Sunday, December 16, 2007

Run by Fire

It's difficult to capture the magic of angel chimes in a photograph.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Another Reason to Love Marie Osmond*

I was poking around on the web for a copy of Hugo Ball's great Dada poem "Karawane" on my coffee break today--and out of nowhere Marie Osmond started appearing in my results. It seems she recorded the poem for Ripley's Believe It or Not in the 1980s, and surprised everyone by reciting it from memory.

From what I understand, the clip that appears on UbuWeb is a bit mangled--Ms. Osmond did in fact recite the poem in its glorious entirety. It would be great to find the full version, because the clip is amazing. Listen to the conviction in those ü üü üs. Imagine what she must have done with the ba-umfs.

* I do realize that for some of you the title should be altered to read "A Reason..." I'm sorry. I'm also about a year behind the times in posting this--but in the immortal words of NBC, "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

All Done

Day 365: Happy Holidays!

I'm delighted (and a bit surprised) to report that I completed my self-portrait project yesterday. Hurray! If you have time on your hands and a desire to spend it perusing my year in pictures, you'll find the set of all 365 portraits here, and the greatest hits edition here--and clicking on the picture above will lead you to some late-night thoughts about the effect the project had on me.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Christmas Spirits

'Tis the Season

Out of nowhere, Holiday Christine has reappeared. Please be aware that she is dangerously full of cheer; even canned Christmas music and energy-wasting holiday lights appear to be powerless to call forth her Scroogelike tendencies.

Why I should be so happy about Christmas this year is a mystery to me. It's still the same overcommercialized religious holiday that it was last year, and I'm still unable to do many of the things that used to make the season fun for me. I especially miss hosting Luciafest.

Nonetheless, I'm just brimming over with goodwill right now. I'm even looking forward to doing my Christmas shopping--which starts tonight with the excursion in search of presents Warren and I have made together since we were in high school. The first item on my list is a contribution to the pile of replacement presents for a holiday party for kids in my (extended) neighborhood; the original stash was ruined in this week's flood.

Details about the Miller Community Center / Country Doctor holiday party situation are here. It sounds as if there has already been a tremendous response, but if they're overrun I'm sure they'll find a good use for the gift overflow.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

My Favorite New Compound Word "happinessdotty," coined by Swedish amateur photographer Lena Möllergren to describe a feeling of glee. I may never use "giddy" again.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Breaking News

Breaking News

This dusting of snow arrived just in time to enhance the Christmas concert I'm headed to tonight. I love snow.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Perspective, Part III

Don't worry, I'm not going to post about plumbing again until my plumbing is actually fixed. This probably means you'll be safe for some time to come.

I will try to post about something else sometime soon, however.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Perspective, Part II

Another post about plumbing, you ask? I imagine you rolling your eyes.

Why, yes, I answer. You see, I have a very short list of potential blog topics in my head tonight, and while I know you must be dying to hear about How Much My Sinuses Hurt or Why I Would Trade Trick-or-Treaters for Drunken Barhoppers Any Day of the Year and Especially on Hallowe'en, I have taken the liberty of choosing Why My Plumbing Is Still Unfixed for your edification tonight.

Fortunately for you, it is a short post. My plumbing is still unfixed because the plumber was unable to operate a key--the key my manager left for him, the key that the manager and I were both able to operate successfully in a door unlocking re-enactment some hours later.

It is, of course, possible that the key is only a proximate cause. I would be willing to entertain the notion that the ultimate cause has to do with a curse and my sadly beleaguered head if my sinuses were less stuffy or the barhoppers less noisy.

Now, will you look at that? I've managed to work all three topics into a single post.

Disclaimer: Christine is far less crabby than the foregoing might imply. After all, there's a good possibility she'll come home to working plumbing tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I had an interesting conversation with my twentysomething apartment manager yesterday. I've been having plumbing woes, and since I haven't seen a plumber in two weeks or heard from the manager in a week, and I still have a nonfunctioning shower and a leaky connector that requires the hot-water valve to be turned off except when the hot water is in use, I called for an update.

Said manager brought up two topics I found unsettling in the course of our conversation. The first was, I think, a good-hearted attempt to help me find better ways of coping with the lack of a shower. "So, are you cleaning yourself?" he asked. I was so disconcerted that I actually embarked on an answer before realizing that I had no need or desire to share the details of my ablutions with a young man with whom I have only the most passing of acquaintances.

After an awkward pause, he introduced Unsettling Topic 2: "Now, have you had any flashes of inspiration about what you might have done to cause this [emphasis mine]?"

Unfortunately, I took this as a veiled accusation, and the visions of pecuniary consequences dancing in my head produced a rather sharp (if truthful) response. I didn't do anything; the plumbing is ancient, and it's hardly surprising that the diverter for the shower should just give out or that a connector should spring a leak.

Upon further reflection, however, I'm pretty sure the question wasn't indicative of a plot by the management company to shift maintenance costs to an innocent tenant. I think my young manager simply has yet to learn one of the basic lessons of life: things have a lifespan. Sometimes they are damaged through accident or maliciousness, but sometimes--well, sometimes they just fall apart because they're old.

It does make some sense that it's easier to understand this at 38 than at 22.


After receiving a response or two to this post, I've realized a couple of clarifications are in order:

1. My poor manager is not in any way responsible for the extended delay noted above. He got a plumber out here very promptly; the plumber looked over the situation, muttered something about ordering a part, and disappeared. My manager has spent the intervening weeks vainly trying to reestablish contact with the elusive plumber, calling other plumbers to see if they have the (apparently rare) part on hand, and generally worrying about my showerless state. His only failure was keeping me in the loop.

2. There was not the slightest suggestion of leering in Unsettling Topic 1. It was an odd question, to be sure, but an innocent one; we were both alarmed by the turn the conversation took.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Except for a tragic accident, the 35th annual Bath Heritage Days parade went off without a hitch.

--The Bath (Maine) Times Record, quoted in The New Yorker

Lest you think this post is all fluff, may I direct you to Hendrik Herzog's piece on Hillary Clinton's laugh in the self-same issue of The Best Magazine in the World?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


My intentions were good, but I am just too tired: no post tonight.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rule of Thumb

Singing to your cats is a clear sign that you're spending too much time alone.

If you feel a need to sing, though, might I recommend the following?


Repeat as needed.

[Translation: "Kitties kitties kitties KI-IITTY!" The "c" in "kucing" makes a ch- sound. Extra bonus points if you address the final, singular "kucing" to a particular beastie.]

Monday, September 24, 2007


I'm not sure how I managed to go so long without discovering that The Guardian publishes Top-Ten book lists chosen by prominent authors in its book section. I suppose this could have been a distressing discovery, given that I've long cherished a geeky little fantasy of developing a website with just such lists--but the "competition" has such a wonderful selection that I can't even be jealous. There are lists of smelly books, books in which things end badly, and books in which things end well. There are provocative lists (e.g., Peter Singer's top ten books on ethics) and silly lists (e.g., Joanne Harris' top ten "kids' books with kickass heroines," although I suppose that might qualify as provocative in some quarters). There's even a list of books about trains that are actually interesting.

And to think all I was looking for was more information about Robert Irwin--I just finished his Exquisite Corpse, which is great reading for former fledgling art historians.* It seems Mr. Irwin is an historian as well as a novelist, and as such he contributed a top-ten list of books on Islam to the cause.

*Now there's a top-ten list I could compile: Christine's Top Ten Novels for Former Would-Be Academics in the Arts and Humanities. A. S. Byatt's Possession, David Lodge's The British Museum is Falling Down...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hello, My Name Is Christine and I Am an American

I don't generally think of myself as an American. I don't have a love affair with my gas-guzzling oversized car or consider fast food "dinner" or spend the majority of my free time in front of the television (although I do have my share of televised guilty pleasures). If you detect a slightly superior tone in even this short list, you're on the right track; I generally, I'm afraid, hold myself a bit above my native culture.

My recent trip to Portland for a Vasa convention took some of the wind out of those snobbish sails. I'd booked a room in the convention hotel, the Portland Airport Sheraton, which is--it almost goes without saying--the sort of place I usually eschew in favor of a hostel or B & B.

At first, I was satisfyingly out of step with my surroundings. I took the train from Seattle to Portland and dragged my backpack and old-fashioned un-wheeled garment bag up to James' office. James and I went to lunch at a great sidewalk schnitzel joint, after which I retrieved my bags and took the lightrail out to the airport, where I picked up the free shuttle to the hotel. I took great delight in answering my fellow conventiongoers' queries about traffic with, "Oh, I took the train."

And, of course, the hotel was every bit as dismally pretentious as I'd hoped it would be. My room featured a flat-screen TV and a grand view of the parking lot. A vinyl folder on the desk detailed, in several tabbed sections, the various additional comforts that could be mine for a slight addition to the bill. I was quietly glorying in the horror of it when I noticed the power strip.

Now, for the first time ever, my packing list for this trip had included a section entitled "Electronics," which read in part

laptop charger
phone charger
palm pilot
palm charger
battery charger
mp3 player
USB cable

As I put together the list, I'd actually thought, "Perhaps I should bring a power strip." I hadn't--but in this one particular the Sheraton had anticipated my needs. Before long, I had my laptop, phone, and palm all happily plugged in side by side, and my mp3 player plugged in to a USB port on the laptop. It was just like home, only better...and that was before I discovered I could use the free wi-fi to watch streaming video via my Netflix account.

I was deeply reassured to find I liked the B & B I'd booked for my last night in Portland better, despite the lack of power strips and the inferior wi-fi service. If you ever need a place to stay in Portland, I highly recommend Portland's White House. It's lovely and on a bus line!

She Lives!

I hope those of you I suckered into reading this blog with promises of "daily" posts will accept my apologies. I haven't been feeling so hot lately, and my trip to Portland took a toll on me--so I've been leading a highly edited version of my normal life over the past few weeks.

My health seems to be back on an upswing. What's good for the blogger is, of course, good for the blog, so if you haven't given up on me entirely, watch this space.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Arachnids Are Everywhere

I really didn't want to know that water spiders exist, no matter how cool they are.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Another Glimpse Inside My Head

I'm beginning to think there may be entirely too many glimpses inside my head here, but I can't resist sharing yet another dream. The setting was a bigger, fancier, but no less messy version of my current apartment. In the dream, I came home exhausted on a weekend afternoon, and as I collapsed on the bed I noticed a pile of different kinds of cheese on the bedside table.

"Oh, ugh," my dream-self thought. "I can't possibly deal with that until after my nap."

Then I reached up to take off the beret I was wearing over some sort of disorderly up-do.* As I pulled it off my head, a wedge of parmesan tumbled down from the nest of hair onto the pillow.

I think my psyche would like me to do some cleaning soon.

*Apparently I am a plus-size Sarah Jessica Parker in my dreams.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


I was late to work this morning. This was in part because I haven't been feeling all that well and woke up late, and in part because there was a spider in my bathtub.

I knew even before I woke up this morning that there would be a spider in my bathtub. I'm not psychic; the spider had been there for at least two days. I first noticed it around 2:00 yesterday morning, but let it be--and when I got up for work yesterday, I decided I could go without washing my hair, which allowed me to hope that the spider would simply wander off and perhaps be eaten by the cats.

I am, you see, arachnophobic. Spiders have taught me many useful things over the years--that keening is involuntary, that concerned neighbors may call the police when you let out a sustained shrieking wail in a suburban house with the windows open, that police called by concerned neighbors tend to be suspicious of claims that sustained shrieking wails of such alarming intensity can be caused by something as innocuous as a spider--but I have never managed to conquer the irrational fear they provoke in me. My reaction to them is intensely physical. Even looking at a picture of a spider brings on chills and nausea.

Being me, I don't stop at simple arachnophobia. Killing the spider doesn't solve the problem; it just leaves me with a dead spider, which in my world is worse: it is now both a spider and a corpse. The issue is not, or not just, having respect for living things. It's more a matter of the overactive and persistent imagination with which I've been endowed. If I flush the dead spider down the drain, I will shudder for weeks every time I run the water; if I throw it in the garbage, I will have visions of it revivifying itself every time I pass the trash can.

And thus I knew when I got up this morning I was going to have to find a way to transport the spider in my bathtub to greener pastures. The arachnid relocation required the sort of planning one might more readily associate with a military maneuvre in hostile territory or a daring tightrope walk over a vat of burning tar. My preparations were both physical (assembling cardboard and tupperware, donning a long-sleeved shirt, propping doors open) and mental (visualizing a successful outcome, taking deep breaths, having an extra cup of coffee). After about an hour's worth of obsessiveness, I had to admit I had done everything I possibly could to prepare.

I am pleased to report that the mission itself went off without a hitch. I threw the cardboard in the tub, gently shoved the spider onto it with the tupperware, picked up the entire business, and walked toward the door as slowly and smoothly as any bomb-squad member. I walked through the hallway to the propped-open door of the enclosed stairwell, put my burden gently on the ground, and twitched the tupperware onto its side while simultaneously jumping back as far and as quickly as I could. The spider skittered off into the darkness, I skittered back into the apartment, and it was done.

Even the aftereffects were mild. There was a bit of shuddering and gagging, to be sure, and I did compulsively clean the bathtub with bleach, but after a third cup of coffee I was able to get in the tub and get on with the day.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Engrossing Reading

One of my more interesting work duties is to keep an eye on the political and ecological news in monkey and ape habitat countries. This morning, I was reading a rather grim National Geographic article about an emergency gorilla-protection force formed in the Democratic Republic of Congo to deal with the massacre of gorillas in Virunga National Park, when I discovered a link to something even more compelling: a blog maintained by Paulin Ngobobo, a ranger in the park. It's not always an easy read--conditions in the D.R.C. are dangerous for both gorillas and rangers--but there are some heartwarming moments too. Today's entry includes the first picture of a newborn male gorilla in a family that was not affected by the recent attack.

As it turns out, this is one of several blogs from the D.R.C. and Kenya supported by the Wildlife Direct project of the African Conservation Fund. For the most part, they're written by local conservation workers in their native language and then translated into English. Sadly, I only got to glance at the other blogs before the pile of paper on my desk started (metaphorically) howling for attention--but I'm looking forward to taking a closer look soon.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Farmer's Market Haul

I feel all warm and fuzzy whenever I think about the Neighborhood Farmer's Market Alliance, which operates several weekly farmer's markets in various locations in Seattle. As Carissa puts it, it's one of the ways in which those annoying self-righteous technology-loving stereotypically-green Seattleites actually prove themselves useful. The markets support local small farms--and they're well-run, easy to locate, and generally packed with produce-seeking shoppers.

I usually meet a friend of mine at the U-District market on Saturdays. Said friend is out of town today, but I made the trek despite the lack of social incentive, and came away with a bunch of luscious, mostly organic, produce: tomatoes, yellow zucchini, carrots, bok choi, Japanese cucumbers, baby turnips, plums, and various fresh herbs. Good Seattleite that I am, I hauled it all back home in a reusable nylon shopping bag.*

You'd think that all this bounty would lead me toward healthier eating, but I'm not so sure that today's lunch was exactly a step in that direction. It featured the zucchini in a lovely pasta with a cream sauce and bacon on top.

*David Lindes deserves the credit for alerting me to the existence of Thanks, David!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Gentle Art of Bureacracy

Unlike many people, I'm generally a fan of bureaucracy. I believe that having policies and procedures set up is essential pretty much whenever you need to get a large group of people to work collectively, and I find knowing that I can look up a rule for just about anything I need to do oddly comforting. This may explain why I have managed to remain reasonably happily in the employ of the state for nearly half my life.

There is, however, an art to bureaucracy. It's easy to become enamored of rules for their own sake, and take things too far--as certain prisons seem to have done recently in setting up their approved vendor system for book shipments under the Department of Corrections' personal property policy. I do understand that books make excellent hiding places for other items. I also understand that prison shipping and receiving departments are woefully understaffed and probably perpetually overwhelmed. I'm just not convinced that defining used books as contraband and sharply limiting the flow of reading material to prisoners is the way to deal with these issues.

Three Favorite Sites

1. The Seattle Weekly's "Uptight Seattleite" column. If you've spent any time in Seattle, you'll probably understand why I love it so.

2. The Jabberwocky Variations. This page has been online forever, and hasn't been updated since sometime in 1998--but it makes me happy every time I visit it.

3. Planetizen, where I feed my inner urban planning geek.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


All is well, but I think my body is finally going to let me catch some sleep--so off to bed I go. I hope to be back tomorrow; in the meantime, I give you this preview of my self-portrait for today, Day 245, taken just a minute ago.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Jam Karet

Our title is an Indonesian phrase that translates to "rubber time." It's something we teach the students in our field study prep course each Spring, not because it's particularly useful vocabulary but because it explains a lot about how the culture differs from that of the U.S.

I've found myself living under jam karet for the past couple of days, working at a slightly slower pace and taking more breaks than usual. Yesterday's blog entry was a casualty of this low-key approach, alas, and I did have a nasty bout of insomnia last night--but even so it's been wonderful to have a chance to catch my breath. I'll get back to being a good clock-driven American tomorrow...or possibly the next day.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Asahel and the Tree of Promises

Asahel and the Tree of Promises

The church around the corner from my apartment has had what I, at least, think of as a "tree of promises" sitting outside it for a few days now. It's a wire-coathanger structure with paper leaves, each containing a Bible verse involving some sort of promise. I find it a compelling object, even though I don't really know why it's there. On my way home tonight, I realized that it might well have something to do with a service planned for tomorrow, so I stopped to try to get a picture or two in the dark.

As I was shooting away (and muttering under my breath, for long-exposure hand-held photography is an exercise in frustration), a man emerged from the bushes a few yards away. I watched his approach with some concern. I wasn't worried for my personal safety--the church is on a busy street with lots of foot traffic, and he was hobbling to a degree that made me pretty sure I could outrun him in any case. My worry was that he would ask me for money, or tell me drunkenly that I was pretty, or in some way or another want some response from me that I was unable or unwilling to give him.

That didn't happen. We had a nice conversation, the kind of conversation I'd like to have with any of my neighbors but rarely do, and then we parted ways. As I was leaving, he asked if I would take his photograph--which turned out to be the best picture I took at the site. I hope at some point I'll be able to track him down to give him a print of it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Musty, Fusty, Cucumber, and Grubby

In 1991, the E.U., recognizing that laboratory tests fail to expose many acts of adulteration, instituted strict taste and aroma requirements for each grade of olive oil and established tasting panels, certified by the International Olive Oil Council, an office created by the United Nations, to enforce them. According to the E.U. regulations, extra-virgin oil must have appreciable levels of pepperiness, bitterness, and fruitiness, and must be free of sixteen official taste flaws, which include "musty," "fusty," "cucumber," and "grubby." "If there's one defect, it's not extra-virgin olive oil—-basta, end of story," Flavio Zaramella, the president of the Corporazione Mastri Oleari, in Milan, one of the most respected private olive-oil associations, told me.

--Tom Mueller, "Letter from Italy: Slippery Business" (The New Yorker, August 13, 2007)

This week's New Yorker is a treasure trove of geekiness. There's not only the surprisingly interesting story on olive-oil fraud quoted above, with the Beatrix Potteresque list of adjectives that form our title, but also a piece on a rare self-destructive disease known as Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, an NYC-centric update of Aesop's Fables, and a Talk of the Town bit by none other than Oliver Sacks which I fully intend to use as justification for my bryophiliac tendencies for the foreseeable future. (Consider yourself warned.)

I love the New Yorker. And I love my parents, who give me a subscription every Christmas as a gift.

(And, yes, this makes two posts in one day! Don't get used to it.)

Window on My Psyche

My psyche throws up some truly odd images. Take the dream I had last night. As it began, I was at work, surreptitiously watching a 14-minute-long video of Paris Hilton confronting the instructor of an American Government class. Even asleep, I felt all the guilt one should feel at enjoying watching a human being in tears yowl, "But I'm smart too!"

Then the dream shifted, and I was in a photocopy room, removing someone else's discarded originals from the copier I wanted to use. The first one I picked up was an 11" x 17" sheet entitled "BETTER STUDY GUIDE," in large letters. I'd just put it aside in favor of a smaller sheet showing a magic-marker rainbow enclosing the words "Contract with America" above a group of dancing stick-figures when Newt Gingrich came storming into the room, muttering under his breath. He grabbed the drawing from my hands, gathered up the rest of the sheets, and stormed right back out.

A minute later, the hapless instructor of the government class came into the photocopy room.

"Have you seen Newt Gingrich?" he asked. "I think I insulted him."

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Dreaming the Impossible Dream

I've decided on a new goal: I will update this blog daily. Yep, daily. After all, I've managed to keep my 365 Days project alive for over 230 days, which would tend to suggest that a daily blog post shouldn't be beyond me.

Of course, I'm three days behind on posting my self-portraits as I write, so perhaps this suggests my daily commitment will lead me to post in bursts every few days--but even that would be far better than my current blog performance (to say nothing of my woeful record with more personal correspondence). My 365 Days performance would also tend to indicate that not every post will be particularly interesting, but I guess that's a risk we'll have to take.

Watch this space to find out what happens.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Two of my photos were chosen for Schmap. (Click on the "Photos" tab above to see them as well as some other people's pictures.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Good News

Thursday Walk: Sweetbriar 2

I've just received a completely unexpected e-mail telling me that three of my photographs of the U.W. Medicinal Herb Garden have been shortlisted for inclusion in the next revision of the Schmap Seattle Guide. While there's no guarantee that they'll be chosen, and no fiscal reward for it if they are, I have to admit I'm thrilled.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Insert City Name Here

No matter how long you have been here, you are a New Yorker the first time you say, That used to be Munsey's, or That used to be the Tic Toc Lounge. That before the internet café plugged itself in, you got your shoes resoled in the mom-and-pop operation that used to be there. You are a New Yorker when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now.

--Colson Whitehead, The Colossus of New York

This is more or less exactly how I feel about Seattle. Not surprisingly, I'm quickly coming to adore the book--the rest of this chapter is a meditation on how your experiences shape "your" city, and the rest of the book is a tour of Whitehead's personal New York.

I've been thinking a lot about these issues because I've just recently been appointed to the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board. The criteria for landmark designation are pretty exacting, which is probably as it should be--but one of the first nominations that came before me dealt with a place that is clearly a part of many people's personal Seattle, and it was hard to watch them struggle to find a way to preserve that piece of their city under the terms of the ordinance. It was also quite an experience to make a decision about the designation in front of a room packed full of people with passionate opinions both for and against it. The Board ended up being split on the decision; I voted in the minority, for designation, but I was comfortable with the Board's decision.