Friday, December 30, 2011

My Snooperhero

For as long as I can remember, Snoopy has been my favorite thing in the world.


The little snow globe on the left has been my writing inspiration since... pretty much always. When I'm having trouble with words, looking at it helps somehow. On the right is my present from Spousal Unit this Christmas: a perpetual Snoopy calendar that says, "Happiness is a new day." I love my little Snoopy collection.

Why is he my favorite? Well, he can do pretty much everything. He's a writer.



He's a scout leader - a beagle scout, if you will.



He's the Easter beagle.


He's a World War I flying ace, chasing down the Red Baron.

He's always cool.


And, of course, he can dance like nobody's watching - everyone else is just pretending.



I try to be like Snoopy all the time. Sometimes it's hard, because (let's face it) Snoopy just has a lot more experience than I do at being everything he wants, all the time. But he's one of the best role models a person could have.

He's bold. He doesn't care what others are doing - he does what he wants, even if it means striking out on his own. He's adventurous, imaginative, devious, energetic, and willing. Even if he fails or gets embarrassed, it doesn't keep him from trying again. And he knows that friendship and love are two of the most important things in the world.

If there were more people like Snoopy in the world, the world would be a happier place, and we'd get a lot more done... maybe. Because we'd have a lot more spontaneous dance parties, too.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mine Cup Overfloweth

Work was hell yesterday. Not only is there a ridiculous after-Christmas sale going on, but everyone decided yesterday afternoon was a good time to get rid of their possessions. The buying area had mounds of books waiting to be purchased by the store, and sellers had to wait 45 minues before anyone could get to their stuff. Insanity, I tell you.

On top of that, the most ridiculous questions kept coming in. For example:

"Where is your true fiction section?"

"I'm looking for a book about the history of cameras. It's orange. Do you know where it might be?"

"Do you have [popular book that's only been out for two days, which is certainly not at a used bookstore already]?"

The phones aren't working right, either, so by the end of the day, I was wiped. Spousal Unit didn't have to fight very hard to talk me into the Market Street Diner. We checked their menu to be sure they had veggie options, and to our surprise, they had many good choices, like walnut burgers, delightfully veggie omelets, and an exciting grilled cheese option with provolone, spinach, and tomatoes. We hopped in the car and headed out for an adventure.

Upon arrival, we gawked at all the wonderful pies and cakes on display before sitting to look at the menu. I'd decided back at home that I wanted a walnut cheeseburger with fries, but I perused anyway, noting that their salads, of all things, were the only section on the menu without a meat-free option. But I shrugged and went with it, as there were so many other good things to choose from.

When the server came to take our order, I excitedly requested the cheeseburger with a walnut patty, eager to try something new and delicious to take the edge off a stressful day. Plus, french fries. And then: disaster.

"Actually, we're out of walnut burgers, cheddar cheese, and waffle fries," she apologized sheepishly.

Out of all that stuff? I couldn't stand it. I couldn't keep it in anymore. I'd used all my restraint earlier to keep from telling customers what I really thought of them, and my frustration just bubbled over and spewed out of me.

"NOOO!" I smacked the menu viciously against the table, shaking our water glasses and rattling the silverware. "This is the worst day ever!"

Then I came back to myself. It was almost as if I'd just had an out-of-body experience and watched an alien presence dictate my actions. I bit my lip and shrank down in my seat, feeling a bit like Snoopy after he'd been caught dancing on Schroeder's piano. I smiled guiltily to let the server know it wasn't really that bad.

Luckily, I hadn't freaked her out too much. "Well, if this makes it the worst day ever, you're having a pretty good day," she pointed out.

I laughed and agreed. We took a few more minutes to order, choosing breakfast food with regular french fries instead of burgers with waffle fries. We still couldn't really wrap our heads around what had happened. Half the reason we went out was to try the walnut burgers, and having no cheese on the menu meant our options were extremely limited. How does a Wisconsin diner let itself run out of cheese?

But the part Spousal Unit couldn't wrap his head around was my bold outburst. I apologized to the server in case I'd been too over-the-top earlier, though Spousal Unit insisted my tantrum was adorable - like Snoopy.

Though I think it's just his job to say things like that.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Picture for Next Year's Christmas Card

One picture from our family Christmas expresses everything better than words ever could.


I forgot to bring my camera with for Christmas, and no one could figure out the timer on the others. So we took this picture with an iPhone, which was precariously balanced on its side between coasters. After three attempts to make it stay in place rather than tipping forward mid-timer, we gave up and went with it on the last shot, quickly crouching into place so our heads wouldn't be cut off.

I haven't shared a picture of the whole family before, have I? Imagine all of these people and more, most of them tipsy on whiskey or wine, crowded into the kitchen playing Christmas charades and acting out things like "sugar plum fairy."

That's the kind of fun we have together. I love it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Foray into Records

I gave Spousal Unit a record player for Christmas (which actually means I bought a record player for us). I'll tell you the brand and share a review once we've given it a proper run-through - we haven't tried the MP3-converter yet. But it does have decent little speakers, considering they're built-in. (We shall, of course, attach our own shortly.)

In the meantime, here are some of the records we've squirrelled away for this moment, which we will enjoy heartily in the coming years.


The Beatles were, of course, the first thing we heard.


Gypsy Camp Fires was delightful on a first listen: a big orchestra and a very Russian sound.


Big Bands Revisited will be fun to hear. This set has seven records, and if you've never heard big band or jazz on a record, give it a shot. That's the way such music is meant to be enjoyed.



Music from the Penguin Cafe has been one of my favorite albums for years already. I picked it up for 25 cents at a thrift store in college. I guess you'd call the Penguin Cafe an experimental orchestra - they're particularly known for a song that features a rubber band. This album has some especially beautiful songs - including The Sound of Someone You Love Who's Going Away and It Doesn't Matter. (That's one title.)

Keep an eye out for my review of the new record player - and you'll see more records in our collection soon, too.

Monday, December 26, 2011

On to the Next Thing

Now that it's December 26, I'm almost done with my holiday knitting.

I still have a couple of things to finish up, but once they're done, I'll be able to focus on other things for the first time in a few months. I'll have freetime again, to do whatever I feel like. For me, this means two things: reading and completing some goals on my 25 before 28 list.

Reading means finally getting around to books I got for my birthday, like All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin, She Walks in Beauty (a poetry collection), and Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan. Once we have all our books with us again, it means getting around to #18 on my list, reading The Reader in German.

I didn't realize till now, but I've already accomplished #20 on my list: buying a mattress. Spousal Unit and I are still very pleased with it, and considering it's been more than a month since we got it, I should probably send in the warranty card. Yep. Probably. We also accomplished #19, moving into an apartment.
Another thing I get to do, now that I have the freetime and the funds for it, is take a class of some sort. I think I'll look into the kendo ones to start with (#2 on my list).

Knitting will go by the wayside for some time. After working with it so intensely for so long, I'll need a good break from it. Which means working on #3, sewing afghan squares together. The afghan is a crochet project, and completely mindless. Which means it should be relaxing and tolerable at the same time, so long as it doesn't decide to be difficult, like some projects of mine.

When all's said and done, I'll need a tea party with my new tea set, as detailed by #7 and #11. Perhaps it will look something like this:
Perhaps it will not. But it will be delightful, relaxing, and an excellent reward for accomplishing so much.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tradition and Complaint

Ah, tradition.


Interesting that I immediately thought of a movie about Jews for my Christmas post. Happy Hanukkah, happy Kwanzaa, merry Christmas, happy solstice and festivus! In other words, merry Christmahanukwanzasolstifestikah!

Anyway. Tradition. Every year on Christmas Eve, my family would bake cookies (okay, sometimes the day before) and take a plate full of them over to the fire station, which was just a few blocks away.


Some Christmas Eves, they would answer when we rang the bell, and we'd present the plate as a small way of thanking them for working the holiday. Other years, they'd be out doing their jobs, or catching some shuteye, and we'd leave the plate in front of the door, hoping they would notice it before stepping forward.

I loved doing that. I still want to do that. But we're out of cookies, so I hope the fire folk will appreciate the store-bought ones.

Later that evening, we'd go to church. The 11 p.m. service was always my favorite: everyone in the congregation got candles for one of the last hymns, as midnight arrived and we celebrated the first minutes of Christmas with many others.

Traditions change, and you meet new people to create them with. Spousal Unit and I have started a tradition of driving long distances to see our family on Christmas Eve. This year, it will be after a full day of work for me.

I can't stand that people don't consider Christmas Eve enough of a holiday to close up shop. Too many places are open on that day, a day I consider more full of Christmas spirit than Christmas itself, most years. Christmas day means a big meal, going to see relatives, and the general insanity of going and doing and family drama.

Christmas Eve, to me, is the night when everyone sits around the tree, soft music in the background as a glow lights the room. In that warmth, you feel so close to everyone sitting around you. You sense everything that's good in the world, all at once. The mug of hot chocolate or cider or mulled wine in your hands melts away any other concerns you might have, and the peace of Christmas makes itself real.


That is the joy of Christmas Eve, and I wish everyone could experience it like that every year - without having to work a single hour for last-minute shoppers.

That's what December 23 is for.

May your holidays be bright, shiny things that you remember with joy for years to come.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hopefully It Will Stay for Christmas

Remember how I was hoping for snow yesterday?

It snowed last night! It snowed last night!



It's perfect.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Few Seconds of Joy

A week ago, the Great Outdoors behind our apartment was a snowy winter wonderland.


Now, it's... you know... not.


Yes, there are some snowflakes in that picture. I was looking at the weather report for New Mexico earlier, where they've gotten one blizzard and are expecting another. I was wistfully wishing for a few flakes of our own when I looked out the window and saw them! Great, fluffy white things, prompting me to think of this poem my mom always recited when I was little:

It snowed last night! It snowed last night!
The sky bears had a pillow fight!
They tore up every cloud in sight
And let down all their feathers white.
It snowed last night! It snowed last night!

I still recite it to Spousal Unit every morning after a snow.

Unfortunately, after I had taken a few pictures, trying to capture the molecules of frozen water, they completely disappeared. Now the sky is empty once again, full of only longing and heavy clouds that say, "Maybe later today... Maybe."

Clouds are such teases.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Music (and Beer) to Make Spirits Bright

At Christmas, we all get our ears blown out and go a little bit crazy by hearing the same holiday tunes over and over. We hear more renditions of Jingle Bells and Joy to the World than any sane person would want to hear in a month's time. Yes, some of those versions are really good. But certain songs still don't get enough play on the radio, in department stores, or on elevator Muzak.

Spousal Unit insists that being forced to listen to nothing but Christmas music for eight hours straight - as many retail employees are - would be considered a form of Cruel and Unusual Punishment, by military standards. I agree, which is why we should at least switch it up a little, please. Managers, owners, head honchos: why not add these songs to your holiday play?


  • 12 Days of Christmas by Bob and Doug McKenzie - Some of you may think this song is simply irreverent, inappropriate, or too ridiculous to be considered an actual Christmas tune. Au contraire, mon frere. This song provides enthusiasm for the holiday, and a broader cultural appreciation. People in Canada celebrate Christmas a bit differently from those in the U.S., and those variations are important to learn about. Plus, who has the patience for each of those days, anyway? We all have favorite verses; why can't we just sing our favorites? (And if everyone had a beer on Christmas, I'm sure it would be a much more relaxed holiday.)

  • Someday at Christmas - Seriously, this is the message everyone should think about a little more at this time of year. Someday, there will be peace on Earth. It's not going to happen in our lifetimes, most likely, but that doesn't mean we can't try. This song gives us pause to consider things that can't be put under the tree - the far more important things. I especially love Jack Johnson's version, which I heard a week ago - at a Saver's, of all places. Way to play some good holiday tunes, Savers.

  • You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch - Everyone loves this song, about the grinchiest Grinch there ever was. Why don't we hear it more? He has "all the lovingkindness of a seasick crocodile," a pleasant reminder to be in higher spirits than that at this time of year. Supposedly, it's not hard, as I doubt many of my readers have ever stolen Christmas presents. (Unless Mac of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia reads this.) Here's to less garlic and more candy canes in our souls.

  • Carolina Christmas by the Squirrel Nut Zippers - This is one of the cheeriest tunes out there. We get a delightful big band sound, giving us some respite from the organs and sleigh bells and high-pitched soprano squeals. No children's choirs, no deep messages; this is just a chance to revel in the fun parts of Christmas.

  • Here's a wild idea: how about we play a song that has nothing to do with Christmas? If we're going to practice any kind of religious tolerance and acceptance, shouldn't we listen to some Hanukkah songs too? Maybe The Hanukkah Dreidel song, or I Light It, which is an awesome Hanukkah version of Justin Bieber's song Baby (yeah, hard to believe, but it's awesome because it's not Bieber).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Unwrapping Joy

Everyone who knows me knows I have an unusual method of unwrapping gifts.

It drives everyone nuts at Christmas, but moreso at my birthday (I imagine because no one else has presents to distract them). Because when I unwrap gifts, I slice each little piece of tape carefully, precisely, purposefully, to avoid ripping the paper.

Do I save it when I'm finished? No.

Does it drive me nuts when other people deliberately rip the paper from their gifts, watching me intently as they do? Yes. (And how did you know Spousal Unit was behind that one? Reading my mind, you are.)

I've had relatives and friends alike resort to putting all their gifts in bags rather than wrapping them and sitting around for ten minutes while I cautiously excavate my prize. I don't blame them; I know it can get kind of obnoxious to wait for it. But here's why I do it.

I have many favorite things about Christmas. One is being with everyone, crowded into a tiny space and being way too loud and excited and full of sugar as carols play in the background. Another is watching someone totally and completely love a gift I've given.

But one thing I love is a bit more unusual: not the presents themselves, but the anticipation of them.

I love those moments before I know what a gift is. I love estimating the size, shape, weight, and trying to guess the color inside. I love not knowing, and having so much possibility run through my mind. In that moment before the gift is opened, anything in the world could be inside. Even if it's the size and shape of a calendar, there could still be a kitty inside. (Schroedinger's, if you will. Preferrably alive.)

In a way, the wondering and questioning are better than any present. The gifts I get on Christmas are always thoughtful and beautiful, but some part of me loves the imagining and the not knowing. That's why I love to draw it out by not ripping the paper, to make it last a little longer than it needs to.

In second grade, when I turned eight, I peeked at my presents the night before my birthday. I feigned surprise at them the next day, and I must have had an awful poker face, because Mom knew. She pulled out another present, one that hadn't been with the others. I hadn't known about that beautiful pair of earrings, and that made them the best gift, by comparison, because it had been a complete surprise. I enthusiastically promised I'd never peek again.

Since then, the surprise and the wonder and the possibility are my favorite things when opening presents. Those are the feelings I cherish, and those are the moments that make the holiday - whether I'm feeling them or watching someone else experience the sheer joy and excitement.

In short, please wrap my presents with lots of tape this year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Horror: The Reading vs. The Watching, or One of Us Might Be Crazier Than the Other

I am not a horror lover.

Something about those terrifying movies just drives me mad. Some people love that. Some people thrill at being frightened: the fear remains mostly superficial and is brushed aside when need be, leaving behind a clean slate and a desire to do it all again.

For me, it just leaves paranoia and paralysis as I squish my limbs into a corner, hiding from the ghosts, zombies, birds, etc.

Once, during college, Spousal Unit tried to make me watch Evil Dead with him. Anyone who knows anything about Evil Dead is aware that it's a terribly made film, and most horror lovers view it as a comedy rather than a true horror. They sit down with a fabulosity of friends to watch the ensuing "hilarity," munching on their popcorn and clutching their guts in laughter. (There's even a musical version.)

Well, that was more or less Spousal Unit's reaction to it. I squished quietly into the corner, as far from the TV as I could get. At the scene where a certain character is possessed, starts predicting cards, and has a non-puberty voice change, I whispered, "Can we please turn this off and do something else?"

Scary movies make me turn on happy music and all the lights in the house, while running around locking every door and singing at the top of my lungs to frighten away the Bad Stuff. Books, for some reason, are another matter.

I've been able to read some pretty awful stories. That scene with rats at the end of 1984? No problem. Freaky stuff, but I still read it. The Hunger Games? Some intense moments, and I still enjoyed the whole series.

Part of the reason it's easier to read frightening moments has to do with the ease of setting it aside, I think. You can put down the book for a few minutes (or days), focus on something else for a while (like rainbows and heart-shaped balloons), and then come back to it when you're good and ready. You can even skip ahead a page or two so you know what's coming. It's a more casual experience.

Movies force you to be fully engaged for two hours as the characters get lost in the woods, shack up at an abandoned cottage, leave the doors wide open, and get slaughtered in their sleep. They give you visuals that depict exactly how long the killer's knife is, precisely how young and beautiful (and stupid) the couple is, and make you all too aware of how many doors in your house have locks.

While reading, I can vividly imagine what is going on - or I can turn it off. I can choose to only imagine so much, which I'm sure is a natural defense mechanism.

On the other hand, Spousal Unit's situation is reversed. He thrills at John Carpenter, The Exorcist, and anything with creatures eating/losing flesh. But that scene at the end of 1984? No way. And most people I know prefer one or the other: reading or watching frightening scenes.

(Don't get me wrong: I still don't read horror, aside from the occasional Edgar Allen Poe. But some scifi can be pretty intense. Just try The Windup Girl and you'll see what I mean.)

I found a great article about why people watch horror movies. I found another one about why they read horror. They both come down to catharsis, but what I really want to know is what makes a person more frightened by one than the other. I want to know the psychology behind the things that make us jump at the bumps in the night.

I'd rather not have to eat someone's brain to understand it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Books I Want: A Little Bit of Everything


Yamuna’s Table by Yamuna Devi takes Indian cuisine and Westernizes it. There are some incredible recipes in here, like Blackberry-Filled Baked Apples with Saffron Pastry Cream – the main one that caught my eye. And amazingly, even that recipe looks like a simple task, despite the extravagant name.

At first, I didn’t really buy the book’s tagline, claiming that this is healthful vegetarian cuisine. Almost every other recipe seems to have some sort of cream sauce. But the saffron pastry cream is made with skim milk, skim ricotta cheese, and nonfat yogurt. There’s a watercress cream sauce, also made with skim milk and only 1 tablespoon of butter, and the avocado cream doesn’t even contain dairy: just avocado, lemon juice, and grape juice. So on second glance, it’s pretty healthy after all.

Devi has an interesting past – she’s sung backup for the Beatles and prepared food for John and Yoko (as mentioned in her recipe for Quinoa Mac and Cheese with Veggies), and also for Indira Gandhi. If nothing else, this cookbook makes for an interesting read.




Peef the Christmas Bear by Tom Hegg is an adorable Christmas story. The bear’s name made me say, “Huh?” which was half the reason I read it. Peef was stitched together by Santa and the elves, and he loves to help them prepare for the coming holiday every year, even riding in Santa’s sleigh to deliver gifts. But deep down, he just wants to belong to a little boy or girl who will love him and hold him and get candy cane slobber all over him. He knows the Christmas magic that keeps him in perfect condition wouldn't apply if he was loved by a child, but he wants it just the same.

This is a very well-written children’s story, told in metered verse. It always drives me slightly mad when a children’s book is supposed to be in metered rhyme, and the author didn’t bother to remove the five extra syllables in one line. (If the whole story is supposed to be slightly tilted, that’s one thing, but careless poetry is a crime. A crime, I tell you.) This book pays careful attention to rhyme and rhythm, and the pictures are bright and colorful. Peef is such an adorable little bear.


After Anne McCaffrey’s recent death, I came across a copy of The Ship Who Sang and started reading. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but it’s a wonderful read so far – I can see why many think of it as her best book.

Helva is born with birth defects that hinder her life as a human, but open her up to a world of possibilities as a spaceship. She is integrated with a ship’s systems and paired with a human officer – Helva is the brains, and the officer is the brawn. Officers and assignments come and go, but this will be Helva’s life for two or three hundred years.

After only a few short chapters, Helva’s character is astonishingly sympathetic, believable, and heartbreaking. One common criticism of science fiction is a lack of character development – a just critique, as writers often insert static characters just to give their ideas a method of being explained. McCaffrey certainly doesn’t have that problem.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Feminism in the Making

When I was in first grade, I didn't know yet what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I'm sure I'd given it thought at some point, but I didn't have a fixed answer. I was mostly focused on being a kid and playing with my new baby sister. But one day in class, the teacher brought up the subject.

I went to a tiny Lutheran school for kindergarten and first grade. We had a treacherous, delightful playground out back, and the whole school went to church on Wednesday mornings, in the attached chapel. The enormous first- through third-grade classroom consisted of 13 students and one teacher. Our lessons included math and reading, of course, but we also learned about the bible.

As the teacher went around, asking every one of the seven first-grade students what they wanted to be when they grew up, I pondered to myself. Everything the others said sounded good - teacher, doctor, firefighter - but none of them really sparked my interest.

The teacher finally reached the kid in front of me, who said he wanted to be a pastor. Then she came to me.

"What do you want to be, Allison?"

I still didn't have anything in mind, so in the typical fashion of a child who doesn't know what he or she wants, I parroted what the kid in front of me had said.

"A pastor."

"You can't," said the teacher. "You're a girl." And she went on to the next student.

I crumpled. The wind went out of my sails and my eyebrows scrunched. I'd never been told I couldn't be whatever I wanted when I grew up. I'd never heard that being a girl instead of a boy could prevent you from doing something.

So what if I was a girl? I didn't understand why just being a girl meant I couldn't be a pastor. (Honestly, I still don't.) I could do things as well as any boy, or even better.

At that moment, I went from sad and disappointed to angry. A little spark of determination flared up in me: being a girl would never keep me from doing anything. To this day, whenever someone challenges that I can't do something, that spark flares up again, and I set out to prove that person wrong.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Road Trippin' Across the State

Today I have to drive and work the late shift, so here's your winter "sunset" of the week: a video of people who may or may not have actually said the things you're about to hear. Happy in Paraguay is a love story. And by that, I mean a story about people who love apple juice. Picard especially loves cheap apple juice.


Have a lovely Tuesday.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Package From the Pack

So. Remember back when I wrote that letter to the Green Bay Packers, thanking them for their wedding present to Spousal Unit and I?



I sent it. And they wrote back.


We got a whole packet of awesome from them. The letter was only a form letter, with our names inserted, but it was written in a way that made it sound personalized.


(No mention of our anniversary present – a repeat of last year – but I’m sure that’s just because they want it to be a surprise.)

We got Packers bracelets that say “Teamwork. Commitment.” There were two pictures of the team: one of the original Pack, and one of the more modern Pack.


There were shiny, pretty stickers, and enough temporary tattoos for each of our cheeks. There were team schedules, in paper and magnet forms, and a pamphlet about joining the Packers Fan Club.


Let me take this moment to say that the Terrible Towel is an awful idea. Whoever is head of marketing for the Steelers must have just run out of ideas and gone with something alliterative, regardless of meaning. “The Terrible Towel” doesn’t even sound intimidating. (Though I suppose fans are just glad it wasn’t the Terrible Toilet.)

Many teams have adopted this kickoff towel-waving idea, for some reason. This includes the Packers. And I love them to death, as any good Wisconsinite does, but… really?



What is “kick it off loud” supposed to mean? I understand that you use it at kickoff, and everyone is yelling. But the phrasing makes me think the fans just want the sound of ball meeting foot to be louder than anything else.

Despite that odd phrase, the package was a delightful surprise to get. We made sure to mention it to some friends who just bought Packers stock a couple of days ago, when it went on sale.

They told us, “As part-owners of the Green Bay Packers, we feel it’s important to give back to the fans.”



The cross stitch I made for the kitchen is now even truer than ever. 


Friday, December 9, 2011

A Letter to My Knitting Abilities


Dear Knitting Abilities,

Please stop freaking out on me, or Cthulhu will have us both for dinner.

I don't think you realize the time table I'm on, so let me explain this to you. We have approximately two weeks, just two, until Christmas. This means creating and finishing four gifts in only fifteen days, start to finish, conception to wrapping. So let me make this abundantly clear.

When a concept comes to mind, it has to work. There is no room for this wishy-washy demolition and recreation of every project in sight. There is no time anymore to take things apart simply because something's a little off, but you're not sure what. You, my dear Knitting Abilities, are under pressure to perform perfectly.

No freak-outs or temporary schizophrenia allowed.

I understand, this is a lot of pressure to put on one little sense of crafting. You have colors and textures and notions running rampant on a daily basis. I'm basically asking you to make all the tetris pieces simply fall into place. That's a lot to ask of any ability.

But you must understand: if they don't fall into place, the free world as we know it will come undone. Remember how I mentioned Cthulhu earlier? Yeah, he says I owe him again. And this ain't no mafia lord come to collect. This guy has tentacles.

Frickin' creepy, is what it is. Lava in the streets, etc.

Anyway. He owed me a while ago, and he delivered. But now, he says the favor he did me was in holding off the moving crazies until now, the holiday season. Supposedly our giant green friend held them off as long as he could, but I think his devious little mind deliberately put the crazies in the midst of what should be a rather joyful time of year.

Between you and me, my little knitty friend, I wouldn't have minded freaking out over new surroundings, oh, a month ago. I wouldn't have minded letting the adjustment take place immediately. But now Cthulhu's gone and let it fall in my lap, right on top of the tangles of yarn and twisted stitches.

Knitting Abilities, he's trying to pull the rug of my sanity out from under me.

So what I need you to do is this: just keep swimming. Make these upcoming projects work. Keep plugging away at it.

I'll be over by the door with my staff in hand, screaming, "You shall not pass!"

Hopefully I'll know what to do when the apocalyptic squid shows up.

Sincerely,
Your guardian against impending DOOM,
Allison

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dance of the Poles

Today, I have something a bit unusual to share with you.

It's a pole dance. Rather, it's an incredible feat of athleticism, beauty, and way more splits than should be possible when you're not touching the ground. Don't be scared away by the term "pole dance;" she may be somewhat scantily clad, but honestly, most bikinis cover less than that. Imagine trying to pole dance in jeans and a sweater - I don't think it would work very well.


I am thoroughly impressed.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

So. The '80s. They Happened.

When I was little, I had a bunch of video tapes onto which my mom had recorded some of my favorite TV shows. One of them was My Little Pony.

I watched that show over and over again. Who knows why - kids always get hooked on things their parents hate, so my mom must have loathed it. It takes very little of this clip to tell that it's the '80s - Megan's wearing overalls, and check out Nightshade's "rocker" outfit.


On this tape full of My Little Pony and its companion show, Glo Friends, there were many commercials. One of them was for Rock and Curl Jem, and I still, still have that stupid jingle memorized.



You can do so much with her hair - curl it up, tease it out, or cut it off and tattoo her head with pens and markers. Something I would never consider doing.

Another jingle I still can't get out of my head? The Christmas Nestle one.


Fact: I've known this jingle for at least 20 years now. They could have made a jingle that states the chocolate-making process, or the chemical formula for chocolate. You know, something useful - even their chocolate chip cookie recipe would have been great. Instead, I got N-E-S-T-L-E-S stuck in my head. Forever.


Until a couple of months ago, I hadn't seen this video for Superfreak by Rick James. I didn't know he had such a glittery mane of hair. I also didn't know prom dresses were ever considered hot, but hey, it was the '80s. They also brought us such things as stirrup pants and shoulder pads - why should I be surprised?

I'm never going to see this scene from Little Miss Sunshine the same way again.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Holiday Crafts to Make Spirits Bright

Are you looking for gift ideas for others, but have no money to buy them with? Look no further - here's a slew of homemade projects that others will love! No matter your talents, you can find something here to make for others.

These starry ball ornaments have a simple crocheted star wrapped around them, making an elegant new ornament out of an old one. You can make a handful of these before Christmas arrives and hand them out to friends and family in pairs. The pattern is also on Ravelry.


You must know someone out there - adult or kid - who would love a Brainmonster hat. Hats actually knit up pretty fast, especially when they're for a little head. This one is also on Ravelry.


This is a great recipe for Spiced Tea Mix, which my family always called Bohemian Tea. All Free Crafts provides lots of ideas and recipes for things in jars, from cookie mixes to hot chocolate. They even provide labels, like the one above, which you can print for free and attach to the jars. Add a sprig of evergreen or some cinnamon sticks, and you have a great gift with beautiful presentation.

You can include these coasters with the spiced tea mix, if you want to give something a little more involved, or you can give them individually. Mess For Less has lots of great craft ideas, but this one is especially fun, I think. Replace the Christmasy paper with whatever your giftee would enjoy, from Hello Kitty, to dreidels and menorahs, to skulls and crossbones.

Not enough ideas? About.com has a list of 100 homemade gifts you can give year-round. Most of these are gifts kids could make, so let them go wild - then you don't have to make so many gifts by yourself. Invoke your creative spidey-senses and personalize them all. A note on these: not all gifts are created equal. Some, like the fortune cookie, are cute and fun. Others, like this blanket with sleeves, are just a bad idea every time.

That last one sounds so familiar... Oh yes. Now I remember where I've seen that before.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Making Christmas

On December 1, Spousal Unit and I put up our tiny little Christmas tree.



The tree topper (at least for this year) is composed of our wedding cake toppers, which I purchased on Etsy. They are Ashitaka and San, from Princess Mononoke. Most adorable cake toppers/ornaments ever.



This is a German decoration, called a Sternelicht, or "star light." It's all paper, with decorative holes cut out and lined with red tissue paper. You put lights inside it, and it glows beautifully.


I have to pull out my German dictionary and make sure I read the directions correctly, or else I may burn down the apartment. And I think that would be frowned upon.



Not all of the decorations are up yet, but home feels a little more Christmasy every day.

Friday, December 2, 2011

From the Archives: Things I've Learned in College

*Written throughout my freshman year, 2003-2004. Most of these lessons were, of course, learned the hard way.*

1. Cream of mushroom soup turns fuzzy green and red after four weeks in the fridge.

2. The secret ingredient in gummi fruit snacks is crack.

3. You can get bruised when someone bites you. (I don't think this was the situation most of my friends know about... I think that was sophomore year.)

4. Pants with lyrics written on them make a good conversation piece.

5. Gravity works.

6. If you need to hand-write six pages of essay quiestions for a mid-term and have tendonitis, wear the brace.

7. If your class is 1/4 mile from your room, make sure you have everything you need before you leave.

8. Don't eat cafeteria cottage cheese.

9. It is a bad idea to pour boiling ramen water on your fingers the week before a concert. Or, you know, ever.

10. Oatmeal is a good, cheap breakfast food. Also lunch, dinner, or snack food.

11. Wear flip-flops in the shower, not slippers.

12. Getting a care package in the mail is like having an extra birthday.

13. Laundry and dishes are like homework: the more time that goes by without doing any, the more you get, and the less likely you are to do any.

14. It's nice to go home, but it's nice to come back, too.

15. If you need five blankets to stay warm at night and you have to stick your head under the covers to unthaw it, and the bathroom is warmer than your dorm room, it's time to complain.

16. Getting an IV is not fun, but they help if you're dehydrated.

17. It's fun to ride an elevator when you're drunk. Walking into walls is fun, too, but you're not usually doing that on purpose. (Incidentally, 16 and 17 are not related.)

18. Forgetting to eat is bad.

19. Do not inhale rice. You will choke.

20. It's embarrassing to be serenaded, especially if you don't know the people singing.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Romance Covers Aren't the Only Terrible Ones

On occasion, old science fiction can easily take the Terrible Book Cover cake.

For example, I present the excellent book John Grimes: Tramp Captain by A. Bertram Chandler.


What an intelligent, well thought-out title for a great work of futuristic fiction. I'm sure the illustrator was only helping to promote the book's already stand-out intellectual ideas. Why, I'm surprised this one didn't win the National Book Award.

HA! Oh, man. I just couldn't get through that whole thing with a straight face. He's the captain of what now? Alright, let me try again.

Phule's Paradise by Robert Asprin clearly seeks to change the way sandy-haired surfer dudes and scantily clad young women are portrayed.


After all, everyone knows that when faced with a giant green boar-man, the surfer dude will not just turn around and hit the waves. No, he will stand up for what is right by punching the monstrous creature in the tusks with a ridiculous expression on his face. And then the girl who was waitressing in a bathing suit will smack him over the head with her serving tray, because she knows surfer dudes who punch boar-men are up to no good.

At least the tagline acknowledges the absurdity here: "In space, no one can hear you laugh."

Which brings us to Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell.


Here, you note immediately that women are being respected in this book. We also know why the Stainless Steel Rat is called such - a) his costume, and b) he's in hell. We all know rats are not quite God's chosen critters.

This book must also feature a great deal of reptilian life - not only do we have a dragon on the cover, but also two snakes. So comfortable is the Stainless Steel Rat with all those teeth and hissing that he's having a Bond-style martini, while he ignores the pitchfork at his throat. Of course, that thing probably hasn't been sharpened in millennia; devils are known slackers.

But then what's with the guy whose hands are wide open by the Rat's head? Is he playing peek-a-boo?

By the way, all of these books are series. I think it's because the illustrators wanted to do more covers, not that the authors wanted to write more books.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Would You Like a Side of Links With Your Breakfast? Of Course You Would.

I'm a bit preoccupied today with my new case of holy-crap-this-is-obnoxious back pain (a.k.a. pinched nerve again), so instead of writing a normal post, I'm going to share other people's creativity with you. Enjoy, and I hope these things give you lots of ideas. But I hope they don't land you in jail. Because if you combine some of these, they totally could.

Jenny the Bloggess bought a wolf pelt to wear. To the new Twilight movie. I hope she claimed at least once that it was Jacob.

An adorable video of a blind kitten playing with toys, yoinked from my friend Finnley's blog.

...Followed by my favorite reptile store ever. Reptile Rapture is the pet shop equivalent of a hole-in-the-wall greasy burger joint. They're right next to a bar (and a tattoo parlor, I think), which I think must have led to some bad decisions in the past. Also, there's a buy one, get one free coupon for them in the Bucky Book, Madison's source for all things discounted. Yes, the coupon is for a free reptile.

A vegan gumbo recipe I used a while ago. It's good stuff, especially when it starts to get chilly out, as it is doing now.

Speaking of getting chilly, time to promote one of my favorite seasonal sites: Snowdays, hosted by Popular Front. You can make a virtual snowflake, which you can then e-mail to anyone, or just attach a happy message for someone to stumble across. They donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation last year, and I imagine they'll pick another charity this year. Plus, their disclaimer at the bottom of the page says they're not responsible for the ideas shared via snowflake, "unless they're really witty, exceptionally charming, and universally liked."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Letter to December

Dear December,

Soon, you will be here. I'm shaking off last week's madness in anticipation, so that my current Scrooge-like mentality doesn't sully your glory. I'm also shaking off the Christmas trees that were out in August and pretending they never happened. Now is the winter of our holiday cheer, and I am prepared to enjoy it to the full.

December, do you see the lengths I go to just to enjoy the soft glow of the first snowfall, the first decoration I put up at home, the perfect cup of hot chocolate after the tree is in full glory? I'm ready. But are you ready for me?

I ask that you prepare yourself as well. You know how I like it, December: joy and laughter, carols in the streets, an extra batch of cookies for someone who could use them. But this season could easily swing the other way, as it does for so many people, and become a time for grouches, Grinches, and grimacing. December, I'm asking you: don't be like that.

I know how it be. Sometimes, the squid hits the fan. It's the law of nature. But idle down, December. If you want people to enjoy you, you have to be enjoyable, not a frigid beast. Here are some suggestions:

1. Instead of dropping to -40 degrees the one day I don't have time to dry my hair before work, the least you could do is not place an ice patch directly under my car. You haven't done this yet, and I expect you to keep holding up your end of the deal.

2. Let's try to get some snow on the ground before Christmas this year, huh? I know that in Wisconsin, this isn't usually a problem for you, but I just want to make sure. This is my first holiday season back in the Midwest, and I want the full experience. Don't be a slacker.

3. I'm hoping to have a cookie exchange. Please just freakin' cooperate with me on schedules, already. I don't want this to be pushed off until January, and neither does January. December, I think you can handle one more teensy little event.

So. You try hard not to fling around deadly snowstorms with a flurry of snooty shoppers, and I will shake off the soot of retail and let the joy shine through. I think I'm being pretty reasonable, so think twice before pouting at me. We have quite a few more years of this ahead of us, so we should make the best of it and enjoy some holiday cheer together.

Or else I'll sick July on you, and I don't think you want that.

Sincerely,
Your seasonally jolly cheermaker,
Allison

Monday, November 28, 2011

Food, Glorious Food

I'm sure everyone will be shocked to learn that this Thanksgiving weekend was overflowing with delicious food. But let me tell you about it anyway.

Spousal Unit and I hung out at home for Thanksgiving dinner. For the main course, I made black beans and greens with cream sauce, served over barley.

Spousal Unit and I love twice-baked potatoes, but I only had sweet potatoes in the house. So I made twice-baked sweet potatoes, which are now a Thanksgiving staple. I added cream cheese, ginger, cinnamon, and a pinch of brown sugar.

For dessert, we had rømmegrøt. You remember rømmegrøt, don't you? I just mentioned it a couple of days ago.

It was smooth and creamy, and cooked to perfection: the best batch I've ever made. I was on the phone with my grandma while I made it, so that must have been the trick!

I also made a pumpkin cream cheese roll for dessert the next day. Spousal Unit's parent came up to see our new place, so we had our Thanksgiving with people on Friday night, and ate our dessert first.



Then on Saturday, we had friends over. I made one of my better batches of pizza, and for breakfast the next morning, we had pumpkin cinnamon roll pancakes, introduced to me by another friend, Finnley.


(You can't really see it in this shot, but they do have a swirl of cinnamon on top - I'll make it thicker next time.)

As if that wasn't enough food for one weekend, Spousal Unit and I wandered down State Street on Sunday and hit up The Old Fashioned on the square. We had fried cheese curds with tiger blue dressing - meaning horseradish with blue cheese - and I had their only vegetarian sandwich on the menu, with eggplant and sweet red pepper. Even though I've been craving a veggie burger patty for weeks, it was still a really good sandwich.


I think we'll be having salad for dinner tonight.


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