Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rambling: Napping

Why are naps taken when you're supposed to be doing something useful so much nicer than sleeping when you should?


Yes. That is all.

Image: By Waugsberg. Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rambling: Plastic Wars

I posted previously about the movie Bag It!, and its unprecedented success in getting us to try to cut down on the use of plastic, especially single use disposable plastic.

Boy, we use a lot of plastic:
  • Even when we use the butcher's counter, where we avoid those foam trays, the chicken for this weekend's fried chicken was dumped in a plastic bag before being wrapped in butcher's paper. Theoretical solution: Ask for no plastic bag, and have something waterproof in the car to put the chicken in when it leaks through the paper before making it home?
  • Packs of unhealthy little tiny doughnuts come wrapped in plastic. This is sad; I like unhealthy little tiny doughnuts. Looks like I need to find a real live bakery. With paper bags. Or can we bring our own washable container to a bakery?
  • Many candy bars are wrapped in plastic these days, aren't they? Lindt and the other alarmingly priced ones still seems to be wrapped in paper and foil, but I seem to recall that Reese's and many others are now in plastic. And I think that Lindt chocolate balls have some plastic in the wrapping.
  • Oil (fried chicken!) is usually packaged in plastic bottles. Looks like we have another reason to buy the expensive organic stuff in the glass bottles. 
  • Darn near everything - CDs, DVDs, cables, everything packaged in, well, packaging seems to have an outer coating of plastic. I understand the value - it keeps the item or its prettier packaging from getting shopworn. Or it keeps it from getting tampered with. I get it. But now I'm opposed to it anyway.
  • Mailorder clothes come in plastic bags. Are there any companies that don't wrap them that way?
  • A lot of Chinese food comes in lidded plastic containers instead of those paper boxes. They do have the boxes for rice - I wonder if we can request paper boxes for the other food?
We did make a nice discovery in the plastic bag avoidance realm, though. While I love Chico bags, I'm always annoyed by the short handles. (Yes, I realize that plastic grocery bags also have short handles, so this is not a legitimate complaint about using Chico bags for a replacement. I never said I was logical.) We just discovered that Chico is making a sling bag that can be carried mailbag style. As a bonus, it's also made almost entirely of recycled materials.

Yes, I'm as bad as an ex-smoker right now. I'm calling that OK as long as I don't go scolding other people.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Reading: Children's Books

Late in my 100+ Reading Challenge post, I speculated about cheating on the challenge by reading children's books. I've decided that that's a dandy strategy.

So I'll shortly have my hands on:
  • Missing Melinda, by Jacqueline Jackson. I loved this book, about a pair of twins that were named Cordelia and Ophelia through no fault of their own, investigating the strangeness around a stolen doll named Melinda.
  • The Changeling, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. About two girls, outcasts in different ways, and the fictional world that they create. I associate this book with an essay-writing contest that I participated in in junior high or possibly high school. In the timed limits of the contest, I couldn't come up with anything to say about a book likely to impress the judges - The Scarlet Letter, say - so I wrote about The Changeling instead. It was a losing strategy, of course. But I rather wish that I had the essay.
  • The Velvet Room, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. I remember loving this book, but I can't remember a thing about it. I'll report back when I read it again.
  • The Midnight Folk, by John Masefield. I've never touched this one, but so many of the other books in the New York Review Children's collection are wonderful that it seems worthwhile to try them all.
  • The Mousewife, by Rumer Godden. Rumer Godden may be my favorite author, and I don't recall ever reading this one. So it's about time.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Food: Food.

Chicken was fried.

Chicken was eaten.

The fried hangover has begun. Adding a vegetable to the plate didn't fool the brain one little bit.

Therefore, this is the extent of today's post.

Good night.

Image: By Garitzko. Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Rambling: Weeeeekend!

We've been busy. Travelling. Rushing around. All those movies. Catching up on work after all those movies.

This weekend, there will be idleness. And possibly fried chicken.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Link: Korean Fried Chicken

It has, once again, been too long since I offered any fried chicken information. So I point you to this article about Korean fried chicken. Sadly, the only sources mentioned are in New York City, but who knows? It almost sounds worth the trip.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Food: Random Opinionating

The correct way to eat bacon is with a fork. Limp, greasy bacon is easily eaten this way, but is not worth the eating. Crisp bacon is delicious, but is impossible to eat correctly. Life is often like that, but it's a shame it has to be that way at breakfast time.
Judith Martin, Miss Manners' guide to excruciatingly correct behavior.
Some opinionated ChickenFreak opinions about food:
  • Bacon should always be crisp.
  • Chocolate should always be dark.
  • Bread pudding should not be clogged up with raisins or any other object that interrupts the purity of the squishy bread.
  • Cheesecake should not have a crust. Or any non-cheesecake flavoring, topping, or decoration.
  • The crisp skin is the best part of poultry. 
  • Romaine hearts should really be romaine hearts. If they're dark green, they're not hearts.
  • Nothing ever has enough garlic.
  • Sweet pickles are wrong.
  • The chocolate milk flavoring that you drank between ages two to ten is the chocolate milk flavoring that will be "right" for the rest of your life. Hershey's, U Bet, Kwik, Ovaltine, Bosco's, whatever it is, loyalty is absolute and lifelong.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Rambling: Tricycle on its way!

We ordered the tricycle! Woohoo! Specifically, the one in this picture. Isn't it beautiful? Imagine it with fried chicken and murder mysteries in that basket.

This is actually the second tricycle that we attempted to order, so I'll start my career as Weird Tricycle Lady a month or two later than I'd planned. But I like the low fork in this one, and the gear cover, so I'm just as happy about the shipping issues that resulted in us canceling another brand of trike.

So, woohoo!

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rambling: Bag It, and plastic

Late in the film festival, we saw Bag It, a film about plastic bags and other "single use disposable plastic" items. And, much to my surprise, we're still remembering it a week later. While we generally agree with everything that an environmental-message film says, we also generally let it slip our minds by the next day.

We're actually, y'know, changing behavior.  A little. And searching for ways to change it more.

We already usually use reusable grocery bags. But the next time we were in a grocery, we:
  • Bought our milk in cardboard cartons instead of plastic jugs.
  • Tried to buy plastic-free dishwasher detergent. It turns out that more, not less, plastic was involved; we'll try a different product next time.
  • Tried to buy our clothes detergent in a coardboard box instead of the usual plastic jug of liquid. However, when we were forced to choose between scented in cardboard, and unscented in plastic, we went with the plastic. We'll have to do some searching for unscented in cardboard.
  • Declined a bag when we realized that we'd forgotten to bring reusable bags, figuring we could just dump the groceries in the trunk.
  • Later, in another grocery, paid money for reusable fabric produce bags. Goodness gracious.
We're also looking at things like shampoo bars, to avoid the plastic bottle. And breaking our Ziploc addiction by buying glass food storage containers. And considering the merits of paper or compostable or recycled trash bags. And waxed paper. And getting reusable stainless steel water bottles. And like that.

This might actually be a habit change. Or, it might just take us a week, instead of a day, to forget the message. We'll see.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Scenes From Gardens Past: Pachysandra 2006

Photograph of pachysandra.

Pachysandra is not considered an exciting plant. It's seen as dull. Tough. Utilitarian. Overused. Cliched. George Schenk, in The Complete Shade Gardener, refers to it as "ubiquitous and boring".

But he also calls it "indispensable." And when I look at this photo, I think that overused or not, it's beautiful.

Photo: Mine

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Gardening: The most common early mistakes

Photo of an outdoor faucet.

I was just reading a post over at Children of the Corm, one that was puzzling over why a gardener wasn't succeeding. I commented, but afterward I found that my mind had assembled an opinionated list of what seemed most likely to go wrong. So here I am, opinionating.

Judging from my own experience back when I was a beginning gardener, I'd say that the main non-obvious gardening mistakes are:

Underwatering - just sprinkling the soil until it's damp on top, unstead of staying at it until it's gotten a good soaking. It's non-intuitive to realize that you may have to stand there for fifteen minutes or more, watering just one small bed. Automating your watering to make it easier to water deeply enough - even if it's just plopping a sprinkler in the middle of the bed so that you can turn on the faucet and walk away for an iced tea rather than standing there with the hose - can make a huge difference to the garden.

Overwatering - watering too often, so that the roots never dry out. Under normal circumstances, that nice long soaking should save you from having to water again for a few days. If you have abnormal circumstances, I think that a good thick mulch is better than watering more often.

Underwatering and overwatering - sprinkling the soil too little, too often, giving you plants with soggy shallow roots.

Shade denial - refusing, for example, to accept that roses and onions and tomatoes will not grow in three-quarters shade. I'm still not over this one - I'm always trying to convince a plant to accept at least a little less sun than it wants. I tried to grow onions and summer squash in a part-shaded garden last year.  This year, I hope that I accept my failure and plant bush beans, which succeeded quite nicely in that space the year before.

Skimpy digging - not believing how big a hole you really have to dig, especially if you have concrete soil. And not believing that sometimes you do have to turn the whole planting area and mix a car-full of bags of something good into it.

Root squeamishness - not breaking up compacted roots. I know that it seems cruel, and counterintuitive, and just plain weird, to yank and even cut perfectly good roots. I got over this with rootbound large plants early on, but for some reason I hesitated to mess with the root ball of tiny six-pack plants. They had so few roots in the first place; could they really bear my damaging any of them?

So, for years, I would pluck those dead sixpack plants out of the ground and see the little intact root cubes. I've finally started roughing up their roots properly at planting, and I no longer have this problem.

The wrong plants - specifically, not growing the easy stuff for the area. If the plant isn't growing in casually maintained gardens all over town, I'd suggest skipping it and picking something that is. Next year or the year after that, after having some successes, is time enough for the tricky ones.

That's my list. What's yours?

Image: Mine

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rambling: Festival All Gone (AIFF) And Marwencol.

Yesterday was the last day of the Ashland Independent film Festival. We wimped out and staggered home rather than go to the last two films, but the ones that we did see were great.

I'm being un-systematic again, and just talking about one of them: Marwencol, about Mark Hogancamp's miniature town.

Mark Hogancamp was beaten into a coma by five men outside a bar, receiving severe brain damage that destroyed most of his memories and necessitated re-learning how to walk, eat, and perform other basic functions.

That's the backstory. The film is about Mark's "homemade therapy" - a miniature one-sixth scale World War II Belgian town, Marwencol, populated by dolls and action figures.  He created Marwencol to help himself recover his hand-eye coordination and to regain touch with his imagination - and perhaps to work through the trauma of his situation, though I'm not sure if that was a goal, or a result.

Mark's town is the site of an ongoing storyline that includes alter egos for himself and many of his friends, set in a place where combatants in the war have made a temporary, local peace with one another, defending their friends and their town from outside invaders, building relationships, and spending plenty of time at Mark's alter ego's "cat fight bar".

Mark creates and photographs scenes from his world. And it's an amazing world. Highly colored. Deeply layered. Love. Loyalty. Betrayal. Revenge. Violence. Suffering. Comfort. All that.

He worked on this world and on his photographs for a good long time before being discovered by the filmmaker, and getting a gallery show, and I'm guessing that the website came out of that. He didn't work on it with the idea of a show or recognition - this is art created purely for the artist.

The photos aren't sweet little "awww, isn't it cute?" doll pictures. For example, the website banner is a wedding photo with the couple posed in front of the hanging bodies of SS invaders. There's plenty of violence, death, and revenge, which seems entirely appropriate given Mark's experience.

But there's a lot of human contact going on too. One of my favorite photos from the website is this one of Deja Thoris. (Scroll a bit past the wedding photo.) Is it just me, or are you, like me, leaning forward to read the facial expressions and body language of these mass-produced dolls? Do you, also, marvel at the eye contact between the two characters in the foreground, and wonder what Deja Thoris is thinking, and glance behind them to try to read the expression of the member of the tank crew who's watching them?

Or maybe my favorite photo is this one, with Mark's alter ego receiving support from his friends. Or there's this one, with the women of Marwencol taking matters into their own hands, when Mark's alter ego has been captured. Or the photo of him discovering Marwencol. Or... well, OK, I'll stop. There's nothing to stop you from paging through the whole site if you like it as much as I do.

I find everything about Marwencol - the film, the town, the photos, and Mark himself - fascinating. I'm going to be turning it all over in my head for a good long time.

Image: By Mattia Luigi Nappi. Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rambling: More about the Ashland Independent Film Festival (AIFF)

I posted about Day One of the film festival. I chose to get enough sleep, instead, on days Two, Three, and to some extent today on Day Four.

So wanted to point you to Himself's posts on Friday and on Saturday, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he's posted today by the time you read this. So you can go read further film goodness there.

Meanwhile, some (unorganized) rambling of my own:

The awards came out tonight, which is all very well, but I'm choosing to declare my favorites:

Four Faced Liar remains my very favorite film of the festival in any category. It was the very first movie we saw, in the very first slot of the festival. It was so good that I was reminded of a Calvin Trillin quote from Alice, Let's Eat:
"... that anxious feeling I get sometimes in parts of the American South when, after finishing a fine Southern breakfast of eggs and grits and little country-sausage patties made into sandwiches with biscuits, I realize that the high point of the day may have passed before nine in the morning."
And, yep, that showing was the high point of the festival for me. But there were plenty of other good moments.

Salt comes second in my list, somewhat to my surprise, because I'm not usually the documentary type. But as I burbled before, the mix of beauty and quirkiness and otherworldliness has me sold.

As of today, The Mouse That Soared is my third favorite, though I did just see it today, so it's difficult to be absolutely sure that I'll remember it as clearly and fondly as I do now. But I think I will. It was wonderfully funny, and sweet, and clever, and packed with funny details, and it accomplished all of that without going overboard in any of the ways that it could have. I don't do sweet, and I loved it.

It was accompanied by a big batch of other extraordinarily good animated shorts, many of them created with a drastically smaller cast and crew. If Himself doesn't talk about them, I'll return another day to do so.

Image: By loonboy2. Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Rambling: Bad resolution timing

For the next few days, we'll be spending sixteen hours a day either watching movies or grabbing snacks in between.

This would have been a good time to take up mobile blogging.

That is all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rambling: Ashland Independent Film Festival (AIFF), Day One

So, we went to the first day of the Ashland Independent Film Festival (AIFF) and had a grand time. However, my brain is full and I feel an unprecedented urge to go hide without even a television screen in front of me. And that was with only four film slots; we're doing five a day through Monday. We'll see how I'm doing by then.

But the films were great!

We started with Four Faced Liar. If I had paid attention to the description, I might have skipped this one, expecting it to be another arty movie about whining twentysomethings that fails to engage. Nope. Twenty something yes, whining or unengaging no. I'll be waiting for the chance to see this again.

Then there were tacos and chips at Agave. Which is, I believe, a supporter of the film festival. So I encourage you to go eat there. If, y'know, you're in Ashland.

The next slot was three shorts: Born Sweet, The Solitary Life Of Cranes, and Salt.

Born Sweet is about a boy (and a village) in Cambodia dealing with arsenic poisoning - for once, not arsenic caused by uncaring industry, but by wells dug by "well-meaning aid organizations" that tapped into natural arsenic deposit. Boy, village, a new aid organization, and education-by-karaoke all combined to make a good film, though one that was a little more heartwarming than is usually my preference.

Then, The Solitary Life Of Cranesabout the giant load-lifting things in the sky, and, really, about the men that work in them and what the experience is like.

I thought it was going to be about birds. I really should read the descriptions more slowly at ticket ordering time - though in this case they would have made me more likely to go see this one, because I don't much care for nature films.

I liked it very much - the contrast between the solitary job and the birds-eye view of society and individuals that's an inevitable part of it was very interesting. It got just a fraction too peaceful and meditative at times, but I'm not a peaceful person, so it may hit the average person just right.

Then, Salt, about the photographer Murray Fredericks and his photography of the salty expanse of Lake Eyre, where he camps for weeks at a time, taking photographs. I assume that the poster is copyright protected, but here's a link, including one of the photographs of the photographer's tent in the midst of the lake. I liked this one, too - an entertaining constant shift between the quirky situation of the photographer, the magnificent setting, and the surreal and alien aspects of the magnificent setting.

Then there were cookies and iced tea.

Next, we saw Sister Wife, a short, and Passengers.

Sister Wife was about DoriAnn, a woman who is a wife in a polygamous marriage, the second wife after her younger biological sister. This one bothered me, which I'm quite sure is at least part of the function of the film.

DoriAnn entered this situation as an adult, and chooses to remain within it. She has a convincing argument for why she feels that the parts that make her miserable, have value. Convincing not in the sense that I would dream of ever doing the same, but in the sense that I can't tell this strong, intelligent woman, who clearly knows her own mind, that her philosophy is wrong and I know what's best for her.

Passengers was a feature-length film about a marriage and what happens to it during an evening drive through Southern California traffic. It was very good, but for me exhausting and depressing. Himself didn't seem to have the exhausted reaction.

Then there was pizza and Sprite.

And in the last slot, Easier With Practiceabout a writer, a road trip, a phone sex relationship, and that's all I'll tell you for fear I'll give too much away. Very good. Very absorbing.

The consistently good films all day give me confidence that it'll be a good Festival all around. And now I'm going to cheat and backdate this to pretend I posted this last night, when we came home from the last film.

Image: By Holger Ellgaard. Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Rambling: Daily Blogging (Mostly recycled thoughts)

So, day before yesterday I resolved that I was going to post here every day, just as I post every day over at the other blog.

Then I didn't post yesterday.


However, I did write a really really long post on the REAL Bloggers United forum over at BlogCatalog, about why I want to blog daily. So today I'm going to blatantly steal from myself and re-express some of those thoughts here. (Is that wrong? Probably.) It's a not particularly orderly set of thoughts:

Thought One: I've realized that a large percentage of my favorite writers are or were journalists. I like their ability to create prose that's clean, graceful, crystal clear, and somehow carries extra nuances without needing extra words to carry the weight of those nuances. I'm tentatively associating that with their being journalists.

My theory is that journalists write a lot, write it on a deadline, are forced to hand it over to an audience on that deadline, and get rapid feedback on what they've written. They have a very, very high frequency of the write, edit, publish, feedback cycle. And barring my quitting the job, going to journalism school, and hunting for a job as a cub reporter, the blog looks like the thing to give me that. The editor to yell at me when my writing stinks is missing, but, well, I can't have everything.

Thought Two: I sometimes remember a scene from the Mary Tyler Moore show, where Mary is trying to write a late breaking bulletin as the news is just about to end. She tappity-taps, pauses, waggles her fingers trying to think of the right phrase, tappity-taps again, pauses again...

After a couple of repetitions of this Mr. Grant urges her out of the chair, sits down at the typewriter, types for a few seconds at such thunderous speed that you can't really distinguish the keystrokes from one another, rips the paper out of the typewriter without so much as glancing at it, and hands it to whoever is supposed to run it to the anchorman.

I've always assumed that Mr. Grant's writeup was not only faster, but much, much better than Mary's. I realize that's not data ("Mary Tyler Moore is fiction, ChickenFreak; do you know what 'fiction' means?"), but it makes my goal clear to myself: I want to write like I imagine Mr. Grant writing. Or, at least, I want my progress to be in that direction for a while.

Thought Three: And ("Fiction, ChickenFreak? Remember what fiction is? Remember how it's not real?") I think of those scenes in movies where reporters call in a story with no papers in hand, apparently able to juggle a multi-paragraph composition in their heads. Sure, there are editors at the other end, but that still points me to a goal: I want to be able to compose larger written structures on the fly. And I think that's at least partly a matter of sheer volume of practice.

Thought Four: And, I'm thinking of the ten thousand hours theory in Outliers, the idea that ten thousand hours is what it takes to master a complex task. Of course, that's quantity of time, not words written, but I'm considering it relevant anyway. Sheer practice. Increasingly complex skills becoming automatic. (Like steering was conscious when you first learned to drive and now you don't think about it?)

Thought Five: I recently wrote a scrap of fiction dialogue for the first time in weeks and wrote it Ever. So. Carefully., trying to make it clean and smooth and in the style that I like. Looked at a day later, it's clogged and stilted and much too self-conscious.

I went to look at my NaNoWriMo novel, with tons of sequences of dialogue that were written full tilt with no editing or pauses, and while many are junk, many are infinitely more graceful, and communicate more, than the careful bit. They need editing, but once edited, they'll be much better than the piece that I wrote with care.

So I think that I'm a write-full-tilt-and-then-edit writer. The kind that writes ten thousand words and only salvages a thousand. So if I'm going to salvage much, I need to write a lot.

Thought Six: As I've mentioned before, a nontrivial portion of my "writing", if you count it as writing (I do, but with embarassment) was on text-based online roleplaying games. Not the kind where you fight coded monsters with coded swords, but the kind where the players, together, describe all of the events, dialogue, visuals, and so on. I played those things for hundreds and hundreds of hours.

So I'm used to "writing" with a deadline of two minutes, absolute maximum, and getting feedback within seconds. So a 24-hour deadline should be nothing, and I really like at least having the chance of that daily feedback.

Conclusion: So there we are. The current course of action is, write more and write faster.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Rambling: Fiction and "Write What You Know"

So hopeful fiction writers keep getting advised to "write what you know".

OK. Sure. Fine. Sounds great. Certainly better than writing what I know absolutely nothing about.

But, really, what does it mean?

For example, I know about perfume. I'm not an expert, but I have some knowledge. But if I sit down to write, say, a murder mystery full of little nuggets of information about perfume, the novel is likely to look like exactly that - a delivery device for nuggets of information. Rather like those stilted children's stories where all of the events are designed to lead to the lesson that A Good Heart Is More Important Than Nice Shoes or Happiness Comes From Being Safe or Look Both Ways Before Crossing The Street. It's a vehicle, not a story.

So if I know perfume, what do I "know" in a way that matters for a story?


That was the first thought that came to me, when I considered this problem. Knowing about perfume means that I know about greed. Mindless acquisitiveness. Wanting things that you don't, the least little bit, need. Wanting them enough to consider giving up things that you do need.

So that got the ball rolling. The next thought was about the way that people can build politics and cultures and communities and passions around anything - any interest, or place, or idea.

And about the tension between artistry and the lowest common denominator and snobbery and standards and if and where they meet.

And about the role of impractical pleasure in life.

And probably a dozen other things.

So "what you know", by this theory, is what you know about people, even if it started with perfume or baseball or duck herding. That's what I'm going with. Maybe that was always obvious to everyone else, but it took me a little while.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.