Thursday, March 31, 2011

From the Archives: Running Wild, March 2007

This is from my last semester of college at Ripon, when I was training for a half marathon through a psych class called "Topics in Motivation."

I will admit, I am very prone to bouts of stupidity. Often, I accidentally do the wrong homework assignment, interpret clear things incorrectly, and say ridiculous things. But this time, I went too far.

Literally. I went too far.

Today was supposed to be my first five-mile run in training for the half-marathon. Considering that last week's four-mile run ended up being not quite four miles, I was a bit apprehensive, but excited to break another of my running records. So I measured the mileage with my car last night, in the dark. I decided to run my usual two-mile loop and then go on a nice three-mile excursion, just outside of Ripon.

Mind you, I've never seen this intersection in the daylight. There's a delightfully intimidating hill before this intersection as well. Intelligent as I am at times, I decided to run my new route backwards instead.

So I started at ten, estimating the run should take about an hour. I'd be back at 11, in time to shower and have brunch at the commons. I ran my first two miles (two is so easy now, it seems...) and I had my usual jump-start issues, where I have to prep myself in the first few minutes of the run.

Running, as I've come to discover through class and experience, is very psychological Who does anything at full throttle for half an hour straight, not to mention longer? You get distracted, or stop for a minute or two. But when you’re running, you pretty much have to keep going. So my technique has become memorizing about one poem a week and then reciting it to myself to distract, for a while, from the fact that I'm running. Then, I'll choose a particular topic on which to ponder for a while.

Today, I recited Frost's 'Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening' (Whose woods these are... And miles to go before I sleep), then began to ponder. At some point, I stopped pondering and just ran. I didn't really notice it at the time, but that's what happened. I ran the two miles without a hitch and turned away from campus to run the next three.

For quite a stretch, I felt very warm with the sun shining so happily, and nearly took off my outer jacket to wrap around my waist. After a short time, I noticed another runner on the road. I moved to the other side of the road to give her running space. I was feeling pretty good at this point. Eventually, my running 'companion' passed me by and made a turn off where two roads met at less of a T and more of a Y made of only two lines.

Following me? Does this make sense? It won't in a bit, I promise you.

So this runner makes a turn-off, and I'm thinking, oh yeah, I should probably be looking for my turn as well. But it can't be for a while yet. I'm still feeling pretty good. I should be more tired, maybe, but that must just mean I haven't run very far yet.

I kept going. I ran down Hwy E, keeping an eye out for my turnoff, a kind of T but not really. I ran past several farms. I ran past several fields. I ran through a five-way intersection that I wasn't sure I remembered from my measurements the previous night. But I just chalked that up to it having been dark.

I started to get worried about here; shouldn't I have seen my turn by now? I kept going, figuring my mind was probably playing tricks on me and just wanted to make me quit running. Well, no, sir, I wasn't going to stop on this run. I was determined to get these five miles in without a stop, so I kept going. I ran past more fields, more farms, a grotesquely stinky barn. My bottle of water was slowly emptied as I fought the wind and struggled to find pavement that wasn't slippery or too snowy.

Yes, did I mention that there was snow and ice? And cold wind? Good times.

I cursed the cars who didn't feel the need to give me a bit more space, splashing me. I ran through sporadic slush. My shoes started getting wet, and, consequently, my feet. Wet and cold. I was glad to still have my jacket on at this point.

I began to worry more, not wanting to consider that I may have overshot my turn. I couldn't have gone that far yet; it didn’t feel anywhere near five miles in my mind, or to my legs. Maybe if I kept going, I would come to the turn around. Maybe that next line of trees was it.

Before reaching that line of trees, I realized my left leg was hurting a lot more than it should for just five miles. My hip was sore, my knee hurt in at least three places, the tops of my feet felt like they were collapsing, and I could have sworn I had a blister developing. I decided if the next intersection wasn't my turn around, I would stop and get directions at that grey farmhouse. If it was, I would stop for a bit anyway.

As you may guess, this was not my intersection. Luckily, my shoe had recently come untied, and I had extra reason to stop and walk for about a minute. But something strange happened.

Instead of stopping for directions... I kept running. Why, oh why did I keep running?

As I approached that next line of trees, I saw a green sign. The kind you see at the outskirts of a city. Oh no, I thought to myself, please God don't let me be in a different city. Maybe somehow I'm entering Ripon City limits and I'm right on track, even though there's no way I could have turned around on this very straight road.

I began to regret not carrying any money for phone calls. The sign, coming closer and closer like a train on a collision course, read


Fairwater

Pop 405


"Fairwater?!" I exclaimed aloud, dropping into a dejected walk.

This was absolutely ridiculous. I was in a different city. I had run to a different city, which now seemed like it was probably a good distance away, and how the hell was I going to get back? Not to mention, who would be open on a Saturday in a town this small? Who would I ask to find out where I was?

Luckily, across from the very closed post office and very closed bank, there was a very open bar (thank God Wisconsin has a bar in every town, no matter the size). But the only sign of life was the lit beer sign. Not even a footprint in the snow drifts.

Wearily climbing the porch steps, the hours on the door read open at 11 on Saturdays. Perhaps they were open; it was about 11. I thought. Walking in, I asked the girl cleaning how far Ripon was from here. "If you drive out on E, it's about 10-15 minutes."

I really was in deep, wasn't I? I explained that these directions just wouldn't do, since I had just run into town from there and didn't particularly feel like running back in such a way. I requested a phone and called my next-door roommate.

The bartender heard me say, "Hey Sandy, can you do me a favor?... Look on Mapquest and see how far it is from Fairwater to Ripon. ...You're kidding me!... Um... Okay, well I just ran about seven and a half miles out here, plus the two I ran earlier. heh. Could you do me another huge favor, and possibly find someone with a car willing to come get me, or if you could drive my car out here?... Thank you so much!"

What a freak, the barkeep-girl must have thought. How do you run that far and not notice it?

I am still pondering this. I have no significant answer; maybe I was just so into what I was doing that my surroundings ceased to matter (What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us - Emerson). I've had a few good laughs about this, though. No more doubts about being able to run a half-marathon, either.

Morals: Measure distances in daylight so as to know where I am going. Run in familiar area. Carry change. Pay a bit more attention and don't be so ridiculously stubborn as to not stop and ask where the hell I am. Over-running, even if you don't feel tired, is bad for your body.

I will be limping for quite a while.

"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go." ~ T.S. Eliot

Note: I still feel this injury, four years later. Really, running too far is very bad for you.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Pig Stone

When I was little, we moved a lot within the same city. By the time I was six, we'd lived in six different places. But we finally settled in an awesome little house, where we stayed until my mom recently remarried.

This awesome little house was awesome for several reasons. Even though my room was always freezing in the winter, I thought it was the absolute best to have a crawlspace under my room. When I was first allowed to explore them, I found graffiti all over the walls from previous owners, and I was allowed to add my own name to the denizens of the past. I was eight and allowed to write on the walls. Awesome points.

We built our own swingset and slide out back not long after moving in. But that wasn't what made the backyard awesome. It helped, sure, but the nature already in place was what rocked the backyard.


First, there was the tree. An enormous old "helicopter tree," as we called it, because of the little whirligigs that stuffed our gutters and sprouted miniature trees several times a year. And it was climbable. I spent many hours in that tree, pretending I was hiding out from imaginary bad guys, or that I was in the lookout nest of a pirate ship.


Then there was the row of bushes along the back fence. Our yard was significantly lower than the yard of the neighbors behind us, so there was about a foot of concrete wall before their fence began, and the bushes lined up perfectly to make this a secret little alcove to play in. The concrete wall was wide enough to sit or walk on, and when I was shorter, I could do this entirely protected from prying parental eyes. (After all, a child's playtime is an almost holy thing, not to be understood by adults - kids are utterly serious about their imaginings, and adults just think it's cute.)

The long corridor of bush/fence alcove was made better by one amazing little thing: the pig stone.


What the heck is a pig stone? Well, when your grandparents live on a farm (even if they no longer have animals), and you absolutely love animals and farms but live in the city with a solitary cat, a pig stone is the best thing ever.

At the far end of the bush/fence alcove, a large, pinkish rock stretched across the opening on the ground. It was just long enough and just smooth enough that to my young mind, it was my own pet pig, guarding the opening to my fantasy world. He was a fair pig, willing to defend my hideaway from prying adult eyes, but he required an offering before he would help me out.

So, every time I went out to play, I partially filled a bucket with sand, sticks, leaves, and other things my addled, childish brain thought a pig would like to eat. Then I topped it off with enough water to make a slop.

Then I poured it on top of the pig stone. Eat up, piggy. Yum, yum.

I needed to pour it on the pig instead of just leaving it for him to eat for one simple reason: pigs need to eat, but they also need mud to play in. I always made sure the light dry spots on his hide were darkened with muddy water-slop before I left my pig stone to his guard post. Once he was happy, I could run off and play, and he would keep me safe from adults while I imagined the afternoon away.

Winters were a bit harder. I probably got some strange looks as I got myself a cup of hot water before heading out, bundled up in layers of itchy, plastic-y, snowsuity goodness, my hat and hood combo restricting my vision like blinders. If I did get weird looks, Mom was discreet about it (thank you, Mom) and just let me go outside, where I did my best to dig up sticks under the snow, pulling up old hedge clippings and tossing them in the steaming cup. The pig stone was especially happy to have these hot baths in the winter - I'd clear the snow from his back before dousing him in hot, evergreen-scented tap water.

Kids don't need battery-powered kid-sized cars. The Pet Rock people were on to something: all you really need to have fun is a random object with some odd quirk to it. Like a pink rock.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sonnenuntergang!

Just because I felt like posting the German today. This is Sunday's sunset.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Belly Dancing the Night Away

This weekend, I was finally able to start belly dancing again.

Last summer, I had a painful pinched nerve that led to stomach pains as well, resulting in my not really being able to exercise much because of the agony it induced. Yes, I've pretty much been hurting every day since last summer. I've finally started seeing a chiropractor who's able to help me not hurt so much - yay for that. Boo for this town having really stupid doctors who didn't "get" what was hurting me.

Anyway, so this Saturday I danced for almost a half hour, and the only thing that hurt after was my left leg. But that's an old injury, from the time I accidentally ran to another town. Don't worry, if you haven't heard that story, I'll post it here sometime soon.

Getting to dance again without pain made me way excited, as did paying my monthly bills and having one less student loan to pay. So I figured I could allot myself the amount I usually pay for that loan, and use it toward a new skirt and a belly dance DVD. There are no dance classes in town, and sometimes I feel like I've forgotten how to do some moves properly, so the video will keep me from developing bad habits.

This is the DVD I'm getting (recommended by my belly dance instructor YEARS ago):

I can't wait to see the dancing on this one, of course, but I'm also excited to see the costumes. That's half the fun of belly dancing, I think.


Here's the skirt I picked out.


Crazy beautiful, isn't it? Look at all the colors, and the patterns, and the weird way it all fits together. And the trim.



Love it. The skirt was more expensive than I was hoping it would be, but it's good quality, I bought it locally, and I only get a new skirt for myself about once a year anyway. I can't wait to dance in it today.

And I want to share this next part just because I think it's so fun: a list of some songs I practice with. All you need for belly dance music is something with a strong beat at the right pace - not necessarily something tribal-sounding. Here are a few of the weirder things on my playlist.

Put de Lime in de Coconut - Harry Nilson

Whirlwind - Dispatch

Viva la Vida - Coldplay

There There - Radiohead

Donald McGillavry / O'Neill's Cavalry March - Silly Wizard (a Celtic tune - is your mind blown yet?)

Day You Die - QuinnElizabeth (a lot of their tunes are great for belly dance)

Hey Ya - Outkast

No Rain - Blind Melon

Are Ye Sleepin' Maggie? - Dougie MacLean

Tunak Tunak Tun - Daler Mehndi (one of the not-so-weird tunes, but definitely one of the most fun for dancing!)

See you all tomorrow - in the meantime, I'll be belly dancing the night away.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Disposable Cameras Are Awesome

So, I haven't really written about our wedding here at all. But thanks to the lovely post on Offbeat Bride (written by yours truly), I don't really need to. Sure, there are lots of other awesome moments that happened during the day, but right now, they're not coming to mind.

Our flickr page features photos taken by our professional photographer, Mary. But it doesn't show the disposable camera pictures - many of which are awesome in their own right. And it's Friday. I deserve to slack off a little, I think. Besides, you don't really feel like reading right now, do you? Bring on the pictures!


Spousal Unit and his dad






I didn't know candles were such a delicacy till I saw this picture.




"We shall rule over all this land, and we will call it... This Land."






Thursday, March 24, 2011

Awesome New Tunes: Slide


Last night, Spousal Unit and I went to a wonderful concert. He'd had his eye on Slide, the band, for a couple of weeks, and wanted so much to see them that we actually wrote it on the calendar. (Usually, the only things on there are birthdays and Spousal Unit's thesis achievement stars - bronze through gold.)

They were well worth the wait. The five guys are from various parts of Ireland, and they are incredibly talented, playing at least ten instruments between them during the show, including several flutes, a concertina, and lots of stringed stuff. At first, Spousal Unit and I didn't see any percussion - not until someone started playing the bodhrán, an Irish hand-held drum. They didn't play it for every song, and didn't need to; other instruments kept the beat quite well, along with the audience's clapping.

About 20 minutes into the show, they asked us each to make our "special noise" for them - "You know, everyone's got that one noise they like to make." I chose a bellydancer's yip (which you can hear at the beginning of this video). The rest of the show felt radically different. The entire crowd would randomly make their noise when a song started heating up, and it made everything so much more vibrant and exciting - the crowd's energy was lively and made the music even more exciting.

Their instrumental pieces were incredible, but being an English major, I remember and can describe the songs with lyrics much better.

Their lead singer, Dave Curley, is incredible. His voice is unique and touching. Two songs he sang last night made me cry at the beauty of them: Follow On and a new one they'd never done for an audience. The new one, The Pleasure Will Be Mine, was about a man on the verge of losing his job, wanting to take off for new parts. The chorus goes:

If you come with me to Ventry
Willie says to Caroline,
I would have a happy heart
The pleasure will be mine, she says
The pleasure will be mine.

It makes me think of when Spousal Unit came out here, and my later decision to follow him. One of the best decisions I've ever made, despite all the homesickness. That song, being one of their new ones, isn't on one of their albums yet, but check out the versions by Sean Keane and Alan Reid in the meantime.

Follow On called on more of the band, featuring Dave again. Who, by the way, is pretty good looking - Spousal Unit agrees - and there's a poll on their website where you can choose the most attractive band member. Dave is in the lead right now, just behind Éamonn de Barra, who looks incredibly like a certain red-bearded friend of ours from back home.

Anyway, Follow On had more backup vocals to it and more instrumentation, and was the song that sealed the deal for me (five minutes into the show) that we needed one of their CDs. It's on their live CD, and the lyrics that really got me were:

Follow on
For the open road is waiting
Like the song
We will welcome what tomorrow has to bring
Take my hand
And we'll walk the road together
I won't mind
If it turns out that we never find the end
All I ask is that you want me for a friend

I highly recommend you get their CDs, but I recommend even more that you see them live. The energy in their live performance makes their songs even more endearing - especially after seeing Daire Bracken's mad dancing throughout.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Books I Want: Blackout/All Clear

Several years ago, I read Connie Willis' The Doomsday Book. It was magically delicious. The Doomsday Book reads much more like a historical novel (with a dash of time travel) than anything else. It's the most realistic time travel book I've ever read - authors will often ignore the difficulties and unrealistic aspects of time travel because they just need to use it in their book, and readers happily suspend disbelief for 300 pages to enjoy the good stuff.
Willis actually went to the trouble of explaining time travel - to some degree - in that book. Many precautions are taken to make sure no one sees travelers arrive and no one's life is radically altered by the his/her stay (because changing the past is detrimental to our present well-being, duh).

[insert in your mind the picture of The Doomsday Book that blogger wouldn't let me upload]

Many, many years after that delightful book won Willis the Hugo and the Nebula (scifi's two biggest awards), she's got a sequel out: Blackout/All Clear, which was split into two books. I'm guessing it's because Blackout is 491 pages on its own. I bought this one over a year ago, when it was still in hardcover. It's very heavy.

I've heard some great and some not-so-great stuff about this one. Whereas her first book featured Kivrin's trip to midieval England, this book goes to World War II England. So far all I know is what the dust jacket says: a 17-year-old boy is in love with an older student, and he wants to go back in time to "catch up" with her in age, so she'll take him seriously.

Boys.

Blackout/All Clear has been nominated for a Nebula, and considering that, may be nominated for a Hugo, too. How cool would it be to have a book and its sequel both be worthy of scifi's two greatest awards? Sequels are so rarely worthy. But I'm hoping this one is.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Moon Rise

Some shots of the awesome moon when it was super close last weekend.




And a shot to show you that while my digital camera rocks, it's also just another camera.

I almost forgot: My favorite informational video of the moon EVAR.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Scary Vegans and Awesome Bacon

The answers and suggestions everyone gave me after last Friday's post added up to a resounding, "Yes, you should eat the bacon. Go for it. You will not be a cheater-pants."

So, still weighing the question in my mind, I went to the local health food store, where I stared at the meat in question, pondering what friend Sandy asked: would I be happy with myself for eating a former pig, or would it weigh on me too much?

As I pondered my inner happiness (while gazing at raw meat), coworker Vera (whom I call Auntie) came up to me. Surprise!

"That's really good," she said, pointing to the object of my confusion and desire. "I had some a while ago." Pause. "Why are you looking at meat?"

I explained my predicament, and she left me in peace to make my decision. After a bit more pondering, I considered my reasons for going vegetarian.

1.) Factory farms/butchers are unnecessarily cruel to animals, who live and die in horrible conditions. The pig that became this meat lived on acres of land in its own social hierarchy, undisturbed by human manipulation. It had a happy piggy life.

2.) Factory farms feed animals unspeakable things, everything from animal byproducts to antibiotics they don't need. Applegate never gives its animals antibiotics, and feeds them an organic grain diet. Plus, they don't even use preservatives in their meat - nothing unpronounceable, anyway. Just celery powder and sea salt, with a smidge of cane syrup. So I don't have to worry about ingesting something that was bad for the animal or bad for me.


3.) I just don't like factory farms. Applegate is a chain of mostly family farms.

My personal moral bases were covered: the pig was happy in life, was butchered humanely, and wasn't fed anything unspeakable. This was as close as I could get to a family-farmed animal. So I pulled the package out of the freezer. Yes, the freezer. I'll get to that later.

I went to stand in line behind Auntie, who was conversing with the desk lady about a friend who had cancer, I think. Health Food Lady was telling Auntie her friend needed to stop eating animal fats - something about them storing cancerous cells.

"She needs to stop eating all animal fats - meat and dairy, too." Health Food Lady spoke with great force in her voice, and her hands illustrated the point vividly.

I don't think I buy that. Show me the science and I'll believe you, but humans have animal fat in them whether they eat animals or not.

Auntie left and I approached the counter. "My first meat since last fall!" I proclaimed to her, a bit nervous about actually making the purchase.

"Why?" she asked, looking like a tiger ready to pounce.

I proceeded with some caution. "I've been vegetarian, but this meat is from humanely raised animals, so I'm okay with it." Standing in line at the store is not the best place for an in-depth conversation about personal views on this stuff - it's complicated.

"Is that the only reason you became vegetarian?" Because if it is, you're not a good vegetarian, her tone seemed to imply.

"Well, no, for health reasons too, but this-" I pointed to the bacon "-wasn't fed antibiotics or anything else bad."

"Animal fats are bad for you on their own," she responded quickly, giving me an if-you-eat-this-you're-totally-going-to-hell look.

Luckily a phone call took her away before she could crucify me or make me feel guilty, and another employee finished my transaction. Health Food Lady is definitely one of the Scary Vegans, the kind who like to wander through grocery stores and put stickers of butchered chickens on all the meat packages. Maybe she even thinks keeping animals as pets is cruel - I don't know. Regardless, she was kinda freaky and I really don't enjoy being criticized for my purchases by the person selling them to me. It's called respecting the beliefs of others.

And so I bravely ran away home. I recalled a feature on the Applegate website where you can see exactly where your meat comes from, so I typed in the product number ("barn code," as they call it) and watched

three very awesome videos.

These people are clearly not actors, which made me feel more comfortable.

That was all Friday morning. Friday evening, Spousal Unit and I went to Santa Fe, where we had a delicious Olive Garden dinner and went grocery shopping at Sunflower (yes, that's what our dates are like), which, as it turns out, also carries Applegate products for a much more affordable price. Usually, we try to buy local, but there's only so much you can get in a little town in the middle of nowhere.

The bacon I purchased where we live was, as I mentioned, in the freezer, and its sell or freeze by date was March 21 (which is tomorrow). Sunflower's bacon was fresh, and the date I found on theirs was March 30. Totally buying it in Santa Fe next time.

Remember that commercial? "Iiiiiiiiit's BACON! Bacon bacon bacon bacon!"

On Saturday morning, we had our Terribly Unhealthy Breakfast of the Week.


video

It was delightful. And though I was anticipating a stomachache (because I'm not used to meat), I didn't have a single pain. My stomach likes happy pigs as much as my tastebuds and my brain do.

Friday, March 18, 2011

To Meat or Not to Meat...

Though it is not graphic, this post discusses humane and non-humane animal slaughter. You have been warned.

A couple of weeks ago, I found some bacon. Not Facon (fake bacon) but real bacon. I kind of want to eat it.

It's produced by Applegate Farms, and the packaging proclaims that it lets the pigs have their self-imposed hierarchy and social organization - pigs are very smart, complex animals, and most farms cause them great distress by splitting them up and not letting that social order fall into place. They're also never given antibiotics (unlike farms that pump animals full of them every day) and are fed a natural grain diet (instead of being fed other animals).

The only question their packaging and their website didn't answer for me was about their slaughter methods. They seemed likely to have humane slaughter methods in place, but I wanted to be sure. So I emailed them. And I didn't hear back for weeks.

Earlier this week, I finally did.

"Our standards include Humanely Raised on family farms in an environment that promotes natural behavior of the animals through more room to move about freely. Our animals are never administering any antibiotics, growth promotants or animal by-products. Our animals are fed an all vegetarian grain or grass diet as each species is intended. And we follow humane slaughter practices as suggested by Dr. Temple Grandin.

...We also try to go above and beyond conventional standards to create our own industry definitions & to raise the bar - for example our "natural" takes into account raising practices which formal definitions do not. Our unique standard also includes unfailingly humane slaughtering/processing methods."

Ignoring the terrible phrasing and grammar (which I'll chalk up to a random person being assigned to answer emails), this is pretty straight-forward about how they do what they do. Temple Grandin's website, which they included, tells what her version of humane slaughter is: stunning the animal before killing it, so that it isn't conscious for any pain. That also makes the meat taste better, apparently. Regular slaughter methods increase the animal's adrenaline right before death, which makes meat tough.

But I still hesitate. This meat appears to meet (ha!) all my standards for being raised and slaughtered humanely. Yet I've gotten so used to avoiding meat that I would feel like a major cheater-pants for chowing down on some bacon. I've got a chance to buy it this weekend, if I want, so this is the testing point. If I don't buy it now, I probably never will.

Oh, and there's one more thing keeping me from buying it: it's $5.89 for a package of four, FOUR strips of bacon. Granted, they're three inches wide and eight inches long, but that's some expensive bacon. If I start chowing it down, I'll only permit myself to buy it once every two months or so. Edit: That price was wrong. It's $7.99 for 8 ounces ($1 per piece). Still expensive, but better.

But should I?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Drunk, a Schizophrenic, and Three Teenage Shoplifters Walk Into a Bookstore; or, This Isn't a Joke, It's My Life

I swear that every time upper management leaves the store and I'm the only one in charge, the crazies come out and Chaos reigns supreme.

This doesn't just happen occasionally, either. Without fail, as soon as The Universe sniffs out that I'm the one everything is going to, it sends out its trusty minion Chaos to royally screw me over. As happened last night.

Manager's been out for the week anyway, and the other two ladies in charge left early yesterday, around 4 p.m. or so. Let the countdown begin: two hours to closing. Can we make it that long without the store catching fire? I nervously glance over my shoulder, hoping The Universe doesn't catch word of my crossed fingers and the empty offices upstairs.

People begin sauntering in, casually picking up every book in sight and piling them on the floor. In the back, three teenage girls wander in, acting like teenage girls. I keep my eye on them, but gave them space. The tall one with bedhead behaves most oddly. Chaos has arrived.

The girls leave. I'm about to clear off the pile of books on my lap and come up front to stalk them some more when Sue comes to the back. "I think those girls took some buttons," she says. Great, I think. Just what we need right now. I walk through the front, asking a plethora of customers if they need help - no one does, of course.

A mother and her kids begin their Quest for the Perfect Book, and none of my suggestions are acceptable. But they are well-behaved kids, so I don't mind.

The Man in Black comes into the children's section. (Remember him? He's the friendly schizophrenic.)

"I think I've been referred to you," he says.

Sue sent him to me, I think. "Okay, what can I help you with?"

"Someone's made a voodoo doll of me, I think, 'cause I've been getting poked all day."

I keep the children in the section in mind, just in case he starts saying things they don't need to hear. As The Man in Black starts talking about genocide and evil, I figure it's time to wander up front. Sue's at the counter with a customer. I can't help The Man in Black find a book on countering voodoo (I know nothing about that stuff), but I show him where he can look.

About this time, he stands there quietly for a moment, a troubled look on his face. He's shaking - has been since he came in. It's his new medication; he says it makes him stupid. Either he takes it or they send him back to the hospital, where orderlies sit on small children and the walls are not padded at all. I usually take what he says with a grain of salt, but I believe him on this.

I listen with sympathy. The Man in Black is someone who just needs an ear sometimes. I tell him to take his time looking and that we can order a book if he'd like.

During our conversation, the three teenage girls come back in. I take leave of The Man in Black as quickly as I can (without making him feel like I'm running off) so I can track their movements - and closely. For the rest of their time in the store (at least near merchandise) I am three to five feet away. I watch them the entire time they go through the bracelets they crowd around so I can't see what they're doing. But I watch each bracelet go out, and each goes back in. They leave at long last.

After the store has finally cleared out, Sue says she's pretty sure she saw one put something in her pocket. I'm optimistic about people to a fault in this regard; they had phones in their pockets, too, so maybe they were just reaching for those. I think if they stole something the first time in the store, they wouldn't dare come back in. Sue says of course they would; it was easy. In any case, the girls don't come back a third time.

She tells me the guy she was helping kept asking for obscure titles and spelling the author's name wrong, and when she finally found a book, he didn't want it. Plus, she thought he'd been to the bar.

"And when that guy started talking about the voodoo doll, he was talking really loud and some of the customers were nervous. He said we'd sold them here before, but I didn't know that. He was kind of demanding, and I was busy with the other customer, so I sent him to you."

Good move, and I don't blame him for being demanding or anxious over that. Even if I don't believe in that stuff, far be it from me to tell someone what they believe is silly or weird.

But believe me when I say this: That kind of stuff happens every time I'm in charge. Courtesy of The Universe and his agent, Chaos.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Letter to Dove Chocolate

Dear Dove,

I totally *heart* your dark chocolates. Especially the little square individually wrapped ones. They're perfect for munching during a movie, and even better with popcorn.


But I have a small problem with them. You know those sayings you put inside the wrappers, things like, "Live your dreams" and all that jazz? I hate to break it to you, but...

Your sayings are really lame.


Now calm down a second, don't start crying or anything. Or yelling. This wasn't always the case. When you first released your foil-wrapped chocolate units to the dangerous marketing wilderness and told them to fly, they came equipped with some nice phrases, which helped them get off the ground. Don't ask me what they were; it's been too long since I saw them, though I distinctly have a vague recollection of good language.

But then you must have fired your chocolate writer, or your product became a teenager and wanted more "exciting" language. And then Suck City arrived.

Let me demonstrate my point. Here are some of your phrases I've run across recently.


  • "Feed your sense of anticipation." What the blazes does that even mean? Did you start with the word 'feed,' seeing as your product is food, and then just go to the random word generator for the last bit? Or are you under the impression most people read those little quips of wisdom before eating the chocolate, and they are therefore anticipating the chocolate while they read? Cuz I gotta tell ya, I eat the chocolate first. That's why I bought chocolate.
  • "Sleep late tomorrow." Gee Super Lame Chocolate Wrapper Without a Brain, I'd love to. But there's this job thing I've got going on. And I don't read these messages to get an idea of something awesome to do. At this point, I read them for another chance to roll my eyes at some idiot's idea of great marketing. Because seriously, if I came up with phrases like this to put on a chocolate wrapper, I would get hit by a metaphorical bus. Because they're terrible.
  • "Indulge in dark." Okay, yeah, I get that you're talking about dark chocolate here. But a.) you don't need to tell me to indulge; I already bought the freakin' product. And 2.) this can be terribly misinterpreted. For example, I wondered if you might be suggesting I indulge in not paying my electric bill. Because then it would be dark in my apartment. I don't consider that an indulgence. (Where did you think I was going with this?)

Hey, I know the truth hurts. But what kind of consumer would I be if I didn't offer to rectify this terrible, cheesy, unimaginative apocalypse of foily nonsense? I offer to you a marvelously easy solution: hire me to write these phrases for you.

Before you jump right on that (as you well should), let me be a fair applicant and offer you a few wonderful ideas I've got stored away for chocolatey foil phrasing. I've got some awesome ones. Such as:

  • "I had flavor even as a bean!" (Paid for by the American Chocolicide Awareness Organization)

  • "Why have chocolate when you could have whiskey?" (This idea would be joint marketing with Jameson, whose bottles would say "Why have whiskey when you could have chocolate with words on its wrapper?")

  • "What would you do for a job like mine?" (We'd throw in a little extra money for this gem and include a microchip that plays the Klondike Bar theme upon the foil's opening. Except it'll go da da da dadada dum instead of da da da dadada dum so we don't have to worry about copyright infringement.)

  • "You're eating chocolate." (This phrase will be in Braille for blind folks without tastebuds who don't know what they purchased. It's a very large demographic, you know.)

Now that's some good marketing and phrasing. I'll be waiting for your call.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In Lieu of a Sunset...

...I'm offering you 100% natural beauty. Ta da!


What, you think this is just sour cream? Well guess again, because when you remove the lid, you get...

Little River Falls, Alabama! Man, what a deal. For the price of a container of sour cream, I got a real, natural waterfall printed on a beautiful foil lid, right in my kitchen.

I may have to frame it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

I Like Coffee, I Like Tea

Mostly, though, I like tea.

Coffee's great for those particularly lethargic mornings, or times when I feel homesick. Coming from a Norwegian Lutheran family, coffee is one of those bonding beverages. We drank it with dessert after dinner at home, pretty much every night, and whenever I visit my grandparents, we have a cup of brew and cookies while we talk, just like when I was little.

Except I had milk back then. And I was more interested in making a ghost story theater in the basement or building sand castles in the driveway than sitting around talking with the adults.

Anyway. As far as taste goes, I enjoy tea much more. Not to mention all the gorgeous tea sets that exist in the world. Someday soon, I hope, when Spousal Unit and I are no longer moving hither and thither like road runners on crack, I will buy myself a gorgeous tea set.

In the meantime, I have a solitary cup to keep me company.

My mom's Spousal Unit, formerly my German teacher (long story for a later post), asked what I would like from Germany on his next trip (with twenty raging, hormonal teenagers). I requested a tea cup with NO PINK SO HELP ME GOD. I don't do pink.


Ooh, pretty.

He and my stepsister picked it out. They did pretty darn well. Look at those elegant little flowers! And the scrollwork! And it's BLUE!

One of my favorite things about tea is watching it steep. So fun.

I like my men like I like my tea... in a cup.

The tea featured here was a gift from Mom and her Spousal Unit on their honeymoon trip to Germany - a fruit tea with some excellently rich flavors, with no aftertaste.


Not pictured is the Kandis they also brought home - German rock candy used to sweeten tea without hiding the flavor. It's divine stuff. Some local friends gave us, as a thank-you-for-housesitting-our-zoo gift, black chocolate tea from Virginia. The smoothest and richest (without being overpowering) black tea I've ever had - but the Kandis was a new fun thing too, so I added it. It's really amazing, the way it sweetens and actually enhances the tea's flavor at the same time.

It is Monday morning. I worked all weekend - granted, it was an easy weekend, but still. I think that means a cup of strongly caffeinated tea is in order for me.

Anyone have recommendations?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Earthquake & Tsunami in Japan

There was an 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan early today, the worst ever recorded in Japan.

This link will show you some video of the destruction - walls of water topped with fire rushing toward highways, for example.

This article provides more in-depth information, such as is available thus far. Hundreds are dead. A ship with a hundred on board was washed away by the tsunami. Japan's earthquake-proof buildings shook.

There is information here about the quake and tsunami, and how to contact relatives and friends in Japan. There is a link on that page to donate also. As a friend of mine said this morning: don't assume someone else will donate. Do what you can to help.

Update: This article by the BBC provides good information, including some video and graphs. A passenger train is missing. The nuclear power plant that was evacuated has not suffered leaks so far.

Update: Tsunami waves have reached the West coast of the U.S. Docks have been destroyed and people swept out to sea. Here's some video from Japan of the aftermath.

Here's another way you can help those caught up in the disaster, through USAID Disaster Assistance. And another, by donating temporary shelter to those who have lost their homes.

Update: Five nuclear plants have decared emergencies.

Update 3/12: There was an explosion at the nuclear plant in Iwaki.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Letter to a Dictator in the Making

Dear Scott Walker,

I'm really trying to wrap my head around this. I am. But I just don't get it, and can't find any reliable Republican sources (meaning not Tea Party) who could explain it to me.

Please tell me why all but one Republican voted to remove collective bargaining at last night's shotgun meeting, rather than doing as they are required by their posts and voting the will of the people. I really don't understand why they would want to so completely demolish the opposition, when Wisconsin has been a swing state for years. Doesn't the Republican party have any interest in winning fairly? In properly representing the people, who are clearly not all Republican?

Please tell me why it wasn't good enough that the unions agreed to every fiscal element of the former budget bill. You insist that unions are a bad thing, by citing obscure examples, or examples taken out of context. The bottom line is this: teachers are not bad for the economy, and you are destroying 50 years of Wisconsin rights - so that your party can get ahead and stay ahead.

Please tell me why you've resorted to such underhanded tactics. Your two-hour notice of the meeting is only legal if it's "impractical" to give 24 hours notice. In the digital age, I would argue it's never impractical except in events of terrorism or the like - things that pose an immediate threat. This is the dirtiest I've ever seen politics get. I may be young, but I've still seen a fair amount of dirty politics. (Remember our last president?) It makes me sad that you want to resort to tricking the people you should be working with: the ones who wanted to discuss the budget bill with you, whom you refused. How can you feel good going to bed at night knowing that what you've done is borderline legal? Is getting unions out of your way all that matters?

Please tell me what you think will happen now. You can't honestly think it will be all sunshine and roses from here on out. Have you looked out your window recently? Have you seen all those protestors, who have been there from the start of this debate, who you've ignored? They wanted to tear you out of office before; I can't imagine what the feeling there is now.

Watch out, Mr. Walker. Some people will want to leave the state or stay far away from it. But my resolve is now set: I'm coming back to help kick you out of office, unless you can start explaining yourself - soon, and well.

I'll be the one with an enormous picture of you on my protest poster. You know, the one that looks something like this:


Sincerely,
Allison

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Failure of Sauce

You'd think I would learn.

About two weeks ago, I realized it had been quite some time since I made a delicious curry dish. Usually, I use my auntie's homemade curry mix, but I always have trouble getting a good, creamy sauce going unless I happen to have coconut milk. So, rather than just buy coconut milk, I decided to buy this:


Mmm, green curry sauce. Of course, I wasn't planning to add the recommended meat, so I thought it would all work out fine. At home, I pulled out various awesome ingredients (including tofu) and decided I should probably read the label.

Here's what the label told me:


Anchovies?? Are they serious? Of all the possible ingredients, why anchovies? Did they need so badly for this stuff to smell and taste uber-fishy? And this was not a cheap jar of crap, either.

This is ridiculous, I thought to myself, and tossed the jar away with a reckless abandon.

Fast forward to last night, when I decided to try making tofu and mushroom stroganoff, which we both had been craving for ages and ages. Alas, we had no sour cream, a somewhat vital ingredient.

No matter, I thought to myself, because I had recently purchased a lovely jar of mushroom gravy which would still taste wonderful, even if the dish tasted less stroganoff-y and more high school cafeteria gravy-y.

I chopped and squeezed the tofu, washed and chopped the veggies, and sauteed all with olive oil and Worchesestestershershire sauce. Yum, yum. Then I cracked open the jar and dumped its contents onto the two pounds of food in the pan.

As an afterthought, I glanced at the label:

BEEF FAT! I was not pleased. This was mushroom gravy I held in my hands, not beef gravy! All the jars lined up neatly on that shelf said some variation of meat gravy. This one said no such thing. I glared at the pile of delicioiusness I had just destroyed with stupid beef fat gravy.

I was not pleased. I pulled at my hair. I shouted. Spousal Unit insisted he had done nothing wrong. No, I agreed. It was me this time.

So Spousal Unit ate the mess I made, as he is less strict on the meat issue than I. Unfortunately, for all its beef-fatty wonder, it wasn't the best gravy, he said. For dinner, I enjoyed the delicacy of two tofu hot dogs and some french fries.

Moral of the story: Read the freakin' label before you buy the freakin' jar - definitely before you use it.

Right. Let's see how long I remember that.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Stormfront Tuesday!

Because sunsets are not the only beauty in the sky. (Remember, you can click to enlarge!)




Monday, March 7, 2011

The Sweater That the Universe Denied, Part II

Part I

I began anew, looking over my shoulder after each stitch, lest The Universe should sneak up on me and thwart my sweater attempts yet again. This pattern was the easiest I could find while still seeming moderately attractive: a single piece of garment, not requiring separately made sleeves, or a separate front and back. Bliss! No universe would be able to destroy this sweater, let alone The Universe.

I was a bit too confident in that regard.

Days passed. The sweater grew beneath my hands. Gauge was more or less followed - along with The Universe, Gauge is a mortal enemy of mine, and, I believe, The Universe's personal henchman. It is very ignorant of the garments I make and always throws them off course. I follow the requirements and measure, as I must, but then Gauge will jump out from behind a trash can in a dark alley (wearing a dark cape of indeterminate size) and shout, "Ha HA! You have been thwarted once again, sad little knitter! Thusly must you rip apart your stitches and begin anew, because I am Gauge, thwarter of sizes!"

Thusly do my garments suddenly and inexplicably freak out on me.

I began with the back of the sweater, and the size seemed right on. Perhaps it was a bit short, but it would do; after all, my first sweater would not be perfect, even if The Universe was too busy drawing up blueprints for its next plan of attack to throw me off course right now. Sweater was content in my hands and purred rather like a small kitten. In the middle of the road. Who doesn't know it's about to be attacked by a velociraptor.

Then came the sleeves. The pattern's example picture showed sleeves that reached just above the wrist, which was unacceptable. I threw in an extra couple of stitches to add length, that I might stretch the sleeves over my hands or roll them up as necessary.

The sweater bunched up on my circular needles, and I entered the terrifying Radio Silence zone. Gauge couldn't even be measured to detect foul attempts on my lovely project. But as I went along, back and forth, back and forth, and the sleeves detached themselves a bit from the needle, I began to worry. Perhaps the sleeves were a bit too long. But that was fine; they weren't that bad, were they?

They were.


As you can see, the sleeves are more than a bit too long: they are enormous. They are despicable. They are four feet long. Each.

A closeup of one sleeve, for your amusement. The bend up at the top is my wrist. I am not pleased.
Needless to say, I do not have a wingspan of eight feet. And now I must either unravel and start over yet again, or learn how to cut and sew that which has been knitted. Sweater is now hissing and spitting like a cat on crack (or Lucky Charms, whichever term you prefer).

How silly of me, to think I couldn't see The Universe lurking over my shoulder as I worked. I am now convinced it makes its evil lair in the yarn itself, and the reason this project is doomed to failure is that if I work up any kind of completed project on this yarn, The Universe will be trapped, unable to leave its lair and strike other knitters around the world with its dark and deadly touch. As long as I have a loose end, it will be free to roam the earth.

I need a cape, because there is evil afoot, and I must fight it. Time to cut those sleeves.

I'll get you next time, The Universe. Next time.

Part III

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Trip Down Archive Lane: The Sweater That the Universe Denied, February 2010

The first time I started The Sweater That The Universe Denied, I had a different pattern all together. Yes, back in those days, those lovely skeins of Prairie-shaded yarn had a different fate.

But The Universe looked down at the project I had begun and said, "Well, you've had some good projects lately. They've gone very well for you. We think you need a change."

The Universe's use of the royal 'we' was very intimidating. Its deep, resonating tone caused me to misinterpret the pattern I was following on size 8 needles with 140 stitches per row. The error was not brought to light until several days and three inches of sweater later. I screamed, pulled at my hair and clothes, poured ashes on my head and ripped the newborn stitches out.

Three weeks later, I decided perhaps the sweater could use another try, what with a three-day weekend ahead of me. With an easier, more user-friendly pattern in hand, I cast on with a vengeance. An afternoon's work resulted in another lovely three inches of sweater, much quicker than the previous attempt. I was delighted at the beauty of what I had begun.

My boyfriend and I, house-sitting for four lovely animals, had a steak dinner that couldn't be beat, cleaned up the dishes and sat down to an evening of Scrubs.

...Or that was the plan.

"Honey, I don't think you're going to like this."

Oh God, I thought, approaching the TV room. What happened to my knitting?

From the doorway, I saw one of the animals had yanked my knitting from the bag on the couch and viciously attacked it - poor, defenseless sweater - until the works were severed from the ball of yarn.

"I think one of the cats got ahold of it, but I think it's okay." Boyfriend winces in sympathy. And then I see the needle. My eyes widen and rage begins to set in. The wooden knitting needle is splintered, dented, and generally destroyed.

"Ha!" the Universe laughed. "Thought you were going to get away with it, did you? Forget who's in charge, did you?"

Yes, the dog had gotten ahold of my knitting, not the cat. And by chewing up the needle, I couldn't even remove what I had worked on to salvage it. Yes, I could have undone each stitch and tied the yarn back to the ball. But I was disgusted, and livid, and so I trashed it.

You see, The Universe had clearly interfered - the room in which my knitting resided had been tightly closed when I last left. It was The Universe which opened the door for the pup who needed a chew toy. And The Universe may sleep well tonight, but we'll see what it does next time I start my sweater again. It can't bar me forever - can it?

Part II
Part III

Thursday, March 3, 2011

On a Disgustingly Cute Note...

I just want to tell you all how super freakin' happy I am to be with Spousal Unit.


Our vows said it all, but I could always, always say it again and in more words. I adore that boy. All he has to tell me is that he dreamt he was working on his thesis in a canoe with the Boy Scouts and it makes me all smiley. I love that, in the morning, his curly, dark hair is a tangled rat's nest that points in a million different directions.

As motivation for working on his thesis, we've worked out a 'star' system of bronze, silver, and gold, depending on the quality and quantity of the day's work. Yesterday he achieved a gold star - first one in a week and a half (not three weeks, as he was quick to point out) - and he was positively giddy about it all evening.

All I have to do is think of how happy he was and it makes me smile.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How to Not Eat Animals

Spousal Unit, ever since I first met him, has been what I would call a meatatarian. He eats meat whenever it's available, in large quantities, covered with sloppings of barbeque sauce. BBQ ribs, brats, and hamburgers top his list of favorite meats.

Last summer, Spousal Unit said, "Hey, let's try not eating any meat for a week."

I just about fell over. I've never been much for meat, especially beef or things that ooze grease when poked. I'd always wanted to try it out, but it's hard to do so when living with another person. The idea of cooking two meals, or cooking one and setting aside the meat in your dish, is not very appealing. So I jumped on it.

Week One went very well. Spousal Unit wanted to shoot for two, so we did. Yum, yum, veggies. And that led to our routine of eating meat only once a month.

And then I read a book.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer discusses how the animals we eat become meat. Everything from fish and shrimp to fowl and pigs, with a smattering of cows. If you're looking for a reason to become vegetarian, or are curious about how the corporate farms run things, take a look. I won't spoil your appetite too horribly by describing things here.

But just as an example of what's in that book (skip this paragraph, if you'd like): broiler hens have been genetically engineered to grow larger, so they produce more flesh. What happens to the males who are born, the roosters? They're destroyed. Half of all the chicken we eat has a counterpart that was eliminated (in a terrible way, trust me) because it served no purpose for the "farmers."

Revolting. I would be vegan now if it was less expensive. And if I didn't like cheese so much. Did you know that vegan cheese says on the label whether it can melt or not? "Melts just like real cheese!" It must be made of plastic if they have to state that.

Eating Animals is a very honest book - perspectives of ranchers, corporate farmers, and members of PETA are all included. Foer looks at both sides of the issue very fairly.

But the point is, I no longer eat meat once a month. I don't know if I'll ever be able to again. At first I thought it would be okay if I knew the animal it came from had been given a decent life and humanely slaughtered, but now, I don't know.

You know what's weird about all this? I don't really miss meat, but the one craving I do have is for bacon. Super crispy, mouth-watering, clog-your-arteries bacon. Even after I know what all the little piggies have to go through on factory farms, I still crave a slab of their crispified meatness.

Before becoming a vegetarian, I hadn't even made real bacon for about a year. This craving, I think, had been a year in the works already before I realized it existed, which is what makes it so much stronger. It's like a Superman craving, and the only thing that will stave it away is the kryptonite-green cover of that book.

I won't cave. I remember what the animals have gone through, and that's it: the craving is gone.

But I could really go for some vegetarian bacon - fakon, as I like to call it.
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