Ever since I was about 5 years old, I've had this sort of half-disgusted, curious fascination with bugs. My next door neighbor, Ashley, had this one nasty, half-rotted out old tree covered with white fungusy-looking junk that every spring would errupt with a nest of small, sunflower seed-shaped, black and orange spotted bugs. We'd capture them and put them in jars for observation, douse them with water to see how well they could swim, and move them to different parts of the tree to see if they could find their way back to the nest.

The color, size, and shape of those little crawlies was etched in my impressionable brain, though I never knew the scientific name. That is, I never knew until a few days ago when I stumbled upon the What's that Bug? website.

What's that Bug? is a photo blog where readers send in pictures of interesting-looking bugs they rustle up in the bathroom, backyard, or bottom of the kitchen cupboard to have them identified by bug enthusiasts, Lisa Anne and Daniel. The two aren't anything-ologists. Their credentials-- Master of Fine Arts degrees-- are more suited to teaching graphic design than classifying insects. But their mutual interest in photography encouraged an exploration into the colorful, creepy, often weird world of microscopic models. And like most of us, their interest is less than scientific. Bugs look cool. "The truth is, the site is an art project", the two admit on the site's "About" page.

I stumbled upon this little gem while doing a google image search for close-up pictures of house flies for an art project of my own. While doing that search, I spotted a picture of an insect that I had always referred to as a "mosquito hawk". Growing up in the south, almost every bug or insect name I've ever learned has been some modified old southern colloquialism that bluntly describes when the bug hatches (June bug, May fly) what it looks like (Pill Bug, Mosquito Hawk) or the sound it makes (Katy-did). So, anyway, I found out that "Mosquito Hawks"--those nasty daddy-long legs looking flying things that resemble giant mosquitoes-- are actually called Crane Flies. And there happen to be hundreds of disgusting, creepy varieties of crane fly.

While grossing myself out looking at close-up pictures of crane flies mating (ass to ass!) and sitting on sticks in swamps (what crane flies like to do when they're not flapping their nasty, spindly legs in my face) I came upon yet another picture of a familiar, but until now, nameless bug. It was the orange and black spotted critter from my elementary school days!

Like stumbling upon a picture of old childhood buddies burried in the bottom of a shoebox, all at once the memories came flooding back. I had completely forgotten about my little six-legged playmates. It'd been years since I'd seen them! And now, I could finally put a name with the face!

Turns out my little buddy is called a "boxelder bug". They're pretty harmless leaf-eaters that swarm in summer and disappear by fall, searching out warm places to overwinter-- like the inside of my neighbor's tree. If not for What's that Bug? and some guy named Ron from South Carolina who sent in a picture of two boxelder bugs 'gettin it on', I might never have known the name of those mysterious creepies from my childhood.

The pages of What's that Bug? are filled with pictures of beetles, scorpions, moths, and all kinds of other insects that resemble rusty metal shavings or hairbrush bristles more than living things. It's a great way to kill time looking at weird shit while ostensibly learning something.
And who knows? Maybe you'll discover a long-lost friend from your childhood, rekindling burried memories of scraped knees, powdered-sugar sandwiches, and even that time you cajoled the neighborhood boy into showing you his junk-- creating a mental image that would be distorted by immaturity and the passage of time until at age 16 you honestly believed that all penises resemble vienna sausages.

You know that old axiom? There are three things you should never discuss with friends or lovers: religion, politics, and.... i think the third was pizza topppings?
Well, I don't generally subscribe to that rule. I respect my friends. I depend on them for advice. And I generally think of my boys as intelligent, sensible, interesting, all around great guys, and as such, I really value their opinions when it comes to all the important things in life: Do you believe in god? Who are you gonna vote for? Does this make me look trashy?

So I generally don't hold that old axiom to be true. If there's anyone with whom you should be discussing religion & politics, it's those you care about most-- those whose thoughts, viewpoints & opinions you most respect or desire to understand.
But I wonder, if there really are times when it's best not to intrude into the realm of vital truths?

Recently, I got into a bit of a tiff with my boyfriend, Daniel. He brought up a biography he had read about Hillary Clinton and started talking about how shady he thinks she is and that he definitely hopes Barrack Obama wins the nomination. In his words, "If Hillary wins, it'll just be politics as usual."

I was fine with all of that. In fact, people usually DON'T agree with me when it comes to politics, and I don't take it personally if their viewpoint is completely different from mine. But the next thing he said was in reference to Hillary's recent comments about Bobby Kennedy, citing why she's not dropping out of the running for the Democratic presidential nomination yet. Daniel (the BF) said that it makes him sick. He honestly thinks that Hillary hopes Barrack will be shot by some nutjob, and even went so far as to insinuate that she made those comments in the hopes of actually inciting and encouraging said nutjob to carry out the act.

I personally believe that she stuck her foot in her mouth. She wasn't comparing Kennedy to Obama, which is an important point. She wasn't actively suggesting that Obama might be shot and then she'd have the nomination. Actually, she didn't mention Obama at all. She was answering a question on the spur of the moment, using the incidences that came to mind of Democratic primaries that had altogether unlooked for results. Namely, the first ones that came to her mind were her husband's primary, and the assasination of Bobby Kennedy. Kennedy's primary might be one that would come to any of our minds. In fact, I can't name events that took place in ANY OTHER Democratic primary race outside of Bobby Kennedy's. Can You? The general public generally just doesn't give a shit about such things.

I personally feel that it was a moment of carelessness on her part. She didn't carefully think through her comments before saying them; didn't consider the knee-jerk reaction that a comment about Bobby Kennedy could garner in a political race with a black (mixed) candidate. A slip like that's bound to happen in a contest where every word and comment is carefully weighed and scrutinized. Obama and Clinton can't cough or shake a fart out without somebody filming it and sticking it up on youtube.

All of this is beside the point.

The point is that, with Daniel and I, one thing led to another and before we knew it, we were having a major argument. Not a debate, but an argument. You can always tell when a discussion has crossed the line from debate into argument when your original objective of developing your own understanding and opinion through intelligent discourse with another suddenly morphs into an attempt to 'beat' the other person by proving them 'wrong'.
We managed to take a step back and cease the bickering before either of us had sustained more than mildly bruised feelings-- thanks in part to a well-timed menstrual reference on my part, and brilliant topic-changing strategies on his.

But the whole thing left me with an acrid taste in my mouth. It wasn't just because I felt perturbed by his opinion on Hilary's comments-- although I still think he's being a bit sensationalist. But really, I felt unsettled by our inability to have a political discussion without dragging our tempers and egos into it. What does that say about how we relate to each other? Does it mean that we're inherently incompatible? Is it a sign of future impassioned arguments to come? I mean, if we can't talk about Hilary and Barrack without hurting each other, how are we ever going to be able to discuss things that are truly personal in nature?

Does the petulant way in which we handled ourselves in a discussion about the democratic primaries mean we can't make a relationship work? Does it mean we'll be unable to get along with one another in the long run?

Or, am I completely over-analyzing it?

Arguments happen in relationships. Sometimes they don't go so well-- especially in the beginning of a relationship when you're still learning how the other person needs to be handled. Maybe politics IS the one thing that we just shouldn't talk about?
Don't all relationships have those certain topics that should NOT under any circumstances be broached under penalty of pointless arguments and piqued tempers? With one previous boyfriend, the forbidden topic was (predictably) religion. For another, it was how The Ramones' songs all sound pretty much the same. For several others, any discussion of Exes was deemed taboo.
Perhaps, with Daniel and I, politics is the one topic that raises our tempers and makes us act like bratty school kids calling each other "stupid-head".

I suppose the real test will be to see how we handle our other disagreements and whether or not they proliferate. We're only two months in and we've already had our fair share of misunderstandings, two serious discussions, and one all-out argument. It doesn't bode well, but it could all be due the stress of beginning a relationship while being separated by half the planet-- I'm back home in the states while he's finishing up his study abroad term in Japan.

At Last! Something you can do with the carboard tube from wrapping paper rolls!!

Designer Julian Winn created this "bio-bench" out of industrial carboard tubes, locking straps, dirt, and grass seed. You could make a sturdy-enough-to-sit-on version from large document and poster shipping tubes, or a smaller, planter-only version from wrapping paper or paper towel tubes. The dirt only goes in the top, so I don't see any reason why the bottom tubes couldn't be used for organization or storage. Pens & pencils, paintbrushes, straws, and coffee stirrers would all fit nicely in the smaller versions while rolled-up magazines/newspapers, remote controls, or dog toys could be kept in the larger ones.

And the best news is, when you're ready to re-decorate, remove the locking straps and the whole thing is biodegradable.

A recent article on Greenest Host really opened my eyes to the huge environmental impact of a single bottle of water. I never knew that it takes 3 gallons of water to produce one gallon of bottled water after going through the complex filtration process. Considering there are places in the world where people fight and kill each other over drinking water, this is a completely irresponsible use of potable water resources.

In addition, "roughly 17 million barrels of oil" are consumed each year to produce the non-biodegradeable plastic containers. The production process also creates "2.5 Million tons of carbon dioxide emissions" for each ton of PET produced. Add to that the emissions created and oil used in transporting all of those heavy bottles to store shelves, and you've got what I like to call an eco-bomb-- products and practices with a HUGE adverse impact on the enviroment that far outweighs their use or practicality.

Still need more motivation to kick the plastic water bottle habit? How about cost? Bottled water can cost between 240 and 10,000 times more than tap water.
All of this monetary and environmental cost for a product that is often less healthy than ordinary tap water.

It's time to pick up a filtration picther and a stylish, re-usable water bottle. Below, some examples of the cute shit available from SIGG, Urban Outfitters, and my favorite, Shizi Katoh, who also sells an incredible line of reusable tote bags and lunch/bento boxes.

Shinzi Kaitoh Water Bottles - About $10

SIGG 'Cloud Hoppers' - $20 Urban Outfitters Artist Series Water Bottles - $14

You don't necessarily want to keep that diamond engagement ring you got from Mr-I-thought-he-was-right two weeks before you found him in the storage shed with your ex-best friend at the Fourth of July barbecue, but you don't want to throw it away either and you're sure as hell not giving it back to the bastard. So you're left with three choices: wear it on a different finger and try to pretend it doesn't remind you of him every time you look at it, shove it in a drawer so you can pull it out every time you feel really bad about yourself and wallow in self-pity while weeping in your sheets, OR you can sell that sparkly little nugget of betrayal.

Of course there are any number ways you could sell an old engagement ring, but Exboyfriendjewelry.com takes the prize for tongue-in-cheek sassiness. It transforms the potentially painful process of pawning momentos of past loves into a liberating, snarky catharsis. That is, if you're actually getting rid of something you really got from an ex. Lately the site has been bombarded with fakes, selling legitimate products but with bogus up-yours-ex-boyfriend stories-- the plethora of similar "caught him in bed with my cousin, yeah right!" stories and the abundance of never-worn Ugg boots gives it away.

But some of the stories ring true and are worth a read, even if you sometimes feel like screaming at the ones who don't know how to turn off the Caps Lock...or spell...or form a coherent rant. But if you can get past all the typos, you can enjoy a good ex-boy bash or two, and score some choice goods on the cheap while simultaneously liberating another gal from her bad memories.

I don't have a job right now. I'm in that horrible, formless miasma between college graduation and gainfull employment. You might think you shouldn't be taking advice from a jobless person. But who knows how to save money better than someone with ZERO income?
You tell me how to get a job, and I'll tell you how to save what you make at yours.

Here's a list of 4 EASY online ways you can get or save a lot of money with about 10 minutes worth of not-very-serious effort.

It's the Thought That Counts

Nothing in your wallet except that $200 Giftcard to Steinmart your Granny gave you for Christmas? Change that piece of partisan plastic in for actual cash by selling it on Ebay.
Ebay lets you sell any giftcard as long as the value is under $500 and you don't sell more than one gift card per month. You'll have to take a little bit of a loss on the value of the card (usally around $10 for a $100 Card) plus a $2 selling fee, but it's worth it to have $189 dollars you can spend anywhere versus $200 you can only spend on overpriced blazers and knicknacks. I know you think Nana wanted you to spend that money on fuzzy sweaters and shawl clips. But really, Nana just wants you to be happy.

On the flip side of the coin, if you know you're going to spend a large amount of money at a certain store, check the eBay listings to see if there's a giftcard up for auction. Buy a $100 gift card for $90 and you've just made your own discount.

Scrimp Cocktail

Don't have money for drinks? Why not get a marketing company to buy the drinks for you? Go to the Mystery Shopping Providers' Association website and check the job board for shopping opportunities in your area.
Sound like a scam? The MSPA is reccomended by the Better Business Bureau as a reputable site. Don't fall for other sites that ask you to pay a fee and claim you can make a career out of mystery shopping-- because you can't. While you can't make a living at it, mystery shopping will pay you flat "shop fees" of around $20 for each shop you do, plus reimburse you for the cost of the products or services you buy. This equals free products + some extra pocket money.
So, if you're planning on buying any big-ticket items, ALWAYS check the MSPA job board to see if a company is looking for a review on a particular store or item. You could end up getting that purchase for free.
In the case of restaurant and bar evaluations, the companies often allow you to take friends with you on the job, and the manager usually comps the entire meal ticket on-site. So, you get a drink with the gals and don't have to pay anything, ever, at all.

Slicker Than Snot On A Doorknob

Repeat after me: Never EVER shop online without checking Slick Deals first. NEVER EVER!!
Virtual gathering place for the frugal at heart, shoppers from all over the world gather at SlickDeals.com to post great values, low prices, and even coupon codes culled from a hard day's buying. I've found the ongoing Victoria's Secret thread particularly usefull, scoring checkout codes for a free totebag, free sample perfume, and free shipping on items I purchased from their online store. There's another forum devoted entirely to freebies-- The "What I got free in the mail today" thread is a must-read. One poster wonders aloud what she should do for her mail man after he delivered over a hundred different free sample boxes to her in one day.

Power of the Attorney, Habeus Corpus!

Yes, that is the theme to Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law-- but it's also an excellent reminder of another way to get your money's worth. Make sure to get your part class action lawsuit settlements. Does that sound shady? Well, it shouldn't. We're all wary of being overly litigious these days. But there are probably class action settlements going on right now for products sitting in your house. Check Class Action World for lists of recently filed and recently settled Class Action suits.
I was surprised recently to find out that Airborne is paying out refunds to anyone who purchased their products between 2001-2007 as the result of a class-action settlement. They're paying the price for false advertisement and if you bought any of those products, you should get your due by going to the settlement's website and filing an online claim.
I was also surprised to see the common sense with which the court handled the settlement, understanding that those of us with normal mental health don't save receipts for cold medicine we purchased FIVE YEARS ago. No proof of purchase is required, although the amount you will be refunded is less than if you have a receipt.

The Squeaky Wheel...

I'm not a complainer-- at least not to companies. I worked in customer service for many years and I know what it's like to have some irate fool spraying bits of his lunch in your face over some trivial foible. So I don't like to complain... but maybe I should get over that.
I was reticent to complain about the horrific experience I had in the Atlanta airport this March, thanks to some really atrocious Delta customer service and a couple hundred planes they deemed unfit to fly that day. I took my sweet time about complaining, but when I finally went to their website and wrote up a little email detailing what had happened, I received a swift response and a $200 credit voucher towards any Delta flight. Now, whether or not I actually want to fly with them again is another matter.

And while you're at their websites filling out complaints about the stank eye you got from the ticketing agent on your last flight, don't forget to sign up for the frequent flyer program. I got a $100 gift card from one airline's program-- which I promptly turned around and sold on eBay.

If you've got a couple hundred friends whose old eyeglasses are too busted or too heinous to donate to New Eyes for the Needy, Curbly proposes you make this:

Or maybe one made from plastic water bottle bottoms is more your style:

Empty Platic contaianers of all sorts can be turned into interesting, artsy lighting. Yanko Design shows us how used inkjet cartridges and christmas-light-like strings of LEDs create an interesting, eerie effect:

And designer Julian Winn thinks old plastic detergent bottles can look pretty cool:

I know it's been a long time coming, and Americans (like always) have been slow to adapt to new ways of living and (even more 'traumatic') new ways of thinking. But I'm incredibly happy that "going green" has finally graduated from pet cause of the hemp-wearing, PETA protesting, dont-shave-my-armpits set.
It's become trendy.
And while the sassqrotches of the world might turn up their noses at the idea-- like some disaffected indie kids when that obscure band no one's ever heard of finally scores a radio hit and "goes mainstream"-- I'm ecstatic about it. What better way to accomplish a radical change in the national zeitgeist than to make these ideas cool and sell them to our consumerisitc, superficial society as a trend? If only we could make all forms of social morality so popular...

Now, I must admit, I've never been very good about sorting my recycling. I tried once, I really did. Here in Nashville, we finally have roadside pick-up for recycled paper and I've been making good use of that. And I'm still really good about recycling after parties-- throwing away all those glass bottles and aluminum cans at one time would be just too much for even my elastic morality to bear.

But the cross of my guilty trash-conscience motivates me to do my part for the environment in other ways. And luckily, I've found that most of these ways not only benefit the environment, but they usually make my life better in many ways as well-- from saving money to losing weight. And most of these little changes are incredibly simple and take little to no extra time to implement. But if they're so great and simple, why isn't everyone doing them?

Probably just because they haven't thought about them. In a way, I might be lucky that I recognize my recylcing responsibility. If I sorted my bottles and cans every day, I might feel like I'm doing my part and don't need to make any other changes. And that's simply not true. Just recycling isn't enough. We all need to make more changes in the ways we live, not just in the ways we throw away trash. I need to start recycling regularly, and we all need to incorporate environmentally responsible practices into every aspect of our lives, not as something optional and fun, but as a life-saving necessity.

Starting now I'll be creating a new series of blogposts called "It's Easy Being Green" (Kermit was soooooo wrong) detailing all the little ways you and I and everyone else can help the environment AND ourselves. Because our environmental problems aren't going anywhere-- and neither are we. We're stuck here. And it's finally time that we start to realize that fact and take better care of the home in which we live.

I know you've been wondering what to do with that old tower case:


The New Pornographers- "These Are the Fables" Twin Cinema
The Apples in Stereo - "Play Tough" New Magnetic Wonder
How I Became the Bomb - "Killing Machine" Let's Go!
The Wombats - "Lets Dance to Joy Division" Let's Dance to Joy Division
Feist- "1234"(Van She Technologic Remix)
The Mooney Suzuki - "Oh Sweet Susanna" Electric Sweat
The Sounds - "Night After Night"(Alternative Version) Dying to Say This to You
Coin-op - "Favorite Subjects" S/T
Mates of State - "For the Actor" Bring it Back
Cat Power - "Sea of Love" The Covers Record
Joanna Newsom - "En Gallop" Milk-eyed Mender
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Turn Into" Show Your Bones

I learned a new word today: hilariousad (hi-lare-uh-sad) - the perfect way to describe things that you know you shouldn't be laughing at, but laugh anyway because it's really fucking funny... and then you feel bad about it.
Some examples of real-life hilariousad situations:

  • Wet Cats
  • Three-legged dogs
  • That *thump* noise when you hit a squirrel with your car
  • This:

    This word is generally used by people with extremely poor taste.
    Like me.