Carnival of the Vanities #10

Carnival of the Vanities #10 has been posted. Take a look at the list of the self-selected best weblog samples of the week.

From Carnival #9, thanks nikita demosthenes for pointing out this very pointed French blog, whose short posts are written in both English and French. I like his politics (a welcome French voice in support of the U.S.) and I can practice my French at the same time.

I was supposed to start my temp job today, after several delays, but my manager is still sick. So now I'm starting on Monday after the holiday, which is two weeks after the original planned start date. One effect this is having is that I'm really looking forward to starting, as if someone is keeping something away from me that I want, making it more desirable.

I received previews of some film photos through Photoworks, which means I'll get my prints soon. These are from my walk last week in Colman Park by Lake Washington, just southeast of where we live.

Angry voters on the rampage in Seattle

I had lunch yesterday with Seattle weblogger pals June and Anita and had a good time talking about work and blogging. (Separately—we didn't discuss the fraught relationship between the two.) It's always fun to meet people and find you can start talking naturally and comfortably right away. You never know when it's going to be awkward and when it's going to be easy, regardless of good intentions. Then today I was walking to lunch past the lovely manmade stream on campus, staring off into space and listening to the flowing water, when I heard my carpool friend call out, “Hi, Fran!” in a happy-to-see-you voice. So nice to hear! We ate lunch together.

It is great to have friends at work, aside from the coworkers I see every day, because when people call out hello, it reminds me of the little block where I grew up and everyone knew each other. There was always something in common to talk about. Ideally working is like that. I've always enjoyed work (when I have enjoyed it) more for the social aspects than for the Jasminlive challenges that come with the job itself. (Is that wrong?) Right now I like the work I'm doing as well as the coworkers and other friends, so I'm very happy. The work is repetitive but somehow it keeps me interested so I try not to read into it too much (hmm, if I enjoy this repetitive job, does that make me a slacker?) or else pretty soon I'm talking to myself and answering myself.

At the polling place today, where we had a primary election, the ballots had been changed so that you now have to declare a party. This has been Very Big News: in the primary, you now can't vote all over the map to try to elect the weakest Republican so that your favorite Democrat can beat him later. Newscasts have blared on and on about ANGRY VOTERS! “In tomorrow's election, ANGRY VOTERS will confront the new ballots and, one hopes, refrain from taking their ANGER out on the elderly election-judge volunteers…”

This new way is the same way they did it in Illinois. Although I've surely voted in several primaries in Washington by now, I never noticed the difference. Today I did, though. In Chicago you had to ask for the ballot you wanted. (Probably because of some Chicago Democratic machine power play—making anyone who wanted to vote against the party announce it if he dared.) So today I was prepared to blurt out one party or another to the judge. My stubborn head insists it doesn't matter who is elected, in spite of friends' efforts to convince me that Republicans eat babies. But I soon found out that all parties' candidates are printed on one ballot. If you're a Republican, you don't have to announce it. You can hide and nurture your shame, trying to face yourself in the mirror each morning, etc. Not me though, I voted in the Democratic primary. Honest.

From the department of secondhand blogging…

Tom told me that when he went in to vote this morning, this was the slice of life he saw:

The polling place was pretty deserted, but there was one voter talking at one of the old men who was helping out. She asked him if he voted for the school levy and he said, no, everytime somebody wants something they take $200 out of his pocket. She continued loudly talking at him about how it would provide crossing guards, and lunches and athletic programs and since he was paying for Qwest Field and a monorail he'd never use, didn't he want to help out the children?

He said, well, that's a good thing, but it's too late, I've already voted. She said, yes, but people will be coming in here asking you your honest opinion on whether it's a good thing and blah, blah, blah.

At that point, another voter interupted her, saying, I think what you're doing is wrong. She started to protest, but he cut her off saying, I know what you're trying to do and I agree with you, but you know this isn't the right place to do this. She started saying something back but he interrupted with some last words about how he was trying to help her not get in trouble…. It was just like something a movie character would have said. He was firm and somewhat sympathetic, but he stopped her lecture.

End of secondhand blogging and back to… the end.

The meat market

Do you remember those hand-painted paper signs that hung in grocery store windows, giving the prices of things? “Carrots 49¢,” etc. They were painted on white paper in blue and red paint, mostly, in fat, rapid brushstrokes. Every word and numeral had the same confident curve and slant, the slant evoking urgency! Get in here for these low prices! I always wanted to meet one of those sign painters. I worked in a little grocery store for my very first Livejasmin job, and I never saw the sign painter. He must have come in the morning before the staff arrived.

Those signs seem to have gone the way of the telex machine, replaced by computer-generated and lighted-plastic signs. And neon beer signs. I'm trying to remember what else I typically see in grocery store windows. New stores hardly have any windows, and old stores often have security grates, so any signs are an afterthought.

I was in a store today that needed those painted price signs. It was Bob's Quality Meats, on Rainier Avenue in the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle. I finally had an excuse to shop there, because Tom and I decided to have pork roast for Thanksgiving. It was Tom's idea, and as soon as he said “how about pork roast,” I thought, “Yay! Bob's Quality Meats!” This little store has been in business for something like 90 years. It's a traditional-looking butcher shop, with a long glass case, a few shelves of meat seasonings and sauces, and little else. In back, they must have a huge area of meat lockers and butcher tables, but the storefront section is small. The glass windows are covered with handmade paper signs, and I immediately recognized that they were trying to duplicate the painted style with Magic Markers. Uneven, never-quite-big-enough block letters were filled in with contrasting colors or black:

The last one appeared in two locations. The extra “i” had been added to each as a squeezed-in afterthought, instantly giving the word a new syllable. If only an old sign painter would come out of retirement and paint the signs the way they're supposed to look, and the owner could throw away his collection of markers….

Inside, the original (huge) metal cash register (white—I never saw a white one before) still sits behind the counter, relegated to a decorative spot by the window. It must weigh 150 pounds. A white metal scale lives on a high shelf, a philodendron plant twining over it. The only old-style feature the store was missing was a stamped-tin ceiling. I always look for those. My mom taught me to notice them when I was little, and when I walk into a small shop, I still have the habit of looking at the ceiling. I think those might have been more prevalent in Chicago than here, because I don't see them very often.

Waiting in line, which is really more of a random group than a line, you get anxious. It's not like Starbucks, where the line is straight and orderly. It's old-fashioned. “Who's next?” says the guy or lady behind the counter, and you look around wildly, afraid you'll be overlooked and stand there forever. I used to eat lunch at ancient delis back in certain Chicago neighborhoods, and in those places, the elderly shoppers were such aggressive line-cutters that the deli and bakery counters offered numbered tickets (not needed in Seattle, where everyone looks at each other and says, “Aren't you next?”). You grabbed a ticket as soon as you walked in, and you stared at it narrow-eyed until the number was called, comparing it again and again with the “number being served” sign over the counter. If you were a newcomer and waited for ten minutes without noticing that you were supposed to take a number, too bad. Take a number. I loved those places for being full of old-timers and great food. You just had to be on your toes and know what you wanted when your turn came.

The three-pound boneless pork loin I had ordered was about twice as big as I expected. It wasn't one of those oblong chunks I've seen in the grocery stores, but an elongated, lean, supple thing. I've never cooked pork before. (I've never cooked most things before.) Instead of cooking it in the 13 x 9–inch glass pan I was going to use, I had to get one of those big foil pans. One less thing to wash, I guess. I got my recipe from The Joy of Cooking, my favorite cookbook, which does not assume that you know anything. I've learned a lot about food just by reading their many livesexchat sections.

I also bought an oven thermometer to take some of the guessing out of cooking. On the rare occasions we use the oven, everything takes much longer to cook than it's supposed to. Now I know why. I set the oven to 450 degrees and put the thermometer in it. When the stove beeped to indicate it was preheated, the thermometer showed 375. I waited another twenty minutes and the temperature climbed to 450 and stayed there. So we have to give the oven a full thirty minutes to heat up before we put food in and turn on the timer. This will be easier than checking and rechecking doneness as we have been doing.

What am I thankful for? For Tom and for my nice parents and relatives. For being born in a society where I can wander my own path through life, and where I have the leisure to explore my thoughts and keep a journal, instead of struggling every day to get by. Happy Thanksgiving!

Spring and the sequel

It's warm out again today. I went outside to put a plant in the ground, and I didn't even need a coat. I bought the plant last week and forgot to plant it—it's just one of those little creeping ground covers. It had been sitting on its spot in the front flower bed, in its plastic pot, waiting for me to notice that I had forgotten it when I planted the others on the day I bought them. Now that it's in the warm, wet ground, I hope it's more comfortable.

I went in the back yard to clean the bird bath and do some weeding. I've been leaving the bird bath dish right down on the patio so that the cats can drink out of it—the birds weren't using it anyway. Also with it on the ground, I can see the water reflecting the tree branches and the sky. It's been staying full lately from the rain, but eventually it grows brown algae on the bottom of the dish, which is royal blue. So I clean it out every so often and refill it from the rain barrel.

Then, also in the back yard, I pulled some big dandelion weeds that I could see from the house, displayed on the back slope as if they were prize-winning specimens. Some of the plants that had been slowed by the frosts we had a few weeks ago are starting to bounce back. Even the potted fuchsia by the stairs has sprouted tiny green baby buds. They'll be killed off again, but it's reassuring to know that a plant that looks dead at a glance is actually just waiting for its chance to turn green again.

In the raised bed by the patio, the little creepers, the heather, and the tall verbena have never stopped growing since I planted them. Same goes for the woolly thyme I put around the edges of the patio itself. On the back slope, the green tufty ground covers are in bloom with their little pink balls on stalks. I can't remember what they're called. Near them, under the hawthorne tree, the low pink ground cover erodium reichardii are spreading fast. They hardly moved all summer and in the past month they've tripled in area. The poor things need water in summer, I now realize. Maybe I'll be kinder to them next year. No promises. It's hard to water on that slope because it all runs off. The clay in the soil makes that problem even worse because it's not very absorbent. I've started to plant only dry-weather plants back there.

In the shady, flatter spots in the back north corner, both of the bamboo clumps are finally starting to spread and to grow canes taller than six feet. They've been there for about two years, I think. When I saw kids cutting through the yard in that spot, I had a fence put up behind the bamboo. I think the bamboo had been in a holding pattern because of being trampled, so now maybe it will grow fast. (The neighbor across the street, a retired man, told me people were cutting through there “all the time,” and that he had been meaning to ask us why we didn't put up a fence. I think he was exaggerating a little.)


Today I took a shopping bag full of books up to Third Place Books in Lake City. They bought all but three of the books in the bag, and I received $30 in credit. I got a glossy book of Puget Sound–area photos for my aunt in Missouri as a Christmas gift. She really wants to come and visit, but she can't leave my uncle alone because of his athsma and his occasional vertigo. She told me that when she was having a check-up at the doctor's office, she used thoughts of visiting Seattle as a distraction from the exams, and we saw that she has part of a scrapbook officially devoted to pictures we send her. So I think she will like this book of photos from around the region. I'm going to stick Post-its in it showing places we've visited or places that are close to where we live. I want to give her some good, specific ideas of the pretty things we will see together if she finds a way to come and visit.

There is, by the way, no chance she is reading this site and spoiling the surprise.

Third Place is about the best bookstore I've seen. It is huge, but not like one of those warehouse stores where you wander until you lose the will to live. It's carpeted and full of comfy chairs, small subsections, and both new and used books mixed in together. Part of the store's giant area is used as seating for its food court and music stage. Six or seven food vendors provide decent food, especially the Honey Bear Bakery. You can't go wrong there, whether it's a meal or dessert. On weekend nights, there's hokey family entertainment. The store is in a mini-mall located across the road from the Burke-Gilman bike trail and a stream that runs along it. What I want to do some summer day is find out exactly where that creek empties into the lake, which is just on the other side of the bike path and a narrow strip of houses.

On Saturday, Tom and I went to the giant REI store because I am craving a new pair of cargo pants. This, unlike Third Place Books, is a store where a shopper can quickly lose the will to live. It's basically Nordstrom for the outdoorsy types, but I have a feeling they don't want people to see them that way. Anyway, I tried on three pairs of pants but didn't find any I liked. One pair was a brand called Outdoor Intelligence. The tag said, “Smart clothing for the everyday extremist.” Hmm. It was just a normal lightweight pair of khakis. The striking feature was the extra-secured fly, which had a zipper, a button, a velcro flap, and a drawstring. I think the tag should read, “Smart clothing for your teenage daughter.”