What's on my mind.

29 July 2008


Pictures from our trip. Almost all of them are at the zoo and aquarium, so lots of animals and fish. Nettie (and I) are bad about trying to bring home everything we saw but we kept running out of disk space.:)

28 July 2008

Rue Bourbon...

scared her. But it didn't scar her. Nettie had a really good time last weekend, didn't want to leave, and can't wait to go back. I just wanted to make a couple of quick observations.

One doesn't HAVE to get caught in a downpour for one's pants to be damp enough to chafe horribly, walking around the zoo in the middle of the day in Louisiana in July will do just fine, but it doesn't hurt.

Dog, who reportedly hates water, cooling off after a run in Audubon Park

WOW is zoo food expensive. I mean, we ate some overpriced food over the weekend (train, zoo, aquarium, and airport) but a burger I could get at Micky D's for 99¢ for $5 - ridiculous. By comparison our diner on the train cost a mere $11 more (than lunch at the zoo) and was very nice (i.e. not nearly so overpriced and better food).

How cool is it that I planned a trip a month in advance and get to see an environmental disaster on it? Cool in the same way the earthquakes and volcanoes erupting is cool. Sorry I'm a geologist. I find these things fascinating.

Baffles helping coral the oil spill on the Mississippi
and men putting out strings of pom-pom looking stuff to soak up the oil

Rodents are mostly only cute in cages particularly when they are this size:

Nutria found as far north in Alabama as Eutaw, at least I hear
Much less this size:

Capybara, largest rodent on earth (luckily only found in South America

I don't know if this is the coolest or worst job ever at an aquarium:

Guy cleaning the glass in the Caribbean reef exhibit.

I'll have all the photos up in a couple of days.

Edit: I almost forgot - My dog has amazing control over her bodily functions. She refused to go out side for my parents all weekend. There was a suspiciously sticky spot in the dining room but that was it. 61 hours inside.

24 July 2008

Top 100?

This list, via Chad, is the "Top 100 books" from the NEA/The Big Read (although I can't find the list on the site). Apparently most Americans have only read 6 of these. I find it a very odd list. There are a number of children's books. Just about all of Jane Austen's works, listed separately, but Shakespeare gets only two? (one being "complete works of") The Da Vinci Code? No Faulkner, Bradbury, or Vonnegut?

Here's my list. (Bolded titles are the books I've read; books in italics are ones I've seen movie adaptations for; an asterisk is for books I started and didn't finish; a caret for the books I intend to read):
1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible (most of it)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte*
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (book 1)^
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller*^
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh^
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini^
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell^
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley^
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov^
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

A few comments on the my list - I devoured Da Vinci Code but don't think it belongs on a list of great or must read books. I've read some Waugh and Dostoyevsky, just not the titles listed here. I've tried to read Victorian novels and find them deadly dull, but I love the movie adaptations (and Masterpiece Theater just did the complete Jane Austen this spring) so I've seen the Austen and Bronte sisters' works on the small screen but have no intention of reading them. I'm not a huge fan of Dickens but have read a few and generally like the movies. The NPR station in DC played the BBC radio (I think) production of Hitchhiker's Guide when I was a kid; I loved listening to it as much as I enjoyed reading it. I haven't seen the whole movie adaptation yet, I'm a little afraid to. I've not read the entire works of Shakespeare but have read (and studied) four or five plays. I'm not much of a play reader, I don't sink into the story the same way I do with a book. Wuthering Heights is the only book I was suppose to read but didn't finish. It was assigned as summer reading for rising 12th graders which, because of our move, I didn't learn about until 4 days before school started. It is, I believe, the only thing I ever bought Cliff Notes for. So I've read 24 of them, then again I've never claimed I had good taste in books.

What, dear reader, do you think of the list?

22 July 2008

Writing Implements

A comment on Sarah's post about Gender Genie reminds me of the English professor* (actually most likely a grad student) I had for World Lit. II (mid-19th to mid/late-20th century). World should perhaps be in scare quotes since almost everyone/everything we read was by an English speaking author and most of the more modern stuff was by Americans, but that's a whole other story. Much as Nick's mate's class found masculine and feminine imagery in everything, this professor found sexual imagery in everything.

One day when we broke up to discuss a short story (don't remember the name) in groups, the group I was in tried to find the most ridiculous things (usually because there was something better and more obvious) to make into sexual references. For example, the wife is using a candle snuffer to put out the chandelier in the dining room leaving the only light in the house the fireplace in the living room. She moves the candle snuffer, obviously a phallic symbol, away from her body. I don't remember what we said it meant. A shallower reading of the piece might have had one commenting that she's making the house dark to wait for her husband's body to be brought home, how silly. Probably the funniest thing she did was while discussing this story she started talking about a scene in a Steinbeck short story I'd read in American Lit. And read excessive, to me anyway, sexual imagery into it. Taking off gloves is not, without other indications, a proxy for getting undressed.

It's not that phallic symbols don't show up in stories or that there are never any subtle images, it's just that I tend to think the simplest explanation is more likely to be correct and what the author intended.

*I feel like I've written about this before. If so, I'm sorry. I hope I'm not repeating myself.

21 July 2008

But it beats the alternative

I just wrote about some of the physical challenges Mom's had the past couple of years. Her psychological challenges have been around most of her life.

For a good twenty years or so Mom responded well to her medication and did ok. The key for her turned out to be a very low does of lithium. Unfortunately, over time lithium damages the pancreas and results in diabetes. Luckily for Mom, when she stopped the lithium her diabetes became easier to control and finally disappeared (this isn't exactly common but not unheard of for people in her situation). Without lithium, it has been harder to control her depression. Unfortunately, some of the meds have made her loopy. Calm pleasant Mom is nice; Mom who can't hold a conversation, not so much.

A couple weeks ago Mom got lost in Sears. Dad dropped her at the door and went to park the car. They were suppose to meet at the cookie place. Mom couldn't figure out how to get from Sears to the mall. She knew Dad was suppose to meet her and he'd come find her, but she couldn't remember where she was going in the mall or where the mall entrance was. I don't know how long she actually wandered, it was long enough for two people to ask her if she needed some help ("No, thank you. I'm just looking for my husband.") and Dad to get the big cookie and come back and find her. She said as soon as she got in the car she could see the store layout in her head and knew how to get to the mall and realized she'd walked past the mall entrance multiple times.

I don't know if this was the medication or if something is really wrong. She thinks something is wrong. Yesterday, she was asking me what I'd do if she dies (to help my Dad with Nettie...Guess I'll have to start cooking again.) and then went over all the financial stuff that only effects me if they both die. She said she's losing more and more of her faculties (her word). Like I said before I think some of it is that she's not been reading and she's isolated. I also think some of it may be medication related. Some of it is the physical difficulties (back, knee,...) affecting her mind and vice versa. Some of it actually early signs of dementia? She's 10 years younger than her mother was when she first started to lose it.

I decided last night that I need to start actually speaking up instead of just nodding my head. I need to ask her when does she see the optometrist and psychiatrist next. I need to ask her when she last had her hearing checked (she's having problems on the phone). Has she thought about a therapist? When the meds worked great she didn't need one, but maybe now she does.

I also rededicated myself to being a better sister (& third parent) to Nettie. I need to do more stuff with her. Take her camping, swimming, hiking, on day-trips...all the stuff my parents did with Pat and me but are too old to do now.

Getting old sucks,

The other day I rambled about the unimportant things freaking me out. Now I'd like to ramble about some not-so unimportant things. My dad turned 80 May 24. My mom will be 69 on August 26 (don't tell her I told). My father is in generally much better health. He's has some significant hearing lose but won't/can't wear a hearing aid (too much background noise that he can't mentally filter) and is more forgetful than he'll admit but other than that he's good. Mom's not so lucky.

Recently, as in the last couple of years there has been a string of medical problems, none serious in its self but that together make her, well, old. She had to have her gall bladder removed and attempts at compensating for that, according to dr's recommendation, later turned out to give her more digestive problems rather than less. Her back problems (on going since her 20s) have gotten better and worse; generally better when she goes to PT and worse when she stops going and will exercise at home. Currently her back is not so good and she can't exercise because her knee is given her fits. The real kicker though was the macular pucker - it didn't just affect her vision, it prevented her from reading, driving, walking with confidence,...basically all everyday activities. The pucker, recovery time, and a cataract left her mostly unable to read for over a year(it was in her dominant right eye). And she still has trouble reading, but she doesn't know why yet. Amazingly someone we know had a reader that had been her mother's, who had had macular degeneration, and she gave it to my Mom. (The reader is similar to an opaque projector. You put the book or newspaper in it and it projects the page really big on a screen.)

Reading was Mom's primary mental exercise. She's bad at crosswords and doesn't like logic puzzles like sudoku. But she's a reader. Not being able to read has been hard on her. It has also limited her horizons somewhat. (For example, her listening to news programs all day during the primaries just about drove the rest of us crazy!) Her horizons will expand again but that mental exercise was lost. She's much more forgetful, I hope that'll get better as she can read more. As she realizes she can read more. I think right now she's still in the "I hate not being able to read" mode and is only occasionally delighted when she remembers the reader. She was like a kid in a candy store with a blank check when she first read the newspaper with it. (And that was the Tuscaloosa News, I was surprised she found that much to read!) I installed Firefox and the Accessibar extension on her laptop. Being able to easily zoom in and out will help her a lot. (Yes ctrl+, works but she's not going to remember that, having a button that says 'zoom in' she'll use.) If the background and text color changer will work (works on my work computer, didn't on hers last night), that'll help on any page she's trying to read something long on. (Black on white has high contrast but glare.)

14 July 2008


At the wedding reception Saturday my niece encountered a, perhaps, new problem - husband calling. Her new husband, like many men, does not have a name that lends itself to hollering across a loud room. Soft consonants, short final vowel, and usually spoken with falling pitch and/or volume. One plus is that it is two syllables. She did manage to get his attention but that may have been partly due to the fact that she was the one in the big white dress waving him over to us. Thinking that she could do better in the husband calling department I suggested she might want to try Granny's favorite.

At dinner parties, in the back yard, in department stores, or wherever my grandmother wanted to get my grandfather's attention and he was too far away for a discrete "Win, dear?" or "W.D.?" she would practically sing "Poop*" with a long high 'o' across the room. PawPaw hated it. Unfortunately, he never understood that as long it worked she would continue to use it.

Husband calling is a dying art but young wives may wish to practice up. I think Granny's "Poop" might have carried over a band in a nightclub.

Before you start to wonder why my grandmother was 'calling' my grandfather using a euphemism for feces, a nick name for Popeye was "Poop Deck Daddy". I don't know why she'd be using part of Popeye's nickname for a husband call.

12 July 2008

It's Panic Time.

Will you indulge me as I ramble about the relatively inconsequential things freaking me out today? Thanks.

Last night I got a manicure and pedicure. The pedicure was ok. It wasn't the most self-indulgent luxurious thing I've ever done but someone else painted my toenails. Also, I don't know if I kicked something and don't remember it or if the girl managed to bruise the top of my foot. The manicure wasn't worth it. Not only did she not do a good job shaping my nails but I found a hang nail on the way home and had two nails that she didn't get fully painted. Now I know clear polish makes it harder to see mistakes but I saw them while driving! Also, apparently I can't keep polish unchipped or peeling for more than a couple of hours even when professionally applied. It is kind of neat when you can pull a whole nail's worth of polish off the base coat in one piece. Last night I was thinking I could fix just those two nails, now I'm going to have to strip it all off and reapply in the car to Birmingham.

A few weeks ago it was fun to go looking for something to wear to my niece's wedding. It was fun to look for something pretty and slightly fancy and not the kind of thing I normally wear. As this week as progressed I've been more and more worried if what I was planning on wearing was really "right" I can't put my finger on why it wouldn't be but...This morning I started trying to figure out what else I could wear. Is there another top I could wear with the skirt? I could wear what I originally thought I'd wear, maybe, but that's not very dressy. By the time I got in the shower my mind was in double time trying to decide. Do I go with safe, unobtrusive, plain Jane and not really dressy enough or something that might draw attention to me? If people look at me I might have to crawl under a pew.

Then I started thinking about the reception. OMG, strangers! Again, last week and early this week it was fun to think about the possibility that my niece and her fiance had some cute, possibly slightly older, friend who would sweep me off my feet. Or at least ask me to dance. Today, part of me is wishing I could skip the reception. If history is any guide I won't speak to anyone I don't already know and will, at best, stand at the fringes of the dance floor (read: against the wall) and sway to the music.

I managed to get upset enough about this that I was crying in the shower. If I think about it much now, I may start again. I'm still not sure what I'm going to wear and I have about an hour and a half before we leave. When I start freaking out about going to a TBDC dance I can just not go, that's not really an option with this.

One of the very few social events I'll attend this year that isn't work related or involve a family member's birthday and I'm falling to pieces. I think I need a drink.

08 July 2008


May I ramble for a minute? (or two, mostly about TV)

I don't know if I'm being overly sensitive or not but there are a couple of commercials on recently that kind of piss me off with the whole "idiot woman" shtick. I'm not sure why these two or three stick out to me but, man, do they annoy me.

On the topic of commercials, ASPCA has one that I can't watch. I either have to mute the TV and not look up or change the channel. I think the reason ads for things like the Children's Miracle Network don't upset me is that those kid's suffering, as bad as it is to be poor and in a 3rd world country, wasn't intentional. All a dog (cat, rabbit, bird,... any pet really) asks for is to be cared for. All kids really want is to be loved (and fed). The thought of someone being intentionally cruel to an animal (or child) is very upsetting to me, and baffling. I can't watch the animal cop shows on Animal Planet, either.

On last night's "Bones" rerun, why is the administrative guy so set on not getting to the bottom of the deaths? Besides they can prove the guy didn't hang himself, and was dead when he was hung, even if the method they suspect he was killed by (with?) can't be proven. So obviously someone was trying to cover up something big, like possibly the previous murder or, as it turned out, artifact smuggling.

I'm starting to have doubts about the appropriateness of my outfit for my niece's wedding Saturday. I'm beginning to think it isn't dressy enough, even though the bridesmaids are wearing tea-length dresses. Do you think I could hire someone just to dress me? Surely, if stars pay big bucks to be badly dressed I could find someone to do it well on the cheap. Maybe I could just find myself a husband who likes to cook, clean, do laundry, mow, is fashion literate, and can work from home so he has time to do these things.

While I'm wishing, could I get some motivation, too?

Update: Oh, doublespeak reminds me. How inconvenient/cumbersome would speaking only in metaphor be? The fact that Picard manages to figure out anything that alien is saying is amazing. Metaphors would be impossible to translate without prior cultural knowledge. Picard picks up a few based on the situation but any meaningful conversation would require some major archaeological study beforehand to learn the meaning of the metaphors. It also seems that a language based on metaphors would be oddly limited and uncreative. The language can be pretty and bring to mind strong images, with the right cultural back ground. Luckily for Picard and the viewers this species also cries so "Kiazi's children, their faces wet" makes sense.

07 July 2008

New Skill

Last Christmas "Santa" gave Nettie and me a pair of knitting needles, some yarn, and "An Idiot's Guide to Knitting". The year before I'd found a knitting for kids kit* and then never sat down and figured it out with her and the kit got lost. I tried a few times with the book and another book my Mom had and couldn't quite get the hang of it. The pictures skipped some crucial bit. Skip to our trip.

While staying with Judy and Danny, Judy pulled out a sweater she was working on one evening. And I mention I'd tried with the book and just couldn't quite figure it out. She fishes out a pair of needles hands me a little yarn and shows me how. I dropped a bunch of stitches and split the yarn a bunch (all she had handy was some cotton to make washcloths out of) but I got the motion down.

When I got home I go tout the needles and practiced. I still split the yarn some and drop and randomly add stitches but that got better. Here's my practice piece:

At the top is where I started, all addition of stitches and holes are accidental. After I got comfortable with the knit stitch I tried purling. That didn't work so well the first time so I knit a few rows and tried again. It worked better. Then I did a big section of stockinette (alternating knit and purl rows). Somewhere in the middle of this section I started a row, put it down, came back and accidentally reversed direction. Somewhere else I think I purled part of a row and then switched to knitting. oops. Then there is some rib stitching (alternating two or more rows of knit and purl). Then I tried decreasing on purpose (maybe a few too many per row) and increasing (these holes are on purpose). Then finished up. I'm still splitting the yarn some, but I usually don't make a new stitch out of it.

Now, to teach Nettie.

*It made a purse, I avoided the one with the stuffed dog that you made a sweater for (even though it was unbelievably adorable) to save her dog the indignity of sweaters.