PlazaJen: Passion Knit

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Neighbors & a Tease.

No, our neighbors are not the teasing sort.

I am giddy right now, with antici-pation and delight over a small side project I've been working on, but in the interest of NOT having ebullient vomit all over my face, I'm going to wait until I'm further along. In the meantime, allow me a few random "YIPPEE!"s and "SQUEEEE!"s and "HOTDAMN!"s.

Now, in my last post, I talked about the weekend. Not everything from the weekend, certainly, but I forgot to talk about SCIENCE. We were awakened in the wee hours one morning by a thunderstorm rolling through. To be technically accurate, James was already awake; I flailed myself awake out of fear as a huge thunderclap echoed above the house. He patted me on the shoulder to reassure me, since I was in a panic. After I stammered some "Ohmahgod, ohmah, ohsolouds" out, he said, "Do you know what these storms make me think of?" And in my bleary brain, I couldn't think of anything, so I grunted some sort of "no", and he (rather excitedly) said, "NITROGEN CYCLE!"

I burst out laughing. And said something to the effect of, had you asked me to list FIFTY things, I would never have arrived at that. So there you have it. Lightning returns Nitrogen to the earth, and it's a good thing, and it's why everything is so green after a mongo thunderstorm.

Now let's move on to the neighbors, and how science meets them. Two Fridays ago, our neighbor left their dog out in the yard, all night long. (Can you hear Lionel Richie singing? I can. All niiiight, all niiiiight.) And what did their dog do? He barked. All night long (all niiiiight, all niiiiight.) We both hardly slept, and it was dreadful. Needless to say, no dancin' on the ceilin'. So JWo got a Super Bark Free on eBay, and admittedly, I was skeptical, because "Ultrasonic" could very well mean "Ha Ha You Stupid, You Buy Anything, Including This Plastic Box Shaped Like Horn". (Oh, in searching for the one we got, I found this awesome photo, NOT of the one we got, but I love it. This model turns ferocious, wicious dobermans into happy little pets that won't bite your face off!)

Anyway, it arrived this weekend, and it has two options - you can select "ultrasonic" or "beep". Judging from the reaction of our dogs, the beep definitely was effective - they all hunched down and looked very worried. But how do you know for sure if the ultrasonic setting is working? Well, it was as though Science was on our side. James got it set up, pointing right at the area between our houses where this dog likes to sit and bark? And as he started to walk away, their dog came running up to the fence, and got out one huge bark, and then hunched down and was silent. SWEETNESS! And no more ruined nights of sleep. God bless the Super Bark Stop and the Ultrasonic Waves.

Now, there's one other neighbor story - the wack lady across the street, remember her? Crazy cat lady, got the hose-turned-on-her lady, came over in the middle of the night for James to dial 911? (She CRAZY.) Anyway, she now seems to have two men living with her. And their form of entertainment is to open up the trunk of the sedan, and sit in white plastic lawn chairs while staring at the car. Not really sure what that's all about? But I really don't want to pause and invite any conversation. I can't tell if ultrasonic sound waves would work on them, but I doubt it, since they all seem to be under the influence of something, all the time. Guess that leaves us with the hose. Or me emitting a really high-pitched beep if they approach me.



posted by PlazaJen, 3:56 PM | link |

Monday, May 26, 2008

Weekend Roundup....

As this four-day weekend winds down, I realize that I've been a bit lax in blogging. Maybe because I was pretty lax all weekend? In any event, I'd say one of the highlights of the past few days was seeing a precocious six-year-old try out boxing on the Wii for the first time - and while her opponent was knocked down, and all the adults (barely able to breathe because we were laughing so hard) were screaming, "Don't stop! He's getting up!" and she cocked her right arm back, at the ready, to take that mo-fo boxer OUT. Our instincts to survive and protect are with us at the get go, eh?

I took Friday off, to extend the holiday weekend, and spent a good chunk of it "Austin-Powering" my way down Metcalf Avenue. You know, the scene where he's trying to turn a small go-cart around and he's going back & forth (to nearly infinity) in a tight spot? Well, all my little stops on what is arguably one of the most unpleasant main drags to drive on in the area felt exactly like that. I went to Macy's, and was terribly disappointed in their selection of handbags. I went to Michael's, and bought the wrong-sized bags for my DPN holders. Then I went to the Asian market, and that was at least successful, and after that, CostCo, which is always successful. :)

We went to see Love Tusk on Saturday night, along with some other local bands vying to be the opening band at Red White & Boom - egads, a couple of the bands were rather dreadful. And I heard those exact words ala Simon Cowell the entire time. But, our friends rocked our faces off, we stayed out later than we have in eons, and just a tip for those of you who frequent Davey's Uptown? The back bartender makes some very strong drinks! I was inspired by the Bombay Sapphire to treat James to a diatribe on my opinions on government standardized driver's tests. As in, I think we should have them! Did you know that Missouri is one of like, seven states that forbids turning left on red, even from a one-way onto another one-way? Seriously. Everywhere I've lived allows this - Iowa, Minnesota. And I can understand some tweaks - there are sections on snowplows in the MN driver's test, but generally speaking, I think there should be more consistency. It could also be I still harbor some resentment for getting the MO test question wrong, pertaining to how long something must be extending from your vehicle, before you tie a flag on it. Really? How about "just about any amount"? That's logical. And works for me. Anyway, I know my dissertation was a real treat for James... ;) (I thought I should edit this to add: James was very sober & doing all the driving - no worries for irresponsible behavior here! And it freed up my hands to wildly gesture while I made my points....)

My pal in Oxford got his scarf & most all of the goodies I intended to send him - you're so understanding, Stephen! It was a real joy to knit his scarf, as the yarn was scrumptiously colored and super soft. I took some pictures, but I think they're on my external hard drive at work, so I'll post those soon. But! You can go to Stephen's blog & see everything - in a whole 'nother continent! It seems more exciting to me, anyway.

I also did some cooking this weekend, most notably, the first pesto of the season. We have basil running out our ears already, and we've hardly touched the six varieties of Asian basils! I used the regular Italian basil to make the pesto, and was instantly reminded how much better fresh pesto is, compared to storebought. Oh lordy. It was de-lish! I also tried my hand at Mojitos, as the mint has come on in full stride. We ran out of time today, so another round of pad thai will be attempted tomorrow; I may adventure with the stronger-flavored purple stem basil for that! (I really need to take a cooking class from one of my favorite Thai restaurant haunts. I fear a standardized class just wouldn't be the same.)

Now, I just have to try and remember what day it is, and what-all I have to do this week. I love being this relaxed, but I also get a little nervous that I'm forgetting the six most important things I need to do! Like put on pants.

Here's to pants, all week long. What's left of it, anyway!
posted by PlazaJen, 9:11 PM | link |

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I have been having a pretty good week. Moments that border on ebullient, actually. The weather is bright and sunshiney, and the trees are green, there's good breezes blowing, and nothing earth-shattering or negative is forcing my universe to center around it.

Driving home last night, listening to the news, I had a new experience in the coping department. I explained it later to my husband like this.

In the beginning of grief, it's as though you have a thousand sheets of paper dumped all around you, and there is chaos. Everything is laid out and unorganized. Slowly, you start to shuffle and order and find a folder or three, maybe a box, and you put some of the papers away. A gust of wind can scatter them again, but you are moving ahead. More time passes, and you realize you're never going to get rid of all these pieces of paper, but you do have a system and method and some of the more unmanageable papers are tightly tucked away inside a nice heavy safe. By this I mean, "songs on the radio don't make me burst into tears every day." In other words, progress.

So as I'm listening, a report comes on about Ted Kennedy's brain cancer/tumor. I was shocked, but didn't really feel anything, initially. Until the doctor they interviewed started explaining his type of cancer, and that it wasn't metastatic. Click. My father's cancer had metastasized throughout his body, including his brain.
The approach to treatment was described. Click. I heard my father's voice, so small, trying to control himself and be strong, telling me the cancer had, indeed, gone to his brain.
I heard the doctor from the Mayo clinic say, "You do realize there's nothing I can do for your father, right?" and remembered the utter confusion in my mind, because no, I did not understand that. Spin, Spin, Click.
And I looked around and saw a bright blue sky, sharp, fresh green leaves bursting from the trees, smelled fresh cut grass and remembered that day, when I found out the cancer was in his brain, how I screamed at a co-worker and drove myself home, to sit outside in the blinding sunshine and sob, confused and afraid. Seeing my husband's face unexpectedly appear, for of course he would come home to be with me, even though it never occurred to me he would.

And the safe door swung open to pour those tucked-away papers all over my lap. All of this, that's taken several minutes to write, happened in the span of 60 seconds or less. I found myself with tears streaming down my face, struggling to regain my previous optimistic demeanor, and to maintain control, because I was driving. I wasn't crying for the Kennedys, though I keenly know how hard it must be for them. I cried for myself. My loss. My pain. It was brief, and I went home to get a big hug and to putter with my husband in his garden, to pull some weeds and admire the drip irrigation system he's worked so hard on. Life goes on. My desire - almost two years ago - was to get THROUGH all of this. What I didn't know, and couldn't fathom, is that there is no end point. This will stay with me until I die. In ebbs and flows, my love and sadness will visit me, sometimes expectedly, sometimes out of the bright blue spring sky.

Nobody lied when they said time was the answer. So hard to see in those early months, but it truly truly does heal. Heal, not cure. Sigh. I'm learning so so much.

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posted by PlazaJen, 1:43 PM | link |

Monday, May 19, 2008

And I Shall Do the Orts, and at Least One Shall Be Philosophical

Where to begin, where to begin.

1. I'm in a really good mood. Like, really good. I'm finally feeling like some of my old anchors and new irritants have blown free. There are still ties and strings and some remnants knocking into the side of the hull, but mostly, things are good. I had a great one-on-one with my boss, and things are just hunky-dory. I wish I had more work to do, but now that I've written that down, it should pick right back up & I'll be stressed out in no time!

2. Being a Midwesterner. This really rocketed to the front of my head this weekend, as I took several knitting classes, and the instructor is from the East Coast. I hate to make sweeping, general statements about groups, so this feels rather fidgety to write. I'm writing from the perspective of a born & bred & never-left Midwesterner. Raised in NE Iowa, lived in Minnesota, Iowa & Missouri after college, I even felt that I crossed a little into the South when I left Iowa behind to reside in my current state. I know there are parallels between the South and the Midwest - but there are things about being in the Midwest that we claim in our own odd way. Idiosyncrasies, boundaries, just... WAYS. They're "Our Ways". Some things are more extreme up north, I've discovered. I've laughingly called one of our syndromes "Three Times for Pie", because where I was raised, you waited until the third offer of pie before you could accept it, and actually enjoy it.

Why? Because it was the only way to guarantee it was truly ok, and not an imposition on your host, to eat that pie. That pie might be for her family tomorrow night. You never know. Midwesterners don't ever want to be a burden, and that goes double if you're in a guest/host(ess) situation. We have extreme regard for the guest/host dynamic. And it can be easy to violate. We expect to be asked if things are ok to do, you don't just help yourself to things, and in return for your formality, we will do backflips to make your stay as accommodating as possible. Now, in Missouri, I've discovered, you only need to offer pie twice, and sometimes once, and it's readily accepted. But that's among people who know each other well, and if there was a whiff of doubt that said pie was originally destined for another occasion, well, the turning down of pie would still happen.

Now, I know that I don't always fit the stereotype I've just begun sketching. I'm loud (that could be embarrassing, don't draw attention to yourself so much), I speak up and say what I think, if I believe it will result in a good dialog, and I've even made some choices where I know -cognitively, intellectually KNOW - that I am putting the other person in an uncomfortable situation. This is in direct opposition to the MW Way. (And 99% of the time, those situations happen at work, and involve reps trying to get away with something.)

We don't joke about hurting feelings, or say it's a goal to make someone cry or humiliate them. That makes us shift uneasily in our seats, because if you can say it, you might even try to do it, and the laughter is polite (because still, we cannot stop being polite and proper), but it is nervous and has an awkward undertone. Some people can take it - some people can't. Even if you can take it, you automatically feel defensive on behalf of the people who can't. I remembered in a flash at lunch today that the instructor jokingly said to me that she hadn't made me cry yet (or broken me yet, or something to that effect.) I responded in a very quiet voice that it would take a lot more than this, and might just be impossible. It is in those moments that I feel the mettle of my own being, it is a lovely moment of control and confidence and indeed, stubbornness, because I will not be broken for the amusement of someone else. Oh no. I physically feel my heels digging into the earth at the notion of such a tete-a-tete and I see myself ala Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, gesturing "come on, motherfucker" with my hand.

Now, I know that should someone have burst into tears, I believe this person would have felt terrible, never having truly intended for it to get to that point. Why do I think I know this? Because we're all alike under our layers and baggage, and even if you are an asshat day trader who screams all day in the frenzied pit of paper money, we all were infants at one point, who looked to another to care for us, and to unconditionally love us, and we never lose that piece, to feel treasured and appreciated, acknowledged and understood.

And so, when I gave JWo a brief recap of today's drama, his offer to slash everyone's tires, once again, was the brief flash of light that makes me laugh and reminds me that it's all small stuff. And it's all IN the small stuff. How you behave, as a guest or a host, is defined in the small things - yes, it's wonderful if you as the host pick up the check at the $300 dinner, and you take your guest and their kids to DisneyWorld, and you shuttle them to and fro on their vacation. But it's in the small things, the words that dance between mouth and ear, the small kindnesses, the respect, the appreciation of effort: that is where the real measure is taken. I'm not going to go into all the details of the class, I'll end up getting crispy-fried in a flame war, but I think I have a really balanced perspective of it. For me, I got some really good things out of the weekend, but wish it had gone "better" overall, in the nature of the tone and vibe.

Gee, I think after all that, I may have only one more Ort in me.
#3. Suzy made the paper on Saturday, with this fabulous photo:
The KC Star did a feature on Black Dogs (and the correlating "Syndrome", that black dogs suffer a bad rap & are much harder to get adopted) & they encouraged readers to send in their pictures of adored black dogs. Suzy made the paper, Suzy & Polly made the online slide show, and poor Tripper, he didn't make the cut at all. He's young though, and finds his joy in chewing, eating grass, and playing with the other two.


posted by PlazaJen, 1:23 PM | link |

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Happy Five Years!

Five years ago today, the Wo & I got married. Nine years ago today, we met for the first time.

We've had a lot happen in our lives, especially in the last few years. I can't imagine the journey without him. He's my rock, my rudder, my fellow clown, the one person I'll allow to know me inside and out most fully.

I love you, JWo!

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posted by PlazaJen, 12:17 PM | link |

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Just Another Day At The Salt Mines...

...well, except Warren Buffet was there.

Not really. But in my dream, he was! Warren & I were in adjoining cubes, and he was having a devil of a time with his computer. I was wildly swinging between cool as a cucumber & frazzled, that I had THE Warren Buffet, at work, sitting next to me! I was trying to switch between work, and writing a blog post about him being there (yes, I even blog in my dreams, it would seem!) My old boss from St. Louis came over & I had to stop blogging, but he was more concerned with Warren's increased frustration with his computer and why things weren't loading.

I leaned back & saw he was trying to do something on the internet. I said, "Warren? Are you using Firefox?" and he impatiently said, "Of course I am!" and I then suggested he re-boot his computer, that usually works for me.

Now, my geek friends, surely you are laughing at this point. I remember having a "Oh-no-he-di-n't" face when he said he used Firefox.

I'm guessing Warren's good friend Bill is going to get some retribution in my next dream.


posted by PlazaJen, 10:37 AM | link |

Monday, May 12, 2008

Done! Done!

I'm done with several things. First off, I finished the Int'l Scarf Exchange 6 scarf for my secret pal. All that remains are some treats, a note saying hello & introducing myself, and a trip to the post office. Might I recommend the Plaza branch? They are SO NICE, and you don't get hassled. (I don't have great luck with our postal service branches.)

I'm also done with pouring good energy after bad. If I wrote it all out in great detail, then it would stir things up, but suffice it to say, I am not in high school anymore. I cannot, simply will not, continue to find myself caught in the trappings of that behavior. If someone doesn't want to be my friend? Fine. Knock yourself the fuck out, and don't look back. If my emails are ignored, or my feelings, or all the things I've done in the past are overlooked (or overanalyzed), well, then, that's the way it's going to be. I can't keep waiting. I'm almost 40.

These demarcations in life, they give you a sense of what is and isn't acceptable. I remember after my friend Sheila turned 30, she said it gave her the grounds to not take crap from her dad anymore - "you can't say that to me, I'm a 30-year old woman!" Well, 40 is to 30 the way a machete is to a penknife. Does it bother me, being rebuffed, ignored, or otherwise thought negatively of? Yeah. But when my husband starting singing "hiiiiigh school" in the car the other day when I was ranting about it, something inside me snapped. And I knew it had to change! So I'm going to make a concerted effort to stop looking for notes in my locker.

Well, after all that ranting, I'm off to make a cootie catcher. Peace out, yo.
posted by PlazaJen, 3:35 PM | link |

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Door Between

I've had occasion, a couple of times in the past month, to hear someone talking about a parent's death, or a grave illness & their actions as they cope and brace themselves and prepare for the unknown. I hear my voice and my words and feel my .... whatever it is we all radiate that is intangible to see or often describe, but we feel it, and it couches what we say. "Vibe" is just too... trendy. "Aura" is just too....hippy-dippy.

But I've heard my words and the sounds surrounding them, and I know. I know that I know it now. I know what it is to go through it. To live it, to feel it like a fire raging through your conscious, to wish it would leave your bloodstream in a reverse-junkie rage, to know there are a thousand pitfalls, days on end lost, the emptiness, the pain, the mind fucks, the everything that goes with death. I had a salesperson who came in, her father in the hospital, things don't look good, and I heard myself as I expressed my sympathies - no - my empathies. But not in an overwhelming way. (I still can crack myself, and am learning this language, no matter how much I didn't want to.)

I remember how those who know/knew used their wisdom and experience with me. I remember reading Becky's post, the post that came when I stood on the other side of the door, where I believed I KNEW, that I was wise in the ways of death, because we can only comprehend that what we have lived, and nobody wants to believe they suck at being there for someone else, for simply the sole reason of not having gone through the experience. And in the end, it's not that you suck? It's that you just don't know. You can't have that quiet acceptance inside that says, "Yeah," and doesn't need to say anything else, because it all does come down to time. Time, and love, and patience, and understanding, and lots more time. In re-reading her post, this jumped out at me: "understand that the person may not be the greatest friend for a while afterward" for indeed, I have lost friends in this process. I've even been accused of being a horrible friend, and it felt like being stabbed with a machete. But everything does heal. And I'm struck by how much I didn't know, the first time I read her words. The passage through the door certainly changes you - for better, for worse, for a lifetime.

I miss him terribly still. It's more private, it's quieter. I think of him every day when I get in my car, the car I bought with the trade-in from his truck. I think of him when I look at the grass garden we planted in his memory, freshly mulched and looking lovely as the spikes of grasses rise up through their clumps for another season. I am always comforted when he appears in my dreams, and I see the ways we overlap and I can hear his voice if I listen. For everyone who stuck it out, who listened & nodded & tried to understand - thank you.

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posted by PlazaJen, 4:52 PM | link |

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Blur, Thud

This morning flew by in a blur. This afternoon seems to have ground to a halt and is moving forward as enthusiastically as a sea turtle on rocky terrain.

I was thinking about funny PackRat things, how you can tell a true addict - they say things like, "My kingdom for a camel!" or, "SHE STOLE MY PAGODA!" or, "Please don't break my lock, please, I just need this one thing and then I can vault it."

Yeah, it's an addiction. Clever game, even more so in its simplicity and psychological hold.

OK, hubs just called and made me laugh like no other person can. Tears streaming out of the corners of my eyes, because he is addicted to Craigslist, and he has a line on some fencing & tomato cages. So he's off to the manicured lawns of JoCo, with his truck & trailer, only the thing is, the trailer is half-full of crap he hauled up from the duck club, to dispose of on Bulky Item Pickup Day (next week). I told him he might get arrested. He countered with the visual that he was going to change his clothes & put on overalls...with no shirt. And added "Makes for great tan lines, too." Weeping, weeping, what with laughing so hard. I told him he needed to blast the theme to "Sanford & Sons" as he rolls through the calm neighborhoods, and I followed up with sending the ringtone to his phone.

Now, if there was only a Magic Dinner Apparatus, life would be complete.
posted by PlazaJen, 3:40 PM | link |

Monday, May 05, 2008

Deconstructed Pesto

The growing season feels like it's itching to spring itself on us, at NuWo Estates... the lettuce is up, sadly, the radishes were as well, but some rapacious rabbits utterly de-topped them. James sold all his tomato and pepper plants, to boot! I am delivering the last order tonight. He definitely had a successful seedling season, and I'm sure it will only expand next year. I joked that we're going to end up with one of those high towers...he very seriously responded with an interest in putting one up over the raised beds! So, who knows, maybe I'll get my dream realized - home grown tomatoes, year-round!

I had found some frozen bay scallops at Target on sale - and bought several bags. They're the very small scallops, that, when cooked, are about the size of a headphone earbud. Tiny! but good flavor. We also had a large amount of fresh basil, since we'd potted the live plants we'd bought at Price Chopper a month ago. (Note to self: Never run out of fresh basil again!) After pondering my options, I decided to make something up, and that something would be a "Deconstructed Pesto".

I melted some butter, plus olive oil, until it was pretty warm (but not smoking; combining these two fats tempers the heat point and the butter gives a depth of flavor.) I added about 3 tablespoons of minced garlic, and let it sizzle for about five minutes - it didn't brown, but it was enough to mellow the bite. Then, 2# of the scallops, rinsed & drained, about 2/3 cup chiffonade-sliced fresh basil, 1/2 cup chopped pine nuts, some kosher salt & fresh cracked pepper. Heated until the scallops were cooked, added a few splashes of lemon juice (it needed something to cut the butter, as well as perk up the scallops), and served over hot pasta. We were out of Parmesan cheese, so this wasn't a true pesto-based recipe, but the result was actually quite light & went perfectly with a nice cold chardonnay. A few slices of bread to daub up the garlicky bits at the end, and I am pleased to say, it was delicious!

This type of sauce would be equally good with shrimp or chicken. I contemplated adding some sun-dried tomatoes to it, but figured that might result in too much going on, and overwhelm the scallops. If I were doing this with chicken, I would have definitely tried the tomato addition. Artichoke hearts would also be good, and at that point, skip the meat & throw some kalamata olives into the mix for a nice vegetarian dish.

I love when experiments succeed!


posted by PlazaJen, 1:05 PM | link |

Friday, May 02, 2008

Ever Had A Day Like This?

Courtesy of my husband. Cracked me up!!!
posted by PlazaJen, 3:17 PM | link |

Scary Night!

We awoke simultaneously, and instantly. Approximately 1:30 a.m.?
I looked out the windows by my side of the bed & knew instantly that this was not an ordinary thunderstorm. I rarely wake up during thunderstorms. The wind was so loud, and if you grow up in the midwest, all you ever hear is how an oncoming tornado sounds like a freight train. The branches in our back yard were bending and whipping in directions atypical for a regular thunderstorm. James was looking out his window as well, and when I asked if we should go to the basement, I felt sick when he said, "Yes."

The power flickered off and on, going off completely as Polly & I went downstairs. James got Tripper out of his crate, then we both called for Suzy....aaaaabsolutely not. Ms. Suze does not leave her pillow willingly! By this time, the power was back on, and we watched the small television to see the radar & the local weatherman calmly explaining what was going on. I must say, Brian Busby's calmness helped a LOT. Most of the weather people in town get really agitated and alarmed, but when you're standing, blinking, in your basement, wondering if your home is going to rip up around you, a calm voice is really helpful. James is incredibly smart about weather, and when he saw the straight line of the storm, he relaxed & reassured me it wasn't going to be as bad as we both feared. I felt tears spring into my eyes, as the adrenaline slowly waned. My legs were shaking, and I had the image of being 3, living in Knoxville, IA, and the only other time in my life I've been scared out of my gourd about a tornado. My father told us to go to the basement, and as my mother & I huddled together, growing more fearful each second he didn't join us, I remember my legs quivering and shaking. He joined us, with a radio, and that storm passed, too.

There were some areas hit pretty hard by the line of storms - buildings & homes destroyed; we were very lucky. The only funny moment came as we trundled back to bed; James observed we learned who the Captain of our house is: Suzy.

Totally going down with the ship.
posted by PlazaJen, 6:35 AM | link |