wanderlust

Washington, D.C.

In early August Luke and I drove up to DC for a short weekend away. Mapquest claimed 3.5 hours but it took us closer to 4 hours to get there. A bit of bad traffic as we got close but all-in-all a nice drive. We spent a large part of it on my phone finding things from wikipedia to laugh at. We didn’t start running low till about 45 minutes out…

 

It had been a while since I was in DC and I don’t think Luke had ever been. And, we’d been on a major Bones kick so we were ripe with excitement to be in the city. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt because we actually had a nice gift certificate to Hyatt we got by redeeming points from Mastercard. The pictures make it out to be super posh but it was a rather average hotel. It was nice though to have a Starbucks in the lobby. We also learned that the breakfast buffet in their Grand Cafe is freakin’ amazing. Little things changed from day to day during our trip so there was some variety but we could rely on  mainstays like the custom omelet station. We also spent part of an evening at the hotel bar & bistro, Cure, where we enjoyed the most ridiculously delicious lemongrass mojitos that almost made us forget that parking was $40/night.

We did a lot of walking and tried to take in as many sights as possible. It was great timing to visit the Smithsonian because they had an exhibit: The Art of Video Games that was, obviously, of great interest to Luke. While there we also saw, among other things, the presidential exhibit where we were reminded of people like William Harrison and John Tyler who we sometimes forget existed. It was impossible not to notice that George W. Bush has the most casual portrait of them all  – – except for the weird abstract closeup of Bill Clinton’s face that made his nose look like Gerard Depardieu’s. We were surprised that we could not find the portrait of Stephen Colbert, not in the exhibits or even around the restrooms… I guess Colbert hangs out in a different Smithsonian location.

There were some really beautiful statues and stained glass pieces that we saw but did not photograph. There was an installation piece that had the Constitution spelled out in license plates and the plates were alphabetized by state. It was pretty awesome. Luke and I couldn’t help but laugh at the ‘Ode to Trump either.

 

         

  

                

We walked past the White House several times and saw the secret service guys hanging out on the roof. We explored the exhibits at the Library of Congress, walked all around downtown and Chinatown, strolled along the mall (which was under construction), and spent some time sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, along with about 4 million other tourists. As we left the Lincoln Memorial we got a chuckle out of the segway tour in progress (which, by the way, is just so silly I would totally love to do!). We walked past the Federal Reserve, the Vietnam Memorial, the Department of Justice, the J. Edgar Hoover Building, and the attorney general’s office. And we stopped off at the International Spy Museum gift shop. Yes, gift shop. Because once we saw how expensive tickets were to get it we decided we could settle for an abbreviated tour. (And I can say with confidence that if the museum is anything like the gift shop, we didn’t miss much.)

     

                                            

       

I’m such a planner at heart so, of course, I had arrived in the city armed with a list of restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, etc… that would be great to visit while in town. Wouldn’t you know, we didn’t go to a single one of them. Apparently Founding Farmers is so delish’ you need a reservation, like, a month in advance. The food Gods were on our side though because everywhere we ate the food was fantastic. Asian Spice, even though it looked like a cheap strip center chain restaurant from the outside, had a nice atmosphere and great, flavorful food. Brasserie Beck was more expensive and American but not a trip wasted.

         

On our way out of town we stopped by the Arlington National Cemetery where we saw the changing of the guard and the tomb of the unknown soldier. It’s an emotional place for sure. So many gravestones, so many dead in the service of our country. Its a lot to take in and ponder.

   

   

A huge thank you to my mother without whom this trip wouldn’t have happened.

We had a really great time!

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life lately

flying solo

On Thursday morning I drove Luke to the airport where he was headed west to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the 26th annual meeting of the society for literature, science, and the arts (SLSA). The 2012  SLSA conference lasts for four days and draws academics from across the country to talk about “nonhuman actants like tools, bodies, networks, animals, climate, media, or biomes”. Duke seems to be represented well too because at least 6 of Luke’s colleagues affiliated with Duke are there with him presenting on various topics. Its also a bit of a reunion for him because a few of our academic acquaintances and mentors from UW are scheduled to speak. I wish I were there!

Today Luke will be giving his presentation “Reality is Expensive: Making a Better Military-Entertainment Complex”. He’s been working on this presentation and accompanying paper for a while now and I imagine its going to be a great talk exploring the overlap of private contractors, military practices, and the commercial entertainment industry and how they “are shaping the world in which we live, fight, and play”.

Meanwhile, life goes on in Durham. Mostly I’ve just been working and cleaning and exercising. The house has been so dirty lately I’m hoping to reign it in and let Luke come home to a nice, clean, welcoming home ’cause that always feels real good. It’s weird not having him around though. I don’t know how people survive long distance relationships. Kuddos to them but truthfully I would go insane.

There are some perks though. I get to sleep in the middle of the bed with the thermostat bumped up to 80. (Just kidding, I never go past 78.) And I can play my epic indie-pop and hip-hop really loud, singing along at the top of my lungs without shame. And if I do a load of laundry I can toss it into the dyer on top of the other load of clothes I never took out of the dryer and there’s no one around to tell me otherwise. Umm… Yeah. Those are pretty much the only perks. Needless to say, it’ll be pretty awesome to have my husband back tomorrow night.

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recipe box

totally baked.

When it comes to cooking, and baking in particular, I do everything like I’m killing snakes. It’s hard to bake just one thing when there are so many things I’ve never made, or made well. So I’ll have these days where that is all I do: bake a pie, bake bread, bake three different kinds of cookies, bake some kind of gooey, delicious, candy-bar… and so on. Fortunately, I managed to get in one last hurrah before Luke took an unexpected gluten-free turn towards good health.

And what did I bake??

The pie was the best, by leaps and bounds. Seriously. No competition. I really surprised myself with this one.

The bread was, eh. Ok. Actually it was quite a success but I just don’t like challah bread that much.

The cookies were good as long as we’re not talking about the snickerdoodles. The others though were fantastic. I got all three recipes from the Back in the Day Cookbook by Cheryl & Griffith Day, who I adore. On the left hand side of the platter is a batch of their ‘chocolate dreams’, the snickerdoodles are on the right, and in the upper right-hand corner are some of the ‘mexican hot chocolate shortbread’ cookies. Oh the mexican shortbreads! They are dangerously wonderful! The chocolate dreams were exactly as described – soft in the middle, slightly crisp on the edges, and very, very rich chocolatey. For me, too chocolatey. But I already know I’m weird in not being a huge chocolate fan.

The PB&J bars were also inspired from Back in the Day. They were okay. Luke and I both felt there was too much jam in the center though. Secretly, I though they were going to be the best but life is always full of surprises.

*And did I mention I’m the best boss ever because who do you think got to enjoy the other 8 dozen cookies not photographed above?? Yeah, I don’t know how to put this but I’m kind of a big deal. People know me.

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life lately

instagram-in’

*In the interest of full disclosure I should warn you up front that I only signed up for instagram for the benefit of my mother and I photograph for instagram accordingly. She is the only person I know who will have any interest whatsoever in the random, ordinary, mundane, and sometimes plain stupid things I find worthy of digital immortalisation on a whim. As it turns out, she is also the only person I know who cannot manage to install instagram on her apple device. ;) And so, mom, until you find a way to magic a new app, this one’s for you.

Other highlights:

– the man who tried to convince me that skim milk has 0 calories and then got mad at me when I didn’t agree. haha, ok you win. The customer is always right, even when they’re wrong.

– Mac learned that with enough force and patience he could barrel through the locked kitty window. A+, kitty cat.

– a conspiracy may be brewing to silence my vote. Luke and I mailed our voter registration forms together in the same envelope yet somehow only he succeed in actually getting a voter registration card. What happened?

– Skyped with most of Luke’s family. Nephews are getting cuter and cuter but still won’t talk to us.

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food ethics, politics

yes, proposition 37

Surely you’ve heard the argument that with each dollar we spend, we cast a vote for the kind of world we believe in. Anna Lappe gets credit for the quote but I think the idea has surfaced often over the last few decades in various arenas of the public and academic sphere. I take issue with this line of argument in many ways. For one, it is dangerous to confuse voting with shopping. They are not the same thing, nor should they be. But more importantly, it evades the important question of what is placed on the ballot in the first place.

To be clear I believe there is a place for ethical consumerism and that choosing more carefully where we spend our money can effect some degree of change. Buying local or buying green products helps to slowly expand the market for these kinds of items and perpetuates the values they derive from. Certainly boycotting a particular brand or product can similarly help to shrink a market and encourage alternatives. However,  we cannot shop our way to better, more sustainable regulation and legislative action. Spending every Saturday morning at the farmer’s market doesn’t do enough to demand a change in factory farming practices. Outfitting your roof with solar panels, while a fantastic demonstration of conscience, doesn’t stop the coal industry from trudging on. And no matter how many times you eat lunch at Chick-fil-a, clicking your proverbial heels, you’re never going to walk back out into a world in which gay people don’t exist.

Moreover, we cannot shop our way to less consumption. We can work to harness our waste, treat our property well so that it lasts as long as possible, and be a bit more discerning about our purchases making wastefulness a part of the criterion used for making ethical decisions while we shop. Still, if our desire is to vote with our money, we’re inevitably going to be forced to sacrifice some values in order to “stand up” for others. Not to mention, we’re going to be out-spent.

That being said, it strikes me as significant that so many companies with merchandise for sale in our country find it acceptable to lie, deceive, and otherwise try to hide the contents of their products from the consumers who buy them. California’s proposition 37 has really brought this issue to fore in recent weeks. With corporate agribusiness exceeding $32 million in dollars spent fighting the initiative that would require genetically engineered foods be listed on product labels and that would forbid such products from being marketed as ‘natural’, one cannot help but shake their head at the state of our food industry. After all, the measure is far from oppressive allowing exemptions for alcoholic beverages, restaurant food, hospital food, and probably even school lunches. Our meat would still be packaged as usual – – no label changes for animals fed GM foods. No label changes for foods whose weight contains .5% or less of GM ingredients either. A rather approachable initiative, if anything I would argue it does too little, not too much.

It is no surprise that Monsanto has taken the lead in opposing this proposition. The bigger surprise is the list of allies Monsanto has found in their information war.

Rights of the consumer aside, people have a right to know what is in their food. We have a right to know what we’re eating, where it comes from, and how it was grown. There is a reason chicken farms don’t let folks stroll in and snap photographs. Its the same reason companies like Conagra, Dean Foods, and General Mills don’t want customers knowing what goes into their organic milk products and ‘natural’ granola bars. They’re not afraid of going out of business, they’re afraid of having to change their business practices.

It is ironic that some on the far right can claim America is not business friendly. With all the corporate outcry against the costs new labeling laws would force upon them, the unaware citizen might be surprised to know that 50 countries around the world already require GMO labeling, including all of Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India, and China.

Although the new labeling laws won’t go into effect until July 2014, I believe proposition 37 is an important step for our country. If the legislation passes in California, it will likely open up the gates for new labeling laws across the country. So, please, California: vote yes on Proposition 37. Stand up for our right to know.

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The Dark Side

cyberchondria

Cyberchondria. Have you heard of this?

If you know what webMD is, your probably suffering from it.

Cyberchondria is a term that describes the neurosis that ensues when the average person attempts a self-diagnosis via google or other online sources. Usually the veritable freak out following one’s leisurely stroll through the online realms of possibility is largely unfounded.

Like that time when you had two birthday dinners because your friends wanted to take you out for a cheesecake factory gorge-a-thon but then your mom called you over for a special home cooked meal and you couldn’t say no because its your mom and she made all your favorite things. So it’s 1 am and your chest is cramping and the tightness seems to radiate up your neck and around your back creeping up your shoulders and you’re starting to feel like you’re going to throw up, just maybe, and the pain seems to get more intense no matter how still you sit. Moaning as you crawl across the floor to your computer as if tonight just may be the last night of your life and you might just curl up and die right there. You’re waiting as the browser finally loads your google results and you feel a sudden crushing in your core as your head starts to spin. Heart Attack! Angina! Aortic Dissection! Pleurisy! Pericarditis! Oh God! You click on the first link and all the symptoms seem to describe exactly what you’re feeling and now you really, you just know its the beginning of the end. Lo’ and behold you wake up the next morning, miraculously alive and well, catastrophe averted until the next time you eat a weeks’ worth of meals in the span of 6 hours.

Ahem, anyway. These, uh, neurotic excesses kind of take over me from time to time – – especially with regards to my lady parts. I guess its because the gynecologist is the only doctor I see on a regular basis. Fortunately, I’m rarely under the weather (*knock on wood*) and so the only real opportunities for ‘them to find something’ are at my yearly exams. And I’m telling you, even though they’ve never confirmed my frantic suspicions, I’m always an anxious wreck before hand.

A few years back I was convinced I had endometriosis because I’d been getting weird, unexplained pains in my lower left side toward the front a bit. Anyway, I’d done my google-ing and was just gearing up for the bad news. When it never came I was faced with a dilemma: do I bask in the good news and trust my medical professional or do I ask specifically about what I fear is my affliction? Is this where the law of attraction comes in? If my doctor doesn’t speak its name can I just will it away? I asked. And I was not happy with the response. “Hmm. Well, that is serious but also rather unusual.” Ok. Um, so…

Here I am once again. Awaiting my yearly results. Feeling all emotional and detached and sentimental as if this may be the year I find out I have cancer or something. In the meantime I’m making some ridiculously amazing marshmallow dream bars and loading up on Colbert and Conan reruns. Yes, I declare, laughter is the tonic!

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venting

the thing about working retail…

The thing about working retail is… well, you realize people suck.

In the clothing/department store scene one is repeatedly faced with questions about human behavior. Like, why would someone go into a dressing room with 38 different items, proceed to remove each one from its hanger, throw them all up in the air, and then exit the dressing room somehow leaving 42 different items of clothing laying around, some inside out, some on the floor, some bunched up on the bench, etc…? Why would they do that? Or, where is the brat stealing earrings leaving the little cardboard holders stuffed into the mirror edge or in random pants’ pockets around the store? Who are they and can I please have a word with their mother? And, what makes this person think they can return a sweater with stinky pit stains just because the tags are still on it?

In the grocery store scene one cannot help but garner frustration as they find random food items scattered around the store in places they do not belong. Why, why would someone leave a box of popsicles on a random shelf in the cereal isle? Don’t they know count chocula  cannot be trusted near triple rockets? Don’t they know the triple rockets are going to melt? And why is a rotisserie chicken sitting on a shelf of men’s deodorant? Who does this?

At Starbucks there are the people who have an aneurism if left too much room for cream in their coffee or, as the case may be, too little. One must wonder how it is that this young woman can order the same simple drink every single morning, every single week and yet still does not know how to ask for what she wants. Who is it that keeps dumping a gallon of hot liquid into the trash causing the bags to weaken and tear and drool all over the floor? And what cave did this man crawl out of that left him under the impression that Starbucks is a sit-down establishment in which a waitress will take your order, serve you, and finally deliver a bill? Does he not see the line forming at the registers? Does he not understand the movement of the masses starting at the entrance, progressing to the registers, meandering to the hand-off plane, and finally making their way full-circle back to the entrance whereby they leave the premises with drink-in-hand?

Of course, its the one in 300 that truly test the hourly-wage retail worker’s composure. Most of the customers are courteous and pleasant enough. Yet, like a mean insult, that single instance tends to carry as much weight as the 299 others.

For myself, it has only been in the last few months that my patience has really worn thin. Maybe the reserve would deepen a bit if a few days could pass before confronted with the next irritatingly unaware and inconsiderate customer with a chip on their shoulder. But somehow they just keep strolling in, day by day and I’m left with my mother’s voice in the back of my head, “don’t underestimate whats out there loose”.

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