Saturday, March 29, 2008

Out Of Context



Because you are NOT Robert Redford, this is NOT "Out of Africa," and we are NOT sittin' on a porch in the savannah!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Few Of My Favorite Tweets

I have been completely in love with the unlikely internet juggernaut that is Twitter for almost a year now, and I am still nearly always unable to describe it accurately to people who do not use it. Yes, it's like instant messaging, kind of. And kind of like a chat-room. And sort of like blogging--instantaneous micro-blogging, anyway. It comes from a wholly simple and straightforward place, asking simply, "What are you doing?" and then providing you with 140 characters worth of blank space to answer that question, as frequently or infrequently as you choose.

twitterfaves page 7

When I first entered the Twitter playground last year, most people simply answered the question, using the automatic placement of their username as the beginning of a declarative statement. As in, "ninjapoodles is waiting for the dryer to finish, awestruck at the glamor that is her life." For most folks, Twitter was pretty personal, and we followed mostly people we already knew, either in "real life" or online, and read their updates and posted our own. Then, a few months ago, the Twitter timeline somehow became a conversation. A live, constant, global conversation. New connections were made. In response to the ways that its users were utilizing the service, Twitter made changes to the way the application works. More and more, people were responding to each other directly, by placing '@' in front of another's username. Most of us added more and more followers, as we saw our friends responding to people we hadn't known about, and clicked over to their profiles and found that we liked them, too, and wanted to follow them.

Now, Twitter has added a wonderful little swooshy arrow at the end of each update, so that you can simply click on it to reply to the poster, without even having to type in their username yourself. As of this writing, I have posted a total of 5,836 updates on Twitter, received several hundred "DMs" (direct messages), and I'm following what seems like an insane number of people--353--and adding more daily. I don't automatically follow everyone who follows me, but I do follow anyone who interacts with me directly. In the beginning, I tried to keep a lid on the number of people I'd follow, because I couldn't keep up with a cluttered "timeline," but with the '@' feature, I can easily click on the "replies" tab and see if anyone has addressed me directly, without scanning back through the timeline.

There's also a "favorites" feature, where you can click a star next to a post and mark it as a favorite, for Twitter to save. Tonight was the first time I opened my "favorites" file and looked back on all the posts I'd saved. Here is a samping of updates which I found, for whatever reason, worthy of saving over the last year or so.

This screen-grab is a perfect illustration of how the Twitter timeline can capture the mundane, the angsty, the humorous, and the profound at a glance:

twitterfaves page 1

Some of the "Tweets" I save are replies to something I've posted, that made me laugh or meant something to me so that I wanted to remember them. Some struck me as funny:

twitter7 replymeg

twitter8 q,s,n

Others touched me (and probably now have meaning only to me):

twitter10 replymeg2

And some I save when people speak to me in languages from other planets:

twitter5 j

Some Tweets are two-parters (read from the bottom up):

twitter12 blacktar

Sometimes an exchange between others is so funny to me that I save the whole thing, like this one (yes, I am so good at screen captures that I left the cursor in the middle of the shot--that word is "idea"). Remember that the Twitter timeline posts the most recent updates at the top, so read exchanges from bottom to top:

twitter14 chair jen

But by far, the updates I "favorite" (one thing that really bugs me about the internet is the increasing creation of new verbs) most often are stand-alone posts, usually the ones that make me laugh. These, more than anything else, are probably what makes Twitter worth using for me. Forget "social media," networking, whatever...sometimes, I just want to see what other folks are doing, and hopefully have a chuckle.

twitter9 4

twitter6 mark

twitter4 meg

twitter3 nicole

twitter11 ward

twitter 8 5

twitter16 k, JP

twitter 15 Carrie

twitter17 newest

twitter1 Neil

So...What are you doing?

UPDATE: Edited to add this video (thanks, Zach!), explaining the bare-bones basics of Twitter to the uninitiated.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Because We Apparently Can't Get Enough Of The Neighbor Drama

Nope, it's not even the same neighbor as last time. Let me see if I can break this latest episode of Rural Soap Opera down for you. We own 5 acres. The property is basically rectangular, plus a long driveway from our main, fenced lot to the public street. It looks like this:

property lines

The large rectangle on the bottom represents our fenceline. We have a 6' chain-link around that entire perimeter. Our property line actually lies outside the fenceline, anywhere from several inches to a foot and a half. The upper, smaller rectangle in the picture indicates our driveway, which is part of our deeded property. The houses on both sides of the drive have access from the public road, and the driveway leads ONLY to our house. Seems simple, no?

Just to the right of the lower portion of that upper rectangle, there is a double-wide mobile home. It's a nice one, and well-kept, and we understand that it belongs to the property-owners' son (the property owners' house is up closer to the street), who lives there with his wife or girlfriend, and has custody of his kids every other weekend or so. We knew when we moved in that there might be some confusion over just whose driveway that is, because the previous owners of our house had allowed the neighborhood kids to ride skateboards down the driveway, and generally just include it in their play area. The skateboard thing scared me to death, because I didn't want a child cracking his skull open on my property if I could help it. We began keeping the large drive-gate close, which kept stray kids and dogs out of the fenced area, but they kept using our driveway. But, no harm, no foul, and we want to be good neighbors, so for two years we haven't said anything.

Cut to this past Saturday, noon, and a knock on our door, which reveals Angry Neighbor Dude, demanding to speak to Alex. When Alex went outside, he was greeted with the guy feeling the hood of Alex's truck, and saying, "THIS THING IS STILL WARM!" Alex had been out in the wee, WEE hours of the morning to check his game cameras before the opening of turkey season, but his truck had been parked for a couple of hours at that point--in fact, he'd been sound asleep for all that time, happily napping. In response to Alex's blank stare, Angry Neighbor Dude essentially accused Alex of running over and killing his small dog.

Have I ever mentioned that we are, literally, the ONLY people on this entire street who do NOT let our dogs run loose, ever? I'm sure I have. And sadly, there's not even a leash law out here, so we can't even call the county animal control officer unless we caught a dog doing some sort of damage on our property. This particular family has had a succession of small Jack-Rat looking dogs, who charge us, barking, whenever we drive or walk up and down our own driveway every single day. As a matter of fact, this same guy suspected us of having SHOT one of his little dogs soon after we moved in. Shooting a pet dog--dead! Us! Can you imagine? We can't. We told him at the time that we are dog lovers, and would never, ever do something like that. I don't know if he ever really believed it, but it made me sick that anyone would even think such a thing.

As near as we can figure, Angry Neighbor Dude came outside around noon that day to find one of his little dogs lying dead next to his porch, and the first place he came was down to our house to FEEL OUR TRUCK. Which, by virtue of us not owning a garage, sits out in the sun all the time, so doesn't really have a lot of opportunity to feel COOL. That "warm" truck was all the evidence he needed, and he laid into Alex. In the ensuing discussion, Angry Neighbor Dude talked about how his dogs chase cars all the time, and revealed that, just days before, his OTHER dog had been run over (but survived) when it "ran up under the school bus." I don't know about you, but at some point in this process, I'd have to start questioning my animal husbandry techniques.

But no, he wasn't taking any responsibility for his unfenced, unleashed, car-chasing dogs, he was looking for someone to be ticked off at. And he never did believe anything that Alex said, but eventually went away saying that Alex had probably hit his dog without realizing it, because he was probably driving too fast and not paying attention. It was during this diatribe that Alex noticed him referring to our driveway as "that easement." Alex could tell that there was no use arguing or nit-picking with the guy at the time, so just told him he was sorry about his dog, but had not seen the animal at all that morning (though he HAD seen the bus-runner, who is apparently a really slow learner).

The talk of the "easement" really got to bothering us, because our driveway just isn't an "easement." It's our driveway. Yes, it's been convenient for these people to use our driveway as their own, and we hadn't really minded, but we thought everyone understood that it IS ours. The two houses on either side of our drive have their OWN driveways with access to the public street, in front. There are no drives or paths of any kind leading off our driveway. Our driveway leads ONLY to our house. The only potential I see for confusion is that our driveway is asphalt, like the main public road, so might, to a casual observer, look like another road. Except for the fact that there is no street sign on it, just our mailbox. And, starting now, a "PRIVATE DRIVE" sign. It's certainly never been an issue for UPS, Fed-Ex, or the US Postal Service.

So Alex wrote Angry Neighbor Dude a nice, polite note, explaining to him that as "dog people," with 6 dogs of our own living here, we have extreme compassion for our pets and those of others, which is why we KEEP OUR DOGS AT HOME, and that if we HAD hit his dog as it ran up under our truck as it did every single day, we'd have certainly had the decency to knock on his door and inform him of the fact, and make sure to shield his children from the incident if they happened to be there at the time. He also explained, in what I thought were non-confrontational terms, that our driveway is not, in fact, an "easement" of any kind, but our own personal, private property, and attached copies of our deed, legal description, and survey to illustrate the fact. I hope that will resolve some confusion and not add fuel to any grudge.

So now, that's neighbors on TWO sides of us who dispute what actually belongs to us and what doesn't (the people on the other side of us think that OUR fence is "shared property," when in fact it is a good foot to a foot and a half WITHIN our property line). And the sad thing is, they're all wrong, and we have the paperwork, all publicly recorded, to prove it. Hopefully that will be enough, and we won't have to build a moat.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Reveal

It's cute.

evaluating the flatiron treatment

We like it. Bella's still not convinced it's short enough, but like I told her, you can always cut more off. That may yet happen.

The whole photo set can be found on flickr
, and here's a little documentation of the process, which she thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end.


This is a Very Big Deal

would do this once a week if she could


Also, she wants a pink wig. And just to clarify the JT discussion: Our up-and-coming showdog was born when Jermain Taylor was first vying for (and ultimately winning) the world middleweight boxing championship, and is named after him--registered as "Impulse Bad Intentions" and called JT. Bella was talking about him having bands in his topknot, because he's growing out showcoat. And now you know.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Take One Last Look At The Untamed Locks

at the bookstore

Bella and I are off to get haircuts. Mine hasn't been cut since last year right before BlogHer, and hers hasn't been cut...well, ever, aside from one trimming of split-ends when she was 2 or 3. This event is easily the HIGHLIGHT of her Spring Break, and pretty much all she's been talking about for a month. She has an idea what she wants, and I'm just along for the ride. All I know for sure is that she's taking it down to shoulder-length, and that is has been "driving [her] crazy." I know the feeling.

Also: If this is what she looks like at age 5, what's she gonna look like at age 15? SOMEONE MAKE THE GROWING UP STOP!!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Life In The Slow Lane, WITH CHICKENS!

So, for several months now, I've been reading, somewhat enviously, the adventures and misadventures of people who've chosen to live a "slow" lifestyle. Basically, what this means is a way of life that creates less of an impact on your environment, your living space, your finances, etc. Some people stopped shopping, some stopped consuming fossil fuels, some stopped buying prepared foods or non-local food. Easily one of my all-time favorites of this fascinating group of blogs is titled, "These Days In French Life." Warning: Make sure you have some time on your hands before you visit, because you WILL get lost.

Riana is an American food writer who now lives in rural South France with her husband and baby daughter, and she is, frankly, amazing. The woman wastes NOTHING. I've followed her cooking over a fire, not shopping for half a year, and giving up toilet paper (I'm telling you, she's serious about this). She also has the energy of ten of me. Behold this excerpt from a recent post, in which she describes what she has going on in her oven in one afternoon:

I filled the oven to brim since it takes up the same electricity as a load of clothes in the dryer. Besides the chocolate tarte (with leaf lard crust to die for), roasted three beets with olive oil and garlic (the bright red beet skins saved to make Easter egg dye), a butternut squash cubed and roasted, duck broth and carrot top antioxidant soup (in the oven!) for our duck won ton soup tonight, a millefeuille of golden carrots, sweet onions and fish for lunch and duck l’orange salad.

There has never been a moment that I have not admired the people who live this way--frugally, responsibly, close to the earth and being good stewards of what they've been given. Back when Chris told me that her family, which is roughly three times larger than mine, produces something like a third of the trash that my family produces (yes, this means that we're trashier than Chris' family), it was a huge wake-up call. That's when I really started noticing things like excessive packaging. I thought I'd been pretty alert before, but I was kidding myself.

Since we've moved to this house, we've been progressively "de-cluttering," though as soon as we get rid of a truckload or two, another pile seems to materialize in its place--we have a long way to go and our work cut out for us before we get down to a more minimalist place. I have never been a big shopper (my husband has that role in our relationship), but I cut the flow of money further, where I could, and continue to look for ways to do that. Case in point, tonight's trip to the grocery store with my fistful of coupons, which yielded $212 worth of goods for which I paid $92. There's a tremendous amount of satisfaction in that, but once you start down this road, you begin to constantly look for more, for ways to do better. Saving money on groceries and shampoo is not benefiting me if I'm turning around and spending those savings on books and magazines and restaurant sushi. It's my intention, in a couple of months, once Alex's truck is paid off and Bella is out of private preschool, to begin socking my grocery savings into a savings account, so that there's a more tangible result to show for all my scrimping and stockpiling. Right now, however, we are broker than broke (thanks, tornado season!), so that will have to wait.

In the meantime, I'm learning about the "slow food" movement, and getting ready to plant vegetables and raise chickens. That's right. Since we live on a giant rock now, I'm going to try some box gardens (thanks to my Twitterbuds who recommended "Square Foot Gardening") to raise organic veggies, to eat in-season and to stock our freezer for later in the year. But the important thing here is the chickens. I am beyond excited about the chickens, and if you ask my husband, he will tell you that I can't shut up about the chickens.

I had a small flock of Araucanas and Sebrights once before, along with a 3-foot-tall Dominique or Barred Rock (not sure which) rooster. They fell, one by one, to the poodles. I'd let the dogs out to play, and the next thing I knew, one of those darn chickens would have flown into the dog yard and gotten herself rapidly devoured. I have to give the poodles points for efficiency, though, because there was never anything left but a pile of feathers and a gallbladder. The rooster...well, I know for a fact that he went down fighting. His name was Gary, and he was enormous, and used to actually go for little constitutionals on the street where I lived. It was a sight to see, Gary strutting down the road and back home again. One day he just vanished, and I assumed that he'd fallen victim to fowl play (HAR!) while on one of his walks. Around that same time, Delta lost her collar and had several deep scratches on her face--I thought she'd gotten her head stuck in the fence in front of the brambles, or something. I think you see where this is going.

A couple of weeks later, while clearing the tall grass behind the barn, I discovered all that remained of Gary. I almost wish I had a picture, because words cannot convey the horror...there, in the underbrush, was a flash of purple. Delta's collar, which had been pulled off over her head. And firmly and forever affixed to that collar were two giant chicken feet, clutching it like macabre yellow vice-grips. I can't even imagine the scene that culminated in poor Gary being separated from his feet, but to this day I admire his tenacity. I did not reclaim the collar--I figured Gary had earned the trophy, even if it was posthumously.

So now, new chickens are coming! This time, there will be a dedicated and secure chicken yard, most likely with netting over the top so they can't fly out. On April 7th, I'll be receiving a tidy little flock of day-old Buff Orpington chicks. They're beautiful birds, and a heritage breed, not a modern commercial cross. Most of the cockerels will become meat, and the best hens will be used for eggs and to hopefully reproduce and sustain our flock, so that we're not just buying a new flock of chicks every year. What I like about this arrangement, aside from the potential sustainability, is that it gives me an opportunity to really take responsibility for what I feed my family. Even most "organic" chicken is cage-raised (egg farming seems to be even worse), and it's almost impossible to know the conditions in which the animals are kept. I'll know that these birds are healthy and happy, that they're fed natural, wholesome, species-appropriate food, that no pesticides or antibiotics or hormones are involved. I'll know that the animals who serve me live a robust life and meet a humane end. The meat and eggs they produce will be better for us, better for the environment, and in the big scheme of things, taking one family, who eats more chicken than any other protein, off the factory-farmed poultry grid is a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

I also like that Bella is learning where meat comes from, and that she won't grow up distanced from the source of what winds up on her plate. If you're going to eat meat, it seems to me to be better to be responsible for it, to know what you're eating and how it was treated--and I think this philosophy also puts her in a better, more informed position for choosing to be a vegetarian or a vegan, should she feel led to do that. Heck, you might check back here in six months and find out that I myself am now a vegetarian with a giant flock of pet chickens. Who knows? It's doubtful, though--even though I have maintained a vegetarian and even a vegan lifestyle at times in the past, I was only able to do it with the consumption of a great deal of soy product, mainly meat substitutes, tofu, soy milk, and TVP. And, well, knowing what we now know about soy, that's just not smart, especially for someone with estrogen issues...and since Bella likely carries my predisposition toward estrogen-dominant disease, I'd like to not load the deck against her at the start.

Other things we can do to further distance ourselves from industrial farming includes only buying beef from our local, independent butcher, who slaughters one or two cows a week--cows which are brought in by local farmers. We already eat very little beef, and even less pork, but the dogs eat beef, so it's good to know that we have a source we can trust. We can also buy locally farmed catfish easily, and can catch trout from clean waters almost all year long. And as skeeved out as I initially was when Alex started seriously pursuing hunting, now that I've enjoyed several meals that his efforts have provided, I can appreciate the logic of the hunter/game relationship. I definitely feel better about eating wild game than I do factory-farmed beef, pork, or poultry, and that big tom turkey that Alex brought home last month was mighty tasty, and provided us with meat for several meals, plus gallons of rich, clear stock for the freezer (my Jewish friends will weep at the fact that I did not save the schmaltz--what little there was). We've barely made a dent in the freezer full of venison that came from the single deer he got this winter.

So, yeah...I'll probably be talking more about the chickens, and "slow food" in general, and posting pictures of ridiculously decorated henhouses and oodles of fuzzy baby chicks, so just get used to it. Like I said, I can barely shut up about THE CHICKENS. If you have thoughts or suggestions on slow food or slow living in general, I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Happy Birthday, Wild Man

I'm glad I got to get dragged all over the Cherokee Wildlife Management Area with you today. And then got to drive you home, check you for ticks, and cook your dinner. And I'm glad you'll be coming with me for yet another colonoscopy. The fun never stops for us, does it? And if I can figure out how to work the YouTube, I WILL be posting the video that I took of you stalking around in the forest today, blowing on that crow-call. I love you. Happy Birthday.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Oh, Who Are The Varmints In Your Neighborhood? You Might Be Surprised.

By now I have a long and storied history of being plagued by raccoons. I kind of hate them. They raid my feed stores, increase my horses' risk of Equine Protozoal Myelitis (for which there is no cure or vaccine), poop copiously in the back of Alex's truck, and even mount suicide missions to deprive us of electricity and scare me to death.

Since we are getting chickens in a couple of weeks (Did I mention we're getting chickens again? We're getting chickens again! 25 Buff Orpington and 3 Araucana hatchlings! Yaaay!), I'm obsessing just a weeeee bit over keeping them safe, especially during the night. We have a pretty secure henhouse, but extra measures will be taken to shore it up even more. Raccoons, though, are like furry little Terminators of vermin. They just DO NOT STOP. Where some pests will tentatively approach your home and livestock and make opportunistic attacks if they deem it safe, a raccoon will walk right up to you, stare you down, roll you, take your wallet, and THEN eat your chickens.

We've tried, previously, setting Havahart traps (live traps) for the raccoons and the feral cats (whom I also HATE) that run roughshod all over us, to no avail. So last week, during the 4 days of bizarre weather (alternating snow, t-shirt weather, snow, t-shirt weather), Alex had the clever idea of baiting an area next to our fenceline, and setting up a motion-sensor gamecam that he normally uses to monitor his hunting spots. The hope was that we'd be able to detect a pattern in raccoon activity, in order to facilitate the trapping and relocating of the main raccoon "family" that is plaguing us the most. Over those 4 days, we got over 400 pictures. And yes, we got plenty of shots of our raccoon nemeses. (Click any pictures to embiggen them and get more info.)

Freaking Raccoons

What we didn't expect was the huge variety of critters who showed up over and over during that short span of time. I'm both fascinated and annoyed.

Fascinating: This fox! We had no idea we had a fox around! Isn't he gorgeous?



Annoyed: Feral cats and 'possum, which have apparently formed an unholy alliance and are running TOGETHER now. GREAT.
The Odd Feral Cat/'Possum Alliance

Fascinating: Enormous quantities of squirrels and crows. Squirrels and crows are OUT IN FORCE.
Poe, Party of Two


SUPER ANNOYING: Loose dogs. I'm sure you all know my feelings about people who let their dogs just roam the neighborhood. This is especially stupid in areas where people keep livestock, because Arkansas law lets you claim SEVEN TIMES the value of the livestock animal if someone's loose dog kills one of your animals on your property. And don't think I won't be taking folks to small-claims court if this happens, because I will. Your dogs DO NOT BELONG on my property. My dogs aren't on YOUR property, and I bet I have more dogs Than you do. The one in the foreground here is the Hated Yellow Dog I've spoken of so UN-fondly here before. That pair of Weimeraners are strangers to me, but I'm grateful to be aware of them now, and will try to find out where they belong.

Fun: The whitetail deer family, which we already knew about, having spotted them around the area since we moved in. They appeared like clockwork, at the same times each day and night, and in one frame, we were even treated to dinner and a SHOW! See if you can spot the deer pr0n.



HELLO!  Dinner and a Show

Whitetail, Party of Four

Don't say this blog never offers anything titillating. Heh.

Anyway, so far, as a result of his in-depth reconnaissance efforts, Alex has already trapped one raccoon and relocated it two counties away. I'm not sure what we'll do with the cats if we can trap them--obviously we don't want them re-released in our area, even if they're neutered/spayed/inoculated, because they have become quite aggressive and brazen in hanging out right around our back doors, so I have no doubts they'll be some of the first ones trying to get into the henhouse at night. I don't know what they do with feral cats at the shelter, though I suspect that these aren't truly feral, but someone's "barn cats" who have taken to wandering farther and farther afield in search of meals. (Just a note, people--that old saw about not feeding barn cats because it decreases their drive for mousing? It's a bunch of bunk. Actually, you DO want to feed them, so that they'll stick close to the place where you want them to hunt. If not, then they just begin hunting farther away, and that's doing you no good in controlling your rodent population.)

Yep, it's an exciting life we lead out here in the boonies. To see more of this group of pictures, start here on flickr, and click through them.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A "Pet" Pet Peeve

PET pet peeve

I don't know if this is a purely Southern phenomenon, but I see it all too often, and when I do, it makes me feel stabby. This is just BEYOND idiotic. I truly do not understand what people are thinking when they drive around with dogs in the bed of a pickup truck. Presumably, they "love" their dogs and want to take them for a ride. Bollocks.

If you LOVE your dogs, or even care casually about them, you don't set them up to become projectiles in even a minor traffic accident or just a "near miss" in which you must slam on your brakes or swerve. Even if you're the best driver in the world (and observing the judgment you're showing here, you're NOT), you can't predict or control what other drivers on the road with you are going to do.

And if the thought of your dogs going flying into the street only to then be hit by other cars is not enough of a deterrent to keep you from doing something this stupid, then consider something else: If you're involved in an accident, and your dog becomes a 60-pound projectile which causes injury to another person or persons, who do you think is going to be liable for that injury?

To sum up, THIS IS STUPID; please knock it off.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

He Also Likes The Word "Popover"

So the husband and I are at Jason's Deli, a local restaurant known for fresh, gourmet sandwiches and soups with a "healthy" vibe. He orders, as he does every time, a chicken and spinach panini. He eats half of it, and pushes the rest away. To me, as I'm savoring my "light" meal of a small turkey wrap and steamed vegetables, the mozzarella-loaded panini looks pretty darn good.

this precedes a standard panini discussion

Me: "Is something wrong with your panini?"

Alex: "I just don't like it."

Me: "Well, you don't like 'crunchy' bread."

Alex: (agreeing) "I don't like 'crunchy' bread."

Me: "So why do you always order paninis? A panini is grilled, so the bread is going to be, by necessity, 'crunchy'."

Alex: "I forgot. Anyway, why can't they make a panini with soft bread?"

Me: (gesturing toward the gigantic, wall-spanning menu) "They DO. They're called 'sandwiches.' The place is lousy with them."

Alex: "Shut up."

Me: "You just like to say, 'panini,' don't you?"

Alex: "Shut up."

Me: "Kind of like how you think you like popovers, because you like to say 'popover,' right?"

Alex: (quietly) "I'd like a popover."