volleyball knees.

My knee is gross. I got a raspberry, which didn't seem to want to heal. It turned into a quarter-size festering wound that gathered blue jean lint and finally scabbed over. It will probably scar. I went to a wedding last weekend and was faced with the prospect of having a scabby knee peeking out from under my skirt. It reminded me of the song from The Sound of Music where the older, proper nuns are complaining because Maria always has skinned knees under her habit. I wondered if the people at the wedding would sing "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sandra?" I wore pants.

Still. I'm quite happy about my knee. I got it from sliding on a gym floor. No, not really, because if I had slid on the floor, I wouldn't have gotten the injury at all. No, I got it from dropping to my knees, intending to slide, but then realizing that the floor was not conducive to sliding. What happened then is that my knees stopped sliding (except for a little skidding around inside my kneepads) and then the rest of my body was propelled forward towards the general direction of the floor.

I don't even remember why I started talking about my knee.

Oh, wait, I do. It's because I wanted to tell you all that I've started playing volleyball. I joined a local adult league, because I was tired of feeling like I never did any physical activity. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I now engage in physical activity exactly once a week. Progress!

If you've never played volleyball, perhaps you do not know how truly wonderful a game it is. I also played basketball in high school, and I never really liked it. It was okay. It was fine. But I was never really invested in being any better at it and I haven't played it in years. I've tried to figure out the difference between volleyball and basketball, what makes one of them so ho-hum while they other has me chomping at my kneepads. I think maybe it's the contact aspect. I was never interested in pushing anyone around, while the other girls hanging out with me down near the net were very interested in that. But volleyball is more turn-oriented. You have a turn and you make the best move you can. You have three hits to recover from whatever they threw at you and then throw something back that hopefully they can't handle.

I started playing over the summer, which meant I played beach volleyball for the very first time. It was an interesting new experience. The best thing about beach volleyball, aside from the fact that you can go barefoot, is that you can do some really amazing digs without hurting yourself. You can toss yourself all over the sand like a crash test dummy and it won't even hurt. You will get sand in your pants (and hair and eyes), but you will look awesome and cool because you sacrificed your body for a save. The worst thing about beach volleyball is that you can't run and jump on the sand. I mean, some people can. I have apparently not reached that skill level. Mostly I just move the sand under my feet to some other location near my feet. Someday, I hope to be able to run and jump on the sand like a real, live boy.

A couple of weeks ago, the fall season started. The captain of our team emailed us and told us all to bring our kneecaps, which makes me wonder if he can take his out, and if so, if removable kneecaps are a useful feature. I had to buy new kneepads, because my mother had very inconsiderately thrown out my high school pair which probably still stank of sweat from seven years ago. I had enjoyed beach volleyball, really I had, but when I found myself in a pair of kneepads on a squeaky gym floor, perched on the balls of my feet and waiting for the serve, I really felt back at home.

Later, when I got home, my kneepads around my ankles, I thought about having volleyball knees again. They may not always have a raspberry, but they will probably be bruised. And one night a week, they'll smell like a locker room. Volleyball knees make me happy. I used to participate in activities that I cared nothing about so that scholarship committees would think I was well-rounded. Now it's a relief to just do something because I enjoy it. It's funny - it makes me feel like a well-rounded, more interesting person. A well-rounded person with bruised knees.


ice and fruit floating in deep red liquid.

I was lying on the grass in the National Sculpture Garden, people watching. Josh was reading an information pamphlet about the sculptures, and Kate was reading the Post, which seemed to be the in thing to do in D.C. Everyone seems so aware of what's going on all the time. Maybe it's their job to know.

Bad jazz music permeated the air. Or maybe it was good jazz, I don't know. I don't get jazz. This particular band would have be okay, except that they had got an electric guitar player who thought he was in a jam band. I mentioned that to Josh, and he agreed, which made me happy. As a non-musician, every time I'm able to contribute something intelligent to a conversation about music makes me feel like a good girlfriend. Kate asked what a jam band was and Josh explained it while I thought about how my boyfriend knows everything.

But the point of the music was to set a mood, not distract you. You were there to sit with your friends and drink, not pay attention to the music. The music is perfect for that. I once had a friend recommend a band to me, saying they were great to have on at a party, because they didn't distract anyone from their conversations. If that's a big problem at your parties, maybe you should invite more interesting people.

A guy in business casual walked by with a pitcher of ice and fruit floating in deep red liquid. I grabbed my wallet, walked off, and later returned with a pitcher of ice and fruit floating in deep red liquid. I poured out portions into three plastic cups and we said cheers. Kate went back to the paper, Josh back to the art information, and I sat back and thought about other pitchers of ice and fruit floating in deep red liquid.

I love sangria. Is there anything better on a hot day or a cold night or any other time? Wine and fruit juice, good wholesome fruit soaked in alcohol.

The first time I made sangria was in Winston. The recipe called for brandy, so I bought a bottle of the kind that my underage roommate used to make me buy for her. As I cooked the fruit on the stovetop, we took shots of the brandy, because, well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. When the sangria was finally ready, we were already at least one sheet to the wind. Nothing happened, except that two friends who had harbored secret crushes on each other finally admitted it. Now that night stands as a turning point in our relationship. I think that if we had not lasted, then that memory would stand as a regrettable night of a friendship ruined, instead of a sweetly intoxicated evening of friendship set on fire.

I remembered next a miserable evening in New York City with Sarah on our first trip. It was cold, it was wet, and I had walked miles and miles in bad shoes. I was unhappy and whiny and showing a side of myself that really ought to be locked away and never allowed out. I was angry at the weather, at my shoes, at the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. We were walking back to our hostel when the lights of Mama Mexico beckoned to us. We'd eaten at this restaurant the night before, the night I'd discovered guacamole. It was still wide open at midnight. Honestly, I wanted to just back to the hostel and go to bed, but I'd been such a rotten traveling companion that when Sarah suggested having a drink I felt obligated to go along just to make up for the burden of my company. We ordered desserts and a pitcher of sangria. A few tables were still eating as the wandering guitar player meandered around the tables and played "Feliz Navidad". I wondered if he minded having his culture reduced to "Ay Ay Ay Ay", as if I were to go to a foreign country and walk around singing "Yankee Doodle". After a while, most of the customers had filtered out and the singer took a seat in the corner with a couple of the wait staff. He began playing other songs that were not part of his business hours repetoire. Beautiful, soft songs that sounded like something abuelitas sang at night to droopy-lidded children. By the time the pitcher was gone, I was revived. Even when I stood up and found that my legs had stiffened, I found the strength to giggle my way down the street with Sarah to the hostel.

And then that late afternoon in the sculpture garden, where the sun was beaming generously on our faces, the bad jazz was easy to ignore, and I didn't feel the need to say anything to my companions. I could just sit there with them, sipping my deep red liquid, eating the alcohol-laden orange slices, and thinking what a great time I was having doing nothing in particular.

Here's to ice and fruit floating in deep red liquid.

Note: This is a strong recipe. I made it for my parents once, and my dad mentioned at least three times how strong it was in the next week. You can always add more juice (or use less rum) if you don't want your parents to think you're trying to liquor them up. Or less juice if you're trying to get them to revise their will in your favor. You can also use whatever fruit you want, really. Apples! Cherries! Pomegranates!

Classic Spanish Sangria
from Allrecipes
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime
  • 1 orange
  • 1 cup rum
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 bottle dry red wine
  • 1 cup orange juice
  1. Have the fruit, rum, wine, and oj well-chilled. Slice the fruit into thin rounds and place into a large glass pitcher. Pour in the rum and sugar. Chill in fridge for at least 2 hours to develop the flavors.
  2. When ready to serve, crush the fruit lightly with a wooden spoon and stir in the wine and juice. Adjust sweetness to taste.



I called my mom on the drive to D.C., and she asked what restaurants I was going to visit. I was pretty confused by this question, as I didn't have any specific favorites. The city's huge, how could I limit myself to a small subset of its culinary wonders? But then I thought about Detroit, and how if I ever went back, I'd make sure to go to Buddy's Pizza and then Steve & Rocky's. They have chocolate cake made to order.

But I wasn't going to Detroit, so I didn't have any particular place in mind. But I knew one place that I didn't want to visit. The last time we were in D.C., we met my old high school buddy for dinner at a place with a name that I forgot, except that it had something to do with the moon. Cafe Luna or Moon Diner or Stella Luna, I didn't remember, and I didn't care. Josh and I had both had Reubens there, and we had not enjoyed them. We are typically people who really enjoy our Reubens. I wondered why my friend had taken us to such a crappy place and figured maybe he had defective taste buds.

Our first evening there, we were slowly walking up the street back towards Kate's apartment. We planned to stop and eat in Dupont Circle, which had lots of new and exciting choices. We spied a little outdoor cafe on the sidewalk across the street. The tables were surrounded by shrubberies decorated with Christmas lights. There were lots of people, and they looked happy to be there, so we decided to take their advice and be there, too. I won't say the decision wasn't partially made by the fact that it was the first restaurant we had come across, but I was tired and hungry. Have you hung out with me when I'm tired and hungry? It's not that fun. I'm a ball when I've gotten a good night's sleep and a full tummy, though. But fatigue aside, the restaurant did look interesting.

The scrawly script above the door read "Luna" and I thought how weird it was that this restaurant would be so near to the other, bad Reuben restaurant with such a similar name. However, this was clearly not the same place. We had eaten at a table by the window at the other place, and there didn't seem to be an inside section of this cafe. Inside the door was literally the kitchen, so all the tables seemed to be right there on the sidewalk. I wondered if the place just closed down for the winter.

We examined the menu, found it acceptable, and sat down to rest our tired tootsies. We ordered drinks and food, then sat quietly, too tired to say much. The food came and was good. I had some pasta, while Josh enjoyed a crab cake sandwich. The food was unspectacular, meaning I wouldn't necessarily seek this place out on my next visit, but it was quite satisfactory. It was certainly better than a greasy Reuben. We decided this place could teach that other similarly named restaurant a thing or two about cooking.

As we were waiting for the check, I got up to use the restroom. I was a little nervous that I might have to use the employee restroom or maybe just a bucket in the corner of the kitchen, but a server assured me that they had actual bathrooms. He pointed the way, and I followed a hallway through the kitchen to find a bar and a big room with tables and chairs and people eating. This place had a normal front entrance with a normal looking dining room. They'd just taken advantage of their back entrance to add outdoor seating. In fact, as I looked at one of the tables by the window, I realized that I had eaten there before. I'd eaten a greasy Reuben at that exact spot. Probably a thousand restaurants in this city, and we had managed to come back to the one we'd been trying to avoid.

I felt cheated, deceived! The pasta that had tasted fine a minute ago took on a bitter quality. I had been tricked into enjoying a pasta dish when in actuality it was tainted with wasted corned beef potential.

Later that night, we told Kate our sad tale of being tricked into eating at Luna again.

"Luna?" she asked. "I love that place." I guess she hasn't had the Reuben.


positive stereotypes.

I had another Washington, D.C. related entry all ready to go when I received an email from my brother about my last post. I felt compelled to share both the email and my response. After some consoling remarks about the sad, sad freezer affair, he added:

And fyi, "jew down" is considered offensive by many people.


I know you're not antisemitic, and I'm not offended, but I know that you generally try to avoid being offensive, unless it's absolutely necessary.

Now, I know where the phrase "jew down" came from. It's sweet that my brother assumed that I didn't know rather than think me an anti-Semite. Or is it insulting that he thought I couldn't figure it out? We'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was giving me the benefit of the doubt.

Yes, "jew down" comes from the stereotype that Jews are cheap. There are lots of these sorts of phrases, and I do tend to avoid them in polite conversation. But yesterday, I did knowingly use a term which could be considered offensive. I wouldn't use it in conversation with the President or a rabbi or Josh's mom, but I did use it on my blog, which is open for the President, rabbis, and Josh's mom to read.

I will tell you why. Some people say they can use slurs because they belong to the insulted group. I belong to the trait. If Jews can use "jew down" because they're Jewish, can I use it because I'm cheap? I personally think that being thrifty and having negotiating skills is WONDERFUL. These things rate very highly in my value system. It's not just about getting offbeat and unique stuff at thrift stores, this outlook is a lifestyle to me. I've read books and made active efforts to cultivate these skills in myself. To me saying that Jews are cheap is like complimenting them. Good for you, children of Israel, way to stretch a buck!

I'm not trying to advocate avarice or say that frugality should always trump generosity. The stereotype probably came from people being miserly, as opposed to just being coupon cutters. You can go too far. But I feel like most people are afraid of being thought of as just plain "cheap." Not stingy or greedy or even the positive-spin words like thrifty or frugal, but cheap. I am not afraid of that, and I applaud others, whole ethnic groups of them, who stand with me on this podium made of re-used cardboard boxes, thrift store appliances, and chairs found in the dumpster.

But my brother makes a good point. While he knows I'm not an anti-Semite and now you know that I think saying Jews are cheap is like saying that Asians are good at math, I won't have the opportunity to defend myself to every person that wanders here. I could link back to this post every time I use the phrase, but honestly, I'm not that attached to using it.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I'm going to go ponder what he meant by that last line. Maybe if I can come up with an entry where it's "absolutely necessary" to offend the Jews, I can use "jew down" again.


a place for ground beef.

Josh is squatting on the wet floor of a kitchenette in a Washington, D.C. studio apartment, holding open the flap that covers the freezer in the dorm-sized fridge. The fridge is empty of food, but has a large roasting pan on the bottom shelf, half-full of water. Kate is behind him with a mop, patiently soaking up the water off the floor and then draining the mop into a bucket and doing it all again. I am standing next to him with a two liter plastic pitcher three-quarters full of hot water. I am flinging the hot water into the freezer compartment.

This is one way to quickly defrost a freezer. I don't know if it's the best way, but it sure is a lot of fun. Also, the kitchen floor gets sparkly clean.

It was only coincidence that the Jim Henson exhibit happened right before Kate moved out of the country. We were glad to see her before she left this side of the Atlantic. Since she is making such a drastic move, she was trying to get rid of all of her stuff. Books, food, plates, whatever we wanted, she urged us to take it. It was like spending the night at an estate sale.

On our first night, I was sitting on the couch and I spied the freezer, a half-sized Frigidaire chest deep freezer. It seemed an unlikely occupant of the apartment. "Kate, you have a freezer!"

"Yes, do you want it?"

"Yes, please."

I deeply, deeply wanted all nine cubic feet of its frostiness. I had wanted a freezer for months. My learning to cook had coincided with reading The Tightwad Gazette, and it had occurred to me that I could not be a true tightwad without more than the paltry freezer in my fridge that I had now. I needed my own separate appliance for preserving food. How was I supposed to buy ten pounds of ground beef on sale if I had nowhere to store it?

"How much do you want for it?" This part was tricky. I mean, it was tricky for me. For most people, it would be totally easy, because normal people would just agree to pay whatever she was asking, having already committed to buying it. But we're not talking about those people, we're talking about me, and I had just said I would buy a major appliance off of someone without knowing the price. I had been hasty. What if she wanted too much? I had passed up a similar freezer at a yard sale a couple months ago because the people wanted $100. No way I'd go above $50, and really, that was definitely the high end. Would I have to negotiate? I'm not good at social stuff, but I'm pretty sure jewing down your good friends is bad form.

"I was asking $30 on craigslist."

"Sold." Phew. That will pay for itself after thirty pounds of sale priced ground beef. Muppets and a deal on a freezer? Best vacation ever.

The reason that Kate had an extra freezer is because she has a tiny dorm fridge that has a freezer space of about three cubic inches. Okay, it's more than that, but it is wimpy. You could fit about twenty pounds of ground beef in there, but then where would you put the bacon? Of course, Kate's a vegetarian, but she could still only fit about six bags of frozen vegetables in there. But if I was going to take away her freezer, we'd have to transfer the stuff in the big freezer to the little one. Luckily, most of the stuff in the freezer did not need to remain frozen as long as she ate it in the next week. What did need to be frozen could probably be forced in there. I helped out by eating a frozen fruit pop.

We lifted up the flap in the dorm fridge to start moving stuff in. It was then that we noticed that about three-fourths of the space in there was taken up by a mini-tundra. This is apparently what happens to tiny freezers when you neglect them. We would have to defrost the freezer in a short enough time that the stuff in the fridge wouldn't go bad. And that's how we ended up flinging hot water around and then mopping it up. Making a mess on purpose is fun.

The next morning, Josh and I carried my new freezer downstairs and up the block to my car. I drive a sedan, but I wasn't worried. We estimated that the freezer was about the same size as Josh's bass amplifier cabinet, only taller, and I'd hauled that thing more times than I could count. I'd been stuffing all manner of crap into that car for years and she'd never let me down. Many yard sale hosts had looked skeptically from my new purchases to that car, only to be surprised later when I managed it just fine, thank you very much.

I could describe the shoving and heaving and rearranging and sweating and muttering and pushing and slow sinking feelings of despair, but I'll just skip it. The freezer did not fit. The door frame was large enough, the back seat was large enough, but the door wouldn't open far enough. Before you ask, yes, we tried the front door and the trunk, too.

Are you crying and aching for me? I'm starting to tear up just remembering it. My poor tightwad heart was broken that day. I was despondent, and only minimally cheered by the fact that we were able to fit three bookshelves in there. I wrote Kate a check for the shelves, which she immediately tore up. It was a great symbolic gesture, except for the fact that little check pieces kept falling out of her pocket and spreading pieces of my identity on the streets of our nation's capital. She probably would have given me the freezer for free, too, but I try not to think about that.

Eventually, I will find a good deal on a used freezer, and I will be happy. I will buy lots of meat to put in it, because I am not a vegetarian. But I bet I will get it in a totally boring manner instead of in an evening of improbable defrosting hilarity with two of my favorite people ever.

Also, I'll have to find another way to get it home.


experimental film.

I think this will be the last entry in the Henson video series. I could post Henson-related videos for years, and I would be happy to, but at some point, I need to let people explore their own Muppet obsessions. If you haven't seen the other works, then maybe it's because you are not an enthusiast. We probably could never be close friends.

The real point of the exhibit was not to display Kermit and Rowlf. Everyone already knows that Jim Henson created the Muppets, and they probably all have fond memories of watching Sesame Street or Fraggle Rock or The Muppet Show. But at some point, those people grow up and stop thinking about puppets. It's kid stuff, right? But it's an art form, too, and this man was a visionary. There are a lot of artists out there that I think are probably geniuses, even if I'm not sure why. I frequently don't understand visual art, as hard as I tried when I was dating an artist. And I enjoy music, but I can tell that it doesn't affect me the way it does others. But I feel like I get puppets, and as I think about it, I realize that it's the same as all the things I really love - the combination of art and engineering. Clever dialogue, witty jokes, and interesting stories make my right brain happy. Thinking about how they're doing it makes my left brain happy.

Okay, enough puppet worship. You all think I've really snapped the tether this time, so let's just move on to the videos. This one was my favorite part of the Henson exhibit, because it really let me in on a side of the man that I never knew existed.

This is Time Piece, an experimental film from 1966. Jim stars in it, in case you didn't recognize him as a strapping young man. There's a lot of stop-motion animation going on. There is a stripper, so wait until you get home to watch it. Unless your boss is into Muppets, then I bet you could sell him on it.

And this is The Cube, written by Henson and longtime collaborator Jerry Juhl. It was actually on television back in 1969, before they had anything else to air, I suppose.

Just one final note that the University of Maryland has an archive of Henson's video works. It's free, but you have to be on campus to view it. Don't be surprised if I plan a trip to Baltimore soon.