Thursday, March 10, 2016

A note about making your own happiness

Last year I guy I should have dumped way sooner bought me a little wooden sign to put on a shelf that said something like "Just to save some time, let's assume I'm right."

These things aren't really my style. I have nothing against them in other people's homes, but to be honest they remind me of the worst people I've had in my life and I just don't care fo r these knickknacks in my own home. Plus this sign had an ugly green background, like split pea soup gone bad. Just overall not a great thing to keep around.

But I was trying to be a better person, which meant being more gracious, so I put the stupid, ugly sign on top of my bookshelf where I saw it four or five times a day as I walked past.

I finally parted ways with the guy (better late than never, I suppose) but the sign stayed. And every day I passed it, and it reminded me of the horrible people who used to be in my life, and it reminded me of the guy I just dumped and, quite frankly, how nobody else was thinking enough of me to even give me shitty gifts that I hated, and I wasn't exactly beating the boys back with a stick.

I tried to give it away in a box of other stuff marked "free" that I left in the lobby of my building. After a week I brought what was left back up to my apartment. This stupid sign was still in there. I hate being wasteful and I was raised to have some basic respect for the environment, so the thought of just tossing it really didn't sit right with me. So the box marked "free" sat on my dining room table for a week, with that stupid sign right on top, where I saw it four or five times a day and I was again reminded of all that depressing stuff.

Then one day, I felt like painting but had nothing to paint on. I'm no Rembrandt, in fact I just recently started learning how to paint and draw after being reminded last year how much fun it was to use coloring books again. I sometimes bring home signs left over from meetings because they're great to paint on, but I was out. I did one more lap around the apartment to make sure I hadn't missed one somewhere, when my eyes happened upon that stupid sign.

I grabbed it, went back to my desk and started dribbling some paint into a tray. Half an hour later, I'd obliterated the obnoxious slogan and the nauseating green background. It took a few coats but I was finally happy with the color. Then - swipe! slash! dash! - I'd put in branches, and dab-dab-dab, some wee berries.

A masterpiece? Hardly. But it's back on top of my bookshelf, and when I walk by it makes me think of cardinals in the snow, or spring buds, or lots of other awesome things that make me happy, like painting and generally being crafty.

So, a note about making your own happiness. Instead of spending small moments every day being reminded of crummy people and crummy experiences, do what you can to remind yourself of awesome stuff. Maybe it's not as easy as painting over some stupid sign, but look around. Find a way to fit wee berry branches in where once there was a stupid, ugly, slogan sign. Own your own happiness just a little bit more than you own your misery, and little by little you'll find that you have more of the good and less of the bad.

And always keep a little paint on hand, just in case.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Hawks win!

Copyright 2013 Meg McCart

©2013 Meg McCart

So last night I was strolling down Hubbard near LaSalle, saw some folks sitting outside and watching the game through the windows of a bar. I asked how the Hawks were doing, they were down 2-1. I said, "For now." The guy was nervous that there were only 2 minutes left. I told him that was plenty of time.

Before I reached the end of the block, all the bars near me erupted in cheers. I stood on the corner, waiting for the light. By the time the light changed, another cheer went up, much louder. Cars honked and cabbies waved to each other as I crossed the street. "Go Hawks!" echoed up and down the street. I turned south on LaSalle, and two blocks away the whole city erupted around me. Horns, cheers, and (almost immediately) sirens rang out in the night. Our boys did it again.

I moseyed back to the subway. A guy with a British accent asked directions to Union Station. He was distracted with texting someone and seemed confused about the honking and shouting. I told him "our team won the hockey championship." He said, "Already? Good on them. Go Hawks." A crowd of revelers lurched by. "They went, man! They already went!" someone called to the lost Brit.

All the way back to the subway, there was honking and cheering. Cabbies and bicyclists high-fiving each other at red lights. Rich white people returning calls of "Go Hawks!" to homeless people. Everyone was beaming. That walk last night will be, by far, one of my favorite city memories of all time.

Copyright 2013 Meg McCart

©2013 Meg McCart

Friday, April 23, 2010

Welcome to the 21st century, Archie Andrews

I thought my last post about Archie would be all there was to say about the Riverdale gang, but our favorite 60-year-old ginger is back in the news. This time, Archie Comics is introducing its first gay character, one Kevin Keller. The press release says it's to keep the franchise current, which makes sense. In this digital age it's hard to compete with online comics, and keeping "Archie properties reflective of the current world of teens and teen media" is a smart move.

According to a CNN article, Kevin catches Veronica's eye after he beats Jughead in a burger eating contest. Veronica tries to snag "the new hottie" to no avail, and Kevin confides in Jughead that he's got nothing against Veronica; he's gay. There's a glaring problem here for fans of the series: anybody who beats Jughead at a burger eating contest doesn't catch her eye, he catches her disdain. However, he's presented as a hunk so it's likely that Ronnie would overlook his gluttonous behavior and go after him anyway. I'm sure she only redoubles her efforts to get him when he spurns her advances. I digress.

It's good of Archie Comics to inlcude a gay character, even if the introduction is made in an edition of "Veronica" and not "Archie." This makes me wonder if he'll be an occasional character they throw in once in a while for a taste of diversity, like Chuck and Nancy.

I've thought about this press release all day because it seems like coming out of the closet or having a gay character in a popular series just isn't a big deal any more. When "I Love Lucy" approached the subject of Lucy's pregnancy sixty years ago, it was a big deal but now it seems quaint. Sixty years from now, sending press releases about a gay character will also seem quaint, and our grandchildren will giggle and shake their heads at what prudes we are. We can only hope.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

DING-ZING-THWACK, the sweetest song

A year ago I came across a typewriter on ebay. A whopping $10, plus $10 shipping. I thought, "How cute! I'll use it to write my great American novel!"

It came in the mail a week later. I immediately started pounding away on the old keys, the THWACK of each keystroke felt like I was using some brand new power that only I could possess. The power, unfortunately, didn't extend to making words appear on the paper - the dry ribbon was my Kryptonite.

I went to a local shop had ribbons cheap and typewriter advice even cheaper. I bought two ribbons, so great and sure was my dream to write my best-selling novel that I figured I'd need two ribbons, maybe one for the original and one for the editing. After all, the box wasn't that much smaller than the box most Inkjet cartridges come in, so it must be good for a few thousand pages, right?

I came home and, fool that I am, whipped the old cartridge off the machine and threaded the new one in. I didn't take a picture of how it was supposed to go, and had no idea, and in fact didn't even really glance at the set-up before I took the old reel off. It was two hours and six Google searches before I got it back the way it should be, or at least close to it. It still fights me on some letters, and double-taps others until at the end of a page it looks more like the crazed manifesto of a violent lunatic than a simple short story.

After a few days of sporadically typing away on the old machine the novelty wore off. I put it back in its case and stored away where it gathered dust and cobwebs for the better part of a year.

For a few weeks in the following year I was desperately trying to write something - anything - that would pay my bills and put food on the table and maybe afford me the opportunity to go out with my friends once in a while.

Typing on the computer held so many distractions - email buzzing, Facebook and Twitter and all kinds of other super-connected crap was going off all the time. I just wanted everyone to shut up a minute and let me finish my thoughts, but every time I tried to disconnect my computer, it resulted in endless "network error" pop-up messages. Hissing at the computer, "Yes, I know. I unplugged it! Shut up and go away!" as I jabbed at the little yellow error box was more than enough to make me lose my train of thought.

And even when the connectivity (or lack thereof) problems were at a minimum, there was the problem of the writing itself. I am a lazy typist. I leave my wrists on the desktop, inviting Carpel Tunnel syndrome to my wrists and endless fatfingered typos to my writing. If something is misspelled, I immediately fix it just to make the little squiggly line go away.

This instant editing issue doesn't just apply to typos but to poorly developed paragraphs, sentences that didn't carry the subtle nuance and sly wit that will get any editor anywhere desperate to publish anything you ever write, ever, right down to your grocery list.

And so you go back and fix it. And fixate on it. And delete and backspace and cut and paste and undo for an hour. And then you realize you've spent an hour writing one stupid sentence while the endless, heartless blank pages of your word processing program stretch on without any concept of "end."

Suddenly you realize that you could write a thousand pages - a million - and it would never be enough for this program. You will always be either one third or two-thirds of the way down the page. The beginning and end were melded seamlessly into the middle and it all runs together in one pristine, white window on your screen.

I was talking with a friend of mine about the problems of writing on the computer. She said something along the lines of getting a typewriter. I took a sip of my rum and coke and nodded. Typewriter. Sure. Spoken by someone who obviously didn't know what a hassle it was to type and edit on a machine, and how much White-Out costs. Whatever.

That night, full of rum and vigor and questionable tacos, the typewriter was the best idea in the world. And of course it was my idea - always had been, always would be. Sure enough, after pulling the plastic case out of hiding and setting up on the dining room table, the old giddiness came back as my fingers danced across the keys. Danced is probably the wrong word.

The keys had to move a few inches to meet the page so holding the classic home keys position was out of the question. My wrists no longer sat idly on the desk. I had to use force to put words to paper as my fingers bounced around the keyboard. I imagined myself a great piano player, knocking out one of Rachmaninoff's trickier Opuses. Things were really on a roll.

The force of my typing ignited the force of my progress. Going back to fix a typo or re-write a line was out of the question. White-out took too long to dry. Correction tape stuck to the letters and left the offending, unwanted type exposed and helpless on the page. So, I barreled on. Re-typing the word with the correct spelling got to be cumbersome and time-consuming, so typos littered each page like a swarm of locusts. (Or locsts, according to the typewriter.)

It wasn't just unedited typos. Sentences that hadn't ended up the way I expected went unchecked. And before I knew it, I was at the end of one page - two pages, three; my progress was finally tangible. The DING-ZING that separated each line of type was like a miniature cheer squad: "DING! You just finished a line! Try another! ZING! Way to go!" The cheers faded into the background as the manual line advancement became second nature and I found myself at the bottom of the page with little nor no memory of the thirty DING-ZINGs that had gotten me there.

Was there anything in life more satisfying? Something more than maniacal pounding of the keys, my own DING-ZING cheer squad, and a pile of proof that I was moving forward and making progress? Well, sure, the world is a big place full of awesome things. But at two in the morning, very few things compare to that THWACK-tastic concert on my dining room table.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Container Vegetable Gardening: A City Dweller's Adventure, Part 2

There are great resources to cut down on the cost of supplies. This is what I did to get around those hefty price tags:

Containers: you don't need to go to the store and buy planters. Any container that can hold dirt and survive the weather is fine. This includes:
  • Buckets (like the $5 paint buckets at places like Home Depot)
  • Wine crates (most liquor stores are ok with handing these over for free)
  • Reusable cloth shopping bags
  • The bags that the store-bought dirt comes in. Just open the top of the bag, plant your veggie, and recycle the bag at the end of harvest
  • Old, broken wagons (these are best for shallow-soil veggies like lettuce)
  • Drawers from a dresser that's being thrown out
  • Trash cans
I mean, really, anything that will hold dirt and won't be destroyed by water will work. Just remember that they need to be able to drain. This means have holes in the bottom (which you can make with just a hammer and nail, or an ice pick, a drill, whatever) and it needs to sit at least an inch or two off the ground (you can set the container on bricks).

If these options aren't for you, try looking for free planters, or try Freecycle. I complained about the price of containers in my Facebook status, and a friend told me to come get her old containers that her husband bought but was never going to use. You can also find really great deals on planters after Labor Day. As soon as you see Christmas decorations going up at stores, run right over to get great deals on containers, dirt, all that stuff. Those deals won't help you if you're looking to start gardening right this minute, but they're great money savers on stuff you'll use next year.
As for dirt, there are endless possibilities. First, getting dirt from a public park, forest preserve, etc is actually illegal in most places so don't bother. Next time you see a construction site, go talk to someone there to see if you can haul off a little dirt. They usually don't care, but you have to ask first.
My favorite source of free dirt came to me every other week at my boring desk job. We had a company that cared for our office plants, and every other week they changed out the small flower pot on my desk. I asked the guy if they were just throwing out the flowers and he said, "Yeah. Why? You want this? Here take it. Enjoy!" So every other week, whether I liked the plant or not, I took it home and lovingly nurtured it, watering it, talking to it, giving it a good home. None of them lived longer than two weeks in my apartment. So I threw out the plant, but saved the dirt in a shopping bag. I also saved the plastic container the plant came in to use when my seedlings sprouted. From November to March, I managed to get one and a half shopping bags of dirt for free.
So go now, and get your reused containers and dirt. Ask your friends, relatives, and neighbors who garden about their gardening tips. Seasoned gardeners are usually pretty excited to help out novices and sometimes they'll throw some freebies your way - food spikes, gardening gloves, planters, etc. I'll post more on this as the season goes on.

Nate Games Escape the Room Walkthrough

Ridiculously frustrating. Hard is fun, stupid hard is no good.

To separate an item, click on your bag, then go to the separate tab. Double click item to separate.

On the hammer screen: swipe right to left until the power bar gets to the blue area where the arrow is blinking. When it's in that area, click "break". If you don't have the reflexes for that, keep hitting the hammer til it's past that point and wait for it to go back down.

Room 1:
Keys (in side table with lamp)

1.Separate the keys (click on your bag, go to the Separate tab, double-click the keys).
2.Use the purple one on the door.

Room 2:


Note (on desk)
Knife (in right cabinet in second room)
Hammer (from safe - code is on note and changes with every game)
*Don't worry about the waste paper in the trash can. You can get it and separate it to find a key, but I don't know what the key goes to so don't bother.

Use the knife on the poster in the second room. In that game, move the circle through the path without touching the sides. It's a different path every time you cut the poster. Use the hammer to break the brick. Take the small key.

Use the small key on the box on the lower right corner of the second room. Click again for the baseball game. This is a real hassle.

The code changes every time it starts. So if you fail the first time and try again without closing anything, you have a new code. You have to guess the numbers and put them in the right order. The lights tell you when you have something right. They don't represent the position of the number. For example, if you have two lights on the S row, it doesn't mean the first two numbers are right it just means two of the numbers are right. You have to figure out which two.

The first row of lights (S) stands for correct numbers in the correct spot. Let's say you get two lights and you have:


That means two of those numbers are right. So you decide to change the three, and there are still two lights - GOOD! That means 1 and 7 are in the right place. If you only get one light, that means 3 is one of the right numbers so change it back.

The second row of lights (B) stands for correct numbers in the wrong place. Let's say you have the same numbers again:


Three B lights means you have them in the wrong order, so it might be 173 or 371 or some other combination of those three. What a damn hassle.

Winning that game opens the door.

Room 3:

Water bottle (shelves on upper right)
Hammer (by chairs)
LP Record (under rug)
Capsule (on table - the red one)
Camera (under window)
Lighter (between shelves on lower left and the wood pile by fireplace)
Sodium (in safe - see below)

Separate the camera to get film. Put film in fireplace. Use lighter to light fireplace. Use magnifying glass to read the words above the fireplace. Note the red letters. This is the code to the safe. Get sodium.

Combine sodium and capsule. Combine sodium capsule and water bottle. Put the bottle in the hole under the clock. Once the wall blows, use the hammer to open up the wall and walk through.

Get cheese from glass cabinet (upper right). Use LP record on record player to scare the mouse (in the glass case, lower left) back into the next room. Go back to the first room, use cheese on the small hole to get mouse key. Separate mouse key for key, go back to second room, escape!

Room 4:


Batteries (from metal cabinet in second room)
Remote Control (from safe - see below)

You remember when you used to type 58008 into a calculator and turn it over and it spelled BOOBS? This is kind of like that, but you're spelling LOSE. Upside down, that's 3507.

Combine batteries and remote. Use remote on door to exit. I don't know why you have to get the pliers or the dust cloth, but if you want to go ahead.

Room 5:


Chalk (from spiderweb to the left of the stairs)
Key (from desk)
Screwdriver (from cabinet, use key)
Knife (from box under the computer screen)

You have a lighter and candle in your bag. Combine those and use those around the room until the candle goes out. You're looking for a place where there is wind to blow the candle out, so if the candle is out you've found a part of the floor to break through. Play the game once, then hit the hole again with the hammer and head downstairs.

When you get the screwdriver, use it on the red dot on the box under the computer screen. Get the knife. Combine knife and chalk for some fingerprint dust. Use this on the upper part of the door (where the buttons are). See the numbers covered in chalk? Those are the ones that people press (leaving finger prints) so it's some combination of those numbers. There are 24 combinations, so get clicking! Once you find the code, open the door to escape.

Room 6:

Hammer (shelves on the upper right)
Tape (cabinet in the upper left)
Valve (break glass on left wall with hammer)
Pipe (the smallest one on the right wall)
Put the tape on the blue spot on the window. Hit the taped spot with the hammer, get the electronic card. Use the card on the door.

Get 3L cup (on shelves next to the door) and 5L cup (on table, bottom right). Put the valve on on the nozzle (yellow circle by the table) and fit the pipe on the pipe with water leaking out of it. Fill the 3L cup, combine with 5L cup. Repeat (fill, combine) and now the 3L cup has 1L in it. Dump out the 5L glass ("use" it on the table is fine) and combine the 3L and 5L again. Now the 5L glass has 1L of water. Fill the 3L again, dump it into the 5L, and now the 5L glass has 4L in it. Got all that? Great.

Put the 5L cup in the freezer (upper part of the fridge). Close the door, open the door, and it's ice. Separate the cup and the ice, put the ice on the scale and get the heck out of there.

Room 7:

Poster on right wall
Magnifying glass (under clock on upper left)
Wire (in right most locker

Use the magnifying glass on the door. Oh no it's blocked! Put the poster under the door. Use the wire on the door lock, then grab the poster again. You've got the key, and you're on your way.

I don't know what the magnet is for (table, lower left) but grab it if you're partial to magnets.

Room 8

Ruler under cabinet (middle lower wall)
Key (under metal shelves - use ruler)
Empty note and pencil on table (bottom right)
CD case (bookshelves)
Wall clock
Screwdriver (in toolbox; use key from under metal shelves)
Combine screwdriver and wall clock. Look at all those numbers! Combine the pencil and empty note. Go back to the Use tab and read it. "The key is piece of wall clock"? English teachers everywhere just shivered. Go to the papers on the left wall by the door. So...three short beeps is three, one long one is five...ok, got it. Separate the CD case. Put CD 1 in the computer (box to the right of the keyboard) and listen. How many short and long beeps? I got 3, 7, 11, 2. For those of you not hip to Roman numerals, that's III, VII, XI, and II. So put those in the rectangles on the floor from left to right and hit the red button on the floor. You're free!

Room 9:


Medals box (drawer on bottom right)
Torn tube (bottom shelf on the bottom right)
Tape (cabinet, right wall)
Gift (metal locker)
Soda (desk)
Sharp knife (box on floor)
Air pump (floor, bottom left)
Sunglasses (cabinet on bottom left)
Hammer (in box on bookshelves, left wall)

Separate the sunglasses and put the lens in the contraption by the desk. Specifically, in the hole that's kind of above the plant. See where the laser points? Hit that with the hammer. Oh look, a medal!

Flip through the book on the desk two or three times. There's another medal. Separate the gift to get the teddy bearCombine the knife and the teddy bear. Another medal!

Now look on the left wall between the cabinet and the bookshelves. See that piece of gold? It's the last medal, but you won't be able to reach it. Combine the tape and broken tube. Put the mended tube between the cabinet and the bookshelves. Use the air pump on the tube to separate the furniture, then grab the medal. Combine the medals and the medal box, go to the Use tab and click again to open a puzzle.

The code is 0064. (16 sections x 4 rows) You get the rusty key. Combine it with the soda to get the regular key and try not to dwell on what sort of sick mind came up with this game as you exit the room.

Room 10:


Toothpaste (drawer to the right of the door)
Wire (in plant by window)
Cane (by desk, second room)
Screwdriver (metal cabinet)
Magnet (in hole in wall; use cane)

Combine wire and magnet. Use on fireplace to get rusty iron plate. Use screwdriver on plate above door (first room) to get memory card if you feel like you need it. For this level, you don't. You also don't need the axe above the fireplace or the beeswax in the cabinet in the second room. Combine rusty iron plate and toothpaste to clean the plate and get the code to the safe, where you will find a fire extinguisher. Use it on the fire and exit through the fireplace.

Room 11

Hammer (on floor)
Claw hammer (in drawer, lower right)
Flashlight (desk)
Diary (bookshelves, the left part of the bottom shelf)

Use hammer to smash the face of the statue on the left to get copper wire. Use the claw hammer to grab the nail out of the wall above the purple chair. Separate the flashlight to get batteries. Combine copper wire, batteries, and nail to make a magnet. Drop that mess into the pit in the middle of the floor to get the small key. Use the small key on the little panel on the upper right side to get the red electronic card. Put that card in the red slot by the door. Open the diary to see a note. Santa? Oh, Christmas. Sure, because everybody celebrates Christmas so of course everybody would get this clue and not have to look up when Christmas is...sure. So the code to the safe is 1225. Get the blue electronic card, stick it in the door and shake a leg on to room 12.

Room 12


Sharp knife (cabinet, upper left)
Small key (second cabinet from the left, second room)
Hammer (in pipe, third room)
Cutting machine (in chest, use small key)
Teddy bear (under bed)
Note 1 (trash can)
Note 2 (in teddy bear; use sharp knife)
Note 3 (in glass cabinet above desk in first room; use hammer)
Note 4 (in crate in second room, use hammer)
Note 5 (behind poster in second room; use sharp knife and hammer)
Note 6 (in smaller part of machine in third room; turn wheel by machine to open)

To get to the third room, use the cutting machine to snip the wires on the pipe next to the chest in the second room. Gather up all the notes then pull out your calculator. Oh, but there's something missing, right? What does Z equal? Take your sharp knife and cut that ugly picture by the door in the second room, then use the magnifying glass to get some haps on Z. Plug your final number (4268) into the door and take a deep breath: here comes room 13.

Room 13


Note (bookshelves)
Yellow iron plate (glass case)
Blue iron plate (in box by window)
Green iron plate (in green vase on desk, lower right)
Red iron plate (kind of under the desk in upper by the drawers)
Black iron plate (on couch, between the two white and red pillows)
Lighter (in drawer under phone)

The note isn't very well written. In clue B (yellow and blue are at the end of black), think of it as book ends. I kept trying to start off with black and put blue and yellow at the opposite end. But they actually are just on either side of black. Also, "smallest on the left" means "left" if you're standing in the room look at the wall. Since you aren't, put the plates in the opposite direction (with smallest on the right). Still stumped? Start with yellow closest to the wall cabinet, then go black, blue, green, red, so red is closest to the bottom wall. The cabinet opens and you get a key.

Use the key to open the chest and get an orange-scented note. Combine this with the lighter to get the code for the door. Enter the second room.


Glue (left cabinet on upper left)
Bottles (on shelf on right wall)

Fill 7L, combine with 3L. Dump 3L, combine 7 and 3 again. This gives you 1L in the 7L bottle. Dump this into the 10L bottle and repeat. Now you have 2L in the 10L bottle. Fill the 3L again and put that in the 10L - now you have 5L in the 10L bottle.

Now, take the 3L bottle, fill it and dump it into the 7L bottle 3 times. This gives you 7L in the 7L bottle and 2L in the 3L bottle. Dump the 7L bottle, combine 3L & 7L bottle, then fill the 3L again and dump it into the 7L. Now you have 5L in the 10L bottle and 5L in the 7L bottle. Holy crap that hurt my head.

One bottle on each side of the scale opens the scale's door; take the red book. Put it in the bookshelf on the right wall, where the red books are missing a volume. Oh look! A hole in the wall. Get me out of here!

Third room


Tennis ball (cabinet on right wall) Combine glue and tennis ball. Go back to the second room, put the sticky ball on the air pressure machine nozzle (middle of top wall) and turn the wheel on the machine. This is where things start getting really stupid.

Use the super magnifying glass on the tiny little speck next to the mess you made with the air compressor. Who the hell would think to use the magnifying glass there? That's a great example of why this game is more obnoxious than fun - who thinks to look at a speck that you don't even notice until someone tells you there's a speck there? Whatever. It's a diamond. Go back to the third room and use it on the glass.

Then you're done. Where's the mad scientist? What, no "good job" at the end? Whatever. Why expect a payoff in a game that's meant to make you angry instead of entertained? I'm so sick of this game that I'm not even going to go back over this walk through and check for grammar, spelling, and layout errors. Suck it, Nate Games. Enjoy my $3. Jerks.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Container Vegetable Gardening: A City Dweller's Adventure, Part 1

I'm lucky enough to live in a city that embraces green living. Chicago embraces green living, from a sprawling public transit program to the environmental programs at city hall, and even our beloved Museum of Science and Industry, we embrace our environment.

Another wonderful part of my life is my back porch. I live in an apartment building that has shops on the first floor and apartments in the upper floors. Right outside my back door is a large rooftop that gets lots of sun all day long, and this is where I grew a tomato plant in a large container two years ago.

This year I'm really branching out. With the patient help of Maria at Green Home Experts, the knowledgeable folks at Home Depot, and the endless info from the web (GardenWeb is a vast fount of info), I'm going to plant tomatoes, eggplants, and sweet peppers in containers this year. Almost all of it will be experimental. This post is for those considering growing veggies on a balcony or similar settings. After a lot of reading and asking the sort of questions that exasperate people, here are some basics:

First, gardening is expensive. A self-watering container (where you can put the water in the bottom and the soil slurps up the water from the reservoir in the bottom) are usually $25 each. You have to pay for dirt. Dirt. As in that stuff you track in on your shoes and sits around largely unused in parks everywhere. And dirt is expensive. Then there's the cost of plants (or seeds and seeding trays), plant food, and all the superfluous crap everyone tries to sell you that you don't even need.

Second, unless you have a really stellar situation, you're not going to grow enough food to cut down significantly on your grocery bill. At least not in the first year. In fact, if you're growing enough plants in containers to really supplement your grocery bill it will be a few years before you save enough at the grocery store to cover the costs of supplies.

Third, the dirt you get from a bag isn't as good as dirt from the ground. The ground has whole ecosystem in place with great bacteria (no, really, it's good) that really help your plants thrive. Try to get some garden dirt if you can. You don't need to fill up the whole container with it, but it's good to have some in there. The great news is that gardening in containers really, really cuts down on the weeds.

Lastly, please don't go hog wild at the nursery. Figure out what you'd like to try, keep in mind what you're really willing to take care of (if carrying water out to your balcony for eight plants is too much work, cut it down to something manageable), and ask lots and lots of questions about what you're planting and your plants' needs. Make sure you know how much sun your gardening area gets, because if you don't know that then your questions are really hard to answer.

Don't let gardening intimidate you! Some plants will flourish and some won't, and each time you learn something new. Just keep one thought in mind: "There's always next year." With the diverse resources available online and likely around town, you can get really great advice from people who are excited to teach you things. I'm a novice myself, and in this blog I'm going to bring together some hints and tips I've found to help ease others into the wide, wild world of container gardening.

How I Met Your Lame 5th Season

I was reading this article about How I Met Your Mother today, and I'm starting to wonder if the show's writers are forgetting one thing: while the title of the show makes it sound like the show's purpose is for Ted to meet his wife, the actual purpose is to entertain us.

The problem with this season of HIMYM is they're focusing on one character trait of one character in a show whose strength comes from the ensemble. While not as narrow in scope as the Barney Stinson problem, a similar situation happened with Monica on Friends by the end of that show. She was just nuts. Neurotic, addicted to cleaning, and not the witty and fun woman we met at the beginning of the show.

Barney is the sort of character that is best left on the side, checking in with his deviance as the other characters go about their multi-faceted lives. While it's true that he's a crowd favorite, he's basically got one interest - getting laid - and that's not much of a story line for him. Other great shows have had great kooky characters that were stronger when they were kept in check by the other more stable characters. Think JJ on Good Times (before they killed James) and Kramer on Seinfeld. They were great as part of a strong ensemble. Also, Jack and Karen on Will & Grace. These people were hilarious foils and friends in their shows, but they wouldn't be fun to watch all the time.

Just like that guy you know who is always saying something funny, no matter what, and even though what he says is actually funny, after a while you get tired of having to keep up with him all the time. Every other sentence he says is a demand for a reaction from you - a giggle, a guffaw, a smirk - and after a while it's just tiresome. It's the same thing with Barney. Yes, you get laid a lot, yes you have a lot of opinions about dating and women (and I completely agree about the Lemon Law), but it's enough.

HIMYM is turning into the Barney Stinson show, and a show like that can't sustain the humor and warmth that we've come to expect from HIMYM. It's like I'm tuning in to watch Friends, but instead I'm stuck watching Joey.

The writers don't want Ted to meet the mother of his children because that would mean the end of the show. It makes sense that they want to do filler shows to prolong their paychecks. But don't turn this into Scrubs, which was loved and lauded at its start and has since become a down-and-out lame and limping old gray nag; a shadow of its former self and a prime example of a show that has well outlived its relevance.

If you can't deliver lively, interesting story lines about five lively, interesting people living in New York, it's time to call it quits and go out on a high note. Even Barney Stinson would agree it's the classy thing to do.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

AT&T U-Verse vs Comcast

Here is a summary:

Price: Uverse charges more for HD channels, Comcast has free broadcast HD channels
OnDemand: AT&T's is pathetic, Comcast has lots of free movies & shows
Phone service: similar for both
Internet: no noticeable difference
DVR: AT&T is good for non-HD users (see below), Comcast let you record only two shows at once

I had Comast for four or five years and it was good but it was kind of pricey. There were also some small things that were kind of annoying (like not being able to watch OnDemand while two shows were recording). U-Verse came to the area claiming lower prices and sweeping me off my feet with the promise of recording four shows at once. Switching to U-Verse was on my to-do list but when a co-worker said they were handing out $300 Visa gift cards to switch I got on the horn and got the ball rolling.

In late February, I took half a day off and waited for the tech to come out. He was due to be there by 5:00 but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and didn't call to check on his whereabouts until 5:30. Nobody could tell me where he was or if he was coming. I called back six times between 5:30 and 8:30. The fifth time I was transferred to an office that had closed for the day. I called right back and told the first person who answered the phone, "Just cancel it. This is ridiculous. Cancel the whole damn thing." The guy said, "Great," and hung up on me.

I called back the next day to make sure they were canceling the order and the rep told me there was a technical issue and they apologized for the inconvenience and promised to cancel it.

A few weeks later I got eight calls in five days from them asking me to call them. Whatever the problem had been, they fixed it. I wrote that day in Feb off as a one-time snafu and gave them another try. The guy was prompt, friendly, knowledgeable, and professional. There was some wiring issue in my apartment building's phone box so he had to call out a special tech at 4:00 to fix it. The first tech stayed as long as he could but he had to leave at 4:30. The lineman came out and fixed the box later that evening and the first tech was back promptly the next morning and everything was installed properly.

While he was cleaning up his tools and things I was playing with the remote and trying to set up recordings. When I tried to set up HD channels to record, it said "doesn't allow recording." That's when I found out it's $10 a month extra to have HD, even for broadcast channels like ABC, NBC, CBS, etc. What the hell? These were all included with Comcast.

The tech left and I went online to program my TV from my computer. This is a useful feature that I wish Comcast would offer. I couldn't use my existing Yahoo address to set up my account so I had to open another Yahoo address via AT&T, an annoying process that should be eliminated for people who already have a Yahoo account.

When I tried to set up HD recordings, it kept telling me that there were conflicts even though there were only two recordings set in one time slot. I didn't understand why it wouldn't let me set up the promised four recordings at a time so I called up customer service again.

Apparently you only get two HD lines at a time. So you can still do four shows, but not four HD shows. I was irritated because I paid for the whole TV and I wanted to watch the whole TV, not just the middle of the screen which is what I have to do when I'm watching non-HD media. But whatever, I could live with that.

Then it got to where it would only let me set up one HD show at a time. What the hell? I mean come on. It turns out the DVR starts recording one minute early and stops recording one minute late and there is no way to change this. It's a default setting.

So say you have one show set to record at 7:30 and two shows set to record at 8:00. The 7:30 show records until 8:01, while the two 8:00 shows start recording at 7:59. So that's three minutes that you're recording three HD shows at once. but you only have two HD lines so you can't do that. Which means you can only set one show to record at 8, since the 7:30 show is still recording. You can still record up to four shows, as long as they're not HD. So at 8:00 I could record one HD show and up to three non-HD shows. This is what an extra $10 a month gets you from AT&T.

Yesterday I looked at my bill online. There was a $57 charge listed as a "prorated charge." So I called them up again. It turns out your billing cycle has nothing to do with when you signed up, it's on an established cycle for your neighborhood. Also, they pre-bill for the next month. That $57 was for the ten days in the last cycle that I had service, and then I also have to pay for a month that I have not yet used.

$57 isn't a lot to most people but it sure is to me, and by the time they added taxes and fees and all that crap it was $80, which is a big chunk of my budget.

So my bill that was supposed to be $157 is now $235, which is going to mean I'm washing my clothes in the bathtub for a while because $80 is two months of laundry at the laundromat.

I know a lot of people complain that Comcast is expensive and they have bad customer service. I've never had a bad customer service experience from Comcast. Their prices are about the same as AT&T, but they have lots and lots of free shows and movies on demand, while AT&T has no free movies and not a great selection of shows. I can't find any regular broadcast shows on their "Free on Demand" at all. They want to charge me $5.00 to watch the super shitty "All About Steve." I wouldn't watch that movie even if they were the ones paying me to watch it.

They don't even carry CLTV, Chicago's local news channel. With Comcast you can only get it if you pay an extra $10 for a digital box, but at least it's available.

I'm sticking with AT&T just long enough to get my $300 gift card and then I'm running back to Comcast as quick as I can. I'm sorry, Comcast! It was a weak moment! Let's never fight again!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Book review: "Then We Came to the End" by Joshua Ferris

Then We Came to the End Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I picked up this book for two reasons: one, it was written in first person plural and I was interested in seeing what a novel in that POV would be like, and two, it was set in Chicago.

It dragged on a bit at times and there were a lot of characters to keep up with. The author captured the ennui of corporate office life perfectly and by the end of the book I didn't like anybody except Joe, and for the most part I've found that by the time I leave a job (with one or two exceptions) I don't like anybody at the job, so I was as glad to be done with this book as I was to be done with at least 25 of the jobs I've held. The end was also kind of depressing, which also parallels most endings in life.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, August 17, 2009

In defense of Archie

People almost nerdier than I have been all aflutter about the revelation that Archie Andrews is proposing to venemous Veronica Lodge instead of sweet Betty Cooper.

Oh, poor Betty! Long these 50 years has she pined over and fought for the attention of young Archie, the red-headded boy-next-door who is constantly torn between her and her snide, conniving, uber-rich best friend. She's sat idly by while Veronica lures Archie away with money, vamp, cold shoulders and warm embraces.

And all this time, Veronica has treated Archie shabbily, basically treating him like a lap dog she only wants when she can't have anyone else, and when it means taking him away from Betty. She's a tramp, a backstabber - in a word, a bitch.

But I don't feel bad for Betty. In ten years, at the Riverdale High reunion, Archie will be a beaten man and a shadow of his former self. He will be forced to give up his spine for this woman, who will give only terse, barked orders for him to fetch this, take care of that. He will have to give up his best friend, Jughead, because his eating habits and wardrobe aren't "Lodge" enough for Veronica or her father. He will never leave Riverdale, except on the rare occasion that Veronica lets him act as her valet when she travels.

Veronica, having finally won the Archie prize, will grow bored with him three minutes after they leave their wedding reception. She will have a torrid affair with Reggie, and when Moose comes in to town with his NFL team, she will pay off a few security guards to let her into his team's locker room where she will throw herself at him to no avail. She will have men falling over themselves to get at her, and cheat on Archie more times than she can count, and none of those men will fill the void left in her soul that used to be occupied by her best friend, Betty.

Speaking of Betty...

Betty will go on to college, out of state. Brown, perhaps, or Yale. There she will learn to forget Archie and that hussy Veronica, and will throw herself into public works and social science. At a rally for gay rights, she will meet a woman and do a little experimenting. After that falls apart, she will go to some hip little used book store and engage in a long conversation with a handsome young man. The conversation will start with universal health care and end in true love. Over the next few years, they get married and become respected - no, beloved - members of society. She gets a job with a public aid law firm and he works as a doctor treating the poor. They have a few kids and are happy. There is never any question about their love for each other, she has bliss at her side and that sniveling Archie in the far, dim reaches of her past.

So I don't feel bad for Betty. In fact, good for the writers for letting her off the hook to find something better. Had Archie proposed to her, she would have had to work twice as hard to get him through college. Writing his papers, helping him cram for tests, etc. He's a moron, a slow learner. She never would have been part of a healthy relationship. Veronica would always be lurking in the shadows, trying to sabotoge everything. Instead of working with the poor, she would end up working as a law clerk for fifteen years because helping Archie dragged her GPA down to a 2.5, so she never could get it together to take the bar.

In the end, Archie deserves Veronica. He's as rotten as the woman he married. Birds of a feather writhe in misery together. These three have known each other all their lives. If in all this time Archie can't see what a catch Betty is, then to hell with him.

Or maybe he does know. Maybe he's letting her off the hook himself, knowing he'll never be good enough for the likes of her anyway. I'd like to think so. Maybe Jughead pulled him aside and explained it to him, or maybe he got food poisoning at Pop Tate's and had a feverish epiphany.

No matter the means, the end is that the right girl won. And what better prize than to be free of petty fools?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It's more about the action than the standing around looking sad

Five days a week I drive along about four miles of road that is flanked by cemeteries. I hardly notice them on the drive in because traffic is pretty light; we all glide right by. The drive home is a different matter.

We are bumper to bumper, no hope of getting around the 301 bus, sullen about our jobs and stymied by the traffic. Quite a few heads are turned towards the grave stones that dapple the grassy knolls on either side of us. Large monuments, modest head stones, and plaques flat on the ground that are only noticeable because of the plastic flowers standing vigil over them.

Every day my eyes slide across names, birth datess, and death dates of strangers. I wonder the usual questions. What kind of life? What kind of person? How the hell do you pronounce that name?

Then the news broke about the Burr Oak Cemetery fiasco. I noticed fewer people were just casually glancing at the cemeteries and more people were peering across the lawns to catch a glimpse of any wrongdoing. I didn't. Even if these cemeteries were caught up in the same dispicible practice, they'd have sense enough to cut it out until the whole thing cooled down.

Today something caught my eye. Various colors dotted the marble gardens and there was more movement among the trees. People were coming to these cemeteries to make sure their loved ones were resting in peace. Or, just as likely, to see if this cemetery was also up to no good, and to get money for it.

My skepticism was gearing up to reach 11. I shook my head, thinking of how quickly people try to capitalize on everything - even the death of their loved ones. All these people coming to check if they had a case against the cemetery's caretakers, under the guise of paying respects to Aunt Betty.

But I suppose there are some out there who are genuinely checking in on their families' remains. People who were reminded that even the dead could use our attention now and again, even as an afterthought. People who felt hindsighted love for the buried and nearly forgotten. People who cherished memories in private and were now forced to wonder if the last memory of that loved wouldn't be a kind smile or a fond funereal farewell, but the long and laborious fight to make sure the ones they love really do get to rest in peace.

And deep in my skeptical heart, I know that if I were to find out someone had desecrated my grandparents' graves, I wouldn't sue anybody. I'd fuck them up, but I wouldn't bother to sue them. My grandfather was buried in the mid-80's, my grandmother in the mid-90's. They both rest in Kansas, in adjoining plots that I haven't seen since the day we buried my grandmother.

So I'm trying to see the good in people, trying to see each new boquet of flowers scattered around the cemetery as an example of people who love the dead enough to leave the saddest memories alone and keep with them every day the best moments and sweetest thoughts.

I cook with my grandmother's bowls and pans, I keep my towels in a cabinet my grandfather made. I remember playing cards and watching Johnny Carson with the two most stable adults in my childhood. I'll hold on those memories. I'll remember those good, strong, healthy times instead of counting the years that I haven't stood beside their headstone to say words that don't mean as much as I want them to mean.

And I hope each person coming to check on their parents, grandparents, children, and friends will understand that in the end, it's still the thought that counts.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why "Drop Dead Diva" doesn't reel me in

Sure, the show was on Lifetime, but I figured I'd give it the benefit of the doubt and see how it was. After all, Margaret Cho was on it.

"Diva" is the story of some waif who dies and comes back as a fattie. Not a blunt, just a "plus-size" gal. When is Hollywood going to stop giving us this story? "Shallow Hal" tried to throw that same shit down my throat and it was just as disgusting coming from Gwyneth Paltrow. Is this supposed to make skinny people stop making fun of fat people, or is it supposed to make fat people feel ok about themselves? It fails at both goals.

In one scene, Jane (the plus-sized, smart one) is having a small meltdown in her office. Her assistant, played by an almost unrecognizable Margaret Cho, sternly tells Jane to sit down and put her head back. Jane begrudgingly obliges, and Cho sprays Cheez-Whiz in Jane's mouth.

What the hell? You've just told America that fat women only get upset because they want cheese! Which means any valid reasons we might have to get upset will be met with "here, honey - have some Muenster and relax."

Don't get me wrong, I love cheese and have beheld its healing powers. However, don't women of any size have problems enough having their opinions and feelings being taken seriously? Don't we already have to work hard enough to make sure people know we're upset for a valid reason and we aren't just PMSing? The next time I'm lodging a valid complaint with anyone - the car repair place, the landlord, the guy with the teenie peenie - I want to be taken seriously. I don't want to hear "psht, lady, eat a fucking donut and calm the hell down."

So will it keep skinny people from making fun of fat people? No. Nor will it make fat people feel OK about themselves.

It's made clear that you can only be pretty OR smart. None of this pretty smart girl nonsense. And forget finding a fat girl in the city who can't quote Shakespeare, it's just not done. So, fat ladies everywhere, embrace your arcane knowledge of the Civil War and proper preposition placement! It's ok that you're fat because you're really good at crosswords!

There are other things wrong with this show - for example, how come Jane went immediately back to work after taking a bullet for a co-worker? Why would her company let her come back that same day? I tell you what, if I took a bullet for a co-worker and I had to come back to the office for something important (house keys, whatever) and my boss and co-workers were cool with me staying the rest of the day I would fucking quit. "Oh, hey, Meg - how's the flesh wound? Oh I don't mean flesh like you're fleshy, I mean you are fleshy, but I mean...anyway, can you fax this for me?"

Also, how come Jane hasn't been back to her house? I'm guessing the writers on this show have her living with at least three cats.

But the biggest problem with this show is that it wants fat people to both be and feel accepted. If you make a show where being fat is the focal point of the show, then you will never achieve that goal. Just make a show that has some fat people in it, some skinny people in it, and so forth. Like in "Gilmore Girls," where Melissa Murphy played Sookie St James. Nobody ever mentioned her being fat. She never had a very special episode about heart disease. She just went around being Sookie - funny, cute, good at her job. Not the fat girl, just a friend.

So does it make fat people feel better about themselves? Not really. The skinny girl who is "trapped" inside the fat girl (anybody else see the poorly hidden Richard Simmons lesson here?) is constantly bitching about the fat girl's body. When Jane goes to visit Deb's old friend, the friend tells Deb that if the two went out for the night, Jane's body wouldn't get past the velvet rope.

Sure, there's a nice little lesson in there about standing up for yourself and being proud of who you are ("shoulders back, stick out the rack" or something), but really - there are better ways to get that point across than to bombard us with fat stereotypes and two-dimensional characters.

After all, we fatties prefer more robust fare - both on our plates and in our TVs.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Up your nose with a rubber hose, Mr. Network Exec

Dear TV execs,

I understand that you have good reasons to pull shows after they have only aired five episodes. One good reason is low viewership. In this fast paced world where everyone's thoughts, actions and opinions can be broadcast to the world in a nanosecond, you are giving the world exactly one nanosecond to decide to watch the show and then you are giving the show the boot.

Some examples? Pushing Daisies. The Unusuals. Life on Mars. OK, so Pushing Daisies got about three nanoseconds, but you know what I mean. You don't give anyone a chance to know the show, you don't bother to look at how many people are really watching the show (on DVR, online, on their mobile devices), and instead of letting us make a decision on our own you just cram more CSI, Law & Order, and American Idol down our throats. Do those shows sell advertising space? Hell yes they do. But you are just shooting yourselves in the foot. You're missing out on whole demographics of people who would like something more filling.

Next season I'm not going to bother watching any new shows. If they're good they'll get canceled and if they're bad I'm sure they'll be on for four seasons and I can spend some quality time ignoring those shows while I watch Mary Tyler Moore, Good Times, and Bob Newhart.

Speaking of Mary Tyler Moore - did you know they weren't sure if they were going to have more than one season? They did, of course, have many seasons. The network decided to find a good time slot instead of just giving it the boot. Imagine what incredible shows we might have today had you folks not pulled the plugs so early: Freaks & Geeks, for one. It might have run its course by now but it would have found its way into the hearts of millions of viewers. What about My So Called Life? What about Dead Like Me?

And to the writers of the shows that are being picked up for this fall - what the hell were you fighting for in that contract strike a few years ago? The right to get royalties from Two and a Half Men? That show sucks. That's the legacy you want to leave? Next time you strike, ask for something good - like a guaranteed 12 episode run of a show so it has a chance to gain a following. Why are you letting them shit all over your hard work by yanking it so quickly? Some of you work very hard and very well and all you ever get is unemployed. But I digress.

Network heads, stop and ask yourselves why you are picking up a ninth - NINTH - season of Scrubs (which has long since lost its luster) and letting shows like The Unusuals fall by the wayside. Seriously? You're giving Samantha Who the boot and keeping Desperate Housewives? Seriously? Even after that season finale? And you're giving me three new episodes of Pushing Daisies after taking the show away so suddenly? Quit yanking my chain! Either giving me quality TV or don't - but don't keep tricking me into thinking you've come to your senses when obviously you haven't!

How about this - why don't you give bubble shows a summer run? I know most people don't watch a lot of TV in the summer, but that's because everything is in reruns. I would watch summer shows. I'm already looking forward to Monk and Psych. And I know I'm not the only TV addict who would be happy to curl up in front of the air conditioner and get to know a new cast and storyline. After all, what is DVR for if not to record the new stuff in the summer and watch it when you're ready to come in from the heat? But you don't have enough sense to use DVR to your advantange. This leaves me with one option.

I'm done with you. I'm not watching your new drivel this fall. I'm not going to watch something called Cougar Town. I'm going to fill my days with the current shows that I already watch and all the shows you'd never air these days: All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Golden Girls, and all the rest. Play your stupid nano games, I'm gonna go watch TV.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

This means you

I've been trying to figure out how to say this without sounding like it's just another post complaining about my mom. I feel like it's something that needs to be said, and, unfortunately, she is being made into an example. Well, that's her problem. Here goes:

Last night as I watched the numbers rise, as the networks, one by one, announced the winner, I had one thought repeating in my head:

"It's over."

Not just the election (though I'm glad to be rid of that as well) but the eight long years of the ignorance and arrogance of the Bush regime. The dark times were over. It's over.

I watched McCain's concession speech with my jaw agape and tears in my eyes. My mom, a staunch Republican, stood in the kitchen, eating her dinner. Of all the places in the kitchen where she could have stood, she made sure to stand where I could see her. Her back was to me. After McCain's speech I was walking through the kitchen, and she moved as I moved - she made sure her back stayed toward me.

When Obama told his daughters that they had earned a puppy, she scoffed, "Oh, geez." All night long she was making sarcastic comments, following each one with, "Oh, I didn't mean that. I'm just in mourning."

Look, this has to stop. Republicans, don't turn your back on this country. Don't turn your back on this president. Don't wallow in your party's loss when you can be celebrating your country's future. I know you don't see it. You see every bad quality, every evil - real or imagined - all packed into one skinny black senator from Hyde Park. You see in him likely what the rest of us saw in McCain. But look beyond that. We need you.

Democrats have a majority in the Senate, in the House, in the voting booths. But we need you, now more than ever, to make sure that another voice is heard. We need to know that when we are out there making a change, you are out there changing with us. Not because we want you to give up your life's philosophies and turn blue, but because we are all Americans and we are all depending on each other to get this country through these tough times.

Don't turn your back on us, Republicans. We are still one nation, we still share one hope. We still have a common dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The nation can't heal and won't thrive without you. It won't get done on any one party's terms, and it won't get done if we can't work together and face the problems of this nation as a nation united against ignorance and hate.

Don't give America the cold shoulder. It's your America, too. Help us make it something to be proud of again.

And to all of you who went out yesterday and make history in the voting booths, you aren't done. You and I everyone else all have a lot of work to do. Your commitment to this country cannot end after the acceptance speech. Get out. Make a better life for us. Democracy is not a spectator sport. It's time to get in the game.