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* went to michael's after lunch to look for photo albums for my mother. bought 2 36-page single photo albums ($2.50/each) and a 24-page photo album for myself ($2.50 after 50% coupon, they call it a "brag book")

* continued working on AFBHS website: added a sidebar (which is actually a widget bar); incorporated a days to graduation countdown (via plug-in); an e-mail contact form (another plug-in); included a leadership and links pages

* had a leftover miniso iphone 5 screen protector sticker that i put onto my sister's iphone; took a long time, did an okay job, but the edges don't really stick anymore because i kept lifting up and re-adjusting the sticker to clean up stray dusts

* took a epsom salt bath after some leftover chicken pot pie for dinner

the leading cause of insomnia is thinking too much in bed, and i was doing a lot of thinking. encouraged by my success in optimizing my database search query speed, i was reading up on more sql commands i could try out to further bolster performance. but then i found myself unable to fall asleep, as the hours ticked away. at one point i thought about getting out of bed and working. sometime close to 6:00 i finally fell asleep.

my father called me around 11:00 while i was still sleeping, asking if he could borrow the ice mutt and that he was already outside. i got out of bed so i could also give him one of my empty suitcases, a carton of macaroons, and the 1in socket i got yesterday.

it began to rain in the early afternoon, after what seemed to be some clearing and a glint of sunshine. my father came to get me sometime after 2:00, returning to the cafe to pick up my mother and hailey. in belmont i was able to confirm my suspicion that the 3/8" 1in socket i got yesterday was just not deep enough for plumbing work. fortunately i'd already ordered a 1/2" drive socket last night, should get here next week.

temperature was in the upper 50's and the rain came down as steady downpours at certain points. it helped to melt the snow and also to create a thick fog that covered the landscape. i'd seen parts of the backyard i haven't seen since we started getting our record breaking snowfall this season. most of the raised beds are free now, hopefully there will continue to be enough thaw so that i can begin working the soil and planting some early season vegetables like lettuce. the backyard looked like a soaking mess but in a few months things will be different. i had an abbreviated gardening experience back in the summer of 2013, so i haven't gardened in almost 2 seasons. i'm looking forward to getting my grow on.

my sister adjusted our family shared verizon contract yesterday. our new plan allows for 2 data phones, which works out because she has a spare iphone 5s. my sister is known for notoriously losing her iphone or damaging them. the spare had a cracked screen which she managed to get repaired at a discount ($100?). but because of her, both my mother and aunt are currently still under a 2 year contract, which means we still can't leave verizon. my parents wanted me to upgrade to the iphone, but i want to use my own phone, like the oneplus one i'd been carrying around and using it solely on wifi because the phone isn't compatible with verizon. you will not find a person who resisted as much as i did when given the option of upgrading to a free iphone. reluctantly i took the phone, more so i could just play with it, since i'm very happy with my verizon LG clamshell phone at the moment.

the rain began to pour again when i got a ride home. it was interesting to see the effects of the fog on driving conditions. lower elevation and dips in the road filled up with fog, while higher elevation areas were relatively clear. back in cambridge, i wiped the iphone so i could start fresh (it'd already been wiped after the repair).

the thing with the iphone i noticed right away before i even had a chance to use it was how small it was. the iphone has a 4in screen. the ZTE phone i used in china had a 5in, and my upgraded one plus one has a 5.5in. even apple has conceded that the current market is leaning towards bigger screens (at the expense of not being able to operate the phone with just one hand or not being able to easily carry it around in a pants pocket) with the 5.5in screen of their flagship iphone 6 plus.

the battle between iOS and android reminds me a lot of the clashes between mac and pc users. i am a mac user (starting in 1986 with the mac plus) but i don't toe the line when it comes to apple products and i prefer android over iOS. true, like the pc market, android phones come in all sorts of configurations and flavors, and the OS experience is different when you switch to different phones, and yeah, it probably crashes more than iOS due to incompatibility issues, but android is so much better when it comes to file transfers. whether it be transferring photos, movies, books, documents - it's just a simple matter of connecting it to my pc and copy and paste like a hard drive. with iphones, the experience is so contained, everything is controlled (for notably security reasons) and files not only have to go through the itunes app on the computer but what goes in and out are also tightly restricted.

i don't like that there's just one button on the iphone. in android, i'm used to having 3 buttons (menu, home, back). the button on the iphone serves as a home button, but what if i want to go back? or what if i want to see my options via a menu button? the minimalist approach is perhaps aesthetically pleasing, but functionality wise, it feels lacking. but the home button on the iphone 5s? it's an fingerprint id reader! that was something i knew about but still unexpected. i don't know how it works but it's very cool and almost like magic. i don't know if it's enough to make me a convert, but it's a fun thing to have.

i filled up the iphone with commonly used apps (qq chat, qzone, google translate, chrome, netflix, nest, google map). within the apps, the user experience is the same, regardless of platform. just that on the iphone i have to strain a little bit more on the 4in 1136x640px screen, compared to the 1920x1080px resolution of my 5.5in one plus one.

i feel there's more to play with when it comes to android. the user interface, i can customize it however i want, changing icons and replacing the launcher and organizing apps however i want and adding useful widgets to the different pages and changing the fonts. and when i do get sick of the OS, i can replace it with a different flavored OS, thereby changing the whole user experience again. with iOS, it's just that. some might call it stability, but i call it boring.

anyway, i'm sure i'll have more things to gripe about. if i do replace my flip phone with the iphone, i'm going to end up carrying 2 smart phones with me where ever i go like a crazy person.

tonight i figured out how to use meta viewport to correctly size my blog postings on phone and tablet screens.

early this morning i heard my phone chiming away as i received QQ text messages. only china friends chat with me on QQ. some of them still haven't figured out the time difference issue. i got messages as early as 6:00am so i didn't bother answering. only hours later did i finally check to see who it was. lihui (the early texter) was depressed that he didn't get a job yet, although his plan of finding work within a week after arriving in shanghai was extremely ambitious. wangyan (texted later around 9:00) sent me a photo of banana pastries she's made, i replied to her with a photo of my recent pot pie.

after a chobani black cherry greek yogurt for lunch, i biked to the galleria mall to look for a 1in deep socket with 6 points at sears. the only one they had was for a 3/8" drive (instead of a 1/2") and it didn't seem deep enough. i bought it anyway, figured it was worth a try, after getting reassurance from the salesperson that i'd be able to return it if it didn't work out. i will have to order the socket i want online and pick it up next week.

coming back, i made a detour to the twin city plaza, to look for an extension cord at the dollar tree. when i arrived i discovered it too had gone out of business. i thought dollar stores were doing well in this bad economy. maybe something nice will go in its place (although i think the store had been converted into office space).

with a rainstorm coming tonight and then all of tomorrow, i decided to put away my bike in the basement. it was a surprisingly warm late afternoon with the temperature at 52°. taking advantage of the nice weather, i decided to oil the bike chain, which i haven't done since taking it out of storage. while i was at it, i also cleaned off the bottom of the bike with a rag. right now there's no point in cleaning it any better since there's still a lot of salt and debris on the road. once we're fully into the spring season, i'll give the bike a more thorough wet cleaning. i may even take off the chain and give it a deep soak.

my little ultrafire cree Q5 flashlight arrived today ($4.03 amazon). it takes a single AA battery - or a fancy ultrafire lithium ion battery. it's a functional flashlight, but there are some things i don't like about it. first, the design is too complicated, with heat sink foils and patterned grips and bevels. i prefer just a simple metal uniform cylinder. it also has 3 functions, but i don't like the way it toggles from low-off-high-off-flash-off. if it was on high the last time, the next time you open it it'll be in flashing mode. i would've preferred that it stayed at one setting. the light is bright though, but these new LED's nowadays are all superbright. in fact, if i was to use a fancy lithium ion battery, the light would even be brighter (which seems impossible).

the nearly 300 snapfish photos finally arrived today. these 4x6" matte finish photos came out really nice. i should print out more photos! or maybe try a photo book next time, which is another thing on my to-do list. even images that i cropped heavily turned out very well and i couldn't tell they'd been cropped (perhaps at bigger print sizes that might be more noticeable). i still need to print out some 8x12" photos, i'm curious to see how those will turn out (i just need time to dig through my collection and find some photos to print).

whenever i had some free time i studied up on my mysql query lingo. i've been meaning to update the database queries for my blog. i think the main reason why it's so slow is because the query i patched together a decade ago wasn't efficiently written. i think the problem had something to do with my join statement. i'm not even sure how i got it to work in the first place, maybe through sheer trial and error, because now when i look at the query statement, it's confusing as hell. i kept trying different iterations but there wasn't any performance increase. finally it dawned on me that i never bothered to index the content id column of my comment table. i made the change in phymyadmin and it was the difference between night and day, suddenly my blog was smoking fast! even my admin page, which normally takes a full 60 seconds to churn out the tables now takes less than a second. so it had nothing to do with my query statements and everything to do with properly indexing cross-referenced search columns. maybe the speed boost will also prevent my site from crashing so often.

for dinner i had 2 slices of pot pie, followed by some rose tea and a jazz apple.

tonight i noticed that the sweet basils are starting to germinate. they're super tiny at the moment (not surprising, since the seeds are so super tiny as well), a less seasoned gardener might even miss them at this stage. i was a bit worried because i used expired seeds, but basils are very dependable (and durable too, since these seeds were left in the freezing sun room of my parents' place). i didn't see any thai basils germinating but as i recall, they're usually a bit later. as for the lupines, no additional seedlings, other than the initial 8.

this morning i packaged up frances' latest norwegian shipment. i went in the basement to find a large enough cardboard box but they were all too small. i finally found one big enough in the guest bedroom closet. for some reason i thought it'd be cool to send them some marshmallow peeps as well (i don't think they have those in norway) so i went to rite aid to get some before continuing to market basket to buy some chicken pot pie making ingredients.

after taping up the box, weighing it, and printing out the mail label, i biked in the opposite direction to the porter square post office. the place was filled with boxes with labels like "clothes," "books," and "kitchen." apparently they all belonged to the tall and attractive tufts coed waiting in line with a handtruck pushing 2 additional boxes. fortunately there were 2 clerks working today because just to service the young woman was going to take a long time. i wonder what her story was? moving back home but in the middle of the semester? or maybe she graduated already? i felt sorry for her because at one point one of her heavy boxes was splitting apart and the clerk sort of yelled at her and told her to "mummify" the rest of her boxes with packaging tape. having a second clerk didn't making the line move any faster though; this other woman took more than 10 minutes to mail her 2 letters. i was already at the front but the line behind me got progressively longer. i overheard the murmurs of people behind me, saying how the coed should've gone to the UPS store instead, where at least the customer service was much nicer.

when it finally came to my turn, i simply just had to drop off the box since i already did the paperwork and paid for the postage. but when the clerk went to weigh the box, it was actually an ounce heavier. normally i add 2 ounces just to be safe, but i didn't this time. the clerk didn't say anything and accepted the package without any problems.

i went to true value to look for hyacinth bean seeds. i was up late last night trying to find a place online that sold them. a few seed companies carried them, but the cost of shipping was more than the price of the seeds. i looked on ebay, and there were some bargains, but the quality seemed suspect. then i searched on amazon, and saw a seed package that looked familiar, like maybe i'd seen it before. i searched the seed racks and was pretty much ready to give up when i saw the packets of hyacinth beans ($2.99). i also didn't know this, but there are no taxes on seeds (at least not at true value), maybe because they're considered food items.

i finally had time to do some self learning. i was checking out "python for beginners" on udemy.com. i didn't realize the instructors would be non-american speakers and the lecturer in the video presentation had a thick british accent that was a bit hard to follow. i'm treating this course more like a springboard; once i get the gist of the language, i'll probably jump around to topics i'm more interested in.

around 7:00 i stopped what i was doing to go make dinner. tonight was going to be chicken pot pie:

CHICKEN POT PIE 

1 lb. shredded chicken breast (approx. 2 breasts, 2-1/2 cups)
1/3 cup butter
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup frozen mixed veggies
1 potato, cubed
1 can chicken broth
1/3 cup of flour
1/2 cup half & half
1/2 tsp salt
ground pepper
2 ready made pie crusts

i boiled the potato cubes in one pot (about 10 minutes) and the chicken breasts in another (10 minutes as well, checking to see that the insides were no longer pink). last time i added way too many ingredients and the pot pie was nearly bursting. i used just half a potato since it corresponded to a cup, but i really could've used the whole potato, there was enough room. besides, after boiling for so long, the potato sort of crumbled. after i took out the potato, i added the frozen vegetables into the pot to simmer a bit. i don't know if that's even necessary, considering the pot pie will bake in the 425° oven for 40 minutes. i made sure i added enough salt this time, and tasted the filling before pouring it into the pie crust. recipe called for milk but used half & half simply because i had some available.

the finished pot pie was okay, not as bland as last time. i didn't put tin foil around the edges, the crust never got scorched anyway. there was a gap in one of my crimps and some filling leaked out. the filling was a bit on the runny side, i should've reduced it some more before adding to the pie. but i think fresh pot pies are all like that; only when they become leftovers do they get that thick dense consistency.

so i'm still getting used to my new living room arrangement. one thing i don't like is now that the HDTV as moved, i can't see the TV from the kitchen like i used to. a centered television makes for better viewing from the relocated sofa though.

i've had my living room the same way for almost 13 years now: sofa by the side wall (underneath the hanging mirror), 2 ikea sofa seats by the far wall across from the bay windows. living in a small space, i don't have a lot of furniture arrangement options. what little i had i exercised today by rearranging my living room, the largest open space area in my house. i reoriented the carpet, moved the sofa to the center of the room, and relegated the two sofa seats into the corners. this actually made my living feel smaller but cozier. also with its new prime location, the sofa becomes the central focus of the room. moving the sofa also unblocked the living room heating grate, maybe this will improve the heating circulation in the room.

today i got serious about upgrading my skills by signing up for some coding courses online. i've been back from china for almost 6 months now, and i haven't had any work since. my museum gigs are all dried up at this point, i have to look elsewhere for job opportunities. full-time, freelance, i'm fine either way, just need some income eventually, before my savings run out again.

i biked to belmont in the afternoon. i was surprised to find hailey at the house by herself. i let her out into the backyard but she seemed more interested in going back inside to sleep.

i left soon after dinner around 7:00, when there was still some daylight outside.

a box of shoes were on my doorstep. i'm personally waiting for some photos to arrive, hopefully tomorrow.

i moved the HDTV to a more central location alongside the northern wall. this is great for watching on the couch, but terrible from the sofa chairs, where the viewing angle is too narrow. that chair by the northeast corner used to be my favorite chair back when it was up against the bookcase; now in it's new position, it's a nice place to sit during the daytime when it gets a lot of ambient sunshine but terrible for television watching.

moving the sofa to the center of the room also created a gap between the back of the sofa and the bookcase along the wall. it's kind of a wasted space, maybe i can find a long thin table to put behind the couch (i believe they call it a console table).

lupine status update:

it was a blustery sunday morning as i bundled myself up and biked to belmont. temperature was only in the 30's but felt much colder due to the strong winds, powerful enough that it wasn't very fun cycling towards the breeze. but it was a clear day, blue sky and sun, so it wasn't all bad.

after lunch i drove my mother to the middlesex commons shopping center in burlington. i can't remember the last time i drove. back before we had all this snow, i'd occasionally take one of the cars back to cambridge if i knew i was returning to belmont the next day. but once the snow started (pretty much all of february into march), my parents put away one car in the garage and just drove the honda element.

we were taking some back roads; i tried to memorize as much as i could, then winged it the rest of the way. the car was nearly out of gas and we pulled up to a station right before we turned into the shopping mall. my mother asked for just $40 worth of gasoline, which was enough to completely fill the tank; the attendant had to manually pump it a few times to get it up to exactly $40 or 16 gallons. we went to joann fabrics so my mother could return an unopened package of knook needles. even before we got into the store we could tell the place was busy from how many cars in the parking lot. we had some 60% off coupons so my mother got some wool yarn and some buttons. we were going to go the dollar tree nearby but apparently it went out of business (they even took down the sign). we went to old navy where my mother returned a few more things. i ended up buying a pair of turquoise pants off of the clearance rank for just $6.

my sister was briefly home with hailey when we got back to the house. after she left, my mother and i ordered takeout from blue ribbon barbecue and went to go pick it up. by the time we got back my father was already home. they messed up our order, gave us 2 combo platters when we ordered the 2 and 3 combo and charged us an extra $2. missing were the burnt ends; we had to settle for only sausages and ribs.

i left around 7:30, with the crescent moon and venus shining brightly in the clear twilight sky. it was so pretty, i kept turning my back head to look at the view when i peddled home in the cold. with that today marks the most active day i've had in 40 days, according to google fit (1 hr 23 min of activity today; most active day was back on february 10 with 1 hr 43 min).

i had my early lupines underneath fluorescent lights today, which brought out some green. i still wasn't sure if they really were lupines (germination in just 7 days!) until i discovered 2 more pots with emerging seedlings. that sort of clinched the fact that these are genuine lupines. also, in one of the pots from yesterday, a second seedling is popping out too. i'm surprised the basils haven't germinated yet; they're usually very dependable. maybe the expired sweet bail seeds i used were indeed expired; that still leaves 10 thai basils that haven't germinated from new seeds.

the blog is up and running again, after a successful consolidation of my databases. that in itself probably didn't fix it, but by transferring those files, it must've done some sort of cache flushing so once again i'm up and running...until the next time...

the bit of snow that fell last night continued into this morning. by the time i was ready to go out though, the snow had stopped, the sun peeked out, and the temperature shot up to 37°. i took a shower, skipped breakfast, then shoveled about a centimeter of accumulation from the sidewalk, before getting my bike from the basement and leaving for belmont.

i helped my father replace the hot and cold water faucet stems in the bathtub. the hot water was simple - we'd already removed it and replaced the washer last weekend - so it was just a simple matter of replacing the old stem with the new one that arrived on thursday. unfortunately, we couldn't remove the cold water stem. we noticed last week that the nut had been stripped, which prompted us to buy a new set of stems. but using our 12-point 1in deep socket, we still couldn't remove the old stem. my father tried hitting it with screwdriver and hammer to try and knock it loose, but that didn't work. now we're thinking about getting a 6-point socket for a better grip.

returning home after dinner, i noticed 2 seedlings in my grow closet. i thought they were basils until i checked the label and saw they were lupines instead. how could this be though? lupines weren't supposed to germinate until 18-21 days. it'd only been a week. maybe they were stray seeds, somehow already in the potting soil. but these seedlings were growing from the center of the pot, which was where i planted them. so now i don't know. i have to wait until more leaves develop to know for sure, one way or another.

my database went down again last night after yet another hack attack. from my error log i could see various addresses pinging my website, trying to gain access to the admin site. at one point it must've gotten through because it brought down the server again. my best guess is just the way i write my sql queries, not the most efficient, and unduly taxes the shared server. this gave a chance to consolidate all my databases onto one single server, i'm hoping once that's done things will be back to normal again for the time being. otherwise, i have to write another note to the sysadmin, requesting a database query flush.

i created some more plastic growing pots. after checking my notes, i realized i used the awl trick before, except when i did that time, i didn't heat the awl. turns out heating is entirely unnecessary. just the friction of the awl turn generates its own heat; hard to get started, but once it drills down, it gets easier as the awl warms up. this is also good because i don't inhale any toxic melted plastic fumes, and afterwards i don't have to scrape off any metal burrs. once that was done, i filled the pots with potting mix.

a little bit of snow will fall overnight, so i put my bike in the basement. i was a little annoyed that somebody had left all the basement lights on again. i have a suspicion that the basement lights are tied to my utility bill. i checked the work that'd been done yesterday; steve and paul didn't replace their burner, but their water heater tank instead.

in the afternoon i went with my mother and sister to costco. my sister was stocking up on gluten-free foods, my mother was gathering cafe supplies. i didn't get anything myself, so in hindsight it was actually a wasted trip for me. after i returned home, i went to star market to deposit $2 worth of cans then bought a few things (teas, kitchen towels, smart food popcorn, macaroons).

i had a tasty snack of spicy hummus with baby carrots and chopped celery. there was actually a lot of hot pepper paste, not just the surprise, and the hummus itself was genuinely spicy in a very good way. i find hummus sort of bland, i prefer tzatziki (with pita bread) or tabouli (with melba toast). but if i was to get a hummus, i'd get this spicy kind for next time.

i heated up a stouffer's meal in the microwave for dinner, some salisbury steak with macaroni and cheese. can't remember the last time i had salisbury steak, unless you count that time we went to a persian restaurant and the kabob they served me was very similar. later in the evening, around midnight, i got hungry enough again that i ate a cup of maruchan instant noodles (chicken).

my upstairs neighbors didn't have the courtesy to let me know they were replacing their hot-water gas furnace today. but i knew something was going on because i could hear the banging of pipes and scraping of heavy things being moved around in the basement. there was also a truck parked outside. i get self-conscious when i hear people in the basement because the floor of my house is paper-thin and i can hear them talking, likewise they can hear all the embarrassing noises i might potentially make when i'm using the bathroom. but imagine my surprise when i suddenly lost water in the early afternoon. fortunately i'd already done all my water-related business. instead of marching downstairs to complain, i took that as my cue to run some errands.

today wasn't as cold or windy as yesterday, but the temperature was still hovering in the upper 20's to lower 30's. i biked down to the somerville target to buy new twin sheets. next door was a cw price that was going out of business so i checked that out first. they had some cheap sheets, but none in the color or the material that i wanted. back at target, i was kind of disappointed with the linen selection. where was the cheap fitted sheets made from soft jersey material? i finally decided on a set on sale in red, threshold organic cotton fiber 325 thread count for $22.99 (originally $27.99). i just wanted a fitted sheet, but it also came with a flat sheet (what do you do with this?), and a single pillowcase (i sleep with 2 pillows, i need 2 cases). while i was there, i also checked out the garden department. they had some seeds, but very little selection.

since it was such a nice day out (albeit cold), i parked below prospect hill and walked up the stairs to the summit to get a poor man's view of somerville, cambridge, and boston. i took a couple of google photo spheres before descending.

next stop was market basket, where i bought a small carton of half-and-half (for my black teas and cheese macaronis) and a large pack of store brand deluxe toilet paper ($10 for 24 rolls). i never tried the market basket brand until i came back from china, where my parents bought a supply for the girl that was staying at my place during the summer while i was gone. up until that point, i'd already settled on my toilet paper of choice after many years of trial and error: charmin basic. but turns out the MB variety is just as good. i had the foresight to bring a bungie cord and tied the toilet paper to my rear rack as i biked back home.

i dropped off my things and locked my bike. i noticed the truck was gone, but was happy to note that the water had been turned back on. i went out again, this time to the dollar store to buy more plastic cups ($2.35 for 34 count). i also got some candy and a three-legged 13 inch plant stand ($3). on the way back i went to star market and bought some more green grapes.

i changed the sheets in the guest bedroom. i'm not one of those people who washes new sheets (or new clothes for that matter) before using them. i figured if i washed them, they wouldn't be new anymore. in the store these sheets felt pretty soft, but once on the bed, they have a satin-like sheen to them. as for the flat sheet, i used it to cover up the box spring. i did not use the pillow case however. can't wait to go to bed tonight, feel the luxury of organic cotton! snuggle under the covers with my ebooks (trying to read the race underground by doug most and bunker hill - a city, a siege, a revolution by nathanial philbrick), my downloaded movies/shows (exodus, focus, the royals, one big happy), and my netflix (family guy, danger 5, magnum pi).

heated up a can of campbell chicken rice soup for dinner, added a handful of kale and a stalk of chopped celery to jazz it up and make the soup somewhat healthier. i've got nothing against canned soups, but i think it'd be better if i made my own, just to keep my sodium to a minimum. i'm thinking some low sodium chicken broth (heck, i could probably also make my own), some beans, some rice, and then more kale and celery.

i had some big plans for today but it was just too windy and cold to be outside. blustery is what you'd call it. better postpone my errands until tomorrow, when the weather is a bit calmer. my parents came to pick me up for dinner in belmont. i had some radish cakes and taiwanese sausages. my parents showed me a trick matthew taught them to quick shell hazelnuts, simply by putting them into a jar and shaking vigorously. i shot a dozen videos using the dSLR combined with the external microphone. the camera shoots in manual focus, but so used to autofocus am i when it comes to video shooting that i have a habit of putting the subject in the middle of the frame. i also have to learn to manually on the fly when the subject moves to and from the camera. for dinner we had a simple hot pot because my father wanted to get rid of some lamb before it spoiled. with all this melting i thought the rabbit problem was over (since there'd be other things to eat now) but around 6:00 i saw a rabbit hungrily chewing on the quince bush again. and starvation diet? please! this was possibly the fattest wild rabbit i've ever seen. later back at home, i researched ways to humanely kill rabbits (to eat).