Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Coyote Beautiful

I work at Los Angeles Pierce College, a community college in Woodland Hills, California. We're near the western edges of Los Angeles County, but definitely in an urban area. Warner Center, with its high-rise office buildings and hotels, is blocks away. Various post-WWII neighborhoods surround us. But the school is on approximately 430 acres--that's a little less than a mile square. At least 2/3 of that is "The Farm" or undeveloped.

Pierce was founded as an agricultural college for men returning from World War II. Women were admitted years later. The bathroom facilities in the older buildings reflect this afterthought.

The amount of open land has a nice benefit: wildlife. We see hawks, rabbits and other animals in addition to the cows, horses, sheep, goats, and pigs which are raised here. I know that the Ag Department--particularly the sheep unit--wouldn't be thrilled with this, but I had a handsome coyote cross my path as I drove to work this morning and it made my morning. It trotted across Stadium Way to head up the hill to the Art Department. I noticed what looked like a well-worn path as I pulled my car over to watch. I couldn't get the camera out fast enough, or I would have photographed it as it headed through the brush.

When Ace lived on campus, we often would hear the coyotes sing in the evening. If sirens went off, there was a guarantee of harmonizing coming from the dark. Occasionally, I would see one stalking small mammals in the field with the cows during the day or catch sight of a small pack of them as I drove home after dark. Once, I was walking Ace out to the big field along Victory and he suddenly stopped, planting all four feet with his body slightly crouched--ready to spring away to safety if necessary--and he swung his head to see around me. From behind the round pen trotted a coyote. It was about 11 a.m., so I was surprised by the audacity of a mid-day stroll for what I consider a nocturnal animal. He moved right in front of us to the gate we were approaching and went on through to the field. For the entire time we walked the perimeter of that field, Ace kept one eye on that coyote. The coyote was stalking gophers, which is a useful occupation for a coyote.

I read recently of a town in Oregon which put a bounty on coyotes back in the 20s or 30s. It was then over run by rats and mice. If Pierce succeeded in getting rid of its coyotes, the campus would be overrun with mice, gophers, and feral cats. Although illegal, people dump unwanted animals here all the time.

Soon after I took the job I have at Pierce, I discovered that the school's namesake, Dr. Clarence Pierce, had been from the same small town in upstate New York where I was raised. Delaware County was one of the largest dairy producers in the state when I grew up and it would only have been a bigger farming area at the end of the 19th Century when Dr. Pierce and his brothers left for California. (The Pierce Brothers ran a successful string of mortuaries out here, some of which still bear their name.) The town I'm from had about 4000 people, about half of whom were in K-12 when I was going to school. It's much smaller than the population of the college which currently enrolls about 18,000 students. I'd say the odds of this connection across 3000 miles of country were fairly small.

While Pierce still maintains an agriculture and horticulture program, it is shrinking. Control of the farm is being frittered away to subcontractors who might bring in cash rather that implementing programs which would increase student experience on a working farm or ranch. A few years ago, there were proposals to build an office building or a golf course on the large piece of open land at the corner of DeSoto Avenue and Victory Boulevard. This was stopped, and I think a college president lost his position over it, but I believe it is only a matter of time before all farming operations cease and the land is leased or sold. It would be a loss to the community and to that family of coyotes which keeps the pests under control.

Monday, February 26, 2007

And the Oscar Goes To

Whatever happened to "And the Winner Is?"

Sometimes I wonder if we get a different version of the Academy Awards in Los Angeles than they get in the rest of the country. Then I realize we do, because here they start mid afternoon with the red carpet coverage and when they are over in Los Angeles, we still have a couple of hours of prime-time television to watch. Consequently, when the show runs over, we don't see it as any big deal. No more than if the Super Bowl went into overtime or a baseball game went on for 16 hours.

In our living room, we found last night's Oscar telecast one of the best in years. Ellen was a terrific host, we like the dance troupe, we thought Al Gore was great, and we liked most of the short production pieces celebrating the nominees, foreign films, sound effects, and passings. So I was a little surprised by Tom Shales' review in this morning's Washington Post which pretty much panned the evening. (Shales and I worked together once while I was shooting for the post, on a piece about Normal Lear and "The People for the American Way," which he had just founded. I did the pictures, he wrote the story. I think I got almost a 1/4 page photo printed on the front page of the Style section of the Washington Post that day.) Other reviews tended to denigrate Ellen's selection as host because she's a daytime television host. What is that about?

Many times, we participate in Oscar pools or make up ballots for the folks int he room. Not this year. Even my husband hadn't seen all of the major films. We only saw The Departed, The Queen, and Little Miss Sunshine last week because the screeners were sent to us. We never got around to Babel, Flight 93, Flags of Our Fathers, or the other films which were sent to us. Len had seen Dream Girls, Letters from Iwo Jima, and Pan's Labyrinth during the screening season, which I pretty much missed this year.

We didn't have a "dog in this fight" except perhaps for "Pan's Labyrinth," since it was made by an acquaintance of my husband. We do question whether someone tipped the results of Scorsese's win so that Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg could all be there to present it to him (but I suspect the DGA Award was enough for the Academy to bet on Scorsese's win and the showy presentation.)

I kept the food for the dozen-person party simple: a vegetarian chili (modified to include eggplant and mushrooms, along with the called-for zucchini, onions, beans, and bell peppers) and a turkey chili, chips and dips, taquitos, and some cheeses, and we had some excellent babaganoush, cookies, bread and champagne contributed. After the Oscars were over, we watched this week's installment of "The Amazing Race," which is, after all, what Sunday night with friends is about at our house.

Len and I managed to actually go to the movies this weekend to see "The Astronaut Farmer," a film which we really enjoyed. We had thought about catching "Music and Lyrics" but wound up at "The Bridge to Terrabithia" instead. I suggested it based on the reviews I had read, since I had never read the book and wasn't familiar with the material. Len said he would never have gone to see the film because he knew nothing about it and absolutely loved it. Go see it.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Great Stallion of Mecca

My Arabian Prince has been locked up in his stall for several days, mostly due to the wind and the rain. The chill in the air seems to really set horses off--they really want to MOVE. Since he is still recovering from a bruise he got at the Pierce College Equestrian Center in December, I can't really turn him loose in an arena--he bound to bruise himself again. Instead, I took him for a walk on a lead line.

He clearly was happy to get out. He is usually a very calm walker, but he was pulling on the lead and dancing a very elevated trot as we walked. He wanted to run, but he was hampered. We walked over to the area where the hunter/jumper show barn is on the property and he was quite interested in the horses which were getting ready to take a trail ride (all of the arenas are drying out from yesterday's downpour.) That's when things got very interesting.

Ace decided that he needed to let the other horses know who was the best looking animal on the ranch. It wasn't enough that the riders were impressed with how pretty and how clean he was. (I can't take credit for him being clean--he hates being wet and he doesn't like to roll in the mud. And he sure doesn't like to get his feet wet.) He started dancing around me with his tail straight in the air and along with that is a move that makes him look really big. He has amazing presence. Then he makes himself absolutely as big as he can, with is four legs firmly planted, his head high, his ears forward, and along comes the snort--the noise of the Great Stallion of Mecca. Look at me! Attention must be paid! It's in those moments that I realize how much power is in those 940 pounds. It's very impressive.

Then I have to laugh and point out to him that he's lost the parts to actually be the Great Stallion of Mecca. He can very much be my King of the Wind without those parts but he's got to get his brain focused back on me and not on the four horses that have gone off down the hill to get to the trail head. I had him dancing a well-suspended, collected trot around me for a few more minutes as we headed back toward his stall. What really brought him back to earth, though, was the opportunity to mow some nice green grass. After a little graze, he was just fine.

Of course, when I took him back to his stall is when I discovered the drowned squirrel in his water bucket. Ugh. Fortunately, there was nothing in his automatic waterer, so I assume he was drinking from that. So now the score is 4 rats and 1 squirrel. Can't wait to see what else falls in to his water when the weather gets better and more animals are around.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Godspeed, John Glenn

It is the umptiumpth anniversary of Friendship 7's three orbits of the earth, according to today's New York Times. I remember being bused from Miller Avenue Elementary school across town (maybe 10 blocks) to the big auditorium at Townsend School (then an elementary plus junior high school) where, on one black and white television of perhaps 19" we all watched the grainy transmissions and static sounds of lift-off. It seems impossible now that the school district couldn't afford a television for Miller Avenue as well.

It was very exciting to have an American astronaut circumnavigate the globe. The Russians did that with every one of their launches beginning with the first. We used the equatorial route, they used the polar route (the easier to spy on the entire world, I guess.) The Russians always landed on land. We landed in the oceans.

A few weeks after this momentous event, we were all ferried back to Townsend School again, this time to listen to an audio tape of Astronaut John Glenn talking to one of the town's ministers, with whom he had gone to college. That was as close as we seemed to get to celebrity those days.

The space program has always thrilled me. There's a wonderful film from Australia called "The Dish." It's about the events surrounding the landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon in July, 1969. In Australia, the date was my birthday, July 21. In the states, it was July 20. It's a delightful little film which I enjoy as much as I enjoy The Right Stuff (which does portray John Glenn) and Apollo 13. Apollo 13 has me on the edge of my seat every time I see it, even though I know what the ending is--thank goodness.

With the release this week of 8mm film taken moments before John F. Kennedy's assassination, I can only imagine how pleased he would have been that his goal of setting a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s was realized. That was so much greater a goal than staying the course in Iraq is.

Long Weekend, Not Long Enough

It's been a four-day weekend and I could have used another four days off. The rain and wind interfered with my plans to ride every day and take two lessons. I managed one less and got on Ace to walk him for three days (after the wind died down on Saturday, the day I couldn't take a lesson.) He was fairly mellow, and enjoyed keeping company with a pretty paint mare named Pebbles in the arena.

I managed to get my kitchen cleaned up pretty well on Monday while it was raining, so I didn't feel guilty about not being at the ranch. My kitchen has many flat surfaces, which my husband feels obligated to fill. There are no empty surfaces for any appreciable amount of time in our house no matter how hard I try. My friend Gillian quoted someone as saying "clutter absorbs light" and it is so true. I love to cook, but I can't work in a kitchen where there is no counter space.

The other problem with space in the kitchen is that Len shops like we're going to be snowed in and he's addicted to the $.99 Store. So we have 800 unhealthy boxes of rice or noodle mixes and multiples of many kitchen gadgets, like potato mashers, tongs, spoons, measuring cups, etc. I simply can't figure out how one of each used to be adequate for my kitchen. Two of each is more than enough, because I only have two hands. No. We have at least four sets of plastic measuring cups, five or six of measuring spoons. There are countless wooden and plastic spoons. So many, in fact, I really don't have drawers enough for them. I think there are at least seven sets of tongs in various lengths. I know there are at least three sets of barbeque implements, two of which have their own plastic carrying cases. I doubt that my kitchen is more than 50 square feet in size. 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5 pound sack.

Right now, there is counter space in the kitchen and great grandmothers Hoosier Kitchen with the enamel top is available for kneading bread and rolling out pie crust. That's because I put things away and threw away all of the out-dated food I could find in the cabinets. (I even tossed two potato mashers--which I never, ever use--but I've tried doing that before and some always grown in their place.) I've got a problem with the dining room table at the moment because it is holding items that used to be in cabinets, but we lost a big cabinet when we put in a new range in November and the handyman hasn't yet been back to build our new cabinets around the sink and take out the unused dishwasher to make up the lost space. Soon, he tells us. Soon. Apparently the beginning of March. We were supposed to have them before Christmas.

The dining room table has to be clear for the annual Oscar night party we have to watch the show. That means the objects will move into my office for the evening. Which means I've got to finish rearranging things in there. And I still have to finish my paperwork for my county business tax--I don't owe any money but the paperwork still has to be done. It's a very complex dance.

Back to the kitchen. The clean-up was prompted by the thought of next week's Oscar party and the beginning of the new season of "The Amazing Race." We have a group of friends who come to watch the Race at our house, so we really like this season's time of 8 p.m. on Sunday. It means folks can come over early, socialize, have dinner at a civilized time, and still get home at a reasonable time to prepare for work on Monday. It was a little harder when it was on Tuesdays at 9.

Since today is Mardi Gras, I thought we should do New Orleans food for dinner on Sunday and I would make a King's Cake. Ah, the best laid plans.

Len did the main dish, a jumbalaya. Thanks to the Food Network, it is possible to find any recipe you could ever want on line and this turned out quite well.

I had also had gone to the Food Network website and found a King's Cake recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse, which I had with me when I went to the store to get ingredients. I had checked our refrigerator, and couldn't find the citron I would have sworn was still there. Citron is candied citrus peel which is not difficult to find at Christmas, but a little challenging the rest of the year. I use it when I make pannetone, a traditional Italian Christmas bread, and I didn't think I had used it all.

The other thing that I needed was colored sugar sprinkles. Again, something that's easy to find at Christmas but not other times of the year. So I went off on a trek to find citron and colored sugar (specifically, gold, green and purple colored sugars.)

Ralphs, Vons, and Gelsons had neither. But the Gelsons had a nice selection of dried fruit which helped me with a Jeopardy! question last night. (See my husband Len Wein's blog at to learn more about the part Jeopardy! plays in our lives.) I moved on to Albertsons, where, amazingly, both citron and colored sugar was in stock. There were two kinds of citron. The sugars had two of the three colors I needed. Inspiration hit: a place that had supplies for cake decorating might have the other color (purple) which I was missing.

I went to check out with my goodies and, while I was standing in line, I was groped. I just about hit the ceiling and was going to sock the man behind me when I heard my husband's voice. He had dropped into the same grocery store to pick up what he needed for the jambalaya. The man behind me was greatly relieved that my spouse had spoken.

I went off to Joann's, which did have the other color I needed. At which point I realized that I had lost the printout of my recipe that I had carried with me while shopping. That could be reprinted when I got home. I also needed to find a box of Cafe du Monde mix for beignets.

Beignets at the Cafe du Monde is one of the traditions of a visit to New Orleans. The cafe sells two things: beignets and chickory coffee. It is open 24 hours a day. I've heard it is back in operation following Katrina. When we were in New Orleans for the World Fantasy Convention, a large group of us would congregate there every night, breathe in the powdered sugar, and pass the time until we picked up a shuttle back to our hotel.

Our local bakery sells beignets on Sundays and usually has the mix for sale, but it was already past closing time. I did remember that Cost Plus Imports sometimes had the mix for sale, so I headed over there. I couldn't find it, but I did something my husband will tell you I never do: I asked a sales person if they had it. He shook his head yes and I got the next to the last box. The Cafe du Monde coffee was sold out. We weren't the only Mardi Gras dinner in town, obviously.

By perusing the shelves, I found one other thing: a boxed mix for King's Cake which included the colored sugars and the baby to hide. I picked that up too, because it had a faster rising time than Emeril's recipe.

I can now report that the boxed King's Cake was very good. It's essentially a raised coffee cake, in which a ceramic baby or a bean or a nut is hidden. The person who gets that piece is supposed to bring the King's Cake next year or is crowned king of the party or there may be other traditions. King's Cake may be the same as an Epiphany cake, designating the day the Magi arrived to honor the Christ Child (hence, the baby), so I may actually make one next year for our Twelfth Night Party. My research has said that King's Cake can be served from Epiphany until Mardi Gras, that entire period between the Christmas season and Lent. Some folks know how to party.

The Amazing Race All Stars got off to a good start, except that Rob and Amber won the first leg. We do not like Rob and Amber. They brought an unpleasant element to their previous appearance and our whole group was on our feet screaming at the television as Joyce and Euchenna (I'm not sure how his name is spelled) managed to beat them out. That race ended in Miami and this one started in Miami. We're looking forward to the next 12 weeks of television.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Guilty Pleasures

I confess, I love "Beauty and the Geek," most likely because I was considered to be a geek during my four years of high school hell. I don't think we used the word "geek" back then. "Bookworm" was commonly used, along with a lot of terms I've thankfully forgotten.

Fortunately, I was lucky to meet others of my type through a special program I was in called "The Catskill Area Study Program for Able and Ambitious Students" which we referred to as Saturday or Summer Seminars. High school students from four counties got to travel by bus to the State University of New York College at Oneonta for classes taught by college professors. Two of the boys I met then, Peter Zicari and Gary Catella remain my dear friends. By a bizarre set of circumstances, we all wound up living in Cleveland at the same time for a few years. I was there only for law school but Peter and Gary are still there. Peter is an editor at The Cleveland Plain Dealer and Gary is a scientist at Cleveland Crystals. There is no doubt that they would both qualify as "geeks" under the rules of the TV show.

My impression is that the first rule of getting on the Geek side of the show is having a high I.Q. Then it appears to require any or a combination of the following: a love of science fiction, Star Wars, Star Trek, or comic books; perfect SATs; attendance at Harvard; an inability to dress casually chic; and awkwardness with the opposite sex. An optional plus is virginity.

A great many of my friends (and certainly my son) are geeks under these definitions. Most are wonderful people who are quite comfortable in their geek-hood. They are super-intelligent with great senses of humor and timing. Most of them grow out of awkwardness and slob-hood (although I do worry about my son.)

As Robert Heinlein said "Intelligence is not a crime, but most people treat it as at least a misdemeanor." Over the years, I've seen incredible bias against smart people, the worst of which was by the principal, several teachers, and a school board member who took out their resentment against the students in the highly gifted magnet program which was housed at their San Fernando Valley high school. Suffice it to say that highly gifted children often have highly gifted parents who are successful, articulate, connected and can be mobilized when their children's educations are at stake. Geeks value education. This is not a bad thing.

Back to the TV show: last night the final two teams came down to three people who had made a great transformation and one who, by her own admission, had not changed one iota. She and her partner, a great guy named Nate, had won many of the challenges throughout the season, but she was so self-centered that she totally missed the point of the game. The producers threw a big curve ball at her and she missed by a mile: all of the previously eliminated teams got to choose the team that won based on whom the eliminated team members each individually felt had changed the most due to the experience.

What is fascinating is that most of the geeks--the guys--are great at heart but have social awkwardness and lousy taste in clothing--learn the social skills and how to dress and remain the really nice guys they already were. The change in the beauties is mostly internal and in attitude--they learn to see past the superficial, which is great. Physical beauty is, after all, only skin deep and what really matters is emotional beauty. Most of the contestants realize that the money is not nearly as important as this experience is to them. Cece didn't get this at all--she was in it strictly for the money and thought she had it coming to her because she and Nate had won so many of the challenges. Her unpleasantness to both the guys and other women (she particularly had it in for the non-blonds) was her undoing. Somewhere there is a painting which shows what CeCe is really like.

Many of the judging contestants rightly wanted Nate to win. In the end, Nate (who could have won with any of the other women who were on the show) went to each of the others and said that he had gotten far more than $250,000 of value from the experience and that it would be wrong for CeCe to win the money if she didn't realize how much more valuable the experience was. I'm pretty sure that sealed the votes for the individuals who might have voted for Nate despite the loathsome CeCe. Nate was a class act all the way. In the end, Nate and CeCe got two votes, one from the woman with whom Nate has, apparently, kept up a relationship and one from a guy who felt that CeCe had been responsible for his great change, before Scooter and Megan got the seven votes they needed to win.

I couldn't help but notice that the producers had the teams vote in reverse order of their eliminations, which meant that the blond women voted before the dark-haired women got a chance and the last dark-haired beauty (and she really was) who got eliminated was the first to vote and put Scooter and Megan over the top. It was a very satisfying ending to the contest. I'm looking forward to the wrap-up they do next week to see how far Nate's relationship with the other girl has gone and to see if CeCe as learned a damned thing.

After much cajoling, I agreed to go to the 15th reunion of my high school graduating class. After that many years, I had come to the conclusion that pretty much everybody is miserable in high school, everybody feels alienated, and most people turn into decent adults. It was nevertheless extremely gratifying to be able to respond to the question I got afterwards from friends "Was there anyone people didn't recognize?" by answering "Yes. Me." I looked great, I had a great life (which has only gotten better,) and I was incredibly glad I went. In the end, Geeks Rule! Just look at Bill Gates.

So, Ashton Kutcher, creator of the show: when are you going to have girl geeks and male actors? Turnabout is fair play, you know.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Movies, movies, movies

We get to attending industry screenings out here in L.A. on a regular basis, especially if the films have any connection to comic books. On Thursday, we attended a press screening for "300" based on Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's graphic novel of the same name. It is about the battle of Thermopylae which pitted 300 Spartans agains the whole of the Persian army, giving the rest of the Greek city-states an opportunity to group and ultimately stop Xerxes from progressing into Europe.

It's a very stylized film, adapting its look from the graphic novel (much as Sin City's look was adapted from Frank Miller's noir graphic novel.) It is a very muted palette, with incredibly vivid red (once red, always red as photographers say) for the Spartan capes and all of that blood. It's very loud and my biggest problem is that all of the dialogue appears to be spoken IN CAPITAL LETTERS, but I did like the film. As one of the friends who went with us said "not a great date flick," unless, of course, your date studied ancient history in college (as I did.) If you're looking for historical accuracy, the broad strokes are there. I'm not enough of an expert to know if the clothing is accurate or not, but there are plenty of 6-pack abs to look at.

Word got out about the screenings and apparently many more people than had been invited showed up on Friday and Saturday night. We heard that it is testing better than the Matrix (I certainly think that it is better than the Matrix which wasn't about anything I could identify.) It opens on March 9. Go see it.

We spent Sunday working our way through the pile of industry screeners we got in anticipation of the Academy Awards in two weeks. All in all, I've seen very few films in the past year, down from the 50-100 I would normally expect to see in a year. The horse takes up a lot of my time and I find myself less and less willing to go out and endure the crowds who talk during the film (especially at $10 or more a ticket), bring noisy children into age-inappropriate shows, or who do other annoying things. Hence, I'm willing to go to the industry screenings and I'll put myself out for the big event pictures which require a big screen, but there's got to be some reason for me not to just wait four months and watch it on DVD in the comfort of my home. I really want to get one of those 108" flat screen tvs with surround sound so I'll never have to go to the movies again. Private screening room in my home, that's the way to go.

We watched "Little Miss Sunshine," "The Queen," and "The Departed." I'm at a loss to explain why "Little Miss Sunshine" is up for best picture and two acting awards. All three films are about disfunctional families, in a way. Helen Mirren is great as QEII, but talk about disfunctional family! "The Departed" is about cops and crime in Boston--there are no good guys and Jack Nicholson gives another of his maniacal performances. Leonardo DiCaprio gives a good performance (he's living down that drivel from "Titanic" quite well), as does Ben Affleck's writing partner and Mark Wahlberg (appologies for all miss-spelled names.)

I really thought that Ben Affleck had a chance for an Oscar nomination with his portrayal of George Reeves in "Hollywoodland," a film that really can't have a resolution, but which I found compelling. We still have half a dozen films to watch before Oscar night, but I'm not sure we'll get to them all. Len saw several of the nominated films (such as "Blood Diamond" and "Letters from Iwo Jima") without me, knowing I wouldn't want to see them on a big screen and he may have to catch some of the remaining ones without me.

I absolutely loved Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada," but I think that she's going to lose to Helen Mirren based on the SAG Awards. "Prada" should absolutely win for costuming, and I don't often believe that of contemporary films. I can't think of a really memorable score I've heard this year. Howard Shore (LotR Trilogy) did "The Departed" but I didn't catch the credit for either "The Queen" or "Little Miss Sunshine."

The three years where LotR was up for Oscars, I really felt involved with the whole Oscar experience, but I haven't felt the same way since. I'll be rooting for Guillermo del Toro, since he's a huge fan of my husband's work and my friends who have seen "Pan's Labyrinth" think it is the best film of the year (it's up for foreign language and five other awards) but mostly I'll be hoping that Ellen de Generes does as good a job as she did hosting the Emmy Awards back in 2001.

Now I've got to come up with some Oscar-themed food to serve at our annual Oscar-watch party.

Great Lies

This one is "computers will make our lives easier." Yeah, right up there with the "paperless office."

My office computer has a 37.2 GB hard drive. According to my computer, I have 3.58 GB of available space. A week ago, that number was around 19 GB. Where has the space gone? I don't know, but also gone is any access to my jpegs (the big space hogs on the hard drive) or my old e-mail, my ability to access the office share drive, and the rest of my files.

Why? Because the IT department decided to change things without giving us an opportunity to clear out the drives and the IT guy came and launched a file transfer without taking into account the size of my drive, and, I'll bet, the size of any swap file I might need. So now, I can't do anything. He had a really condescending attitude when I tried to ask him about what he was doing and what I was going to do if the transfer didn't work the SECOND time he tried it (and left before I got the lovely error message.)

I've been trying to produce an annual report for the department. All of those photographs, the data files, and my design work is now somewhere in the ether. Fortunately, I did have cd back up of many of the photographic files, but now I've got to go searching cds I made before I took a class in digital asset management. Ain't that fun?

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Scewed Values

Could someone please explain to me why the death of Anna Nicole Smith warrants "breaking news" status? The woman used her assets to secure a small fortune, but her brain capacity was never going to contribute anything to the betterment of the world. Yet our all-news radio station broke its regular programing to go to a press conference in Florida about this death.

Florida is the state of the week. First a major tornado, then an unhinged astronaut, now this. I've been meaning to call my friend Michael Cassutt, who has written about the space program, to get his take on Ms. Nowack. He's met many of our astronauts and the Russian cosmonauts. I had dinner with astronaut Dr. Bernard Harris ten years ago thanks to Michael. It was a most pleasant evening at the Science Fiction Writers of America's Nebula Awards banquet in Kansas City and Dr. Harris was the keynote speaker (Jane Yolen was the toast mistress.) Dr. Harris is a far more entertaining and humorous gent than Buzz Aldrin, whom I had previously met. Still, astronauts are our real-life superheros, and superheros aren't supposed to be screwed up unless it's a Vertigo comic or one written by a Brit. At least the news coverage indicates this kind of bias, as if they aren't human beings first and under a considerable looking-glass all the time.

I recommend the website for FAIR, which discusses news coverage and is particularly concerned with fairness in the news, which has suffered under globalization, vertical integration, and not-my-president's administration. I want real news, not tabloids pretending to cover the news, be it print, broadcast, or electronic. I think the fact that two people have been convicted of screwing up the election recount in Ohio in 2004 is a much bigger story that the few inside inches it was given two weeks ago, yet what I get is Anna Nicole Smith bigger than life.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Social Whirl

It's been a long weekend.

On Friday night, we went to the Reprise! production of "Sunday in the Park with George" at U.C.L.A. We've been subscribers for years, and our season tickets are in the first row, just off center.

My husband is a Sondhead. I am not. I rather like "Assassins" and have grown to enjoy "Company," but I really dislike "Sweeny Todd" and "Into the Woods." Eventually, I found a place where I could relate to "George," but it took a while. The production itself was engaging, as these small-venue productions often are, but quite different from the Broadway original in tone, according to my husband who actually saw it in person years ago. He did pull out a DVD of the Bernedette Peters-Mandy Patankin version to show me a couple of things. In doing so, he discovered that the person who created the dress worn by "Dot" in the opening scene (she manages to step out of it while it stays in place and she dances around) and the "chromalume" of the second act was someone we had dinner with a few years ago: Bran Ferrin.

Bran was the head of Disney Imagineering for many years. He lives in a house full of amazing toys: it has two Enigma Machines from WWII, a cracked ruby laser on his dining room table, a soft-ball sized sphere of tungsten (impossible to lift off the table, it is so heavy), and the space suit of the second Russian cosmonaut. There is also a fantastic collection of art and a professional kitchen to die for (his significant other is a professional chef and she likes to cater the large parties they have at home.) I've read a piece by Bran where he talks about how, in the future, artists will be truly appreciated. I sure hope he's right. One of the ironies of "George" is that George Seurat only produced about 8 paintings in his short life and never sold one. The other irony, at least as presented by the analysis of George's work with light in the play, is that he would have revelled in a world where images are produced by pixels.

When we got home Friday night, I made the mistake of opening "Bella Poldark" the last volume of Winston Graham's Poldark series, and I read too late into the night for someone who needed to get up early on Saturday.

I managed to get out of the house in time to drive to Pomona for Equine Affaire before it opened at 9 a.m. It is an annual 4-day event where people get to go to lectures and demonstrations about horses and riding and SHOP. It's a geat place to look for a horse trailer, which, of course means a semi-truck length mobile home with room to bring along your three favorite equines. There are smaller, day trip type trailers, but the overwhelming majority are monsters that I could live in for the rest of my life. There was a time when I thought that would be a great way to retire--drive a little, photograph a little, and go on to the next place. Then I had to crawl up the Rocky Mountains behind some of these monsters. Not likely to happen. I don't own a horse trailer, although sometimes I think it might be convenient, because you also have to buy the truck that goes with it. I can pay for a lot of hauling before I'd ever come close to making a year's worth of payments, let alone pay it off. Ace hadn't been in a horse trailer for over two years when we moved him to Chatsworth in December after everyone was evicted from the Pierce College Equestrian Center.

(Your tax dollars at work: the two beautiful barns and the only covered arena in this part of the San Fernando Valley are occupied and defiled by pigeons, black widow spiders, and mice on the pretext that construction along El Rancho Road would be disturbing to the horses--some of whom lived quite happily through the actual construction of the new buildings--and that it would begin right after January 1. As far as I know, the construction planned has not been bid or awarded and the head of the Agriculter Department at Pierce College says he's been promised no work will begin until after the annual Farm Walk at the end of April.)

I managed to avoid making any high-ticket purchases, although I really wanted to get a girth and leathers for the saddle I bought last year. That's got to wait a few months because of the computer purchase. I'll live. I did buy a DVD by Julie Goodnight on mastering the canter, a gait which scares me. I took a clinic with Julie last sprint and enjoyed it. She's not Harry Whitney, but she's the first woman I've had the opportunity to work with in a clinic. That's a different perspective on things.

I also got to Equissentials to recycle two pairs of my full-seat britches. Recycling means I get new tights and they reuse the leather, at a price of about half a new pair. Equissentials are made in a place called Oneonta, in upstate New York, about 27 miles north of where I grew up. If I ever visit there again, I must see if they've got a factory outlet. Equssentials use deerskin for their full-seat leather breaches, and they are soft, pliable, and can be cleaned in the washer. I love them. They also do a great job of keeping you in the saddle. I wish I had started wearing them when I started riding. It probably would have saved me the experience of the broken arm.

I ran into a few friends and acquaintances at the event. Usually, I see a lot more people I know, but I didn't attend any of the presentations and I tried to get out by mid-afternoon so I could take care of Ace and maybe get a ride in. I got to the barn too late to actually ride, but we went for a walk and he got a chance to roll in the sand of the dressage arena. The turnouts are still too wet to risk a bad slip, but the arena is functional again. I'm looking forward to a lesson on Wednesday.

I was pretty tired by the time I got home, but again I spent too much time with my friends the Poldarks on Saturday night. I'm enjoying the visit, but I do worry that the ending will be rather anti-climactic, as was often the case with the previous books. But Graham did know how to get a reader to move on into the next chapter, rather than close the book. (James Patterson's Alex Cross novels, which have very short chapters, do an excellent job of making you think "oh, just one more chapter" and you find yourself unable to put the book down until it is finished. The Poldark chapters are much longer, as are the books. Eventually, I do have to go to sleep.)

On Sunday, I did a quick pick-up of all the things I had in the living room so it would be ready when friends arrived for the Superbowl viewing my husband had planned. This is not a party for which I have any responsibilities, so, after we went to Henri's in Canoga Park for breakfast, I got to go up to Chatsworth to play with Ace.

It was a lovely day, with an occassional gusty breeze, but the temperature was in the 80s. Sunny California as it should be.

I was planning to clean Ace's waterer. There was a dead rat in it. Fortunately, I knew it hadn't been there on Saturday evening, so I can only hope it hadn't been there very long. We fished it out and I cleaned the bucket. I noticed Ace was a bit reluctant to take a drink, but I'm sure he'll get over it when he's thursty enough.

We had a nice walk and a little trot in the arena. He's still sore on his left front, so I'm not pushing it yet. The vet figured it would take about 12 weeks for recovery, but light work would be o.k. The lameness doesn't really show at the walk, but the new trim is changing how he walks. I also decided to be brave and ride up the hill from the arena back to the stall. This is a big deal for me, and frankly, for him. It went well enough that I'll keep at it on days when he's calm and collected. He did have an issue crossing the little gullet of water created by people washing horses. He needed to walk around it (good thing he had that option) rather than step over it (we're talking about a 1" active stream of water and 5" of mud track.) He doesn't like getting his feet wet, but he's getting better about them getting a little muddy.

After I got him ready for the night, I headed home for the party. I stopped at zPizza, a new place in Tarzana which makes excellent pizza and will make me a personal favorite, a pizza margarita with grilled or roasted eggplant. Quite wonderful. I picked up a vegetarian pizza and one with sausage and pepperoni for all of those people at the house who don't like eggplant (pretty much everybody except me) and I'm looking forward to having leftovers for lunch.

For a group of people who watch exactly one football game a year, it was quite a loud group. Truth be told, we watch mostly for the new commercials, which were a bit disappointing this year. There weren't that many made exclusively for the Superbowl. My personal favorite was the faux Dalmation for Anheiser-Busch (which sadly didn't have any featuring the Clydesdales this year.) Others liked the robot who almost lost his job on the assembly line. My husband favored the rabbit and (I think) guinea pig using a real mouse to get on-line. I had no emotional committment to the game, but I had once photographed the Colts playing the Browns, so I nominally supported them. Most of the folks in our living room were rooting for the Bears. I just felt sorry for everyone in the rain.

I finished up the day with a bit more time with the Poldarks. If it wasn't a school night, I might have tried to finish it.

February is going to be party month. We've got two next Saturday, one the following Saturday, and we host a party to watch the Oscars on February 25. I liked it better when the Oscars were at the end of March or beginning of April.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

It's Official!

I'm so excited. The seventh Harry Potter book will be released on my birthday this summer. I think I may have to throw a themed birthday party.

Random Act of Kindness

I can be a creature of habit at lunchtime. There aren't that many good restaurants near the college that have reasonable prices and can be relied on to get me in and out during the tight time frame I've got. One of them is a chain called Pomodoro, and since I am particularly fond of Italian food I go there often.

They have a lunch menu which includes some items which are ready quickly and include soup or salad, and really great lunch salad which comes with either grilled salmon on tuna. I am partial to that one and most of the waitpersons recognize me and are ready with my iced tea with extra lemon when I sit down. I really appreciate that kind of service a lot. It also gives some indication of how often I frequent the place.

Usually, I eat there by myself. I like the selections at lunch more than I like the dinner menu (the above referenced salad is not available at dinner and neither is the eggplant panini, which is my other frequent choice.) I either read or work on Sudoku puzzels at lunch, which often leads to conversations with the waitstaff. Some love to do them, others can't figure them out. Yesterday, after I finished eating, my waiter stopped at the table with a package. It was "a belated Christmas present" for me. It was an electronic Sudoku player. He knew I liked doing Sudoku and asked if I still did them before giving me the package (I was reading yesterday.)

I thought this was incredibly sweet. He did tell me that it had been given to him by one of his co-workers, but I guess he thought I'd actually use it. That's fine by me.

His name is Sean and I'm sure he's one of the thousands of waitpersons here in Los Angeles to break into acting. If there's a casting agent present, he's tall, thin, and looks a bit like Hugh Jackman's younger brother, with dark, wavy hair. He works at the Pomodoro in Woodland Hills at Victory and Owensmouth, across from the big Westfield Mall at lunchtime. He's got a great smile. Tell him I sent you.