December 31, 2005

The worst idea I've ever had.

It started with me being sick. I have a sore throat and minor head cold, which I probably caught from being stuffed into airplanes with other sick people: the wages of holiday travel. I slept in late yesterday and lay on the couch all day drinking tea. Come bedtime, I'd just watched one and a half Lord of the Rings movies -- big, exciting, action-packed -- and I wasn't all that tired.

It rained heavily yesterday. The rain was pounding on our little house for hours and hours. We don't have any leaks, fortunately, but our yard is poorly graded and the water tends to pool under the house. When I say "tends", of course, I mean it pools significantly. The raccoons that live under the house make sloshing noises as they trudge around the crawlspace in six inches of standing water.

Last night they seemed to be doing more than just trudging; it sounded a bit like they were having a fight. I wondered if Gato Malo was trying to claim the crawlspace for himself, or perhaps it was just a raccoon territory squabble.

Wildlife has a way of shaking my faith in the security of this house. There's that closet with the water heater, which is open to the empty attic space and, by way of the refrigerator cabinet, open to the house. Might it be open to the crawlspace also? I rediscovered a splintering floorboard in the bedroom yesterday by stomping heavily on it and feeling it give slightly. It's hard not to wonder if a raccoon at sufficient velocity would be able to break that floorboard open from below.

Jacob, having been up all day like normal people, went straight to sleep. Peanut curled up at his feet and played the part of the Insensate Loaf; even Bella forsook her usual nighttime prowling and napped. That left one person awake in the house, not counting the raccoons.

I decided to read for a while before going to sleep. My ideal bedtime reading material is something I've read before, something familiar that won't surprise me into staying awake. So, in my severe weather, with my cold caught from a stranger, listening to wildlife with sharp claws acting aggressive in a conceivably accessible part of the house... I decided to read The Hot Zone by Richard Preston.

Dianna? Bedtime stories are supposed to end with, "and they lived happily ever after," not with, "and then his intestines liquefied and covered everyone in the room with infectious blood."

I didn't sleep so well last night.

Posted by dianna at 11:55 AM

December 30, 2005

A tastiness of epic proportions.

For someone who never tasted a tamale until this year, I've developed an unreasonable passion for them. Then again, I have unreasonable passions for sushi, Thai coconut soup, injera, vegetable pakoras, and fried lotus buns, and I didn't taste any of those things for the first 18 years of my life. I'm not sure tofu ever passed my lips until I moved out of Los Angeles. Clearly the relationship between early exposure and eventual fondness is all out of wack around here.

I've recently discovered that my very own Berkeley Bowl sells three whole brands of vegan tamales, and at least two of those are delicious. There's Tamale Molly, which I've mentioned before, purveyor of heavenly vegan red chili tamales as well as things I haven't been able to bring myself to try. Chard and shallot tamales? Chard and shallots go in Mexican food? I'll be damned, or at least hesitant. There's also Primavera, purveyor of somewhat larger, spicier, and more conventional tamales. There are delicious vegan versions of the Green Chili and Butternut Squash varieties, although there are also cheesed versions to trick the unwary. I can't currently remember the name of the third brand of tamales, but I'll extend the benefit of the doubt and state that they're probably tasty.

Tamale Molly: 3 small tamales per package for $4ish.
Primavera: 4 large tamales per package for $8ish.
Both: highly recommended for insertion into any mouth of which you may know.

Posted by dianna at 10:37 PM

December 28, 2005

The Unemployment Diaries

Or, Today Is The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Sleep.

It is 5:02 pm on December 28, my first proper day of unemployment in a year and eight months. I woke up at 8:00 when Jacob left for work, woke up again at 10:00, woke up again around noon, got out of bed at 2:30, and got out of the shower at 4:30. I'm wearing pink fuzzy slippers, rolled-up pants covered in cat hair, a BME shirt reading "Pierce them all -- let God sort 'em out", and no bra. This is probably a good time for a snack, so I might open up one of the four bags of Uncle Eddie's vegan cookies that Jacob gave me for a Hannukah present.

Between now and January 15 I need to deposit a paycheck and accept about six thousand dollars in financial aid (all grants). After January 15 I'll need to waltz into the campus library and let my old boss know that I'm back, but I don't want to get too far ahead of myself here. I'm enrolled in all my classes, I don't need to take any loans, I just looked up summer field schools and found a good one run by a former professor in whose class I did tremendously well, and, for god's sake, I've even got all my notebooks and pens ready. There is nothing of which I can think at the moment which is not fantastic, and for the next two and a half weeks I can devote myself entirely to considering that fact.

Also to consider: I had a dream last night in which I got my lip repierced. Hooray! For some reason I had it done with an enormous spirally 6g wood thing which was always in my way and not very comfortable. It probably didn't look too hot either, now that I think about it. I was constantly chewing on it and flipping it off to one side or the other, which was making my lip incredibly sore. This may have been an echo of the unreasonably spicy Thai food that I accidentally ordered last night, which made my lips burn after just one piece of tofu and four green beans. After some thought I've decided to use a ring in my lip like normal people, and order my food mild next time.

Thank you for your kind attention. You are now free to go back to sleep, or at least I am.

Posted by dianna at 05:32 PM

December 13, 2005


The shorter project manager and I were just hovering over the enormous fruit tart that my boss brought in for someone's birthday. "You can have this, right?" he asked. I inspected the label and sighed.

"Butter," I read aloud.
"Shit," he muttered.
"Skim milk."

I shook a reproving finger at him. "Don't say that in the office," I said.
"Oh," he said, looking startled. "Shit."

Posted by dianna at 11:15 AM

December 12, 2005

I'm not quite myself.

I've heard it said that everyone is a stranger on the internet. It's true; there's an inherent lack of identity associated with typed words and arbitrary usernames. You can't ever be quite sure with whom you're communicating, whether you're looking at an open message board, a respectable reference page, or, indeed, this blog.

That said, this is getting ridiculous. My university is cautiously refusing to be certain of my identity. Some parts of it may be willing to extend the benefit of the doubt and posit that I am Dianna, a registered student for Spring 2006. Other parts will have nothing to do with such rashness, and those parts are insisting that I am a stranger to them, an unknown, nobody to be trusted.

My bank has jumped on the bandwagon, and swears that it knows nothing of my account number. I am not a valid credit union member, it tells me, or at least it will no longer accept such paltry proof as my account number and online banking password. Password! Pah! We're on to your tricks, "Dianna", and we're not falling for them.

My laptop, caught between these wily institutions and my bewildered protestations, has given up. It crashed catastrophically on Saturday night while I was trying to get my monthly finance spreadsheet up to date. I had two unreconciled receipts left and was zeroing in on that elusive figure, that great answer of life, the universe, and how much money I have in my checking account, when my screen turned to an attractive vertical stripe pattern and could not be restored from it.

Closer inspection of the computer has revealed that it's just the LCD screen that isn't working. When the laptop is hooked up to my old monitor, it's more than happy to do its usual computery things.... barring, of course, running OpenOffice and letting me finish or view my finance sheet. That is, inexplicably, the one function which it will not perform.

There is a common theme of money in the ways in which I'm being stymied. Berkeley is preventing me from knowing anything about my financial aid. My credit union is preventing me from knowing the balance of my checking account, and my computer is preventing me from figuring out said balance on my own. Perhaps the message is that money is no object. It's only numbers, right? It's not worth worrying over.

Either that or the message is that money isn't important because I don't have any of it.

Posted by dianna at 11:00 AM

December 08, 2005

Lord Gloom.

In the 45 minutes I've been at work this morning, two of my co-workers have independently walked in the front door, stopped, stared at me, and said, "Nice color." They both looked surprised and amused, and when I gave them questioning looks they remarked that I don't often dress like this.

My typical work outfit lately has been solid black Dickies, boots, and a solid-color long-sleeve t-shirt. I have black t-shirts, grey t-shirts, and t-shirts in various dark colors like maroon and deep purple. I also have a thin black sweater that I carry around in my bag and layer over my t-shirts if it gets too cold at my desk. It's been cold fairly frequently in the last few weeks.

Today I'm wearing solid black Dickies, boots, and a solid-color long-sleeve t-shirt. As it happens, the shirt is new; it's the same style as my other shirts, but in royal blue. This is not a bright color. Against my pasty-white skin it's practically navy, but, then again, it isn't quite black.

Apparently seeing me in it is as surprising as seeing the town widow trade her mourning clothes for a strapless red number and go out dancing. I'm fighting a powerful urge to put my (black) coat back on over it. My goodness -- my blue is showing! I'm so ashamed!

Posted by dianna at 09:50 AM

December 07, 2005

Fire that architect!

Not any of the ones at my work; this time I'm talking about any architect who may have been involved in the design of my house. It's fairly likely that there wasn't one, but if there was, he or she should have been fired. If there wasn't one, then the amateur who did design the house should have been fired instead.

Why am I so obsessed with firing? It's because fire is warm, and my house is not. It's not merely that it's presently sort of chilly, it's that it lacks any design elements which would make it capable of being warm.

First, it's poorly insulated. In fact, I'm unsure that it has any insulation whatsoever; when it was being remodeled last year we looked at a section of stripped wall and saw wood and plaster but no sign of anything squishy and heat-retaining. The older windows in the house are single-paned and held tightly in their frames by 80 years' worth of paint; the newer windows are double-paned but loose in their frames and un-weatherstripped. Six, half a dozen. They all leak heat like crazy. The doors and doorframes are variably rhomboid, leading to triangular gaps which even the cushiest weatherstripping would be hard-pressed to fill.

The bathroom is a problem all its own. There's the exhaust fan, which I suppose can't be helped. Bathrooms have to have exhaust fans or they get mildewy, but it does mean an enormous vent hole in the ceiling. There's also the large window, larger than usual for a bathroom window if you ask me. Then there are the two doors, which can be said to shut in an approximate sense but, being interior doors, have gaps larger than the national average of large gaps. Warm air is pumped out of the bathroom by the fan, cold air comes in around the window to replace it, and then drifts freely out into the rest of the house with little resistance from the doors.

We have, finally, gotten our furnace working. No need to worry about that. It turns on and warms one room of the house with great efficacy, because, you see, it's located in the extreme corner of the house. The furnace is in the outermost corner of the living room, and the thermostat is in the very center of the house, the doorway between the living room and kitchen. When we turn on the thermostat the furnace will warm the living room, then turn off as the warmth reaches the doorway. Supposing we set it to 65 degrees, the temperature breakdown of the house will look something like this.

Outside: 45
Bathroom: 45
Bedroom: 50
Kitchen: 50-65 (it's a very long kitchen)
Study: 55
Living Room: 80

The problem, as you can see, is the far-flung bed-and-bath wing of the house. It's impossible to go to the bathroom at night without shivering. Jacob gets into bed every night and complains about how chilly the flannel sheets are. Last night I had to put Peanut on top of my feet to warm them up enough that I could sleep. Meanwhile, we have to turn the furnace off when we go to bed because the thermostat isn't equipped to notice when one room of the house is about to burst into flame. Theoretically if we could leave the furnace on all night it might be 60 in the bedroom by morning, but the paint would have melted off the living room walls by that point.

Last year, to solve this problem, I got a tiny electric space heater that I could haul around the house and plug in wherever I felt like being warm. Jacob tried to stop me by telling me cautionary tales of mounting electricity bills. I refused to part with my precious warmth, but tended to turn it off guiltily when he was around.

This morning I found him in my chair in the study with the heater blowing on his toes. I made sure to stand very close while exclaiming in triumph.

Posted by dianna at 02:18 PM

December 03, 2005

You're not paid to make me think!

In this house we watch a lot of movies. It's funny, really; I can't remember the last time Jacob and I watched a TV show, but movies and video games account for between 5 and 10 hours of a typical week for us. Hence, GreenCine.

GreenCine, for those not familiar with it, is a Netflix clone with a slightly different selection: more independent movies, more anime, more noir. At this point our rental queue comprises some 200 titles, half of which neither of us has actually heard of. You see, GreenCine has this interesting feature known as Lists. Any GreenCine member or staffer can put together a linked list of movies with some common feature, give it a title like Love Stories About Losers, and put it up for viewing by other members. Jacob went on a list binge when we first signed up, and added half of the Noir and Crime lists to our queue. Then he went on and did the same with Significant Early Films and Important Science Fiction. Jacob Has An Interest In Cinema.

I, on the other hand, Just Want To Be Entertained Goddamnit. It's a recurring problem with our membership; I'm already burned out on the genres that Jacob likes the most, so I greet those plasticky green envelopes in the mail with considerable skepticism. They might have likable characters and fun, engaging stories, or they might have bitter detectives and grim, serious dialogue. They might be Waking Ned Devine, or they might be Rififi. Sometimes the fear of the latter is enough to stop me from opening the envelopes at all; I leave them on the coffee table and hide in bed with a book until Jacob comes home and opens them. Or I open them, swear under my breath, and then add fifty movies from the Black Comedy list all in a rush. It might be hard-boiled from here to March, but by god, when April rolls around it's all going to be old naked Irish men on motorcycles.

If we used Netflix instead, we could have multiple queues and solve the problem easily. Then again, Netflix doesn't have 500 depressing 1950s crime movies, so Jacob wouldn't have anything to rent anyway. That's hardly helpful. I guess there's nothing for it but to go for extremes and fill the top of the list with Monty Python movies when he's not looking.

"Oh, darn, sweetie, they sent us slapstick comedy instead of moral ambiguity. Must have been some kind of mistake, but, you know, since we don't have anything better to watch... why don't you make some popcorn?"

Posted by dianna at 06:51 PM

December 01, 2005

Stormy weather.

I used the verb "to howl" repeatedly on Tuesday. It may have been misapplied.

I was explaining, or complaining, to two architects about the situation in which they'd put me. It involved things they didn't tell me we'd need, and the unreasonable expenses involved in last-minute rush orders. When this happens, the office manager finds out and howls at me. Howls, I told them.

Please note that today's weather in San Francisco is heavy wind and rain. That's heavy wind, and intermittently heavy rain. It's not raining just now, but an hour ago it was coming down in buckets, barrels, swimming pools and the occasional medium-sized lake. The wind, for its part, has been ceaseless. People skulk down the street shielding their umbrellas with their bodies to stop them from turning inside-out. My co-workers have been staggering in the front door with their coats billowing around them like warm, comfortable airfoils.

There's a gap around the front door somewhere, and the wind has been whistling in it all day. It stops, it starts, it rises to a shriek, it subsides, it starts in low again, and so on. I keep thinking of The Secret Garden; when the little girl hears the sick boy upstairs moaning to himself, the nurse insists desperately that it's "just the wind, wuthering across the moors." Well, either there's a spoiled invalid in our attic too, or this suburban San Francisco street can wuther as well as any moor could hope to do.

Now we're howling.

Posted by dianna at 03:24 PM