simple summation

I rarely post about my job on here--partially because it's prudent, partially because this blog is a kind of escape.

Another blogger, however, has managed to sum up the way I feel about it in two simple sentences:

She fled. I stayed and fought the lions.

I've seen many people flee over the years--this one more than many--and at least for awhile, I have many more lions to fight before I will do the same.


Cleopatra: A Life

I visited the library the morning of my flight out to Virginia for my sister's college graduation. (I had, in a moment of clarity, realized that I didn't want to spend five hours driving alone in a car without the company of an audiobook.) Sitting on the Express checkout table (three weeks only, no renewals, no reserves), distracting me from my original purpose, was Stacy Schiff's new biography on Cleopatra.

I'm not normally a huge reader of non-fiction, and the ones I start I rarely finish (sup, god is Not Great, Guns, Germs, and Steel, Man is Not the Measure, Savage Inequalities . . .). This one looked fascinating, especially since Schiff is heralded for doing her best to peel away 2,000 years of embellishment and misrepresentation. Winning the Pulitzer was also a nice selling point.

The book lived up to its promise and its apparent hype. Schiff oozes credibility, giving us the varied accounts of events, pointing out why one or the other seems more likely, analyzing the motives other historians (Plutarch and Dio, mostly) present us with, often pointing out flaws in their explanations and offering more sensible ones instead. And she has fertile ground for it--the story, even in the more bare-bones version than what a modern audience has come to expect from the Queen of the Nile--is a fascinating one. Riding below the narrative, and directly stated at the end, is the overwhelming sense that this woman, reduced by history to nothing but a sex symbol and "Elizabeth Taylor's limpid violet eyes," was in fact an incredibly intelligent political powerhouse.

The best part of Cleopatra: A Life is (aside from the story itself) Schiff's voice. She has a sardonic and biting wit, and over and over again I caught myself sniggering loudly in public places. The only detraction--and this may be my flaw rather than Schiff's--is that I had a difficult time keeping track of all of the people that float in and out of the events. Keep a notebook nearby to scribble down names and deeds of minor figures, but definitely go track down a copy of Cleopatra: A Life as soon as possible. It's a perfect summer read for those of us who prefer intellectual pursuits to chick lit.


culinary adventures

Breakfast is by far my favorite meal to make. I'm slowly expanding my repertoire.

The top knife wasn't sharp enough. Resorted to one of our fancy steak knives, which worked quite well. Loved the light, though.

The beginnings of a vaguely eggs Proven├žale-type dish.

Finished product: poached eggs, tomatoes, hash browns, thick-cut applewood bacon, bloody mary.

My favorite way to make eggs of late: fried in a piece of toast. Accompanied by oatmeal, vanilla yogurt with mixed berries, an Irish coffee, and a tangerine I didn't end up eating.

To cook the egg this way:
Find good bread. (This is essential.) In the above, I used a multi-grain. Lightly butter--real butter, not margarine!--both sides of the bread. With your fingers, tear a hole in the middle of the bread about two inches across. Throw both pieces in a pan at a little less than medium heat. Put a very small pat of butter in the hole (to keep the egg from sticking). Crack the egg in the hole, and cook until 2/3 of the white is white. Flip. The bread will be evenly toasted at about the time the yolk is still just a little runny.

For some reason, that extra little circle of bread is incredibly tasty--much better than bread toasted and buttered afterward.


broken bicycles

Listening to sad songs makes me not so sad. It bleeds out with the song, somehow.


things I like this week, vol. 8

(I suppose I do have time for a quick "things I like" post, though)

My friend Taylor's video story (I know there's an edu-word for this, but it's escaping me). Absolutely lovely, and worth listening all the way to the end.

. . .

A post by a friend on dancing blues.

. . .

Pretty silk scarves . . . I would wear all of them (a rare thing).

tone: apologetic

Wordsworth described poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recalled in tranquility."

I feel that way about this blog, at the moment, though it is rarely poetic and seems to be mostly materialistic, as of late.

School has been terribly stressful the last few weeks. I'll feel human again once it's done (a week from now I should be totally free), and then, I promise, I'll be posting more regularly.

I have a lovely post in the works about a trip I made to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, so hopefully you'll forgive me.


karaoke: the warning signs

I am (I'll admit it) a fan of karaoke. I have, in fact, just organized a karaoke night as a reunion activity with former students.

The problem with karaoke (perhaps, if I'm being fair, I should say one of the many problems with karaoke) is that people have horrific taste in music. Presumably, if you're singing in public, you're hoping to not embarrass yourself and perhaps impress someone of your preferred gender. (That did work for me, incidentally.) What follows here is a list of songs to avoid if you plan to keep your dignity, because they inevitably reflect poorly on your character; alternately, if someone you might be interested in sings one of these, cross them off your list of potentials.

Fancy - Reba McIntyre

It's a song about a mother whoring out her white trash daughter to save the family. Singing this says, "I have issues in my past you don't want to even contemplate, much less deal with."

Copacobana - Barry Manilow

If you're an openly gay man, perhaps you can get away with it. Otherwise, it says, "I'm still buried deep in the closet, and am desperately trying to get laid by a woman in the hopes it'll make me feel better about myself."

Let's Get it On - Marvin Gaye

I love me some Marvin Gaye, but singing this song at karaoke just screams "trying too hard." Alternately, it says, "I'm the kind of guy who stares at myself in any available mirror while dancing in public."

Before He Cheats - Carrie Underwood

This one says many things: "I watch American Idol obsessively," for one; "I am stupid enough to leave incriminating evidence behind me if I'm going to commit a crime of passion," for another; and, perhaps most importantly, "I am fully willing to reenact these lyrics on anyone who is foolish enough to take me home tonight."

Please feel free to leave your own contributions in the comments.



Perhaps this is obvious to everyone else, but I think not. So often people wear ridiculous costume jewelry without any sense of how . . . well, ridiculous it looks.

There's a difference between wearing a piece that clearly isn't meant to look real, and one that is and fails. This post addresses the latter.

How to pull off costume jewels:
  1. Don't go too big. This is the biggest mistake people make--they buy something humongous that they could clearly not afford if it were real. The bigger the stone, the less likely you are to have been able to afford it. You want to try and find stuff where the stone is just larger than what the average person could buy, so that it makes an impact without straining credulity.
  2. Silver tone is easier to pull off than gold. Fake gold shows its wear quicker, and also more often looks "off" in color. Platinum and white gold and silver and surgical steel, on the other hand, are interchangeable enough that the average person isn't going to be able to determine the difference in a cursory glance.
  3. Look at the craftsmanship. Costume jewelry often looks costumey because of shoddy construction. Examine the piece closely--are the stones set crookedly? Are there little bits of solder where there shouldn't be? Are the prongs straight and even? Is the metal properly polished? You might not consciously register these details, but the eye does catch them, and then the piece reads as cheap. (Incidentally, these are things you should check for when buying real jewelry, too.)
  4. Examine the cut and color of the stone. I think it's rare that colored costume jewelry is convincing; cubic zirconium, on the other hand, is easy to come by in a decent quality. The cut should simulate a real gemstone; often, costume jewelry has fewer facets in it than a real stone would.
  5. Wear it casually. Normal people often wear costume jewelry when they get dressed up; it's almost expected. Rich people are insouciant enough to throw diamonds on with a pair of jeans.
  6. Don't wear too many pieces or fake stones in a single piece. Go for one or two stones at absolute most. Again, if you're dripping in so many fakes that you'd have to be a sheik to afford them all, no one will believe that they're real. A minimalist bezel-set pendant is easier to believe than a pair of chandelier earrings.
  7. If you can, go for high quality costume. You can get real stones set in sterling; it saves quite a bit of money (gold is at $1500/ounce right now!), and looks very nearly as good. Gold vermeil (sterling plated with real gold) is also a good option, as long as you're wearing the piece only occasionally, since eventually the plating will rub off.

A side benefit to this (the main benefit being that you look nice) is that shopkeepers are more likely to treat you with deference if you're wearing good jewelry. I'm not sure about anyone else, but I enjoy being treated like I could drop several hundred dollars on a whim.


the tango shoe post pt. 2

So the first tango shoe post had me scouring the internet for pictures I could use, and (of course) in the process I came across a few pairs I wanted.

I caved today and put a deposit down on these.

They're a special production: larger in the toe box and regular in the heel (which is exactly what I need with my freakish feet, and is pretty hard to come by). They're also a regular leather, which should last me quite awhile, and nude shoes are always sexy (even though the background for this shot isn't as flattering as it could be.) And I needed something slightly more practical than what I currently own.

I had hemmed and hawed awhile about these, but after today I decided I needed some motivation to finish the school year. I'll pay the rest of the cost the day I finish my grades for the semester, so that I have something to look forward to. They'll be winging their way to me quite soon after that.

Compared to the recent birthday splurge of a friend (a convertible Audi to replace her recently-sold SUV), two hundred dollar dance shoes seem like a perfectly reasonable reward.


a week in pictures

My friend Kate pledged, as a present to her parents, to send them a picture a day for a year. When she started posting them on facebook, I decided I wanted in, so she and I, and my sister and I, have been exchanging photos for the last few months.

These are my photos from this past week.

The long-saved bottle of champagne, opened in honor of Ghosts of a Tired Universe finally going live.

Sometimes--there's Spring--so quickly!

Two of my girl friends dancing tango together.

The black graffiti on the bottom reads "Fuck Jan Brewer." I laughed.

The view from my table at La Cocina, where I listened to live blues while grading papers.

Grandma's Easter gift to J, which she has been loyally carting around all week.

The bedroom seems so peaceful when it's clean.