Friday, August 28, 2009

Things to Do in Wisconsin: Henry Vilas Zoo

For my second things-to-do-in-Wisconsin post of the day, I present something we did today, instead of something I’ve forgotten about for a number of weeks. (I still have more old adventures to slap up here, by the way. Maybe I’ll also get to those this weekend?)

Madison’s zoo is not very big. Not very big at all, actually—for you western Kansans out there, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not quite as big as the Great Bend zoo. It’s probably a great size zoo for little kids, though, since every time I go to the Denver Zoo, I see kids throwing tantrums because they just can’t take any more fun. (And let’s face it, I was one of them when I was little.)

This sign was at the entrance. It made me laugh. (Hee hee! It’s a puffin!)

For a little zoo, they’ve got some quality animals. Like rhinocerauseses:


The tapirs attracted a good size crowd, since they were about the only animals near the entrance that were out and doing anything (we never saw the alleged lions and tigers, for instance). As Neal observed, most of the comments from onlookers were along the lines of “WOW! How ugly are those things?!” Poor tapirs.

There was a giraffe that obligingly looked right at my camera:

an otter who was still resting before having water fun times:

a cool black swan:

and pretty flamingos!:

There were a coupla big ol’ buffalo:

a big ol’ black bear (which Neal attested was bigger than any black bears he’s seen in the wild):

and the biggest hamsters I’ve ever seen:

OK, they’re capybaras (the largest rodents in the world). But I liked them because—well, look at them! They’re gigantic hamsters!

Finally, there were a few pretty birds (not as many as we were led to believe there would be in the Amazon habitat house):

And penguins. Which is good, because what zoo trip is truly complete without seeing penguins?

Click here to read more . . .

Things to Do in Wisconsin: New Glarus Brewing Company

We've done a few more things on this list, but I keep forgetting to post about them. So here's one: we went to a brewery.

I don't like a lot of beers, but I do have a fondness for Spotted Cow, which they make at the New Glarus Brewing Company, not far from Madison.

We unwittingly went on the day that they were having the grand opening of their new "Hilltop Facility," which disappointed us because we wanted the good ol' fashioned tour. But we went up to the hilltop and found quite the party. There was a band and everything.

Also, the facility itself is surprisingly beautiful.


And here's Neal in front of a fountain!

Since there was a party, there were no guided tours (or maybe there were and we just couldn't find them). But there were samples and souvenir glasses for surprisingly reasonable prices. (Six dollars for a really nice pint glass? That's good even without beer inside it.)

So we wandered around looking at stuff.

(The person posing held the glass of the person holding the camera; we didn't each get two.)

Anyway, it was fairly enjoyable, but there would be more than enough left to see--not just at the brewery but in the town, which is apparently "America's Little Switzerland"--to justify going again someday.
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Library Miscellany

I'm glad everybody seems to like my reports about things I (or my co-workers) find in library items. Today I only noticed one weird one: four bobby pins.

One thing I wish I did more consistently is to remember weird books I see. There was one day a few weeks ago when I was working on the pick list* that I came across:

1) Barron's E-Z Grammar
Really? E-Z Grammar? Really?

2) The children's book Becoming Best Friends with Your Hamster, Guinea Pig, or Rabbit
Is it just me, or is that crushingly depressing? It gives me the very sad image of a child that would A) turn to any animal as a best friend (presumably because no human children like them) B) would try to befriend an animal as indifferent and boring as a hamster, guinea pig, or rabbit and C) would believe that this book would actually enable them to form an emotional relationship with said animals, which it would not, because come on, it's a hamster/guinea pig/rabbit. I know that's probably not what the author was going for, but that's all it conjures up for me.

I also get bummed out when people come to the library to research problems they have. Like when someone returns seven books about chronic insomnia, or when they order in a couple books about irritable bowel syndrome. (The winner of the Depressing Book sweepstakes [so far]: the children's book I Wish Daddy Didn't Drink So Much. Random, by-chance choice of the child, or purposeful selection by the mother? I'd rather not know.)

This is also a keen reminder that people are surprisingly willing to make library workers privy to pretty sensitive information. Why, someone handed me books to check out to them this very day that were of an . . . instructional nature . . . and I don't mean that they contained diagrams for how to make your own furniture. (Although I also checked out a half dozen books about sharpening tools to one person, and that was rather more disquieting--lots of pictures of blades and the word SHARPENING splashed all over the covers.)

One thing I enjoy is when it's clear that a kid is taking a very keen interest in a subject. Sometimes it's the mom who checks out seven books about boats, or the family that has rounded up every kids' book we have about firemen, or the tell-tale pile of seventeen picture books about snakes in the bookdrop. (More power to you, Snake Kid.)

Although, by the same token, there are some clearly terrible books we just can't keep on the shelves--in particular, the fairy books. It's not like I don't get it--I read every Babysitters' Club Book under the sun (except the mystery ones--even I couldn't bring myself to care about the mystery ones). And when I was a little girl, I liked colorful things and sets of things (OK, those might not be exclusive to when I was a little girl). But they're written by Daisy Meadows. Daisy Meadows. I just can't get over that.
Click here to read more . . .

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Items Found in Library Books Yesterday

1. a "Happy Anniversary" card (clearly having been put to use as a bookmark)

2. a green plastic army man! (clearly . . . ?)
Click here to read more . . .

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Julie and Julia

Whilst we were in Tennessee, we went to see Julie and Julia. Do you want to know how it was? Well, I'll tell you.*

It was good. As most of the reviews will tell you, the Julie part (following the blogger played by Amy Adams) was not as good as the Julia part (with Meryl Streep as Julia Child and hey, looking these two descriptions, how could you think it would be?). On the other hand, I didn't think the Julie parts were as bad as most of the critics seem to. Amy Adams' character can be kind of whiny, especially at the beginning, but she's not horrible. I found those scenes to be more gently dull than aggressively annoying.

And it's worth waiting through the Julie parts to get to the Julia parts. Oh my gosh you guys, Meryl-Streep-as-Julia-Child is so charming and so endearing and so precious. And funny. Every time she was on screen, it wasn't just me that was happy--it was obvious that everybody in that theater was delighted. She and Stanley Tucci are also adorable together. (One funny thing is, since Meryl Streep isn't really that tall a lady, they obviously both put her in enormous heels and cast the shortest people they could find for all of her scenes.)

The most startling thing about the movie was this: the theater was full at noon on a Wednesday. Why? Because it was packed, packed I tell you, with people of retirement age. Never have I seen this large a number, let along this large a proportion, of people in their sixties or over at a movie. Julia Child is apparently a rockstar for people forty years older than me.

Now, I'm not saying it's great cinema or anything--even in the Julia Child parts, there were subplots that were pointless and went nowhere. But on its own terms (as a romantic comedy, with romances between Mr. and Mrs. Child, Mr. and Mrs. Bloggerton [I can't remember her last name] and the one-way deep and abiding love of Julie for Julia), it's sweet and funny and a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

*Please understand that even though "Well, I'll tell you" looks like a perfectly normal combination of words, in my head it is said with the cadence of Terry Jones as Prince Herbert as he kicks off the song about how he survived his fall from the tower of Swamp Castle. Yeah.
Click here to read more . . .

Monday, August 17, 2009

Brontë Odyssey: Part Two

Attention everybody: Jane Eyre is really good.

I knew it was better than Wuthering Heights literally by the time I finished the first sentence. Charlotte Brontë's narrative style is very direct, clear, and evocative. (The only part that gets too wordy, I think, is the dialogue; it's odd to me that that's the least briskly written aspect of the book.) Furthermore, in Wuthering Heights, the narrator is two steps removed from the real story most of the time; in Jane Eyre, the narrator is the story. And it's a more interesting story, too. In fact, I'm not even going to synopse it here, because it has SURPRISES! and MYSTERIES! and if you haven't read it, I hope you will, so I don't want to spoil it.

I will address two things, though:

First, there's the feminism, which (at least as far as I can tell from Wikipedia that one episode of Friends) Jane Eyre is pretty well known for. And yes, it's in there. There's a fairly impassioned passage about a fourth of the way through the book arguing that women need something fulfilling to do just as much as men do. There's also (as my friend Wikipedia points out) a continuing theme of Jane's efforts to assert her own personality in the face of efforts of particular men to dominate her--and the man she loves is the one who loves her for being herself, not what she could be under his tutelage. But on the other hand, she keeps calling the man she loves her "master" even when he's not her boss anymore, and that skeeved me out. Nobody's perfect.

Secondly, perhaps you might ask, "Whither the unintentional humor?" As you may recall, the unintentional humor in Wuthering Heights derived from Emily Brontë's apparent uncertainty about where babies come from. (I'm still hoping, although not 100% sure, that some of the foibles of the characters in Wuthering Heights fall under the category of intentional humor.) Charlotte could perhaps have shared a thing or two with Emily, as the seedy past behavior of Mr. Rochester shows that she had at least the general idea of man-and-lady-special-private-time. So we must look elsewhere! And we find it in that trusted standby, making fun of the French. The little girl for whom Jane is governess (the little girl that Jane governesses?) is French, and this is clearly a handicap. There's not a whole lot of this in there (it turns out that the little girl is not very important in this book), but there is a line near the end that cracked me up: "As she grew up, a sound English education correct in a great measure her French defects . . . ." She used to be a flibbergibbet, you see, but English boarding school blasted the silliness right out of her. And made her "well-principled." Awesome.

On my Brontë enjoyment scale, I'm giving Jane Eyre a 9.2 out of 10. For those of you keeping track at home, that means Charlotte Brontë has taken a commanding lead!
Click here to read more . . .

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My Vast Project

Well guys, I bought a domain name to start a fancy blog.

Now you may remember that I have once before tried and failed to start a different blog and don't worry, I remember that too. But that was right before what turned out to be a very trying, blog-writing-unfriendly time for me (I mean, heck, I equaled my whole total of 2008 blog posts by May of this year).

Things are different now. For one thing, I have finished writing my masters thesis. (I will probably need to make some revisions after the professors on my committee finish reading it, but revising is not writing.) And that one thing is a HUGE thing. Secondly, this new blog will be better than that other blog. This one is more specific and cooler.


I hope you guys like this idea. I'm not entirely sure it's a good one, but once it occurred to me I just couldn't get rid of it, so I think I need to give it a shot. If I sound unwontedly nervous and fretful for just a dumb ol' blog, well . . . I'm afraid everyone will laugh at me the way everyone did at Homer when he told them his dream was to own the Dallas Cowboys. (Except for Mr. Scorpio.)

You see, some people have these cool, famous blogs. Like The Pioneer Woman, or that lady from Cake Wrecks. And I know that barely anybody is that successful at running a blog and getting people to read it (and that I'm not as funny as either of those women), but I feel like if there's anything I do here that would have a shot as getting a little fraction of that success, it's the monarch moments.

So anyway, if you think this is a bad idea, don't tell me. (For one thing, I already paid ten American dollars for my fancy dot net.) However, if you have suggestions for things I could do or ways I could spread the word about the blog, I would love to hear them.

My plan right now is to update three times a week. At first, Fridays will be where I put repeats of the moments I've written for this blog. Mondays will feature new moments--I'm going to start with an as-yet-undetermined number of pre-Conquest kings, but probably pick up in the chronology where I left off here after not too long. (That is, the .net Edward III moment will run long before Edward II shows up there on a Friday.) Wednesday will be a catch-all day, with monarchs from different countries or entries that don't fit the "moment" template. Neal had a really good idea that I could do pop culture monarch moments where I review a movie (or something) about a king or queen and then compare it to the history. (I might put some of those on Mondays, though, because then it would be "Movie Monday" and alliteration is fun.)

Now I'm pretty tired and worried that I'm sliding into incoherency, so I'll stop typing.
Click here to read more . . .

Monday, August 10, 2009

Brontë Odyssey: Part One

Wuthering Heights

On a scale of one to ten, I'd say I enjoyed Wuthering Heights in the amount of 6.5. The good: it was entertaining and original. The bad: it went slowly at points, including the last several chapters. The crazy: it was CRAZY.

Why didn't I know that Wuthering Heights was totally insane? Also, I always thought it was supposed to be a love story, and it is not. It's a hate story. It's a story where the main character loves one person passionately, but spends more of his time hating everyone else. Each of the characters is horrible (in their own individual ways, which is interesting) and almost everybody dies and everyone is crazy.

Quick summary: we meet our official narrator, and I don't remember his name, because he is in no way important. He's a pompous twit, even in his own private thoughts. He meets Heathcliff, whose company he enjoys because Heathcliff is more horrible than he is. Pompousy McTwittington wonders what the deal is with Heathcliff and his messed up household, so he asks his maid. It turns out that his maid knows everything there is to know to about Heathcliff. It also turns out that she is our actual narrator.

So Ellen/Nelly/Mrs. Dean tells Pompousy McTwittington all about Heathcliff, and how he loved Catherine and hated everybody else, and how Heathcliff was creepy and Catherine was a spoiled harpy. But then Cathy married some wimpy dude, so Heathcliff hated that guy. So Heathcliff starts spinning elaborate plots to punish everyone who has wronged him--but not in a Count of Monte Cristo way. Heathcliff operates on a much smaller and pettier scale.

About halfway through, Cathy dies of . . . being annoyed? But not before she gives birth to little Cathy, who is less annoying. And eventually Heathcliff kidnaps teenaged little Cathy and forces her to marry Heathcliff, jr., who is a snivelling sniveller. Junior dies almost immediately thereafter. But then about a year later, Heathcliff dies of . . . um . . . ghosts? Did he die of ghosts? And for whatever reason, everybody accedes to his wishes to bury him next to Catherine, even though he had bullied them and beaten them up and told them how stupid they all were and extorted all their property and done his best to make sure their fathers died miserable. That was the biggest mystery of the book for me--why didn't they bury him at a crossroads, or better yet, leave his carcass out on the moor for the dogs? Why didn't they do that?

I also would have liked it better if anybody had taken any action against Heathcliff while he was alive. Pompousy McTwittington kind of has a thing for little Cathy while Heathcliff has her imprisoned and enslaved (Emily Brontë didn't use those words, but that's what it was). So the best ending (and the way to make the narrator important in any way to the story) would have been if he had burst into Wuthering Heights with a pistol in each hand and busted her out. But no.

The most hilarious thing, I thought, was lack of sex. Not in the way I would have assumed the book would have lacked sex; not in a "I'm going to tiptoe around this and do my best to avoid implying it" type of way, but in what I suspect might be a genuine "I have no idea where babies come from" type of way. Three babies are born during the story. One is to original Cathy's brother and his wife--she's sickly but they actually like each other. That's fine. But the other two? O.G. Cathy is not pregnant until after she has a mental breakdown and becomes basically semi-catatonic. Either her husband was a total perv or little Cathy came about by magic. Then there's Heathcliff and his wife, Cathy's sister-in-law Isabella. Heathcliff entirely loathes her, and says so a lot. It really doesn't seem like he ever could have been bothered to so much as touch her. So again, I think the only answer here is magic.

So anyway, I mostly enjoyed it because I was fascinated by how awful all the characters are and because it was, at the risk of overusing the word, crazy.

Now on to Jane Eyre!
Click here to read more . . .

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Friends: Season Five

In general:
This is my favorite season. Why? Because Chandler and Monica are secretly dating. That storyline was, is, and will always be comedy gold. Its only flaw was that it had to end sometime, and at least it did that in my favorite episode ever, "The One Where Everybody Finds Out."

However, when I viewed it with a critical eye, it became apparent that this season contains clear danger signs. Ross's rage and whininess problems are used to genuine comic effect here, but they would eventually become overused, easy jokes. And in the second half of the season, Monica begins to show flashes of horribleness: when she takes Rachel to the eye doctor and sucks up like a four year old to get a lollipop; when she takes the game of seeing how long you can play catch without dropping the ball way, way too far; and when she spends an entire episode in competition entirely in her own mind over whether she or Phoebe is in a "hotter" couple. Why couldn't they keep cute relationship Monica even after her relationship wasn't secret anymore?

But overall, this is a really fun season. There are fewer big storylines, but it is a collection of very funny episodes. Why ask for more?

Little things that drive me crazy:
The Danny storyline is an inferior rehash of season four's Joshua storyline. Rachel likes a guy who won't ask her out, so she resorts to crazy schemes to bait him into asking her out. Except this time, the guy isn't even nice. I hate Danny.

As everybody sits around in Phoebe's hospital room after she delivers her brother's babies, there is yet another occasion of Monica sitting in Ross's lap. I don't have any brothers, so I doubled checked with sister-having Neal, and he confirmed that, yes, that's creepy.

Not as creepy as Danny's inappropriate sister, though. Yikes.

When Joey walks in the door with his tux on to do the PBS telethon, Chandler spazzes out about it being the "vomit tux," a joke which goes absolutely nowhere.

Ross's hair is so ridiculous--by mid-season, it's gelled up halfway to heaven.

As much as I love Fat Monica, the jokes made about her and Ugly Naked Guy (example: he killed his cat by sitting on it) lead to the conclusion that this show kind of hates fat people.

Little things I love:

Now what man could resist that?

Joey's Ross-and-Rachel-argument survival kit, which contains: candy bars, crossword puzzles, Mad Libs, magazines, a walkie-talkie, Doritos, and of course condoms. ("You don't know how long we're gonna be in here! We may have to repopulate the Earth!" "And condoms are the way to do that.")

Joey has no particular storyline in "The One with Kips" (or: "The One Where Monica and Chandler Go Away for the Weekend" or: "The One Where Ross Won't See Rachel Anymore"), but is consistently hilarious throughout--there's the abovementioned survival kit, leaving Rollos everywhere, giving Ross the "advice" that he got married too soon, piecing together that Monica and Chandler are secretly dating, and of course saying to Chandler "Look, I'm just gonna ask you this one time, and whatever you say, I'll believe you. Were you--or were you not--on a gay cruise?!"

While Phoebe and Joey argue about whether there's any such thing as an unselfish good deed, Chandler just sits there making tortured expressions.

{removed: a Hulu video}

The nonverbal conversation Chandler and Joey have after Chandler sabotages Ross's application for a terrible apartment

The scene where Joey figures out how Chandler and Monica can kiss at midnight at New Year's Eve--Joey is a kiss savant!

In the episode where Ben is auditioning for a commercial, the really awesome commercial kid actor reads Variety in the background.

Little things that are just . . . little things:
At the beginning of "The One with All the Kissing" is the scene where Monica and Chandler are in the bath when Joey bursts in, so Monica holds her breath and ducks underwater until he leaves. This scene used to bother me a little, because it seemed like Joey was in there for quite a while (asking about chicken), and wouldn't Monica have had a hard time holding her breath for that long? But this time when I watched it, I held my breath along with Monica and it wasn't even really a challenge.

The main plot in "The One with Joey's Bag" just doesn't resonate as much anymore in the Era of the Messenger Bag.

The covers of the DVD sets brag about the episodes containing previously unseen footage. However, virtually every single joke that got cut for broadcast and remains on the DVD is a clunker. The only exception I ever notice is on TV, Rachel comments about Joey's girlfriend, Soleil Moon Frye, "She is so cute! You could keep her in your pocket!" On the DVD, Phoebe adds, "She could fit in that little pocket inside the pocket!" And even that's not awesome. The lesson: things get cut for a reason.


  • Chandler, after Ross says "Rachel": "It could have been worse--he could have shot her."
  • Phoebe: "I don't want some guy down there telling me I'm 'dilated-a-mundo'!"
  • Ross: "There are plenty of people who just see their sisters at Thanksgiving and just see their college roommates at reunions and . . . just see Joey at Burger King."
  • Ross: "Somebody at work ate my sandwich!" Chandler: "Well, what did the police say?!"
  • Phoebe: "Someday I'll tell you about the time I stabbed a cop." Monica, aghast: "Phoebe!" Phoebe: "HE STABBED ME FIRST!"
  • Ross, having just come home from a night with Janice: "I know what you guys are going to say--" Phoebe: "You two would have very hairy children."
  • Monica: "How did you get to be so cute?" Chandler: "Well, my grandfather was Swedish, and my grandmother was actually a tiny little bunny."
  • Rachel, coming back from a job interview: "I did the stupidest, most embarrassing thing!" Joey: "Did you tell the guy you wanted to have sex with his wife and then fall right out of your chair?"
  • Chandler: "You know, I rued the day once. Didn't get a whole lot else done."
  • Ross: "Are you angry with me because I said your handwriting is childlike?" Phoebe: "No, that made me feel precious."
And then all the comments about Rachel's hairless cat in "The One with the Ball":
  • Ross: "Why's it inside-out?"
  • Joey, five different times: "It's not a cat!"
  • Rachel: "Every time it hisses at me, I know it's saying Rachel!"
  • Rachel: "I tried, [the pet store] won't take her back." Chandler: "Maybe that's because she's a minion of the Anti-Christ."
  • Rachel: "I'm stuck with this stupid cat that looks like a hand!"
Let's talk about Monica and Chandler:
I disagree with people who think that Monica and Chandler getting together was a shark-jump moment for Friends (although maybe more people think it was them getting married, anyway--which I still disagree with). Like I have stated, their secret dating was reliable source of hilarity; their relationship after it settled down fit surprisingly well into the dynamic of the show; and you know what? they're just good together. They are.

In fact, I remember reading a reader letter in People magazine, gushing about the first season episode where Ross's son is born just after it had aired. The woman who had written it thought it was so great and that it made her really excited for the future, when she was sure that Monica and Chandler were going to get together, and Chandler was going to be all nervous about the birth of their baby. And then of course, there was a 60 Minutes piece with the cast of Friends after the fourth season finale had aired, and Ed Bradley or whoever says to Matthew Perry, "So you finally got Monica." And everybody laughs, and then Perry replies that they'd been getting a lot of that, even though they had been worried that they hadn't built up to it at all and the audience was going to be mad about it. But clearly, the most of the viewers were totally ready for it to happen, whether they knew it consciously or not.

But anyway.

Why did Monica and Chandler keep their relationship a secret for so long? They give several reasons (all to poor Joey, who suffers the most from keeping the secret): 1) they didn't want to make a big deal out of it; 2) similarly, they didn't want to deal with telling everyone; 3) it's going really well, maybe because it's a secret; 4) they're both so bad at relationships. But what I have always thought (and what I mistakely thought they had explicitly stated, until I started watching the fifth season on DVD instead of just haphazardly in syndication) was that they didn't want to be like Ross and Rachel.

Ross and Rachel always had to deal with the scrutiny of everybody else; they did almost everything in their relationship with an audience. It's obvious that Chandler couldn't have handled that. For one thing, it's Chandler. He was well established not just as commitment-phobic, but as being a spaz about it. And it's obvious that their decision to keep it secret was a good one, since in the first episode after they come out of the non-gay closet, everybody's teasing makes Chandler flip out, which makes Monica almost dump him. If they hadn't developed a relationship, slowly over several months and without all their friends badgering them about it, it couldn't have worked.

And maybe it was a good decision for Monica, too. She did OK with her public relationships with Richard and Pete, but she does go kind of crazy when she and Chandler are exposed to comparison with Phoebe and Gary the Cop. Chandler can talk her out of the insanity thanks to the confidence in them as a couple that he had built up.

Finally, I'm just glad that the writers committed to this relationship. In life, there are on-again/off-again couples and there are couples who make the traditional progression (dating, serious dating, engagement, marriage, 'til death do they part). On TV, it often seems like the former outnumber the latter. Since Ross and Rachel are couple type 1, it's good that they allowed Monica and Chandler to be couple type 2. Despite some fights and obstacles, they get together, stay together, and live happily ever after.

Worst episode name ever?:
I always have to take a second to remember which one "The One with the Kips" is. In case you are similarly confused, it's the one where Ross decides to cut Rachel out of his life so Emily will come back to him. When Rachel finds out, she has a conversation at the coffee house with everybody but Ross about how she's going to be like Chandler's old roommate Kip--Monica dated Kip but then they broke up and nobody hung out with him anymore. But this conversation takes place sixteen minutes into the episode, and the word "Kip" isn't (if I remember correctly) even mentioned again afterward. And then I don't know if "Kips," plural, is supposed to mean Rachel and the original Kip, or if it's Rachel when she thinks she'll be cut out and then Ross when he volunteers to step back, or what.

Episodes I'm not including on the top episodes list--controversially?!

"The One with the Cop"
or: "The One Where Joey Wants Closeness" or: "The One with Ross's New Couch."
Look, I love "PIVOT! PIVOT!" We all do. And the other storylines offer a fair amount of chuckles. But it's just not upper echelon.

"The One in Vegas"
I also love the Ross-drawing-on-Rachel subplot. So funny. ("Oh my god, you drew on me?!" "Hey, you wet my pants!") And TV Guide once named the moment when Ross and Rachel come out of the wedding chapel ("Hellooo, Mrs. Ross!" "Well, hellooooo, Mr. Rachel!") as #1 of the 50(?) greatest Friends moments ever. But the Identical Hand Twin story? There's only one joke which, while it's funny the first time, gets tired by the dozenth time. And then the plot where Phoebe is in a grudge match with the little old "lurker" lady is bo-ring. Maybe if it had been one half-hour instead of a two-parter, they would have trimmed that fat. In that case, it would have been a top episode.

Top six episodes:
"The One Hundredth"
or: "The with the Doctor Who Loves Fonzie" or: "The One with Joey's Kidney Stones"

"The One with Ross's Sandwich"
or: "The One Where Joey is Disgusting" or: "The One with Phoebe's Lit Class"

"The One with All the Resolutions"

"The One with Joey's Big Break"
or: "The One with Rachel's Eye" or: "The Where Phoebe is Mad at Ross"

including the total classics:
"The One with All the Thanksgivings"

"The One Where Everybody Finds Out"
Click here to read more . . .

Friday, August 7, 2009

Monday Monarch Moment on Friday

Isabella of France

OK guys, this one is really long, but I think it's worth it.

Isabella has long been one of English history's great villains. Now, I've only read one book about Isabella (Alison Weir's Queen Isabella), and it's one that is explicitly trying to rehabilitate Izzy's reputation. So maybe I'm a little biased, but Weir did seem to put forth convincing evidence on all her major points. (Except one, but I'll get to that.)

There's no denying that Isabella didn't have it easy. She got sent to England at age twelve to marry Edward II--the marriage of the English king to the French king's daughter was meant to establish a lasting peace between the two countries (which, as it turns out, backfired hilariously! Details to follow in an upcoming post). When one is Queen of England, one expects attention, respect, etc. One does not necessarily expect that one's husband will shower all his affection on some dude named Piers.

Piers' brutal execution worked wonders for Isabella and Edward's marriage. It seems that Edward came to trust and depend on Isabella, and he granted her lots of property and such so that she could be a major landowner (and be very rich) in her own right. But then Boyfriend #2, Hugh le Despenser, came along and things got much much worse. (For Isabella, that is. Times were good for Hugh.)

Hugh was smarter and meaner than Piers had been, and he used tension with France to turn Edward against his French queen. The King eventually took all her stuff away--her lands, her independent income, her French servants, and even her kids: the youngest three had been living with her but got put in somebody else's custody. Isabella had no freedom and practically no hope until Edward, as was his wont . . . did something really stupid.

Back in their marital heyday, Edward had employed Isabella as a peacemaker, sending her to France to negotiate with her own daddy. In 1324, during the bad times, the Pope was nervous about the looming war between France (now ruled by one of Isabella's brothers) and England; he was also not super happy about Edward's virtual imprisonment and literal humiliation of Isabella. So the Pope was like, "Hey, Ed, why not send her over there again?" Edward and Hugh didn't want Edward to go himself, leaving Hugh unprotected from the angry, angry English people, so Ed was finally like, "Sure, why not." Isabella put on her happy face and was in turn like, "Bye sweetie! I'll miss you! Tell Hugh XOXO!"

Once she was in France (where her bro the King was pretty willing to back her up), she took her sweet time doing diplomatic stuff. Her masterstroke was when she convinced Edward that everything would go better if he sent over their boy, li'l Eddie (he was in his mid-teens, but I enjoy typing "li'l"). That's when Isabella revealed her real feelings (which, honestly, should have been pretty obvious all along, Edward):

Amongst other things, when the king sent his son to France, he ordered his wife to return to England without delay. When this command had been laid by the messengers before the King of France and the queen herself, she replied, "I feel that marriage is a joining together of man and woman, maintaining the undivided habit of life, and that someone has come between my husband and myself trying to break this bond; I protest that I will not return until this intruder is removed, but, discarding my marriage garment, shall assume the robes of widowhood and mourning until I am avenged of this Pharisee."
Vita Edwardi, via The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes

So Isabella had her freedom, foreign support, and the heir to the throne in her clutches. All she needed was a man to tell her what to do.

This is Weir's theory, anyway--Isabella just kind of dawdled and pondered, until Roger Mortimer (an English baron in revolt against Edward) came along and was all, "I'll take it from here, baby." And this being the 14th Century, and Isabella having been long saddled with a weak/ineffectual husband, her reaction was "FINALLY."

To cut to the chase, Isabella and Roger married li'l Eddie to Phillippa of Hainault, whose father paid her dowry not in boring old gold or china, but with motherflippin' soldiers. Then they all invaded England. They didn't have that many men, but the tyranny of Edward and Hugh was such that the English people's response to the Queen's invasion was "Where do we sign up?!?!" They marched through the country more or less unchallenged, captured Edward, executed/mutilated Hugh (read the story if you dare), and crowned li'l Eddie.

Sadly, this awesomeness could not be sustained. Li'l Eddie, being li'l, couldn't actually rule; a regency council was set up and consisted of many Very Important Persons. However, Isabella and her boyfriend Roger (neither of whom among the official VIPs) held the read power. And in a regrettable emulation of her discarded husband, Isabella left all the decisions to her boyfriend, who used them all to empower and enrich himself.

A return of awesomeness was declared when Eddie decided his li'lness was no more. He and his buddies kidnapped Roger and tried him for treason, allowing Eddie to sieze his own power for his own self. Isabella was kept under close watch for a while, but with good behavior was slowly allowed to have sweet lands and money again. In the last years of her life, despite her having lived in semi-brazen adultery with Roger and despite her onetime overthrow of an anointed monarch, she was seen as a respectable elder statewoman. (Later people would focus more on the adultery/overthrow angle, though.)

Oh, so what happened to Edward II?

Well, he was imprisoned for a while, but after one too many attempts to spring him, it was decided (probably by Rog) to have him taken care of. This is the most famous story of what happened, and I will warn you right now that it is graphic and gruesome. Some of you may want to skip the following quote.
Firstly he was shut up in a secure chamber, where he was tortured for many days until he was almost suffocated by the stench of corpses buried in a cellar hollowed out beneath. Carpenters, who one day were working near the window of his chamber, heard him, God's servant, as he lamented that this was the most extreme suffering that had ever befallen him.
But when his tyrannous warders perceived that the stench alone was not sufficient to kill him, they seized him on the night of 22 September as he lay sleeping in his room.
There with cushions heavier than fifteen strong men could carry, they held him down suffocating him.
Then they thrust a plumber's soldering iron, heated red hot, guided by a tube inserted into his bowels, and thus they burnt his innards and vital organs. They feared lest, if he were to receive a wound in those parts of the body where men generally are wouned, it might be discovered by some man who honoured justice, and his torturers might be found guilty of manifest treason.
. . . As this brave knight was overcome, he shouted aloud so that many heard his cry both within and without the castle and knew it for a man who suffered a violent death.
The Chronicle of Geoffrey le Baker, via the Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes

As Weir points out, the account is riddled with implausibilities. They really thought he would die in a couple of days from bad smell? How could four guys carry cushions heavier than 15 men could carry? And of course, the guy who wrote it is otherwise unreliable and was in no position to know what had really happened. She says it is more likely that Edward was simply smothered. (I mean, come on. That's the way to not leave a mark.)


Though Weir thinks suffocation is more likely than, you know, the gross murder, what she thinks is likelier still is that Edward . . . got away.

There's this document, see, called the Fieschi Letter. It's a communication from an Italian priest to Edward III, containing a detailed story about how Edward II evaded his would-be murderers, escaped from England, and tooled around Europe for a while before settling in a monastery in Italy. Weir makes a lot of good points--for instance, the writer of the letter was a trustworthy fellow, and he knew many details (like those of Edward's attempted evasion of Isabella's invasion forces) that very few people knew at the time. Much of it is clearly not impossible. (She also adds an account from later that Edward III once mysteriously met with a mysterious stranger in France--was it a father and child reunion?!?)

But I just can't get convinced. For one thing, I find it hard to believe that a deposed king could be out and about without getting noticed by a lot more people. Sure, information was not easy to disseminate in those days, and maybe there are other letters by other priests that simply haven't survived, but still. Wouldn't Edward's survival have been a bigger deal? Secondly, many of Edward's supposed adventures hinge on him being competent. In his escape from prison, he was said to have overpowered and killed the guard at the exit, stealing the guard's clothes. Which is so cool that I have a bit of a hard time believing Edward could pull it off. And then a guy who spent all his life surrounded by servants and retainers, and who did not show a knack for doing stuff well, managed to get along well and quietly all by himself, all over Europe? I dunno. (Although then again, maybe he could earn his keep bricklaying and fixing rooves?)

So I guess it's possible, but I remain unconvinced. It would be awfully cool if it were true, though.
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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Things Found in Library Items Today

1. blood-spattered Kleenex (not by me, for which I am thankful)

2. a Larry King bookmark, by which I mean a bookmark with a picture of and shaped like Larry King

3. a live, wriggling maggot (I did find this one--I opened a DVD case and there it was. I am not too proud to admit that I freaked out a smidge).
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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

O hai guyz!

Well, I was gonna do a Monday Monarch Moment yesterday, since it was Monday and all. But I went into work an hour and a half before we opened, which meant I cleared out the bookdrop closet (I'm a terrible estimator, but I'm going to say there we 500 books, DVDs, etc. that I gathered up off the floor and stacked in bins and carts to check them in. Mondays are crazy). And then I had an eight-hour shift, which I know is not a terrible hardship, but it's a lot easier to go home at 1:00 than at 4:00 when you are so tired you could just puke. I hope my co-workers didn't get annoyed by my continual heavy sighing from 3:00 to 4:00.

So then I was going to an almost-Monday Monarch Moment today. But then I went grocery shopping. I was still tired and it took me a long time to convince myself to go. Here's the thing: there's this grocery store and its name is Woodman's. I have been known to call it magical Woodman's, because it is one impressive grocery store. It's huge, it has everything, and it's so cheap. However, because it's so awesome, everyone knows it's awesome. Woodman's at 2:00 on a Tuesday is like WalMart at 5:00 on a Saturday. I've never been to Woodman's at 5:00 on a Saturday because I am too terrified to try. So I was just dreading going today. And then it occurred to me: I didn't have to go to Woodman's! I could go to the more expensive, less conveniently located grocery store! I did, and at 2:00 on a Tuesday at Copp's, there were like four other people there. It was like grocery shopping in Heaven.

Also, I finally got us some reusable grocery bags! I wouldn't have cared particularly, except that one other flaw of Woodman's is that the paper bags don't have handles. That's just stupid. I can carry exactly one (1) handle-less paper grocery bag at a time. Well, without being in constant fear of dropping everything. I saw a big stand of reusable bags, but they didn't look good. There were little canvas one and medium-size plastic ones. I was unimpressed. But then I walked down a freezer aisle, and they had some bags displayed along the top--the medium ones and then some big ol' green canvas ones. ("Ooh!" I thought.) I walked back across the store, for back by the peanut butter, there had been a friendly grocery man. I asked him a leading question: whether the big green display bags were on sale somewhere else. As I had hoped, the friendly grocery man not only OK'd my buying the display bags, but reached up there to get three down for me. And then he even showed me how they fold up into cute little 6" by 6" squares! Thank you, friendly grocery man!

Then, once I got home, instead of Monarch Momenting, I made bierocks! (Bierocks = a delicious food of Volga German origin. It goes like this: make some bread dough--my granny's butterhorn roll recipe for preference; brown some hamburger; cook some cabbage [I usually boil it, but I tried cooking it in a frying pan with olive oil today and it worked very well]; mix the hamburger and cabbage and season with salt and pepper; wrap dough around a pile of cabbage beef; bake; cover with butter!) Bierocks are just as delicious as they are time-consuming to make, which is to say very.

And now I'm watching Project Runway (oh, Season 4, you're so wonderful)!

So perhaps there will be a Monarch Moment tomorrow but clearly, I shouldn't promise anything.
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Sunday, August 2, 2009


Psst . . . you guys. It's August.

Do you know what that means? Do you know what starts in just one month?


Oh my goodness!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I got tired of waiting for the Walgreens next to my work to get in any college football magazines (all they have is fantasy football and an all-Notre Dame magazine ), so I cajoled Neal into going to Barnes and Noble, where the real action is. There were no less than four choices in the college-football-preview-issue genre; I succumbed to temptation and bought both the Sporting News and the Lindy's. (And I'm starting to feel pangs of regret for passing over the Athlon--I think last year they had predictions on who would win every game of the season, and neither of the ones I bought do that.) Since I have so much information at my disposal now, I thought I should share.

And now, to kick off my own personal college football pre-season, I bring you my first Aggie football post of the '09 season. (I was going to add non-Aggie things that I'm interested in this season as a #3, but this is really long as is, so maybe another day.)

1: How are the Aggies, overall?
Still not good, friends, still not good. I definitely think we will see improvement on the field, but I don't know how many wins that will translate into. The defense, let's face it, has nowhere to go but up (I'm having trouble finding a link, but I think we finished something like eleventy-billionth in total defense last year).

The offense (particularly Jerrod Johnson at QB and Ryan Tannehill as aspiring QB/surprisingly good WR) showed promise last year, and I am confident they'll be even better this year. Lots of Jerrod's problems were mental/rookie mistakes, and I'm very exicted about watching him grow out of that. The brightest spot, all the magazine guys agree, is our brand new freshman guy Christine Michael, a five-star rated running back. The hope is that he'll improve our run game (did you know the Ags averaged 2.9 yards a carry last year? That's painful).

So I'm as sure as can be that the Aggies will be better this year. The biggest problem is that the Big XII South is still going to be the best division in college football. And the Ags are, across the board, getting picked to finish last in it.

t.u. and OU are getting picked to finish second and third in the country. Oke State comes in at 10 in both my magazines. My enemy Texas Tech isn't going to be as good as last year, but they're still ranked in the top 25 or sniffing distance of it. And then there's Baylor. Oh good gravy you guys, Baylor. And oh good gravy, Robert Griffin. Why couldn't he stick to the 400-meter hurdles? You can't go to the Olympics in American football, Robert! Anyway, Baylor might break their bowl-less streak this year (14 years . . . and counting?) and if they do, one of those six-or-more wins would probably come at Kyle Field, where the Bears haven't won since 1984. I will cry.

Overall, I am hoping for six wins. (More than six would be just as wonderful as it is unlikely.) I will accept five. Four or fewer (tying or being worse than last season) and I am going to be an unhappy camper. But from whence might these wins come?

2: How does the schedule look?
Here now is my schedule summary, but as usual, I prefer not to make my conference predictions until after the non-conference slate is over.

September 5: New Mexico @ Kyle
Last year we managed to beat New Mexico at New Mexico. They have a first-year coach, new offensive and defensive schemes, and a slightly unsettled quarterback situation. I'm having a hard time trying to worry about this one. (And I feel compelled to try because I clearly remember walking down the street with my friend Lindsay in the morning of August 30th last year and saying these exact words to her: "We're not going to lose to Arkansas State.")

September 19: Utah State @ Kyle
Hot Aggie on Aggie action! Lindy's ranked all the FBS teams (that's what we call them now, right?) and lists Utah State at #118, just before North Texas and Western Kentucky. But then Sporting News has them third-to-last in their own conference, which just goes to show that there's less consensus about the bottom teams than the top teams. Or that around #77 or so, they lost interest and start putting teams wherever. In any event, this is another consistently underperforming team from a lackluster conference (it's basically Boise State and The Pips) with a first-year coach who's overhauling everything. And again, it will be a severe disappointment if this one lands in the loss column.

September 26: UAB @ Kyle
Apparently these guys have a pretty good quarterback or something? And their mascot is a dragon. But this is one of those teams big schools like to buy a win from. Tennessee's execrable offense put up 35 on them last year. I think in the worst case scenario, this game would turn into a shootout, but even then the Aggies should have the firepower to win it.

October 3: Arkansas @ Jerryworld
Now here we go. This game is interesting for several reasons. One is that this is the renewal of an old Southwest Conference rivalry. Arkansas seemed ready to renew their more famous SWC rivalry with t.u.--they played last year and were going to play again this year, but Arky dumped the home-and-home agreement to switch to playing the Aggies. Another factor here is that it seems clear to me that this is Bill Byrne's answer to the Red River Shootout. (And I'm glad that he decided on Arkansas instead of, as was being floated a few years ago, Texas Tech.) Sure, it's not a prestige game now, but if both of these teams become nationally relevant again, it would be a big deal. Big XII! SEC! Grudge match! Also, even with two nationally irrelevant teams, this baby is going to be a cash cow.

But who will win? Well, the smart money's on Arkansas--it looks like they'll be middle-of-the-pack contenders, and they've got young Ryan Mallett who used to QB for Michigan. I do reserve the right to change my mind, though, depending on how the Ags and the Pigs do in the first few weeks.

And speaking of reserving the right to change my mind, here are my first impressions about the conference schedule:
October 10: Okie State @ Kyle
At the time of this game, Mike Gundy will be both a man and forty-two. (I always think that's going to stop being funny, but it never does!)

October 17: K-State in Manhattan
I saw a couple billboards in Kansas with a big picture of Bill Snyder and then the slogan "THE TRADITION CONTINUES" sort of like this. If there were any truth in advertising, K-State would go with something more like this:

Seriously, guys. It's going to be terrible. (You might even get beaten by Texas A&M.)

(Sorry about the terrible quality of my mock-poster. The best program I have on my computer to work with images + text is--and I'm not making this up--Microsoft Word. It's bad, guys, it's bad.)

October 24: Texas Tech in Lubbock
Ah, jeez, I don't even want to talk about it. Can we just agree to return to this subject later?

October 31: Iowa State @ Kyle

OK, here's a game I can get behind! The Ags may be ranked last in the South, but Iowa State is picked last in the conference (the Ags are also ahead of K-State, b-t-dub). I never even thought we were going to lose to Iowa State at their place last year, and unless I see (or, let's be realistic, read about) dramatic improvement this year, I'm going to maintain my confidence in their beatability.

November 7: Colorado in Boulder
Colorado was one of the Aggies' two conference wins last year, and that was nice. Their coach has promised 10 wins this year, and that was dumb. But they should improve, especially since the odds of them losing as many players to injury again are very high. (It was pretty ridiculous last year.) Best case scenario: CU's special teams are again terrible and they have to bench their returning kicker and punter with K/P combo freshman Zach Grossnickle. Because who doesn't want to hear the name "Grossnickle" at the end of every possession?

November 14: Oklahoma in Norman

I'm so happy for Sam Bradford that his acne cleared up. And I mean that sincerely.

November 21: Baylor @ Kyle
Here's an article conveniently addressing the question, "Will Baylor beat A&M?" It's where I got that 1984 fact from earlier, and the painful trivia nugget that this decade, the Aggies are 7-23 in the month of November. After I read it and sighed heavily, it hit me that I've been following the Aggies for all but one year of this decade. This will be my ninth year as an Aggie football fan, which is just weird. For all that it seems a lifetime or two ago, it also seems like just yesterday that I was running up to third deck because an untrustworthy new friend (because how could you know yet which of your hundred new friends was trustworthy?) had been entrusted with out tickets and made us late. We missed the first score against McNeese State (the cannon was going off as we--did I mention this?--ran up to third deck. In the early September Texas heat), and I still haven't totally gotten over it.

Mostly I have. But not totally.

November 26: t.u. @ Kyle
I would really prefer that Colt McCoy not win the Heisman. That is all.
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