Monday, April 18, 2011


Here’s another good song title: Debauchery’s “Decadent Depravity of the Dead.” I think they’re onto something there, because that’s certainly one of my own least favorite things about the dead, their decadent depravity. (Every time that crosses my mind, I laugh.)

I got to the point again of thinking I’d return the Internet radio, which was requiring an undue amount of online research, and to confirm I’d be doing the right thing, I switched it from accessing the Internet to accessing my computer, which it has been balky about, but of course it did it perfectly, and back again. I guess it’s time to admit it: I’m in love with this thing, and I will now tell you its name. It is the Squeezebox Boom, from Logitech.

At first I had trouble finding my own childhood rock station, WRIF in Detroit, but what you have to do is visit the radio station’s website and get the URL for the live stream, which is different from the URL for the website itself.

So I’m happily listening to KQED, WRIF, my iTunes playlists, Snakenet, and downloaded episodes of On the Media, Radiolab, Fresh Air, and This American Life, all on one device. Of course, none of this is what I originally wanted the thing for, which is dharma talks, but I’m completely attached to it at this point.

Howie was away this past Tuesday evening and the affable Yvonne Ginsberg was there instead, with her small dog Leo. On Thursday, Hammett turned five, which means he’s been with me for precisely four and a half years. He celebrated by sitting on top of my turntable—what a bad little boy! Friday evening, the newly designated Chore Night, I cleaned the bathroom, which probably had last been done prior to Thanksgiving. Of 2010.

Saturday morning I went to the Zen Center and heard Christina Lehnherr’s talk, which was very helpful. She was one of the teachers for my EPP class. I stayed for the Q&A and for lunch.

Back at home, I did various chores (I guess Friday night is Big Chore Night, and Saturday afternoon is Little Chore Afternoon) and watched two movies in the evening, both of which I loved: Knight and Day, and Stone. The former is a frenzied crime caper with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. It didn’t get very good reviews, but it’s totally excellent because Tom Cruise is in it. I’m sorry, but he is completely attractive, and Cameron Diaz is fun to watch, too.

In Stone, Edward Norton plays a convict who deploys his wife, played by Milla Jovovich, to seduce his parole officer, Robert De Niro. It seems to be some sort of commentary on religion and spirituality. Norton’s performance is dazzling. Parts of it were filmed in Michigan. They may have used the prison in Jackson, MI, for the prison exteriors, and in the credits, thanks go to Washtenaw County and to the City of Ypsilanti (!).

On Sunday I went to Rainbow and then made Beluga lentils and brown rice, almond shortbread, and home fries.

I suppose you thought I forgot about this, but on the contrary. Some years after starting my test of mineral sunblocks, I’m ready to release the name of the winner.

A bit of background: A handful of years ago, I bumped into the Environmental Working Group’s database of personal care products, which offers information on ingredients and rates each item’s safety.

It’s healthiest to use a mineral sunblock, so, sifting and resifting through the EWG database, I tried several, and hated them all. They all smelled metallic, they all looked completely dreadful once applied—sticky, gunky, pink, white, masklike—and they also were impossible to get off. I gave up and went back to chemical sunscreen.

Then the chemical sunscreen I’d been using for years turned on me and added one and/or the other of the two main mineral sunscreen ingredients, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. I did a Google search for its former ingredients thinking I’d find a similar sunscreen, but instead I found such dire warnings that I discarded my remaining chemical sunscreen and went back to the drawing board.

Along the way, I’d at least learned how to get this stuff off your face. The containers often say to rinse with water. This does nothing. Soap and water more or less does the trick, but what I do is put lotion all over my face and wipe it off with cotton balls, repeat, and then rinse with water.

The runner-up: Alba Botanica’s mineral sunblock that is SPF 20; probably the SPF 30 is similar, but I tried the 20, since I always wear a hat, anyway. The EWG database says Alba Botanica might use nano-scale ingredients, but I called them, and they said they don’t.

And the winner! Vanicream Sunscreen, Sensitive Skin, SPF 30. (Not the “Sport” version, though this might meet the needs of some.) This gets a two rating on EWG’s one-to-ten scale, one being best. I don’t know how Vanicream does this, as they do not use nano-scale ingredients, but it goes on clear. It also smells like nothing when first applied, though later a faint sort of orange smell creeps in, not even really a metallic smell. It’s slightly tacky to the touch, but not thick or greasy.

There is also an SPF 60 of the same thing, which gets a three rating at EWG, has a slightly firmer feel on the face, and looks just as good as the SPF 30.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Corporal Jigsore Quandary

Last Thursday night, I talked to Angela on the phone, as we do every month or so. On Friday night I did laundry, which I give myself permission to do now that I’m nearly 49, which is nearly 50. (I always had permission to do laundry, but there seemed to be some reason not to do it on Friday night, like that I might be out having some fabulous social event.) I recall hearing a man grumbling, years ago, about visiting the bars regularly and never meeting any nice men. “That’s because the good men aren’t in the bars—they’re home ironing,” his friend explained.

Saturday morning I went to the Zen Center, where they were celebrating the Buddha’s birthday. Steve Stücky gave the talk and then we had a festive procession to the park across the street and circumambulation and chanting; there were parasols and streamers and rose petals everywhere. It's nice to walk along the sidewalk and have someone tossing flower petals over you. We crossed the street again afterward and had cookies and tea in the courtyard.

Normally the after-talk cookies are tasty and rather small, as befits a cookie you eat an hour before lunch, but for this occasion, someone had made the most fabulous, decadent, not-small brownies—they were like slabs of chocolate frosting. It was most enjoyable to sit in the Zen Center courtyard with the sun beating down, having such a magnificent thing to eat, complete with peppermint tea. Lunch was a hearty kidney bean soup with ginger and chunks of sweet potato.

When I got home, I did some chores around the apartment and in the evening I saw Inception, which I don’t think got great reviews, but of course is the year’s best movie as far as we lucid dreamers are concerned. I could scarcely follow it, but I thought it was dazzling and magnificent. I always like to watch Leonardo DiCaprio, too.

On Sunday I went to Rainbow—behind me in line at the cash register was another person from Howie’s sitting group—and then I made Spanish rice, home fried potatoes for immediate consumption, Bieler Broth, and blondies. I adapted the Spanish rice recipe from Deborah Madison’s, and it’s a lot easier and faster, and just as good. Home fries are a cooking-day tradition. I usually use an onion in them, but that’s a lot of onion (hence poor potato-to-onion ratio), so this time I used a lesser amount of shallots, and the finished product was perfect.

Bieler Broth is pureed celery, zucchini, green beans and fresh parsley. I may have gotten into it when I had my tooth out and had to eat soft food for a week or two. It ensured that I’d get a blast of green vegetable matter, and I’ve continued to make it every week and have it for dinner for two nights.

The blondies were in hopes I could stop buying Rainbow’s packaged ones—I’d really like to buy no plastic whatever, if possible—but they didn’t come out well and ended their evening in the compost bin. The recipe was kind of strange to begin with, and I had to make substitutions based on what Rainbow had, so the finished product, while being ultra-sweet, didn’t actually taste very good and had the consistency of asphalt on an August day in Michigan (gooey and sticky, but not liquid).

I would have taken them to work, but it would have been tricky transferring them to a container and out again.

When the building manager and I were exchanging emails about the smoke in the hallway, she mentioned that she was looking forward to having the pigeons gone from the fire escape, but I myself was sorry we'd be losing them. While the smell of the nest was rather powerful on wet days, I’d grown fond of their little burbling sounds. Fortunately, the Bird Busters’ efforts weren’t entirely successful. The nesting area itself is closed off, but there are still plenty of birds hanging around, so I hear them as much as ever, and the smelly nest is no more.

Tom and his girlfriend borrowed a bread pan from me several weeks ago and returned it promptly the next day, clean. When I’m getting rid of stuff, I always consider Tom’s apartment as a possible outlet, and indeed he recently agreed to take an item I don’t use anymore, and when I took it upstairs to him, he said his girlfriend had something for me, as well: a brand-new, sturdy, American-made, quite handsome bread pan! Tom said she thought she might have stained mine. Can you believe that? I told Tom he has my one hundred percent permission to marry her—she is really nice! And extremely easygoing of manner, and very cute, too. I sent her a note of thanks and she wrote back that the three of us should have dinner one of these days.

I haven’t quite decided whether to keep the Internet radio or not. I tried listening to a dharma talk on it and it wasn’t all that satisfactory, because whereas I can still get the gist if I miss a sentence here and there of On the Media, with a dharma talk, I really want to hear every word. However, possibly everyone in the vicinity doesn’t also want to hear every word, so turning it up to a mind-bending volume might not be the thing.

It also does not switch readily at all between its two main modes, accessing the Internet and accessing my computer. It has to “update firmware” every time you change or change back, and quite often I have to go through all the setup steps again from scratch, though it does preserve my favorites. I tried assigning a static IP, but made some wrong choice somewhere and will have to try again.

I actually decided I would just return it, but then I turned on the regular radio to listen to KQED, found it a bit staticky, and used the nice, clear Internet radio instead. Also, I really am enjoying listening to hours of Snakenet Metal Radio and discovering music I wouldn’t bump into anywhere else. I downloaded (bought) Grand Magus's mp3 album Hammer of the North. They’re from Stockholm.

The Snakenet band and song titles often make me chuckle: “Remains of a Remembrance,” by Lethargy of Death, or “Corporal Jigsore Quandary” by Carcass. Then of course there’s “Dead Embryonic Cells” by Sepultura and “Black Seeds of Vengeance,” by Nile. When it comes to vocalists, you have your screamers, your growlers, your vomiters, your opera singers and your high-note guys, though you’ll also find quite a large percentage of instrumentals in this genre. On rare occasion, you’ll even hear a woman’s voice.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Don’t LOOK at Me, Sandra!

The last Monday in March, I had the great pleasure of dinner at Herbivore with Lisa C., in town from Seattle.

I’ve been going to Howie’s every Tuesday evening, and to the Zen Center most Saturday mornings, though not every, and that is a nice dharma balance and good way to be around congenial people.

Last night, Howie talked about loss, as his much-loved pet had just died. He said that we want to fully experience joy and sorrow, just without tacking on grasping or aversion. We might ask ourselves, “What is the truth of this experience?” And, “What is inevitable and what is optional?”

“I don’t have to become the great non-griever,” he observed.

Toward the end, he took questions and, since the space is cavernous, used a microphone to summarize for the group what the speaker had said. One woman noted that she found it “stabilizing” to hear that dharma teachers have their ups and downs like anyone else. Howie summarized for us, “She says it’s very stabilizing to hear about my car being towed and my dog dying,” which was quite funny, though the events themselves aren’t funny at all.

I have been inspired lately to reprioritize and per that, am taking a break from hospice volunteering and am thinking of taking piano lessons. I’ve been playing my electronic keyboard every day since the new year and it always brings satisfaction and enjoyment. I’ve been working on some of my own compositions again, and emailed my esteemed music school piano professor, Dr. Neve, to see if she would consider sending me one of her excellently organized scale sheets, and she said it’s on its way. She said she has fond memories of me, which was awfully kind and also flattering, since I graduated 16 years ago. The feelings are mutual.

Nothing much to report on the lucid dream front because there hasn’t been one for two months, but I’ve been having lots of nice dreams of flying, or floating in the air, and I had this very strange dream of a paper cup with a metal frame affixed to it and a pair of dark eyes looking out of the frame. I move off to the side and see that the eyes are still looking at me. “Don’t look at me, Sandra!” I warn it, referring to Sandra Bullock, though the eyes actually look more like Debra Winger’s. I walk right up to the cup and there is no doubt its gaze is taunting and malevolent, so I destroy it.

I aspire to remember to make friends with dream enemies, but I don’t usually remember.

Reprioritizing also means deciding what stuff I don’t need to keep, so a lot of items have been going to the thrift store, and I also decided to get rid of an electric guitar, amp and guitar case, and a keyboard stand. I wanted to give the guitar and amp to an underprivileged young lady, but then someone at the thrift store mentioned the Bay Area Girls Rock Camp, and I ended up giving it all to them, which is even better.

Of course, that put me dangerously near not having enough stuff, so I acquired a new toy, and the accompanying guilt about what it means for oppressed workers in other countries and the environment in general: an Internet radio, which will play anything streaming free online (such as KQED or Snakenet Metal Radio) and any paid services you subscribe to, plus music files on your own PC—your iTunes and downloaded podcasts and so forth.

Over the weekend, I listened to four episodes in a row of On the Media. Big treat! The main reason I wanted this thing was to be able to listen to dharma talks while I’m in the kitchen cooking for four or six or eight hours. There’s nothing stopping me from sitting down in front of my computer and listening to a talk, but I never do this. While at work in the kitchen is the perfect time.

Early on, I discovered that this device would only work when my computer was on. It has a wireless connection to my router and while it can’t play my own music files when my computer isn’t on, it should still be able to access Internet radio, but it wasn’t doing it. I did some reading and was anticipating a giant support nightmare, but yesterday morning, I did the very first thing advised, flush my DNS cache, and it worked!

I turned on the thing, tuned in KQED, turned off my computer and continued to hear Morning Edition. Then I turned off the thing and turned it back on and it still worked, so yay. However, this morning it was stuck again, so I turned on my computer, flushed the DNS cache again, and all was well, so I will see if I can make a scheduled job that does this every day at 4 a.m. (No hints needed yet, computer experts.)

I saw a marvelous movie this past weekend: Nowhere Boy, the story of John Lennon’s formative years. It’s absolutely beautiful to look at, and the performances are wonderful. I’m a huge fan of Kristin Scott Thomas.

This week I was cycling to work and stopped at the light on Market St. at Grant, a T-shaped intersection, and a guy to my left and a woman to my right also stopped. I said to the guy, “Good for you!” and we exchanged a few words, and, not wanting to leave the woman out, I said the same to her and she said, “For what?” “Stopping at the red light.” She looked confused. “Why wouldn’t I?”

She’ll soon learn she’s quite in the minority there, but I like to think it won't be that way forever.