Monday, February 25, 2008

Sect swapping

Although I tend to think of myself as peculiar and different, I discovered today that I have something in common with nearly half of all Americans.

Retreat

After last week, I had many reasons to retreat from life.

And so I did.

Friday, I went out to a Lutheran campground in Dodgeville , where the Madison area's urban Anabaptists flock one weekend every winter for singing, Boggle-playing, sleeping, not sleeping, the consumption of Nutter Butters, and all-weather Capture the Flag.

I really need a camera, but perhaps one of my church buddies will send me a photo of the Capture the Flag game for me to post here. Unlike last year, when there was a blizzard most of the weekend, this weekend was sunny and, for Wisconsin in February, warm. This aspect of the weather was ideal for outdoor sports. What was not ideal was the amount of snow, which was up to my waist in some places. This makes running after someone a little difficult, and running away even more so -- when you run away from someone through ankle, knee or waist-deep snow, you clear a path for whomever follows.

My teammate Magdalena, who is 6 years old and a little over half my height, designated me as her human snowplow. If she wanted to chase someone or go on a scouting mission, she said, "Kiapita, I need to go over there. Could you please walk ahead of me?" Given that the snow would have been up to her chest in places, I felt in only fair to oblige. Of course, when we returned to the great indoors at afternoon's end, I did not refrain from complaining to her how sore my butt was from the plowing-induced quad workout.

I suppose I am getting old, because I only played one game. The kids were more hardcore and played two. Although none of them are baptized yet, they apparently have already accepted one tenet of our faith: We Mennonites don't mind suffering if it's for a good reason.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Watch this in the next week

I hate to be shilling for an advertisement for ebay, but this is a really cool film. Watch it. You won't regret it. It's about 10 minutes long. This link is only going to work for seven days, so you better act fast.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The show must go on

Difficult day. Watched the lunar eclipse last night. The company was ideal. The moon was red. I could see Saturn and that star in Leo (what is it called, Regularis, or is that the trade name of a probiotic bacteria in an overpriced yogurt?) and these things were good.

But life does not always unfold as planned. That is, as I plan it. So I've been listening to Queen's "The Show Must Go On" over and over and over.

I should probably stop. Does the knowledge that Freddy Mercury was once sadder than I am today really help?

This morning, as I was getting ready for work, I kept hearing in my head the line,
"Inside my heart is breaking;
my make-up may be flaking,
but my smile still stays on,"
and I felt hopeful because, in fact, my make-up was not flaking and, with blush and lipstick in place, I looked vibrant enough that, I believed (and believed correctly, it turns out), the receptionist would not say, "You look like you feel awful."

I feel as if I've really pulled a coup, because she makes that comment to people even when they feel perfectly fine. She believes herself to have an innate sense of when people feel sick and when they feel healthy. She told me so once. And I will let her keep believing it.

I love dirt

Does anybody want to help me build this house?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Forget the snowblower

An engineer at Trek Cycling has invented a human-powered snowplow. You think my condo association would be willing to buy one so I could do my part to keep the sidewalks clear?

Now, if only there were a pedal-powered ice chipper ...

Groceries

Today's news link is to a Washington Post article on the disappearance of supermarkets from New York City's boroughs. Here in Madison, I'm usually glad to have three grocery stores within a mile-and-a-half radius of my abode, although with the continuously iced-over sidewalks of late, I am starting to wish that weren't all at the periphery of that circle. When I bike to work every day, I make pitstops for groceries or produce at least twice a week on my way home from work, but nowadays the shopping trips tend to be less than weekly. On Monday, I -- gasp! -- borrowed DeKalb's car to carry home my five sacks of groceries (four reusable cloth sacks and one reused plastic bag, of course). This was undoubtedly the largest grocery trip I have undertaken in more than a year. I figured I might as well stock up so I don't have to travel back through the snow again soon. Even then, I doubt I'll be able to stay completely away from a supermarket for a full week; after all, I only bought fifteen bananas, and one can't expect those to last in my presence for more than four days, max.

Which reminds me, some of you suggested that perhaps the muscle contractions described in a recent post were caused by a banana-overconsumption-induced electrolyte imbalance. I am glad to report that my physician nixed that hypothesis. I am free to continue eating them to my heart's content, which is really quite within reason, I think -- I don't recall ever eating more than seven of them in one day.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dreams deferred

I went to a middle school named after Langston Hughes. To say that its name was the only good thing going for the school might be a little harsh (and perhaps in violation of my Lenten discipline of refraining from harmful sarcasm). But it would not be an exaggeration to say that my exposure to Langston Hughes, the poet, during those two years is one of the few things about that time of which I think fondly. (One of the others is the great cicada hatching of 1987 -- for pretty pictures of cicadas, click here.)

Today I was talking with my friend N about how I stopped playing guitar for most of 8 years because of shoulder problems, but that my progress in physical therapy is giving me hope that I could pick it up again. And while I was talking, some of Hughes' more famous words began to ring in my head: "What happens to a dream deferred?"

A Dream Deferred
by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Addendum to below

Lest anyone think my co-teacher was being insensitive for mentioning aerosolized vomit, I actually found his comment very amusing and I wouldn't be surprised if it boosted my white blood cell count. It turns out we have both discovered this phrase recently -- he because he is a parent with young children whose stomach flu he tried, and failed, to avoid contracting, causing him to go to the CDC Web site to find out all the mechanisms of transmission; and me because September was National Food Safety Month and, for work, I ended up reading and publicizing a lot of materials about how noroviruses are transmitted -- and we are both quite enamored with it. Which just goes to show that we were probably created to work with 10-12 year olds, who are also likely to find "aerosolized vomit" a fascinating phrase.

Jonathan, I challenge you to incorporate it into today's lesson.

Now a real Wisconsinite, and electrical misfirings

I went cross-country skiing for the first time yesterday afternoon (unless you count my shuffling around the backyard Wednesday evening to get a feel for the skis). I mentioned this to my sister last night and she was surprised that it was only the first time, given that I've lived in Wisconsin for a total of almost ten years already. I only need to add snowshoeing to the skating and skiing and I will be a true citizen of the Upper Midwest.

Well, I might have to start deer hunting, too.

We were out for about two hours. It was ridiculously warm when we started out -- in the high 20s -- and so after our first lap I foolishly exchanged the Pearl Izumi wind- and water-resistant lobster gloves I had been wearing for acrylic knit ones, leaving the lobster gloves in the truck. Foolishly because I was failing to account for the fact that I fall down about once every half hour, meaning the knit gloves were fated to be covered with snow that would melt into water from the heat of my hands and, in turn, freeze my poor digits.

Aside from this one problem, though, all but one of the falls were quite perfect -- straight backward or forward with no twists of the joints. The last one was particularly effortless, ending me in cradled, zero-gravity style, in a drift at least a couple of feet deep. It would have been nice to lay down there for a full five minutes, but I think the wet-glove factor brought me to my senses and I was back up after less than one.

That was the good part of yesterday, plus a game night and friends J&J, whose wedding I officiated this past summer. Alas, we did not play Scrabble, but we did play one called Moods that was pretty entertaining and brought out my inner exhibitionist (in the actor sense, not the taking-your-clothes-off sense).

The bad part of yesterday -- or perhaps more accurately, today -- was waking up at 1:30 with the overwhelming sense that I should not have eaten a jalapeno turkey burger last night. Don't know if the burger was the cause of the pending stomach upset or just what happened to be there when last week's illness decided to return, but I floated in and out of sleep for the next three hours.

My peculiarity is that, when my stomach decides to be upset, it does not usually act very quickly, but instead sends my body into what I can only surmise is either adrenaline overload or continuous electrical misfirings. Muscles throughout my body, but especially in my limbs, take turns contracting with ridiculous force; so, for example, I fade into sleep for a few seconds only to be jolted awake by an arm flinging up in the air and refusing to lower itself for the next two minutes.

I have no idea what this is about; if you do, please tell. I will say that I have been under medical care a couple of times when this was happening (once during a particularly violent migraine that required emergency room treatment, and once during a high fever), and neither time did the doctors or nurses express any particular concern about this. One told me, "This just happens to some people," but I've never read about it anywhere.

At 4:30, by stomach finally made its move and I could go back to sleep. I was supposed to teach Sunday school today, but I talked to my co-teacher and he said there was no use dragging myself into church with the risk of distributing aerosolized vomit in the ladies' room. Though I doubt that would happen; I don't expect to eat for the of the day.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Resignation

The New York Times has a thoughtful blog on the benefits of resigning oneself to migraines and, by extension, other debilitating but non-life-threatening illnesses. It says just the words I never thought of putting into writing -- too resigned, I guess.

The paper also has an article explaining what we should have already known -- that biofuels likely result in more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels. It's not that biofuels are inherently worse; burning diesel made from used restaurant fry oil, for example, probably is no more climate-harming than petrol. But when we rip up natural areas to plant crops -- and that's what planting crops always requires -- we destroy carbon sinks. Some may try to convince you that crops inhale carbon dioxide just as efficiently as wild plants, but that's just a bunch of baloney. Tilling the land releases carbon dioxide, and leaving care ground or mulch between crop rows means that there is that much less plant matter on the ground. Look at any vegetable or corn field and calculate the area of soil that the plants take up versus the areas of soil between the plants. The math will show you that most of the ground is bare of plant life.

All farming is violent; it's just a matter of degree and type that differentiates the land-sentimental biodynamic farmers from the Monsantos of the world.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Update on the pig slaughterers' disease

I've long wished that The New York Times offered a Tuesday-only subscription so that I could carry its Science section around with me all week. But it doesn't, so I rely on the Web. Today's section has a well-researched article that takes a more in-depth look at the new disease affecting workers at a hog-slaughtering plant in Minnesota.

Lent

Last Thursday I had my first "Maybe I should give that up for Lent" thought of the year. Of course, I had it in that vague "sometime down the road" way. Not until Saturday did I realize that Lent starts tomorrow. My dad says I have no choice in this unless I can change the moon phases -- which, last time he checked, I was unable to do. It seems rather inconsiderate of the moon to me; shouldn't I have a little more time to choose my Lenten discipline?

I suppose the spiritual lesson in this is that Lent is not about the grand schemes of sacrifice that I come up with. It's about something beyond my power -- God and the pervasiveness of human frailty, perhaps?

I received this fasting suggestion from Christian Peacemaker Teams in my e-mail box this morning:
"Fast from unproductive, sarcastic, unloving critical remarks about personal and corporate/structural (governments, armies, etc.) enemies."

Monday, February 4, 2008

Blame Sunday School, or My Parents

I've had the stomach flu all weekend and now it's Monday and I still have it. Although today is better; I seem to be able to eat a little bit more, although my stomach is still having difficulty communicating clearly to my brain. Sometimes it tells me that I am hungry, when I am in fact queasy, and sometimes it tells me that I am queasy, when in fact I am hungry.

This all started on Thursday, actually, but I thought for the first 24 hours or so that I was just having an overblown nervous reaction to the prospect of The Date. But after I thoroughly enjoyed myself Friday, sans alcohol or other puke-inducing foods, and still felt on Saturday morning like a butter churner had taken residence in my stomach, I realized that I was sick.

I've decided to blame Sunday School for this turn of events; more particularly, the presence of snacks at Sunday School, and my partaking thereof.

Last week, one of the kids brought strawberry and raspberry Newtons to share, and another brought a very chocolatey, pretzely trail mix. The kids took SIX NEWTONS APIECE, whereupon I said they each needed to put at least two back, as I didn't think their parents were sending them to Sunday School to get sugared up. (Of course, even four seems excessive, but they're all pretty skinny and on the cusp of adolescence, and not letting them have four might have been condemning them to starve to death by the third hymn. Or, at least, that is probably what they would have told me if they'd decided to put words to their thoughts.)

This was where I made my mistake. See, I was hungry, too, but did I take my cookies during the initial distribution? No. I waited until each of the kids, hands unwashed, deposited their surplus cookes back in the Newtons packages. And then I took two.

Anyone in foodservice will tell you this is a great way to transmit the stomach flu (though if they'd recently completed their food safety food certification, they would probably be more specific and say, "It's not actually the flu; people call it the flu but the symptoms are really caused by viruses like the norovirus or bacteria like schigella" -- and then you could show your appreciation for their specificity by barfing on their shoes).

All this reminds me of how I learned the word "puke." My mother, brother, sister and I were on a road trip to Italy in the early 1980s. (We lived in the Netherlands at the time, hence the ability to drive to the Great Boot.) My sister wrote a letter to my dad mentioning that we had watched The Dukes of Hazzard, our favorite TV show, at one of the hotels.

When we returned home to Rotterdam, Dad said that when he'd first read Dukes of Hazzard, he'd thought it said Pukes of Hazzard. Mom thought this was hilarious and couldn't stop laughing. Neither my sister nor I knew what "puke" meant, and if my brother knew, he wasn't telling. So mom kindly explained the joke.

This is one of the peculiarities of growing up overseas. You have to rely on your parents, rather than your peers, to teach you the taboo words of childhood.

Oh, yes, my mom is also the one who taught me the "worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout" song.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

In case you were wondering

Looking over the past month of blogs, I realized that I had said nary a word about anything that's going on in my life — unless you count snow and cold. Please forgive my negligence.

To make it up to you, let me tell you that I went on the first real date I've had in my entire life last night.

"Surely," you think, "this is an exaggeration." You list boyfriends or girlfriends you have known or heard mention of and conclude, "How else did she end up with them?"

But as my friend Jayney says, "Kiapita just kind of has these friendships with weird unspoken tensions and they go on like that for a while until one day they start making out on the couch." The "they" here refers, of course, to the "weird unspoken tensions."

A few years ago, I decided that this approach wasn’t exactly getting me where I wanted to be. I proclaimed a “dating sabbatical,” but it would have more appropriately been called a “friendships-with-weird
unspoken-tensions-until-one-day-they-start-making-out-on-
the-couch sabbatical.”

The sabbatical was only supposed to last 12 months, but then I rather began to enjoy not being in dysfunctional relationships. (This is no reflection on the people I dated; I can confidently say that I was the source of the dysfunction.)

So the sabbatical turned into 20, then 30, then 40 months. And during this time I decided that, should I ever begin dating again, it would have to involve going on real, live, actual dates.

So what, you ask, is a "real date"? A "real date" is one in which one person asks another person — where the people are not already romantically involved with one another and are both of sexual orientations that lend the possibility of them becoming attracted to each other — to engage in a mutually agreeable social activity in which they will:
(1) learn more about each other (personality, likes and interests);
(2) enjoy themselves, if at all possible;
(3) determine if they would like to go out on further dates.

Also, criteria (4): Both parties must be aware it is a date.

If you’ve read Bridget Jones’ Diary, you may think that Bridget went on real dates with both Daniel and Darcy, but I wouldn’t agree. First of all, she shagged each of them on their respective first “dates,” and for me this violates parts (1) and (3) of the definition — (1), because she’d already decided that she’d learned as much as she needed to know and (3), because she had decided ahead of time, in each case, that the first date was just a formality in a courtship that would lead to marriage. (She was, thankfully, wrong in the case of Daniel.)

I don't take much stock in horoscopes, but it is true that I have always demonstrated the Libra trait of desiring fairness in all things. This, of course, leads me to wonder if I am being fair to all people in my romantic life by qualifying yesterday's event as "the first real date I've had in my entire life." And this, inevitably, leads to a review of all events that might have qualified as dates:

→ 1991-ish: Going to Pizzeria Uno after school with my friend “X,” who was ever the gentleman and always paid. After "X" asked me to prom, it occurred to me that he may have considered these events to be dates, but I was clueless at the time. This is probably one of the factors that led my dad to conclude that I was a habitual breaker of young men’s hearts, but I never did it intentionally. I was just self-absorbed in a typically adolescent way. Verdict: Not a real date.

→ 1993-ish: Going to see Lolita with “Y,” with whom I later became an item. Meets criteria 1 and 2, but I’m not sure about 3 or 4. I think she might have had a girlfriend who was not me when we saw Lolita, and that the only reason we were alone was because the rest of our friends had not shown up to the theater at the mutually agreed upon time because the weather was sucky. Verdict: Not a real date.

→ 1997-ish: Heard a rumor that “Z” had a crush on me. Thought she was cute, so I asked her out for coffee. She spent most of the time talking about how much she enjoyed getting drunk. Then, at the very end, she told me she had started seeing someone over the previous weekend and was, therefore, no longer available, but she’d thought it would be nice to have coffee, anyway. Needless to mention, this news came as somewhat of a relief. Verdict: Would have been a real date had it occurred a week earlier but, no, not quite.

→ 1998-ish: I got asked out by a cyclist who shopped at the grocery co-op where I worked, and I would have gone, but he’d made the mistake of asking me if I wanted to go for a beer, and I didn’t like beer at the time, so I said, “No.” Verdict: Being asked out on a real date does not count as going on a real date.

→ 2007: Does it count as a real date if you are moving halfway across the country in three weeks? Alas, probably not.


Here, you are probably expecting me to divulge details of yesterday to explain why it was a real date. But you’ll just have to trust me. A lady does not betray a gentleman’s confidence.

Friday, February 1, 2008

More meat

Apparently, the Midwest is not paradise if you work in a hog-slaughtering plant. You don't have to worry about mad cow disease, but a newly discovered mad pig disease could become a problem if you are assigned to -- how do you put this politely and somewhat euphemistically? -- cleaning out pigs' skulls.

Of course, I suppose it would be even worse to be a pig in a hog-slaughtering plant.

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I am so glad I am not a man. I'm sure that this new study on gout means I imbibe fructose to my heart's content.