Leslie's Latest News

Sunday, March 30, 2003

I haven't been doing much blogging lately - I've been busy with yard cleanup (on the nice days), and interior painting (on the rainy days). My friend Nancy will be coming into town tonight and will spend the day tomorrow doing book signings at various bookstores. (The only one I know for sure is Kate's Mystery Books in Cambridge from 6 to 7 in the evening.) We'll probably spend the next two evenings together, and probably Tuesday morning as well.

This week's Faking It was quite good. The challenge was to be a cowboy, and they managed to find an amateur polo player from California who could ride, but who had never tacked up his own horse. That was perfect - learning to ride from scratch would be impossible in 2 weeks, but there was still a lot of stuff he didn't know. But he worked really hard, and I got more wrapped up in this one than any of the others. By the end I was really rooting for him. The final test was to cut out a cow from the herd, rope a calf, and "flanking", which is catching a roped calf and getting it onto the ground. He did fine on the cutting and flanking, but failed on the roping. Still, he fooled two of the three judges, and the one judge he didn't fool said admiringly that he "had a lot of 'try'".
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Saturday, March 29, 2003

One thing that bugs me: When the news people report on a rally or demonstration in support of the troops, and then say, "On the other side..." and then go on to talk about a peace rally. Whatever gave them the impression that people who want peace do not support our troops? Our service men and women have been given a difficult, almost impossible task: to defeat the thugs that rule Iraq while at the same time trying not to injure civilians. As far as I can see, they're doing their best to live up to that goal, while at the same time the enemy is using tactics that take advantage of that restraint, which has the result of putting more innocents at risk. I don't blame the troops in the field for the evils that are occuring in my name; I blame the policy makers who either didn't realize (or didn't care) that there is no way to fight this war without harming a lot of innocent people. Whether the end result will be better or worse, in balance, we cannot really know. I just think it takes tremendous hubris to take such a risk with other people's lives.
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Friday, March 28, 2003

Here's a really bizarre story about someone who claims to be a time traveller who has made a fortune in the stock market and has been busted for insider trading. Weird.
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Thursday, March 27, 2003

I saw this comment on The Agonist this morning:

I don't want to see the news as it breaks; it's already broken. I want [to] see someone repair the news and put it back into working order. Thank you.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2003

I spent most of the day today at Garden in the Woods. In the morning, we had another guide training session. There were still a few pockets of snow, but today we actually got to walk through the garden! We actually only made it about half way around before time ran out, but we'll be doing this again for the next couple of sessions (with different guides each time). Nothing in bloom yet except snowdrops and winter aconite, but there was still a lot to talk about. We also got a presentation from the conservation department, which has a lot of ongoing activities. Among other things, they have 400 volunteers all over New England who go out and do surveys of rare and endangered plants.

In the afternoon, I had a talk with Debra Strick, head of Public Relations, about how I might be able to help with various computer-related projects that are ongoing at the society.

When I left in the late afternoon, they had closed off part of the entrance road because the ground has warmed up enough that they are expecting the pond salamanders to come out to spawn over the next few nights and they don't want them to get run over. (They tend to cross the road in a certain spot to reach a vernal pond on the other side.)
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Tuesday, March 25, 2003

The riding classes went well today. There is still some snow and mud in parts of the ring, but about half of the surface has dried out and is usable. The sun was warm and it was a t-shirt sort of day. Travis is still shedding gray hair like crazy; Ernie's foot was still sore (the farrier came by to take a look at it), and so we had to use Sunbeam once again. (Sunbeam is the owner's horse and isn't normally used for lessons.) The kids all enjoyed the sun, too. Max's mother said when he got up on Travis it was the first time he'd smiled all day.

I brought a couple of prototypes of the ring letters I've been working on, and both Lisa and Abby liked them a lot. Abby is going to talk to Debi on Thursday and let me know if I should go ahead with the rest.

And on the house front, I've got two more doors scraped and sanded and ready to prime.
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Yesterday was another nice early spring day. I drove over to a friend's house for lunch and to offer some advice on landscaping and gardening. She has a sweet 4-year-old girl who has asked to have a garden, so I was suggesting flowers and vegetables that would be easy to grow from seed, and giving some general advice about soil preparation, etc. For flowers I suggested sunflowers (because they grow so big), marigolds, zinnias, nasturtiums, and cosmos. For veggies I suggested radishes (because they're so fast), bush beans, mesclun (a mixture of lettuces and salad greens that you grow in a thick row and can cut with scissors, leaving the roots to grow more leaves), and zucchini. I also suggested making a pyramid with bamboo stakes and making a tent of pole beans.

When I got home, Alex called to suggest we meet in Boston to see Chicago. Driving in was very strange. Although it was warm and sunny out in Watertown, as I drove in I could see low-hanging clouds over the city, which turned out to be pretty cool and damp. It appeared to be just near the ocean - sort of like the fogs that roll in over San Francisco.

Chicago was a very good film adaptation of the musical. I'm not sure it deserved the "Best Picture" award, but Catherine Zeta-Jones was excellent, and the costumes sure explored every possible way to display the female form to advantage. The dancing was spectacular Bob Fosse, which you will like if you like Bob Fosse's style (I can only take it in small doses, so it was a bit much for me.) And the music certainly stays in your head for days afterward. Of course the plot is completely amoral, and none of the characters are particularly admirable, but that's not really the point. I did really like the way they intercut from live action in everyday clothing to the theatrical presentation of the songs complete with glitz and glamour. It was a very clever way of dealing with the basic problem of the musical comedy format, which is the inherent unreality of people randomly bursting into song.

(And for those of you following the saga of my struggles with the health insurance system, in the past few days I've gotten 1) my new health insurance id card and 2) my prescription refill - just a week before the old one ran out! I still have not received any health insurance bills for March or April, and am still not sure if my eye doctor's bill has been paid, but at least there's some progress.)
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For another perspective on the war, you can now read Al Jazeera coverage in English. For example, they raise a question that also crossed my mind:

Are US-prisoners of war more equal than the Iraqi prisoners in custody of the US and British forces?
The answer seems yes, given the contrasting reactions the gloomy television images of the prisoners of war have so far evoked in the course of the current war on Iraq.
Images of surrendering Iraqi soldiers being forced to kneel down and body-searched by US-troops stirred little or no emotions in the Western world in the initial days of the war.
But it all changed dramatically the moment Al Jazeera television broadcast on Monday images of five American troops in Iraq's custody....
They also report that Basra is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis, with a severe water shortage and a power blackout.
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Monday, March 24, 2003

Salam Pax is alive and has updated his blog!
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I recently re-watched the movie Say Anything, a 1989 movie written and directed by Cameron Crowe, starring John Cusack and Ione Skye. It's a lovely little low-key teenage romance with real characters and dialog that means something. Ione Skye's Diane Court is beautiful and smart, and seemingly unobtainable to John Cusack's Lloyd Dobler, whose main accomplishment is kickboxing. When Lloyd has dinner with her and her loving father, he is asked about his plans for the future and he answers with the memorable line:

I've given a lot of thought to that, sir, and the one thing I'm sure of is that I don't want to manufacture anything or buy anything or sell anything. I don't want to manufacture anything bought or sold, or buy anything manufactured or sold, or sell anything bought or manufactured.
(I find this line echoing in my head a lot these days.) But in spite of his lack of prospects, he loves her and wants to take care of her, and she needs to make a difficult choice.
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Sunday, March 23, 2003

Okay, I can finally feel like spring is here - things are starting to bloom in my garden. So far only snowdrops and witch hazel, but it's a start.

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I'm listening to Wolf Blitzer interviewing Donald Rumsfeld and he appears to be one of the few journalists who is asking the questions that need to be asked. Things like,"How can you say we are winning the hearts and minds of the people of Iraq when we've terrified 5 million of them by bombing Baghdad", and "What effect will the images of the bombing of Baghdad have on inciting future terrorist activities?" Go, Wolf!
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Word of the day: hubris (Greek) - insolent or overweening pride leading to disaster.
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Saturday, March 22, 2003

Paul Boutin investigates the Baghdad blogger. Meanwhile, nothing has been posted on Dear Raed since early Friday morning (before the massive bombing campaign). Dear Raed is now the top-linked site on Daypop, so a lot of people are waiting anxiously to hear that "Salam Pax" is okay.

The U.S. is apparently upset that the Turks have been sending troops into Northern Iraq. Gee, I wonder whatever gave the Turks the idea that it was okay to send troops into someone else's country?
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Friday, March 21, 2003

Okay, I spoke too soon. As I drove into the parking lot at the Flower Show, I heard that the bombing had begun. I can only hope this phase will be over quickly, with the minimal loss of life.

As usual, the Flower Show was nice, but far too crowded, and I could only take it for a few hours before I had to get out and take a deep breath. I tend to associate gardens with tranquility, so it's hard for me to view them in such a riotous atmosphere. But I got through it without eating any crap food or spending money on garden tools, so I will consider it a success. It made me very much look forward to our first walk-through at Garden in the Woods next week.

By the time I got home the sun had come out and it really was starting to feel a bit like spring. Most of the snow was melted, except some odd patches on the north side of buildings and walls, and the ground had that warm, earthy, spring smell. I bought a small pot of miniature yellow tulips at the Flower Show and they look very nice on the windowsill next to my desk, next to a purple African violet. Still nothing blooming in my yard, but I did see a witch hazel blooming in Cambridge the other day.
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Excellent coverage of the war at The Agonist. Today is the first day of spring and I think I'm going to the Flower Show.
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Thursday, March 20, 2003

I just can't write about the war right now, and anyway, everyone else I've been reading has been far more eloquent than I could ever be. My blathering about seed orders earlier today is just my method of trying to connect to some sort of basic reality in the middle of this insanity. I can only be thankful that we haven't started with that appalling mass bombing campaign that everyone was predicting. Could it be that the peace movement has actually had an impact on the conduct of the war?

I started working today on constructing those riding ring letters I volunteered to do a few days ago. I decided to start by making a couple of samples, just to be sure they are acceptable before I go do the whole alphabet. I got a sheet of 1/4-inch hardboard, which is the like pegboard, but without the holes. I have an old circular saw, and borrowed a work table and clamps from my friend Alex, so I could cut the hardboard into 1-foot squares. Alex also helped me to print out some 9-inch-tall outline letters which I will use to cut out stencils. I also bought a selection of spray paints to test out various background colors, and black paint to use for the letters. I'm also going to see if I can find some corkboard material in sheets. We'd like to put a strip of corkboard and a small hook at the bottom of each letter, so it would be easy to tack or hang things from them.
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I had a headache last night, so went to bed early and missed the start of the war. But I watched the coverage this morning while working on my spring vegetable seed order. I have some seeds left over from last year (stored in Tupperware in the refrigerator), but need to stock up on a number of things. Some years I spread my orders over several different companies, but this year I think I'm just going to go with one order from Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine. I just trust them them more than most of the other commercial seed companies. They're less marketing-oriented and their catalog is full of useful growing information.
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Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Where is Raed? continues to write about life in Bagdad as the deadline counts down:

It is even too late for last minute things to buy, there are too few shops open. We went again for a drive thru Baghdad's main streets. Too depressing. I have never seen Baghdad like this. Today the Ba'ath party people started taking their places in the trenches and main squares and intersections, fully armed and freshly shaven. They looked too clean and well groomed to defend anything. And the most shocking thing was the number of kids. They couldn't be older than 20, sitting in trenches sipping Miranda fizzy drinks and eating chocolate (that was at the end of our street) other places you would see them sitting bored in the sun. more cars with guns and loads of Kalashnikovs everywhere.

The worst is seeing and feeling the city come to a halt. Nothing. No buying, no selling, no people running after buses. We drove home quickly. At least inside it did not feel so sad.

The ultimatum ends at 4 in the morning here in Baghdad...

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Yesterday was a busy day. I spent the morning at Garden in the Woods guide training. This week, the new volunteers were joined by the experienced guides coming back for a refresher. It was good to hear their perspective - they all said it was a lot of fun. They were also very reassuring about my concerns about all the facts that I think I should learn. One of the women told me that you aren't really expected to rattle off the names of all the plants. She said that most of the visitors are just happy to be in such a beautiful place and just want you to come along to tell them a few interesting stories and make sure they don't get lost. I can do that.

Normally we would have toured the nursery, but it was still covered with snow, so instead we got to meet the nursery director and author, Bill Cullina, who told us many interesting facts about the nursery and the propagation of lady's slippers. Many woodland species are rather primitive ancient plants with strange reproductive quirks. In addition, many of them are designed to be in active growth only for about two months a year (after the snow melts and before the trees leaf out), so many of them are very slow to mature. But in spite of this, the NEWFS nursery propagated and sold 35,000 plants last year. They do this partly as a fund-raising venture, but mainly to encourage the appreciation of native plants and to provide gardeners an alternative to wild-gathered plants (which has caused many species to become endangered).

We also got a pep talk from the director of the Society, and a slide show of many of the spring-blooming plants at the garden. The garden will be open for free on Earth Day, which is a Saturday, April 26. It will not be at the peak of bloom then, but they expect a lot of visitors and will be running tours every half-hour. So those of you in the Boston area, that would be a good time to drop in.

From there, I drove straight over to the Loveland riding program, for a full afternoon of lessons. The snow was finally melting, so now we had two big puddles in the ring, but it was definitely better than freezing cold. The head of the program was there, and it was interesting to hear her comments about how to work with each student. She's been doing this for 12 years, so she really knows her stuff. One of the issues was that some of the kids had vision problems and had difficulty in seeing the letters that were posted on the fences (the instructor uses these as part of the lesson to tell kids when to start or stop, and so forth). The current letters were done with markers on pie plates and really don't show up very well. So I stuck my neck out and volunteered to try to come up with something better. I'm thinking of using squares of plywood (if I can figure out how to cut it), spray paint, and big stencilled letters. I've got to go to Home Depot and see what I can come up with.
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Tuesday, March 18, 2003

My father is trying to get "Slovak expatriate" status from the Slovak government. This will give him various travel privileges, etc., not to mention just make him feel good. The application has a lot of requirements, one of which is that he submit a criminal record report from the FBI, which involved getting fingerprinted. This has caused a lot of trouble. Here's the latest:

After the FBI returned my finger prints as unsatisfactory twice I went to the FBI office in Bridgeport instead of the Stratford Police to have them done a third time. They were rejected again by the FBI for a third time. This time the letter said "It appears that the quality of your fingerprints will not improve. Unfortunately, they do not possess the "feature vectors" which must be present to complete a fingerprint search of the FBI Fingerprint Identification Record System..." Can you believe this from the agency which is our first line of defense against terrorism? I have written to the Slovak Embassy to ask them if they will accept something else. Except for some translations I need, everything except the criminal record report from the FBI is ready to go. Maybe I should embark on a career of crime since the FBI will not be able to identify me.

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Monday, March 17, 2003

I started scraping my third door this morning, but when I went out for lunch, I was amazed to discover that it was actually warm out today! They had been predicting 50 degrees, but it actually zoomed up to 71! So in the afternoon, I just had to work outside. The vegetable plot is still snow-covered and the ground is still frozen, so I can't really do much garden work, so I decided to try to fix the back gate. The problem was that the hinges had seized up and the latch didn't work properly. I was able to screw off the old hinges and find replacements at Home Depot that were exactly the same. After some hunting around for galvanized screws, I got the new hinges on and rehung the gate. Then there was some additional work to re-position the slat that held the latch and move the latch to the exactly right position so that it catches easily. But it is now all done and working fine! It makes me feel great to be able to do stuff like that without having to hire someone to help me. I know as I make more progress on the various home maintenance tasks I have, I will run into those that are too big for me to tackle. But I'd like to at least get started doing as much as I can manage on my own.
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I originally picked up on a moveable beast because of its really nice horse photographs (check out today's!), but I'm also finding it worth reading for other reasons. Mostly because Peggy seems to be the sort of person I'd like to know. And as an added little coincidence, she is also a volunteer at a special needs riding therapy program in Tennessee.
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And while the rest of the world seems to be falling into a maelstrom of war and disease, here in New England it's finally starting to look like spring. I went walking along the upper Charles yesterday, and although about half of the path was still covered with snow and ice, it was melting fast and you could hear the birds singing. When I got home, I cut some forsythia twigs to force into bloom.

In the afternoon, Becky and I drove out to Dunstable to attend a St. Patrick's day tea with a friend we used to work with. On the drive we had a great chat about life, the universe, and everything. I was particularly interested to hear of Becky's recent conversion to Buddhism. Buddhism appears to be very close to my idea of what a true religion should be: teaching precepts of moral behavior, and coming to people by their own seeking and acceptance rather than by aggression and force.

Meryl's tea was a lot of fun. Meryl has accumulated an interesting circle of women friends, and once a month she goes all out with some sort of theme event. This time her table was decorated with a green velvet cloth, green and white candles, and shamrock-covered napkins. There were party favors of shamrock-embossed boxes filled with green, orange, and white jelly beans and little Irish flags. The meal consisted of Irish potato soup, Irish stew, Irish breakfast tea, Bailey's Irish Cream, and Irish soda bread. Much fun was had by all.
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Here's an interesting blog by a resident of Bagdad.
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Sunday, March 16, 2003

I don't know how much credit to give it, but a lot of the scuttlebutt on the web seems to be predicting that the war will start tomorrow. (See here and here, for example.) I feel very apprehensive.
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I've started watching a new reality TV show, called Faking It which has been pretty interesting. They take a person and try to teach them a new profession in 3-4 weeks. At the end of the training period, they undergo a test with a panel of experts to determine if they can successfully fake it. It's interesting to see people learn new things in a very positive way. It's not just the actual knowledge they have to gain, but they also have to grow in self-assurance and style. The first episode featured a Boston carpenter who learned how to do interior decorating in Los Angeles (he fooled all three of the experts). This week's episode featured a geeky Harvard graduate named Lesley, who learned how to be an NFL cheerleader. She started out not owning a any makeup or even a hairbrush, and ended up fooling two of the three experts. It was very amusing.
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Saturday, March 15, 2003

And if the world weren't scary enough right now, there's a new respiratory disease that is spreading fast. Today the CDC recommended that nonessential travel to affected areas be curtailed. I have two friends who were planning to leave today for a 19-day tour of China. I hope they're all right.
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After a whole bunch of emails and phone calls, I appear to have successfully transferred my mail-order prescription to the new insurance plan. I had to switch from name brand to generic because of cost issues ($236 for 3 months of the name brand vs. $20 for the generic). Of course, I won't completely believe it until I actually get the pills in my hand. I still have two weeks of supply from the old prescription, so I should be okay if it actually goes through.

Last night's CSI started with a car driving into a restaurant storefront, killing a bunch of people. It turned out that the woman driving the car had made a mistake with the address; she was actually trying to drive into the offices of the health insurance plan that was delaying approval for the cancer treatment that she urgently needed. I can relate to that. (The episode was also noteworthy in that it quoted Isaac Asimov several times.)
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I'm adding a couple of interesting blogs to my sidebar. Kevin Sites Blog is the personal journal of a CNN reporter in the Middle East:

I'm calling in from the highly-guarded border of Iran and Kurdistan. A truck is waiting for us to transport CNN staff, our personal belongings, and our television gear into Kurd-controlled northern Iraq. We're crossing into this region to cover the northern front of a potential war with Iraq, in an area dense with oil-rich fields along the northern no-fly-zone.

is the blog of a staff member at the South Pole. She reports that the last planeload of "summer people" left a few days ago, and they won't see another incoming plane for 8 1/2 months.
It's still light out these days. The Met office (metereology office) is running the Actual Sunset Time betting pool. From their email: "A BIG prize will be awarded to whomever comes closest to the actual LAST time that the upper limb of the sun leaves the horizon before Winter 2003 on April 5th (approx. Civil Twilight - when the sun will hopefully not be coming up again until September no matter how much refraction we have)." I'm assuming the prize will be beer, as it usually is here, but who knows. I'm guessing 11:05am.

I checked out the The Pepys Project again, but still no weblogs from Slovakia.
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Friday, March 14, 2003

Alex and I have been watching Survivor again this season. Last night's episode was really hysterical. They had started out with two tribes - one of all women and one of all men. They did about equally well in the previous competitions, and had been cut down to 6 women and 6 men as of last night. Then Mark Burnett pulled one of his classic "shake-em-up" actions and made the youngest woman and man on each team draft a new mixed-sex tribe. Now each tribe has 3 women and 3 men. And the social dynamics have been fascinating. One of the women, who had been suffering and moaning for the past week, saying that she had no energy and was miserable and they should vote her off, suddenly woke up and was incredibly perky and started to flirt with one of her new male tribemates. Deena, the older woman, who thought she'd manuevered herself to a pretty good position in her tribe, may now be out of luck. On the other tribe, which had to vote someone out this week, one of the guys approached Heidi (a girl who really thinks too much of herself) and convinced her to betray her former companions and vote with the guys. Ah, it's fascinating to watch the interplay of testosterone and estrogen.
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Thursday, March 13, 2003

The stock market is up today and Elizabeth Smart is safe at home. At this point, I'll take any upbeat news I can get.
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Wednesday, March 12, 2003

13 questions we wish they'd asked at Bush's press conference the other night.
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cnn.com had a link to this very positive travel article about Bratislava.
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I spent this morning at Garden in the Woods going through the first guide training session. They have a wonderful training room - one wall is all glass looking out into the woodland. How nice it must be to work at a place like that! As expected we got lots of information thrown at us this morning, and we haven't even yet started on getting into plant nomenclature. Today's session was about the history of the garden, a bibliography of plant identification references, a talk on horticultural practices at the garden by the Horticulture Director, general tour procedures, and a tour of the facilities. Because of the snow, we didn't get to walk through the garden, but should be doing that in each of the remaining sessions.

They don't have a set spiel for the tours, although they do provide you with a suggested list of things to cover. They leave it up to the guides to bring a personal touch to the tours. It's particularly challenging because, being a garden, you need to focus on different things for every tour, depending on what's in bloom that week. In fact, they ask you to come to the garden 1/2 hour before your tour starts, so you can take a quick look and see how things look before you start the tour.

Next week will be the tough one, where we get into botany and nomenclature. We'll also see a slide show that sounds lovely, "Through the Seasons at Garden in the Woods".

On my way home, I stopped by the Loveland office in Lincoln to see their fund-raising videotape. It was very well done and quite moving.
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Tuesday, March 11, 2003

I had a nice time with Travis and Ernie this afternoon, out at the Lovelane riding program. It wasn't quite as cold as before, but the footing was still icy, limiting us to just one small circle of the ring. Travis seemed to think spring is coming, though, as he shed his lovely white fur all over my jacket. They were both lively and full of pep. I got to do more tacking up and leading, as Abby is still out of town. We did 4 lessons: Max, Rachel, Elizabeth, and Kyle. Everybody seemed to have a good time - Rachel and Elizabeth were especially talkative today.

Lovelane is trying to raise the money to build a permanent home with an indoor ring, which would solve a lot of the problems we've been having with cold and ice. They have $1 million from a generous donor, but still have $2 million left to raise. Sometime when I have a free minute or so, I'm going to drop by their office to see an informational videotape they've put together.

Tomorrow is the first of the training sessions for working as a guide at Garden in the Woods! I'm really looking forward to that.
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Painting progresses. I've finished one door (except for re-attaching the hardware) and the second door is done except for the final coat. I did decide to change colors, which added to the effort. The first color was just too mustardy. After searching through thousands of paint sample chips, I came to the conclusion that it's very hard to find a really neutral beige. They all seem to be either too yellow, too pink, or too green. A small bit of off-color pigment that doesn't necessarily show up in the sample chip really gets multiplied when the paint is spread over a large area. I'm sure with some experience, I'd develop a better eye for this sort of thing, but right now I'm not very good at it. So I tried again with a second color. This one is a little on the pink side, but it's closer to what I was looking for, so I decided to live with it.

I'm starting to actually enjoy the process of painting. At first, it seemed boring, but now it's become rather relaxing and meditative. I fire up iTunes on my Mac and turn up the volume, so I have a musical backdrop. I'm starting to feel a bit achy in places from all the bending and stooping, but it's not been too bad. I'm sure going to health club so much over the past two months has helped with that a lot. And it will get me into shape for gardening season. (I still have faith that there will actually be a gardening season sometime this year. The snow has melted back a little bit and I can actually see bare soil in spots in my yard. No buds or flowers yet, though.)
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Monday, March 10, 2003

My blogger problem appears to be solved. Sharon found that the Noreascon blog was getting an ftp error in regard to the archive index file being missing, and once I knew how to find the ftp log, I determined that my blog was having the same problem. It's not clear what caused that for either of us, but after some poking around, it turned out that I could fix my blog simply by re-saving the archive template and republishing.
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A local artist offers this web page of her Pysanky (Ukranian style batiked/wax-resist eggs). There are a few of her eggs for sale (on trial) at the Blue Cloud Gallery in Ball Square, Somerville (across the street from Soundbites).
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Blogger is broken in some odd way where I don't seem to be able to get it to accept an undated template. Unfortunately, it doesn't give any sort of clear error message, and I can't find anything on the knowledge base or FAQ pages that gives me a clue about what is wrong. Commenting out the changes doesn't help. They've apparently changed the system such that something that used to be acceptible in the template is no longer working, but I haven't a clue what. Very frustrating. And they don't offer any support to non-Pro users. I would be willing to pay the fee for the Pro version - in fact I did once, but retracted it because I found the Pro version too buggy at that point. This same thing is happening to the Noreascon 4 blog also, which is also hosted on Blogger.
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Sunday, March 09, 2003

Teresa Nielsen Hayden found this Action Film Trailer Generator. A few examples it generated for me:

In a godforsaken land of fear, in an era of conspiracy, three lost souls and a businessperson search for vengance and fight evil.

In an infernal universe, three bards and a virtual reality engineer quest for love.

According to Teresa, who is an editor for Tor Books, "There've been days when I've killed slush for hours without running into anything that interesting."
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Saturday, March 08, 2003

I've been spending a lot of time painting over the past two days. It is going slowly, but reasonably well. (The tipped-over paint bucket only spilled onto newspapers, so that potential disaster was averted.) I've got two doors primed and have started applying the final color. Of course, now I'm in the dithering," I'm not sure if that's really the color I want" stage. The problem is that I wanted a neutral beige, and the one I picked turns out to be on the golden side. It looks okay with the hall panelling, which is rather golden itself, so maybe it'll be okay. I'm going to sleep on it and decide tomorrow after it's had a chance to dry fully.

Right after the paint bucket incident, Alex called up to say he was in the Fresh Pond neighborhood and did I want to meet for lunch? I was starving so that sounded great. We had a lovely lunch at the Bertucci's - an antipasto of various veggie delicacies (artichoke hearts, eggplant, ripe tomatoes, grilled zucchini, sauteed onions, etc.) and a great brick oven pizza with a lot of stuff on it. Recently I've had a lot of delivered pizza (at Boskone work sessions and the like), but I'd forgotten how much better it tastes when it's right out of the oven, with a crispy crust. Yum! After lunch, the sun was shining, and we walked a little way up the Minuteman Bike Trail, but there were a lot of puddles so we didn't go very far.
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I saw Pleasantville on broadcast TV the other day. I knew almost the whole story from reviews, but it was still very enjoyable. Two modern teenagers get transported to the fictional Pleasantville, a black-and-white town based on 50's sitcoms where everthing appears perfect on the surface. The temperature is always 72 degrees and sunny, basketballs always go through the hoop, and the firemen know how to rescue cats from trees but not how to put out fires because there aren't any. But there's a dark side. The books in the library are all blank inside, Main Street doesn't go anywhere, and the mother of the family is getting really bored with her life. The two transported teenagers gradually introduce the town to new concepts, like art, literature, and sex. The first sign of change is a basketball that doesn't go through the hoop. The team stares at it in dismay and confusion, and the coach calls out, "Don't touch it, boys", as if the ball itself is possessed by the devil. The father comes home, calls out his usual "Honey, I'm home", but his wife is out and there's no dinner on the table. Gradually color starts appearing around the town, especially at Lover's Lane. The boy shows an art book to the druggist and he discovers that he's a suppressed artist, painting flamboyant murals all over his windows. The underlying metaphor is chosing freedom over safety and comfort - a metaphor that is even more applicable in today's world.
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This article talks about "what the Internet is and how to stop mistaking it for something else". It points out that the Internet has three qualitites that are the antithesis of how governments and businesses view the world:

Nobody owns it: Businesses are defined by what they own, as governments are defined by what they control.

Everybody can use it: In business, selling goods means transferring exclusive rights of use from the vendor to the buyer; in government, making laws means imposing restrictions on people.

Anybody can improve it: Business and government cherish authorized roles. It's the job of only certain people to do certain things, to make the right changes.

Business and government by their natures are predisposed to misunderstand the Internet's nature.

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For the first time in many, many years, veteran reporter Helen Thomas was not called upon during the presidential press conference last night. Could this possibly be because Ms. Thomas has been quoted as saying, "This is the worst president ever... He is the worst president in all of American history."?

And speaking of the press conference, Tom Shales asks, "Have ever a people been led more listlessly into war?" I have to admit, I dozed off in the middle of it.
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Friday, March 07, 2003

Hah! I've figured out the right way to deal with doorknobs while painting doors. You take the whole thing apart, then temporarily put the knobs back onto the shaft without inserting the baseplates. That gives enough play that you can paint under where the baseplates will go, while still being able to turn the latch. I've also learned how to use wood filler to fix gouges, and how to get old paint off of brass fixtures (boil them in water laced with vinegar, then scrub with scouring pads). By the time I'm done with this project, maybe I'll know what I'm doing.
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Thursday, March 06, 2003

I was scheduled to work at a blood drive at a church in Belmont this afternoon, but as I drove over the snow was falling heavily and I was listening on the radio to a report of a 150-car chain-reaction pileup on Route 95 south. (Why don't people slow down when the weather is bad!) So I wasn't too surprised when I arrived to find only the charge nurse and one staffer looking glum. Most of the staff (who had long drives to get there) hadn't been able to make it, and after consulting with headquarters, the charge nurse decided to cancel. Which was too bad, because they had over 60 people signed up to donate. The first few donors (who were from the local area) started showing up as I was leaving and we had to turn them away. Too bad. At least I got home with no trouble - thanks to Subaru four-wheel drive.
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Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Sometimes the process of writing about the events of my day means that I have to admit to something which is just too darn embarrassing. This is one of those times. It started when I was continuing my work with preparing doors for painting. I was removing the various hardware from the bedroom door - doorknobs and hooks - and as I worked on unscrewing one of the hooks, I managed to inadvertently shut the door. The latch caught, and there I was, trapped in my bedroom, unable to open the door again. I did have a screwdriver in my possession, and made various ineffectual efforts to pry the latch open, but nothing worked. Unfortunately, I had no phone in the room, and had left both knobs and their associated hardware on the other side of the door. Finally, I gave up, put on a raincoat and proceeded to exit via the window (which was a bit of a drop into a snowbank, but nothing too dangerous). I'm sure if my neighbors saw me, though, they would have been a bit concerned.

Now I was locked out of the house in the rain. I worked my way down the street ringing doorbells and was finally taken in by a retired couple who let me use their phone to call Alex (who had a copy of my key). Alex was sick, but he was able to call Steven, who was willing to swing by, pick up the key, and come and rescue me. I sat and chatted with my neighbor for a half hour or so, and finally Steven appeared. Once we got into the house, I was able to stick the knob mechanism into the door and open the door from the other side.

The door now has tape over the latch ala the Watergate burglers. I should have thought of that in the first place. Ah well, everyone needs a chance to do something stupid every now and then. I'm just glad it didn't do permanent harm to anybody.
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Reading Why Nerds Are Unpopular got me thinking about my high school days. Yes, I was a nerd (or as they called it in my day, a "brain" or an "egghead" - where did that term come from anyway?). But we brains had our own little clique, and we felt ourselves superior to all the other little subcultures, because we knew that we were going to college and were going to make a success of our lives. (At least that was the theory.) So I didn't feel excluded - I worked in the library and the science lab and was in the high school band. I didn't have a million friends, but I had a couple of really close friends that I felt comfortable with and I don't remember any outright cruelty. But maybe things have changed since the early 60's.

In my senior year my family moved to Duluth, Minnesota. It was hard to be separated from my friends, and the midwestern culture of Duluth was very different from the Connecticut suburb where I grew up, but I did my best to fit in. Since people didn't know my background, I got to know people at all levels of the high school pecking order. One of the guys I was friendly with was a nice guy, but not extremely bright - definitely not a nerd. At one point during the year I got some sort of award (National Science Foundation, or National Merit Scholor - something like that) which got presented to me at a school assembly. After the assembly, the guy came up to me looking very disappointed, saying "I didn't know you were one of them." I took this as a complement to my fitting-in skills; and we did stay friends after that, in spite of my "handicap" (in his eyes).
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Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Busy day today. I made a bit more progress with the door scraping and sanding in the morning, then spent the afternoon working at the special needs riding program. Abby was out of town this week, so I got a chance work more closely with the horses this time - helping tack them up, cleaning hooves, and leading them for some of the lessons, which was fun. The weather was less frigid than last week, and I'd come prepared this time, bundled up in many layers, so I didn't get so cold. But the ground was still icy and treacherous and I'm amazed that I managed to stay on my feet through the whole afternoon. I hope we get a thaw before next week. This continuous cold weather is just getting so tiresome.
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Chasing Amy is about a guy (Ben Affleck) in love with a lesbian, who comes this close to getting his heart's desire, but then blows it all for what seemed to me a pretty stupid (but typically male) reason. The movie is smart and funny, with a lot of frank, casual sex talk (kinda reminded me of the time I spent a weekend on Martha's Vineyard as the only straight woman in a houseful of lesbians - don't ask). As an interesting sidenote, the protagonists are comic-book artists, and there are a number of scenes set in comic book stores and comic conventions, which are a lot like science fiction conventions. And in one of the cut scenes, two guys at the counter of a comic store are playing a game that is a hilarious spoof of Magic The Gathering. I really liked Joey Lauren, who played Amy, and would like to see more of her work.
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Monday, March 03, 2003

My house has a central short hallway with five doors leading to the bedroom, basement, study, bathroom, and storage closet. (There's also an archway to the living room, but no actual door there.) The paint on several of these doors and doorframes has started to chip off, so I've been planning to try to paint them myself. Today I finally got down to starting the surface prep: scraping and sanding. Gosh, that's hard work when you're not used to it! I worked for an hour and got through maybe 1 1/2 doors before I felt like I needed a break. I guess I'm going to try to do a little each day, rather than trying to do it all at once.

I'm not entirely sure I know what I'm doing, but I'm only scraping the paint in the sections where it seems to be loose and ready to come off. There are some areas where the paint looks pretty solid, and if I run the scraper over it nothing somes off, so I'm leaving those areas alone (except for sanding to roughen the surface, which is currently semigloss). Then I plan to put on a coat of latex primer before the final color coat. Since the hall is paneled, I'm planning to paint the doors some sort of beige or tan that will blend in. Two of the doors are currently gold (which matches the kitchen), and the others are white, which I think has too much contrast with the paneling.
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Sunday, March 02, 2003

Becky and I went to see Rivers and Tides today, a documentary on the work of environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy. It was stunningly beautiful, and now I want to run out and buy all his books. This man sees nature with the clear eyes and wondering nature of a child, and then builds fanciful, usually ephemeral, constructions entirely using natural objects - sticks, stones, leaves, flowers, ice, even the wool that the highland sheep rub off on stone walls in the spring. Water is a major theme in his work, whether it be the sinuous track of rivers, the rise and fall of the tides, or the circular form of eddys. Film is a wonderful medium to show his work because time is a major element in many of his pieces - you see a chain of leaves floating down a stream, undulating in the current, or watch as an elaborate circular construction of sticks is engulfed by the tide, gradually disintegrating as it floats away. You also get to watch the artist as he assembles the pieces, and suffer with him when some of the more fragile constructions fall apart before being entirely completed. If you have any interest in art or nature, I highly recommend this film.
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I went to a Noreascon 4 brainstorming meeting last night, on the subject of space allocation. We went over the floor plans for the Sheraton and the Hynes and kicked around ideas of what to put where. I think we've got the major outlines pretty well set; just need to work out some of the details. The meeting was at Deb's place, which is always great, because it's a nice house with lots of space and Deb always cooks up a great batch of food for after the meeting. Yesterday it was chicken paprikash on noodles and baby spinach salad. Very yummy (although not so great for the diet). We also had a lot of fun trying to get out afterward, since Alex and I were among the first to arrive and by the time we wanted to leave there were about a dozen cars parked in the driveway behind us. Luckily, a whole bunch of people decided to leave at about the same time, so it only took about 15 minutes of maneuvering cars around to get to the point where we could back out.
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A funny story that made me laugh out loud. (Thanks to Making Light.)
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The health insurance industry continues to clobber me with their little "catch-22"s. Here's the latest. I am taking a fairly common prescription medication. The health insurance plan I had previously gave the cheapest rate if you ordered the medication in 3-month increments via mail order from Merck-Medco. I had sent in a refill request in early February, and had noticed they seemed to be a little slow this time filling the order. Well, today I got a notice that my insurance company is no longer covering that particular medication. Presumably there is some sort of generic or analog that can be prescribed instead. But here's the catch. Remember that my employer decided to switch insurance plans on me? Well, today is the day that the new plan starts. So I can't just get my old doctor to modify the prescription to satisfy the insurance company. I have to wait until I get an id card from the new plan, find a new doctor that is in the new plan's PPO, schedule an appointment, get him to figure out what he can prescribe that the new plan covers, and finally send in the prescription and wait for it to be filled. Do you think I can get all this done before the 4 weeks of medication I have on hand runs out? I'm not betting on it. I hates 'em, I hates 'em, I hates 'em!
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