Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008

Goodbye, 2008.

Goodbye, mother's broken knee and arthritis flare. Goodbye, brother's persistent pseudomonas infection and resultant complications. Goodbye, partner's career decision stress. Goodbye, inflated promises of salary raise (and hello, keeping my job in a recession.)

Goodbye, office squabbles and bitter rage. Hello, teamwork.

Goodbye, laziness that brings on profligate spending and unprecedented wastefulness. Hello, savings account and greener behavior (except, of course, the hand-me-down SUV; however, we'll try to use it greener.)

Goodbye, recently unused gym membership. Hello, walks on the beach; you turn the chore of exercise into joyous quiet time with my beloved.

Goodbye, Netflix. Hello, music lessons.

Goodbye, first 22 pounds of the weight I need to lose. Don't be lonely. I will be sending you company shortly. And so will my entire family, who will be dieting with me. Hello, pro-active support group.

Goodbye, two miscarriages and infertility diagnosis bills. Hello, treatment.

Goodbye, illegitimate chokehold on my government. (Here's hoping that what's next is better.)

Sayonara, broken health insurance plan? So long, nightmare war? See you later (I predict about eight years later), freefalling national debt?

Hello, hope.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Two concepts from the perfume world: "bespoke" and "yours but better"

I know, I know, an increasingly large amount of my posts are about perfume-related things and about fertility... well, it stands to reason. Unless I talk about work, I'm going to talk about my hobbies; if I am talking about hobbies other than killing time noodling around with Rock Band, it's going to be perfume or it's going to be bird-rescue or birdwatching. And of course fertility is much on my mind.

There are two interesting concepts that have been preoccupying me, both coming from that world of perfume/cosmetics. I think that these concepts are revealing and interesting beyond the scope of the industry and aficionados.

The first is the notion of "bespoke" perfumes.

Bespoke is an adjective coming from men's fashion, indicating a custom-made luxury item made from scratch to the client's specifications and with his selected materials. Other items of toilette, including not only couture but fragrance, can now be bespoke (and not just for the movie-stars-gangsters-and-princes that used to bespeak suits... but for anyone of middle-class income and nouveau-riche aspirations: pretty much everyone I know.) Bespoke fragrances are a strong current trend with a broad range of houses -- mainstream and niche -- humoring the whims of the radically individual.

We don't want to smell like anyone else. Running into another person wearing the same perfume is as shocking as attending a party with another guest wearing the same ensemble... and as uncomfortable. With hundreds of high-profile perfume launches this year and countless niche releases, it should be easy to find the "holy grail" scent that is exactly what we want to wear, simultaneously nourishing our character and displaying it. (Yes, people do seek their HG scents with great energy and passion.)

We all seem to believe we are "perfect little snowflakes" - special, unique, different from everyone else. Thus, the bespoke scent. Come on, doesn't the idea tempt you? Can you not concoct an imaginary bouquet of scents that speak your name, perhaps from the everyday things that are also parts of you: the steam from your coffee or tea, the twist of your preferred citrus, a splash of your Scotch or whatever your poison may be, the bright bite of your favorite herbs, perhaps a whisper of your most luxurious dinner or dessert recipe, or the echo of your hobby, be it the rubber of bike tires, the sweat and soil scents of gardening, or the tantalizing smoke of a barbecue?

I think that the reason bespoke scents are not always holy grail scents may be because they reflect who we want to be. Sure, I want to be that savage, outdoorsy dryad, flower-garlanded and plumed with ferns and feathers, bathed in smoke and balsam fir, but who am I really? My HG scents are always plump cozy odalisques curled up on the couch with lap blankets and trashy novels and cookies and tea, not the dryad of my preference... and so am I. That is, when I'm not a decidedly offbeat madwoman, smelling of bad wiring and chewing gum and mismatched oddments, monkeying with toys and electronica, with the music of a previous generation bellowing around me.

I think that bespoke perfumes is the business end of the radical individualism we were all raised to espouse, and are now giving up in other arenas of our lives (such as when we buy used cars, or wear second-hand clothes, as we increasingly do and will in our greening generation.) It's like the so-called "lipstick index" of economic disaster: people buy more lipstick when the economy is off (maybe) and they look for intangible expressions of selfhood when their usual indices of individuality become less indexical.

The other concept preoccupying me, for less fanciful reasons, is the "yours but better" trend. In advertising and in critique of products, the best makeup is "your skin but better" (and so are some musk perfumes). Subtle shades of lipstick are "your lips but better." And so on.

Let it be said that I very much like some of the items so sold (or critiqued). I am actually wearing two such cosmetics now: Make-Up For Ever's Face & Body Liquid Makeup is the lightest and best foundation I have ever used, and I am using a Christmas gift (very much wanted) of Lipstick Queen's Saint Nude lipstick. As someone who hardly ever wears makeup, except as a uniform of professionalism when needed, I appreciate a foundation that makes me look as if my rosacea were not flaring up (but that is all -- no fake perfection, just toned down the redness) and a lipstick that only-slightly enhances my lip color.

But... "better?" Really? How bad is our esteem that we think paint is better than flesh, and perfume is better than our own animal identity? And how poor is our grasp of reality that we think we look ALMOST like we are made up, or smell ALMOST like we do in a perfume? Bah.

Your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Typos and nursing homes

I work in a large and successful insurance agency. I am in the commercial department, the one non-paperless department in the agency (we are paper-full for excellent and prudent reasons). I am also starting a new department in partnership with a workmate, selling Long-Term Care Insurance. Furthermore, when difficult topics come up, I am the unofficial "official" letter-writer. Even if I were not, the amount of correspondence that I send out would be voluminous.

I tend to sign informal correspondence and formal letters to people who know me well with: "Best, Linda." But I am prone to typos on the "best" and they often make me laugh. Sometimes they're apposite, sometimes just stupid. The weird thing is that they are almost always words.

Best
Beset
Bast
Bets
Bert
Beat
Beta
Nest
Vest
Beast

And that's why I have to watch myself when I'm closing a letter.

What, you expected something profound?

Regarding Long-Term Care Insurance, I feel strongly, personally, about this coverage. Despite my mother and brother being well-to-do, my grandmother spent the last months of her life in a (dreadful) nursing facility in penury. Why? Because it is MORE EXPENSIVE THAN WE THINK. Facilities in California cost approximately $250/day. Let's say you're prepared to pay $50/day. That means the portion you are not prepared to pay is $73,000 per year. If inflation pertains (and it almost certainly will -- let's say 5%), in 10 years that $73,000 becomes almost $120,000. Per year. The average stay in long-term care is 3 years. If you keep adding in inflation that would be approximately $378,000 total.

It's one thing if the state is footing the bill (you will end up in a state-approved facility, which will suck, and you will lose all of your assets and savings to get there). It's quite another if you can preserve your savings, your legacy, and your freedom as to where and how you would like to receive care. Your home with caretaker services such as a housekeeper and meals-on-wheels? If needed, your home with nursing care? An adult day-care with evening care by family members? A posh assisted-living facility? Or heck, if you always had a Gitmo fetish, why not a state nursing facility?

Yes, it's expensive, and if you don't have assets, it might not be for you... but this is one of those things that can be worth it, directly measured in quality of life for you and the people you love.

Lecture over. But as you can see, I do feel quite passionate about offering this coverage.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Oh my gosh, I'm getting girly...

Okay, so there has been a nail polish craze (mostly for OPI's amazing lacquers) on some of the perfumista websites I frequent and I freely admit to being affected by the hype. I even obtained a sedate and office-friendly OPI color (these are relatively expensive for someone whose -- very limited -- experiments in nail polish have been inherited or bought for about a buck), a striking berry-brown, and was really impressed by its durability and quality appearance even when the brush is wielded by yours truly.

Yes, I color outside the lines.

But today I am here to preach the glory of the unconventional color. Yea, friends, I am talking about Sky Blue Pink by Orly.

Some caveats:

I hate the texture of the wet polish -- streaky and too liquid, and it dries too fast to be "spreadable" the way that makes me happiest. (It's evidently a French Manicure color, so I have to cut it some slack for its transparency.) This makes it require two coats, which is doubling my opportunity to put it all over my cuticles, bedspread, or eyeballs. I told you, I color outside the lines.

I hate the texture of the dry polish -- it has, albeit a very fine one, some "tooth" and feels matte and about as rough as printer paper. (I prefer mine satiny smooth; I usually buff my unpainted nails to achieve that effect with less conspicuous effeminacy.)

I am really not a nail polish person. That said, I like to keep my toenails painted, but the little problems that plague my fingernail painting are magnified when I am lunging for my feet (which are well outside the range corrected by my eyeglasses for that kind of detail, and distance exacerbates my klutziness anyway).

But.

This color is magical. Nerdy and chic, faintly gothy and posh, natural and alien, club-worthy and work-safe. Battleship gray like a Star Destroyer when seen from an angle that renders the shimmer quiescent. Sky blue, pink, violet, gold, and sunset-cloud-changeable when in motion. Like sunrise reflected by the ocean in natural light. Wow.

And while I'm confessing to an infatuation with color, let me point you toward some indie makeup producers that make truly magnificent eyeshadow colors (which I now wear only about 20 times a year, but which I may have to wear more often as I begin to sell Long-Term Care Insurance and "professionalize" my wardrobe).

The She Space: Customizable, glorious, beautiful colors in a downy-soft and non-irritating powder, with as much or little glitter and shimmer as you like. Great customer service, speedy delivery, and very wearable products. This is the best all-rounder out there. Colors much more WYSIWYG than are Archetype's, but that makes them more wearable for daytime.

Medusa's Makeup: Great products and customer service. They tend to keep their colors simple, but you will not believe the intensity of pigment. Need zazz from color, not glitter? This is your home. These can be a little harsh in texture, so if you are very sensitive-skinned, this might not be your first choice... if it is, moisturize and apply the pigment wet. It helps.

Archetype Cosmetics: The best, most heartbreakingly weird, absolutely glam and goth colors in the world. However, the customer service is appalling -- you will not hear from them at all outside of ... eventually... receiving your package. Delivery takes approximately 2 months. If you are okay with that, please go crazy with it -- I am not lying about the product's astonishing beauty. Also, their site promises that the service will improve, so maybe it will.

This is what I know: I adore cold colors and greens, but I look horrible in them (rosacea makes the contrast brutal) and really have to stick to browns, warm tones, and hot gunmetal/bronze colors. Dammit. So if you want samples of some intense, beautiful cold colors, email me and if you're first, I might mail you a whole lot of samples to monkey with. I am unlikely to wear them.

Okay. Back to my usual casual and ungirlish self. Except the Sky Blue Pink. Oh la la!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Infertility

Those of you who don't see us in person may be surprised to know that we miscarried again in early October. Since then, we have been doing the rounds of doctors and testing, and are being treated for infertility.

It's actually kind of a silly name for it. We have no problem at all getting pregnant; it's staying that way that is hard to do.

After testing, it appears that the reason is that I have a wackily-impressive clotting factor that causes my body to throw blood clots into the placenta, effectively starving/suffocating the developing fetus. Fortunately, this is very easily treated, with two shots of heparin per day to thin my blood once I am successfully pregnant again. I am also on megadoses of folate, because my body doesn't process it correctly. Pleasantly, I did not turn out to have any special insulin resistance, so I am at less risk for diabetes than I feared (although my blood sugar level has always been great).

Infertility treatment has probably dramatically lengthened my life for two reasons: 1) I am taking low-dose aspirin, and am attentive to the clotting, which could very well kill me. 2) before the doctor knew I wasn't insulin resistant, but also just 'cause I'm fat, he put us on the South Beach diet and told us to walk every day. I've lost 20+ pounds in the last month, and Pat has lost a pants size (and is back into his favorite jeans, to his happiness). It's crazy easy to lose weight by cutting down on simple carbs... and I am embarrassed, after all the attention I have given to our diet, to find that it's just a matter of balance after all. Some of the health-conscious things we have been doing (eating fruit after a workout, juicing fruit & vegetables, cutting fats) have actually screwed us over and made us gain weight. We are eating a LOT more fat than we used to, and a lot more food... and the weight is (so far) melting off us. Huh. Live and learn.

We are trying to feel optimistic again and are really enjoying our beach walks. They are calming, energizing, and a great opportunity to watch the sun rise or set on mostly-natural surroundings and to birdwatch. The other day we saw two marbled godwits within 8 feet of us and were surrounded by adorable snowy plovers, some only 3-4 feet away; this after walking through a eucalyptus grove full of sleeping monarch butterflies (it was too cold for them to move) and admiring the glorious West-coast morning sky.

We lack only a child to share this beautiful world with at this point, and we'll take that as it comes. Wish us luck.

Volunteering

Hey all, I know I've been lame, but I've been preoccupied with what Robert Link calls "meatspace" in a completely absorbing way. More on why in the next post.

It's official and we are finally volunteers for Pacific Wildlife Care (and no, it wasn't a lengthy process; we were just lazy about getting 'round to volunteering). We went on our first official "rescue" on Saturday and retrieved a very ill immature gull that someone called in about. I'm not sure how well it is faring now, but it will at least be comfortable and receiving medical care. It did not even resist capture.

We also received a tour of the beautiful facility, meeting Ruby, the red-tailed hawk (who cannot be released and is an educational assistant) and several lovely water birds. We also said hi to "our" pelican, who is still (worryingly) not flying. If you pray for things like pelicans, or if you tune into whatever pelican radio they talk on, tell the little devil to fly.

It was fun, rewarding, actually shockingly quick, simple, and a fine thing to do on a beautiful Saturday morning. Yay volunteering.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pelican update

Hi folks, quick post, and I will try to post more soon.

Good news (mostly) about the pelican. He has been eating lots of fish and seems fit, but is still not flying. He is staying in the large flight pen at the shelter and has found a friend, another brown pelican who is also not flying. I like to think of them as the nerdy kids in trenchcoats (or too much eyeliner, or overalls with no shirts under... whatever your mind conjures for "malcontents") not participating in P.E.

Hopefully he will fly soon and be released into the uncertainty that is wild life. I would be sad if he became a pet, and I am not sure how infinite is the shelter's tolerance. Surely they cannot house him forever.

Send him dreams of flying, and tickly feet. It's high time for him to get back into the swing of things.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pelican pelican pelican!!

Last Thursday, I went home sick -- I had been fighting a bug for most of two weeks and gave up. After napping a bit, I got a call from my brother asking for help from Pat and I to rescue a seagull with its feet bound together on the beach. Although the bird could fly and would thus be next to impossible to catch, we grabbed a bedsheet to use as a net and a pair of scissors with which to cut whatever bound the feet together, and got in the car. Who am I to turn down a bird in distress?

When we got to the beach, we could not locate the gull in question. We were helped by the presence of a nice man feeding a loaf of bread to the birds -- all of them came and milled around looking for a handout. We examined feet as well as we could and none of them seemed to be in any trouble. The bondage bird must have moved along the beach.

However, a juvenile brown pelican came up walking awkwardly and accepted bread. This is very weird behavior for a pelican, so we worried. We were soon joined by Gavin and Maria, a couple of sand-stained beach bums who had been following the pelican. "He's got a hook in his wing," Gavin said. "I can't stand to see him this way. I wish I had a net."

"How about a bed sheet?" I offered. He looked at me like I was crazy enough to offer strangers bed sheets on the beach every day. We explained why we had come.

Still in our office clothes, Pat, Robert and I helped Gavin catch the poor bird. Once they had dodged the lunges of his formidable beak and pinned him under a sheet, they held his beak shut and carefully removed the TWO hooks and long line and tackle binding the wing. We turned the bird loose, but he could still not fly.

So again we captured the pelican -- swarming with thousands of revolting mites -- and called Pacific Wildlife Care Center. Then we took the bird from vet to vet (those that work with the center) to get him checked out and x-rayed.

Pat and I are volunteers for the center, so when we offered to drive the bird to Morro Bay, they accepted. Pat drove, and I tried to keep my cool while covered in dozens or hundreds of mites and holding a precociously clever and entirely terrified pelican.

Pelicans are big awkward birds with preposterously swordlike beaks... but they weigh only about 5 pounds. There are multiple layers of air between layers of skin and fat that make them buoyant. So although they look like pterodactyls that could easily carry off, say, a middle-sized sheep, they feel like fuzzy pillows. They have beautiful, mobile eyes and expressive faces, and the elastic throat pouches are soft and resilient -- somewhere between "ear" and "scrotum" on a tactile scale. In a word, they are lovable.



And now I've been pooped on by six species of rescued wild birds. It's pretty much par for the course. (Good news: after pretreating and repeated washings, I did save my work pants.)

I am happy to report that there is no damage to the bone and although the bird is certainly hurt, his prognosis seems, knock on wood, to be good.

Here is a note from the center:

"Just checked in and your "pelican" is doing quite nicely so far - he's in the large fly-pen (you likely saw it on your way in last week) with a couple of others & is eating & recouping...
We'll be watching for him to strengthen that wing and start flying - I know the chart says to let you know when he'll be released down in Grover. We'll certainly attempt to honor that request....a lot depends on how busy the center is, who is available for transport etc."

So, happy birthday to me. My little pelican friend is doing well.

If you do not volunteer or donate to a wildlife shelter, I really recommend it -- if you have the temperament (and requisite lack of caution) to handle injured wild things. I am very fond of Pacific Wildlife Care.

P.S. Bird mites are species specific and only require a shower and shaking out one's clothes to be gone. However, they are pretty gross nonetheless and I felt like I had cooties for days.

* Pelican photo lifted from www.dpughphoto.com

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Office birthday party

This picture was simultaneously ridiculous and not too shabby, so I thought I'd share. I just came from my joint birthday party with officemate Patty, whose birthday is today, and it was fun: potluck and silliness at work and thoughtful gifts.

I work with nice folks. Really nice folks. I like the birthday potluck tradition; if insurance ever goes bust, we can always open a restaurant. We do pretty well. Today was mac & cheese and Frito pie (called "chili boats" by my coworkers... what do YOU call it?) and vegetarian lasagne and various crudites and fruit salad and warm homemade pumpkin pie and lemon bars (my favorite). Yummy.



The deer-in-headlights look is due to being photographed on a cell phone: I have no idea where the lens is and didn't have a clue where to look or when.

Friday, October 17, 2008

"Obama's Top Video"

Annoyance of the day: I just got spam in my email with the subject line "Obama's Top Video." It contained a not-worksafe picture of a harlotty young woman and a Viagra ad. Very funny.

I suspect that this was forwarded to me by someone hax0ring one of the politically affiliated lists that send me junk mail every day, or by an etailer to whom I was maliciously referred after writing a letter to one of my representatives or someone else who should not abuse the privilege of knowing my email address.

Nonetheless, grow the hell up, people.

And no, I do not want to buy your devil drug.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Time to update my contacts

Hi all,

If you read this blog, do me a favor and email me your contact information. I have, through technical and organizational reasons, lost almost all the email addresses, phone numbers, street addresses, birthdays, etc. I ever had for everyone... and anyone who knows me knows that my brain is a sieve that cannot be trusted with that kind of information.

If you are kind enough to send me info for friends you know who do NOT read this blog, you will earn a special merit badge or Mao button or something. That is, if I can find it.

If you have lost my contact info, let me know in contacts and we'll work out something.

Best,
Dux

Thursday, October 9, 2008

"Gimlet-eyed men with steel-rim glasses and crepe-soled shoes"

This article gave me a genuine chortle and all the sympathy pangs that good political rants do. Sure, it's stating the obvious, but it's stating the painfully obvious with evident pain... and for some reason that hit my funny bone today.

I am giving you the link to the OCA's reprint, not the original article, because I don't know whether or not the original source (Alternet) is worksafe. I do try to be a decent citizen, and a decent employee, too. :)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Revealing questions

I am not sure the answers will be as interesting, but the questions reveal a lot about the people asking. Some investigative reporters are clearly muckraking, while others clearly have public interest in view... and still others seem either to be following some angle that is unclear, or are moonbats, or are simply baffled themselves and hoping that a shotgun approach will yield some interesting nugget that can be spun out (or just spun) into a story.

What would YOUR questions be if you were looking for information on Sarah Palin? Some of these questions resonate with my vicious-bully instincts, while others set off my political hot-buttons... but I'm not sure what I would ask, if it were my job to do so. I hope I'm not that passive a consumer. I'll think about it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Whatcha makin', Skank?

Remember Skank the Sock Puppet from the Ben Stiller Show?



Well, if you don't, or even if you do, let me tell you about the episode that sticks in my head. Skank is this disgusting-looking sock with eyes and yarn hair, a foul mouth, and a stuffing of forearm and rage. I think Andy Dick did the voice. It doesn't matter: Skank is a kind of zeitgeist hallmark about helplessness in the face of complacent idiocy. Like Bender on Futurama (and if you don't watch Futurama, go catch up on some of its episodes. Especially the one where Zoidberg eats Ol' Freebie.) Skank is more or less the only stand-out character in an otherwise bland sitcom world, as I remember it.

So. This episode opens with Skank running a blender in the foreground. Someone comes in and asks in a sitcom sing-song, "Whatcha makin', Skank?"

To which Skank replies without looking up: "Idiot juice. Now jump in."

Read this.

Idiot juice. Now jump in.

Wake up and smell the coffee, people.

Yes, these are from a single source and blah blah... sue me. I found a minute to read a few articles at work.

Speaking of work...

The other day, my boss's assistant wandered in and handed me a photocopied article while I was on the phone, playbill-style. It was almost quittin' time for the day and I had to rush to the doctor's office to get my fucked-up leg diagnosed (maybe a Baker's cyst, nobody knows yet, more testing to come -- but it's better than a blood clot, which I feared it would be.) I read this article in the doctor's office.

It was called something like "change your attitude, change your life" and was all about choosing your words to affect your outlook for the positive. The first example in the article was substituting "in demand" for "overworked." (Sorry these aren't exact quotes -- I don't happen to have it with me today.) In it was a simple two-column chart (instead of: try this!) It started out with some fairly innocuous swaps -- such as "challenging" rather than "stressful" -- and progressed to purple Orwellian embroideries that could not have stood up in a Republican press conference, as they were stretched so far. Say, "surprising" in place of "excruciating." Or "original" in place of "ridiculous." Or "vacation" in place of "nervous breakdown."

What's Newspeak for "claptrap?" And while you're holding the Ridictionary, do you have the Newspeak for "horseshit?" I'm all in favor of positive thinking, but since when is plain speaking and truth the enemy? (...Now jump in.) Sure, I can call an event challenging rather than stressful and find myself responding more cheerfully to it -- I'll buy that. But pain is something different than surprise. And worse is something different from better. It's not political correctness to knowingly substitute a lie for a truth. It's a breach of the social contract, an act of ideological violence. And it ought to be a crime, for people holding or running for social offices.

We are headed for a train wreck... I mean, an "exciting ride." Can you hear my eyes rolling?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hey, I didn't say WHICH Wednesday.

So... the Alaska vacation.

We left right after I got out of work on Friday (July 25 -- yes, I'm late updating), and drove through to the beautiful Sofitel San Francisco Bay. Sofitel's luxury hotels are something special; elegant, funky, and fun decor (sorry, didn't get any pictures of the public areas), an excellent restaurant, an inviting bar, and rooms of quiet, classy comfort. It felt like James Bond should be checking in alongside us: that kind of glamorous, sophisticated background. As tired as we were, and as stick-in-the-mud as we usually are, we opted to spend a little time in the bar relaxing and drinking mostly virgin drinks before we went to bed.

I tried an "Angel Fresh" cocktail and I have to report that it is delicious -- mint-muddled cucumber juice, lime, tequila, and simple syrup. It does have a bit of "the liquid at the bottom of a bowl of tabbouleh" cachet, but I don't mind. Yum anyway.

Here's a picture of part of the beautiful room we stayed in, anyway.


The next morning, we drove to San Francisco to the harbor. The (auto and foot) traffic was horrible and we didn't know why until we noticed that it was the Festival of Sail or some such. Once we checked onto the Dawn Princess, we had a painless wait in our stateroom while we sipped gigantic virgin daiquiris (mmm, sour, caloric slurpee! Yum!) and watched sailboats and seagulls.

The trip out of the bay was beautiful -- sailboats and crazy sailboarders, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, inquisitive seagulls and eagerness. Here are a few pictures:






And then onward to our first stop, Victoria, Canada. We enjoyed our first sea day with a "couples massage" (which was no, not a euphemism for anything sketchy, but a really relaxing hour plus with two very gifted masseuses, side-by-side). OMG OMG OMG couples massage! You could have poured me into an appropriately sized vessel by the time Portia and Krizza got done liquefying our muscles. We drifted through a drowsily romantic day feeling like we'd eloped or somehow otherwise stolen away, from lazy massage to lazy enjoying the sights (Dall porpoises and sharks!) to a formal dinner together (and through the windows, humpback whales!) I can count the formal dates we have had together in our 20 years of marriage plus over four years of going steady on one hand, maybe barely both. And I don't mind. But he cleans up pretty. Witness the formality:



And the next day, on to lovely Victoria. It is a beautiful, charming city with fascinating, bloodthirsty, frontier history and -- rather to my surprise -- a magnificent but now somewhat reduced Chinatown. Our shore excursion in Victoria took us to the astonishingly pretty and even more astonishingly overcrowded Butchart Gardens for a picnic and a stroll amongst the flowers (and ugly Americans, ugly Canadians, ugly Europeans, ugly Chinese, and probably uglyfromeveryplaces). I will restrain myself from posting a million close ups of fountains and flowers, but here are a couple pictures to show you the gardens (and us living it up in a rare moment of ardently defended semi-privacy -- that park is SERIOUSLY crowded).





From there, we went to Craigdarroch "Castle" -- a crazy-person mansion like unto Hearst Castle -- but it was downright depressing after the beauty of the gardens. I'm not going to treat you to pictures. It has a fascinating history and our tour guide, Norman, was delightful and we were really weary and it had a LOT of stairs.

From Victoria, we went on to a very rough sea day -- we fell asleep early and slept hard. For those who haven't done a cruise, please be aware that the experience is 65% floating "Home Town Buffet," 20% Branson, Missouri, 10% Mall of the Americas, and 5% your prom. At least the at sea part is. The ports and/or shore excursions are really the reason to go... that, and the luxurious, almost-never-otherwise-experienced freedom from communication with the outside world. If you need a romantic getaway and your definition of "romantic" can be stretched to include dining with strangers, living in a shimmying hotel, and eating too much decent food prepared for the masses (and not always well matched from one dish to another... there seems to be no logic), this is definitely for you.

Next port was Ketchikan -- jewel-beautiful, nestled in emerald hills. Unfortunately, the cruise ships have converted it into what I can only think of as a brothel for gemstones: like every other Alaskan port, it is impoverished by the departure of resource-exploiting trade and has been colonized bizarrely by luxury shops (almost exclusively jewelry) and outlets for cheap crap for the rest of us. An intensely terrifying driver muttering about "Sasquaaaaaaatch" took us to our shore excursion destination: a rainforest walk and wildlife tour. It's called a rainforest for good reason; the return driver, a lunatic ex-pat Texan, told us that the weather forecast went "if you can see the top of the mountain, it's going to rain. If you can't, it's raining." We had a marvelous tour and saw dozens of bald eagles, a couple of black bears, a couple of kingfishers, and several ravens.








Back on the ship, several small disasters that piqued our curiosity: people stuck on the elevator, a hazmat team breaking into a sealed cabin on our floor, a "code Alpha" that had security, medical, and bridge crew running at full speed through the halls. I still have no idea what any of these turned out to be.

The next day, we had a magnificent "photo safari" at Juneau. With a photographer giving us tips on how to use our cameras (see some of the blurry pictures above, haha), we hiked to see spawning salmon in a creek, the glorious Mendenhall glacier, trees, eagles, and lupines -- all in the drizzling rain. Then we went aboard a small boat to whale watch, and were enchanted to be surrounded by humpback whales for quite a while. Humpback whales are 40-60 feet long and weigh about a ton a foot, by the way... so think of that when you consider being surrounded by whales in a small boat! Both of us think the trip helped our camera skills -- thank you, David -- and here are some of the pictures:






On August 1st we went on the best tour of all in beautiful Haines, Alaska (we got there by ferry from Skagway, which is a picturesque small town surrounded by valleys and inhabited by jewelry stores and tourist crap). This was a tour of an eagle preserve with a wonderful, sincerely enthusiastic, beautiful young tour guide named Luck. Captain Luck is half-Tlingit and the operation is family run, warm, loving, and satisfying, from the cozy jackets, lap blankets, earmuffs, and gloves they urge you to take with you to the delicious hot dog and vegetarian chili feast (fresh cut flowers on the tables!) at the end of the jet boat tour. Eagles, moose, a Mallard hen and her ducklings, mergansers, swallows, kingfishers, and other creatures were tucked here and there into pristine and exquisite landscape. Here I got my one and only bite from the "state bird" (the mosquito) ... on my EARLOBE. Granted that there weren't many mosquitoes this year, but mosquitos love me. I assume that my homemade bug repellent worked, as I applied it everywhere but the ears... so, go home perfumer and mad scientist. Here are just a few images from that wonderful tour.






The next day, we spent a completely lazy day enjoying room service pizza and lazing around in bed. We rose early and watched what has to be the prettiest scenery in the world as our ship nosed slowly up the Tracy Arm Fjord amidst all of the icebergs, until we could see the Sawyer Glacier (I'm no expert and I forget which one... one of the Twin Sawyers). Blue, blue ice on some of the bergs -- because they are so dense that they refract light differently. Wow. Amazing, and exactly why I wanted to go to Alaska. We got farther than expected, farther indeed than any other ship that year I think, and because of our close proximity to the bridge, Pat and I could hear the navigator softly advising the Captain about the more dangerous looking bergs. Quietly thrilling. And spectacular. Again, just a few pictures, and it could be dozens or scores and still do no justice:





I just realized that I haven't talked about our friendly and wonderful co-passengers, or the (sometimes unintentional) hilarity of the shows, or the complete awesomeness of "piano man" Tom Franek -- if you ever see this, hi Tom, LOVE your show, you created so much happiness around you, and drew in such disparate and jaded people into your audience and got them having fun. But there's little I can do except tell you that I maybe never want to hear "Sweet Caroline" again, and tell you it was a giddy blur of entertainment taken at a civilized sleepy pace. We had an amazing trip. We had a delightful time.

* Pictures selected almost at random from a huge array... and most of them because the camera was oriented so that I don't have to rotate the picture to upload it. I know, lazy of me. But it's lazy or never, as things so often are with me. Love you guys.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And by a couple of weeks, I mean a month or so

Goodness!

I've been playing catch-up since we returned from our fabulous trip -- honestly, I have spent three evenings at home without guests, and mostly after other exhausting endeavors. Late this week or on the weekend, I will post some photos and stories.

Love you guys.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Gone fishin'

So it's our 20th anniversary on the 6th of August... and we are going on a cruise to Alaska to celebrate.

I cannot tell you how excited I am!

No posts for a couple weeks, probably, but then expect pictures and stories. :)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dr. Horrible

Go see. I understand that it's up for only a limited time, so do eet now!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

All this used to be orange fields!

So... I know I haven't been posting much -- it's because I have 1) been perfuming in my spare moments and 2) studying for my life and health insurance exam, which I passed, and 3) being more active in Amtgard, and 4) preparing for a cruise to Alaska for my 20th anniversary, and finally, 5) getting ready for April & Troy's wedding on August 16th. None of it except perfuming and the exam really takes time, but they do absorb my creativity and daydreams, and it does add up!

Regarding perfuming: I have tinkered, experimented, and made monstrosities, and I am having fun doing more. I have even experimented with different storage methods for my raw materials: the answer is NOT refrigeration, as even high-temp refrigeration has a weird damping effect upon citrus EOs and hardens some absolutes (and a few EOs, such as sweet fennel). I think the cycle of chill/warm will be more damaging than simply warm weather deterioration, in the long term.

I am not as bad at perfuming as I was when I started... and that's nice! In the absence of formal training, I am opting for exhaustive experimentation...

Anyway, I am having some success with one of my blends. I am calling it "all this used to be orange fields" for now, but like all of my working titles, it's temporary and silly. It is a blend of orange blossom, birch tar, and tangerine with lots of other good stuff making it soft and cozy.

Rest in peace, sweet Kozmo Kirby

Go read about Kozmo on Tiff's blog, if you want to see his sweet eulogy. He was a sweet ducky and will be missed.

She has a little memorial fund that will go to fund the rescue and rehoming of other abandoned waterfowl. If you are needing some good karma for the day, consider PayPal-ing over a couple bucks. As Tiff says, "it's for a good Koz."

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Head in the sand

I have to admit that my own head is pretty much in the sand lately, before I go farther. After all, I came to this through Thoughtviper citing Scalzi's entertaining "Whatever" blog... but WTF is with not opening your email because you know it's not what you want to hear?

And Scalzi hit the nail square on the head with his devastatingly logical observation that "Hey, you know what I would do if the White House told me that it wouldn’t accept an e-mail with a Supreme Court-ordered document in it? I would PRINT IT OUT and DELIVER IT BY HAND. Because you can do that."

Seriously, what has happened to discourse between people who do not agree? Why has it become "incorrect" not to agree on everything -- and why is the response to disagreement idealogical isolationism? Some of the best conversations I have are with local conservatives... and I tell them, when I dare, "While I am as liberal a person as you are likely to meet, in many respects, this is what I think about the issue..." Once the dirty words (ooh, "liberal!" Boogah boogah!) are out of the way, it is always amazing how much ground we really share and how civil those discussions can be.

I think that many spectres have been raised that really damage the way we speak to one another -- for instance, false dichotomies like "conservative" and "liberal," for one. Yes, we are for some weird reason in a never-ending flame war: like all flame wars, it distorts both positions out of their true warp and weft and lowers the collective intelligence and eloquence of the group.

Here's one maybe-it's-a-straw-man that I've been chewing on: "the litigiousness of society." I am, after all, in California (and am an insurance CSR specializing in commercial policies), but it appears to me that "litigiousness" is a bugaboo we use to dismiss and demonize not only those who bring trivial lawsuits or spurious ones, but those who might have legitimate claims, too.

Take for instance the massive, surreal tomato recall a couple weeks ago. Seriously, for a nationwide recall to occur, several weird things have to have coincided: too much crop centralization, too much mystery about routing of farm produce, filthy fucking factory farming contaminating our vegetables again (and scaring the less health savvy of our population into a terror of healthy foods once more). Lots and lots of people got sick.

Yet my first reaction was "oh for heaven's sake, this is asinine, wasteful, and smacks of the threat of 'terr'ism.' We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

Maybe not. E coli and salmonella poisoning rates are worse than ever before* in this country, and are simultaneously worse than in many Third World countries - because unregulated, subsidized, extravagantly expansive factory farming gives rise to so much contamination. It's a serious issue -- serious enough that I am vegetarian by preference (although I am lax). But was my first reaction for my poisoned peers sympathy and support? Nah... I thought, "wow, talk about an overreaction. The companies are terrified of being sued because we live in such a litigious society."

Hunh. Am I just an asshole? I mean, exceptionally so?

(I must point out that the reaction was to wastefully recall tomatoes nationwide, and not to quit subsidizing/promoting/supporting/smoke-screening factory farming animal husbandry operations. Definitely not to hire more inspectors and budget more for ensuring public safety. So in one sense, nobody else seems to have woken up either. Joy, joy! That means more widespread crop recalls in our near future, in fact lots of them and with increasing frequency. Let's all do like every single twitch-conservative I've spoken with about food recalls and blame migrant laborers for poor sanitation habits... which is almost certainly not the friggin' problem.)

Let me give you a piece of mostly unrelated trivia. Did you know that it's virtually impossible to write liability insurance for roofing contractors or any contractors who do roofing operations? We don't have a single carrier, admitted (guaranteed by the State of California and subject to its Code) or non-admitted (not guaranteed and not subject to its Code, and therefore relatively shady) who will do it.

This is not because roofers might fall off of roofs and be injured, although that is the first thing that sprang into my head. It is because roofs can leak, and if they leak, lots of damage gets done... and no insurance company wants to pay for those claims.

So yes, we're litigious. And insurers (and companies) are cowardly about lawsuits. But there is legitimately a risk there, one that can potentially cost a lot.

Kind of like ignoring the EPA reports.
____
*At least, last time I checked numbers, which was several years ago. If things have changed, let me know and cheer me up! :)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Grand Theft Watto

So our fascination with GTA 4: Liberty City continues. It's a fun game. The voice acting is brilliant -- from our tortured mid-gunfight one-liners and acerbic, angsty all-hope-lost worldview, to the impenetrable accent of our Rasta crony, Little Jacob, to the immoderately sleazy enthusiasms of our cousin Roman.

Ah, Roman.

Roman sounds like Watto from the SW prequels... if Watto were rhapsodizing about titties and hamburgers and all things American, and simultaneously pissing his life away. He's funny, smart, and yet self-destructive in a way that makes him an almost classically tragic figure. He is a perfect picaresque foil for our own straight-man bitterness.

He is also eminently kidnappable. Make of that what you will.

GTA4 has a certain surreal quality. On the one hand, its media and entertainment compose one of the most trenchant critiques of the American public sphere that I have ever witnessed. Every commercial is blackly hilarious; every television show is viciously satirical; every billboard, poster, calendar, and simulated website is jaw-droppingly, unkindly, mercilessly a send-up of everything we are doing wrong in real life.

That said, the game has a darkly sexist facet that irks me like a gadfly.

As those of you who are playing the game know, we are introduced to a girl who is tailor-made to be a girlfriend. If we don't deliberately cut her loose, in fact, she will become our girlfriend... despite the fact that she is an unappealing bundle of prim and hypercritical commentary, gloating competitiveness, and troubling neuroses. (Spoiler alert: she grows even less appealing over the course of the game.)

Her name is Michelle.

Michelle pissed us (the players) off when we got Niko a new suit, stole him a fly ride, and went over to take her somewhere nice... and she treated us to a never-ending bitch & moan session about how lousy our clothes were, how she didn't care for this car, and where were our sunglasses that she liked so much? Slow down, you're driving too fast! So we went to the in-game fake Internet dating site, LoveMeet, and started looking for other girls to go out with.

We found a couple. Kiki, a lawyer with neuroses that make Michelle's neuroses look like Zen calm, and Carmen, a self-obsessed nurse who loves fine cars and clothes but is not interested in haute cuisine.

The complexity of relationships in GTA4 is pitiful... something on the order of a Japanese dating sim without the invisible glowing penii. One careful read of the LoveMeet profile tells you what the date will want from you: if she says she is active, wear a leisure suit and take her bowling; if she says she likes the finer things, dress up and take her out to eat or to a comedy club or cabaret; if she says she likes to be noticed, dress up with all your might and go somewhere where you will stand out like sore thumbs... like the BurgerShot fast food restaurant.

Successful dates allow you to "try your luck" (as opposed to "say goodnight") at the end of a date. If you try your luck... well, as far as I can tell, Niko has never been turned down. Our three lousy, one-dimensional girlfriends are perfectly willing to gratify our action-superhero self-image... just so long as it's offscreen. (So far as I know, this is a wink to the scandal surrounding the notorious "hot coffee" player-made mod of GTA3.)

Here's what happens: the camera pans along the exterior of the building and there's a voiceover from the "girlfriend" actress, which playfully alludes to her profession or character. "Talk to me, Niko, tell me more," wails Michelle. "Oh you lucky, lucky man," coos Carmen. "Oh, I LOVE you... you can prosecute me any time," giggles Kiki. (These are samples -- the dialogue is different every time.) And -- here's the weird part -- for 15-30 seconds or whatever, the controller vibrates violently.

That's sex. Never mind that the content in the rest of the game is graphic, sometimes sexually so. We can go to the Triangle Club (as Roman crows, "the titty bar!") and get a lapdance. We can shoot off civilians' heads with a sniper rifle. A weird homeless looking guy in a gimp mask once offered us a blowjob, and dropped to his knees in front of us. (We sort of blundered into him -- not in a sex way -- and he got scared and ran away. Story of our life.) Language is not only obscene but suggestively so: "I'm gonna split your ass like Yugoslavia," yells an opponent in a gunfight. "This ain't nothin but a blood clot, this whole situation is fucked like bumboklaat," growls Little Jacob in a cutscene. And the "tiger shark testosterone versus our flamboyant but closeted friend Brucie's balls" jokes never end (and are hilarious, but I won't ruin them for you).

Once again, as always, I ask what is so bad about sex that it is considered more appalling than seeing civilians burn alive, or any of the other features of the game that we can carry through in vibrant, obscene, stomach-churning color.

Oh well. Not that I care much. I really don't want to see Niko naked, or en flagrante delicto. I'm just not the kind of person who needs that to thrive. It would be a kind of gross, pointless addition to what is after all a remarkably stirring, compelling, and beautiful game.

I am, however, the kind of person who, with morbid curiosity, tries to approach everyone I see in LoveMeet just in order to punish our shrewish virtual girlfriend Michelle. Furthermore, I'm the kind of person who inwardly critiques the shallow relationships we have with these sexist "woman" archetypes: neurotic, self-obsessed, materialistic, and they never say no.

And I guess I am also the kind of person who continues to do so even though there's something pitiful about being dissed on a virtual dating site on a console game. Quite a lot of the time, they ignore our overtures or respond with a barely civil "not if you were the last man on Earth" through the fake site's host.

O satirical makers of gratifying (often gratuitous) self-images, I know that this easter egg has to be just for you. Go ahead, laugh. I don't mind at all.

(The next step will be taking Niko out on some dates with men (yes, LoveMeet has a male for male section). Pathy or anyone, if you've done this already, fess up and tell me how it went! I might have to eat my accusations of sexism if the male dates are equally breathtakingly shallow. The characters are drawn with such skill and verve that I may have surprises to report: Brucie's bizarre behavior tells a story of a closeted life with ... well, if not subtlety, certainly without flashing signs and pointing fingers.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Eco uh-oh

No matter how carefully you try to shop, manufacturers will still come up with something horrid to put into the products you purchase. However, micro-plastics are kind of on the useless, annoying & evil end of the spectrum (who wants to scratch their tuckus while bathing?!) and ... well, I don't know if any of you ever thought about them being there, but I didn't give much thought to it (aside from preferring soap without them).

Monday, June 16, 2008

Flightless birds

This ad for the Washington State Lottery has flabbergasted me this morning. Not quite sure what to say about it, but figured I'd share.

Also, while I'm reposting stuff from www.cuteoverload.com, I might as well direct you toward the Fawn Folio.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Exploratory thoughts on making (natural) perfume

I received my various laboratory equipment and fragrance ingredients, and have tinkered around with two scents now by way of exploration. While I would certainly be jazzed if they had turned out magnificent, probably the most valuable thing about this process is the making of mistakes; finding out what screws up a scent is the most worthwhile part of my self-education.

Here are a few fledgling observations for other newbies to benefit from, and for experienced veterans to laugh at.

1. Don't overcomplicate it. Five or six essences may play nicely together, provided that they smell nice together... more than that becomes murky even if they are great together. It is possible that some of these "essences" can be accords (i.e. amber, etc.) but I haven't tested those limits yet.

2. Some scents grow shockingly in the bottle. Birch tar (the sticky black soul of smoke) is one of these. So is oakmoss (a subtly deep fungal scent).

3. Dilute absolutes first, and then add them to a scent. The resinous or semi-solid ones may never mix with the carrier completely. And they are stronger than they look; a dilution will allow more freedom to add them in minute quantities.

4. If they say it's therapeutic, you don't want it all over your hands. Wear gloves or accept that these oils will alter your health. After spilling a wee bit of Scotch pine on my hands, my heart raced (and not from the romance)... so I won't curl my lip up at the notion of "aromatherapy" anymore.

5. Don't take anyone's word for it when you are considering how to compose a fragrance. I have been following Mandy Aftel's plan of base notes, then heart notes, then top notes -- and using her proportions. Upon reflection, I don't like MY compositions following HER formulae... she is awesome using it, me less so. I need to cut way, way back on base notes and balance things according to my own drummer, I think.

6. Denatured alcohol smells like bad breath and petroleum products. Why? Because it IS... grain alcohol + smelly ketones (yuck) + petroleum products. This is because they are rendering drinkable alcohol undrinkable for tariff and labeling reasons (and probably others). If it's undrinkable, it's unsniffable. (Think wine in your cooking: you want to add only wines you would drink to foods.) Unspeakable, in fact. And it reacts with other fragrances in unpredictable but utterly nasty ways.

7. What smells great to you, or on you, might smell horrible on other people, and vice versa. On my husband, my brother, and me, any given scent reacts in three radically different ways. The first formula I tried, I put on each of us -- on me, it was interesting, spicy, citrusy (which isn't ever good: citrus hates my skin), with immense (intolerable) lasting power. On Pat, it was rubbery, dank, horrid, with a much more interesting spice undertone. On Robert, it was all bright and alien -- Scotch tape with a twist. Gross on all of us, but differently gross.

so...

8. Have guinea pigs handy. Have BRUTALLY HONEST guinea pigs handy, in fact. You will want their opinions (if you ever come up with something YOU like, first.) You can all laugh together at the monstrosities.

9. Surrealism, not naturalism. I am trying to compose a scent that evokes my adored central coast of California, its wilderness and flora. I have a good many essences that are a big part of that -- fir balsam, jamlike and beautiful; oakmoss, deep and throaty; hay absolute (a really uncooperative absolute!), complex, green-gold and gorgeous; birch tar absolute, woodsmoke incarnate; orange blossom and jasmine absolutes, divine floral crown; golden exquisite immortelle, evoking deer's tongue weeds in the dry hills; eucalyptus, cool and somewhere between clean armpit sweat and mint; candy-red strawberries, zesty lemons, sweet clover, drowsy calamus. To assemble all of these together is to truly, truly get a dose of what I want (with OMG too much oakmoss and birch tar, as they growgrowgrow in the bottle), but it's too much, too busy, too complicated. Next, I will sketch my lovely hills and woods rather than painting them in dripping detail. We'll see how that goes.

10. Perfumery conventions for fragrances are not identical with the originals. Almost any immortelle scent is enhanced with lemon, anise, hay, to pick up its various gorgeous facets. You will hardly find a commercial vetiver without grapefruit. When you build a fragrance, build based upon what you have -- not what you imagine based upon typical conventions.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Two things I love.... cheese, and drama

As I am oft wont to do when I am working on something and want some hard-edged techno music, I was wallowing in Digital Gunfire and this one came on. Those of you who, like me, are older than 18 and don't cut yourselves on purpose may find this song particularly amusing... it's so over the top and cheesy that it approaches zombie movie status. Wonderful. I sure hope it's in GTA 4.

Speaking of the music for GTA 4, it's terrific: each radio or television station has its own ideological and aesthetic profile. The game is fabulously entertaining: well voice-acted, beautifully animated, and pleasingly senseless and brutal. The story is captivating and the freedom to cause mayhem is nothing short of breathtaking. On one jaunt, we did police missions (apprehending criminals) until we wrecked our stolen police car, then stole a limo, tried to use it to ground or steal planes at the airport (unfortunately impossible), created a MAJOR havoc, then jumped out of our limo before it exploded and stole an electric airport utility vehicle and tooled around in it taunting and gunfighting with the Liberty City police until we eventually died. Yes, I know it's socially unredemptive and all that and yatta yatta, but you really must sit down and enjoy the reptile forebrain once in a while.

Monday, May 19, 2008

guest post today at Perfume-Smellin' Things

...about Ebba By Sand, Miss Marisa, and Miss Marisa Tropical. Go see!

Commitment, at last

Hi guys, sorry I'm so infrequent a poster lately. I hope you are all well -- drop me a line in reply or via email to let me know how you are!

So, I did it, I took the plunge, I jumped in with both feet. Yesterday I spent my entire overly warm Sunday in my very hot garage/office, making hard, abstract aesthetic choices based on what I THINK I recognize and what I THINK I like.

I bought an enormous amount of fragrance ingredients: essential oils, absolutes, and CO2 extracts; bottles for experimenting, blending, and initial decants; dropper lids and cone lids, and sample vials. Even with the sticker-shock inducing quantities I purchased, I am well aware that this is my mad scientist's laboratory only. If I do manage to create a fragrance that seems fit for distribution, I will need to purchase much larger blending bottles, proper spray bottles, and much larger amounts of those fragrance ingredients that will go into the successful formula. Also, a business license & dba, a website, packaging ingredients, etc. But that is getting WAY ahead of us. I've purchased a hobby; we'll see if I can flip it into a business in due course if it still seems to be appealing and if it suddenly seems feasible.

I still need to purchase perfumers' alcohol, jojoba oil, rubbing alcohol, a bag of rags for cleanup, rubber gloves and goggles, and labels. And I need to have some form of perfumers' organ built.



(Not like the amazing perfumer's organ pictured above, found at http://picasaweb.google.com/asholk/France2007 -- mine will obviously have to be much more modest. I would LOVE it to be portable.)

Yes, I do already have a few artworks in mind. I have that scent of my beloved California wilderness haunting me, and I want to make something that evokes it. My friend Jes wants something built around black pepper, and I cannot wait to build her a black scent like a vivid vertical slash, an exclamation point, working with that beestung earthy sensuousness of pepper and digging deep under the zap of that top note. My brother has the juxtaposition of fresh lime and sandalwood notes in mind, and I want to bring it to vivid life by fleshing it out. There is a specific vanilla gourmand scent (without citrus!), which my mother has been searching for for years... can I create it for her? And of course I want to give Pat his heart's desire of a deep, warm creamy-amber-underneath perfume of his own: how to make amber masculine, unique, and personal?

Anyway, that's what I will soon be up to. Any new hobbies for you?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Gloom & doom

Bill posted this gloomy & doomy article on Thoughtviper and I am shamelessly stealing it. While I find it credible, I wonder what portion of my credulity stems from the pessimistic fear that I share with the authors...

What is really missing from this discussion is a talk about money and politics.

Rock the vote, darlings.

Solidaritery

Oy vey.

I don't have anything articulate to add, but I thought you might enjoy this.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Are we headed for the Third World again?

Disclaimer first: I love Peru. I have had some of the most intellectual, politically savvy conversations of my life with people there. I have marveled at the astonishing work ethic, the informal and private-sector social supports people provide to their peers there, and the full bloom of free speech and a richly developed public sphere beyond the scope of American civics outside of university campuses. But most of the Peruvian intellectuals I spoke with mentioned the corruption of their government, and it is hard to be unaware of the difference between national standards of living -- particularly in terms of infrastructural services where they impact health and sanitation. So I am turning to the only well-fleshed example in my experience for this little rant.

We come ever closer to catching up with international petroleum prices (I think we are now approaching what Peru's gasoline prices were in 2004-2005 when we lived there). My family continues to panic about the sagging real estate/mortgage market, which provides their bread and butter: they ridiculously carp about agents "starving to death" and other such flights of hyperbole. As we all know, in a hark-back to the irrational exuberance backlash of 1996, the R-word is being applied, with a mixture of paranoiac hysteria and litotic schadenfreude to the predictions of even the most sober-sided of newscasters. And even my most right-wing acquaintances (okay, so I don't have any right-wing acquaintances... let's just call them "family") have come to realize that high level governmental corruption is so plainly obvious that it is impossible to pretend it doesn't exist.

This, my darlings, is a recipe for Third World economics, or more pointedly, Latin American democracy. The seemingly rigged elections and broken one-party-plus-dozens-of-mini-parties systems. The disenfranchisement of groups of people. The racial unrest. The rampant inflation of basic needs items (i.e. foodstuffs and fuel), the devaluation of the worker's salary, and so forth.

Humor me. This is a whimsical flight of fancy, nothing more. But what keeps our economy and government from becoming a duplicate of post-Fujimori Peru?

What's keeping our unemployed people from taking their severance checks and buying Daewoo Ticos or motocicleta taxis and going into subsistence-level business as informal taxi drivers?


I'll tell you what. It's our insanely litigious society. Estadounidenses cannot and will not assume that kind of liability risk, for fear of being cleaned out and criminalized.

Maybe I am more than usually sensitive to litigiousness, since I maintain all the commercial insurance policies for the largest commercial producer for my (huge) company in the region. I spend 8+ hours a day trying to tune up customers' policies to protect them from lawsuits. Yeah.

In my imaginary, simplified universe, all it would take is a little deregulation of industry and a little banning frivolous lawsuits from the courthouse, and bam! Instant Latin American democracy with a side of gray market.

This kind of spinning of airy bullshit is why I'm not a social scientist anymore. Heh. Oh well, it's fun to think in that zombie-apocalypse, unilinear-ethnocentric, Planet of the Apes way anyway: when does our society become unrecognizable as itself? "You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to Hell!" (And yes, my tongue is in my cheek... I have not gone crazy-survivalist, nor do I anticipate subscribing to that kind of illogical crapthought.)

And while we're comparing the U. S. to other places... check out this article on carbon footprints. Especially you, Sam.

(Pictures mercilessly "borrowed" from www.holagringo.web-log.nl and gallery.nen.gov.uk)

More sad news this morning

Working in an insurance agency, with a dedicated outreach person who contacts all our customers to wish them happy birthday, send get well cards (or care packages) when they are ill, send baby blankets to all first-time parents, send congratulations cards to graduates, and sympathy cards to the bereaved, I hear a lot of news. It gives this small town an even smaller-town feel.

Judie, our outreach person, is brimming with love and weeps for the misfortunes of strangers -- I have never known anyone quite like her, and I treasure her. She makes sure we all know what is going on in our community.

Tomorrow there will be a blood drive in honor of a long-time customer, the brother of the woman who owns the family restaurant across the parking lot from us. He was in a hideous motorcycle crash and is in critical condition. Hang on, Bill. Best of luck.

This morning, the news that another customer, an effervescent and very sweet woman who I last saw when she was preparing blithely for vacation 2 months ago without an evident care in the world... and who was taken rapidly by colon cancer. She has been terribly ill and we have been thinking often of her, and I am heartbroken to hear that she lost this battle. You'll be missed more than you know, Rose.

Get your medical checks. Nag your family members to get their checks, too. And always remember to appreciate the time you have with your loved ones.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Perfumes: the Guide (again)

The book is making a splash and there is a lot of excitement about the quality of the reviews and whether the catty judgments they offer are worthwhile (and/or fair)... if you are interested in the debate, go here to Perfume Posse's hosted comments-debate.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The noble savage, redux

I grow weary of Middle America.

Not in a Reverend Jeremiah Wright way (although I think I understand what he said, and I think he's been misconstrued and hypertrophied in embarrassingly anti-intellectual ways by the press and the political engines that stand to benefit by it). No, I grow very tired indeed of the Romantic notion of Middle America.

Middle America is the post-modern Noble Savage in press and politics, both demonized (bitter, ignorant, incestuous, oblivious) and canonized (the folk of the nation, salt of the earth, somehow more real and more valuable than we jaded cosmopolitan souls fallen from the Eden of nature.) Let me tell you something: Middle America is imaginary.

I must confess that seeing American Gothic brought me to tears. Its subtle and compelling wit is eloquent indeed, and I suggest that you go admire the original if you ever have the chance. Prints and digital images fail quite utterly.



One of the haunting things about that painting is the forthright and arresting look of the man. He is looking back at the viewer. Although he is uncommonly orderly (look at the way the pitchfork tines, stitching of the overall, and shirt pleats echo one another) and his expression is grave, it is his attentiveness that captures the viewer. His wife, restless and thoughtful, has her eyes on something else -- perhaps something that escaped the couple as they worked past their first bloom of youth and on into their homely middle years. Behind them, the rounded trees, the tidy landscape, and the stately home show the modestly magnificent and hard-won fruits of their labor.

It is the discontent, the inscrutability, and the uncannily returned gaze that give this picture its magnificence. The respectful attention to the details of orderly and respectable life; the evidentials of hard labor, the diacritics of proud frugality, the withering into thin and dour ghosts of what was evidently a fierce young couple. A Romantic notion: belatedness. Too hard a life for Eden, and too much focus on putting Nature into orderly straight lines; we work to create our own little corner of paradise until we are trapped upon our path. We retire to live upon the fat of our labor in middle or old age, when para-gliding and war are sadly beyond our capacities and, bewilderingly, no longer tantalizing. It is a tragic image, as I see it -- a tragedy of constricting liberties and fading, unsatisfied youth. (Your mileage may certainly vary.)

Yet this couple is a caricature, and the image depends on that loving caricature for its success. They are archetypally our collective parents, our roots. They expect something of us: do we measure up?

The Romantic poets were obsessed with the idea that they had come too late. Too late for Nature, too late for Classical grandeur, too late to live in God's garden. We work; we age; we die; we are not living myths. The inherence of the noble savage concept to this world-view is hardly surprising: primordial Man, casting an immortal heroic shadow on a landscape of Nature. It is the desirable antithesis to what we feel we are.

In lazy political rhetoric, the Founding Fathers cast such shadows: they are culture heroes who transcend the bonds of mere mortality (or fact, as it happens.) Lately, Middle America -- generalized, robbed of its true grit, complexity, and intellectualism, faded into pastel red-white-and-blue and caricatured immensely -- has begun to acquire some of the same sepia luster.

Friends, this is the problem: art and life are not the same thing.

Honor thy father and thy mother. Enjoy your retro "comfort food." Quote the Founding Fathers (better still, READ what they wrote and know them as something that was flesh, blood, and brain, not cartoon.) Hell, put flags all over your vehicles if you want. But try, for the love of your country, not to lump together large parts of its citizens and predict their responses as if they belonged to a native, innocent, and somehow prior condition. If there is a real Middle America, it is in the present, it shares the blood or glory on the hands of ... (what's the alternative? Edge America?), and it must make its decisions the same way we all do: by thinking of its own future. There is no part of the country that resembles the Jerry Springer Show in its social dynamics, and no part that resembles the Super-Friends' Justice League, either.

Reporters and political campaigners, I beg you to stop telling these people what they think. I'm interested in seeing their frank and returned gaze break down my expectations, instead.

Turin & Sanchez - Perfumery: the Guide

Oh my gosh. I am thoroughly enjoying this book. It's admittedly not everybody's cup of tea, and goodness knows I don't agree with them on many of the reviewed fragrances, but here is my advice of the day:

1) Pick one of your particular hobbies or passions, something about which you know rather a lot but maybe something you can't discuss much with your beer buddies without seeing their eyes glaze over.

2) Find a vicious, savage, gleeful, playful, catty review book, thick enough to sink your teeth into and audacious enough to make you gasp.

3) Delight.

I adore this book. I've never understood all of the fashion-magazine meowing over this awful dress or those awful shoes or who's schtupping whom, but... oh me, oh my, I love reading something written in that register about a topic I care about.

El oh el.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Headspace Analysis, social ramifications

I don't think I've posted before on "headspace analysis," but those who are close to me in physical location may have heard me ramble about it. In perfumery, it is the remarkable and revolutionary ability to analyze how something smells through the use of gas chromatography. This allows scents that are difficult to capture through traditional means of extraction to be replicated chemically: gardenia, carnation, or stargazer lily scents in perfume, for instance, are always artificial and can presumably be made rather faithful now that headspace analysis allows for chemical replication of what the flower smells like a few centimeters from its "head."

Perfumery houses like Demeter and its upscale and much more exciting offspring, CB I Hate Perfume, synthesize aromas that don't necessarily hark from flowers: CBIHP's "Burning Leaves" is one of my favorites, and Demeter is known for its dirt, grass, tomato, and other cheap but fascinating aromas.

On a wild flight of fancy, I wondered what it would be like if a police state began analyzing headspace and carrying "sniffing machines" capable of finding wanted persons. Truth is stranger than fiction... it's as easy as employing dogs to do the finding. Who needs sniffing machines?

On the other hand... there is an inherent potential for such massive inaccuracy as to usher in a new age of Keystone Cops (only this time, they're in your airports and infiltrating your universities). If a gardenia's headspace can be synthesized in a cocktail of chemicals sufficiently to fool a human, how much will it really take to fool a dog?

Dreadful. Will there be perfume houses run by criminal masterminds bent on disguising criminals as innocent people with their dog-stunning masterpieces? Better yet, will there be politically-minded performance-artist perfumers disguising everybody as criminals, a la V for Vendetta?

Don't bother stealing the story idea; I'm already writing it. Heh heh. But I thought I should share.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Because nothing says fetal health like Jell-O shots...

Well, we manned the booth for the March of Dimes walk yesterday.

As is any project staffed by a handful of volunteers, some of whom are new, it was a Chinese fire drill of sorts. But we assembled a very nifty looking booth (decorated lavishly and cheerfully in "luau" style by our Hawaii-obsessed volunteer), cheered for everyone as they passed the halfway mark, kept motorists from plowing over tired walkers/runners in the crosswalk, and provided refreshments including cups of water, bottled water, fresh fruit, and Jell-O shots.

Because... nothing says "fetal health" like Jell-O shots.

These were alcohol free, made with Jell-O and regular ol' commercial apple juice, according to the Jigglers recipe that 2 out of 3 of us screwed up*** (Jigglers aren't sticky... apple-juice-tainted Jell-O is.) Gross? Non-vegetarian? Oh, my, yes, but I opted not to care.

Ours is the longest run in the country (rougly 9-10 miles!) and we normally have a turnout of 200-300 people. This year, only about 70-80 passed our booth, tops. I think it was fewer, to be honest. About 120 started, but it was cold, windy, and gray, and a large portion of the runners apparently crapped out and went home.

Oh well, not a biggie. Most likely, they stumped for contributions before they walked. Or... "waaaaalked."

The first people who passed our booth run the course every year. Eight years ago, they lost their infant son to birth defects. They now have two healthy young daughters, but they never forget their missing child. I wish I'd gone to the morning ceremony (we were setting up instead); I'd have cheered and saluted them with even more enthusiasm.

*** Just for the sake of honesty, I was one of the 2 that screwed it up. Yes, you can laugh at me now.

Using social science for evil...

Forget all the academic debate about whether or not anthropologists should work for the gub'ment abroad...

There's always using survey data to determine what music people hate, and making a song that violates all tenets of musical taste.

As one would expect, the antithesis, a song made to conform to the most popular music elements (as polled and produced by the same artists), is perhaps even more heinous. Orwell was right -- fuck the versificator.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Muhahahaha... perfume bloggers terrorize the industry

This amuses me.

Also, I have to get me a copy of Turin & Sanchez's book. It's making waves in the perfumery community. [Edit: okay, I ordered it. Yes, impulse buy and all that, but hey, it's going to be fun to read.]

This weekend, I will be purchasing raw materials to begin my noodling around with perfumery, for reals. Woohoo!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Uncharted territory

If girl stuff squicks you, move along to another post. I promise I won't do this often. This is pretty cool stuff anyway in my opinion, but your mileage may vary.

So, after our miscarriage in January, I have gone a little bit crazy. It starts quietly at first, but this is the kind of thing that can rapidly absorb your attention and bloom into full blown craziness. Yep. Thanks, biological clock.

Now, I seem to be obsessed with my reproductive system. I don't think this will last, but I have a combination of paranoia, curiosity, and diligence that subs in nicely for craziness.

Everyone pity Pat now.

Innocuously enough, this started with me wanting to find out more about how my system worked so that I could tell if it was working properly. (Miscarriage is not a sign that it's not working properly -- it is extremely common and indicates that something has gone wrong... and does not indicate that it will go wrong again, in most cases.) I acquired a copy of Toni Weschler's book, Taking Charge of Your Own Fertility, and started charting my cycles.

The theory is simple: hormonal fluctuations cause your temperature to rise dramatically after you have ovulated. It stays high until you menstruate, at which point it plummets and stays low until you ovulate again. Neat. Precise.

All it requires is staying in bed, warm and cozy, for 5 extra minutes after you wake up to take your temperature with a basal thermometer. Easy, right? Well... if you're like me and your full bladder awakens you, it can be torture, but... no, it's not the end of the world.

However, in order for this knowledge to be operational, you need to know when you're getting close to ovulation BEFORE you ovulate.

There are other indicators that help you know when you're actually fertile. This is where it gets weird. The position and feel of your cervix, the texture and quantity of cervical fluid, and your perception of how your nethers feel on any given day help you to recognize the crucial 4 days or so before you ovulate. (Sperm can live for about 4 days in the woman's body if the conditions are right. The egg, not so much -- maybe 6 to 24 hours tops.)

The resulting charts look like this:



(Chart stolen from someone I don't even know in sample charts on www.tcoyf.com. What, you think I would share my own with you? God no. Move along. Nothing to see here. Although my temperatures are more dramatic than in the example -- seriously, the first month I did this I thought of checking myself for zombie-ism. Before ovulation my temps when I first wake up hover below 97. And yes, I've had my thyroid checked.)

Tired of the ol' "checking the oil" method of figuring this out? Guess what? Your saliva can tell you if you're approaching your fertile period or are fertile -- it develops a "ferning" pattern when it dries that can be seen under a microscope.



I am so freakin' in charge of my own fertility right now.

That said, a couple actively trying to conceive has roughly a 25% chance in any given month to achieve pregnancy. I think that goes up slightly for those who are "in charge of their own fertility" because they know when to get busy.

And so we play the waiting game. Which isn't a bad game -- it's a fun game, y'know?

For those who might want to purchase the excellent software and chart their own stuff, there's a free trial and a full version for about $40 at www.tcoyf.com. It probably helps to have Toni Weschler's book, but the tutorial might be enough. Of course, the pen & paper version is cheap as free and you can get it at http://www.tcoyf.com/library/chartpdf.asp.

You can find saliva ferning microscopes cheaply at http://www.early-pregnancy-tests.com/, among other places.