Tuesday, May 31, 2005


I wanted to thank everyone who left a comment in this post. I enjoyed reading your comments and was also happy to see some familiar and new names in the comments. The reason I asked the question in the first place was pure curiosity. Unless you're my mother -- who has a contractual obligation to read and love this blog -- I was curious as to what brought people back time and time again. Left-leaning as this blog is, it's not a political one, and I'm not into the raunchy or the four-letter words as some blogs are, and the chances of a grand revelation or insight into a scandal being posted here are practically nil. Plus, it's nice to know who's reading and I'd like to know something about you guys too (So, really, if you have something to share, don't feel shy!).

So thanks again for the lovely comments. It was nice to hear from you, and I appreciate the time you take to read and respond.

Also, some of you may be interested, but there's a whole new edition of the blog war playing out here. It's a war in search of a cause, but give us time; we'll come up with something. For those of you who don't know what the blog war is all about, it's a rather silly round-robin that allows some of the Mod Squad to go meta on fandom or writing or whatever else is going on. It's a lot of fun for us, and I hope those of you who tune in enjoy it as much as we do.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Le weekend

My holiday weekend was incredibly busy, hence no bloggity. I had plenty of cute niece cuddle time, and I went to see "The Producers" -- which is hilarious, even without Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick -- and also hung out with one of my cousins for a while. And then there was The Wedding (tm). My friend, A, got married on Sunday, and Friday night, she had a traditional mehndi night. Mehndi is the art of decorating oneself with henna -- and I say oneself because pretty much the henna goes anywhere you want it to go. I got both of my palms done, but some people did their feet, or wrists or upper arm. Backs of the hands were fair game as well.

The henna, which is mixed into a texture similar to mud, is squeezed onto your favored body part with a cone (similar to what you'd use to decorate a cake). The result is a ridged-design of mud, that is hardened with sugar and lemon water. However, once the henna has been put on, it's there for the long haul -- anywhere from four to 12 hours (the latter, in my case). The longer you wait to take it off, incidentally, the richer and deeper the color is.

The last time I got this done was more than a decade ago, and I think I had it done well after dinner and just before bed. This time, I had my hands done around 7:30 and dinner hadn't been served yet. By the time I figured my conumdrum out, it was too late. The mehndi lady had my money and I had beautifully decorated, albeit useless, hands. There's something seriously weird about having to be spoon-fed dinner, and then having to ask someone to scratch the back of your neck (we won't even talk about the drama of getting ready for bed, which, btw, included a very sketchy un-recommended for you by 9 out of 10 eye doctors, contact lense removal procedure).

In addition to not being able to buckle my own seatbelt or even unbutton my own pants, I went to sleep with plastic grocery bags wrapped around my hands. During the night, the bags -- which are so not breathable -- get wet with perspiration, and then there's the gritty mud on your hands; I could feel the henna flaking off and mixing with the water and every time I moved my hands, water sloshed all over the bag. I had no idea my hands could sweat so much. It's an understatement to say it was rather difficult to sleep.

First thing in the morning, I stumbled down the stairs, plastic bag coated hands outstretched in front of me Frankenstein-style. "Take it off," I whimpered. My mother used a butter knife to scrape off the dried henna and then a mixture of vegetable oil and water. It was a rather strange experience, but the results, as you can see, were well-worth the trauma:

Click for larger image

Thursday, May 26, 2005


Question like these are always fraught with peril because you never know if people are actually going to answer and then it's all embarassing when no one actually does. That being said, I'd love to know who you (the reader) are and why you read this blog. You can respond anonymously, if you'd like. I'm just curious. At the very least, do say hi:-) -- I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The top of the world

I honestly had no idea about this when I posted yesterday's entry re climbing Mt. Everest, but today, I learned that Ed Viesturs has accomplished the feat of climbing the 14 8,000-meter peaks without supplemental oxygen. Annapurna was his last peak and you can read his hiking log here or if you're looking for a quicker read, go here. The fact Viesturs did it without oxygen is really amazing, since at that height, hypoxia sets in and most people lose the ability to think clearly, not to mention a whole host of other problems -- dehydration, exhaustion, frostbite.

Viesturs, along with Aracelli Segarra, was a star of the Everest IMAX movie, which happened to film during the 1996 disaster in which eight climbers died. Along with the movie -- which provides beautiful visuals of the mountain -- I also highly recommend Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, which details that fateful trek up the flanks of an unforgiving peak and how exactly it could happen so many people could die in a single die. It's also an eye-opener as to how Everest isn't just something you climb; it's also something you suffer and to do it, you have to really, really want it.

Since both Viesturs and Segarra were on Everest filming the IMAX movie (both summitted, btw) during the '96 tragedy, they are mentioned in Krakauer's book, and Viesturs plays a key role in the rescue operations. Segarra, I should mention, caught my eye during the beginning of the movie, when she was shown dangling off a cliff -- without ropes. I remember thinking, "You go, girl."

As unforgiving as Everest and Annapurna are, K-2 is apparently an equal beast. Segarra's personal website is unclear as to whether this attempt was successful. BTW, Segarra's site has some gorgeous, gorgeous photography of the mountains and is well-worth going through.

People do some really, really cool things.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Fantasy #823,425

No, I'm not going to tell you what the other 823,424 fantasies are -- okay, maybe someday, but not today -- but today, at lunch, the words just slipped out of my mouth: "I want to hike Mt. Everest." And then, getting a grip, I amended, "Well, just up to base camp. I'm not into that whole thin air scene."

Monday, May 23, 2005

Time for tofu!

I'm really starting to love tofu like no one's business. I think tofu has, unfairly, a bad reputation because it's so easy to mess it up. Trust me -- I have exploded/bounced/burned/smashed tofu all over. If there is a way to kill tofu, I have done it. However, after many experimentations, I have finally, finally gotten it right. Here's a quick and easy way to cook tofu:

First, buy a package of extra firm tofu. You will need to drain the tofu very well. If you don't drain it, it won't soak up the marinade, and it will snap/crackle/pop in the skillet.

I dump the water out of the tofu first, and then I usually wrap the block in a clean paper towel, put it in a bowl, and then find the heaviest can/jar in my pantry -- usually an unopened jar of tomato sauce -- and put it on top of the tofu. Drain again. Flip block of tofu over, and put the jar of tomato sauce on top of it again.

When the tofu is dry enough, you can either cube it or cut it into slices. I prefer to cube it because it's quicker to cook in the skillet and doesn't require as much flipping, but that's just a preference thing.

Seema's Marinade

6-10 teaspoons soy sauce
1-2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

I also alternately add -- depending on what I have on hand -- ginger or garlic. For herbs, I add a pinch of parsley, bayleaves and oregano.

Mix the marinade very well. It helps to split it in two -- add a little to the bottom of a bowl, dump in the tofu, and then drizzle the rest of the marinade on top of it. I usually put it in a glass bowl with a cover; that way, I can shake up the tofu and make sure it gets well coated with the marinade. Cover it up and put it in the refrigerator to sit for at least an hour.

Add a teaspoon of olive oil to a skillet, throw in the marinated tofu, and if you want, you can add more soy sauce. Sautee until hot and/or browned. Serve immediately.

Everything's pretty approximate, but it's a super easy way to make tofu and quick dinner idea. I think today's dinner -- tofu and mixed vegetables with butter -- took all of 5 minutes to throw together (I marinated the tofu last night) but it tastes pretty darn good.

Sunday, May 22, 2005


The thing about living in the buckle of the Bible Belt is that everyone goes to church on Sunday mornings and leaves the interstates and stores to us heathens. No traffic or crowds is heaven for me, especially since I consider shopping at IKEA a rather hellish experience. All that cheery yellow and blue is just a facade to lull you into a sense of security before you get marched all over two stories worth of stuff, hoping not to get trampled by the families who all seem to come equipped with 10 children under the age of two. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.

Then there's the weird policy of how you can't take the carts out into the parking lot and somehow, you have to drive your car to the side of the building to pick up your stuff after you buy it. The ideal situation is that you bring someone and then one person waits with the stuff while the other brings the car around. As I said to a friend this morning, IKEA is so not Noah's Ark; shoppers don't always come two by two.

Because I got to IKEA before all the mega-churches in the area let out, I was able to grab a spot right near the front of the building, near the unloading dock. That way I figured I'd be able to cart my boxes -- a coffee table, a lamp, and a couple of others things -- to my car without worrying about leaving the stuff unattended. Inside, it was an absolute joy to walk around because I was pretty much one of the only people in the store. I still was mildly annoyed by the fact you have to wander the upstairs football field sized floor before they'll let you go downstairs, which is not only where you can pick up all your flat boxes, but also where all the cool, useless, cheap deco stuff is. I mean, who wouldn't love a series of frosted glass vases that have no purpose at all but to just fit together?

The good thing about today's purchases is that they were for my brother, so I don't have to assemble a darn thing for myself. I did splurge on a cactus garden thingy because I've wanted a centerpiece for my dining room table for a while now and my local grocery store falls short with the fresh flowers. My other plants -- on a side table in the dining room -- are doing very well and so I felt very emboldened to buy more. Wish me luck. For those of you who think cacti are hard to kill, well, you've never met my black thumb.
99% perspiration

I did some brainstorming this week and some outlining, both things I don't ordinarily do in the course of writing. I'm definitely one of those "let's throw some words up and see what sticks" type writers. That's not to say I'm completely loosey-goosey with the process -- I usually have some idea of what I want to see happen or how I want characters to develop. I just don't like doing the up front work and I've always felt my best stories are the ones that wrote themselves.

I took the more analytical approach this week because I wanted to see if I could break out of my writer's block, plus the conventional wisdom of "just write, make it good later" just wasn't working for me. I'd write a couple of paragraphs and just give up because I wasn't into the story or even the writing. Going in with a plan, I thought, might make me more disciplined about the process and not just rely on the 'muse' to get me going.

'Analytical' helped me think about what I was doing, but it didn't 'solve' the ultimate problem -- which is that my muse has up and left me. Some people will object to the term 'muse', saying that writing is hard work, and not just something that happens. I think there will always be humps in the road, when writing is harder than usual, and you just have to work through that. But I've got to call the inspiration and energy to actually write something. I want to give a name to that thing that seems to dictate the words I type. It's not just one thing, but it's a combination of things, and I would say there are plenty of writers -- me included -- who would say the muse is very real and present in their writing.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Napoleon's Battle Plan

My favorite piece of dialogue in "Sports Night" comes from the ep, "Napoleon's Battle Plan"*:

Casey: Technically, I have a plan.
Dan: What's the plan?
Casey: It's Napoleon's plan.
Dan: Who's Napoleon?
Casey: A 19th century French emperor.
Dan: You're cracking wise with me now?
Casey: Yes.
Dan: Thanks.
Casey: He had a two-part plan.
Dan: What was it?
Casey: First we show up, then we see what happens.
Dan: That was his plan?
Casey: Yeah.
Dan: Against the Russian army?
Casey: Yeah.
Dan: First we show up, then we see what happens.
Casey: Yeah.
Dan: Almost hard to believe he lost.

My approach to life is pretty much that -- I show up and see what happens, and usually stuff goes my way. Lately, the plan hasn't been working so well, so it's time to switch strategies. That's the hard part and I've been doing things way out of my comfort zone, which can be stressful too. Someone told me that it takes 21 straight days of doing something for it to become a habit. I know instinctively what I need to do, it's just hard to break free of years and years of ingrained habit -- 21 days seems like an awfully long time to create a habit, especially when you're a person who loves insta-results like me. Still, it's one foot ahead of the other, making it one step closer to the person I want to be and the life I want to be living.

Dan: You have no plan.
Casey: I have a plan.
Dan: First you show up. Then you see what happens.
Casey: It worked for Napoleon.
Dan: No, it didn't work for Napoleon. Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo and died in exile on the isle of Elba.
Casey: Actually, he was murdered on Elba. It's just one of many things I know that most people don't.

* Entire transcript here. I love the Internet.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Occam's Razor

Tonight's auto class was held at a transmission repair shop on the south side of town, about five or six miles away. There were several cars up on lifts, wheels removed, when we went into the garage. In the back, there was a technician rebuilding a transmission. "The transmission is from the white Honda you saw out in the garage," the owner, Chuck, told us. I thought it was pretty cool and complicated looking and I have a whole new appreciation for the complexity of that thing that controls whether you can go or not and just how fast that 'go' is. I had no idea transmissions were made up of lots of metal rings with teeth and that there were these large blocks of metal mazes that held the whole thing together.

Back in the garage, another girl and I went to inspect the white Honda. We were both interested in locating the drive belt, and with the car propped up so nicely and the wheels removed, it was a great opportunity for us. Chuck even gave us a flashlight so we could see better. We were so pleased with ourselves when we located the engine and the drive belts. Then one of the guys came by to see what we were doing.

"What's the matter with the car?" he asked.

"Well," I said, "it's complicated, but mainly, the transmission's missing."

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Kneejerk reaction

I feel weirdly protective of the media these days, and it irks me when I see news outlets falling all over themselves to eat one of their own. Maybe it's the 'been there, done that, bought the t-shirt' mentality that keeps me as one of the few people who still thinks the journalists are mostly the good guys and just want to tell us what's going on. Maybe it's because I spent 18 months dealing with 'unnamed sources' because without those anonymous sources, I would have never gotten my stories. Then there are deadlines, and the fact that you're damned if you do and damned if you don't; you do the best you can, hand it in before deadline and cross your fingers. Only in the news business is no feedback a very, very good thing.

What pisses me off are the people have people who have never ever written a story in their life -- and if I haven't made it clear, bloggers are not journalists thankyouverymuch -- or chased a lead or conducted an interview saying how a news story ought to be put together. You have people saying, "Stop printing stories about insurgents and things will get better" or "Stop printing something that could potentially make someone somewhere really pissed off." Geez, from now on, I say we just print stories about Britney's baby, runaway brides, and some second rate singer's innuendo. If you don't know what's going on in the world, it can't incite you into starting a riot. Sounds like a winning solution to me.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Newsweek's very bad awful day

As most of you have heard by now, Newsweek messed up. Big time. Here's their side of the story. Newsweek is my favorite magazine, so it hurts me to see them being taken to task, considering just how well they usually report and how they write in a way that's accessible and interesting. That being said, mistakes happen and sources can be wrong, and 9.9 times out of 10, no one dies. That being said, I don't think it's possible to hold Newsweek responsible for the deaths of 15 people. A friend pointed out perhaps Newsweek should have double double-checked the story, given the tensions in the Middle East. Possibly, probably. Here's the thing: once the information was out there, whether accurate or not, Newsweek could not know how it would be used.

To me, that's the crux of the matter. Anyone who says Newsweek is responsible for upping the ante on the anti-American sentiment is just deluding themselves. We pretty much put a nail in that coffin when we went in and took over a country. The insurgents in Iraq show us every day just how much they don't like us (or anyone who stands with us*). And then there's the human element -- someone used the story to incite a crowd to action. Newsweek wasn't there fanning the flames or encouraging people to riot; someone else twisted those words to suit their own purposes, and voila, 15 people are dead.

In a way, this is very similar to how President Bush twisted words and got people to support the war in Iraq by 'linking' Saddam to Al-Qaeda and 9/11 and made claims of WMDs -- all not true. Yet no one is blaming Bush or asking him to retract those 'stories' and thousands and thousands have died.

Sloppy journalism happens every day, because there's no such thing as a perfect human being. I bet there are people over at Newsweek who are going to be feeling sick to their stomachs for a really, really long time. The thing with journalism though, you go into every day, every deadline knowing there's a huge possibility you'll make a mistake, and that you'll have to retract what you've reported. That's the nature of the beast. So yes, what happened was horrible: Newsweek made a mistake that will tarnish its reputation for a very long time. But news articles don't kill people; people kill people.

* I use the term 'us' very loosely as I do not in any way support the war in Iraq; my support starts and ends with the US troops and my desire to bring them home as soon as possible.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Upgrades, schmupgrades

Definition: Take the old bugs out, put new ones in

I hate software upgrades. Hate them with a passion because no matter what you do, something's gonna get knackered up and then not only did you have to spend the time downloading the damn thing, then you got to figure out how to get everything to work again once the update is in.

My least favorite update is my firewall and I always procrastinate when it comes to updating that. Firewall update invariably means nothing works properly and the installation is annoying because they don't give you an option as to whether you want to restart your computer or not, especially if you're like me and edging closer to bedtime and all you wanted to do was make a quick check of your email. But ZoneAlarm doesn't make it easy, no no no, not after an update. Here's a quick run down of all the stuff that just goes bananas after an update.

My FTP dies which means I can no longer update my website if the firewall is up. My web-based email accounts just surrender to ZoneAlarm, though gmail, bless its searching soul, has started offering helpful "Third Party Software Interference" tips. For some reasons, CSS-based sites go nuts, pictures on cute baby blogs disappear, and meanwhile, ZoneAlarm is sitting there all pretty and proud of itself saying, "We just blocked another pop-up. Lollipop?"

I'm too exasperated to deal with Zone Alarm today, so I turned it off, and turned the Windows Firewall on instead. How's that for a turnabout in events? Microsoft instead of third party software. Times like this, I'm going with the dude who lets me check my email. Thank you, Bill!

I just realized I haven't posted here in a while, but it hasn't been for lack of trying. Blogger has been very cranky for the last week and just refused to load for me. Anyway, I updated the side bar; go visit The Darth Side: Memoirs of a Monster and if you need a pass to get out of work to see the movie, Geek Squad has you covered.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Spring cleaning

Typical advice this time of year is to double-check the batteries in your smoke detector. Luckily for me, every time I go into the kitchen, the smoke alarm goes off, and so I know my batteries are definitely working. What I didn't check until recently, and I would highly recommend to all of you to double-check, is the State of the Spare Tire. My spare tire, which has been sitting happily in the back of my car for the six and a half years was pretty much flat. So, as part of your spring cleaning, please check your spare tire and make sure it has air in it. There's nothing worse than getting a flat in the middle of nowhere and realizing your spare is useless.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Chatty Cathy

On a day that's not today, I will tell you all about my tire-changing fiasco. Rather, I want to focus on my classmate in auto repair -- let's call her 'Cathy' because I don't actually know her name. Cathy and I met last week when she sat down next to me. She seemed nice, but then oh, for the love of Tom DeLay, she didn't shut up for the entire class. I was amazed, because I didn't think anyone could talk more than me, but at least I shut up when someone I've paid money to to teach me is speaking. Finally, as politely as I could, I indicated the teacher and Cathy got the hint and was quiet for the rest of the class.

Yesterday, Cathy decided not to embark on the antics scheduled (which is how she didn't have a tire-changing fiasco that kept her at class well past 10:30 pm). Instead, she decided to watch me and she was not entirely helpful, but I could pretty much just tune her out because I had to exert my full energy towards jumping up and down on top of the lug wrench in order get the lug nuts loose. At one point, I got up, and Cathy slapped me on the butt. I was kind of like, "Huh?" But I didn't say anything, thinking she really had just wanted my attention and she missed my arm.

And then she did it again. And then a third time.

And really, people, there's no polite way to tell someone to stop slapping your butt. Especially if you're not entirely sure if the butt slapping is just a manifestation of super bad aim. Plus, I didn't know if it had suddenly gotten hip to randomly slap people you didn't know so well on the butt. Also, there are some strange customs here in Sweat Sock City; maybe this was one of them. In the end, I resolved the issue by just not standing next to Cathy. After all, if anyone's gonna be slapping my butt, I'd better know their name.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Two things I learned this week

1. First, the iron works better if you a) put water in it and b) actually turn it on -- just plugging it in doesn't get you anywhere.

2. Clamping your ear with a straightening iron set on the highest possible setting will wake you up faster than two cups of Starbucks, but will not actually take out the curve of your ear.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Job bob

Anyone who has ever spent more than 5 minutes looking for a job knows about the euphoria that follows right after you send an application in. Then comes the waiting and the wondering -- will they call? will they email? how will I manage an interview without my boss knowing? what will I wear? -- and every now and then, you allow yourself indulge in a flight of fantasy: gainful employment.

As you get older, you get more hardened to the reality. It takes something like 50 applications just to get a nibble and just because you've got your foot in the door, it doesn't mean you're going to get the job. It just means you're one of a bunch of people who managed to pass the basic requirement. But if this is your first job search, when you first sending stuff out, then I can see how easy it is to forgo reality and hang out in that rose-colored world where everyone has a job they love, and didn't have to work particularly hard to get it.

That's why I'm not sure I understand why people are jumping all over poor Krystal Grow, who was overeager and overenthusiastic about the possibility of getting an internship over at Spin Magazine. She wrote about her rejection here. The fact that she was brave enough to talk about her hubris, to acknowledge that she was hasty, and that wanting something doesn't always translate into a homerun on your first time up at bat. But from the reaction, you'd think Krystal had done something terribly wrong -- kind of around the same magnitude as declaring war on another country under false pretenses, let's say -- rather than just suffering from a severe case of overconfidence.

I guess all those 'critics' started their job searches jaded and cynical from the get go and didn't have to grow into "the eggs ain't even laid, let alone hatched" mentality like some of us have. Even so, is it really so hard to muster up some compassion? Or provide some encouraging words or support to someone who is just getting started on a rather stressful process? As a friend mentioned to me recently, it seems like panning things or people seems the 'in' thing to do these days. I'll stay uncool, thanks.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Finicky muse

The thing is, when you get a great story idea, or a snippet of dialogue in your head, you've got to write it down right then or it's gone. This whole thing about being an adult -- taking out the trash, doing the dishes, cleaning the bathroom, cleaning up the stove after dinner has exploded all over the range -- kind of cramps the whole writing style.

I don't think, however, that sitting home and staring at my computer is the right way to go. I've found that when I have time on my hands, I write hardly anything at all. It's when I'm super busy and really should be doing things like wiping down the fridge or mopping floors that I think, "Wow, that's a great story idea," but I never actually sit down and write my story idea down until I'm done being an adult. By then the magic is gone and the characters are cranky because I made them wait.

But at least the kitchen is clean...

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Auto for the people

As I said earlier, I'm taking an auto class, and it seems I've gotten in over my head. I'm not particularly interested in replacing my own shocks and struts, but I do appreciate knowing the difference between a brake shoe and a brake pad. What ideally I'd like to see in an auto class is the following:

* What repairs ought to happen when -- ie will my water pump automatically die at 60,000 miles or is that just an urban legend?
* What parts look like and where they are located on a vehicle
* What repairs are "Must do NOW, do not pass go, do not collect $200 -- do it NOW"
* How to diagnosis general complaints without automatically deferring to the mechanic
* How much approximately a repair ought to cost
* Trusted mechanics in the area
* Mechanics in the area who must be avoided at all costs

Incidentally, the instructor of the class noted that if you can't get to the oil filter easily, you probably shouldn't buy that car. I think that's good advice if you're planning on spending a Saturday afternoon changing your oil; for the rest of us, I think a course in the above would be a lot more helpful.