sittin' on a backyard fence

Just saw a great Busby Berkeley number in the movie Footlight Parade. It doesn't approach the dizzying heights of lunacy that his best numbers reach. (like the waterfall number coming up in this very movie, I can't wait!) But it does have dozens of women dressed like alley cats, Ruby Keeler vomited out the mouth of a giant clown face (? not actually sure what was happening there), and Billy Barty as a mischievous rat.

The embed feature is turned off in the video for some reason, so here's a link to Sittin' on a Backyard Fence.

timing is everything

Last week Georg and I went to A/V Geeks. We had to meet there because he was working late, so I went to the Q Shack for dinner. They were a little crowded and I asked a young woman if I could share her table. She was studying, and though I didn't pry, I could see enough of her book to see that she was studying Chinese.

I wanted to say something to her but after 20 years, I remember so little Chinese that I didn't know what I would say. I can barely say my own name at this point, much less have a conversation. Besides, she seemed pretty deeply involved in her studies and I didn't want to interrupt. So I ate my dinner and websurfed on my phone, and she studied, and it was a nice quiet sharing of space.

Well we were quiet, but the restaurant was noisy. So much so that I didn't notice at first when she started very softly talking to herself in Chinese. I couldn't hear what she was saying, but it has a distinctive sound (and I'm guessing an American just beginning their studies probably has a distinctive accent, which made her speech sound even more familiar to me). It looked like she was reading out loud from the book. Practicing her lessons at just above a whisper. Adorable. I didn't let on that I could hear her; just kept enjoying my dinner.

Finally it was time for me to leave. I cleared my table, stood up to go, leaned over and said "zai jian" (goodbye). She looked so surprised! She said "zai jian" back to me, and we both laughed, and then I just ... walked away. I felt like the encounter couldn't get any better than it was right then. I could have stayed and had a possibly awkward conversation, maybe interrupted study time she needed, maybe made myself late for A/V Geeks. Or I could leave it at that, preserve the moment, and give her a good story to tell when she got back to the dorm. About this crazy thing that happened and the mysterious person who sat next to her all through dinner and never let on that they spoke Chinese too. At the Q Shack of all places.


How exciting of a life do I lead? Well, the highlight of my weekend was spending Saturday evening organizing my sock drawer.

Really! Not just the sock drawer but the whole dresser. It had gotten all messy and overcrowded, to the point where the clothes I wear regularly end up sitting on top of the dresser because the drawers were full of clothes I don't wear that often. The sock drawer was especially a problem because I'm kind of into socks and have many pairs. It was getting hard to keep track of them. I sorted the clothes into four piles: 1. store for the winter, 2. give to Goodwill, 3. throw out, 4. keep in the dresser.

I didn't get rid of as much as I was expecting/hoping, but still managed to clear enough space that everything fits neatly into the dresser with room to spare. I had made a major dent in cleaning out my closet last month and now almost my clothes are organized! I can't remember the last time that was true. I still need to put away the sweaters. I used to put them in this hanging sweater thing in the closet. It was cheaply made and ended up being a hassle to deal with. I might try to find a nicer hanging thing for the closet, or I might be able to fit them all in the dresser now.

Penzey's store in Raleigh!The other highlight of the weekend was a trip to Penzey's. They have a store in Raleigh now! In Cameron Village. We'd never been there before, and now that we've had to deal with their parking I know why. Still, Penzey's is worth it (though I wouldn't go back before Christmas if I could avoid it).

It's a great place to shop. Nice displays, tester jars of everything so you can sniff before buying. The back wall had all the baking spices (cinnamon, extracts etc) in a cute display like an antique kitchen. I don't know their catalog well enough to know if every single thing is in the stores, but they had every single thing we wanted and then some. We had a shopping list for Georg's brother, and we got a couple of gifts, and we went a little crazy for ourselves. And even with as much as we bought, we only duplicated one spice that we already had. Oh well, it will keep. We buy bags, put a small amount in jars and then store the rest in the freezer.

Our haul from Penzey'sWe had a nice chat with the checkout lady. She's on loan from Houston while they get the new store up and running. Coincidentally, that's the only store we'd ever been to before. When we were there for the art car weekend, Lee and Russ kindly took us. We told her that on our last trip to Houston we had made time in a busy schedule to visit Penzey's, it was the one thing off our itinerary that we had to do. She seemed to get a kick out of it. I heard her helping other customers & she seemed to know a lot about the product. We didn't need advice on what to buy -- I may have mentioned that we're kind of into cooking. Penzey's for us is like being a kid in a candy store. Much more exciting than a candy store.

gold stars all around

Last week at work I had to teach a short training session on HTML. Two sessions actually, because more people signed up than expected so I broke it into 2 classes. I have to admit that I was apprehensive, though I tried not to show it. I've long thought that I'm a bad teacher, that I just don't have the temperament for it. In fact I was told this years ago by someone I had to teach who didn't think much of my teaching ability -- I thought, and still think, that he was a terrible student, but that doesn't mean he was wrong about me.

So I went into this with the belief that I was going to be bad at it. (Why, you might ask, was I giving this training in the first place? This is what happens when you miss a meeting: you get volunteered for jobs no one else wants to do. After this one I stopped asking "Am I really necessary at this meeting? Can I skip it?") And in fact, if the training had happened when it was supposed to, it probably would have been bad. Lucky for me, scheduling issues dragged on for weeks. Which gave me time to settle in at my new job, develop a little confidence in myself, and realize that just because someone told me to put all my class materials in PowerPoint didn't mean I had to actually do that.

Yes, I came this close to teaching a technical class about HTML that was entirely in PowerPoint. I shudder to think of it! Literally the evening before the first session I realized that if I had to take my own class I'd be bored stiff. I also realized that the person who told me to use PowerPoint wasn't leading the class, I was. And therefore I could change the format if I wanted. I threw out the PowerPoint and worked late writing a new presentation. This one had a very short talk at the beginning, then an actual example HTML file that I would edit on the big screen so people could see how it really works, and much more time for questions.

I think it went well. People asked really good questions, and then would say things like "Oh, I get it!" That was kind of a thrill. After the second session someone even told me that the class had been "good development" for her because she needed to learn more computer skills. Wow. I just wanted to teach people how to do this one thing (send HTML email). It never occurred to me that anyone would see it as part of their overall development. I'm glad I didn't think of it that way; that would have been way too much pressure.

So I'm not planning a career change or anything -- being able to stand in front of a room full of people and teach day after day is a skill that I'm still in awe of -- but at least I won't feel quite so nervous next time I have to lead a training session.

ode to ms. bento

Now that autumn is finally upon us, I appreciate my Ms. Bento lunch box all the more. In the summer I was eating a salad for lunch most days, and more often than not would use tupperware because Ms. Bento just isn't designed for a salad. It's actually designed for a traditional Japanese lunch: soup in the bottom container, rice in the middle container, vegetables in the top container. That's why only the bottom container is watertight.

Now that it's too cold for salad at lunch, I'm taking leftovers to work every day, and Ms. Bento is perfect for that. I thought the containers were awfully small when I first got Ms. Bento. Now I'm surprised to discover that, when packing richer foods like leftover casseroles or chili, I don't even need all three containers! Two is a lot of food.

I always fill the containers with boiling water to preheat them, then dump out the water when my lunch is ready to pack. Yesterday I had an idea that's pretty clever, if I do say so myself: instead of emptying the bottom container, I leave the boiling water in it and pack it like that. At noon when I eat, my lunch is still really hot! I bet if I were packing hot soup, it would work the same way.


I've been knitting almost constantly lately. It's so hard for me to find sweaters I like in stores, that it just seems easier t make my own. Plus it's something to do that lets me feel productive while I'm watching television.

I just finished this sweater:
Sweater almost done
The photo is actually from right before I finished: you can see that only one half of the button band is done in the photo. It's a beautiful pattern with really nice fitted sleeves. I made it in a cotton from Knit Picks and I think it turned out really well. My only regret is I wish I had made it a little longer.

This is my next sweater:
new sweater
The colors in the photo aren't great -- it's actually light green and purple stripes.

Compared to the orange sweater (which was sport weight yarn) it's coming together so fast. I didn't really start knitting until yesterday! It's a pattern on Ravely called "Incredible Custom Fit Raglan" -- not even really a pattern so much as guidelines for designing your own sweater. I really like that it's top-down, so I can try it on as I go and make sure I like the fit.

rally to restore sanity and/or fear

So, we went to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Well, sort of. The trains were so crowded that we couldn't get on. We went several stops the wrong way, until we finally got to a platform near the beginning of the line where the trains weren't as full and we could get on. Then the trains took longer than usual because at every stop, more people would try to cram onto the train, and they wouldn't be able to get the doors closed. So we'd go through this lengthy process of the lady on the intercom scolding us about standing away from the doors, but no one could hear her, and the people at the doors would argue with the people trying to get on, and eventually they'd either squash the extra people in or persuade them to step off, and we'd finally get the doors clear and move again.

So, the tour of Metro stations was fun but it meant that we got to the rally about 1. Hours after the allocated space had been completely filled and we couldn't even get close. We couldn't see anything, couldn't even see if there were jumbotrons much less where. We could hear that people were talking, but couldn't tell what they were saying. I don't think we ever made it onto the actual mall. We were on one of the side streets next to the mall, packed in like sardines.

I heard that the permit said they were expecting 60,000 people, and that's what they had planned for, and they actually ended up with at least 215,000. I believe it. The part where we were fighting to move through a solid wall of people was fairly un-fun. (And the part where I got separated from our group was downright terrifying.) But when we moved back and got to a less dense area, it was pretty fun. Just watching the crowds, looking at costumes and reading people's signs. We didn't worry about missing out on the actual rally because we had set up the DVR to record in. (In fact, we're watching it right now.) Kinda like going to a Grateful Dead concert and staying in the parking lot the whole time.

My sign was a big hit. Not only did lots of people comment on it, but it was an invaluable tool to help our group stay together when the crowding was the worst. Georg took photos of me with each side:
sanity sidefear side

Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo have good photo collections of costumes and signs. My favorite was one I didn't see on their sites: a guy dressed like Hitler standing on a crate. He was one of the first things I saw when we got to the rally. This sea of people, and whoa, there's Hitler! Holding a sign that said "No, I'm Hitler."

We left before the rally was over and didn't have any trouble getting on a train to go back to Chevy Chase. At first I was wishing we'd left early in the morning so we could have gotten close enough to see the actual rally. But as Georg pointed out, if we had gotten on the Metro at 9 instead of 11, we probably could have gotten a decent place on the mall. But, if we'd done that we would have been trapped behind 215,000 people all trying to exit at the same time. I heard that later in the afternoon it was as difficult to get on the Metro heading out of the city, as it had been to head towards the rally in the morning. Since we had to drive home last night after the rally, it's really good that we didn't get trapped in the middle of it.

i voted

election day accoutrementsI voted today! Up at North Library. There was a short line, 4-5 people, and most of the voting booths were full. I saw my chief judge from precinct 37; she told me she's been working early voting every day.

In other election news, my barrettes arrived! They're super cute. A little bigger than I had expected -- that just makes them easier for the voters to see! The only drawback is, every time I remove the "VOTE" one, it catches my hair & pulls one or two out. Ouch! I just have to make an extra effort to put them in correctly and not have to adjust them. I guess considering all the painful things I _don't_ do for my appearance, this isn't so bad.

We went to A/V Geeks tonight at Fullsteam Brewery. Really fun. The theme was alcohol. My favorite was a 1970s movie where they got several volunteers to drive an obstacle course three times at the Catamount stock car track: sober, tipsy and super drunk. Drunk driving has never been so funny.


This evening was equipment training and exceptions training. Equipment training means learning how to operate the tabulator (the machine people stick ballots into), the voter assistance machine (it helps disabled voters mark their ballots) and the hand scanner. At the ballot table we have to scan the ballots and the ATVs (authorization to vote forms) to make sure everybody gets the right ballot style.

We broke into small groups to practice using the scanner. I was intimidated beforehand but it's really not hard. There's a little red crosshair that you hold over the barcode until it beeps. I guess if I'd worked retail in the past 15 years I would have done it already. They tried to make it relatively foolproof -- for instance it won't allow you to scan the same ATV twice.

The funny part was my small group. It was me, a guy and an older woman. We each took turns scanning a sample ballot and then we took turns starting up the scanner. When it was my turn, the older woman kept trying to yank it out of my hand -- I mean she literally grabbed my hand and tried to take the scanner from me. I didn't say anything, just didn't let her take it until I was done. While she took her turn I chatted with the guy. He's an ... I forget the term but he's an emergency judge. If someone's sick he fills in for them; otherwise he acts as a runner, delivering supplies to precincts throughout the day.

I thought this was really interesting so I was asking him a bunch of questions. Suddenly the older lady shouted at us, "I need help and you're standing there talking!" We were so taken aback we had a hard time not laughing. We thought she was reading the instructions aloud to herself, but apparently she was asking us for help. Without looking at us or phrasing anything as a question. Clearly we were remiss.

He apologized, which I thought was pretty generous of him. She just kept ranting about how we were supposed to help her and we were just talking. Then he said "Is that my job, to make sure you're doing okay? I'm sorry, I didn't realize that." The amazing thing was how even and pleasant he sounded. He really sounded like he was apologizing. But she took it at face value -- accepted his apology even.

I kept my mouth shut until after the session, then went up to him and congratulated him for handling that so well. He said he felt like he was being incredibly snarky! He must just be a super nice person. Even when he's trying to be sarcastic, it comes out kind and sincere. Not me -- if I tried to cut someone down, believe me, they'd know. Anyway we had a good laugh about it, and it wasn't until after he'd left that I realized I never even got his name. Oh well, maybe I'll see him at training again in 2012.