Things Consumed

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Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy Impending New Year! May it be a vast improvement over 2007 for everyone and everything here on this pretty planet.


posted by Arlene (Beth)7:00 PM

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Passing and Last Words. My maternal grandfather passed away on Saturday, December 29th at the age of 89. He had cancer, and had been suffering from a variety of systemic health failures for the past year or so. The past few months had been especially difficult for him, and included several strokes.

His last words were an inquiry about the state of the bathroom plumbing in the house.

He surely wasn't aware that those would be his last words. He was relying on morphine to speak over the pain he was in. Even if he hadn't had the strokes over the days prior, it's not certain he had much control over what he was saying. If he was aware, it's hard to say if he would have chosen to speak at all, - he'd said his goodbyes to most of his children already - or to say something else. Who among us who plans to die of natural causes really knows for sure when we speak our last sentence?

I've always had this abstract idea of giving a speech before I die, which I blame on Shakespeare ("O, I die. [Three page monologue.]"). But that's not a very sensible plan, and there's no guarantee that any of us will die of natural causes. This odd end of my grandfather's sentences has gotten me thinking about the end differently. While I don't know the circumstances of my hopefully distant death, and frankly do not care to know in too much detail, I hope to live with the zeal that comes from not knowing how much time you have (and wanting to make the most of all of it), and to always choose my words thoughtfully.

I'm not being morbid: it is always good to choose words, rather than just have them thoughtlessly erupt from you. It's always good to be mindful of the feelings of others. You never know when a conversation with someone will be your last conversation with them (for any reason), and you'd might as well have that conversation, and all others you choose to have, be discussions of quality.

This is a challenge, but having your words mean something is a worthy goal. On that note, the comments you are about to make about how I blog too much should be carefully considered and reconsidered before you e-mail them to me, my beloved smart*sses.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Protecting You from Scary Dairy.

I recently had to ship something to the Bahamas. In doing so, I had to deal with customs forms, and note the specific rules applying to packages destined for the Bahamas. Namely:

Obscene or indecent articles, books, pictures, printed matter.
Perishable infectious biological substances.
Perishable noninfectious biological substances.
Radioactive materials.
Skimmed milk in tins.
So it's porn, germs, radiation, tinned milk. Which of those things doesn't fit?

(So non-perishable infectious biological substances are okay?)


posted by Arlene (Beth)7:25 AM

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Youthful Seduction Efforts Gone Awry.

We watched the movie The Winter Guest out of affection for Emma Thompson and interest in what Alan Rickman might be like as a director. One of the four sets of relationships in the film is between a girl who forcefully gets the attentions of a boy, and that same day he decides he really wants to spend some quality time alone at home with her... and then becomes very confused.

I enjoyed that part of the story too much, because it was a slight variation of something that happened to me in college. So much intensity, leading only to panic and disappointment. I know people like to idealize young love... But those people are just misguided: for me and many friends, young love sucked rocks. Let me tell you a silly tale of a week and a half or so of young love in my distant youth:

Failed Seduction One: One weekend in college, I was reintroduced to the man who had grown up from being the sweetest boy in 5th grade. He'd adored me in 5th grade (I knew, because his mother took me aside at the time and told me so). I had adored him. (This is all relative - it was just 5th grade.) And yes, he appeared to be just as adorable in college - but taller and less boyish. We spent the day learning that we had loads of geek activities in common. (We played the same role-playing games! We loved the same anime! Etc.! These things that were relevant at that time to geeks like us.) Yet, he was also charming. We exchanged numbers; we had excited phone conversations; he asked me out.

We spent a bright and sunny day wandering around the City together as our first official date. He was remarkably attentive, extremely pleasant, and very flirtatious. He was great company. He kept speculating about our romantic near-future, which was promising. But he was a terrible tease: his speculation ranged well into his plans for our physical romantic near future. By the evening, he was suggesting that, if we got along so very well after making a fast re-acquaintance, imagine how well we would get along... in bed. Every hour came a new promise of unspecified, wonderful things he would do with me, and to me, given some time alone with me.

The day wore on, and we wound up at his mother's flat. No one else was home. We chatted on the couch, and again came his teasing about having time alone with me - in that very apartment. In the bedroom.

So many words! There we were, alone. We'd held hands; conversation had flowed so easily. He was all smiles and enthusiasm. Somehow, I suspected his florid plans were just bravado. But... I have always been a curious girl. (In multiple meanings of the word.) I had to know. So I pointed out that we were, in fact, alone, and that the aforementioned bedroom was less than thirty seconds away. And? He smiled. He led me back to the bedroom. We lay down, he put his hands on me, we kissed... And about ten seconds later, twenty at most, with all of our clothing still safely fastened, he said that this relationship (?) was moving too fast for him, and he really just wanted to talk some more. He pulled out a sketchbook and showed me some drawings. We discussed his favorite supermodel. And then his mother came home, and I had a great conversation with her (in the living room) for quite a while. I went home, after telling my charming male friend that I would be out of town for a week or so on vacation, but that I'd love to spend some more time with him upon my return.

That was similar to the film in certain ways. The next one I bring up because it happened just a few days later, and because it serves as a delay to the finale of that tale.

Failed Seduction Two: A few days later, while wondering why the sweet boy from 5th grade was so skittish after so much teasing, I found myself on an airplane headed for a Hawaiian vacation with two male friends, and the sister of one of the guys. It was supposed to be a 3-gal, 1-guy trip, but my (girl)friend had dropped out at the last minute, and one of my guy chums filled her place.

I did not realize that I was stumbling into an ill-fitted trap. The guy who had planned this trip, a college classmate of mine who had been dancing with me and my (girl)friend in nightclubs regularly, had booked all the reservations. In each and every hotel, he had made the same arrangements without my knowledge: he reserved a room with one big bed to share with me, and booked a room with two separate beds for his sister and my (girl)friend.

Now, at this juncture, you should know that we had not dated. We had not held hands. We had not kissed. We had not had discussions that would lead to any of those things. We were just friends and classmates who liked to go to the same nightclubs. There was no frigging way I was going to sleep in a bed with this guy just because he made reservations this way. His brain was not engaged when he hatched this seduction plan, but he apparently thought it was a great idea.

Having my male chum along complicated things fabulously. Because there was no way that his sister was going to share a room with my male chum, whom she had never met. Nor would she share a bed with her brother so I could share the separate-bed rooms with my chum. (I don't recall my chum being asked his opinion.) So, despite this guy's plans, I shared the separate-bed rooms with his sister, and he shared the single bed rooms with my male chum.

Male chum, and you know who you are, I am still so sorry that you had to bear the brunt of his comically scripted seduction plan. I really am. The trip was difficult in several ways - traveling is always difficult with friends (including me!), but this circumstance certainly made it more difficult in orders of magnitude.

On the bright side, you created my most vivid memory from that trip: it is the conversation in which you were explaining the situation about the "reservation mix up" to your parents on the phone, when I recall you said "It's okay, because [silly guy] doesn't like his boys smooth. [Long pause] I said, he doesn't like his boys smooth. [Long pause.]" Just imagining your parents' confusion on the other end of that phone line... *giggle* [sound of additional giggles suppressed violently] If I'd had any idea, I wouldn't have dragged you into it. (Nor would I have gone.)


There are two punch lines to this story of misdirected seduction planning.

I was only gone a week, but Guy1 was dating someone else by the time I returned from Hawaii. Presumably, this someone was a nice girl who wouldn't kiss him - or demand that he deliver on any of his teasing. *yawn* I never saw him again.

Guy2 worked up the nerve to ask me to date him a semester or so later. He became a very solid, reliable boyfriend for 3 years, and a wretched, workaholic, absentee boyfriend for another 3. (Hindsight is so damned clear!)

All of this rambling is posted here because of my sympathy with a facial expression that the girl in the movie makes, an expression which wasn't as exaggerated as my own was in real life, but which appeared to say All this trouble, for this? Which summarized my most 'social' dating years in one, slightly stunned facial gesture.


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:38 PM


Post Post Script to Happy Merry Whatever: Merry Christmas - Dig It?

The best holiday music during the holiday weekend was from KCSM, Jazz 91 ( ('the Bay Area's Jazz Station'). They had a high quality program of songs that were really fun to listen to (and sounded fun to record).

The best individual song: Cool Yule by Kurt Elling. Because nothing is more of a relief from one thousand variations of the 12 days of Christmas than hearing about Santa bringing "crazy" toys while "all you cats are sleeping, warm as toast."

And the host actually did tell us to dig it.


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:30 PM


Post Script to Merry Happy Whatever: Feast Menu.

Partly due to my inability to manage solids, we kept it very simple this year. We had:

-Winter Squash and Leeks Baked in Parchment (from the Greens Cookbook), which was a lovely mix of gold (from acorn squash) and the bright green of leeks and herbs
-a variation of Black Bean and Pepper Salad (also from the Greens Cookbook), which included sweet corn and omitted onion. This was a lovely burgundy/purple (the beans), yellow (corn), and red (sweet peppers), with flecks of green cilantro.
-rosemary mashed potatoes. This was a combination of unpeeled russet potatoes, mashed with a puree of tender, fresh rosemary leaves from the garden with extra virgin olive oil, soymilk, and a little salt. It was cream-colored, with flecks of brown and green.
-sparkling apple cider. (Though I am now more partial to sparkling pear cider.)
-chocolates, from our gifts to each other.

It took about an hour to prepare these dishes, which left us no real waiting time to assemble the cranberry apple pies. We decided that we'd rather lounge around in front of the fire than bake pies, so those will wait until later in the week.

(I was able to eat just a little of each dish before my stomach showed any sign of resistance.)


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:27 PM

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Merry Christmas! Happy Saturnalia! Happy Merry Whatever!

Christmas tree with lights and villageI hope this day has been beautiful for you. Though I actually hope that for you every day.


The thing that has made me laugh out loud most often today: Milk Eggs Vodka: Grocery Lists Lost and Found by Bill Keaggy (, organizer of, a collection of... what you'd guess it is. It is hysterical. It really is. I know it's just grocery lists, but as a somewhat obsessive person with a mania for food who appreciates snide comments, it is grand.

Thing that did not make me laugh: my inability to digest solid food properly for the last four days. I have no idea what started it, but it's darned difficult to feast if you can't eat anything more solid than a banana. (Which, per the previously cited book, is one of the most misspelled shopping list words. Seriously. Popular: "Banna." Ach, du lieber Himmel...)

The joke that keeps coming up about my current situation, and those similarly situated: the line from The Devil Wears Prada, in which the senior assistant notes that she is one stomach flu away from her target/ideal weight. Ha ha ha. (It is funny. It is just not funny at this particular moment.)

Between the lack of successful digestion and its attendant complexities (which I bravely challenged yesterday by purchasing and eating more than half of a proper Mission District spicy vegan burrito, an act of bravado that was NOT rewarded 12 hours later), the resulting dizziness and headaches, and the cold I still haven't completely beaten (now in day 25)... It's been a unique holiday weekend. I hope to forget how I've felt for most of it and only remember the festive parts.


Yes, there is a comma shortage today. They'll be in stock again tomorrow. You'll live.


Xmas lessons heard from the in-laws:

(1) It is generally unwise to give your spouse anti-wrinkle cream as an Xmas gift.

(2) It is DEFINITELY unwise to give your spouse anti-cellulite cream as an Xmas gift. For several reasons. Which should not have to be explained to you. Unless you're having memory problems because your wife accidentally hit you with something very heavy (an anvil, a rotary telephone, the bread machine you bought her last year when she was on a low-carb diet), in which case I'll tell you now: (a) those creams don't work (duh), and (b) even if they did work (which they obviously do not, or you wouldn't even know what cellulite was, and certainly wouldn't be subject to viewings of it every single time you are in a high volume chain store of any type), it is not your place to provide products to treat the deficiencies you perceive with the texture of your wife's lower body. Work with me on this. The life you save may be your own.

I would like to thank my partner for being more outraged by hearing about these items than I was.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:30 PM

Monday, December 24, 2007


The days are getting longer, the nights shorter...

view of San Francisco's Union Square with Xmas treeImage: San Francisco's Union Square on the evening of December 23rd.

The winter solstice was on December 22nd, our longest night of the year here in the northern hemisphere. We're already summer-bound! (Though hopefully we'll have a proper rainy season between now and the equinox - we could really use the water.)

I hope that you are having a relaxing, relatively worry-free holiday season! I hope these dark days of winter are filled with lights, good food, and even better company for you.

I'd like to give a special thanks for the gifts of friendship I've received in recent years: your time and camaraderie have meant more to me than anything that could be contained in a package. You people who have gamed at my house, screened movies in your apartments, organized hikes, rented snow cabins and went on improbably challenging snowshoe hikes with me, napped on my floor, biked with me at demonstrations, printed cyanotype photograms with me (there are more than a dozen of you now!), gone for long walks in drippy wet fog, exchanged significant looks with me showing that you understood me perfectly, had text chats with me at 2 a.m., laughed at my jokes, brought me treats when I was under the weather, laughed so hard you cried watching Blazing Saddles again (after all those years), carved pumpkins with me, praised my soups, exchanged long and heartfelt letters with me... You mean so much. I'll be thanking you individually over the course of the rest of my hopefully long life, but I'm struck with thanks right now, so here it is.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)6:57 PM

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Unreported food research. I have been too tired from work and from the respiratory infection I've been battling all month (!) to create any novel food inventions.

I made a pumpkin sambar, using the ordinary sambar recipe from Dakshin (, but it was just okay. The pumpkin isn't very interesting all alone, and the tamarind (which I add as a liquid from a gel concentrate) overwhelmed the pumpkin's subtle flavor. I'll go easier on the tamarind from now on for any and all sambars. Dosa's sambar is so much better than mine, and I'm not sure if they're using a different type of toor dal, or if they are using a different sambar spice mixture... But I would love to make a sambar as good as theirs.

I tried out a Chinese restaurant in my neighborhood to review, but it wasn't good, so I'd prefer not to tire you with a list of its inadequacies. There are at least six Chinese restaurants on Ocean Avenue near my home, and I have not completely enjoyed a meal at any of them: the best tasting one made both me and Steven ill within hours of our first visit, so we're not going to give them another chance. The others serve food that is bland and oily. I'm partial to the spicy side of Chinese food, the regional dishes of Sechuan and Hunan, but my neighborhood has only Cantonese-style food, and it is not as good as the Cantonese food I've had in Chinatown.

I miss the Ethiopian restaurant that was in our neighborhood when we moved here, just six blocks from my house. It was wonderful! I miss many restaurants that have closed, actually. Should this be a separate post? Let's make it a separate post.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:55 AM


Restaurants I really miss.

San Francisco is filled with great restaurants, but that doesn't stop locals from becoming very attached to just a few of those that they frequent regularly. Restaurants are subject to swings in the economy, temperamental landlords, management strife... Most "fail" as businesses, even if they succeed at serving great food.

There are several restaurants that I especially miss. They were:

Asmara, on Ocean Avenue, in the Ingleside. This was a great, casual Ethiopian restaurant just a few blocks from where I live now. I noticed it soon after moving in, and was able to eat there about three times before the restaurant's landlord bumped it out in favor of an unremarkable Chinese place. It was good - better than Massawa! Better than New Eritrea! Oh, the eggplant dishes! Oh, the mushroom dishes!

Canton Winter Garden, on Clement near 12th. I only actually ate here once, but it made quite an impression on me. This was a Chinese restaurant with an extensive menu, and three spice ratings: one for mild, two for spicy, three for very spicy. What made this funny was that you'd try to order a three, and the waitstaff would argue with you about it, and try to talk you out of it. I went with a group of friends, and managed to order a range of ones, twos and threes. We sat around, eating, passing around Kleenex, and blowing our noses. It was GREAT. I would have eaten there often, had it stuck around.

Hamburger Mary's, Folsom at 12th. It was a bar, it was a restaurant, it kept great hours (late into the night, early in the morning), it had wild decor (which was heavily revised after the quake of '89, perhaps because most of it fell down in the quake)... It was a place where you could get breakfasts that would be so huge, you wouldn't need to eat again that day. Omelettes that were very light on the eggs, but full of great fillings. Awesome home fries. Grilled tofu sandwiches. Super cool, we've-seen-it-all-and-won't-blink waitstaff. I'd go there late nights or Sunday mornings. I was always satisfied. It was sold, replaced by a Harvey's, and is now some club that never appears to be open.

Lotus Garden Vegetarian Restaurant, Grant Avenue, Chinatown. This was my parents' favorite Chinese restaurant in all of San Francisco, amazingly enough. It was also the only kosher vegetarian Chinese place with a Taoist temple upstairs that I've ever heard of. They made the tenderest gluten puffs, the best noodle plates, the best mushroom-filled wontons (in a fabulous soup), something called Almond Chicken Ding that my omnivorous friends actually thought was chicken (though it was much, much better than chicken)... And the dining room was filled with men wearing yarmulkes and people speaking Chinese during the lunch hour. You'd go upstairs to use the bathroom, and see a Taoist ceremony going on. It closed for "remodeling" and never opened again.

Red Crane Vegetarian and Seafood Restaurant, on Clement near 12th (very near where Canton Winter Garden was). Everything at this restaurant had a certain taste... I don't know if it was the particular kinds of mushrooms they used, but it was all good. Nothing was unusually spicy, but it was all satisfying. Especially the hot and spicy tofu. But there were many, many good dishes. The sizzling rice soup was entertaining and tasty. When I moved out of the Richmond, it closed.

Siam Dish, Monterey Boulevard, 700 block. My favorite neighborhood Thai place. They served Japonica rice! They had a wide range of curries that went beyond the usual red, green, or yellow that you get in most Thai places. They used more veggies, had more interesting combinations... They were excellent. They had a big remodel, and closed almost immediately thereafter.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:50 AM

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Day. The notary law seminar was in San Francisco, at a hotel on Van Ness near Pine. I left the office, took the Emery Go Round, boarded BART at MacArthur, rode to Embarcadero station. I exited and surprised myself by using the 'wrong' exit, coming up a block away from where I thought I was. It was bright, breezy, and cold. I walked a short block to the California Street cable car stop at the end of the line, boarded, and sat on one of the outdoor benches at the east end. I flashed my pass. We noisily lurched off.

The cable pulled us through streets I once walked daily, past buildings I attended meetings in, or had friends in, or reviewed litigation records in, or worked in for a few days or weeks in the early 90s. Past lunch places I tried out once or twice seeking good food (first) and novelty (second). Past schools of office workers, frowns on their faces, swimming toward their destinations (their next meeting, a deli, a card shop, their daily trip to Walgreens) with steely (steelhead) determination.

The cable pulled us up the hill, and the financial district's flats dropped away as we clanked up to the top of the deep canyon of glass bluffs. The rivers of pedestrians at each intersection at the floor of the canyon became smaller, more ant-like, while the view of the Bay Bridge Tower that rests dead straight at the end of California street, in a composition so remarkable that either the bridge or the street must have been intentionally aligned with the other, became grander as it was revealed.

Before we crested the hill, my chest felt warm as a ripple of giddiness went through me, staring at that view, and my internal narrator said, "WOW. I am in San Francisco!" I really appreciated it - the view, the people, the buildings... All of those things I miss commuting to the east bay, and seeing only my own SF neighborhood and uninteresting segments of west Oakland and Emeryville. I hadn't really known that a cable car trip to a dry seminar could thrill me, but it thrilled me. Part of me is thrilled just remembering that feeling...


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


14,235 days and counting

My birthday is coming up at the end of next week, and I'm taking a vain pleasure in the surprise and disbelief that my young colleagues express when they hear that I will have completed thirty nine years of life on this earth since my birth.

I haven't been so vain about the perception of my age in the past, which has always been variable. When I was in high school, I recall being mistaken for my younger sister's mother by her friends, even though she's just four years younger than I am. That had more to do with the youth of her friends' mothers than my appearance. I was often ma'amed by girls my own age on the bus, though I always attributed that to my great height. When I was in junior college, I was often mistaken for a professor by other profs, but that's because I had keys to everything. (I helped run my department's office.) I could be perceived as older one day, younger the next, depending on context, but often older.

Lately, I've unduly enjoyed being mistaken for a younger woman. I was asked during my post-elbow-surgery medical appointments this year to confirm that I am 28 on three separate occasions, which thoroughly entertained me. Twice, office colleagues my own age have prefaced a story with a comment about how I might be too young to know something, and I've told them my age, to their amused surprise. A colleague's eyes widened considerably yesterday when I revealed the number - she looked like she was waiting for a punch line that proved it was a joke. Though the most satisfying reaction I've received came from a young man, a friend of a friend, who remarked on the past and shared that he is 24, and thus was born in 1983. When I told him I was born in 1968, a look came over his face of... shock and awe? There were visible thought balloons filled with exclamation points and question marks over his head. It's probably not fair to take such pleasure in the response of someone who was born the year I started high school, but I did.

I suppose this birthday will be more of a marker than most, because it will demarcate the beginning of my 40th year of life. I'm pondering what that means to me. The biggest question, I suppose, is whether or not any year in my 40s will top age 33, which was a sort of peak for me, especially physically. I suppose I'll soon find out!


posted by Arlene (Beth)6:16 AM


Archive fix.

The Things Consumed Archive, which Blogger no longer posts new links to, has now been manually updated. You may now easily review any month of my 2007 rambling you wish with very little effort.

I hope you do: so long as my NaNoWriMo ranting in November is still up, you'll get a very unbalanced image of what I'm usually like. I'm NOT a novelist 11 months out of the year! And I write about things other than my word count! I swear!


posted by Arlene (Beth)5:52 AM

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Random quote I like. From issue 24 of McSweeney's, in an essay by David Gates about Donald Barthelme:
I'd like to think that he and I had moments in which we recognized each other: not as a great man and admirer, but as people somewhat alike who, had our ages and circumstances been different, might have been friends.
The 'great man and admirer' part isn't what I like, because I'm not much of a fan, and can't relate to fandom: I see people who I admire as other people. What appeals to me is the idea of recognizing a connection with someone, feeling a pull toward them, and wondering what could be or could have been.

Things that seem like big differences, like huge chasms, are sometimes just very small chasms which are badly lit.

It's just so hard to know at the time you are deciding whether or not to jump over.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:18 PM

Live snow globe. Everyone in my office who I discuss it with really seems to like my idea of filling one of our glass-fronted executive offices with soap flakes and powerful fans, closing the door, and having someone sit inside in a Santa suit. They could try to work, but their REAL purpose would be to serve as our live snow globe.

But no one wants to clean it up afterward, and the executive best suited for this task recently left the company, so the idea isn't going anywhere. Which is a shame.

I am willing to run a vacuum for a few hours each day until the New Year, but it looks like I'm the only one.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:12 PM

Monday, December 17, 2007

Small world. Today I found myself riding the train to my job at a company I will call "JCo" for no particular reason, reading issue 24 of McSweeney's ( Which has a lovely cover. The lovely cover was designed by Rachell Sumpter. Who is the sister of Laura, who used to work with me at JCo.

The world is very, very tiny. Minute. Infinitesmal.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:45 PM

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Nearly healthy.

digital light painting by A.E. GravesAlthough I haven't quite beaten the office plague, I can now pass for normal for short periods of time. I can go out without sounding like I'm trying to expel a lung for hours at a time. And that feeling that I had spent the night with energy vampires has largely passed. Largely.

I'm full of postponed projects that were waiting on my recovery, which are all trying to dominate my sleepy head at once. They are piled up everywhere, and my other thoughts are tripping over them and getting tangled up with them. It will take me a while to get them organized enough to act upon.


It hasn't been much of a week for food. I've been making familiar dishes here at home - Tibetan noodle soup, lasagna, broccoli with tofu and black bean sauce - and taking packaged foods that Steven bought in as lunch. Steven has forgiven me for making off with all the vegan items and leaving the cheese items for him, which is very kind. :-) I have a few pasta sauce experiments coming up, and perhaps some enchilada variations, but nothing too exotic.

My only exotic thoughts are about a meal I ate many years ago. A colleague is going to Nepal, and discussing that country brings me back to my first meal in Kathmandu at a fabulous Bhutanese restaurant. That was one of the best meals I've ever had. Tired from more than 24 hours in transit, we stumbled through the unevenly paved streets of the city of more than one million people, carrying flashlights, and followed our trip leader to a restaurant I knew I would never be able to find again. It was a cozy room, and our group divided up into vegetarians and nons. Everything on our vegetarian table was remarkable - soups, appetizers, - especially the spinach momos, and the tender noodles in a remarkable hot-pot style of soup... The little dumplings were filling, spicy, satisfying... So good. So warm. I remember leaving so happy...

I have made momos at home, and they have been good, but they've never been quite the same as they were in that restaurant.



The rain is gently falling outside, the drops wide-spaced and heavy. I walked home from the train station, breathing in the fresh air, quietly receiving the shattered shower. Despite the rain, the air looked remarkably clear. The City is so lovely at night. The City isn't perfect - there are many unlovely things here, things that people do to make spaces look abused or dirty or just unloved - but at night, when the lights sparkle and illuminate the contours of this hilly place, with waves of little lights unfolding in every direction... It is perfect. It sparkles. It glows. And I feel so lucky to be here.


I took some photos this weekend, despite the heavy, slow clouds that kept rolling over us and changing the light in my garden in unpredictable ways. It would have been better to just sit in the garden and watch them blow over, but I felt compelled to record something, just to work some of my compulsion to make wet collodion plates out of my system, since that is an expensive and challenging compulsion.

I spent undue amounts of time using my Polarid pinhole camera and Polaroid Type 665 film (both at, one of the types of film that produces an instant print and a same-size negative which can be used for other processes. (As part of my ongoing commitment to studying antique technology, I can assure you that neither the camera nor the film is made any longer.) I had purchased some of the last 665 film after it was discontinued. As an alternative process printer who spends a lot of time making large-format negatives in various ways, it seemed like an ideal, 'alt-alt' technique.

"Lensless" photography, which uses no conventional optics, has been enjoying yet another resurgence - it is possible to craft a digital or film camera that uses a pinhole, a zone plate, or a photon sieve to focus light - and I've been enjoying the work that others are doing with these techniques. Having taken my research back in time before the advent of film, why not go slightly further back, before the use of glass optics? The 'camera obscura' - a room or box with a hole in one side, which naturally projected an upside-down image of the outside world onto the opposite wall - was popular long before people figured out how to record images permanently, and pinhole cameras are just camera obscuras with film.

Since I'm a busy person, I wanted to go back in time - before glass lenses - but also very far forward in time, to have an excuse to use the brilliant, instant-positive technologies provided by Polaroid. I want to have it both ways. I can. I did. (I had previously tried making pinhole images with some of the late 1800s contact printing process papers I use, but those papers can take days to form an image, and I'm not that patient.)

I'll scan and post selected results later. Very selected. Very much later. My lack of practice with the camera and the difficulty of estimating exposure times when clouds keep passing over caused me problems. (My images with faster, print-only film in steadier lighting conditions were better.) I learned with greater certainty that my camera does have an inner focusing limit of about six inches, after which it may have a more-or-less infinite depth of field - so close-ups of very small things (the point of this weekend's experiments) don't work well with this particular box camera. (Some of the early tests I posted long ago lacked sharpness: this is why.) I am thrilled to learn that, though that lesson wasn't necessarily the best use of some of the last Type 665 film on the planet.

I need to rethink my subject matter plans: since close-ups aren't appropriate, and the plant subjects I spend so much time on move too much during the long exposures that the tiny pinhole aperture requires, I'll need to use this camera for (a) larger things (that will fill the frame at distances of greater than 6 inches) that (b) stay very still, and can benefit from being shown with (c) an extraordinary depth of field. I would want to do this only to the extent that I learned something new, because I have other cameras good at photographing large, still things at a reasonable depth of field.


euphorbia by A.E. GravesI also went out into the back yard and took some digital color photos showing the lush greens of December in our garden. I took these in the soft, dark available light - these lack the drama and sharpness of a sunny day, but convey the mood of the afternoon. I love living in a climate that has happy plants year round. Even now, some of our succulents are in bloom, and our apple blossom camellia has tender, short-lived, pink-edged blossoms on it. Such a December!


I realize that I post a tiny fraction of the photos I make here - not even one percent - and that my injuries earlier in the year kept me indoors more than usual. I'll likely create a few highlights/best of galleries to make up for the enormous gaps, once I sort through all of these other projects eagerly waiting to escape my mental backlog.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:51 PM

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Still ill. I'm blaming all of the typos on the cold medicine. Whether or not I was taking any at the time.

I am working up a new recipe to post, but it isn't quite complete yet. I have been serving whole grain pastas for several months, which can handle more assertive sauces than more processed ("white") pasta can, since the grain flavor of whole wheat, or spelt, or brown rice, comes through. I made a variation of spaghetti con olio earlier this week, but instead of just olive oil and parsley, I made it with minced garlic, sun-dried tomato puree (with a touch of oregano), and diced artichoke hearts. It's not quite 'there' - it was good, but it could use a fresh green edge to balance out all of the sweetness. Steven, in a rare specific suggestion, proposes more (fresh) oregano. Which is a great idea (I grow it). I'm considering either chili flakes or black olives. Perhaps also parsley. Or all of the above. I'll post it when I've got a combination I really love.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, December 10, 2007


NyQuil on my pillow makes me happy; NyQuil in my eyes, it makes me cry...

I have been remarkably ill for about ten days. I can't remember the last time I was this ill. Though my lack of a clear memory could just be the medication...

I am so ill, I am at a point where I would happily go in and see a doctor and beg for digestion-destroying antibiotics, if only I had a general practitioner (or even a medical history at my hospital's internal medicine department) that would see me. Alas and alack, while I have a doctor specializing in uniquely female anatomy and a surgeon, I don't have a generalist. And I haven't been willing to beg: I know that first-time appointments are very thorough, nearly impossible to schedule, etc. etc. etc.

Ah, privatized medicine. How glorious it is.


Somehow, I don't look as bad as the fruit they are trying to pass off as tomatoes at my local greengrocer. What odd, pink eggs those are. I don't know what laid them, but I do not believe they were grown within a thousand miles of here.


wet collodion on aluminum print of saxophone detailDuring my medicine induced daze, I wrote a couple of items which didn't belong here, or anywhere else in particular. They now have their own pages. They are a list of things I have in common with my Cousin, Ollie, which is reasonably self-explanatory, and The horsewomen of the apolocalypse wear low-rise jeans, in which I rant about clothes. (I'm going to pretend that the DayQuil is what made me go on a nutritional rant today against a few of my fad-dieter co-workers, but that's a story for another day.) Do not believe that this new segregation of non-food topics to other pages will continue! Though it might, now and then, when the mood strikes.

I also finally got around to scanning some of my ferrotypes. I can't claim that the web really makes them look the way they actually are. There's something about the light of the scanner within the varnish on the surface that changes the way they look significantly, and I spend too much time trying to remove the odd, bluish glow that they get under scanner light. (I'm starting to figure out how to do that: on my monitor here at home, they are beginning to resemble themselves.)

I'm posting two galleries of experiments, and will update the rest of to reflect the new work soon. I've posted a sample of one of the galleries in the past: it is protea, and the latest is blow, which are details from musical instruments, objects which I would like to photograph in many different ways, but am just beginning to examine. The images are made the way tintypes were back in the Civil War. Each print is hand-poured, exposed in camera, and then developed before the sensitizer can dry. Each is one of a kind - there is no negative, it is more like an instant metal positive. (I'll wind up explaining that in more detail on my photography site.) I'm still getting the swing of this: I will make "brighter" images in the future also, but like to wallow in the poppy contrast of these prints.

They are odd-looking images, and when they first dry, they are very obviously 3-D, with the light part of the image raised where the silver reacted. I love these plates. I think of their odd appearance as a benefit: no one mistakes these images for a view of the subject of the photo, they way my friends do when I show them a sunset or a flower, and all of their comments are about the quality of the sunset/flower, rather than the qualities of the picture as an abstracted representation of the sunset/flower. These plates are so obviously something else...

More on this when I am healthy. Which I hope will be very soon.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:25 PM

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