November 2006 Archives

get out of my car

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While we're talking about eerie synchronicity, I keep forgetting to mention this really weird thing that happened while I was up north for the election. Actually it happened on the way home. I was driving down I-95, between Baltimore and DC, listening to talking heads discuss the election on NPR.

I was driving, and the talking heads were talking, and it was all good news, and what a great morning it was. Then my phone rang, which normally I would have ignored while on the road. But I thought it must be my parents, so I started fumbling in my bag to find it. Just then the host of the radio show said, "I hear a phone ringing." The other two people on the radio chuckled about it, I froze, and the phone kept ringing and ringing.

On one level I knew almost immediately what was going on -- someone on the radio show had the same ringtone I do -- but still it was soo creepy. Hearing the person on the radio talk about my phone ringing was like a weird dream. In fact I think I had a dream just like that once. Kind of a bad dream as I recall. And the ringing went on and on! I guess it took them a long time to find the phone.

psychic husband

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Last night I was poking around Amazon, looking at collections of classic Christmas music for the Christmas Eve Divaville show. (I have a couple of good ones, but I did this show last year and the year before, and I like to have something new every year because I record the shows and listen to them later. So I don't want to play the same show year after year.) I picked out a couple of CDs and put them in my wishlist, figuring I'd choose one and order it later in the week. Well today Georg got an order from Amazon, which included a CD for me: one of the albums I had put in my wishlist last night! It's a 2 CD set called A Vintage Christmas Cracker and there are a few things I already had, but mostly unusual tracks from lesser known artists. And one absolute gem: the first ever broadcast Christmas Message to the Empire! George V in 1932! I'm so excited! Even if it's too long to play on the air, I'm still thrilled to have it.

Between the surprise gift that I had just picked out for myself, and last week's grocery shopping for the exact same things, the synchronicity is starting to feel almost eerie. Next thing you know I'll be selling my hair to buy him a watch chain and he'll be selling his watch to buy me hair combs ... wait a minute. I don't have long hair and he doesn't have a watch. Whew!

brisket time

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As Georg mentioned, on Sunday we tried our hand at Texas style barbecued brisket. We used the Alton Brown method of rigging up a smoker: a hot plate with pie pan of wood chips, inside two big terra cotta pots. But instead of expensive terra cotta pots we used our charcoal grill. Unfortunately the metal grill didn't hold heat as well as terra cotta would have. After 8 hours the meat had a wonderful smoky flavor, but was cooked to medium rare. Let me tell you, medium rare brisket is not something you want to eat. We stuck the brisket in the oven on low heat for another 3-4 hours, and the next night we had a nice tender brisket.

Honestly, I'm not sure if it was worth the effort. The brisket was great, but we can get great brisket from the Q Shack without spending 12 hours smoking and then braising it. I think it might work better if we got a small terra cotta pot and covered the meat inside the grill. That might hold the heat in better. I think it would also work better in summertime -- if the air temperature is 95° then the smoker won't lose as much heat every hour when we open it up to add more wood.

slate green challenge, week 5

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Seeing as how Slate just posted week 6 of the green challenge, I guess I ought to write up week 5 already.

Week 5 is about electricity. Kind of a weird category, considering they already dealt with heating, air conditioning, and laundry machines. But at least now I understand why they didn't talk about refrigerators in the "food" challenge.

I continue to be frustrated by the lack of references or details backing up the claims they make in this series. This week they state that "40 percent of all household electricity is used to power electronics while they are turned off." Really? I'm no expert (duh) but that doesn't seem possible. Unless they mean only electricity used by appliances, and aren't including things like the heat and air conditioning. But they say "all household electricity," which certainly sounds like they mean all household electricity. I really wish they would be more clear, or better yet link to the sources for their information.

In any case, whether 40% or not, I still could do a lot to cut down on electricity wasted by household appliances. For instance I didn't know that battery chargers for the iPod, cell phone, camera battery etc. draw power whether the device is charging or not. I went around and unplugged all my chargers, and will leave them unplugged when not in use. I'm also thinking about getting a second power strip for the TV. That way we could leave the DVR on all the time, which we need to record shows, but turn everything else -- TV, DVD and VCR -- off when not in use.

The computers are a problem, because I almost never turn them off. I use them both for work and often leave files open overnight. I guess I can try to start turning them off overnight. Well, the desktop. The laptop takes so long to start up, it would waste half my morning.

This week includes a "what the ??" empty gesture, just like last week: they recommend replacing your cordless phone with an energy star model. Savings: 13 pounds of C02 per year. Or, the equivalent of my car driving 20 miles. Just driving to the store to get the new phone would burn up the first year's savings!

I was also disappointed at the small savings from an efficient refrigerator: 50 pounds of CO2 per person per year. I think we'd see more improvement than that if we replaced our fridge, because the thingie that spits out ice cubes is broken and cold air leaks out. We stuffed foam into it to try and stop the leak, but I still occasionally see steam coming out it.

divaville

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Had great fun at Divaville this afternoon. Why do I always forget to announce these shows in advance? Oh well, here's the playlist if you're interested. On the way over I hit on the idea to do all songs about food, it being right after Thanksgiving and all. It would have been easier if I had had the idea, say, an hour in advance so I could have done sone research. But I think it turned out pretty well, and Georg said he couldn't tell that I was scrambling behind the scenes to find food songs.

Because of the theme I ended up playing a few artists I'd never thought to try before, like Ivy Anderson and the McGuire Sisters. That always makes me feel good about the show, getting to play someone new to me. I only had one goof: "Juice Head Baby" by Cootie Williams turned out to be a guy bemoaning his alcoholic girlfriend. I swear, I thought it was about juice!

The big relief was "Matzo Balls" by Slim Gaillard. I was worried about it because his version of "Chinatown my Chinatown" turns way offensive somewhere in the middle, and I had played it on the air in a previous show, not realizing he was going to end up chattering in a horrifying imitation of Chinese speech. I didn't have time to preview "Matzo Balls" all the way through beforehand and make sure nothing like that happened, but I took a risk and played it anyway. I was a little anxious, ready to yank it off if Slim started in on anti-semitic sentiments, but he never went there. Just sang about how much he liked to eat matzo balls. Whew!

The inspiration for the food theme was "Sing Before Breakfast," from Broadway Melody of 1936. I was so taken with that song & dance number that I saved the movie on the DVR so I can watch it again. Alas, Christa's library, though immense, doesn't include that song. Good news though: when I got home I looked up "Sing Before Breakfast" on Amazon and found an album with a bunch of songs from Broadway Melody of 1936, Broadway Melody of 1940, and Yolanda the Thief for only $5 including shipping! The song title search on Amazon is the most amazing thing.

Speaking of "Sing Before Breakfast" and my new fascination with Buddy Ebsen, Georg looked up Broadway Melody of 1936 on imdb and discovered that the woman playing Ebsen's sister in the movie really was his sister! They were a vaudeville act together, just like in the movie. No word on whether they really performed with a duck, as they claimed to do in the movie.

In the previous post Paul mentioned that Ebsen was supposed to play the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, but had to drop out because of a reaction to aluminum in the makeup. I had heard that before, but it didn't make sense once I saw Ebsen's dancing. His fluid, gangly dancing style seems much better suited to the Scarecrow. Well Georg found out that Ebsen was originally cast as the Scarecrow, but for some reason he agreed to do the Tin Man instead so Ray Bolger could play the Scarecrow. Then the aluminum thing happened and Ebsen had to drop out entirely. What a shame, for Ebsen and for us! Jack Haley was good, but I think Ebsen would have been spectacular.

free for anything fancy

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Well I had to work yesterday, but I still managed to get in a couple of hours of yardwork in the afternoon before it got dark. I planted 20 asparagus crowns which I had ordered from Stark Brothers: 10 Jersey Knight and 10 Purple Passion. The purple ones allegedly turn green when cooked, but are sweet enough to eat almost raw so they still have their color. It will be three years before we can harvest any, and we'll see how it turns out!

I planted them in the cutting garden, where they took up about half the bed. I'm kind of disappointed to lose all that space for flowers, but it's the ideal place for the asparagus, nice and deep with good soil.

Today I seem to have a cold. Sniffly and sneezy and bleh. Such a beautiful day too. I worked for a few hours but that was all I could manage. First planted a flat of pansies in front of the asparagus. Then back to work on the new bed. I had planned to go after the stump of doom again, but with the dirt cleared away from it, it was so daunting I just couldn't face it. So Georg worked on the stump of doom, and I pulled up vines. After all that rain, the ground is so saturated that the roots almost seemed to lift right out. I got so much done. The whole project is starting to look less daunting. Of course I probably just feel that way because I wasn't dealing with the stump of doom.

In the afternoon I drove to Big Blue and Big Orange to price chipper-shredders. Big Orange didn't have any, and Big Blue only had one, which was way out of my price range. This evening I found a smaller electric chipper online and ordered it from Amazon. I can't wait to get rid of the piles of brush in the yard. Best of all, Amazon had a coupon in their tools & hardware department which almost paid for the shipping. So I splurged, while I was at it, and ordered a good forged shovel, the kind with a slightly pointed shape. The chipper and the shovel will be my Christmas present to myself.

Now we're watching Top Hat and I'm resting. I might get up and make tea in a little while.

let's sing before breakfast

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Buddy Ebsen is one of the most amazing dancers I've ever seen. I've watched Born to Dance and Broadway Melody of 1936 in the past couple of days, and he blows me away. I had heard he was a hoofer, but I never knew how incredibly good he was. Why was he not more famous in his day? I have got to see more of his movies.

the day is a turkey

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Well I had written a post about our wonderful Thanksgiving dinner at Acme, but just now while I was writing, Georg started throwing up. Which makes it seem somewhat inappropriate to rave about our dinner.

I'm guessing it was the mushroom risotto, which he ordered and I only tasted a bite of. Poor Georg. Not a nice way to spend a holiday. Especially not a holiday about food. At least we had a nice day up until now.

[ETA: Georg threw up a couple more times and then fell asleep. So I guess it wasn't food poisoning, which is a relief.]

synchronicity

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On a happier note, when I got home tonight and got over my shock and horror about the dog situation, Georg and I discovered that not only had we both gone to the store for dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow, we had both bought the same ingredients: Lisa's spinach casserole for tonight, and a late breakfast tomorrow of corned beef hash and biscuits. I guess it's true about married people thinking alike.

The good news is that, first of all, Georg got home before I did and his spinach casserole was already in the oven, so I didn't have to cook tonight. And the extra casserole ingredients will keep. Well, the spinach will, and the sausage we can use for something else. And while I bought a raw brisket, under the mistaken impression that corned beef can be made in one night, Georg did the sensible thing and bought a package of corned beef. So we'll use the corned beef tomorrow, and save the brisket for later. I'd like to try for Texas style barbecued brisket, but that would require some additional equipment. Alton Brown has a show about making a brisket smoker from two terra cotta pots and and hot plate; that might work.

The only problem is that we both bought buttermilk, and the biscuit recipe only needs a cup. So we now have 6 times more buttermilk than we need. I don't know any uses for buttermilk except fried chicken, biscuits and pancakes. Looks like we're going to be eating well for the next week!

the best dogs in the world

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Today Georg came home to discover the front door standing open and both dogs outside. As near as we can figure out, I must have left the front door unlocked, and a gust of wind must have blown it open.

Nothing was missing from the house so clearly no intruder was involved. But honestly, when I found out I was so freaked out about the dogs that the possibility of theft didn't even occur to me until hours later. It makes me literally sick to my stomach to think about what could have happened to them. Who knows how long the door was open. Hours, probably, with the main gate standing wide open. Jane could have run away, or gotten hit by a car. Thirteen too: I don't think she would want to leave the yard on her own, but if she saw Jane heading down the driveway she could well have followed. She's not even wearing a collar. We live on such a busy road, christ, I can't even think about it. And I can't stop thinking about it. One stupid mistake, and the consequences could have been so bad.

The worst didn't happen, but I'm still quite upset about Thirteen being outside by herself for so long. She doesn't know how to get back inside the dog door (don't ask me why; she just never figured it out), and so once she went out, she was trapped. As cold and windy as it was today, she must have gotten a terrible chill. She seems worn out and her leg is noticeably worse. At least she was dry; it would have been so much worse if she'd been out there in the rain. That's also encouraging because it means she couldn't have been outside all day. It was raining until early afternoon. Anyway she's sleeping it off now. I hope she's okay in the morning.

To sum up, I may be the worst dog mom in the world, but Jane and Thirteen are the best dogs. Alone in the yard with an open gate for hours and they stay right where they're supposed to be. We are so lucky to have them.

lazy monday

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Wouldn't it be nice if every Monday could be a lazy Monday? Alas, this one was not. But close enough. If I had to work tonight, at least I got to spend the evening sitting in front of a roaring fire, stoked up so high that I had to change into a lighter sweater. And I watched a couple of good movies while I was working: 49th Parallel, a propoganda film about Nazis in Canada trying to sneak across the border into the US (the movie was made just before the US entered the war) and Five Came Back, a thriller about a small plane that crash lands in the Amazon (as you can guess from the title, not everyone gets out). Now The Shop Around the Corner is on.

We spent the weekend attacking the new bed. To be more specific, attacking privets and saplings in the new bed. Yesterday I found the biggest stump -- at least I hope it's the biggest. I thought it was just a cluster of saplings growing together, but actually it was suckers growing out of a stump 8" in diameter. A couple of the lateral roots were so big the digging bar didn't work, I had to chop them out with an axe.

It's going to take more than one afternoon to get that stump out, but I'm glad it's going to be too cold to work for the next few days. My arms are so sore! I managed to stay just on the right side of overdoing it -- very sore but not quite an injury.

gimpy

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So the good news for Thirteen is that she's gaining weight at a rapid pace. So much so that we decided we had increased her food too much, and cut her back a bit. She's still getting more nutrition that she was before, what with the senior food instead of diet, and a blob of vitamin goo every morning. We're hoping she continues to gain, but more slowly. It will be great if we can stabilize her weight around 45 pounds.

The bad news is that she's having pretty bad problems with one leg. Her back right leg is turning in while she walks, so much that sometimes it crosses over the left leg. And the bad leg also twists and drags as she walks. When she's walking fast, especially on a smooth surface, she sometimes loses her balance and falls over.

It seems like this problem started suddenly but it must have been developing for a long time. Maybe I just noticed it because I was away for a week. The vet agreed with me that it looked serious, but unfortunately there's not much we can do "at this stage of her life" as Dr. Pagel put it. It's probably something wrong with either her hip or her knee, and either way surgery isn't an option. If she even survived the operation, she'd likely never fully recover. Why put her through that much pain when the risk would be so great, and the gain so little. Dr. Pagel recommended that we not even bother with an X-ray, unless we just want to know the specific problem.

It's sad, but I'm surpisingly not freaked out about it. It's not like I don't know how old Thirteen is. She's at the point of her life where our best approach is to make her more comfortable. To that end, we've put down small rugs along her favorite paths through the house, which does seem to have helped. And this week I'll try my hand at building her a ramp for the front steps. A couple of days ago she fell trying to get up the steps, which has happened before, but this time she gave up and I had to carry her inside. Clearly she needs an easier way to get in and out.

We're going to continue the acupuncture of course, and also Dr. Pagel suggested a referral to an orthopedist for rehab therapy, which we may do, depending on how effective the acupuncture is. Also I've started doing gentle range of motion exercises on Thirteen's bad leg: just extending and bending it as much as she can without straining.

So it's not all bad news. It seems like there are a lot of things we can do to make it easier for her to walk. And apparently it's a good sign that, even though her walk is distorted, she's not limping or showing signs of pain. (Except when she falls of course.)

av geeks: when mascots attack

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Tonight Georg and I and our friend Joe went to a great AV Geeks: When Mascots Attack! Lots of short films which use mascots to teach a lesson. Mascots like a giant bar of soap who teaches kids to be clean, Muppet knock-offs who teach kids not to vandalize, a talking train engine who teaches kids fire safety, a Wonder Woman knock-off who teaches kids general safety, and a turtle who teaches kids how to duck and cover. My only criticism was that, since the films were all aimed at children, all but one featured songs. Lots and lots of songs, sung loudly by children. But other than that, the movies were great.

It was fun to be there with Joe, who had never seen AV Geeks before. He didn't know what to expect, and I think he enjoyed himself. I hope so! He's not the type to pretend he was having a good time if he wasn't.

And I won a DVD! At every show Skip asks a couple of trivia questions based on the films. The question I answered was, what was the graffiti written on a wall in the film about vandalism, that revealed the Canadian origin of the film. Sounds like a tough question, but he gave it away by saying it was a common Canadian expression in the 80s, popularized by -- at this point I knew he was going to say "Bob and Doug Mackenzie" so I called out "Take off!"

I won a DVD called Dag, it's Cold! Movies about building an igloo, surviving in cold weather, and driving on ice. Also the "Disney snuff film" where they drove the lemmings off the cliff. I don't want to watch that one but I'm looking forward to watching the rest.

I've never won anything at AV Geeks before. (I rarely win anything at all, but especially not at AV Geeks.) I attribute my win to the lack of regulars in the audience. The folks who come every month are really fast. Usually I'm still trying to think through the question while they're shouting out the answer. But most of them weren't there this week.

slate's green challenge, week 3

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Week 3 of the green challenge, which I missed last week, was about food consumption. Raynor is right, this is the most dumb and pointless challenge yet. You get the impression from reading the challenge that, unless you become a vegetarian, there's little you can do. They talk about buying locally grown food but don't spend much time on it, perhaps realizing this is difficult to accomplish for many/most people. They give very good advice to buy unprocessed foods and cook them yourself, but I think that has more to do with health and saving money.

And they don't say anything about energy efficient kitchen appliances. I've never researched the issue, but I'm assuming that there are more and less wasteful ways to cook and store your food. And some appliances (like the fridge) probably have a big impact on the monthly electricity bill.

The quiz was what really put me off. I was already doing everything except giving up meat, which I'm sorry, no way. And also, I had to say no on bringing my own bags to the supermarket. I've tried it before and it never works. I can't even remember to keep the insulated cooler in my car in the summer, much less a bunch of grocery bags.

I did feel a little guilty about the bags, until I got to the end of the quiz and learned that "Bringing your own bags to the grocery store saves about 17 pounds of carbon-dioxide emissions a year." Jigga-what? 17 pounds a year? (By way of comparison, the average car releases almost 20 pounds of carbon dioxide burning just one gallon of gas). Why the fuck is such an empty gesture on this quiz? Is the point of the challenge to reduce emissions, or to create busywork that makes us feel good about ourselves? It would take 100 similar tasks to make any kind of impact on one's carbon emissions. I'd rather put my efforts into saving up for an efficient refrigerator, or just giving my car a tune-up for god's sake. And does that 17 pound figure even include the environmental cost of creating the cloth grocery bags? They seem to do a lot of oversimplifying in this challenge.

As the challenge goes on, I find their bald, unreferenced statements of fact more and more dubious. Considering how they failed to address the complex issue of hybrid cars vs. biofuels, I wonder if we should take any of their claims at face value. I'll probably keep doing the challenge just to see what they come up with next. After all, I'm halfway done. But I'm not going to rely on Slate for facts about the environment.

slate's green challenge, week 4

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I thought this was week 3, but actually it was week 4! I must have missed a week while I was away.

In any case, this week they talk about saving energy with your clothes. The article talks about buying organic clothes and alternative fibers like flax and hemp, but the quiz is short and we're already doing almost everything on it -- give old clothes to Goodwill, buy used/vintage clothes, use an energy efficient washing machine, run the dryer on low heat. The only thing they suggest that we aren't doing is to use a clothesline instead of a dryer, and I'm not willing to do that. For one thing, line dried clothes always feel stiff and uncomfortable. For another, the clothesline that came with our house has become a hangout spot for birds, and I bet our clothes would end up with bird poop embellishments.

Now I guess I should go back and do the week I missed.

stab stab

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Whew! Today I started work on the new bed.

It's going to be big -- about 75 feet long, and I'm not sure yet how wide. Probably the wall will curve, so the width will vary. But probably around 10 feet wide on average. Which makes for a large area that has to be cleared of weeds. Some of which are actually small trees, plus an infestation of privets and runaway vines.

Anyway, I started by attacking one of the biggest privet shrubs. I worked until I was so tired I could barely lift the digging bar. Which was a pathetic 45 minutes. In my defense, that digging bar is really heavy. As I've mentioned before, it's a 6 foot long iron pole with a chisel blade. You stab it into the ground all the way around the shrub or tree, until you've chopped through all the roots and can pry it out.

This was a big shrub: the area I dug out was over 2 feet in diameter. Unfortunately it came out in pieces, so I won't get a good picture of it after it's out. I got almost the whole thing out before I was too exhausted to continue. There's only a chunk of thick underground root left.

This is the perfect weather for hard work like this: cool enough that there's no danger of overheating, but not so cold you get a chill. If I can manage a half hour to hour of work every day, I'll have all the big trees and shrubs dug out of this bed before you know it. Just call me Stabby McStabberson!

stump the chump

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Found a new way to waste time: LikeBetter.com You view a series of pairs of photos, clicking each photo you prefer. Periodically the website tells you fascinating facts about yourself. At first it was freaking me out -- how did it know so much about me? Eee!

Then after I'd done it for a while, longer than I'd like to admit actually, it started making mistakes. Like telling me that I'm a guy, I'm the leader of my social circle, I'm not creative, and I don't have or want pets. Well, when the dogs wake me up at 6 am, I might concede that last one. But the others? Uncreative? Um, no. Leader of my social circle? Hell, I'm so socially inept I don't even have a social circle. And last time I checked, still female.

It made me feel strangely better when it started getting things wrong. I guess no one wants to think some free website has their number.

Divaville was fun this afternoon. Not quite as good as the one about a month ago, which I sadly forgot to record, but still a decent show I think. Here's the playlist if you're interested. A couple of the songs turned out to have surprisingly violent lyrics: for one, "Open Up the Doghouse" by Dean Martin goes on at some length about the value of beating up your woman so she knows who's boss. Also, "Friendship" by Judy Garland and Johnny Mercer includes gory detail about the bad things that might happen to the friends. I think my favorite line is "If you ever take a bullet to the brain, I'll complain." Now that's what I call a devoted friendship! In future I would play "Friendship" again, but "Open Up the Doghouse" probably not. Except maybe on Valentine's Day.

summer in november

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What a glorious day today. It must have reached 80 in the afternoon. Georg had suggested we go to the art walk, but honestly, after last week I had no desire to spend another day walking around all day. Instead we spent the day in the yard.

Georg cleaned the gutters and put up new gutter covers, and I planted a fig tree. Which doesn't sound like that much, but it had to go in a area we've totally neglected the entire time we've lived here. It's in the back yard, in front of the shed. It will be protected from the coldest weather there, which is essential for a fig here.

So, Georg moved a pile of old brush for me, and then I cut down a half-dozen volunteer trees. Not too big, the largest was about 4" across and most were smaller than that. Then got out the digging bar and dug up a forsythia. Which luckily came right out. There have been shrubs that took days to dig out. I guess the forsythia just had weak roots or something.

Then there was some weeding, and pulling up vines, and then to dig a hole for the fig. I had originally planned to dig up the whole area and turn it into a flower bed surrounding the fig. But by this point I was starting to get tired so I settled for digging a big hole that would give the fig room to grow. Besides, the soil wasn't nearly as horrible as in some places in this yard. It still looked like dirt -- not good dirt, but dirt -- a foot down. In some places you hit solid clay a few inches under the surface.

So, I planted the fig and then stuck a few giant alliums around it. Georg bought them for me, and they're big & dramatic enough that I think we'll be able to see them from down at the driveway. All the leaves have dropped from the fig, but the tips are still green so I think it's going to be OK. There's plenty of space near the fig, I wonder what we'll plant there? It's a nice protected area so it would be a good place for tender plants that are iffy to grow in this region.

After all that I was way too tired to do anything else strenuous, so I did some light gardening. I planted a couple dozen frittilary bulbs, and pulled up annuals that had died. That hard freeze last week while I was gone had clobbered the marigolds, the pineapple sage and the last zinnias.

We came inside and I took a shower and then had a nap on the couch. The funny thing is, Jane was barking outside and woke me, and I looked at the clock and saw 6:10 and totally thought it was the morning. I was lying there feeling sorry for myself because I had been woken so early and had to get up, and then I realized it was evening and I didn't have to! What a great feeling.

Tomorrow I was hoping to get started on the big project I've been planning: digging up one side of the yard to make a big long raised bed for the blueberry bushes. But it sounds like it will be too wet in the morning, and then I have Divaville in the evening. (3-5pm, 88.7, check it out!)

easy to wed

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November 9 movie: Easy to Wed. I haven't written up a movie in ages, but I'm so excited about this movie I'm watching right now that I had to write it up for the movie list.

This is kind of a convoluted story, so bear with me. As you may know, I sometimes cover the Divaville radio show for Christa. And when I do Divaville, she lends me her CD collection, which is so massive I'm always discovering new music in it. Last time I found Maracas, Marimbas & Mambos, a collection of Latin music from Hollywood movies. Which included a version of "Boneca de Piche," one of my favorite Carmen Miranda songs, but sung by Van Johnson and Esther Williams. The liner notes said it was from the movie Easy to Wed, and the song is so freaky cool that Georg and I have been hoping the movie would show up on TCM.

Well this morning I was bumming around, waking up slowly, and turned on TCM, and what do I see? Easy to Wed, only 20 minutes in! Just think, I almost missed it! It turns out to be a remake of Libeled Lady, a movie I love. The acting is a pale imitation of the original, which is no surprise when you conside the relative merits of the casts. I like Van Johnson but he's no William Powell, likewise Keenan Wynn and Spencer Tracy. And asking Esther Williams to fill Myrna Loy's shoes is just cruel. The bright spot among the actors in Easy to Wed is Lucille Ball, in the part originally played by Jean Harlow. You know, I wasn't a big fan of Lucy's TV shows, but her movies are great. In this movie her eyes are so blue that even the whites are blue.

Unfortunately there isn't a lot of music: so far just a couple of songs, and a goofy duck call song with Johnson and Ball. I hope I didn't miss "Boneca de Piche"! On the bright side, there's a scene where Johnson and Williams mack under water. Va va voom.

[Edited to add: "Boneca de Piche" was as wonderfully weird as I had hoped, and so was the end of the movie: Van Johnson gives Keenan Wynn a bloody nose and Lucille Ball gives Van Johnson a bloody nose, while a mariachi band sings "Viva Mexico." Viva!]

absentee ballots

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In Maryland I was told that absentee ballots are not counted, unless a race is so close that the absentee ballots might change the outcome.

Is this true in North Carolina? If so, is it also true of early voting, aka "One Stop Absentee Ballots"?

If it's true of early voting, then I'm very unhappy, because that's what I've done for the past 2 elections. Even if it's only true of mail-in absentee ballots, that deeply undercuts the argument that we should all vote absentee to create a paper record of our vote. Because in effect, instead of risking that our votes might not be counted, we would be ensuring that they will not be counted. I think this would be especially problematic if you were voting for a third party candidate which needed a certain percent of the vote for ballot access next time around.

the day after

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The drive back to NC was not too bad. The rain slowed me down but there was hardly any traffic. I stopped at Ikea for a few things. They are the best deal going on crazy cool fabric. Also got a new bed for Jane, which she refuses to lie on. I guess she misses her flattened down dirty old bed.

In future political volunteering I'd like to do a few things differently. For one thing, this is the second election day I've spent knocking on doors, and have accomplished absolutely zero. Everyone says they've already voted and it ends up feeling like a waste of time. In my limited experience, knocking on doors before election day seems more effective. Although the people at the party office seemed really worked up about it. I may try to read up on how much it really helps, and maybe look into other options for election day activities.

Also I'm not sure about the phone bank. People seemed so angry about the flood of calls.
It seems like it would be better to start earlier and try to establish a connection with people, rather than hammering them with a dozen phone calls in the days before the election. But again, the people in charge were convinced it was the best approach. And Cardin won, so who am I to argue?

meanwhile, back in durham

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Back home it's a bad day to be extremely conservative, extremely nuts, or both.

All the candidates I liked won, and all the candidates I loathed lost. What is this strange emotion I'm experiencing? Could it be .. optimism? Like any good high, it won't last long, but damn it feels good right now.

was it worth it? yes.

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This morning I was obsessing over the last minute polls, the alarming stories of "tightening" in many races, most especially the Cardin-Steele race, and wondering if disrupting my life for a week was even accomplishing anything. Yes, as it turns out, it was worth it.

I think I made the right call to work for the Cardin campaign rather than the Casey campaign. Casey clobbered Santorum, he clearly didn't need help. But the margin for Cardin was close enough that I can feel like I made a difference. In reality, I probably didn't. How much difference can any one person make, especially someone at the lowest level of volunteering? But still, I feel better about working for a close campaign than an overwhelming victory.

Today was much better than yesterday. Mainly because they sent me out partnered with other people. So even though I spent all day canvassing, everything went fast and I didn't get nearly as tired. It's harder to be by yourself: I would park the car at one end of the neighborhood and then walk the whole route. But with someone else, you can start at one end of the street, have them drive to the other end, and meet in the middle.

I spent the afternoon in Havre de Grace -- beautiful little historic town -- with Tom,* an interesting guy who works at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. It was good to hear the perspective of a career military man on the war. (In short, he thinks it's been criminally mismanaged.) At one point we were walking around and heard a loud booming sound. I looked up, thinking "oh no, a thunderstorm is rolling in!" He chuckled and told me it was a gun from over at Aberdeen. He even knew what it was by the sound; I think he said a "155" but don't quote me on that.

*not his real name, as he said they never discuss politics at work so I don't want to post statements about his political opinions on the internets.

After Havre de Grace I took a quick break for lunch and then they sent me out with a woman named Peg, to a neighborhood in Bel Air. We got about halfway through the neighborhood when we ran into another team doing the exact same packet! It was kind of embarrassing; we walked up to the same house at the same time as they did. I think they were supposed to do them earlier in the day, leaving hang-tags on doors, and then we were supposed to come back through and make sure people had voted. But they were several hours behind. I don't know if they were just slow, or if the coordinators had overloaded them. Based on my experience, probably the latter.

The other team told us that they had just finished the neighborhood, and we decided it would be pointless to knock on the same doors 10 minutes after them, so we went back to the party office. Peg called it a night, saying she didn't want to drive in the rain, but it was only 5:30 so I stayed to do more. Sam, one of the volunteer coordinators, tried to get me to go with him to Edgewood, which I had heard of as a bad neighborhood, and I didn't like that idea at all. Luckily Marc, the other volunteer coordinator, ran in just then and told me he had a woman who needed a partner. Her name was Joan and she was a hoot. She was a teacher and we were in a neighborhood where her students lived, so she knew everyone. We'd get to a street and she'd run down the list crossing people off: "he moved, she's not home tonight, he's out volunteering, she definitely already voted..." It made things go a lot faster.

We had only been out for about a half hour when Marc called and asked us to come back, so we could go to another district that was showing low turnout. I thought he said Baltimore City, at which Joan was irate, because that would be a 45 minute drive away from us. She called her daughter who was working at the Cardin campaign, and reassured us that "they pay canvassers to go where they might get killed" and no one was going to send volunteers like us to Baltimore City. Turns out Marc actually said Baltimore County, much closer to Bel Air. Except that when we got back to the party office, Marc announced that they would be sending us, along with 3 other people, to Towson. Which is apparently also 45 minutes away.

Seeing as it was already 6:30 by that point, no one had much enthusiasm. In fatc I'd describe the reaction as "trying to calm Marc down long enough to explain why we aren't going." I simply said no, I lived a hour north of there and no way was I going to go another 45 minutes south. The others convinced Marc that we didn't lack dedication, but by the time we got there it would be too late to accomplish anything. So he called the Cardin people back and told them that we would be sent to a low turnout district in Harford County instead.

By some cool coincidence, he sent us to the exact same neighborhood in Aberdeen where I had been on Sunday afternoon. I had kind of mixed feelings about that actually. On the one hand, I knew where we were going and I remembered people as being really nice. On the other, I was disappointed that turnout had been low there. Had I done a bad job of canvassing on Sunday? I left there thinking that everyone was really enthusiastic about voting. Then again, each district comprises several neighborhoods so maybe the folks I talked to did vote like they said they were going to.

I was walking with a really nice fellow named Pat. He had a somewhat different style of approaching people than I did. My style was "short and sweet" -- keep it fast so as to impose on people as little as possible. By Tuesday afternoon it was just "Hi, have you voted yet today? Great, have a good day!" Pat liked to establish a connection by addressing the person by name, introducing himself and me, and talking at more length. I think his approach was maybe less efficient when we're down to the wire, but probably more effective earlier in the GOTV campaign. Next time I do this, I'll try to adopt more of his way of connecting with people.

Unfortunately, all the back-and-forth wrangling about where we were going to go had taken so much time, that we didn't get there until almost 7:30. Which was too late to visit even half the packet. We walked a few blocks, talked to a few people, and then realized that even if we found someone who admitted to not having voted yet, we might not being able to get them to the polls in time. So we bailed.

On the way home I treated myself to dinner at the Charcoal Pit. Dang that is a good burger. According to the menu they grind their own beef. I probably should have skipped dessert, but who can resist the hot fudge ice cream cake?

It's weird to think that it's all over. No more driving up route 155 on my way to Bel Air. No more "Hi, my name is Sarah and I'm a volunteer with the Maryland Democratic Party." No more of that stupid $5 toll bridge. Tomorrow I drive back to Durham, and then back to work on Thursday.

So, 2008, the campaign of whoever is running against Dole. Who's with me?

one thing

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One funny thing that I forgot to mention. This afternoon while I was on phone bank duty, two teenage girls came in to help. The older sister was pretty good at it, picked up pretty quickly on how to sound natural and engage the person on the line. But the younger sister ... well her heart was in the right place. She would plunge into the script in a breathless monotone with absolutely no pauses or changes in intonation. It was like she was giving a speech while running through a graveyard and holding her breath.

"hello - my - name - is - alison* - and - i - am - a - volunteer - with - the - maryland - democractic - party - i - am - calling - to - make - sure - you - get - out - and - vote - this - tuesday - november - 7th - this - election - is - extremely - close - and - your - vote - is - crucial - can - we - count - on - you - to - vote - for - democrats - ben - cardin - and - martin - o'malley"

It's hard to express tone in writing, but imagine the above spoken very fast by a 12 year old girl robot. I thought it was adorable but I can see how it would be weird to actually get a call like that. Keep in mind that by now, the rest of us had talked to so many irate voters that we'd shortened our scripts to about half that length. That poor girl read the whole thing, word for word. She even read out the "this Tuesday, November 7th," even though that's tomorrow.

Unfortunately she didn't last long. I'm not surprised really. A girl her age probably has way too thin a skin to deal with cold calling. I hope they found something more fun for her to do.

*not her real name.

worth reading

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The extremely cool chick Patricia Bondor has started a blog about her new life on a mission in New Orleans. I'm beyond inspired by her (if I ever start to feel too proud of myself for going across country to do four days of volunteer work, I can cure my excess of hubris by reminding myself that she's doing something much more important, and doing it for a year) and I can't wait to read about how her work progresses. Check it out.

one vote

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Today was a craptacular day, which turned out to be worth it in the end.

The main thing I learned today is that Monday morning is a much worse time for canvassing than Sunday afternoon. No one is home, and the few people who are home are in no mood to come to the door.

One woman stands out in particular: she got to the door after I had given up, stuck a flyer in the door and walked away, back to the sidewalk. I was already in front of the next house when the door opened. She stood in the open door and waited for me to walk back up to her door, then thrust the flyer at me, snapped "I don't vote!" and slammed the door on my apology. Think about that. She stood in the open door and waited for me to walk all the way back so she could slam the door in my face. You know, I realize that I'm intruding in people's lives and I try not to resent the ones who are rude to me. But I have to say, what a miserable bitch. She couldn't just throw the flyer away and get on with her life? I hope that someday, if she ever has to do something that she really doesn't enjoy, but she's doing it anyway because she believes in it, that no one treats her the way she treated me.

That was the worst rude person I encountered but not the only one. Also, they gave me way too much canvassing for one person -- almost 150 addresses that I was supposed to get through by myself in just a couple of hours. And one of the packets was for a sketchy neighborhood, where I was really uncomfortable being alone. It's funny because when I got there and got out of my car, I heard two young women talking about me, but not in a nice way like the two girls yesterday. They said "she's in the wrong place, she'll be sorry if she goes up there!" I wondered what was their problem, and I actually doubled back to make sure they left my car alone. Which they did. Then when I got a couple of blocks away, I realized that she was right. I was sorry to be up there by myself. I wish I could say her warning was kindly meant, but I don't think it was. It had a kind of smirky schadenfreude sound to it.

Anyway, just when I was feeling tired and sorry for myself and wondering what I was doing out there, the phone bank volunteer coordinator called to ask why I hadn't shown up for my shift. I confess, I kind of snapped at her. I apologized when I got back to the party office, and she was really nice about it. She seems much more understanding than the other guy, at least about putting limits on what you ask of a volunteer. The other guy seems to feel like whatever you can strong-arm someone into accepting, that must be a reasonable amount of work for them to do.

So then in the afternoon I did phone bank. The people on the receiving end of our calls seemed so annoyed that I spent much of the time wondering if we were doing more harm than good. One of the other volunteers actually got up and left in the middle of the shift for exactly that reason. She said she couldn't do it anymore because she didn't think it was accomplishing anything positive.

I asked the people in charge about this, and one guy told me the craziest thing: He said it's a deliberate strategy to overwhelm people with calls. Because it means they're getting the message. Sure, if the message is "we're annoying and we don't respect your time." He said that it would be bad if the call volume and frustration level had peaked on Thursday, but to have it peaking today was exactly what we want.

I must say, I do not agree with this logic at all. But then again, I'm not the expert. I guess we'll know tomorrow whether it worked.

Here's the funniest part: That volunteer coordinator who told me about this policy, walked through the phone bank while several of us were having the same conversation. It went like this: "Hi, I'm a volunteer with the Maryland Democratic Party.... Oh, I'm so sorry. I'll tell the system to take your phone number off the list. Sorry to take up your time." (Over half the calls I took went like that, if I even got that far before they hung up on me.) His response was to chide us that it was okay to promise to take people off the call list, but that we should still finish the call by reminding them to vote Democrat! Sheesh! He happened to be standing right next to me, and I told him that if I had a person say "For god's sake, I keep telling you that I'm voting for the Democrats, please stop calling me," I was not going to close the call with "Don't forget to vote Democrat!" It reminded me of the mayor on The Simpsons blurting out "Vote Quimby!" at every opportunity, no matter how inopportune. (Then again Quimby does get re-elected every time.)

I kept track of the numbers during the afternoon, to pass the time. Note: these number don't add up because some people were in more than 1 column. Also, I didn't count calls where I had nothing but dead air or an answering machine. If I could hear the "click" of someone hanging up on me, I counted that call.

105 calls (for 3 hours, this was a pretty low call volume. I spent many idle minutes waiting for the phone to give me a call)
46 "yes I will vote Democrat" (some of these sounded like they were just saying anything to get me off the phone)
59 people I punched in "rude" to get them off the phone list
9 actively rude people (not including people who simply hung up on me; these were the people who took the extra effort to say something rude)
2 "I'm voting Republican"
2 "undecided"
3 "not voting"
7 "already voted"
10 non-English speakers
1 fax line
1 "needs ride to poll"
4 nice people

There were also a few calls that didn't fit into any categories, like the poor woman who told me she couldn't vote because she had fallen down. I asked her if she meant right now, and she said yes, she had just fallen down. I kept asking her if she needed me to call an ambulance and she was a little incoherent, but eventually she got across that her nephew was with her and she didn't need a doctor, but she wasn't going to be leaving the house tomorrow. I hope she's okay.

I found that 1 nice person got me through 10 rude people or hang-ups. Which meant that there were almost enough nice people to make the afternoon go okay. The nice people were really, really nice though. One of them told me that she knew how hard cold calling was and thanked me for doing it. I swear, after the day I'd had, I almost cried when she said that.

The best call was the woman who needed a ride to the poll. It was a sad story: she told me her husband had died in May, and that he had done all the driving, and the two of them had voted together every year. She seemd really happy and grateful that I had called. I told her that I was going to punch in a code and then someone would call her back to arrange her ride, but since I didn't know when that would happen, she insisted on giving me her name and phone number. I gave it to the nice volunteer coordinator who promised to call party headquarters in the woman's area (Baltimore City) and arrange her ride. Now I know that one person is going to vote because of me, who wouldn't have otherwise. That makes the whole miserable day worthwhile.

Tomorrow they did have me scheduled for 12 hours of canvassing, but I told the nice coordinator that wasn't going to work, and she cut it down to 8 hours. So I don't have to be there until noon. I also told her that if they sent me to another bad neighborhood, especially after dark, I was going to leave. She promised me that she would be on top of that tomorrow. She didn't say it explicitly but I think she meant that the two guys hadn't been thinking about canvasser safety, but that she was & wouldn't let it happen again.

huzzay for guy fawkes

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Jack stepped forward and in a voice to be heard in Heaven he uttered the words "Three cheers for the King."

Huzzay, huzzay, huzzay: the cheers pealed out like so many rolling broadsides, and after the last nothing could be heard but Sarah and Emily, beside themselves with glee, who huzzayed on and on, "Huzzay, huzzay for Guy Fawkes," very shrill, until Jemmy Ducks suppressed them.

--Patrick O'Brian
The Nutmeg of Consolation

Spent all day knocking on doors today. Mostly in Aberdeen, which you've probably heard of if you ever drive up I-95. It was the perfect day for it: sunny, crisp but not cold; in a nice neighborhood where I felt safe being by myself, not ritzy but comfortable and homey, with nice gardens; the houses were close enough together that I could walk the whole route; and the people were friendly and mostly home. When the guy sent me out he told me "this neighborhood is critical," and when I got there I realized that by "critical" he meant "brown." About 3/4 of the people who answered their doors were African American.

Unlike phone bank duty, where I shortened the script, while knocking on doors I abandoned the script. It sounds so canned, and I hate to make people stand there while I recite my stupid prepared statement. Instead I just said hi, I'm with the Democratic Party, just here to make sure you're going to vote on Tuesday. If they said yes then I thanked them very much, chatted if they wanted to, and then moved on. If they said no then I found out why, thanked them for their time, and moved on. The few people who said they were not going to vote never provided a reason with which I could argue. Mostly it was vaguely angry men who didn't like any of the choices available to them. If I were speaking on my own behalf, at that point I would ask them if they had considered a third party. But I don't feel comfortable doing that when I'm there as a representative of the Democratic Party. And besides, I don't even know the name of the Libertarian Senate candidate in Maryland. There was also one woman who had just become a citizen but not in time to register to vote. She seemed bummed about it and I felt very bad for her. She told me she would definitely register before the election next year.

One really funny thing happened: while I was walking around knocking on doors, two girls passed me, maybe 10-12 years old. They were laughing and talking ostensibly to each other, but loud enough that they clearly wanted me to hear. One of them said "She better not come to my house if she's a Jehovah's Witness! Better not come to [address redacted]! Better not bother my daddy saying 'have a blessed day!'" It sounds hostile written down like that, but it really wasn't. They were laughing good-naturedly, joking about whether or not I was a Jehovah's Witness. They rounded the corner ahead of me, since of course they weren't stopping to knock on doors like I was.

I followed them around the corner, and coincidentally I had just finished a circuit of the neighborhood and my car was right there. They went gaga over it, screaming about how cool it was and how it was "the shit" and whose car could it be. They looked up and saw me, and the one girl yelled "It must be her car; she looks just like it!" I hasten to add that I did not in fact look just like my car. I have several outfits that match my car, for art car events, but I wasn't wearing one today. I was wearing a plain dark sweater and skirt, my striped Sock Dreams knee socks over white tights, and my red striped hat and matching scarf. But I guess she meant that I had the same colorful aesthetic as my car. Which, I must say, is the nicest thing anyone's said to me in a long time.

When I got up to the girls I told them that yes, it was my car, but no, I was not a Jehovah's Witness. The more talkative girl asked me, "Well then what are you?" "A Democrat," I replied. (Not true, but it served the purpose.) "What does that mean?" she asked. More truthfully I said "It means the Democratic Party sent me here to make sure people vote." She told me that her parents were Democrats, at least she thought so, and they vote every year. I asked her where she lived and she told me the address, which was not on my list. She asked if that meant they weren't Democrats, and I said "no, it just means you're not on my list. And," I added, "it means I won't be bothering your dad."

We chatted for a few minutes more, mostly about the car of course. The other girl, who didn't say much, complimented my socks. So I told her they came from SockDreams.com. She's probably too young to be shopping online but I'm happy to recommend Sock Dreams to anyone who asks.

So that was pretty much my day. I really liked that neighborhood and as it turns out, I'll be going back there tomorrow. Because they didn't give me enough flyers and I ran out before I finished the neighborhood. They gave me another packet for the next neighborhood over, and a huge stack of flyers. I'll go back to Aberdeen first thing tomorrow, finish that neighborhood and do the next one, and then head in to the party office in Bel Air to switch over to phone duty. That will save me a lot of time since Aberdeen is right off I-95, but a good 20 minutes from Bel Air.

Oh, I forgot to mention that on the way to Aberdeen I stumbled onto a cool looking shiny diner called The New Ideal Diner. I had to stop there, no question about it. So I saved my sandwich for tomorrow and had a cheese steak. It was made of hamburger, which is a big no-no for a "real" cheese steak. But it was still tasty. The place was full of older people who seemed to know the staff very well. I very much agree with this review that the food was pleasant but nothing to write home about. Still, it was a good experience, what with the cool building and very nice staff. I'd stop there again if I were on a road trip, around that part of I-95, and hungry. Well actually, I'd probably just wait an hour and go to the Charcoal Pit on Concord Pike in Delaware. But if there were some reason why I couldn't wait an hour, or if the Charcoal Pit were closed or if I were going the other direction.

Now, I am very tired. Especially my feet. Tomorrow is going to be a much longer day. Time to rest now.

volunteer nag

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Before this morning, I had no idea how a phone bank worked. Now that I've used one, here's my marginally helpful advice on stopping those annoying phone calls:

  • First the most effective preventative: do not register with a political party. They generally only call people from their own party. Georg and I are both registered independant and we've only gotten 1 phone call this election cycle. Of course, in some states this prevents you from voting in a primary. In NC we can choose which primary to vote in each year. So registering independant is the ideal solution for us.
  • If you're registered with a party and you're getting inundated with calls, do not hang up on the caller. I'm sure every system is different, but in Maryland one response code covers "hangup," "answering machine" and "phone answered by child." In all cases, you will be called again.
  • Definitely do not say you haven't decided who to vote for, if you don't want to be called again.
  • In fact the sad news is that, in Maryland at least, there is only one response code that guarantees you will not be called back: "rude." I'm not suggesting that you should be rude. (Especially not if I'm the poor sap who calls you!) I realize even as I make these calls that they are rude by their nature, but as Miss Manners would say, it's not okay to respond to rudeness with rudeness. The trick is to get the caller to punch in "rude" without actually being rude.

As you can probably tell, I was a little ambivalent about spending hours rudely interrupting people's Saturday morning to nag them about voting. I tried to minimize the hassle as much as I could: first, I added "do you have a moment?" to the beginning of my call, where the script wanted me to go right into my questions without giving them a chance to stop me. About 75% of people said no, they didn't have a moment, and so I apologized for taking up their time and ended the call immediately. (Actually a good percentage of people said "no" and then hung up on me before I could apologize and end the call, which bummed me out, but I tried not to take it personally. For all they knew, I was going to ignore them and launch into my script anyway, so I can't really blame them for cutting me off.)

Also I punched in "rude" for everyone who seemed like they didn't want to be called again: people who sounded exasperated, people who said they'd been called before, people who hung up on me, people who said they didn't have time to talk, etc. I probably had the highest percentage of "rudes" of anyone on the phone bank, but at least I got those people off the phone list. At least, I hope I did! It's hard to know for sure, but that's how they told me it worked.

I thought we would be sitting there with a list, calling phone numbers and then crossing them off, but it wasn't like that at all. We just held the phone nonstop, while a computer called people's numbers. Every time it got someone, my phone would beep. Sometimes I would hear the person say "hello" and sometimes I wouldn't. Either way I was supposed to start my script as soon as I heard the beep. It was a little disconcerting at first, but I got used to it pretty quick.

When the call was over we weren't supposed to hang up; that would disconnect the computer and you'd have to log back in again. Instead you pressed star to disconnect, and then the computer would prompt you to type in a number to indicate how the call had gone. The codes were "yes" (is going to vote Democrat), "undecided," "no," "needs ride to poll" (I never got any of these), "needs to know polling location" (I only had one of these), "rude," and "hangup, answering machine, answered by child."

During my lunch break they added codes for "split ticket" and "already voted," but they confusingly added them in the middle and then changed the codes for several existing options. Which led to me punching in "needs ride to poll" for three people for whom I meant to punch "rude"! Whoops! I'm so sorry, you three people who hung up on me. I tried to stop future calls for you, but instead I made things worse.

I wish they would have added a code for "Spanish speaker," so that a Spanish speaking volunteer could call those people back. Although now that I think about it, you have to speak English to become a citizen, right? So maybe it's not worth their time to pursue people who can't have a phone conversation in English, since they probably can't vote. In any case I punched in "rude" on those folks so they wouldn't be bothered again.

Since the computer made all the calls, you literally never put the phone down. Just sit and wait while it dials numbers -- sometimes a few seconds, sometimes a couple of minutes -- and then start talking as soon as it beeps. They gave us stacks of flyers to sort into piles of 25 in between calls. If you had to go to the bathroom, you were supposed to get someone to take over for you while you were gone. After about an hour my ear hurt!

Like I said most people blew me off, but there were a few interesting calls. One lady actually offered to volunteer, which kind of blew my mind. I told her to look up her county Democratic party office in the phone book, and I also punched in "needs to know polling location" for her to make sure someone would call her back. One lady said she wasn't going to vote, and when I asked her why, she said that she sometimes voted, but then she felt guilty if she voted for the wrong person, so it was easier not to vote at all. I couldn't really answer that logic. And don't they always turn out to be the wrong person?

I also talked to a few registered Republicans, who were all very amused and good-natured. In each case we had a good laugh about it, I apologized for taking up their time, and then let them go. Only one guy was truly rude to me: before I had even finished the sentence "Hi, I'm a volunteer with the Maryland Democratic Party," he shouted "I'm not voting, I'm not voting, I'm not voting!" about 5 times and then hung up. Again, that kind of bummed me out but since I have no idea how many times he'd been called, I can't really blame him for being so annoyed.

In the afternoon I went door to door. Which was a little depressing because it showed me concretely how deeply Republican Harford county is. (I had already guessed by the signage, almost all Republican, I had seen on the way in.) I was driving from house to house because the density of Democratic households was so low, it was too far to walk. On the bright side, they sent me out by myself and I listened to my audio book in the car.

I heard the guy in charge of canvassing say that for every household they've identified as a supporter, they want to knock on that door four times before the election. Four times? Is that really effective? Wouldn't it be a better use of resources to broaden the contacts to independants and undecideds, instead of annoying the faithful with repeated visits? Then again, what do I know? I'm not the expert on "get out the vote." Maybe hammering people with visit after visit does encourage them to vote.

so glad i have a dvr

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I guess I've been living a sheltered life the past few weeks, because I was totally not expecting the media saturation with political ads. I never watch TV commercials at home, but I do watch a few hours of TV a day and I can only remember fast-forwarding over one political ad. (It was for professional nutcase Vernon Robinson, but it wasn't this infamous ad. If it had been, I would have backed up and watched it just for the sheer lunacy.) Here in Wilmington, we get the Philadelphia TV stations and the sheer volume of political advertising is unbelievable. During the local news at least 75% of all commercials were political. Even watching them with the sound off left me feeling sullied. This guy supports terrorism, that one was once photographed with Bush, that one is a crook ... it goes on and on. Yecch.

arrival

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I'm in Wilmington. The drive was uneventful, except for bad construction-related traffic in southern Delaware. I'm a little concerned about having to drive through that every day while I'm here. My hope is that the worst traffic will be heading towards Wilmington in the morning and away from it in the evening, which is the opposite of the way I'll be going.

Not to mention $9 worth of tolls a day. Sheesh! I may try to find an alternate route to avoid that bridge in northeastern Maryland. Another route would take longer, but the toll is only on the northbound side. I could stay on 95 on my way down in the morning, then find another route going home in the evening. That would save me $5 every day.

Tonight I'm just chilling. I didn't get to bed until late last night, and the dogs woke me early, and I am tired! Tomorrow morning I have to leave bright and early to get to Bel Air by 9:30. I saw the 95 exit on my way up, and it's going to be a a good hour plus whatever delays the construction traffic may cause. I'll split my time tomorrow between phone calls and door-to-door. I hear that registered Democrats in some areas are on the receiving end of an onslaught of phone calls. Starting tomorrow it looks like I'll be part of the problem! If you live in Harford County, Maryland, I apologize in advance.

change of plans again

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Got another phone call from Maryland tonight. This one was to confirm that I would be there tomorrow afternoon for my 4 hour canvassing shift. No, I won't; I'll be driving up tomorrow. Good thing she called!

While I had her on the phone I asked her about my Saturday schedule. They had asked me to work 12 to 8, and to be there at 10:30 for training. I asked her if she really thought the training was going to take an hour and a half. She said that it wouldn't, and changed my schedule to 10-4, with training at 9:30.

I'm much happier about this schedule. I have to admit I was kind of dreading working from 10:30 - 8, with an hour+ drive each way. Maybe I can talk them into scheduling me earlier on Sunday too.

I said before that the Maryland people seemed less organized than the Pennsylvania people, but I realized today that the Casey people seem to have forgotten about me. I faxed them a volunteer form and emailed them a couple of times, and they called me once, but I didn't call back and I never heard from them again. Totally unlike the Maryland people, who have been burning up the phone lines to call me over and over. I didn't tell the Casey people I changed my mind about going up there, but they never followed up. I guess they're either so overwhelmed with volunteers that they don't need me. Or maybe they're killing Santorum so badly that they don't need me. Or maybe they're just disorganized.

In other news, it turns out I'll be in Delaware during the punkin chunkin, but of course I won't be able to attend. Ah well, timing is everything.

slate green challenge, week 2

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The green challenge this week dealt with saving energy at home. I said that they couldn't come up with anything major that we weren't already doing, and I was wrong. There were actually three things: insulating the attic, reglazing the windows, and double-hung windows. The first one we had already been talking about doing, and I've known for years we needed to do the second, but the third is just too expensive. Besides, I love the old-fashioned windows in this house. The top part of the window has three narrow vertical panes, it looks kind of "arts and crafts" I think. At least we have storm windows.

I have an underlying problem with the challenge: there's no accomodation for people who already take measures to waste less energy. For instance, this week one of the challenges is to reduce your home temperature by 2° during the day and another 8° at night. We already keep our winter thermostat at 64° when we're home and 60° when we're out or asleep. Following their recommendation would bring it down to 62° and 54°. And that is just too damned cold.

And they don't even mention some of the improvements we've made, like a tankless water heater. Which costs less than new windows, by the way, saves lots of money, and rewards you with wonderful hot water that never runs out. Then again, there are probably dozens of things they could have put in that we didn't do.

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