Friday, December 31, 2010

Zoom and doom, part 2

We've progressed from "psychological warfare" to "middle school dating" --- which, I suppose, is pretty much the same thing.

I did a good bit of hand-wringing last night and this morning, not to mention lots of mucking with the website, looking at pictures, trying to price out some good options. Plus we were still playing a waiting game with the Mazda dealership, hence the allusion to middle-school dating: Will he call? Should I call him? Will that make me look to eager? But then what if he doesn't call at all? How will he ever know I like him? And then I swore I wouldn't think about it at all and just put it aside. And then I thought about it anyway, all the more obsessively. Oh, the drama.

Then I started flirting with a different car just to make me feel better about possibly not getting the Mazda: the Ford Fiesta. We test drove one this morning, in electric lime green (ew).

It handles really nicely and gets great gas mileage. Michael was a big fan, but I didn't feel quite as comfortable driving it. Perhaps my expectations had already been set, but the steering wheel felt too thick for my hands and the seat didn't work with my short legs as well. Oh, and just to push the middle-school drama quotient to the max, the Ford dealership that we went to was attached to the Mazda dealership, under the same name. So I could cast longing glances across the parking lot and wondering if they were thinking of me.

Finally I broke down and called them after driving the Fiesta to see if they would lower the price at all, which they wouldn't. So we priced out some options on the Fiesta and headed for the grocery store. To be continued.

Oh, and happy new year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Zoom and doom

I'll put it as plainly as I can: Buying a new car sucks.

Yesterday, we went out looking at our three top contenders: Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic Hybrid, and Mazda 3. After visiting a few too many dealerships and enduring some tense test drives with weary old salesmen, we zeroed in on the Mazda. It's a sleek, sporty little car that gets just as good gas mileage as the Corolla but is way more fun to drive. As one of the Mazda dealers put it, "it's a performance company," which I guess is sales-speak for "you won't feel like you're driving a rental car."

We'd even identified the individual car we wanted to buy: a dark red 2010 model, still new but unsold, with a sunroof and kicked-up speakers. We hadn't gotten a chance to drive that particular car since it was only put into play as we were leaving the dealership, but the sales manager at that location gave us a decently good price for it that we kept simmering on the back burner. Later in the afternoon, as we were winding down for the day, we called him back to check that number, and he'd lowered it by $500.

So I figured we were on a roll. We knew that they wanted to move it off their lot, since they were now trying to sell their new 2011s, and he'd already shown a willingness to drop the price. It was still a bit higher than what we wanted, so we planned to visit there first thing this morning, test drive the actual car, and get it down a little lower so that we could seal the deal.

The first part of the plan went fine. They had a little trouble locating the car on their lot since they'd had to shift around their inventory due to the snow, but once they did we were able to take it onto the highway and test out the stereo system. It's a great little car, and handling is really nice.

But things didn't go quite our way in the negotiations. The offer from late yesterday was still on the table, but when we tried to get them to lower it a bit, the sales manager got huffy about his bottom line. We'd done enough research by this point to know what a fair price was, and we knew that he could possibly meet us halfway if he wanted to. So we asked him to make us a counter-offer, but he refused. We walked out.

So now it's not so much "car shopping" as it is "psychological warfare." I don't feel bad for walking out when we did, since we really don't want to pay the higher price, but I'm bummed. I know that it's all in the game, and Michael is convinced they'll call back and give us a better number, but I'm not so sure. Guess I wasn't cut out for this kind of hard-nosed negotiation; I get too attached. And I'm sure that we'll end up with a great car no matter what happens. But it's hard not to feel disappointed. So I'm going to put it out of my mind for now and focus on happier things --- like my super-stretch circus class tonight, at which I'm finally going to get myself to do a split. At least some things are under my control.

UPDATE, 9:15 pm: As I predicted, the Mazda dealer has not called us back. But I'm in better spirits after my workout (though my poor hip flexors are not!), and I've almost let it go. Almost. Meanwhile, Michael, being the ever resourceful Googler that he is, has come up with some other options for us to test-drive before we resign ourselves to the ultra-sensible and utterly practical Corolla. There's the new Ford Fiesta, and a few small VWs that seem to get good gas mileage (including, improbably, the New Beetle), and we haven't even looked into the Hyundai Sonata or whatever. Although I was hoping to have this wrapped up by the new year, I think I'll be OK if it's not. At least now we'll have more of a chance to try out our options without feeling rushed.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How the other half lives

In style, baby!

Michael and I very much enjoyed our temporary stint in first class yesterday --- not enough to want to pay for it, mind you, but we weren't about to complain about the automatic upgrade on United's dime. We got right to the front of the check-in line (though that didn't do us any good since the people in front of us were taking forever to sort out some passport snafu) and right to the front of the security line (that definitely did us some good because the regular line looked like Disneyworld on a Saturday in the summer). Immediately on boarding, we were served water --- in real glasses! You know, like, they were made out of glass. Like, we were able to drink water like human beings and not like those disposable peons in so-called "economy class." Wow.

A flight attendant took our food and drink orders as soon as they were up and about after takeoff. We ordered red wine, which again came in an actual glass, and was served with a little cup of toasted nuts.

Also, they came around and refilled our glasses about once every ten minutes the entire flight, so we were pretty well lit by the time we got to Chicago for our transfer. Now that is the only way to fly.

The only snag was that they didn't have any vegetarian food for us, because the upgrade request had been processed too late. The regular menu options were no good --- a toasted ham and cheese sandwiches or a salad with sliced chicken breast. I suppose I could have picked the ham off the cheese, or the chicken off the salad, but I really don't like doing that. Actually, I suppose if I really were getting into this first-class thing, I would have ordered one of the flight attendants to do it for me. Too late now. They served us the soup, a southwestern vegetable bisque, which they assured us half-heartedly was made with veggie broth. I'm not sure I quite believed it, but it certainly didn't taste like it had chicken broth in it, and I can almost always tell after nearly 10 years of being vegetarian. It was fairly tasty, and again the ability to eat with actual silverware off of porcelain, instead of plastic, went a long way towards making me feel relaxed and well-looked-after. It's the little things. Like the yummy warm chocolate cookie we got for dessert.

We were also treated to a beautiful view of the Rockies out the window. I suppose I could have seen from the back of the plane, but it wouldn't have felt quite as nice. Well, maybe it would have, but I was three sheets to the wind by this point and that seemed to help me appreciate it more.

Otherwise, it was a blessedly uneventful trip, and we were able to stay quite serene --- unlike everyone else in O'Hare who had been stranded due to the snowstorm or who had been dealing with irate stranded passengers. But we made our connection with time to spare, grabbed a flatbread vegetable pizza for dinner, and snoozed through the next leg to Philly.

And here we are, back at home, hopefully to wrap up the car saga tomorrow or the next day. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

End of vacation

[Birthday shoutout to my baby brother Josh, who turns 23 today --- yikes!]

Yes, sadly, it's true --- my week of vacation in Las Vegas has come to an end, just in time to coincide with the re-opening of the East Coast airports after a huge snowstorm. So the bad news is that we might hit massive delays and/or get stranded in Chicago. The good news is that we were upgraded to first class for both legs because we have ridiculous amounts of frequent flyer miles due to several trips to Australia. I'm kinda excited to see how the other half lives, not least because it means we can skip to the head of the damn security line.

Since I'm going to be traveling all day and haven't really got the presence of mind for a full blog post, in lieu of my trademark inane babble I offer to you a Wordle visualization of my last few blog posts. Oooh...pretty colors...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Car shopping

We've been looking around for new cars, since the insurance company decided that my darling baby-blue 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid (aka Sally-Anne) was a total loss. Boo. As Michael points out, ever ready to see the silver lining, now we can get something that will be a bit newer, a bit safer, and have a few more of the options that we want.

We've test-driven a few cars to this point: a Toyota Corolla, a newer model Honda Civic Hybrid, a Nissan Sentra, and a MINI. (Cue Sesame Street music: "One of these things is not like the other..."). Obviously, we're going to end up with something small, sensible, and Japanese that gets good gas mileage. But even after having narrowed it down that far, it's complicated. Do we want a sunroof? If so, how much extra are we willing to pay for it? How many miles per year would be reasonable on a used car? Does it have an auxiliary audio jack so that I can hook up my iPod? Or a telescoping steering wheel to accommodate my short legs? How about curtain airbags? Can we get top-end options without the leather seats? the heck else should we be asking about?

The thing is, neither of us have ever shopped for a car before. Michael's previous cars were all hand-me downs, and Sally-Anne was a gift. It's one of those life milestones that I thought we could put off for a while, but one f'ed up highway entrance later, here we are. We've done a ton of research, but none of it really seems to help all that much. For instance, just this afternoon, we took out a new Civic Hybrid for a test drive. This car was a top contender before we drove it, and afterwards, it still was. I have no idea what exactly is going to break the symmetry, but our goal is to find something before the end of the year when we can presumably get some better financing deals. I'll keep y'all posted.

In the meantime, I'll just note that this has been rather stressful, but in a strange way. I desperately miss my old car and everything else seems to suffer in comparison, plus the whole process only serves to remind me about the accident and the fact that I've stupidly cost us the price of our deductible and a lot of headache. But that was expected, and I'm getting over it. No, the strange part is that the stress comes in fits and starts. Suddenly, I'll think it's the best idea to spend an hour obsessively checking websites for statistics and prices and options, and then, just as suddenly, I'll ignore the whole thing and just presume that it's pretty much settled. And then something will set me off again and I'll haunt until Michael reminds me that we're almost certainly getting a Corolla anyway, so I'll back off, but then he'll ignore his own advice and start dithering about which dealership to go to. As I said, strange. But hey, that's par for the course for us.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Grand Canyon

Remember that 880 foot overlook at the Hoover Dam from the other day? Turns out that that was just practice for this:

On Christmas Day, we drove two and a half hours to the west rim of the Grand Canyon, to a recreation area managed by the Hualapai Nation. It's called (predictably) Grand Canyon West. The real draw here, besides the opportunity to see stunning views of the Canyon, is the Skywalk: A U-shaped observation platform that juts out of the bedrock over the edge of the Canyon and provides stunning views of the rocks and the Colorado River.

The catch? Its floor is made of glass.

After we wound through line in the main building, which is still just plywood and raw steel beams even thought it's been open for over three years, a guide provided us with what looked like hospital booties to cover our shoes. I presume this was so we didn't get messy footprints on the glass. Then, we stepped out onto the platform.

The edges of the Skywalk, closest to the rail, were made of opaque glass and there were occasionally metal plates in the center for those visitors who needed a break, but the rest of it was crystal clear and looked out straight down to the canyon floor, 800 feet below. I took it at a bit of a fast walk so that I would force myself to make it to the outside edge, and looked out.

It was amazing. The view was spectacular, and the illusion was almost complete. If it weren't for the occasional scratch in the glass and the seams where the pieces were put together, it would have looked just like I was flying, suspended in the air over the canyon floor. Even though I knew I was perfectly safe (Just look at those fat tourists over there! If it's holding them, it can hold me!), I couldn't stop a hot little twinge in my stomach every time I looked down. Something in my brain was saying, "Hey, you're fine! It's made of a million tons of steel and anchored 46 feet deep into the bedrock, so just look around and have fun." But something in my body was saying "Aaarrrgggghhhh!!! I'm gonna fall!!!"(1)

It was totally fun.

They wouldn't let us take cameras onto the Skywalk because they wanted to charge us $30 for the photos that they were taking, so I can't share any of my own images from up there. They really have this tourism thing figured out. Oh well.

I did get lots of good pictures from a different site, Guano Point, formerly a guano mine. (Why anyone needs to mine bat shit is beyond me, but the view was great.) Because it's a point, it jutted out into the canyon a bit, and we climbed to the top of a high promontory to take in the 360-degree vista.

All in all, it was a great trip. Sure, the tickets were quite expensive and the food was overpriced and not very veggie-friendly and we had to take their shuttle bus to get anywhere, but the experience was completely worth it. The drive to get there was really dramatic too, through forests of Joshua trees, with water-carved red rocks on all sides.

Although I was hoping for a sighting of some bighorn sheep, I had to settle for a few wild longhorn steer instead.

(1) Tamar Gendler, a friend and professor of philosophy, calls this kind of experience "alief," to contrast with "belief." Alief happens when I believe one thing, intellectually (I'm perfectly safe), and yet viscerally feel that something else is the case (I'm gonna fall!). It's a great descriptor for this kind of situation, or for any other time when there's that kind of tension between the mind and the body.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Atheist Christmas Carol

music and lyrics by Vienna Teng

it's the season of grace coming out of the void
where a man is saved by a voice in the distance
it's the season of possible miracle cures
where hope is currency and death is not the last unknown
where time begins to fade
and age is welcome home

it's the season of eyes meeting over the noise
and holding fast with sharp realization
it's the season of cold making warmth a divine intervention
you are safe here, you know now

don't forget
don't forget I love
I love
I love you

it's the season of scars and of wounds in the heart
of feeling the full weight of our burdens
it's the season of bowing our heads in the wind
and knowing we are not alone in fear
not alone in the dark

don't forget
don't forget I love
I love
I love you

Friday, December 24, 2010

Across the bridge

It's been another lovely day here in sunny, scenic, Las Vegas --- mostly because we spent a good chunk of it not in Las Vegas. Today, we drove to the newly-opened Hoover Dam bypass bridge, which connects Nevada to Arizona. It's the longest concrete arch in the country, and the second-highest.

We strolled along the pedestrian walkway, 880 feet above the river, with spectacular views of the Hoover Dam:

But we obviously couldn't get a real view of the bridge itself, being on top of it. For that, I turned to the interwebs:

Pretty cool, eh?

Finally, on the way back into town, we stopped at the Lake Mead overlook and met a well-camouflaged little furry friend:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bonnie Springs

It's winter break, and I'm in Las Vegas. Most people assume that this means I will be gambling, dancing, drinking, and generally having a debauched good time. But the reality is that I'm staying with my in-laws.

However, I am having a good time. We had dinner last night at a fabulous and very veggie-friendly Indian/Tibetan restaurant, and this morning we went a little crazy in Whole Foods, picking up ingredients for the weekend's dinners as well as some odd snacks that caught our fancy (whole fried okra sticks?).

We just got back from a nice jaunt outside of the city, into the mountains by Red Rock Canyon, to Bonnie Springs Ranch. It's like a tiny little Wild-West-themed amusement park, but without the rides and with a small-gauge railroad and a completely cheesy "general store," which features melodramas every half-hour.

The real draw, though, is the petting zoo, which features all sorts of animals from the area and beyond:

The zoo was founded by Bonnie sometime in the '50s, and since she's developed a reputation for adopting strange strays, her cages have filled up with exotic chickens, albino peacocks, angora rabbits, ravens, tame coyotes, and some lamb-sized critters that looked like oversized guinea pigs. (I think they were capybaras, but I didn't pay to get into the petting zoo proper so I couldn't read the sign.)

There was even a wild burro on the road on our way up, begging for food from the passing cars:

Oddly (for Vegas), it had been raining for a few days before we arrived. All of the springs at the ranch were running, and the cloud formations over the red rocks were spectacularly dramatic:

Still to come: maitake mushrooms for dinner, celebrating Grandmom's birthday, and shopping for a new car (sigh).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Airline lingo

I took a flight today, and was reminded at almost every turn of the immortal words of George Carlin: "Something else we have in common --- flying on the airlines, and listening to the airline's announcements, and trying to pretend to ourselves that the language they're using is really English."

I can't possibly do justice to his brilliant observations on the topic, so here he is to do it himself:

But I couldn't help but notice that there's (at least) one linguistic quirk that escaped his notice, and hence his scorn. Luckily, I am here to fill this need.

Have you ever noticed how often airline personnel use the helper verb "do"? It's crazy, and now that I've pointed it out, you will see it everywhere. "We do hope you've had a nice flight." "We do apologize for the delay." "We do ask that you keep your seatbelt securely fastened." What the hell is this? Is there any reason for anyone to speak this way?

I know, this isn't technically grammatically incorrect. The verb "do" is always there, even if it's not spoken: "I cook" is really a paraphrase of "I do cook," and the helper verb moves around if you're asking a question ("Do you cook?") or forming a negative ("I don't cook."). So it's not that these flight attendants or pilots or gate agents are doing anything wrong, really.

But they are doing something weird. Why bother inserting an extra word when the sentence is fine, even better, without it? Why say "We do recognize that many bags look alike" when "We recognize that many bags look alike" is a much more natural phrasing? Maybe because they think it sounds more polite? It's true that longer phrasings often are taken to be more polite, so maybe that's what they're going for. Even still, this "do" thing has seriously gotten out of hand. If I think of it, I'll keep a tally on the way back and see exactly how much the "do + verb" phrases outnumber the bare verb phrases.

In the meantime, I do note that I do appreciate your patronage of this blog, and I do apologize if the jokes aren't always funny. I do recognize that you have a choice of blogs and I do hope that you will choose IPoL again for all your language-snark needs. I do wish you a happy holiday.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Solstice Eclipse

9:35 pm - Following a lovely Indian dinner, we decide to stay up all night instead of going to sleep and setting an alarm.

10:07 pm - Dishes are done, except for the electric wok, which has developed a nasty patina of okra slime. I leave it in the sink to soak and head for the computer.

11:10 pm - Hot shower, following which I put on my Icebreaker long johns and camisole and two layers of sweaters.

12:03 am - We head for the pub. A friendly beagle out for a late walk nips playfully at our heels.

12:05 am - Our entrance doubles the number of paying customers at the pub. I get a hearty handshake and a Young's Double Chocolate Stout from Ben, the bartender.

12:30 am - The other two customers clear out and the remaining staff joins us at the bar. We engage with Nick, one of the cooks and a senior at Temple, on vegetarianism and public health.

12:45 am - Sean, off-duty bartender, wanders over to lament the recent loss of his 70s porn-star mustache due to a morning of overzealous trimming.

12:52 am - Ben talks me into an additional half-pint of the Young's.

1:37 am - We pay the tab and head for home, leaving the staff to lock up. Hugs all around.

1:41 am - Someone thought it would be a good idea to eat the rest of our half-full bag of Trader Joe's White Cheddar Corn Puffs. I'm not saying it was me, but I'm not saying it wasn't, either.

1:46 am - Wearing coats and bedroom slippers, we stretch out on the roof deck. The moon is at its brightest and fullest, now starting to fade a bit on the left side. The air is crisp and bitterly cold, and the occasional breeze makes us shiver.

1:52 am - Michael complains of cold toes. I pop inside to grab some spare blankets from the guest room and spread them out for us on the deck. The shadow has spread across a quarter of the moon.

2:03 am - We take a quick respite indoors while we wait for totality. I flop onto the bed, still in my coat, to read a few more pages of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

2:15 am - Back outside on the deck, we are joined by our next-door neighbors standing on their roof and craning their necks at the sky. Michael and I each take a blanket and bundle up. I find a relatively sheltered spot on the stairs and rest my head on the railing.

2:39 am - The moon has turned an ominous shade of rust-red, except for a bright white sliver on its right edge. We watch as this, too, is overcome by the shadow.


2:46 am - I am in some danger of losing feeling in my fingertips. The neighbors pack it in to catch a few winks before the peak, at 3:17 am.

2:50 am - Michael and I follow suit, giving one last glance at the now blood-red moon, hanging just above the constellation Orion, like a poorly-struck coin or a wound in the sky.

2:55 am - Bed.

5:20 am - I wake up without expecting to, and use the opportunity to dash outside and check on the state of things. Dawn is already brushing the eastern sky, and the moon has returned to full. It is the shortest day of the year. From now on, the light will only continue to grow.

NASA information

Monday, December 20, 2010

TTPMO: Jeggings, clarified

So I guess it wasn't quite enough said yesterday, because I'm back on the same topic.

Here's the deal: People need to figure out that there are some things that they can wear, and some things that they just can't.

Don't believe me? Photographic evidence coming up.
fashion fail - so you better GTFO
see more Poorly Dressed

fashion fails - Who Wears Short Shorts?
see more Poorly Dressed

fashion fails - Well That Makes Good Sense...
see more Poorly Dressed

Really, this shouldn't be that hard. There are two basic rules: Dress your age. Dress your weight. Simple, right? Is it really that hard to look in the mirror and figure out that you shouldn't try to stuff your lard butt into that Speedo? Is it really that hard to look at the calendar and realize that you probably aren't the target demographic for Victoria's Secret Pink?

Once you've mastered that, we can get more subtle. Like the fact that plaid doesn't go with polka dots, or that fact that there's never a reason to wear that hideous shade of green, or the fact that high-top sneakers went out of fashion sometime in the late Middle Ages. But these are subtle issues, which are clearly beyond some people's mental capacities.
fashion fail - So, Yellow is Pretty Cool...
see more Poorly Dressed

fashion fails - That Family Must Go Through Some Hairspray
see more Poorly Dressed

Yes, if you've got it, flaunt it. And yes, sometimes you do need to muster up a little confidence to wear something that seems a bit daring for you. I'm all for that. I recognize that it's a fine line between "believe in yourself" and "eye bleach" --- but good Lord, there is a line. The rest of us would very much appreciate it if you could stay on the right side of it, and not walk around wearing a bubblegum pink velour tracksuit with little kittens embroidered on it if you're a candidate for Botox.

And finally, there are some things that no one should wear, which brings us to the title of today's entry. Jeggings, for those of you fortunate enough not to have encountered these abominations against all that is good and holy, are the mutant child of jeans and leggings. Why? I dunno, because the '80s weren't traumatically skin-tight enough the first time around? Because skinny jeans have been co-opted by the emo kids? Because people needed something new to stuff into their Uggs? Because I really need to walk around the world being assaulted by camel toe? Your guess is as good as mine. They piss me off. Make them go away --- now.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


The year 2010 is almost over, and I have to say, I won't be sorry to see the back of it. It's not been a particularly bad year, I suppose, just not a particularly good one. My job situation is very frustrating. My brother's job situation is even more frustrating. I've gotten many (what I thought were) good papers rejected from journals, and none were accepted. And these past few months have been especially hard: My youngest brother got in a bad car accident. I got in a bad car accident. I had a fight with my parents. I had a fight with my advisor. I can't seem to shake the blues.

My current negative attitude is making it hard for me to remember the good times that I had this year, although I'm sure they were there. I have had fun working on this blog (although the post-a-day thing is starting to wear on me). I read some good books, of which I would particularly recommend Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. I gave my first public performance as a trapeze artist. I went snorkeling off the coast of Australia and saw an octopus. I visited Tasmania and got to pet a devil. It was the first full year that I've spent in my new house, and we had a great Thanksgiving here.

Part of the trouble is that the good times tend to be the small moments --- making a really good almond tart, or learning a new aerials trick, or having a nice pint of beer at the pub --- while the bad times tend to be larger, more life-altering things, like the ongoing job-search troubles. That makes it hard to have any good perspective on the year as a whole.

All in all, I suppose, I guess everything evens out to neutral. Here's hoping that the new year weighs in a bit more to the positive end of the scale.

UPDATE: Just finished re-re-re-re-re-reading the first Harry Potter book, and am feeling better. Maybe it is the little things, after all, that make the most difference.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Aerials open practice

I was back at aerials open practice tonight. Michael was kind enough to accompany me and play photographer:

He also took some video of a little sequence --- not quite ready for prime time, but far enough along to convince me that maybe I can pull off a silks act for this spring's student showcase --- but it's taking forever to upload. I'll add it later.

For now, I will simply note that being at circus is always a great experience. I don't think this is just because I'm exercising, which releases endorphins and all that. It's not just random strength-building exercises, done by rote. I'm actually learning something, and something that's so new and different from anything I'm doing in the rest of my life. The goal is to learn the tricks and learn how to put them together into sequences, and the strength- and endurance-building just comes along for the ride.

But more than all that, it's the people that make the place what it is. Everyone, the students and the staff and the teachers, has been incredibly kind and encouraging. We lift each other through rounds of pull-ups, we chatter and tease when things get difficult, we cheer when someone does a new trick for the first time. This is especially true at open practice, when we have only each other to rely on for help and guidance. I love that feeling, that combination of freedom and support, where we're all working hard on our own but also keeping an eye out for each other. It's such a wonderful atmosphere of camaraderie (sorority, to be more accurate), and these days, there's almost nothing I look forward to more.

UPDATE: Video is up!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Test drive

While my car is in the shop, I'm driving a rental --- a 2009 Toyota Prius, to be precise.

After three days, I have to say that I don't really like it all that much. (Cue hatemail from Prius owners.) I'm not saying that it's a bad car, or even that I hate it. I'm just saying that I really don't see what all the hype is about.

The main problem is the rearview. There's a thick plastic spoiler that divides the rear window into a tilted upper part and a straight lower part. This means that, when I look out the rearview mirror, I see three separate pieces: the upper glass, a black stripe, and the lower glass. So I can't really get a good view of the road behind me.

As if that weren't bad enough, the headrests from the back seats impinge further on the view, as does the rear windshield wiper. Plus, the two panes of glass are tinted slightly different colors. All of this means that I really have to do some serious work to piece together a full picture of the road behind me. It's really annoying. And when it comes to changing lanes, it's not just annoying, it's dangerous. And when it comes to driving at night, the plastic spoiler is in exactly the right spot to block the headlights of the car behind me, so  I can't even tell if there's anyone there. Majorly bad design.

The sideview mirrors make up for this to a certain extent, but the glass on them appears to be somewhat warped, so that I get a distorted view. I'm not sure whether this by design or accident, but it's a bit like looking in a funhouse mirror. Not helping.

I know some people are really jazzed about the sleek, technology-heavy interior, but it frankly leaves me cold. In order to do anything in the car, like operate the radio or check my gas mileage or adjust the heat settings, I need to interact with the touchscreen in the center of the dashboard. Frankly, it's a pain in the ass, not to mention distracting. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my physical buttons and dials. I like being able to reach right over and turn a knob to turn the heat up, or push a button to toggle the air recirculation. I'm sure that I could get used to where the controls are on the Prius given enough time, but that's not the point. The interface should be more intuitive than that.

To try to address this problem, the designers did add physical buttons for some of the most common functions --- on the steering wheel. So now, every time I change my grip to make a turn or something, I inadvertently turn on the rear defroster. Seriously, there are a good dozen buttons on the steering wheel, and another dozen features that I get to from various stems coming off the steering column, and I can't manage to keep them all straight. Again, I could learn, but I shouldn't have to.

Sure, it gets good gas mileage, but so did my (possibly now-defunct) Honda Civic Hybrid. And one of the things I really liked about the Civic is that the hybrid functionality was seamlessly integrated. I never had to know that I was driving a hybrid if I didn't care to; I was just driving a car (admittedly, a car with extra-grabby brakes that would occasionally shut off when I was stopped at a red light). But the Prius really wears its special status on its sleeve, and not necessarily in a good way. It also shuts its engine off at red lights, but with a little shake and shudder that feels somewhat ominous, like the car's decided to give up. It starts with a push-button, which is cool and novel, but it doesn't really start like a normal car. It turns the electric components on first, and then, after a few moments of me wondering when the heck something is going to happen, it turns on the engine. Putting it in park also involves a push-button, which sets me on edge a bit, although I can't fully explain why. But I can explain why I'm annoyed that it lights up an orange icon whenever it engages the antilock brake system: I already know that I'm driving in the snow, and I'm already tense enough because I can feel the car slipping, so does it really need to blink this symbol at me and distract me further from the task at hand, namely keeping myself from fishtailing because Philly has not seen fit to salt the roads?

Anyway, as I said at the start, it's not that it's a bad car, it's just a bad car for me. Partially that's because of the things that I've already pointed out, here but partially that's because it's not my own car, which I love and which I've been driving for close to eight years. I'll hopefully find out her fate tomorrow; stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Ask just about anyone which vegetables they hate the most, and Brussels sprouts are likely to be at the top of the list. I'm not sure what these humble mini-cabbages have done to garner such deeply negative feelings, but it can't have been good. I think the trouble is that they let themselves get boiled by decades of well-meaning but not-culinarily-inclined mothers. If that's the case, then I have to agree with the majority opinion: Boiled Brussels sprouts are gross. Broiled Brussels sprouts, on the other hand, are super tasty.

Plus, they're such an awesome-looking vegetable. We got a whole huge stalk of them at the farmers' market the other day, which was great just to have around the house:

Come on, how could you not love these gorgeous little guys? They grow in turrets!

And they couldn't be easier to cook. We pulled them off the stalk and peeled off the outer leaves as needed, just as you'd do with a head of lettuce. Larger sprouts were halved; smaller ones were left whole. All of them were then spread on a baking tray with salt, olive oil, and some chopped garlic. Bacon is the traditional accompaniment here, but being vegetarian, we were content to do without.

Then we threw them in the oven and cooked them until they turned crispy. We had the oven set to 425 F, but sprouts are pretty flexible, so you could do them at a higher or lower temperature as long as you keep an eye on them. They came out browned on the outside and a little creamy on the inside, the perfect accompaniment to the last of our leftover onion soup from Thanksgiving.

Finally, I note in closing that the correct spelling, as you have no doubt noticed by now, is "Brussels sprout." As in, sprouts from the city of Brussels (capitalized, as the proper noun it is). They do not appreciate being called "brussel sprouts." Menu writers, take note.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Okay, so originally I was going to do a post about how the "w" key is sticking on my laptop keyboard, and it would have been an interesting and entertaining exploration of the hos and hys of English spelling and of hy various letters ork the ay they do. Seriously, it would have been good.

However, those plans were dashed by the fact that last night, on the way to circus practice, I got into a car accident. I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I caused a car accident, although it really was one of those situations where the situation itself was more at fault than any individual actor. Judge for yourself; here's what happened:

To get onto the highway from my house, I take a right turn off of a bridge onto a long downhill left-side entrance ramp. There are two particularly relevant fact here. First, "entrance ramp" is a bit of a misnomer. There's barely two car-lengths worth of room to speed up in order to enter the highway once you get within striking distance, and no way from the rest of the ramp to see with any precision what's going on on the highway itself. Second, "left-side" becomes extra important in this circumstance, because one has to merge into the fast (left) lane of traffic rather than into the slow (right) lane, as it more typical. So it's a bit of a nervy situation to begin with. Throw in the fact that this highway entrance has only been open for about a month following two years of construction and you have a disaster waiting to happen.

It wasn't a disaster that happened, but it wasn't pretty either. I was coming down the ramp, looking in my side-view mirror to see if there was space for me to merge onto the highway. I found my opening and started to turn into it, shifting my vision back to the front. At that point I saw that the car in front of me, rather than maintaining speed or speeding up to get onto the highway, as one should, had actually stopped. But by then it was too late for me to do anything about it, and I ran right into the back of him. I'll spare you the rest of the details, but suffice it to say that that was not how I saw my evening being spent.

The front of my car is pretty badly smashed, and I'm waiting for word from the insurance claims adjuster about what they're going to do. But other than that, I have to say, everything turned out as well as could possibly be expected. I'm not hurt, and neither was the other driver. His car suffered some damage to the back bumper, but he was able to drive away. He was upset, obviously, but not angry or hysterical, and we exchanged information as pleasantly as it was possible to do under the circumstances --- that is to say, in the back seat of my car to keep out of the cold wind, under the continually fading glow of my dome light. Fortuitously, a tow truck was coming onto the highway just a few minutes after the crash, and was able to block traffic for us and call the police. The police arrived in due course and took our statements. Everyone was very professional and calm and kind: the tow truck driver, the police officer, the insurance agents.

And me. It's strange how these situations can affect one, but I don't remember being terribly upset. I was later, when I got home and it had a chance to sink in, but at the time all I remember is calm. There were things that needed to be done, things that needed to be taken care of, and I just took care of them. I wasn't going to let this get the best of me. I relayed the details to the police officer, cleaned everything out of the car and put it in a bag before it was towed away, and checked and double-checked with the other driver that he wasn't hurt. He was supposed to be on his way to an exam that night, so he was a bit antsy about that, but I pointed out that a police report would probably make for an acceptable excuse.

The tow truck driver even complimented me on being the calmest person he's ever seen in such situations. I think that was a bit of hyperbole, but I thanked him anyway. It's the little things like that which make such a difference under these circumstances. Like the fact that the police officer let me wait in the back of his squad car after they towed my car, so that I didn't have to be outside in the cold. Or the fact that the insurance company arranged for me to get a rental car that night so I could pick it up first thing in the morning and not have too much disruption to my schedule.

So I guess I got lucky, all things considered. My neck is a little sore and they might total my car, but that's not really what's important. I know that now more viscerally than I did before, so that, too, is something.

UPDATE: Michael went down to the impound lot and took some pictures. Not pretty.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Back to context

Michael and I saw Harry Potter Part 7 Part 1: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows of Making More Money By Splitting the Last Installment into Two Parts yesterday at the Roxy Theater.

First, I have to say that I love the Roxy. It's a tiny, independently owned movie theater on Sansom Street, where the screens seem dwarfed by my 40-inch LCD and the seat cushions have springs in them and haven't been changed since the '70s. Yes, literally. But they make real, fresh popcorn and put real, fresh butter on it and serve it in gigantic bathtub-sized buckets, just like popcorn should be served. Plus, it's only $6 apiece for the matinee. It's pretty much the perfect place to watch a movie on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Second, I have to say that I was kinda disappointed by the movie. The atmosphere was right and the characters were well-played and well-cast as always, but the plot stumbled between exposition and explosions like a drunk frat boy lurching home from the pub. I have never watched a movie based on a book and felt so powerfully the urge to go back and read the book to find out how it really happened. That's a shame, but not really a surprise. There's so much richness to Rowling's world that I never expected it to translate neatly, or at all, to the screen. But it still seems to me that the filmmakers missed quite a lot of opportunities to make the story more coherent and smooth, or at least not quite so talky. It would have been almost impossible to understand all the goings-on if one hadn't read the book, which rather obviates the need for the movie in the first place.

Oh well. Perhaps the next installment will be better. In the meantime, I'm going to curl up on the couch and do some reading.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

'Tis the season

Michael and I were at a Christmas party last night, hosted by our neighbors from across the street. We met them at the pub on the corner and became friendly, and it was very sweet of them to invite us. But in retrospect, they could have prepared us a little.

Their house is very modern and elegant, but in honor of the season, it was done up to look like the post-Christmas clearance bin at Wal-Mart exploded in the middle of the living room. Everything had a Christmas decoration on it, and I mean everything. There were ornaments hanging from all of the doorknobs and drawer pulls. The tablecloth was embroidered with Christmas trees. The dishtowels all had Santa's face on them, as did the disposable plastic cups set out by the punch bowl. The paper plates and napkins were poinsettia-themed. There were three advent calendars (three!), one of which was magnetic and stuck to the fridge. A shockingly large fraction of the men in attendance were wearing bright red sweaters that would have made even Mr. Rogers blush.

Forget the "war on Christmas," this was all "war FOR Christmas." As if we were to suddenly forget the reason we were crowded in the kitchen munching on hors d'oeuvres and baby carrots, there was always some reminder underfoot (literally in the case of the tinsel). I'm thoroughly convinced that we were the only Jews at the party, and that's quite an odd position for us, being academics and all. Whatever, we had a good time and met some nice people and I'm very glad we went.

But here's what I'm wondering: Is this normal? Is this what most people do on Christmas? Is it typical to string colored lights over every inch of one's ceiling while wearing a pair of Santa Claus earrings and listening to the all-Christmas station on the radio? Am I just so hopelessly, provincially non-Christian that this kind of dedication to the birth of Our Lord and Savior seems excessive to me? Or is it just that I'm used to Christmas parties being more "Christmas parties" than this sort of high-wattage goy-ism? Seriously, people, I need to know. 'Cause it would seem creepy if I went to the home of a Jewish friend to find it smothered in blue and white lights with little stars of David pasted to every available surface with pot-holders that had a picture Judah Maccabee on them.

And then what the heck does one do with all these decorations when it's not Christmastime? I know they have a large basement, but really, this stuff must take up half of it when it's all boxed away, and that's not counting the ornaments that were actually hanging on their seven-foot-tall tree. Well, God bless 'em for their dedication. Or something.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

TTPMO: Myself when I'm not perfect

Ridiculous? Maybe, but it's true. This is a bit of an addendum to something I said in yesterday's post, namely that sometimes it's harder to love and be honest with ourselves than to love and be honest with other people. Today's point is that it's often easier to be frustrated with ourselves than with other people when things aren't going right.

And things here aren't quite going right. I'm trying to learn something new, something that I've wanted to do for a long time and something that I should be good at because it's a combination of several skills that I have (at various levels of polish) in my arsenal. But putting them all together in a way that works has been very trying to me --- and also to my poor long-suffering husband, who has been helping me.

Right now, I need to take a break and recognize that I can't possibly get it perfectly right on the first try. I know that intellectually, so why is it so hard to recognize that viscerally? Until I do, unfortunately, I'm going to keep pissing myself off. Be perfect, self! Do it right the first time! I don't care that it's hard or that you've never done it before or that you're running out of time!

Grr. Time for some chocolate.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Letting go

I'm going back to circus open practice tonight to work on some moves on the silks. While I'm there, I'm going to force myself to practice a few drops. These are just what they sound like: moves on the silks (or rope) which involve falling. Generally, you get yourself wrapped up in a particular way, and then let go so that you fall and are caught by a combination of the wrappings and your hands or knees.

I have a confession to make: This kind of terrifies me. It's not that I'm so high up in the air, and there's always a mat, and (at least in class) there's always an instructor around to make sure that everything will go all right. It's just that there's always a moment where it's down to me. I'm all wrapped the way I'm supposed to be, I've got the go-ahead, I know what I'm supposed to do, and all I have to do is let go. And there's always a moment right between the one in which I'm holding on and the one in which I'm falling through the air that fills me with a jolt of mortal fear. I want to chicken out. I want to crawl back down to the ground. I want it to just be over. But the only way to get down, the only way for it to be over, is for me to trust to my strength, work up my courage, and let go.

Now that I've been working on drops for a while, I see moments like this everywhere, in my life and in the lives of others. There are time in all of our lives when we hold on too tight, able to see the next step on the path but too afraid to take it. We hesitate. We reconsider. We close our eyes and wish it were over, instead of doing something to make it so.

I know those moments all too well now, but I also know that I can get past them. And the way to get past them is not by denying the fear, but by finding the courage to push through it. It's only by trusting myself, trusting that I've done the right thing in order to keep myself safe, trusting that I'm strong enough, that I can convince myself to let go. It's ironic that sometimes the hardest thing to do is to trust ourselves, but there it is. In so many ways, it's so much easier to love the whole rest of the world, to see it the way we want it to be, than to love and be honest with ourselves. But unless I can do both of those things, I'll never be able to do the drops, to take the chances that I need to take.

So that's what I'm going to do tonight. I'm going to climb up, wrap up, and let go. I'm not going to let my fear get the best of me. I've done it before, and I can do it again. And I will. I'd be lying if I said that I'm not afraid. I am. But the important thing is learning how not to let that fear get the best of me. The important thing is learning how to feel safe enough to be brave.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

TTPMO: People who can't argue

You know what I mean. You're having a conversation with someone, and you think things are going well, and all of a sudden you're off on some high-temperature tangent about whether high school cafeterias should be allowed to serve Brussels sprouts for lunch. What the hell?

This happens to me a lot when I'm talking to civilians, and I'm starting to notice it more and more as I get old and crotchety and further enculturated to the academic environment. Most people don't know how to argue properly. They can't tell the difference between a claim and evidence for the claim, they don't understand when they're being circular, they're caught up in some example and don't see the big picture...

Frankly, it's exhausting. I'm trying to get to the bottom of why Aunt Ethel thinks the moon landing was faked, and the best I can manage is to have her repeat some crackpot theory that she heard on the radio as though it came from some proper scientific authority. Or my sister-in-law's cousin is banging on about how bad cucumbers are for your health because he knew a guy who broke out in a horrible rash after eating a cucumber. Well, too bad for him, but there are a gazillion possible explanations for the rash other than the cucumber, and could you please pass the salad, thanks. Or Uncle Bill continually gives a slightly different answer every time I ask him why he thinks we shouldn't be eating genetically modified tomatoes: You know, it's because people should keep their hands off of nature just let food be the way it is. Oh, and also because there isn't enough regulation of our crops and these damn farmers should really let the government decide what works best. Um, wait, those two things are incompatible. But just as I'm about to point that out, my next-door neighbor chimes in to support Uncle Bill because she agrees with the conclusion and has failed entirely to recognize that the argument for the conclusion, frankly, sucks.

God forbid politics get involved, since that's when things get really ugly.

Why is this such a problem? Why do most people seem incapable giving legitimate reasons for why they believe the things that they say? Is this something weird that only academics do? I really hope not. It would be beyond depressing if most people are walking around believing all sorts of things, true or false, that don't have any rational connection to a decent argument. But I fear that that's the state of play these days, and guess what? Yep, it pisses me off.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Happy Chanukah!

It's the last night of Chanukah tonight, and I'm going to be spending it with one of my best friends from childhood. It's kind of a crazy story, actually.

Becky and I went to kindergarten and elementary school together, but I transferred to a different school in fifth grade. We kept in touch sporadically after that, even attending the same Hebrew school for a little while, but we pretty much lost track of each other sometime around the middle of high school. Then I went to college and graduate school, got married, moved to Philadelphia, and joined the congregation at Kol Tzedek, a Reconstructionist community based in West Philadelphia.

Then one day, two years ago, I was sitting in Shabbat morning services at KT and looked up to see a somewhat familiar face across the room from me. At first I ignored her --- I'm really terrible with putting names together with faces, and it was far more logical to assume that she was just a congregant who looked somewhat familiar because I'd met her a few times than to assume that she was a childhood friend who I hadn't seen in over ten years. But that's exactly who she was. It turns out that she was living barely a few blocks away from me at the time and had just started attending services at KT. What an unbelievable small world we live in.

We've gotten together a few times since that unlikely reunion, and it never ceases to amaze me how much we still have in common after all this time. I don't believe in fate or anything like that, but I do believe in friendship, and I'm so excited to have Becky back in my life. (Not just because she's making me latkes for dinner.)

So in the spirit of Chanukah, here's to all of the happy coincidences like this one, to all of those times when things don't turn out the way we expect, but they turn out just the way that they should anyhow. Chag same'ach!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A weight off my shoulders


I stopped carrying my laptop to the office. When Michael got his new allocation computer from Penn, I inherited his old, somewhat banged-up but still serviceable MacBookPro, which now lives in the bottom drawer of my office filing cabinet and has taken over duties as my work computer. That means that I don't need to schlep my own laptop into the office anymore. It stays happily ensconced on my desk, and I just keep my vital documents sync'd between the two computers via Dropbox (what a lifesaver!). Sure, I still to carry my purse and a small bag for my lunch, but it's a massive improvement.

Really, it's almost criminal how happy this makes me. No more worrying about tumbling down the stairs in high heels because my weight balance is off. No more shifting the laptop bag from hand to hand and back again as it gets too heavy to carry. No more feeling like a kindergartener, heading off to school with a sack full of crayons strapped to her back. I'm an adult now! I'm free!

And yet, I seem to be experiencing a strange sort of phantom limb syndrome. I'll get to campus, park my car, collect my purse and my lunch, and start walking to the office. About halfway there I'm overcome with the feeling that surely I have forgotten something important. Surely. I'll start to stoop over, almost unconsciously, trying to recapture what it would feel like to be walking to work if I hadn't forgotten something. I'll reach up to grab at my shoulder, trying to figure out why that space feels so wrong and weightless. And then --- aha! I'm not wearing my computer bag! Because I don't need to be! My posture straightens, my eyes brighten, my step lightens, and I can head for the office like a normal human being. Until the next morning, of course, when it happens again.

I'll get over it soon, I'm sure. I'm so happy to have worked out a good system whereby I can have all my file both at my office and at home and not have to get a horrible crick in my neck while doing it. (That can wait until I'm actually seated at my computer and hunch over my keyboard to type.)

The only drawback to the new system is when I need to travel. Until I spring for an iPad, there will still be times when I'll have to take my laptop with me (conferences come to mind), and then it will be back to the neck-cricking and ankle-wobbling. Such is life.

But even on those occasions, I'm never going back to my old nylon laptop bag. It served its purpose reasonably well, but it really did make me look like a kindergartener --- nearly took up the entire space on my back even though it was meant to be a messenger bag (for a six-foot tall Amazon, I suppose). Nope, I've dug out my old, skinny neoprene laptop sleeve and have my eye on a sensible and versatile (and vegan!) tote bag from Crystalyn Kae. After all, what's the point of being an adult if I can't look like one?

Monday, December 6, 2010

First snow

I love snow. I'm really not much for the cold, but if it's snowing, it kinda makes all the shivering and bundling up and nose-running worthwhile.

Today was one of those days. There was a perfect dusting of light flurries coming down all morning, making the air twinkle. It didn't stick at all, so I didn't have to worry about maniac drivers or cleaning off my car, and I could just enjoy the quiet beauty of the flakes landing (as they say) on my nose and eyelashes.

There's something about snow that makes me feel giddy and happy, like I'm a little kid again, wriggling with excitement to get into my snow pants and make snow angels and pick out the perfect carrot for my snowman's nose. I'm know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Everyone around me today seemed to perk up. Yes, it's cold outside --- but it's snowing! That makes it all better. I think we all have collective memories of happy snow days where we didn't have to go to school, of the novelty of seeing the world covered in white, of cocoa by the fire and cold ears and bright red cheeks.

It's a small kind of wonderful that that feeling never really goes away. Even in all of our staid, sensible adult lives, when it snows, we all get to feel like kids again. There's a joy to the snow, an innocence, that never really leaves us. Let's hope it never does.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

TTPMO: Ugly cars 2

It's a bonus edition of TTPMO: Ugly Cars! (For the original installment, go here.) I passed this one, which I will generously call a "minivan", on the street the other day and I couldn't wait to add it to my list.

The Nissan Cube

Yeeeeeaaaaaah. Where do I begin? Was no one looking at the drawings for this thing before they put it into production? It looks like a milk carton on wheels. It has wraparound glass in the back, presumably so its hapless passengers can press their noses to it and stare longingly at the normal cars passing by. Its grill looks flimsy and cheap. It's a disturbing shade of powder blue. I heard that the sixties were back, but this is ridiculous. Just because Walter Cronkite looked good when seen inside a rounded-off square doesn't mean that you will, too. Quite the opposite, in fact.

One more for today:
The Ford Sport Trac

I can't believe I forgot to include this on my original list. I have hated these creepy-looking half-bed pickup trucks ever since I first saw them. There's only one way to describe them: mutants. Some mad scientist got the brainy idea to mate a regular pickup truck with a four-dour sedan and deliver the baby in a room full of plastic shrapnel, and this is the result. It's the worst of both worlds. The front says "Grr! I'm a manly man's truck!" and the back says "I'm with stupid. Help! Get me out of here!" Only it says it in a really high, squeaky voice because it's just a pickup-like growth attached to the cab and hasn't reached full size yet.

My best guess is that they left the "k" off the end of "Trac" as an accurate reflection of the shame and embarrassment that this truck must feel whenever it looks in the mirror and realizes that it's incomplete. Then it sulks back to its parking spot and weeps hot tears of transmission fluid.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Auto idiocy

And now, for an edition of "life's little moments."

Last night, I went to circus practice. I pulled my car into a parking spot, which sloped forward a little bit and had a fire hydrant on the other side, so I set my hand brake. I turned the car off, eager to get to the ropes...and the key wouldn't come out of the ignition. It was totally stuck. In fact, it wouldn't even turn back past the first position. I wiggled it around a bit, trying not to pull too hard, and finally I got it to release. Whew! Problem solved, I spent a very pleasant two hours depleting my grip strength developing large green bruises on my legs.

Then I got back in my car, preparing to drive home for dinner. I put the key in the ignition, turned it to the crack position --- and nothing happened. Nada. Well, not nothing: The lights on the console went on and the car beeped at me, but the engine didn't crank. It didn't even try. Uh oh.

I know enough about cars to deduce that it wasn't a problem with the battery, since if it were, the lights wouldn't have come on. But beyond that I had no idea what could be wrong --- especially considering that I'd taken the car for its 100,000 mile service and state inspection two days before and it come back with a completely clean bill of health. Grr. I tried turning the key again, visions of tow trucks and large repair bills dancing in my head. Again, nothing. Had the guys at the garage messed something up when they were working on my car? Did the key break somehow? Was the universe trying to prevent me from getting home and having the dinner that I so richly deserved after my workout?

Defeated, I pulled my AAA card out of my wallet and started dialing. As I made my way through the phone tree (all automated! pretty cool!), I looked down and saw that the hand brake was set. That's unusual for me; I almost never need the parking brake. Since I use it so rarely, maybe there was something about it that had gone wrong and was now interfering with the normal functioning of my car?

I released the hand brake. The car immediately started rolling forward, down the slope, aiming for a head-on collision with the fire hydrant. Not good! I stepped on the brakes, but they didn't work. Seriously not good! Luckily I had the presence of mind to drop the phone and yank on the parking brake again. The car stopped mere inches from the fire hydrant, and my body slipped out of heart-attack mode. At the same time, looking down at the hand that had performed my life-saving maneuver on the parking brake, I noticed the gear shift for the first time.

It was in drive.

I was an idiot.

I shifted into park, mashed my foot down on the brake, and turned the key in the ignition. It worked! My baby was alive! I hung up on AAA and cruised home for dinner.

I'm still not sure whether to berate myself for being such a moron in the first place, or congratulate myself on having been able to figure out the problem all by myself. Since I'm in a good mood tonight, I'm going with the latter.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Home alone

Michael left this morning. He's going to be in North Carolina for about 36 hours, giving a talk and meeting with people. I'm going to have to go to bed alone.

When people hear this, they tend to get this worried, pitying look on their face. "Poor dear," it says. "Her love is away, and she's been left all by herself." But the truth is that I don't mind all that much. In fact, it's my dirty little secret that I kinda like it. I am, by nature, a retiring and secretive sort of creature, and it gives me great pleasure to have long periods of silence and contemplation, during which I don't have to worry about imposing on anyone else's space nor about anyone else imposing on mine. I don't need anyone's permission to go out, and I don't need to tell anyone what time I'll be back. I can stay up as late as I want, sleep as late as I want, nap when I want, and eat popcorn for dinner without anyone being the wiser. Not that I'd actually do any of those things, mind you. (Well, okay, yes I would.)

It's funny, because I (like most people) spent a good portion of my adolescent and early adult life longing for anything but that. This was especially acute when I was in graduate school in Connecticut and Michael was starting his professor position in Philadelphia, three and a half hours away by train. We saw each other regularly, but only on weekends, I missed him so terribly during those years. I spent a good deal of time wandering listlessly around my apartment, feeling bored and strangely empty. Feeling lonely.

But feeling lonely isn't the same as being alone. It's the latter that I like. I know that Michael is out there, that he loves me, and that he's coming home soon. So even though I'm alone right now, it's not the lonely kind of alone. It's the kind of alone that I can enjoy. And I do.

My truly dirty little secret is that sometimes I even look forward to it. I look forward to reconnecting with myself in lots of quiet little ways, to making no compromises, to following my own rhythm. I'll can enjoy myself tonight however I want, knowing that tomorrow will come, that Michael will come back, and that I'll be able to slip back into our relationship rested and recharged. When we reunite, I always appreciate him and us so much more. That alone makes it all worthwhile, and might even account for the fact that I sometimes feel positively good when Michael and I are apart.

If most people are honest with themselves, I think they'll admit to feeling the same way. I love the relationship I have with my husband and the closeness that we've come to share. But it can get very intense at times, in a million little ways, and it's nice to have a breather from that. When I'm alone, sometimes I feel a happy, guilty little twinge of freedom. It's not that I truly long to be free of him; far from it. But it's in the space between our moments together that I can truly work on being myself and on being true to myself.

It also doesn't hurt that I don't have to listen to anyone whimpering about being forced to watch Pixar movies. Bring on the popcorn!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

iPhone surgery

Two days ago, in an act of monumental carelessness, I dropped my iPhone down the stairs. I was coming down to breakfast and carrying way too much stuff and the iPhone slipped right off the top of the stack and landed face-down on the living room floor.

To say that this cracked the screen would be a bit of an understatement:

More like "shattered." Most of the big pieces were intact, but there were little tiny shards of glass everywhere. Not good.

However, by some miracle, the LCD screen underneath the glass was completely undamaged. My phone still worked. It was a little dicey to make calls, though, since I didn't relish the thought of an earful of glass shards. That would be a little too much like being on hold with customer service and having to listen to their damn "your calls is important to us" music. Anyway, clearly something had to be done.

Michael was all for just getting a new phone, which is his usual solution to such issues, but I wasn't ready to chuck it out just yet. It's frustrating to me how willing people are to throw things out when they don't work exactly right, rather than taking a little time to fix them. But was this the sort of thing that could be fixed?

Yes, as it turns out. But since Apple was going to charge me $100 for a replacement screen and the installation, I needed to find a better option. A bit of Googling around turned up a $10 repair kit that claimed to be able to solve precisely my problem. (At this point in my writing, Michael is whinging at me that actually he was the one who found the repair kit, so I include this information in the interest of full disclosure, despite the fact that it's messing up my narrative. As I have said before: Sweetie, get your own damn blog.) I ordered it, paid for the overnight shipping, and took to obsessively watching the YouTube instructions for how to do the repair.

When UPS delivered the kit last night, we set up a workstation on a cloth placemat at the dining room table and set to work. The first step was to take the entire screen assembly off of the iPhone base:

It was pretty cool to get a look at the guts of the phone, since it looks so sleek and featureless from the outside. But the inside is a different matter. We then had to take out six near-microscopic screws that held the LCD screen in place:

Here's a view of the new glass, along the with the base and the LCD screen, waiting to be re-assembled.

Although it did take a bit of doing to pry the phone open in the first place, things had been pretty easy up until this point. But now came the tricky part: separating the (now broken) glass off of the front of the frame so that the new glass could be installed. We used a hairdryer to heat and loosen the glue, and a jeweler's screwdriver to (carefully!) scrape the glass off the frame:

Whew! With that done, it was relatively easy to stick on the new glass using the custom-fit adhesive that came with the repair kit. Then we slid the LCD screen back into place. What the instructions didn't mention was how easy it was to get fingerprints and dust trapped between the LCD screen and the new glass, and being as how I'm anal retentive, it simply wouldn't do to leave them there --- that would've driven me insane. We fixed the problem with a few squirts of compressed air and some elbow grease applied via a microfiber cloth.

Finally, though, everything was clean, and we snapped the LCD into place on the frame, replaced the six near-microscopic screws, and reattached the top assembly to the base of the phone.

Et voilĂ !

Good as new. The home button is a little loose, probably because the top assembly doesn't fit quite as perfectly onto the base as it did before, but that's the only issue. Otherwise, it's clean and works just as well as the day I got it. Plus, I get to say that I disassembled an iPhone. Now, isn't that worth $10?