Monday, January 26, 2009


If you're going to come hiking with us, it's probably a good idea to get your terminology down first, just to avoid confusion. For example:

Sproinking: Climbing large boulders in a goat-like fashion, preferably enormous collections of rock off the main trail and providing ample opportunity to tumble off, breaking one's neck in the process.

Stealth-cactus: Vicious, thorn covered plants growing a) in or around the perfect hand-hold b) above a rock face exactly where one's head pops up or c) at ankle level on a narrow ledge or crevice, frequently hidden behind an innocuous plant for better camouflage.

Spider-pigging: Getting up rock faces or boulders in a way that would make experienced rock-climbers or mountaineers laugh like drains. Can include actions such as the backwards hoist (hoiking one's arse up a boulder while shoving hard with one's hands and scrabbling with one's feet), the modified chimney (bracing on one side with one's foot, knee bent, clutching the other side with one's hand then straightening the knee and hopefully moving upward) and the Child 2 starfish special (newly invented - involves rolling oneself at a bizarre angle down the rock face, meeping* for a moment, refusing all offers of help and then lunging into a desperate spread-eagle thus achieving the far easier, hand-hold rich side of the face which one had rejected with scorn as a path down).

[Male Child] route: Highly dangerous path which should never, ever be taken by anyone of any intelligence - particularly if the Male Child recommends it with words like "small gap" (read: three foot crevasse), "little jump" (read enormous leap over even larger crevasse, usually onto a face with an angle only slightly off 90 degrees), "fun way" (involves at least three "little jumps" and two bits that can only be achieved if one is blessed with enormously long arms and no body mass to speak of whatsoever) and "rock running" (read: falling with enormous style - race down a steep slope to build up speed and then sprint over as much vertical rock wall as one can, landing, hopefully, on soft sand at the end with a bit of a stagger which, inevitably, is turned into momentum for the next rock run)

*Bonus word - meeping: High-pitched chirping performed by Child 2, named after the most distinctive syllable which Child 2 produced while on an outing with me a month or so ago. Child 2 denies totally and vehemently that it meeps (in fact it will doubtless be 104 and in a care home still shouting "AY DEW NUT MEEP!"), but trust me, it meeps, it totally meeps.

So, wanna come along next weekend?

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I hate replacing expensive things.

Take the television, for example. I have no idea how old it was. It's entirely possible that we bought it in Alaska which means we really did get pretty good service out of the darn thing. I could feel all smug as well since we have cheapy bundle-priced Dtv so we didn't have to make the HDTV upgrade (don't get me STARTED on government imposed consumerism... grrrrr...). The kid's friends might have made the odd comment about our less-than-enormous screen but I'll take that as a compliment, thanks. There was only one leeeetle problem: the leads, the ones that actually take the picturey thing (and sound) from whatever - the ether, the PS2 that stands in for a DVD player, the brainwashing machines of the circling aliens - and feed it into the actual TV box. Those were, to put it technically, a bit borked. They worked, see, but only the ones in front (meaning wires all over - go on, ask me how I feel about wires all over), and then only if you spent a minute or two coaxing them into juuuuust the right position. Also, you sort of had to wedge them in place with a frog [no, really, a frog. It's a quite lovely metal frog with a gapey mouth and glass eyes and between the bulgy eyes and the mouth there were exactly the right knobs and things at precisely the right height to hold the leads in... well... sort of]. So yes, it was a bit of a pain to have to swap them out between watching, say, Survivor Man* and deciding to put in this week's Netflix. However, Children 2 and 3 in particular seemed to have the touch and so although I had sort of thought a little vaguely about some time possibly replacing the television in the distant future I was definitely putting off the evil day.

Then I came home one day and, with no Children around, decided to man up and swap the leads myself. Normally it takes me twice as long as the smug gits I support, but with my tongue in just the right corner of my mouth I can, eventually, manage it. No dice, not that day. Worse, I couldn't even get the horrible burst of static that told me there was, however unlikely, just a little hope that some day it just might work. Nope, eventually I had to admit that Old Faithless had abandoned me entirely.

Now, the positive thing about waiting this long is that a) we got the television on super deep discount meaning that rather than buying the one we would need binoculars to view from 10 feet away we got the one we can actually see and b) we're all ridiculously delighted by the fact that we can switch from one feed to another by pressing a button which seems incredibly luxurious in comparison to the palaver of the last two years.

However, I'm not entirely recovered from this particular event which is why I'm particularly distressed to find that my laptop is, sadly to say, showing its age (in particularly irritating and, now, work-impacting ways) and it is probably in need of replacement.

Here are my difficulties:

I use my laptop for extensive graphic work, often running several memory-intensive programs at the same time (for example today I'm working on a project that will mean I have Illustrator, Photoshop and Flash open simultaneously. That means I need boatloads of RAM and the fastest processor I can get my hands on (and afford). I also need the best graphic card I can find, preferably one that will take me through the next several years which means I want to be looking at NVIDIA if possible. It needs to have enough screen area to make room for multiple windows but still be at least nominally portable for client presentations etc. A DVD/CD burner with a disk-writer/labeler (labeller? labler?) would be highly useful and of course the biggest, most impressive darn hard drive out there.

Also, my work computer was recently replaced which means that for the last several months I've been working on Vista. Now, I'm the first to admit that I have in the past compared Microsoft to the minions of Satan so perhaps I am a little biased, so I will say outright that there are things about Office 2007 that I like. There are also things about Vista that I don't hate. Maybe we should leave it there.

It's probably enough just to say that Vista/Office 2007 and a few other things such as the recent virus alert have made me think very, very hard about jumping ship for Apple. I've worked on Apples before, all my graphics friends mock me for not having made the move ages ago; I know them and like them.

Of course, I'd have to replace my software, which since that's the Adobe Master suite is a major thought. On the other hand, I was thinking about upgrading anyway thanks to the CS4 improvements... and iWorks is much less expensive than Microsoft Office suite... although I can't find anyone who uses it extensively so I don't know how well it compares...

... let's face it, basically it comes down to lovely, lovely money - right? I mean, the Mac I want (drool drool) is the Mac Pro, the new one, the gorgeous aluminium one that is so new they don't even have one at the Apple store to play with. And even with the educational discount it is very, very pricey. Very.

Only, I won't be going back to Dell (don't ask) and spent a happy half hour early this morning building the HP I would need to buy to fill my requirements and compare with the Pro and... yes, it's still less expensive - and by quite a bit - but not nearly so much as I thought.

So. Do I go to the Dark Side?

They have Apples.

*Note - the kids were trying to tell me that Survivor Man is superior to Man vs. Wild because SM goes out on his own while MvW has a crew. However I personally saw SM FAIL to catch a salmon - during the Run. I mean, really! We've had Children catch salmon with lines and hooks they found on the bank. They've caught them with Mickey Mouse rods, with a line tied to a stick, with a line tied to a ROCK for heaven's sake and baited with a bit of yarn found in a bush. You have to work NOT to catch a salmon during the Run. However, MvW is named Bear, and I hear that he just named his infant son Huckleberry. I'm not sure there's much to choose between the two of them.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


So we watched it here at work.

One of the profs nicked a television (from another prof who had squirreled it away for private viewing purposes, or so the story went) and set it up in a classroom. The picture was terrible - fuzzy and wavering and filled with lines of static that rolled steadily up the screen. Half of us had planned on sitting quietly at our own desks and tuning into one of the many sites that were streaming the whole thing but first CNN then CBS then even Hulu choked and froze up under the demand so we made our way to the classroom too, were welcomed and sat with a handful or two of students and anyone else who had heard the word.

Anyone who had been to DC had to gasp and exclaim as the camera panned slowly over the dense crowds; it was impossible to comprehend the space that we knew when it was filled that way.

So we listened, quietly mostly although Obama's little girl got a laugh with her grimace, and someone had to point out how beautiful Michelle looked. You could sense what topics were most important to people as they shifted just a little as the speech rolled on: the economy, war, health care, education, foreign policy, the ecology, eco-fuel. When it ended we thanked the prof who hosted us all, two or three people openly wiping their eyes.

An hour or so later someone outside my door mentioned that the political watchers and pundits were panning the speech, saying it didn't say anything. I asked her what they meant and, it turned out, no one had been able to pull out that one phrase, that magic handful of words that would sum it all up and make an excellent headline for tomorrow's papers. I pointed out something I learned from a biography of FDR I'm in the middle of (a biography I'm reading because I see significant parallels between these two presidents). That famous phrase, the one that most Americans know even if they don't know who said it, the phrase that came from his first inaugural address, not from the last when the world was at war, "The only thing we have to fear..." that phrase was not picked up by the people who make it their job to watch these things - it took time for the real importance of those words to emerge.

So, I respectfully disagree about the value of this particular address. I think it's clear that what we as a country and we as a world are facing is great and grave and that these things cannot be summed up in a single phrase, no matter how convenient it might be to quote and repeat.

And as for me, I'll trade a good catch phrase for substance any day.


One of the problems with working where I do is that it has, shall we say, a slightly lax dress code. When I first hired on I dressed the way I did in California for work - suits, heels, even (gasp) tights now and then. A week or so in I realized that I was dressing more formally than everyone around me up to and including my boss and her boss. The problem was I had a sort of polarized wardrobe. I had nice work clothes on one side of the closet and stuff suitable for walking dogs, mountain biking, child-wrangling etc. on the other. Which meant that when I decided to dress down a bit I basically went from black pumps and silk shells directly to jeans and tennis shoes.

In my defense, they were always, always clean. And comfortable - yup, all about the comfort. However one day in December I found myself looking at a pair of comfortable, utterly tatty and completely hideous boots and happily contemplating wearing them to work the next day and I realized: I'm dressing like a college student. Not just a college student, but a senior in final semester, a week away from finals. I was one step away from showing up in my flannel pajama bottoms and a pair of fuzzy slippers with yesterday's mascara melting slowly down my cheeks.

So come January, I decided, I was going to try to dress like a grown-up again. I bought some real shoes (ones that didn't live in the "slip on" category or feature elastic anywhere upon them) and ordered three new skirts. I went through my drawers and discovered I no longer owned a pair of intact non-off-black tights and resolutely overcame my dislike of purchasing something that I know will not fit (A's creep down, B's end up about six inches above my navel), and finally a couple of weeks ago I left the jeans and the t-shirts at home.

It hasn't gone entirely smoothly. The first day, for instance, when I changed out of my commuting shoes and slid on my brand new, beautiful retro, peep-toe, black pumps and headed down the hall to fill my water bottle I found myself walking with a clear, loud squeak with every step. I noticed that the shoes weren't quite as comfortable as I'd hoped either - seemed that the edge of the toe dug in a bit or something. Still, one must suffer for maturity. Besides, they're new shoes; it'll pass. I squeaked through the next hour or so. It wasn't until I slipped them off to give my feet a rest that I realized I had been walking around all morning with the cardboard shapers still stuffed down inside.

They feel much better now - and they don't squeak even a little bit.

Then there were smaller incidents like leaving a hanger at the gas station and having to tear back and retrieve it while the three nurses in line to buy their lottery tickets sniggered. Or realizing that while I'd commuted in exercise pants and jogging shoes I'd forgotten to change to a sports top and so would be walking through campus in yoga bottoms and a nice red silk button-down shirt. All in all though things have gone reasonably smoothly. The only problem is that I have a recurring fear of leaving something vital at home and ending up spending the day hiding in my office half dressed so I tend to squirrel things like shoes, tights and non-wrinkle-prone tops in all sorts of places.

So last weekend the Male Child and I rock-climbed to the top of a dry waterfall and sat for a moment looking down the canyon. The Male was kindly carrying the backpack into which I had thrown water bottles and a handful of slightly stale Christmas candy (WHAT!? It totally counts as valid trail snacks) and as we sat catching our breath it reached to the bottom of the compartment to fish out a Twix bar.

And pulled out a pair of classic, 3 1/2" black leather half-boots and gave me an incredulous look.

"What?" I said. "Haven't I always told you to be prepared for anything on a hike?"

Education of the young. It's so important.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I've been having unusually vivid dreams lately, some of them are the variety where you know you're dreaming and if you concentrate just hard enough you can change things and do magic and stuff (only apparently I'm rather lazier than I was as a child because the past several times I've thought about it and decided I couldn't be bothered), some just regular dreamy dreams. I'm not sure what makes the difference between knowing you're dreaming and not. Sure, often it's a very convincing dream, the kind where it takes half the day to realize that whatever it was didn't really happen, but just as often there's something utterly bizarre going on and I still don't stop to question why 80's era Margaret Thatcher is serving up thick milkshakes at the new sandwich shop down the road.

To complicate things, I was sort of taught that sometimes dreams are very significant and might be Messages From A Higher Being (or deader being - could be long-gone relatives or friends) so attention must be paid. And then there's the line of thought that dreams are a window into the psyche and your brain is trying to tell you something or work something out.

So, last night included the following motifs:

1) chase sequence which normally is of the frustrating, running through treacle variety, but this time was rather fun with lots of Scooby-Dooish running in and out of doors and up and down stairs in what seemed to be a complicated office building. And I totally knew it was a dream but hey, it was sort of hilarious to be whizzing around and not being breathless.

2) bears. Black and brown, mamas with cubs which normally would be sort of the focus of the dream, but actually the real concern was that we were dog-sitting two sets of dogs and one set had escaped and were going to pick fights with a neighbor's nasty little yarping toupee. The bears were simply background color, sort of wandering in and out of yards and distracting the neighbor while I removed his slightly-chewed pet from the mouth of a greyhound.

3) Photoshop - having to help out a friend of my parents who was trying to do several incredibly complicated tasks on her ginormous (27" or so?) touch screen computer. She had no knowledge of Photoshop and what she needed to do was going to require masks and filters and multiple layers and all sorts of stuff which should have been frustrating but all I could think was DAMN that's a cool computer (if totally bulky and utterly useless since you had to stretch all over the place to do anything)

But what was really weird? Kirk was in every one. I haven't dreamed about him in months and months. I used to all the time, not nightmare type dreams, just sort of wistful. Then later they turned into these really difficult ones where he would just simply come home and there was no explanation and I couldn't remember why that didn't make sense and then, slowly, it would come back and I would have to wake up. Yeah brain, thanks for that because that was really good fun. So why was he there last night, the chaser in the first dream (although I didn't recognize that his being there was out of place which is a little odd now that I think about it), helping to wrangle dogs in the second, and sort of sitting around being admiring and helpful in the third?

Am I finally finding a place for him in life as it is now? Am I accepting things or moving on or doing any of those things that honestly you can't really do, and there's no good phrase for it so the cliches have to stand in instead?

Or is it just that I should definitely not play a video game for a while and then read a chapter or two of a biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt just before going to bed?

Stupid subconscious.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Well, due to the Male Child deciding (on purpose I'm sure) to develop an ophthalmic migraine today I'm still not going to get that darn other post done.

So, instead a short piece of our holidays.

Over New Years I found myself with just Child 2 still awake; Children 1 and 3 had long since tottered off to bed. We cuddled on the couch watching a Survivor Man episode [for uninitiated: Survivor man takes one idiot, drops him alone (with a number of cameras) into some remote place and lets him starve for a week or so. We've sort of lost a bit of respect for him after he failed to catch a salmon during the run - you have to work a bit NOT to catch a salmon during the run]. While Child 2 remained alert and interested I kept dozing off (to the amusement of the Child), only seeing bits and pieces here and there as Survivor man failed to catch anything in a trap. Finally, fed up with his ridiculous practice of ignoring the obvious, I stated my opinion of what he should do clearly and firmly and went to bed. However, in doing so I apparently provided yet one more completely incomprehensible phrase for my family to quote at random moments.

Which is why, not two minutes ago, the Male Child in the midst of its migraine suddenly turned to me and declared, "Keeella ganu!"*

I think it's getting better.

* The full phrase actually went, "He should keeella ganu**! Lookat da ganu! He could eatfer weeks. Stoopid man."

** The right and proper pronunciation of gnu. And wildebeest is no fun at all.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009



Yerse, sorry about that. Sometime around the last two or three days of holiday I suddenly developed this amazing allergy to my computer. Not quite sure why...

So I might have sort of not read or replied to comments... or emails... or...


I am back now and I do have the second what-I-gotsted-for-Christmas post sort of burbling away in the back of my mind along with a bonus post that I thought of all by myself. And yes I'll catch up on the commenting and emailing thingy too... mumble... sorry and that... mumble.

Anyway I know I'm back because I found myself at work on Monday and found that that mouse? The one that wasn't stirring on Christmas Eve? Some time around Christmas day he woke up and thought he'd have a festive little run around my desk. I know because he left a tiny little shriveled present for me, a little welcome gift for Monday morning.

Yes, the holidays are definitely over.