Friday, October 31, 2008

For those of us too young...

"I'll Be Seeing You"
Jo McDougall
Towns Facing Railroads

World War II is slipping away, I can feel it.
Its officers are gray.
Their wives who danced at the USO
are gray, too.
Veterans forget their stories. Some lands they fought in
have new names, and Linda Venetti
who deserted the husband who raised cows
to run off with an officer
has come home to look after her mother
and work the McDonald's morning shift.
William Holden is dead,
and my mother, who knew all the words
to "When the Lights Go On Again All over the World."

I was in college when the 50th anniversary of D-Day happened. I remember my professor saying that this was probably the last big commemoration of World War II that we would celebrate as a country. By the time the 60th anniversary rolled around, he figured, there would not be very many veterans from that war remaining. Having lived through the 60th anniversary, I can say he was right. Both of my veteran uncles are gone, and the veterans pictured in the newspaper on major anniversaries are very, very old.

Another good poem from The Writer's Almanac.

Letters written in October

After my recommitment I did write a letter per day. Good job me. I feel much better too.

1 October. Sara
**Letter back, LEX Dorothy
**Letter back, Sara
**Letter back, LEX Diane
2 October. Sara
3 October. No one.
4 October. No one.
5 October. No one.
6 October. Sara
7 October. Sara
8 October. No one.
9 October. Laura Oppenheimer (Oregonian article about the Prefontaine run)
10 October. No one.
11 October. No one.
12 October. No one.
13 October. No one.
14 October. No one.
15 October. No one.
16 October. No one.
17 October. No one.
**Letter back (weird Halloween thing)
18 October. No one.
**2 Letters back from Sara.
19 October. Sara
20 October. Thank you to Gardner (for getting the refrigerators out of the Youth room at church)
21 October. LEX Diane (food)
22 October. Postcard to Sara
**Letter back LEX Jan
**Birthday card, Kelly
23 October. Sara, postcard
24 October. LEX Gerry McCoy
25 October. LEX Diane (movies)
26 October. LEX Diane (food)
27 October. Jan
28 October. Sara
29 October. Sara
30 October. LEX Jan
31 October. Sara postcard.

Books read in October

Washington In Focus.
Philip Bigler.
I really enjoyed this book. It was short enough to not be an overwhelming history and long enough to feel as if I had a basic understanding of the city. It also pointed me to a few sites I am interested in seeing such as the Zero Milestone.

The Likeness.
Tanya French.
What a fabulous book. This is the second book by French, but I read them out of order and now have the first one on hold at the library. It is a very long queue. I was so excited by the premise of this book I kept telling anyone I could engage in conversation. "I'm reading the best book!" I would begin and give a short synopsis. "Ooooooh!" was always the excited reply. This is a thick book and chores were ignored, bedtimes were missed and I thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading it. Even if you are not a huge mystery fan (I consider myself a moderate-to-cool mystery fan) this book is worth the read.

Real Food: What to Eat and Why.
Nina Planck.
A really great book that clearly makes the case for eating, as Michael Pollen would say, like our great grandmothers did. Read this and find out why you will benefit by eating full fat dairy, chicken skin and other lovely things you have been avoiding for your "health."

Wild Fermentation (Zine).
Sandor Ellix Katz.
The hold list for Katz's book Wild Fermentation is very long so in the meantime I read the short zine that was a precursor to the book. If you can get your hands on it, this might be a good stepping stone to the fermented foods world.

Daytrips Washington D.C.
Earl Steinbicker.
A great book with not only journeys out of town in DC, but a few walks that take you around the town. I've marked a few of the trips for my own trip to DC. This would be a good book for people who live in the DC area and have a lot of visitors. The book could be innocently sitting in your home, and perhaps your visitors will take themselves off on a journey and leave you to cook dinner in peace.

Started but did not finish.
Easter Rising: An Irish American Coming Up from Under.
Michael Patrick MacDonald.
I loved MacDonald's All Souls when I read it years ago, but it had been too long and I couldn't connect to him in this book.

Our Sometime Sister.
Norah Labiner.
I read a few pages of this book but nothing grabbed me so back it went to the library.

The Invention of Everything Else.
Samantha Hunt
This is the kind of book I usually love--historical fiction about something I know little about--but there was a vague sense of foreboding that I couldn't shake and so this novel went back to the library.

The Structure House Weight Loss Plan.
Gerard J. Musante
Yet again I break my solemn vow to not check out any more "lose weight" books.

This book seems to have good advice. I tend to do better on three meals rather than the "many small snacks" philosophy that seems to reign right now. My "many small snacks" tend to become "many medium sized meals." It makes sense to plan out your food day and stick to your plan, I just chafe under those requirements. Also, their "low fat" plan doesn't jibe with my current direction of food and eating and so I ignored that part. (I know, I know, my pick and choosiness is one of the reasons I am trying not to read "lose weight" books anymore).

Amanda Goldburg & Ruthanna Khalighi Hopper
I really tried to like this book but could not. It doesn't help that the women who wrote the book actually come from the Hollywood world they write about. The world they describe seems filled with horrible people that I would rather not spend my time with. So I closed the book and didn't.

Did not even start
I started everything I checked out this month.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The opposite of requiem.

More than 10 years ago, I got this toaster oven for Christmas. It never worked right: it would burn the top quarter of your bread, somewhat toast the middle and not toast the bottom quarter at all. It was too complicated to return it and the toaster was not really broken so I couldn't really justify throwing it out or getting a new one.

Sometime this fall I woke up to the fact that I've been making substandard toast for more than a decade. Overall in my life, a slice of badly made toast barely registers on the unpleasant scale, but when I thought of the thousands of pieces of toast I had consumed all thanks to this non-performing toaster, the "barely registers" added up to a minor injustice and I decided to stop the insanity. I requested a new toaster oven for my birthday and my mother and aunts banded together to get me an excellent toasting machine.

Goodbye toaster. I thank you for your years of service and I will overlook your deficiencies. I know that you were trying to do your best, but just didn't have the ability to get the job done right. I wish you good luck in your next life at the Goodwill, but I won't miss you at all.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I voted!

Though I 90% love the vote by mail system we have in Oregon, I hate it on election day when I don't get to go to my local polling station and step into the booth, make my choices and step out to hand in my ballot and hear "Patricia Collins has voted!" a phrase that always made me feel squirmy inside, a bit of embarrassment mixed with pride. And we never get "I voted" stickers. I hate that. So this year, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Using my friend the Internet, I located a roll of my very own "I voted" stickers. They even say "I voted by mail" which is much more specific than I had in mind when I went looking for them. I am going to hand out these stickers to everyone who has voted so they can proudly wear them on election day. And since I have a roll of 1000, I can do this for every election for a long, long time.

Monday, October 20, 2008

17 ways to live and house.

Don’t spend too much on your college education or your mortgage.

One of these I did well, the other, I am still living with the consequences. When you are in college, money is so ephemeral. There are all these loans they want to give you that you can pay back later. Plus, you are in the program you are in which is going to lead you to a great job and Bill Gates isn’t handing out cash, so of course you will take the loans.

All of the above makes sense while you are in school. But when you get out and you are not working in quite the job you thought you would for quite the amount of money you projected, it is depressing to pay that student loan bill every month. Do whatever you can to find some other way to pay for your schooling. Or, radical notion, don’t attend college at all. If you are just going to go, it’s not worth it. Go get a job and work for a few years until you figure out what the heck you would be happy paying someone to teach you about.

As for a house, I pined for a mortgage of my own through the last housing bubble. I watched horrified from the sidelines while cute little houses for sale for a reasonable $135,000 shot up to above $200,000. Though people with the same income level were buying houses for this much or more, I did the figuring and knew that I could never pay that much into a mortgage every month. I wasn’t buying the argument that stretching a bit was fine because the house would only increase in value. Not only that, but how long would it take me to save the down payment when “normal” houses were upwards of $240,000.

Luckily for us, we have a great land trust organization in our town. Through Portland Community Land Trust we bought our home and today have an affordable mortgage. I’m glad we don’t have to scrimp every month to make our payment and I’m glad that we are not “upside down” on our house right now. The lesson? Do your research and see if you can find an alternative home buying program that works for you.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Slacking, and a recommitment.

It's been awhile since I've written a letter. Maybe since last Thursday, maybe longer. I've been busy, sure: work, general life maintenance, school, studying for the big math test, the *cough* blog--however little I work on it. But I've not been any busier than I was in April, say, and I managed to keep up with my letters well enough then.

I miss the daily writing of something. Through my teens and twenties I was a steady journal writer. My life has shifted away from needing to pour words out on pages--my current journal is one of those five year jobbers that you get four lines per day. It suits me well at the stage I'm in. But I think I enjoy writing enough that my year of letter writing has brought me great pleasure. It's different than a journal in that I'm connecting with someone who will read what I'm writing. And it's less formal than the blog in that I don't have to worry too much about grammar and spelling and also I know who will be most likely reading what I write.

(Not knowing who is reading what I write is one of the weirdest things about blogging for me. Recently, I had 99 visitors in a week. Who are those people? They read a little bit, based on the average amount of time visited. But because they don't comment, I have no way of knowing who my audience is.)

So I am recommitting to my New Year's resolution today, October 19, 2008. I will write something (if only a postcard) every single day for the rest of the year.

Are you wishing to get a letter from me? Add a comment saying so.

ps. Next year's resolution will not involve work on a daily basis.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Three sentence movie reviews--The Band's Visit.

Another of those movies where the plot comes is conveyed less through dialogue and more through facial expressions. A charming, sweet, funny--Matt and I both howled with laughter during a scene--and sad movie that more people should see. Sometimes I think that movies are the only universal means of communication.

poster from:

Friday, October 17, 2008

Signs of autumn.

This tree isn't quite ready to give up the summer, but the leaves, they are a changin'
It looks like a half summer/half autumn tree.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

17 ways to live happily...children

Don't have children.

It may be too late for some of you, but if you don’t have an innate desire to have children, then don’t. I know that your parents probably want grandchildren and that there is subtle pressure to reproduce from all corners. However, raising children is hard work and if you aren’t into it, your child is the one that suffers. From a “living within your means” standpoint, the less people you have to spread your money around to, the easier it is to live within your means. Plus, you know how hard it is to resist when you yourself want “fabulous tchotka that will make your life so much better”? Imagine if it was your cute 8 year-old offspring making the argument. Based on the number of Heeleys at the school I work at, I’m guessing that saying “no” to the fruit of your loins is even harder than saying to yourself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Math. The Internet Helps.

I'm spending 2 1/2 hours a week studying for a math test I am taking on January 10. Passing the test is one of the requirements to become certified in Middle School Math in Oregon so I want to do well and pass it the first time. It covers a lot of material: algebra, geometry, etc. Most of those things I haven't done since I learned them in high school.

Aside: one pet peeve of mine is when adults say "They never taught me." the "They" in question being teachers. That phrase causes me to wonder how much of the things that were never taught, were actually taught but not retained?

So three mornings a week for a half hour and one hour on the weekend I am up to my ears in math. I just spent several weeks on Algebra and am now reviewing Geometry. The best part of this whole venture is that the Internet was invented between my high school experience and today. Back in high school when I didn't get something I could reread the chapter, look at the examples, refer to my notes and sometimes look in the back of the book for a solution. If I was still stuck--and I often was--I was left with the "I don't get it" option of either pressing on through the assignment or giving up.

Today when I hit the "I don't get it" point I have many, many helpers just standing in the wings. Here's what I discovered while reviewing algebra.

Purple Math. The best site for explaining all things algebra and I love that she grew up not liking math.

The Math Page. His "Skill in Algebra" review was invaluable and his page has a feature that allows you to do problems he suggests and step-by-step uncover what is happening. I also love that you can start reviewing math with his Skill in Arithmetic and work your way up all the way through Plane Geometry, Algebra, Trigonometry, Precalculus, Calculus, and Real Numbers.

West Texas A&M's Virtual Math Lab was my next step in solving things. They have step-by-step instructions and practice problems with answers.

As I move into the Geometry Review I found the best thing ever. A simple program that creates PDF flash cards. Oh, to have had this in college! I would have avoided writing out those thousands of flash cards. I've been typing my definitions into Word so I can check my spelling, etc., then copying them onto the fields provided.

One of my favorite things about the Internet is that people would take time to build web pages to help little old me with what I am doing.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Three sentence movie reviews--Ghost World

The main character thought that everyone and everything was so lame that by the end of the movie all I could think was, "You are totally lame and this movie is totally lame." How in the heck did it end up on so many 2001 "best movie" lists?

Note. Movie was so lame I only needed two sentences.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Somebody control those shrubs!

I'm sure they will be pruned back to their anal round shape, but in the meantime, I got a giggle looking at these. They are clearly saying, "We will not embrace your clean geometric shapes!"

Thursday, October 9, 2008


I have to say, one of the great small pleasures of living at the turn of the century is the fun with dates. Back in the 80's dates were rarely fun. Sure, June 7, 1989 was fun (6/7/89) but being in the low numbers in the calendar provides ample fun days. We've had 8/8/8, we've had 6/7/8 and today? 10/9/8. I get a zing of joy every time I realize that today is a fun date.

Oh the irony!

Way back in the 90s, Dishwasher Pete used to pop up every once in awhile on This American Life, telling tales from his quest to wash dishes in all fifty states. I enjoyed listening to his views from the dish machine. Imagine my surprise today, when one of the student teachers mentioned her brother-in-law was visiting Teacher John's class today as a guest author. I asked what her brother-in-law had written and she said, "Oh, a book about how he was trying to wash dishes in all fifty states."

"Your brother-in-law is Dishwasher Pete!" I shrieked.

I was very excited to meet him. Alas, the universe had other plans. As one of my many hats, I manage the school lunch program which means, among other things, that if the lunch volunteer does not show up for her shift, I get to serve lunch and clean up afterward. This usually throws a wrench in a few people's plans because if I serve lunch it means that I can't do my usual recess coverage which means Maureen has to do all of the recess duty which puts both of us in grumpy moods.

So you can imagine the volume of grumpy today when the lunch volunteer didn't show and instead of meeting Dishwasher Pete and discussing various aspects of his dishwasher life with him, I was instead serving food to students and yes, doing dishes. Teacher John took pity on me and got me a Dishwasher Pete autograph on a post it note, but I was pretty forlorn at my lunch serving table. Dishwasher Pete and I exhchanged waves as he was leaving and I was serving lunch, but it wasn't quite the same.

Here's my tribute to my time with Dishwasher Pete: that's the autograph, right there on the dishwasher.
Teacher John also lent me his copy of Dishwasher. That will have to do for now.
ps. We don't really have a dishwasher, it's a sanitizer.

Friday, October 3, 2008

17 ways to live happily...walk.

Take walks.

Walks are a great form of free entertainment. You get some exercise. You get to look at interesting houses, buildings, people, and lawn art. If you walk with a companion, you get to have some good conversations. It can also benefit you in other ways. When I was trying to understand better my 35 millimeter camera I took a 30 minute walk every day where my goal was to take three pictures. I ended up understanding my camera and how to frame a picture, plus some of the pictures turned out great and ended up framed as Christmas presents.

Three sentence movie reviews--Searching for Debra Winger

I really wanted to like this movie as its premise is one I often complain about--the lack of roles for women in Hollywood and how as actresses they are discarded early and often. However, Patricia Arquette was so passionate about the subject and threw herself into so much of the documentary it was ultimately distracting. I would still recommend it, as a bunch of fabulous actresses telling their stories is something not to be missed; and oh, how I miss Martha Plimpton.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Great Idea

As part of my many duties, I process the checks for the school I work at. Today I came across a check that I admired. In the address area there was the following:

City, State, Zip
Abundance | Wealth | Prosperity

Right there under the address, were three ideas I think are a good idea to keep your mind on as you are writing your checks. Next time I reorder, I'm going to add this line to mine.

Good advice.

Recipe for a Pleasant Dinner-Party

A round table, holding eight;
A hearty welcome and little state;
One dish set on a time,
As plain as you please, but always prime;
Beer for asking for and in pewter;
Servants who don't require a tutor;
Talking guests and dumb-waiters;
Warm plates and hot potaters.

Anonymous words of wisdom from the Faber Book of Useful Verse

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

17 ways to live happily...weight

Maintain your weight.

I’m not the most successful with this item, but I know that maintaining your weight is a very good way to save money. First, you aren’t eating more than you need, so your food bills might be a little less. Secondly, your heath will benefit. Even overweight people are better off maintaining their weight rather than getting caught in the yo-yo cycle where they gain and lose large amounts of weight. Thirdly, when you maintain your weight you can wear your clothing until you wear it out.