Friday, May 22, 2009

a good commencement speech

I don't remember how I found this, but go read it. It's great.

I know, a lot of posts in a short time. I'll settle down.

Cake or death?

I didn't make a cake for Pat's birthday, because we were supposed to go out and celebrate it tonight, but we rescheduled at the last moment to celebrate on Wednesday so that we could include brother Dave and Jes (who are camping today). After being assured several times that "they have excellent desserts" (and they did), I sensed a pattern. People wanted tiramisu, real New York cheesecake without more than a hint of sweetness, chocolate torte so dark light could not escape it, cannoli, carrot cake... the freedom of choice.

However, I am doing something that means I need to make a cake for belated celebration. I am doing a happiness project. So far, I am doing it solo, but I will open the floor soon and I hope I entice you to start your own happiness projects, either singly or in groups.

I LOVE to bake, from scratch. Bread, cake, scones, brownies, anything. Of course, this carb overload is not what I should be doing, if I want to lose weight (or at least I should partake sparingly); it is, however, great for my mental health. I am happy to brag that I have a knack for it ... which, I think, reflects only a lack of fear.

This weekend we are going to watch a movie and eat with Mom, and play some Scrabble (which Pat always wins) or Gin Rummy (which Mom always wins). One thing that all four of us love is coconut cake, so it's a no-brainer that I should want to tackle that queen of beautiful, tooth-achingly sweet Southern confections.

I didn't have a trustworthy old Southern recipe, so I turned to Alton Brown's delectable looking recipe (except that I knew I didn't have the guts to grate my own coconut). After reading a few reviews, it became clear to me that about half of the people who were making the recipe weren't having luck with the cake recipe itself... and I chickened out. I did keep his recipe for seven-minute frosting, which I will use (tonight) to frost this thing so that we can devour it tomorrow. Seven-minute frosting is the genuine article and if you have never made it, for God's sake, do. We don't make enough old-fashioned icings anymore, and we should; properly made icing should require a candy-maker's skill and methods. If you are able to simply stir A into B with your recipe, you are missing out.

Last night, I made cake (using Ina Garten's somewhat more favorably reviewed cake, with a few minor tweaks to bring it more in line with my ideas of coconut cake -- Chaokoh's coconut milk instead of milk, a whisper of coconut extract, cake flour instead of all-purpose).

I dusted off my stand mixer (a luxury that was an AMAZING Christmas present from my mother, which I do not use nearly often enough) and dropped butter and sugar into the bowl. When they were incorporated and fluffy yellow, I added eggs, one at a time, and watched as the mixture amalgamated into a thick creamy emulsion. Then I shook in the dry ingredients and coconut milk doctored with coconut essence* in stages, folded in the coconut, and put it in to bake. The batter was wonderfully thick, and when I piled it into greased and floured tins (I was out of parchment paper), it had to be smoothed down in order to make it lay flat. Heaven. If you can pour cake batter, you are doing it wrong.

After baking, the cake had risen nicely and no moisture remained on the pick when I tested it for doneness. I let it cool for a half hour in the tins and then inverted it onto a rack... and uh oh, it stuck just a wee bit (because the sugar/butter mix was not perfectly incorporated with the other elements and made small, chewy caramel drops here and there in the cake). I took a pencil-eraser-sized nibble of the stuck cake before trying to fit it into the main cake. It was like a light, fluffy version of a macaroon. Delicious.

I gave Pat a nibble when he got home, and he concurs.

There's nothing wrong with cake mixes (except strange off-tastes and trans fats, actually, there's a lot wrong with them), but I urge you, if you haven't done it in a while, to bake something from scratch. Lose yourself in creating the velvety, thick, spoonable batter, and in candymaking an old-fashioned icing from scratch. You will not be disappointed, and there is a Zen-like joy in the process.

Might I recommend Alton Brown's foolproof "Cocoa Brownies" recipe, or Ina Garten's coconut cake? Both are lovely. I am also partial to the Fannie Farmer cookbook's recipe for gingerbread. Hershey's Deep Dark Chocolate Cake (and yes, make THEIR icing recipe) is absolutely wonderful, too. Or choose your own poison, but by all means, trust the reviews of other bakers if you do your searching online (so long as they make sense).

*regarding coconut essence: boy, what a disappointment essences are after a little practice in perfumery. Low-quality vodka mixed with artificial flavorings and preservatives, yuck! The homemade vanilla essence I have made from bourbon and vanilla beans, or the organic, genuine almond essence I used, are far and away a different thing. I think I am going to make a few homemade essences, or at least seek out natural flavorings only.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Inappropriate punctuation

Among my crazy co-worker's nest of mad idiosyncracies, there is a real stand-out that I actually find charming. She drops malapropisms, wrong homonyms, and stunningly eccentric grammar and spelling with jaw-dropping frequency. When I joined the department, I had to learn to control my reactions to these sincerely meant but bizarre flourishes. I still giggle when she types "that's the jest of it" and wince when she cheers, "right arm!" But I feel that I am now laughing with her, not at her, at least in terms of emotional alignment.

She also likes the aphorisms of the "blue-collar comedy" kings and similar homily manufacturers, from the inscrutable "it is what it is" to the mind-boggling "it's so God" to the merely lame "if it ain't one thing, it's your mother." I grit my teeth and bear her admonitions to "git 'er done" and I try not to flinch when she signs her business letters "In His Grip." Most of our clients can deal with it, and many of the ones who would be sensitive to grammar are reassured by her evangelism. The Central Coast is like that.

The co-worker-isms that still manage to annoy me are relatively few. Among them is the very most frequent of her sins of punctuation: the inappropriately used quotation marks.

Quotation marks mean emphasis, for my co-worker. For me, their uses are twofold: firstly, to set aside the words of another, and secondly, to indicate skepticism about the words set aside in quotes. I don't think that second use is strictly cricket, but I continue to do it, air-quotes style. It collides spectacularly with her usage.

She will type: URGENT - please "rush!"

Or: please provide special consideration for this "very important" client!

Of course, when I interpret these remarks ironically, it completely inverts her meaning.

This site delights me, because it chronicles even more dramatic uses. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Happy birthday, darling

Today is Pat's birthday. 39 years ago today, just before noon, the great love of my life entered the world. His birthday is a date of profound gratitude for me; every year, I spend a misty-eyed day thanking heaven for him.

This will shock him. He is the romantic and sentimental half of our dyad. I am always focused on the here and now and the tomorrow, but his eyes are on the possible and the magical. He remembers beautiful places, amusing anecdotes, and anniversaries of the small and delightful milestones that build a love affair.

I love him with every fiber of my being, but it is not enough to repay his oceanic and ravishing love in kind. There is not a day when he does not tell me, spontaneously and several times, that he loves me. He says it in words, but he also says it in other ways: when he tries to take something frustrating from my hands to help me (and, poor soul, most often gets scolded), when he sings me little songs while I am in the shower or cooking, when he refreshes my drinks, when he waters my plants, when he sends me leetspeak valentines (like this: "<3" or "love that duck!")

His love is bigger than the two of us: he is never happier than when he is helping other people or animals. He loves his teaching job. He loves volunteering to help wildlife. He loves our silly ducks.

He is creative, wildly dreamy, passionate about his hobbies. If his gaze is abstracted and dreamy, I know he is inventing something in his head, whether it is a lecture for his students, or an imaginary spaceship drive. Most days, he spends any available moment cuddled up around my (his! our!) guitar, teaching himself to play more beautifully than I ever did, and priding himself on his burgeoning calluses.

He is funny. No song goes unpunished without a new set of lyrics, often sung by a puppetless puppet-hand "imp" in silly voices. He hated it that everyone wrote in his high school yearbook that he was clever, but like it or not, he is witty indeed and I love his silliness and irony equally. It took years for my family to crack his deadpan delivery and realize that his gravitas was not simply "serious" and "quiet": I can remember my mother's open mouth and simultaneously gleeful and appalled expression the day she caught on.

He is entertaining. I will forever remember the summer we spent playing cribbage all night and listening to our music collection on "shuffle." Likewise, he tells brilliant stories at parties and to our friends; it is always a joy to be by his side.

He is true. We have been married for 20 years and I know with my whole heart that his vision of the future always includes me. This commitment is without complacency; every day, he connects with me, blocks my path from the kitchen to other parts of the house and collects an exasperated kiss as a toll, discusses his ideas, tells me jokes, includes me in his plans.

He is a family man. He loves my family wholeheartedly. There is no truer joy than having one's lover and one's family aligned and unified, and this is the gift I enjoy daily. He and my wonderful little brother are best friends. My mother adores him as much as he loves her, and they happily spend more time together than my mom and I do.

He is attentive. He listens to me chattering about my work days and remembers the details, even months later. He could step into my position and do my job without a break in quality; he knows my customers, the vocabulary and priorities of my work, and my underwriters. When I tell him a story, he asks, "this is the one who ____" and he is always correct. It is gratifying and mortifying at once to know how much he hears of my daily complaints.

He is strong. He faces bad news with loving stoicism when I am collapsing emotionally, but if it comes up again later, when I have put myself together and am sane again, he cries with me. I do not have his strength. He is jealous of my proximity to the special heartaches of infertility treatment from the woman's perspective.

He is a friend. He encourages my good and my bad habits with equal pleasure, but he manages to make me a better person with each passing day. He makes me proud -- of him, of myself.

He is considerate. He calls me beautiful even if my face is red and cracked from rosacea -- and makes "hubba hubba" noises and gets grabby when I undress, even though the actuarial tables will tell you I am seriously obese. He prefers me without cosmetics but never fails to notice if I doll up for an event.

He is sexy, wicked, delightful, and sensual, when I have him all to myself.

There is nobody luckier than I am. And again, no, you may not have him: he is mine.

I love you, honey. Happy birthday.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


And lest I post something grim and grouchy about infertility treatments without providing anything of use, let me direct you to RESOLVE - a support group for infertile people.

This page is particularly salient for you well-meaning types who would like to offer comfort or advice but aren't sure how I will receive it. (How will I receive it? Like a crazy person whose priorities are skewed. But I love ya anyway.)

Invoice for infertility treatment

Yesterday, I went back to my ob/gyn, Dr. M., for a follow up on the breast lump from February (mastitis, from the brief pregnancy then). I'm well, nothing new and the lump is gone except a bruise, and my mammograms compared fine with those from 2004... so no news is good news!

While I was there, I asked my doctor about 2 other issues: 1) the rainbow bruises that I have been getting from nothing special in my behavior, e.g. the file cabinets, and 2) whether I can come to him for my remaining infertility treatment and give Dr. S, the reproductive endocrinologist, the heave-ho.

1) I am fine. It's the low-dose aspirin thinning my blood.
2) Yes! I can give Dr. S. the heave-ho. Which is good (great! Wonderful!), because...

Today I called Dr. S.'s office asking about a bill I received on Saturday. This is the first I have seen of any billing from his office; I have been paying (exorbitantly) for visits, tests, and treatments on each visit sight unseen.

In case you were ever wondering what infertility treatment bills look like, here you go. I have omitted my personal info and of course, the lab tests and other tests done out of office, including those sent out to other cities and labs from this doctor's office. They have run a couple thousand dollars so far.

Anyway, what burns my biscuits about this bill -- aside from its very existence and the threatening look of line items like: BIOPSY OF UTERUS LI, are the following:

1) I am growing dissatisfied with this doctor anyway so I am admittedly cranky. He doesn't give me much information when I ask questions, so that I am forced to play 20 questions, from a position of stunned emotionality and little information going into the conversation. (I am one of those people who has to have information; if I don't know the questions to ask, I have to call back when I do.) In fact, he sometimes seems patronizing (I have a Master's degree and can be spoken to as a responsible adult), and has a perplexing tendency to call me "Madame" or "Milady." I do not want terms of endearment or alternative-lifestyle-esque stylings from my doctors, particularly those who are often looking up my down side. I am confident in his diagnoses and his training, but his bedside manner freaks me out and leaves me feeling insecure after I have had time to reflect. That said, he's friendly and knows his stuff.

2) This office is just dreadful at communication. Nobody ever told me to expect this bill. When I call, I rarely get a call back same-day... sometimes it is a week. Even urgent calls are often returned several days later.

2B) In fact, this bill was mailed first to my address, but in the wrong city. When it was returned it was addressed again by hand and sent out again. See that over 90 days past due column? My credit doesn't need this kind of delay on bills I don't know are coming... and this bill better not reflect, there.

3) Do you see those charges labeled "Report" (I have scrawled "telephone consult" next to them)? Those are billings for telephone conversations. These conversations were never more than 10 minutes in length. That makes them as or MORE expensive at $90 and $70 apiece than the office/outpatient visit that accompanied a biopsy of the uterus lining, ultrasound, anaesthetic and immunocytochemistry. Nobody ever, ever told me he would charge me for time on the phone... and for short calls making up shortfalls in information conveyed during office visits, this is completely infuriating to me. Roughly $10/minute? Really? Without warning? Really?!

4) My insurance will not cover these bills very well because Dr. S. is out-of-network. As an insurance agent, I can tell you that one of the main requirements to become an in-network doctor is charging "reasonable and customary" fees (as adjudged by the insurance company) for procedures. The fees charged by Dr. S. are probably out of that range. I do not know that this is why he is out-of-network but it is likely.

My advice, if you are likely to go through infertility testing, is to know what you're getting into. Don't take the verbal estimate for granted... be sure you have it in writing. This is particularly crucial if your insurance doesn't play nicely with your provider, as is also the case for Dr. S. and not for Dr. M.

Bah. Anyway, I am moving back to my regular doctor. If I need Dr. S., I know where to find him... and I finally have an idea what I will pay to see him.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Response from Stephen Weller at IFRA

If you're interested, check out Denyse's latest posts on the IFRA perfume ingredient regulation issues, in which she posts some response from Stephen Weller, a representative of IFRA. Interesting stuff. There's a part two here.

Please be aware that Denyse has published a book with a shocking cover, which will have a little ad in the margin... so the page might not be worksafe if you are worried about coworkers peeking over and seeing a sex doll's face.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Consumer Society, Roleplaying, and Bondage

If you buy sweatshop-made bondage gear, should it excite you to know that there is REAL bondage behind its production? What a thought. But it's not that farfetched, is it?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Congratulations Sam!

"Sam" successfully defended her dissertation yesterday. You go, girl!

Friday, May 8, 2009

My tax dollars (and other dollars) at work

I took a big step this week and registered a business. Yay!

The next logical step seemed to be opening a post office box for my business mail. This is something lots of people do every day, and should be easy, right?

Well… the post office has never been anything but a bastion of rationality, has it?

I found that it was simple to order a post office box online, and was delighted. Sure, sign me up. I sicced Pat on it and it became even easier -- he filled out the form for me, paid the pleasantly affordable six months' lease, and told me all we needed to do was bring in two forms of identification, one bearing a photo and one showing our address, to claim the keys.

I got sick and didn't budge from the house for a few days. Dad and my stepmom visited. They had gotten sick on the road.

So, a week later after I got over probably-the-swine-flu and my folks shoved off for NM, we went to the Pismo Beach post office. I brought my passport and my state I.D. (no, I am still not licensed to drive… although I have my permit now, scary!)

The dour lady "helping" us informed me that my I.D. didn't adequately prove my address. People move, you know. We needed to bring a deed, mortgage, or lease agreement.

Now, I don't HAVE a lease agreement. I rent from Mom month to month and she never bothered to have me sign one or vice versa. There's a lot of good faith there. I patiently explained that I would have to fabricate such a document to "prove" my residence.

Nothing doing. Sorry, can't help you. No, no refunds.

So I did the next most logical thing and went, fuming, to Mom and asked for a lease. She had fortunately drawn one up just in case when we moved in, and she and Pat signed it and (fraudulently!) backdated it to our move-in date.

I went back to the Pismo P.O. This time it was 20 minutes until they closed. We got called by the friendly, informal, tattooed and pierced young lady with better retirement benefits than I will probably ever qualify for, who rapidly demonstrated that she had no idea how to do this transaction.

"We need to pick up the keys to a post office box we reserved and paid for online."


"We bought a post office box. We need the keys."


"Look at this paper -- we filled this out online and paid for a post office box. They said we had to come in to pick up the keys and number. So we're here. I came the other day and evidently my state I.D. is not an I.D., so you needed a fraudulent lease. Here it is."

"Yeah, you can't use those. Okay, give me the lease."

"Frankly I think it is crazy that you made me fabricate a falsified document -- well, the content is the truth but this didn't exist until yesterday -- to prove that the address the state already made me prove exists."

"Yeah. People can falsify ALL kinds of things."

"So can we pick up the keys?"

"What's the number?"

"We have NO idea. They said you would assign it."

As a matter of fact, they DO assign them online… but they are fake-a-roos, like my lease. Since our tattooed friend didn't know how to do anything regarding P.O. boxes, she had to hunt and peck on the weirdly user-friendly system. The system would not allow her to assign a real number, because I already had a fake. She couldn't figure out how to change it, either. Eventually she growled, "why you have to do this NOW?"

"Oh, because I work and I am only off during 20 minutes of the time in which you are open."


40 minutes later, four postal employees, rapidly growing, well, postal, knew my phone number and address by heart. Yay.

Eventually they figured out how to put me in for a change of number and took my fake lease, and gave me keys. Victory! For the record, the one who finally figured it out, without any of them bothering to check my I.D. in any way, was the one who told me to shove off with my state I.D. two days earlier. "Now they just have to pay," she said. We waved the proof of payment online at her. She looked at it as if she had never seen us before. "Ohhhhhhh... I didn't know you could do that." Really? After day before yesterday when I talked to you for 20 unfruitful minutes and you sent me away because the state evidently can't check an address, and I told you this was bullshit?

So, all was well. Until I got home, the next day, to find a message. Piercy McGrowly needed info.

I called her today, and fortunately all she needed was my I.D. number. Well, obviously. But I am relieved and I will let it go with a giggle.

These are your tax dollars and mine at work... and, I guess, my box-rental fees at work too. Folks, go in person if you have to get a P.O. box. Pat thinks it's a postal conspiracy to make us hate the Internet, thus causing us to patronize the post office with our snail mail.

Whatever. Don't say you weren't warned.

Monday, May 4, 2009

What it's like to be a grebe taxi

'Tis the season for migrant birds and grebes to glut the wildlife care center, and it's baby animal/bird season, too. Pat gave a ride to FOUR grebes this morning (two western grebes, two Clark's grebes). Here's an excerpt from our IMing.

Pat says (10:10 AM):
I scared the ranger lady when i picked up the grebes

Linda says (10:10 AM):
ack! how'd you scare her?

Pat says (10:11 AM):
I was in the shed, writing in the log, and she was bringing yet another grebe. I don't think she's used to seeing people in the shed.

Linda says (10:12 AM):
oh haha
Linda says (10:12 AM):
grebes make you nervous anyway... what with the murderousness

Pat says (10:12 AM):
They were 6, 8, 9, and 10 on the grebe murderousness scale, respectively.

Linda says (10:13 AM):
hee hee! Were they really?
Linda says (10:13 AM):
are you ok?

Pat says (10:15 AM):
I'm fine! I put two in the backseat (one down on the floor, the other on the seat, covered with my jackets. The big one went in the far back along with another carrier. The one that was in the backseat was lunging and telling me that he was going to eat the eyes of my offspring and their offspring and...

Linda says (10:15 AM):

Pat says (10:16 AM):
I kept them all separated (you gotta do that, I hear), so there wouldn't be any additional injuries.

Linda says (10:16 AM):
oh poor grebes

Pat says (10:16 AM):
One was smelly like oil. Four were smelly like grebe poop. But a pretty easy ride all told, and pretty decent time too.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Really helpful book for those with infertility

This book is excellent. From relaxation techniques ranging from helpful all the way into goofy, to sympathetic and smart writing, to insight into the bitterness of this particular struggle, it's a great book.

I don't think it's a great book for those not engaged with this struggle, really. But since there might be lurkers out there who need it, I recommend it. I've let go of a lot of stress since beginning to read it. Nothing has changed except me.