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You know the old joke. The lady calls the repair man and says, "My refrigerator won't stop," and he says, "Then you better catch it!"

This is us.

The refrigerator won't stop running.  Or rather, it mostly won't.  It runs, then clicks audibly off for a second, then clicks back on, then clicks off, then on, then off, then on.  It still keeps food cold and merrily makes ice, but clearly there's some kind of problem.

Meanwhile, the dishwasher went on strike.  It operates with pushbuttons atop the door, and abruptly none of them worked.  We were forced to wash dishes in the sink.  (Oh, the humanity!)

I called an appliance repair place, and they dutifully sent out a repair technician the next day.  After some rummaging around with both appliances, he said some wires had burnt out on the dishwasher and needed replacing.  An easy fix.  But the fridge had problems with its circuit board.

"The factory that made the boards was wiped out in the Japan tsunami," he said.  "So the part is really hard to get.  We're talking $600."


So he fixed the washing machine, and next we have to hunt for a new refrigerator.
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I came across a reference to salt potatoes as being a really good treat.  I researched them and found they looked interesting, so I decided to try them out on Darwin and the boys.

Salt potatoes are basically new potatoes simmered in heavily-salted water.  Once the potatoes are done, you pour most of the water off and bring the remaining brine back to a boil, rolling the potatoes around in it all the while.  When the water is nearly gone, you take the pot off the heat and keep rolling until the water is gone and you're left with a salty crust that forms on the potatoes and makes them look wrinkly.  You eat them plain or dip them in butter or an herb sauce.

I served them with plain chicken and a fruit salad.

The boys were dubious.  What the heck were these things?  Even Darwin "Salty McSaltSalt" McClary, who once salted a slab of bacon, wasn't sure.  But once they tried them, all doubts melted.

You can't eat salt potatoes timidly.  The salt crust is very powerful, and you have to bite all the way through the potato to bring the mealy inside into contact with the outside salt.  But when you do . . . they are delicious.  And heavy.  Boy, are they heavy!  Two pounds of new potatoes--a weensy bag--was more than enough for two adults and two teens.

The recipe is a keeper, but it's a once-in-a-while treat, not a regular dish.
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All my students were buzzing about the Netflix show 13 REASONS WHY.  I'd heard of it, of course.  I knew about the controversy.  And I knew, even without watching, that it in no way portrayed suicide accurately, and I had no desire to watch it. 

But then I found out a high school friend of mine, Brian d'Arcy James, was in it as the father of the suicide victim.  Brian mostly does stage work on Broadway (he's currently playing King George in HAMILTON), so I rarely get to see his work.  Most recently I saw him in the movie SPOTLIGHT, and it's always fun to see him perform.  So I decided to give 13 REASONS a look.

I lasted about five episodes.

I suppose I should warn about spoilers in the following, though the show has been out for months, and I don't see it as my job to protect anyone from plot spoilers after that long.  But I'll be nice. SPOILERS.

The show was absolutely awful.  Part of it, I'm sure, is that it does cater completely and unabashedly to the teenaged crowd, and there's really nothing in it for adults.  That's okay--I can enjoy a teen show on its own merits.  But . . .

The premise:  A teenage girl commits suicide (and the show was bad enough that I can't remember anyone's names, so I'm reduced to giving them epithets), and a few days after her death, a set of cassette tapes appears on the doorstep of the main character.  The tapes are an audio diary from Suicide Girl explaining, in detail, how thirteen different people drove her to kill herself, and, she says on the first tape, if you don't listen to all of them all the way through, something awful will happen.  "You're being watched," she says (feeding into the adolescent feeling of being the center of the world and that everyone is always watching you).

Okay, we all know suicide doesn't work this way.  Netflix was even pressured into putting a little disclaimer at the beginning of the first episode to this effect.  But a disclaimer doesn't stop me from thinking, "This would never happen" and "That would never work" and "This isn't remotely possible," which yanks me constantly out of the story and reminds me that I'm watching a fake for fake fakey-fake TV show.  I can't even pretend it might possibly somehow be a little bit real, which wrecks the viewing experience.

Suicide girl, you see, goes through some world-wrecking bullying at school which culminates in graphic sexual assault (I didn't get that far, but I read about it) that is so bad it drves her to kill herself, but she somehow manages to hold it all together long enough to formulate and execute an extensive, Machiavellian postmortem revenge  plan with dozens of moving parts that hold together without input from her.  She narrates the tapes in a chipper, snarky tone with no sign of being upset or unhappy. 

Seriously.  I have an easier time believing in an magical island full of warrior women created by Zeus, or a skinny kid from Brooklyn being transformed by a mysterious drug into a super-hero than this.  If Suicide Girl is so smart and savvy and together while putting this plan off, why doesn't she ask for help?  Or get her revenge while she's alive to see it?  Hell, why not just run away and leave the tapes behind as 13 Reasons Why I Ran Away?  None of it makes any kind of sense.  Easier to believe in giant apes living on an uncharted island than this.

The characters are also unlikable and uninteresting.  Every one of them.  There's Football Boy (the eventual rapist) who heads up a coterie of friends who hang out in his rich parents' pool house (which is bigger than most people's houses) and is for some reason worshiped by the entire student body (in reality, most students at a high school can't name the quarterback, nor would they care).  He drinks, does drugs, and beats up smaller students.  We also have Suicide Girl's Bitchy Best Friend, who gets into a fight with her over a boy (of course) and slaps her in the cafeteria.  We have Camera Kid who peeps into windows and takes pictures of Suicide Girl while she's dressing.  We have Asian Lesbian-in-the-Closet Girl who is being raised by two dads but is somehow too closeted to admit she is herself lesbian.  (WTF?  So being adopted and raised by two men turns you both gay and closeted.  I was ready to punch the fucking screen at that one.  Or just knock the writers' teeth so far down their collective throats that they could chew their own shit as it came out their asses.)  We have Miscellaneous Teens who spread half-naked photos of Suicide Girl around with their phones and make fun of her about it.  I wouldn't have wanted any of them in my classroom, let alone in my life--or on my iPad.

And we have Doormat Boy, the viewpoint character.  He receives the tapes and starts listening, but can't bring himself to listen to more than five seconds at a time before anxiety takes over and he has to stop.  Here's where things become even more unbelievable.  Doormat Boy, we learn, is something like the ninth or tenth person to get the tapes.  The tapes have been passed around from teen to teen, and everyone keeps asking Doormat Boy if he's listened to "his" tape yet (the tape that talks about his role in Suicide Girl's death).  When he says he hasn't, the asker always shouts, "What are you waiting for?  You have to listen!!"  But Doormat Boy can't do it.  And why?  Because if he did, the show would be over.  The show needs him to listen to one tape per episode.  So, against human nature and every bit of reason in the universe, Doormat Boy listens to one bit at a time.

Doormat Boy always does what the person next to him says.  Suicide Girl orders him to be her friend, and so he does.  Football Boy's friends pressure him into drinking, so he chugs a beer.  And, of course, Suicide Girl orders him to listen to the tapes on the first cassette, and he does.  I heard that later he starts standing up for himself, but I wasn't willing to wait for it.

Suicide Girl herself is a nasty little bitch.  She's mean and snarky to her friends.  She walks all over Doormat Boy.  She calls him names (the fact that she calls him by a series of demeaning nicknames instead of his actual name turns into a running joke).  Whenever she asks him for advice and he gives it, she says something cruel to him in return, and when he finally gets up the gumption to protest about it, she simpers at him and walks away.  She starts arguments with her friends and parents over inconsequential matters just to have drama in the episode.  Bitchy, nasty, unlikable.  If I was supposed to feel sorry she was dead, by Episode 5 I wasn't.

I also couldn't swallow the idea that no one tells anyone else about the tapes.  Ten-odd teens have gotten hold of these tapes, and they've told their friends about them, but NOT ONE PARENT has learned of them?  No.  Just no.  Someone would talk about it to an adult.  Or an adult would find the tapes by accident and give a listen.  Or they'd stumble onto their teenager listening and demand to know what's going on.  ("Why are you listening to a tape?")  There's no way something like this would remain a secret when this many people know about it.  I've seen it in action.  Just last week at school, a kid kept spraying stink bomb aerosol in classes as a prank.  It was supposed to stay a huge secret who was doing it.  But within twenty minutes, someone ratted him out.  Someone ALWAYS talks.  Always.  The tapes would be public knowledge in a matter of hours.

And why DOES everyone do what Suicide Girl says on the tapes?  Sorry, hon, but you're dead.  You don't get to reach out of your grave and tell other people what to do.  If I got a bunch of cassettes from a dead person that said, "Go to Spot A in town and listen," I MIGHT continue listening, but I definitely wouldn't go to Spot A to do it.  My overall instinct would be to return the tapes to Suicide Girl's parents, untouched, or maybe to erase them and throw them out.  I certainly wouldn't obey orders from beyond the grave, if for no other reason than a feeling of "Fuck you."  Yet on this show, every single person follows orders.  Another point of disbelief.  No one erases the tapes or throws them away or says, "Fuck this!"?  Sure.

And Brian's role as Suicide Girl's father?  Well, he was barely given enough screen time for me to form an opinion.  He's an adult in a teen drama, so he'd shown up in maybe four scenes by the time I stopped watching.  I'm glad he got the chance to be on what's inexplicably a hit show, though.

When I got halfway through Episode 5, I realized I was watching the show out of a sense of duty more than any enjoyment, and that I actively disliked bringing it up on Netflix.  There was nothing redeeming in the show, nothing fun or interesting to watch, nothing that made me look forward to more.  The show actively pissed me off, in fact.  I decided to remove the show from my queue, and you know what?  I felt a strange sense of relief. 

No more banal adventures of Doormat Boy and Suicide Girl.
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Last weekend, Darwin and I went down to Ypsilanti to visit Sasha.  We had lunch, we discovered a really BAD buffet (and got our money refunded for it when we complained), and we went shopping.

After we dropped Sasha back at his place, Darwin and I decided to drive to Belleville, one town over, and check out their annual Strawberry Festival.  I'd visited it once about 15 years ago and remember liking it, and it sounded fun.  Street fairs are usually kind of cool, and we could get some strawberries and/or strawberry treats.

When we arrived, we got parking at the local high school, which was right next to what we assumed was the Strawberry Festival.  It turned out to be more like a county fair, with rides and games and animals and such.  What we didn't see were strawberries.  Finally Darwin found a building labeled FOOD BARN, which was selling strawberry-themed items: strawberry sundaes, shortcake, shakes, and so on. They also sold hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, and other foods.

That seemed to be the extent of the strawberries.

Eventually, we realized the carnival was separate from the actual festival, and it was a bit of a hike toward town.  Gamely, we struck out and, after about a ten minute walk, we found the real festival.  It was a lot of booths selling arts and crafts, and LOTS of churches who wanted to convert passers-by, and local businesses who wanted to re-do your gutters, and food trucks selling barbecue and junk food and lemonade and smoothies.

No strawberries.  I mean, NOTHING. 

I was thinking we'd find strawberry pies and jams and salsas and gelatins and ices and strawberry-themed crafts and . . . well, you know.  But, nope!  Not one strawberry anything in sight.  Why they bothered naming it a strawberry festival, we couldn't tell.

We also noticed that downtown Belleville is . . . dumpy.  Almost all the buildings took the worst of 1954's blocky, dull brick and lumped them together into a string of boring offices, with a few liquor stores and tattered bait shops mixed in.  The city hall, which stands on the corner of the downtown, should be an arresting piece of architecture, since it's the first thing people see when they arrive in downtown Belleville, but it's nothing more than a dull pile of brown brick.  A good chunk of the main street sweeps past a magnificent lake, which begs to sport a boardwalk and a boat rental place and some delightful pub/restaurants and at least one night club.  Instead, we have a guardrail, a dead parking lot, one bored-looking restaurant, and a run-down liquor store that looks like it deals heroin out the back door.  What a waste!

We did score a few burping cloths from a craft booth for the upcoming baby shower, and we had supper at an antique A&W, which was giving away free root beer floats in honor of the strawberry festival.  And I got to spend an afternoon with my dear husband and see Sasha.  So the day wasn't a total loss!
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I'm starting to despise our neighbors.  I mean really loathe, hate, and despise them.

They're inconsiderate, selfish, and downright stupid.

And it all comes down to their lawns.

Every single day--and I mean EVERY SINGLE DAY--my neighbors in my subdivision are outside working on their lawns or their decks or their gutters.  They must have golf-course level lawns.  If a leaf falls, alarms go off. 

Normally I wouldn't give a shit.  You want to waste your life on this?  Go for it.  When you die, you can have "He kept a nice lawn" engraved on your tombstone. 

The trouble is, they're all so fucking noisy about it.  They do nothing by hand.  Ever.  Everyone has a giant lawn mower that can harvest corn to mow their weensy yards with, and they're LOUD.  Then they whip out the leaf blowers, which scream a high-pitched whine for hours and hours and hours.  I once timed a particular offender and discovered she worked her leaf blower for over three hours one afternoon.  As a write this, yet another neighbor is power-washing his driveway, which apparently requires an air compressor louder than a North Pacific chainsaw.  I have a neighbor who drags a machine out to bleach her gutter every so often.  Bleach!  I'm not making this up.

It wouldn't be so bad if these things happened all at once, for an hour or so a week.  But no--they happen every fucking day.  When one neighbor finally finishes, the next revs up his rusty toy.  It's like they wait.  "No, I can't do mine now--Fred over there is already making noise.  I'll wait until he's done to keep it going."

It's the leaf blowers that baffle me the most.  I watched the leaf-blower neighbor chase a pair of leaves across her lawn with her blower.  TWO LEAVES.  It would have been faster and more efficient for her to pick them up.  It would absolutely be faster and more efficient for her to just rake the lawn.  It would take maybe an hour to run a leaf rake over her bit of green, but she uses a leaf blower for three instead. 

Last February, the weather became unseasonably warm--70s all around.  The snow vanished.  My neighbors all rushed outside the get a jump start on their spring cleanup.  Leaf blowers!  Lawn mowers!  Power washers!  Vroom!  Rrrruum!  Fweeee!   All day long.  We had to shut the windows instead of airing out the house with the nice, warm air.  And the next day?  We had a windstorm and blizzard.  Branches came down everywhere.  Snow covered everything.  And when it all melted in March, it looked like nothing had been done.  An utter waste of time and gasoline, and my neighbors ruined a nice respite from the winter's cold with all the noise.

My neighbors are boorish twats, and the awful, rotten machine noise that ruins the tranquility of the neighborhood is the biggest factor in our decision to move away once Maksim has finished school.  We love the house.  We hate the neighbors.
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When summer comes, I like to move outside to my summer office. It's the front porch of our lovely house. It faces north, so it's always cool and shady. We've installed some comfortable porch furniture out there, along with a porch rug so I'm not on bare cement. We aren't far from a pond, so I can hear red-wing blackbirds sing and mourning doves call, both birds I remember from my childhood in Wheeler.

Although the porch looks out onto the street, bushes and trees surround it, giving me a fair amount of quiet privacy. I've put up hanging baskets of flowers and other plants around, and also put more plants on the rail for more greenery and privacy. If I don't move, no one even notices I'm out there. :) This is my view:

When it rains, it's even more beautiful.  The porch stays perfectly dry, and I can admire the rain while I write.

When I was a child, we lived in a big farmhouse.  Next to it was a small milk house for storing fresh milk in the days when the place was a working dairy farm.  It was the size of a garden hut and hand a concrete-lined pit in the bottom that you filled with cold water from the nearby well.  Then you put the big metal milk cans down in the water to keep the milk cool.  The house was also shaded by pine and lilac trees to keep it cooler still.

My mother covered the pit over with a wooden platform and converted the milk house into a playhouse for my sister and brother and me.  We played house and created fairy tales and other games of pretend in there.

And I wrote in it.  I had a pile of notebook paper in a blue folder and a lap desk, and I often sat out there to write.  I remember sitting out there in the rain and once even a thunderstorm with my papers and pencil.  I felt adventurous and secretive and cozy all at the same time while I put those words on paper out in the little house among the trees and the rain.  I don't have the old manuscripts anymore, but I have the memories.

Sitting on the front porch to write on my laptop makes me feel like I did when I wrote in the milk house, and I like it very much.

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At a street fair today, a woman approached and asked if I would sign a petition to let So-and-So run for governor in 2018, since Snyder is term-limited.

"What party is he?" I asked.

"Republican," she said. "And he--"

"No, thank you" I interrupted.  "I'm married to a man, and the Republican party isn't supportive of that. I can't sign your petition."

"Oh."  She looked taken aback.  "Er . . . yes.  I support civil unions."

"I don't," Darwin put in.

"Thank you," I added, and we walked away.

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It's the last week here at Wherever Schools.  It's been a long, long year this time, not in the least because we had to add (unpaid) days due to new state laws.  The seniors have already graduated and left.  I only have a few seniors this year, so it didn't affect my teaching much.  After a year of four sections of English 9, though, I'm eager for summer break.

I'm getting the annual last-minute begging.  This student wants to make up an assignment from six weeks ago.  That one wants just a few more points so his grade can go from a B- to a B.  This other one wants a list of every missing assignment for the entire semester so she can make them up.  I give them all my standard answer: "The time to ask about this was three weeks ago. It's too late now."

I have to do a little more sorting and putting away than usual this year.  The building is undergoing some construction over the summer, and my stuff has to be out of the way.  In fact, they're kicking all us teachers out of the building the moment exams are over to start the work and telling us we can't come back into the building until fall, when the work is done. 

You'll find me at home, writing on my front porch!
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Last weekend, Maksim said he wanted to try some highway driving.  As it happened, I had some errands to run south of town, so Maksim could be my chauffeur. 

He told me he was nervous.  He hadn't driven on the highway since driver's ed class.  I told him he'd be fine once he got on the road and that I wasn't worried.

As is usual with these things, the anticipation was far worse than the event.  Maksim made several minor mistakes on the way to the highway--lane drifting, hesitating on turns, being unaware of the speed limit--which clearly came from nerves.  Once we pulled onto the highway and he matched speeds with the other cars, however, he calmed down.  He drove perfectly fine.  When he got off the highway, his nervousness came back and he made more minor mistakes.

We ran the errands--Darwin's coffee maker needed to be replaced, as did some of the box fans.  I needed a new computer stylus.  We got lunch at Qdoba, Maksim's favorite restaurant.

And Maksim said I could drive home.  He'd had enough of the highway for the day!


Jun. 14th, 2017 08:37 am
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It's cherry season!  I love cherries and will eat them like popcorn when they come in.  So will Darwin.  But last week, I bought two pounds and told Darwin to keep his hands off!

"I'm making Cherries Jubilee," I told him.

I've always wanted to make Cherries Jubilee, and I decided to go whole hog.  I took down my ice cream maker and whipped up a batch of home made vanilla ice cream, though I found to my dismay I was nearly out of vanilla extract.  I used almond extract to make up the difference, and discovered that vanilla almond ice cream tastes fantastic!

While that was in the final stages of freezing, I pitted the cherries and put them in a frying pan with some sugar and lemon juice.  I cooked them down until the juices ran tart and scarlet, then hosed it carefully with rum.  With Darwin and the boys watching, I flicked a long lighter over the pan.  Blue flame fired upward.  I swirled it all around until the flames died down and spooned this over chilled bowls of vanilla almond ice cream.

Aran looked askance at the whole thing, but once he tried a taste, he said, "Wow!"  He kept saying "wow" all the time he was eating.  The tart, hot cherries mixed with the sweet, cold ice cream into a delicious dessert.

Oh, yeah!
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Over the weekend, we hosted poker night.  We have a revolving poker tournament that takes place at different people's houses, though in reality it mostly happens at three people's houses.  Our house is specifically designed for entertaining large groups, so we hold the tournament here fairly often.

We tidied up the house during the day.  I also went shopping for party food.  The menu this time:

Crudités with French onion dip
Pita chips
Corn chips
Pizza rolls just like Mom used to buy
Home made macaroni and cheese
Soda variety
Birthday cake

The macaroni and cheese came from a recipe Darwin found.  "You should make this," he said.  "It looks good."

You'll notice he didn't say, "I think I'll make this. It looks good."  My husband has many wonderful talents and qualities.  Kitchen skills don't lie among them. 

I was actually skeptical.  The recipe looked good, but it made a LOT of mac and cheese, and I didn't think mac and cheese would appeal at a poker game, where people would want finger food.  However, I decided to give it a try.  We could have a chunk of it for supper beforehand, in any case.

I made the recipe.  It calls for a cup of butter, two and a half pounds of cheese, and a pound of macaroni. (!)  Everyone agreed it was absolutely wonderful!

We set up the food and the playing tables, and people started to arrive.  We had 11 players and two observers, so it was quite a crowd!  And people snarfed down the mac and cheese!  Darwin felt vindicated.  :)

It was Darwin's sister Cindy's birthday, too, which was why we had the birthday cake.

The game began.  It was an exciting evening, actually, with a great deal of suspense surrounding several high-stakes hands.  We actually played two games.  I won the first.  Go me!  It was great fun.


Jun. 10th, 2017 01:25 pm
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I've realized we don't talk about buying pets much anymore.  Have you noticed that?

For some reason, everyone has decided it's wrong to say they bought a dog or bought a cat.  You have to say you adopted it.  Shelters don't charge you--they ask for an adoption fee.  Animal rescue groups ask for compulsory donations.  Neither groups say you're buying a pet.

Fifteen years ago, the last time I got a dog, we answered an ad from a woman who had puppies.  She asked for a twenty dollar "donation."  She clearly felt like she couldn't charge, even though that's what she was doing.  We bought the dog and brought him home.

I don't feel entirely comfortable with saying I adopted a pet.  After the difficulty and heartache I went through to adopt two children, I have a hard time with the idea of applying that word to a cat or dog. 

Requiring a donation is a misnomer anyway.  Donations are given freely, with nothing accepted in return.  It's a complete fiction that you hand over $100 to an animal group as a "donation" and mysteriously receive a pet in return.  Would the organization give you the pet without the donation?  They certainly wouldn't.  You have bought a pet.

People have no trouble saying they bought a chicken for a farm.  Or bought a horse, or a cow, or a pig, or a goat.  But dog and cats?  They have to be adopted, for some reason. 

People are strange.
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I use ad blockers on my web browser.  Web sites hate this, of course.  I'm not seeing their carefully-placed advertisements with bouncing boobs that want me to order pizza or waggling bikini butts that demand I buy Smucker's or tumbling titties that tell me to get Tonka Trucks.  This makes me happy.

But some sites have started taking notice.  At certain sites, I'll be there for a few seconds and suddenly the screen switches to a blank screen surrounding a passive-aggressive plea.  "We notice you use an ad blocker. We wouldn't DREAM of telling you not to use one. Totally not. But maybe if you rethink it, we'll let you look at our site." 

There are workarounds to this.  I just reload the site and hit the STOP function before the reload finishes, which usually halts their detection software.  Other times I just select the entire page quickly and paste it into a blank document so I can read what I want.  One thing I don't do is shut off my ad blocker.

I don't object to the concept of advertising on-line--or anywhere else, for that matter.  Someone has to pay for all this "free" content, and there are goods and services that I want to become aware of.  I wouldn't know about the Wonder Woman movie, for example, without advertising.  However, nearly all advertising is sexist, racist, intrusive, homophobic, heterocentrist, or manipulative.  And so I do my best to cut it out of my life.

I become unhappy that I've been taught since I was a child that I'm supposed to go cuckoo for Coco Puffs, that Eggo waffles, McDonald's fries, Cookie Crisp cereal, and Lucky Charms are so delicious I need to steal them, that Ford trucks are tough as a ram (whatever that means), or that big-titted women will want to blow me if I drink Coor.  Internet ads are even worse than usual.  So I avoid them.

If advertisers want me to look at their ads, they should make their ads tasteful and watchable.  Since they don't, I will continue to block them.
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For those Christians who say, "This isn't what real Christians are like," my question is, what are you doing to help? Here are things you CAN do to help.

1) Help this guy pay his medical and legal bills. Send cash.
2) Contact this church by phone, email, and paper mail and tell them they're in the wrong. Do it repeatedly.
3) Attend a Gay Pride Festival this month and work a booth for a church that supports LGBT people; or carry a sign that reads REAL CHRISTIANS LOVE LGBT PEOPLE.
4) Get a group of like-minded friends and attend a homophobic church service and start a discussion to let the homophobic church know you and your church disagree with them.

It isn't enough just to say, "Well, I'm Christian and these people aren't real Christians." Sending "good thoughts" or "good prayers" is also useless, and lets these people grab the spotlight. Their version of your religion wins, even if they go to jail. The fact is, this church is presenting the face of Christianity, and if you want to change that, you need to DO SOMETHING. After all, THEY are.


May. 31st, 2017 10:54 am
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I like hand made soap.  Whenever I go to a street fair or craft fair or something, they always have a couple-three crafters selling soap, and I like them.  I'm mostly unhappy with commercial soap, which always smells so heavy or artificial.  So perfumey.  Even so-called "men's" soap smells like cologne that was run through a gun barrel.  It's gross.  They often have a chemical feel to them, too.

The home-made soaps have a . . . quieter smell.  They smell like outdoors or the beach or sunshine.  They also feel softer.  Nicer.  And they come in lots and lots of fragrances and colors.  When one runs out, you can have a different color, so you don't get bored.

The only trouble with home-made soaps is that if you run out and there's no craft or art show handy, you're done.  This happened to me recently--my last bit was worn down to the nubs and I was forced to switch to--ack!--commercial soap.  But then I thought to check Etsy.  Ah!  Naturally, they had a ton of places selling soap.  The downside, though, was that I couldn't check them to see if I liked the scent.  But I took the leap and ordered some based on color and description.  They came yesterday and I like them very well.

If you're ever wondering what to get me for a gift, now you know.
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After supper, we stopped in at Darwin's office so I could have a look at the renovations and restructuring, which was very interesting.  Then we headed down to Higlhland Cemetery for the lantern tour.

Highland Cemetery is an enormous cemetery that opened in 1864.  Prospect Cemetery and the Summit Street Cemetery were too small, so the city bought a huge tract of land and had it landscaped for burial.  Rather than a military setup with straight lines, the architect chose to lay out the graves in swoops and spirals and flowers and stars, preserving also the hills and valleys and trees.

I love cemeteries, and my work in progress is set against this particular cemetery as a backdrop, so I wanted to attend this tour.  Darwin loves cemeteries, too, so off we went.

I posted photos at my Facebook page:

The weather was perfect--mid-sixties, fading sun, no bugs.  You couldn't ask for better!

At the main entry gates--wrought iron set against stone walls--we found a gray-haired man in chunky glasses who introduced himself as James Mann, a local historian who had written a number of books on Ypsilanti history.  I own a few of them, in fact.  After hearing him speak and watching him walk, I came to the conclusion that he's on the autism spectrum, though probably undiagnosed.

Anyway, about a dozen other people showed up, about half of them under 30, which was a nice surprise.  In my experience, it's the older folk who are most interested in this kind of thing.

James gave some introductory information about the cemetery, most of which I already knew, then lead us to the Starkweather Chapel, which is a mausoleum set up by Mary Ann Starkweather, a much beloved local philanthropist from the late 1800s.  In front of it sat dozens of oil lanterns, all lit and ready to go.  We each selected one and headed into the cemetery.

It was an interesting tour.  James showed us Civil War graves (including one of a soldier who was a member of the "Colored Division" and who, judging by the year of his death, died in action), graves with odd symbolism (a hand pointing up meant "gone to heaven" and a hand pointing down meant . . . well no one these days knows for sure. Probably not "gone to hell," but possibly "zapped by god and taken early."), the grave of Richard Streicher (a seven-year-old boy who was stabbed 14 times in 1935 and whose murder was never solved, and who only got a grave stone last year--Google it), the Potter's Field (a long, rolling hill with no markers on it), and more.

I asked James about how many burials they got, and he said about one a week, which is about fifty a year.  There are about 13,000 people buried in the cemetery, and they have enough room to keep them going for about 40 more years.

The most interesting part to Darwin and me was the "old" section.  Highland Park Cemetery was founded in 1864 because Prospect Cemetery, Ypsi's original cemetery, was too small.  Finally, Prospect Cemetery was abandoned, and by 1888 was overgrown and run down.  Ypsilanti grew out and around Prospect, and no one wanted this old, run-down cemetery among Ypsi's lovely new houses, so it was decided the cemetery needed to be moved. But how? Cities don't move cemeteries. It's too expensive.  Whenever a cemetery closes or is "vacated" (the official term for "moved"), the descendants are responsible for moving the graves.  Many graves were lost or forgotten--records were incomplete--and family members were unwilling or unable to pay to have coffins relocated.

Then the Ladies Club stepped forward. They could raise money to move the cemetery as a civic project.  Yay!  They worked on this for some time in the late 1880s and managed to lay the groundwork, so to speak.

But disaster struck: marriage.  One by one, the ladies got married.  The stresses of setting up a new household, being a new housewife, and even becoming pregnant meant the ladies suddenly had no time for civic projects.  The cemetery move was dropped.

In 1891, another civic group came forward--I forget which--and offered to move the cemetery.  Yay!  But they only hired ONE MAN. To move about 250 graves.  He did it, and he did it in only a couple months.


Let's look at that.  It takes one man with a shovel about five hours to dig a grave.  So relocating a grave takes ten hours of digging--five hours on the old, five on the new--plus time to haul the remains up, move the stone, haul everything to the new site, drop everything into the new grave, and reset the gravestone.  You could probably do two graves every three days.  Assuming a six-day work week, we're talking months and months and months for one man to move an entire graveyard.  And work would have to stop in winter.  And when it rained.  And if he got sick or hurt.  And when . . . and when . . .

Can you see where this is going?

Darwin and I had already visited the spot where the graves from Prospect had been relocated.  We found a whole bunch of grave markers, the old fashioned tall, thin, white kind.  Most lay in a too-neat rows on the grass and look liked they had been dropped there by someone who had tossed them off the back of a cart.  (No attempt was made to set the stones upright.  It was a very slapdash job.)  Many of the stones are mere inches apart.  There's simply no room for a grave underneath them.  Two groups of stones are jumbled together in a mess with some touching.  No room for graves there, either.

It's clear what happened.  The project got interrupted.  Pressure was on to get the cemetery out of there.  The new group hired the guy and told him to dig around and make it look like he'd done the digging, and just move the stones out to the new graveyard.  Who was going to check?  Who was going to care?  The last time anyone had been buried at Prospect was 20-odd years ago.  No one visited the graveyard anymore.  And that's what the worker did.  He hauled the surviving markers over to Highland Cemetery, dropped them on the ground in rows, and went home.  The end.

The Ladies Club got involved again at this point.  They turned Prospect Cemetery into Prospect Park, and it's still a park to this day.  It's very popular with families, and the school across the street uses it as a playground every day.  They don't know they're picnicking and playing atop over 200 dead bodies.

James, our guide, accidentally confirmed my theory.  I asked him about the gravestones being so close together and how actual graves could be down there.  He said a while ago, someone pushed metal probes down into several graves and they found nothing.  No coffins, no bones, nothing.


We also visited the Trysting Tree.  This is a HUGE beech tree about 100 yards from the entrance of Highland Park Cemetery.  Carvings of people's names and initials cover it.  Some are way up high.  Graves are scattered beneath it.  It's supposedly the biggest tree in Washtenaw County, and this one is called the Trysting Tree.  For over 150 years--ever since the cemetery opened--it's been a place where young people come to canoodle among the dead.  They still do.  The tradition is that you carve your name or initials into the tree afterward.  There are lots of initials.  Some have commentary.  You have to see it.

I also learned that the Catholic cemetery across the street from Highland was transplanted.  It used to be closer to the heart of Ypsilanti on Ann Street, but the new Normal School wanted to expand (it eventually became Eastern Michigan University).  So the cemetery was relocated.  I don't know if it truly was or not.  More research is required to find out.

As the sun faded, our lanterns became bobbing points of yellow light.  We raised and lowered them to read grave markers and it felt like we had wandered back in time.  James said there are no ghost legends about Highland Cemetery, and no one felt spooked or spooky, just interested in the history.

By the end of the tour, Darwin and I were pleasantly tired and hungry.  We thanked our tour guide and popped over to Aubree's restaurant for a snack.  (We had visited the grave of Aubree's founder and learned that in the 80s and 90s, a motorcycle gang basically took over the restaurant as their main hangout.  I remember this.  Rows of motorcycles were always parked outside the restaurant, and they roared through Depot Town, and everyone hated them.)  The founder, Mr. French, finally got rid of them by gentrifying the place.  He changed the menu, raised the prices, replaced regular beer with imported beer, hired a bunch of young college girls to be waitresses, and gently told his motorcycle patrons that they couldn't swear around such Sweet Young Thangs.  After a couple weeks, the gang left.

It was a fine way to end the evening.

stevenpiziks: (Default)
Saturday, Darwin and I drove down to Ypsilanti for a late evening.  We were scheduled to join an after-dark cemetery tour, and we had decided to have supper down there beforehand.

We ate at Bona Sera, a relatively new restaurant in downtown Ypsi that's in kind of a cursed spot.  Since I first moved to Ypsilanti 20 years ago, there have been four or five different restaurants in that location, and all of them have died. 

The name made me think this was an Italian restaurant, but it wasn't.  It was an upscale fusion restaurant, with a variety of dishes.  I ordered an appetizer plate of sweet chevre with fruit and nuts, with baguette to spread it on.  Darwin, to my despair, refused to try even a bite.  But I liked it very much.

The salads were spring greens with an olive oil and vinegar based dressing.  Darwin liked it, but I found the greens bitter and the dressing too heavy.

For the entre, I ordered the shepherd's pie (chicken), and Darwin decided to try their version of four-cheese macaroni and cheese.  Both were wonderful.  And filling!  We could only eat half.  We took the rest home.

I pointed out to Darwin the variety of the people in the restaurant around us.  The server had blue hair and pierced cheeks.  The other waiter, rake thin, wore all black with huge glasses and had the sides of his head shaved.  The couple a few tables away was mixed race, with the woman's hair done up outrageously white and fluffy, her clothes high-end, while her companion wore a baseball cap and workman's clothes.  The young man and woman at the bar--he from the Middle East, she from India--wore casual business attire.  The foursome behind us--one straight couple, one gay couple--wore a variety of outfits.  One of the men stepped out of a J. Crew catalog.  His husband was a Brooks Brothers man.  The woman wore purple from head to foot, while her husband dressed in cargo shorts and a polo shirt.  Outside, a woman walked past carrying the World's Biggest Shopping Bag (tm) and looking unhappy about it while a white college student with sculpted everything jogged by.

"If we were up in Oakland County," I said, "everyone would look much the same.  Down here, it's a variety."

Darwin agreed.

The foursome, incidentally, loudly discussed politics at their table.  They castigated Donald Trump, his administration, and his trip abroad.  They mused how long it would take him to be impeached and whether the country would be better or worse off under Pence.  Darwin and I eavesdropped with amusement.

"It's like coming home," Darwin said.

On our way out, I stopped at their table and leaned in.  "Your political discussion sound just like ours," I said.

They burst out laughing and applauded a little.  We made ten-second friends. :)

More . . .
stevenpiziks: (Default)
Now the Internet is losing its shit over a screening of Wonder Woman:

Short version is, a movie theater company arranged a women-only screening of WONDER WOMAN.  In certain quarters of the Internet (you know the parts I mean), this was met with howls.  Clutch your balls, gentlemen!  The wimmins have become sexist!  How dare they!

Shut your fuckity-shit mouths, trump-holes.

Let's look at what's really going on, shall we?

First, the guys howling sexism aren't really worried about sexism.  They're being small children.  For thousands of years, men have had power over women, and we're now in a society that is trying (and usually failing) to right this wrong.  Certain men, the ones who have only half a scrotum among them, are afraid of this.  So they meet every positive change with a demand for an equal-and-ridiculous sexist change.  "Women have demanded equal access to men's spaces such as men's clubs and men's board rooms and men's jobs, but now they want a special women-only place?  THAT'S NOT EQUAL! THAT'S HYPOCRISY!"  And they leap around clutching their balls because they're afraid someone is going to cut them off.  This can't actually happen--you can't cut off what doesn't exist.

At any rate, the WONDER WOMAN screening is a party, and a party is allowed to have a limited guest list.  Tell you what, ball-clutchers--when all of you demand to be included in baby showers, bridal showers, and strip clubs where men bare all, I'll believe your whimpering about WONDER WOMAN.  Until then, it's plain your protests are as fake as your wife's orgasms.

Second, if you're really and truly upset about a special screening for just women, then arrange a special screening for just men.  Go for it!  Nothing's stopping you--except the fact that you have a sphincter where your mouth should be.  There's no rule that says the group that arranged the women-only screening is required to arrange a men's screening for you--that's your job.  Get off your flabby, artery-clogged asses and arrange it.  Maybe I'll even buy a ticket.  If I'm in town.  And I can stand the thought of sitting next to a bunch of emasculated ball-clutchers with half a scrotum among them.

Nah.  I wouldn't be able to.  I'll wait until the movie opens and make my sons go see it with me.  Like real men.

stevenpiziks: (Default)
CBS released an actual trailer (instead of a stupid teaser trailer) for Star Trek: Discovery. And the Internet is losing its shit: 

As of this writing, the trailer has over four million views on YouTube and zillions of negative comments.  Why, you ask?  Well . . .

1. It only shows one white man in the trailer.  Instead, the show revolves around two minority women.
2. The Klingons are different.
3. The uniforms and Star Fleet insignia are different.
4. Although the show is set ten years before the original series, the technology seems to be more advanced than in the original series.  It's different!
5. We have to pay CBS's streaming service to watch it.

So what's happening here?

Well, for #1, the Internet is full of white snowflakes who, even after centuries of stories about straight white males, can't handle it when a story isn't all about them.  Sorry, boys.  The world is moving on.  You can either move with it and enjoy it with the rest of us, or watch BIRTH OF A NATION again with your hands down your pants.  The choice is yours.

As for 2-4, people forget that Star Trek ISN'T REAL.  Wake up, peeps!  It's all fake.  Hand-waving.  A story.  We can have anything we want, whenever we want it.  Besides, times change, and our stories change with them.  No one talked to a computer in the original show because no one back then even thought the idea was possible.  We do that NOW, and our stories reflect that.  The Klingons changed radically from series to series.  They're changing again.  So what?  It's fun to see how a new team of people (with a bigger budget and updated effects) envision Klingons.  It's nice to see them look more alien, too boot.  Pull the tri-corder out of your ass, and enjoy the show on its own terms, dudes.

And as for #5 . . . know what?  I'm ready for this!  Let me choose the channels I want and pay a lower fee to get them. It's way cheaper than a cable service that forces me to pay top dollar for channels I'll never see!  And I'll bet the streaming customer service is better.

Know what else?  All the complainers will bitch and moan and wail . . . and they'll watch the show.  Every episode.  Four, five, and six times.  Then they'll buy the DVD, and the Blu-Ray, and the digital when they come out.  Then they'll log back into CBS and watch the episodes there again.

So just shut up and hand CBS the money, little snowflakes.  You know it's going to happen.

stevenpiziks: (Default)
Saturday morning, I dragged Darwin to the hardware and garden store.  He always complains about these trips, but once I get him there, he doesn't want to leave.  So many pretty, shiny things!

I needed to replace the hanging plants and planter flowers that our unseasonable frost had killed.  We also needed rocks to line a gutter overflow area and a new hose caddy.  We spent considerable time collecting all these things and gently arguing over what color flowers worked best.

When we arrived home, it started to rain.  And rain and rain and rain.  This meant I couldn't do anything with all the stuff we'd just bought, but that was okay--I had a huge pile of papers to grade.

It's difficult grading freshman research essays.  They range wildly from really good to barely legible.  The biggest problem is that there are so MANY of them.  Thanks to budget cuts, I have over 130 freshmen.  They rightly want feedback on their essays, but with 35 students in a class, I simply can't give the careful critique I did back when I had only 21 or 22 students per hour.  I'm forced to read quickly and rely on circling numbers on a rubric, which isn't nearly as helpful.

I already had about a quarter of them done.  I spent the entire rest of the afternoon, evening, and night grading these.  I started before lunch and finished at 11:00 PM, in fact.  Now you know why teachers have summers off.

Sunday, I refused to have anything to do with work or writing.  The guy we hired to power wash the deck came and set to work, with water rushing in all directions while I caught up on small things around the house.  When he was done and everything was sparkly clean, Darwin and I put the front porch furniture out and hung all the plants.  The front porch is shaded all day in summer, and I use it as a second office.  It stays cool all day, it has an electric socket for my laptop, and it's screened from the neighborhood by generous foliage.  The plants everywhere make it feel even more homey, and I sit out there quite a lot.

Out back, we put out the patio furniture.  One project for this summer is to re-furnish the back deck.  We need something to shade the back deck--in summer it gets a lot of sun and is flatly unusable.  I want to get a cantilever umbrella and some more comfortable deck furniture than we now have.

I also set more potted flowers about the deck, then planted the rest in the old tomato boxes.  Two years ago, Maksim and I tried to grow tomatoes in big boxes, but our yard just doesn't get enough sun, so the plants died.  The boxes have been sitting with their dirt, unused.  I dragged them out and planted purple petunias in them, and they contrast nicely with the yellow ones in the pots.

Just as I finished, the rain arrived again.  It poured!

But that was okay--I had to make supper.  The menu: roast lemon and herb chicken; grilled naan bread; baked carrots; roasted asparagus.  The latter was because Maksim had never had asparagus and wanted to try it.  Darwin said he hates asparagus, but I told him that's because he's never had it prepared properly.  "I'll bet you've always had it steamed or boiled at a restaurant with a glob of margarine on it," I said.  "Nasty!"

I tossed it with olive oil, salt, and pepper and put it in the oven for ten minutes.

Everything was tasty.  It was a seven-pound chicken, and almost nothing was left by meal's end.  And even Darwin liked the asparagus.



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