sewing supplies, on the top shelf of his side of the closet, and either I'd have to haul out the ladder to get to them, or risk bringing the heavy bucket right down on my head.

Fortunately, I keep a travel sewing kit in my travel cosmetic case, and I was able to find a needle without risking life and limb. I was also able to notice that the plastic case that the sewing kit is in, bought very cheaply, is coming apart. What I needed was a new etui. It could hold sewing items for travel and also keep me from having to grab a ladder every time I wanted to do a quick repair at home.

I searched under "etui" on and found this lovely item

Picture by RocknRobin

for $16.50 plus shipping. It opens out like the picture below.

Picture by RocknRobin

You have to add your own sewing items, but it is nice, and I almost bought it.

My guilty conscience got to me, however. I collect boxes, most of which are sitting doing nothing, and for what I really needed, I could adapt one of those.

In fact, I found the perfect one. My husband gave me a necklace for our first Christmas as a married couple, and it came in a very nice box (see below).

I keep all my jewelry in a jewelry box, however, so for almost 24 years the box has been sitting empty. It's a good size for a little sewing kit. Scissors could sit in the bottom, and one side of the top could hold a pincushion, while the other could hold a thimble and thread.

The rubber bands are for holding scissors. Not the spiffiest solution, but it will do for a try out.

For some reason, folding scissors have disappeared from all the stores in my neighborhood that used to carry them. I have to order some online, but in the meantime, I'm using my knife as a stand-in, just to see how all this works. Besides, it does have scissors.

Now for the pincushion. See how I cut the batting a little smaller than the space to allow for fabric?

Leftover fabric from my last bedding project coordinates quite well with the box.

Remember how I left space for the fabric? Not enough, apparently. I wrapped the batting with the fabric like a package, using double sided tape. I should have fit it in the box before I put the last piece of double sided tape on, but I didn't.

The other side is for thread and my new thimble. The cutout part of the thimble is to allow space for long fingernails. I don't have long fingernails, but I like that it is also adjustable.

The thread and tape measure are from the old sewing kit. Now I add needles, safety pins, and a straight pin to the pin cushion.

It closes perfectly, but I still need something to hold the thread and thimble in place.

The old dirty rubber bands have been replaced with hair bands that were on sale. The burgundy color goes well with the fabric. I also found the little scissors from the sewing kit, but they aren't very good quality.

I tried stapling a third burgundy hair band, but that didn't work. I hot glued in some burgundy ribbon, but it was hard to tie it tight enough to keep the items from falling out. Finally I hot glued the ribbon over the ends of the band to hold it in place.

I was going to cut off the rest of the ribbon, but I may leave it to tie as below. It depends on how annoying it gets to have to keep tying it. 

The box closes okay with everything in it. The knife is now back in my purse, though, since that's where I need it.

I still need to order some folding scissors online. None of the descriptions tell how big they are when they are closed. I've tried calling to find out, but it is apparently some big military secret or something.

So my project turned out about as well as most of my craft projects do, i.e, Im not going to be selling any of them on etsy any time soon (ever).

Instead of the hair bands, I thought about using plain elastic in a casing made of the sunflower fabric, but to turn the casing, I'd need my bodkin. The bodkin, of course, is in the big plastic tub on the top shelf of the closet. In other words, that project is literally over my head.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

When I Die

As I have mentioned before, a few months ago my husband and I wrote some new wills. We also had a spate of family and friend deaths back in December, leading me to think that in addition to my will, I need to make my funeral preferences known to my likely survivors. 

Of course, I could just leave it  up to those survivors, seeing as how by time my funeral rolls around, I’ll be dead and they won’t so they are going to have the last word anyway. If I make my wishes known, though, when they do something else they won’t be able to claim, “She would have wanted it that way.”

So as I told my husband, I want a closed casket. That will spare family and friends the chore of trying to think of something to say about how my body looks. Besides, I rarely wear makeup in life, so I’d just as soon skip wearing it in death.

A display of pictures would be nice, though. In addition to pictures of me, I’d like a display of some of my favorite pictures that I took in my travels. They will serve as a reminder that when I was on this earth, I was all over that sucker. If I live long enough, it will include a picture of me in the Sydney, Australia airport holding up a homemade sign that says, “This makes all seven.”

And yes, John can include that spectacularly ugly picture he took of me in Antarctica wearing my Amelia Earhart cap. He tried to warn me about that cap, but I didn’t listen.

A few picture suggestions:

My funeral should be called a funeral, too. Anyone who tries to call it a “celebration of life” should be summarily beheaded. Then they can have their own funeral and call it whatever they like.

I want a plain casket, but I have a suspicion that the kind of simple but warmly finished oak or mahogany box I imagine will actually cost more than something more flashy looking.

Then there’s music. As much as I’d like to think of my mourners second lining, jazz funerals (more properly called "funerals with music", even though all funerals have some kind of music) are generally reserved for musicians or those with some connection to the music industry. My musical talent consists of being able to pick out “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on a toy piano or xylophone. There’s nothing to stop me from downloading “When the Saints Go Marching In” to my iPhone and encouraging my nearest and dearest to play it, however.

The most important thing is that I want my mourners to be fed right. Much as I enjoy the idea of a post-funeral crawfish boil, I doubt anyone would want to peel crawfish in their good clothes and anyway I’d have to die during crawfish season for that to happen. Unless I die in some spectacular accident, there are unlikely to be enough mourners to make a whole, or even half, suckling pig necessary, so a cochon de lait is out. Maybe a fish fry. It would be really cool to provide fresh fried oysters, French bread, lettuce, tomatoes, mayo and Tabasco so that folks could make their own oyster po-boys. The critical thing is that there is enough to drink.

Of course, by time I need a funeral all the preparations will be out of my hands. I know I can trust my husband to make arrangements and be hospitable to anyone who shows up. My son, I’m not so sure. His idea of funeral music would probably be something like this


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Et Voilà

I “collect” misspellings of familiar foreign phrases and unfamiliar English ones, for the sheer fun of it.

Voilà is one of those words I often see misspelled. I have seen “wah lah”, “wall a” “wallah” and probably others I do not remember. I can understand that, being that it is a foreign word first of all and more importantly, one that is more likely to be heard than read. If a non-French speaker does read the word, zie is unlikely to connect it to the pronunciation anyway.

To be fair, I try to imagine how I would spell je ne sais quoi if I didn’t have the internet with which to look it up. Around our house, we say something has a certain je ne sais quoi if what we really mean is that we either don’t like it or can’t figure out what it is, or maybe both. I rarely have reason to spell it, but if I had to guess, what would I come up with? Since I know it is French, I’d probably get “je” and “quoi” right, but I suspect what I would end up with is “je nai sez quois” or “je nez sais quoi” or something like that. I don’t think I’d wind up with “Jenny Saykwa”*, but maybe I would.

What brings up these musings is that recently on his blog Pharyngula, PZ Myers posted an email he received in which the writer used the phrase “gore and tenacity” in the sentence “The gore and tenacity to take the consecrated Host and desecrate it by piercing a nail through it and discarding the Blessed Sacrament.” Commenters speculated on the meaning of “gore and tenacity” and finally realized the writer meant “gall and audacity”. That led one commenter to declare “gore and tenacity”  the new “raisin date”.

Pharyngula, like many well read blogs, has a number of inside jokes that come from the lengthy comments thread, especially the nameless threads, and I don’t keep up. “Raisin date” left me scratching my head. I finally realized I was going to have to ask. As I was composing my question, the answer popped into my head. So I amended my question somewhat, to “What was the old ‘raisin date’? Was it by any chance a misspelled attempt at raison d’etre?”

I can understand how these errors happen. It would be easy to make fun of other people’s ignorance, but we really don’t learn language from the bottom up, we learn it from the top down. We learn intonation, inflection, and phonology (the music of language) first, and then imitate sentences which we then parse into smaller units that we can rearrange. So if you recall hear a speaker use a phrase like “gall and audacity” in a hectoring voice and need that “voice” in a criticism, and if you can’t remember the words “gall” and “audacity” because they aren’t in your everyday vocabulary, you could come up with “gore and tenacity”. And your audience, while puzzled at first, can figure it out, because they are hearing the music of the phrase in their heads.

That is how those banes of my life, “The proof is in the pudding” and “begs the question” used to mean “raises the question” obtained widespread circulation. People don’t parse those phrases to realize they don’t actually make any sense. The phrases as a whole function as “super words”, the way a child’s first “I don’t want to” functions as a “super word”, so that the meaning is in the whole even if the sum of the parts should leave you going “wait, what?”

I like “raisin date”, though. It has a certain Jenny Saykwa.

*I can’t pronounce French, either, so my spelling guesses use Anglicized pronunciation.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Back in my working days, I worked in a building next door to an elementary school. The waiting area had large windows, almost walls of glass, looking out at the school and the street. The week before Christmas 2002, shortly before the start of our two week break, we could see parents gathering for the school assembly next door. That meant we could also hear the squealing of brakes, followed by screaming, commotion, and in due time, sirens. 

Our janitor went to check on what had happened and came back with a sad story. A car had gone out of control and hit a mother pushing a stroller along the sidewalk, hard enough to knock the 11 month old out of the stroller. Rumor had it, and later turned out to be true, that the baby was dead.

The driver of the car did not stop but sped off, chased by another driver who got a license number to give the police. In due time Sheri McElveen was arrested and found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.27 (0.08 is legally drunk) and to have traces of cocaine and prescription drugs in her system.

For some reason that incident came to mind last week, and I vaguely wondered where McElveen was doing time.

This morning I saw this story in our local newspaper.

A woman convicted almost a decade ago of killing a toddler while driving drunk was arrested Tuesday and is accused by State Police of causing a head-on collision with a tow truck, again while driving drunk.
Tuesday’s crash occurred at 12:45 p.m. on Airline Highway near Berringer Foreman Road when Sheri McElveen, 52, crashed her Honda Accord into a tow truck while driving on the wrong side of the road’s median, an affidavit of probable cause says. . .

McElveen pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide, first-degree vehicular injuring and hit-and-run driving on Sept. 3, 2003. She was sentenced to a year in the Ecumenical House, a year of home incarceration, followed by five years probation.

I am not usually a person who complains about courts being “soft on crime” or who wants all criminals locked up and the key thrown away (that person would be my older brother). But really, a year in a halfway house for killing a child? Is that justice?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Fossils from Liaoning Province, China

Tuesday, I took my husband and my good friend D to the Lafayette Museum of Science to see the exhibit Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries before it closes on Sunday. I had seen it before, but wanted to see it again and take a few more pictures with my good camera. I think I may have done better with my iPhone.

I began to have my doubts about the wisdom of bringing my husband when his first words were, “We’re too late. They’re all dead”, but he made up for it by paying for lunch.

A big part of the exhibit is a diorama of what Liaoning Province, China, would have looked like 130 million years ago, along with several of the actual fossils discovered there. The fossils, which were discovered in the early 1990’s, not only show skeletons, but skin texture and feathers as well. It was hard taking pictures of the fossils, which were all in glass cases, but I did my best. Click "read more" to see pictures of the diorama and the fossils themselves. If you click on the pictures themselves, you see a larger version and the details show up better.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ah, Wilderness

Hubby and I just got back from the postponed trip to Hodges Garden State Park. We stayed overnight in a log cabin nestled along a lake in the pine woods of northwest Louisiana. It was nice to get away from the bustle of everyday life, and watch the geese swim along the lake, the bluebird perch on the mailbox at the park entrance, the eagles soar over the pines, and Property Brothers on the 26 inch satellite TV in the cabin’s combined kitchen/dining/living room.

State parks are not what they used to be. In addition to the TV, our cabin had a DVD player and wireless internet access, as well as the more common microwave and coffee maker in the well-equipped kitchen. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spend as much time outdoors as we expected, since it rained off and on. We got to take a cursory tour of the gardens and to feed the geese leftover breakfast biscuits, but not to walk along the several hiking trails the park boasts. We’re thinking of going back for a longer trip before the weather heats up. In the meantime, we did get a few pictures.

(If you click on the pictures, you can see a larger version and they don't look so dark.)

View from our cabin porch

Entrance to the gardens

Entrance to the main garden

Dogwood tree in bloom

View from the lookout point



Sunday, March 4, 2012

So Which Word Was That?

So the wrong words you used in attacking law student Sandra Fluke, Mr. Limbaugh? Which words were those? When you mischaracterized her testimony before Congress, saying

. . . who goes before a Congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex,
what words should you have used instead? What words would have made that less than a complete lie? Because as someone may have pointed out to you by now, what Sandra Fluke said was that a friend of hers lost an ovary because she could not afford the medication that would have prevented her ovarian cysts. And the reason her friend couldn’t afford her medication is because Georgetown University does not cover that medication in their health insurance, because its primary use is for birth control.
So which words should you have used to make it clear that when you said Sandra Fluke wants to be paid for sex you really meant Sandra Fluke wants insurance to pay for medication women need for our health? I’d really like to know.
And when you said,
If we’re going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.
Which word was the wrong word then? Is there a more appropriate technical term for videos that would have made the statement more palatable? Or maybe it was the word “we”. Because I know for sure that I don’t want to watch videos of Sandra Fluke having sex online, and I doubt most other women do either, especially if we knew she was coerced into it as the cost of health care. So what was the word you meant to use instead?
I’m getting older, too, so I know how it is to use the wrong word sometimes. I have been known to ask my husband to pass the salt when I really want the butter. I’ve been known to use my son’s name when I mean my husband’s name and vice versa. I’ve been known to call D’Artagnan, my black and white cat, “Truffle”, which is the name of my Siamese cat. I have even been known to call my husband “Truffle”, although I try to pass it off as an endearment. But I’ve never been known to use the word “slut” when I actually meant “activist”. And I’ve certainly never been known to say, “Sweep the damn floor, would ya,” when I meant, “Please pass the salt.” 
So I’m waiting, Mr. Limbaugh. Which words were the wrong words?
Cause I’m thinking - all of them.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Travel Brochures

In the course of catching up on my mail yesterday, I found three travel brochures from the Tulane Alumni Association, all for trips this coming fall. “We’re not going on any of these, huh?” I asked my husband, I thought rhetorically. 

“Let me see,” he said. 

The tours are all in Europe, which is someplace we will be in the fall anyway, visiting our ex-patriate son. One is a tour of the Italian Lake District, one a cruise from France to Corsica, Italy, Greece and Turkey, and one a tour of the French Alps. I get these brochures from my alumni association on a regular basis, since they operate under the assumption that my degree from Tulane has made me rich. Interestingly enough, all the tours cost around the same amount. A lot.

“If the market goes up another 3 or 4 percent,” he says, “We can go.” 

The last time we went on an alumni tour, through LSU, not Tulane*, the stock market took a nose dive shortly after we paid our non-refundable deposit and crashed further, to its lowest point, while we were crossing the Drake passage. Even if it goes up another ten percent between now and March 26th, the day by which we need to make reservations to get the early discount, there is nothing to say it will stay that way. I don’t point this out to him, however. The man is offering to take me on a romantic trip of some kind. I’m not usually the kind of wife to bat my lashes and mutter “Whatever you say, dear”, but when I do, it’s at times like these.

I’m kind of leaning toward the “Village Life in the Italian Lake District”. It covers a smaller area, which means we will see it in more depth. I enjoyed our ten day tour of the British Isles last year, but we did spend a lot of time en route compared to time spent in the places we were visiting. That worked out well for me and my broken foot, but the odds are I’m not going to break anything else between now and then. Besides, if I am going to be around Mediterranean, as opposed to British, cooking, I need to get out and burn off some calories.

Since all of this is contingent on an improbable further increase in the Dow Jones, I guess I shouldn’t get my hopes up. I’m hanging on to the brochures, though. If nothing else, they have pretty pictures.

*Ours is a mixed marriage.