Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hail No!

Last night, while we were minding our own business, watching hockey, our house was suddenly and violently assaulted. By hail the size of mutant Concord grapes.

Two of the perpetrators, melting under questioning.
It was loud, and somewhat unsettling. My first thought was for the new sprouts of lettuce, peas and broccoli in our garden; Benjamin's were for our roof. Miikka did not take kindly to the invasion, and tried to rout the instigators with growls and barks. It didn't work, so he tried an all-out assault on the backyard (after the worst of the hail was over - didn't want him getting a concussion or something). That didn't work either and he spent the rest of the evening growling out the window or barking around the yard, until we finally corralled him in the kitchen for an early bedtime, with comforting cookie.

The enemy lies spent, taking only a few victims.
When we lived in Texas, we always heard stories of hail the size of golf balls, or bigger, but we never actually experienced any this big.  The year we went back to Austin for Benjamin's graduation ceremony, there was a storm the day before we arrived that produced baseball sized hail, but we only saw it on the news. I have a friend who grew up in the Dallas area, and every time there was a threat of hail in Austin she would run out and throw a blanket over her car, to dull the impact and prevent dents. Now I know why!

Now that is hail.
The other Texas feature of hail that always made us laugh was the way its name sounds when pronounced with a strong Texas accent: rather more like hell than hay-l.  There was an ad on TV from a car detailing shop that always advertised a hail damage discount, but the way the guy said it, the services seemed straight out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. "We'll fix your hell damage for you." Anyway, despite Miikka's extreme distaste of the hail and its invasion of his yard, we don't seem to have any damage. The garden (what I could see of it in the dark this morning at 5 AM) seemed fine. I don't know about the roof, but then, I always care more about food than I do about housing.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

If I had three wishes

 Today is cold and somewhat dreary - especially after the taste of early summer we had last week - and I am in a dreaming and wishing mood. So, if I had three wishes, here is what they would be (at this particular moment, and based on the pictures I have available, and not counting anything silly like riches, world peace, perfect health etc. Hey, I am trying to be a little realistic here).

    I would be allowed to bring Miikka to work with me. Maybe not every day, but at least once a week. I mean, how can you say no to that face?!

    What could possibly go wrong?
     I would be able to visit the Washington coast any time I wanted to, without having to worry about plane tickets, days off work, or any such mundane details.

    Yes, even when it is cold and gray there too.
     My lilac bush would bloom all summer long, even when it gets up to 105 and hasn't rained for two months.

    I must really be dreaming!
    Of course, if you asked me tomorrow what I wanted, or even in an hour, I would probably give a different response. But that is what dreaming is for, isn't it?

    Friday, March 25, 2011

    Spring flowers at the end of spring break

     Here are some of the flowers that are in my yard right now, post-daffodil, pre-rose. The warm weather has prompted everything to really get growing!

    Jessamine, trying to escape the yard.
    This week has had lovely weather, although it has reverted to more seasonal cold and gray today.

    Benjamin has been on Spring Break all this week, and has been busy showing his mom around Little Rock, and grading mid-term exams. Whee.

    Lily-like flower that I decided was something last year and now I can't remember
    But he also took some time to build another raised bed for our vegetable garden, which we will be filling soon with tomatoes and other scrumptious things to eat. So spring is well under way here in Little Rock.

    Thursday, March 24, 2011

    In which Benjamin's mom comes to visit

    Benjamin, Jennie and Miikka
    Benjamin's mother Jennie has been visiting us this week from her home in St. Maries Idaho. It was snowing when she left Idaho; it has been near 80 every day she has been in Arkansas. We have had a good time so far, taking her to Conway to see UCA and Benjamin's office, hiking at Woolly Hollow State Park, walking the dog in the neighborhood, introducing her to Japanese food and sushi. Miikka loves her, and spends so much time in her lap that she had to push him off because she was getting too hot!

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    I knew it!

    I knew it! Body Mass Index (BMI) is bad science, bad statistics, and a completely unreliable way to "diagnose" obesity. Now I have actual arguments, thanks to NPR and math guy Keith Devlin.
    My favorite point in his list of 10:
    2. It is scientifically nonsensical.
    There is no physiological reason to square a person's height (Quetelet had to square the height to get a formula that matched the overall data. If you can't fix the data, rig the formula!). Moreover, it ignores waist size, which is a clear indicator of obesity level.
    Ha! I knew that formula seemed strange. And it doesn't work for people who are fit and athletic, especially not those who do any sort of weight training. If you calculate my BMI, for example, I am overweight, almost obese. If you take my body fat measurements with  calipers, I have a low body fat percentage for a woman, almost that of an actual athlete.

    Apart from insurance companies who use BMI to charge healthy people more money, measurements like the BMI are tools used by lazy women's magazines and diet companies to shame women and their bodies, instead of teaching them how to love their bodies - as they are at that very moment - eat healthy meals, how to get exercise and learn to love it. And in my (not so) humble opinion, the world would be a much better place without such bogus, demeaning, and harmful pseudo-science.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    My First Tennis Match

    Last night I played my first real tennis match for my new tennis team, and it was a lot of fun. I have played singles games before, but only with Benjamin, and for those of you who know me and my competitive nature, those usually don't end well. He is better than me (not that either of us are great), and I don't like losing to him. I mean, I really, really don't like losing to him (especially at tennis, which is ridiculous, since until November we had never taken lessons and were really pitiful) and I am a pretty bad loser. We have been playing in a small beginners' league since February, but that was different, because it was doubles, and it was more relaxed. So, I was a little apprehensive about playing a tennis match with someone else, a stranger in fact.

    My singles match was hard-fought, lots of back and forth points. I moved well, got to the ball most of the time, made most of my (admittedly rather weak) serves. The best part was the feeling of playing outside, under the lights, with the darkness of the night sky overhead and a spring breeze cooling me down after a furious point. I didn't win (5-7, 3-6 if you are keeping score - I should have done better on the second set - I was up 3-1 early one, but I couldn't hold it) but I didn't give up or turn into a Hulk-like sore loser either, so it is a win in my book. Now I am looking forward to our future matches, and the chance to play outside under the lights.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    I don't believe you

    Over the last few days, I have heard several different "experts" (mostly politicians of various stripes) say variations on the following:

    "U.S. nuclear facilities are all safe and have been built to withstand any sort of natural disaster that might occur."*

    This bothers me on several levels. First, I don't believe you. Politicians are always saying things like that to protect themselves and placate people. Anyone here old enough to remember George Bush (the first one) saying "Read my lips: No new taxes!"? And even if they are in earnest, it isn't possible to plan for everything that could occur. Nature always has something new and unexpected up her sleeve.  One official here in Arkansas said that the Dardanelle nuclear plant was built to withstand up to a 6.0 earthquake. Yes, Arkansas gets earthquakes; no, they aren't anywhere near as big as the Japanese earthquake. But that doesn't mean they won't be someday, or that something else could happen. So, in effect, that plant is not as safe as the authorities are saying.

    And second, if the quake, which was a 8.9 - the biggest since they have been keeping records, and the following tsunami, overwhelmed Japan, I doubt our officials are any better prepared. Japan is pretty much the most earthquake ready country on the planet - they have yearly mass drills, their buildings have been built to withstand quakes, they KNOW they will have frequent strong earthquakes. When U.S. politicians say, "That wouldn't happen here," it smacks of cultural egotism and elitism, like "They are foreign and a funny color, so of course they are having problems." This was a massive quake, not something that people are prepared for anywhere, not to mention the tsunami that wiped away cities of tens of thousands of people. I hope that the actual experts are paying attention and learning something, so that the lessons of this horrible tragedy are not wasted.

    I know that nuclear power is controversial for all sorts of reasons. It is ecologically pretty friendly, at least when compared to coal and oil power, so some environmentalists like it. And once the plant is built, the electricity and other power can be produced fairly inexpensively. But, and I always return to that but in my own mind, when something goes wrong, it goes really wrong. I don't think I am ready to take that risk.

    *Update: Here is a NYTimes article about just that. Still not feeling reassured.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Making ravioli

    Filling the ravioli mold
    Over the weekend, I got it into my head that I needed to make ravioli, and bake bread, at the same time. (Well, strictly speaking I didn't plan that both had to be at the same time, it just happened that the time I did one was also the time I had to do the other). Now, in the past we have tried to make ravioli, and not had much success. Either the filling was too wet, or the dough too sticky, or some such thing. So this was kind of my last-ditch attempt - if I couldn't get it to work this time, I was going to give up on fresh pasta ravioli and just use won ton wrappers. For this final attempt, I used Mark Bittman's recipes (egg-less pasta dough and filling) from How to Cook Everything.

    Ravioli successfully released from the mold!
     For whatever reason - maybe I was more careful, maybe the different dough recipe I used was less troublesome - the ravioli worked perfectly. In the picture above you can see my ravioli mold.  It has little cups where the filling goes, and wavy ridges around the edges.  You take the little rolling pin and roll between each piece of ravioli, on top of the ridges, and that helps to separate each piece.

    Such lovely, delicious little dumplings...
    I think my dough was a little too thick for the ridges to cut all the way through, but I just used the pizza roller to do the final cut. They looked perfect, just like the ones at the store, but without preservatives and extra unnecessary ingredients.
    Sprinkled with cornmeal to keep them from sticking - marginally successful.

    In all, the recipe made two cookie sheets worth of ravioli. Enough for 4 or 5 people. I served them with a quick homemade pasta sauce and fresh bread.

    The loaf on the left barely made it to Monday morning. It is gone now.
     And so, now that I have successfully made ravioli, I am eager to repeat the experiment. Maybe a sausage filling, or pumpkin. Yum.

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    How to Help Japan, and How to Get Prepared

    I have pictures from this weekend's ravioli making marathon, but they are still on the camera, so I am going to cross-post my blog entry for my work blog. Hope you don't mind. I plan to have pictures tomorrow, promise!

    We are all touched and saddened by the news that has been coming out of Japan this week following the earthquake and tsunami on Friday. If you are interested in making a monetary donation to relief organizations, consider using a charity rating system, such as Charity Navigator, to help decide which group to support. Charity Navigator ranks charities based on a variety of areas, including how much donor money actually gets to the people the charity serves. Doctors Without Borders is rated as a 4-star (out of 4 stars) charity, as are World Vision and Save the Children. There are many 4 and 3 star charities to choose from.

    Here in Arkansas, the earthquake in Japan, as well as the recent earthquake swarm near Greenbrier and Guy, should remind us to have emergency kits and plans in place, before a natural disaster strikes. For more information about how to prepare, visit, FEMA, and the Great Central U.S. ShakeOut.

    (Originally posted at

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    I have sex (video)

    Here is a link to the video, since the embed option doesn't seem to be working any longer.

    Great video. Wish I had seen it back in high school or college.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    "Normal" People, Unite

    Why oh why do clothes sellers use models that are sticks? And why do they pose these models in such weird positions? I am not a stick - I am not overweight, but I probably weigh 50 pounds (at least) more than the models of comparable height. I have hips, and boobs, and large muscular thighs. When I am trying to decide what to buy, therefore, models such as this one are no help at all. No hips, skinny little legs, minuscule butt. Or what about this one?

    Jeans from the Gap

    Only the model looks good in these jeans, and I am not even sure that she does. I would look like an overstuffed sausage in these pants. Most women would have a muffin top of epic proportions, if they could even get them zipped.

    How can I tell if I like a dress, when the model is slumped in a posture that makes me think she is fainting from hunger?
    Dress from Forever 21

    This dress, by the way, is so short that I am not sure how the model even moves without showing more than she should. I would have to wear a pair of jeans underneath it or something, treat it like a tunic.

    Come on, fashion world and clothes sellers, use women of all sizes, shapes, and ethnicity. If you want us to buy your clothes, show us what WE would look like in your clothes. Sure, use some of the skinny models - there are skinny people out there too, but use someone my size, or my friends who are closer to 5' than 6'. Show me someone with real hips and real boobs and a real butt. And stand up straight.

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Oh, yes, it is Monday

    funny pictures - Fluffy Just found out what day it was.

    I had an OK weekend, not great, but I guess it could have been worse. But now it is followed by Monday. Getting up was hard, really hard, and the sky is gray. Daffodils are still blooming, but since I work inside, away from windows I can't see them. Ah well. Here is a cute, disgruntled looking cat to cheer us all up.

    Friday, March 4, 2011

    What's for dinner?

    Is it safe to come out from under my rock yet? Hmm, I see Mike Huckabee has condemned Natalie Portman for being pregnant out of wedlock, there is still violence in Libya...maybe not. Sigh.

    Anyway...We don't have anything planned for dinner tonight. We usually plan all our meals on Saturday with the understanding that we will go out for dinner one night of the week, and eat from the list the rest of the nights. I suppose we could eat the frozen soup, but, well, it doesn't sound very appealing. So, we don't have anything planned. For some people this would not be a problem, for us, it could spiral into an end of the world apocalypse if we don't figure something out. OK, so that is an exaggeration, but let's just say we don't do spontaneous meals well in our house. Here's why:
    • We don't have time during the day to figure it out together. This morning, when I realized we didn't have anything planned, I asked Benjamin if we wanted to eat out tonight, or try to figure out something at home. Now, this is really not fair to Benjamin, because by that point, I had already been up for 2 hours, been to the gym, showered and started breakfast. He had gotten out of bed and turned on his coffee pot. So my brain was way ahead of his, which was also suffering from a lack of caffeine. But if I don't ask in the morning, he is usually too busy during the day - teaching young minds, grading papers and so forth - that he just can't think about it. Without his input, we come to problem #2
    • My brain. So, the decision to eat out or in on a Friday night is left up to me. Here is the dialogue my brain holds with itself
      • Fun Side: Let's eat out. How about pizza, or Indian, or Greek, or Ashleys...
      • Stodgy side: Pizza? Again? That is what you always say. And we just had Indian twice not too long ago. Ashley's? Do you think we are made of money? That is a special occasion place, not an "I'm bored, let's eat out place."
      • FS: Fine. We can eat in. How about pizza, or nachos, or big bowls of ice cream topped with whipped cream.
      • SS: There you go with the pizza again. And nachos? Do you know how bad those are for you? Do you really want to waste all that time at the gym and give yourself a tummy ache for one night of nachos?
      • FS: Fine - you come up with something then, instead of just picking on my ideas. 
      • SS: Uhh...frozen soup?
      • FS: I thought we didn't want frozen soup. Isn't that how we got started in the first place?
      • SS: Maybe. Oh, I don't know. I can't think of anything. Let's go out.
      • FS: OK, where do you want to go? How about pizza?
    At this point, we either give in and have pizza, or I force Benjamin to come up with something. I am not sure where we stand so far today.  I mean, pizza and nachos sound pretty good right now...

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    What is wrong with you people?!

    Every time something crazy happens, like a proposal to investigate miscarriages, I think "Surely the country isn't that stupid." And every time I am wrong. There have been so many crazy stories lately that I am on the verge of crawling into a hole under a rock just to get away from it. A sampling:
    Anyway, you get the idea. I just don't know how much more of this I can take. So, instead, I am going to look at this funny picture of a Miikka-sicle beast.

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    Taking action

    Here is a copy of a letter I am sending to my representative.  I have never sent an actual letter to a representative before, although I have sent many emails. This one was prompted by the tone-deaf and somewhat disgusting email I received in response to one such email.

    Dear Representative Griffin-
    I am writing you to express my feelings of profound disappointment and anger when I learned that you were one of the co-sponsors of H.R. 217, the bill that removed federal funding from Planned Parenthood. In a form email I received from you, you stated that you “believe that every life is sacred and must be protected from conception.” Never mind the awful grammar of that statement (which makes it sound like you are actually supporting more birth control and abortions), the feelings expressed in it clash with your actions.
                    Planned Parenthood is not simply an abortion provider; it is a source of vital preventative primary care for many women and men who cannot afford health care anywhere else. In fact, 90% of their work is to help prevent unplanned pregnancies (and thereby reducing the number of abortions), to provide screening for sexually transmitted diseases, and educating women about sexual health, so that when they do want to start a family, they know what steps to take to have a healthy child.
                    I have never had an abortion, nor have I personally had to visit a Planned Parenthood clinic, because I have been blessed to have jobs that provided me with full healthcare benefits. Many of my female friends and relatives have not been so lucky; for them, Planned Parenthood was literally a lifesaver.
    If you actually cared about being pro-life, you would want to help this organization that prevents abortions, that helps women. But I guess for you, life is only important until the child is actually born. Then it is everyone for themselves. Cutting programs that empower women, that educate and feed children, and that help the poor and low-income people of our country give the lie to your pro-life claims.
    I doubt that I have in any way managed to change your mind on this issue, but I hope that you will consider looking at all the good done by Planned Parenthood and other similar organizations, and remove your name from sponsoring this reprehensible bill. I did not vote for you to be my congressperson, but since you are now in that position, it behooves you to listen to your constituents, all of them, not just the ones who agree with you.

    Spring interlude

    Mini-daffodils in our front yard.
     For my friends and family in more northern climes, here are some pictures of spring that I took this weekend.

    Magnolias at the capital, after the union rally

    So cute, so cheerful!
    When Benjamin had his interview at UCA, we were living in Brockport NY, and we had just had 3 feet of snow.  He called from Arkansas, and told me that the daffodils were blooming, and all the trees had new leaves. I was so sick of snow at that point that it sounded close to heaven.