Monday, December 31, 2012

How to (Hopefully) End Mass Shootings

In Washington, D.C., everyone's concerned with the fiscal cliff right now. Come midnight on January 1, congress will either put unsatisfactory measures (according to everyone, I'm sure) into place, or the entire country will jump off the cliff like short-sighted, drunken lemmings. I'm not terribly worried about what will happen; everyone puts things like this off until the last possible minute, and then there's a cave-in by one or both parties.

Even if that doesn't happen this time around, I still have a (personally) more pressing worry on my mind: that the fiscal issues we're facing will make lawmakers lose track of goals related to the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Connecticut.

Here's what most concerns me. This is already a politicized issue. It was politicized within days of the shooting. Fine; such is life in this, our U.S. democracy. There appear to be two sides: people are either for stricter gun control, or they are for better, more accessible mental health care. I've heard a few crazy mentions of wanting to solve the gun problem with more guns. I've read (idiotic) arguments for more long-term hospitalizations - alone - as a solution to the American mass-murder complex. But those don't concern me either, at least not immediately.

Everything in our country gets the black-and-white treatment, for some reason. Greys are washed out till they're mostly white, or shaded till they're mostly black. But that is not the nature of life. We forget everything has a dual nature, that no one thing happens without affecting something else.

So why is it that the guns and mental health argument has two sides at all?

I don't believe the solution is one or the other. I've seen and heard others argue the same thing, but those voices aren't loud enough; they are distorted echoes in the din of election-based arguments. And it doesn't end there. It's not a matter of simply requiring background checks for every gun sold, whether online or in stores or at gun shows. It's not a matter of just combining that with cheaper mental health care and more accessible psychologists - though that would be a beautiful start.

Mental health is incredibly stigmatized to discuss, especially for men. Consider this: do you know of any woman who carried out a mass shooting? They exist, but of 62 mass shootings in the last 30 years, only one was carried out by a woman. The men who carry out such shootings must have mental health issues, to some degree - because what mentally healthy person would do such a thing?

Men seldom have to deal with discrimination in our society, but it is there, just the same. Men are told to be strong, to be stoic, to keep it inside and be tough. 

What is the point of better mental health care if those who need it most are too embarrassed to seek it out?

I mentioned to Spousal Unit that I'd love to see a first lady destigmatize mental health issues. That's what came to mind first, because it's the kind of thing a first lady would take on, and it seems like the fastest, surest way to make a real change. Laws cannot change public perception.

But that won't help in this case - at least, not as fully as it could. This kind of thing needs to be led by a man, someone willing to step into the spotlight (or at least not run from it) as he discusses mental health, his personal struggles, and says outright that being strong doesn't mean ignoring your weaknesses. If we have a first gentleman in the near future, this would be a perfect job for him.

That said, I really don't care who steps up and takes it on, as long as someone does. Mental health has been stigmatized long enough; it's time we stop being afraid to talk about it.

And where better to start than here? I deal with depression. How about you?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Snowy Fail

I've been trying to write an important blog post all week. I keep pushing it off because it's a really dense, heavy topic that needs to be done well, and I haven't had adequate time to get it out there. So here's the plan: you love the hell out of this picture, pretend I posted something absolutely amazing, and I will reward you all with a deep, insightful post next week. How's that sound?

I'm off to tidy the kitchen. Adventures in daily living... hooray.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Very Veggie Christmas Dinner

I always have a hard time figuring out what to make for big holiday dinners - namely, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Their traditional main dishes are meat, whether it's ham or lamb, turkey or fish. Obviously, those are all out of the question, so what's a vegetarian to do?

Fondue. At least, that's what I did this year, along with vegetarian sushi. My meatatarian in-laws loved it (at least, that's what they're saying, and I have no desire to question them further).

For the fondue, I found a bag of pre-shredded fondue cheese, a mix of Emmentaler and Gruyere. The bag was only 12 ounces, which turned out to be a perfect first course for five people. But it was $14 for that little thing. Ever the thrifty one, I thought surely buying the cheese in brick form would be cheaper... but no. An 8-ounce brick of Gruyere was $12, meaning ounce for ounce, the pre-shredded stuff was cheaper. On top of that, it was less work for me.

I've read in various places that you should never use water as the liquid base for fondue; you need to add something with flavor. The bag I bought suggested dry white wine, and the closest I had on hand was Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, which worked marvelously. I mixed it all in the electric fondue pot, sprinkled it with nutmeg, and we dipped carrots, green peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, and toasted bread in it.

The sushi came next. Most of them were some combination of cream cheese, carrot, squash, green pepper, and avocado... but a couple of them were avocado and bacon. Bacon! Our CSA (the one from which we got our summer veggies) had their own for sale. Earlier in the year, I inquired heavily about their butcher's slaughter practices, and they met my approval. I saw that the pigs had a nice space to roam in and were well fed, and you can really taste it in the bacon. It's very thickly cut and is so rich. And the sushi? Sounds weird, tastes delicious.

And it satisfied the meatatarians.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tidings of Butter and Pigs

As usual, it's been a crazy holiday - in a good way, of course. There was lots of photobombing...

Photo by mi madre

Some pig squeezing...

Accidental color coordination...

An alcohol-induced incident of butter molestation that everyone seems reluctant to discuss...

...and the best series of pictures depicting gift excitement that I've ever taken.

What was the best part of your Christmas?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Snow-Day Adventures

Last weekend at the in-laws, I had fun taking artsy photos of Christmas stuff.

Yesterday in the blizzard, I had a different kind of fun. Spousal Unit and I tried to make a snowSpock on our deck, boldly going where no snowman has gone before.

Unfortunately, it ended up looking more like a female snoworc.

About halfway through the storm, we decided to clean off the car so there would be less to do in the morning. I think we cleared off at least a foot, and by the time we were done and had shoveled around the car, there was another half an inch on it already.

After an unsuccessful walk to the grocery store (in that the store was closed), we huddled inside to eat potatoes and gravy and hang some pictures on the wall. It was a good snow day.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mother Nature's Delightful Fury

Today, I'm working from home. Here's what I see out my window.

Lots and lots of white, lots and lots of snow. Only the most desperate are out there now, as the flakes fly sideways into hapless trees and dimwitted rabbits. Yes, I may still be working today, but I get to do it in my pajamas, with Spousal Unit to distract me and a pot of tea at the ready. Maybe later we'll make cookies and watch a Christmas move. Or Big Bang Theory; that would be good too.

What are you doing for your snow day, if you have one?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Chicago Weekend

This weekend, we went to Chicago for the veterans' parade. I was amazed at how many floats, bands, and families marched in this thing. In the rain.

The gentleman in the motorized chair, following the motorcycle brigade, is carrying a hand-colored American flag on a piece of computer paper.

It was neat to see them take down the gigantic flag at the end of the parade. They put it straight in the clear bucket so it wouldn't touch the ground.

But the man who totally won at parade watching was the Puerto Rican guy.

He has a Puerto Rican flag around his neck like a cape, and he said thank you to every person who marched by. Many soldiers (who I'm guessing were either friends or also Puerto Rican) stopped to take pictures with him.

After, we went to a delightful little bakery called Toni's. They had awesome cookies.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Beatles' Help! Scarf

Remember when I posted about making Beatles-themed crafts after seeing Cirque du Soleil's performance of Love? I've finished the first one. Here's a refresher of the original Help! scarf.

And here's my version: a massive thing that I gave my sister for her birthday.

In these shots, it's wrapped around her neck twice. I didn't measure the beast before I sent it to its new home, but it's probably about 8 feet long.

Made with Caron yarn on size 8 needles, this tube scarf was 40 stitches in the round. Each block of color is 20 rows. The only tricky parts are getting a smooth transition between colors and what to do with the yarn ends inside the tube, but they are easy problems to solve.

When you transitioning, knit a normal row with the new color, then pull tight the last stitch of the previous color. That last stitch shouldn't disappear entirely, but it will be close, and your problem will be solved. Then, because this scarf features white yarn and you can totally see the red tails through it, avoid leaving them hanging by tying them loosely together behind the red blocks - bottom tail tied to the top tail. Be sure to leave enough slack so that you can block and stretch the scarf as desired. Then, cut off the excess.

The fringe is what holds the ends of the scarf closed. After tying it on, I knotted two sets of fringe together along the bottom.

Now all my sister needs is a funny hat.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Holiday Cards for Procrastinators

For those of you who are excellent procrastinators and like to send Christmas/holiday cards at this time of year, I have a treat for you. But I'm short on time, so we're going to be snappy about this.

Fox in the Snow by sleepingfoxstitchery 

This little guy is just adorable.

Snowflakes With Peace Signs by HeartstringCards

How the holidays should be celebrated.

 Sphynx Hanukkah by TheOtherMothers

Okay, these guys are slightly creepy.

Zombie Santa Holiday Card by MonkeyMinion 

Never mind. Zombie Santa is creepier.

Christmas Santa Skull Card by HorseAndHare 

This guy is just awesome.

Assorted Card Pack by CMSStationery

A good one for fans of Elf.

Who wouldn't love a TARDIS for Christmas? Especially wearing a Santa hat.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Books I Want: Summer and Bird, The Friday Society

Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull

I have this book, and am already more than halfway through it. I love it. It's a young adult fantasy (or possibly middle reader, depending how mature the middle reader is). I'm sure the author's had lots of jokes made for being named Kat Cat and writing a bird book. She does a lovely job of it.

The story starts with sisters Summer and Bird at home. The setting is modern day, and the girls' mother is always telling them stories and singing songs about birds. Surprise of all surprises, Bird, 9, wants to be a bird, which irritates her big sister a little, who knows better at the ripe age of 12. Summer thinks it's silly, until they wake up one morning and their parents are gone. They learn that their mother used to be the queen of all birds, before her feather robe was stolen. The girls follow her into Down, where birds can talk and all their mother's stories come to life.

Catmull has a beautiful writing style, akin to an oral storyteller in the way she tells past and future events all at once. Her poetic lilt and the way she combines subject matter are very like Neil Gaiman's writing, and they remind me a little of all the stories in The Green Man, by Datlow and Windling.

The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

I first ran across this book on John Scalzi's blog, where he had a wonderful Big Idea post by the author. The big idea behind her book, she said, should not be a big idea: that girls could be main characters in a story, without the story being focused on the fact that they were girls. Without making them weak, without making them ashamed of their attractiveness. Still flawed, of course, but you could replace her characters with boys and the story would be virtually the same.

"If you make a film about eleven men robbing a casino, the story is about eleven people putting together a cool heist first and foremost," Kress says in her post. "But switch the genders around. Do you see now how the film becomes first and foremost about women robbing a casino, not about a cool heist?"
The three women in the book are assistants to men in their field. They attend a ball and happen to meet, but before the night ends, a man turns up dead. I love Kress's Big Idea, which is why I want to give this book a try even though it's a bit different from what I usually read. It's steampunk, which is glorious, but it's also a murder mystery. I'm not a terribly big fan of mysteries. But every book needs a little bit of mystery in it, or there would be no story.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hooray for Metaphor!

Ladies and gents: a metaphor.

The sunrise was beautiful this morning. I looked straight ahead, to the usual place (you know, east) and zoomed in.

Luckily, I also happened to catch the rest of the sunrise out of the corner of my eye. It was so much more beautiful than I'd originally thought.

The lesson for the day: take a step back and view the big picture now and then, rather than focusing on the little stuff. The big picture may not be as horrifying as you thought.

This lesson brought to you by the sun and Ms. Bitters, one of whom is a better teacher than the other.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Spinach Dal

Dal is one of my favorite Indian meals. It's pretty much composed of beans and water, making it ridiculously easy to cook, and you can add anything you want to make it flavorful. Unfortunately, I also forget how easy it is, and then forget to make it again for a long time. Now that I've written down this recipe, that won't be happening.

Spousal Unit and I were feeling very tired last evening after some marginally successful Christmas shopping. We were happy with all the snow we got, but chilled, too, and the only idea I had for dinner was jasmine rice. (Seriously, we were just going to eat jasmine rice for dinner.) Then I remembered the red lentils I bought, and a meal was born. It was the perfect follow-up to a game of Scrabble, and it warmed us, woke us up, and gave us energy to cheer the Packers to their 22nd victory over the Lions at Lambeau.

As with many Indian dishes, I highly recommend topping this with garam masala, a spice mix that adds just the right flavors. My recipe below was adapted from The Vegetarian Table: India by Yamuna Devi.

Spinach Dal
1 c. red lentils
1 1/2 tsp.  ginger
3/4 tsp. dried minced onion (or 1/3 c. fresh)
1 T olive oil/butter
1 tsp. salt (to taste)
4 c. water
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 c. spinach, shredded
Jasmine rice

Rinse lentils until water runs clear or you get bored. (Seriously, this is what I did.) In medium saucepan, combine lentils with ginger onion, oil/butter, salt, pepper, and water. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, until lentils break down and a sauce forms (about 30-40 min). Add water if it gets low before lentils break down, or if you want a thinner sauce.

Add crushed garlic and spinach. Cook an additional 5 minutes; serve over rice with garam masala.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Holiday Tunes You Don't Hear Every Day

Some people get sick of listening to the same five versions of White Christmas or Jingle Bells every holiday season - especially those who have to listen to it at work, where there is no hiding from the terrible renditions of Santa Claus is Coming to Town (which would be better if they kept the industrial rock thing going).

There are a lot of unique Christmas songs out there that I really enjoy, and in years that I've listened to the same three CDs over and over at work, I cling to any holiday tune that doesn't make me want to barf. The season just isn't the same if the music you put on for tree decorating is the same stuff you listened to twenty times that day. Which is why I present the following list of tunes that are easy on your barf reflex.

The Muppets are always a sure bet that you'll have something to laugh at instead of cry about.

Coldplay has several Christmas songs, including Christmas Lights - a song they wrote, with an awesome music video.

Maybe This Christmas is a great album for those who need something merry and bright, but are sick of the same old shining stars on the highest bough. Coldplay does a rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, alongside Ben Folds and Jimmy Eat World. Oh yeah, Barenaked Ladies, too.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is my favorite traditional Christmas song.

I also love Sufjan Stevens' Come On! Let's Boogie to the Elf Dance! which is a much more normal song than you'd guess by the title. The chorus is, "Hear the banjo strumming, Santa Claus is coming."

And there's nothing like some jazzy Christmas tunes. Harry Connick, Jr., is always hit or miss with me, and (It Must Have Been) Ol' Santa Claus is definitely a hit.

Let me know if you've got favorite non-traditional tunes - the more I can gather every year, the better.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Eclectic Electric Sunrise

I was thrilled to see this outside my window this morning - a hot pink streak of awesome. Shortly after this picture, the sunrise faded and the sky became a mere gloom-filled expanse of clouds, from one horizon to the other. But I'm carrying this memory with me today, because I have to have something.

Other happy thoughts that will carry me to the weekend:

  • Tea with a good friend at my favorite tea house this weekend.
  • Staff lunch tomorrow - the only time of month I get to actually talk to my coworkers. (All the rest of the time we're just grammar freaks.)
  • The Christmas tree is up, so all I have to do to fill a room with a cozy, comforting glow is flip a switch.
  • There is still more Christmas to hang up, including some pretty blue lights.
  • Spousal Unit and I don't have to travel out of town this weekend - we can spend most of it relaxing at home.
  • Snow is forecast for Sunday - even if it's only a 50 percent chance, I'm going to cross my fingers for a snowy Sunday morning.
  • The apartment is clean. *sigh of relief*
  • I'm planning to make chapel windows, which most people just call stained glass cookies.
  • Spousal Unit? He still likes me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bad Romance: Featuring... Cats?

Nothing says lovin' like a cat. Which is why I wasn't at all surprised to find this.

Heart Mate by Robin D. Owens

Clearly, the cat with the emerald necklace is here to help this poor sucker out. What woman wouldn't fall for a guy with a walking stick, a heart-shaped necklace, and a cat? I mean, if he's got those first two but no cat, that's a deal breaker for me. You know what they say: the cat makes the man.

Her Last Fling by Jana Mercy

You know what this cover says? The publisher was clearly thinking, "I'm tired of conventional romance covers. None of them ever feature a plastic cow. Why not, I ask you?" Kudos to that guy if any of these books sold. Check out this site for awesome captions to this cover.

Let Me Come In by Linda Jones

Ah, a clever play on the three little pigs fairy tale here. Very nice - the man in the cover represents the hungry wolf. Except "let me come in" doesn't exactly scream fairy tale at you, leaving you with a dude surrounded by flowers and some tiny, live bacon bits. (Also, there's really nothing hotter than that.) Honestly, I don't care if he's a wolf or not - anyone shows up at my door with three little piglets, I'll squee and worry about the rest later.

I have to say, I'm glad I had a hard time finding crappy covers that featured animals. It makes me feel just marginally better about the romance industry. And speaking of bad romance... here is a video of way too many covers of that song. I like the whistling guy.

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's Beginning to Look...

This weekend, Spousal Unit and I went to my mom's to help pick, cut, and decorate their Christmas tree. As I rambled to him about the awesomeness of Lowes Creek Tree Farm, he stopped me and asked, "Wait, is this one of those things that was really awesome when you were a kid, but now that you're an adult it's just a shack in the middle of the woods?"

Nope. I remembered it well. We got a wonderful tree and visited the cabin, where I found the adorable birds above.

Another gift I got for myself was some of my old stuff.

One Kitten for Kim by Adelaide Holl

I loved this book when I was little. Not only does it feature a boy named Kim, but it's a detailed counting book with a chameleon. And, of course, seven kittens. My copy of the book has crayon all over it.

In the boxes I hauled back home, I also found four or five cassette tapes full of happy music (the original recordings), pictures galore, and more Star Wars stuff than I will ever need again. Embarrassing childhood photographs to come.
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