Wednesday, November 30, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Letter to December

Dear December,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Your seasonally jolly cheermaker,
Allison

Monday, November 28, 2011

Food, Glorious Food

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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


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


Friday, November 25, 2011

Making Black Friday Less Bleak

For most people who have to (or even want to) go somewhere for one reason or another, today is hellish. Those who have been debating, I advise you to just stay home today.

Some people are lucky enough to have all of Thanksgiving weekend off. Congratulations - you likely have human working hours, or at least jumped the gun soon enough to be one of your store's two employees with Black Friday off. Huzzah for you!

The rest of us are not so lucky. Some are back at the office after a single day to stuff their faces and express thankful thoughts. Many others are back in their stores, after a day (or even less) of pretending to be thankful for something, rather than apprehensive about the dark cloud on the horizon. Others yet didn't even get a single day's respite from the rat race, working through Turkey Day and missing out on the big family dinner.

I know that at this point, it's ridiculous of me to ask that you not go shopping, if you have your heart set on it. By all means, then, go. I truly hope it is worth it for you. But I do ask one small favor of you, as you head out into the consumerist mass that literally kills on occasion.

Remember that everyone around you is human.

Everyone around you today is probably tired, and cranky, and just wants to get this out of the way and go home. The other customers (if you're shopping) are trying to find perfect gifts under the enormous pressure of hourly sales and others racing for the same thing before it's sold out. If someone is unnecessarily rude toward you, take a deep breath, remember that you don't know what they're going through right now, and be extra-kind toward them, rather than letting the rudeness and anger compound.

Remember, shoppers, that those working the registers are not computers themselves. They cannot remember everything about the store. They may not know if there are any Wiis left, or the exact number of dollars you're saving on that armchair. They feel pain. Be nice.

Your fellow employees (if you're working) are probably about as excited for this day as you are. Some of you, by the time I post this, will have already finished an eight-hour shift, having started work at 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving, or at midnight. Maybe you've worked eight hours and have four more to go.

Be a shoulder for your coworkers to lean on. Remember that you don't know exactly why a customer decided to blow up at you over a one dollar price difference. They may have a loved one in the hospital, or maybe another customer was rude to them. Take a deep breath, be sympathetic, and try to be a hassle-free interaction (or at least share a smile).

This day exists, and we can't wipe it off the map right now. Let's make today as positive as we can, because we're all in this sinking boat together.

Next year, we'll organize a Black Friday strike.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Things I Appreciate, Part the Second

Obviously, I appreciate crochet patterns for ridiculous hats, like this Sexy Turkey Hat on Ravelry (I kid you not, that's the name of the pattern).

Other things I've actively appreciated this week:

1. Phones. I've had mine for about four years. It's missing a button, and it always cuts my voice out at inopportune moments. But I still use it to talk to people I otherwise would go a very, very long time without speaking to. Being back in Wisconsin doesn't allow me to see my family quite as often as I'd hoped - mostly because of my job. But thanks to having a phone, I can talk to them about crocheted turkey hats whenever I want. They love that.

2. Scented candles. There is something a little rank in the halls of our apartment building. It's the scent of old sweat, bad Chinese takeout, and garbage that needs to be tossed. No one has garbage bags in the hall, but the smell persists, and that was how our apartment smelled when we moved in. Scent is a peculiar thing, in that it can really make you uncomfortable. Yeah, maybe you get used to it, but it still unconsciously rubs you the wrong way. Pumpkin spice and cinnamon have at last become the dominant smell in here. I can breathe easy now.

3. Rømmegrøt. It's a Norwegian pudding, a Thanksgiving staple in my family. It basically consists of flour, butter, cream, and sugar, with a sprinkling of cinnamon. So, you know, it's good for you. The recipes out in the world have many variations; apparently, the original rømmegrøt was made with sour cream. But I like my midwesternized Norwegian porridge, with heavy cream instead, next to a piece of lefse covered in butter and sugar. Dishes like that make me feel at home even when I can't be there for Thanksgiving (because of ridiculous working hours the next day, but that's a discussion for tomorrow).

4. Days off. I finally get two days in a row Sunday and Monday, for the first time since I started this job two months ago. I also get two days at the end of next week, so I'm extra spoiled. I still believe two days in a row every week is a perfectly reasonable thing that every full-timer should have. It's going to feel kind of weird to have that again, but I plan to enjoy the hell out of it. Because hey, who knows when I'll have another real weekend?

5. Family. I don't get to see them today, but I think I will soon. Yes, Spousal Unit and I could make it to one of our hometowns today, but driving six hours on my only day off and then working Black Friday is not something I relish. In the meantime, I still appreciate living closer to them than I have in three years. My side came to help us move in, and we had a blast hanging out together. Spousal Unit's family is coming this weekend for a post-Thanksgiving feast. And I include friends in that group, too: friends who are so close they're more like extra siblings.

A happy Thanksgiving to all of you - may you feast on some excellent tofurkey today.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Comings and Goings

When Spousal Unit and I first started dating, we spent almost every waking moment together.

For the first several months, we at least tried to minimize the time we spent together - we'd both had our hearts broken in the past, and wanted to take it slowly. That didn't last long - it was like our hearts were opposing magnets, naturally and irresistibly attracted to each other.

By the end of the spring semester (we started dating in January, but that's another story), I had secretly fallen in love with him, and he was none the wiser when it was time to say our summer goodbyes. Due to aforementioned heartache, I refused to say the "L" word before he did. We were between "like" and "love" - kelo, as we called it.

His parents lived in Chicagoland, and mine were in the upper echelons of Wisconsin - a terribly far distance. To make matters worse, he was heading off for a few weeks of study in Guadeloupe, and I wouldn't be able to visit him for three whole weeks.

(Years later, of course, we were 1300 miles and four months apart, but it's always an intolerable distance when you've just fallen in love.)

We packed up our rooms one piece at a time, taping together boxes and fortifying our hearts against the pain of distance. When my car was packed and Spousal Unit (then Boyfriend Unit) was waiting for his dad, I ventured to his room for the last goodbye.

Boyfriend Unit and I held each other tight, and he reassured me that in three weeks, we'd be together again for a few brief days. But that was little reassurrance to me: all I could see was that we would be apart for ages, and I sobbed a big wet spot into his comforting shoulder.

At last, knowing we had to split sooner or later, I wrenched myself from his grasp and stumbled into the hallway, red-faced, teary-eyed, snot-nosed, and generally distraught. My hair fell haphazardly into my face. Hiding my eyes, I brushed past someone in the hall (who was presumably a parent) and fell out the front door, sniffling all the way to my car.

Later, I realized I'd just met Boyfriend Unit's dad.

He headed to Boyfriend Unit's room, where Boyfriend Unit asked, "Did you pass a crying girl in the hallway?"

"Yeah," said my dad-in-law to be. "She looked really upset."

"That was Allison."

"Oh. ... She looked ... nice."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eulogy for my Measuring Tape


Alas, poor tape measure. It was a dear friend of mine. Hailing back to the days when I worked at The Country Today newspaper, it was one of few items I had that was hardcore, businesslike, and meant I was about to do some real work each time I freed it from my sewing cabinet.

I used it for a plethora of activities. It helped me properly space nails. It suggested whether an item might fit in my car. It proposed alternate fuel methods for the world at large and solved the hunger problem in Almenistan.

Which doesn't exist, but you catch my meaning. This tape measure was useful, practical, and made me feel generally more handy than I am. When something needed measuring, this bad boy let everyone know I was serious about it. With this tape measure, I was invincible. I had great visions in mind, of the two of us, years from now, measuring things for my children as they asked, "Mother, from whence hath this glorious implement hailed?"

They may speak a bit differently; I'm just guessing. But that measuring tape and I were supposed to last for years. Years, I tell you.

Alas, poor Spousal Unit. He knew not of my unusual attachment to such a banal object as this. When measuring the length of a wall to hang some pictures, he pulled a bit too hard. I heard the death cries of my tape measure and broke down in great sobs. My dear plastic and metal friend was gone. No more would the tape roll smoothly back into its plastic shell; no more would it increase the hardcoreness of my appearance.

Through many things, that tape measure was by my side, including my botched attempts at sweater gauge. I'll miss having it near me, a reminder of my glory days at the newspaper and all those with whom I diligently worked.

Goodbye, my dear measuring friend. I'll see you in the big toolbox in the sky.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Theory of Relativity

It is my firm belief that all suffering is relative.

Everyone experiences pain in their lives. No matter who they are or where they live, something will make them experience some sort of anguish.

The source of that anguish varies. Children around the world suffer because they don't have enough to eat and go to bed hungry every night. Some people are entirely alone in the world, having lost their whole families and everything that mattered to them. Others have lost their jobs and had to give up their homes, and it kills them inside to see their children adjust to a smaller home, a different school, and losing their friends all at once.

In that short list, only the hungry children face deadly suffering. But that doesn't make the person who lost his whole family feel the pain any less. It still hurts just as acutely, and is probably the greatest pain he's ever known. The mother who lost her job can still afford a place to live, thanks to her spouse's income, but she dies a little every time her child says she hates her new school.

Each one of those people is suffering to some degree. Just because children are starving around the world doesn't mean a teenager's broken heart hurts any less - to her, that is the most immediate pain, and to her, it is the worst thing she's ever felt. Telling her children are starving and orphaned does not ease her heartache; it just makes her feel guilty and selfish, compounding her original pain.

Yes, it is important to remember that others around the world are worse off than we are. It can sometimes help us remember that things aren't so bad, and remembering others in that state often moves us into action on their behalf. But that doesn't mean our individual plights are not worth voicing, or not worth improving. To devalue ourselves like that is to devalue everyone.

Some people who are participating in Occupy Wall Street have known starvation. That doesn't mean losing their jobs and wondering how the next bill will be paid hurts them less now. It is the current pain, it is the pressing need, it is what most affects them in this moment.

People don't want to have massive credit card debt, but there's no way around building it up until that next paycheck, and they're worried that it will never be paid off and they'll lose their house. They don't want to move, because their house is their home.

Reaching out to help each other, here and now, can have a profound effect on the world, not just on the United States. When we have more people working for a living wage, we will have fewer homeless on the streets. Fewer people in our own country will be starving. And more people will be able to individually donate to charities that can improve the lives of others around the world.

There is no scale in existence that can rightly say losing a child is more painful than losing a parent. It cannot say homelessness is more painful than the inability to provide for one's family. Who are we to create a scale like that? Everyone has their own pain; we should try to respect that.

Just because others may be hurting more on some level doesn't make us hurt less. It just belittles us into the mistaken belief that our pain doesn't matter. And everyone's pain does.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Things I Appreciate

I mentioned in a post last week that to help myself adjust in our new place, I would try to focus on and fully enjoy something for at least five minutes a day.

It's hard to remain focused on one thing for that long, but a shorter span is just as effective, I think. Here are a few of the things I've held onto so far.

1. Sunlight
Yes, our windows may not look out onto anything very pretty. But we have seven of them in our little apartment, and when the blinds are all open, everything in here glows. We have enough set up here, in the way of furniture, that the rooms are starting to look homey and comforting, and the sunlight only adds to that. It was wonderful yesterday, on my day off, to just open up the blinds, pull down our makeshift blanket-curtains, and bask in the glow of vitamin D synthesis. Glorious.

2. Balancing the checkbook
Okay, I actually hate balancing the checkbook, as I'm sure everyone does. I let it go for too long this time, resulting in a mess of receipts, check stubs, and other financial papers spread across our tiny dining table. But getting them all organized was kind of meditative, and the feeling when I'd calculated the last number was almost peace. It may be obnoxious, but it's blissful to have it done and out of the way.

3. Our new bed
I don't think I've ever slept on a brand-new bed before, and I have to tell you, it's incredible. I don't wake up in pain after lying on my shoulder, and the cushiony softness combined with our new pillows is pure luxury. Thinking about how much money I'm lying on is just weird, but I try to just focus on the heavenly feel of the mattress instead.

4. Health insurance... kind of
I've finished my Beginner's Trial of Pain and Fury at work, which means health insurance has kicked in for Spousal Unit and me. We haven't had health insurance in years, so it's nice just to know it's there if we need it. We've also had the same glasses for years, and the plan is awesome enough that it covers new ones in full. (At least, to a certain extent; we'll see what that includes when we go get them.) The only drawback now is in trying to figure out the freakin' thing. Why can't they make it simpler? Why do we have to pay at all? This is far too confusing. But we have health insurance.

5. Spousal Unit
We had just moved in and were still unpacking, unable to find the dish soap yet. At the store, I didn't pick up any, knowing that it was in a box somewhere. As it turns out, that box is probably with Spousal Unit's parents. When we found out, I made some offhand comment, like, "It's so stupid of me not to have bought more, because we'll use it eventually." As I was talking, Spousal Unit looked me in the eye and said, "You're not stupid." I hadn't even realized the words I was using, but he was there to tell my subconscious otherwise. Such a little thing, but I love him all the more for it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Appalachian Post-Punk and Flute Loops

Earlier this week, Spousal Unit and I were driving around, spending too much money on things like food and nightlights, when we heard an amazing sound on the local radio station.
The musician's name is Bonnie Prince Billy, and the station played the entirety of his new album, "Wolfroy Goes to Town." Apparently, everyone but me knows about him - he's been covered by Johnny Cash and Björk, among others. His sound is, to me, reminiscent of Iron and Wine - or maybe it's the other way around. Will Oldham, the bonnie prince mentioned in his recording name, has been making music for quite some time, almost twenty years at this point.

It's the kind of music you'd listen to while trying to relax. But something anticipatory (and almost creepy) in the overall tone keeps you a bit on edge, as you can hear in Cows (Wolfroy Goes to Town). The instrumentation is broad, with everything from a string section backup, to an electric guitar, to an acoustic and xylophone. His style has been called "Appalachian post-punk solipsist," apparently (solipsism is the idea that the only thing the self can know - and the only thing that exists - is self).

I certainly know Bonnie Prince Billy exists now, and I want more.

In an entirely different vein, I discovered Melotron at the bookstore one day. Being that the group is German and one song on the album is called "2 Young 2 Die," I took it home hoping for electronica. And I got what I wished for.

Even if you're not typically a fan of electronica, I defy you not to listen to the first minute of the opening track, "Tränen aus Staub" (Tears of Dust) and be entranced. It begins with an intense full orchestra, then morphs into a techno-disco scene, with an intense flute solo draped over it. Amazing, right?

Their whole shtick is made clear in their name: a mellotron is a keyboard which plays prerecorded tape loops over each other.

Nothing like some hardcore flute loops in the morning.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Two Shiny, Happy Knitted Scarves

I haven't been able to post any crafty, knitty stuff lately - it's the time of year when everything I make is a gift for someone, being stashed away for Christmas, which means being a quiet little elf about everything I create.

Luckily, there have also been a couple of birthdays lately, and I can at last show you some of the beautiful projects I've been working on.

My mom's birthday was in mid-October, and I found some beautiful yarn called Yarn Bee. I hadn't heard of it before, but I might need to get a big stash of it. It's braided yarn, and the one I picked up - Enchantress - has subtle matching sequins woven into the yarn.

They're the perfect touch to this scarf, and they were great for my mom, adding a little bit of sparkle without making it too flashy.

The other thing I liked about this yarn was knitting with size 11 needles. It only took me a couple of days to knit up this whole thing. It ended up being rather wide and a bit short, but it was still a good scarf size.
The other fun thing I made recently was for my sister's 21st birthday. I like to make 21 about something other than getting completely trashed (don't get me wrong, I'm going drinking with her, too), so I made her something bright and elegant.

(Obviously, this is a picture of me. But look at the scarf!)


I used a pattern I learned several years ago for a shawl, which was also knit with Misti baby alpaca yarn. On size 6 needles, I was afraid I'd get bored with it, but it was an enjoyable project.

Once I decided to use tangerine orange, it was a short step to adding the mother of pearl-styled bead-sequin-things. Clearly, I'm not sure what they should be called, but you can see how pretty they look next to the orange scarf. I also crafted a pin to go with it.


One of the most fun, beautiful things I've made in a long time, I think.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sunsets Over a Highway?

Our new sunset-viewing location leaves something to be desired. Or maybe I should say something to be removed.

That's a little better. Now if only I could permanently crop the highway out of reality...

Monday, November 14, 2011

A New Thing That We Bought

We have a new home!

So far, we're both very fond of it. We have a slightly larger one-bedroom, and the extra space was definitely worth it.

Unfortunately, none of that extra space was in the kitchen. But we'll make do.

The living room is spacious enough to have three separate lounging areas: one for watching TV and playing video games, one for sitting at a desk, and another space that is just full of boxes right now, but may become my knitting corner.

The door in the above picture leads to our super-tiny porch, which is just arge enough for two small foldy chairs. You know, the ones that you take on picnics with you and stuff. I can't remember what they're called. (You're smart; you know what chairs I mean, right? We'll have some of those someday.)

The bathroom is kind of obnoxious. Water pressure's kind of low, and the single switch in there turns on the fan and light simultaneously.

But we have a plethora of closet space, and the rooms we'll spend a significant time in are pretty spacious (except the kitchen).

Our bedroom will be very nice, once we have a bed. So... right now, it's just a room. Spousal Unit was very tired Saturday night, and he just laid on the floor when it was bedtime.
He didn't even move when I set up the air mattress.


We're excited to have our own space at last, and so far, it's been fun to set up and start decorating. Some of our things are still scattered about; for example, I think our hammer might be at Spousal Unit's parents's place. So yesterday, I used a shoe to hammer some stuff.

There's a lot to be done today. I'm off to make this place less cramped and more exciting.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Moving, Hopefully Without Doom and Despair

Property of our friend Bill


It's official: Spousal Unit and I got the apartment. We're moving in tomorrow.

On the one hand, I'm excited. We're finally getting our own place, after months of our friends graciously putting up with our antics and sheltering us from heat stroke, frost bite, and raptor attacks. We're venturing out into the big ol' world out there for what's left of our first year as newlyweds. We get to settle into a new place for the second time in our lives together, and it can be as much alike or different from our old place as we want.

We'll be discovering a new part of town: new favorite places, new favorite walks to take, new adventures with the building's washers and dryers. We will go exploring when we're not bone tired from moving in, and even if we're cranky when we go, we will still love each other more for it.

On the other hand, we're stepping forward into unknown territory. It's a change of surroundings, with new things that go bump in the night and neighbors who hopefully won't smell too bad or give me the creeps. It's a transplant, and even though I'm hearty and have survived past moves, each new pot of soil seems far too acidic at first. My roots imagine they're shriveling up and dying. The air is polluted, and I don't get enough water.

Eventually, this will pass. Sooner rather than later, I hope; some part of me has been in transition mode since June, when we moved back out here. What comfort I had was jolted by finding work.

It makes me sound terribly selfish, I know. I appear ungrateful for all the wonderful happenings since summer came upon us. It's not a matter of being ungrateful: it's being uncomfortable and anxious and firmly attached to the familiarity of what was. It's being naturally sensitive to my surroundings and everything happening around me.

That's why I've added a new goal to my list of things to accomplish before my birthday next year. Starting tomorrow, when we move in, I plan to thoroughly enjoy something for a few minutes every day, until I feel comfortable and at home in the new place. It doesn't have to be a new something each day; I can revel in my knitting for two days in a row, if I want. I also plan to write down what I spend my time enjoying, which will help me further bask in the glow of something positive. I'm hoping this goal will help me focus more on the good things, as an escape from the negatives, if they begin to weigh me down.

We don't have internet at the new place yet - posting may be sporadic for a time. But I'll do my best to post five days a week, as I've done all year since this blog began.

When I write to you again, we will be in our new home.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In Which I List Some Awesome Happenings

Several bits of awesome have happened lately. Here's how it went down.

I finally got myself an awesome pair of boots. These are the boots I've mentioned to you before: the ones I've been looking for over the course of several years. They finally had my size in at the website, My Hot Shoes. The sizing advice said this shoe runs true to size, so I got a 10.

They fit. I was amazed. And to top it all off, the top folds down, to cover the zippers. When I wear the boots with the tops down (I sound like a convertible), they don't catch on my fancy skirts.



These are my new favorite shoes ever. The only problem is the tread... or should I say lack of tread. The bottoms are completely smooth. I'll have to step carefully, go to a cobbler, or wear different shoes on icy days. Which would mean not wearing these boots all winter. (Like that would happen.)

Another recent bit of awesome is a candle Spousal Unit picked up at Target just before Halloween. It's a silver skull, advertised to bleed red out of the eyes when it burned down low. He was entranced; I was intrigued. It was worth the purchase. Every day he burned it, Spousal Unit said, "It's almost ready. It's going to bleed any minute now!"Before bleed


After bleed (on the right)

Another awesome thing was yesterday's weather. It snowed all day - without sticking to the ground, of course, but it was still beautiful and exciting. It's the first time in years that we've experienced the first Wisconsin snowfall of the season, so we were both pretty excited.


The moon was beautiful last night, too.

A final bit of awesome to share with you: we should find out today about getting an apartment of our own! It's got an unusual amount of red tape to wade through, but I think we've cut all the right tape in all the right places. With luck, we should be able to move in on Saturday.

We're thrilled. But I refuse to speak more of it, lest I jinx our chances.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Letter to Norwegians Past

Dear Norwegian ancestors,

Give me a freakin' break already.

I appreciate that you had so much ambition. Why, everyone back then did enough burning and pillaging for three people in a single lifetime. You drank enough mead individually to leave a modern man drunk for the entirety of his natural life. You spun enough tales for today's cinema to create at least one really terrible movie.

You've kindly passed down your drive to go places and do things, to the point where I feel guilty when I don't accomplish something monumental on a day off, like cleaning the whole house or curing cancer. It would be nice if you'd let me relax sometime.

I know that at this point, you're a bit beyond my reach, Norwegian ancestors. It's been quite a while since you traversed the ocean, settled new land, and raised your children to be hardworking, lutefisk-surviving, silent-suffering members of society. But I'm still hoping you'll hear me, far away in the heart of Wisconsin, begging you to let my ambition take a day or two of vacation.

I do not seek to boast; that would be contrary to all that has been handed down through the ages. Norwegians do not boast; they are silently proud, and if someone should notice their good works, they gracefully admit that it was not that big a deal. My energies are diminutive in comparison to many great Norsks, historical and modern.

Still, my dear ancestors, they're sort of making me batty. When will I be allowed to watch a movie without working on knitting, too? When will I just give in and buy a frozen pizza again, now that I know how to make it at home? When will I not feel like anything pressing needs to be done and just admire the world's beauty for a while?

Actually, that last one is all I'm interested in. The rest? I'd get bored of it after five minutes.

Keep doin' what you're doin', Norsk ancestors. I hope Valhalla's all you hoped it would be.

Sincerely,
Your hardworking offspring,
Allison

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fall Wind

And now, one of my favorite fall poems. It may be a bit early, but I love it all year, so I will share it now.

Fall Wind
By Aileen Fisher

Everything is on the run -
willows swishing in the sun,
branches full of dip and sway,
falling leaves that race away,
pine trees tossing on the hill -
nothing's quiet; nothing's still;
all the sky is full of song:
"Winter's coming. Won't be long."





Monday, November 7, 2011

A Voluntary Head-Stabbing

When I was in first grade, I got my ears pierced. It was kind of a disaster.

All of my friends had, of course, gotten their ears pierced. (In reality, I think only one or two of them had.) I begged my mom over and over again to please, please, please let strangers use odd-looking implements to shove pointy metal through my flesh. Over and over again the answer was, "No, you're not old enough yet."

I recall the same thing happening, years later, when I begged my mom to buy me sharp metal attached to a stick, so I could drag it across my legs and forcibly remove the hair on them. What's up with us as kids? We get so excited to do these things that will be obnoxious chores for the rest of our adult lives.

Anywho, after telling me over and over how much it would hurt, my mom caved in and took me to get my ears stabbed. We went to a hair/piercing salon in the mall. To look at the same place now would possibly conjure images of Hep C and other deadly infections, but at the time it must have been... respectable. Or something. Hurrah for getting stabbed in public.

I was terribly excited. We walked through the door, and there were little stations set up for kids to get pierced, featuring decommissioned playground equipment. Remember those ponies that swung back and forth on one precarious metal spring, which had potential to either snap in two or slam you to the ground with every sway? Yep, I sat on one of those as my mom paid someone to stab me in the head.

This pony I sat on had the spring removed and was mounted on a pole instead, to be a bit more stable. (Get it? The pony was stable. Ha!) I clambered up on its back and excitedly gripped the handlebars protruding from its Frankenstein-esque head. I was vibrating with excitement.

I picked out the earrings I would wear for the next six months, as the newly formed holes in my ears permanantly scarred over. I wanted pink earrings. I was still in my pink phase at this point: pink bedspread, pink shirts, pink ribbons that Mom lovingly tied into my curled hair, and I wanted pink earrings to match.

They were out of pink. Didn't know there'd be such a rush, I guess. I ended up picking red, because it was the closest to pink that they had. This was before my finely tuned fashion sense kicked in, keeping me from wearing things like a purple-patterned shirt, red skirt, and orange-black socks at the same time. (Wait, that was my Halloween outfit this year.)

The salon ladies pulled out a pair of red stud earrings for me, and then they pulled out the big guns. Literally. Those piercing guns were enormous. When I first saw them, I thought they were the industrial-sized staple guns that my teacher used for her bulliten board.



You can see how a seven year old might suddenly be terrified when not one, but two of those things come into view. I'm pretty sure I was vibrating with fear on that pastel playground pony.

The salon ladies called out, "One, two, three!"

Ca-CHUNK

One of the guns came away from my ear. The other was still attached to the earring going through my lobe. I believe it was at this point that I started screaming.

Eventually, the gun came unstuck, and I left the salon with swollen ears and metal in my head. But I haven't much cared to get another piercing since then.

Wonder why.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Hibernating Fish Sunset

Photos of the sunset last night, taken by Spousal Unit from the non-existent dock. It's been removed in anticipation of frigid temperatures and fewer boats in the cold. The fish will soon be hibernating. I wish I could do the same. Wouldn't that be kind of cool, if humans as a species needed to hibernate? Our society would be completely different.

Consider that as you work through Friday. Then go home and cuddle under a blanket, being glad you're not a fish in all that cold water.





Thursday, November 3, 2011

Books I Want: Pop 485 and This Can't Be Tofu

As a counter to yesterday's post, today I bring you books that are interesting and well done, as opposed to written by monkeys and lining birdcages.

The first in this installment of "Books I Will Read at Some Point and Might Also Like to Own" is Population 485 by Michael Perry.


Michael Perry has returned to his hometown of New Auburn, Wisc., after a ten-year absence. To feel more in-touch with the town again, he joins the volunteer fire department, putting out flames and saving lives when he's not putting words on a page. This is the story of rural life: everyone knows everyone (including their history), and life is mostly taken at leisure - except when there's an emergency.

The first chapter tells of Perry's connection to New Auburn, and also the story of Tracy, whose car went out of control at a dangerous turn. His telling of the two stories is immaculate, bits from one followed by pieces of the other. His language choice is perfect. Describing the accident:

"One moment gravel is in the air like shrapnel, steel is tumbling, rubber tearing, glass imploding, and then... utter silence. As if peace is the only answer to destruction. The meadowlark sings, the land drops away south tot he hazy tamarack bowl of the Big Swamp... all around the land is rank with life. The girl is terribly, terribly alone in a beautiful, beautiful world."

I recall hearing about this one in college, when it came out, and everyone thought it was amazing. It was a perfect addition to Wisconsin literature. After reading the first chapter, I completely agree.


This cookbook by Deborah Madison doesn't quite fit with the aforementioned book. But it's a book I want, and a book that somehow pulled me out of a recent depression.

I've been doing that thing lately where I worry too much about where everything's going. I think too hard about where I am. I feel like a little creature trapped in a shell, and genetics have not given me any implements to break out. So I think I will be trapped in that shell forever.

My mind vibrates with all the fear and panic that has built up. And I stop being able to do anything, because I don't want to, and it won't make a difference anyway, and who really cares?

At that point, it's a waiting game. Part of me remembers that I've broken out of depressions past, and I will probably break out of this one too. But a larger part forgets those things. I imagine that this is how my life will be, now and forever. I will never step beyond this mess of chaos and pain. (Allie of Hyperbole and a Half describes this quite well, as does Jenny The Bloggess.)

But something always does pull me out of it and remind me of all the things I like to do. My ambition returns like a snarling kitten, looking to pounce on anything that needs doing. I am refreshed and ready to go, and I try my best to forget the darkness that enveloped me.

My break-out this time was motivated by a book about cooking tofu.

I love cooking. I love taking a recipe and making it my own. I love looking at what's in the house and making a feast out of whatever it happens to be. I love to make things I can enjoy with others, because honestly, we all need to eat, so it might as well be exciting.

Looking through This Can't Be Tofu reminded me of that, and I came up with a meal to concoct. Then I remembered a couple of other things I want to do. Then I remembered some more. Before I knew it, I had a To Do list I was eager to complete, and I felt immensely better.

Anyway. The book. There are some really incredible recipes here: sauteed asparagus with curried tofu and tomatoes. Mushrooms and tofu in paprika cream over egg noodles. Coconut red curry soup with butternut squash and lime. Tofu with cumin-laced spinach and shrimp. (Okay, that makes cumin sound like a drug. A tasty, tasty drug.)

But the best part might be the section at the beginning, describing how to prepare tofu. There are different methods of pressing/draining the tofu, and different ways of cooking it, from deep-fried to baked. I've already learned that marinades don't actually do much for tofu, other than change its color and flavor the outside. Better to season it as you cook.

I enjoy this book already, for possibly too many reasons. But the tofu I make tonight will give me double the reason to smile, and I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Trashy Books (and a Movie to Match)

Remember back when I posted about those terrible books that people who shop the bookstore's clearance section don't even want?

I have some more disgusting surprises for you today. Starting with...

Single Dad Seeks a Wife is part of a whole series of books about - surprise - single dads. Apparently this is a niche fantasy out there that is popular enough to warrant an entire collection of ridiculous, unbelievable fantasies about inexplicably rich, handsome men raising kids all by themselves. Because single parenting is such a glamorous lifestyle, right? For example: this installment by Melanie Milburne features a "gorgeous" cop as the single father and a "feisty" Australian doctor as the love interest. The summary says they get together because Feisty Doctor realizes Hot Cop "needs her help."

In his pants, I'm sure.

Texas Glory's main characters are named Buck Star and Honor. What else do you really need to know? The summary gets better, though it's hard to beat names like that. Buck apparently seduces his wife's best friend - you know, just because - and he "sowed a harvest of misfortune that he would later be forced to reap."

Really, Elaine Barbieri. You had me in stitches at Buck Star. Also, the people on the cover are laying on the Texas flag. I'm pretty sure the Texans would execute you for that.

This last treasure I have for you today is not a book, but I couldn't resist sharing it. With Halloween this past weekend, lots of people were buying terrible horror movies that should be relabeled as comedies.

(At least, if you're into horror movies. I can't even laugh at Evil Dead. My usual routine is to completely freak out after the first scary scene, turn on all the lights in the house, and play music really loud - stuff that would probably repel bad guys. Then I usually wrap up in a blanket and sing along. Until 1 a.m. or whenever I pass out from exhaustion.)

One of the horrible movies someone bought was Plasterhead.



True evil has no face, people. Don't forget it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The History of Wedding Traditions, or Time to Rethink the Wedding Party

Yesterday at work, a customer and her daughter came up to the counter with four wedding-related books.

"I take it somebody's getting married," I said to them.

"Yep, she is," said the mom.

"Just got engaged on Saturday," said the daughter.

"Ah, so still getting used to being engaged? I got engaged last October, so I remember that feeling well." They mentioned shooting for a May wedding; is it possible to plan a wedding in six months, they wondered? Definitely, I told them. I planned mine in three - just keep it small.

After they left, I really wanted them to come back. I wanted to talk more to somebody about my wedding to Spousal Unit. The little details we had, the big things that happened that day - I only talked to a few people in-depth about it as we were planning, in part because I knew others might want to shoot me for talking about nothing else.

You, my readers, are a captive audience. Although I guess you could surf away from this page whenever you want. The point is, I can blather about my wedding here all I want because this is my freakin' party.

But I've blathered about it elsewhere before. Instead, let's look at the reasons weddings have become the money-sucking narcissist-fest that they are today.

Diamond engagement rings are a recent thing, and a dubious ploy for economic power. The De Beers company was single-handedly responsible, in the early 20th century, for creating all the hype around diamonds, which became kind of a way into the woman's billowing skirts. The higher the price of the ring, the more he loved you (clearly), and the more safe it was to jump into bed with the guy before marriage. My ring has diamonds in it, yes, but it features a synthetic sapphire. Way prettier, I think.

The white wedding dress became popularized thanks to Queen Victoria in the mid-1800s. Coco Chanel put the final nail in the white dress coffin around the same time De Beers was convincing everyone to give a girl diamonds in exchange for less mentionable favors. This article provides some background of the dress, though don't believe its positive angle at the end: it's still pretty high pressure for a girl to get married in white or ivory. I wore blue instead, which means, according to the old poem, "Married in blue, you will always be true."

How about having a huge wedding party, full of girls in matching dresses and guys in tuxes? Traditionally, those people guarded the bride and her dowry to be sure she arrived at the wedding with her virtue and her purse intact. Spousal Unit and I didn't have a wedding party, but I think any of our guests would have readily thrown their cell phones at marauders.

Sometimes, the groom would kidnap the bride, and it was the job of the "wedding party" to keep the bride's family from finding the couple until the bride was already knocked up. How's that for a romantic honeymoon? These days, it's just a chance to remind yourselves, after all the stress of wedding planning, that yes, you had a good reason for wanting to marry this person.

Ours achieved that purpose quite well.
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