Wednesday, August 31, 2011

New Favorite Sound: Mumford & Sons

Today, rather than performing an analysis of my recent obsession, Mumford and Sons, I'm directing you to some other people's reviews. They differ quite a bit, and one is even downright scathing (I don't see how anyone could hate them so much). Here, have a couple of music videos, too. Then, decide for yourself what you think of them.

I've got a novel to write. (Or maybe I'll go back to bed. But probably I'll write.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On the Road to the Northwoods

This sunset is from our journey to the North this weekend - rather, our trip Sunday night and Monday. As Spousal Unit pointed out, it was nice that we could decide on Saturday to visit my family and then just go, rather than saving money for months and taking a week and a half off of work and driving for two days.

I'll be enjoying that for a while. And tomorrow (if you're lucky) I'll tell you about our amazing detour to Minnesota.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Toxic Tux

Yesterday at work, I was reminded of a scene from the movie Fern Gully.

If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it to everyone, even though it's a kid's cartoon. It's about a rainforest full of fairies and other creatures that are way too adorable to be real, fighting for survival against evil humanity's drive to have more stuff.

Robin Williams plays an excellent roll in the movie as Batty, who is (surprise) a bat, recently escaped from a lab where he was experimented on repeatedly. His rap is one of the most incredible things I've ever heard, and I still listen to the full version on a regular basis. Makes me feel better when I'm having a bad day - at least I haven't been electrified and dipped in paint and all that.

Another great character in the movie is Hexxus, who was locked away by weird fairy magic in a weird tree in the rainforest. He's the embodiment of pollution, and when he's accidentally freed, he starts getting his slimy gloop all over everything in his path. He takes over the humans's tree-cutting machine and starts sucking up all the smoke and grime he can, because to him, it is delicious, it is perfect, it is destruction at its finest. And the best part of all that?

He's played by Tim Curry, who sings Toxic Love as he's slurping up all the filth he can get his polluted hands on. It's a ballad to the deliciousness of destroying everything around you and making it uninhabitable for every living thing. Obviously, he's a villain - but he's one of the best cartoon villains I've ever seen. (Jafar from Aladdin is in that category, of course.)

On Sunday, I was at work, accepting tux returns from people who were all hungover, exhausted, and unshowered. I had to go through all of their pockets to be sure they didn't forget anything and that all the tux pieces were there. The second step in this process is to take them to the back and "break them down," which means removing the garment bags and hanging up each piece inside.

One of the tuxes was particularly rank. I pulled off the garment bag and an otherworldly woosh of scent came flying out. It reeked of sweat, beer, and smoke, and it was like a sudden wave of disgustingness broke over my head and buried me in its stench. My first thought at that smell?

Hexxus singing Toxic Love.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Books I Want: SO. MANY.

I love the New York Times's various book lists. They're a great place to find new reading material and to discover things you never even heard about. The lists composed by the common man are great, too, even if I don't agree with their placement all the time.

The most recent of these is the Top 100 Sci Fi/Fantasy Books list, voted into order by fans. As you can imagine, I totally eat up things like this. They put too many books in my massive to-be-read pile, and this one is no exception.

My first interest on the list is number 5, A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. Everyone's been talking about it, but I'm not exhausted of hearing about it yet. With all the semi-entertaining scifi I've been reading lately - good plot but no characters, or bad plot but great world building - I need something well-rounded. This could be it, with warring families, supernatural beings, an exiled princess, and a winter longer than anyone could ever want (even me). The first book, A Game of Thrones, is apparently the basis for the highly acclaimed TV show of the same name. Good to know.

The next one that catches my eye is Asimov's Foundation trilogy. I know - I'm a very bad scifi nerd to have never read these. I have so many things on my reading list that I feel pressured to take a speed reading course, just so I can get through most of these in my lifetime. (Honestly, speed reading would probably take the fun out of it.) In this series, Hari sees dark times ahead for humanity, so he creates the Foundation, where strong minds come to discuss everything and be protected from certain DOOM.

Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time is on the list, and everyone I know who likes this series is really into it. But I'm not putting it on my personal list for now, because I don't want to get sucked into a 14-book series with 1,000 pages per book. I'd like to read other things in my lifetime, too. Maybe this series is good for someday when I retire. In the meantime, I'll live with knowing it's based on the mythological wheel of time and has a very detailed world. (With that many pages, I should hope so.)

At least two books on this list fall in the category of "books I should read because I'll never get through the movie." Those are 2001: A Space Oddysey and A Clockwork Orange. Considering the bizarre writing style and subject matter of the latter, I may not finish the book, either - but I want to read a couple of chapters, at least. The former just seems like a book I should have under my belt.

I also need to check out World War Z by Max Brooks, which is number 54 on the list. Anyone writing a book with zombies in it should check out other literary zombies, of course. My zombies are different from most others that I've seen, but it's still good to have a thorough background on the subject - I consider this a research title.

Terry Pratchett's Discworld series is another I haven't read yet, making me an even worse scifi buff than previously thought. But I have a solid reason for this one: I read part of Good Omens, by him and Neil Gaiman, and I just couldn't enjoy it. I'm hoping this is just the fault of two authors collaborating on a book and being unable to mesh as a seamless whole. Maybe the fault did not lie strictly with Goodkind (I know Gaiman well enough to know it wasn't just him). But regardless, I need to give Discworld a decent shot, starting with Small Gods, or maybe Going Postal. This world is, as the title suggests, flat, balanced on the backs of four elephants, who are balanced on the back of a turtle.

(P.S. The composition segment of that Wikipedia page says a couple of the Discworld books follow the styles of A. A. Milne and Jules Verne. Is it just me, or is that a weird combo? Maybe it makes sense when you read the story.)

That's definitely a good start for now, though I'll be adding R. A. Salvatore, John Scalzi, and Jasper Fforde, among others, at a later date. For now, I have at least enough reading to get me through the year. Or the next decade.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Madison-Area Classes for the Slightly Eccentric

I'm very excited to get my first paycheck from this job, for several reasons.

One is being able to pay bills next month. Along with that come all the other ways in which I should be responsible, like getting new glasses for myself and Spousal Unit, car repairs, saving for an apartment, all that good adult stuff we should be doing. But there's another reason I'm excited.

I can finally take a class again.

Yes, I want to go back to school eventually, but I'm not talking about those kinds of classes. I'm talking about creative, fun classes, the ones in which I have a hobby-esque interest. I want to learn about these things, and the best way to do that is through an instructor.

For example, belly dancing. My original belly dance lessons were through Ameena Ahava in my home town. I only took lessons for two months before heading to New Mexico, and I'd love to do more. Plus, I miss the cameraderie of a bunch of ladies shakin' their groove thing and shedding physical inhibitions. My Madison-area option for this is through the university, and classes are only (I think) during the school year. Perfect timing, affordable classes, what more could I ask for?

Another hobby on my list is painting. I took a painting class in New Mexico a couple of years ago, but didn't take another due to the instructor's lack of... instruction. The only thing I really learned was another method of color scheme - not worth $40. A fun variation on this looks to be Studio You Paint It Pottery, where you can pick out the pottery piece and paint it for an average of $15-20, depending on the piece you pick. Spousal Unit painted a mug for me once, with a sunset on one side and a starry sky on the other - I'd love another mug like that. (Hint hint, Spousal Unit.)

A recent interest of mine is kendo. I've been wanting to take a more intensely physical class that can improve my pathetic self-defense skills. Yes, I know I could simply take a self-defense class, but the right kendo class can give me that and more. I'm also after kendo's mental discipline. Plus, swords! The kendo dojo in town might be a good place to start, but I don't see fall class dates. The Oom Yung Doe dojo seems more like what I'm after, but I have no clue of their prices (plus, I'm an outsider to the art). Let me know if you've heard about a great Madison dojo.

I'd also love to take some kind of writing course as guidance for my novel. These, of course, end up being more expensive. The Wisconsin Regional Writer's Association conference is coming up, with a sci fi/fantasy/horror segment featuring Patrick Rothfuss, among others. I can't even tell you how awesome it would be to attend this. It would blow my mind. I would explode with ideas! Unfortunately, it's in Stevens Point and the non-member cost for Saturday alone is $60. Worth it? Yes, I'm sure it is. But that's a lot of money right now.

In short, I must decide on the wisest way to spend my money, and where I want to devote my time. Right now, I'm thinking the writing workshop is most worth it. I must ponder these things, but right now, it's the novel that weighs heavy on my mind.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Letter to the Packers

Dear Green Bay Packers,

Thank you for the best wedding present anyone could ever get: your incredible Super Bowl win.

On December 26 last year, you started winning and didn't stop until you reached the ultimate goal: the Lombardi trophy. Spousal Unit and I got married on January 8, in the midst of your winning streak and the day before playoffs began. Now that's a great way to start a honeymoon.

But we didn't have a chance to watch hardly any of your games with other Packer backers. Up until this May, we were living in New Mexico, where there certainly are Packer fans (we saw your leather jackets and license plates displayed). But they're not terribly prevalent, and we missed watching with our families and friends at home, who are also green and gold at heart. And so I propose the following.

I'm guessing that, because you got us a wedding present, you plan to give us an anniversary present. I'm especially hopeful because we are back in the land of glorious cheese and attractive Super Bowl champions. Spousal Unit and I would love a chance to see you claim yet another victory - this time, surrounded by others who are Packer fans for life. Others who know that beer is its own food group during your games, others who live their weeks by what happens Sunday afternoon.

I'm asking that for our anniversary, you repeat the end of last season and win another Super Bowl for us.

(Feel free to change things up this year and take a landslide win, because you deserve it. But if I've learned anything about this team, it's that when the going gets tough, you'll work your butts off, even if others say it's impossible. You're my kinda team in every sense.)

I don't mean to be presumptuous, so here's an exchange for you: Spousal Unit and I have never actually attended a Packers game. With my job situation the way it is now, I can't promise anything, but we will do our best - on your level - to attend a home game this year. And we will eat cheese curds there and back again.

Here's to another winning season. May your opponents this year see the intimidating mass of win that you are, and may they run screaming in the other direction.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sunsets from the Dock

This is where I go every week to take my sunset pictures: a small dock that Spousal Unit always rocks like crazy to make me think I'll fall off. (He's not really trying to kill me. Promise.)

And here are last week's sunsets.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Alice in Wonderland - With Enchanted Snowmen, a Fortress, and Magical Cigarettes

Friday night, I had the worst Alice in Wonderland dream ever. It went something like this.

About five years ago, something terrible happened in the land. A famine, a flood, an attack from a neighboring state - whatever it was, it was devastating on a large scale. One of the people affected took charge and led all the surviors away from the worst of it all, and he built a huge fortress, all black on the outside. It was like a castle - one of the real ones, with walls seven feet thick and a door twenty feet tall. It reminded me of that book The Looking Glass Wars, which was a terrible twist on Alice in Wonderland and you should never waste your time reading it.

Anywho. So in the dream, I had a five-year-old daughter and was knocked up with another kid (a boy), who was going to be born soon. I looked like I'd eaten a lot, not like I was pregnant. There were all these techno-medieval outfits (talk about genre crossing - like this but with more silvery metal). We had gone to live in the fortress, along with some guy to whom I was supposedly married, but he was kind of foppish for my tastes. Maybe it was the clothing speaking.

When we arrived at the fortress, we had trouble getting in. There were multiple doors to each side of the big castle-y door, each one with a screen door and a regular-ish door, made of metal. Each one had a keypad with a different code. I had no clue how to get in, but I finally broke the code and we all marched in. (They really should have given us a code, as they were expecting us.)

The main entrance was tiled in black and red, with coat-of-armor flags sticking out from the walls and people walking about like it was a market. We discovered that after five years of living there, everyone had become disenchanted with the fortress. They didn't feel safe anymore; they felt imprisoned. There was a lot of dissent, and things were rather uneasy.

But we didn't leave. We had heard good things about the leader of this place and figured he was taking care of it, so we moved in, going up the slow, enormous elevators to find our room.

Except we never made it there. Somewhere along the line, Foppish Husband disappeared, and it was just me and the little girl. I spoke with several people, trying to quell the dissent and stop the rebellion from happening. We went outside and saw that the Enchanted Snowmen were lining up to battle some kind of dragon thing, in a yard that looked just like my grandparents's. The snowmen had bits of black metal built into them, as partial plates of armor and something that looked like a headband.

A person near me said, "Don't worry. The snowmen are a great defense. The dissenters will have to use fire as a last resort, and this battle will take a long time."

And then the dissenters used fire. Right away. Like you would against an army of mobile snowmen.

We ran for the fortress. And I started feeling labor pangs, which are more like bad gas in a dream. Painstakingly, I typed in the code and ran across the black and red floor to the elevator.

Just as it opened, an Enchanter stepped out into the market-esque hall. He was a cross between Edward Scissorhands (with real hands) and Dream, from The Sandman. Creepy, thin, darkly clothed but pale, and with a good humor on his face that made my potential fate even more creepy.

I shoved myself into the elevator and pushed the "door close" button, but it only half-worked, because the doors were made of two odd parts. One was a sliding curtain that needed to click into place at the top and bottom - it had slid over and left a five-inch gap between itself and the wall. The other was one of those old brass criss-cross gates, which needed to close on the outside and was still partially open, and I could see the Enchanter walking toward me.

I tugged frantically on the doors and managed to close them, and the elevator moved slowly upward. When it finally opened, I saw my daughter standing in the hallway, her back toward me and looking out the window. The tile here was black and white, and rubble was everywhere. She still wore her shiny black and white party dress, her favorite, which she wanted to wear for moving day. I called for her and she turned. Before I could run to her (as well as you can when you're in labor), an Enchanter stood in the hallway, looking exactly like the other one I'd met.

He pulled out a cigarette, which I knew meant certain doom - that was how he readied and used his spells. My daughter turned to face him as he put the cigarette to his mouth and, instead of breathing in, breathed out. A puff of cinders appeared before him.

I yelled for my daughter to get out of the way, to run, to move. But she was too frightened, and the Enchanter's (invisible) blast sliced her left shoulder. Then he disappeared.

I'd started running to her side before he even cast the spell, but didn't reach her till he was gone. Her sleeve was perforated, as was the shirt beneath it. But I think she was okay. And I was still in labor.

And then I woke up. Apparently puppy chow gives me weird dreams. If anyone wants to turn this into a movie, I'll totally sell you the rights.

Friday, August 19, 2011

From Weird to Freakish

*If you'd like any preconceived notions you have of me to stay in place, then here's a fair warning: don't read this post. Go here instead, where things make more sense.*

Sometimes I wonder if it’s not other people; it’s me.

Starting a new job always makes me self-conscious – more so when it's in such a prim and proper place as the tux industry. I worry about whether I've said the right thing, especially in a job where certain words and phrases are banned. I'm not even allowed to say "Can I help you?" - a phrase that's been drilled into me for ten years. I'm always on my toes to behave so damn properly, and most who know me know I don't care what strangers think of me.

I am more than willing to help people and more than willing to do whatever I can for them, but I want to feel like myself when I do it, and this job strips me of personality. I feel like a shell at work and always find myself saying the wrong thing - customers don't notice, and they wouldn't care even if they did, but I notice, and that's enough. And then when I act like myself, I feel unprofessional, even though I know I'm not. Silly brain.

Maybe it really is me. Maybe I’m the villain in my story. Whatever the reason, I feel like I fail at things more than usual lately.

I worry about my past conduct on a regular basis, too. It's like I haunt myself with my own mistakes. I finished filling out a long, complicated application last night, and shortly after sending it, I thought of a part that I really, really should have taken out because yeah, maybe they're okay with that slightly racy, off-topic thing I mentioned; maybe they'll be more likely to consider me. But just as likely, they'll see it and toss my entire 23 pages because of one sentence and then I'll end up working in a tux shop forever and I'll never get my book published and I'll eventually go bankrupt and start living in a box because that's what I think about when I'm really freaking out. And I'll think about it all day and worry and my nervous brain tics will click and click until I learn I'm in the clear. (I hope I hope I hope.)

Even cases where I know I've done or said the right thing play through my mind, especially when someone ends up hurt because of it. I hate knowing I've upset someone - my automatic instinct is to right it, but that's not always the best thing to do, for me or for the other person. Those situations eat at me like acid.

Having these things thrown into focus makes me want to hide from everyone. I get afraid that anything I say could be the wrong thing - anything I say could be misconstrued without my even being aware of it. It makes me want to dig a hole, close it from the inside, and sit in the dark in a little ball, never talking to anyone else.

I may not always care about what others think, but I always want to do the right thing. So when I do something wrong, and I know I've messed up, it really weighs on me. It's like having that high-pitched whining noise you hear in summer follow you around all day, but it's all in your head and no one else knows what's bothering you so they can't do anything to help. Or if they do know they're incapable of operating on your brain to remove it. (And really, what good are strangers in your life if they aren't brain surgeons?)

I tell myself that the high-pitched whine is in the past and thinking about it now won't do any good, but I still replay the event in my mind and usually end up having some kind of breakdown. I get depressed and moody; I hide from people who try to make me feel better, because for me, being depressed is more comforting sometimes. It's kind of like physics: an object in depression stays in depression until acted upon by an outside force.

Then I get into what Allie of Hyperbole and a Half calls a Sneaky Hate Spiral: everything seems like it's out to get me and little things make me even more upset about what a dysfunctional human being I am. My heart turns into a time bomb made of nerves, winding tighter and tighter in my chest. When it gets really bad, I like to go for a run to help ease the tension, but my injured leg has just started to feel better and I've been too busy the last couple of days.

It's a feeling that sticks around for a few days. Something will usually jolt me out of it: being forced to hang out with friends, a long talk with Spousal Unit, or remembering that others have it far worse than I do often get me back to my regular routine. But in the interim, my thoughts are dark and my happiness plummets. Luckily, I haven't had a chance to sit still in the last couple of days or I'd have really freaked out. By tonight, I'll be mostly fine again - as close to normal as I can get, anyway.

I'm really tired of this happening. I had hoped I'd gotten over this years and years ago, but I guess it's more embedded in my personality than I thought. It doesn't happen as often as it used to, but it's still often enough.

I take comfort in knowing I can't be the only one who overreacts like this... probably. I hope.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hippie Christmas

On August 14 at noon, all student leases expire in Madison. They don't start again until August 15 at noon. This means lots and lots of students pack up their cars and moving trucks with whatever they can squeeze in, then go stay at a friend's house, or get a motel, or camp on the lawn of their new place.

You'd think, considering how many are affected by this, there would be a better system in place. Moving is stressful enough anyway - students don't need to add a night of homelessness to their sorrows. But in the meantime, while the homeless anxiously await 12 p.m. on 8/15... others come to prey on the abandoned corpses of their former lives.

We call this Hippie Christmas, or curb shopping. All the items students couldn't shove in their cars are left out on the curb for anyone who can squeeze them in their vehicle. You can find almost anything you're looking for at Hippie Christmas: laundry detergent, unopened food, wrapping paper, and (my favorite for this year) furniture. As a rule, we stayed away from anything soft, but our haul was still beautiful.

In conjunction with this lovely event, people often have thrift sales. Yes, everyone's cars may be full of stuff already, but they're usually willing to pay for an item they like if all their other stuff was free.

At a thrift sale down the street, I got this mug.

Beautiful, isn't it? I have so much of my mother in me.

We also got two Ikea chairs, for a total of $5. Here it is, next to the fireplace that isn't ours.

Our free stuff included a matching set of white shelves, one slightly narrower than the other. These match the shorter white shelf with little cubby holes at the bottom, retrieved from my sister before she curbed it.

They also match this tissue holder/mini closet, which is a bit unstable but really just needs super glue.

Joe and Kaelin, in their scavenging, found us this gorgeous entertainment center - which actually fits our monstrosity of a TV.

They also discovered this nightstand/end table, which is as wide as it is long. Big, but gorgeous.

Last but not least, I think this is my favorite piece: a little round table with gold filigree.

As you can see, there are little chips in the paint all the way around, but it's not enough to detract from how pretty it is. The top is very scuffed, but a coat of paint will make it like new.

Our other big find was an Epson photo-quality printer, which Spousal Unit said retails for $70 at Best Buy. There's no USB cord, but it was still in the styrofoam and came with software, so we're pretty hyped about that.

Quite the haul for us. These pieces all required a lot of cleaning, of course. One of the white shelves appeared to be stained very badly on top, but it turned out to just need a cleaning - good as new, save for some minor water damage. I'm very impressed that we found all the matching white furniture (which I get to paint!), and our host friends found the matching wood furniture. With the garage sale items, we paid $5.50 for all of this, plus a little in gas. A very good price.

Now, once we can afford a place, it won't be completely empty. The only furniture we'll have to spend money on will be a mattress and box frame. I am so okay with that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

33 Minutes: My Miraculous Survival and Dramatic Rescue (from the Bedroom)

On Sunday night, everything seemed to be going well. I was getting ready for bed, my sister and her boyfriend were nestled all snug in their air matress, and Spousal Unit was watching something explody with Joe and Kaelin. I said goodnight to all and went to bed, closing the door behind me. It was more difficult to close than usual, but I thought little of it and slept like a milk-drugged kitten.

The fact that I closed the door is very important. It does not close easily - the shape of the door and frame have changed enough with time that they are no longer perfect matches for each other, and weather affects them as well. (This makes dramatic exits and entrances difficult, because if you slam it, it just bounces back open again.) Usually, Spousal Unit and I just leave the door closed enough for privacy.

Not on Sunday night.

Because of all the yelling and explosions in the other room, I took care to close the door. Monday was my first full day of work, and I wanted a decent night's sleep. So I pushed, and I shoved, and the door slid back into the frame. I slept for four glorious hours.

In the middle of the night, about quarter to three, I half-awoke to the sound of the door squeaking in its frame. I laid in bed blearily, waiting for Spousal Unit to make his entrance, while some part of me prepared to cuddle him mercilessly. After hours of playing video games, he was finally coming to bed.

But the squeaking of the door continued, and I didn't hear his footfalls in the room. I awoke more fully, propped up on an elbow as I looked at the door.

The squeaking stopped, and the door was still closed. I got up and went to it.

"Spousal Unit?" I asked. (Not really - I called him by name.)

"Yeah?" his voice came back at me.

"What's going on?"

"The door's stuck; I can't get it open. You know that metal thing on the frame, where the door latches? My belt caught on it today and bent it. I think that's the problem."

I thought of two things then. One: I was trapped in the bedroom and all I had to sustain me was a small bag of animal crackers.

Two: I really, really needed to pee.

Spousal Unit and I coordinated our efforts. He pushed, I pulled. He tried turning the handle, then I did. I pushed back on the bent metal plate, trying to pry it from the door's cruel grasp. Nothing.

We sat for a moment on each side of our door, trying to think of solutions. Trying not to think of our mortality and the fact that I was stuck, thousands of millimeters away from civilization. It was Spousal Unit who said,

"Hey, get an old gift card or something from my wallet. Try to stick it between the door and the frame, by the metal plate."

I grabbed the Borders gift card, to give the poor thing some purpose once again, and squeezed it into place. The card went deep enough to keep the latch out, but not much deeper. We tried pulling again, with the same results.

"Well, I can always climb out the window in the morning, and bring whatever you need," I said.

"I know, but I want to go to bed," whimpered Spousal Unit.

He went outside with a chair and made his way to the window while I opened the screen. What a relief to see him again - I knew my rescue from the bedroom's deep confines would not be far off. He would come in, figure things out from the inside, and set me free.

Yet he couldn't get into the room - the window ledge wouldn't support him to climb in. So it was back to square one. And I still needed to pee.

At some point after removing the doorknob, Kaelin emerged from her bedroom (opening the door easy as pie, thankyouverymuch.) We'd been whispering this whole time to keep from waking her and Joe, yet we were relieved to see someone who could solve our problems: a homeowner.

As Spousal Unit explained our plight to her, I paced in my tiny cage, rationing myself a couple of animal crackers. At least with the doorknob off, food could be siphoned to me in the long-term. From beyond my door, I heard the sound of typing. It couldn't be... could it?

"We're Googling it," Spousal Unit whispered, a smile in his voice.

I couldn't help imagining all the strange things that would pop up in that search: people whose children are locked away from them, grown adults posting questions online instead of calling a locksmith, or begging advice from strangers instead of friends who could come help.

Finally, when I'd started to consider cannibalism (on what, I'm not sure), I used a knife to hold back the latch and slide two gift cards in the door: one from above, one from below. They held back the wall plate well enough that the door sprang free from its confines! I could see people in the hallway again - joy and rapture!

An examination of the wall plate showed it was bent at a 45-degree angle - not very conducive to easy door movement. Kaelin immediately removed it, mentioning,

"When I first heard the noise out here, I thought you were having sex, but it sounded too awkward and sad for that."

I thanked my friend and my Spousal Unit for my freedom and scampered down the hall. My first free movements led me to a place I'd missed dearly in my minutes of confinement: the bathroom.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I Love Weekends Like This

What an amazing weekend.

This was one of those weekends that makes you wish, really wish, it was always the weekend. That working was not necessary for paying the bills. That you had no other responsibilities in life and could just enjoy the fun stuff all the time.

If that was the case, we'd have nothing to compare it to and weekends wouldn't be so cool. But this weekend still makes me wish it would just go on and on.

Friday: I finished my 18-page application for an awesome job that I really want. I polished up the last bits of my essay, relinquished my control, and passed it on to higher authorities. I won't find out about it for at least another week, I think.

Later in the day, we were restless and eager to explore, so the four of us went in search of shoes or gel inserts for my new job at the tux shop, where I'll be standing on tile floors eight hours a day. Ugh. Gel inserts were found, along with an awesome shirt, a $5 pair of IZ Byer pants that fit me like a glove, and a long wool winter coat for Spousal Unit.

When we got home, we laid out blankets and watched the meteor shower with beer in hand, telling each other myths about how the world became like it is. Later, we wandered to the lake and sat on the dock, basking in the glow of the moon.

Saturday continued all of Friday's awesome. I edited ten pages of my novel and went to downtown Madison with Kaelin. We explored the contemporary art museum, poked our heads in various shops, and got yogurt from Red Mango, which we ate at the lake while a one-footed duck hopped stolidly about.

Back in our neighborhood, we went to a garage sale where I found two Ikea chairs for $5 and a mug that says, "Something in the way she moos..." with a cow playing guitar. In the evening, Spousal Unit and I got terribly lost, then ate Thai food and drank beer and helped my sister move out of her place. He also randomly ran into his cousin, who happens to be moving in right below where my sister lived. Crazy random happenstance is what that is.

At the end of the night, we started shopping for Hippie Christmas - I'll devote an entire post to this later in the week, because our finds were so awesome. If you're in the Madison area and haven't participated in Hippie Christmas (a.k.a. curb picking) before, you would love it to death. It's every August 14-15ish - more to come on this.

Sunday I made lemon poppyseed biscotti with lemon icing and edited ten more pages of my novel. We continued with Hippie Christmas, then had a two-for-one meal at Cousin's and cleaned up our curb-picking finds. I made a dinner of black bean veggie burgers, corn on the cob, garlic smashed taters, and vegetarian baked beans. Lots of beans, but a very yummy meal, topped off with spearmint tea.

I went to bed and woke up at 3 a.m. to Spousal Unit pushing on the door, trying to open it from the hall - I was somehow locked in, despite there being no lock on the door. After about 15 minutes, we finally got it open. (Don't worry, there will be another post about this one, too.)

All in all, an awesome weekend. Even with accidentally getting locked in the bedroom.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Links to All the Awesomest Things. Ever.

Today is the day I finish my essay. I'm feeling oddly excited about this - it reminds me of when I finished my senior sem paper in college. At that point, I said YES! I can finally write a great paper.

And then school was done. But I'm recapturing the happy part of that.

Fun things you could do: enjoy some of the best Muppet segments ever.

Learn how to reclaim your confidence (I'm sure this works for guys, too).

Read this post about something you can do to bananas... which is not at all perverted. Be sure to read some of the comments, too.

See some geeky marriage proposals (the Harry Potter one is very clever, but I still favor the Picard one!)

This New York Times article is about the new zombies in literature, an invaluable resource if you're writing about the elusive creatures.

Dive into this poem by poet laureate Philip Levine. I love the darkness and imagery in this one - he's a very provocative writer.

And finally, enjoy this cute sand kitten and other happy news.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Kaelin and the Toad

One warm July evening, Kaelin found a toad.

He was soft and squishy and not very slimy, and he asked Kaelin to show him her grassless home. She was happy as a baby monkey riding on a pig.

(That means she was very happy, indeed.)

Toad explained many great mysteries of toad-life to Kaelin in their time together. He explained why toads are so bumpy, who gifted them with powerful, jumpy legs, and why they croak best near water, early in the morning.

Kaelin was amazed and excited to be so trusted with the intricacies of toad culture.

She vowed that Toad would always be her bestest friend forever and for always. She even offered him a nice little place under the china hutch, where he could be happy and squishy every day.

Kaelin rubbed his soft little belly and held her friend close.

Toad was happy.

Then, tragedy struck, in the form of Spousal Unit. He offered Toad his skills with certain implements of destruction, so that he could escape this cruel world if he so desired.

Kaelin was afraid for her friend's safety.

And so, knowing her poor green friend would not be happy and squishy under the china hutch (or rather, he'd be the wrong kind of squishy), she explained to the amphibious little guy that he would, unfortunately have to leave.

Toad was sad to go, but promised to visit soon. He gave Kaelin a hug and ventured out into the dark, wet world, resigned to a life where green is sometimes a difficult color.

But Toad knew he could come see Kaelin again any time he wanted a belly rub.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Revising, Rewriting, and Banging My Head Against a Wall

Remember me mentioning, far away and long ago, the novel I'm working on?

Yes. Well. That was back in May, and I've only edited another 15 pages or so since then. Shame on me. But recently, I've really been feeling the drive to get a move on with this thing. I know my book forwards and backwards, I know the characters like they're family (or like they're close, personal enemies), and I know what I need to do to finish it. So I decided the best way to actually get it done is to make a list.

Lists are my favorite way of staying organized. Then (so long as the paper doesn't get lost) you won't forget everything that needs doing, and you can revel in the cathartic experience of crossing items off as you finish them. You add things as they come to mind, and eventually the paper's filled up with lots of things you have and haven't done. Then you transfer everything that's left to a new piece of paper and start over.

Maybe no one else does things that way. But I enjoy the cycle, and it helps me prioritize and stay focused.

I got myself a little spiral-bound notebook, where I will keep all the notes pertinent to this novel. (Yes, I have another novel, which was my first and will never escape from the dungeon where I've tortured it into silence.) I'll create different sections in the notebook to keep things separate and well organized. But for now, I just have The List. It's slightly overwhelming.

Here's what I have to do yet before I'll think Harvest is somewhat complete.

1. Finish first edit - mark up the good, the bad, and the so-awful-I-can't-believe-that-was-ever-in-my-brain. Also create chapters. (I feel pretty terrible that I wrote this thing almost two years ago and haven't finished the first edit yet. But I only have about 20 pages left, so that's good... and then I have to make it electronic. Ugh.)

2. Analyze major faults, plan how to fix them. This includes giving my main character (Kovan) more character by making him older and more critical of the world around him - perhaps he should be 15 instead of 12. I also plan to adjust things so that the country will be on the verge of war, rather than already embroiled in one. The world in general needs more detail, too.

3. Work on character development. I'll write at least two sketches for each main or supporting character to make them more realistic, three-dimensional people. Kovan will need at least five sketches - possibly more - to make him interesting and realistic, and a bit less naive.

4. Plot the sequel. This book ends with a good deal of darkness, and I haven't figured out how to resolve that yet. When I started writing this, I hadn't planned on there being a war at all (I have little control over these characters). Now I have to decide whether the war will even start by the end of the series, what Kovan's part in all that will be, what part the creepy Admiral will play... I want to know this ahead of time so that I can accurately plot the first book. This step might be best completed during NaNoWriMo this year - I'm okay with bumping it up a few steps if need be.

5. Reorganize the novel as a whole - change to a non-linear timeline and decide where various Mulnaran myths would be effective in the story. Choose myth topics, then write and insert according to the surrounding story. I already have the myth about why Mularans don't hunt birds; other myths I'm planning to write include one with a trickster, one about creation, and one about the Mulnaran version of Ragnarok. Probably involving zombies.

6. Make a list of things I need to learn - this includes herbal medicine, archery, backpacking, viruses (specifically, those that could cause zombification), and wood carving. Probably more. Then, take classes and do interviews. (Who says fiction doesn't require research? Not I.)

7. Rewrite, segment by segment, to improve language and poetic voice - I want this novel to be prosetry. This will take a long, long time, but it's very important. (That's what happens when you write 50,000 words in one month. Lots of them turn out to be duds.)

8. Pick a language or two to base place names on. I have place-holder names, which I think are fairly realistic, but they need to be moreso. I won't go so far as creating a language, but it needs to be believable that different languages exist in this world.

Various other changes will be added to the list as necessary. There are many sub-points for each of these ideas - including building a believable society, which will be more pertinent in the second book. But I at least have a clear outline of where to go from here, which is one of the more important things when working on a project like this. Without outside direction, it's easy to set this aside and not work on it for an extended period. (Even when you were without a job for two months.)

This will result in at least one new draft per step. Probably even more. And then a few more after that, to smooth everything out. At this rate, I'll have it done in... 14 years. Heh. Time to pick up the pace, I think. But a detailed plan of attack will help me get the job done, even if it's just one page at a time.

Next step: tape the list to my wall. Looking at it every day will help guilt me into getting it done.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Here Comes the Sun

...And there goes last night's sun. The last shot shows sun reflecting off a house across the lake - be sure to find the moon in that one!

Monday, August 8, 2011

My Autobiography, Dances With Monkeys

The following was a writing sample I wrote as part of the application process for a job. As I didn't get said job, I am now posting it for your amusement. Here's what spewed out of my brain in the allotted hour. Enjoy - I'm going to create another writing sample for another job.

"Monkeys" a Linguistic Menagerie

Allison Finseth’s highly anticipated autobiography, Dances With Monkeys, is a bizarre exploration of ordinary life. Vivid descriptions of her short life thus far ensconce the reader in a delightful little world. Her brief and varied existence is concisely described in occasionally hyperbolic – but always beautifully clear – language.

Her experiences as a child are rich and colorful, and she manages to expound upon tiny experiences that have made her life all the more incredible. Small elements from her childhood – from the pig stone in her backyard to the flaming shirt incident – remain fresh in her memory and come alive on each page. “Real life,” she says, “is more unbelievable than any story we could ever tell.” The family tree she has detailed at the beginning of the book is perhaps the greatest proof of this statement. She describes her family as a “not-for-television Brady Bunch,” a quite accurate moniker.

Her college experiences, though fairly typical, remain interesting for her attention to the minutest of details, especially where her husband – whom she refers to as her “spousal unit” – are involved. Their relationship strikes the reader with a sense of stepping into a fairy tale, though she does not hesitate to describe the hardships they have overcome.

Finseth’s incredible job history features a few oddities, including her stint as “gift shop worker / tour guide” at an alpaca ranch in New Mexico. Her blind leap into New Mexico makes clear that while she does not make a habit of risky choices, she knows that “faith is often the most reliable method of rebirth.”

Her veritable menagerie of experience, coupled with her knack for simple but beautiful language, set her autobiography above the chaff one often encounters. Finseth quite easily makes the nonfiction of her life read like an entertaining novel.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Making Cards with Odds and Ends

About a week ago, I mentioned going to the library and picking up some awesome stuff. One of the books I picked up was about card making, one of my fun, relaxing-type hobbies.

It has some good ideas in it - things that I could brainstorm, if I had the time for them, but why do that when someone else has already done the work? Seeing those cool ideas made me want to create cards again. (That was the whole reason I brought the book home.)

So, earlier this week, I picked an idea and went with it. I decided to use ribbon on a card somehow. I have quite the stash of scraps and paper-craft tools, so everything I need is right at my fingertips.

For starters, I cut a piece of cardstock in half the short way and fold it in half, creating a 4"x5.5" base to work with. Why? Because that's the size of the envelopes I have, and that's where I draw the line. Let someone else worry about making the envelopes, and I'll make the pretties to go inside. One item a friend got me that really helps for this is a straight-edge paper cutter.

I pick some kind of theme for the card - this one was a belated birthday card. Next, I dig through my scraps to create some kind of nifty collage on the cover, with or without writing.

For this one, I used vellum paper to make the background more interesting. In the lower right corner of the card, you can see the light flower design on the paper. I cut the edges with a pair of crinkly scissors. Then I found the phrase and the clock - perfect for this card. (Actually, the phrase comes out of a card catalogue - as in, a catalogue you would buy cards from. So I made a card with an example of another card on it. Which is okay, because I'm not selling it.)

I attached the vellum paper with double-sided, permanent tape. Usually, that's my standard, but for the little bits on top, I broke out the 3D foam tape. It gives the pieces a little life, making them stick out more and giving the eye more to explore.

Next was the ribbon. I always test the outcome by laying pieces in place before attaching them to the card - a very important step. That step with the ribbon showed me that ribbon in each corner would not be visual overkill - you don't want the card to be too busy, even if all the individual parts are cool.

I also attached the ribbon with double-sided tape. I sliced each piece to the right width and attached it to the ribbon, which I then laid on the card at a careful angle. This is a step for which I probably could have used glue, but I didn't want the excess glue to stain the card or ribbon. Glue also has the potential for leaving funny bumps under stuff, so I went the more meticulous route instead.

Then comes the inside. I always try to tie the outside and inside together with some sort of theme. In this case, everything ties together a little: the ribbon, the crinkle-cut paper, and even the writing mimicks the writing on the cover. (You can use a printer to make your writing more uniform, but I like the hand-written version better.)

Little differences that make it pop: the hand writing, the different angle of the ribbons, and the cream cardstock instead of vellum. I was actually out of the vellum, but the recipient doesn't need to know that, and won't guess it because it all ties together.

Last is the back. I have my symbol and "company name" on the back of every card. It makes them uniquely mine, and friends will remember that I made them even if, for some weird reason, I don't sign my name inside. The symbol is a stamp - the red bit doesn't tie in with the card at all, but with the name "red wheelbarrow," I figure it's okay.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Eager for Autumn

Submitted for your approval: the summer has surpassed its zenith. It is August. In a month and a half, we will enter a glorious new season - fall.

I am stoked.

Summer has always been my least favorite season. It's too hot to be enjoyable, most days. I'm not fond of immersing myself in water, which is the best way of staying cool in the heat. The sun shines down with cruel tongues of flame blazing, hoping to redden the skin of unsuspecting blondes everywhere (and it always finds me).

I'm glad it's finally August. I enjoy nice, warm weather, when one can spend an afternoon lazing on a porch or going for a run. I love all the shades of green, and the beautiful flowers. But in these months, a 70-degree day is a rare thing, and anything hotter is useless to me. I'd rather have September and October, because today's high is 85, and that's just not acceptable.

After living in New Mexico the last couple of years, I'm eager to see a real change of seasons. I want a swath of brilliant orange and gold right outside my door. A short drive to the store will reveal reds and browns reminiscent of a fairy tale forest - for some reason, in my mind, Hansel and Gretel always takes place in the fall. Same with Little Red Riding Hood, evoking a wolf behind each tree. And best of all, fall brings a nip in the air that means only one thing.

Sweater season.

Sweaters are one of my favorite things. They're cozy, comforting, and full of unique patterns and designs. I have a large collection, built up over many years, which is now spread across state lines, and I can no longer remember how many I have. Some are in my mom's basement, because I didn't need them in New Mexico. Some are in New Mexico, because I won't need them until September.

To me, the ultimate sign of fall is wearing a sweater and a scarf while going for a walk. Your feet crumble dry leaves beneath your feet, the branches just beginning to bare themselves but still full of fall glory. The chill forces your hands into pockets, and when you come back inside, your glasses cloud over, and the smells of pumpkin and apples greet you. And a cup of cinnamon tea or apple cider is waiting for you.

Now that is what I call heaven.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

In Which I Complain About Exhaustion After Working Six Hours This Week, or Allison's Kind of a Pansy

It's only Wednesday morning and I'm already exhausted.

I have no good reason to be. My two workdays so far have only been three hours long each. That's how today will be, too. I chalk it all up to not having gone anywhere or learned anything on a daily basis for the last two months. To suddenly jump back into it is overwhelming and a bit terrifying.

Another part of that is the number of interviews I have this week. Yesterday was my first, and I still have three to go. Plus the two I had last week. Six interviews and two (short) days of work in one week. I guess that explains my sleepiness pretty well.

These interviews are stressful for a couple of reasons. 1.) I don't know where they are, being new to this city, so I have to leave early just in case I get lost. I almost did yesterday heading to a tux shop interview. 2.) I always get nervous when I have to perform. Yes, everyone has to deal with that, but it's still a physically exhausting thing. 3.) I don't really know where my good clothes ended up after the move. Yes, I set them aside so I'd have interview clothes, but then they just kind of... disappeared. So I need more of those, but I haven't gotten a paycheck yet.

Left yet on my interview schedule are one for an admin assistant job, one for a video store, and one for... KFC. Yes, the fast-food place where they deep-fry chicken. As in meat. Which I have not eaten in nearly a year.

So that should be interesting. I'm actually most nervous about that one.

At work, I've been observing like mad. Days are very busy lately - Monday I saw a sitting for two young boys and a high school senior portrait session. Yesterday was another senior session and a newborn. Each session gets at least two backdrops and several props. Seniors often have a change of clothes, too, so there's lots of moving things, adjusting lighting, and fixing clothes, all at a fast pace to stay in the allotted time frame.

Surprisingly, the newborn session was the least exhausting - she slept the whole time. And the photographer I was shadowing was glad for that, despite getting no pictures with the baby's eyes open.

Between each sitting is an editing session - paring down photos for the correct number of proofs, somewhere around 30. Sometimes that means cutting the number of photos in half. Then there's zooming, touch-ups, effects, and collaging - and all of this is done in about 45 minutes. That's exhausting to watch in itself, not to mention that I don't know the program they're using.

Luckily, no one's asked me to touch a camera yet and I haven't blurted out my camera-down-a-mountain story. I must maintain this control over my urge to share.

Right now I'm really looking forward to Friday, when I have no interviews and can just chill out all day. I'm also looking forward to later tonight, when I get to eat Spousal Unit's wonderful lasagna and have a beer. Or maybe brandy. I'd much prefer to just stay home in bed and cuddle all day, rather than going back out into the world and doing things.

In short, yes, I am going to bed early tonight.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Traveling Sunsets

Sunsets are from the weekend, on our way to Oshkosh and while we were there. Enjoy while I have my second day of work (I did not break anything or spit on my boss yesterday) and the first of three interviews this week!

Monday, August 1, 2011

A New Adventure, in Which I Hope Not to Reveal my Verbal Vomit Super Power

As I write this, on Sunday night, I am excited, nervous, and eye-poppingly shocked. As in, my eyes are popping out just a little because I've waited months for this day to come.

The day before my new job starts.

The hours of searching, the replies in my inbox that want a credit check for a secretarial job, the days wondering if I'd be able to afford food again have finally reached fruition. Small fruit is better than no fruit, and I will eventually get a second job. But on Monday (that's today for you peeps), I start work as... a studio photographer.

Yes, I have no studio photography experience. But regardless of the part-time hours, it's a paying job that will cover my current bills, and I think I will enjoy what I'll be doing. There's a certain amount of creativity involved (even if it's just in posing people awkwardly and making them laugh at my monkey dance). It should be clear by now to all y'all that I like taking pictures. And it will get me into the world of Madison so I can start exploring it and learn where not to get an apartment when I can finally afford one.

I always like doing new things, at least for the learning at the beginning. It can be terrifying, and sometimes you find yourself at the bottom of a ginormous pile of Knowing that has to happen before feeling at all competent - especially when the job is different from anything you've ever been paid to do. But generally, knowing more stuff than you did before is exciting.

That said, I always get nervous beforehand, and kind of stay nervous for the first few weeks. Some things I'm hoping don't happen tomorrow, or for a while:

- showing up late
- spilling something (that's not water) on myself at the beginning of my shift, and having it stain in an unfortunate shape or awkward place
- making a random comment about something like genital piercings because I'm nervous (aka verbal vomit)
- tripping over my own feet, which I already do all the time when I'm not wearing unfamiliar, work-type shoes
- getting home and finding out I had toothpaste on my cheek all day
- breaking an expensive piece of equipment the first (or second) time I touch it
- breaking an unspoken (or as-of-yet-unlearned) work rule and getting a look from the person training me
- breaking an extremely obvious social rule like don't accidentally insult your new boss when you talk at her (this one will make me hide in the bathroom until I don't shine like the dark room's red light)
- discovering I work with someone I will never get along with (like someone who sets off my PervDar)

The list, you might guess, could go on and on until I collapse in a fetal ball in the corner, rocking back and forth and biting my fingernails and waiting for Spousal Unit to come stealth-cuddle me into a relaxed state. (Yes, that has happened.) As it is, I'm just going to say that if only two of those things happens in the next few weeks, I will have won at starting my new job.

If not, then I'm going to need a wig and a wand, so I can use the false memory spell on everyone and make them believe I'm actually a competent adult. Who doesn't say things like, "Was she tripping over her vagina?" to people she's only met twice.
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