Friday, October 31, 2008

What Scares Me This Halloween

Well, it's Halloween, the day when we enjoy scaring the crap out of ourselves, supposedly anyway. I don't know about the rest of you but right now nothing is more terrifying to me than the chance that Sarah Palin could be elected Vice President. As this article in Slate put it:

This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just "people of faith" but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity.
Brrr... Chilling.

Happy Halloween, everybody.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Transman Diaries: Transitioning from Female to Male

I'll admit, when it comes to the GLBT spectrum the only part that I have a hard time identifying with is transgender. Transgendered persons are those who, according to the United Scientists of Ireland, "were assigned a sex, usually at birth and based on their genitals, but who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves." I more often hear it described as "being born in the wrong body."

For me it's hard to understand because no matter how much misogyny I faced or how much penis envy I had (now, happily sated with my collection of strap-ons) I never actually wanted to be a male. I admit, I have secretly felt my whole life that women are the coolest sex so it's especially hard to me to just generally understand transgendered women.

For these reasons, I've been absolutely fascinated with Transman Diaries, the blog of a "female transitioning to become a male." Not only the physical changes, but also the emotional changes he talks about are captivating and when I'm seeing just how right and according to his own truth he is living, being transgendered suddenly makes a lot more sense. The picture at the left was taken the first week of testosterone treatment, and here's the first blog he wrote (with a video embedded if you want to compare the voice changes too).

Now, at six months:

Obviously there are some major differences! I personally am amazed at how much more natural he seems to be in his body from the first video I saw. It's an amazing transformation and I think he's very strong to share all of this with the wacky wild world of the internets. Check it out.

Also, just wanted to say THANK YOU for the many sweet comments I received on yesterday's post. It means a lot to me.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Top 5 Web Comics

My two favorite things about the internets these days are blogs and web comics. The web comics I love never cease to surprise and amuse me and since I love sharing things that make me smile, I thought I'd let you in on my favorites:

Basic Instructions

Granted, I've already blogged about this one before, but I can't not list my favorites without it. Basic Instructions ("your all inclusive guide to a life well-lived") is written and drawn by a guy who I found online via our mutual friends in Seattle and I have been reading his comic ever since. He presents situations that are so ridiculous but so realistic I can't help nodding in agreement and cracking up over every comic I read. Good advice, but even better laughs. Here's a recent Halloween-inspired one:

Questionable Content
Questionable Content tells the story of an ever-growing group of hipster types. They work at coffee shops, libraries and the like, are all into music (several are in a band and another is a singer/songwriter), talking electronic gadgets (there's 3) and other random hipster-ish things. I was introduced to this from a friend and sat down and read through the archive all the way through. I was so disappointed when I had read them all and finally had to wait for a new one every M-F like everyone else. I had to post two examples for you, because I couldn't not share one with Hanners (she's my favorite), but the second one is quite possibly one of the funniest. Click 'em to see the full size version:

XKCD is pretty big on the internets, especially among tech and internets geek types because, though it says its a "webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language" it's really just poking fun at what silly people humans are (especially on the internets). I absolutely love it.

Local Girl's Day in Pictures
LCDiP is the webcomic journal of a British woman who just recently got back from a trip to Canada and the US. Her outlook on what happens to her daily is hilarious and gently self-mocking. I love how she sees humor in some of the most random-mundane events. Here's one she did about looking for roommates after getting back to the UK (click for full size):

Mows is my most recent subscription. I found it via ICanHasCheezburger where it's advertised pretty heavily, which makes sense since it's just about the silliness of kitties. The way they interact with humans is especially amusing to me:

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Ben-Wa Balls Cuz Balls Aren't Just for Boys

A couple of weeks ago I went to a passion party, which is like a Tupperware party only with sex stuff instead of Tupperware. Unfortunately, it was a Midwest style passion party which meant that I had to sit through a lecture on how the female sex organ operates and how best to stimulate it. It took forever and I just wanted to stand up and say "I've licked enough pussy to know way more than you about stimulating the clitoris so just let me order my sex stuff already!" but I was polite and didn't. Instead I sat on a hard f*cking chair for four hours in order to get my long-coveted ben-wa balls.

I first heard about ben-wa balls when I was the President of the Women Today (aka Feminist) club up at Penn State Erie and took part in a safe sex rally our GLBT club put on as there was lots of back-stratching between our two groups and it was basically expected. After my part was done, I listened as another woman spoke about safe sex with toys. She mentioned ben-wa balls, briefly explained what they do and moved on. But that was all it took to cement in my mind that this was something I would one day have to try. Here's why:

So, yeah, sounds like good times, right? I thought so anyway.

Of course, my consultant tried to sell me on the larger pleasure pods, but I'd seen those in sex shops before and my vagina is way too tiny for that shit to even fit up there. Plus, they seem skeezy to me. I like the classy "classic" ben-wa balls much better.

So there I am after the long, boring, hard on my ass sex talk, excited because she says she has our stuff in the car... only to find out that most of my purchases have to be mailed. Le sigh.

A few days later the package arrived and I popped in the balls for about a half hour. I didn't know about that rocking chair shit until I went and found that video for you guys, but if I'd know I would've gone down and swung on the front porch. Heh. However, as it was I just wore them as I was hanging around the house, reading mostly. And even though I didn't move much at all, my vagina muscles were exhausted after a half hour, so I took them out again. For an entire HOUR after that, I couldn't believe how tired and sore my vag muscles were.

But after that hour, my muscles starting behaving in ways they've never behaved before. I could feel each of my muscles and tendons down there twitching and vibrating and doing the tango. I was suddenly wet and pulsating and totally in shock!... in the best possible way, of course.

For the next five hours that went on and if Matt hadn't been at work, I'd have jumped the daylights out of him. As it was, the next time we did have sex, my muscles behaved in the exact same jumpy way it had after I'd used the ben-wa balls and lets just say that the sexual experience all up in me was way more interesting that it normally is.

So what I'm trying to say is: ladies get some freaking ben-wa balls. You will never feel the same about your vagina ever again.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

More Ways to Use Human Energy

A couple months ago, I blogged about a phone powered by dance energy, which was fairly unique, but now there's even more gadgets and gizmos designed to use the power of the human body:
Club4Climate - EarthFirst covered the story of the new eco dance club in London that generates 60% of its power from people dancing on the specially-designed dance floor made of crystal blocks. To come into the club, people have to pledge to work to address climate change and those who come by bike are let in for free. Once inside, organic drinks are served and "all you really have to do is dance to save the world." The club also uses solar and wind power.

Human Waterfall Pump - i09 posted about a new design from Gunwook Nam that combines a boardwalk with a waterfall to create a human-powered water pump to pull up ground water to the surface in arid areas. Supposedly the structure can be made to work anywhere that people will walk, run and play, storing the energy for use as needed. Nam calls his invention the "new self-sufficient invention for future."

Sneaker Generators - TreeHugger was all over these ugly sneakers, that use your the energy created when you walk to power hand-held devices like cell phones and iPods. The soles are filled with water that is pumped through a turbine running a generator you walk that produces 1.2 watts of electricity, enough to power an iPod indefinitely, as long as you don't sit down.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Smelling Outer Space (Dumb Science)

In Futurama, one of Professor Farnsworth's zany inventions includes the Smell-o-Scope (pictured above), which allows people to smell objects anywhere in the Universe. Though completely ridiculous because, as the little brat Cubert points out: "Everyone knows smell is created by molecules that don't move though space."

Personally, I'd never think that smelling what's in space would be very beneficial, but some of our real life scientists disagree. A British chemist is chemically recreating the smell of space at NASA's request. They think it will help astronauts adjust to space walks. According to Yahoo:

Mr Pearce [aka the chemist] said: "We have a few clues as to what space smells like. First of all, there were interviews with astronauts that we were given, when they had been outside and then returned to the space station and were de-suiting and taking off their helmets, they all reported quite particular odours.

"For them, what comes across is a smell of fried steak, hot metal and even welding a motorbike, one of them said."

He added: "We have already produced the smell of fried steak, but hot metal is proving more difficult. We think it's a high energy vibration in the molecule and that's what we're trying to add to it now."

Anyone else think this is a completely ridiculous waste of tax dollars?

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Hello, People!

In response to all my comments about the pain in labor post:

I am in no way making judgments on other womens' choices in labor. What I'm making a judgment on is the statement that all pain is bad and the assertion that pain in labor is completely pointless. I think that's completely incorrect. Pain in labor serves a purpose as pain is one way our brain and body communicate, but I really don't care how anyone chooses to drug themselves up for having a baby. You all should know by now I'm not the kind of person who makes judgments like that.

I'm very disappointed in all of you... except you know, about half of you. Heh.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Oh No You Didn't!

ACK! I know I just raved up Jezebel in an earlier post today, but they gone and pissed me right off. How? By posting an article about how the pain of labor is pointless. I mean, who would want to be PHYSICALLY AWARE of pushing out new life? Wouldn't it just be much better if all of your natural responses just shut down for this brief moment in your life?

Not only have they done zero research on the subject, which is obvious (and I have thank you very much!), but they only go off one ridiculous study that they don't even link to and the notion that all pain is bad. Here's my PO'ed comment:

I'm sorry, but this is complete BS! The pain of labor is a natural part of the muscle movement and subsequent information-relaying to the brain required to move the baby down the birth canal - it's just the same only worse as period cramps, which also are a result of a PERFECTLY NORMAL BODILY FUNCTIONS. Just because you don't like it, doesn't make it unnecessary. The pain women feel in labor is part of their body preparing their child for living in the world outside the placenta: labor gives babies head massages during the labor that help prepare them for breathing oxygen and move fluid out of their lungs. When you remove the pain from the labor, women's bodies become confused and have much more problems with moving the child down the canal. That's why so many women stop labor after having epidurals and then have to have their labor re-started by doctors. Pain is just a part of life. Get over it.
I can't stand people being stupid about the female body and its functions, especially when no one thinks it's even important to teach women what's actually going on down there.

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Women's Magazines Suck

Let's face it: women's magazines suck. I realized this when I was 14 after devouring many issues of Seventeen and various other teen mags and discovering that with very little variation, each issue was exactly the same. As a teenager whose mom wasn't at all very girly, I was trying to figure out this whole girl thing via magazines that for some reason were allowed in the house. After learning how to apply makeup, though, they just weren't useful anymore.

Which is just one of the reasons why I am so happy that there are ladies around like those at Jezebel, mocking the lameness that is women's magazines. They regularly rip apart magazine covers, re-wording the magazine jargon into hilarious feminist social commentary:

Love it! If you find that amusing, you should also check out their shameless mockery of Urban Outfitter catalogs.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Test Your Home's Toxicity

I recently subscribed to Peachy Green ("going green can be peachy!"), where there was a recent post about the book Green Goes with Everything. It examines the toxic environment we create in our homes and how they affect our bodies, something I've blogged about before. The Green Goes with Everything companion website, offers a test where you can find out your "body burden," which is how much stress toxins are putting on your body. I received a 21 out of a potential 100 points (lower is better) which was very encouraging!

According to the test, I need to focus on my kitchen more - basically because I sometimes don't eat organic and I have non-stick pans, which are bad. The website also offers tips about toxic "hot spots" that exist in many homes and offers solutions for creating a healthier home environment. It's a great resource and I'm sure the book is even better.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

How Obama Gave Me My Pride Back

I am thankful to be an American /To be part of a land that's free / In a nation blessed with the very best I will stand with my head held tall

Those are lyrics from a song I learned in elementary choir and I remember how full of pride and joy I was singing it, because I truly loved this nation and its people and its history. When 9/11 happened, I knew horrible things were going to happen in our country because of it, and I watched in quiet desperation as the Bush Administration stripped our rights while Congress rolled over on its back. For the past nearly 8 years, whenever I've remember that I can be classified as an American, instead of feeling proud I felt mortified and ashamed to be associated with the things going on in our nation and across the sea while this long war just wouldn't stop, no matter how many times they declared "victory."

On Saturday night, when I heard Obama speak to me and the other 74,000 people at the Liberty Memorial, I realized that for the first time in a long time, I was filled with patriotism and hope for the future. Imagine having a government that works for the people again instead of against it! How exciting is that? I nearly started crying I was so overwhelmed, and I couldn't even see Obama! But I could see the crowd stretching out all around me and feel their energy and enthusiasm and it made my skin tingle to see the most Kansas Citians I've ever seen at once all coming together, working to create this change we need.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Masturbation Fantasy In the Making

Oh. Man.

Spock was always incredibly sexy to me as a kid/teen/adult. The amazing control of his emotions/reactions, the voice that turns a certain spot in my gut to jelly, the pointy ears, the blue eyes and dark hair, the freaking brilliance and knowledge, him being man enough to run around in blue eyeshadow, the pointy ears, all of it just turns me on all the way up to 11!

But now... Spock is the hottest he's ever been! Zachary Quinto was already gorgeous and slightly mind-numblingly hot before he put on the Spock get-up, but after.... RAWR!

I may have to take a towel to the theater with me. You know, to sit on.

Thanks to i09 and XO for pointing out the newly-released pics.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Now and Then

XO started a meme about how our appearances change over time, and since I've already posted a few oldies, but goodies of myself, I figured a few more can't hurt. Plus, going through old pics of myself crack me up because I can't get over the god-awful clothes I used to wear.

Like everyone else, my first "style" was whatever people put me in. But I DID manage to accessorize with some stylish fake glasses.

This is me with my third grade class (I'm second from the left). I wore variations of these same awful clothes I and the other girls are wearing for a long time.

Of course, after I started earning money and buying some of my own clothes, I dressed a bit better, as shown in this picture taken on a vacay to Floriday when I was 14.

Unfortunately, the 80s were a difficult time for us all, and I had my share of ridiculous dresses. Here I am with two of my then-BFFs, all swanked up for some formal church thing.

Once I started going to Maple Woods, I finally had the nerve to wear pants for the first time in my life, and do lots of other things my parents didn't approve of. Including experimenting with all types of clothing from mini skirts to corsets, like the one I wore in the above picture to a party.

After a couple years of that, I normalized some and wore the typical jeans and tshirt combo just about all the time. Plus, I got super sucked into college shite and clothes became less and less of an issue. That's my sister and I on Presque Isle in Erie, PA where I later got hitched, btw.

Now that I'm out of school and have free time, I am crafting my own girly/professional style for the workplace and elsewhere, as I've blogged about before. That's what I wore to work yesterday; one of my more boring outfits if I say so myself, though I do love those shoes.

But in reality, I spend most of my time in shit like this, because I like to be comfy.

And that's my style evolution. What was yours?

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

MST3K Fans: Get Ready to Road Trip! (Cinematic Titanic)

For those of you who, like me, adored Mystery Science Theater 3000, you will not want to miss the MST3K original cast doing a live show! From the Cinematic Titanic website:

Cinematic Titanic is a feature length movie riffing show and is an artist owned and operated venture created by Joel Hodgson, the creator of the Peabody award-winning Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Cinematic Titanic features the original cast and writers of MST3K, which is Hodgson (Joel Robinson), Trace Beaulieu (Crow), and J. Elvis Weinstein (Tom Servo). Filling out the ensemble is Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester) and Frank Conniff (TV’s Frank). Cinematic Titanic’s focus is to riff on the movies we love, which are ‘the unfathomable’, ‘the horribly great’, and the just plain ‘cheesy’ movies from the past.
They're coming to St. Louis to do a live show! November 1st at the Family Arena in St. Louis, you'll be able to enjoy these comic masters for a mere $30-$40. I've already bought my tickets, you should too.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

FAILure and Humor

I have to say, I think the Fail Blog is one of the neatest things to come out of the whole caption a picture craze, because, seriously, what's better at helping us laugh at ourselves?

I don't know about you guys, but growing up in the 80's the culture was all about perfection and money and NEVER admitting failure. I mean, come on... you were there, you know what I'm talking about. (Unless you don't and I don't think I have any readers that young). Growing up like that made me (and most other women my age too) have such freaking issues with our bodies and everything else. It took me years to stop trying to reach perfection and instead realize that what I ACTUALLY WANTED was to just be myself.

And being yourself sometimes includes failing in your own eyes or in the eyes of other people. But the great thing about approaching life as if failure is just going to happen - like I feel the FAIL meme does quite well - is that it helps you to learn from your "failures" instead of just trying to pretend they never happened. I certainly did that for a while, which was very stupid in hindsight.

fail owned pwned pictures

Some of the biggest failures in my life have brought me amazing happiness, albiet indirectly. The biggest example of course being that my marriage failed, but now I am in the most supportive and beautiful relationship of my life because of it. And that was not an easy failure to handle, folks. My point is, I think society as a whole is moving towards being less ridiculously insane about life in general, which I think is a good thing to remember as these McCain/Palin whack jobs try to pull us back to the dark ages where torches and pitchforks seemed like great ways of dealing with perceived problems.

fail owned pwned pictures

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Friday, October 10, 2008

The Unapolagetic Mexican

Thanks to, I found the most amazing blog: The Unapolagetic Mexican. The post I first read was about women's lives being negatively affected by sexual harrassment, abuse and stalkers. His friend, Mary, had been stalked by a man who attempted then attempted to rape her, waiting naked in her apartment building to attack her:

So what will happen to the creep who attacked Mary? Not much. And she? As I said, she is for the most part okay. Physically, that is. She only ended up spraining her wrist in the struggle. But mentally? Well. Mary is on pills now. Incoherent. She is sleeping all day. She no longer goes to dance class. She no longer takes bike rides by herself. She no longer does much but stay with a friend who she work(ed) with. You see, this is not her first trauma at the hands of men. Not by a long shot. Just as my first love’s rape was not her first time, either. No, that found her in her own childhood home. Just like Mary.

But you know that. Especially if you are a woman. Because for you, this is a fact of life.

It's rare to find a guy who GETS THAT about being a woman. Most don't understand that on a daily basis you are constantly having to scan the area for someone who might want to take advantage of you, watching for danger zones where you walk, and hoping that you won't be bothered by some strange man who may or may not escalate the situation into something horrible. So, you know, I basically fell in love with him right there.

But then he went and got even more amazing in his analysis of hard-core Republicans who are "jumping ship" due to McCain/Palin insanity:

As I talked about people in my life, she asked “So, they are voting for Obama, too, right?” almost shoring up…reinforcement. Because the interesting part happened when I asked who she was voting for. She paused for a beat, and in a confessional tone, began talking about how she had been for McCain but very recently had begun having second thoughts about supporting him. This was clearly a bombshell dropping in her own life. This person is 65 years old and I could tell just by the way she was talking that this was no small decision to her.

“I’ve voted Republican my entire life,” she said looking in my eyes. “But…” And the rest was implied in that silence.

“What happened to change your mind?” I asked.

“It was…the last debate,” she said. And then mentioned something about McCain’s health plan, but…to be honest, the way it was delivered…well. It didn’t feel to me as if that were the (at least not the entire) Big Reason. As a writer of stories and characters who need credible motivation for catalytic movements, it really wouldn’t hold up in a book. Not for such a switch in a person’s political convictions. But maybe I’m wrong, because she wouldn’t be the only woman McCain is losing over similar reasons. No matter, because even if my hunch was correct, I didn’t use the thought to pry more. I was just glad to hear that she was moving away from McCain. As far as I’m concerned, she could have said “I’m not voting for McCain because he seems insane to me” or “He scares the hell out of me and I don’t know why.” But whatever. “Health plan” works for me. In fact, I challenge anyone to find a good reason to vote FOR McCain…that ain’t grounded in fear.

Once again, I couldn't agree more! Plus, does he have amazing story-telling skillz or what? This is the first blog I've come across in a long time that just absolutely blew me away. I will be eagerly awaiting his next post, and you should too. Subscribe!

Oh, and since most of you KC people probably thought this post was going to be about TKC, I'd just like to say that I firmly believe that Tony is THE reason why the KC blogosphere is so amazingly connected and community-ish. This shit doesn't happen most places. And granted, KC being a "big small town" might have something to do with it - but mostly it's just Tony keeping an eye on everyone and keeping us connected. Tony, you rock.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Giving Nature a Helping Hand

There is so much bad news in the animal world these days: since 25% of mammals (that includes you btw) are now endanger of extinction, water mammals can't function properly because of noise pollution (whales are dying because of it), wind turbines are killing bats, and tourism is threatening an already delicate Artic and the cute penguins there. BUT there is some good news and I think it's important to celebrate these moments.

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) yesterday in Brazil released 372 penguins back into the wild. From their blog:

Two months ago more than a thousand juvenile penguins washed up on the shores of northeast Brazil in extremely poor condition. Northeast Brazil is much farther north than their usual 'home' range, some of the penguins were found as far north as Natal in Rio Grande do Norte. This type of unusual event appears to be naturally occurring and has been seen two or three times in the last 20 years.

According to penguin researcher, Dr. Dee Boersma, there is a flow of warmer water which has caused the juvenile penguins to keep going north, past their usual range where they are unable to find adequate food. There is always a high mortality rate for first year birds, however traveling farther north and given the lack of available food increased the normal mortality rate for this group of penguins even more. Almost all of the penguins found on the beaches in northeastern Brazil were juveniles; starving and in an extremely debilitated state.

Local wildlife groups were alerted to the condition of these penguins and quickly began rescuing them. Instituto Mamíferos Aquáticos was one of the centers in Brazil who made room for the rescued penguins and offered them rehabilitative care at their center in preparation for release. To date, around 850 penguins were rescued. Sadly, many of the other juvenile penguins died on the beach. ...

IFAW arrived on scene and immediately began advising with respect to working with large numbers of captive penguins and how to institute herd health protocols, basic triage and pre-release evaluations. The overall goal was to help these groups provide the best level of care and to explain how to move the birds through a rehabilitation process in the fastest way possible. This would help to ensure that the birds don't succumb to captivity related problems which will render them non-releasable.

With IFAW's assistance many of the penguins are now ready for release.
After a flight to northern Brazil, the penguins were released as show in the above video. I love how you can see them so eager to get in the water, they're dipping their heads and necks down to meet it long before they've actually reached the water.

But why does this make me so happy, besides getting to watch cute penguins? It makes me happy to see people taking on the responsibility to care for nature instead of just seeing it as a resource to be exploited. How much more f*cked up is our society and health and planet going to have to be before we all realize that we can't out-smart nature. Every single thing we do on this planet, we're held accountable for in one way or another - and we're certainly being held accountable now for generations of reckless behaviors that poisoned our land, air and water and ourselves.

You're a part of the natural system here on planet Earth and no matter how you may rage about it, that's not gonna ever change.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Yet More Music I Fell In Love With

The Submarines are awesome because they make me feel the way I feel when I'm being completely myself and ridiculously silly with my boyfriend, like dancing around in our underpants. I'd say more, but it would just be horribly gushy and I'd further expose myself as the absolute softy I am. SRSLY, I'm like all squishy center.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Growing Up Different (Books Reviews)

I've been in love with post-colonial literature and books about people who feel out of place in society-in-general for a long time. When they are written by/about girls and women, it just happens to be the cherry on the sundae for me. Recently I've read two books along this vein that moved me more than a book has affected me for a while (which I why I also haven't been blogging much about books lately). Both are written by women whose ethnicities aren't the "normal" for their country and how that affected their personal growth and development.

Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America by Linda Furiya is called a "food memoir" because all of the stories she tells use the Asian foods she and her family ate to expose how different it made them from everyone else in the small Indiana town she grew up in. Linda takes us through learning to deal with ethnic slurs on the playground, accepting that her friends might be excited to learn about her cultural heritage, how her family kept up their supply of Japanese cooking necessities, her growing interest in Japan and her visit to family there, her first interaction with another Asian family in town, learning to deal with creepy old men and much more. It's incredible how she manages to tell so much about her life, always centering it on the ritual and customs of food preparation and sharing a meal with friends and family. Here's one of my favorite parts:

We sat there a long while before I asked him why we were the only Japanese family within a thirty-mile radius. He gave a surprised grunt but didn't respond, instead letting the crickets fill the silence.

"Let me tell you a story," Dad said in English, abruptly and loud, the way people begin to talk when they've already started the conversation in their heads. Then he switched to Japanese.

"A long time ago in Japan there were two daimyo."
I knew that a daimyo was a feudal warlord in Japanese history, but Dad emphasized their great power at the time of his story by telling me that they possessed armies of samurai warriors and houses full of wives and concubines.

"Today there are no more daimyo." Dad cleared his throat and looked thoughtful for a moment.
"This was four or fivce centuries ago, with many civil wars and constant fighting across the countryside. Our family, the Furiyas, came from one of these kingdoms. Our biggest battle was not about politics, land, or farmers - the reason for many of these was - but about the heart."

I was conscious of the way I sat straighter when my father mentioned our family name in such a majestic context. He noticed and continued in a stronger tone of voice.

"Our ancestral father's castle was surrounded by Japnese maple trees... In the next village lived the Maruyama clan, a name that means 'round mountain.' The warlord of this clan wanted to marry a beautiful maiden, but she was already secretly in love with our forefather Furiya, also a warlord... Both daimyo were willing to go to war to win her. They made a foolish pact that whoever lost would be exiled forever, a fate worse than death in the old days," Dad explained. ...

"Their two-year battle killed an entire generation of villagers and scarred the countryside. It destroyed all the beautiful Japanese maple trees. In the end only one castle remained standing: the house of Maruyama." Dad paused, lowered his head for effect, took a swig of beer, and then stifled a belch.

"The loser had to live our the rest o his life in exile, as agreed. In the public square, Maruyama broke our forefather's sword at the hilt to show his defeat to the world. The Maruyama clan chased Furiya out of the kingdon and gave him only a bow and arrow to survive in the wilderness. ...

"Months passed and Furiya lived. One day a farmer approached him to find out what this stranger was doing on his property. When he was close enough, the farmer saw the tattered garb of royalty beneath the peasant's straw cape and he knew he was in the precense of a warlord. The farmer watched as Furiya withdew an arrow, the last one in his quiver. Before he sent the arrow into flight, he looked the farmer in the eye and vowed to rebuild his kingdom where the arrow landed. The arrow fell from view into the horizon. The farmer watched Furiya without another word walk toward the arrow until he too seemed to drop over the edge of the sky. And that was the last anyone saw of him." ...

As with my mother's fish bone story, I realized that my father was trying to tell me something in a roundabout way, but impatience got the best of me. Exasperated, I sighed, "But that doesn't tell me why we ended up here. Why did you move here?" ...
Turning to me, no longer storyteller but soothsayer, he said "Be proud of your name. Remember Furiya means 'falling arrow.' Someday you will also shoot and follow your arrow." He touched a finger to the place where we sat. "My arrow, it landed here."
Linda's style is elegant and literary in the best of ways. The stories of her childhood have another level of interest for me in that they're also describing an America before my time. This book will make you think, make you laugh and maybe even change the way you approach how and what you eat.

In a somewhat totally different vein, Randa Abdel-Fattah's Does This My Head Look Big in This? examines an Australian-Palastinian Muslim girl who actually can get by looking "normal" with her light skin and blue eyes. But when she decides half-way into her junior year in high school to start wearing the hijab (Muslim head scarf) full-time. This book really messed with my assumptions about Muslim women (which was awesome) and incredibly also addressed other issues including miscarriage, national tragedies, pop culture, respect for the beliefs of others, being religious in a secular society, as well as a whole shit load of average teenage stuff like crushes and parties.

The style of this book is written much more like a chatty girl-talk or a very detailed diary, and Randa's own experiences seem to come through her fictional protagonist quite powerfully. Here is her description of Jamila's first time wearing the hijab out in public:
I'm walking around the stores as if I'm in combat mode, avoiding eye contact with other people and waiting for something to happen. But as I browse through the stores I realize how uncomforable and irrational I'm acting because it feels like most people really couldn't care less. I mean, sure there's staring, but it's not enough to rate in my fears list. There are the occasional goggle-eyes but most people give me the once-over top to bottom, which I can deal with. I'm just one more late-night shopper, one more person to bump shoulders with, negotiate a crowded line with. My mother gets this. She walks and talks as though she doesn't even realize she's wearing the hijab. It makes me feel kind of protected because she's so confident and dignified. I wonder how long it will take me to feel and act this way.

While I'm walking through the food court I pass three women who are all wearing the hijab. They're huddled around a table, talking and eating ice cream. One of them catches my eye and smiles.
"Assalamu Alaykom," she says, greeting me with the universal Islamic greeting, peace be upon you.
"Walaykom Wassalam," I reply, smiling back at her. The other two girls also greet me and I reply and they all smile warmly at me. They go back to their conversation and I walk off with a big grin because it is now that I think I begin to understand that there's more to this hijab than the whole modesty thing. These girls are strangers to me but I know that we all felt an amazing connection, a sense that this cloth binds us in some kind of universal sisterhood.

I lie in bed that night and replay the scene over and over in my head. I'm experiencing a new identity, a new expression of who I am on the inside, but I know that I'm not alone. I'm not breaking new ground. I'm sharing something with millions of other women around the world and it feels so exciting. I know some people might find it hard to believe but walking around the mall tonight I'd never felt so free and sure of who I am. I felt safe from people judging me and making assumptions about my character from the length of my skirt or the size of my bra. I felt protected from all the crap about beauty and image. As scared as I was walking around the stores in the hijab, I was also experiencing a feeling of empowerment and freedom. I know I have a long ways to go. I still dressed to impressed and I took ages to get my makeup, clothes, and hijab just right. But I didn't feel I was compromising myself by wanting to make an impression. I was looking and feeling good on my own terms, and boy did that feel awesome.
A lot of the author's feelings about her experience are some I've felt myself when I decided to shave my head and when I made a conscious choice to make my wardrobe far more "girly" than it'd been in years. It was amazing how much we had in common. This book was so much more moving than I expected; I'd highly recommend it.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

How To Make Tofu (So It Doesn't Suck) [Guest Post]

My third guest post is from my very own boyfriend, Matt! So, shut up and pay attention! ;)

I’ve only been eating tofu for a year, now, and already I’ve figured out why so many people hate it. It’s slimy, textureless, tasteless, and just kind of gross. I made stir-fry after stir-fry of nastily-textured slimy bean curd, onions, and veggies, varying cooking temperatures, methods of preparation, whatever I could think of. Then I discovered what all those people who hate it are doing wrong—rather, what they’re not doing. Now the tofu I cook is so delicious that we have a hard time using it in recipes; instead we just munch on it until it’s gone. I will warn you, the path to perfect tofu is long, but it’s definitely not arduous—there’s a moving walkway for the first half of it, for one. Handicap ramps for easy access. Other… easy pathway… metaphors. Just make some up; I’m sure they’ll be good.

In order of importance (to flavor and texture), here are the steps to perfect tofu:

1. FREEZE: The number one step is freezing your tofu. The texture changes this causes are so vast as to be practically different products. Freezing and thawing tofu turns firm into extra-extra-firm and extra firm into something strikingly similar to the texture of good steak (or bad chicken). When you get home with your tofu, the first thing you want to do is drain the water away, pat the cube dry, and put it in the freezer, wrapped in cellophane or a towel (or wax paper or in tupperware, etc. After the tofu is frozen, remove it from the freezer and put it in the fridge to let it thaw, preferably in a collander or on a slanted surface, to allow it to drain. After it's thawed and drained, give it a final pat-down with a clean towel, and you're ready for the next step.

2. MARINATE: The purpose of a meat marinade is not only to impart flavor, but also to introduce an acidic element to break down and soften the flesh. Tofu is already soft; too soft, which is what the freezing fixes. Now, though, you have a chunk of flavorless bean curd. Firm, meaty flavorless bean curd, but flavorless nonetheless. Next we need to give it some flavor. Flavor.

To do this, cut your tofu up into half-inch slices or 1-inch cubes, and set aside to hang out, covered with a clean towel. Whisk together in a bowl or casserole dish (I prefer the flat-bottomed casseroles for marinating tofu):

  • ½ cup tamari soy sauce
  • 3-4 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 ½-inch piece ginger root, peeled and grated
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2-3 shallots, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon chile oil or olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • water or vegetable broth to cover, as needed

Plunk the tofu in there, make sure it's all completely covered, and let sit for 2 hours or so. The tofu will be saturated in minutes, but it takes awhile for the flavors to blend, so don't rush it. Well, OK, you can rush it to an hour, if you want. But no more!

Anyway, after that, you're ready for the third and final step:

3. COOK: 3A: BAKE: Baking tofu is foolproof, and further toughens its texture, making it chewy and full of umami. You can bake it at 400° for 30-40 minutes for a dry, almost crisp texture, or you can bake it at 350° for 40-60 minutes for a moister, meatier texture. You can even bake it at 200°for an hour or so to get some tofu jerky (not nearly as jerky… jerkity… tough as its meat counterpart, but still quite delicious). Either way, you want to flip them midway through, and check on them frequently in the last quarter of baking time. They’re done when… well, tofu is always done, so poke it with a fork or toothpick to discern if the texture is where you want it to be.

3B: STIR-FRY: Heat a skillet with a half-inch of a neutral oil over medium/medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the tofu. Cook in batches and don’t overcrowd the pan. Cook until the bottom is golden-brown, then flip and cook until the bottom is golden-brown. Drain on paper towels, eat.

NOTE: For crisp, dry tofu puffs, cut tofu into cubes, skip the marinade and just brush them with soy sauce, and roll them in corn starch or unbleached flour before stir-frying. These will be basically flavorless, though, so you’d probably want to make the marinade anyway and use it as a dipping sauce. I know I would.

You can also deep-fry the tofu, but this makes it too greasy, in my opinion.
Now your tofu is cooked and delicious. Serve with mustard, soy sauce, ketchup, anything you want. You’ll never look at tofu the same way again. Unless you already knew all this stuff.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Local Attorney Is Immortal!

If you've read Neil Gaiman's comic book series, The Sandman (and you should because it's the best thing he's ever done and possibly the best comic book series ever!), you know the story of Hob Gadling, ordinary human who decides not to die:

Dream and Death, visiting mortals in the 14th Century, visit a tavern where, among other patrons, Geoffrey Chaucer is discussing poetry with a friend. At another table, a man named Hob Gadling says people only die because they think they have to, but he's not going to do it. At Dream's request, Death agrees not to take Hob as long as he keeps his attitude, and Dream makes an appointment to see him at the same place a hundred years hence. They do meet again, and again in another hundred years. This time Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe are among the patrons when Dream and Hob meet. Afterwards, Dream takes Shakespeare aside, having overheard him tell Marlowe "I would give anything to have your gifts." Two hundred years later, Hob asks Dream if Shakespeare sold him his soul. "Nothing so crude," Dream replies. Hob and Dream continue to meet, century after century, and become friends, in a strange sort of way.
Every "lifetime" or so, Hob has to switch names and jobs and take on the life of his "son" or "grandson," etc. etc. He goes through many lives as a slaver, businessman, mercenary and more and eventually learns that there are others like him, also immortal by choice.

I think my boyfriend and I have found another immortal by choice, living in plain sight right here in the Kansas City area. Check it out, local attorney George Taft looks exactly like President William Howard Taft:

funny pictures

Coincidence? I think not. He didn't even bother to change his last name... just like Hob Gadling. And that's pure fake proof for ya, folks!

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Last summer, I blogged about my friend Sarah Becker and her group that saves exotic (pet) birds. She had breast cancer several years ago and ended up beating it after a mastectomy took one of her breasts. Only now, the cancer is back, and it is all throughout her body, liver and bones included. This is a death sentence and her adopted daughter who just started second grade is having a hard time dealing with it. Not to mention, that since she had cancer before (apparently making it a "pre-existing condition"), her insurance won't pay for her chemo.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among US women, claiming about 40,000 lives each year, according to the National Breast Cancer Awareness website. That's why it's so important to self-check for any change in your breasts including: thickening, change in shape, dimpling, swelling or redness that doesn't go away, pain in one spot that doesn't go away, nipple discharge or itchiness, soreness or scaliness on a nipple. If you have symptoms, it's worth it to go to your doctor since early prevention counts for so much. Of course, mammogram screening is much more thorough and is the best available option for catching any problems early on. Women over 40 should have regular mammograms and every one else should at least have an annual clinical breast exam.

Please take care of yourselves for the people who love and need you - not to mention for yourself and your "girls."

Resources from National Breast Cancer Awareness Month:
Breast Cancer Q&A
Questions to Ask Your Doctor

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