other people's heirlooms.

I have a giant space of wall in my house that is meant to display something grand. It's high up on a wall in the living room, such that you need a tall ladder to hang anything there. There is a small light that we never use that is pointed directly at that wall. Clearly, it's meant for something large and impressive, something that you wouldn't mind feeling like it was watching over you. If my house were haunted, it would be a huge portrait of some ancestor, and the eyes would follow you. Josh's dad has a huge picture of the Beatles when they were young. Maybe he would hang that picture there. John, Paul, George, and Ringo watch over us all.

Ever since I moved in, I've known that I wanted to hang my grandfather's map there. It's of South America. It reminds me of Kansas.

Do you like maps? My sister asked me that once, a couple of years ago when we were trying to get to know each other as adults. She said that she and her husband loved maps, and I pictured them snuggling on a bear-skin rug in front of a roaring fire with an atlas in their laps. Since that didn't sound like something that appealed to me at all, I said no. My tone said, Are you crazy? Then a week later, I found some prints of 16th century world maps at a yard sale and bought them all up like they were printed on hotcakes. Only then did I understand what my sister's question meant, and I realized that I do like maps. I felt bad for acting like she was crazy, because I like maps an awful lot. Aside from those old prints, I also have a topographical map of Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee (which gets lots of compliments). And I have my grandfather's map of South America.

Why do we like maps? Because they're neat, duh. Maps are simplified representations of things which are too big for us to look at directly. We need something smaller and compact so we can understand. The world is a vast and confusing place, and maps simplify it on at least a physical level. We can all appreciate some simplicity now and then. Old maps are doubly neat. The frequently have beautiful illustrations of the world's peoples and places. They are snapshots of what the world looked like back then, or more accurately what we thought it looked like. A map is as much a picture of our perceptions of the world as it is of the world itself. But also, and maybe most of all, maps remind us of places. What is the first thing that anyone does when they see a map? Find some place that has a special connection to them. They point at it and tell you about it, sharing their memories.

See? Maps are neat.

I have no idea if my grandfather thought maps were neat. Sure, he had a giant one of South America. It's a classroom map, one attached to a spring-loaded wooden bar at the top, so you can pull it down when you want to see where Paraguay is and then roll it back up when you want to write down some factoids about some major exports of Paraguay (soybeans, cotton, edible oils, electricity) on the blackboard. It's from 1939. My grandfather used it as a screen; he showed home movies on the back of it. Maybe he liked maps, but maybe he just wanted a way to watch films without needing a big blank wall.

For being seventy years old, the South America map is in pretty good shape. The spring on the rod still works, and the picture is almost perfect. There is a crease in the middle which I am hoping will disappear as it hangs. There are only a few tiny spots where the image is flaking off the canvas backing. Part of the bottom had escaped the lower bar and someone had attempted to repair it with tape. At first, Josh wanted to do another tape-based repair. But I stubbornly said no, because the previous tape job had peeled away some of the print. We were going to fix it right. So we very carefully separated the lower bar, slid the bottom edge of the map into place, and replaced the tiny nails to hold it there. I am not generally a perfectionist, but some things are important. We got out the giant ladder and the studfinder and hung it up. My taste is not for everyone, but I think it looks amazing, just the right size for a blank expanse of wall. South America watches over us all.

While it would be nice to say that I remember watching movies on the back of this map, I never knew anything about it until a couple of years ago. We took a trip to Kansas to move my grandmother out of her farm house so that she could come live with my parents. This was a sentimental trip for me, the last time I would ever visit the farm that had been the setting for so many childhood memories (if ever you and I found ourselves looking at a map of Kansas, I would point out Great Bend to you). I very much wanted Josh to see it, too, so that when I told him a story about some summer long ago, he could get a sense of the way it looked and smelled and sounded. It was very important to me that he get just a glimpse of it before it was gone.

All that mushy stuff aside, the yard saler in me knew that the farmhouse was full of the stuff from multiple generations of my family. If I saw an ad for a sale that said they were cleaning out a two-story farmhouse (with storm shelter), a barn, and a garage after several decades of accumulation, I would be there when it opened.

In terms of stuff, the trip did not disappoint. Josh rescued a bamboo fishing rod and antique fly rod to give to his dad, which made us both heroes come Christmas. He also got some old ammunition containers and a bunch of old belt buckles. I got a teapot, a pocketwatch, and a 1939 classroom map of South America. My parents got a buffalo skin and a tiny old lady to come live with them.

But even I could not keep all the stuff. We took truckloads of stuff to the Salvation Army in town. This was a decision of necessity. You can't keep everything. Not every little thing owned by my grandparents can become a treasured heirloom. You have to pick and choose. I'm sad sometimes when I see people selling beautiful things owned by their recently deceased family members. They are making that necessary decision, too. But I promise, it's okay, because there are people like me who will buy those things and treasure them anew.

I have a house full of heirlooms: linens, jewelry, furniture, glassware, etc., etc., and so forth. While I love them for their history, I am aware that the history is sort of disconnected from me. They are other people's heirlooms. But this map is mine. It was passed down in my own family (well, I guess I passed it down to myself). If I had found it at a yard sale, I would have bought it anyway. Because I love maps, because I love unusual decor, because I love old everyday things. I would probably still hang it in that blank space of wall with the spotlight pointed at it. When people came over and noticed it (they might not compliment it, but I assure you, they would definitely notice it), I would tell them about where I got it, like I do with pretty much all of my things. However, this way, I can explain to them why a map of South America reminds me so much of Kansas.

Sorry this picture is so terrible. It looks great in person, I promise!


net, rod, and reel.

Net fishing seems like cheating, really. Or maybe all fishing is cheating because we're people and they're fish, and fish have three thoughts over and over: swim, swim, hungry. But net fishing is not very sporting.

For years I went net fishing with my Uncle Freeman and my dad. Freeman would take us out on the Pamlico Sound in his boat, us and his lab Blacky. I'm not sure if Blacky was a single dog or a series of dogs that all looked the same. Freeman would drive us out to some spot on the sound, usually near a smallish island. All the sound looked the same to me, and so I never had any idea where we were. Clearly, Freeman knew, because he was able to get us back to the dock where his old pickup waited to haul us back home. When I was a kid, before I started driving, riding in a car was like that, too. Everything looked the same and the fact that we ever managed to get to a destination was amazing. How did the grown-ups know the way? But it was even more like that on the sound, where there were no roads to limit your direction, and every shore looked exactly the same.

Here's how net fishing works. You have a net, maybe five feet wide and 100 feet long. You put the net in the water, creating a big circle of net. One edge has buoys on it to keep it at the top, and the other side has weights to drop it to the bottom. Then you wade around in the circle, waiting for some great splashing racket to happen. Then you go to the great splashing racket and untangle the fish from the net. I didn't like to untangle, so I waded around with a metal bucket floating behind me on a scratchy twine leash. I would collect the fish as Freeman and Daddy got them out. If I couldn't get the bucket over there fast enough, they'd walk around with a fish hanging by the gills from each of several fingers. Another thing I would have been amazed at if it had occurred to me was how comfortable Freeman was with fish.

I suppose there is skill in net fishing. You have to know where to put the net. But still it seems like cheating, because as soon as you pick the place, pretty much every fish there is already trapped. Maybe some of them didn't try to swim into the net, and so when we took it up again, they remained. It would be like shooting them in a really huge barrel. Still, when we went net fishing, it was to catch food. After we got back, my dad and uncle would spend the afternoon cleaning what we caught, and then we'd fry them all up. We'd take home a cooler full of fish to eat at home. Net fishing is what you do to catch food. We're not trying to be sporting, we're trying to eat.

I've been fishing the regular way, too, with a rod and a reel and some worms. A friend used to take me to local lakes and rivers and we'd sit and wait for a nibble while eating soggy sandwiches and sodas. I could bait my own hook, because I was a tomboy. We used live worms that we'd bought in a plastic container at the same gas station where we got the sandwiches. I like to see gas stations that sell bait, because it means I'm in the country. Even if it's not the same neck of the woods that I grew up in, it's still the same kind of place, just one where I don't know any of the people.

To bait a worm, you have to throw it down on the ground forcefully. That stuns them so they won't struggle when you're poking the hook through. It sounds like a bad time for the worm - being stunned, impaled, and then drowned, unless of course, you're eaten first. I took a sense of pride in baiting my own hook. But I wouldn't take the fish off the hook. Maybe if we'd caught more or I'd gone more often, I would have gotten used to that part, but I never got to that point. This kind of fishing seems to be much less about the fish and more about sitting outside quietly.

It is only recently that I've been introduced to fly fishing. Josh's dad loves to fish, just like Uncle Freeman, but he loves the activity more than the eating. He catches the fish, and then lets it go. As the comic once said, he doesn't want to eat the fish, he just wants to make it late for something. He is careful to always wet his hands in the water before touching the fish, so that the natural oils on his hands don't mess up the fish's scales and leave it open to fish infections.

Fly fishing is mystifying to watch. It is a solitary activity, a man alone out in the water. Sure, you can go with people, but each is on his own. It's not like net fishing, where you almost need someone to help pull in the nets, nor is it like regular fishing, where you can sit for hours with a friend and talk or not talk. With fly fishing, you can't even get that close to each other, because you'll just get your lines tangled up.

Fly fishing is done in the river. You wade out in the water, and you cast upstream. You wave the rod back and forth like a whip, drying out the fly before you cast again. Each cast buys you five or ten seconds as your fly floats back downstream. You have to watch it, this tiny fly on a river full of rocks and leaves and bubbles, which I found so difficult that I began to question my eyesight. Either the fish take it or they don't, and then you try again. After you've cast a few times in the same place, you wade upstream. It is a much more active kind of fishing. You cast more frequently, and you have to be aware or you'll end up with your fly in a tree. Still, I imagine that a fisherman who has been going for years gets into a kind of zone where he can cast and recast, wade and whip while thinking about whatever fishermen think about.

I like fishing, all kinds. I like being outside and I like developing random skills that are mostly useless to my lifestyle. I like the sense of a friendly relationship with nature. Way back when, these net, rod, and reel skills were developed so that man, an animal with a extra large head, could live off the sound, the lake, and the river. Some might say that comparing sport fishing to fishing to eat cheapens nature, and maybe it does. But I just don't feel that way when I do it. I feel respectful and reverant of the water, the land, the fish. It gives me hope that people can have a healthy relationship with the planet after all.


steak and toothbrush destiny.

Sammy came in and announced to the group, "I like steak now."

I was pretty confused by this statement. To say that you like steak now implies that you didn't like it before, and surely that can't be true. Who doesn't like delicious cow flesh? Sure, some people are against it, but you could probably get a lot of them to admit it is one of life's natural highs to take a bite out of juicy steak, provided they can stop picturing bloody slaughterhouse walls. Then again, Sammy doesn't like bacon and is only so-so on french fries. I know that children are picky eaters, but I was under the impression that they only wanted to eat things like french fries.

Sidestepping the first mystery (whether Sammy's taste buds were broken), the next question was why he suddenly decided that steak could be good.

"Josh let me have a piece of rare steak."

See, now this is funny. Sammy's dad, my brother Barry, likes his steak to be thoroughly cooked. It's likely that every steak that Sammy has ever tasted has been cooked until the meat forgot it was ever red. Maybe Sammy never understood why beef was even called red meat, when clearly, it was gray. Gray meat sounds disgusting, as if it might be somehow related to gray water. Josh and I both prefer our steaks to spend only a brief time on the fire. We are medium-rare all the way. I assume that people who like medium-well or well done have preferences based on some sort of ick factor, because to my mind no one would ever pick overcooked in a taste test. I figure they're just squeamish, either about the blood itself or about getting sick from contaminated meat. Choosing gray meat over red meat would be like having a glass of gray water when there is Dr. Pepper available.

I am happy that Sammy is broadening his eating horizons, and even more so that I somehow was involved in broadening them (see, I brought Josh and Josh gave him the steak, so really, I get all the credit). Unfortunately for Sammy, he is ten years old. The next time his dad grills steak in the back yard, he'll probably cook it the way he likes it, which means Sammy will have a hot dog instead.

This is the problem with being a child. You are not in control of your steak destiny.

On this same trip with that same brother and his same family (not his other one?), I found a bucket of toiletries in the bathroom. It was like having really good hotel service, because these were full-sized shampoos and conditions, toothpaste and a toothbrush. There was even a can of women's shaving cream and some disposable razors. What a nice hotel!

These amenities had been supplied by my sister-in-law. She had prepared a bucket for each of the two bathrooms in the cabin. Each of her two children had a little plastic baggie with their name on it, containing a fresh toothbrush. And I, who had forgotten a couple of personal items just like I do every single time I travel, thought about how nice it would be to have someone take care of me like that. Me, I rotate what I forget. If I forgot deodorant last time, I'm so focused on remembering it this time that I manage to leave without packing any hair bands. It would be nice to just once, not forget anything at all. It's not that big of a deal. As an adult, I can drive down the street to the store and buy replacement toiletries. But it's just one more thing to think about. What really got to me was the way the kids didn't even notice they were being taken care of.

That's the nice thing about being a child. You don't have to be in control of your toothbrush destiny.

I guess what I'm getting at is that being an adult is a mixed bag. I can order my steak however I want it, but I have to remember my own toothbrush. Increased freedom means increased responsibility, which decreases your freedom. Except that Josh can eat his steak medium-rare, and I packed shampoo for the both of us.

Hey, wait a minute...


no laughing.

When I was little, my brother used to play the No Smiling Game with me. This game consisted of him telling me that I was not allowed to smile. He would use his best mock-serious face and voice. Let me tell you, we are people who are good at mock-serious. Of course, I would smile and also start laughing a little bit, then a lot. He would respond by getting more and more fake angry until I was awash in little girl giggles.

Have you ever been awash in little girl giggles? It's all sugar and spice.

When I was in New York recently, a stranger tried to play the No Smiling Game with me. Or maybe it was the No Laughing Game. Or maybe it wasn't a game at all, and he was just kind of a jerk.

Maybe I should explain.

My friend Sarah and I went to see The 39 Steps while I was in town. I've seen the Hitchcock movie before, which is old, black and white, and heavy on the dialogue. It's a good movie, and is actually quite funny, but you do have to stick with it and pay attention. The play, while pretty faithful to the plot of the movie, was much more obviously comedic. Aside from the witty dialogue and wacky situations, there were a lot of sight gags. Most of these were a result of using a limited set and cast to do the show. So the scene in and on top of the train actually took place on a set of four wooden crates, while the actors just moved around like they were on an actual train. Part of the humor and enjoyment from the show came from the clever usage of few resources, and as the play went on, they began to actually play on the fact that there were only four people doing all these characters. I wish I could explain it better, but I can't, so I'll just say "Support live theater!"


At the start of intermission, the fellow next to me turned and said, "Wow, you guys didn't like that at all, did you? You sure weren't laughing very much!"

I wasn't really sure how to respond to this. Did he think that is an appropriate way to strike up a conversation with a young lady? Or maybe he was being incredibly passive aggressive in telling us that our laughing was getting in the way of his enjoyment of the show, which is really too bad, since we were having a great time. I don't remember my response; it wasn't clever. I was a bit stunned and not at all sure how to even take his comment.

To be fair, I would not be particularly surprised if I am sort of a loud laugher. Loud is one of my general characteristics. Many people have remarked upon this, and many more have looked uncomfortable when I asked about it. I can't really tell, of course, but I am comfortable with the idea that I am on the upper end of the human volume dial. However, no one has ever specifically mentioned that I laugh too loud. At inappropriate times, sure, but not too loud. Also, Sarah did not grow up in my family, so she is a person of normal volume levels. She's also much more in tune with, you know, other people having feelings and stuff.

So I don't think that we were being quite the raucous pair as he painted us. Also? It was a comedy. It's supposed to be funny. The rest of the audience thought so, too, and as a result, they laughed. The actors even had strategic pauses after the really funny bits so that the next funny bit would not be lost in the chuckles and guffaws.

I think the real question is how tight do you have to be wound such that the sound of happiness in other human beings irritates you?

At the end of intermission, he came back and made another remark about it, comparing the pair of us to a laugh track on a silent movie. I started muttering at that point, whispering to Sarah that I would offer the man some of my Kit-Kat bar, except that I'd already laughed all over it. When the second act started, I found myself self-conscious about betraying any sort of amusement at all, so as not to lose the No Laughing Game that I hadn't known we were playing. Of course, that sort of made me mad that he was spoiling the play for me because he didn't like for other people to be too happy. That made the contrarian in me want to laugh louder. Screw you, fella, I'm going to have fun whether you approve or not. But after five minutes I forgot all about that guy, because the play was just so darn good.

Support live theater!

The absolute worst moment was towards the end, when the lights when down after a scene that could have been the final one, but wasn't. One guy in the audience apparently thought it was the end, because he started clapping. He got one clap into his applause when he realized that he was the only doing it, and he stopped. So there was just one sharp bark of a clap. And it was funny! We've all been that guy before and clapped at the wrong time. It made both Sarah and me start giggling, but then we were self-conscious in our giggles, which made it all even funnier and soon we were in the throes of a giggle loop. We were trying really hard to stifle it at that point, but man, it was just so funny. We were awash.



I have mentioned before that Josh loves books. Saying that is sort of like saying that Josh loves chocolate. It doesn't fully convey to you his feelings and how those feelings affect both of our lives. I hope by now that I have convinced to you that he loves chocolate. I've tried very hard, because his passion for chocolate is so foreign and interesting to me in its intensity that I think that you might find it intriguing as well. It's sort of like learning about other cultures. So let's talk about books now.

Josh loves books. Where some men might have a special room in the house that is just for them, perhaps with a giant television, a comfortable chair and maybe even a small fridge just for beer, Josh has a library. The library contains wall to wall bookshelves and a small writer's table which has his computer on it. The computer is not connected to the internet, because it's just for writing. He has a lifetime membership to LibraryThing, where he catalogs his books.

Josh is against e-readers. He thinks that there is something magic in the physical form of a book and that the rising tide of digitalization is the first step to Fahrenheit 451, to the death of books. There is a word for this. It's called bibliomysticism. He is a bibliomystic, which sounds like the kind of thing that requires a hooded robe. I like to picture it that way myself, as if he's a book monk, and I offer the image to you to help you understand how Josh feels about books. In literature, imagery is helpful in conveying ideas to the reader.

For the record, I disagree about e-readers. I think digitalization is a Good Thing. I think it will lead to better preservation and easier accessibility to more and more books. I am a long way off from buying an e-reader, but that's mostly because it's a lot cheaper to buy actual books at yard sales.

Which reminds me: I like to take credit for Josh's thorough conversion to the secondhand lifestyle, but at the same time, we're being overrun with books. I went and showed him that great literature is not just incredibly affordable, it's sometimes almost free. At Goodwill, books run from $.75 to $1.50. At yard sales, you can often fill a good-sized cardboard box for a dollar. He doesn't even like regular bookstores anymore, even used book stores. They bore him or maybe they taunt him with their high prices. You know, the prices that the rest of the world thinks is reasonable for a book. I think that bookstores still have their place in my life. Sometimes, I need or want a specific book now, so I have to pay the convenience fee that the retail world charges. He does not agree. He says there is so much good reading out there, available for pennies, that there is no reason to ever buy new. Just wait until the right yard sale, and you'll find it. Or you won't, but you won't lack for good reading in either case.

He is right in a lot of ways. I buy a lot more books than I used to. Once upon a time, I would only buy a book if I already knew that I would love and cherish it, because only then could I justify spending the money. Now, I buy anything that looks vaguely interesting. I read it, and then I keep it or take it to the used book store for store credit. I have discovered many wonderful and beautiful books this way, ones that I would never have picked up otherwise.

And yet, I foresee a future when the sheer number of his books will become a problem. We can't buy every book. We can't even read them all. Every time Josh leaves a yard sale with an armload of books, I raise my eyebrow at him (which is totally unfair, considering I have a sizeable collection of books and a HUGE collection of random crap). He ignores my raised eyebrow. We do have room, right now at least, and besides, he is on a mission. He is saving the books.

Things that are at yard sales are one step away from being thrown away. What doesn't get bought is sometimes taken to a thrift store, but there too it is only one step away from the garbage. Some people who hold yard sales just throw their leftovers away, and sometimes thrift stores have to clean out their stock. The secondhand market is a little like the pound. If you don't adopt that puppy/book/stationery, who will? This might be its last chance. You might be its last chance.

This is how Josh feels. He is saving the books. He will be the one-man last stand if he has to, in which case, he will definitely need a hooded robe.

It is noble, but frustrating. He has a soft spot for unusual books, particularly old ones. To him, their relative scarcity means they need the most saving. I don't mind him picking up early editions of Mark Twain, but he also buys old reference books. He buys gun manuals and electronics how-to's and early UFO conspiracy tomes. This is where he and I disagree. He says that this is important knowledge that may someday be useful. We need to preserve it. I say that on the odd chance that it will be useful, the internet will probably be working that day. I limit my cookbook purchases for the same reason that he does not buy books at the used book store. There are more recipes than I could ever cook available to me for free on the web, so there is little point in bothering with a book.

That is a difference between us. Josh thinks books are magic. I feel that the books themselves are not magic, but are merely containers of magic. So if I can get the same magic from another source, that is good enough for me. I do keep some books, because their magic is important enough for me to want to make sure that I can always get some of it whenever I need it.

As he runs out of shelf space, he seems to seeing my point. As he is cataloging his books in LibraryThing, he is coming to the conclusion the line between collector and hoarder is getting fine. While I am enjoying the fact that he is realizing that I was Right, I think he probably would have figured it out on his own, without me accumulating a bunch of Naggy Girlfriend demerits. As he catalogs, he culls. He keeps the literature and lets the comprehensive gun manuals go.

However, there is one ridiculous book that I have requested he keep, for the sake of symbolism. I'm not so good at symbols in literature, but I sure do like having them around the house. Someday, I will tell you about the Trust Spoon. For now, we'll talk about Canine Surgery. He got it at a yard sale. He almost did not buy it, because it was the kind of day where I was racking up a lot of Naggy Girlfriend demerits. But his resistance was futile from the beginning, even I could see that. So we brought home a book titled Canine Surgery. The actual book may be symbolic to us, but the title is not. It is about cutting open dogs for the purpose of curing what ails them. It is a veterinary reference book. I can think of no non-post-apocalyptic scenario where the information contained within this book would ever be useful to us. And I tell you, it is a completely typical example of the kind of book that he buys. This is what I mean when I tell you that Josh loves books. I mean that he buys books called Canine Surgery that are about actual canine surgery.

Do you understand now? Did the symbolism help, or maybe the imagery? When I tell you that Josh loves books, do you get how his love for books affects our lives? I hope so. Frankly, I've run out of writing devices, so if you don't get it now, maybe I lack the skill to explain. In which case, I'll just repeat: Josh loves books.


the puppet paradigm.

My mom once quit Netflix because she couldn't find anything to put on her queue. This is not a problem that I have experienced. Right now, my queue has 304 items on it. Any time I hear about a movie or TV show that sounds even remotely interesting, I add it to my queue. Because, why not? The trouble with this system is that by the time discs arrive in my mailbox, I've forgotten what made me put them on the list in the first place. So random things show up. Sometimes they are good, and sometimes they are not (but then again, sometimes I like the bad ones, too). I've also got the little Roku player, which allows me to stream Netflix to my TV. Random things from my queue show up in the instant viewing selection, and again, I'm always a little mystified as to how they got there.

Monday night, Josh and I decided it was time to knock out one of the things that had been on the instant viewing list for a long time, some sci-fi flick called Silent Running. I had no idea why I'd added it. The plot was about some biologist in space. Neither the title nor the actors rang a bell for me. Just some random movie on my TV, which is a lot like actual TV.

Josh remembered, though. This movie was supposedly hugely influential on our shared favorite TV show ever, Mystery Science Theatre 3000. That show is about a guy trapped in space who builds robot friends and then watches bad movies with them. Silent Running is about a guy who is trapped in space with some biodomes and programs robot drones to garden. So yeah, you can kinda see the resemblance. You can also see how the little drones might be early models for R2-D2. It was apparently also influential in the creation of Battlestar Galactica, Red Dwarf, and WALL-E. So. Important little sci-fi flick here.

As for the movie itself? Well, it would have been great if it had been about a third as long. There was some action in the beginning, but then later it's this guy and the robots, who do not talk. There is a lot of walking around and looking at plants while Joan Baez songs play. This movie suffers from serious 70s problems. The environmentalism message was really heavy-handed and I will never be able to hear Joan Baez again without picturing a guy in a space suit gardening. The special effects were good, though, and the model shots of the satellite were particularly well-done. It has a similar feel as 2001: A Space Odyssey, except where 2001 keeps you interested by being very subtle and confusing, this movie doesn't keep you all that interested. Surely there is a middle-ground between incomprehensible and predictable. We were glad we watched it, but we're not going to be doing it again. The thinking back on it has been much more enjoyable than the actual sitting through it. Good idea, poor execution.

What I really want to talk about are the drones, though. While Josh and I were watching the movie, during the boring Baez gardening scenes, we discussed whether they were puppets or costumes.

There is one episode of MST3K where they discuss something they call the "puppet paradigm," which is what makes the difference between a puppet and a costume. Some things are obviously puppets - Lamb Chop or Kermit. Those are just characters made of fabric being controlled by someone's hand up their back. But what about the characters which have a whole person inside them, for example, Chewbacca? There's a dude in there. At what point does something cease being a puppet and start being a costume? According to the robots of MST3K (who are themselves puppets), the difference is in the feet and the mouth. If something has feet that work and a mouth that is inarticulate, then that is a costume. Chewbacca has feet that move around with the actor inside, but he also has a mouth which moves when he "talks." Therefore, Chewbacca is a puppet. However, C3PO's mouth does not move when he talks, so he is a costume. Big Bird is a puppet; Barney is a costume.

You could talk about this for a long time, or at least I could. You don't care. I lost you somewhere back when you figured out this entry was going to be centered around an old, not very good, sci-fi movie.

Back to Silent Running. What are these little guys? Puppets or costumes?

Josh said puppet, and I said costume, though neither of us were confident in our responses. Obviously, they lacked articulate mouths and they did walk. They were human-controlled somehow, but how? Josh thought they were controlling it from behind, or from some angle where the robot could be between the operator and the camera. This seemed doubtful to me, as it would be hard for them to make it walk. I thought it was feasible that a smallish person could actually be in there, perhaps a child or little person. It would be admittedly cramped and likely awkward.

As it turns out, Wikipedia says that I was right. The drones are costumes. For double amputees. There are people in there, and they have no legs. Holy crap. Aren't you glad you read all the way to the end?


yard sale, sept. 18.

In terms of yard sales, this weekend has been the tale of two estate sales. 

I went to an estate sale on Friday, which is unusual.  It’s unusual that they have them on Fridays, and it’s unusual that I do any sort of saling on that day, too.  After all, I’m a working girl.  It started at 8, so I figured I would show up around then and have half an hour or so to shop before heading off to earn the money that allows me to shop so frivolously at the homes of others.

When I showed up at 8:15, there was a line outside.  I was worried that I had misread the start time, and that it really didn’t kick off until 9.  But no.  They were just letting people in a few at a time, because the house was so incredibly full of expensive and breakable things.  On hearing this, I rolled my eyes a little bit at what seemed like excessive caution.  However, while I was waiting, I heard a great crash from inside, as some poor sap bought over a hundred bucks worth of broken things.  I finally got inside, walked around carefully, but quickly, and then left without buying a thing.  True, I was hurrying so I wouldn’t be late for work, but also, I just don’t need any expensive breakables.  I really only like the cheap ones.  I am sure I could have gotten a great deal on some china, but if I bothered to spend $30 or more on a plate, I’d be afraid to ever use it.

The sale did have a lot of beautiful clocks.  The deceased was apparently a collector.  Apparently, that sale was only half of the stuff.  One of the people running the sale said they had a whole POD to go through yet.  I’ll probably go to that sale, too, just because that’s what I do.

Today, I went to another sale.  The house was in a very nice neighborhood on the golf course, so the people were probably just as rich as the ones who owned all the breakables.  But I liked this sale much, much more.  I wasn’t afraid to touch everything, which was good.  It was not as well organized, so shoppers had to dig through piles of stuff.  It’s a difference of preference, of course.  I’d rather dig and find treasures for cheap than have all the treasures arranged nicely and priced high.

The garage looked like any old regular garage.  It was dusty, disorganized, IMG_20100919_160951and chock full of crap.  It coulda been your garage.  The only difference is that everything was for sale.  I wasn’t sure I would find anything among the jars of nails and cleaning products, but off in a corner were these two crates.   

One says Sealtest and the other Borden.  They are old steel milk crates, very heavy, slightly rusty, and covered in cobwebs and leaves.  I paid a dollar apiece and felt like I was probably stealing them.  They are magnificent.  This is why I love shopping at yard sales.  Anyone can have a crate.  But I have an indestructible crate that is also a piece of American history for less than you would pay for a crappy plastic one.  Booyah!

IMG_20100919_160919You all know that I have a thing for lamps and bakeware, but did you know that I also collect maps?  I found a wonderful one today.  It’s a French map of the lower Mississippi River region as it was mapped by the explorer Hennepin in 1687 (more history about this map here).  I love these old maps.  Aside from the beautiful illustrations they include in the margins, it’s neat to see familiar landmasses divided in unfamiliar ways.  Most of the land is labeled as “La Louisiane.”  There are also big areas marked with Indian tribe names, and several notations that I cannot read, seeing as how they are in French.  It’s about 21” by 19” and with a nice wooden frame.  Five smackeroos and well worth it.

Here’s a close-up of one of the illustrations.  Wouldn’t that old Rand McNally atlas be much more interesting if it had nice drawings inside?IMG_20100919_160933

Josh told me he wanted a pizza stone.  Now he has one.  This one even comes with crayon marks.  I’m notIMG_20100919_161102 sure how that will affect the taste of the pizza.  Maybe that’s the secret to a perfect crust – traces of nontoxic green wax on the bottom.

Finally, something that I’ve been wanting for a while.IMG_20100919_161034

This is a drawer from a letterpress box, which was used to hold letters for movable type.  I’ve seen bunches of these at estate sales and high-end flea markets, but they were always a little pricey.  At $10, this was still a bit spendy for me, though it’s still the cheapest I’ve ever seen one.  It’s also the first one I’ve seen that still has the drawer handle on it.  I’m not sure what I’ll do with it.  Frankly, I could hang it up as is and it would look smashing.  Obviously, those compartments are ready-made to hold something, but what?  Maybe it’s high time I started collecting thimbles.


Here are a couple of pictures from the disorganized estate sale.  Old papasan chair.  I’ve never seen one in this style, only the newish ones that have the wicker bases.  This one had a cast iron stand and a strong 70s vibe (or maybe that was the orange shag carpet in the room). 


A neat thing about estate sales is figuring out what the person did.  This guy was in the military, probably Air Force based on all the pictures of jets.  I also found a package containing a certificate for a Legion of Merit, which was pretty freaking cool.  I assume the actual medal was saved by the family.  Later in life, he was in real estate, as I figured out from this microfiche machine, which also came with a box of real estate records on slides.

I wonder if someone could figure out my job from my estate sale.  Other than the Intel chip jigsaw puzzles, I’m not sure I’m giving it away.


smells like newark.

There are two, I repeat, TWO, train stations called Newark. When I go to New York, I fly into Newark Liberty Airport and then take the NJ Transit train to the city. I've done this three times. And yet I'm beginning to suspect that I'm just not very good at trains. Last Friday, I was pretty sure I was getting on the right train. But then a couple of other people confused me with their questions. One of them asked me if this was New York. I thought that was a stupid question, because Newark does not look like New York. The other person asked me how to get to Newark. This is Newark, guy. But maybe he wanted the other Newark, because as I've already told you, there are two. But I didn't know that then.

One Newark station is for the airport. The other is just a plain train station, complete with one of those boards with the flipping signs and a big waiting room with long church-style pews.

I like to make fun of Newark. It's the only part of New Jersey I've ever been in, so I'm really making fun of New Jersey. Everybody likes to do that. We all have vague ideas that New Jersey smells bad and is full of toxic waste and greasy people. I've never noticed that to be true, but I've already explained that my experience with New Jersey has been limited to Newark, or rather, Newark Liberty International Airport. Last Friday, when we landed, the lady sitting next to me took in a deep breath and said, "Ah, smells like my childhood." I didn't want to be mean about her treasured memories or anything, but I couldn't help but ask, "Newark?" She said, "No, your fruity lip balm." Oh. I had forgotten that I'd even put it on. Then we talked about roller skating and perms and other aspects of being a child in the 80s. Still, I have nothing against Newark specifically or even New Jersey in general. But when one is from the South, it's best to make fun of the other places before they make fun of you.

I have to say, though, that after Sunday night, when I was trying to return to the South, I do have something against Newark now.

I was already stressed out from walking around Manhattan with my overnight bag in the rain, trying to find Penn Station. And then once I found the station and got on the train, I got off on the wrong station. I had not previously known that there were two Newark stations, probably because not all the trains that go to the airport go to that other Newark, and so my previous trips had just skipped that station altogether. I got off and found myself in a very attractive, non-airport, train station. Once I finally realized that some sort of mistake had been made, I went to the ticket counter. A lady in front of me, an aggressive and angry lady, had made the same mistake. She bickered with the ticket lady about what she needed to do. Ticket lady told her that she needed to wait for the next train to the airport, which would leave at 8:19. Angry Lady said that her flight left at 9:15, and wouldn't it be quicker to take a cab? Ticket Lady said no, not in the rain. There was more bickering, but then finally Angry Lady went to Track 4 to wait for the 8:19.

And then Tired and Docile Southern Lady went to the counter. Her flight left at 9:00. She was me. Ticket Lady told me the same thing, I nodded in resignation and went to wait at Track 4. I drank a whole 20 oz Coke, which was the first thing I'd had since breakfast. Oh yeah. Besides being stuck in a train station, wet and far from home, possibly about to miss my plane, I was hungry, too. I was past the point of hungry, where you are so hungry that you can't even eat. I blamed it on Newark.

I was feeling pretty low just then. I had finished my book. I had another, but it was wordy and my brain just wasn't up to the effort. I drank my coke and wished that I had someone to talk to who would distract me from my currently complicated relationship with time. Every minute, I was closer to getting on the train, but it was another minute that I spent not getting any closer to the plane. I am not the type to strike up conversations with strangers, but at that moment, I deeply wanted the comfort of another human being. A lady with a small daughter sat next to me. She looked too young to have a child. I tried to focus on that to give myself some perspective on my own miniscule troubles. Then I thought about the floods in Pakistan. None of this worked, of course, because I am a selfish person. I talked to Young Mother Lady about her daughter, which helped some.

The train came and took me to the airport station. It took like four minutes. Once there, I had to wait some more for the airport shuttle train to take me to the right terminal. Those trains supposedly come every five minutes, but I waited for probably ten. Again, I felt compelled to go up to a stranger and ask them to please talk to me.

The shuttle train came. It was probably 8:40 by then. I went over the evening in my mind as the shuttle took me to Terminal C. Somehow, the part that bothered me was that getting off the wrong station seemed like a perfectly reasonable mistake to make. I couldn't even really blame myself, and for some reason, I thought that having some momentary stupidity to point at would make me feel better about the prospect of spending the night in Newark.

I played the Worst Case Scenario game, which is something that uptight and responsible people do. I thought about likely things that could go wrong and then how I would deal with them. Clearly, there are plenty of awful possible Scenarios. I could develop acute appendicitis on the shuttle train or get arrested in the security checkpoint for carrying a pair of tweezers. So I'm really only interested in predictable, likely Scenarios. Obviously, the giant blinking marquee sign of a likely Scenario was that I would miss my flight. The corresponding action was that I would get a hotel room and then take a flight out in the morning. I could email my boss and tell him that I would be late, and everything would be fine. Usually, the Worst Case Scenario game gives me comfort, because it shows me that I can easily deal with the sort of things that might happen to one in Newark. I am free, white, and twenty-one. Also, I have a credit card and a smartphone. But that night, my spirits just refused to be lifted. I was so tired and hungry and in Newark.

A lady on the airport shuttle started asking the other passengers in the cabin for change. She first did a general plea to the group, and then she asked us each individually. "Miss? How about you? I'm semi-homeless right now." I shook my head silently, then looked away, which seems to be a popular choice in dealing with beggers. After she had asked each of us in turn, she began yelling at the group. She asked what she had ever done to us. She wondered why we were so mean. Then she speculated that we might each be the devil hisself. Again, I tried to find comfort in her situation. I may be stuck in Newark for the evening, but at least I am not begging on the shuttle. Again, it did not work.

Finally, we arrived at Terminal C, and I readied myself to sprint. On the narrow escalator, I was behind Begging Lady, who had become Crazy Yelling Lady. She yelled that no one had better touch her stuff, that she went to school and earned that stuff, it was hers. I was too busy preparing my bags for a hard run to pay her mind.

I got to security at 9:50. Continental has a system where you can call up your boarding pass on your smartphone. I hadn't planned on doing that, being a little suspicious of using a boarding pass that I could not hold in my hands. But that was before I got off at the wrong Newark. Now, as I ran full tilt to Security Checkpoint 3, I embraced the new technology. I got through the short security line, tweezers and all, and did another sprint to gate C103. When I arrived, panting, the plane wasn't even boarding, and the schedule departure time now said 9:17. But I was there. I had made it. I ate a Snickers and tried to untangle to Newark-induced knot in my stomach.

Two hours later, I landed in Raleigh. And just as badly as I had felt in Newark, when even the floods in Pakistan could not cheer me up, once in North Carolina, I felt elated. I wanted to kiss every tree. I sang a made-up song to my car as I walked through the parking deck. I didn't even care about the parking fees, which were higher than I expected. I drove home. Upon entering my front door, I dumped my bags and left them where they landed, while I received the much-needed human comfort I had desired in the form of an extended hug from my sweet man. Then he held me while I told him how much I hated Newark.


for your next kentucky derby party.

I bought an ice cream maker at a yard sale last year. It was a serendipitous find, as I had been seriously considering buying that exact make and model from Amazon. Guys, I had almost gone retail. Within a week, I had tried it out, using the most basic of chocolate ice cream recipes in the manual. It was delicious, and I concluded that my $10 had been well-spent.

And then my ice cream machine sat in my pantry, untouched for a year or so. It might have cried from loneliness every time I took down the food processor, though it consoled itself that at least it got more use than the wok.

The reason that I wanted an ice cream machine in the first place was because I'd seen recipes for really interesting homemade ice cream. Every summer, food blogs begin posting the ice cream recipes. My experience with homemade ice cream has been limited to Fourth of July parties, where old Southern ladies pull out their ancient wooden ice cream makers from the basement and make vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream for their neighbors. To be fair to those lovely old ladies, that ice cream is delicious. But it was really more like flavored snow cream than ice cream. I love snow cream, too, but I have no urge to buy one of those giant snow-makers that you see on ski mountains. They don't even sell those on Amazon.

One night, I got to thinking about my poor lonely ice cream machine and how excited I was to buy it. I decided that I need to make more ice cream. Maybe I should even do it once a month or so. Anything more would be excess. Delicious, creamy excess.

For some unknown reason, the recipe I decided to try first was Mint Julep ice cream. Why? I'm not even sure. I've had a Mint Julep once, and I didn't like it. I love mint, but not bourbon. Josh likes bourbon, but any dessert without chocolate in it is a waste of calories to him. The best answer I can give is that I was intrigued. There were a lot of homemade ice cream recipes out there, and a lot of them sounded awesome, and a lot of them sounded pretty weird unusual. This one seemed to be at the intersection of awesome and unusual, which happens to be the place where I try to live most of the time. So, Mint Julep it is.

I bought all the ingredients, including a handful of fresh mint and a fifth of Jim Beam. The cashier probably thought I was throwing a Kentucky Derby party.

I will say that I had a sort of cooking epiphany while I was making this recipe. I periodically have these, and sometimes I write about them. They're always the same realization, basically some variation on the theme that I don't suck at cooking anymore, hooray for me. This time, I had my realization when I was mixing the custard into the cream, which was sitting in an ice bath. I was holding a pot with one hand, whisking with another, and holding the pot in the ice bath with the power of my belly button.

Dude, this is kind of a complicated recipe.

Somehow, I did not realize this until I was holding a pot steady with my stomach muscles. I read the recipe before I made it, like I always do. I read the list of ingredients to determine if they are easy to find and not too expensive, and then I read the instructions to see if it's manageable and how long the whole thing will take. I had read the whole thing, and at no point did I decide that this recipe was beyond my ability. In fact, it didn't even occur to me that the list of instructions was in any way complicated. It was very strange, because at one point, the idea of an ice bath or of beating fresh herbs with a spoon might have given me pause.

I don't suck at cooking, hooray for me.

After all the herb-beating and abdominal pot-steadying, it's a little anti-climatic to put the cream into the machine and press start. Twenty minutes later, ice cream. I'm glad the machine is so efficient, but it sort of belies that amount of work I put in before, which I didn't realize was a lot of work at the time but seemed like it afterwards.

Folks, this is amazing ice cream. The bourbon taste is very subtle. The mint is the real star. If the first epiphany was during the preparation, the second was in the eating. I don't think I have ever fully appreciated mint before, and I say this as a big fan. I thought I knew mint. After all, it is everywhere, as a flavor friend with chocolate or in a multitude of breath-freshening products. I realize now that most mint that you taste is just like any other kind of artificial flavor. Grape Jolly Ranchers and strawberry Pop-Tart have little in common with their actual vegetal inspirations. And so it is with mint. This is not the flavor in your Wrigley's or your Listerine or your Andes. This is mint. It is fresh mint that I beat with a spoon and then steeped in cream.

I don't expect any of you to make this recipe. It is manageable, but complicated, and I live the kind of privileged existence where I have the time and money to spend on making gourmet ice cream. Mostly I want to let you know that there are some fantastic food experiences out there in the world, at the intersection of awesome and unusual. You should try some.

Mint Julep Ice Cream.


yard sales…a while back.

This post is about stuff I bought a couple of weeks ago, rather than what I bought yesterday.  Holidays and three-day weekends make for crappy yard sales. 

IMG_20100822_172544A while back, Josh bought some old recording equipment from a lady who was old, confused, and loathe to part with anything.  It was a little sad for us, but also frustrating for her adult granddaughter, who was trying to clean out the basement.  Anyway, I found some old tapes, new and clean, at a yard sale last week.  I was a little afraid to ask about the price.  You can never tell whether people are going to think something is junky or valuable.  This is especially true of anything technology related.  Luckily, the lady sold all four of these tapes to me for a dollar. 

I wasn’t willing to spend much, since I wasn’t even sure if they were what Josh needed.   That’s the trouble of yard saling without him.  If I see something that I suspect that he would buy if he were there, I feel obligated to get it.  But sometimes I’m just not sure IMG_20100822_175117if it is the right thing at all.  This time, it was the right thing after all, and I came home looking like a champion girlfriend. 

“And the gold medal for buying excellent random old audio recording technology at a yard sale is…SANDRA!!!”

Speaking of old audio equipment, I also bought a metronome.  It’s a bit broken, in that it’s missing the top piece and also the little piece that changes the tempo.  But it does work for exactly one beat, so I guess all of Josh’s new songs will be very fast toe-tapping numbers.  But I still like it very much.  I feel as if I had wanted a metronome for a long time, though I didn’t know it.  Maybe there are things that you want and have wanted for a long time, but don’t even know about it.

Bowls!  The three on the left are all Pyrex, while the one on the right is not vintage at all, but it sure is shiny!


IMG_20100822_175208I bought this little tin despite the fact that I am not much into tins, nor do I often buy other people’s souvenirs.  By the way, if you do have a real hankering for tins, then you should be checking out the secondhand market.  Some of them are ugly Christmas cookie tins that you give to your mail carrier, but others are very nice. 

Anyway, I am not a tin person, and I’ve never even been to Niagara Falls.  I just really like the artwork on this tin.  They don’t make souvenir art like this anymore, or if they do it is trying to imitate this style.  Or maybe all souvenir art has always been imitating something else.

Okay, I didn’t buy this tiny helmet at a yard sale (nor did I get the bottle of rum at a yard sale).  I bought it at the Durham Rescue Mission thrift store.IMG_20100822_175021  What the Rescue Mission store lacks in organization, it makes up for in random stuff.  You might call it a digger’s store, because there is so much stuff there that you have to get your hands a little dirty to get to what is in the back or on the bottom.  Sometimes I don’t have the energy for it, but sometimes I do, and I find things like this.

It’s a pourer for a liquor bottle or any kind of bottle, I guess.  When I told my mom about it, she told me that if I ever saw another one, she might be interested.  I wasn’t sure how to convey to her that this was not the kind of thing I see very often.  You can find them on eBay, though not for the sweet price of a dollar that I paid.

That’s it for this week.  Or last week?  Whenever it was.


animal feelings.

My chimney is where small animals go to die.

Last year, in the late fall, something started making noise from within my chimney. It was right around the time when it was starting to get cold enough to think about using the fireplace. But then I couldn't, because I was afraid if I opened the flue, a creature would fly out at me, give me rabies, and then take up residence. I remember being up very late one night, working on our Christmas stockings and listening to the scritch-scritch-scritch of little claws on metal. I did a little research on the internet and became convinced that it was a raccoon. Some things get inside a chimney and can't get out. Raccoons get inside a chimney and set up a little home. They make a nest, have raccoon babies, and order out for pizza.

After a few days, the noises stopped. I decided that it was not a raccoon after all, but something that could not get out and was now dead. I looked up several chimney sweeps and called for price estimates. Then I put it off for a while. I did not use the fireplace all winter long. I was just about to call and set up an appointment when I started hearing more scritch-scritch-scritching. So now there was another animal in there, trapped in a deep pit with a dead body. Eventually, those noises stopped, too.

Finally, in the spring, I called the chimney sweep. I told him that I had two dead animals in my chimney and that I was interested in getting a chimney cap. He came and opened the flue, and out fell two little dried-up carcasses: a bird and a bat. It had never occurred to me that animals that could fly would get caught. But I suppose they didn't have enough room for a proper take-off or maybe they were just confused about the whole situation.

The chimney sweep told me that I already had a chimney cap, one that effectively prevented both squirrels and raccoons from getting in. In fact, it was a very nice cap, and it would be very unlikely that any kind of critter would find their way in. I felt like pointing out the obvious, but considering he was holding the obvious in a plastic grocery bag, I let it go. We agreed that if it happened again, we would look into a different type of cap. I decided that a business that tries not to sell me something expensive was probably trustworthy.

And then this week, it happened again. He may be trustworthy, but I'm not convinced that he's all that smart.

I spent an afternoon listening to the futile attempts of my new prisoner to get free. I would have liked to help. Maybe put a cardboard box under the flue and then open it. I tell you, though, that I am not a particularly graceful or charmed person. There are people who could successfully rescue an animal from a chimney with the box method, but I am not one of them. I'd just get rabies or bird flu or become some kind of comic book mutant if the creature happened to be radioactive. Then the animal would be loose in the house, where it would frantically poop all over everything before dying on the kitchen table.

When I was a kid, I used to have a job cleaning our church. Twice in the years that I did that, a bird got in the fellowship hall. I never could figure out how it happened, though I realize now that the fireplace was the likely entrance. It was not a nice or fun occasion, like when you see happy little birdies in the grocery store. I did not spend a madcap half-hour with all the doors and windows open, chasing the bird with a broom. No, I spent a miserable half-hour cleaning bird poop off of everything. Then I had to dispose of the body, wings flayed and stiff. The first time it happened, it was gruesome and sad, but sort of amazing, particularly because I didn't understand how it had happened at all. The second time, I walked in, saw all the poop and knew immediately. Then I had to go looking for the corpse.

So call me cruel, but I decided to just let the one in my chimney starve to death.

There would be some scritching, then a pause, then more scritching. I imagined these bouts of noise as individual escape attempts. As the day went on, the pauses got longer and longer. I thought about animal feelings. I'm sure it felt increasingly tired and hungry, but did it feel despair as each effort to get out brought him no closer to freedom than the last? I thought not.

This was on Sunday. I heard a couple of scritches on Monday, then silence since. I will give it another week before I open the flue myself and fish out the little body of whatever it was. Then I'll call the chimney sweep, and we will talk seriously about chimney caps. I don't care how unlikely it is that anything would get through the barrier system I have in place. I'm tired of listening to animals die, whether they go out wondering what the point of it all was or not.