March 27, 2007
Reading, Knitting, Foot Rubs, and Transitive Verbs
Over the weekend, I perfected the art of reading while knitting. I had heard of people doing this -- most notably uber-knitter Wendy -- but never thought I would be skilled enough. I also kept wondering how one holds the book open with hands wrapped in wool. But it isn't as hard as I thought, as long as I am sitting at the dining room table and reading either a magazine (which stays open by itself) or a book that I can prop open by laying another book along the top edge.
[Involuntary digression: it took me a minute just now to figure out if I should use the verb laying or lying. I had never even heard of transitive and intransitive verbs until I studied German in college. Why is it that we are never taught English grammar, so we don't learn grammar until we study another language? In any case, transitive and intransitive verbs didn't make any sense to me for the longest time, until finally it just clicked. Yesterday at work I heard someone say that she wanted to go home and "lay down on the couch" and I just wanted to shout "LIE DOWN -- you need an intransitive verb there!"]
Back to the story: so I spent most of the weekend (when I wasn't spaving at Costco or drinking David's milk) sitting at the dining room table, knitting a sleeveless top and reading Alligators, Old Mink, and New Money, an auto/biography of Alison Houtte, owner of Brooklyn's Hooti Couture. It was a fantastic way to spend the weekend but, by Saturday night, my back was pretty sore from leaning over the table. When I mentioned my sore back to David, he immediately came up with a solution -- I should give him a foot rub. Sometimes I wonder exactly how his mind works: I say my back is sore and, instead of offering me a back rub, he suggests that I give him a foot rub!
March 20, 2007
Winning A New Bathroom
Two Saturdays ago, David gave me a home-improvement assignment: winning a new bathroom for our house. He had just read in the Ann Arbor News that Covenant Construction is holding a contest to give away a bathroom remodel. All we have to do is write 200 words about why we need a new bathroom and send it in along with photos of the bathroom in question. If anyone needs a new bathroom, it is certainly us, so I sat right down to write our entry.
As I look at the contest rules online, however, I'm beginning to fear that our bathroom may be too crappy for this contest. To begin with, it is too small -- they are looking for a 12'x12' bathroom, and ours is probably 5'x8'. Who has a 12'x12' bathroom? That is huge! Second, they are only replacing fixtures, reflooring, and painting, not making any structural changes. Our bathroom, if we ever want to shower in it, will need some structural changes. Yes, you read that right -- we can't shower in our current bathroom. We have a gorgeous claw-foot bathtub, but it is under a sloping ceiling, so we can't stand up in it. The only alternative to raising the ceiling would be putting the bathtub on the other side of the bathroom and moving the sink and toilet to the bathtub's current location, which would require rerouting all the plumbing. I'm guessing they won't want to do that either.
Over the nearly five years I have lived in this house I have grown pretty accustomed to showering with a hand-held sprayer while sitting in the bathtub, and I honestly wouldn't mind winning a bathroom remodel that didn't involve installing a stand-up shower. Just getting some new flooring (ours is a nasty rental-unit linoleum), a new sink unit, and a paint job would certainly be an improvement!
March 19, 2007
Still At It
I have apparently not yet recovered from the spring cleaning bug I caught last weekend, because I was at it again yesterday. Yesterday I Vacuumed. That's right -- with a capital V. I'm talking about serious Vacuuming, moving-the-furniture-and-vacuuming-behind-it Vacuuming, vacuuming-the-furniture Vacuuming, and vacuuming-the baseboards Vacuuming. I even moved a cabinet in the kitchen to vacuum under it, cleaning out the crack of doom between the stove and the countertop next to it.
Readers who know me know that this behavior is pretty atypical. Not only do I hate cleaning, but I don't think I have vacuumed my house for real since about 2004. I have probably mentioned this before, but vacuuming is difficult at 521 N. Ashley because we have wood floors but a vacuum cleaner that is not equipped to handle them. Somehow, when you put our vacuum on wood, it blows instead of sucks. So we have to vacuum with the hose and brush attachment, one square inch at a time. Ususally I just sweep with a broom and follow up with a Swiffer. This weekend, however, I had a burning desire to get all the dust sucked up. Perhaps it is simply a new manifestation of my OCD. I always wished I could channel it into something productive, such as cleaning or crafting, instead of pulling out my hair or dieting. But we don't get to choose our compulsions!
While I was cleaning, I also did some redecorating, which necessitated more cleaning. The redecorating was inspired by a book I just happened to spot on the shelf at the public library yesterday: Susie Coelho's Everyday Styling. I was a bit embarrassed to take it to the checkout counter, given its cheesy title, but I'm glad I did because it turned out to be a fun, quick, and productive read. Her basic decorating philosophy (actually, she calls it un-decorating) is use what you have and do what you like. Pretty simple. You don't need a book to figure it out, but I think I did need a book to give me permission to do this. So I brought up some stuff from the basement (notably a collection of handmade bowls, the result of my failed attempt at pottery during my first year in Ann Arbor, and my collection of action figures -- Buffy, Queen Amidala, Jesus, and a Starbucks barista) and displayed it in the dining room and study, and I reorganized the kitchen shelving to put stuff that actually looks good in the open shelving over the sink and to hide other stuff in the cabinets. Not a big change but definitely an improvement.
Once David puts up our new porch swing, we will officially be ready for spring. Now, if it would only stop snowing...
March 12, 2007
Another Non-Blogging Weekend
I tried to blog both days this weekend, but there was no wireless signal out there in the ether to connect to. Here are all the things I did this weekend instead of blogging:
- Got a haircut
- Washed the curtains in the living room
- Attempted to win a new bathroom for my house (stay tuned for details in a future post
- Cleaned the stairs
- Knit (and blocked) the back of a sweater (again, stay tuned for details)
- Went grocery shopping and packed my lunches for the week
- Mended the hem on a pair of pants
- Watched the next two installments of the Up series
- Removed everything grad-school related from my filing cabinet
- Culled books that I no longer need from the bookshelves
- Rearranged decorative items in the living room
- Cleaned the kitchen
All in all, I would say it was an exceptionally productive weekend, despite the fact that no blogging got done. Or maybe it was an exceptionally productive weekend because no blogging got done...
March 05, 2007
Internet Access Update
To start by stating the obvious, yesterday was the third day since starting this blog last June that I didn't post. It wasn't for lack of effort, however. After complaining several times last year about my impending internet access problems, I fell silent on the issue and continued to post daily. It turned out that losing my dial-up connection was neither the end of the world nor the end of the blog because I started working at ICPSR a week later. At work, I sit in front of a computer with a T-1 connection nine hours a day -- which gives me plenty of time to blog -- and when I get home in the evening, the last thing I want to do is look at a computer, so I don't even bother turning it on. On weekends, I can usually blog via a wireless connection pirated from my neighbors. Yesterday, however, my streak of good luck ended. After spending about half an hour trying to connect to the internet, I gave up and resigned myself to a non-blogging day. It was hard, since I promised myself when I started the blog that I would post every day, and if it had been any earlier I would have taken my computer to Sweetwaters or the People's Food Co-op and blogged from there. But it was already 5pm, and I had just returned home from the Co-op, so I wasn't about to head back out. In any case, I apologize for my absence from the blogosphere yesterday, but I fear that these weekend absences may begin to occur more frequently until I get a more reliable internet connection at home.
February 27, 2007
Last night David and I were sitting in the living room when we heard a loud noise on the porch. It sounded like someone was walking around out there, but there was no knock on the door, and we didn't see anyone through the windows. David thought that maybe it was our friends Shawn and Dave dropping off compost (you are probably wondering why our friends Shawn and Dave would be dropping off compost, but that is a whole other story for another day), but when I looked in the driveway, I didn't see their car.
After a bit more looking around, I noticed our neighbor's cat sitting right on the edge of our porch steps. It was a lot of noise for such a small cat, but I guess he wanted us to know that he had come by for a visit. After I realized it was the cat, David disappeared into the basement and came back with a long-handled dust mop. My initial thought was that he was going to use it to chase the cat away (or worse), and I pleaded with him to let the cat stay (after all, our porch is quite a bit nicer than the neighbor's), but it turned out he was just going to do some ceiling dusting. Yes, David is fastidious like that. It would never occur to me to dust the ceiling, but that's why I keep him around.
This morning when I left for work, there was fresh snow on the porch and sidewalk, along with a trail of little cat pawprints. He must have stayed all night.
February 24, 2007
Grilling in Winter
David and I grill all year round. We grill in the dark, in the rain, in the snow. Our friends often express amazement at our propensity to grill all year, but fire is fire, and charcoal burns in all weather (though it can take a bit longer in the cold, wind, or rain).
David grew up eating nothing but grilled meat. It is the only way his dad knows how to cook, so if it wasn't grilled, it was take-out. Or sometimes both: take-out food reheated on the grill! David's dad is the grill master, and David has learned quite a bit from him. He makes excellent steaks, chicken, fish, ribs, porkchops -- really any meat tastes great when David grills it. His secret? "Salt and pepper the f--k out of it." Really, all it takes is salt, pepper, and charcoal. I love when David grills because I hate to cook, and he usually makes enough meat for two or three meals. Last night he grilled a whole chicken, so I'm off the hook all weekend. Grilling a whole chicken is something we learned how to do in the past year, and it is a fabulous technique. David cuts the spine out of the chicken (or we just have the butcher do it), so that it opens up and lays flat. Then we grill it skin side down for 12 minutes, skin up for 15, and skin down for another 10. It doesn't take much longer than grilling chicken in parts, and it stays much juicier.
Last night, David had to run out to the video store, so I got the chicken started. When I went out to put the bird on the grill, I was amazed to run into our neighbor, who was also outside grilling. This wouldn't have surprized me if the temperature were above freezing, but I thought only Merchants grilled in the dead of winter. Our neighbor, however, has a gas grill, and I'm still convinced that only Merchant do charcoal in the dead of winter.
January 27, 2007
Because I know you were all very concerned, dear readers, I thought I would let you know that I found the missing Bukeye hat, which was hiding behind the box where I keep all my winter accessories. I'm not sure, though, why I didn't find it last week, when I took the whole box off the shelf where it lives and removed all of its contetents. Perhaps Mr. M--- returned it when he came by to take David to the Earle on Wednesday night. In any case, I'm glad to be able to show my true colors ;)
December 28, 2006
A Bad Omen?
Our house had a beautiful old medicine cabinet made of wood with a beautiful antique mirror on the front. It was large and solid, but unfortunately, some previous owner had painted it white. When we bought the house, David took the door off so that he could strip off the paint and refinish the wood. That was July 2004, and he never quite finished the project. For the past two and a half years, the medicine cabinet has been standing open, half stripped, with the mirrored door sitting on the floor. Every time we needed a mirror -- whether to shave, floss teeth, put in earrings, comb hair, or whatever -- we had to lift up the mirrored door and rest it precariously on top of the towel bar. It worked fine until we got new fluffier towels for Christmas. This morning I put the mirror on top of the towels and it promptly fell down, shattering into about a million pieces. The wood also broke apart. There was no way to salvage it, so I put the big pieces in a trash bag and vacuumed up the little glass shards. It was so sad to lose that medicine cabinet door after so long, though, in reality, David and I both knew it would happen eventually. So after having a half-unrefinished antique medicine cabinet for the past two and a half years, we are just going to have to buy a whole new one. And breaking a mirror is supposed to bring seven years of bad luck. This occurrence doesn't seem to bode well for our marriage...
December 26, 2006
Yesterday was the second day that I didn't post since starting this blog in June. The first day was September 16, the day of the UM/Notre Dame football game. I didn't have a good reason for not blogging that day; I just never got around to it. Yesterday I simply didn't have an opportunity: it was one of those rare days with no computer contact. David and I had spent Sunday night at his mom's house, where we stayed until about three-thirty yesterday afternoon, we then drove to his dad's for the rest of the day, and got home around eleven-thirty, which is well past my bedtime!
Yesterday was my first Christmas with the M--- family since 2002, and let's just say that Christmas 2002 didn't go so well, which is why I spent the next three Christmases at the movies with my mom in Los Angeles. Things went much better this year, though I think part of it is just that I now feel like a part of the M--- family, which makes me much more tolerant of their idiosyncracies. But really, we had a wonderful time.
On Sunday night I stayed up late playing dominoes with David's mom, stepfather, and brother (I almost won, but then Mike pulled ahead), and on Monday morning I got up early and spent a few hours drinking coffee and listening to David's mom's memories of his childhood. It is amazing that, even after five years, there are things I don't know about him. For example, he never told me that he won a writing contest in college and had a story published!
David's mom just loves having a Jewish daughter-in-law. She wraps my Christmas presents in Hanukkah paper and puts dreidels in my stocking! It's really cute and I like the fact that -- in her own way -- she can include me in her family's Christmas celebration while being sensitive to the fact that it's not my holiday.
After opening presents at David's mom's, we went to his dad's and opened more presents. Christmas is the one day of the year that his dad builds a fire in the fireplace, but it wasn't that cold out (global warming?), so we had quite a toasty evening. Christmas is also the one night of the year that David's dad uses his charcoal grill. He uses the gas grill just about every night because grilling is the only form of cooking he does, but we all prefer the taste of charcoal. Also, because it was a special meal, David wanted to have asparagus (the official favorite vegetable of the M--- family) along with our steak. December, however, is just not a good time to buy asparagus in Michigan, and he went to four different markets before finding a bunch that didn't look too pathetic. In any case, we had an excellent meal and I truly enjoyed being a member of the M--- family this year.
December 10, 2006
That New Furniture Smell
For several months now, David and I have been looking for a piece of furniture to hold our television. Before I moved in with him, David kept it in the bedroom because he was adamantly against having a television in the living room. He loved having people come over and wonder if he even had a tv at all. But I refused to keep it in the bedroom because I had heard that a television in the bedroom is bad for a relationship. So we moved it into my study, which worked for a few years, but I finally got sick of having to sit in my not-terribly-comfortable desk chair in order to watch it.
In the study, the television sat on a set of plank-and-cinder-block shelves that David had put together, which worked just fine. We did, however, eventually move the television down to the living room, cinder blocks and all, and it didn't work as well down there because there wasn't enough space for the stereo equipment along with the tv and DVD player. So for several months, the stereo receiver sat on the floor under the makeshift shelving unit collecting dust while we tried to find a real piece of furniture to hold it.
Until IKEA opened this fall, there really weren't any good furniture stores around. Previously, we have bought furniture from Room and Board in Chicago and from the Home Decorators' Catalog, but neither seemed to have what we were looking for. We shopped and shopped, and didn't find anything. When IKEA opened, it seemed that our prayers had been answered. When I was growing up, all of our furniture came from IKEA or from Plummers, the LA area's flat-packed, assemble-it-yourself furniture store before IKEA, and I have many fond memories of building furniture with my mom. I was sure David and I would find something there, but it still took four trips before we hit on just the right piece. Yes, we are that picky. There is also the fact that we just have a small house, and most furniture today seems to be built to the scale of a McMansion.
David finally hit on the perfect tv storage unit last weekend. We returned together Friday night to buy it (we got the last one in dark brown!), and David put it together yesterday. It took him about seven hours, but it looks great. And our living room is full of that awesome new furniture smell.
November 14, 2006
For some reason, David and I both do our most avid housecleaning when the other is out of town. I don't know if this is simply because it is easier to clean without another person underfoot, or if it is because we are cleaning up the detritus of a brief period of singlehood. Perhaps it is that each of us knows how nice it is to return to a clean house and we want to give that gift to each other. In any case, David will return home tonight to spotless floors, which I cleaned yesterday, and fresh sheets, which are in the dryer right now. I must admit that I hate washing the sheets, and I only do it when David is returning from a trip or when he specifically asks me to. The actual washing is the easy part -- I don't mind stripping the bed, carrying everything down two flights of stairs, and throwing it in the washer -- the part I loathe is putting the clean sheets and pillowcases back on the bed.
Again, this shouldn't be terribly difficult, but David has very high standards for his bed. This is one of the major differences between us. I never even made my bed until I went to college, and even then I dispensed with the customary top sheet in order to make it easier for myself. This may sound pretty vile to hard-core hygienists, but what can I say? It worked. Since I have been living with David, however, not only have I been using a top sheet, but I have also learned about hospital corners. The problem, though, is that no matter how many times he shows me how to do it, I always forget. There is also a problem with our comforter/cover situation: the cover is a couple of feet longer than the comforter, and the excess material has to be tucked under at the foot of the bed to keep it from getting all tangled. Isn't life hard? I'll stop complaining now and just consign making the bed to the "labor of love" category!
November 13, 2006
Let There Be Light
Yesterday morning I woke up, walked in to the bathroom, and hit the light switch. After a brief flash of light, the room returned to darkness. The lightbulb had burned out. In my early-morning confusion, I couldn't quite believe it, so I flipped the switch a few more times before accepting the fact that I would just have to change the lightbulb. Normally, I would just leave it for David to do, but he won't be home until Tuesday night, and I couldn't imagine showering (er, bathing, rather, as we don't have a proper shower) and flossing my teeth in the dark for three days. Changing the lightbulb myself would be no easy feat, however, as our house has rather high ceilings and, even with our handy stepladder, I wouldn't be able to reach the light fixture. So I employed my monkey instincts, using the toilet as a stepping stone to scramble up on top of the sink. With one foot on either side of the counter, I was able to unscrew the light fixture (yes, David, I cleaned it while I had it off!) and change the bulb. For the rest of the day I was so proud of myself that I told everyone I saw about my lightbulb-changing feat. It only takes one Emily to change a lightbulb, but she needs about a dozen people to talk about it with afterwards!
November 12, 2006
Takin' Care of Business
David is out of town again, this time in Florida with his dad, visiting some aunts. With him away, I find myself more motivated to take care of stuff around the house. Yesterday, I finally got up the initiative to replace the ugly lace curtains that have hung on our windows since before the windows were ours. They were already yellowing with age when David moved in six years ago, and we began to talk about replacing them when we bought the house in 2004. We even tried once, and actually bought a set of Roman blinds at IKEA, but they didn't come with the necessary hardware, and they were too white against our white walls. I was tired of white -- I wanted color.
Yesterday I decided that I couldn't bear looking at those yellowy doily drapes one more day, so I went to K-Mart and impulsively bought a set of sheer lavender Martha Stewart curtains. I actually had more of a burgundy color in mind, but they only had two of the burgundy, and I needed at least four. I don't often shop at K-Mart. It isn't evil in the way that Wal-Mart is evil, but it just doesn't have the style of Target. However, I am a closet devotee of Martha Stewart (only since her arrest though, I never liked her before!), and I adore her Everyday products, which are only sold at K-Mart. So the new curtains are up, and the dingy doilies will soon be in the trash. I just hope David loves the change as much as I do!
November 11, 2006
When I moved in with David in September, 2002, I inherited the long-distance calling plan he and his former roommate, Josh, had in place. It was a very expensive international plan, which they had gotten when Josh was dating a Norwegian woman. As David never makes long-distance calls (except when I am out of town), I paid for the whole thing. Month after month, I felt as though I was getting screwed by AT&T, paying through the nose for an international plan I never used and an additional seven cents a minute for the calls I did make. In the spring of 2003, I spent a lot of time out of town visiting grad schools (only to end up right back here at UM), and found pre-paid long-distance cards a cheap alternative.
When I returned to Ann Arbor, I told AT&T to take its plan and shove it, and I signed up for pre-paid long-distance service with BigZoo.com, which is no longer in business. When BigZoo went out of business, I switched to Pingo.com, which worked very well until about two weeks ago. Then, inexplicably, my calls stopped going through. This is not a problem of exhausting my account -- according to the website, I still have $8 of pre-paid long-distance calls. I will probably just have to bite the bullet and get a new long-distance carrier, but I'm putting it off as long as possible in the hope that Pingo will magically start working again.
So, if you live outside the 734 area code and are wondering why you haven't heard from me in a while, this should explain all. I can still receive long-distance calls, though, and I would love to hear from you!
October 23, 2006
The Advance of the Inevitable
It has been getting harder and harder to dial in to the internet lately. I have been getting busy signals pretty much every time I try during "peak hours" (5pm to midnight) and today I got a busy signal from about 9am until noon. I fear the end of my free internet access may be near. Reader, if my posts get fewer and farther between, you will know why. Do save me from the obsolescence of my technology!
October 10, 2006
The Dubious Joys of Home Ownership
Most of the time, I enjoy owning my house. David painted my study purple and relandscaped the entire yard. When I write my mortgage check each month, I like the fact that I'm building up my own equity, not my landlord's. But when something goes wrong, I miss being able to call the landlord and let him deal with it. And it seems that many more things have gone wrong in the two years since we bought the place than in the four previous years. Especially plumbing. We have had the toilet mechanism, the garbage disposal, and the kitchen faucet all replaced within the last year.
Nevertheless, when David's brother's friend Mark went upstairs to use the bathroom on Saturday night, he found water leaking out of the toilet and onto the floor. Neither Mark, nor David, nor David's brother Mike could figure out how to fix it, so they turned off the water at its source to the toilet and set up a small trash can to catch the drips. Each time we used the toilet, we had to turn the water on, let the bowl fill up, and then turn the water off before we could flush it. By Sunday it had pretty much become second nature, but it made going to the bathroom quite a drag.
We were kind of dreading calling the plumber because David was pretty sure we would need a whole new toilet. In fact, I was out when the leak was discovered, and when I got home on Saturday night David greeted me with the words "I think the toilet is shot." We even researched new toilets in Consumer Reports, and were reassured when we saw that we could get the highest-rated model for under $300, but in the end we didn't need to buy one.
I finally got the plumber in this morning. He diagnosed the problem (leakage between the tank and the bowl, which is what we suspected), went out to his van to get some parts, replaced the tank-to-bowl connectors, the flapper, and the handle (he said that if he didn't do those today he would have to come back in a month to do them), and used the toilet to test his handiwork. With less than an hour of work, the toilet was as good as new. I had forgotten how nice it is to just be able to flush the toilet like a normal person, without all those extra steps of turning the water on and off!
October 06, 2006
I feel guilty about my lunch. And my dinner. Not just today, but most days. Today's lunch is navy beans, broccoli, and olive oil. I'm not a vegetarian, I just prefer to save my animals for dinnertime. I don't feel guilty about the olive oil -- it is a "good" fat (still fattening, but not cholesterol-producing) -- nor do I feel guilty about the navy beans. They are cheap, full of fiber, minerals, and protein, and they are organic. The part that's got me hanging my head in shame is the broccoli. On Tuesday, David and I went to Kroger, which was having a sale on frozen vegetables -- a dollar a pound. I bought about twenty-two pounds: broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, okra, spinach, and corn (which is not a vegetable at all, but is still delicious). Given that I eat a pound and a half of vegetables a day (12 oz. at lunch and 12 oz. at dinner -- this is why I feel less guilty about breakfast), this purchase will last me about two weeks.
I was actually feeling pretty good about the fact that I wouldn't need to buy vegetables again until mid-month, until yesterday, when I read the chapter on Judaism and ecology in Michael Lerner's Jewish Renewal, which describes an eco-kosher ideology
that questions whether food that has been grown in ecologically destructive ways, or food that has been harvested by underpaid farmworkers, or food that has been produced by companies that are exploiting their workers or by companies that are destroying the environment, can really be considered kosher.Each element of this sentence felt like a stab in the belly. I know that Kroger vegetables are grown in ecologically destructive ways and harvested by underpaid farmworkers, I know that the transportation to get the food from wherever it was grown to my local Kroger freezer case is destroying the environment, and I know that Kroger as a company has a history of exploiting its workers. I felt even guiltier when I picked up Small Wonder, Barbara Kingsolver's new book of essays, and read that, not only does she shun conventional produce, but she refuses to eat anything that has traveled more than an hour to get to her!
If I feel so guilty about my the impact my vegetables have on the planet, and if I live in Ann Arbor, where I not only have a vibrant farmers' market two days a week, but I also live in walking distance of a food co-op that boasts a not-too-shabby selection of organic produce, why do I even buy the Kroger frozen stuff? I have to admit that I'm seduced by the convenience (not to mention the price). Though I once loved cooking, I have grown bored by the tedium of washing, chopping, boiling, steaming, and roasting vegetables. Or maybe bored isn't the right word. I guess I just don't find it as entertaining as I used to, and today there are so many other things I would rather be doing: blogging, reading, knitting, watching television (yes, I'm embarrassed to admit it, but it's the truth), or playing with David. I guess life is just all about compromise.
October 05, 2006
Emerging from the Dark Ages
Yesterday I received an email from the University of Michigan informing me that, although they will officially continue to offer dial-up internet service until January 2, I should not hesitate to make other arrangements because dial-up service will become increasingly difficult to use as more and more modems are removed from the UM dial-up pool. I have to admit that this email caused me some distress.
In lecture on Tuesday, the professor I'm teaching with discussed Luddism. She said that, although professors who don't use Power Point (or, I'll add, GSIs who don't know how to work an overhead projector) are often referred to as Luddites, Luddism actually expressed a political and moral vision that valued work and opposed technology only when it eliminated workers' ability to earn a livelihood. So my resistance to high-speed internet is not Luddism, nor is it even neo-luddism because I'm not opposed to high-speed internet access per se. I actually enjoy using it at school and at my mom's house.
Rather, I think David and I are simply late adopters of technology. We still use a film camera and we don't listen to MP3s. We don't have cell phones, and we use an answering machine rather than voice mail. My laptop has a wi-fi modem, but I have never (successfully) used it. I use a paper planner rather than a PDA. Our philosophy is, if the old technology still works, why drop the bucks on new technology? We pay $40 a month for our land line, which we also use to dial in (for free) to the internet. Going high-speed and cellular would triple that monthly expense: at least $40 each for two cell phones, and another $40 (at least) for high-speed internet. And that is if we get rid of the land line. I will admit that I like the idea of having cell phones and high-speed internet access, but, as a grad student, the price tag hits me in a very sensitive place!
September 09, 2006
Please Don't Tear Down My House!
Yesterday morning, around 9 o'clock, a man came knocking at my door. There was a Detroit Edison truck parked outside, and the man said he was there to turn off my electricity. I asked why he was turning off my electricity, since I had just paid the bill. He replied that he had to take out all of the electrial equipment so that the house could be demolished. Demolished? My house isn't being demolished! Is it? He showed me his work order, and there it was: my address, David's name, and the word "demolition." I told him this must be some kind of mistake, as we certainly weren't planning to have our house demolished. Was this some kind of greenway-related plot? Could the city tear down our house without our permission? There was a phone number on the work order that I didn't recognize, so I told the guy to call it. When he did, he learned that the demolition was supposed to occur at the same address, but on South Ashley, so he apologized and left. I called David to tell him what had happened, and he suggested that, if DTE had the wrong address, maybe the demolishers had the wrong address too. So I put a sign on the door saying "DO NOT DEMOLISH" and I called DTE to get the whole thing straightened out. Given how hard it was to actually talk to a person, the whole screw-up didn't surprise me a whole lot. What did surprise me, however, was how someone could just call, give them the address, and ask for elimination of the electrical service. Why didn't they ask for an account number or some other kind of identification?
David looked up the property that is really going to be demolished, which turned out to be a barn about ten blocks from our house. I guess we will just have to keep an eye on it till its gone to make sure they demolish the right building!
September 03, 2006
Cooking with Fire, Part II
My mom and Ken recently got their first charcoal grill, a beautiful green Weber. They also got a chimney starter, which eliminates the need for lighter fluid. It also seems to eliminate the need for beer: we grilled without beer three times while we were out there and each time it worked just fine. We liked the chimney starter so much that my mom had one sent to us when we got back home. It arrived Friday and I used it for the first time last night. The way it works is that you crumple up two sheets of newspaper and stuff them in the bottom, then fill it with charcoal and light the newspaper, which ignites the coal. It took me a long time to get the newspaper lit, however. It was a windy evening and I was using paper matches. Then I ran out of matches and had to switch to a lighter. It still took a while, and I began to wonder if my lighter was running out of butane, but then it caught dramatically. After I got the newspaper lit, I called my mom to thank her for the chimney starter and to tell her I was using it. She sounded a bit alarmed to hear that I was using it without adult supervision (after all, I'm only twenty-seven), and reminded me that it would be flaming when I dumped out the coals. I reassured her that I had oven mitts (in fact, I had just run over to Kmart to buy them), and that it would be okay. And it was. By the time we got off the phone the coals were glowing red with white ash on the outside, so I dumped them out and put my food on. I learned the hard way, however, that one chicken breast, two egglplants, and four large zucchini is just too much, even for a large grill!
August 06, 2006
Last night, as I was settling in to watch an episode of 24 on DVD, I thought I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. At first I thought I was imagining it, but then I realized that something was flying straight at me, and it wasn't a bird or a moth -- it was a bat! Having never before seen a bat up close, I screamed and opened the door, hoping he would fly outside, but he didn't. Instead, he just seemed to disappear. David was at his dad's house, so it was just me and the bat. I called David's dad, who told me to go after the bat with a tennis racket, but I couldn't reach the tennis racket, which David keeps in the rafters of the basement ceiling. When David got on the phone, he suggested that I catch the bat in a towel and take it outside. So I got a towel and went bat-hunting, but I couldn't find the bat. David and his brother, Mike, arrived about an hour later and couldn't find the bat either, but shortly after Mike left, we heard a noise in the dining room window. David closed the window, and then we saw the bat, trapped between the glass and the screen. I was amazed at how small he was with his wings folded up. David got the towel and, on his count, I opened the window and he caught the bat. That bat actually had a pretty cute face, which would have been even cuter if he hadn't been baring his fangs at us.
Bats are another one of those things that I knew nothing about before moving to the Midwest. One night during my first year here, I went for a walk on the Old West Side. While I was walking, I started hearing squeaking noises and became very paranoid that a bat was going to swoop down and bite me. Having never seen a bat, I didn't realize how small they are, and it didn't occur to me that they were probably just as scared of me as I was of them. It was quite a relief to get back to downtown Ann Arbor, where all I had to fear were muggers, murderers, and rapists. Wildlife is much more frightening!
August 04, 2006
Living in the Dark Ages
David and I are just about the only people we know who don't have cell phones. For a long time, I just didn't want one. I didn't talk to that many people, and I liked being unreachable when I wasn't at home. Recently, however, it has started to seem like it might come in handy. Twice already this year my land line has conked out, and I have had to go to pay phones to call the phone company to get it fixed. And there are fewer and fewer working pay phones around now that everybody has cell phones. When David and I visited my Dad in Pittsburgh last month, we got there a few hours late as a result of car repairs, baseball traffic, and road construction. When we finally did show up, my dad was sitting on his front porch with a phone in each hand, just waiting for us to call. I had called from a pay phone in Ohio, but once we got caught up in Pittsburgh traffic, there was nowhere to call from. He begged us to get a cell phone.
The excuse we have been giving people when they ask why we don't have cell phones is that we need to have the land line to dial into the internet, and we can't afford to have both a land line and two cell phones. Which then provokes the question, "you use dial up?" Apparently, we are the only people who do that too. I guess we haven't quite caught on to the fact that the twentieth century really is over. In January, the University of Michigan will be discontinuing its dial-up internet service because not enough people are taking advantage of it, and then we will have run out of excuses. No more dial up, no more need for a land line, no excuse not to go cellular. So it looks like David and I will finally enter the twenty-first century in 2007. Seven years late isn't too bad, right? Maybe we will even get digital cameras and ipods!
August 02, 2006
It's Too Darn Hot
Okay, I'll admit it, I don't always like the heat. I can deal with 90, but 100 is just way too hot. We are staying cool the best we can, cranking up the window air conditioner in the bedroom and using it to cool down the whole house by keeping all the windows closed. It works well enough -- it is in the low eighties downstairs, cooler upstairs -- but most importantly it cuts the humidity. It is good to know that we are not alone. I think the whole country is sweltering right now. And I'm glad we have the air. I grew up in Santa Monica where, not only did we not have air conditioning, but we didn't even need it. I don't remember one day in my life where I wished we had it. It was hot where I went to college, and I remember being advised to bring a fan because the dorms didn't have air conditioning, but I never heard the terms "heat index" or "heat advisory" until I moved to Ann Arbor. My first summer here, my boyfriend at the time called me at work one day to tell me that there was a heat advisory. We didn't know what this meant, but he thought he should probably pick me up and take me home so that I wouldn't have to ride the bus. Here the humidity just makes the heat so much more oppressive. Last night I had to walk about a mile to a meeting, and was just soaked with sweat by the time I got there. And the meeting room was not air conditioned. But we are getting by, and they are promising a cold front tomorrow. Again, something I'm still learning about. We didn't have "fronts" in California!
July 31, 2006
Last night, while I was out at a party, David mowed the lawn, cleaned the bathroom, and washed the sheets. He even drained the toiled and scrubbed inside the bowl! I'm so lucky to have him :)
July 30, 2006
Happy Birthday, House
Yesterday David and I celebrated our two-year anniversary of becoming homeowners. Actually, we didn't so much celebrate as say, "hey, we bought our house two years ago today. Can you believe it? Time flies." On July 29, 2004, we went to the title company, signed all the papers, and have voted Republican ever since. Just kidding. Buying our house did have somewhat of a conservatizing effect on us -- we never had a housewarming party because we didn't want to have to clean up after our friends -- but, as David points out, we haven't become NIMBYs. We have actually lived in this house much longer than two years: David moved in in July 2000 and I moved in in September 2002, and we were very lucky to be able to buy the house we were already living in. Our landlord just happened to have recently married and moved to Chicago, and he was glad to be able to get rid of the Ann Arbor property. We looked at other houses but didn't see anything in our price range that we liked nearly as well. Not that the house is perfect. It is in a flood plain, which means that we have to pay over $100 every month for federal flood insurance and we can never enlarge the footprint of the house. It also lacks some important modern conveniences, notably a shower. But we get by. In the past two years David has totally relandscaped the front and back yards and painted the study purple (at my request). He also took the door off the wooden medicine cabinet and stripped the cabinet and the door, but he has not yet refininished either one, so the door is currently sitting on the floor of the bathroom and, whenever we want to use the mirror, we have to prop it up on the towel rack. I just hope it gets done before we want to sell the place, or else we will have to explain why there is neither a medicine cabinet nor a shower!
July 29, 2006
Ratatouille is one of those mysterious concoctions that is way more fabulous than the sum of its parts. I never liked tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, or bell peppers, but for some reason, when you cook them all together with garlic and herbs, it is just about the most fantastic vegetable dish ever. It has become one of those late-summer treats I eagerly anticipate all year because ratatouille is so labor-intensive that it is only worth making when I can get all of the ingredients at the farmers' market. The first few times I made it, I followed the recipe to the letter, afraid that if I didn't use the exact right vegetables in the exact right proportions, that ratatouille magic wouldn't happen. But I have found that it is much less finnicky than I had previously thought. It seems that the only nonnegotiables are the tomatoes, eggplants, and garlic; everything else is open to interpretation. Last week there were no peppers at the market, so I left them out. Today I got purple peppers, red onions, and genovese basil. I bet it would also be good with hot peppers and/or okra. I don't even measure the vegetables anymore: I just buy a bunch of stuff, throw it all together in the slow cooker, forget about it all day, and have a steaming pot of ratatouille-ish by dinner time.
July 26, 2006
Clean Living, Part 2
Today I mopped the floor for the first time in well over a year. It is something I rarely do because, before I can mop, I have to sweep or vacuum the floor (one inch at a time with the upholstery attachment) and then dust it. By then, I'm usually too wiped out and pissed off to mop. But, as a friend reminded me today, once I've done all the other stuff, the mopping is really the easiest part. And, of course, she was right. Our house is only about 700 square feet (less, actually, according to the City of Ann Arbor, but they have a bizarre calculation method), but it still seems like such a chore. Inspirational music does help, though. I had forgotten what a good CD this is until I heard it last night at Bab's.
July 14, 2006
Some Like it Hot
David and I live in an old (1920s), poorly-insulated house. In the winter we pay a fortune to keep it at sixty-eight degrees, and in the summer we power up the window air conditioner in the bedroom just about every night. David has suggested several times that we get central air, and I have resisted, arguing that, even if we could afford to have it installed, running it would break the bank. But the truth is that I just don't like air conditioning. I love having the windows open, being able to hear my neighbors (and, yes, the nearby construction and road work), and sitting on the porch. Even in the car I prefer windows to air because it makes me feel at least a little bit more part of the world and less like I'm in my own private bubble. And when it is super-hot outside, spending time in an air-conditioned environment just makes the weather that much less bearable. Granted, there are times when it really is just way too hot. But the fun thing about not having central air is that we are then forced out of the house and into the world: to the movies, to a cafe, or even to Costco, where we went one day last summer to escape the heat. Or we are forced into the bedroom, which can also be fun ;)
July 13, 2006
Cooking with Fire
I used to cook. In fact, as most of my friends and relatives can attest, I used to cook quite well. I did it all: sauteeing, braising, roasting, baking, you name it. Except grilling. David is the grill master, king of charcoal, so when there was a piece of meat to be grilled, David was the one to do it. Lately my cooking efforts have deteriorated to the bare minimum: boiling big pots of beans, grains, and vegetables, and then microwaving them when it is time to eat. This means that David has been doing a lot more grilling. The problem, however, is that he rarely gets home before about 8, which means the grill doesn't get lit until 8:30, and it is close to ten by the time we eat. This is fine with David, but I would prefer to eat just a little earlier. So he showed me how to light the grill, and I did it for the first time on Monday. But it didn't work. I opened the vents, piled up the (all-natural) charcoal, doused it with lighter fluid, and threw on a match. It seemed to start, but soon died down and never revived. Finally, around nine, I gave up on it and asked David what I had done wrong. He pointed out that I had forgotten the crucial first step: opening a beer. How could I have forgotten? Maybe because I don't drink. In any case, David opened a beer, put more lighter fluid on the coals, threw on another match, and, thirty minutes later, we were cooking with fire. I don't know how it works, but the beer does seem to be crucial.
July 02, 2006
Keeping it Clean without Breaking the Bank
No matter how many times my mom told me not to judge a book by its cover, I can't help finding myself seduced by a pretty package. This morning at the People's Food Co-op, I decided to brave the cleaning products aisle. I had always avoided this section of the store, sure that its products were far pricier and less effective than their mainstream counterparts. But today I didn't feel like getting in the car, driving to a big-box store, walking across a hot asphalt parking lot, and being surrounded by obnoxious shoppers, so I replaced my empty bottle of Fantastik with its environmentally friendly counterpart. It was really hard not to buy this product instead, given its lovely label and scent, but it cost twice as much. And who will see it under the sink anyway?
July 01, 2006
To say that I'm not the most hygienic person in the world would be more than a bit of an understatement. In fact, I'm downright messy. It is always easy to rationalize my decision not to clean my house -- it will just get dirty again anyway; or if I clean it now, what will I do later when I'm bored -- and I usually have better things to do. Actually, anything usually seems better than cleaning. At times I have wanted to be cleaner, and have read books, visited websites, and bought products that promised me a cleaner home. But somehow, reading about cleaning was a lot more fun than the actual cleaning. And getting obsessed with doing everything perfectly made it less likely to get done at all. I used to have a four-step floor-cleaning procedure: (1) vacuum -- this had to be done inch by inch with the little brush attachment because we have hardwood floors and a vacuum cleaner made for carpets; (2) dry mopping; (3) wet mopping with this kind of mop; (4) a final wet mopping with this kind of mop. Our house is only about seven hundred square feet, but the process took at least half a day. So I only did it about once a year. In between, things were not pretty. But they didn't seem that bad either, because the house was never as dirty as it was when David's old rommate Josh lived here. I wasn't the dirtiest person in the world; Josh was. When I moved in, David and I agreed that he would take care of the outside (landscaping, lawn mowing, snow shoveling, etc.), and I would take care of the inside (everything else). But David, having a much lower threshhold for filth than I have, often did the indoor cleaning when I fell down on the task.
But two months ago, something happened. The toilet exploded. The bathroom is upstairs and water flows down, so the house ended up flooded from top to bottom, second floor to basement. It was raining in the kitchen. The phone lines were soaked through and I couldn't dial out. I ran to the gas station to call the plumber from a pay phone. There was nothing they could do. We just had to wait for it all to dry out and then clean it up. It was no small task but, when it was done, I realized that it is kind of nice to live in a clean house. Since then, I've been doing some cleaning. Just a bit, little by little, one or two things a day. With many days off in between. But things are looking just a little bit different. I bought a bottle of Fantastik the day the toilet exploded and today I was surprised to come to the end of it. I have never used up a cleaning product that quickly! Yesterday I did the floors, and today was pleased to find how good it feels to be able to walk barefoot without having all kinds of schmutz collect on my soles. And the amazing thing is that clearing the crap out of my house also helps clear the cobwebs from my mind.
June 29, 2006
Confessions of an Ex-Foodie
Lately I have had a lot less patience for grocery shopping, which means that my cupboards are growing bare. As the clutter disappears, I find things I forgot I had, such as a bag of turkey in the freezer, left over from Thanksgiving. That's right -- seven-month-old turkey! I had some last night for dinner, and it wasn't bad. Granted, it wasn't very good, either, but definitely edible. More tonight!
Along with the turkey, I found a chicken spine that I had put in the freezer at some point with the intention of making soup. Today I have no desire to make chicken soup, so it went in the trash.
I'm glad that I didn't find the turkey until after acquiring the microwave. It really is a one-use appliance: the only thing it is good for is reheating leftovers. But since all I eat any more is leftovers, it is just what I need! I did also use it to cook some beets yesterday. At least, I thought they were beets, until I started cutting them up and found that they were red-and-white striped!