Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What's That Smell?

I confess, be it allergies, genetics or lack of practice, I am terrible at identifying smells.  (My brother is amazing at this.)  I went to a wine tasting with someone who was big into perfume and she was able to identify all sorts of things by smelling the wine.  I got as far as one of them smelling like scotch (the others smelled like wine).  She was able to explain to me that since scotch is often aged in oak and so is some wine, that's where the similarity came into play. 
So, all of this is to say, when people bemoan the fact that ebooks don't smell like books, I don't quite get it.  I mean I get that books smell like paper and ebooks smell like whatever electronic device you are reading them on, but I don't associate the smell of books with the experience so I don't miss it.  (Unless the book smells like smoke in which case I have to air it out.  Yes, despite my smell sense deficiency - obnoxious and poignant smells I may not be able to identify, but I can totally be annoyed by).
But for those of you more attached to the way your reading material smells, well, now there's a perfume for you.

<em>h/t to the Politics and Prose tweeters who passed this link on.</em>

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Oprah Effect

Oprah's show went national while I was in school.  I watched a lot of TV, but not a lot of talk shows.  But I checked out this Oprah chick and watched quite a few.  (It didn't hurt that it came on right about when I arrived home from school, after the tail end of "General Hospital".)

My life changed, I went off to college and then to jobs and things and I watched only intermittently, but certainly the TV landscape is different and so - here are 7 episodes I still remember.

1. Secret pregnancies - as in secret to the pregnant person.  In what seemed like the plot of a soap opera, four women shared their stories.  The amusing thing, in retrospect - given the series "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant" - was that they brought out an expert on pregnancy and asked how common this is, and the expert said she thought these guests must represent most of the sample, it wasn't very common at all.
2. I can't swear it was the first favorite things episode, but on an early one, there were ereaders.  (It was the Franklin, so, a decade ago.) I had heard of ebooks, knew that some people were digitizing their backlist, I just, as the proud owner of a desktop computer, couldn't imagine all my reading time occurring in front of my bulky monitor.  But being able to take all those books on vacation?  That I could see.
3. This episode probably had a different theme than I remember, but it was basically audience stories.  They were asking questions, and audience members were finding there way to mikes to share, and one question was lies my parents told me.  One woman said she had asked her parents why some people had different skin color and her parents told her when babies were made they got baked in an oven, and some people baked longer.  (I find this memorable in part because it is such a convoluted answer for something that could have been answered so simply.)
4. There was an episode dedicated to soap operas.  There was a huge segment of guests from all different shows and they talked about crazy plotlines, what to do when a new actor plays the same role, and so on.  And I remember Kim Zimmer talking about techniques for crying and after a detailed explanation about process she said - if that doesn't work, yank out a nose hair.
5. There were shows about weight loss and weight gain.  And Oprah was very honest about her own struggles, which seems obvious to people who have watched the show, but there were (and are) so many talk shows where the host was maintaining an air of impartiality, and often even superiority. 
6. And speaking of inserting herself into the story, there was her interview with Steven Spielberg where she pulled out her diary from shooting "The Color Purple" and read bits, including bits where she was sure he hated her and wished he could fire her. (He didn't.)

7.  This interesting thing about the Jane Elliot appearance to me, other than it's whole audience experience and really fascinating demonstration of how embedded racial stereotypes are in the culture, is that when they re-ran it years later, they put so many bumpers warning the viewing audience about the exercise.  To me, part of the fascination had been watching the episode when it originally aired, not knowing what was going on, wondering why half the audience was wearing collars and being taunted.  Being warned that it was an exercise, didn't allow for your won organic reaction to what was going on, and made it a far less interesting thing.  (Wikipedia has a link about her work and the brown eyed/blue eyed exercise.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

So Strange

In the wake of the sad news coming from Missouri, I thought I'd pass on this tidbit from the American Philatelic Society.  Included on their page of fun facts - apparently the Belgians decided to try a animal delivery system involving cats.  You will be shocked (shocked, I tell you) to hear that the experiment didn't last long since the cats were "undisciplined".  (I'm guessing undisciplined is code for: did not see any good reason to fetch and carry things.)  This has apparently inspired a children's book.

h/t to Marjorie M. Liu for posting this link on Twitter.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Buy DC Kids Books

This popped up in my Twitter feed, Ballou Senior High in DC (which I've mentioned before) needs books.  (There's a video, they have very few.)  So, this blog over here has teamed up with Powell's to get books on those shelves. As you know, this hits so many of my sweet spots, so I'm going to suggest if you felt like picking up a book for someone else, this might be the way to go.  The response has been great so far

Monday, May 16, 2011

Stitching and Pitching Again

I took my non-fibre-manipulating friend along to Stitch and Pitch again.  We had worried that the weather might be unfavorable, but, other than being a little chillier than one might expect, it wasn't bad.  And this year's closer-to-the-action section, placed us underneath an overhang, so had it done more than spit occasionally, we were well protected.  (It also put us farther away from the lights, which as darkness falls attract the expected light seeking bugs, who crispy critter themselves and plunge down on those in the seats beneath.)
The vendor area was also closer, which was great, if terribly dangerous those first few innings where I may have filled up my Washington Nationals bag with goodies.  Cashmere, silk, faux cashmere, I'm not clear how I was supposed to resist.  I worked on a sweater, while watching the game which, as it grew a little chillier, turned out to be a pretty good choice to have draped over one's lap. 
This year we did not seem to be near any last minute ticket purchasers who were confused why people all had yarn.  There seemed to be an interesting music choice during the salute to the troops moment.  I have been informed that Cee-lo has a version of said song entitled "Thank you" so I shall assume that someone accidentally queued up the wrong Cee-lo song. 
The game was competitive right to the end.  And no new extra inning records (which while nice to be a part of, it was a little chilly for me to wish to repeat, especially given the tales my red line compatriots had about getting home after). 
So, another great event.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Good Jobs

I have a friend who firmly believes that her job working at McDonald's taught her many life skills and once told me she plans to make all her kids work there for at least a year.  (In about ten years, I will remind her she said this, but I suspect she really meant it.) I never worked at McDonald's, but I did work at two different restaurants - one that I think is what we call these days fast casual as a cashier and one sit down where I bussed tables for breakfast shift and handled drinks, soups and desserts at lunch shift.  Both of them, while I wouldn't say life changing, were really interesting experiences both in learning how frequently wait staff got paid less than minimum wage, since the tips were supposed to get them the rest of the way, and then things that lots of jobs teach you about working with different people and serving customers who may or may not treat you like you must not possess basic life skills to be working there.
So, I found this article listing four jobs everyone should have interesting.  I have hit three out of the four, with manual labor being the one I am missing (unless we are willing to count child care as manual labor, because sometimes it sure feels like it). 
I worked retail as a volunteer in a charity shop, and that was levels upon levels of interesting, especially with people who thought that since it was a charity shop, that they should be able to bargain the prices.  I once walked into the back room to tell the supervisor that the customer wanted me to ask if she could pay half of the tagged price, she started to explain that she hadn't set the prices for those items and I told her I knew, I just needed to tell the customer that I had asked so she could go away and mutter that we were charging high prices for charity.
And those turned out to be great practice for customer service, where it was a toss up if people actually thought that maybe you had information to impart, and listened and let you explain the processes and procedures and information or assumed you were stupid or were low-balling them and maybe if they threatened you with a lawyer you'd cave.  (Let me tell you, no one's lawyer ever really called us.  Not saying it's never happened ever.  Although I would love to talk with the receptionist at a lawyer's office to see how many calls they field about people who can't get the customer service agents to violate policy, or in our case, actual federal law for them.)
So, as we head towards a fresh crop of graduates, this seems like a good list.  (Although certainly I took care of these in summer jobs too.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

No Small Roles - Even Dead Ones

We've all heard that saying about how there are no small roles, but let's face it, I'm guessing you, like me, appreciated the sentiment but not necessarily in a literal sense.  Because, for example, the fan in the stadium's twelfth row is not a terribly big role.  So, it was with interest that I read this interview with four actors who are playing a corpse for an entire play.  No, they don't just die and get discovered and dragged off, they are lying dead for pretty much the whole play.  (Seriously, these people practiced, discussed rug burn issues, etc.) 
So, I say kudos to these guys who are taking this role very seriously, and hopefully we can all remember to joy in what we're doing.  Or, you know, be grateful that today I don't have to play dead. 

Friday, May 06, 2011

Mt. Pleasant Then and Now

Twenty years ago, I hadn't heard of the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood.  Sure, I grew up in DC, but I lived in an area that lacked a name (and now gets called AU park, which is sort of hilarious considering the neighborhood's tense relations with the students who keep parking in front of people's driveways).  I knew about Spring Valley, Dupont, Georgetown, Friendship Heights, Capitol Hill and some others but the first time I remember hearing about Mount Pleasant was twenty years ago when I turned on the evening news. 
Attending school in Bethesda, with a lot of students from the Montgomery County suburbs and during the height of DC's status as a murder capital I spent a lot of time explaining that one could live a happy safe life in the city.  That crossing over the border would not result in immediate death.  That while common sense was always a good idea, heading home or out to dinner or any of the things I did didn't put me in mortal danger. 
So, partly my reaction was a little bit of kneejerk, oh come on, no one will believe me now.  It was also surreal to see that while everything still looked totally normal outside of our front door, somewhere in our city, people were rioting and setting police cars on fire.  Watching it on TV, it seemed almost like a clip from a movie. 
Of course, now, I understand more about the shifting demographics of the area and the tenuous relationship the Hispanic community (and the community at large) had with the police at the time.  And while I still think rioting and burning police cars is not the best method to take a stand (particularly in this case where it turned out the anger was escalated by false information).  So, I listened with interest to the Metro Connection story about the riots. Wikipedia also has an entry on it.
Now, of course, I live in Mount Pleasant.  And I find a lot of people, people in the area even, still aren't quite sure where it is.  (Sometimes adding that we're north of Adams Morgan or west  of Columbia Heights helps.  Sometimes not.) And, I appreciate the charms and, in keeping with the theory of relative risk, I can't imagine anything like that happening now.  And we still have the coolest song. 


Thursday, May 05, 2011

We are Alabama

As you may have heard we are at the start of a particularly virulent tornado season.  (Around here I can count on one hand the number of tornado warnings and watches we usually get and we've had two already.)  This latest batch that hit Alabama was looking to be a record breaker (and may succeed once the final counts are done.) 
Smart Bitch Sarah has a lovely list of resources here.
You may well already have your favorite cheat sheet of charities, but, in addition to the suggestions on the link above, I'll add three more.
Shelterbox* provides emergency shelters in, well, a box.  They are a UK based company but they provide shelters all over the world.
Feeding America, well, feeds America.  (I swear I don't have a bias towards charities with their mission in their name, it just helps.) They work across the country networking food banks. 
And then, Habitat for Humanity is there when it's time for people to rebuild.

*h/t to Maureen Johnson for the link.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

My Local Store

Growing up I lived in the city, but still had a yard and yet could walk to the grocery store (and a drug store, a book store - now closed, and quite a few banks).  My mother went to the grocery store almost daily.  She would do big shopping trips - although sometimes we went to the bigger stores that were a little farther away for that - but on average, let's say six days out of seven, my mother stopped in at the store. We kids also went, particularly once we were old enough to be sent off with a few dollars to pick up a forgotten item.  Originally it was an A&P and then later it turned into a Super Fresh.  For a brief period, my dad had a job in the adjacent building, furthering the sense that much of our lives centered around that side of the block.  Neighbor kids and I rode bikes there (and other places, we weren't that lazy).  When I was old enough to have things like checks and debit cards that I would use there, cashiers would ask me about my mom as soon as they saw my name.  And, while there was a more extensive liquor store literally around the corner, they had beer and wine.  (Later I would discover that not every grocery store in the US does this,  Maryland is weird.)
The store was, not surprisingly, a favorite of AU students (due to proximity) and led to my once watching a student attempt to convince the cashier to accept her out of state ID despite it's bearing no resemblance to the official ID's listed in the booklet the cashier had.  (The story ends with the student's friend, who had a different ID purchasing the alcohol.) 
So, I am a little sad to hear it's up for sale and hope the neighborhood - even though I no longer live there - gets a good store in there. 

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

WRW Retreat - In the Company of Writers

Parts of the WRW retreat have been tweeted (by me and others) and parts are supposed to stay there.  But I will say, that for someone that makes it to a small number of my chapter's events, the retreat reminds me why I love this chapter.  (Not that this was terribly in doubt.) 
Kristan Higgins spoke wonderfully about how being a writer is like being Sean Connery in "The Untouchables".  There was food, appointments (one of which I had on the move since the person had left their phone in their hotel room and could hear the phantom beeps calling too them), gatherings in the bar and wonderful workshops.  Sherrilyn Kenyon made us all a little misty (and the super efficient waiters paused in their cleanup she was so moving) talking about how writing careers (possibly especially paranormal ones) are never dead unless you give up. 
There was romance jeopardy about which I believe I am supposed to be vague - except to explain that the game is not fair, and we did not quite win although I did get a green lantern-esque rubber duckie, so I am happy.  And Cathy Maxwell spoke wonderfully at the end about how going to these things where people think writing is a normal thing to do with your time is great and to hold on to that feeling.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Roller Coaster Ride

This was a weird weekend.  The day job had a big deadline and yet I also knew I needed (wanted) to be in Leesburg for the start of my chapter's writer's retreat so I lugged my laptop with me and headed out to Leesburg at lunch time (before the traffic got, you know, normal for Friday rush hour traffic) and worked in Leesburg for the afternoon.  Then, I swapped on the writer hat and went into retreat mode (more on the parts I am allowed to share about that later) and did that (while checking in with the day job periodically) for much of the weekend. 
We finished up with that about lunch time, and since the weather had gotten a little cooler and a little damper than I had been promised when I packed, I headed to the nearby outlets so I could get some leggings and lunch before heading to a watch a friend - the person who had in fact recruited me to working with the youth one fateful night about eight years ago - become an ordained minister.  It was a surprisingly moving experience, including the laying of hands, which I would describe as a very orderly group hug.  And then, I got to go home and sit and catch up on my TV and such only to discover on Twitter (what, I was watching HGTV) that there was a big announcement coming.
So, quite a gamut of emotions going.