Dorky Dilettante.


Anyone who knows me well knows that the thing I love probably more than anything else — more than the NHL, more than Elvis Costello, perhaps more even than salted caramel mochas from Starbucks — is a research project.  I dive into them at the drop of a hat, and it’s impossible to stop me.  Anytime a question of information or trivia comes up in a conversation, and no one in the group knows the answer, I will inevitably frown and say Shit. Now I have to go research that. Because I truly do have to. I can’t help it.

This week, for instance, it started with the mystery snail eggs. One day last week I found a white sort of honeycomb-looking thing in my tank, sort of oval shaped, an inch and a half long. I knew immediately it was some sort of egg formation, but from which animals in the tank? Not the guppies, because they’re live bearers. I suspected the corydora catfish or the algae eaters, as cats are known to be egg layers. But none of the images I found looked right. Finally, at my wits’ end, I Googled honeycomb thing in my aquarium. This is how completely clueless I was. One of the links which resulted mentioned mystery snails, and I thought Hmm, I’ve got some of those.  I quickly concluded that mystery snail eggs were indeed what we had.  The water level in our tank was down a couple of inches from me forever sucking out water for the guppy fry, and as it transpires, these snails lay their eggs above the waterline.  If the tank is full, there is no space above the waterline and therefore no eggs.

The floating pod I found wasn’t viable, but I knew the snails had been fucking like bunny rabbits.  I knew this because just the other night Tony had wondered What the heck is that long thing coming out of the big snail?  And here we had thought they were playing piggyback all this time. Sure enough, I refrained from adding water to the tank and within two days there was another clump of eggs, and then another. I wondered how long they would take to hatch, the conditions under which the eggs must incubate, and what the babies would be like when they were born. I had absolutely no clue about breeding and husbandry of these things — I just plopped a few pretty snails into my tank to help keep it clean — but at times like these, my mom gene kicks in. There are living things in my care, and I need to know what to do for them. It’s automatic.

In the space of a couple of hours I’ve learned all about the anatomy of pomacea diffusa, which was once believed to be a subgenus of pomacea bridgesii but is really a separate species. I’ve learned how to sex the adults, both by the easy eyeball-the-shell-formation method and by the more tricky make-them-open-up-their-parts method. I know what the babies will look like: tiny snails, right from the time they crawl from their shells. I know that the mystery snail, also commonly known as the apple snail, is native in different subgenera to both South America and Asia, and that it is used in Taiwan for escargot. (Perhaps this is an idea for what to do with the baby snails. Beach Hippie Escargot!)

I know a bunch of stuff about a bunch of stuff which is absolutely useless except in my limited world — none of it will ever make me a dime, not my snail lore nor guppy rearing minutae nor hockey trivia nor my compulsion to keep statistics on matters so irrelevant as the win percentages in the endless games of gin rummy I play with Tony. (He’s kicking my ass.)

But damn it, the shit is fun. Every day I stumble across some piece of absolutely wonderful knowledge I hadn’t had before, just because I wondered about something and decided to research something instead of letting it go. I’m unemployed, and unemployed girls who fail to keep their minds and hands busy end up getting into trouble. So I read the job ads and send out resumes morning and afternoon, every day. I bake, and devise cool household and cosmetic things, and swear and rearrange and clean and putter. I do lots and lots of ultimately pointless research. What I’m not doing is lying around watching the Three Stooges in my pajamas all day. And if you ever develop a burning curiosity about the sexual apparatus of the apple snail, I can tell you everything you might wish to know.

Tightwad Goddess of the Kitchen.


One of the changes I’m making in my life, in the face of a science-fiction economy and the dash of perspective that comes with arriving in midlife, is to get back to basics.  This is largely Tony’s influence; one of the first things I noticed, when I began spending a lot of time with him, is his diet.  He subsists on real things, old-fashioned things: real butter, full-fat mayonnaise.  He induced me to chuck the lowfat placebos out the window and get back to real foods, and it’s wonderful.  I’ve actually lost weight.

But it didn’t stop there.  When I moved into this house, I looked about for cleaning products — Tony was, after all, a bachelor for 15 years — and found that there weren’t many at all.  Not with brand names on them, anyway.  What I found was ammonia, bleach, vinegar and dish soap.  And I’ve found you can clean everything in the house with them, very cheaply and much more effectively than you can do with a bunch of specialty brand-label products.  Oh, and baking soda.  Hydrogen peroxide.  Except for the bleach and ammonia, all of these things clean humans fairly well, too.  I’ve started brushing my teeth with hydrogen peroxide every morning, followed by a peroxide rinse.  It kills germs and whitens teeth much better than anything you buy at Target.

So here I was on a roll, and again it didn’t stop there.  Last week I looked sadly at the $25 jar of 100% Pure Vanilla Bean sugar scrub sitting nearly empty in my shower.  I’m addicted to that stuff, and I can’t afford to buy it anymore.  And then I got to thinking:  Wait a minute.  Here I am paying through the nose for pricey “natural” products when I can make this shit!  So I got me some granulated sugar, olive and coconut oils, and some jasmine oil, and for about $2.50 put together a yummy and effective sugar scrub.  That’s a tenth of the price, babies.  So now I’m exploring homemade essential oils and perfumery — if I can develop some blends that are really delicious, this could be a cottage industry.  At the very least, I’ll be soft and smell great without spending $50 a week at Ulta.

And because I cannot afford it, I removed my acrylic fingernails and wiped away the last of the toenail polish.  Sad, but strangely liberating.

It’s a fistful of sacrifices, this frugal living thing, but I think we’re on a roll, and I think we’re going to keep it going.  It’s a more honest way of living on the earth; I hadn’t realized the extent to which I was buying into consumerism despite my general disdain for American pop culture.  Someday soon I will have money coming in again, but this time it’s going into the bank or for school instead of into the pockets of a lot of cosmetic companies and cleaning product manufacturers.

And now off to score some organic shredded coconut.  I have some oils and extracts to make, and I hear homemade coconut milk is wonderful for your hair.

Since You Brought It Up.


I applied for a legal position and received the following e-mail in response:

Thank you for your resume.  Unfortunately, due to the errors in your resume, I will have to pass.  Otherwise you have nice skills.

To which I replied:

Delightful. Due to the errors in your e-mail and your remarkably pissy attitude, I’m happy you feel that way. Otherwise you have nice, if staggering, chutzpah.

You see how bad things have gotten? People don’t just chuck your resume in the bin — they take the time to write to you and insult you, first.