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Thursday, April 29, 2004

Vegetable Blogging 

Last weekend we put in a vegetable garden behind the house. Since we're not very garden-y people, this involved several trips to Home Depot to obtain the necessary supplies - a cultivator to turn up the ground, some topsoil and plant food to mix in with it, a rake to clear away the dead leaves and sticks and things, a hose for the backyard because the one in the front yard didn't reach (and we need it where it is)...you get the idea.

J. (my brother) and I took turns turning the soil with the cultivator. Our lot is pretty heavily wooded, so we had a couple of inches of nice rich composted stuff on top from the fallen leaves from last fall. Our backyard is much smaller than our front yard (actually, it's a strip maybe six feet wide) but it's also much flatter, which is a good thing because carving out terraces on the hill in the front yard didn't really appeal to me.

We planted tomatoes, onions, brussels sprouts, eggplant, summer squash and cucumbers, which will hopefully make for some good eating in a few months. And we had some potatoes that were sprouting eyes, so I planted a few of those for good measure. So far, only the potatoes seem to have made it above ground (those things are *determined* - I expect full-blown potatoes out of them in a few weeks :P), but there are a few little green shoots in the other beds that might be veggies or they might be weeds; we'll have to wait and see.

My boyfriend and J's girlfriend L. refused to have anything to do with the vegetable garden. She's mostly only interested in growing flowers; he grew up on a farm and, I think, would be happy never growing anything again. L. planted a couple of rhododendron bushes and a bed of wildflowers, though, and Curtis the cherry-blossom tree seems to be taking to his new home pretty well, sending out new twigs and what look to be some flower buds.
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Obligatory Cat Blogging 

As I believe I've mentioned, I have a cat. In fact, I have the best kitty in the entire universe. What's that? You wanna argue with me? Well, why don't we just step outside...

Ahem. What I may not have mentioned is that my cat is a terrorist. It's true. We recently had to dismantle a training camp she had established in the basement, where she was teaching my brother's cat her evil ways. Because she's learned to locate and open the cans of kitty treats we hide in the back of a cupboard in the kitchen, she's been able to lure him into her foul trap by spilling Pounce! (chicken flavor) in his path, making him powerless to resist her wiles. Also, she conducts cowardly ambushes and sneak attacks upon feet and ankles under cover of darkness.

About two weeks ago she learned to open doors. Most of the doors in our house have a bar-type handle, that you turn down to open. When confronted with one of these doors from the wrong side, she raises up on her hind legs and gives a little hop, grabbing the bar with her paws. Then she immediately crouches at the bottom of the door and sticks her paw under it, trying to pull it open. It usually takes her a few tries, but eventually she gets it.

Normally I'd just smile indulgently and talk about how smart she is, but of course she's learned to adapt this technique to her terrorist ways. First, she starts leaping at the bedroom door at about five in the morning. "CRASH!" "brrt?" "rattle-rattle"...."CRASH!"... you get the idea. It's not conducive to sleep, and considering I rarely get to sleep before 3am, 5 is not a good time to wake me up if you want to live to see the sun rise.

Then there's the fact that it's not enough to open my door. No, once she's free she has to free my brother's cat as well, with more crashes and rattles and conversational meows. Then they have to wrestle. Noisily. And scratch in each other's litterboxes, and generally raise hell.

Finally, there's the bathroom. Where she's learned to open not just doors, but drawers too. Including drawers that block doors. So that invariably, she gets in there, shuts the door behind her, blocks the door with an opened drawer, and then *sits* in said opened drawer and cries. All of which makes it damned near impossible to rescue her, since the drawer can't be closed with her in it, and she can't easily be lifted out, when all I can squeeze through the door opening is one hand and maybe six inches of wrist.
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Beans, Rice & Cheese 

My adventures in cooking range rather wildly between triumph and disaster, mostly because of my refusal to use anything so prosaic as a recipe. Unfortunately, it's usually when no one else will ever taste the fruits of my labor that my seat-of-my-pants-cuisine works out. I'm chowing down on a late-night, second helping of the beans, rice & cheese that I made earlier tonight, which turned out almost exactly the way I wanted it:

1 can red beans
1 cup (uncooked) white rice
somewhere between 1/4lb and 1/2lb cheese, grated
cumin
paprika
black pepper

Cook the rice. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Drain off most, but not all, water from beans and mix with the rice and most of the grated cheese. Season to taste with cumin, paprika and black pepper (I used about 1tsp apiece of paprika and black pepper, and around 2 - 2 1/2 tsp cumin; that gave it a nice strong, mexican-esque flavor). Place in a small (6"x6") glass casserole pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is bubbling at the edges. While still hot, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, and let cool a bit. Scarf.

I think next time I'll try a tsp or so of chili powder to give it a bit more of a kick, but we didn't have any. I think I might need one more plate of that before I go to bed.
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Monday, April 26, 2004

Jordan: Massive terror attack thwarted 

Jordanian security forces say they have thwarted a chemical attack against their General Intelligence Department that would have killed 80,000 people (yes, that's eighty thousand) and wounded twice that number.

The attack, they say, was ordered by Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, a prominent Al-Qaida leader who is sometimes referred to as Osama Bin Laden's lieutenant. Jordan's King Abdullah II had announced on April 13th that Jordan's security forces had infiltrated and then dismantled in a series of raids the terror network planning the attack, but the magnitude of the attack, which was intended to involve six vehicles packed with explosives and poisonous gasses, was only revealed today.

So is it time yet to admit that law enforcement and intelligence really do work against terrorists? Or should Jordan begin immediately making plans to invade, I don't know, Jamaica, in response to this plan?
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Thursday, April 15, 2004

Shameless self-promotion 

Well, I finally did it. I went and set up MovableType on my website so that I can post my stories for the world to see. Not much up there at the moment - just some fragments of a fairy tale I wrote a few months back and never got around to finishing - but I'm hoping that the spectacle of an empty site (which of course I can pretend gets visitors eager for updates) will encourage me to spend more time writing and polishing up the things I've already written. I decided to set Things That Never Were up separately because...well, I dunno why, except that MT has extended copy, and blogger doesn't. That and I'm sort of shy about the whole writing thing, so this way I can pretend simultaneously that I have to update the site because of my breathless fans, and that no one ever looks at it at all. It's a sort of moebius-strip psychology that I'm practicing on myself, in other words.
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w00t! 

Grammar God!
You are a GRAMMAR GOD!


If your mission in life is not already to
preserve the English tongue, it should be.
Congratulations and thank you!


How grammatically sound are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

I have a degree in English, would you like fries with that?
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Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Bowie at the Rose Garden 

Just got back from the David Bowie concert, and all I have to say is...damn. He seemed sort of tired in the first half of the set, and I was wishing I'd gotten tickets to the January concert, on the first leg of his North American tour, but he either warmed up or got a kick from the energy of the crowd, and the second half was amazing.

Polyphonic Spree opened, and between the long, white robes, the harp, the slightly loopy (but endearing) lyrics, and the church choir-like group of girls singing backup, the bf and I decided that they were probably a cult, but instead of making you sell all your stuff & walk the streets panhandling and handing out literature like the Hare Krishnas, they made you go on tour instead. Then Bowie came on, and everything else went away.

It was a pretty long set, too - almost 2 and a half hours, by my watch, and he played a really great mix of new stuff and old favorites - "Rebel, Rebel", "Suffragette City", "Fame", "All the Young Dudes", "Modern Love", "China Girl", "Ziggy Stardust", "The Man Who Sold the World", and "I'm Afraid of Americans", among so many others I've forgotten most of them. He displayed so much raw emotion, in his face and body language, that you'd never know he'd been singing some of those song for 30 years - incredible acting or real, it was powerful.

And during "China Girl", when he got to "she says...shhhh", he did this little twitch-sway thing with his hips, and slid to his knees, and I swooned. God, that man is beautiful beyond words. *drool*

Ahem. err...carry on.
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Sunday, April 11, 2004

Show & Tell 

We went hiking today. Actually, my brother & his gf go hiking almost every weekend, but I tagged along today. We went up to Mirror Lake, which is sort of sandwiched between Mt. Hood & Tom, Dick & Harry Mountain (yes, that is the mountain's real name). It's a short hike (1.5 miles each way) but with a good bit of uphill slogging, and the leftover snow on the trail made things more interesting.

When we got up to the top, we discovered that the lake was still almost totally covered in ice, so we could only find one spot where we could see Mt. Hood reflected in the lake as we'd been told we would. Still, it was a pretty scene, and the view of Hood is gorgeous, as promised.

Next to the lake was a little meadow covered in beautiful, soft, white, nearly-untouched snow. It was irresistable, so we didn't even try - we just got right down to the snowball fight. Playing in the snow in sunny, 80-degree weather was a new experience - I have to say I recommend it heartily over the usual 30 degrees (or less).
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Friday, April 09, 2004

Best. Website. Ever. 

The Subservient Chicken. One of the funniest damn sites I've ever seen. It does almost everything you tell it to. Try telling it to do the funky chicken, the robot, or the electric slide. It won't eat the television, though.
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Thursday, April 08, 2004

A View from A Broad 

Teresa Nielsen-Hayden over at Making Light is of the opinion that we shouldn't call more attention to this LiveJournal, run by a female soldier stationed in Iraq. Her stance is that if the blog comes to the attention of more people, and especially the soldier's higher-ups, she could get in trouble. I have to disagree - the journal is garnering large numbers of comments, and has been blogged by bigger fish than I, and the author seems to be pretty careful to keep from posting information that could put her or her comrades in danger, so I don't see the harm in it.

This post is garnering the most attention - it's a first-hand account of the fighting that's going on in Iraq right now. The author details a nightmarish, 21-hour-long ordeal when her unit was ambushed - 24 soldiers against four or five hundred attackers. Read it, it's an eye-opener, and rang true for me as the closest thing to real news I've seen out of Iraq in weeks.

But what really struck me, reading through her posts, were all the little details, the strange juxtapositions of normalcy and war. She has a cat (yes, in Iraq), but it's sick, and she can't take it to a vet, because there are none. She feeds the cat tuna (with mayonaise, no less) - now, I hadn't pictured the military eating MREs out there, but I would have thought, had anyone asked me, that getting one's hands on a can of tuna and a jar of mayonaise would be somewhat difficult. She has internet access, but is sleeping in a tent (in the desert, as summer is about to set in and temperatures go through the roof). Strange.
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BUSH STICKS TO TRANSFER OF POWER TO KERRY BY NOVEMBER 

From Antimatter:

President Bush declared yesterday that the United States will stick to its Nov deadline for ending the Bush Administration occupation of the White House and returning political power to the Democrats, despite growing doubts that the U.S. will have achieved stability by then. "The intention is to make sure the deadline remains the same. I believe we can transfer authority by November. We're working toward that date," Bush said, referring to plans to hand over political sovereignty to Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry. "The date remains firm."
We can only hope...
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Ladies and Gentlemen: The Leader of the Free World 


Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words...
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Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Winning the war on terror? 

The Memory Hole's Blog offers up this strong hint that we're not winning the war on terror:



The Bush administration likes to trumpet the number of 'high-ranking' Al Qaeda operatives that have been captured or killed since 9-11 as a sign that victory is nigh. But if that's the case, why have there been so many more, and more successful, Al Qaeda attacks since then?

According to the Congressional Research service, in the 30 months preceding 9-11, there was one successful Al Qaeda attack, claiming 17 lives. In the 30 months since then, there have been 10 confirmed Al Qaeda attacks, killing 510 people. The number of attacks is up (tenfold) and the average number of deaths per attack has tripled. Maybe military action isn't the best method to combat terror?

Some other interesting tidbits from the full report:
Tell me again how law enforcement just doesn't work against terrorists, and we should re-elect Bush because he's so good at protecting us from Al Qaeda?
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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Sweet! (longish personal diversion) 

Looks like I'm finally going to get health insurance. My bf's company is being sold, and the new parent company offers insurance for domestic partners, which the old one didn't. Thus ends the saga of my uninsured year.

Yet another way that being self-employed sucks is the health insurance thing. I'm not griping about having to pay for my insurance (I'm still going to have to pay for it, now that I'm covered by my bf's company). It's just unbelievably hard to get it in the first place. Having been covered my entire life by employer-sponsored group plans, I had no idea just how frigging hard until I quit my day job and moved to Oregon last summer.

One of the first things I did when I got here was start trying to get health insurance. I'm young and healthy, so I didn't expect to have too much of a problem. Little did I know. I filled out all the forms conscientiously, reported my laser eye surgery, my IUD, my whole medical history. First I applied for a mid-level Blue Cross plan with prescription coverage. Rejected, because I had a tumor removed from my breast (it was benign) when I was in university, and because I spent a year seeing a psychiatrist. I came to the realization that I didn't need to report the tumor, because it was more than 5 years ago, and applied for a different plan. Rejected again, because of the psychiatrist. Finally, I applied for a plan with a high deductible and no mental health coverage. They wouldn't have any reason to reject me because I saw a shrink, I figured, since they wouldn't pay for it if I needed to see another one. Wrong. Rejected yet again, for the same reason.

I began to despair of finding a company that would insure me until my damning medical history dropped off the 5 year reporting limit. The concept of 4 years uninsured scared me. Sure, I'm young, healthy, don't get sick much now that I've gotten my weight up (parenthetical tangent: I used to have a hyperactive thyroid that kept me at around 110 pounds - eating 4-6 meals a day - and I'm nearly 6 feet tall. It went away - interestingly, after I got into therapy and got my brain chemicals straightened out - and now I weigh a little more than I'd like to - but I haven't had anything worse than a cold since then, where I used to catch every damn thing that went around. It's really amazing how every part of your health is tied into every other part - my mental health affected my weight affected my immune system, etc.) but anything could happen. I could get hit by a car, or get pneumonia, or suddenly be diagnosed with Parkinson's. You never know. An uninsured friend of mine is struggling to pay off $20K in medical bills from his sudden diagnosis of epilepsy. I have a little bit of a buffer saved up against hard times, but not anywhere near the kind of money it would cost if I had to be hospitalized for a long time - or even more than a few days.

I had joined the 44 million Americans who are without health insurance, and I didn't like it one bit. Everything about it just stank. Worrying about getting injured or becoming really ill. Trying to decide, the couple of times I got sick, whether I should spend the money to go to the doctor (and on whatever drugs he prescribed) or wait and see if I got better - but what if I didn't get better? Would it end up costing more in the end? Visions of ending up in the hospital, my parents squandering their retirement savings to get me the treatment I needed (and at that, I'm incredibly grateful to have parents who could and would help if it were needed). Thank whatever gods there be that I had decided on a long-term method of birth control back when I still had insurance - I still have ten years to go on my IUD.

I considered joining the Oregon insurance pool - the state of Oregon offers coverage at a premium to people who have been turned down for insurance - but I simply couldn't afford it, at $300 a month. Until I got the news today from my bf that his company would let me sign on to their plan, I didn't know what I was going to do, besides try really hard not to get sick, or maybe take refuge in my other native country (I have dual citizenship through my dad) if I did.

I'd also like to take a moment to give a shout out to any employer that offers domestic partner coverage. It's a wonderful, beautiful thing you're doing, not just for gay couples (although that's a very important thing, more important than my situation, in fact), but for people like my bf and I, who are living together but not married, and stuck in the dilemma of no health insurance. I have a new perspective on the uninsured - we're not all "welfare queens", dammit, and we're not sponging off the taxpayer in any way. We're just stuck between a rock and the bloody nuclear-hardened fortress that is the medical system in the US, trying to find a way to protect ourselves from the onslaught that we know could hit us at any time.
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Sunday, April 04, 2004

"I had never seen anything so corrupt and lawless in my entire career." 

So says Jack Spadaro, former head of the Mine Safety and Health Academy (MHSA), a division of the Department of Labor that is the major regulatory body for mining. Spadaro is the latest whistleblower in the Bush administration - well, not the latest, exactly, since he's been blowing his whistle for a while now, but another brave soul who's come forward to testify about the breathtaking disregard for - well, anything held dear by most people - in this administration.

Spadaro was second in command of an investigation by MHSA into an October 11, 2000 toxic coal slurry spill in Kentucky that was 25 times the size and scope of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. Considering that Massey, the mining company, had ignored MSHA recommendations and requirements following a previous spill at the same location, it looked as though the final report would be very damning, resulting in at least 8 charges against the company and huge fines, as well as a black mark against the district MHSA teams who had failed to follow-up on the recommendations after the last accident. Until, that is, the Bush administration took office in January 2001. Just days after the inaguration, a new team leader was appointed to the investigation (a move that was not made necessary by the change at top), and the investigation was brought to a rapid close. The final report was 'cleansed' of anything that could point at MHSA, and Massey was ultimately only convicted of a single violation, resulting in $55,000 in fines.

When Spadaro tried to protest the whitewashing of the investigation, he was made the subject of the kind of vicious vendetta we've all come to know and love from the Bush administration (it's also interesting to note that Labor Secretary Elaine Chao is married to Ky. Senator Mitch McConnell, who is by all accounts in the pocket of the coal mining companies in Kentucky). His office was raided, he was accused of host of petty crimes and failures, he was placed on administrative leave, terminated and then re-hired at a significant pay cut. He's not giving up, though - he intends to sue the government and is in contact with the Office of Special Counsel about whistleblower protection.

He'll be on 60 Minutes tomorrow night (Apr. 4) to tell his story to Bob Simon - giving me hope once again that the media smells the blood in the water and is starting to pounce. Even the most distracted American must eventually notice the way the same sorts of lame charges keep surfacing against anyone who dares to come forward and speak out against the way this administration does business.

Thanks to Apostropher for bringing this one to my attention.
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Friday, April 02, 2004

Metallic Sound Is Heard by Space Crew  

The two men aboard the international space station heard a strange metallic sound again Friday, four months after being startled by it the first time.

Aliens, I tell you. Aliens!

Wow, I think this was my most random post ever.

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Marriage is love.