Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Nikchick.com: Year in Review

We're staying in this NYE so after a dinner of excellent fried chicken and sides from Ezell's and an hour spent listening to the podcast of This American Life's Holiday Spectacular, I'm going to make my last post of 2006 and crawl under the flannel sheets of my own bed to read the rest of Sarah Vowell's excellent Assassination Vacation (thanks again, Will!).

As the new year is a time of looking back, assessing, and then looking forward, I've pulled out one post from each month that I particularly like or that particularly sums up what the month held for me.

January: The Last Grandma wherein I think that my last living grandmother may be dying.
February: Hunting wherein I comment on Dick Cheney's "hunting" accident.
March: Accursed HOA, you will RUE it! wherein I declare war against my homeowner's association.
April: Bunny Rearing wherein I attempt to prove that I don't order pizza every night by posting some of the recipes I tried in April. [I should note that more important events, like John and Jenny's wedding, happened in April, but I often only posted photo links or brief summaries of events, so I didn't choose those for linking. Looking back, April was a busy time.]
May: Mother's Day wherein I share the bounty Kate bestows upon me.
June: Inconvenient Truth: A Challenge wherein I challenge my friends, acquaintances, and anonymous blog readers to see the movie An Inconvenient Truth and come back to discuss it with me. [It's worth noting that not one person took me up on this challenge... if they did get around to seeing the movie they never did come back to discuss it with me.]
July: Yearly Origins Awards comments wherein I find that I still have a thing or two to say about the Origins Awards.
August: GenCon Friday wherein we discover why I can no longer listen to Black Eyed Peas' Pump It without remembering that magical ENnie Award ceremony.
September: Baghdad wherein I try to put what's happened in Baghdad these last few years into some perspective, with little success. [Baghdad Burning, referred to in that post, returned to blogging in October. I highly recommend giving her a read.]
October: Like I'm Made of Glass wherein I admit that I'm imperfect and I struggle with things larger than what I might share on my blog.
November: How Deep the Scars wherein I continue to wrestle with things personal.
December: Acts of Kindness wherein I share another example of why I'm so proud of how my girl is growing up.


"Butter tastes good."

Kate uttered this declaration the other day. One might think this was not a particularly profound revelation but for a girl who has grown up on various forms of spreadable margarine (cholesterol-reducing Benecol, Brummel and Brown's yogurt spread, and Land O Lakes Spreadable Butter with Canola Oil are just some of the products we tried) and who has lived half her life on meals made up largely of a bread product and "butter" this was something quite new.

Always, always it was the spreadability issue that drove us to tubs of "buttery spread" or "butter-like substance" or whatever term was currently being applied to the stuff in a tub meant to stand in for actual butter. Other issues were also a consideration, such as cholesterol or transfats, but what really kept us from using real butter on our morning toast was that real butter was often too hard to spread at just the time we wanted to spread it.

I tried just leaving a stick of butter out on the counter for such things but Pramas was forever putting the butter back in the fridge so it wouldn't spoil. Then, this winter, I got myself a Butter Bell.

The website advertises that the Butter Bell "holds up to one full stick (1/2 cup) of butter. Softened butter is packed firmly into the bell-shaped lid. Cold water is poured into the base of the crock. The lid is placed upside down back into the base of the crock. Soft, spreadable butter may be enjoyed and served right from the crock."

This baby lives up to its advertising. Since getting it, we've been able to keep fresh, softened butter on the table 24/7 for use on all manner of products where we'd normally be using some butter substitute. It was after a couple of weeks of this that Kate, spreading real butter on a slice of bakery French bread, announced that thing that we'd known but perhaps forgotten: butter tastes good. Couldn't agree more, Kate.



Viva Pinata

Kate helped me play this ("Look out! Bat!" and "Press X, go to your journal, QUICK QUICK! What does the Doenut need to stay?") for several hours last night. Chris was at Rick's, where I hear they tried out some BattleLore. Kate and I built a garden, attracted animals, romanced the hell out of a tribe of worms, and whacked snails and bats over the head with shovels. What's not to like?

I know that you can do a bunch of things with Xbox Live but I have to say that's the sort of thing that puts me off. Gamer "ratings"? I don't need to know that I didn't optimize my win, or that I took 17 days to get my garden to level 12 when some Korean teenager did it in half the time. Oh, is my score at Bejeweled 2 not within a million points of the hardcore Xbox Live gamers? Whatever.

But the game itself? So far it's good fun. I much prefer these kinds of games (or another game like the original KOTOR) to the shooters or even games like Prince of Persia where I always, always hit a wall I can't jump up or some trick I can't do because I can't time the button mashing just exactly right. I always quit those games eventually because I can't get past the thing, can't trigger the next event, whatever. So far, very little of that in Viva Pinata, especially if I'm willing to let a few of my surplus worms get eaten on occasion.

Maybe I will find a way to make a few extra hours this weekend for Xbox 360 playing after all...

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Squeezing the Life out of 2006

Lest anyone worry that I might spend the last few days of the year in a lazy haze of Xbox 360, TiVo and Christmas cookies, I've reassured myself that my calendar remains quite jam-packed and I will continue to be a busy bee on into 2007.

Sometime today, to Kate's dismay, Rosie goes home. In order to maximize her time with Rosie, Kate slept on the couch in the living room and has been encouraging Rosie to curl up on the couch with her while she plays Viva Pinata. Later I will be hosting Mexican Fiesta night at my house with two families from my Mom List and some combinations of their spouses and children. Chelane is bringing wine and I've got margarita mix and a selection of foods to cover all the bases for any surprise picky eaters.

Tomorrow I hope to get a few things done like filing the huge stack of papers obscuring my desk, catching up on the "no, really, I still haven't sold anything in Indiana since GenCon" paperwork for the retarded Indiana state department of revenue (who really need to do the temporary seller's permit thing the way California does it and save everyone a LOT of trouble) and just general household maintenance.

Friday night we're invited to enjoy some Chicago-style hotdogs and latkes out in the 'quah and then we're already into the last few nights of the year, the last of Kate's winter break, the last of the long weekends for Pramas until we head to New York Comic Con in February (which, being a work show, doesn't even really count as a long weekend except that he won't be at Flying Lab those days).

As with much of the rest of 2006, I find myself looking around and wondering where the hell my time went. 2006 was a year of living on fast forward. If I have a resolution for the new year it's to put the brakes on in 2007 and do what I can so the year doesn't wash over me and leave me feeling like a person who has been thrown out of the raft on a whitewater excursion.



Last 2 minutes of Christmas

Father Christmas, give us some money
Well beat you up if you make us annoyed
Father Christmas, give us some money
Don't mess around with those silly toys

But give my daddy a job cause he needs one
Hes got lots of mouths to feed
But if you've got one, Ill have a machine gun
So I can scare all the kids down the street

Father Christmas, give us some money
We got no time for your silly toys
Well beat you up if you don't hand it over
We'll beat you up if you make us annoyed
Give all the toys to the little rich boys

Have yourself a merry merry Christmas
Have yourself a good time
But remember the kids who got nothin'
While you're drinkin' down your wine


Does it mean something

...when your new Christmas iPod on shuffle chooses to play XTC's Dear God first thing Christmas morning?

What about when the next song is Joan Baez's Diamonds and Rust?

When the third song is Johnny Cash and Fiona Apple covering Cat Stevens' Father & Son?

Cynical and sappy at the same time. It's me all over, I can't escape it.

Peace on earth, goodwill to men (even the fuckers).


Christmas is Over

For us, Christmas is over already. Tomorrow there will be stockings even though Kate knows the whole secret to Santa this year and we'll go over to Ray and Christine's tomorrow afternoon for a while. Low key and laid back, nothing too different from how we'd spend a typical Sunday with the crew. The big stuff is over. My mom, brother, and sis-in-law left to go back to Portland this morning. We had our big dinner (I did skip making the squash/rice side dish after all) last night and opened presents after that. We also went to see Eragon at the Cinerama and so, because of its proximity to Top Pot donuts, we had donuts for breakfast. Typical for my family, we munched donuts while Pramas explained to my SIL about Pol Pot and the campaign to exterminate Cambodia's intellectuals. Nothing says Christmas with the family like the Khmer Rouge, eh?

We actually had a very nice family visit, though our lack of a spare room was sorely felt as all our guests (including Rosie) hunkered down with the Christmas tree in the living room. I sent the family packing with a trunk full of leftovers, including half a pumpkin cheesecake. My brother called when he got home just to tell me once again how good the food was.

I spent my day playing with this. I've finally joined the world of the real MP3 player, woohoo! Pramas even got pink to match my birthday shoes and my new phone. (I've been on a pink kick this year.) Kate also got a Scrabble set so we played that tonight, too.

Not that Christmas is all about gifts, but I have to say that the gifts I received this year were fabulous. I got clothes items that fit and that I love, I got food and cooking items that I'd been coveting or that were perfect together (one gift included coffee beans, another was a spiffy new coffee making device (thanks Hal!) for example), I got books and music that I've been positively reveling in. All hits and no misses. Pramas also got me a Truthiness kit from Subversive Cross Stitch that I can't wait to tear into. I stayed up way too late reading Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation (thanks Will!) and we finished off a big chunk of the various sweets and goodies that were delivered to the house (thanks Rob, thanks Ev!).

Feeling very good about my holiday this year. No grinchy feelings at all. How nice!

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Seriously, folks, this is not good.

Flynt Leverett is a former senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council with extensive experience who writes about what the hell is going on over in places like Iran. (A list of his publications since joining the New America Foundation in June can be found here.)

Leverett recently wrote an op-ed piece with Hillary Mann on Iran for the New York Times. According to the authors, "Since leaving government service three and a half years ago, Mr. Leverett has put more than 20 articles through the C.I.A.’s prepublication review process and the Publication Review Board has never changed a word or asked the White House for permission to clear these articles." [emphasis mine]

That is until the White House got wind of this most recent piece and "intervened in the normal prepublication review process and demanded substantial deletions." Both the New York Times itself and Think Progress have been covering the story. You can also find information, and a link to a published 34-page report on the same subject ("Dealing with Tehran: Assessing US Diplomatic Options Toward Iran.") from Leverett, at The Washington Note.

The Central Intelligence Agency’s Publication Review Board admitted to the authors that the material contained no classified information but said "they had to bow to the White House." Leverett has been trying to fight the decision, citing prior public discussion of the topics by multiple government officials and widespread media reports, including multiple published articles by Leverett himself (all previously approved by the CIA, prior to White House meddling).

The New York Times has decided to publish the redacted version of the op-ed piece and has provided citations which a motivated person could use to piece together Leverett's original points. However the bigger story now, certainly, is the overt censorship from the White House. Oh, and the man leading the charge for this new era of censorship? None other than Elliott Abrams, the very guy who pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of unlawfully withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra affair.



Heads up: I'm tired of the layout here at nikchick.com so I'm thinking of changing it up a little for the new year. Blogger is also changing things around, supposedly coming up with a bunch of great new features, yadda yadda. We'll see if any of their new offerings are actually that exciting, I guess.

There may be a few periods of dead space while I screw around with my pages (and undoubtedly break things in the process).


Rosie has arrived

David dropped Rosie off a few minutes ago, and aside from a hatred of our kitchen floor (slick tiles) she seems to like us and be relatively comfortable with the house. She is such a sweet dog!

Since she's so freaked out by the kitchen tiles I've set up her food and water in powder room off the living room instead of setting her up in the kitchen as I'd originally planned.

Kate is beyond thrilled.


Headache Day

Woke up with a headache this morning, dammit. I hate days like this that start off in pain.

Evan reports the power is back on at their place, after 114 hours of cold and dark. My friends in Burien also got their power back on yesterday. I'm definitely thankful that we were not without power as long as that. Can't imagine what kind of state I would be in.

While I'm crabby and hurting, I might as well rant about the outrageous bigotry exhibited by Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode yesterday. According to the C-Ville Weekly (and picked up by TMP Muckraker, Virgil Goode's response to Minnesota Congressman-elect Keith Ellison's desire to be sworn into Congress on the Koran instead of the Bible. In a letter sent to his constituents, Goode seized the chance to use Ellison's religious beliefs to go off on the following rant:

...if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped...

Get this straight, Virgil Goode: Keith Ellison was born and raised Detroit, Michigan. He was raised Catholic and converted to Islam as a college student. He married his high school sweetheart and has lived in Minnesota for 17 years, since moving there to go to law school, raising a family and practicing law. Unlike you, Virgil Goode, he is not tied to bribery scandals and has no associations to people like Mitchell Wade or Duke Cunningham or any of the other utterly corrupt white guys who have made careers out of bilking American taxpayers. Or how about this little disconnect: Virgil Goode voted to allow school prayer during the vaunted War on Terror and supports a constitutional amendment to allow school prayer... unless, it seems, those praying might be Muslim like scary, scary Keith Ellison. (I mean, really, how dare he want to use the actual holy book of his religion in the staged photo-op portion of the swearing in? It undermines the very fabric of our American way of life!) No wonder the Christian Coalition gives Goode a 100% rating for "family values".

Virgil Goode is an embarrassment and should be ashamed of himself. Of course, that would require him to have shame, which he clearly does not. Regardless, the "values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America" that I grew up in include tolerance, grace, religious freedom, freedom from persecution by the majority, and judging a person by the content of his character. I find Virgil Goode's character lacking.

This guy is almost as worthless as Jack Kingston, he of the "Keeping us up here eats away at families. Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families -- that's what this says." whining over being expected to *gasp* actually work five days a week in Washington. You know, unlike the average taxpaying American for whom he supposedly works...

Ok, rant off. Time to dig up some more pain killers. Rosie the dog is coming to stay with us for a week and I need to get things into some basic order before she shows up!


Tree Saga

Yesterday Kate and I set out to do some errands. I got my hair cut, Kate shopped for presents for her grandma, aunt and uncle (since they're coming up on Friday), then we went hither and yon searching in vain for Christmas trees. There were NONE to be found at any of our usual tree lot locations. We even tried going down to IKEA, where we've had good luck the last couple of years, but they were already well sold out and done for the season. Giving up on that, I made a run to the grocery store to replace some of the perishables that had gone bad during the blackout (Kate discovered the milk was sour, poor kid). Kate was mightily disappointed that we still had no Christmas tree and I was giving serious consideration to buying one of those fake tree atrocities but we're a real tree family and one look from Pramas let me know that a fake tree was just not an option.

Instead I did a little research on the ol' internet and found a couple of other likely locations for trees. Kate and I set off in the car with only an hour to spare before the tree lots were advertised to be closed. Lot #1 was a bare and vacant lot, not a tree in sight. Lot #2 was locked and mostly empty, with a few snaggled trees remaining. We were quickly losing hope. We made it to the last tree lot on my list (a lot on Capitol Hill run by volunteers raising money for AIDS) and hail all that is good and right, they were open and had a few trees left. I quickly sized up our options and picked the one tree that would fit in our house, correctly judging that it would be just inches shy of our ceiling. Appropriately for a tree lot on Capitol Hill, the cash register was being run by a wispy, effeminate gay man while a stocky woman in boots and a crew cut wielded a chainsaw to trim the trees out back. All she was missing was the flannel shirt. I later told Pramas (who did not venture out with us) about the woman and he laughed, because Kate had told the same story (about how our chainsaw wielding friend kept calling the tree "she" as in "she needs water and she will drink a lot during the first 48 hours") but that Kate hadn't clicked to the fact that it was a chick giving us the tree care tutorial.

Anyway, got the tree home only to find that it was too big for our cheap tree stand. I tried manually sawing the base of the tree into a point of sorts with our handsaw to whittle it down but to no avail. All I managed to do was get myself covered in pine sap and cover the front steps in sawdust and bark chips. We had to wait until today to go out again and try to find a larger tree stand (which we did). Finally got the tree set up and Kate went to town decorating it. Of course, once it was done I couldn't resist fiddling with it and I managed to tip the whole damn thing over on myself but after Kate recovered from the trauma of having "her" ornaments spilled over the floor, she happily redecorated and we have, in the nick of time, the tree set up and presents underneath.

Tomorrow the dog comes and we're two days away from Project "Oh My God, The Family Is Here." It's also the last day for Priority Mail packages to go out in time for Christmas. I've purchased all ingredients needed for my faux Christmas dinner menu, down to pear nectar celeriac. Yay me.


Birthday and Biscotti

I've posted a couple sets to my Flickr page. From last night's birthday celebration:

And the cookie madness, including my favorite Triple Ginger Biscotti:



Cookie Crazy

Spent the day at R&C's making cookies. The Gitelclan had assembled there, drawn from the powerless wilds of their Issaquah home to the electricity and hot water enabled Chez Pominger and we were also joined by Christine's dear friend David (in town from Chicago) and her sister Carol.

Cookies were made (spritz cookies in green and red, crescents dipped in chocolate and nuts, those beautiful powdered sugar-covered balls called Mexican Wedding Cakes or Russian Tea Cakes depending on where you're from, and my contribution of some Earl Grey shortbreads, and the triple ginger biscotti that I so love), then Kate was served a birthday feast of cheeseburgers, hot dogs and tater tots, followed by cupcakes and half a zillion candles and gifts. We followed up the birthday festivities with Hanukkah celebrations and I managed to finally drag Kate to the car before Christine could load me up with more than the four additional bags of cookies she managed to slip into my arms as I was departing.

This week is all prep for my family's arrival on Friday. Kate is out of school now and Green Ronin is officially closed for the rest of December (though I will unsdoubtedly still be doing work between now and January). Tomorrow and Tuesday we clean and prepare a place for the Christmas tree we have yet to buy. Wednesday I attend the annual home owner's meeting to see what the heck is going to happen with the debt the Seattle Housing Authority has mismanaged our HOA into and Rosie, the dog we're dog sitting, comes to stay. Thursday it's last minute prep and making room for my mom, brother, and sister in law to stay for the weekend. Friday the family arrives and stays the weekend. Monday it's Christmas already... I'm exhausted just thinking about it.



Windstorm 2006

I was awake and listening to debris hit the side of the house when the power started flickering and finally went out. It stayed off for 34 hours, and I know there are others who are still without power now. We were very fortunate. We had no property damage and aside from the temperature in the house getting pretty cold last night everything was okay. The gas stayed on so we had hot water for showers and for cooking. Drank lots of hot tea yesterday and that helped a lot. The oven apparently has a safety-off, though, because we couldn't light that with a match like we could the stove top (which put a damper on my plan to do some baking to help keep the kitchen warm). Chris dug out an old non-cordless phone so we had phone service last night. The cable and internet were still out until a few minutes ago but even they're back up and running now so we're feeling pretty fortunate.

I took photos of a lot of downed trees and branches around us when I went out yesterday. Our neighbor across the alley lost a large section of shingles on her roof and some big trees came down at the community center but we suffered no property damage, thank goodness!

It was totally dark in the house by 5:00 but we hunkered down and played board games by candlelight. If it hadn't been so chilly in the house it would have been almost fun. Had to cancel Kate's birthday party since we had no way of telling if we'd have power tonight or not, so no sleepover and no Eragon. Poor kiddo, she's disappointed but handling it maturely. I told her we'll plan a big make-up event in January for after the holidays.


Christmas Dinner Menu

I'm trying to figure out what to make for "Christmas" dinner. My mom, brother, and sis-in-law are coming up the weekend before Christmas (leaving before Christmas itself) so I'm going to do up at least one nice family dinner.

So far I'm considering:
Celeriac Soup with Roquefort Croutons
Roasted Beet, Fennel, and Walnut salad
Essential Baking Company's Rosemary Bread with the salted crust
Cardamom Pork Roast with Apples and Figs
Pumpkin cheesecake

I can't decide if I like Baked Rice with Butternut Squash or Minnesota Wild Rice Pilaf better. I know I don't need to make them both but I'm sorely tempted.

Argh. Decisions!



Eleven Years Ago


December 13, 1995
Finally! We have a beautiful baby daughter, after all the months of preparation and the endless hours waiting to see her! She is perfect and beautiful and we are totally in love.


How grown up you are! Happy birthday, my sweet girl.


Trying to Make it to 2007

Computers dying, products not being delivered on time, servers going down, e-mail going missing, juggle, juggle, juggle and that's just a fraction of the work-related juggling! No time for thoughtful writing.

Instead, here's my crack at the 2006 in Review meme that's going around. First line from the first post each month for the year. Pretty mundane, looking back on it:

January -- I've posted some photos of our Christmas in Boston.
February -- Took me a while, but I finally went to check out Fear of Girls.
March -- Yesterday I was feeling perfectly fine.
April -- Events for the great Tynes-Scott wedding of 2006 are underway, culminating last night with his and hers bachelor(ette) parties that eventually merged into one at Chez Pominger.
May -- Pramas wrote up what we did Saturday night.
June -- I managed to sneak in a viewing of The Call of Cthulhu this afternoon at SIFF.
July -- Chris, Kate and I went to see Superman at the Cinerama together last night.
August -- Got back yesterday afternoon in time to pick Chris up from the airport on his return from Massachusetts.
September -- I've lived in the region since 1993 but never came down from Vancouver for Bumbershoot and haven't tried out the festival since I moved to Seattle almost ten years ago.
October -- With Kate at her dad's and Pramas in Oakland, I thought I might be spending an exciting weekend at home catching up on laundry and TiVo or scrubbing the kitchen floor (oh, how it needs it!) but such was not the case!
November -- Pramas knows and understands me better than anyone.
December -- Apparently there was a public meeting on media ownership here in Seattle last night.


HOA Mess

Over the weekend Chris talked to someone who was coming door to door in the neighborhood to talk to homeowners about the state of the HOA. Now that all the homes in the three phases of the development are sold, the Seattle Housing Authority (which has controlled the HOA board to this point) will be turning over control of the association to homeowners.

Currently there is a budget deficit of over $70,000 for operating expenses (keeping community green space maintained and so on would be included in this, but I haven't seen an itemized detail). This means that they're looking at a special assessment of $190 for every home in the community.

There's also a deficit in the Reserve Fund Account to the tune of $56,000. The people who own townhouses are looking at having to pay $350 each to make up for that. As a detached home owner, I only have to pay $11 but that's because I have to pay for my own roof, fence, porch and whatnot out of my own pocket, no shared expenses. The people with townhomes or duplexes are getting particularly screwed on this as there's supposed to be money to fix their roofs and fences, but there isn't.

There is also a faulty water billing issue that the HOA was supposed to be dealing with. This year's homeowner water bills were based on "estimated usage" and left some people owing between $500 and $1000 and others getting refunds. This was an issue at last year's meetings and clearly hasn't been properly addressed.

The SHA is proposing to make a contribution toward the operating deficit but only if the homeowners pay the water bills and cover the $56,000 reserve deficit. The wealthier homeowners are pissed and have hired a lawyer to formulate a response.

There's a meeting on Dec 20th and I'm going to attend, just to get up to speed. I had been blissfully ignoring the HOA since they weren't hassling me, but it's clear that my concerns of last year were justified and have only gotten worse.


Morning View

I took this picture from Kate's window this morning. By the time I noticed the sunrise, grabbed my camera and decided that the best view was going to be from Kate's room the vivid colors were already beginning to fade. Morning beauty is so fleeting!

We have what's called a "partial view" from our house. Now that the trees in the little park have grown up, it's becoming less and less of a view. For now we can still occasionally see the mountain on days when it's not obscured by clouds.


Negotiating the Prison System sucks

We get a lot of mail orders from prisoners at Green Ronin. Over the years I've occasionally heard from the same prisoners repeatedly. Some just place orders, some ask for updated catalogs. Some correspondence is so immature in its composition, so illegible, sometimes so entirely unintelligible, I have been left to wonder if this prisoner doesn't have some larger problem than just being incarcerated. Other times we get pleas from very smooth and persuasive prisoners who tell a tale of woe, how the man is keeping them down when all they want is some new roleplaying stuff, is there any way they could get some dinged copies for free and make some poor lonely prisoners a little happier. It really runs the gamut.

I have no idea who these prisoners are or what crimes they're being punished for. I never respond in any personal way to their letters, I don't go for the con men and their sob stories (as much of a sap as I can be, I'm not that much of a soft touch) but occasionally we get special requests from prisoners (such as the guy who wanted a copy of one of our hard cover books but hard cover books weren't allowed in his prison, so he asked me to please remove the cover from the book, or the guy who asked if I could print out and send him the errata and other freebie materials from the website since he had no access to a computer) and I do what I can to accommodate reasonable requests.

I just received a prisoner order that was returned, postage due even though I'd clearly paid the postage on it when it was sent. Even our postal delivery guy didn't know what was up, he'd never seen this particular form before. I paid the postage due and examined the package a little later. It was an order from the middle of October! It had been opened and re-taped by the prison (which I guess is why there was postage due). Inside there was a two page list of possible reasons this package might have been returned. Not one of them was checked, at the bottom of page two was written "Over the allowed (4) books". This guy had ordered three books and a copy of our Hamunaptra boxed set (which contains three booklets and a poster map) and the prison warden denied him. D'oh. In this particular case, I'm considering re-sending the books in separate packages. I must be feeling the Christmas spirit.

This particular inmate is in a Florida State institution, so the rules on what he is or isn't allowed to receive are different than other states or Federal prisons. It's virtually impossible for us to know what the rules are when we receive these orders... mostly I just close my eyes and hope the guy actually gets his books. Just looking at the list of possible reasons for something to be returned is intimidating: greeting card is larger than 8" x 10", contains a polaroid photograph, contains "excess" blank greeting cards, stationary or other blank paper or envelopes, routine mail delivered in padded envelope, mail utilizes home made envelopes or packages, contains Money Order, is "dangerously inflammatory in that it advocates or encourages riot, insurrection, disruption...", excess of 5 pages of additional written or printed materials without prior approval from the warden...

I know there are good reasons for all of these rules, that they are in place because some inmate somewhere was bilking someone, making a shiv from his hardcover book, had concealed something in a polaroid photo, blah blah. No need to lecture me about the necessity of these rules being in place for the good of society and the safety of the inmates or any of that (I'm looking at you, Matt Goodman). I'm just remarking on the fact that the rules are extensive, intimidating, and unpredictable for anyone not immersed in America's prison culture.


Why was I not informed?

Hershey's Special Dark Macadamia Nut Kisses

Why did I not know about this before tonight?



Acts of Kindness

This year as Kate's been more comfortable roaming the neighborhood with her friends and has expanded her territory (she can ride her bike or walk up to the community center/library, where I pick up the Flexcar, by herself...five or six blocks) she's gotten to know a few of the families that live around here. She's so funny, we'll be walking along and she'll say "That's Gretchen's house. She has two dogs and just had a baby." or "I see H. was out drawing on the sidewalk again."

H. is a kindergarten girl who we just discovered also goes to Kate's school. Her parents are very gently trying to introduce H. to taking the school bus. They were thrilled to find out that Kate goes to the same school and over Halloween they came by to ask if I'd be okay with Kate walking up to their house and getting on the bus with H. a few times to ease her into it. Kate was happy to help and I had no objections. Kate made her first trip with H. yesterday.

Last night H.'s dad called me up to gush about how "exceptional" Kate is, how kind and so on. He thanked me profusely for letting Kate take the bus with H. and asked if Kate would be okay with being H.'s "bus friend" that she could go to if she had any problems on the bus... if Kate would just watch out for her. Kate, of course, is happy to do so. Knowing my girl and her keen sense of justice (where does she get that?) I'm confident that he wouldn't even have needed to ask: Kate's the kind of girl who looks out for others anyway. Then the dad wanted to know if there was anything at all they could buy for Kate, "a doll or something? I don't know what girls her age are interested in.." and I assured him that wasn't necessary. I told him that if they wanted to get Kate a card I was sure she would be thrilled at that, and he laughed like I was putting him on.

The thing is, neither Kate nor I know what to say about this effusiveness. We really are happy to help and it's really no big deal. I didn't know how to explain that our family values are that doing a "good deed" (like being a nice little girl's "bus buddy") is reward in itself. When I watched Kate's friend Alex over a weekend his mom left me with money but I thought that was fair since we took the kids out to eat and went bowling. Totally different.

I was pleased to see that Kate's attitude about acts of kindness and doing good deeds or "the right thing" are in line with mine. I know some kids would be very motivated by possible rewards for their good deeds but I'm much more comfortable with the attitude that you help a little old lady cross the road because she needs help, not because you hope she gives you $5 for your "trouble".


The information shuffle

Marc came over and spent a good four hours using his formerly-professional IT mojo to help me get the Atomic Brain back online. I only had to bribe him with ABBRUZZESE LAMB AND RED PEPPER RAGU WITH PENNE and some garlic bread! When a guy who used to fix people's computers for a living keeps saying things like "It shouldn't be doing this," and "I don't know what it's doing," and "Your computer scares me," I don't feel so bad about not being able to make it work myself.

Leave it to me to get the machines that are possessed...

Anyway, with Marc's help the machine is booting again and miraculously stayed fixed overnight while I slept (not a given when my computers are involved). Not only that, I've been able to access the network and have successfully been able to back up to other machines on the network. I really need to consider getting a DVD burner instead of a CD burner so I can back up more to disc at one shot. On the list for 2007, I guess.

Today has been a boring day of moving files around but that's MUCH MUCH better than a boring day of reconstruction by hand from paper information that hadn't been backed up.

Tonight the holiday decorations come out. I have to wait to get a tree until after Kate's 11th Birthday Sleepover Extravaganza because I need to keep the girls in the living room for that, but I've already hung the pretty holly and pine wreath I bought on Bainbridge and if my back can stand it I'm going to start hanging the outdoor lights. My mom, brother and sis-in-law are coming up for Christmas this year and having the family up always makes me feel more festive than usual.


Santa has a big cock

Santa has a big cock
Santa has a big cock,
originally uploaded by Nikchick.
We had quite a time on Bainbridge Island yesterday. Photos are up for those interested.


Sunny, Cold, Bainbridge

Hopped a ferry and spent the day on Bainbridge Island. We toured various artsy-craftsy places that were part of the 13th Annual Bainbridge Island Christmas in the Country (including such kitschy locals as The Christmas House), visited Island Holly Farm (where we found out the owners are going to be tearing out the holly trees after this season and turning the place into a U-Pick Blueberry farm instead), and did a wine tasting at Bainbridge Island Vineyards (which resulted in me leaving with a bottle of their delightfully aromatic dry Müller-Thurgau, their yummy late harvest Siegerrebe, and a bottle of their award-winning raspberry dessert wine). We also had lunch at the Big Star Diner and, later, the Worlds Best Lattes (as sworn by John) at the Blackbird Bakery. It was a really good day for this sort of excursion, clear and sunny and just cold enough to make it feel wintry but not unpleasant.

Photos to come later. For now my feet are cold and I'm going to attach myself to the heating pad Chris brought home to me last night.


Media Consolidation

Apparently there was a public meeting on media ownership here in Seattle last night. I've been listening on KBCS to the statements of various participants. It's been very interesting. Of course there are the usual community "activists" and "hip hop artists" and other categories of young idealists, who I find somewhat less interesting. I respect their passion but their speeches are often just idealistic appeals without much in the way of persuasion or educational content. On the other hand, there were also many seasoned veterans of the broadcasting industry, former and current reporters, community leaders, union leaders and public servants. Even the 2000 Republican candidate for governor was present and spoke (and, clearly knowing the crowd, quipped that it was too bad that the three invited Republican members of the FCC had declined to attend since that would have made [wait for it...wait for it] four Republicans in the room [har har, eh?]). Even the self-appointed token Republican came out in favor of not allowing for more media consolidation, of favoring local control of the media, and hitting hard on the concept of the free press as a crucial component of a democratic society.

Media consolidation in particular isn't necessarily one of my pet issues, but I do certainly come down on the side of the necessity of the free press in the same way that I absolutely support Net Neutrality (holy crap, if for no other reason than Alaska's Senator Ted "series of tubes Stevens was (is still?) Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and we need to protect the Internet from him!). The situation seems to be this: In 2001, the FCC created a MEDIA OWNERSHIP WORKING GROUP to "to achieve its long-standing goals of promoting diversity, localism, and competition in the media." Apparently the working group decided that media consolidation and loss of local control was actually ok, because in a 2003 decision that went to court, the media ownership working group replaced the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule and the radio-television cross-ownership rule with a single set of cross-media limits. The FCC decided to hold official public hearings but Seattle wasn't one of the locations. They had a meeting about it anyway.

I had more to say but my ancient laptop has crashed twice in the process of writing this much, so I'm going to call it good and move on for now. Just give the concept of for-profit news and consolidated media some thought, would you? There are some who make this argument: "Broadcasters, who earn huge profits from this public resource, pay the public nothing in return for its use. It is time for the public to reclaim a share of the airwaves we collectively own to strengthen our democracy." My gut reaction is that they're right but if you feel strongly another way, do let me know. I'm open to discussion on this one.