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October 31, 2008

Friends and Morality

I was doing one of those dumb things where you get curious about exs and start looking them up on the internet. The most recent time I did this, I found a Facebook profile for an ex. The part of the profile I could see also included a partial list of friends for this person, and that got me thinking.

This particular ex treated me terribly at the end of our relationship. He cheated, lied about it, covered it up and then cut off contact. I found out about his subterfuge more than a year after the fact. I have not spoken to him in years.

And while I'm now at the point where I don't give a rat's ass any more about him and how he treated me, I do wonder - how does one continue being friends with a person when you know that they treated another person that you also liked very badly? How do you think about this friend when you watch them, and counsel them as they treat another human being callously and immorally?

I've had a chance to think about this from the friend side of late, too, and it's not as easy or as simple as I might've thought. Of course, as always, I think a lot of the answer lies in that convenient little phrase "it depends."

Ultimately, I think watching another person behave cruelly towards another makes you lose respect for that person. Indeed, a college friend of the ex said as much to me when I ran into her at a party more than 18 months after the fact. "He is who he is," she said "but that doesn't mean that I haven't lost some respect for him because of the way he treated you."  If you've known them a long time, if there are extenuating circumstances, if you think this is an anomaly or painful learning opportunity for the person, I suspect you forgive them and move forward with the friendship. But I wonder, does that friendship now get an asterisk? Is there an adjustment or is everything the same? And should it be? And what about for particularly egregious offenses?  Is there a point at which you say - you're not the person I thought you were, and I can't pretend like I still like and respect you?

October 31, 2008 at 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 30, 2008


Despite feeling under the weather yesterday, I went to pottery - mainly because I had already used up my three reschedules in my ten week session and I wasn't sure how strict they'd be about a fourth. Plus, I'm planning on taking a hiatus after next week for the holidays and resuming in January, and I needed to keep a bunch of new pieces moving through the process from lump of clay to finished product.

Depending on what the item is, it takes three to four weeks to go from the first throw to having something to take home, and that's assuming all goes well.

The first week, you throw the body of the piece. If it's a bowl, and you like the look of it, you take it off the wheel, and cover it lightly with plastic so you can trim off excess clay and finish the bottom of the pot the following week. Once you've trimmed the pot, you place it on the bisque shelf to be bisqued. The studio is large, with more than 100 students, so the bisque kilns are basically firing constantly - each cycle is about 24 to 30 hours. 12 hours for the firing and then 12 hours to cool down enough to be opened, unloaded and reloaded.

Once the pot has been bisqued, it's now fully hard and very fragile and about 15% smaller than the last time you looked at it. Depending on how careful you were initially, you now might have to sand off some rough spots or otherwise, try to whip the pot into glazing shape. Once you've smoothed out the rough edges, and wiped off the dust, you're ready to glaze.* The studio has a wide variety of glazes for a ceramics school, which gives us lots of options. However, some of the glazes are more "advanced" than others - tending towards runniness in the heat of the kiln firing. These advanced glazes are among my favorites and I've been using them carefully, but without incident for weeks. Oribe, my all-time favorite glaze, yields dark glossy green surface with a bit of a metallic sheen, and it clings nicely to ribs or texture on the pot.  Crazy Green is another favorite, a paler green with black streaks.

Last week, I glazed a number of pots in both of those glazes. With the crazy green, I first glazed the inside of the two mugs and one bowl in a glaze called Shaner Clear, which yields an attractive speckled gray color. I then glazed the crazy green on the outside, the handles and then double dipped the lip of the pots for full coverage. One of the instructors that day was skeptical - he thought I'd glazed a little heavy on the crazy green. But I was confident - I'd done this before, and left a large waxed foot at the bottom to allow for some running, so I wasn't too worried.

I should have been. When I went looking for my pots on the finished shelf, they weren't there. Turns out, the two bowls done in Oribe were on the finished shelves, just lower down, and had emerged from the kiln in fine shape. However, all of the pots done with crazy green were on the "Glaze Problems - See Your Instructor" shelf. The glaze had gone wild in the kiln, puddling at the base of all three pots, all of which had to be hacked off their kiln shelves. The bottoms of the two mugs were a mix of white kiln shelf, sharp glassy glaze fragments and scars from where chunks of clay had been chipped out of the pot itself.

The sad part? The glazes are beautiful - with red oxidized bits where the clear glaze mixed with the green - producing a lovely melange of grey, dark red, green and black. They're gorgeous (not to mention some of the best physically structured pots I've produced) - if you don't look at the bottom.

I slunk off to a corner of the studio with a trash can and a grinding stone, determined to make these pots something I could at least use at home, even if giving them as gifts was no longer a possibility. I managed to scrape off enough that they were no longer sharp enough to cut someone's hand and flat enough that they'll sit reasonably well on a table. Still, every time I lift them up to pour or drink, I'll be reminded of my error.

*Mugs and anything with handles take an extra week to go through the whole process, as you must "pull" a handle for them, and then give them an extra week to dry to allow the moisture levels in the handle and the body of the pot to equalize. Bisquing too soon can cause the handle to fall off the pot.

October 30, 2008 at 03:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

October 07, 2008

Cooking: Success with Substitutions

Something about the presidential and vice presidential debates bothers me - perhaps its the pat political posturing, the recycled sound bites, and an entire set up that's about conflict. As engaged as I try to be in the political process (mainly because I feel that I should be, not because I need to actually make up my mind about who to vote for - that decision was made about 3.5 years ago, if not in the cradle), I can only take so much of the debates.

So instead of giving them my full attention, I turn the TV up and away (or the radio in the case of the veep debate) and I cook. For the veep debate last week, I made some rather rubbery low-fat banana nut muffins. And yesterday, in anticipation of tonight's debate (when I made applesauce), I made a swiss chard casserole.

Here's the thing about casseroles. I love them - easy, big, warm  & filling meals that are great in the cooler months. However, casseroles need to be bound together by something - some glue-like substance that keeps all the diverse bits together. That thing is usually cheese or milk, or derived from one of the two. That fact alone has kept casseroles out of my meal rotations for many years.

But I miss them, and so yesterday I decided to see if I could substitute my way to something tasty AND non-dairy.

And surprisingly, given my track record with cooking experiments of any kind (you need only read the archives for a litany of cooking disasters, a few of which even have photographic evidence.) the casserole was pretty good.

It was, however, not cheesy tasting in the least. And it was pink.

In my defense, it was pink because I used red chard, stems and leaves, as well as red peppers, and they bled into the egg/lactaid binding mixture, turning it pink.

The lactaid worked relatively well, the vegan "cheese," less so.  I did have high hopes for the cheese. "Melts!" the label promised (sad that that's not a given with these products, but there you are), "real cheese flavor!" (um, really?)

Notably, they did not make any promises about texture, which is good, because as the orange block slid out of its packaging, it was revealed to be less cheese-like and more like the bastard child of tofu and mild cheddar. It had that wobbly,  slimy, firm tofu  texture, rather than a cheese-like consistency, though I was able to shred it in my food processor.  And it tasted like ... nothing. Not like cheese, but not like anything else either. From my perspective, it didn't make an impact one way or the other on the final dish. It just was there -  small orange squiggles of  partly melted "cheese" food product.

Ultimately, though, I could eat it with out becoming ill, and it wasn't so gross that I couldn't choke it down for a couple more meals. And with my cooking, that's definitely hitting a triple...and I bet it's actually a pretty awesome dish if you actually use real milk and Gruyere.

October 7, 2008 at 11:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 01, 2008

In need of a new bank

It's not because of the financial crisis.  Or maybe it is, but in subtler way.

For the past 8 months or so, I've noticed a random fee on my checking account statement.
The PFM fee, for $5.95 a month. The first time I noticed it, I did a search on the bank's website to see if I could find out what it was for - what could "PFM" stand for, I wondered? But I couldn't find anything on the website that explained it. It was too late to call the bank at the time, and so I figured I'd ask the next time I visited my local branch.
And then I forgot. Every so often, I'd notice the charge again, again wonder what it was, again resolve to ask at the bank, and then forget.

Today, I didn't forget. I asked.
And after talking to two different people who didn't know what it was for, a third, the branch manager, finally gave my answer.
The bank is charging me nearly $6 a month for the privilege of having Quicken access my bank account. Yep, the "Personal Financial Management software" fee. I was shocked. Was there a way to use the software and avoid this fee?
Yes, if I want to hand enter every transaction (as I used to do before the auto download feature was offered.) or sign up for their brokerage account (I already have one, thank you, with someone else. And believe me, in this financial climate, I'm diversifying, not consolidating.) and then get their proprietary online financial management system that would allow me to import all of my information from all of my banks into their branded site. And keep all my financial information in "the cloud." Accessible, but also hackable. No way. Why on earth am I going to give them (or their subsidiary) the information to access all of my other financial accounts? Or put my personal financial information in a place where it's easily hacked or stolen?

I asked if there was a checking account product they offered where this fee would not be assessed? Nope.

And then I looked the manager in the eye and said that honestly, this seemed to be an unreasonable fee, one that charged me (with some subterfuge) for something that felt like a normal part of doing my financial business and that I would be considering taking my business elsewhere.

If this is how a bank thinks it's going to survive tough economic times,  they need to think again. All they've done is position themselves as anti-technology, and try to force me into their proprietary bucket. Stop adding sly fees to my account  - either be above board about it, or admit that it's not economically feasible for you to offer a no-fee checking account.

I'm not going to be dropped into their financial software bucket. In fact, I'm going to re-evaluate all of my financial products. Is my brokerage account really working for me? Can I get a credit card that will actually allow me to make (without additional fees) multiple online payments in a month? Can I find a bank that doesn't charge me when I ask a computer program to grab my financial information instead of me? Can I find a way to make saving for multiple goals more seamless?

If anyone out there has any particular financial products that you like and would recommend - credit cards, banks, brokers, comment away. I'm all ears.

October 1, 2008 at 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack