hello new year

2009 is over. Crazy.

Here at the Latkin’s things were good. Life continues to be unburdened.

Looking forward to a new decade is strange. I can’t believe it has been almost 10 years since Linda died. I remember thinking, at some point she will be dead for a year, then five, and then, now, 10 years. Her passing has made me try to stay on top of living an intentional life, with that bit of knowledge that we are not here forever always bumbling around back there in my mind. I want to keep an accounting of what we spend.

To that end, I am finally 90 pages into my book! And starting in two days, we will begin the “Year of Making Do.” That means we are not going to go shopping for anything other than food, unless we really need it. How will we define really need? We will write it down and ponder it for two weeks, then make a decision.

Please share your New Year’s plans in the comments.


book review: life of pi

by Yann Martel
(Not the book cover, because I thought the cover sucked.)

When was the last time you longed for a book to be real, true? A novel? The Life of Pi came out in 2001, and I kind of knew it was a book I was supposed to read. But I did not like the cover and could not figure out how a boy, a tiger, and 3.141… were supposed to all figure together.

So just this week I finally got around to reading the book. What a fun read, and insightful. One quote on the back cover said the book would make you believe in god. That’s what sealed the deal for me. Any book that could do that was worth reading.

The plot: a boy, his family, and their literal zoo of animals set sail from India on their way to Canada. The boat sinks. Boy lives, with said tiger, on a life raft. For 227 days! (Note 22/7 = π) Needless to say, it is an adventure.

There were a few quotes in the book that I really enjoyed:

On supporting the arts:
“If we, citizens, do not support our artist, then we sacrifice our imagination on the alter of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.”

This really sums up the book, in more ways than one: create your own reality.

The boy, Pi, decides to become a Christian, Muslim, and Hindu. While defending this choice to people who think that this is wrong, and spew anger he says:

These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended,
not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the
open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good
is not the open ground of the public arena, but the small clearing of each heart.
Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their
defense, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush.

Well said.

After finally reading the book, I would heartily encourage you to do so as well.

drum roll: the new name


That's it. Yep. We did it. I will eventually change the banner, but until then, when you go to writersdesk.com it will pop you out at schreibtischdc.com.

Hope everyone likes it. Test it out. Let me know if you have any problems.


changes coming?

Hello loyal readers. We are contemplating some big changes here at schreibtischdc...namely, well, changing the name of the blog...or at least setting up an easier to remember website...something, ahm, in English.

Getting back into the grove slowly...had a wonderful time in Portland. Pictures to come.


stop motion video of the blizzard

The music is by The Swell Season and called Falling Slowly. I thought that went with the theme, and I love the music.

book review: everything ravaged, everything burned*

* This is Brent's review, with a note from me at the bottom. He thinks the book will be too upsetting for me...so I am not going to read it.

by Wells Tower

First off, I borrowed this book from the library and I have to say that Nicole and I are loving our re-discovery of the library. Free books! And it’s perfectly legal! (Do the publishers know about this?)

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is a collection of short stories that has been hailed as a masterwork that will return the short story form from exile. I’m not so sure. The first four stories are about men who are, well, losers. These stories are well-written and satisfying in a thank-goodness-that’s-not-me-but-maybe-there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I kind of way. And they do “rescue” the short story in that they tend not to leave you wanting more. 15-20 pages of these guys and you pretty much get where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re going. The stories are interesting and entertaining, but no one needs more than a vignette of these fellows.

The first four stories are so similar that my hunch is that most reviewers stopped reading and assumed that the rest of the book followed the pattern, because Tower is hailed as a writer of men’s stories. But Tower doesn’t just stick to these men. The middle stories are about kids, including one narrated by, gasp, a girl. These stories are somehow less satisfying. For example, divorce is a constant theme in the book, but a divorced man is different from a child of divorce. The guy is going to be lonely and regretful. But the kid are dealing with all kinds of stuff about whether Mom and Dad still love them and how to deal with Stepmom or Stepdad. We get a snapshot of a particular kid at a particular time but it’s not enough to fill in the arc of the kid’s life. And so, like many an American, I’m left wanting more of the story. I don’t need a happy ending but I need and ending.

The last couple of stories get gruesome in parts – the title story is about Vikings – and just left me feeling queasy. All very realistic stuff I suppose, but I feel like this book was enough of that sort of thing for me. Tower’s a very good writer but I hope he’s got more tricks up his sleeve.

A note from Nicole: The cover of this book is so similar to the cover of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that I had to find out more about the time line of publishing. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was published by Alfred A. Knopf in the US on September 16, 2008. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, on March 17, 2009. I suppose then, that ER,EB copied TGWTDT, but who knows really. Kind of interesting.


as snow descends on DC, a note about handwashing

On some day this week I was at an interview with EPA. The woman we were speaking to said that using antibacterial hand-soap was not only bad for the environment, killing and harming the environment from the moment you wash it down the sink, but it also does not clean your hands effectively.

WHAT? No one ever told me that. Who knew? Washing your hands with antibacterial hand-soap does not get your hands clean because we don't wash our hands for long enough in America. (You really need to sing either Happy Birthday the whole way through, or your A, B, C's to get them really clean.) Therefore, some of the antibacterial residue is left on your hands. You might eat some of it, or inhale it, or it might even attract more bacteria to your hands.

Read more about this topic in Scientific American by clicking this sentence. In the mean time, stick with soap and water.


great questions

Since everyone is heading home, to spend time with family or friends who are like family, I thought now might be a good time to post about StoryCorps.

"StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit whose mission is to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening. Since 2003, more than 50,000 Americans have interviewed family and friends through StoryCorps, making it one of the largest oral history projects of its kind."

For those of you who have not heard the stories on NPR, I am telling you to click this link and go listen NOW! For the rest of you, I hope you will take the questions below home with you and try some of them out...I would love to hear the new stories you hear because of the questions.

Great Questions

Who was the most important person in your life? Can you tell me about him or her?

What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?

Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did they teach you?

Who has been the kindest to you in your life?

What are the most important lessons you've learned in life?

What is your earliest memory?

What is your favorite memory of me?

If you could hold on to one memory from your life for eternity, what would that be?

If this was to be our very last conversation, what words of wisdom would you want to pass on to me? (or more simply: Are there any words of wisdom you'd like to pass along to me?)

Have you had any experiences or moments in your life that you might consider sacred?

What are you proudest of in your life?

When in life have you felt most alone?

What are your hopes and dreams for what the future holds for me? For my children?

How has your life been different than what you'd imagined?

How would you like to be remembered?

Do you have any regrets?

What does your future hold?

Is there anything that you've never told me but want to tell me now?

Is there something about me that you've always wanted to know but have never asked?

Click this sentence to find more ideas for questions.


movie: sita sings the blues

This movie is so much fun...and it is free. The woman who wrote it made it without a copyright, which I think is so much fun. In the creator's words:

"I hereby give Sita Sings the Blues to you. Like all culture, it belongs to you already, but I am making it explicit with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Please distribute, copy, share, archive, and show Sita Sings the Blues. From the shared culture it came, and back into the shared culture it goes.

"You don't need my permission to copy, share, publish, archive, show, sell, broadcast, or remix Sita Sings the Blues. Conventional wisdom urges me to demand payment for every use of the film, but then how would people without money get to see it? How widely would the film be disseminated if it were limited by permission and fees? Control offers a false sense of security. The only real security I have is trusting you, trusting culture, and trusting freedom.

"That said, my colleagues and I will enforce the Share Alike License. You are not free to copy-restrict ("copyright") or attach Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) to Sita Sings the Blues or its derivative works."

We are planning on watching the whole movie soon! To read more about the movie, click this sentence.


indecent cookies

from my friend Marika's cookie party. nicely done.


book review: the boys of my youth

By Jo Ann Beard

Everyone loves this book. No one writes bad reviews of this book. The Boys of My Youth is Jo Ann Beard’s only book to date. Everyone is right. The book is amazing, but I am going to tell you what I did not like about the book.

Beard’s descriptions of childhood are just too well done. While reading them, memories of your own childhood bubble up. And not just the good memories, but also the memories that sting, the memories you thought were gone.

And really, as you are reading the book, she flits around in time. You really don’t have any idea what she is doing, until your bathwater is past its prime temperature, and you are still in the water trying to finish the book. You read that last line and it all comes together: this is a book about the end of her youth. You get it finally. She has described for you what growing up means, as though you have never done it.

Finally, I really don’t like the cover. I suppose it is a photo of a child’s bed. I would have done something different, but the different idea is not coming to me.

The book was published in 1998 and I must say, she needs to publish another book. I mean really people.


book review: born standing up

By Steve Martin

The book tells beginning, middle, and self-imposed end of Steve Martin’s stand up comedian career. He explains his theories, and thoughts, and all of the crazy reasons he is funny.

The only thing I did not like about this memoir was that the title was totally wrong. The title implies that Steve Martin was always as funny as he is, and that it took no effort. Anyone who reads this book will understand the craft and hard work that went into his stand-up routine.

At 207 pages, the memoir is a quick read. He only glances over his family and past relationships. We do learn, towards the end, about how violated he felt by this fame, and why he has become a very private person.

The pictures included in the book are great fun. And I think sometimes he is letting the close reader in on a few jokes. In one section of the book, he describes meeting a fellow comic after having watched his show. The other comic recycled some material from a more famous comic, something Martin strongly eschewed. Neither comic talked about it then, and Martin refrained from using the comic’s name in text. But, then, the companion image plainly states that Steve Goodman was the comic. Funny.

Go out and read this book. What an interesting look on history, and boy, are they’re a ton of really great one liner’s. From Elvis calling him obliquely funny, to Linda Ronstadt asking him, “Steve, do you often date girls and try not to sleep with them?” you really can’t miss with this book.


this american life: my professor

So, Brent and I get into the car at 12:07 in DC today, and on "This American Life" is a woman talking about her book about her father's murder. Brent keeps chatting, and I shush him.

Brent asks, "What?"

"Brent I think that's my writing professor..."

Sure enough it was her. How fun! Well the topic is not fun, but that she was on one of my favorite shows is fun.

Here is a link to Rachel Howard on the radio:
http://www.thisamericanlife.org/. You can hear her voice on the introduction.

She wrote a book, The Lost Night, about what happened to her father that is next to my bed, and I have started reading it, but got sidetracked by something else.(To see book at Amazon, click this sentence.) What I have read is gripping.


octopus using tools

You have to go to the link:

"The Veined Octopus, Amphioctopus marginatus, using coconut shells as tools. Video shot in Indonesia by Julian Finn between 1998 and 2008."

I would never eat one, but even if I did like seafood, squid and octopi are so smart, I couldn't do it.


a house

We all know I desperately want a house right? Oh, wait, I don't want a house. I like renting. I like calling someone else and spending someone else's money when something breaks...but I love to decorate.* In fact, I wanted to be an interior designer when I was a child.

So I am following with glee this blog, Keeping Up With the Johnsons at the Readymade website. They bought a house in northern California and are redoing it.

I like their style, sometimes. The times where they go all modern, I love it...but sometimes it is horrible. They painted a wall all green. And their art, well, I don't have to live there!

They have put up some really neat instructions for fixing things or redoing things. And they have an awesome clam-shaped bed from the 70's with a built in stereo!

Take a look. Some fun stuff there.

* See post of photo shoot of our apartment for confirmation.


book review: an unquiet mind

By Kay Redfield Jamison

I am pretty sure someone in my writing class recommended this book. And since I have recently re-discovered the library, I got it there.

The book chronicles the author’s life as a closet manic-depressive, aptly showing the reader how it would feel to have this illness. You really feel the euphoria of the manic phase; times when she needn’t sleep, can write papers in a day, and generally gets shit done with great speed. And then the panic when she feels herself slipping in to the depressive phase; where she can’t do anything. Not even get out of bed.

You also learn how she tries to hide her illness. She tells her lovers haltingly, concerned about who they will respond, if they will decide to no longer love her.

And to top things off, the author is a Professor of Psychology. So she knows that the data all say the same thing: take your drugs or risk killing yourself. She tried on occasion, but failed.

In one poignant scene, she tells of the realization that she haden’t a clue about what it would be to be blind. Her student of some time, she met the blind student in the blind reading room one day. Naturally, the lights were all off, but he thought to turn the lights on for her.

“It was one of those still, clear moments when you realize that you haven’t understood anything at all, that you have had no real comprehension of the other person’s world.”

I would highly recommend this book to anyone trying to understand manic-depression, and its cycles and its tolls.

book review: the messengers of death

by Pierre Magnan

A retired inspector is brought out of retirement to help the local Judge figure out what happened as people start dropping like flies. They all receive a letter in the mail that says one thing: The measure that you give will be the measure that you get. Avarice. This French book covers the topic of avarice with abandon. I did not know what the word meant when I first started reading. Just in case you don’t know: greed. The book explores the greed of towns, ideas, histories, and most of all people.

The mystery takes place in Provence, at the base of the Alps. The descriptions of the regions are at odds with that well-known American book about Provence, A Year in Provence. It sounds cold and desolate and someplace I don’t want to visit for any amount of time.

I enjoyed the book, as I am enjoying translated works a lot recently. But I felt a little set apart from the characters. I had a hard time identifying with them. And while many footnotes helped the foreign reader understand cultural references that would be lost without these footnotes, I felt like I still missed a lot of references. In any event I feel like I learned a bit, and while the book might not be something I would normally read, I enjoyed it.



gingerbread party

The party was a smashing success, even though it was snowing outside. :)

Good times. Click here to see pictures!

french video



We were at a meeting today, and someone brought up nanobacterium. I had never heard of such a thing. It is what it sounds like: nanosized bacteria. No one knows if they are 1. alive, 2. contain DNA, 3. what they are really.

Apparently they have been found in meteorites from outer space, and in many minerals all over the world. Wikipedia has some great information on nanobacterium, and it is all kind of mind blowing.

Just take this one quote from a recent article on nanobacterium:
"Recent evidence suggests a role for nanobacteria in a growing number of human diseases, including renal stone formation, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer."

I am now wondering if nanobacterium can only eat nanosized particles? Anyway, chew on this.



forget viral, it's pandemic

super cute.



PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death and God from Frank Warren on Vimeo.

wanna share any secrets?

i feel less valuable because my dad left me too, when he divorced linda. but i don't miss him any less.


book review: mindset

by Carol S. Dweck, Ph. D.

This book somewhat subversively takes on the overachievers in America, well the overachievers who think that they are entitled to their status by nature of their genius.

Let me start over: Dweck posits in the book that there are two types of people: fixed mindset people and growth mindset people. The fixed mindset people feel that whatever their intellectual status is currently, that is fixed, and really they can’t do anything about it. No getting smarter or, for that matter, growing dumber. In the overachiever crowd, many of these people were in the gifted and talented classes at school and now, as they have aged, rather than fail at a new endeavor, they decide to avoid any project where there is a potential for failure. The growth mindset people, by comparison, are always looking for new things to try, are not afraid of failure, and they know that through hard work, you can become better at things.

Dweck then reviews different areas in our lives where our mindset might be beneficial or detrimental to our lives: school, work, children, relationships, and leadership. Not being afraid to fail can make us stretch further and try new things. We might be capable of more than we expect. Maybe failure is ok sometimes. While fixed mindset people are good to have in jobs which are highly repetitive, as they prefer to master a topic, and continue working on that topic.

Peppered throughout the book are stories of people who have changed their mindsets or who have begun to better understand the mindsets of their colleagues.

In first or second grade I was not put into the gifted and talented program...and I am still trying to prove I belonged! :)

(Click the image above to see it in more detail.)



Really people, this is a great show. And while the summaries of the show say it is about a writer who is on the skids, and his family...well, that is what I think it is about. We just finished the whole first season and LOVE it. LOVE. Best show ever. Really. Watch it on Netflix.


book review: stop getting ripped off

by Bob Sullivan

One of my favorite personal finance books is, Getting A Financial Life: Personal Finance in your 20’s and 30’s. I bought the book for all of my siblings at one point or another because I think the book has a lot to offer. I really like this new book as well. The book is subtitled, Why Consumers Get Screwed, and How You can Always Get a Fair Deal. Sullivan does a great job outlining how industry’s goals, making a profit, are not aligned with your best interest, getting things at the best price.

What I found most useful in the book was how he outlined in detail the fees associated with purchases such as buying a house or your cell phone contract. He goes through the HUD-1 form, explaining, for example, fees associated with Title Insurance should bring up a red flag in your mind at closing.

He also separates the readers into three buckets when he talks about credit cards: 1. People who pay off hteir card in full every month, or deadbeats to the credit card industry, 2. People who sometimes carry a balance, and 3. People who always carry a balance. Sullivan then explains how best to utilize your credit depending on the type of credit user.

The most useful chapter to me, however, was the chapter on “Getting a 21st Century Raise.” He explains how you can go about utilizing your off hours to generate extra income. I really liked some of his ideas about “having the conversation” with your boss about a raise, what you need to put together to get the raise, and what to do if you don’t get the raise.

As some of you know, Brent and I conceptualize money differently. He is great at tracking where he is spending money, but I need a plan looking to the future. For me, spent money is gone, so of little consequence. To get over this difference, we created a one page document. The first chart has our each of our incomes, yearly and monthly, gross. The second chart lists all of our debt: student loans, etc, laid out in total, and with our monthly amount owed. The third chart lays out our fixed expenses for the month: cell phones, TIVO, rent, etc. I then take table one (income) and subtract table three (monthly expenses) which equals the amount of money we have left at the end of the month to tackle our combined debt. We update the page monthly and have been using this method for about a year, to great success. It really allows us to see how much money we are paying off. (If you would like a copy of our sheet, drop me an email.)

Sullivan advocates a similar approach in his book, and calls it a debt map.

I think this book is great. By the way, this is another “early” review…which I think is pretty fun. The book is due to be published January 2010.


rainstorm and a guy walking down the street

Took this shot the other evening out my favorite window in our apartment.


article review

I think I sent this article out to most of my readers, but just in case...

The first few paragraphs of the article is below (click below to go to the whole article). The article says, in very short, that:

1. Taking vitamins is at the least a waste, and at worst, harmful for your health.
2. Taking tamoxifen can reduce the incidence of breast cancer in half.

Yet, we continue to take vitamins and not tamoxifen.

Why? Why wouldn't we take the wonder drugs? Money? Capitalism? Someone can't make money on the drugs that work, so they aren't proscribed? People avoiding breast cancer would be bad? A drain on society?

Interesting, especially given the recent recommendation that mammograms begin when women turn 50, rather than 40.

I am not sure what to make of this other than I am frustrated. I just picked up another weight loss book this week at the library and all I kept thinking while reading was this is all crap. In one part of the book they are telling the reader to eat better, exercise more, and take vitamins, while in another part of the book they are saying that my thyroid is out of whack. Great. How do I re-whack it? That would be news I could use.

NYTimes, November 13, 2007
Medicines to Deter Some Cancers Are Not Taken

Many Americans do not think twice about taking medicines to prevent heart disease and stroke. But cancer is different. Much of what Americans do in the name of warding off cancer has not been shown to matter, and some things are actually harmful. Yet the few medicines proved to deter cancer are widely ignored.

Take prostate cancer, the second-most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, surpassed only by easily treated skin cancers. More than 192,000 cases of it will be diagnosed this year, and more than 27,000 men will die from it.

And, it turns out, there is a way to prevent many cases of prostate cancer. A large and rigorous study found that a generic drug, finasteride, costing about $2 a day, could prevent as many as 50,000 cases each year. Another study found that finasteride’s close cousin, dutasteride, about $3.50 a day, has the same effect.

Nevertheless, researchers say, the drugs that work are largely ignored. And supplements that have been shown to be not just ineffective but possibly harmful are taken by men hoping to protect themselves from prostate cancer.

As the nation’s war on cancer continues, with little change in the overall cancer mortality rate, many experts on cancer and public health say more attention should be paid to prevention.


the value of a newspaper

I was talking to my co-worker today, a former documentary film maker, about the new media model. He pointed out something that I think gets lost a lot when we talk about the end of media as we know it. Namely, that paying for a newspaper was basically having that media filter out what was important to you. I think that today, we are more self-centered and therefore less interested in reading about topics that might not be of interest to us, but are good for us to know about. Kind of like eating your veggies. The more you eat, the more you want to eat.

Sorry to be behind on the blog. Visitors are gone, so game on! I have a few books to review, and some other thoughts of feminism coming up.


from brent's blog: the future of news is NOW

We've been hearing a lot lately about the impending demise of the mainstream news media. Newspapers around the country are failing or in big trouble, including some of the premier names. Ditto for the major (American) newsmagazines and even the network TV news divisions. It is true that businesses--even whole industries-- come and go. But many people fear that the decline of news organizations could leave us without an important check on government corruption, abuse, and oppression.

Most commentators are blaming the Internet for these changes. Craigslist allows anyone to post for free the kind of classified ads they once had to pay a newspaper to print. Google News allows anyone to browse the stories from news sites around the world. And many papers themselves put their content on the web for free. Certainly the Internet has already changed the music industry and seems poised to change television and the movies. Why should newspapers be immune?

But there's one type of news source that no one seems much worried about even though it faces intense pressure from the internet: celebrity news. While the Great Recession has taken a toll on even the venerable People Magazine, this area of news seems vibrant and healthy. It seems that because celebrity news isn't considered "important news" by the traditional media, no one has spent much time wondering what it might have going for it.

First off, millions of people actually find celebrity news to be interesting enough that they're willing to shell out money for it. The fact of the matter is, a lot of people just aren't that willing to pay for news about corruption in City Hall. They may be glad that the newspaper is out there exposing it, but they'd rather not shell out to read about it. Lack of interest isn't created by Craigslist or Google News. More likely it's created by Facebook and Twitter and the bazillion other things that people have to entertain themselves with. Competition for our attention spans has never been spread over a wider spectrum o media: live performances, print, radio, television, movies, gaming platforms, Internet websites, cellphones, cellphone apps, and on and on.

But there are those who are still interested in the news and willing to put down the game controller long enough to read a magazine or newspaper. So far, however, the traditional news media hasn't been very creative in thinking about when and where to reach them. Where do most people buy their celebrity magazines? At the checkout stand. You're standing there in line and you see an intriguing cover. Jumping online to TMZ.com isn't an option in the grocery store line (at least not just yet) and so the magazine has you. The downside to this approach is that People and the like don't have a lot of steady subscribers. But the upside is that they have found a way to position themselves in a time and place that works for them.

Now think about your local newspaper. It probably gets delivered to your door every morning (or it would if you actually subscribed to it). When you wake up in the morning do you want to sit down and read the paper with your coffee like grandpa used to? Or are you checking your Blackberry and looking up what the morning commute is like right now? If you drive to work you cannot safely or efficiently read the newspaper (no, seriously, you cannot read and drive, yes I mean you). Would your boss approve if the first 30 minutes of your day was spent reading the newspaper? Finish your workday, drive home, put the kids to bed and all you want to do it watch some entertaining TV.

The newspaper is obsolete. The general interest news magazine is obsolete. This is not something that will happen in the future--this has already happened. A generation has grown to adulthood without the habit of reading the paper in the morning. No amount of handwringing will change this back. Although it's dangerous to generalize from one's personal experience, the way I interact with the news is drastically different from the way I did when I was in college. I used to subscribe to the paper Wall Street Journal. I now read it only online, along with the New York Times. But I also use Google Reader to subscribe to a number of blogs and news feeds (including a couple of blogs by the Wall Street Journal). On my walk to work each morning I listen to podcasts from NPR and the Economist, but also to recorded speeches from my former law school and elsewhere. Today I was listening to Alan Greenspan speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations about the financial crisis--a speech which I'm not even sure I saw reported anywhere. And perhaps worst of all from the perspective of my local newspaper, lately I've taken to picking up a free copy of the political newspaper Politico. While most of the country can get Politico only online, actual paper is given away free in the DC area. I take it to my desk and peruse it each morning it's printed. But it's short and focused and relevant.

I'm a news junkie and yet my local newspaper, the venerable Washington Post, is not in the mix. I don't have time to read the physical paper; the website is poorly designed and frustrating to use; the blogs I followed for a while were uninteresting; and the podcasts nonexistent as far as I know. If there are great blogs or podcasts why isn't the Post doing a better job of letting me know they're out there? I get a letter every month urging me to buy a subscription to a format I'm unlikely ever to go back to. And I like newspapers, I genuinely miss getting the physical object. I remember from my earliest days seeing my dad at the kitchen table drinking coffee and reading the paper and thinking, "this is what grownups do." I subscribed to the Wall Street Journal as a senior in high school and read every single issue (really) for 15 years. But my nostalgia isn't strong enough for me to go back to a traditional newspaper subscription and I doubt that nostalgia will be a viable business model for the newspapers.

I don't have all the answers and maybe I don't have any. But the traditional media had better recognize that you cannot save something which is already extinct. If anyone in my generation ought to be reading a newspaper, it's me. But I've moved on. My children won't even know that there was something to be nostalgic about. We so readily and condescendingly accept that factory workers displaced by globalization need "job training" and "new skills." Why should white collar reporters be immune. Buy a Flip video camera and make us a video, get a decent microphone (actually, shell out for an excellent one) and make us a podcast. Do it now. Do it like your future depends on it.


this is way funnier


we love lunch too


Five, 10, 15 years from now

Walking through Carroll Gardens this weekend, our friend Anja asked us were we would live if we could live anywhere in the US. We were stumped.

And recently I was asked by my friend Laura to consider where I want to be in my life in five, ten, or fifteen years from now. I feel bifurcated on this question.

Chose your own adventure 5 year option A: debt free, except for our government law school loans, working as a writer and photographer, possibly a little person running around; option B: leading projects at my current job as a bureaucrat watching my life go by.

Not really two options there. So I need to proceed with Option A.

What do you do when you feel that what you want out of life and where you are currently positioned in life don’t align? Make a plan. Our plan to get from here to option A has been to work to pay off our debt. We need to reduce our costs. Simplify. Because I am unsatisfied in our daily work, we spend money and spare time doing things that we do find fulfilling.

But there is another leap that is necessary: I need to figure out how to make money, less money I am sure, writing and taking pictures for a living.

And I am worried about the day I decide to make this leap and what I will do on the next morning. Really? One day I will just decide to make this change? I suppose it will be more of a long-term migration in that direction.

But it is scary. What if I don’t like it? I know I will just try the next thing.

The impulsive side of me wants to enact Project 37 tomorrow, not five years from now. Realistically, I need to wait. Keep my eye on the prize. Bleh.

What are your five, ten, and fifteen year plans?


new york new york

Headed back up to New York this weekend to see my friend in from Germany, Anja. Had a wonderful, if exhausting weekend. Ready for the short work week! (Click here to see pictures of this weekend and last weekend with Amy.)

We visited The High-line Park today too. How fun. They took an abandoned elevated train track in the meat packing district and turned it into a park. There is a hotel that goes over the tracks. As I was walking up the stairs to the park, I said to Anja and Brent, "Wouldn't it be funny if we could see a naked person?"

Ask and ye shall receive: there was a naked guy. I took a picture of a fully clothed woman instead.


book review: on guerilla gardening

Ever heard of guerrilla gardening? People all over the world are taking over unused land and planting gardens! It is such a fun idea, especially if the land is lying fallow. And now there is a manual for people who want to try it: On Guerrilla Gardening. The small book includes the history of the movement and pictures of people out there doing it.

Did you know that Victory Gardens during World War II supplied 42 percent of all fresh food to the country? There seems to have been a recent resurgence of interest in gardening. And if you don’t have the land, why not set up a guerrilla garden?

A few people did just that down the block from our house. They planted flowers in a circle on an empty lot. I so enjoyed seeing the flowers there. And what harm do flowers do? I mean, they could only help to beautify the land.

The book explains a lot about gardening, the how of it all. And tells the personal story of the author and his guerrilla gardening adventures. I would recommend borrowing it from the library if only to learn more about the movement. And you can read more about guerrilla gardening at: www.guerrillagardening.org.


fun facts about protein

In the book, Eat to Live, there is a chart that shows that brocolli has more protein per ounce than sirloin. I did the math, and might have it wrong. This sentence links to the book page where the information is found.

Amount of protein in half a pound of sirloin: 12 grams

Amount of protein in half a pound of broccoli: 13 grams

Amount of protein in half a pound of Brussels sprouts: 15.4 grams

Interesting. Who knew?


candy corn cone

At work I came across a posting about a street artist who had painted orange cones to look like candy corn. HOW CUTE I thought...and then I saw one with my friend Amy! I was so excited. I loved it.

On the way home tonight our candy had been smashed in half. :( So I went and healed him. He was up right again. This is a picture of him by the artists, pre-injury. Click this link to see more of Diabetik's work. Enjoy.


book review: the guinea pig diaries

By A.J. Jacobs

The Guinea Pig Diaries is a book of crazy stunts, not unlike the stunts I dream up to try in my life. What fun to read about someone else pulling these silly stunts! And boy, is the author's wife a saint, which the author knows. His first two books I have heard of but not read: The Year of Living Biblically, and The Know-It-All.

The book collects Jacobs’ various articles written about experiments doing things such as outsourcing his life to India, or trying to behave rationally all of the time, or living a brutally honest life. These are all funny and some are even laugh-out-loud funny. When he outsources his life, he has personal assistants in India respond to all of his emails and buys all of his gifts online. He got the idea from the book, The World is Flat, which describes how much of our day to day lives is already outsourced (at least that is what I gather, because I have not read that book). He loves not having to worry about all of this email, and his assistants, in addition to being cute, write the best email responses! The brutal honesty chapter was one of my favorite chapters because that's I how I try to live my life. I am a direct communicator. I don’t beat around the bush. But I suppose 90 percent of my readers already know this. Ha. Jacobs, on the other hand, often lies. Little white lies. We all tell them. But when he stops telling the lies, both large and small, he feels somehow liberated. But he kind of feels bad for hurting people’s feelings too.

Because he wrote all of the articles at sometime in the past, he adds a coda to the end of all of the experiments. He said the rationality project has been the most lasting or life altering. In that experiment, he read up of cognitive behavioral psychology and tried to put what he had learned into action. I do this when driving; when I am in traffic I try to rationally remember that the other lanes only seem to be moving more quickly, because it's an optical illusion that the lanes look like they are moving more quickly.

His most genius experiment is spending the month being his wife’s slave. He does everything she asks, including turning up the volume on the TV manually even though she has the remote in her hands. His wife does the coda in this chapter, where she reveals the positive impact the experiment had on their relationship. Jacobs realized how much of the household work his wife does in comparison to him. Maybe this is something we should all try?

Jacobs said in his notes that he responds to all emails he gets. So as an experiment, I emailed him a few things I thought might interest him: 1. A photo of Bumpass, Virginia because of a reference to a similar sounding town in Virginia found in the book, 2. The essay I wrote about men sitting down to pee in Germany, something also mentioned in the book, and 3. I asked him to respond.

And he did! I was so excited! I got the response and did a little happy dance, until Brent reminded me that in his brutal honesty experiment he coped to having lied to a bad poet to protect the poet’s feelings. So his calling the German men peeing essay hilarious might have just been his being nice to me.

In any event, the book is good fun and the main qualms I have with it are the cover and the title. The cover sucks and the title is not as enticing as it could have been. If the book had not been recommended by someone else, I never would have picked it up. I did not tell Jacobs this when I emailed him though: it seemed gratuitously mean...maybe I am not as brutally honest as I think.


laughing pear


running a marathon

Don’t you just hate listening to people talk about their dreams? The ones they have at night. My mom would make us stop telling her about them. Stop, stop, holding up her hands.

I dreamt once that I could run, that I enjoyed running. I jumped over a stump, and sprang along the path, and felt free. Free to go where I wanted when I wanted.

I just watched all of these inspiring videos of people running marathons; even a woman with cystic fibrosis. Click here to watch some of the videos.

Brent thinks that finishing a marathon is less impressive these days because anyone can do it. You don't have to be skinny, or look fit. You can take as long as you want to. Hell, you can even walk.

I have completed a mini-marathon. Maureen and I trained for it years ago, in college. Every morning she would pick me up, calling my dorm room to tell me to come down.

"Why are you calling me so early?"
"Get the hell up, you know why I am calling, we train EVERY DAY."
"Oh right."

Every day I was surprised she would show up. EVERY DAY.

For the last year I have been riding my bike to work most days, and working out with Sam twice a week. Yesterday, we climbed the stairwell, me carrying 15 pound weights in both hands, whining a lot. Sometimes, he makes me race him to the top…but only two flights or so. And he gives me a head start, he is only 23 for goodness sake. If I lose, I have to race him again. I have only lost once. Yesterday, he said I was super fast. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t…but maybe I could run a marathon. I definitely felt free as I bounded up the stairs yesterday.


interesting thought

I just read this book, Death Rites, by Alicia Giménez-Bartlett. A suspense novel placed in Barcelona, the book was a fine little read. Nothing earth shattering. I did find this one quote to be very illustrative of how I feel recently:

“As soon as I reach a static point where things begin to repeat themselves, I want to change. Not in a conscious, measured way, but by means of a great show of passion.”

This is maybe my problem: I subconsciously fear repetition.

Which is a funny post, as this is my 300th blog post! Can you believe it, my loving readers? :) I suppose what I post on is varied...

The original goal of the blog has been to practice my writing...and I think it has served its purpose. I feel like my writing continues to improve. So thanks for reading.


store review: j. chocolatier

Friday, we were walking around in Georgetown, going to the library and just having a grand old time, when we stumbled upon the cutest little new chocolate shop: J. Chocolatier. In we went and spent some time checking out the new store, and talking to the owner. She had previously had a 9-5 job and then decided to learn about chocolate. Selling chocolate online morphed into the new store.

We got one each, and then saw this little Buddha chocolate; we just had to have one! We shared him once we got home before taking his picture.

J. Chocolatier
1039 33rd St. NW
Georgetown, DC
(near Cady’s Alley.)
(Click here to go to the website.)


laws to live by

I really want to take each of these "laws" below and try to put them into action in my life. (You can click on the laws to head over to their creator, John Maeda's website.) I think they are all so true, but sometimes living a simple life is more difficult that it seems...There are some things I have been successful in simplifying in my life: I buy all of my undies at Victoria Secrets. It is just easier that way. I know my size and when I need new ones I just buzz in there and grab five for $25.

More simplicity and thoughts on the topic to come.

Law 1: Reduce
The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.

Law 2: Organize
Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.

Law 3: Time
Savings in time feel like simplicity.

Law 4: Learn
Knowledge makes everything simpler.

Law 5: Differences
Simplicity and complexity need each other.

Law 6: Context
What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.

Law 7: Emotion
More emotions are better than less.

Law 8: Trust
In simplicity we trust.

Law 9: Failure
Some things can never be made simple.

Law 10: The One
Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.



i can't read what they are saying

the baby and the mama scooters

I stumbled across this blog by a person who loves analogue photography. I can't read a thing they have said, but I still feel like I somehow share their world view. Thanks Internets. Bring people together. (Click here to go to Snap With Film.)



What a few weeks. I knew when my best friend from grade school said she had to call me that sad stories were in the offing. So I did not call her, and she was too sad to call me. Nana died. Nana was Jodi's grandmother with whom I spent every other weekend with from 1st grade to 5th grade.

More on this as I process it. But what a bummer.


build a squid

Ok guys, how fun is this! You can go to this website, build a squid, and the come back in a few days to check on it!!! Do a little search for Olenic. She is sad and lonely...and looking for a t-shirt with ten arms...



more discussion of weight loss...

Remember I read that book by the woman who went to over-eaters anonymous? Then I looked up the diet...this is it, basically:

LOW-CARBOHYDRATE Sample Menu: (Suggested for losing weight)

1 Protein
1 Fruit

1 Protein
1 Vegetable
Finger Salad
(no dressing)

1 Protein
1 Vegetable

What do you notice? No carbohydrates or sugar right? Think Adkins Diet, or think Banting. Wait, who was Banting? Well given my recent question about how food becomes weight, I decided to jump back into Good Calories, Bad Calories. This is Gary Taubes’ book about weight loss.

He posits that obesity is not a behavioral problem, but is related to the types of food we are eating. Sugars and processed foods being the jumping off point. One of his favorite quotes: “To attribute obesity to ‘overeating’ is as meaningful as to account for alcoholism by ascribing it to ‘overdrinking.’” (Jean Mayer)

This makes so much sense to me. And because I believe in the European way of dealing with alcoholism, i.e. relearning how to drink responsibly, maybe I just need to relearn how to eat responsibly.

If you don’t have time to read the book, then watch the video (click here).

So back to the Banting diet; the first diet. Banting did the OA diet. He stopped eating sugars and carbohydrates and lost weight. He published a pamphlet about it, and well the first diet was born, in 1863.

What does this mean for me? I am not sure. I am still reading the book. More to come.


frank lloyd wright house

Last weekend I woke up on Saturday and said, "Let's go to the Pope-Leighy House." It is a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Alexandria, Virginia. For years we have driven by the sign for the house. It was built in 1940 for the Pope family. Later on the Leighy's moved in. Our tour guide had the greatest name: H. Fairfield Butt. He was a kick. Really into the house.

The house does not have insulation. Wood on the outside, then plywood center, and the same wood on the inside. And it seems to have held up well. (Laura, I took a picture of the wall model just for you!)

The house has been moved twice! The first time to make way for a highway, the second time to deal with a poor foundation.

I know this is sacrilege, but I was not impressed with the layout of the house. At 1200 square feet I expected it to feel bigger. But it was cute.

Click here to see the other pictures I took, with Brent's iphone.
I forgot the camera!!!


very fun idea to get people to use the stairs

brought to us by a reader! :) LOVE it.


question for the blog readers

I wish someone could explain to me how food becomes fuel which is either used or stored in your body.

I mean if I eat three pounds of food in one day (for example, I have no idea about the number), how does that translate into my body?

I would assume that if I ate 3 pounds of food that I could at most gain 3 pounds of weight. But I might be wrong. I don't really understand it. And I am having problems forumlating a set of search terms to figure out how it works.

Does that make sense? What is the relationship between the amount of food eaten and a body's weight?


truck farm

I ran across these videos a few months ago. I wish they would make another video about the truck farm. What a fun idea!



The second year I lived in Germany I found my dream pair of jeans. They were tight in all the right places and they fit. I wore them every day. Every day. I am not kidding. If they were not clean, well then I would stay home.

I love my jeans.

After a few months in Berlin I realized I needed another pair. It almost seemed like a fluke that I a. had found these jeans on sale and b. the jeans fit. I went back to the same store and found another similar pair, only these were slightly smaller. I was losing weight and figured that I would be wearing them in no time.

I am still not wearing those jeans, however they sit in my closet, even though I have a firm rule that clothing that looks bad, has not been worn, or is out dated be donated. Another pair sits in my closet too. These are from 10th grade however. When I bought them I thought I looked fat in them. I look back on that person with a hint of pity. What I would not give to have a 32 inch waist. Well, apparently, I would not give up food.

This year’s resolution was to get in shape and learn about health. I have a trainer I see twice a week, my knees feel great, I have recently joined Weight Watchers. I am doing this the slow way.

Doing what? Appeasing my Grandmother who constantly talks about “getting all that weight off?” Merely trying to get in shape, so I can ski and bike and do the things I like to? Trying to get my doctor to ask me how I lost weight if it was not via his just eat 1200 calories a day plan?

I have a job that is interesting, and has the potential to make the world a better place. There is only one problem with the job: I can’t wear jeans, ever. Every year we have an opportunity to tell the administrator of our agency what we would like to see done; a giant suggestion box if you will. I want to scream loud and clear: if I could wear jeans to work I would NEVER leave this job. Never.

But wait, I left a jeans job, to go to law school. Why did I do that again?

I like to wear jeans because they are comfortable, I look good in them, I feel good in them, and I notice when I gain or lose weight while wearing them. Other cloths are too forgiving. In other clothes, I can cover up problem sports, or just wear black for weeks on end. Jeans offer none of those comforts. Yet, it is to my jeans I turn to with excitement every Saturday morning.

So are the jeans really just a symbol of freedom? Of my ability to tell the Man that I don’t have to conform to his world, of my inability to not conform to his world.

The jeans worn daily in Berlin are too tight these days too. But they are zippable, which is more than they were at the beginning of the year.

Zippable: the act of being able to lay on your bed, with lungs empty, and zip up your pants. Said pants cannot be worn out of the house, or out of the bedroom really, because of problems with fainting.

I am working on zipping the jeans and wearing the jeans as part of this year’s resolution.

(I wrote this as part of my writing class.)


book review: passing for thin

Montana, Erin, and Ada came to visit us on Sunday. We had a lovely day of brunch and hanging out at our favorite bookstore. I got a few good books.

I just finished Passing for Thin, by Frances Kuffel. Turns out she is from MISSOULA. Another Montana writer. Who knew? In the late 90's she lost 170 pounds in two years. The book chronicles her journey to half of herself.

In a moment reminiscent to Eat, Pray, Love, Mrs. Kuffel hears God tell her to lose weight. So she goes to Over-eaters Anonymous. She has a sponsor and a special diet, the OA's diet. I looked online for it. (You can check it out by clicking this sentence.) OA is similar to AA. You must completely abstain from your addiction. So if you are in AA, no alcohol, if you are in OA, no food. Oh wait, that won't work. No sugar or carbohydrates. Protein, fruits, and veggies only.

The European view of alcoholism is different than our view. In Europe people re-learn how to interact with alcohol, rather than banning it for life. I think this is a better approach. There are always going to be tempting foods out there, but I need to learn how to not eat all of them like the rest of the world. Ok the skinny rest of the world.

My real problem with the book is really a problem with all so called diets: diets are unsustainable. You cannot live on a diet the rest of your life. I firmly believe you have to re-learn portion control and what is healthy. Our society sends out so many different messages about how to lose weight it is easy to get confused. And I am not so sure there is really a lot of science out there about losing weight. To almost quote Erin, 'Losing weight is not as linear as the eat less food and exercise.'

She apparently has another book coming out in a few months about re-losing the weight.

Life is a journey, not a destination, as someone says.


ted: elizabeth gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame

A friend emailed on Friday to say that she is getting a good review, but did not feel she really deserved it because all she really does is show up.

So, is showing up enough? Watch this TED video and let me know what you think.



Do you take the stairs? I was thinking about the stairs a few weeks ago, and realized that between my senior year in high school and first year of college I stopped using the stairs. Not only did I stop using the stairs, but I started planning ways to not take the stairs.

One of the books I read this year posits the theory that fat people are not lazy, their bodies are just better at naturally conserving calories. So while skinny people have an urge to exercise and move, fat people don’t. I don’t. If I am not meeting Sam in the gym, I am not going.

But I am trying to change that habit. Hence my thinking about stairs. How is it I cut out stairs? I mean, cut out in the way I cut out lima beans from my diet. I don’t care how you try to get me to eat them, it ain’t happening.

My friend and former boss John, who is of an undetermined age, was told to stop running so much by his physician a few years ago. He has to keep it to 3 miles a day. He emailed me to tell me, randomly, that he has reincorporated stairs into his life. “I'm trying to follow that advice and try to take the stairs exclusively, up and down in the office. After about a month, the 10 flights stairs have gotten easier, and I spend less time reading the floor numbers going up. Hopefully after 8 or 9 months I'll notice a difference.”

What am I doing bitching about a few flights up to our apartment, when he is doing 10 flights a day? Granted, I don’t think he goes out to lunch, but that is a lesson for another posting...but you see my point, I hope.

The article about stairs in the New York Magazine sealed the deal: “Stair-climbing is a more efficient form of exercise than walking: Two additional minutes of stair-climbing per day (approximately three floors) can burn more than enough calories to eliminate the average adult’s annual weight gain.” (You can read more about stairs by clicking this sentence.)

Needless to say I will be taking the stairs. (Be careful if you do the same in an office building, as some floors lock the stairwell doors!)


book review: German for Travelers

by Norah Labiner

German for Travelers, a book about Germany, Berlin no less. Was I going to read it? Yes. What were the odds that I would love the book? 20 to 1. Then why didn’t I?

The story, told via various German lessons follows the tale of one family, from the point of view of two spoiled brats/great grandchildren living in LA. We walk down the streets of Berlin today and yesterday. We learn about living in Germany during the war and before the war. We learn all of the family secrets. But we just don’t care. I just did not care about the protagonists and I am not sure that I cared to know what the family secret was.

Which bummed me out because I really wanted to like the book. The cover of the book is great. Although no one goes to the sea in the book, and there are not two children in the time period of the photo on the cover.

One other thing that drove me crazy was that the German lessons were not all correct. I am sure this was done on purpose, but it drove me crazy.

Maybe I should re-read it. I don’t know. I sound so cranky. All the other book reviewers loved it. Hump.


book review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
So it has come to this: we now have a quaint best seller of a book about World War 2. And the story, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is touching. Set on a real island off the coast of France, but a part of England, the island was English territory that Germany invaded. (A little known fact is that Japan also invaded some US islands off the coast of Alaska during the war. Read more by clicking this sentence.)

I read the story a few months ago and really enjoyed it. The story is told through letters sent back and forth between the members of the society and an author with writer’s block.

After 9/11 happened I wondered when we would have assimilated the event in our psyches enough to allow us to write or talk about what happened lightheartedly. I suppose this is one thing I find interesting about this book. The author grew up during the war and wrote this book towards the end of her life. So I suppose it took her 50 years or more to get to that point.


Have you ever heard of the American Stonehenge?

(Image from Wired.)
Outside of my cube a director keeps all of these magazines. There is Wired, Science, and Scientific American. Sometimes I grab one to take to lunch. One article I recently read was about the American Stonehenge. It is located in northeastern Georgia and called the Georgia Guidestones. The five slabs of granite each weigh 20 tons! The most interesting part about them is that the people who funded the project in 1979 are secret! No one knows who they were or are. 12 languages are used on the giant stones, which happen to be aligned like a calendar. Apparently you can tell the time from the stones, and the directions too. Engraved in the stones are instructions to the world. For example one says, “Rule Passion, Faith, Tradition, and all things with Tempered Reason.” Sounds like good advice right?

But a lot of controversy surrounds the mystery of the stones because one guy, not Dan Brown, thinks that a group of devil worshipers paid for the guidestones. The theory begins with the instruction to “Unite Humanity with A Living New Language.” Anyone who has read the Bible, knows what happens to humanity when that happens right?

As an intellectual experiment, I find it interesting that a group of people would want to spend the time and effort needed to have this monument built. What would drive you to do that? Strongly held convictions. What was going on in the world in 1979? Did these people really think the end was that near?

I would love to see these things. Anyone been there?


funny video...maybe

We were driving home yesterday and this guy had a full grown tree in the back of his truck...so I had Brent video it...but you can barely see the tree and then the video camera ran out of juice...funny or not?


the last wedding of the season: Nicole and Bob Sullivan

What a wedding it was! The wedding itself took place in White Plains next to our law school. Then we drove north to Garrison, New York to The Garrison country club. What an awesome setting! And the view and weather were wonderful.

I was in the wedding and therefore have no pictures of the bride and groom on the wedding day...but lots of the bride. (Click here to see the whole group of them.)

We drove up on Friday for the rehearsal. Pizza and beer afterwards at an old law school haunt really hit the spot. (You can find pictures of that event by clicking this sentence.)

I am really looking forward to seeing what their photographer does with his pictures!

On a final note, I almost ruined Nicole's day and bore all of the bad luck on my shoulders. The morning of the wedding, we walked out to a beautiful day. The sun was shining, after raining for days. I had coffee and good hair. And then the car was missing. To keep everything ready I had left the brides maid dress in the car. And the city had no record of my car. I lost my shit. But luckily a cop told us a few minutes later that the car had not been towed, but RELOCATED. Nice. New word. RELOCATED. Two blocks down. Crisis over. :)