Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween of Old

It took me longer than most kids to understand the whole point of Halloween.

My mom says that at first, I went door to door trying to give candy to the people who answered. What a strange idea this must seem to kids - getting sweets from people you've never met, looking up at them wide-eyed as they put a big bowl of sweets in your face just for being somewhat adorable. (Or just for being there, depending on the costume.)

Every year, Mom drove us - my sisters and I - way out in the country for Halloween. We'd visit my grandparents, showing off our fun new designs that would become dress-up clothes for a short time. Grandma always had a Ziploc bag of treats waiting for us. Then we would clamber back into the car, driving even farther away from the big city to reach our great-grandparents.

They were about as Norwegian as an old farming couple can get. I never noticed that the house seemed kind of old, or that wood heat was becoming quite obsolete. After all, Grandma and Grandpa had a wood stove, too, and all I saw was a big campfire indoors.

Great-Grandma was always thrilled to see us. She would coo over our costumes, and we'd stay and chat with the greats for quite some time - after all, it was a long drive to get out there. Often, it was already dark when we arrived, and I thrilled at defying the odds of bedtime. In the rural darkness, the whole world was incredibly late for bed, and I felt like part of the wilds around me (even if the dark woods were still kind of creepy).

Before leaving, Great-Grandma would load us up. No matter the size of our candy buckets, we always needed shopping bags to carry our goodies home. I don't believe she ever gave us candy - we got something better. Enough tart apples to make two whole pies. A mound of homemade Norwegian lefse. And a huge bag of freshly fried doughnuts, as dessert in our lunch boxes for a week, at least.

It's no wonder that I'd still rather have lefse than pie in the fall, if I had to choose. Luckily, I don't.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Haunted Root Cellar

Back in the day, when I was about ten and in fourth grade, we took a field trip to a roller skating rink.

It was one of the coolest places in town to us, in part because it had been recently renovated to be more awesome than anything else could be to the ten-year-old mind. There was the skating rink, with hills to skate up and down, a working train in the middle that you could ride, and occasional disco lights. There was an arcade off to the side where you could win tickets for prizes like those sticky hands that get stuck on the ceiling and leave their goop everywhere. There were above-rink tubes to crawl through. There was a party area with a White House, a Wild West jail cell, and many other cool backdrops.

There was also the Root Cellar.

To get to the Root Cellar, we headed down a staircase to this dank, dirty underground labyrinth, full of random extra rooms and strobe lights to make every motion more unusual. The place was named after all of the disgusting roots hanging from the ceiling, clumped with dirt and randomly swinging into your face at every turn.

It was the creepiest thing ever, and we loved it.

On this particular visit with all the classmates, it was October and Halloween was just around the corner, waiting to scare the pants off of us. So the Root Cellar had something special in store: it was filled with ghosts, monsters, and jackals in every abandoned room, waiting at the end of dark hallways, eager to scare the pants off of us unsuspecting kids.

We'd been freaked out about twenty times already when I, standing at the back of the group, felt something reach slowly over my shoulder from behind. I looked down and screamed at the grotesque monster paw reaching out from a dark window.

Others standing near me turned back and saw the Thing looming in the darkness. We didn't know what the arm was attached to, and I, in particular, didn't care. It was attached to something creepy that probably wanted to roar in my face and then laugh menacingly as it dragged me off to a torture chamber. It probably had huge, red eyes and fangs, and possibly a taste for the flesh of human children.

So, still screaming, I grabbed the hand and pulled as hard as I could.

The glove the poor haunted cellar worker was wearing came off. I continued to scream, and I threw it hard, straight back into the window and probably right in the face of whoever had been wearing it. Then I ran around the corner with my classmates.

It's not the kids who go into the haunted houses who are brave. It's the people working them.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Things You Will Like, Including Cats and Nathan Fillion

I've got a lovely bunch linky-nuts - deedly deedly... and those are what I'm sharing with you lovely readers today. Grab your favorite beverage for washing down links (so long as it won't get you drunk before work) and click away!

A great PSA from the Nerd Machine about how to avoid everyone showing up as Princess Leia at the next cosplay party. I have that problem every time I go anywhere. (Personally, I get a little revolted at people picking out costumes just based on sexiness. Put some freakin' thought into it. If you like the guy character better, dress as a guy. It's not all about the booty, you know.) Also, be sure to watch all the way through for Nathan Fillion's little PSA at the end.

The most interesting cat in the world. Based, of course, on the most interesting man in the world.

A somewhat horrifying fight between a mongoose and a cobra. This is in someone's house. Someone who has a daughter and lots of stuffed dead things. (The two are not related.)

Some wonderful poetry by my former professor, David Graham. I love the feel at the end of these: the fullness of spirit that regardless says there is room for more.

A recipe for instant Russian tea, though I think we called it Gypsy tea when I was a kid. Ah, casual racism... The link was shared with me by my friend-sister Finnley, who provides awesome-fun posts like this on a regular basis. With more pictures.

An awesome house, featuring a plethora of pumpkin lighting, This is Halloween, and someone with too much time on his/her hands. (Thank you for having too much time on your hands, person.)

And finally, misunderstandings with parents and auto-correct. Some of these are really, really terrible. Be prepared to see all kinds of words and maybe laugh till you literally ROTFLOL.

A last thought: I was eating those little Halloween pumpkin candies yesterday, along with pumpkin seeds. Something feels a little ironic about that.

I'm off to inspect another apartment. I hope the neighborhood isn't creepy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

25 Things to Do Before 28

My birthday this year has come and gone. My list of 25 things to do before turning 27 was pathetically attempted and has even become lost in the shuffle of living in a place not my own. I have a mention of it on my blog, here, which discusses the things I attempted and did not accomplish, as of June.

I still have not accomplished any of them. I feel kind of pathetic.

I'd love to give you a recap of the goals I achieved, as my friend Sandy does on her blog, but seeing as I lost the paper I wrote them on (which was a piece of scrap paper), I cannot do that. Wedding stuff was on there, along with seeing my childhood friend again for the first time in 18 years at the wedding. Beyond that, I do not recall. I'll let you know if I find that piece of mischievous paper again.

The whole point of doing a list like this is to keep things exciting, to be bold about life when I might otherwise not be, and to keep challenging myself. Also, to remember to do the things I want, rather than not writing it down and forgetting I wanted to do it when the time comes. This list keeps my goals at the front of my mind.


It is with that in mind that I create my list of 25 things to do before I turn 28. As usual, I'll carry over the things I didn't accomplish which I'd still like to do.

1. Take a creative class - painting, writing, etc.
2. Take kendo lessons, at least one class
3. Start sewing afghan squares together (this is the third year that damn afghan is on my list...)
4. Make another shawl for myself, in a fiber I don't have a shawl of yet (cotton is a possibility - preferrably a cape-like shawl)
5. Make sushi
6. Freakin' exercise regularly, in some way
7. Have a tea party in our new apartment, when we get one
8. Make or trade for all of the Christmas presents I give
9. Focus on poetry again (reading and writing)
10. Publish a poem/short story
11. Get my own tea set
12. Cook/bake something unusual that takes extra effort - perhaps a souffle?
13. Complete a crossword puzzle on my own (I'm really bad at those)
14. Get a bike
15. Get my orange skirt, so I have a skirt rainbow at last
16. Volunteer somewhere - maybe the children's museum
17. Take Spousal Unit to Mall of America, as he's never been there
18. Read The Reader in German
19. Move into our apartment that we don't have yet, on or before December 1
20. Buy a mattress. You know, for sleeping. Beause we don't have one.
21. Have regular date nights with Spousal Unit again. Even if it's just going for a walk.
22. Finish a second draft of my novel. Maybe a third.
23. Apply for that writing program I'm interested in
24. Read a book about quantum physics. Just for funsies.
25. Continue to write my blog. (o hai, i are doin it nao)

I may revise this in the future. I have a tendency to put some things on my lists that are much more difficult than I anticipate. It could possibly be really hard to do two edits of my novel in one year. We'll see.

Suggestions to help me accomplish this massive list are exceedingly welcome.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sunsets with Spousal Unit

I don't think I've ever featured more than two or three pictures for a sunset post - at least, of a single sunset. But that changes today! Spousal Unit snuck out and collected these while I was stuck inside being sick last week - I love him, I certainly do. Enjoy all the pretty that he's captured for you, and click the photos to enlarge, because they're even more awesome full-size.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Apartment Hunting (with Bow and Arrow)

I'm going to do something rather grown-up today: I'm going to look at, and possibly purchase, an apartment.

(By purchase I of course mean rent, because it would be silly of me to buy an apartment.)

I'm a bit nervous. I've made a list of the questions I need to ask, but I wonder about all the things I'm going to miss, too. What if it turns out there's a HUGE roach infestation, like the place we were at in New Mexico? What if the water pipes suck and instead of any water pressure in the shower we just get a gentle rain? What if our new neighbors turn out to be Turkeyneck and Chickenfoot? What if the guy showing the place turns out to be a jerk and a vampire? Double-whammy of bad luck, that would be.

A friend of ours arranged the last place Spousal Unit and I had. There was no looking at the place; we were suddenly living there and everything was hunky dory.

We have a bit more of a hand in choosing this place (by that I mean it's entirely up to us). Spousal Unit is working this morning, which means if I like the place, it's up to me to take it or leave it. Apartment hunting appears to be kind of cutthroat around here, and there are two showings of this place later today. I feel like if we're going to have a shot at it, I have to offer for it while I'm there.

That said, I've seen other places for better prices, including more parking, more space, etc. But I haven't seen many like that. This could be one of our best bets.

I just don't want to live next door to a flock of fowl.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Give a Dog a Bone

In high school and early college, I worked for a local grocery store. The store was conveniently located next to the cheapest housing in town, along with halfway houses for those just out of jail or overcoming addictions.

We had some fun customers, doncha know.

For all the customers who came in completely incoherent, with urine-soaked money, there were those who were actually interesting, too. We the checkers would converse with these regulars, and they made us wonder about them.

One of those I remember most clearly was an elderly gentleman. I say gentleman because he was always dressed nicely, with a vest and slacks, and his hair slicked to one side - very 1920.

I still maintain you can tell a lot about a person by what they purchase, wherever they go. This seemed especially true at the grocery store. This dapper gentleman would come in once every week or so and buy largely the same items: grapefruit, Listerine, and a big bottle of J. Bavet brandy. Sure, he bought other items too, but those were the recurring ones that stood out in my mind.

One week at the checkout, he unloaded the basket with the Listerine in one hand, the brandy in the other, and turned to me. "Now here's a question," he said jovially. "Which one do you drink?"

He wasn't the only one to come in for big bottles of alcohol. The college-age kids did, of course, but my favorites were the little old ladies. They were all about 4'10", with short, permed hair covered by a plastic rain hat. One in particular could hardly lift her enormous bottle of Fleischmann's from the cart to the counter, but she made me think of a tiny, tiny dog with a bone three times her size, wagging her tail in excitement.

This comparison carries over to the bookstore where I now work. Our clearance section is always full of cheesy romances, as I've mentioned before: books whose covers just make you cringe at their ridiculous stylings and the lack of suitable clothing in these alternate universes.

Last week, a woman of about 60, husband at her side, bought about eight of these books, each one featuring a rippling, muscular hunk of flesh on the cover with smoldering eyes (which say he has no personality at all). Again, here was a little lady with a head full of grey curls who couldn't wait to drag her wonderful find back home. Again, I saw a little terrier with an enormous bone.

If I was the husband, I'm sure I'd be a tad bit jealous.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

From Traditional to Modern to Wonky

Has anyone else found traditional wedding gifts to be kind of ridiculous? You know the ones: you're supposed to give tin or aluminum for the tenth anniversary, silver for the 25th anniversary, and so on.

Because nothing says "Happy tenth anniversary" like a tin cup or aluminum can.

To a certain degree, these gifts make sense. Paper for the first year: so the couple can finally finish writing their wedding thank-yous (ahem note to self), and it's cheap for them to give to each other. But there's some bizarre stuff on that traditional list - I know they vary sometimes, but I'm going off of the one I found here.

Honestly, no joking: the 32nd anniversary gift is conveyances. Like bicycles and automobiles. I guess that's why it's the 32nd anniversary and not the 52nd, because they might have needed to add wheelchairs to the list at that point.

The modernly devised anniversary gifts aren't much better. Rather than paper, that list starts out with clocks. Because if couples just starting out need anything, it's a way to tell how much freakin' time they've spent together and how long until forever is up. (You all know I'm hyperbolizing, right? Okay. Just checking.)

So. Here's my re-designed list of anniversary presents for couples to give each other, or for their friends to give them.

1st Anniversary: Shoelaces
No one can afford anything at this point. They're lucky to have enough soap in the bathroom and a landlord who doesn't ring their doorbell at 7 a.m. the day rent is due. Shoelaces are cheap and versatile. Yes, you can use them to tie shoes, but they're also a great Christmas decoration, if you drape them prettily and dye them with Kool-Aid. They can be used to tie up all the cords to the video game console SOMEONE keeps playing. They can also help you learn various knots, such as a hangman's noose...

2nd Anniversary: Coconut
Traditionally, cotton is given. The modern list advises china. Clearly, these both have the letter C in common. Coconut beats the pants off of those gifts because it has two Cs in it. I hate coconut, and so does Spousal Unit. We're skipping this anniversary and going straight to...

3rd Anniversary: Bacon
Traditionally, leather is given. The modern list suggests crystal or glass. I'm leaning toward the traditional one in that bacon is also a dead animal, but I want the humanely raised and slaughtered, never-fed-antibiotics Applegate Farms bacon. So far, this is totally the best anniversary. (But if you really love each other, this will be given every year. Maybe every week.)

4th Anniversary: Air Guitar
The traditional gift here is fruit or flowers. What a lame-ass gift idea. That's what you give for Mother's Day or for Christmas when you can't be bothered to buy a real gift for someone. Modern gifts are appliances. Spousal Unit jump-started this one and got me a blender for my 25th birthday, which I promptly (accidentally) broke. I think we can all agree an hour playing air guitar with your loved one is way more exciting than apples or blenders. Or even apples in blenders.

5th Anniversary: Liquor
Traditionally, this is the wooden anniversary, and non-traditionally, you get silverware. Liquor will be a much more practical gift, because you've got at least five more years ahead of you with this person. Drink up and get used to it.

That's the furthest I care to look ahead right now, because for our fifth anniversary, Spousal Unit and I will be 32 years old. That is impossibly ancient in my eyes right now. I kind of want to go back in time and slap my ten-year-old self for thinking 20 was ancient. Eugh, that's seven years behind me.

Maybe I'll get a jump-start on the fifth anniversary gift.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Spend Your November Word-Crafting!

November is upon us.

I have yet to decide if I will fully participate in this year's National Novel Writing Month, but I will at least give my novel more focus. If nothing else, I will use this time to craft my characters and improve at least the first 30 pages of my novel, which are probably the worst pages I've ever written.

For those who plan to participate (or who just like writing), I provide for you here some of my favorite writing-related implements of creation.

Write or Die is a great way to get out the required number of words in a short amount of time. If you stop writing, the screen gradually turns pink, then red, then starts screeching at you in a most terrible manner. Beware: on occasion, rather than screeching, the program has removed my most recent words letter by letter. So, you know, keep cheating by hitting space and backspace over and over. (Also, you don't have to buy this. Look for the online edition on this website, in the right column.)

Dragon Writing Prompts provides great ways to climb out of writer's block. Pictures to describe, sequels to name, single phrases from which to create worlds. There are also links to stuff like The Plot Whisperer, to help give your novel depth and direction before NaNoWriMo begins. Instead of winging it, like you did last year.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is in beta-stage online, for those of you getting your scientific freak on this fall. If nothing else, it's a great way to waste time while simultaneously coming up with novel ideas and plot twists.

Here's a list of 100 greatest non-fiction books, for those of you who need to do research. It's kind of late in the game for that, but never too late. They are categorized by subject, and most are very recent. But Samuel Johnson and Herodotus make the list, too.

Last, if you still aren't ready to cast your soul to the wind and glue your fingers to the keyboard, try these pep talks. They're the perfect thing to push you over the edge and make your words take wing. They are also great for halfway through the month when you slam your head against the wall and scream, "I CAN'T DO IT ANYMORE!"

Yes you can. Neil Gaiman says so.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Gastronomical Symphony in Two Parts

On Sunday, I ate a plethora of amazing food. I want a time machine specifically so I can go back to Sunday, freak out my earlier self and earlier Spousal Unit, and sneak food off of both their plates. It's totally possible, because last night I watched yet another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that involved time travel. If it's that common in the future, I think I'm entitled to at least one instance of time travel in my life.

These pancakes are enough to make me want it to be for last Sunday. Don't they look incredibly amazing?


Spousal Unit made them. For those who don't know, Spousal Unit claims he can only make pasta and lasagna, but when I asked for pancakes, he made me the best damn pancakes I've ever had.

(This is probably the only instance where I would say, "Are these cakes hot? Then I will take ALL of them!")

He's been holding out on me. When I praised his culinary prowess and he gave the credit to being an Eagle Scout, I thought he was joking. But apparently Eagle Scouts make lots of pancakes when they go camping. He's totally making the pancakes from now on.

I wonder what else he can make that he's been keeping from me. Definitely not grilled cheese, because he can burn that to a crisp like nobody's business.

In the evening, we got all fancy and took a generous gift certificate from our friends to Maharaja for Indian food.


The restaurant is in a strip mall, and looks like it would be a greasy spoon. But it's quite elegant and beautiful inside, with some gorgeous tapestries on the walls and wonderful Indian music. When Spousal Unit and I sat down, the host put napkins in our laps and everything. Yes, my lap felt a little bit invaded, but it was still a nice touch of class that you don't see much anymore. Now that I can expect it next time, my lap will be more prepared.

Maharaja has a plethora of vegetarian options, but we wanted to try lots of yummy things and couldn't decide. So we got the vegetable dinner for two. Spousal Unit got Darjeeling tea; I got chai masala. Both excellent choices.

To start, we had two appetizers. I can't remember what anything was called, unfortunately, so I'll call these fried rice/chickpea dumplings. They had some amazing spices. To the back left is a crispy kind of bread/cracker that we ate with three different sauces: one dark and sweet, one tangy green, and one with red peppers and tomatoes. They had a little bite, but were mostly sweet.

I was already amazed. Then came the main course.

WOW, right? Nan (Indian bread) and three different curries/sauces to go with the rice. The green one at the top of the picture was spinach with tofu - really, really good tofu. Very firm and flavorful. The yellow one in the middle was tangy, with some kind of vegetable patty in the sauce, kind of like egg foo young. The orange one on the bottom was a more traditional curry, and the most spicy one of the bunch.

We were allowed to pick mild, medium, or hot curry and chose medium, which was perfect. I can't handle too much spice (Norwegian, duh) and J likes his really hot. He didn't even put hot sauce on his, and my mouth didn't get burned.

The waiter was very amused by my taking pictures of food.

As we ate, we couldn't help but compare it to our old favorite restaurant in New Mexico, which went out of business. The flavors in each of the dishes complimented each other, but were so radically different from one bite to the next that our taste buds virtually screamed, "WHOA! I thought that last curry was good, but this one is incredible!"

We dubbed it a gastronomical symphony of epic proportions. And we hadn't even had the final movement yet: dessert.

On the right is mango ice cream. Light, fruity, delicious. On the left is kulfi - ice cream made with saffron. The spices were palpable, and reminded me of chai. There was a hint of mint too, I think. Spousal Unit doesn't like mint ice cream, but he ate it all - after I had a few bites, of course. We loved them both. Plus, they're little cubes! Nomulous.

All told, our meal came out to less than $40 (not including tip). For two appetizers, three main dishes, dessert, and beverages (and enough left over for lunch), that's pretty good for a fancy restaurant. The staff was really nice, too.

This is totally our new favorite restaurant.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Leafy Goodness

Yesterday was beautiful and fun. Spousal Unit and I had pancakes, watched football, went to the arboretum, and ate delicious Indian food. A good way to spend a one-day weekend.

Below is a leaf from the arboretum here in Madison. If you haven't been, it's beautiful. Leaves are changing, and the grasses are somehow very calming, both in color and in their hypnotic sway. Below that leaf is a picture of us, one of the best we've taken in quite some time. We are a handsome couple.



Friday, October 14, 2011

E. E. Cummings is Kind of a Big Deal

Not my picture of the poet

Today is E. E. Cummings's birthday! This is a big thing to me because when I was in high school, I went to a library book sale with my mom and found a copy of 50 Poems by him. I was completely blown away by his work. I couldn't believe that "l(a" was considered a poem. And that was one of his more understandable poems. His style of work really made me rethink what I thought poetry was and led to experimenting with my own.

I still identify with a lot of his work. "i sing of Olaf glad and big" is one that I especially took to heart when the wars started. Be warned: it's an anti-war poem and gets kind of graphic. Cummings's poetry is part of what made me so against war early on.

Garrison Keillor on Writer's Almanac read one of my favorites this morning, "you shall above all things be glad and young." The last two lines are beautiful: "I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing / than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance."

I haven't read The Enormous Room yet, but it's in my to-read pile. It's the story of his being captured in France during World War I, when he was an ambulance driver. He was suspected of espionage and imprisoned. You can read more about Cummings's life (and the capitalization of his name, which I think some lowercase out of respect for his style, not in mocking).

Thursday, October 13, 2011

People in My Dreams Are Trying to Kill Me With Song

Lately, I've been sleeping well again at last. It was nice to finally rely on not being tired when I woke up in the morning. But last night, that good sleep failed me.

Not only did I have trouble falling asleep, but I kept waking up, too. It may have been the constant rain, but I think it was mostly the weird dream I had over and over again. I don't remember anything about it except the song Johnny Angel. Over. And over. And over.

I kept waking up to it like someone had turned up a terrible radio of cheesy doom in my head. I haven't even heard that song in years - why did it have to be that song in my dream? And then, after the third time I woke up to it, I started wondering why the hell the couple in it will "see how lovely heaven will be."

It's most likely because when they're together, it's heaven on earth. But with a name like Angel, it could be that he's a real angel and he's come to take her to heaven. Possibly it means they're going to all Romeo and Juliet on each other and commit ritual suicide for their love.

Anyway. That's why I didn't sleep well. Here's a sunset.







Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Recipes to Relax With

It's a cool, rainy day in the neighborhood. Not quite back to fall, but it appears that the weather heeded my pleas and pointed its magnificently hot hair dryer away from us, at least for the time being.

Now that it's cooler out, it's time for chai and biscotti. Mmm.

My usual chai recipe is in a box at Spousal Unit's parent's, with all but a few of our books. I'm bummed about this because the recipe I usually use is perfect - I got it from Auntie, in New Mexico, who is Swedish by birth and Indian by marriage. So the recipe I've provided below is a mash-up of two recipes, one from All Recipes and one from Group Recipes.

Many of the recipes I ran across suggested using Ceylon tea. You can use English Breakfast, Darjeeling, or any of the darker black teas. The kind I use is pearlized (compressed into tiny balls). As far as the spices go, you can measure them all out, as in this recipe, or you can find a local shop that sells chai masala - a blend of all the spices you need in chai tea.

Some recipes suggest mixing the milk and water, boiling them together, and then adding the tea. I suggest waiting till the tea has been brewed to add milk. While milk doesn't stop the brewing process, it can change the nature of the brew because of enzymes and minerals in the milk (according to Chow).

The biscotti at the bottom of this post are a wonderful complement to the chai. Yes, there is a lot of vanilla in them; feel free to use less if it's not your thing.

Authentic Indian-Norwegian Rainy Day Chai
2 1/2 c. water
2 tea bags or 2 heaping teaspoons looseleaf black tea
4 teaspoons sugar (more or less to taste)
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground allspice (this adds the spicy zing)

1/4-1/2 c. milk

In a saucepan, bring the water to a gentle boil. Add sugar; stir occasionally until dissolved. Add tea and spices. Simmer the mixture for 3 to 5 minutes, until tea reaches desired color/consistency. Remove from heat; add milk to your preference. Strain into cups and serve. Makes 2 generous servings.

Tea Time Biscotti
3/4 c. sugar
1 c. plus 1 tbsp white flour
1 c. wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
2 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1/4 almonds (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all dry ingredients except almonds. In a separate bowl, mix eggs and vanilla. Add to dry mixture, mixing with a fork as much as possible. Knead the last bit by hand (dough will be sticky). Grease a 9x12 cookie sheet. Pat dough into rectangular loaf about 3/4 inch thick on the cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven; slice loaf diagonally into 1-inch pieces. Lay segments flat on the baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes. Remove, flip segments and bake 10 more minutes. Enjoy with a cup of chai.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Books I Want: Knitting for Peace

I ran across this book at work yesterday. Knitting for Peace by Betty Christianson is full of easy, simple patterns for things that people around the world need. Various charities are described in detail. The Mother Bear Project sends homemade teddy bears to children with HIV/AIDS. Project Linus sends homemade blankets - knitted, crocheted, fleece, quilted, etc. - to children who are seriously ill, have suffered trauma, or are generally in need of comfort. (Here's the website for the Madison chapter.)

I love this idea so much. The idea that something I make can go toward not just the entertainment it provides me, but can significantly improve someone's life - especially a child's - makes my heart happy. Several years ago, I started a Project Linus blanket. It's... still in my stash. I made the mistake of making it too complicated for my then-rudimentary crochet skills. For next time, I'm remembering that a blanket can still be interesting, beautiful, and comforting without needing to have 40 ends sewn in.

One review I found of the book mentioned that yes, all the patterns here are very simple (read: boring), but they are easy to adapt. Add intarsia, use a different yarn, sew on buttons - do whatever you want to make it a unique, fun project that a kid will love, too. Another review provides a good list of which patterns and charities are in the book.

I don't think the book itself has a website of its own, but I ran across various other sites that have peace and knitting in mind. Knitting Peace allows incarcerated women in Bolivia to keep earning money for their families while they're in jail. Children often live in the jail with their mothers because they have nowhere else to go, and the mothers have to feed them somehow. Knitting Peace allows them to do so.

Knit for Peace is an abandoned website, but it has good links for various peace activities, and her posts mention what she's working on and why. She has quite a world-view on knitting, and she has some good ideas, discussing everything from Tibet to Ramadan to the price of rice.

Another Knit for Peace website accepts donations that go to various places throughout the world. This post shows handmade children's clothing being donated for newborns in Sierra Leone.

Ravelry has various groups focused on charity knitting and crocheting - I searched "charity" in their groups and came up with 16 pages of groups focused on doing good for others! There is also a group called Peace Work, for those inspired by the book Knitting for Peace.

I like knowing that I can put my needles to use for more than just fun or personal benefit. I can do something to benefit the world at large - even if it's a small change, it makes a difference to at least one person, which is worth it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rock Skipping: The Norwegian Philosopher's Stone

Lately, I've been questioning a lot of things about my life. Who I am, who I want to be, what I want next - you name it, it's been on my mind.

So many questions like that all at once can be a good thing. They can lead to big changes in a person's life. But I reached the point where I started to feel muddled and weighed down by them all. It was just depressing, and I felt caught in a spiral of doubt and negativity - one might call it a sneaky hate spiral. So yesterday I ventured down to the lake, to a spot that had a plethora of small rocks at the shoreline, and began to skip them.

In college, I started that practice after watching the movie Amelie. Rock skipping is one of her pastimes, and it had been a long time since I'd done it. I found that each time I went, I felt lighter. It was a chance to be alone for a while - one bit of calm in the midst of my crazy life.

That practice stopped while I was in New Mexico. Bodies of water are not exactly plentiful there, and the one nearby lake was not pleasant to look at. Now that I have a beautiful lake in walking distance, I intent to take advantage of it.

As I stood on the shoreline, I pondered all the worries I've been having. I made peace with them, and for each time I did, I sent a rock over the water. With each rock went part of my anguish. Below are some of the things that went through my mind. I hope that, slightly modified, they can be a comfort to some of my readers, too.

***

It's okay to doubt myself. Self-doubt leads to self-examination and helps me analyze the things I do and don't like about who I am, which can lead to positive change. So long as I am reinventing myself for the better, doubt is an acceptable feeling.

It's okay to reinvent myself. Every day is a chance to be different, and sometimes, I may decide the new person du jour has admirable qualities. It's like a tune-up on my heart and mind. So long as I am changing to become my personal ideal, tweaking odds and ends in myself is a good thing.

It's okay to fear change. Fear and dislike of new things make me remember what was so great about the way things were. They make me cherish the past and keep old friends close to my heart. It's a natural, biological instinct to fear change, and that's okay - so long as I stand and face that fear instead of running from it. Soon enough, the new will be old and life will be less scary.

It's okay to question the future. Everything is always uncertain, and that's part of life. Not many know where they want to go; not many could have said, five years ago, where they'd end up. Even if I don't solve the big mysteries, like what I want to be or if I want kids, these questions and worries about the future are okay. So long as they help me answer some of the important questions in my life.

It's okay to want more. More experiences, more knowledge, more dreams - hell, even more yarn. Desire is human. Sometimes, we're not fully satisfied with what we have, and that dissatisfaction pushes us beyond ourselves. It makes us grow wings when others had convinced us flight was impossible. So long as it doesn't just linger in the heart and become a festering discomfort, so long as these desires lead to improving myself and those around me, it is okay to go, seek, do, become.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Letter to the Weather

Dear Weather,

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but... it's fall.

I know. You've been having so much fun making us all think summer will last forever and a day. Well I have to tell you: I've not been lulled into complacency. And I won't be. I want my fall days.

Today, the high is 82. Weather, you're being kind of ridiculous. It's time to let go. It's time for crisp days, where we need to bundle up in sweaters and scarves to go gallavanting about in the crunch of leaves underfoot. It's time for a chill breeze, which drives us in from that walk to a cup of apple cider, or hot chocolate, or tea.

Quite simply, it's time that you stop confusing me.

This is the first time in years that I've had a chance to experience the change of seasons that I so dearly love. Where I lived in New Mexico, it certainly got cooler in the winter... sometimes. There was definitely snow... for a couple of days. And the leaves fell from the trees... but not in as broad a spectrum as Wisconsin.

Weather, all I want is my seasons back. Do you realize that there's a high of 52 in New Mexico today? Do you realize that they're getting thunderstorms? I think you have us slightly confused.

I don't care if I don't have the proper clothing to keep me cozy in the chill. I'll finish that dreadful sweater I've been working on, and I'll wear it gladly if it means I can freeze off my nose and scrape the windshield in the morning.

As I think you know, Weather, I'm a little bit crazy. But I think you're even more so right now. I can see you up there, where Weather lives, holding a heat gun in one hand and a freeze ray in the other. I'm cautiously trying to talk you into not putting the weapons down, but switching them from one hand to the other before Wisconsin suddenly gets fried to a crisp and New Mexico has another -20 winter, like last year.

Indulge me on this, will you? Switch the guns around.

Sincerely,
A fan of frigidness,
Allison

Thursday, October 6, 2011

May the Force be With You on Your Exploration of Strange New Worlds

I'm a big Star Wars fan. Have been since I was in fifth grade, when I first saw the movies. They shaped my world. I wore a Princess Leia costume to the first showing of Episode I, and I spewed movie quotes in every direction, even in class.

BUT. I'm a big Star Trek fan, too.

At work the other day, I heard two young nerds exclaiming loudly, as they ransacked the Star Trek novels, that it's impossible to be a fan of both the final frontier and a galaxy far, far away. I've yet to hear a good reason why people think this so mistakenly. I have no problem loving phasers and blasters, warp speed and hyperspace, shielding and reckless abandon.

Before seeing Episode III in theaters, we had a Star Wars marathon, watching everything in release order (except we only watched the pod race in Phantom Menace, because no one can stand that much Jake Lloyd). Yet on my honeymoon with Spousal Unit, it was a day-long Star Trek marathon we reveled in (Next Generation, of course).

I can understand preferring one over the other. I have those moods myself. Sometimes I need Han Solo's rogue heart and the mystery of the Force, ignoring the ridiculousness of midichlorians. At others, the cure for my longing is some intense science and a little bit of impossible time travel that I'm going to pretend is attainable. I have to say, the one thing I definitely prefer about Star Trek is that there are so many glorious episodes to see, as opposed to the Star Wars original trilogy. But that doesn't change my love for each work overall.

Perhaps some people are just more obsessed with science and reason (in space) as opposed to blowing TIE fighters to smithereens in the name of the Rebellion. Perhaps some prefer the religion of the Force to the exploration of strange new worlds that might kiss you or kill you at every turn.

Personally, I'm willing to live the life of a scoundrel and an explorer at the same time.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Legends of the Hidden... Sunset

Today's sunsets are brought to you by our alternate sunset viewing area, and people like you. Or rather, my need to go fill out insurance papers before work. Blech.

Have a marvelous Wednesday!



Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Occupying Thought

Everywhere I look online, I'm seeing the word "occupy" appear.

At first, it was just "Occupy Wall Street." We Are the 99 Percent's website features posts from people who are in the enormous bottom segment of income in the United States: people who aren't making enough to live on and are involuntarily in hopeless situations. And with almost every post came that phrase. I had no clue what it meant.

That was two days ago.

Yesterday, I saw it again, in links on Facebook. Occupy Wall Street is a social/political movement (somewhat connected to the group Adbusters) that some are comparing to the recent Middle Eastern revolts. The purpose is more or less to stand up, as the lower-class majority, and stand against a country run by the top one percent of money holders. According to the website, they have "an interest in returning the US back into the hands of it's individual citizens."

(Guys, I love the idea, but you need a copy editor. I volunteer - not even joking.)

The Wall Street movement is going national, leading to events even here in Madison, this Friday in Reynolds Park. They have a Facebook page going for this, and a YouTube video. (A warning: the YouTube video features the V for Vendetta mask, but some protesters have been arrested, perhaps because of wearing it. Just something to keep in mind if you go this weekend.)

I am in favor of this movement to redistribute wealth in an appropriate manner. I am in favor of making minimum wage a living wage, of kick-starting the economy, of changing the way every election is determined by the dollar. I am in favor of this movement not having one specific leader, with the idea that each individual is helping lead it.

But that's not terribly realistic, and it needs some better organization. The Adbusters site says they "demand that Barack Obama ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington." In other words, a complete rehaul of campaign financing (as some call it, bribery). A great idea - but it will take more than that to get such wealth properly redistributed.

The big risk here is that the wealth will be slowly filtered down till it reaches a stopping point. The article Eat the Rich on Occupy Everything's website shows some excellent graphs on how wealth is distributed in the U.S., and it's actually the top five percent who have everything. If the money at the top just trickles down, we'll have a slightly larger upper class, and the poorest will remain dirt poor.

Some people may be against this movement solely because they want to be in that top five percent some day. News flash: if we don't reorganize things now, you'll end up at the bottom right next to us. Inequality in wealth is growing, and the middle class could even disappear entirely. Does it sound like socialism to you? Surprise, it takes many people to make a country work. We all rely on the economy not crashing down around us; it's to everyone's benefit to stabilize it a little.

Ideally, in my mind, the best method of redistribution would be in sending money directly to the bottom. Minimum wage should be increased and adhered to - including for wait staff and those on commission. Communities should set up organizations to help those worst off to find jobs and affordable housing again. For some, extra money in their communities would literally be a life-saver, and they're the ones who most need to see it. To use a metaphor, this heavy box we call the economy should be lifted properly, from the bottom, in order to move it anywhere.

Some of this money should go directly toward kick-starting the economy. Debt should be paid off, jobs should be created. There are so many better uses for this money right now than sitting in bank accounts or keeping the rich neck-deep in luxury. Those at the top could help get our economy back on track and help keep the poor from getting poorer - in short, they can recreate America, a noble calling indeed.

Again, this is ideal. It wouldn't work out this way in reality. But I don't see a problem in shooting for something a little higher, because if we fall short, we still achieve many of our goals. So instead of just asking the President for campaign finance reform, let's also ask him for a redistribution of wealth in the top echelons of society, for the purpose of increasing economic stability and easing the plight of the poorest among us. In other words, let's make wealth less about "me" and more about "us": We the People, not I the Person.

Isn't that what this movement's all about? Let's Occupy Everywhere, Together.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Books I Want: For Novelular Research

One reason my novel has been moving kind of slowly is that I need to do some background research on many different subjects before being able to write about them with some expertise. Yes, fiction writers need to research things too; "write what you know" just means you should learn before writing (or before starting the second draft), and that is my plan.

Considering that my book has zombies in it, I want to learn about the history of zombie culture. World War Z by Max Brooks is just one of many books I could start with on the subject. Though my idea of zombies is different from the typical Hollywood zombie, it's still good to have that background. It will allow me to pick and choose which ideas to stick with - and maybe give me ideas to develop the method of contagion better.

When it comes to herbal medicine, I'm worried about finding a book that won't get into a bunch of hippie/New Age stuff. I just want to know, factually, what the uses of certain herbs and plants are. If I were to judge a book by its cover, this guy's ponytail tells me to stay away. But the reviews I've seen for The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook appear pretty straight-forward (except for the one that discusses the "enchanting energies" of herbs).

I also need to learn about wood carving. None of this fancy stuff done with scrollsaws and power sanders - the old-fashioned methods with a knife are what I seek. I figured that one of the easiest ways to learn these things are to do them. Whittling by Bill Higginbotham (I totally picked it for his name) looks like a straightforward introduction. Wood carving should be easy enough to at least marginally understand on my own.

There are many more things I want to learn yet, like the history of countries in revolt, stone carving, and folk tales and legends (I already know some, but I need more). I plan to interview someone who's a master of the craft for stone carving, and the others will require more book-learning.

I have an awful lot packed into this one little book. Let's see if I can pull it off.
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