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May 8th, 2015

01:09 pm: every word of this is true
The most remarkable part of this conversation is that she kept feeding me the setup lines, one after the other.

K: Why were they playing the bagpipes outside your apartment last night?
A: Because they must have known I wouldn't let them practice inside my apartment.

K: Why were they playing bagpipes in the middle of the night at ALL?
A: It was only about 8. All the times after dinner are "night".
K: Why were they playing bagpipes at 8pm?
A: So they wouldn't disturb people by playing in the middle of the night.

K: Why would a bunch of people get together and play bagpipes like that?
A: There was only one bagpipe (one bagpipes? one set of bagpipes?) I was using singular "they," as is polite for a person whose gender I don't know. I mean there was only one person playing. I think one is enough, for practicing bagpipes in this neighborhood, don't you?

K: More than enough! What...why practice the bagpipes at all?
A:This person really needed the practice.

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April 24th, 2015

09:28 am: SAT words
Redbird and Cattitude have a fine new cat tree, with several different high platforms, and scratching posts, and little cat-sized rooms to curl up inside. It matches their living room carpet, and their fine new cats are very fond of it.

As I was looking around for one of the cats, Redbird saw her on the cat tree. "There she is! They both spend hours up on that tree. They really are--"
Then she said "nocturnal" as I said "arboreal," and we both concluded with "creatures."

I didn't originally intend to teach people how to deal with the writing skills part of the SAT. My math students just asked me, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. I still think myself as a math tutor, but by now I've seen enough vocabulary questions from recent SAT tests to recognize they're better than they were in past decades. Less badly designed. Less often ambiguous or wrong.

They might still have a fill-in-the-blank "The cats stayed in the tree most of the day because they were [---- ]."

February 9th, 2014

10:00 am: moving!
Many of you have heard me complain about this apartment. It's gorgeous. It's huge. I have been very, very, lucky in my housemates. What's the catch? Mostly, the catch is the landlord. I would also like to be closer to a supermarket and to buses that run frequently and reliably towards places where rich high school students might want tutoring. Thus I am planning a move from Somerville back to Arlington.

I am getting professional movers, because I have the kind of furniture that needs to be moved by weightlifters and cursing. But they are expensive, so I'd like to minimize the time I need them to work. I've also discovered it's very inconvenient to move even a few miles without a car to fetch empty boxes, or take fragile things to the new place. And I'm starting to feel dubious about my ability to pack everything with the body I have available.*

Do any of you wonderful local people have time in the next few weeks when you could help? Boxes you could bring, or rides you could give, or an hour you could spend helping me pack?

*The bodies I have available. Redbird is visiting for the week, but she has a hand injury and I don't want to make that worse. (This is nominally the same problem I had 15 years ago, that transformed into complex disabling chronic pain through overuse, reinjury, mismanagement, and spectacular bad luck.) So she can't do very much, and I am terrified of having her do anything at all.

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February 3rd, 2014

03:20 pm: first and last months rent
When I moved into this apartment, I paid first and last month's rent to the landlord, and a realtor fee equal to another month of rent. ("Is there a security deposit?" "No, this landlord just wants first and last month's rent.") As February will be my last month living here, I thought February rent had been pre-paid.

The landlord just turned up demanding rent. In the world as he understands it, "last month's rent" can be re-imbursed after the tenant returns a clean apartment with no nicks or scratches. But only an irresponsible idiot would take it as any kind of license to not pay. *eyeroll*

I'm looking for a new apartment, and concerned about this guy being a reference for future landlords. Even though the most critical information he is likely to give a future landlord is that I can be bullied.

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January 26th, 2014

12:08 pm: is duct tape the only solution here?
I have a new tablet, or perhaps a tiny little laptop. (When I get all my files transferred over, I hope this will be my only computer.) When I'm not at the library, I intend to use it the same way I used the old one--with the screen propped at eye level on my desk, and a keyboard and touchpad on the little sliding tray under the desk. Although I really need this kind of setup for a keyboard and pointer, I didn't think it would be a big deal. The tablet has only one USB port, but they sell USB hubs, right?

It's not so simple. Is it ever so simple? I got a USB hub with a 3" cable to go into the computer, three 4" cables to go into various USB devices like my keyboard or touchpad, and a 4" cable for a mini-USB port. Because I'm working with a tablet, the USB port is on the side of the screen. That means when the screen is propped up close to vertical, the weight of the hub dangles off the side and gradually torques the cable out. It doesn't pull all the way out, but it takes less than 5 minutes to lose electrical contact.

Any ideas for solutions other than tape? They sell magnetic USB hubs, but I have my computer on a plastic support. When I get my act together, I may have it on plastic with cloth over it. But not magnetic.

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January 7th, 2014

08:50 pm: shhh
I've learned to ask about noise when I check out a possible apartment. I lived in a thin-walled apartment building on Mass Ave, across the street from a high school, for 10 years, and I didn't think the noise was that much of a problem. Sure, it was annoying sometimes. But I didn't realize how much it had been bothering me until I moved to a quieter neighborhood. My blood pressure dropped abruptly, and stayed down, even when I was having a lot of trouble with the move or the landlord or other related problems.

Maybe it's living in Somerville, or having a housemate, or something else unrelated to traffic noise. I joked with my doctor that she should recommend Somerville to all her patients with high blood pressure. I can't afford to have "quiet" be anything like a deal-breaker. But I do ask if a place is quiet, or what the noise is like around here.

"Oh, this is an old building, so the walls are very thick--it's very quiet."
"It's an old building, so of course we can hear the neighbors moving around, but they aren't real noisy."
"I only practice the violin between noon and 10pm."
"This isn't a neighborhood with a lot of parties...the cops only get called 4, maybe 5 times a year."
"We're a couple of blocks away from [main road], so we only hear the fire engines, not the regular traffic. But the fire station is right on the corner."

The one about the police really surprised me. I mean, it's a useful answer. It just wasn't quite the kind of answer I was expecting.

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January 3rd, 2014

02:34 pm: no clue how to deal with snow
Last month, my neighborhood was digging out after a snowstorm. Sometimes it takes me a while to think things through. It might have been the last snowstorm, or the one before that--I lose track. I don't have a car, so I have the privilege of not digging out. On the other hand, I need to spend a lot of time standing around in the snow waiting for buses.

The bus stop nearest my apartment is on a medium-sized street that had been fairly well plowed. The tiny residential street directly across that street was less well plowed, and the car parked nearest the corner was having trouble getting out. One person was struggling through the snow to put a little more kitty litter behind a wheel, then motioning to the driver (a child?), who rocked the car forwards a bit before it slipped back.

The guy next to me at the bus stop pointed and laughed. "She's doing everything wrong. Some people have no clue how to deal with snow." He had his phone out, and I couldn't reach mine without unzipping my coat and taking off my mittens, so I asked him when the next bus would be. 4 minutes. He had been waiting more than 40 minutes, with two buses simply not showing up. He told me about "watching that idiot across the street all that time," spinning the wheels and digging the car deeper, making the problem worse by trying to drive before clearing enough snow from the appropriate places, putting dirt under the wrong wheel.

As I said above, sometimes it takes me a while to think things through. I can't shovel or push without doing myself an injury. I didn't know what I could yell (over the wind, across the street, over the engine noise) that would be heard as useful information rather than hostile or mocking. With 10 minutes, I could go over and explain...but 2 minutes wasn't enough time to cross the road and get back. I was still trying to figure out what to do when I saw the bus coming over the hill, and thus failed to do anything.

There are clues to dealing with winter storms. The most important is that we help each other. (Even more important than things like "wear a hat and good boots" and "stay hydrated.")
Knowing which corner of the car to push on is secondary. Tertiary.

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December 15th, 2013

07:40 pm: rolling my eyes at the globe
I don't read the Boston Globe very often. I don't know if this is the first time they've tried to do something along the lines of "The Fall of the House of Tsarnaev." I can't tell if it's meant to be truthful like an honest news story is truthful, or truthful like a good novel is truthful. It worries me to think the Globe might not recognize there is a difference, even though some stories have both kinds of truth.

If it were a novel, it would be incoherent. Even knowing that real-life motivations don't have to make any sense (and frequently don't), there are several places where it looks like the Globe is trying to make some kind of scandalous innuendo but I can't tell what. Is the idea that traumatized immigrant parents were overwhelmed by a difficult new life and thus failed to recognize their son needed mental health treatment? Or that they were freaks doing all this weird foreign stuff and that's why the family was so dysfunctional?

One chapter (the second one about the elder brother) seems to be mostly speculation on the family's mental illness. It's neatly framed by investigative journalism--somebody at the Globe talked with a psychiatrist in Los Angeles, who treated the father of the accused in 2003 (and who explained some health problems but "declined to elaborate" about others.) That sets the stage for a urologist to speculate about the mental health of a young man I'm not sure he ever met. (This was not called "taking the piss," for some reason.)

Boxing and other kinds of violence are mentioned on the same page, but not really discussed together, other than the urologist saying "I told Niss that Tamerlan had some form of schizophrenia. That, combined with smoking marijuana and head trauma from boxing had all made him ill." Is it possible to look at a connection between violent sports and this kind of crime without doing horrible things to medical privacy? Head trauma is obviously part of it, but I'm also wondering about the emotional context of going to the gym and routinely punching somebody in the nose.

I was puzzled by the chapter about the sisters. It seemed a little vague on distinctions, between the sisters, between them and their brothers, between them and their parents. So we should be outraged at how the family insisted on the Chechen custom of a girl a man her parents chose for her, when she was 16? But one of the girls didn't marry the guy her family chose. And the one who did was already pregnant?* Her husband turned out to be an abuser. Years later, she was arrested for possession of marijuana. WTF does this have to do with whether her parents were too traumatized to raised children, or whether her brothers belonged to an international terrorist organization, or with whether her older brother was hallucinating monsters or simply a malicious asshole?

I had trouble with the chapters about the family coming to America. The idea that it matters so much whether one is fleeing a proper war between one government and another, or a recognized but improper one between a government and some internal oppressed group, or an even less official war or conflict. And of course, the marathon bombing was part of the war on terror, not crime at all. Oddly (VERY oddly, in the context of an article about the marathon bombing) they didn't seem to acknowledge that the traumatic effects can be pretty similar if you can't get away.

I don't seriously expect you to read the whole thing. I know you have important things to do, children's books about science museums** to recommend to me, socks to alphabetize. But I got the weird impression that the author was judgmental about different things than I was, and it felt peculiar. I'm not horrified, or frightened, or scandalized that a young man might have had schizophrenia. It's awful that he couldn't get treatment for it, but the idea that it's horrifying/frightening/scandalous contributes quite a bit in that direction. (Odd that the article didn't mention that.) And I am outraged that his father's medical privacy is not being respected.

In another direction, I know boxing is a respectable sport requiring strength and skill. Nevertheless...when a young man spends a lot of time either hitting people or training to do it better, it seems like a red flag unless that boxer has very very good control over his temper. The article seemed to treat boxing as if it was a sport like track or swimming; a competitive thing Tamerlan trained hard for and was good at. It felt like it was missing an important point about violence because the author doesn't see boxing as even slightly problematic.

*Because of the peculiar lack of emphasis, I couldn't tell if she was marrying the father of her child, or if her parents wanted her to marry somebody else (as in Tam Lin.) There's a lot of story there, hardly any of it included in the article, because the Globe isn't trying to tell her story. It's trying to tell her brothers' story

**Not the one where children run away from home, hitchhike to Dearborn, break into the Henry Ford Museum, attempt to spend the night in the Allegheny Locomotive or the back seat of the Corvair....

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November 28th, 2013

10:28 pm: pie
I don't usually make pie. I make apple crisp instead, or perhaps cookies. Pie crust doesn't seem worth the trouble, especially for a fruit pie. When I used to eat pie somebody else baked, I would often just eat the filling. (ETA: Except Fairion's pies. It turns out she bakes with coconut oil.)

Then I found a recipe for a pecan pie that tempted me. Next time I say the New York Times has become entirely worthless, feel free to remind me they published this excellent recipe. Lucky for us, my housemate occasionally brings home a paper newspaper, and he happened to bring home a NYT full of Thanksgiving recipes (even though neither of us would be home for Thanksgiving.) The pecan pie was tempting enough that I wanted to try taking out the dairy and the alcohol.

Redbird, Cattitude, and I set out to experiment, despite the fact that none of us have much experience making piecrust. We had difficulty with the oil being like melted butter at room temperature, and freezing very inconveniently solid in the refrigerator. (Admittedly, the room was unusually warm and the refrigerator unusually cold.) Still, very awkward to chill the ball of dough, take it out of the refrigerator and have to warm it up before being able to make a dent in it. We eventually pressed it into the pan like a tart crust, getting very irregular coverage. Advice would be very welcome indeed.

I want to make this pie again, because the filling was amazing. Usually, pecan pie is too sweet and not complicated enough, but this wasn't.
6 tablespoons coconut oil
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
4 eggs
0.75 cup dark corn syrup
0.5 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tablespoon vanilla
large pinch salt
1.5 cups pecan halves (toasted, not salted)

Melt chocolate chips together with oil. Cool, then add to beaten eggs with corn syrup. Everything except the nuts goes into the pre-baked crust, then put the nuts on top of the liquid custard and bake 40 minutes at 350F.

Cattitude wants to put the filling in some other vegan piecrust, which would be a reasonable option. But I would like to make an actual coconut-oil piecrust, if it's possible to make one with sufficient was rich and flaky and it tasted better than I expect piecrust to taste.

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October 31st, 2013

01:04 pm: recent reading
I've spent quite a lot of the last few weeks pre-reading books to check if they are appropriate for my favorite 8-year-old. Her parents thought the Prydain Chronicles and The Dark Is Rising would be too scary for this year, but that she'd love some of Lloyd Alexander's books for younger kids. So I've been going through as much of Alexander's work as I could carry home from the library.

Discovery 1: There don't seem to be many adventure stories as exciting as the Keladry books and Wrinkle In Time (which she loved even before she was such a big girl) that aren't scary.

Discovery 2: I don't like Lloyd Alexander's books nearly as much as I used to. The sexism fairy hit them awfully hard.

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I also read A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan. I LOVED it. It is wildly, completely, inappropriate for the 8 year old. (Not that I ever expected otherwise.) Sweetest proposal scene I've read in ages. And I love how the unreliable narrator gradually becomes less clueless about both dragons and foreigners. She starts off being painfully, realistically, appropriately (for her class and culture) insensitive to "those people," but it's pretty clearly the character being a jerk, not the author. (Unlike other books where a character suddenly become more enlightened between a book and its sequel, and the most likely reason seems to be the author's friends saying "yo. this is a problem.") Anyhow, Isabella learns a little better and it's perfectly plausible and I love her to bits. I returned the book to the library's "Awesome Box," and may get 2 copies. One for me to keep and hug, and one to hang onto and give the child when she's a teenager...

And furthermore, Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper is really problematic. The first part of the book is the story of a Native American boy growing up in what is now Massachusetts. The strange customs of his people are described in ways that reminded me of Julie of the Wolves. First person description, yet somehow the strangeness of the customs felt exaggerated (unlike historical fiction that makes strange customs feel ordinary, as they do to the people who live with them.) Hawk dies as a young man, killed by Puritan settlers. The narrative then switches to a sympathetic Puritan boy, to whom Hawk's ghost eventually speaks. I can tell Cooper is trying so very hard to be sensitive and not racist, and it just doesn't work.

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October 8th, 2013

11:37 am: seawater
Is there some special way to wash seawater out of cloth? I know the ocean washes things clean metaphorically, but it makes them dirty and smelly and itchy in the mundane sense. I didn't think it would be a big deal, but my current washing machine is not impressively competent. I have detergent that's good at getting the smell of secondhand smoke out of my clothes, but it's not working for this. It's fine for the clothes I just wore at the beach, but the shirts I actually wore in the water still smell of the sea after 2 washes and there was even a tiny bit of odor transfer to other stuff that was in the washing machine. I had a good time at the beach, and the reminder was nice for a while, but it's getting to be annoying.

I know there's something you can add to the wash-water to get chlorine smell out of swimsuits. Is there something like that for seawater?

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September 9th, 2013

01:25 pm: paper
When I post flyers (please hire me to teach you math/help your kid get ready for the SAT/untangle the stats for your thesis), I have little tear-off tabs at the bottom of the page. As an aid to memory. That means at least 8 cuts. With some versions of the flyer, I also like to trim off the right and bottom margins so I can carry the papers in a smaller bag. So that's 10 cuts.

Obviously, it's a lot less trouble to stack up the pages and cut through a bunch of them at once, rather than cutting one at a time. Unfortunately, the paper I'm using now slides in the printer. I'm not talking about slippage in the stack I'm trying to cut. I'm talking about slippage during printing, so they're all supposed to be the same but one copy has a bottom margin of 1.5" and another comes out with a bottom margin of 1.625". It's easy to allow for that in cutting, but when the side margins slip it's a mess.

Can somebody recommend a grade or type of printer paper that is not-too-expensive that avoids this problem?

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12:03 pm: The aforementioned teacups
Speaking of that nice china in the previous post. Are any of you interested in it?
(contains picture)

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12:00 pm: the 8 little teacups (not how they grew)
Wordweaverlynn suggested I post a picture of the tea set I was just talking about, on the off chance one of you might be interested in it. So here it is.
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There are 8 of the teacups, 8 saucers, 6 dessert plates (7.5" square), a sugar bowl, a little pitcher for milk or cream, and 3 little serving trays (whose dimensions I neglected to measure before packing everything back in the bubble wrap.) There is a matching teapot I had intended to keep...but if somebody makes me a fabulous offer for the whole set including the teapot, and nobody is interested in the china without the teapot...I could be persuaded to part with the pot. I was kinda hoping somebody might want to serve coffee in the pretty little cups, and thus not need the pot.

It is Royal Albert bone china, with a little gold trim around the edge. It has a white background with a pixelated floral pattern that's meant to look like embroidery.

September 8th, 2013

02:44 pm: cups and saucers
I love drinking tea. I love having a friend come over to drink tea and have a little snack. Nevertheless, my current lifestyle has no place for pretty teacups with matching saucers and little cake plates, all in the same china pattern. Even when I had the energy to entertain more often or more vigorously, that meant having people over more often to drink tea from big pottery mugs, with something indelicate like banana bread alongside. I don't know if it's just me (and the people I mostly socialize with) or if this is yet another way in which the world has changed since my grandparents were given this tea set.

So. I have no further use for the tea set that was sitting in a high cupboard of my old apartment, and in a low box of my new one. It's really very pretty, and I'm sure *somebody* would like it, probably even like it enough to pay a significant amount of money for it. Looking at similar things on Ebay, individual cup+saucer settings seem to be listed for $8-15. It's not at all clear to me if people buy those cups and saucers listed for $10. (I refuse to believe anybody will buy the set of 5 mismatched teacups priced at $1,650.00. That's some kind of a joke I don't get.)

There are 8 teacups, 8 saucers, a sugar bowl, and a creamer. Should this be listed as one big package deal? Nine -- with one for each tea-drinker, and one for the stuff in the middle of the table? Three -- two sets of 4, and one for the stuff in the middle of the table? I'd rather not list many times to sell each piece, fumbling around figuring out stuff that other people already know. (Ebay's idea of helping me sell more effectively consists of encouraging me to post things for sale repeatedly after they don't sell, advising me to lower prices, and suggesting I offer free shipping. Taken together, I could lose money on each sale.)

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September 2nd, 2013

06:11 pm: permanent record
Last month, I went to visit Redbird in Seattle. I was going to visit Redbird, not Seattle as such, and certainly not to explore public transit in the Seattle area, but I still noticed some nice things about the transit system. And one impressive thing that probably isn't about the system.

There were only 3 passengers on the bus when it turned the corner in the big medical complex where Redbird had a doctor's appointment. The woman near the front stood partway up and turned to look out the window, and fell backwards. I couldn't tell if the hollow thunk was the impact of her wooden cane, her elbow against a hollow section of bus floor, or her skull hitting something solid.*

It was a scary moment. I reached to help, but (obviously) by the time I saw her falling it was already too late to catch her. She was frightened and confused and struggling to get up without her cane. She was clearly embarrassed as well as shocked and hurt. I've felt that kind of "oh, just go away and pretend this never happened" after any number of falls and head-bonks. Oursin described something similar with a minor accident:

The bus driver impressed me. He didn't just stop the bus, let me help the other passenger up, and go on his way when he heard her say something like "it's ok." That's kind of what I expected would happen when Redbird called out for him to stop the bus. He didn't just park the bus, go back to help the passenger up, and sit across from her talking quietly and paying close attention to her while she got her bearings. I don't know if that's how King County Metro teaches their staff to respond to possible concussions, or if one driver was going beyond the call of duty. Then the driver went back to driving the bus, and I sat with the person who had fallen, and we talked for a few minutes (agreeing that falling is scary and upsetting.)

When the bus reached the next stop, the driver impressed me by getting out with the passenger who had fallen, and walking into the building with her. She had already been taking the bus to a doctor's appointment, so there wasn't the usual question of whether to see a doctor after falling...but that last little bit of getting there safely was still important.

I tried to tell King County Metro that one of their drivers had done especially good work that day, but had trouble with their online feedback form. Redbird was able to file a commendation the next day, and was told her letter had been shown to the driver and his supervisor, and would become part of the driver's permanent record.

Memorable work ought to be part of his permanent record. Whether we're thinking "what great first aid practice!" or "how considerate of him!" (or possibly "what an intrusive jerk! why didn't he just leave her alone?") I'm happy about the transit system tracking this kind of thing.

When I went to report the incident, the feedback form asked me about the bus route and time of day. I couldn't tell them the number of the bus (the specific identifier for that vehicle, rather than any of the other buses covering that route) or the driver's name. Redbird was able to figure out the bus number, because it turns out that information is tracked--her transit pass doesn't just say it was charged $2.50 at thus-and-so time, it says it was charged $2.50 on bus #whatever at thus-and-so time.

I feel vaguely uncomfortable about the cards tracking location. I know this is not actually a significant increment of lost privacy. Still, increments of perceptible discomfort do not track linearly with significant increments of threat.

*I've had falls where I never did figure out if my head hit the ground on the way down.

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02:36 pm: velcro
I approve of my rain gear fastening with velcro.
I approve of the case for my smartphone fastening with velcro.
I understand why my dress shoes fasten with velcro, even if I don't actually approve.

Velcro is really incredibly hard on dress-up clothes, ya know? I was going to say something like "especially summer clothes" or "especially women's clothes," but abrasion-resistant clothes just aren't very formal.

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August 29th, 2013

09:56 pm: housemate
Once upon a time, the University of Michigan asked 3 lifestyle* questions to match roommates.
Do you smoke?
Do you like to sleep with the window open or closed?**
Do you like raw or cooked carrots?***

The last question was either a subtle psychological attempt to predict SOMETHING, or it was a ploy to make new roommates feel they had something in common, rolling their eyes together at the absurdities of the university housing office.

I don't know how well it worked, overall. (My mother roomed with her twin sister, and they found one another exactly as annoying as they expected.) I just thought of it a lot, when I was wondering what to ask potential housemates. And what to ask the people they gave as references. There were some nerve-wracking false starts.

I finally found somebody just before going out of town last week. He's an academic, living away from his family for a year or so while he does a post-doc. I don't know him very well--I can't know him very well, on such short acquaintance, but I felt comfortable with the guy. He's taking over the second half of the lease from Sovay, and I really hope it goes well.

*It's amazing how many aspects of lifestyle one person might consider significant and another consider trivial. What time do you like to shower? Do you whistle? (CAN you whistle?)

**This was a great way for the housing office to prevent roommate conflict for 6 weeks. Then the roommate from a warm climate realizes those last few words of "with the window open, unless it's freezing outside," might not go without saying.

***I used to think the only options for carrots were "raw" and "cooked," but then I discovered pickled carrots. I recommend these:

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August 23rd, 2013

02:36 pm: ginger ale
A few years ago, Coca-cola started advertising that their new cans of regular coke contained only 100 calories. They had reduced the calorie count by making the cans slightly smaller--it seemed like a nice thing to do for their customers who liked the taste of classic coke and didn't want too many calories.

A couple of days ago, I was on an airplane, and I asked for ginger ale when the flight attendant offered me a drink. I hardly noticed the little green box on the green Seagrams can, announcing "25% fewer calories than regular ginger ales." When I saw it, I thought maybe they were using less sugar--a less sweet ginger ale would be nice. (There's a version of frosted flakes that just uses less of the frosting and brags that it's a lower cereal.) Then I thought maybe they were using a smaller can, but the can had a weird aspect ratio, and I picked it up trying to read the label to see how small.

It was a little tricky to read the label, because I didn't have my reading glasses. (I just had my e-reader, which lets me use big fonts and my distance glasses.) So there was a fair amount of dumb luck involved in seeing the sucralose on the ingredients list in the first place.* It wasn't diet pop; it had lots of corn syrup. It felt like they were just sneaking the migraine trigger into the can and hoping people wouldn't notice.

They really are being sneaky. It's not just that I was oblivious or that I've had so little ginger ale this year (while irrationally thinking of it as a familiar product I don't need to investigate before drinking.) I went back to the little airplane galley to discard the unused can and see if they could spare me a little water, and the flight attendant was shocked. "What seat are you in? I could have sworn I gave you regular soda!" No, really, it's not her fault. It looks exactly like non-diet soda. By the standards of people who want the diet stuff, it probably IS non-diet soda. Seagrams is just being sneaky. Or I suppose a person could use a less polite word than "sneaky."

*The flight attendant gave me the can in the first place, instead of just pouring me a cup.
I noticed the green-on-green box.
I read the ingredients list, when I didn't expect any need to.

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August 20th, 2013

03:58 pm: old-fashioned manners
I went to see a new medical specialist this morning.

Office Manager: And what's your primary care doctor's name?
Adrian: Doctor [name]. It's spelled [...]
Office Manager: Do you know his first name?
Adrian: Of course. It's Deborah.

The office manager was seriously flustered by her mistake. I'm wondering how, in 2013, she might have made it. It's not like it's UNUSUAL for a family practitioner to be a woman. What surprised me even more was her thinking that I might not have known my doctor's first name.

A long time ago, when I lived in Michigan, my doctor was Dr. Bernstein. He shared an office with Dr. Blum, and I went on seeing Dr. Blum after Dr. Bernstein retired. I think I had some abstract awareness that they must have first names, but I had no idea what they might be.

Is this a difference between the 1970s and now? Or between how children and adults interact with their doctors? Or is it not perfectly routine to know the first name of one's primary doctor?

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August 12th, 2013

12:16 pm: pigeon peas
Yesterday, I had pigeon peas for the first time. Perhaps I should say I ate pigeon peas for the first time. They had been sitting in the cupboard for months, since the time I asked the grocery delivery people to bring me 3 cans of black beans and they brought 2 cans of black beans and 1 of pigeon peas. (Along with a great many other things.) When I called to tell them about it, they didn't charge me for the pigeon peas, but they didn't make an extra trip to exchange cans, either.

So, yesterday. There I was, not really on speaking terms with my hand or shoulder, so it was not a viable option to go to the store. Fortunately, I had the can of pigeon peas, rice, canned tomatoes, half an onion, lazy garlic, soyrizo, cumin, oregano, and green olives. (And a few things not appearing in this production, but really not very many.*)

I found a recipe for arroz con gandules, substituting soyrizo for chorizo, and leaving out the pork and bay leaves. I'm not sure if the back of my mouth was trying to warn me, as it sometimes does: Danger! You've never eaten this before, but it feels like a migraine trigger! Or maybe I just didn't like it much. I ate it anyhow, because I was hungry and didn't want to throw away the resources** that had just gone into making it. And then I ended up with a migraine.

Does anybody know of pigeon peas being a migraine trigger? Everything else in that recipe was something I had eaten before, with no problems. Many migraines do not have food triggers, and this one could have been set up by muscle spasms in the shoulder. It's just that taste (that feeling in my mouth, equal parts taste and smell and fear) that made me think the pigeon peas were problematic.

*Pickled herring, prunes, oatmeal, maple syrup, pickled carrots, eggs, soymilk, frozen squash, and soba. I can make a few more meals out of this before going out of town on Thursday, but it's a bit of a challenge. I may end up going to the store, but with significantly less than my usual 5-pound limit. Meal-planning suggestions are welcome.

**In this case, the scarce resources are "food in the apartment this week" more than "food, generally," or "food I can afford." I can get groceries delivered when I come back from Virginia, but they only deliver large orders so I can't get a little now and a little next week (which would be really useful.)

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July 31st, 2013

07:32 pm: I should know better
I had a surprising amount of energy this afternoon, so I went out to the farmers' market. The Arlington farmers' market has excellent fish. (Not just from fish farms. I don't get it either, though of course I'm not complaining.) There are probably no cherries to be had anywhere, and I didn't waste carrying capacity on peaches. But I got various vegetables with the intent of making something (very) vaguely chowder-like I have made with great success in the past.

Unfortunately, getting the fish home used up my ability to cope. I don't have any left for cooking. And I just spent a significant amount on a piece of fish that I suspect will be noticeably less good tomorrow than it is tonight. And I need to be out of here by 9:30am, which makes it less appealing to cook the fish in the morning.

It's not a complicated fish recipe. It just requires cutting up fish and vegetables and putting them in a pot. And getting the pot out of the cabinet. And opening the can of coconut milk. And maybe opening the jar of curry paste, though I can skip that bit. There's no way to skip cutting things up or getting the pot out of the cabinet. And it's all just daunting.

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July 30th, 2013

11:47 am: I have not even visited this dentist's office, and they are already starting to annoy me. They sent me a very polite letter welcoming me to their practice and telling me about their policies for rescheduling and taking insurance payments. And they sent me a form to fill out with my medical history. Not surprisingly, the documents are printed on different kinds of paper. Absurdly, the one I am supposed to write on is on such shiny paper it won't take ink. *eyeroll*

It's always annoying to write on paper where the letters smear off almost as soon as they touch the page. It seems worse to know they had writeable paper right there next to the printer.

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July 17th, 2013

01:03 pm: almost
I made something with chard last week that almost worked perfectly. It worked well enough to be worth trying again, but I'm trying to figure out how to get it exactly right. (I mean, other than having all the chard cut up beforehand, rather than trying to chop the leaves while the stems are cooking.)

I started with a bunch of rainbow chard and 5 eggs. I started cooking some lazy garlic in olive oil, like you do, then added the chopped stems of the chard until they softened a bit. Then added handfuls of chopped chard leaves and let them wilt down until they all fit and I could cover the pot. Then more garlic, because I had a LOT of chard. And then I mixed the chard with a handful of raisins and put it in a baking dish, beat the eggs with a little salt, and baked it at 400F.

I liked it, but it needed something. More raisins? Lemon? There was just a little more egg than strictly necessary to hold the chard together, and I think that was right. There weren't any of the hot spices, and I don't think they would have fit...but maybe something like sumac/zatar or ginger?

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July 16th, 2013

03:42 pm: it must be the hat
I was at Readercon for something less than 3 hours. I contributed essentially nothing--no sparkling conversation or deep insight, no organizational help, no money. I talked with a handful of friends, greeted a larger handful of people, and went home Thursday night to sleep for a day and a half.

This morning, a stranger in Somerville asked if I'd been at that book convention in Burlington last weekend? Yes, but only for a little while... And he lit up like people do when talking about a new love. Wasn't it amazing? Yes. Yes it was. No qualifier at all. This afternoon, a different stranger came up to me in Cambridge, and said, "Weren't you at Readercon? Wasn't it great?"

I don't know if everything connected with Readercon, even a tiny bit, is still glowing a little because this year's con was so amazing. Or if people are just overflowing with good will towards the con, and they remember seeing my hat Thursday night. But I want to spread the word that there ARE people so overflowing with good will toward Readercon that they go up to strangers on the street and tell them it was wonderful.

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