Friday, August 29, 2008

Mired in Controversy

Oh man, I am zapping away today. The top of my zap list? Olive B, cashier at Center for Rehabilitation Services. Let me explain.

I have magically good insurance. Truly astounding medical care, really. The best. I pay basically nothing (though the University paid a killing while I was a grad student assistant) and have very few co-pays for services, provided I use UPMC facilities. When I hurt my back in early May, I went to like 6 PT sessions without paying one cent. I paid NOTHING the whole time I had my fungus...I never pay for x-rays...Michael Moore should not talk to me because, while I empathize with the plight of others, I have a kick-ass deal with my health insurance. Total winner.

Soooo, today I went to the PT to have him magically heal my knee. (This he failed to do) On the way in, surly Olive B told me I owed her $25. "Really?" I said. "That's so strange. I didn't pay a thing last time. I wonder if you might double check that for me, please."

She grunted, checked for me, and demanded that I give her the money. I figured it was fine and I'd deal with it later, but made certain to keep my receipt. As soon as I got home, I phoned the insurance people. They were astounded. "She charged you money? TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS????" Stephanie, my new friend, was beside herself. She told me to sit tight and that she would call Olive and straighten the whole thing out.

Twenty minutes later, the phone rang. Stephanie called back to report that Olive B was very, extremely unkind to her and refused to reimburse my money. Stephanie told her some official policy things, threatened with paperwork and red tape, but still Olive B persisted. They have my money. Olive even told Stephanie she plans to charge me another $25 when I go back on Tuesday.

I feel like several things are happening here. First, Olive must be a total miserable barnacle if even a customer service representative feels she is unkind. Second, she is either pocketing my money or deliberately putting me through the run-around because she has a black heart and wants my mind to suffer as much as my knee joint.

Thus, I zap you, Olive B. I zap you with all the power of my Thunder Vision. And I'm not taking my wallet with me on Tuesday.

4-Month Evaluation

Since I don't have a boss anymore other than me, there is nobody to give me feedback on my work progress. So I'll give it to myself! (Although I tend to be a harsh critic and a perfectionist)

I'm entering my second trough month since I started this racket, and I find my procrastination is way worse than before. I don't have any outstanding assignments right now, and there is nothing more bleak than a long 8 hours with nothing to do staring you in the face. I really need to get better at networking, outreach, and pitching. I vowed to spend two hours per day on said activities this week, but I can't bring myself to do that all damn day. Instead, I've been watching shows from Netflix. Like My So-Called Life. This needs to stop. But what do I do instead?? I'm pretty much just waiting for Corey to get home so we can hang out. (It's ten in the morning...)

Since May, I have written a business article, several green/sustainability pieces, a number of profiles, and even a servicey piece about grief. I feel pretty jazzed about this effort. Lots of pots to dip my hands into.

I know it seems odd to evaluate myself simultaneously on breadth and focus, but as a writer I feel it's important to find a niche, an area of expertise, to better market myself. I liked writing the business article, for example, but it didn't make my heart race like the green stories did. I'm finding that when I spend my two daily hours reaching out, I grab at topics that give me the tingles. These things are health/fitness, green stories, and pretty much anything related to advancing women's rights. For me this often looks like stories about women playing contact sports, but I get just as tingly about women-owned cooperative farms. Which also fits into my green niche.

I also love writing about food, but really--who doesn't? I think I'm pretty happy with my progress toward finding my niche in the world.

Thus far, I have one 150-word piece in Bicycling magazine, a 3-paragrapher forthcoming in Ode magazine, and a handful of blurps in US Airways. This needs to be my focus. This is where I must be diligent. I cannot die a happy person unless I get to become a regular contributor to Outside or one of the many fabulous publications by Rodale. I just need this to feel satisfied.

I feel ok about this. A shit-ton of people owe me a lot of money right now, which makes me anxious. (Hi, Peggy! Got any checks in your mailbag?) But the money is going to show up soon, and it will be fine. Three-quarters of my income starting in May came from writing stuff. This makes me happy. Now, if there were just a bit more of it, I could feel better about the $25 copays for PT, but that's a different story for another day.

OVERALL: Considering the procrastination, I give myself a B. I could be working harder than I am, so not living up to my potential makes me angry. Something to improve by year's end!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Unequal Punishment

Judy brought up an interesting point in the comments of yesterday's post. The deficit, which is shared by all citizens of the country, is now being eradicated unfairly by specific populations. While Freya's point is certainly very valid, I suppose I just think more about the parents getting 2k than those getting $2million. (By the way, according to the State of PA's Child Support web page, those with questions about the fee can call the Department of Public Welfare Bureau of Child Support Enforcement at 1-800-932-0211, Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

Why should people with children whittle away the deficit in this way while those without children do not? Why should people who consume alcohol in Pittsburgh support the public transportation system while teetotalers swig soda tax free? Why does the city of Pittsburgh think it's ok to charge a flat income tax? I'm telling you that 3% of an nurses aide's salary takes a lot more from the day-to-day family budget than 3% of an accountant's.

There are such disgusting disparities of wealth in this country. We balk at people living in stark poverty in "other" continents, but then we climb over or walk past really, really poor people right here among us. How many teachers have to talk about students not eating meals outside of school before we realize children are starving in front of our faces? But hey, let's just fine their guardians anyway.

Through the students I worked with for the past three years, I have learned how really privileged my life has been. I am just trying to imagine the parents of my former students, struggling so desperately to stay afloat and keep appearances of normal, trying to readjust for this new fee.

It's like they are being charged a fee for not being married to the parent of their child. Our state is, in effect, fining people for having broken homes. How can we let this happen? How many years do we have to search for new taxes and new ways to squeeze money from citizens while we squander those funds.

This recent injustice has really affected me. I can't recall being so upset by my elected officials.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Defecit Reduction

An article in the Post-Gazette today filled me with rage. I know I promised not to over-react to things anymore, but this one dealt with the new great idea to take CHILD SUPPORT money from custodial parents as a way to reduce debt. Of all the debt-reduction methods possible in the universe, I feel this is the very worst one. How dare our government take food from the mouths of children to support our wasteful spending? How dare we finance a war with money that should pay for children to have clothes?

I just can't even think about it. This new great idea takes $25 annually from any custodial parent in PA receiving more than $2000 per year in child support. That's just over $166 per month, which is now whittled down to $164 per month. Do any of our decision makers know what it costs to feed and clothe a child? Twenty-five dollars may not sound like much when you are affluent, but it could mean the difference between new shoes for school or toes poking through the holes in old ones.

In the very same section of the paper, an article explained that Pittsburgh was the 5th poorest large city in the country. Why are the poor being exploited to eliminate the debt that our government incurs? What's the electric bill at Camp David each month? What's the lunch tab for senate meetings? I want to know who I can write to in order to insure that children do not lose money to pay for extravagance. There is no room in my heart for a government who comes to work in custom-tailored shirts with no concept of how many dwellings they own while children are being stripped of nourishment.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Paper Weight

I had my college rugby reunion this past weekend and this year marked several distinct changes. For starters, we commissioned the Hall of Fame on campus, which was a truly remarkable endeavor and to celebrate it, we had a fancy, expensive banquet. These were rugby players in suit jackets and ties and high heels. No joke.

The tickets for the gala cost $90, and that was only because my friend Rosie arranged for us to buy them in bulk so we saved 10%. Ours was the only table of "young people" for whom $90 was still a pretty big chunk of change, and we did our best to fully capitalize on the cost by gorging on appetizers and Coronas. Just like at a wedding, the tables were decorated and included a favor for each guest: a glass paper weight. This made us laugh, or at least it made me laugh, for a few hours. A $90 paper weight. It all just seemed so silly.

Who the heck even needs a paper weight anymore?

Me! That's who.

It's been unseasonably cool this August with a ruffling breeze almost every day. I love it. When I am in my home office, the wind gusts through the window opposite my desk and hurls my papers up into my face. I realized that the paper weight was actually pretty essential for me so I don't lose things to the recycle pile near my work area. Before I had the paper weight, I'd come upstairs every evening to see a total mess made of my notes and expense receipts. Now I have an answer to this problem.

Then I went to my classroom, where it smelled like mold and poop until I threw open all the windows in the room. The temperature dropped in there, the air smelled fresher, but all the neat little stacks of syllabi and Writing Center handouts blew into the air like a funnel of garbage. I had to weigh everything down with other things in my bag, like books and sunglasses.

It occurred to me that a paper weight is not such a shoddy party favor after all. I have decided to take it with me into class tomorrow (because I have a stack of student papers to put on my desk) and to tell the students never to mock gifts.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Image Search Meme

My friend Freya taught me this fun game, so I decided to play while I wait for a client to call me back.

Google image search meme. Search for your answer for each one, and pick your favorite from the first 3 pages.

Your first name:
Your middle name:

Your last name:(This image by Susan Makin,

Your age:

A place you'd like to visit:

Favorite place to be:

College degree or concentration:

Grandmother's first name:

Where you grew up:

Childhood pet's name:

Best friend's nickname:

First job:

Favorite food:

Favorite color:

What you are doing right now:

Bad habit:

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I have started making very detailed budget spreadsheets. Actually, I started making them in July when it became evident that I really was going to work as a freelance writer for a living. I just finished (well...I'm one week away from finishing) month one of my budget sheet and I feel really proud of myself. I estimated my income really accurately and I was a super good girl about frivolous spending this month.

I even managed to put a chunk of money into my savings and IRA accounts, buy some clothes, attend an obnoxiously expensive rugby reunion, and still come in under budget on my expenses. It feels really, really good to look at that long list of income ($100 for an article here, $225 for something else there, $73.27 for a newsletter) and see how they all add up to a living wage. I am like an actual, real person with a job. I have a job and a balanced budget. I don't have to worry about what I'll do when I grow up, because I suppose I've grown up and started doing it.

The only thing keeping me up late right now is the dip in the work wave. Just like the month of June, I am facing a September with no assignments despite a lot of hustle on my end. I am planning to use the spare time really working on my teaching and hoping that either the magical work fairies wake up soon or that, just like in July and August, the phone starts ringing incessantly with editors on the other end of the line.

My goal for September is different than my goals were for the summer months of writing. This time, my goal is to not obsess. I've done a lot of really hard ground work and spent a lot of time getting my name out there. I just need to be patient and have faith in my own hard labor. This month, I will not grind my teeth or play "what if." Nor will I chase down Peggy the Mail Carrier each day to see if she comes bearing checks (sometimes it startles her when she sees me hiding behind the screen door as she slips mail in our box).

I will be calm, cool, and collected. Seriously. No over reacting at all.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Zap List

Earlier this summer, Bill Bryson taught me that I need to zap offending things with my thunder vision as a way of obliterating the problem. I currently have three targets to absorb all the power of my thunderous rage:

1. My scale.
For four weeks now, I have been carefully noting everything I consume. I use the food scale in our kitchen and weigh almost everything that goes into my mouth. I do this to try to reduce my body fat percentage, which my scale told me for weeks ago was 32%. Now, four weeks into this experiment to lower that number, twelve weeks into the most intense working out I've done since college rugby, my scale tells me I have gained 8 pounds and my body fat is up to 34.5%.

The scale is on my zap list for being a completely worthless piece of crap. Some weeks in this process, it's told me I have 38% body fat. I am just stopping and returning to my normal way of life, which is pretty damn healthy. Eff you, scale in the hallway. Zapping you with thunder vision might not be satisfying enough in this case. Instead, I might throw you out the window and watch you smash on the street outside.

2. My trashy neighbors. There is a pitiful situation a few houses down from me in which three children are being raised by bigoted drunks who scream at them and potentially spank them a lot. The cops frequently come by to break up yelling matches in the street and the little cherubic kiddos run gleefully up and down the sidewalk all day unless they are being scolded for things like looking at the dog. As I type this, the trashy woman is in the street hollering for them to get away from the minivan. I hope she cuts her damn leg on the glass shards from my broken scale. These kids have no hope of breaking this cycle of verbal abuse and I want to steal them and raise them at my house instead. At least here we don't scream the f-word. And by f-word I mean the one synonymous with bundles of sticks.

All this unnecessary hate and yelling truly distracts me from my work more than Facebook ever could and makes it nearly impossible to work from home, let alone conduct phone interviews with the windows open. If I zap the parents with thunder vision, maybe they won't be obliterated but instead shocked into the reality that cute, 5-year-old children don't respond well to, "God damn you, asshole kids!"

3. Businesses who don't return phone calls. Don't these people want free advertising? Most of my income these days comes from travel publications. Sometimes I think I'm being a wee sell-out and writing awful puff pieces. But then I go back and look at my writing and I've done my best to be artful and provide interesting details. These stories are positive because that's the assignment, but also because the stuff I explore is generally really cool. So the stories are actually decent pieces of writing.

Only every now and then I encounter PR people who absolutely refuse to work with me. They don't return emails, phone calls, or even personal visits. I don't want to overestimate my importance, but travel publications are really influential. Wouldn't they want to roll out the red carpet for me? Or at the very least mail me a brochure when I'm trying to write a huge article about their business? I want to zap them into submission, allowing the thunder vision to open their skulls and release only the information necessary for me to complete my assignments and get paid.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Today I had a doctor's appointment for my knee, which I hurt on Tuesday at rugby practice. I was very reluctant to call Sports Medicine since the last time, the doctor's big advice was for me to quit playing rugby. Thanks, butt-face. But I digress.

My injured leg is the right one, and the nature of the injury involves pain when bending the knee and applying pressure. This means I walk like the Tin Man and I don't really believe it would be safe for me to drive. Obviously I cannot ride Etienne just now. So I had to hobble to the bus stop--a ten-minute walk on a good day, 17 hobbly eons today. I teetered into the building, up the elevator, and into the waiting room.

When I signed in for the appointment, the receptionist made me stand to fill out the paperwork, leaning on a counter thingy. I don't understand this. They knew I was there with leg pain, and I was already hurting from my big journey to the facility. It was pretty painful for me to stand and fill out that form, since I can't bend the leg and that's pretty much the only way to get weight off it. Finally, I was allowed to go sit in a chair.

The x-ray technician then called me back and proceeded to take lots of x-rays of my left leg. I didn't say anything to her, because I didn't know whether they needed baseline pictures or what. I'm not the expert! I was just wincing around with weight on my sore leg as she manipulated the other one. Finally, someone in the back room hollered, "No! The other leg! The OTHER ONE!" and we had to start again.

Only now she was pissed because I never said anything to her. In my mind, I said, "Why didn't you read my chart? I could sue you!" but in real life I shrugged my shoulders. I was about to die of agony when the power went out. There I stood, in the room with the x-ray machine, in pitch darkness. For what felt like an eternity.

Someone came to escort me to the hallway, where we all waited 20 minutes to see what would happen. I'll tell you what happened: lots of patients used their cell phones and yelled expletives while the temperature rose.

After awhile, my doctor decided he could do my examination in a room with the blinds open and the sunlight, sans x-rays. This was a relief, as he also works with the Pittsburgh Passion and the Pittsburgh Banshees, so when I told him I was tackled, he knew what that meant and had actually heard of a ruck before. If I hadn't already been crying from pain where he poked at my knee, I would have cried in relief.

In the end, it turns out I have sprained things in my knee but not torn anything. I have to go back to physical therapy, and I am not sure what I am allowed to do at practice. The power was still out when I left there, so nobody could write anything down or look anything up for me. They just sent me home with an ice pack, which I needed badly after my walk up the hill to my house. I am starting to get very bitter about the UPMC experience.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Jaws was on television last night--a film I have watched so often I know many parts by heart. When I was little and my parents worked different shifts, my dad's idea of childcare involved heavy amounts of Rambo, Clint Eastwood, and repeated screenings of Jaws. I became totally desensitized to the terror of the film, laughing when Chrissy's leg washed up on the beach. My family likes to tell a story about how I'd know when Quint was about to get eaten, and I'd yell, "bye bye, Quint!" as the mighty shark ingested the crusty old barnacle.

I wonder if it is a bad or a good thing to feel desensitized in that manner? On one hand this beginning has made me a better rugby player. Dinosaur-shaped lumps on teammates' heads? Veiny, heinous black eyes? Pieces of skin stuck to my arm from a maul gone bad? No big deal! Wipe my hands on my shorts, blow a snot rocket, keep running. I'm fine. (Perhaps I can begin to tell my mom that my father actually made me play rugby inadvertently. Finally! A "culprit"!)

On the other hand, there is something a bit sad to me that I have for years welcomed gore with such glee. Today I looked eagerly at photograph's of my friend's tumor, removed via surgery. I was fascinated, asked mundane questions about its length, while others backed away horrified. I wonder sometimes if I am not in tune enough with human suffering.

I thought of all this because, at the same time Quint was taking his trip down a shark's gullet, Lolo Jones was busy not winning her hurdle race. Reporters swarmed her to ask, "Lolo--your dreams have been crushed and all you've worked for has flashed by in a giant fart. How do you feel right now?" They later zoomed in on her crying in the hallway. Why do I want to see things like this? How have I helped to develop an audience that demands such questions of reporters?

I'm starting to think it was a better decision for Corey and I to not have access to television. I may have been out of the loop, but at least I wasn't sitting at home mocking the facial hair of the female power lifters or riveted to the screen while the news featured wind surfers being hurled through the air with CGI-like speed.

Jaws II is on television tonight. We turned it off and are sitting downstairs reading instead.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nationality Rooms

I just found out I will be teaching Seminar in Composition in one of the Nationality Rooms at Pitt. The Swedish Room in fact. At least it's on the first floor...

Now, each of these rooms is flipping gorgeous. I learn a lot each time I go in them, they smell nice generally, and they make me proud to be a Pittsburgher. But you can't move the chairs, you can't have liquids or food in the room, there isn't technology like computer screens for the teachers, and the seats are generally rigid wood or stone that gets incredibly uncomfortable. And the worst part? When people take Nationality Room tours, instead of looking through the peep hole to see whether class is in progress, they'll just swing the door open and barge on in. Then they'll look around, stunned, at the class trying to learn (as if we were an apparition zoomed straight from the fjords of Sweden itself) and say, "Sorry! Whoops!"

This will happen again and again, completely interrupting learning. I've taught summer sessions with young writers in these rooms. I think they are a fabulous resource for the school, but really not good learning environments.

My biggest concern is with not putting the chairs in a circle. My whole pedagogy is based around the chairs in circle. Now, they'll be a back and a front, a place to hide and do Sodoku, a way to slouch down and not join the conversation. I'll be forced to stimulate young, tired minds!! Without a circle!

It's almost too much to bear. I'm thinking of pretending to be one of them--sitting among them and waiting and waiting for the "teacher" to show up, finally standing to say, "well, I guess she's not coming. Let's get out of here."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Delphi Failures

I love and need my GPS. It keeps me alive many times, when I miss turns or somehow decide I should be turning left when all other sane people would turn right. I preface this post with my profound love and respect for my GPS. However, today she totally failed me. That Delphi sucked ass today.

I left home for Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob for research for some tourism writing I'm doing. I know, a horrible day of work, right? Perhaps I deserve what happened, which was nearly disaster.

To start, Delphi was freaking out in the fog and having me drive around in circles. I had to call Corey to see which highway I should start on to give her a chance to calm the eff down. No, Delphi. I won't turn right over the cliff down the hill of Stanton Heights. Thank you, no.

So I reached my destination, toured the architectural amazements, which warrant their own post at a later time. I was supposed to head for a winery on my way home to round out the "road trip" piece I am writing. I asked Delphi where to find this winery. She told me to turn right, turn right, and she eventually wanted me to turn right again. Three rights. Rather than look ahead and be smart, making a left, I listened to her mechanical, calm voice.

"Please turn right," she told me as I approached an ominous dark trench. Unpaved, unlevel, worse than any road I traveled in rural Italy, the next mile of my life was more frightening than driving the Sun Road in Montana's Glacier National Park. Yes, Delphi, this tractor path was probably the shortest way to make the third right and, yes, it was pastoral and gorgeous. But it was so deeply rutted that the Mazda kept bottoming out and it would make these blind turns into steep drop-offs that made me think I was in a nightmarish San Francisco.

I had so much crotchal sweat by the time I got off that road, I couldn't bear to get out of the car and show my swampy nether regions at the winery. And I was wearing quick-dry hiking shorts! I just put the pedal to the floor when I hit pavement and came straight home, where I calmed my nerves with dark chocolate. As soon as I knew which highway I was on, I ripped Delphi's cord from the lighter/outlet and threw her on the floor. I'm just glad I had enough sense not to throw her out the window.

After all, how would I get home from State College next weekend without her? Last time I tried that I wound up in Maryland. So I need her, and I hate that I need her, but today we are not friends. Not even close.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Highs and Lows

Yesterday, something remarkable happened. I emailed a literary agent, a woman who represented another book I loved. I told her I thought she had good taste and sent her a brief pitch for my rugby book from grad school. A few hours later,


A literary agent! On my phone! We talked about her daughter playing lacrosse and then she asked for my proposal and sample chapters. I was in the middle of an episode of My So-Called Life (the one where Angela goes into the boiler room with Jordan) and eating a tomato from the grocery store when the phone rang and it was a literary agent. To discuss my book!

I immediately hung up, put lunch on hold, and sat at my desk for 3.5 hours revising my proposal and chapter outline. I hope I made it better and not worse. Anyway, such things just never ever happen in real life. It must have been a dream.


today I had teacher orientation for a gender class I'm teaching this fall. I noted the ominous thunder and opted not to ride Etienne. I hopped in the car, parked in the garage where I'd be comped parking, and realized I had not brought an umbrella or even remembered to shut the front door of my house. I had to sprint through the downpour into the Cathedral, total paranoia about thieves taking over my concerns of wet, white dress shirts and big bosoms like mine.

I squished up the stairs with transparent "professional" clothes, dripping hair, and swampy skirt. I felt slightly better when another new instructor showed up equally wet, although his bald head meant less drippings from hair onto forms.

Another woman there with a raincoat and umbrella kept saying, loudly, "Oh, this is just awful. Look at my coat dripping on the floor! I'm making such a mess here." I wanted to take her dry, starched shirt from her inconsiderate body and use it to cover my near-nudity. Instead, I let the heat of my embarrassment dry my clothes. This is more like my life, I thought, and ate an entire bowl of pretzel twists. When I got home, my house was not robber, but the sofa was a bit wet where the rain blew in the screen door.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Numb Me

We have television now. Corey received, as a gift for completing an accounting program, one year of basic cable. For a long, dark time we had no television. Now, we do. I fear my ability to be productive has been extremely diminished. I hope it's just a general fad because of newness and Olympic hype, but I stayed up until 12:30 last night watching 12 year old girls do back flips. I couldn't tear myself away.

Even exhausted and dirty from rugby practice, I sat on my couch until the Olympics were over, barely blinking. Even commercials seemed dazzling. I had forgotten how absolutely beautiful and riveting television is. I am so glad to rejoin society, where I will now get references to popular shows or at least see movie previews and know what the hype is about.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


My tomatoes are miserable failures. Yes, I am talking to you, plants outside! You have given me no fruit. Last night, my friend Mark had a delightful bonfire party and before dark, his daughter showed me their tomato plants. She even shared a few bright yellow and red beauties that I proceeded to eat like apples, salt optional. As I bit into the explosive flavor, letting the juice run down my chin, I thought how nice it would be to exercise my cheese-making skills, pick basil from my yard, and have a nice caprese salad.

My garden had alternate plans. Instead of producing fruit, it decided to just smell nice and grow tall green vines to tease me. I now have to rely on the kindness of friends and neighbors to help my tomato habit. Next summer, I won't tolerate slackers! I want to bite into raw tomatoes in my yard, darn it!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Peter Piper

He picked my pepper. I can't even talk about it. Many people don't realize that all colored peppers begin as green peppers. Red bell peppers start out (in the case of my near beauty) as green bell peppers in early June. They grow happily and slowly on the plant and then mature into beautiful, sweet red goodness. This happens very slowly. Over the course of months. During which time they are tenderly nursed by their gardners and watched with anticipation for the first hint of rosy ripeness. LOTS of anticipation.

When I left my garden in Corey's care while I went away this weekend, I assumed he would do his usual routine: water stuff and not touch anything except the zucchini. Instead, I came home to peek at my garden and my pepper was missing. It was gone. The green pepper plant had all the bell peppers growing away happily. The red pepper plant had a few babies, one day to become red. But my beauty, my tenderly watched pepper that I've been obsessing over since June was gone.

I went inside. "Where's my pepper?"

He knew exactly what I was talking about because we discuss every aspect of the garden at length every day. It's like I'm autistic and can only focus on one thing: my damn garden. He knew which plant he was allowed to pick from because I mapped it all out for him before I left. Anyway, when I referred to my pepper, he knew I meant my golden goose. Corey got really excited, like he had done something really helpful, and said, "Oh! I picked it!" He opened the fridge and held it out.

"I can't talk to you right now."

He started talking to me anyway, something about how he just nudged it when he was watering and the stem kind of cracked anyway and plus it was turning black in some places and he thought that was bad and was just trying to help.

I know he was just trying to help. I realize this. I know there are also gross human rights violations all over the world and starving people and other issues in my own house far more important than my damn vegetable. But I am just so devastated that he picked my pepper. I don't know how to stop punishing him for it.

Watching History

I went to a press conference today to discuss the newest city employee in Pittsburgh: The Bicycle Pedestrian Coordinator. We are now the first city in PA to pay someone to make things better for non-car-drivers. It was really pretty inspiring. The mayor (who showed up in a car) and the CEO of the Port Authority (also car) were joined by the head of Bike Pittsburgh (on a bike) and Stephen Patchen, who will now work tirelessly to enforce the "4 E's" required to get Pittsburgh to an official bike friendly status by 2010.

The city is going to educate both citizens and officials about bike safety and needs; they are going to engineer a lot of changes like improved sidewalks, more bike lanes, more bike racks; they are going to enforce laws and start with small things like including a box on official forms to check when there has been a bicycle accident; and they are going to schedule more events like the Tour of PA or even closing major roads a few times a year for scenic bike rides.

I got really excited listening to these suits talk about bike lanes on East Liberty Blvd and efforts to educate drivers on how to share the road. Perhaps I won't need to get so reactionary to angry honkers in the future. I'll have my own lane, after all, and nobody in it will have a horn to honk.

It would be easy for me to feel pessimistic about the impact of the changes, but I can't help but feel hopeful. All the officials mentioned several times that they are concerned with rising fuel costs and someone in the audience even asked the mayor point blank if he'd start riding his bike. (The answer was probably not). All the officials were, I think, genuine when they expressed their amazement at the number of cyclists present. We were packed into a coffee shop in Highland Park. With an iced tea in my hand, overflowing bike racks outside the door, and not an angry honk in earshot, it was nice to envision a Pittsburgh like Portland, OR, where bikes rule the road and crunchy people overwhelm the city. I hope it happens!

Friday, August 08, 2008


I remembered why I thought Taras Grescoe was the best writer in the whole world. It's because he is. I originally had this thought when I read The Devil's Picnic, but now I am reading his new book called Bottomfeeder for my food politics book club. I have to pause after every page and marvel at the phrases he puts together, so carefully I can't imagine his writing process.

This new book talks about "How to eat ethically in a world of vanishing seafood." Some of my favorite gems so far include:

--He describes a monkfish as a "drooping, slimy jabberwock with a bulldog grin."
--He continues by saying this fish has "brown skin glistening toadlike in the fluorescent light."

--He describes a clam on display at a restaurant thus: "a razor clam, whose flesh had been removed, mixed with red chiles, scallions, and mint, and then stuffed back into the shell, so it looked like a canoe full of Christmas presents."

A canoe of presents! Who looks at a clam and makes this simile??? Only the best writer in the world, that's who. It makes me want to revise every single thing I've ever written until each of my metaphors is just that smart. I can't even tell you how reading this book is affecting my writing process this week. What a wonderful discovery!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

On Lunch Break

I was required to serve on jury duty today. I am on lunch break. This is what has happened so far:

1. I discovered that, no matter how fascinating my new book club book may be, I can't concentrate on reading when there are people to stare at and the constant fear I'll be asked to be a juror on a homicide case.

2. I caught a glimpse of my teammate and public defender looking dazzling in her fancy clothes

3. I learned the man sitting next to me, who borrowed my pen, is a private investigator. We exchanged several interesting stories before he shared this gem, summarized and perhaps embellished a tad: I was working a case investigating nursing home abuse. The workers in a cottage for old people found a huge pepperoni in the trash with a condom on the end. (This part is not embellished at all. Actual condom pepperoni!) The workers assumed a house worker was abusing the patients, so I started interviewing them. As it turns out, one of the workers--a married man with several children and bright red hair--had been using the pepperoni to pleasure himself after the patients all went to bed at night.

I guess it never occurred to the dude to properly dispose of his materials? Anyway, that guy didn't get fired. Instead, a dude who was having visitors on the premises got fired. You can't have visitors over when you work in a group home, I guess.

4. I have no idea how to work coffee machines and became a community project of sorts when I wanted a cup of tea. The hot water gizmo seemed impossible for me to navigate and many, many women and one engineer-looking man crowded around me eager for something to do. In the end, I got impatient with my Earl Grey and burned my tongue.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Why Rugby Rules for All Eternity

I played for the Lost Lady Lions in Saranac last weekend. It was a bear of a drive, but in the end worth it because, as usual, the tournament reminded me of all that is good about women and this sport. Let me explain.

This year, three sisters who graduated from Penn State many years ago (like 11, 9, and 6 years ago) all decided they wanted to play at the tournament. About one year ago, they had all decided to get pregnant and have babies at the same time, so not only do they operate as a team, but they tend to have outrageous and ultimately good ideas. This year, we all showed up at the field to see a gaggle of craziness approaching: three husbands with infants/toddlers strapped to their bellies in those baby bookbags, limp limbs a-danglin, three mothers wearing rugby gear and holding the hands of D's oldest child. Throughout the weekend, the dads got drunker while they wore the backpacks, which is excellent.

In our first game, C actually played against us for her own team and tackled her sister, yelling, "You fat ass!" to P right in front of the ref! He looked like he was going to explode until P said, "Oh no, it's all right. She's my sister." It was crazy! We had our team huddles with babies--mothers holding babies in the circle. When another ref came over to review the new rules, she just sort of stood and smiled at all the babies and moms.

The best part of the day was our third game, late in the evening, when C realized she was lactating through her jersey. Mouse, another player we borrowed, could empathize. "I'm doing it, too!" There was lactation going on all around me, while babies watched their moms play rugby and internalized this idea that hey, my mom? She does cool stuff and can knock people down and be assertive.

Every time I go to Saranac I decide something important based on my discussions with PSU Rugby alumnae. One year I decided to quit my job and work at Rugby magazine instead. Another, I determined that rugby would be the focus of my graduate thesis and that I would go to the World Cup free of charge. This year, I have decided that I will be one of those women lactating during a game while Corey holds a baby dangling from his chest in a baby backpack (though the large cans of early morning beer are optional for this fantasy). This vision might take a bit longer than the others to carry out, though...

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Neighborhood

I had a massage this afternoon--a gift from my former boss at the writing center. Because I missed an hour of work, I decided to sit at my desk and do some administrative stuff when I got home around 6. I am lucky to have only mindless work to do, as there is so much going on outside!

Every few minutes, one of my super nice neighbors (the one who mows our lawn sometimes and mulched our bushes before we dug them up and let weeds grow in their stead) runs past the house chasing his daughter. This little girl is wearing a pink bicycle helmet and learning to ride a bike without training wheels for the first time. She's so proud of herself and he's so proud of her. It's so darn cute.

Then another set of neighbors comes out fake-jogging after their 2-year-old, who screams, "On mark, GO!" and runs with his limbs flailing, trying to beat his parents and believing he can do it.

Finally, the woman who just moved in across the street, the one who doesn't have living room curtains and painted her dining room orange sherbet, comes walking home with her dog. For the first time, I realize her dog has only three legs. She talks to him like he's a real person, because of course he is. She waters her plants and tells him not to eat them, because her tiger lilies are her favorite.

The whole time, the old Italian men alternate sitting on their porches and pruning their immaculate lawns. I don't know how to rip my eyes away. I think I'll sit on my front porch instead.


I got home from Saranac very late last night and knew I had to brush my teeth with the contest tube. I had a master plan worked out that I would slice the sucker open with a razor blade and dig around inside for the spare paste. Before I got the chance, the many cracks in the tube gave way to my mighty squeeze and the thing split open on its own anyway.

There was not a breath of toothpaste inside. Corey had defeated me soundly; we had consumed all of the toothpaste in the tube and thus reduced our waste. I had mixed feelings about the ordeal.

I hate losing, but we went 3-1 at Saranac so was it really a lost weekend? Corey also freaked out about my idea to open the tube. He says that the whole point of the game was to squeeze out the toothpaste, but that was not mentioned in the original parameters. I don't even know why we argued about it because it was so moot. He's scared about what I'll think of for the rematch I think.

In other news, I got the body fat down one percent. Perhaps playing 160 minutes of rugby in the front row over a weekend will do that to a girl. But one percent seems like an awfully small dent in a very big mountain of fat I want to whittle away. This is going to take much longer than the toothpaste game.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Big Perm slept at my house once and brought a toothbrush, stuffed into her jeans pocket with no bag or other barrier. She asked to use toothpaste in the morning and left for work at the hospital before I got up. When I awoke, I found a note from her that read something to the tune of: "Katy, that toothpaste you have tastes like fu**ing cement. Let me buy you some real toothpaste."

Big Perm reacted this way because I use Tom's of Maine toothpaste, which has no added saccharine. The first time I used it, I felt that way, too. But then I gave it one more day, and one more, and one more, and ever since then I can't bear to put another brand of toothpaste into my mouth. It all tastes similar to maple syrup or soda or something else sickeningly sweet with a hint of mint. Like frosting, maybe. Minty frosting.

I found out there was sugar in my tooth paste (ok, not technically sugar, but darn close) in 2005 when Corey and I were preparing for our cross country trip. We were getting ready for grizzly bear territory and learned even toothpaste counted as bear lure because of the sweetness. Sweetness? In toothpaste? Meant to fight my cavities?

Yes. Toothpaste has added sweetener. I felt so robbed, so upset, so horrified that Crest would do this to me. After decades of being a loyal consumer, using nothing but Crest, I stopped cold turkey and started buying the ADA approved spearmint Tom's of Maine. My mouth tastes delicious and fresh and my teeth have never been better. I love it.

But others think it tastes like cement.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Still Squeezing

There is still "plenty" of toothpaste left in the tube. We are considering letting Corey use the new tube while I am away so the contest won't be so unfair. Nobody likes a blowout win, right? So I brushed my teeth this morning and he will, too. Then we won't use the tube til Sunday night. Here's hoping he goes first!

This will only work out if we are still married when I get back. We will only still be married if Corey remembers to water the vegetables while I am away and they are still living upon my return. Lucky for him and his memory, it's supposed to rain this weekend.