Monday, July 25, 2005

Oh no I'm soooo far behind...

I'll try to remember things in a semi-chronological order...

About a week and a half ago, Andrew & I headed off toward Chicago. Well first of all we had to go to IKEA, because Andrew had been freaking out about what sort of coffee table he was going to "complete the apartment" with. Since most of the apt. is oak, beige, red, and navy blue, we had to exhaust all oak-en possiblities within the Madison area. This meant veering off highways suddenly to visit pricey furniture stores with "OAK" in the title, and measuring and re-measuring the living room space and comparing it with dimensions of various coffee tables as described online. Thank God, Andrew did, indeed, find a nice coffee table equivalent.

Afterwards, we were free to visit Karuna and Craig! We talked for a bit over tea, I met the puppy (who was inordinately fond of Andrew's shoes), and then we headed into the city. So many tall buildings! And lots of great park spaces and fountains. We saw huge panels that we thought were merely fountains at first, and then we realized that they also functioned as tv screens. HUGE tv screens. And Craig showed us the silver bean which was being polished up. Very impressed by the city, and it explains so much about why South Hadley wasn't exactly Karuna's favorite place to be. Plus, the city just seemed so much, well, cleaner than NYC. For dinner we went to Pizzaria Due -- yum -- and then we walked a bit more before heading back. Somehow, we timed our quick visit to B&N at exactly the right time to witness the Harry Potter-mania. Lots of kids. Lots of kids dressed up as book characters. And lots of kids drinking espresso. I was worried. I guess I'm glad that kids are reading, but God I wish kids got excited over really amazing time-tested, human truth-filled, mind-expanding novels and poetry. But alas, all the kids want are their Goosebumps and Harry Potter... Andrew, Anna & I were discussing this, and it finally helped me realize why I don't like H.P. that much -- as Anna says, it's simply too popularized and mainstream. I'd just look at it as a cultural artifact, instead of as a piece of art or a great work of literature. So I guess I'll stick to my own reading list this summer (which is being crafted after the scary oral quals list).

Anyway, I guess I got a bit ahead of myself up there, but the above mentioned conversation with Anna took place last Monday. We went to the Union terrace to watch Psycho on the screen outdoors (which was fabulous, I only wish I'd never heard or seen anything of it before so I could have been thoroughly and completely shocked). Afterwards, we showed Anna the apt. and talked for awhile.

Hmm... what else. Not even sure if I mentioned a prior trip to Lake Kegonsa -- we took a short nature walk and waded a bit (very nervous about the blue green algea). To get back to being in chronological order, that Tuesday was a big grocery shopping day... then we had a couple of stay at home sorta days since it was rainy. Andrew got the bikes fixed up, and we took a short ride to the lake & park right next to us. It was kind of pathetic, because I'm not so good with the coordination and balance stuff, and I'm rather nervous about sharing the road with automobiles.

Friday we did the whole county fair thing. This involved wandering through 4-H displays for nearly two hours (Andrew was kind of shocked, and especially confused by the cake decorating and baked goods contests). Somehow, I kept my interest level up while examining self-portrait photos of a moody looking preteen taken with her camera phone, and evaluating the size of those home grown onions and beets. We also, of course, had to walk through the commercial vendors. Andrew did not believe me when I said that we really don't want to do that. This area included a Pro-Life woman with little plastic fetuses in a wicker basket. At one point we saw a little girl approach the stand and treat the plastic fetuses like dolls. It was difficult to know whether to laugh or just feel rather disconcerted. I went with the latter.

Tucked behind the commercial vendors, we found the petting zoo section. There were chicks hatching in real time, and ducklings being handed over to sticky-fingered toddlers. Unfortunately, I missed a priceless scene, but Andrew related it to me afterwards:

At the bird petting station, two little girls were playing with a duckling. The older girl tried to hand the duckling to her younger sister, while their mother supervised, advising the younger girl to "not hold it so tightly." Then the father arrived on the scene, and directed to mom: "You're letting so-and-so hold it? Don't you remember what happened with..." And the mom said something to the effect of: "Oh, yeah, so-and-so, maybe we should just let your big sister hold it, and you can look." And the little girl relinquished the duckling and walked away crying. Ah the fair!

Andrew was also new to the whole idea of putting livestock and chickens on display. So we got a full tour of the beef and dairy cows, and saw a huge assortment of variously feathered chickens, turkeys, and ducks. Not to mention the rabbits, including one French lop that was seriously bigger than your average toddler.

Finally, we got to the entertainment and carnival section... cotton candy, Hawaiian ice, carnies yelling to Andrew "if your gf is worth $3, you'll play this game and win a stuffed monstrosity!" (OK, they didn't use the word "monstrosity," they didn't really have the imagination for that)... Saw a truly disturbing family act with singing pigs ("My dad began this show back in 1957..." saddest thing I've ever heard in my life), and then saw some acrobatics (in neon lime outfits, no less) and a hip hop group perform. Then finally a ride on the ferris wheel, which perfectly coincided with the red sun setting behind the horizon.

Saturday evening we followed up with a trip to a Madison Mallards minor baseball league game. Way overboard on the between-innings entertainment... baseball bat spinning (both men fell over, promptly, for the record), free sandwich and chicken skewer throwing (being literal here, not exaggerating), and water ballon slingshot tossing. We lost the game, but there was still a fireworks display afterwards. Nothing like being right under the booming...

Yesterday was scorching hot... so we went to a nicer side of Lake Mendota (don't tell Anna, she'd be worried for our health). But Andrew did call prior, and checked up on their testing. The attendant told him that their beach had tested negative to everything thus far in the season, so we went for it (but washed off in the showers REALLY well afterwards, and showered as soon as we got home). Kinda greenish water, with lots of weeds, but it was so hot and I still think it's better than chlorine and toddler-pee (i.e., public swimming pools). We also had to run some errands... in other words, return stuff that I'd bought. This will require some explaining...

WARNING: here begins rant about organic foods and parabens -- it might be really boring for you

So I've been wanting to go organic and more natural all around since, well, I became aware of my own mortality and the fact that our modern lifestyle seems to create a lot of cancer victims. Andrew & I have been pretty good about incorporating more organic foods... my cereal, milk, yogurt, and much of the produce is organic. Andrew often scoffs or jokes about it, but he finally checked up on some not-for-profit reports on pesticide residues in foods, and realized that underneath my rather preachy mode of talking about it, there are some actual facts and figures. Anyway, we're definitely aware, and following the little guidebook for 12 most/ least contaminated produce items... And luckily, Woodman's makes organic seem cheap enough on some things at least to be reasonable (blueberries for $2, avocadoes at about 1.30 each, and 3 pounds of apples for $2.50, for example). I've also been worried about animal products, ever since writing animal rights articles for WARM2Kids. So we've got to get the cage-free eggs, and the "smart chicken" sans antibiotics and hormones. We saw a clip on tv about the treatment of chickens at many farms, and after seeing the horribly diseased and mutilated birds for a few minutes, I think Andrew came around.

Anyway, with all this worrying, I also started thinking about what makeup and body products I use, and what businesses I'm thereby supporting. This spurred a visit to Whole Foods to get new moisturizers, sunblocks, and foundations. But then I realized that EVERY SINGLE THING had parabens in it. To catch you up on this in case you're not entirely paranoid like me: Parabens are chemicals that sometimes occur in nature, and which most cosmetics and personal care product manufacturers have taken up due to their low cost and efficiency at preserving everything from shampoo to blush. While they haven't been DEFINITIVELY linked with breast cancer, there was a big scare in the UK a while back, from what I can gather, when breast cancer tumor samples were found to contain un-broken-down parabens. They thought that this paraben-dosage might be due to deoderants, as it would explain why many tumors occur near the portion of the breast closest to the underarm, and why the left breast seems more susceptible to cancer (some investigator hypothesized that since most people are right handed, they'd apply deoderant more heavily on the left underarm). So scary, right? And when I saw that Breast Cancer Action ( has addressed the parabens link, I figured, why risk it? Why not find stuff that DOESN'T contain a chemical that might not be safe? (After all, the cosmetics industry really isn't very tightly regulated... many products mysteriously don't have ingredient labels (my mascara doesn't, for example, and check out the Clinique website.. a search for "ingredients" didn't turn up a single hit for me.) ... and the tests done on rats to check the safety of parabens aren't that convincing. A one time huge dose does NOT simulate the effects of slathering on paraben-laden-products every day for like 50 years.)

So, after feeling totally betrayed by Whole Foods, I returned every single thing and bought my new products online from Avalon Organics & Burt's Bees (paraben free!) I also exchanged my unused sunless tanner (by Neutrogena, featuring a whopping five different forms of parabens) for the Coppertone variety (paraben-free, as I'd learned online from a fellow-shopper). Thank God Wal-Mart employees don't really care that you don't have a receipt! But after all, I'd never even cracked open the bottle (as must have been evident by my still-way-too-white skin).

I guess I'm slowly becoming a good fit for the Bay area, right?

WARNING: end of rant

Hmmm... not too much else to report, except for the movies & scrabble games...

I've been beating Andrew, badly, at Scrabble. Admittedly, this came after a few heavy losses on my side, and even one game that started and was then called off by me when Andrew used all his letters over TWO double word tiles. But now that I've scored around 380 for a couple of games, and used all my letters a few times, I feel like we're finally a pretty even match.

We've been watching a lot of the OC... probably about half way through season one now. Such fun.

Also, I've been watching the Star Wars movies (in order) so that we can see the third in theaters. We also got around to watching Resident Evil, which we totally enjoyed. Difficult to figure out what was going on at first (neither of us had played the video game), but a good fun time afterwards. Hard to fit in mutants AND zombies, but they did it! (being sarcastic here, just wanted to verify that.) It was also kinda creepy when the fire alarm went off midway through. Someone apparently burnt pizza.

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