Friday, September 30, 2011

Happiness is a Yellow Leaf

One morning earlier this week, I drove to work and it was decidedly fall all around me. Leaves started changing overnight, the air was crisp and refreshing, yellow and brown blew across the street in time with a dancing breeze, and there were Macintoshes and caramel dip in the fridge.

I'm now starting to feel the last comforts of returning home again. The immediate comforts of friends and family and greenery were spectacular to experience, and the shifting of seasons is kind of the icing on the cake - a final reassurance that yes, I am home again.

I have big plans for October. Plans involving corn mazes and pumpkin patches. Plans for more apple cider, long walks in warm clothing, cuddles under a homemade blanket.

The more I think about it, the more I'm committed to starting October early.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Flying Horse-Bird Thing

Last night, Spousal Unit, Kaelin, and I were watching a movie, and I heard a very loud... thing outside.

I was fairly certain it was a bird. After its first few calls, I tuned it out, and we watched another twenty minutes of the movie. But during a quiet segment, I realized it had been making noise the entire time.

I paused the movie. "Do you guys hear that?"

They most certainly did. It sounded kind of like a tiny horse - the noise was very akin to a whinny, and very loud. Being the Adventure Squad that we are, we went outside to investigate.

Lately, there have been many cars parked on our street because of nearby construction. For some reason, I thought maybe one of them had a trailer and had left a foal in it overnight. But this is Madison. Even though we saw a guy use the bike lane for his horse one day, I'm pretty sure there aren't people with horses in the nearby area. (But there are cows who contribute to Babcock Hall ice cream.)

I went outside expecting to find a tiny, tiny horse. But I wasn't expecting to find him in a tree.

After a moment of wandering, we realized the noise was coming from a tree branch right above the house.

A horse with wings, I thought, while immediately dismissing the idea.

The noise also made us worry that it might be some kind of baby animal who'd lost its mother, or mother who'd lost her baby animal. It was a very sad sound. I scanned the nearby street for roadkill because, you know, I'm sympathetic like that.

We went back inside and Kaelin used the miracle of the Interwebs to discover that it was not, in fact, a baby horse with tiny wings. It was an Eastern Screech Owl, which, as you can hear via the link, sounds remarkably like a tiny sad horse.

I still have the flutter ponies Morning Glory and High Flyer in my mom's basement somewhere. When I discovered it wasn't either of them in that tree, part of my childhood died.

And now I know she's not real and never will be.

Damn you, Eastern Screech Owl with your sad little horse voice. Damn you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Zen in a Cup

When Spousal Unit and I were getting ready to leave New Mexico, the bookstore manager, Michael, came to work one day with a box full of tea as a going-away gift. And by "a box full of tea," I mean a box with at least ten packages of tea, about a quarter of a pound each.

A lot of friggin' tea.

He said it's from a place he and his wife love, near where they lived before New Mexico - Willoughby's. If I remember right, there were five different kinds of tea in the box: Earl Grey with Blue Flowers (black), Gyokuro Jade Dew (green tea), Gardens of Provence (herbal), Ti Kuan Yin Oolong, and Russian Caravan (a blend).

"It's for you, but if Spousal Unit likes it too, that's a bonus," he said, and went on about his work. As though he hadn't just given me a two-year supply of tea.

I was incredibly touched. I hadn't expected anything at all from him, and his sincere, thoughtful gift spoke volumes. I've thought of him and his wife every time I drink the tea he gifted - which is often.

Of my two favorites, I was most surprised at the oolong.

(picture from Willoughby's website)

It's flavored like a lighter version of green tea, and is apparently the "monkey-picked" tea of legend (you can read one version of the legend in Cloud Tea Monkeys, a beautiful book). This oolong is perfect for a moment of relaxation on a weekend, when you can just sit while you enjoy a cup or two and ponder all the good in the world.

But my favorite one by far is the Russian Caravan.

(picture from Willoughby's website)

While this one is mostly black, its flavor is much lighter than that, thanks to the oolong mixed in. It also has keemun tea in the mix, which is one of the ingredients in English Breakfast tea.

I've been living by this one in the mornings, now that I have an actual commute to undertake. I miss being able to walk to work every day, but if I have to drive, I like doing it with a cup of this tea. (I am apparently too much of a tea snob to drink it in anything other than a mug now - meaning, no travel cups. I can taste plastic in the tea if I do that.)

When I drink this on the drive to work, I can almost forget where I'm going. Not enough to miss my turn - fortunately or unfortunately - but enough to have a moment of zen in the little bubble of my car. And it's that last push toward waking up my brain, too.

I think I'll have that cup early this morning.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

There Goes the Sun

You may be wondering where the sunsets have gone.

Honestly, it's been several weeks since I last saw a sunset, which is why I haven't posted any pictures of them. My new work schedule has me on duty until 7 p.m., which, seeing as I asked for early shifts, makes perfect sense seeing as it's the second latest one. Nothing screws up my day more than having breakfast at 7:30 and "dinch" at 3.

So. Having to work until 7, now that it's fall, means I don't get to see the sunset anymore. And on my days off, it's been rainy and cloudy. I miss the sun, and it's not even winter yet.

Several years ago, when I lived through the Wisconsin winters on a regular basis, I often got SAD - seasonal affective disorder. It's basically weather-induced unhappiness, caused by lack of sunshine. Yes, living without sunshine can really mess you up that much. (Although, it apparently has summer effects, too.)

I've been toying around with the idea of getting a high-intensity lamp for years - they sell them especially for people with SAD, as one of the treatments is more exposure to sunlight. That can be hard to get in the winter months, as Niels Finsen surely knew as a Scandinavian. He developed the light therapy treatment for lupus! (Even though it's never lupus.) Apparently, people do a whole bunch of other therapies with light, everything from acne treatment to neonatal jaundice to wound healing... Kids, don't try that last one at home.

This morning, I thought I'd look up some of those lamps. This website features all kinds of fun SAD products - surprise, they're based in Minnesota. And surprise, I won't be getting one anytime soon, because the cheapest one is $119. For a freakin' lamp! It's $83.61 on Amazon, which, while it's better, is not actually much better.

I'm feeling happier already. I think I'll go for a walk.

No, really. I'm going for a walk. The sun just came out.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Worst Book Covers: These Guys Can't Afford Shirts, I Guess

You deserve an introduction here. Or a warning. Or something like that.

The book covers that you are about to see are items removed from our clearance section at work. Whenever books need to be clearanced, the older titles are pulled to make room. The spinny display is full of rejected romance and mystery titles; therefore, the ones I pull to make room are the uber-rejects.

And they're really, really horrible things. I now present to you the worst book covers I saw last week. I hope you can survive these. Good luck.

Lois Greiman's An Accidental Seduction is apparently a really bizarre book. Check out all the Amazon customer comments - apparently, her regular readers think she writes "historical" novels. This book is a Prince and the Pauper situation (you can read it here), with two women switching places and (surprise!) there's a handsome guy involved. And he apparently tends to not wear a shirt.

The book's tagline: "When she submits, heart and body, to the rogue's desires, it will be no accident..."

And we all know what "..." stands for on the cover of a romance novel. That's right: it means the book is way longer than it has a right to be.

You've got to hand it to someone who gets a tartan worked into a book cover without it being on a guy's kilt. To Tame a Highland Warrior is by Karen Marie Moning - which is a pen name if I ever saw one. See that guy on the cover? (As if you could miss him, with all those freakin' muscles.) His name is apparently Gavrael McIllioch, and he was born to a Highland clan with supernatural strength. That's right - a superpowered Scotsman is what we've got here. He, of course, abandoned his family castle, and "could not deny the fierce desires that compelled him to abduct her from the altar."

Disappointingly, the more "modern" cover has no tartans or blondes, just a close-up of muscle-y chest, but the tagline is the same: "Only her love could gentle his savage soul..."

This one's totally my favorite. Note the subtle way in which it implies this overmuscled, wild-eyed Tarzan is the thing you've been wishing for your whole life. The careful inclusion of his armband and the jewel-studded title imply that despite his lack of clothing, he's got the income to provide for you. And last but not least, the flame in the corner suggests - I'm going out on a limb here - the burning passion which can never be extinguished. Until a richer guy with bigger muscles comes along on Kathleen Nance's next book cover.

And it turns out I wasn't far off the mark. That guy on the cover is apparently a djinni, and the woman who summons him is more into her business than in either her daughter or making wishes to get her anything she freakin' wants. Who doesn't want wishes? And why would someone write a book suggesting that all the main character needs is this guy and she'll finally be a "normal" woman without a career, a good mother? One customer review described her as an "irritatingly too-independent heroine." Run along and serve your man, honey. I'm heading out to win the bread now.

This book doesn't have a tagline, but the one I made up for it is: "He's everything you think you don't want..."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Captain Norwegian's Mandolin

A few weeks ago, we went to Spousal Unit's parent's for his birthday. You remember when I told you about it: the cake, the new t-shirt, the destruction of the cake because a tipsy Spousal Unit had a knife...

Anyway. When The Great Migration happened earlier this year, we knew we wouldn't have room for our books in our cars during the move. So we mailed them to Spousal Unit's parents, who have kindly kept them in the basement, waiting for us to get a room of our own.

After things settled down after Spousal Unit's party, we went hunting for books we've missed and needed, like our cookbooks and The Hunger Games series. As we settled the boxes back into place, Spousal Unit suddenly turned toward a pile of stuff behind him. When he turned around again, he was holding a mandolin.

Playing mandolin has been on my "things to do" list for quite some time. I knew I wanted to play either that or a ukulele. I like the sound of smaller stringed instruments, and I've missed the music in my life since I stopped playing flute and no longer live next to a building full of pianos.

We stared in wonder at the stringed beauty. It was covered in a thick blanket of dust, clearly ignored for ages past. Spousal Unit, knowing I've wanted to play one (and wanting to play himself) ran up the stairs to ask his brother the musician if I could have it.

I was, to some degree, mortified. Norwegians don't ask for anything - it's far too bold, and after all, it's best to be satisfied with what you've got. They might, on occasion, let the tiniest degree of longing show, but always wait to be offered the object of their desire. (This goes for everything from the butter dish to beautiful instruments.)

Spousal Unit is clearly not Norwegian.

I bounded up the stairs behind him, and by the time I reached the kitchen, he was already asking his brother if we could confiscate the mandolin. I wanted to bury my head in my hands and hide in the corner, but I was too excited about the potential answer to run away.

"Oh, I forgot I had that," his brother mused. "Sure, she can have it."

My father-in-law, who must have had a hand in buying it, agreed readily.

It's a Carlo Robelli, teardrop-shaped. I can now play eight chords. My fingers are starting to get calloused. It's an odd feeling - like having that thin layer of glue over them, I feel like there's something in the way whenever I touch anything. My sensitivity is somewhat diminished, and I don't think I like that. (Y'know, metaphorically speaking and all.)

But it's fun to be able to play a few things. My long-term goal is to be able to play Losing My Religion by R.E.M., who sadly broke up earlier this week. (Good run, guys.) After watching this awesome tutorial, I can now play all the notes. I just need to play them in the right order, at the right tempo.

I'm excited to be a musician again.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

One Step Closer

Some heavy issues have been running through my mind lately - including the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

I'm thrilled with the repeal of DADT (which, when I see it abbreviated like that, reminds me of a certain very harmful chemical that was also banned for the good of the world). I think it's about time the military has the same equality as all other American jobs are supposed to have. (I say "supposed to" because I'm sure plenty of people at equal-opportunity jobs have been fired for their sexual orientation.)

I'm really glad to see recognition that DADT did no good and is, in fact, harmful. You're clearly not required to be straight to be a military presence, so why should we discriminate? No good reason other than homophobia.

Which is why the repeal of DADT makes me a little bit nervous. This is an incredible breakthrough for gay rights in the U.S., but my concerns are in the retaliation we might see. The fact remains that many people still think homosexuality is disgusting or intolerable. It's only been thirteen years since Matthew Shepard was murdered - I hope, I pray that that's enough time for people to change significantly.

But the Westboro Baptist Church still exists (if you already know who they are, don't click that link - it's upsetting to see and just more of the same hate). While their activities mostly involve ridiculous protests, they still fuel negative ideas and spread idiocy. No one I know buys into their BS, but some people do, and that's what worries me.

We as a whole in this country have a responsibility now to prevent those worries from becoming reality. How can we do that? For some of us, it means to keep doing what we have been: treating those who are different from us as though they are not different at all, because in the end, what does it matter if a gay person serves in the military? Their service is worth the same as a straight person's, and is no different. We should do our part to decrease bigotry and hatred and intolerance - by being tolerant, loving, and accepting.

Even those who believe being gay or lesbian is a sin in God's eyes should be able to agree with me that God says we should treat our neigbor as ourselves. Who are we to discriminate against those God loves, to say someone's lifestyle is sinful or immoral? If you happen to believe it's a sin to be gay or lesbian, remember that God loves sinners - if he didn't, he'd probably have started from scratch again by now.

The end of this video is mostly a campaign ad, but the beginning shows four people affected by the DADT repeal. And this one has gone viral lately, but it's still worth seeing the look on the soldier's face when he comes out to his father, who still loves him. Last but not least, The Daily Show's clip states, a bit more openly, how ridiculous DADT was.

I'm glad to refer to that policy in the past tense.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Travesty in Tinsel

It's that glorious time of year again, when everyone starts decking their halls, hanging their stockings, and thumpety thumping through the snow to find a Tannenbaum of their own.

"Wait, what?" you must be asking. "It's September, right? As in, still-technically-summer, leaves-haven't-really-started-turning, still-need-my-apple-cider-fix September?"

Yes, out here in the natural world, it is the end of summer. Geese occasionally honk obnoxiously overhead. Squirrels are becoming fuzzier nut-cheeked fatties. Humans dig through attics and basements for last year's sweaters, made holier-than-thou (literally) by mentally unstable moth hordes.

Out here, it is summer. But a department store is about as far as you can get from natural, and in there... In there, it's madness. Red, green, tinselly madness.

In there, it's only 64 days till Black Friday.

Terrifying to think of, scarier to visualize. Yesterday at a Hobby Lobby, I had to walk by aisles and aisles of red velvet and sparkly tree decor before reaching the yarn. But that wasn't the worst part. To me, the worst part was seeing it before me and realizing all that crap was there last week, too. And maybe even the week before. I've been desensitized to the early introduction of Christmas crap.

I'm not saying I hate Christmas. It's my favorite holiday. I love basking in the glow of a tree late at night, the slightest light bouncing off the snow outside. I love Christmas songs, my old blue nativity, and baking cookies on Christmas Eve for the firefighters down the street (an old family tradition). I love most of all the feeling of peace and love that you get that day when spending time with family. (It helps that all us kids are older now - the screaming is at least kept to a minimum.)

I love the holiday itself. What I hate, what I absolutely abhor, what I cannot stand in any way is the greed and commercialism associated with the holiday.

Every year, decorations and prepackaged gifts make an appearance earlier. I've seen them in August. To me, aisles decked with boughs of artificial holly don't represent the coming season and all their joy - at least not when it's still summer. They represent corporate greed and the desire to make a dollar on anything people buy. The question is no longer, "What's an affordable price for this stocking?" It's, "What's a price that sentimental saps will still pay? 40 bucks? It only took us 5 bucks to make this, but might as well scrape the bottom of someone's pocket."

I hate it. These thoughts, these self-serving desires of our society, have taken away the true sentimental value of everything. We still treasure certain things, but there are new ones at the store if we happen to lose them. We still revel in the moment, but that moment gets shorter every year. We're indoctrinated to want more, now, bigger, faster.

Screw that.

This year, I'm having a Buy Nothing Christmas. Buy Nothing Day is every Black Friday, and stands as a testament against greed and the need for more crap, which has been instilled by corporate America. Buy Nothing Christmas goes a bit further - I will not be buying Christmas gifts for anyone this year. I will make them by hand. I will trade with friends - their handmade good for mine. But I'd rather put my money on going to see and be with family. I'd rather put it toward something that matters more deeply - pick a charity, any charity.

(I can't deny that my desire to do this is also economy-driven. But I have deeper reasons too.)

If you've been counting down to Christmas since December 26 of last year, good for you. If you're already excited to put up your tree on November 1, have fun.

But maybe this year, instead of buying more tinsel, more lights, more artificial snow (seriously, this is Wisconsin), you could make bread for your elderly neighbor. Maybe have a cup of coffee with a friend you haven't seen in a while. Maybe gather the family to make cinnamon ornaments for your tree.

Whatever you do, remember the joy and peace, and make your Christmas about that - not about the pooping reindeer toy.

From the Archives: College Poetry

This is a poem from after my writing started to improve in college. Yes, I wrote plenty of poetry in high school, and some of it was okay. But most of it was bad teen poetry (BTP), and luckily, I was cured of this affliction (I think).

If you or someone you love has BTP, please head to the nearest library and read, read, read. And please, don't ever write about how your life is like a black hole.

Homage to My Butt

My butt goes out and decides
not to return. Little clump of fat, wandering
ill-lit streets, searching
for a dry muskrat den of its own.

The toilet seat, the sunk-in couch, a scrap
of celestial rug, even granny panties.
We all confer, in shambles, hoping to suck it back home

though I am most alone now.
No butt to call my own, no way to
sit or dance or fall flat
on my ass
which went out for a smoke
and hitchhiked to Montana.

I hope some dumb goat eats it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

There is Nothing New Under the Sun (But Who Cares?)

Today, I freely admit that I have nothing new to write about. My one-day weekend was delightfully lazy, my last day of tux work was incredibly lame (despite free pumpkin pancakes), and I have nothing exciting to enthrall you with. So instead, I've dug up some of my favorite photos from good times past. Some of these are my photos, some belong to others. Enjoy - I'll share something exciting tomorrow.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Letter to Those in Charge

Dear Management/Owners,

Your attempts at making retail classy are not working.

You seem to be under the extremely mistaken impression that changing the language we, the workers, use will change everything about the place in which we work. Carefully chosen words, to you, can make or break the business as a whole. While I agree that language is powerful, you're overlooking something very important: language cannot change facts, only disguise them. And sometimes, not even that.

For example. At the tux shop, I've not been allowed to say the common retail phrase, "Can I help you?" The supposed reasons for this are that it's a yes or no question, and that it's very "low-end" retail. Instead, employees are supposed to say, "What brings you in today?"

News flash: eliminating the phrase "can I help you" does not change the fact that even if it's expensive, it's still retail. We are still selling useless crap to people who could easily do without; we are still at risk of hearing the phrase, "No thanks, I'm just looking." (Which, by the way, is not as detrimental as you might think. How many times did I hear that phrase in the bookstore and still put a book in someone's hand before walking away?)

We are not allowed to say the words "plastic" or "polyester" at the tux shop. Everyone knows these "synthetic materials" exist. Everyone knows these canes or those buttons are fabricated by man and the material can't be found in a natural setting. Calling it "synthetic" to their faces is just insulting, and almost sounds cheaper than plastic. News flash: our modern society runs on plastic, and nothing we say in a freaking tux shop can change that fact.

Another point I take issue with, in other branches of retail: calling customers "guests." They are not in the store for an extended stay (unless it's a hotel, which is a different ball game in some ways). They did not pack their little overnight bag and set up camp in the housewares aisle. They are in the store to buy stuff. Therefore, they are customers. Calling them guests does not make a retail business classier; it does not make them feel more welcome. It makes them feel like you, the person making the decisions, are a pretentious, ignorant Scrooge, doing your best to get under the common man's skin and into their wallets.

In short, you can use your little words all you want to try and mold your business into a "classy establishment." It won't work. All it does is piss off the peons working under your tyranny.

With synthetic "love,"

Share your "favorite" unnecessary work-related phrase in the comments.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My First Lace and Steam Science (Yes, They Go Together)

So remember back in the day when I was planning to knit some lace? I started the project not long after I blogged about it, at the beginning of May. It's the Heartland Lace shawl pattern, downloadable here for free. If you have a Ravelry account, you can see it here.

To be fair, it didn't actually take me four months to make this. I finished it about a month and a half ago, and then it sat in a ball in the corner till I got around to blocking it last night. It didn't take all that long, but weighing down the corners of the towel was a little obnoxious - I ended up with three stacks of books, a CD case, and a picnic basket holding it taut.

For those who don't know, "blocking" means stretching the finished piece into the desired shape, and then steaming it with an iron. This means pinning it into place, usually on the ironing board or on a towel. I actually didn't have enough pins to block this whole thing at once, so I did it in halves, with pins down the middle so that it didn't stretch oddly.

I love the way it turned out. I did lots of measuring to make sure I was stretching it accurately on both sides, and I think it's not bad for a first lace project. In the end, it's even difficult to see the mistakes... unless you know what you're looking for, and are looking closely.

Friend Kaelin, as I was explaining how steaming keeps it in place, asked if it wasn't weird that it does that. So then I started wondering about the science of heat and steam in regards to fabric. Because I'm a geek, and that's what geeks do.

According to various sites, heat causes the tiny strands of taut fiber within fabrics to loosen - on a molecular level. When the fabric cools, fibers retain their new, stretched shape. Steam allows the heat to go deeper in the fabric, affecting more fibers. This is why spraying an item with water before ironing (or using steam) is more effective than just using a hot iron.

But it's even more sciencey than just that. Many fiber molecules have hydrogen bonds, and so does water. The two hydrogen bonds kind of mesh together, stretching the fiber molecules into a different shape, which is held after the water evaporates. Certain fabrics, like cotton and wool, require the addition of water to help loosen the fibers on a molecular level.

And I thought I was just making something pretty.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Scones: The Perfect Fall Treat

Weather-wise, today is a delightful victory. The high is 60, as it will be tomorrow, meaning Autumn is finally wrenching away Summer's grip on this hemisphere. Soon, the leaves will start turning gold, persimmon, and toffee, making our outdoor walks a symphony of color, a concerto of crunching. It's almost time to break out the scarves and sweaters.

This is usually very exciting to me - the sweaters in particular. But this year, it brings on a moment of silence from me, because I left all - all - our winter clothes in New Mexico, believing Spousal Unit would be back for them at the end of September. Alas, he is going back, but it's likely to be on the train, which means no room for him to carry an enormous box of fluff.

A few sweaters will be returning so I can avoid freezing my butt off, but most will sit in storage, wondering why they've been abandoned to that cold, dark corner of the universe.

Since I can't revel in my fall sweaters quite yet, I'm enjoying fall's stage entrance in other ways: with food. Over the weekend I made two batches of scones: one lemon poppyseed, one pumpkin chocolate chip. They're a delicious treat for a cool morning and a hot cup of tea.The lemon poppyseed scones came originally from Epicurious, a great place to find fun new recipes. The original recipe is for cranberry, walnut and lemon scones, but I just wanted lemon poppyseed. So, I altered the recipe for my purposes - among other things, I severely decreased the amount of sugar. For a normal-sized batch of scones, you pretty much never need a full cup unless you're trying to overdose on the stuff. You could even go with less than I've suggested here.

Another handy tip: nearly all scone recipes call for chilled butter to be cut into the dry ingredients. I've found that softened butter does the job just as well, and saves you the pain of having to work with a solid brick of (delicious) fat.

Lemon Poppyseed Scones

1 Tbsp plus 1/2 c. sugar, divided

2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp lemon juice, divided

2 c. white flour

1 c. wheat flour

1 T baking powder

1 T finely grated lemon peel (optional)

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) softened butter, chopped

1 T poppyseeds

1/2 c. milk

Mix together flours, baking powder, lemon peel, salt, and 1/2 cup sugar in large bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or fork until pea-sized clumps have formed. Add millk and 2 Tbsp lemon juice; stir with fork, then knead with your hands until the dough is one solid ball (do not overmix). Divide dough into two equal balls. Press out on floured surface until each is 6 inches in diameter. Transfer to a baking sheet (lined with waxed paper, if you prefer) and cut each round into 6 wedges. Brush with the remaining lemon juice and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake about 15-20 minutes until tester comes out clean.

This recipe for Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Scones comes from Morning Coffee and Afternoon Tea, a site I've loved for a long time. Again, you can use softened butter instead of chilled if you like, and rather than leaving one ball of dough for this and ending up with six enormous scones, you can follow the above directions and make two balls of six smaller scones each. Still a satisfying size, and you can share with more friends. I also omitted the egg, brushing the scones with milk instead.

An idea I had - suggested by the first recipe - was to put cranberries in this mix instead of chocolate chips. I even went out and bought them. But then I put them in the cupboard and forgot what I was doing. If you'd like, try 1/3 cup of cranberries instead of chocolate chips. And don't forget to make the pumpkin butter on that website, too!

One day soon, I'll post my recipes for chai tea and hot apple cider, too, so you can enjoy those with these delicious scones, too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Only Jackets I Care About Are Dust Jackets

Everyone who knows me knows how little I care about appearances on a day-to-day basis. I don't wear makeup. I wear white whenever the hell I feel like it, even if Labor Day's come and gone. My favorite shirt features a cartoon character. My favorite shoe designer is whichever one happens to be most comfortable (and I never care enough to remember the name).

With that in mind, let me tell you how glad I am to be leaving the formalwear industry of DOOM.

In the last month, I've felt my soul be squished, twisted, and crushed by having to memorize vest patterns and coat styles. Honestly, I don't think there's anything in the world I care less about. Telling the difference between and remembering the names of four different dot patterns? Not high on my list of priorities. Being able to tell a customer why this notch lapel with two buttons and a satin collar is different from that one, with the same description? I don't care, and I can't tell them the difference when I don't get it myself.

Valuable brain space has been wasted, and I may never get it back.

I fully recognize that a certain art goes into helping customers pick out what they feel most represents their wedding. It's a job that needs to be done and is incredibly valued by many people. The problem is, I'm not one of those people. (My wedding to Spousal Unit was almost an anti-wedding.) Every day, I felt like I was doing something useless and not contributing to the world in any recognizable way. I felt like a worthless human being.

Imagine feeling that way and still going to work each day. Imagine staying at work each day, with that feeling threatening to physically choke and drown you, and still forcing yourself not to leave till the end of your shift. Confronted with all those vests and coats, I almost broke down in tears multiple times. Last time I felt like this was my job at Picky Slave back in college - five years ago. You remember - the one where I burned my shirt and toasted a marshmallow over it after my last day.

Many of the people who read this job do not have to imagine this feeling. You've lived it in the past, or you're living it as you read this. Friends, protect your souls - it is possible to get out intact.

The tux shop was retail, but it was cleverly disguised retail. I sympathized with the creepily gesturing mannequin in the corner: my face was a plastic mask, and personality just got in its way. The only thing I was allowed was my standard, company-issued face, with all the proper phrases and words in place.

Screw that, is what I say. I've got a job at a bookstore now, and I shall dominate the earth with my glowing personality and my real attitude.

At least, most of the time. There are still times when politeness outweighs laughing in someone's face - such as when they decide white camo vests and bright blue ties are perfect for their wedding party.

Monday, September 12, 2011

It May Rain

This was one of many adventures on yesterday's sunset excursion: a box full of galoshes on the curb.

The sun picked one little patch of marigolds to illuminate. They looked like they were on fire.

This sunset was from earlier in the week...

This one was from last night.

Spousal Unit and I walked to a new place we found for sunset pictures - more directly across the lake from the Capitol. I took a video of the sunset, so you can watch it with the sound of waves anytime you want. Unfortunately, Blogger is once again a really crappy blog host and won't let me upload the video, and YouTube is also being a jerk and wants to take 70 minutes to upload a two-minute video. If I can ever get this video up, I'll repost. But it might take a while.

Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11: Pivotal vs. Influential

This weekend, most people are remembering ten years ago. They are remembering a time when they were different, when the United States was different. They are remembering the choking terror as smoke billowed from two buildings in New York, another building a mess of rubble, an airplane crashing into nothing, far away.

I am doing the same. I think, very often, that September 11 seems to mean something different for my age group - those now ages 20-30 - than for many of the older adults I know. For them, yes, it was horrifying and a catastrophe. But the difference is in how we've lived after it.

I'm not saying this event didn't affect older adults - those now 50 and older. It certainly affected everyone in the United States deeply. I'm not discounting their reaction. But for those who had less life experience at the time of the attack, it is a pivotal moment in our lives.

That day, everything became starkly Before and After. It is not a far stretch to say September 11 is our Pearl Harbor, as it is for everyone. Being younger, however, I believe it altered life for us in a more distinct way.

I was in high school when the planes struck the Twin Towers. At that age, I was much more impressionable, especially in regards to such devastation. The United States wasn't involved in any wars at that point. Any devastation taking place in the world was very much beyond myself, even if I was aware of it and concerned about it. I wasn't living in a bubble, by any means, but there was that notion of the U.S. being untouchable.

I did not live through the Vietnam War's effects on our country. I did not live through the race riots. I did not see the newspapers the day after Kennedy's assassination. Up until 2001, the worst event in my personal lifetime was the Oklahoma City bombing. Still, I was only ten when that happened and couldn't fully understand it - hell, I don't understand it now, but I have more perspective, at least.

At 17, I had read Slaughterhouse Five. I hated politics and wanted nothing at all to do with them. I knew that many people around the world hated the United States, and Bush's manner of taking office hadn't helped improve their opinion. I knew little about the Middle East and nothing about losing a loved one.

In school that day, we watched news footage in every class. Every hour, the terror of the situation was drilled into me. I recall watching Fox News on the huge screen in the auditorium, where they showed shots of Palestinians running through the streets in joy, celebrating that their enemy had been attacked. (Fox also said the attacks were probably planned by them, just because of how happy they were. Good reporting, guys.)

As we left the auditorium for our next class (to watch more news footage), a random kid next to me said something about going over there and killing those bastards who'd attacked us. My first thought, having been so immersed in this for hours, was, Yeah, we should do that.

And then I physically stopped in the throng of teenagers, a stone in the river as they moved around me. And I thought, How would that solve anything?

That was the beginning of my political activism. That was when I realized that even if I hate politics, I can't sit idly by or nothing will ever change. My world was shaken, my direction was altered, and for that and many other reasons, 9/11 became a pivotal moment in my life.

Many older Americans were better braced for this kind of thing, just in having more worldly experience. Again, it's not that they weren't affected, and every individual is different.

But for me, the rest of my life is an After 9/11 experience.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Books I Want: The Princess Curse and All These Things I've Done

Part of my reason for choosing these two books is that I've missed me some good YA lately. I started re-reading The Hunger Games a couple of days ago, after seeing the short trailer for the movie (goosebumps!). It's made me crave more, and these are my choices, should I be able to get my hands on them.

Oddly enough, I decided to write about this book today before I realized John Scalzi posted Merrie Haskell's Big Idea about it last night. Weird.

Based on the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses, The Princess Curse is set in Eastern Europe and focuses on Revka, an herbalist who's determined to break the dancing curse. I love fairy tale rewrites, especially when they involve a strong heroine and a realistic, tough setting. I don't know that this book is exactly like that, but the Big Idea post (which is about the underworld and outhouses) suggests it might be. I hope it's similar to Plain Kate.

In many ways, this book reminds me of White Cat by Hollie Black. There's a weird illegal substance - magic in Black's book, chocolate and caffeine in Gabrielle Zevin's. The main character is right in the thick of the "mafia," although Zevin's main character is completely aware of what's going on. I'm hoping there's a really big difference between the two, because I really want Zevin's book to be good, and Black's was most certainly not.
Anya's family is a chocolate manufacturer and supplier - the future equivalent of drug lords. The first chapter opens with her boyfriend begging for a "hit" of the stuff they have hidden in the house. He's poisoned by it, to her surprise, and she is thrust into the national spotlight. In a world where paper is hard to find and water is just as bad.

Zevin's Big Idea piece lists the things that inspired her book, including mafia movies (of course) and the control certain organizations have over what we eat. These are things I also enjoy (to a certain extent - I love The Departed and Boondock Saints, but hate most other movies where people's heads squish). With all the powerful ideas behind it and the amazingly ridiculous first chapter, how could I not want more?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Carpe Cakeum

Spousal Unit's birthday was this weekend. We went to his parents's house, and I was all prepared to make his delicious birthday cake - with a TIE fighter, as requested. Then, I found out he'd told his mom I was making pizza.

I did make pizza for his birthday dinner the previous night, but hadn't planned on making it for his party. But his mom had already bought a cake. What to do? Spousal Unit reasoned that you can never have too much cake, so I went ahead with my original plan: a melted ice cream cake.

The recipe calls for a cake mix, three eggs, and a melted pint of Ben and Jerry's. Spousal Unit wanted red velvet, so I used a red velvet cake mix and vanilla ice cream, but there are many more interesting combos out there. Mix everything together, and you have the moistest cake in the world.

I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be baked at 350 for about 35 minutes, but having two cake pans for a layer cake made it take much longer, so I was in a rush by the end. Throw in a kitchen I'm not comfortable in, and you get a cake that looks like this.

It was rather lopsided, and the (canned) buttercream frosting was infested with crumbs. My mantra for the day was, "It's not much to look at, but damn is it going to taste good!"

After everyone's bellies were full of ribs (except mine), I applied the candles and searched for a lighter. Spousal Unit's dad swooped in to set the cake ablaze.

However, Spousal Unit, in his birthday shirt from me, did not find the cake pleasing.

There was no TIE fighter on the cake.

(See that bottle in his hand? He'd had a few at that point.)

I rolled my eyes, though I'd expected nothing less from him. So I lightly carved a TIE fighter shape into the icing. He and his brother came to examine it.

"That's pretty good," his brother praised.

"Yeah, but it's missing a couple of things," Spousal Unit critiqued.

He picked up the knife.

This was the only picture I got of the original design, and you can't even see it. Yes, that's Spousal Unit holding the knife.

In the end, I guess it still looked like a TIE fighter, but there were way more crumbs in the frosting than before. Moral of the story, which I already knew: keep drunk spouses away from knives.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Peace by the Lake

It's always nice to take the walk down to the dock and watch the sunset. It's a good moment of relaxation before the rest of the crazy world kicks in and everything speeds up again. I wish I could watch the sunset every day.

But there's that thing where I need to earn money in order to one day afford an apartment, and right now the pickings are slim. I'll probably never be as lucky as I was with my last job, so I enjoy the moments of sanity that I can get before rushing back to an insane world.

May this sunset give you peace as well.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sources: Red Velvet Cake Actually Made With Fish Eggs

Picture from an anonymous source

MADISON, Wisc. - The truth behind red velvet cake was finally revealed at One Egg, Two Egg bakery this weekend: the red color is not caused by chemical reactions, as many believed, but by a special blend of red caviar.

"I had to come out about this," said Pete Stieke, head chef at the Madison bakery. "I knew if I made this cake one more time without fully informing the buyer, I'd never be able to sleep at night again. I've been living a lie."

Stieke's red velvet cake follows tradition dating back to the cake's eggy conception: rather than including a necessary fat, such as oil or butter, this blood-red cake uses salmon eggs to get its unusual tint.

Stieke also mentioned the backstock of eggs in his cellar is running low due to the recent salmon strike.

"If they don't stop this strike soon, I won't be able to make red velvet anymore," he said with a shake of his head. "I sympathize with their plight, but some of us are trying to make cake here, you know."

Salmon eggs seem to have been overharvested due to the unusual demand for red cakey goodness. Fish have spontaneously gone barren at hatcheries across the United States, leading scientists to believe they are capable of turning off their egg production at will.

Scientists deny that this is caused by overharvesting, pollution, or Justin Bieber, as many concerned citizens have suggested.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Least Girly Post About Shoes Ever

In high school and early college, I was a punk rock girl. At least, to a certain degree.

I had (still have) spiked black leather bracelets and a matching studded necklace to go with my studded belt. I had an awesome pair of pants that I wrote all over: quotes, phrases, and individual words that reflected who I was. And I was never without a great pair of knee-high boots to top it all off.

Spousal Unit mentioned my former sense of style not long ago, and I've been thinking about it ever since. I miss dressing like that. Yes, I love the beautiful skirts I have now, but I still long for the boots, especially. And I've been keeping an eye out.

Unfortunately, many of the skirts I now own are not compatible with buckle-ridden motorcycle boots. The skirts have all of these delicate threads underneath, holding various sequins and embroidery in place. Boots often catch on those threads and end up tearing the pretty decals from the skirts - not pleasant.

I learned this unfortunate fact with my current pair of boots: black with a chain across the top of the foot, and a small loop on the outer ankle. They have no buckles, but the zipper is what catches on the skirts. The tiny, tiny zipper. Which makes me wonder if there's hope of me finding skirt-proof, awesome boots. (These boots also have entirely cracked soles, and the heel is falling off. So I need new ones anyway.)

One pair that I really like so far (for style and price) is produced by Berlin. They lace up, buckle, and can even fold down at the top for a shorter boot. But... the buckles. And yes, I know I could just wear them with skirts that don't have threads all over the inside, but I love the skirt-boot combo.

The other problem with boots (and buying them online) is that I have very high arches and require lots of support in a shoe. Boots sometimes fail horrifically at that. That's why I'm considering Punkrose Queen, which look more like knee-high tennis shoes.

Unfortunately, I have to pay off bills before I can get any new boots, though I'll definitely get a pair before winter. I like having dry feet.

Along with all of this, I would love to rock the Ramona hair sometime soon. But that's not possible with my job situation right now. Maybe I could just get that style and use wash-out dye, but I'd like it to last a little bit longer. Someday, I will rock the punk again.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Across the Mississippi in 80 Days (or So it Seemed)

This weekend, Spousal Unit and I returned to my beloved homeland in the Northwoods to visit family.

It was a delightful time. Mom and Neal took us to Nelson, Wis., to visit the cheese factory. We had fun and ate food (this includes ice cream, of course). Later, we visited a winery in Alma which had really sweet wines - I don't think I could've handled a full glass of any that I tried.

But before we visited the winery, we went on a short trip to Minnesota.

Alma and Nelson are right along the Mississippi, lining the river with gorgeous bluffs, lush greenery, and delicious cheese. Across the giant bridge, Minnesota offers a chance for gas at a cheaper price, due to lack of sales tax. We've done things like this before to pinch a few pennies, but rarely has it been such an adventure.

I must first add that this was entirely Neal's idea, so we owe him credit for suggesting this wonderful venture, which started with backed-up traffic in Nelson, a town of 400 people. It seemed quite odd to us, sitting around a bend from the stop sign, until we reached the sign itself and saw construction on the other side, waiting to devour our souls.

We all groaned, but Neal plunged on. We all (foolishly) believed at this point that the construction wouldn't be too bad; they couldn't be repaving the entire bridge, after all. And they weren't. They were just repaving everything up to the sign that said, "Welcome to Minnesota," which was a pretty darn good distance.

As we meandered carefully past construction workers in the single lane of traffic, I noted the long line waiting to come back from Minnesota. Also, the terrible stench of exhaust and asphalt, baking in summer heat.

"Maybe we should just turn around now. It's going to take us forever to get back," I suggested.

"Too late! We're committed now," Neal said.

"We haven't even crossed the bridge yet," I told him. In my head, I was thinking, Some of us should be committed, at least.

Windows down, we plunged on through an enormous cloud of dust, our lungs filling with Wisconsin mud. After a brief respite, more delightful construction blocked our path before finally, we crossed the bridge into the unholy land of tax-free gas and Vikings fans.

Gas was $3.65, ten cents cheaper than where we originally filled up. (Later in the trip, we saw a Wisconsin gas station for $3.68.) I think we spent all the money we saved just in getting back to our homeland.

After crossing the bridge again, we were in the queue for a single line of traffic through the Mordor of construction, watching oncoming traffic meander past. Neal turned off the car to save the gas he'd purchased, and we hunkered down.

Five minutes passed. Nothing happened. A couple ahead of us walked away from their motorcycle, trying to determine what the hold-up was.

A second line of cars went past us, heading to Minnesota. We still hadn't budged.

"Well," I said in my best Western Wisconsin/Norwegian accent, "It sure is a good ting we went to Minnasoda for dat gas, doncha know. We all had a pretty darn good trip and saved lotsa money, too."

"Will you knock it off?" Neal growled from the front seat.

This (or something like it) was his response each time I reaffirmed the value of our exciting trip across the big river, as a third wave of oncoming cars went by. Our line remained still, waiting for the sea of heavy machinery to part and let us into the Holy Land. I'm pretty sure Neal would have enjoyed a big piece of Beboparebop Rhubarb Pie right then.

Finally, after twenty long minutes, we were released from the mangled claws of construction and set off for some badly needed wine. But I will always remember the overpowering reek of asphalt, the motorcyclist pretending to hitchhike, and Neal's insistence that he stay out of my blog.

All I have to say to that, is beware your actions around an English major.
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