Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Thanks to modern science, any flavor (synthetic interpretations of natural flavor) can be duplicated": straight from the Bonne Bell horse's mouth.

My elementary-school affinity for Lip Smackers preemptively ruined my taste for artificial flavors. I’ve had a terrible habit of constantly wetting my lips since at least the first grade, when my soccer coach asked me over and over whether the red rim around my mouth was Kool-Aid. No, I told him. My lips were just dry. And so eventually I amassed dozens of brightly colored chapstick tubes in every variety imaginable: bubble gum, mint chocolate, pink lemonade, blueberry, kiwi strawberry, Dr. Pepper. I carried one with me everywhere, constantly alternating and rarely using them up since I had so many. The first time I noticed the unexpected effects of such a collection, though, was when I happened to try a piece of raspberry-flavored white chocolate. It was good, but—it tasted like my raspberry white chocolate chapstick! The thought of gnawing on one of those waxy lip balms prevented me from finishing the candy.

The phenomenon repeated itself last week when the camp that was in requested Turkish delight for dessert. They were going with a Chronicles of Narnia theme, and wanted to replicate the treat the White Witch gave to Edward. Lisa crafted a batch from scratch, and we eagerly sampled the result in the kitchen. It was good, but—it tasted like a strawberry Lip Smacker. Even though it’s been almost a decade since I owned one.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Future job security, part II.

That is some expensive freshness. Why? Well, it needs to be insured, as in requiring an insurance policy. What the Tony's pizza people meant to do is "ensure freshness." It's a nitpicky differentiation, one that only arose relatively recently in linguistic history, but it's completely legitimate, insisted upon by the AP Stylebook and, among others. Because it involves a subtle shift in meaning, I would wholeheartedly uphold the rule. Whenever language becomes more nuanced, we are able to express ourselves just a little more clearly.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I caught this quotation on the Guardian's book site last week . . .

“Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
Sylvia Plath

I developed a thing for Sylvia Plath last semester. During spring break, I came up to camp to visit the Tates, and Sarah mentioned she had been reading Plath’s collected journals. Intrigued by how intriguing Sarah found them to be, I picked up the copy our library happened to have when I got back to school. And so what I intended as a curious, cursory read-through became a weeks-long journey into the adolescence and adulthood of a mid-century poet-writer. I couldn’t help it; from the first page I heard her speaking as clearly as if she were standing next to me between the rows and rows of bookshelves. She elevated the mundane and particular—wisdom teeth, living in a dorm full of girls, staying home alone on a Saturday night—into something clear, sonorous, and universal. Furtively snatching passages when I had a few spare minutes, I simmered in the immediate sense of kindred thought that reading this most personal of writing gave me. I saw more of myself in her than I could probably legitimately admit to, and I couldn’t get enough.
“Can I write? Will I write if I practice enough? How much should I sacrifice to writing anyway, before I find out if I’m any good? Above all, CAN A SELFISH EGOCENTRIC JEALOUS AND UNIMAGINATIVE FEMALE WRITE A . . . THING WORTH WHILE? Should I sublimate (my, how we throw words around!) my selfishness in serving other people—through social or other such work? Would I then become more sensitive to other people and their problems? Would I be able to write more honestly, then, of other beings beside a tall, introspective adolescent girl?”
The facts of her life are undeniable—she was almost certainly manic-depressive, and she committed suicide at the age of 30. But she could write, and she did: glowing, ecstatic descriptions, marketable short stories, increasingly penetrating poetry, a largely autobiographical novel, passages of incisive introspection. She had no hope or faith, and little love. And yet she’s completely irresistible to me. I found her shining, intellectual approach to literature and composition deeply impressive. During those weeks, reading almost everything she wrote, even the early, forced poetry and the highly commercialized magazine pieces, I found myself under her influence. Under her tutelage, I got through two short stories for my composition class and even a poorly executed poem scribbled out at a sleepless 5 am (what a rare and precious time just before dawn is; I’d never tasted such a fleeting delight), her story Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams at my elbow. It’s her raw intensity, her honesty, that spoke to me, I think. I realized that a good writer doesn’t necessarily begin that way, that a good writer sometimes writes sentimental schmaltz. And I think that was freeing.
“There are times when a feeling of expectancy comes to me, as if something is there, beneath the surface of my understanding, waiting for me to grasp it. It is the same tantalizing sensation when you almost remember a name, but don’t quite reach it. . . . Oh, something is there, waiting for me. Perhaps someday the revelation will burst in upon me and I will see the other side of this monumental grotesque joke. And then I’ll laugh. And then I’ll know what life is.”

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fun with fried dough.

We serve a Mexican buffet to the campers almost every week, and of course no Mexican buffet would be complete without churros. Don't worry; those aren't touching her head. We all passed the food handlers' test, I swear.

The twins make sure to leave their mark on everything they do. The first time they were put in charge of breaking the churro sticks in half, they quickly devised a rapid-fire kung fu routine, replete with appropriate sound effects. Below is a bouncier, choreographed version.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On filling up.

An economist in the New York Times made an incisive observation about why rising gasoline prices bother us so much, which I found funny because it echoed a sentiment I expressed in this Bweinh poll last week.
For the several minutes that I stand at the pump, all I do is stare at the growing total on the meter — there is nothing else to do. And I have time to remember how much it cost a year ago, two years ago and even six years ago.

Yet I have no such memory about the prices of items in any other category. I have no idea how much milk was six years ago, how much bread was three years ago or how much yogurt was a week ago. But I suspect that if I stood next to the yogurt case in the supermarket for five minutes every week with nothing to do but stare at the price, I would also know how much it has gone up — and I might become outraged when yogurt passed the $2 mark.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Last Friday, after the campers had left and we had finished general cleanup, the staff headed down the hill for some shopping and cosmic bowling, which is totally my kind of Friday night. (Not really, but I had fun anyway.)

The twins had taken the day off to go to Oceanside with my parents and the Chinese students they've been hosting this month, so we all reunited at the bowling alley. Front and center are my parents' host daughters, who presented Angelica and me with gifts from their home.

Angelica had a hard time in the beginning, trying to get the hang of it. She bowled a 13 the first round we played. But after a few pointers from a teammate, she was suddenly doing a lot better. As she walked back from her first strike, Lisa asked, "What happened?"

"I figured it out," Angelica replied. She ended up winning the second game with 104.

I, by contrast, started out well and steadily deteriorated throughout the night, until I finally threw a ball across two lanes into that door visible on the far left of the picture. On my last turn, (and what effectively became my team's last) I hit the racking thingy. I could have sworn it had already swept through. I've decided that I can't be both a morning person and a night person; something is going to suffer.

Our group remained at the alley until well after midnight, dancing and shouting and bowling like crazy. I took pictures.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It's a sad song, but I don't think it could be any better.

So I'm not done yet, but I think Jude the Obscure might be one of my new favorite books of all time. I should probably take some of my own advice and read the ending before I finish it so that I can appreciate Thomas Hardy's work as a whole (Like author Alafair Burke said in an NPR interview, "With a good book, knowing the end shouldn't spoil the book"), but I'm enjoying it too much, and I'm too afraid that it won't turn out well. Hardy isn't known for happily-ever-afters. Whether it does or doesn't, passages like this have already made it marvelous in my book:
The yard was a little centre of regeneration. Here, with keen edges and smooth curves, were forms in the exact likeness of those he had seen abraded and time-eaten on the walls. These were the ideas in modern prose which the lichened colleges presented in old poetry. Even some of those antiques might have been called prose when they were new. They had done nothing but wait, and had become poetical. How easy to the smallest building; how impossible to most men.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Future job security.

Last week, I did a double-take when we pulled hot dogs out of the freezer for a lunch barbecue. The box proudly advertised "fully cooked turkey weiners." I searched multiple dictionaries, and sure enough, the "weiner" was nowhere to be found, though had a FAQ entry on it that categorized it as an "(erroneous) spelling variant." The old "i before e except after c" might not always apply, but it definitely does here.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

An ally in an unlikely place.

In the July-August issue of Utne Reader, a writer rails against the current state of the essay. Here's my favorite part; the rest can be found here.

The problem, of course, is not merely our essayists; it’s our culture. We have grown terribly—if somewhat hypocritically—weary of larger truths. The smarter and more intellectual we count ourselves, the more adamantly we insist that there is no such thing as truth, no such thing as general human experience, that everything is plural and relative and therefore undiscussable.

Of course, everything is plural, everything is arguable, and there are limits to what we can know about other persons, other cultures, other genders. But there is also a limit to such humility; there is a point at which it becomes narcissism of a most myopic sort, a simple excuse to talk only about one’s own case, only about one’s own small area of specialization. . . .

Today’s essayists need to be emboldened, and to embolden one another, to move away from timid autobiographical anecdote and to embrace—as their predecessors did—big theories, useful verities, daring pronouncements. We need to destigmatize generalization, aphorism, and what used to be called wisdom. We must rehabilitate the notion of truth—however provisional it might be. As long as writers with intellectual aspirations are counted idiots for attempting to formulate a wider point, they will not do so, and even if they dared, most editors would not publish them and most critics would not praise them.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sometimes I kind of feel like everybody's mom, but oh well.

So this summer, almost a quarter of the staff here at Camp Maranatha hails from our household. Rachel and Shannon, being fourteen, were finally eligible this year to join Angelica and me.

They're excellent at barbecuing.

On a night when we didn't have a camp in, Josh wowed us with chicken and waffles.

The twins are good roofers, too. I was walking up to our cabin one day when I heard familiar voices overhead.

Friday, July 18, 2008

It was in The Economist. It must be true.

I went down to the Idyllwild Library on my break one afternoon and sat in the back room mindlessly flipping through magazines. That's when I unearthed this magnificently audacious assertion:

"The fat, the impulsive and the untidy are genetically normal, but they are equipped for yesteryear. The thin, the focused and the neat are freaks—but they are cut out for success."

--From The Curse of Untidiness

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Getting to the Getty.

Last week during the break, Lisa whisked us away to L.A. for a day. The four of us had never been to the Getty, so to the Getty we went.

We wandered through the exhibits, stopping on a balcony to admire the cityscape. The entire museum was overlaid with travertine marble, inside and out.

We strolled through the gardens, welcoming the ocean breeze. Even though it was too hazy to see the water, you could feel it was there.

The exhibits were stunning, and I almost wish I'd taken more pictures of them, but I think that would have diminished their impact. One section featured the works of German photographer August Sander, whose most powerful pictures featured those who would have been eliminated in his native country during the Holocaust: "The Last People," those with physical disabilities. Another collection celebrated Maria Sibylla Merian and her daughters, accomplished women living during the 1600-1700s who melded their knowledge of science with their love of art.

One of the exhibits that lended itself well to photography was the video installation titled "Please be Seated," which projected the sitter's image into shifting rooms on the mounted screens.

Visitors were encouraged to seat themselves, and by doing so, become part of the work. We gladly obliged.

The permanent collection included French decorative arts, which Shannon took to immediately. I found the array of 19th-century paintings and drawings breathtaking, from Van Gogh to Gauguin to Seurat to Monet to my special favorite, Renoir (my mom once told me I looked like a Renoir, and I still hold it as one of the highest compliments she has ever paid me).

I was also delighted to find my old friend Albrecht Dürer tucked into the Sibylla exhibit, as an example of one of the first to ever paint a stag beetle. In high school, I adorned my binder with a print of his after encountering his engraving of Melencolia in AP Art History.

I think we all had a really good time. I know I did.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Words, words, words."

"Constant exposure to a torrent of information means that, while we may not know precisely what all these terms mean, we are at least aware of them. . . . Since none of us can know more than a small fraction of the total word population, a dictionary will always be a place of infinite discovery and delight. . . . You may take up a dictionary to settle an argument, but you put it down, much, much later, with a sigh of pleasure, chuffed at the sheer exuberance of the world's most exuberantly nimble language."

--From Jeremy Paxman's foreword to the 11th edition of the Chambers Dictionary

Monday, July 14, 2008

Brief return to Barr headquarters.

I love camp and college, but there are some things at home that I can't get anywhere else. A really good shower, for instance—I don't think I ever truly feel clean unless I've just showered in my parents' bathroom.

We had a few days' break, which happily coincided with the blooming of the cactus that frames our front door. It only flowers for a few days a year, and then only early in the morning. You can practically see the petals closing.

I need a kitchen. I need to be able to cook for myself, and sometimes I need other people to cook for. My mom, scrambling to put together a spread of hors d'oeuvres for the Chinese students she's hosting for three weeks and who were flying in that day, commissioned me to make hummus and devise a substitute for the bag of pita bread the dog had devoured the night before. My initial lazy reluctance faded into delight as I donned an apron and baked some basil tortilla chips.

It's hard to get a copy of the Wall Street Journal when it's not conveniently waiting for you on the driveway in the morning. I missed that paper. I also realized, for what it's worth, that I don't eat bread or tuna anywhere else. Let's face it—they're too easy to mess up.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Worth repeating.

"Only the thoughtful ask, 'What is happening to us?' The popular cry is, 'Who is doing this to us?' and its satisfying sequel—'Just let me get my hands on him!' "

—From this Slate article on the practically philanthropic role speculators play in an economy, contrary to what many might believe.

Friday, July 11, 2008

More Melville.

I love it when I see a nebulous concept that has been floating around in my head incisively tethered to the concrete. That's just one of the reasons why I found Moby Dick so immediate and absorbing. Who wouldn't want to keep reading after an opening like this?

Seat thyself sultanically among the moons of Saturn, and take high abstracted man alone; and he seems a wonder, a grandeur, and a woe. But from the same point, take mankind in mass, and for the most part, they seem a mob of unnecessary duplicates, both contemporary and hereditary. But most humble though he was, and far from furnishing an example of the high, humane abstraction; the Pequod's carpenter was no duplicate; hence, he now comes in person on this stage.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A day at the museum.

Angelica had to go on a field trip for her online biology class, so I tagged along with her to the Western Center for Archaeology and Paleontology (can you believe there is something with that sort of title in Hemet?).

While construction crews dug the Diamond Valley Reservoir, paleontologists worked frantically to preserve the layers of history they unearthed. According to one display, "Researchers recovered hundreds of thousands of fossils and artifacts—everything from ceramic fragments to mammoth tusks. The discoveries created a burning thirst for new knowledge—and a deep pool of objects that may require decades to drink in." I love it when scientists wax poetic.

We delighted in discovering the history that underlies our area, admiring the beads and pottery shards, detritus of someone else's everyday life. I have an affinity for mortar and pestle sets that dates back to an essay I wrote in third grade imagining my life as a Hopi child named Dancing Rain or something like that. I'm pretty sure that were I living at that time, grinding grain for meals would probably take up most of my day.

Part of the floor in the mastodon room was covered in glass with a recreated dig site you could walk over.

I learned, among other things, that not only sunflowers but camels, wild horses, bears, and sloths were native to this area. In fact, the entire valley was like a temperate mountain range, with streams and rivers flowing through it. Now, of course, what hasn't been artificially flooded with Colorado River water is sere and dusty.

On display was a tree frog whose kind shared the land with all kinds of creatures now long gone.

Angelica almost got eaten by a giant sloth, but I saved her at the last minute, as soon as I got a picture.

The place was absolutely gorgeous; I think we both felt transported to a different time and place in more ways than one.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What goes up, must come down. But what a view in between!

A week after we summitted Suicide, our staff reconvened to conquer Mt. Tahquitz.

We took South Ridge Trail up, which was great because we could see our goal most of the way. Here, it's the highest point in the picture.

We stopped occasionally to see our little world at our feet. Diamond Valley Lake is off to the left, the orange groves spread before it and to the right, and just barely discernible in the valley is Florida Ave. stretching through the center of Hemet.

At the top, we met the volunteer firespotter. He spends a week in this little glass house watching for signs of smoke. I talked to him for a bit, and it turns out that his daughter went to Point Loma in the '90s--he asked me if they had finished Nicholson Commons yet, and when I told him they had just celebrated the building's tenth anniversary, he said, "Guy! Has it been that long?"

The black and yellow butterflies floating all over the place contrasted nicely with the pure blue air.

We ate lunch on the firespotter's porch before heading down. We took Devil's Slide for our descent, which was a lot of fun. Instead of retracing our steps, we had an entirely new trail to explore.

Devil's Slide afforded us an excellent view of our first venture of the season.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Calling him Ishmael.

While wading through Moby Dick for the past few weeks, I've often been struck by the transcendent turn Melville occasionally takes in the midst of detailed descriptions of cetacean anatomy. Here's one of my favorite passages:

How wonderful it is then—except after explanation—that this great monster, to whom corporeal warmth is as indispensable as it is to man; how wonderful that he should be found at home, immersed to his lips for life in those Arctic waters! . . .

. . . It does seem to me, that herein we see the rare virtue of a strong individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness. Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep they blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter's, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.

But how easy and how hopeless to teach these fine things!
. . . how few are domed like St. Peter's! of creatures, how few as vast as the whale!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Adventures in typography.

As we walked up to Filippi's in Little Italy last Saturday, I caught sight of this license plate frame and decided I had to take a picture. Apparently the owner's grammar is about as good as his driving skills.

I had further opportunity to poke fun as we stood waiting for a table. Filippi's always has a stream of patrons patiently lined up through the entrance, which doubles as a mini Italian grocery. You might have to click on the picture to see what I thought was so funny: the front of the seasoning advertises it as "An ancient Greek formula," but the ingredients on the back of the label include monosodium glutamate. Mmmm, MSG—food of the gods.

After we left, driving through downtown San Diego, I spotted an excellent street sign that I wish I had gotten a picture of. It originally said, "ONE WAY," but someone had added a "G" and an "A" to make "GONE AWAY." I'm not a big fan of defacing public property, but I can't resist a clever play on words.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

June 28, 2008. Happy 17th, Jelly!

Angelica's birthday happily coincided with a camp staff beach day. We piled into a bunch of cars last Saturday and headed to Oceanside.

Inveterate soccer players that they are, my sisters soon had almost everyone organized into a game replete with boogie-board goals.

My parents drove down to meet us. My mom had baked both a chocolate and a vanilla cake for the occasion, and the sand added a little bit of texture, but they were still delicious.

Afterward, we departed from the group and drove downtown to our mainstay, Filippi's in Little Italy, for the birthday dinner.

Angelica opened her presents in between courses.

I think we were all glad to see each other after our two-week separation.

Just to prove that we were all there. At Angelica's request, we got ice cream in Pacific Beach afterward.

Before we went home, we stopped at Ralph's for some sundries and had an exciting time on the outdoor escalator. Not a camera-shy one in the bunch, excepting the one taking the picture, of course.