Friday, December 30, 2011

The Holidays Can Be Rough

At this time, 14 years ago, I was busy helping my Christmas gift adjust to life in his new household. I was 15 years old, and I'd wanted a dog for years. My parents struck me a bargain: if I helped build a new backyard fence, I could get a dog for Christmas. I duly bought all the books you could imagine on dog breeds, and eventually settled on a labrador retriever.

On Dec. 23, 1997, I found the dog who would become Major Tom Shadowmaker amongst a rambunctious pile of puppies just outside of Henrietta, Texas. He was purebred from a line of champion hunters, and his breeder was visibly upset when he learned that my dog - as yet unnamed - would not be raised to hunt. He saw how much I adored the dog, however, and so I took him home with me.

I felt incredibly guilty as I held the puppy in my lap for the two hour drive back home. I didn't feel guilty because my puppy wouldn't be raised a hunter, though, but because none of the names I'd previously thought of for him seemed to suit. I had thought of Asta (after Nick and Nora's dog), and Tree (I hoped to condition him to bark when called). Neither of the names fit the bundle of black fur in my lap, however, and I felt awful.

My father, who had taken me on the trek to find my Christmas gift, kindly allowed me to control the radio, and while we listened, the Peter Schilling song "Starship to Major Tom" came on. I looked at the puppy, and decided that he looked like a Major Tom. And thus World War I's noblest flying ace was born.

The name Shadowmaker came from his parents: Blackshadow and Widowmaker.

I spent the first three nights sleeping on the floor with Major Tom (known around the house simply as Major, or when in trouble, Young Man). After a while, he became accustomed to sleeping on his bed in the corner of my bedroom, and there he stayed for the next three years.

When I was 17, I was diagnosed with leukemia, and was thereafter home-schooled because my immune system was too weak to allow me to go to school. Major Tom was at home with me every day. As soon as I got sick, he seemed to sense that something was wrong, and his boisterous puppy days ended. He calmed down, and followed me around the house or, when I was in bed recovering from chemotherapy, sat alertly by my bed, watching to make sure I was okay.

I left for college at the age of 18, but Major stayed behind with my parents. I visited every weekend, and played with him and loved him as much as I could. He never failed to wag his tail when I came home, to leap into the air to show his happiness at my return, and it stung my heart every time he realized I was leaving again.

When I moved into an apartment complex that allowed large dogs, I tried to take Major with me. After a few fraught hours, during which he marked practically everything I owned and never ceased hyperventilating, despite sedation, I took him home to my parents, where he calmed down. Apparently, labs don't like change in their environment (which we rediscovered every time my parents rearranged their living room furniture).

Until Major was about 12 years old, he constantly amazed people with how youthful and energetic he was (I chalk this up to our allowing him to lick our ice cream bowls, but I could be wrong). When I took him to a new vet for the first time and informed the vet tech that Major was 12 years old, the tech looked at me and asked, "Are you sure?" A quick glance at Major's medical history reassured him, at which point he announced that Major was the healthiest, most energetic 12 year old dog he'd ever seen.

After that visit, however, Major began to go downhill, healthwise. He developed a series of fatty tumors, one of which couldn't be surgically removed because of its location, and that eventually grew to impede his movement in the last months of his life. He developed arthritis in his back hips from all of that jumping as a puppy, and he sounded, my mother said, like an obscene phone caller when he got excited, breathing heavily, raspily for several minutes after a new person arrived.

I came home for Christmas, this year, knowing that Major Tom wasn't long for this world. He could hardly walk, and he'd lost a lot of weight. Too much weight. I could see his ribs for the first time since his youthful days as a lean, mean, leaping machine. He had also lost control of himself, and we could no longer control him, either: deaf and blind, he would run off if we let him into the front yard, something he hadn't done for years.

He was constantly in pain, and it showed. So, after 14 years of companionship from the gentlest dog I've ever encountered, from the most loving animal I've ever met, I had to put him down.

I spent a long time, the evening before it happened, telling him how much I loved him, how much I would miss him, and what a wonderful dog he was. I told him about where he was going: a place where he could have whole bowls of ice cream, instead of just the dregs, and could run and swim, and wouldn't hurt any more.

My parents and I took him to the vet on December 21, 2011, and we stayed with him while the fatal dose of anesthesia was administered; I didn't want him to be alone, with people he didn't know, when he died.

Prior to that, while he lay sedated on the floor next to the examination table, I crouched next to him and told him I loved him, and what a good dog he'd been. I told him how special he was to me, and that he was the best dog there ever was. It was 13 years and 363 days since he'd first entered my life as a muddy, face-licking puppy.

Now, I catch myself doing things I did for years for Major Tom's benefit: leaving the door to my bedroom open so he can come in during the night time if he wants to, or feeling guilty about leaving the house for the afternoon, because he'll be alone. And then I remember that he's not here. I still expect to see him, lying in his observationally advantageous position in the corner of the living room - where the carpet is stained from his constant habitation.

But I'll never see him again. And it hurts.

I miss you, Major Tom Shadowmaker.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"The Marriage Plot" by Jeffrey Eugenides

"The Marriage Plot": that timeless literary tale, most often related by Elizabeth Gaskell, Jane Austen, George Eliot, and the Brontes, in which a young woman needs/wants to be married in order to be happy, but is prevented for one reason or another.

The premise of The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (Pulitzer winner for Middlesex), revolves around the seemingly antiquated plotline so idolized by women.

The story takes place at Brown University, where the heroine, Madeleine, is pursued (to no avail) by a frowsily dapper religious scholar while she pursues a relationship with a one-time collegiate playboy, Leonard. The playboy also has bipolar disorder, aka manic depression.

Whereas in Austen or Gaskell, social class or financial abilities kept lovers apart, in this case, it is Leonard's mental illness that prevents their happiness.

The Marriage Plot explores ground most often covered in hot-pink chick-lit books with smarmy-looking skeletons in Manolos on the cover. Obviously, as the understated white and black cover attests, Eugenides' treatment is vastly superior. The ground covered, to spell it out, is the creation of "the friend zone" by modern females - characterizing male friends as asexual or non-romantic, and suffered by uber-religious Mitchell - and the relationship conflicts created by living with a person of the opposite sex to whom you are not married.

As with Middlesex, Eugenides places the reader into the mind of a character who has a disorder with which we are (most likely) not personally acquainted. Calliope, the main character in Middlesex, had a rare genetic mutation that meant she/he was a male without external sex organs, and the story covers how she/he came to be born with the mutation, how it was discovered, and how Calliope eventually chose to cope with it.

In the case of The Marriage Plot, the reader experiences Leonard's manic swings, his all-consuming depression, and his battle with mood-altering/stabilizing drugs, in this case lithium. As with the characters in the book, each crescendoing burst of energy on Leonard's part leaves us wondering how it will affect his life, and the lives of those around him.

The Marriage Plot wasn't what I would call an "easy read," but then Middlesex wasn't particularly easy, in many parts. This latest offering from Eugenides is less fantastical than his two previous offerings, but he seems to be mellowing as his writing progresses.

That being said, I have to confess that I prefer Middlesex - one of my all-time favorite reads - over The Marriage Plot. Get ready for the over-used word, again. The Marriage Plot just wasn't as compelling as the other books I've read lately (I'm in the midst of The English Patient, as we speak - er - type).

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"The Cat's Table" by Michael Ondaatje

I have not read The English Patient, but it should arrive in a couple of days, so I guess I'll just have to be patient (wah-wah). My mother, however, in a wonderful act of literary enablement purchased two books for me about a month ago.

Studio is over. I have one final exam. Let the reading begin!!!!!

Yesterday (Tuesday, Nov. 29), I had a migraine, most likely caused by a serious lack of quality sleep prior to my final project submission in studio and the sudden draining of adrenaline from my system, ditto. I stayed in bed all day and subsisted on gluten-free blueberry waffles and Greek yogurt and hot chocolate.

And I read, Dear Reader! Oh! How I read!

I read Michael Ondaatje's The Cat's Table, which has been sitting on my bookshelf for weeks, beckoning me with its come-hither book-jacket, seducing me with the promise of what lay hidden beneath said book-jacket, and occasionally falling to the floor in a pathetic bid for attention. After playing hard to get, I finally succumbed to its promises, yesterday.

And promptly read the whole thing.

As expected from a Booker Prize winner, The Cat's Table is beautifully written and (I'm getting ready to use one of my most over-used words, here) compelling. I couldn't put it down. It is, in fact, the reason I took a bath, yesterday, in lieu of a shower: it's difficult to read in the shower, but oh so easy in the bathtub.

I sacrificed hair hygiene for a book! That is not a common occurrence.

The story follows a young boy (Michael) and two other boys who are traveling alone from present-day Sri Lanka to England. They get into all sorts of trouble, on board, and are charmed by the other passengers assigned to sit at the dinner table of least prominence in the dining hall, also know as the Cat's Table.

Over the course of the journey, the reader discovers that the people on board are not what they appear to be: the lonely old (not so old) spinster is most likely an agent for MI5, and the kindly botanist who has a crush on Michael's cousin smokes pot in the hold of the ship. There is a prisoner, on board, who the boys observe secretly when he comes out from the hold at night for his daily walk above-deck, dressed in leg-irons and manacles to prevent the criminal from escaping.

The effects of the journey stay with Michael, later in life, and the story is told from his vantage point as a grown man with one failed marriage behind him, who still clings to the idealized person of his older female cousin, Emily, who perhaps had the greatest secret of everyone on board.

I recommend it. Highly.

On the strength of its impression on me, I even ordered The English Patient (also written by Ondaatje, and winner of the Booker Prize). It should be here in a couple of days, by which point I'll have worked my way through Eugenides' The Marriage Plot, which I'm also enjoying. I'll give a review of it, after it's finished.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bad blogger! Bad! Bad blogger!

As I cower in the corner after that chastising, I'm coming up with a bazillion-willion-Brazilian excuses for why I haven't written in almost a month.

The main one is this: I'm doing this thing called "grad school" which is like having two full-time jobs, so there's very little time or energy left for blogging.

School is going well, however, as we near the end of the semester. Granted, my life is about to become insanely busy, but that can't be helped. "Pencils down" on our semester design studio projects is at midnight on Nov. 27, so until then, I will be in ohmygodIhavesomuchtodoIthinkI'mgoingtodie mode. My studio-mates and I recently began joking (sort of) about injuring each other so we could maybe have more time to finish the projects (or at least have an excuse for not finishing).

Other than the fact that I will have no life outside of school until Nov. 28 at 5:00 pm, things are going well. My migraines are still pretty rare, I have been approved for health insurance through the Texas Health Pool insurance program (!), and I ordered the new iPhone 4s, which should arrive today, along with its attendant accessories and a 6-pack of socks I ordered from Amazon.

Shine on, you crazy diamond.

On the downside, that health insurance costs $600 per month, I owe Dr. Pain $1,738.33 for Botox injections, and I was in a fender-bender last Wednesday while sitting in line to get iced tea at Chik-Fil-A. I only just reported the accident, today, though, because I've been so stressed out about other things. Monday morning, I'll have the (incredibly minor) damage assessed at a local car dealership to see how much it will cost to fix it, and to discuss what should happen if hairline cracks appear after a couple of months, because that happened in another little wreck I was in years ago, when I didn't see any damage initially.

I have learned my lesson, dear reader.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have gobs of work to do, designing an underground research facility in Death Valley so I'll be able to turn it into a physical model by Nov. 27, at midnight.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Off to Dallas!

I am excited.

I am beyond excited.

Ecstatic might be the appropriate word.

I am going to Dallas for the weekend.

Not only will I get to see my family - both biological and the family we've chosen - but I will get to help my mom celebrate her birthday, albeit a little bit early. And I will get to see Major Tom Shadowmaker, who is taking it easy, these days. I miss the old fellow.

Unfortunately, I will have to work some over the weekend.

I am now entering the first stages of design for my 6-8 week studio project, after managing to pull an A on the Run Lola Run film center I designed in two weeks. My long-term project is a research center in Death Valley (again. My choice, though, this time). I'm thrilled, because I will get to expand on some of the ideas I explored in the previous 2 week project, and get to take them further.

For my last project, I buried the majority of my program underground, with parts of it popping out in the form of concrete cubes. This time, however, I'm going all the way. Yup, my program will be entirely buried with the exception of a few canyons/light wells dug out of the earth for entrances and, duh, light.

In other words, I am about to design some high-falutin' Hobbit holes. I couldn't be more excited.

I've always loved "nesting", both in the sense of decorating interior spaces, but also in terms of physically burrowing. My mother used to tease me because I did not sleep beneath my duvet, but wrapped it around myself, like a swaddled baby. I still wrap blankets around myself, although the duvet is now used more conventionally, rather than as a beautifully designed albeit zipper-less sleeping bag.

And my project idea - burrowing into the hills of Death Valley - has precedent in this area: it's how the kangaroo rats of Death Valley keep themselves cool during the day.

P.S. The migraines are better. Much better. I've had one in the past week. Everything's coming up roses!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Two Nights in a Row! Wowzers!

I mysteriously have time to write, tonight, which fills me with dread. I feel like I should be doing something for my design studio - but I'm not.

Oh, sure, I'm researching for the enormously huge research paper (that isn't so enormously huge) that I have to write for my Modern Architectural History class, but that's pretty fun. A lot of fun, actually.

I might just chuck this whole architecture thing and go be a research assistant for someone, because I can seriously sit and read books on anything all day. And take notes, that go on nicely organized note cards with little sticky labels (pre-printed in a nice sans-serif font) in the top left corner that tell me where I got the info, the page number in the top right corner, and filed under the section of the outline to which it belongs in a nifty note card organizer that was $4 at Office Depot.

I get to combine my obsessive love of organizational tools with reading!!!!!

It's like I died and went to heaven! And heaven is a Container Store with a built-in library! And maybe a Starbucks with Tom Selleck as the barrista...

Okay, so maybe I couldn't read books about anything (I'm not too keen on string theory, nuclear reactions, and electrical engineering, so I'd restrict myself to history, the arts, and anthropology...even though the other two kind of fall under the third?).

Right now, however, I am eating up all this Le Corbusier and Soviet Russia.

See, Le Corbusier had "a thing" with Russia in the late 1920s, early 1930s, when the Soviets started to organize themselves and figure out what, exactly, the Communist state should be (an autocracy, apparently). He had one project built there, and entered a couple of other competitions, which he did not win because he was a Swiss bourgeois pig-dog.

Or something.

But his relationship with the Russian Constructivists he met shaped his future works profoundly. And it's fascinating reading about the impact Communism had on art and architecture, and how architecture was not just seen as something pretty to live in/look at, but as something that could change the nature of society. Architecture was, in and of itself, revolutionary, and I don't just mean "look: that's new" but "we can bring down governments with this building" revolutionary.

The whole idea is mind-boggling to me.

Mind-boggling and fascinating.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

All Quiet on the Southeastern Front... and Etymology

It's been a while. It's been at least a month.

This grad school thing is totally interfering with my literary life.

No, really. I can hardly indulge my creative writing proclivities, these days, be they blog-geared or otherwise.

Heck, even my interior design magazines are on the back-burner, mostly flipped through hastily while I wait for the shower water to heat up, or while I scarf down some Whole Foods rotisserie chicken - because like heck I have time to cook!

So between school work and migraines - because, yes, those are back in full swing - it's been difficult to get to the ole blog for some writing.

Part of what's made my recent life so hectic is the nature of the projects we have in design studio. They've been 2 week charettes - I'll explain what a charette is, in a bit - that have required all the graphical and model-building dexterity of the more usual 6-8 week project, and they've been killers. A pavilion for a site near downtown Houston, a hikers' refuge in Death Valley, and then a film center, built for the director/video artist of my choice (I chose Tom Twyker and Run Lola Run for the film center. The exterior involved lots of red splashes).

A charette, for those not in the know, is what a short, flurried burst of design activity is called. The term comes from the French word for "cart."

"Huh," you say. "That makes no sense at all."

Oh, Dear Reader, but it does, if you know your architectural history.

The term originated with the Ecole des Beaux Arts in France. In those days, the school had projects due all at once: and when it was due, it was due. Every bit of it. The instructors sent a cart through the corridors of the school, and students put their projects on the cart. Occasionally, a student wouldn't be finished, and so they would put their project on the cart, and put themselves on the cart, as well, so they could finish their assignment while it rolled down the hall.

Seriously. How gutsy was that?

So, if you are working feverishly in the last few hours before your project is due in architecture school, you are en charette, or as we now say, "on charette."

You learn something new every day, don't you?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ready, Set, Render!

I have a project due Monday at noon. I have two presentation boards almost completed, and part of a model to finish. For once, I managed to cut all the pieces for my model well before the date of presentation, and my almost-completed model is awaiting its context (a.k.a. the site) and possibly a bit of sanding before it is finished.

Possibly a bit of sanding. Possibly not.

What concerns me, right now, is the fact that I am about to import a model from a dumb yet wonderful program called SketchUp (it's free, by the way) into Rhinoceros so I can render it with a fancy schmancy expensive program called V-Ray.

Okay, so it wasn't that expensive (the student version cost $250. Yes, I actually purchased it. Legally), but every penny counts when you're a student.

When you spend upwards of $1000 per month on medical bills, every penny counts even when you're not a student.

I'm nervous about rendering, so I'm putting it off. Procrastinating.

I have no experience with rendering. I don't know how to add lamps/lights to my model to make it look its best. I don't really know much about textures and creating them. It's all confusing, and there are so many variables.

So I'm writing a blog post. The first in two weeks by the looks of it, and listening to thrash-metal, and pondering calling it a day and going to sleep so I can wake up early tomorrow morning and get to work feeling fresh as a daisy.

Or fresh as a petunia.

Or some fresh little flower.

(Insert "flower power" joke here).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Rhinoceros in the Room

There is a Rhinoceros in the room. And a Grasshopper. And two vizslas.

The vizslas are being quiet.

No. I take that back.

They were being quiet, until I got up to remind the female vizsla (Miss Scarlett) that her sheep toy is an inside toy, and she cannot take it outside. Her half-brother (Butler) decided to try to distract me while his sister made her getaway, but failed. He is now trying repeatedly to climb into my lap.

He's a 50 lbs. lap-dog.

I am currently dog/house-sitting for my sister and her husband while they take my niece on her first real vacation. It's kind of strange, having this big old house to myself, but also enjoyable. It's a nice break from my own little apartment.

What about the Rhinoceros and the Grasshopper? you ask.

Well, they're both in my computer, which doesn't look like a Rhino could squeeze in, but it's possible, trust me.

Rhinoceros is actually a 3-D digital modeling program. I used it for the first time about 5 years ago, during my last semester of undergraduate study. In all, prior to this semester, I had approximately 2 weeks of experience with it. I eventually gave up on it and used AutoCAD, instead.

This time around, I have to use Rhino, because I have to use a sub-program/plug-in called Grasshopper that goes with it.

Neither of them are easy to learn, but I'm getting there. It's a heck of a gear switch, going from a program like Revit, which essentially does everything for you, to having to write algorithms of a sort for Grasshopper.

My new professors are devotees of parametric architecture: architecture that responds to its context in mathematical ways, in other words. It's the sort of architecture promulgated by the likes of Zaha Hadid and COOP HIMMELB(L)AU.

Until I began my Master's work, I frankly didn't understand parametric (aka generative) architecture. The professors I had in my undergrad days were all die-hard modernists. They were obsessed with Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. I admire both of these architects (except for Le C's city planning ideas: those were just bat-s*** insane).

Now that I understand more of the theory behind parametric design, I have a greater appreciation for it and a greater desire to continue studying it.

Time to see if my model has finished generating, yet. (Let's say a little prayer, shall we?)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Strange Day, Indeed

Today was odd.


After my classes, I was conversing with some fellow students in our studio space (which holds all 34 of the Level II Graduate Students) when a middle-aged fellow and a thirty-something fellow came into the studio. The thirty-something demanded to know whose studio we were in.

"Uh, Dirk's, Vicky's, and John's," my studio-mate replied (I was standing right next to him).

"Who told you-" he said, thrusting his finger at a table we'd brought down the day before from the 4th floor "-that it was acceptable to steal other people's things?"

The three of us being addressed looked at each other quizzically. "Um, Dirk told us it was ours and to go upstairs to get it," I replied. I could feel my hackles rising. Stealing? What the heck?

"And you just do whatever he says, do you?" he shot back. I could see my studio-mate's muscles bunch up in his forearms: not a good sign. "If he told you to jump off a bridge, would you do that?"

Apples and oranges. There's a big difference between relocating a table and committing suicide, and my studio-mate pointed this fact out to him. It didn't go over well.

"Look, Dirk told us it was ours and to go get it since we didn't have a crit space. We did," another class-mate said, obviously aware that large studio-mate (as in, imposingly tall and somewhat terrifying) was not going to be able to keep his cool much longer if he bore the brunt of the unwarranted criticism.

The irate guy finally left when we told him we didn't care about his table, he could take it, we had work to do, thankyouverymuch. We proceeded to loudly criticize him within earshot in none too flattering tones.

One of our studio professors, John, heard us and came to see what was going on. We explained, not holding back with the criticism and calling our berater "incredibly unprofessional", and he asked for a description of the fellow. We gave it. He frowned. "That was Bill Pruitt," he said, "He's one of the assistant professors."

"That jacka** is a professor?" I asked. I received a surprised look from John, mostly because I usually keep it civil and ladylike, insofar as language is concerned.

"Yeah. If he really upset y'all and was as bad as you say, go report him to the dean." He paused. "It probably didn't help that you told him Dirk told you to go get the table: they hate each other. That's not something that you need to get involved in."

Ah, the politics of higher education.


I had an assignment to document someplace that was either a utopia or a heterotopia (someplace describable as "other": either a place where "others" are kept, like an insane asylum or a jail, or a place that is out of place within its context, i.e. a Chinese temple in the middle of the barrio).

I decided to document a "utopia": Sugarland, TX.

If you've never been to Sugarland, you're not missing much. So-called because Imperial Sugar was (is?) located there, it's a bedroom community like no other. For instance, in one part of town, all the signs are the same dimensions, mounted at the same height, and constructed out of the same dark brown metal.

The Mercedes-Benz dealer's sign is the same size and quality as the McDonald's across the highway.

It's creepy.

So I drove to Sugarland to document this "utopian" American community. En route, I was almost run off the road by a guy with dealer plates who was weaving in and out of traffic like he was involved in a high-speed chase.

I snapped some photos, returned to my apartment, and created a montage including crepe-myrtles and images from 1950s female-targeted advertising along with screen shots from The Stepford Wives. Because the place just has that kind of quality to it: Stepfordian.

Look out, Paula Prentiss: Sugarland is gunning for you.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Not Exactly Relaxing In the Sun

Saturday was an interesting day.

I had lunch/brunch with the BIL and my beautiful niece at a restaurant called Guadalajara, and then went up to the College of Architecture to meet up with some of my studio-mates. One of the girls from my studio called, and informed a nice - and large - fellow that she was going to visit the sites assigned to us by our professor for our first project. Did we want to join her?

Of course we did! Particularly as the large fellow had no car, and I had no idea where we were supposed to go. She and her friend arrived and we all climbed into her 2-door Honda Civic to head out for Discovery Green in downtown Houston.

We were about 5 blocks from campus when we realized the air-conditioning in her Civic was not working. Down went the windows, and we continued on, growing stickier and smellier by the minute. At some point, I realized I was not wearing sunscreen and did not have a hat, and I resigned myself to getting a mild case of sunburn.

Discovery Green was interesting, to say the least. There was a lawn where a Hispanic radio station was setting up an inflatable screen in preparation for a showing of Spy Kids. There was an amphitheater with a permanent stage built out of cypress (I think) and steel. There were strange boxes covered in glossy colored cubes that led down into parking garages below the surface of the ground.

Then, there were two nearly identical pavilions that sold drinks and food and housed public restrooms. A small pond hosted very small kayaking experiences for tourists. And there was a playground (almost deserted in the 109-degree heat) and a water plaza, with jets of water that arched over its granite surface.

The water plaza was packed.

Most of the water plaza's inhabitants were obviously low-income families, with the parents sitting in folding chairs or on the grass nearby, a few dads supervising their kids, and squealing happy children. Oh! How ecstatic they were to be playing in the water! It was wonderful to watch, and I took a lot of pictures of the kids in the water.

Then, we headed for Bayou Bend Park, thinking it would be easy to find.

It wasn't, yet it was. See, the thing is: Bayou Bend Park is long, following Buffalo Bayou (duh) for a few miles. It's impossible to know where to park your car to get there.

Eventually, we settled on parking near the City of Houston's free public skate park (helmets required). We got a bit bogged down, admittedly, watching the skaters fly over the ramps, swoop up through the half-domes, etc. Once a few of them realized they had an admiring audience, the tricks flew faster and more furiously. Fortunately, we didn't witness any accidents!

Then, we wandered off to look at the rest of the park.

It's kind of creepy.

There are circles of Bald Cypresses arranged at random, with "seats" made of triangles of granite arranged in their midst. I say "seats" because they looked more like altars for slaughtering animals. Most specifically, slaughtering goats while wearing black hooded robes and chanting in Latin.

We came across a steel structure that encircled rectangles of granite for sitting/slaughtering, and had images of eyes overlaid with clear plastic protractors, among other demonic illustrations, fitted between the metal of the trusses. It was about this time that we decided to leave.

It was also about this time that the beagle puppy ran by.

We thought it belonged to the jogger it was chasing, at first, but when we saw him try to shoo it away, we realized otherwise. Then we heard a man calling for his dog, which was obviously not responding.


The upshot was that one of the guys in my group ran after the dog, caught it, and lured it back towards us, where I grabbed its wriggly little wet body and carried it 1/4 mile back to its owner. Apparently, "Hunter" the beagle puppy had gone for a swim in the bayou before he wandered off...

Good deed accomplished, we headed back for the un-air-conditioned Civic, all of us sweating, covered in puppy mud, and tired.

I got home and took a cool shower, fretting over the fact that my skin was blotchy from the heat. Then I lay in bed reading, drinking water, and eating cornichons to help replenish all the salt I'd lost during our treks. Eventually, I got up and put some clothes on so I could go grocery shopping. When I did, I caught sight of myself in the mirror: NO SUNBURN.

year ago, I would have been beet-red all over, looking absolutely terrible and preparing myself mentally for the inevitable peeling and itching to come. This time, there was no such problem. I'd heard that the Paleo Diet decreased the likelihood of burning in the sun, and now I'm a believer.

Maybe I don't have to hide from the sun, anymore! Though it's a good excuse to use for leaving if I ever find myself surrounded by satanic structures in a public park again...

Friday, August 26, 2011

Back to School: Progress Report

I pulled an all-nighter, Tuesday night, so my earlier graphic was somewhat prescient. I skipped on the skimpy bathing suit, though, and wore a shroud-like sweatshirt and jeans.

My review in class Wednesday afternoon went fairly well; I was the first person to present the idea of a knot as a mathematical concept - strictly ordered - instead of as an indicator of chaos, and my takes on the other two "tiny projects" seemed to garner a bit of respect from the professors.

Let's hear it for research and nerdiness winning the day.

I feel better, now, about my ability to succeed in grad school. Quite frankly, I was so unhappy with my project on Wednesday morning that I was having thoughts of "just give it all up and get a job." The somewhat baffling respect from my classmates ("How did you have time to do all that?" and "Oh, I know I'm not going to like you: you're going to make me look bad.") gave me a much-needed boost of self-confidence.

I slept for 6 hours, Wednesday night, had a migraine by Thursday afternoon (ugh) and slept from 6:30 pm Thursday evening until 10:00 am Friday morning.

I feel much better now.

And now, I'm going to head to Office Depot to pick up a few things, then go up to the school for my Friday evening classes. Yes, my only classes on Friday are from 4-6 pm. Ridiculous!

At least my apartment isn't a total disaster area, now. I did manage to clean it up a bit, Thursday evening, after my all-night design-a-thon.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Back to School!

Today, Dear Reader, was my first day back in school.

I have a desk near the window (hooray!), and a couple of the girls in my studio asked me to join them when they went to get food at the University Center Satellite.

The campus is so enormously sprawling that they have a mini-University Center. How's that for "urban planning"?

I made the mistake of wearing shorts, though. Seeing as the university overcompensates for the heat outside by cooling its buildings to Arctic proportions, I will be wearing long pants, in future. At least, until winter comes, when they will hopefully keep the buildings a bit warmer.

I already have oodles and oodles of work to do, Dear Reader, on three "tiny projects," as our German curriculum director termed them, and they're very conceptual in nature. My undergraduate work was more along the lines of "arrange a series of pristine white boxes and clear glass until they look nice."

Here, I'm supposed to define Originality, Innovation, and The New as the first part of our tripartite assignment.

I have my definitions down, for the most part (it's good to be a wordsmith), but the rest of the assignment has me a bit puzzled. I'll be sitting down with some of my books on architecture and design to try to figure out what my Originality, Innovation, and The New examples will be.

Then, there's The Knot assignment (as opposed to The New assignment). We are supposed to think about knots in multiple ways, then create some, and then use our analyses of the knots to design a building. Mine is going to be a String Theory research center.

Thank you! Thank you! I'll be here all night!

And yes, if asked, I will say it's a String Theory research center. I hope they don't ask, though.

The third mini-assignment involves boxes of given dimensions that then collide. Collisions tend to be violent and create mish-mashes of things. I have some brilliant ideas for collisions, and the materials out of which the boxes could be made, but alas! the brilliant ideas are all too time-consuming to pursue, right now.


I'll just have to think of something else that's brilliant!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Royal Pain in the Neck

I had my Botox treatment on Wednesday, as I previously blogged.

"How was it?" a couple of people have asked. "What was it like?"

Answer: I have no idea. I was out like a light. Dr. Pain is kind enough to heavily sedate his patients before injecting them with botulinum toxin.

I know I said I would receive 21 injections of Botox, but I was wrong.

I got 31.

A few of them are bruised, but not badly, and fortunately not on my face. And, yes, I can move my eyebrows, though not as high as they used to move. The muscles of my upper forehead, however, are completely inert, and only move when rudely shoved upwards by their lower counterparts.

I don't know if it was because I slept in a funny position, last night, or what the deal is, but my neck is killing me today. It hurts like a sonofagun, and I either have to let my head drop completely, or hold it up perfectly straight. Anything in between is agony. I bet it's a Botox/bad-sleeping-position one-two punch.

The good news is that I was pretty much completely recovered (until this morning) within 24 hours of the procedure. No, I haven't noticed whether it's caused a decrease in my migraines. I did have one this morning, though.

In other news, I went to my grad school orientation, along with all the other newbies. There were about 16 of us there, and half seemed to be in the Level I program (a three year course of study), and half of us were in the Level II program (a two year course of study).

I'm a Level II.

I was also the only one who had worked in my chosen field. At all. No one had even done summer internships!

As a consequence, they all clustered around me, asking me questions about what it's like in architecture offices (um, not like studio), whether architecture is a stable field of employment (I had to fight to keep from laughing), and where I worked.

When I dropped Oldsmobile's name - usually an attention-getter - nobody blinked.

And did I mention that I was old, compared to my fellow students? Because I am. Very. Most of them are 23-ish. I did not share my age, but at the youngest, they had to calculate that I'm at least 26 (I'm 28, soon to be 29).

And they also seem to be under the delusion that there is no partying involved in architecture.

One lovely young lady was completely shocked when I told her of the typical routine in my undergrad days:

All-nighter Thursday.
Studio Jury Friday.
Bar immediately after Jury.
To a friend's house immediately after bar (with more booze in tow).
Pass out on said friend's living room floor with several other architecture students.
Wake up at 10 Saturday morning.
Get food.
Go back to studio.

Poor little advertising student: she wouldn't have made it with my undergrad crowd.

We would have eaten her alive.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fill 'Er Up

With Botox, to be exact.

This coming Wednesday, I receive my first Botox treatment.

No, the Botox is not to hide unsightly wrinkles, or to try to freeze away the years by paralyzing my facial muscles. Seeing as I'm regularly told that I look like I'm 19 years old, I have no reason to try to make myself look younger.

I do not want to get ID'd when I go to PG-13 movies.

The Botox will (hopefully) help my migraines even more. Sure, my migraines have lessened considerably in the past month or so, but I'm still having them a couple of times per week, and that's a couple of times too many.

In some ways, I'm excited. The procedure is being performed by Dr. Pain, so I'll spend several days in Plano prior to and after the procedure. I'll get to see my mom, and one of our friends who is recuperating from a massive surgical procedure. And I'll get to hang out with Major Tom Shadowmaker for a few days, which is always nice.

My excitement at returning to Dallas for a few days is kind of overshadowed, though, by my fear of having yet another treatment for migraines/pain that could, potentially, go awry.

I'm having injections in my forehead, scalp, neck, and shoulder muscles: a total of 21 injections in all.

I most likely won't be able to move my eyebrows afterwards, so there go the amusing facial expressions I use to get my niece to giggle. There's also the possibility that my head could drop forward, as happened to a former architectural client of mine who had the injections in his neck to treat spasms from Parkinson's Disease.

Having to work harder at holding my head up, not being able to register emotion using only my eyes: these are things I can deal with.

My biggest fear is a recurrence of daily migraines that could, potentially, derail my whole reason for moving to Houston. No one has mentioned more migraines as a potential side effect of the treatments, though, and so I'm hoping it's unheard of.

But then again, the epidural steroid injections I received weren't supposed to exacerbate my migraines, and they did.

And if my migraines do get worse, how does that affect my schooling? The fact that I'm now living in Houston with an apartment I have to pay for, partly out of government loans?

If things get worse, then what do I do?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Braving the Elements

The elements, in this case, are not the those typically discussed by mystical New Agers: Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water. No, the elements I reference are these: the Great Outdoors and the Not-So-Great Indoors.

Ever since I moved to Houston, I have noticed the large quantity of mosquitoes that inhabit the place. They mostly seem to reside in my apartment.

Although their numbers are dwindling, I often find rogue members of the insect kingdom hovering hungrily around my bathroom (while I'm in the bath) or circling my bed, waiting for me to go to sleep so they can gorge on my blood.

I'm very fond of my blood. I've been through a lot, just so I can continue making it: 2.5 years of almost-daily chemotherapy, to be exact on what "a lot" is.

If I was still on chemotherapy, I'd have the joy of knowing that the mosquitoes wouldn't live long, as they used to bite me (yes, I let them), fly about three feet from me, and then drop out of the air.

At the time, I took a certain macabre joy in being a walking talking vessel of poison. I was something of a super-villainess to biting insects, complete with shiny bald head and everything.

A female Lex Luthor of mosquitoes, if you will.

But these days, my body doesn't kill the skeeters like it used to do, so I'm left frantically trying to get them before they get me.

There are a lot of tiny bloodstains on the walls of my apartment from mashed mosquitoes.

So that covers the Not-So-Great Indoors.

The Great Outdoors weren't all that great, either, in truth.

Today I visited the campus of the University at which I begin my Master of Architecture degree. I attempted to go, yesterday, but Google Maps was on crack, and so its directions sent me... not to the University. I ended up in north Houston - in a not so great part of town where I was too frightened to exit - and drove for about twenty minutes after I realized my (or, rather Google's) error just so I could find somewhere "decent" to pull a U-Turn.

I'd been on the road for about 60 minutes, by this time, what with the wreck that blocked the right lane on I-45 and all.

I decided to try again, and to go back to my neighborhood to start all over.

Easier said than done, as the entire freeway was shut down in the southbound direction due to a massive wreck involving an 18-wheeler.

Three hours after I first left home to visit the University, I arrived back at my home without having so much as glimpsed it.

Attempt #2 took place, today, and it was successful. I reached the University in about 15 minutes, found a parking spot, and got out of the car.

I immediately wished I had not done so.

Fortunately, there are trees where I was walking at first, so I had the benefit of a bit of shade. Unfortunately, I had to cross into an area of ineffective brise soleil, no trees, and no other vegetation to reduce the heat of the microclimate.

The University has an architecture school. They have no excuse for environmentally ignorant buildings.

Anywho, I finally found the Student ID office, and had my ID made (not too terrible, but not nearly so flattering as my drivers license picture. Yes, I am serious: I want 8x10 glossies of that DL picture). I went to the book store and discovered that 1) only one of my classes requires textbooks; and 2) I would have to special order the "clicker" to be used in one of my classes, and I'd be emailed when it arrived.

The clicker is used for attendance (it's a little electronic device, similar to a remote control) and to show that I'm paying attention in class. I have a feeling that my professor might be, erm, a bit obsessive-compulsive.

As I walked around the campus, finding my way back to my car, I remembered the Asian women at my alma mater who carried parasols to shield themselves from the blazing sun. After the amount of exposure I gained to the sun, today, I'm thinking it might be a good idea.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Proud to be Gluten Free!

So I've written about how my migraines became fewer and farther between since I kicked the gluten habit. It's been since July 30 that I had gluten, and honestly, I keep feeling better and better.

I've noticed a few other things, since I'm more aware of how foods make me feel:

1) Milk makes my nose stuffy. I'm going to assume I have a slight dairy allergy, as a result. For some reason, yogurt and heavy cream (used in my coffee) do not have the same effect on my nasal passages.

2) Milky Way candy bars contain gluten. You wouldn't think it, but they do. There's malted barley in the nougat. No more Milky Ways for me (except for the celestial one).

3) Candy in general makes me feel awful. One of the things that has happened since I kicked the grain-habit is that I'm not used to the insulin spike that follows carbohydrate ingestion. So if I hypothetically get carried away and eat an entire bag of Haribo Gold Bears in a ten minute stretch of time, my insulin levels hypothetically spike, and I hypothetically feel like utter crap immediately afterwards.

But that's all hypothetical. Ahem. Right.

4) I have more energy. Huh? But I thought carbs like those found in grains give me energy? Don't they? Well, no, not a good kind of energy. Yes, they provide an energy rush after ingestion, but that dies down after about an hour. A full pound of meat and half a dinner plate of vegetables, however, gives me enough juice to go for hours. Amazing. Even a salad of cold green beans, tomatoes, and mint alongside a pile of canned tuna leaves me feeling more satisfied and energized than a tuna sandwich would.

I won't go into all of the other things that being grain-free has done for me, like the wonders of grain-free digestion, but I will say this: if you feel bad all the time, try giving up grain.

It just might be the best thing you'll ever do for yourself.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Oh Blah Di, Oh Blah Da!

Life goes on!

Things are starting to take on some semblance of normalcy, around here.

And by "here" I mean my apartment in H-Town.

I have cooked a real meal on my stove, and discovered that its Level 4 setting is about what my old stove's Level 6 setting was. Fortunately, my 14 oz. sirloin didn't suffer too much in the searing!

I have unpacked more things, and put them away. Some are relegated to a cardboard box that will be unceremoniously shoved underneath a skirted table.

I have received a number of packages via UPS, so my UPS guy and I are now on smiling, "Hey, how's it going?" terms.

I will be sending back the contents of one package - wheeled ferrules for my sofa, to elevate it since it was made for wood floors, not carpet - because I only measured one of the six legs on the sofa, and four of them won't accommodate the ferrules. Other brass wheels will be exchanged for the ones I mistakenly purchased.

I've read a book, which I'd read once before but was absolutely certain that I had not read. It was Wilkie Collins' The Woman In White. I read the copy I already owned, so it's not in any way like my proliferating copies of The Count of Monte Cristo, which I misplace and then buy a duplicate of, only to find the original right where it should have been.

Besides, you can never have enough Counts of Monte Cristo lying around.

I received a shipment of shorts from The Gap, one of which will be returned because 1) they're too big; and 2) I look like I'm wearing baggy liederhosen. Not particularly flattering.

The last thing I want is to be mistaken for Kurt Von Trapp while traipsing across campus.

I'm still not 100% on board with the whole "wearing o the shorts" bit, mostly because I've spent the last ten years keeping my legs covered so they don't blind everyone in the vicinity. I don't do tanning. So I feel, I suppose, the way the young ladies of the 1920s felt when fashion dictated a raise in the hem-line: somewhat scandalous at all that bare skin - and with a 33 1/2" inseam, that's a lot of leg - but still condoned by society (to a degree).

I've spent 45 minutes on the phone with a surprisingly delightful and helpful young woman from AT&T who helped me re-register my wireless router/modem thingy after it inexplicably ceased to function, yesterday.

And now, I'm about to head to bed.

At 7:40 p.m.

Hopefully, I will finish the book I am currently reading (The 6th Lamentation) and begin reading another one, perhaps Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan or The Memory of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family's Legacy of Infidelities by one of the Warburg family's descendants, who apparently has made a career out of outing her family's little secrets.

I look forward to some scandalously delicious reading, to go along with my scandalous shorts.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Getting Settled Into the New Digs

On Thursday, July 28, 2011, I became a Houstonian.

I left my cozy little parquet-floored apartment in fancy-schmancy Highland Park, Texas, and moved a few hundred miles south to the Upper Kirby/Greenway neighborhood of Houston, also in Texas.

There are a lot more mosquitos in Upper Kirby/Greenway than in HP. And they're all in my apartment, I think. Hopefully, if I stay inside (and the weather stripping around the front door is repaired) I won't be providing free room & board to the skeeters much longer.

It's mostly the mosquitos' "board" that concerns me, at present. I slap exposed parts of my body at random just to make 'em nervous, keep 'em guessing.

In honor of the move, I did something I haven't done since high school: I wore shorts. And I believe I will do it again, because it gets seriously humid down here. Really. It's like swimming through medium-warm water when you step outside.

I only brought two bookshelves from Dallas (the other is currently residing in my parents' home), so it's been - interesting - trying to shoehorn all of the books onto the two shelves. There's a lot more double-stacking, this time around (books in front of books, that is). At present, there is still a large quantity of architectural reading material strewn about the Persian rug in the living area, but that will be attended to tomorrow. Maybe.

Oh, and the Persian rug is being a real creep. In other words, it is slowly creeping across the pile carpet beneath it towards the patio doors. I think it's trying to make a break for freedom, but I could be wrong. A coffee table might be in order to slow its westward progress.

I went to IKEA, today, with my sainted older sister. We were lucky enough to encounter a delightful yellow-shirted fellow at IKEA who helped us load a couple of storage units into the boot of my car. Despite what you might assume from the yellow shirt, he was not an employee, but simply a gentleman. And an attractive one, at that.

Back at my apartment - sans attractive blond yellow-shirted men (sigh) - my sister and I ripped open the boxes containing the laminate covered particle board. We opened them right up while they were still in the trunk of the car, then made four trips from the car, down the length of the building (about 200 feet) and into my little apartment, carrying heavy boards and oddly shaped boxes full of screws and bolts and wooden pegs.

My sister went home, and I proceeded to clear some space in which to assemble the monsters. Then, I got down to business. The first storage unit went together beautifully, without a hitch. Obviously, after building one, I no longer needed the directions to construct the other (which will be screwed onto the first in an unapproved-by-IKEA product hack).

I got so far into the process, then hit a snag. The screws that held the bottom to the sides would go in 2/3 of the way, but then the screw head started getting stripped, and my Phillips-head screwdriver wouldn't drive them in any farther.

I was furious! What kind of company makes a product with screws so soft that the heads strip midway through the screwing? Utter crap! I was so seethingly furious that I mentally began composing letters to the president of IKEA about how they should include a warning in regards to the foul language employed during assembly, etc. My main focus was going to be the tendency of their screw heads to strip.

And then, I saw it, and I felt like an idiot.

Somewhere around step #4,659, I was supposed to start using an Allen wrench.

I looked closely at the screw heads, partially embedded in the laminate-clad particle board.


They had indentations in them where tools were meant to be inserted.

The indentations were hexagonal in shape.


Thank goodness I'm an architect and not, you know, an actual construction worker, otherwise I'd be (wait for it...) screwed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's Been A While

Yes, it's been a while, but I've been busy. Busy booking movers for the Big Move to Houston next week (eep!). Busy arranging for telecommunications services for the Big Move to Houston next week (eep!). Busy boxing up my apartment for the Big Move to Houston next week.

Busy wrecking my car and having to deal with insurance, body shops, and renting a car.

NOT for the Big Move to Houston next week.

Tonight's post: AUTOMOTIVE REVIEW.

I rented a Chevy Malibu, today. My usual vehicle is a 2005 Honda Civic.

Cue the disinformation:
You: I thought architects made a lot of money?
Me: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!! (crying, wipes away tears) Oh, you're funny! And seriously, man: have you seen my health insurance premiums? Hah. You're funny.

Anywho, I'm currently driving a Chevy Malibu.

It accelerates when you don't want it to (i.e. right before you hit an intersection)

It does not speed up when you want it to (i.e. right as you turn in front of a car, full of confidence because it accelerates when you don't expect it to so it must have tons of unused horsepower, right? RIGHT????).

Its radio decreases in volume whenever you take your foot off the gas, so you can't rock out to "Big Pimpin' " when it magically comes on the radio while you're en route from Container Store to your apartment to finish packing boxes (but you run out of tape, so call it quits after an hour).

Its interior finishes look like a gallon of Neapolitan ice cream just threw up everywhere.

My next-to-final recommendation: don't buy one, unless you need to fit large boxes in the back (while your friend from work kind of bends the boxes so they'll fit; friend from work not included with car rental).

My final recommendation: if you forget to buy more packing tape, just remember: you still have a 1/4 bottle red wine to finish before you go to bed! It's just something else to move!!!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Tonight, On Unsolved Mysteries...

Well, we present to you a mystery that was unsolved for a very long time. Unsolved for years, in fact.

The mystery of why a grammar- and book-obsessed female intern architect suffered debilitating migraine headaches multiple days of the week.

The culprit turned out to be a substance so evil, so devilish, that it worked its way into her everyday life without her realizing it was even there!

And worse, it had an ally that the young woman had come to depend upon daily.

The culprit? GLUTEN.

It's nefarious accomplice? SODA-POP.

Yes, seriously. I ate a bit of something glutenous every day, and when I felt bad, I tended to drink a Dr. Pepper (the carbonation cut down on the nausea). And then one day, I realized that I felt worse after the soda, that my nausea was worse, and that my nausea medicine wasn't doing Bo Diddly about it.

The next day (also migraineriffic) I cut out the soda. Within 24 hours, my 5-day-long migraine was GONE. And when it threatened to come back 4 days later, my migraine "rescue medicine" actually arrested its development.

I was trying really hard to do the paleo-diet thing, and so my wheat/bread consumption was lower than usual. As in, I didn't have any grains (apart from the gluten-free bread at Subway) for almost a week.

Then I decided I needed a snack. I bought a granola bar from a kiosk in my office building, ate it, and WHA-BAM! I broke out in hives and my nose got all stopped up.


Then, Saturday, I forgot about the whole "don't eat wheat/bread/oats" thing and had a few pieces of bread at Breadwinners. Because their bread is amazing. And I broke out in hives again, and my nose got all stopped up.

So I will now have to figure out a way to not eat bread and wheat products. It's probably the gluten I'm allergic to, since I don't have the same reaction from the gluten-free bread at Subway.

And the employees at Subway know me now, because it's a big deal when they make a gluten-free sandwich. They see me in line and call out, "Hey, Gluten-Free! Same as usual?" Yes, same as usual: turkey and jalapeno jack with lettuce, tomato, and light mayo.

Hold the gluten.

Monday, June 27, 2011


I just finished rereading James Clavell's Shogun. I enjoyed it the first time I read it, a couple of years ago, and I enjoyed it this time, too. Although the lengthy internal monologues get kind of dull after a bit.

The copy of Shogun I have was rescued from a family friend who let me go through a bunch of books she was cleaning out of their house. I snagged Master and Commander - which is a naval novel - and Shogun.

The version of Shogun that I have was issued in 1975, as an accompaniment to the "spectacular twelve-hour maxiseries from Paramount Television."



But wait! It gets better!

The book's cover is entirely dedicated to gratuitous exaggeration and aggrandizement. To show you the difference between today's movie tie-in books and this earlier television tie-in book, I submit the following:

Now: Now a major motion picture.

Now: The best-selling book by John le Carre.

Now: Now a major BBC drama.

Yep, those were the days, eh? Back before Pizza Hut sued Papa John's for claiming their "we're the freshest" ads were false advertising.

Back when people watched twelve hours of television devoid of smoke monsters and Flava Flav.

Back when men were men, women were women, and Richard Chamberlain had an awesome 1970s hair-do and wore eye-shadow to try to make himself look Asian, even though his character was British.

Yep, those were the days...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Learning to Let Go

Of what, you may ask, are you learning to let go, Ms. Strainedconsciousness?

Because you are grammatically correct, you do not end your sentences with prepositions. Good for you!

I am finally letting go of books.

Or some of them, at any rate.

When I make my big move to Houston at the end of July (eep!) I will only be able to take 2 of my 3 stunning bookcases with me, and that means I must either A) rent a storage unit for my bookcase and its attendant books; or B) temporarily house my bookcase at my parents' home and cull the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

I really don't want to pay for storage, and seeing as I'm clearing a huge drafting table out of my parents' house, my mother and father have graciously offered to allow my bookcase to stay with them, rent free.

Major Tom Shadowmaker is looking forward to having a friend / bookcase with whom / which he can discuss the trauma of being abandoned by yours truly.

In case you have not noticed, dear reader, I am quite obsessive about books and reading. I began reading Shogun - all 1,210 trade paperback pages of it - for the second time on Sunday. I am on page 622, as of dinner-time tonight.

That's about 100 pages per night, give or take.

So going through my books... it's difficult. I have a few stacks on the floor that will definitely be carted to Half-Price Books, and there are a few sitting on an almost empty bookcase because I can not make up my mind.

It's infuriating.

They are books I have only read once. One - The Elegance of the Hedgehog - I am waffling about because it was so heart-wrenching that I do not know if I will be able to read it again. At the same time, it was beautiful, poetic, a masterpiece of writing - and more impressively of translating, as it was originally written in French.

The second book - Suite Francaise - was also disturbing, but beautiful. I'm not sure if I want to get rid of it because... well... I read about World War II a lot. I don't necessarily read about the actual battles, or the politics of them, but I do read a lot about tangential figures of the war, such as Unity Mitford (one of Hitler's close friends and an Englishwoman. Also the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire's sister).

I've read Maus, the graphic novel about WWII wherein the Jews are mice and the Nazis are cats.

And yes, I've read the two-part biography of Hitler available in every Barnes and Noble bookstore, the open possession of which once prompted a less literate friend to ask why I had read it.

I wanted to shake her, to shout: 'Why have you not? Why don't you want to know about the evil that can happen in this world? Why don't you want to understand it so that, maybe, we can help prevent it happening again?'

The books are part of my trying to come to grips with the ease with which a society can turn its back on one segment of the population, demonize them, and attempt their eradication. I don't understand the concept of hate, how people can turn their backs on a whole segment of society.

Back to Suite Francaise, a book written in the midst of the Nazi occupation of France, not published until it was discovered in a suitcase and made public sometime in the last decade (I want to say even the last five years). It tackles the more difficult issues, those not written about very often: the French who allowed their chateau to be turned into a sanitarium for ill children that was then occupied by the Nazis; the chaos of the French as they fled south from Paris, hoping to reach safety; the emotional and social turmoil of a Frenchwoman, her townhouse occupied by Nazi officers, when she falls in love with one of the Nazi officers and is ostracized by her neighbors.

I'm still not sure if Hedgehog will make the cut, because just the thought of it makes me want to cry, but I think I've decided about Suite Francaise: it's coming with me to Houston.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Now With Fewer Wrinkles!

I went to see Dr. Pain and my neurologist/best friend, Thursday morning. I used to go to the doctor, feeling all hopeful: Hooray! There's another medicine to try! This one might be the answer!

These days, though, doctors' visits are just another source of stress, much like trying to figure out if I should be typing "doctors' visits", "doctor's visits", or "doctors visits".

No, seriously, it happens every time I blog about anything medical. What is the answer?!?!?!?!

Anyhoo, I went to see Dr. Pain, and he asked me about a pain medication my neurologist had prescribed. I explained the circumstances and he looked back at the list of drugs I'm currently ingesting. "What is the Depakote for? Not epilepsy..."

"No, it's for migraines," I sighed.

Depakote is a drug of last resort in the fight against migraines, just FYI. I'm being taken off of the Depakote; its multiple side-effects can be cumulative over time, and I'm already experiencing some of them, namely tremors.

(In Brooklyn accent) I'm shakin' like a leaf.

At least, my hands are.

"How often are you getting migraines?" he asked.

"Almost every day," I replied. "Sometimes I wake up fine, but get them between 10:00 a.m. and noon, and sometimes I wake up with them."

"Have you considered Botox?" he asked.

My neurologist/best friend and I had discussed Botox back in December, during my 30-migraines-in-30-days-athon, but then I'd improved... temporarily.

I told him I'd discuss the Botox with my neurologist/best friend at my appointment with her two hours later.

I engaged in some retail therapy, then went to see my neuro, and I told her Dr. Pain wanted me to try Botox. She seconded the notion, and tomorrow, I will call Dr. Pain to set the wheels in motion.

At my first treatment, I will receive 21 injections of Botox, beginning in the forehead area, going over my head, and down into my neck and shoulders. My almost-permanently furrowed brow will no longer be able to furrow, which might be a good thing.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

So Many Books!

This is Suzanne Collins, my new
literary girl-crush.

Because of my migraines (broken record) I've had plenty of time to read. I go home after work, pop a frozen Paleo-approved meal in the microwave, and a few minutes later I'm lying in bed, reading, because the most comfortable position when I'm migraineriffic is the one known as "supine."

A couple of months ago, I bought The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins after hearing its title mentioned a few times. I don't remember where I heard about them, just that the reviews were always rave.

Did I mention there are actually three books in The Hunger Games' series? And that the most recent one was just released, so it's only in hardback? And that, in honor of its release, Barnes & Nobles had a boxed set of all three in hardback for a slight discount off their cover price?

Did I mention that? I did?


I went to B&N intending to spend about $30. I spent about 2.5 times that much, because I also bought a biography, which will not be discussed in this post.

Totally worth it.

I went through the books in seemingly record time. I devoured them. They are on a par with Harry Potter, in my not-so-humble opinion, insofar as compellingness goes.

Compellingness is a word, now. Deal with it.

The Hunger Games is the story of a sort of post-apocalyptic society called Panem, in which a girl named Katniss lives. Katniss is introduced on the morning of the annual Reaping, which is a ceremony held in each district. A boy and a girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, are chosen during the reaping. Why?

Because, this is a post-apocalyptic version of the Christians and the Lions in the Circus Maximus. In retribution for a revolt staged by the districts 74 years before, the districts must send two of their children into an arena where they will fight to the death to see who wins.

There is no truly happy ending to The Hunger Games series, but the ending is still wonderful. Katniss grows and develops, and learns more about the evils in Panem, and the evils in those she loves. She also learns about goodness, and devotion, and love for others. She is not a perfect heroine, but one who is believably flawed.

They are not easy books to read, either. Some of the characters introduced to the reader are killed or injured in horrific ways, and I went through I don't know how many tissues as a result. Psychological torture and sexual abuse are discussed over the course of the three books, although not in great detail.

After I read the biography I'd bought, I read them again. THAT GOOD.

I recommend them to anyone aged 13 and over (they're about on par with a PG-13 movie).

In other news, The Hunger Games is currently in production to be released in 2012. Fortunately, all of the characters in my head bear a resemblance to the characters chosen by whoever cast the actors.

If you want to know what else Ms. Collins has written, I can fill you in on that, too. She wrote a wonderful series of books perfect for ages 8-12 called The Underland Chronicles.

They are about an 11-year-old boy named Gregor and his 2-year-old sister Boots who have lived a somewhat traumatic life in New York City. The reader meets Gregor during the summer, when his other sister is en route to a sleep away camp for city children, his mother is at work, his grandmother is essentially bed-ridden, and his father is-

Well, that's just the thing, isn't it? His father disappeared two years prior, and has never been heard from since. But Gregor, to stop snoopy questions, tells people his father has moved to California.

While Gregor does the laundry, Boots crawls around their building's laundry room, and comes across a swinging ventilation grate. She opens it and - oops! Down she goes. When Gregor figures out what has happened, he follows, and at the bottom he finds Boots and... um...

Four foot tall talking cockroaches who believe his sister is a princess.

There is a race of people living deep in the earth called, suitably, the Underlanders (Gregor, you, and me all being Overlanders), and there is a continuous state of tension between the Underlanders and the 6 foot tall talking rats that live underground. And they all believe that Gregor is a great warrior whose appearance was foretold by the Underlanders' founding father.

The books are wildly imaginative and a rip-roaring ride. Giant flying bats carry the Underlanders around, but they're also equal to Underlanders, insofar as social status is concerned.

Throughout the series, multiple moral lessons are taught, such as the dangers of biological warfare (no, I'm not exaggerating) and how ingrained hate can become between two different species/races/religions. The lessons aren't repetitive. There is no dead horse here being beaten. The morals are woven subtly into the stories. The books could be an interesting way of beginning a discussion about some of society's problems today.

So, there you have it: eight books by Suzanne Collins, all of them highly recommended for different readers of different ages.

Now get out there and read.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-check It Out!

I now have a tentative idea of what my monthly income will be once I move to Houston. As a result, I was able to begin apartment hunting today, if only virtually.

I emailed an apartment location company recommended to me by my sister, via one of her friends. I told them what I'm looking for and the areas in which I'm looking, and continued to look online.

A few minutes on led me to another property locator that specializes in 4-plexes, duplexes, etc. It allows you to look at the different properties, and then request more info. I thought it was pretty cool.

Then, after submitting the list of apartments I would like information about, I received an email that definitely qualified for a "Too Long: Didn't Read" response. If printed out, it would be 4 pages long.

Seriously, who the hell is going to read through 4 pages of snarky commentary? The people who wrote it pretty much say, "We run this website as a business, but we might choose not to get back to you because, meh..."

And I quote:

Obviously we cannot help 10 or 15 or 20 people a day--which means that it is inevitable that many prospective clients are going to fall through the cracks. We try hard to get back to everyone, we try hard to return every email and phone call, but we're people, not machines.

Not "a few prospective clients" but "many prospective clients."

They then go on to insinuate that their users are morons if they overlook a piece of info in the property listings but include it in the "what I'm looking for" section. I, for example, said that I would prefer a washer & dryer in the unit, but I put a couple of apartments on the list that didn't have them just because they were uh-mazing and had a laundry room in the building.

We'll see if that brands me as a moron.

It never ceases to amaze me how people who run a business seem to have no concept of whether or not their "auto-response" or their work emails are going to hurt their image. I tend to take the approach that, no matter how annoyed I might get or how frustrated I am, it's always best to be nice to someone, to try not to sound arch or holier-than-thou, because that person might be impressed with my service and decide that they want to work with me again.

On the off-chance that I receive a response from these guys, we'll see if they merit a repeat performance.