Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dead Mice and Other Expressions of Love

I wrote this a while ago as a column for my school newspaper.  The teacher thought it was good, but the opinion editor rejected it.  She said it was "weird," though I can't for the life of me figure out why she thought that...

For the most part, it’s no longer a surprise to have to step over or walk around whatever dead small animal is lying on the ground in front of the door to the garage. It doesn’t make it any less disgusting. Most recently it was a mouse, I think, though all I saw was the body and I’m mildly concerned that the head is still hiding somewhere in my garage, waiting to ambush me when I go to look for something as innocent as, say, duct tape.

I know it means my cat loves me. She appreciates the fact that I feed her and scratch the back of her neck when she curls up in my lap. They say it’s the thought that counts, but my cat clearly doesn’t understand that, because she still feels the need to bring me morbid demonstrations of her hunting ability.

Small children, even human ones, aren’t so different. In third or fourth grade, for example, the big thing to do on the playground was dig up the clay next to the swings and make things out of it. I made a candleholder one day. Then, when I got home, using the resources at my disposal without rousing suspicion, I painted it with nail polish. I presented it to my mother with an absurd amount of pride. It now sits in the drawer with all the other (real) candleholders not currently on display. I ran across it the other day. It’s hideous. But for some reason, my mother seemed to appreciate it. She even used it until it cracked down the side and threatened to crumble.

I’m not the only one that does this. Everyone’s refrigerator has at one time served as a gallery for childish artwork. None of them is the next Mona Lisa. In fact, most of them are downright gross, but we don’t seem to notice the lack of technique. We only notice the intent behind it, blind to everything but the love and gratitude it represents.

Still, I wish my cat would stop.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Divergence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

In high school, I didn’t worry much about boys.  For three years, my heart belonged to my one love, Math.  Freshman year we were best friends—I loved Geometry.  By sophomore year we were going steady, I had two semesters back-to-back.  Junior year, our relationship reached a peak.  AP Calculus opened my eyes and mind to all kinds of new concepts and processes and I was head over heels.  Nothing could come between us.  But as is often the case, things went downhill after that.  We didn’t see each other all summer, and senior year I didn’t even have a math class.  We both agreed that perhaps we just needed some space and started seeing other people.  I was the editor of the school newspaper.  I learned Spanish, played saxophone, participated in two art shows, and Math wasn’t really a part of my life.  I never even spoke to his best friend, Science.  From time to time, I still found myself daydreaming about him and my doodles in various notebooks sometimes strayed back to my forgotten love.  For the most part, though, we had gone our separate ways.

I did see him twice, briefly, each time I took the SAT.  But it wasn’t really the Math I had loved so deeply the year before, it was a easier-going, lighthearted friend, and although we got along fine, it wasn’t enough to rekindle the fire we’d shared.  They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I’m not sure.  I pursued other loves, never forgetting that I was good at math, and perhaps thinking I could simply return to him when I was done flitting about—when I started college for engineering.

When we did meet again in August, our reunion was not a happy one.  I had changed; he had changed.  I found that going so long apart meant I didn’t really know him anymore, and no matter how hard I fought, he wasn’t going to become the Math I’d known and loved more than a year ago in high school.  I didn’t want to work for a relationship that had come so easily to me before.  But I didn’t want to lose it, because although being with him was painful, it reminded me of the connection we’d shared.

I was having an identity crisis of sorts, because our relationship had been a vital part of who I was.  Even in elementary and middle school, we would flirt vociferously, letting others gaze in envy at our obvious compatibility.  Now, he was refusing to take me back, and I was refusing to accept that.  So we argued and fought and yelled and went long periods without speaking.  But we also shared moments of love, like when I scored an A on the third test of the semester.  We were growing together again, and it wasn’t easy, but it was happening.

Finally, on the last day of the semester, something magical happened.  We had just learned about Lagrange multipliers (an explanation which I will spare you), and been charged with solving the example problem.  I looked at the problem, drew a logical conclusion based on fundamental understandings, and raised my hand.  The teacher said that I could have been right, but he wasn’t going to go through the rest of the problem because it was too complicated.  But I had found another way to solve it—a way that made sense.  I was right, and I was going to make him understand.  So I stayed after class and made my case.  He applauded me, and said that what I had done was exactly what Lagrange multipliers were all about.  I had butterflies in my stomach, and they carried me all the way across campus after that.  I had done it—it took all semester, but my lost love was mine once again.  I took the final for that course yesterday, and I feel good about it.  It was challenging, of course, but in the best possible way.  I would even dare to say I enjoyed it.  What I really enjoy, though, is having my old friend back.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

C(A)PJ: Day 3

Okay, sorry this one has taken me forever to put up.  There are a couple of reasons but the biggest one is because I've been a lazy bum. D:  Anyway,  I'd like to point out that I've shortened the title into this cool new abbreviation complete with parentheses.  I'd also like to add a couple of disclaimers:  First, I know the writing in these posts is not my best.  That's because I'm pulling it straight from the journal and have actually had to resist the instinct to rephrase and/or edit things because I'm trying to remain true to the original as much as possible.  Also, some of the Spanish I've quoted myself as using is not exactly right and I just want to say that I know that now, though the Peruvians understood me just fine most of the time.  Anyway, enjoy Day 3!

Sunrise on the river

There are birds in this picture. I promise.
This morning we woke up before the sun did and got dressed in the light of cell phones because, despite yesterday’s valiant struggle, we couldn’t get the candle to stand up.  Then we hopped on a boat and rode two hours up the river to a huge and beautiful clay lick to see macaws.  It was a lot farther away than I’d expected, so I didn’t really get good pictures.  At breakfast, however, we got up close and personal with a blue and yellow macaw who’s apparently like a pet at the lodge.  She walked around our table, then climbed into my sister’s lap!

Pepa the macaw.
We went swimming at Cascadas del Gato, the Cat Cascades, which was awesome.  My brother squealed like a little girl because the water was cold.  

Twice I have had to ask the housekeeper (who doesn’t speak English) for extra toallas—towels—because we’re going through them so fast.  She’s been really sweet about it, though.  I mean, she’s been answering me with so much Spanish so fast that I’m hardly catching any of it, so I suppose she could be saying nasty things about me, but if so, she’s doing a wonderful job hiding it.

Tree (in case you couldn't tell).
The plants in the jungle are amazing.  We took a botanical tour to get to the zip line, and learned about ironwood trees, kapok trees, and trees with red ants inside them that the natives tie people to as punishment to watch them die.  The more I learn about these “indigenous peoples,” the more I really hope we don’t meet any.

It’s raining now, which means we got back just in time.  The zipline was totally awesome.  At the top of the platform (I was the last one), I asked the guy next to me, “Éste es seguro, ¿sí?”—This is safe, right? And he said, “.”  Still, I followed up with, “¿Nadie muere?”—Nobody dies?  To which he laughed and said “No. 

It was extremely cool.  We all practiced our Spanish on the way back, maybe to ignore the fact that it was getting progressively darker and there was no sign of the lodge.  We made it back alive, though.  The lights just came on, so I’m not huddled next to the candle trying to write anymore.  It’s only 5:40, but it is already almost dark.  The climate is so warm here that I keep forgetting it’s winter. 
Crazy jungle vines and such.

Before dinner we went on the boat looking for caimans.  We saw a few, but it was so dark that all we could really see were the reflections of their eyes in the light.  Mostly we just saw more capybara.  They have officially ceased to be exciting.  Oh well.  Dinner was awesome, as all the meals here have been.  We really got to know the two Canadian girls better, talking about our adventures and vacations.  We have also learned that the plural of “moose” is in fact “moose” and not “meese.”  I suggested “moosi” and they said they were going to start using that, instead.  I feel accomplished.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Complete (Abridged) Peru Journal: Day 2

This was a big day! A lot of writing; I tried to cut it down to only the highlights. Lots of pictures, too.

StarPerú puddle-jumper
I’m on a boat.  Really.  We’re headed down the Madre de Dios River on our way to the lodge where we’re going to stay in the jungle.  I think, riding down this magnificent river with impossible amounts of foliage on both sides, after eating lunch off a banana leaf, it has finally sunk in that I’m actually in Peru.  It’s awesome.

Today started at four again, although to be fair, I didn’t roll out of bed until forty-five minutes or so later.  Our flight (one hour via a StarPerú puddle-jumper) stopped in Cuzco before taking us all the way to Puerto Maldonado (which is proving very difficult to pronounce, for whatever reason).

Favorite Airplane
Our tour guide Esteban met us at the airport—if such a term can be used—with another sign.  We waited about fifteen minutes for the rest of our tour group, who came in on the next flight.  I ran across the parking lot to spend part of that time taking pictures of this awesome plane.  It was very old and really small, and it made for some pretty fantastic photos.  “Favorite Plane” wasn’t a category I’d ever given much thought to, but now I’ve got one.  According to Esteban, it carried Mormon missionaries to the country, which was both a good and bad thing for the natives.  We then took a fortyish-minute bus ride down the scariest dirt road I’ve ever seen, across several bridges reminiscent of a Busch Gardens safari ride where the bridge gives out and you have to be “rescued.”  None of these bridges gave out, miraculously.  What were really interesting were all of the unfinished bridges we saw along the way.  Apparently builders got big ideas, started the bridges, then decided to take the money and abandon the project.  I said that when I became an engineer, I would come back and finish all the bridges.
Notice the guy with the cooler

We’ve been warned about naked natives who live deep in the jungle and will shoot you with arrows for fear of disease if you get too close.  That’s one thing Pepto Bismol won’t protect against, I guess.

We have one flashlight among the five of us for this jungle night walk, and discovered that we may not have the Deet.  But it might be in my suitcase.  Let’s hope!

Well, the good news is we found the Deet.  The bad news is now I smell like bug spray.  Grosstastic.  We haven’t been shot by natives, which I supposed also qualifies as good news.  We keep passing empty canoes on the banks, though, each of which presumably held passengers at one point.  Every time we pass one I inform everyone that they were shot by natives.  It’s not completely accurate, I know, but the notion that they may also have been eaten by piranhas is probably too much for our group...

We’re at the hotel now.  We didn’t get shot by natives.  There’s no air conditioning, but there is toilet paper.  Earlier today, at a stop on the river where we got out passports stamped, I had to use some of my Charmin-On-the-Go.

The entrance to the lodge and some boats
Our cabin has a great view of the river.  I’m out on the porch now because the light inside is already too low.  We have candles, but we’ve been warned to blow them out once we go to bed lest we burn the wooden cabin down.  We also have mosquito nets for our beds, which I find more worrying than comforting, to be perfectly honest.

The night walk was fun for the first half.  We saw a tarantula, which freaked everyone out.  And tons of vines in all crazy shapes and huge trees.  It was just like in the movies, just a lot darker.  I got bitten by two mysterious Amazonian insects, the second of which was a normal-looking ant.  He may also have been the first.  I hope so.

It's gonna eat me!
We were asked to conserve water in the shower, which wasn’t difficult because the two choices are “off” and “freezing.”  I do feel better now, though.  Guess what time tomorrow starts?  Four! Again.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Complete (Abridged) Peru Journal: Day 1

So a while ago, I said I would upload parts (maybe even all) of my travel journal from Peru.  It's taken me a shamefully long time, but I'm finally going to do that.  I have more to share than I thought I was going to (and photos!), so I'm going to do it one day at a time.  I'll also try to skip the boring parts.  I may upload the whole thing somewhere else eventually, for those of you who are interested, but for now, here's the abridged Day  1:

Note:  The ellipsis (. . .) represents an interruption in journaling, not an omission of original content.

Today, we arrived in Lima.  It only took us three flights to get here, starting with home to Miami yesterday, then a 7:20ish flight from Miami to Bogotá, Colombia this morning, which seems like forever and a continent ago.  In Bogotá's airport, I spoke more Spanish than I think I ever have, and am continually learning that two semesters of Spanish may not be sufficient.  Add to that the fact that I've also been elected the family currency converter, and I feel like the expectations are piling up faster than I can juggle them.  I managed to ask for and purchase some authentic Colombian candy, but when I asked for the time, I couldn't understand the answer.  Go figure.

Anyway, we are now in Lima, in a very nice hotel—the Ferré.  A guide named Carlos and Roberto, the driver, brought us here.  Carlos is very friendly; Roberto didn’t talk much.  Carlos was holding up a sign with our name on it for us when we got through customs, which was pretty cool.  He recommended that we eat dinner at this “underground” mall on the waterfront, so that should be interesting at least.  I’ve also managed to find out that the drinking age here is 18, so we’ll see how that goes…

The view from the restaurant
Back now.  I didn’t drink anything haha!  I mean, I had pretty much the greatest cappuccino after dinner. (We ate at some touristy place near the water with a fantastic view and a waiter whose English and my Spanish were evenly matched.)  It was surprisingly good.  The guy at the front (not the host, but the restaurant’s spokesperson, however self-appointed) assured us that we didn’t have to worry about the water, the ice, the vegetables, etc.  That stuff is sketchy here in Peru.  For example, we have to brush our teeth with bottled water (of which we just bought five from a scary convenience store from a guy who spoke no English.  Also, we’re taking Pepto Bismol four times a day to avoid traveler’s diarrhea, in addition to the numerous vaccines [click] we’ve already gotten and the Malerone we’re all taking daily to avoid Malaria.  This is a fun place.   I’ve also got a new job—I’m the tip calculator now, too.  Yippee.

The mall
We went shopping a little, because although our bodies think it’s past midnight based on the time change (just an hour, but still) and the time we got up, it wasn’t nine yet and the mall was still open.  We went into this place called “Sol Alpaca,” where everything is made out of Alpaca wool, which is cool.  The thing is, I took two semesters of Spanish to prepare for this trip, but it’s been more than a year since I’ve had a math class, which was clearly a mistake.  I did buy a rather fantastic scarf, though.  I love the colors and it wasn’t ridiculously expensive.  I think it came to about sixty bucks, USD.  It was 169 soles, which is the Peruvian currency.  I can’t believe I’m in South America!  Tomorrow we wake up at four again to catch a one-hour flight into the jungle.  My grandma says she’s not going; we all know better.  I have to take a shower, but I can’t get the water in my mouth.  I can get it all over my body, just not in my mouth.  I hope I’ll have an opportunity to journal every day, but no promises!

If you need a dining set taken someplace, call this guy

P.S. This is my 50th post!!! Yippee!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fair Weather Foodie

The weather played autumn for a couple of days here recently, and although the temperature is now back up to a healthy late-summer 70-or-so, the chilly weekend reminded me of how much I love fall.  And here, one of the best things about it  is the State Fair.  The many attractions at this annual event include a plethora of livestock in varying degrees of cuteness (e.g. baby goats = 10, cows = 1), several species of unnaturally large vegetables, ferris wheels, carnival games, mythological creatures (snake woman, etc.), and a whole slew of pick-you-up-and-spin-you-until-you-lose-your-turkey-leg rides.

But the best part is the food.
Every year, I must gain at least ten pounds from all the marathon eating I do while the fair is in town.  One of the reasons I went five times last year was because you cannot physically cram all of the necessary delicacies into your body in one night.  It isn't possible. Trust me.

Here I've compiled a list of all the foods I have to eat in order to call my State Fair experience complete, aforementioned rides, livestock, and mythological creatures notwithstanding.

The Krispy Kreme Donut Burger
Weighing it at an incredible 1500 calories, this glazed-and-greasy monstrosity is not for the faint of heart, although it will probably give you heart trouble.

Turkey Leg
These are impossible to miss, perhaps because a thick cloud of smoke surrounds every stand that sells them.  Or maybe it's the miles of people lined up waiting for a chance to bury their faces in poultry.  Either way, you can smell them from anywhere.  Just follow your nose!

Pig Lickers
Chocolate covered bacon.  'Nuff said.

Deep-Fried _______
Insert sugary goodness here.  It doesn't matter what it is.  From Twinkies to Snickers to Coca-Cola, find whatever they've figured out how to batter and fry this year and try it.  I avoid the deep-fried butter, though.  That crosses a line.

Strawberry Shortcake
Iconic not for the way it tastes, but for the giant inflatable strawberry crowning the stand.  You can also buy pig lickers here.  Don't ask.

Ribeye Steak Sandwich
This is usually the first thing my family eats, due to its convenient location near the entrance.  Best enjoyed with Texas Pete hot sauce.

Ice Cream
From the local university.  They milk the cows themselves, but the ice cream is made in a lab.  Still, by the time you've waited in line for the stuff, the flavors you have to pick from are "What aren't you out of?"  Mmmm, my favorite.

Corn on the Cob
The idea with this one is to cover it with so much unidentified seasoning that the food itself becomes unrecognizable as a vegetable.  If watching them pull it out of the boiling vat of butter didn't do that already.

Polish and/or Italian Sausage
If you know what the difference is, congratulations! No one cares.  They're both good, but you have to eat them before sausage juice dissolves the bun.  One way to find these stands is to follow the trail of dropped onions and peppers that slide off the thing no matter how hard you try to hold onto them.

Frozen Cheesecake
It's literally a brick of cheesecake on a stick.  Preferably covered in chocolate.  How can you say 'no' to that?

Cotton Candy
The way we do it, this one must be purchased on the last day, and enjoyed while watching the fireworks.  So you can walk around all week and stare at the many varieties of pink and blue (and sometimes yellow) clouds of sugar, but I learned at a young age that it simply wasn't going to happen until the end of the fair.

Al's French Fries
Similar to the corn on the cob, the object here is to bury the actual fries underneath several geological layers of ketchup and vinegar.  Then play, Try to Find a Way to Grab a Fry Without Getting Ketchup or Vinegar on Your Fingers.  That's a long title; I'll work on it.

If at the end of the week your arteries are the size of Polish (Italian?) sausages and your heart is begging for mercy, you've done it correctly.  Huzzah! Or as we like to say, 'Gitterdone!'

Friday, September 9, 2011

Magic Shoe Laces

As a general rule, I don't have self-esteem issues.  For instance, I think I'm a reasonably attractive person.  Still, I think my best features are definitely my shoelaces.  They're magical.  They're like the traveling pants except the only traveling they do is when they're on my feet.

The first time I experienced the magic was the day after I purchased them.  I was sitting in LaGuardia airport with my sister, waiting to catch a flight back home after an awesome weekend with our aunt and uncle in New York City.  (I'd also like to mention that I rocked some striped knee socks the day before and earned the nickname "Pippi," which I took as a compliment.  My uncle had, just a few moments before, been harassing me about my style choices when somebody walked by and said, "Hey I'm feelin' yo socks."  I won that argument.  Alas, the socks, while they are awesome, are not magical.  But I digress.)

Anyway, my sister and I are sitting in the food court in the terminal, when this British guy with longish hair and a guitar swung casually over his shoulder waltzes over to me and says, "Excuse me, could I just have a look at your laces?"  I think I said "yes," but it might have been "Yurrr."  I also managed to form enough sentences to tell him I'd gotten them at the Converse store on Broadway.

I've worn them several times since then, with no spectacular results (because I don't count getting stares as I walk by, though I do enjoy them).  I'd begun to doubt the magic of the shoelaces.  But today it happened again.  This guy wasn't British, unfortunately, but he was way cuter than the British guy and he was carrying a skateboard, which is like +3 cool points at least.  I was masterfully multitasking: eating lunch, studying calculus, and listening to my iPod all at the same time.  This guy walks straight up to me anyway and sits down at the table.  My table.

"Hello, what's your name?"

I pull my earbuds out of my head.  "Raz."

"I'm Tyler."


"Are you single?"

I pause to pick my jaw up off the table.  "Uh, what?  I... yes?"


"No I am.  I just... why?"

"I was just wondering if you wanted to do lunch or something...I came over here because I wanted to tell you how much I love your shoelaces.  I have a thing for cool shoelaces."

"Oh, thanks!  Actually, I'm waiting for someone.  You seem like a really nice guy, though."

It occurred to me that he might have been a total creep.  But if he liked my shoelaces enough to ask me out, how bad could he be?  At any rate, I respected his straightforwardness.  I wanted to return the compliment;  he had really gorgeous blue eyes.  But responding to "I like your shoelaces" with "I like your eyes" seemed like crossing a line.

He finished with, "Maybe I'll see you around, Raz."  Maybe you will, Tyler.  And maybe I'll be wearing magic shoelaces.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bike Rides and Zebra Cakes

I make no claim to being a particularly athletic person.  But I'm not sure that saying is true about never forgetting how to ride a bike.  What is true, however, is that whenever my mother decides we need to have a "Family Bike Ride" I am reminded of just how terrible at it I am.

It was a little concerning that before we'd even left the parking lot, my left contact declared war on my eye. I managed to remove it (the contact, not my eye) only to discover that it had folded itself in half.  I didn't even know that was possible.  I put it back in after rinsing my hands off with some of the water we'd taken to drink, looking in the van's rearview mirror.  It was no more comfortable now than it had been when it was folded in half, but at least I could see.

After our friends finally showed up, we headed off, and with the wind in my eyes, both eyes were about equally painful.  Besides, it didn't take long for the burning in my thighs to completely overpower any discomfort inflicted by my contacts.  We had gone a mile at this point, maybe.  I'm still no better at riding a bike than I was when we started.

I spent a good portion of the ride drafting one of my friends until he noticed me and decided it was his turn.  We must have gone at least fifty miles before we turned around.  Actually, it may have been more like four, but who's counting?  I was on the brink of death when the two guys with us stopped on each side of the trail and pulled out water bottles.  I whizzed past what looked like the icing pattern on Zebra Cakes and slammed on brakes.  Dust flew.  I turned around.  I was right.  I walked slowly, straddling my bike, back to my friend.  He held out the package.  They were squished, but I didn't even notice.  With shaking hands, I tore open the plastic, and pulled out the flattened mess of processed sugar.  

It was amazing.  I try to avoid hugging people whenever possible, but I hugged him then.  I was so happy, I could have cried, but that might have been the contact that I had been successfully ignoring for a while reminding me that it was still there and that it wasn't above crashing my little sugar party.  Nevertheless, I rode the last hundred or so (maybe closer to two) miles with a smile on my face and the taste of Zebra Cake on my tongue.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Planners Make My Day Better

Right now I'm sitting on a low brick wall, being poked in the back by a bush (which in all fairness was here first), trying to access my class schedule, so I know what classroom I'm supposed to be sitting in at 11:20.  I learned this morning that simply knowing the name of the building where your class is located is not enough.  The problem I ran into then was about a thousand freshman also realizing that knowing the name of the building where their classes were located was not enough, all trying to log on to the same server at the same time.  Last I checked, they're all still confused, because it's an hour and a half later and I still couldn't get on.

The great thing about a college campus is that in any given spot there are at least four unprotected wifi networks available.  I have now successfully accessed my schedule, because I'm on the "guest" network instead of the student one.  As it turns out, there aren't too many guests checking their schedules.  Go figure.

More great things about college?  I just bought a backpack from the campus bookstore.  It was 25% off.  And it has a laptop sleeve.  And it's cute.  I wanted to buy a planner, because I still actually know how to write by hand and prefer it to typing when the opportunity presents itself.  So I balked at the idea of using "iCal" to keep track of my homework.  Plus, Target had these really pretty planners in the "back to school" section.  I carried around one with polka-dots for a while.  But my mom told me I was wasting my money, that I didn't need a planner.  She also made me put back the panda pillow pet I'd been carrying around.  I did get a cute recycled notebook though.  I used it in Spanish today.  I firmly believe I pay attention better when I'm happy about my supplies.

Anyway, I wanted a planner, couldn't get one, and for the past day and a half have been grudgingly using "iCal."  But just a couple of minutes ago, I'm walking across campus to my next class, and this guy standing in the middle of the path looks at me and says, "Would you like a planner?" and holds one out to me from the stack he's got.  Um, YES, I would like a planner.  And it was free.  And I'm going to write my homework in it.  By hand.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


By the end of this week, I will have a new car.  If I'm still alive.  It's proving to be a very stressful process.  I wanted a Nissan 350Z.  That's the only car I bothered to learn the name for, because I'd been admiring it forever.  The problem (as you may have guessed based on the fact that is has a "Z" in the name) is that it's a sports car, and as a general rule, those are pretty expensive.

So we had it narrowed down to a 2010 Kia Rio and a 2010 Hyundai Accent.  They're the same price, both in great condition, and they even have the same engine.  They're basically the same car.  The safety ratings, however, are less than stellar.  So now we're looking at Toyotas, which is pretty ironic, if you ask me, seeing as how it was Toyota, and not Kia or Hyundai, that recalled thousands of cars because they were unsafe.  I don't want a Toyota.  I want the Kia Rio.  It's cute.  But that's about as far as my knowledge goes.

Pretty much every car I look at is an improvement from the 1996 Buick LaSabre I'm currently driving.  Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of that thing.  I won my high school's yearbook award for "Gimpest Car" for driving it to school everyday. I referred to it after that as my "award-winning vehicle."  And it's about as safe as a Sherman Tank, which is a plus.  But it helps to keep a little perspective when you're comparing a Kia to a Hyundai to a Toyota and thinking it's all too much.  After all, we're comparing them all to that Buick Houseboat.

My mom wanted me to get an Accord, because she's a Honda person.  But the Accords are all very expensive, compared to the other two.  I'm thinking, "MPG" pretty much nonstop because that's what's coming straight out of my wallet.  And without a job, I'm looking for a car that gets about 150 Highway. Unfortunately, that doesn't exist yet within our budget.

I wanted to live on campus.  That would have solved all car problems.  But then I would have had to pay room and board, I guess.  Six one way and all that.  Feel free to weigh in on Hyundai, Kia, or Toyota if any of you faithful readers have any knowledge or opinions.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens

I went into this one with high expectations.  When you make a movie with Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Thirteen from House in it, that's what you're asking for, really.  But I'm pleased to report that it was not a disappointment.  In fact, I was impressed.  It had everything: blasts, chuckles, and chases, with a couple of tearjerking moments as the cherry on top.  In a word, Awesome.  But I've got lots more words.

For starters, the concept of the movie was brilliant.  I've seen a couple of terrible alien movies in the past month (don't waste your time watching Super 8 or Battle: Los Angeles), and one good western a while ago (True Grit, despite reviews from disappointed John Wayne fans, was excellent).  But as soon as I saw the first trailer for Cowboys & Aliens, I was excited.  Why do aliens only attack in present-day situations? Because we can send the Marines after them now? Because a covered wagon transforming into a giant robot seemed unlikely?  Because a movie can only be one genre at a time?  I say it's because it never occured to the writers to try anything different.  If Transformers sells movie tickets, make a Transformers 2.  It's easy.  It's boring. (By the way, Transformers 3 wasn't a total disaster, but take a deck of cards or something--the final battle gets a little monotonous after 45 straight minutes of explosions and screaming.)  But I digress.

Cowboys & Aliens, although a gamble, was a success on both fronts.  Not only was it a western complete with Indians, cattle, and saloons, but it was a sci-fi flick with all the bells, whistles, and blue-ish pulse-like ka-booms.  I especially appreciated the fact that all of the technologically advanced rays and blasts were accented by plenty of good, old-fashioned shotguns and pistols.  Add to that a tribe of angry Native Americans with spears and arrows, and you've got yourself a nice little final battle that doesn't grow boring and actually carries the plot forward (unlike a certain recent release I have already mentioned.)

I also appreciated that although Lonergan (Daniel Craig) is introduced with amnesia and later identified as a dangerous outlaw, time is not wasted on his quest to recover his memory.  That wasn't what the movie was about.  The loose end is tied up about halfway through, and the story can move along without having to worry about tripping over its shoelaces.  If I remember correctly, it's also around this time that we are told why the aliens are there.  I won't give it away, but it fits both the plot and the time period, and doesn't feel like an afterthought the way it did in Battle: Los Angeles.  ("Aliens! Aliens! Oh no!! Oh, also, they're after our water... That doesn't sound too far fetched, does it?")

Apart from the plot, the camerawork was exceptional.  Many of the scenes were so high-contrast and edited in such away that they could have been photographs in their own right, had you paused the movie.  It's not something you usually see on the big screen, and it worked.

John Favreau had a pretty good leg up with his cast, but he didn't fall short on his end, either.  The dynamic between Jake Lonergan (Craig) and Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) as enemies-turned-allies was a flawless blend of banter and facial expressions that drew laughter from the audience at every turn.  Craig's cowboy-tough posture (head down, hat brim low, arm poised above his gun) sold his character perfectly.  We even get to see Harrison Ford's iconic half-smile toward the end, when I had begun to worry it wouldn't make an appearance.

There's another element to every movie that's easily just as important as the characters:  the score.  The Cowboys & Aliens score met the same standard as did every other element in the movie.  It was different, interesting, but in a very good way.  It was western music woven with sythetic alien-sounds, as well as choral arrangements that represented the otherwordly angle.  What I noticed the most was how animated it was.  Most scores are meant to be almost unnoticed, a background sound that tells you how you're supposed to feel about whatever is taking place on the screen, just like a laughtrack tells you when to laugh or gasp at a sitcom.  But composer Harry Gregson-Williams (who, interestingly, also scored Unstoppable, and you know what I thought of that movie), really took advantage of scenes where there was no dialogue, bringing the music forward with more melodic pieces and complex tunes that did more than offset the visual component, they accompanied it.

This movie was the whole package.  A seamless blend of two popular genres.  Go see it.  Seriously.  It's better than whatever you have planned for this weekend.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tough As Nails

Painting my nails is not something I do. Maybe that's because of the ineptitude of my left hand to do anything other than shave my right armpit; I don't know. I can ocassionally be threatened into painting my toenails, but my fingernails have not been painted in years. So the nail salon on the day before graduation was very much not my idea.

For a significant amount of time after I learned about these plans to beautify me, I was firmly resolved not to go.  Every once in a while I get deluded into thinking I'm actually in charge of my own life.  Then I tried bargaining.  I said I would go without a fuss if I could get black nail polish.  I'm not goth, but mourning the death of my free will would have called for such gloomy glamour.  The answer was no.  I therefore felt justified in protesting vociferously all the way there.

When we got there, I decided if I couldn't have black, I would pick something blue.  And it was going to be the absolute darkest shade of blue I could find.  There was a large collection of nail polish on the wall near the entrance, containing approximately fifty thousand shades of red, twenty-five thousand shades of purple, and three and a half shades of blue, and a rather curious assortment of colors I don't even think I've ever seen before.  I ran through several and actually briefly considered an electric green color that resembled toxic waste before settling for a very normal-looking navy.

I won't lie; the massage chair was nice.  The feeling of luxury ended when my feet were removed from the agreeable little gurgling tub and sanded down violently until they were smooth.  It was mildly concerning whenever the lady would disappear and then return with a misterious pink goo and rub it all over my legs and feet, which happened more than once. And as much as I enjoy having my feet tickled while listening to the plotting of my demise in a language I don't understand, I do actually use the bottoms of my feet occasionally and would have preferred to keep them.

I was also apparently not supposed to pick the same color for my fingers and toes, because the lady seemed really confused that she only had one bottle of polish to work with.  While my toenails--or what was left of them--were drying, I was given a little dish to put my fingers in, and then it was fingernail time.  She clipped them, along with most of the surrounding skin, and then painted them navy.  Never have I felt like I have such inadequate extremities.  My mother and sister certainly did not require the amount of work I did.  And I guess I was in the massage chair for too long, because every ten minutes or so it would cut off.  It wasn't hard to press the button to restart it while I was having feet pruned, but with a fresh coat of poison on my hands, it was a good bit more difficult.

When I was finally done, before I could be relocated to the drying station, my feet were slathered with something resembling vaseline and then shoved in my new flip flops.  My new flip flops!  I mean, I guess I waived rights to my feet but my shoes?!  They didn't need to be moisturized!

I wound up having to leave before my nails were completely dry because the appointment had taken much longer than anticipated and I had graduation rehearsal to get to.  I guess I was prettier, mostly I just felt like I had a lot less skin than I started with.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Machu Picchu

I'm in Lima, on the final leg of an incredible journey across Peru! Just two days ago, I was at Machu Picchu. My mother and I woke up really early (I'm talking 3 a.m. here, folks) two mornings ago and hiked Waynapicchu. That's the big mountain behind Machu Picchu. We climbed what were basically the remains of the Inca staircase all the way to the top. The Inca were amazing. And completely nuts.

I've been keeping a detailed travel journal, and I will upload parts of it later. Right now, though, I'm just going to upload a bunch of Machu Picchu photos, because this Peruvian keyboard is giving me a hard time.

Some things get lost in translation... A lot of the menus were very entertaining. "Breakface" was one of the more comical errors. Not sure I want to order anything off this section!

The Inca had this really cool system of fountains that still runs through Machu Picchu. I fell in love with it. The water trickling across the stone was simply beautiful. I took at least half a dozen pictures, but they all look pretty much like this one.

This is a flower that was growing on the side of one of the ruins at the top of Wayna Pichu. I had to lie down to get a picture over the edge so as not to freak out my ledge-wary mother. She kept fussing at me whenever I got too close to an edge. Most of them weren't even really ledges--they had terraces three feet below them, but she would never get close enough to find that out.

This picture took forever to get. The sun took its sweet time coming up over the peak of the mountain that was very inconveniently located. "Sunrise at Machu Picchu," an appealing enough idea, doesn't really happen. The whole place is surrounded by mountains, so it's daylight by the time the sun finally makes an appearance. No fancy colors, nothing. Lame. But this was cool, because it was only a couple of days after the solstice, when the sun shines through the trapezoidal window and makes a rectangle on this rock in the Temple of the Sun.

And finally... llamas! They were pretty much all over the place, hanging out in the shade (because it was hot!) and eating the grass that was the hardest to reach. Always greener, right? The funny thing was they pretty much used the tourist walkways to get wherever they were headed. They even climbed the stairs! That really impressed me. We tried to take pictures with them, but none of them were terribly photogenic, and all of them were more interested in lunch than posing for a picture. So the best you can do is kind of stand near them and hople they pull their heads out of the bush for long enough to take a picture or two.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Haunting High School

I feel like a ghost. Not in an ethereal, float-and-walk-through-walls way. It's more figurative than that. Yesterday I took my last exam of high school. Now I'm done. I am no longer a high school student. I have moved on.

But graduation isn't until Saturday.

I don't believe in ghosts, but I feel like this is sort of the same idea. I am no longer among high school students, yet neither am I a high school graduate. I'm in this awkward inbetween place that will only last for a little while, but I still feel like I'm just sort of floating from high school to graduation without a floor beneath my feet. It's weird.

It's great to be out of high school, of course. And I am really looking forward to graduation (especially now that I've been informed that my family is going to drag me--against my will, mind you--to the nail salon on Friday to get "mani-pedi's." What a juvenile term. I told my mother I would go without a fight if she would let me get black fingernails. She said no. But I digress.)

So I'm floating along, enjoying being off school but not feeling like summer has started yet. My brother's not home because, although high schoolers have exam week off unless you're taking a test, for elementary school it's just a normal week. So my sister and I have the house to ourselves for most of the day. And I'll admit, it doesn't totally feel like summer without my brother making noise in one room or another. It's too...quiet.

So until the ceremony Saturday during which I will pass on from this life to the next (college omg), I will continue to feel like a ghost. The ghost of a high school student. I can't believe I'm not one anymore. That's all I've known for the past four years. Now it's ended, and no one asked me if I was ready. I was; but still, no one asked me.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2

I went to go see the second installment of this Jack Black epic last night. Long story short, it did not disappoint. The story was original and fresh, but tied nicely to the first movie and stayed true to the characters. It didn't feel like it had been thrown together in a basement overnight as a way to continue to make money off the first movie. You know what I'm talking about--those movies like Shrek 25, or whatever number they're on now.

The plot is also thankfully not a tired repeat of the plot of the first movie. Now, they bear similarities, of course, but you don't have much of a story without a bad guy, character growth, and other various staples. While the first movie covers Po's journey from out-of-place noodle chef to legendary Dragon Warrior and learning that he had it in him the entire time, the second movie is more of a personal journey that comes from having everything he ever dreamed of but realizing he doesn't know who he is. It dives deeper, and with the key characters already sufficiently developed in the first movie, audiences are able to connect emotionally with Po without having to try to keep up with the other characters. And there are some pretty hardcore action scenes, too.

Here's where my critique comes, though. I'm a firm believer in the suspension of disbelief--it's a powerful thing, and movies would be majorly boring without it. But I also believe that you have to establish a set of rules and more or less abide by them throughout the story. So it was a little difficult to believe that a good punch was enough to knock someone out cold, while a cannon blast will only leave you with sooty fur and a headache. That's not a very fearsome weapon. I get that it's a kids' movie, so they don't show you blood, guts, death, or any of that nasty stuff, but it's still easy enough to imply when a character has met his end.

The flick draws its share of giggles, and I appreciated that the writers didn't feel the need to constantly remind the audience of how funny Po is. We got a good sense of that from the first movie, and in this one, his jokes are comfortable and well-suited to the situations, not forced, which allows him to take a somber journey into his past. In fact, the scene in which this really happens is composed extremely well, making effective use of the elegant juxtaposition of the two different animation styles, something we didn't get to see so much of in the first movie.

I'll try not to give away too much, because you should really go see this one, but I will applaud the number of questions that get answered in the film. In the first movie, Po got exposure; in this one, he finds closure. The end promises a third, and I am genuinely interested to see where Po, Shifu, and the "Furious Five" will be taken in the next installment.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Smells Like Low Tide...In a Good Way

We're studying poetry from the English Romantic period. Naturally, this involved writing our own Romantic poems. They were supposed to be about beauty and nature and just generally everything fluffy and nice. We were supposed to think of a place in nature that meant something to us. I did this, but my poem ran away with me (you know how poems can be), and mine wound up being more about my grandfather than the place I'd started with.

We have a mobile home at the beach, and that was always one of the places where he was the happiest, I think. He and I used to go clamming. We would pick our way through the marsh/wetland area behind the mobile home park to where we knew the clams were the easiest to find, hauling our bucket, one of those metal things for measuring the clams, a couple of rakes, and a pair of disgusting black gloves that were about ten sizes to big for me. I usually wore the nearest shoes on hand, whether they were my own water shoes or a pair of someone's old sneakers almost as gross as the gloves. I never cared what I looked like. Out in that marsh with my grandpa, I was--if you'll forgive me for this because I don't feel like I can miss this one--as happy as a clam.

Usually his stamina outlasted mine, and I was the one who was done while he kept saying, "One more; just one more." Eventually that changed, though, and I distinctly remember one instance when I was the one begging, "One more!" He wiped his brow and made that face he always made when he was flustered and I could tell he'd have stayed out there with me until the sun went down and came back up again in the morning. The tide was coming in, though, and if we wanted to actually eat the clams, we had to be back in time for dinner. I surrendered and back we went.

Back at the mobile home, we washed and--as was the custom, for he was a dutiful keeper of records--counted them. Thirty-nine. Thirty-nine. It was a very long time before he stopped hearing about that from me.

And now this post has run off with me much in the same manner as my poem did earlier today. So, without further ado, here is my little sentimental aberration (for this is truly a deviation from my cynicism I'm sure you've all come to know and love):


I remember the mud
That swallowed my shoe,
The bucket, the rake,
And I remember you.

The grass a brilliant green
And the water just as blue
Twenty times “Just one more!”
But that’s what we’d do.

The breeze lifts my wet hair
And it clings to my shoulder.
I try to pretend
That I’m not getting older.

The grass is still here
To dance with the breeze,
And a thousand fish dance
In a thousand blue seas.

But you aren’t here, Papa,
Not where you should be.
And now I’ve got no one
To dance here with me.

I remember
The sun on my skin,
And the water that rose
As the tide came back in

I know when I’m here,
I’m not truly alone,
But as the sun sets,
I walk back on my own.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cold Blooded Killer

That was the name of the hot sauce that almost took my life. What I apparently failed to realize when I decided to sample it is that here in New Orleans, they take hot sauce very seriously. I was in this place called "Aunt Sally's." It's a praline shop, which sounds innocent enough, but they sell an assortment of other things, too, and hot sauce is one of them. Two brands were out for sampling.

The first one I tried was excellent. It was yellow-orange, mango flavored, and had just enough of a kick to be interesting. Then, like a glutton for punishment, I decided to try the other one. As a general rule, I like hot food, and at first, it wasn't a problem; it was just very spicy. I even made it out of the store before I experienced anything I would describe as pain.

It was funny for a while. I was bent over, panting. My nose was beginning to run. My sister took my picture. My mom giggled. I joked about needing to go back in and warn people. Then my ears popped.

My entire mouth was screaming. I don't even remember any flavor in the sauce, only pain. Whatever chemicals the devil-sauce contained had been thoroughly absorbed into ever surface my mouth had to offer. My nose was running, but I couldn't form thoughts coherent enough to ask for a tissue to fix the situation. In fact, I think my brother offered me a napkin, and I remember telling him not to talk to me and flailing my arms, almost smacking a lady behind me. I felt bad, but seeing as how I was choking on fire and she wasn't, my focus shifted quickly.

I became quite certain that I was going to die. The entire lower half of my face, from my cheeks to my chin, was tingling, like your foot after it's fallen asleep and just begun to regain feeling. Finally I accepted a napkin and blew my nose, but it wasn't until about half an hour later that my cheeks stopped feeling weird, and even later that my tongue stopped stinging. It's still holding a grudge.

It was both the worst and best hot sauce experience I've ever had.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sixth Graders are Awesome

Today I'm headed to the a local middle school for part two of the journalism workshop I'm teaching there for my graduation project, to a class of twenty-or-so sixth graders. Yesterday they all became reporters, and today they're going to learn about the media. I brought them really professional-looking notepads and boring number two pencils to use to interview each other. I was shocked how excited they were to receive copies of my high school newspaper. I never expected the enthusiasm, although I should have brought more of the issue with the Justin Bieber story in it, apparently.

I made them write news leads about this photo, which got a lot of laughs, and a pretty wide range of creative stories. They demonstrated the worst possible interview, then the best possible interview. I was nervous, because I know all to well what it's like to be on the wrong side of a boring presentation. I've sat for years among apathetic audiences and watched presenters flounder, desperate for some semblance of audience participation. But I hadn't given the sixth graders enough credit.

I guess they just aren't quite as jaded as high school students. In high school, it seems, the kids that are still genuinely excited about learning are few and far between. The middle school kids haven't hit that point yet, and so I had the ideal audience for my workshop. (My mother keeps calling it a "clinic," which makes me feel like I'm applying Neosporin to cuts while teaching journalism...yuck!)

I had a couple of minutes to just sort of converse with the kids as they entered a few at a time to the classroom with their lunches (they got to eat in the classroom, thanks to me, which I'm given to understand is usually against the rules). I admitted that I'd tried to dress like a teacher and asked them if I'd succeeded. One kid said he'd thought I was a substitute, which I took as a "yes."

At the end of the class, one kid asked me how many days I was going to be there. I supposed she may have wanted an estimate on when the torture would end, but based on her expression, I like to think she'd enjoyed the class and wanted to know if I'd be back. Plus, she didn't look totally annoyed when she found out that I would, in fact, be returning.

I left the room on cloud nine. I felt like I was radiating so much happiness that if you'd turned the lights out I would have been glowing. I can't wait for today.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Amelia Bearhart

I dressed my teddy bear up like Amelia Earhart to get extra credit in history class. I sewed her hat myself, and no those are not Speedo swim goggles... They are legit aviator goggles. My friend nicknamed her Amelia Bearhart, which is pretty ingenious.