Monday, December 30, 2013

Hey! Listen!

Over the weekend, Spousal Unit and I had Christmas with his family. Unfortunately, the gifts for his parents were on "backorder" (i.e., in the mail), so we improvised with a couple of CDs. The idea J went with for his dad was pretty cool: songs that refer to the Beatles. Surprisingly, some of the best ones he found are country-esque, such as I Saw It on TV by John Fogerty and She Likes the Beatles by William Clark Green.

This all meant that Jack was the only one who got a complete gift, though I have to say it was the coolest gift I gave this year.

Zelda 3-ring plaque and Triforce gauntlets!

We took a really good family picture, because we're dashing people.


Then we had an overpriced, comically awkward dinner sitting far too close to an incredibly quiet couple (which I don't fault them for) who made this Italian family feel like they had to be quiet in return - something that doesn't happen often. Luckily, Spousal Unit and I were able to laugh inwardly as everything went from strange to weird that night.

It's not family Christmas without something slightly weird poking its head in.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Letter to Target

Dear Target,

You suck at shipping. Other things too, but I'm sticking with shipping for now.

Every year for Christmas, my family does a Secret Santa thing, because we are enormous and our wallets are tiny. This year, Spousal Unit drew the name of my sister Rachel, who wanted a popcorn popper.

I dutifully went to my local Target store in search of this delightful contraption, only to find it wasn't on the shelves; alas, I would have to order it online. (Target, you may be wondering why I was the one to do this, instead of Spousal Unit. The answer, Conglomerate Retailer of Doom, is that this is how things work in our household and you should mind your own business.)

When the package arrived - in a relatively short time, I might add - I only saw it from behind at first. But one thing was clear: it was shipped in its box with a thin piece of plastic around it. Nothing else adorned its cardboard sides.


Target, you sad, strange little chain. I'm a fan of saving the environment, just as you are pretending to be. If I could get away with it, I might also ship items in this manner. But you, my non-friend, are a retailer. Did it really not occur to you that at this time of spiked eggnog and splendor that some of the items ordered online might be gifts? Did it not occur to you that doing this to the box could possibly make someone's head implode hideously?

Count 'em: one, two, three stickers. And a giant dent in a pear tree.

Five of the box's six sides were draped in this thin plastic (is there a shortage or something?), but it was on the sixth side that you decided to affix all the massive, inhumanly sticky labels. One corner was massively dented, and there were small puncture marks across the box. I know they're fast, but did you really decide to start using a cheetah delivery service? I recommend against that - they apparently chew on everything.


This is the worst shape I've seen a box arrive in for a while (and keep in mind that I'm citing fairly recent bookstore experience too). I'd have exchanged this, but there was no time to go through the mail and back again before the holiday (thankfully, my sister has a sense of humor). Rest assured that if there is a single scratch on this item, you will have just submitted yourself to a dance-off.

I'm also not going to share any information with you about which poor soul was the one to slap on these labels and declare this defenseless box fit for air/truck travel. The reason? I blame you, Target. You and your terrible warehouse policies are most likely what caused this mess, not some poor soul under penalty of job loss to get the most orders out the door possible before the apocalypse (and/or Christmas).

The reason I write to you about a demented popcorn box is simple.

1. Stop being an ass to your employees.
2. Put at least one neuron of thought into your shipping policies. This is even possible of a cheetah; it should be the standard for you.

Sincerely,
With an overabundance of freakin' holiday cheer,
Allison

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Congradutations!

My sister Laura graduated over the weekend. I am super proud of her.

The family (plus support system) had dinner and drinks together the night before in celebration. I had the strongest hot toddy on the planet, modeled here by the lovely Spousal Unit.


I managed to get a picture that perfectly describes Laura's relationship with her daddy.


The next morning, we made the quick, joyous trip downtown for the ceremony. Except that the trip was neither quick nor joyous; we were in the middle of a delightful Wisconsin blizzard, and despite the plows having gone by shortly before we left, it was a slippery, treacherous trip, surrounded by idiots on four wheels and nary a patch of sand in sight.

After some delightful fishtailing, however, we made it to our destination and watched our gal Sunday be honored for four and a half years of hard work to receive two incredible degrees.

Check out the cool glasswork on the walls behind us, too!

She has her whole future ahead of her. (Where else would it be - behind her? Then it would be the past, silly.)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Seasonal Affective Disorder

The last couple of weeks have been rough.

I'm in the middle of a tough bout with depression; I'm sure it's mostly based on the lack of sunlight. I was so excited for last weekend's solstice - almost more excited than I am for Christmas, because now the days will start getting longer, and I need my sunlight. I'm whatever the opposite of a vampire is.

I've had issues with seasonal affective disorder in the past, but it seems especially bad this year (I'm a bad judge of this, though - I always forget how terrible it was to adjust to a move, or the last time I felt depressed).

I have not worked on the novel in more than a month.

I have not written at all since my last blog post, which was about how tired I've been feeling.

I have not been reading either.

All of you who know me know what a big deal all those things are to me. I've also been very tired, despite getting plenty of sleep, and highly irritable (poor Spousal Unit).

I'm sharing this with all of you by way of doing my part to make depression a visible thing. It's still hard to admit when I've been feeling like this - especially when the lows are so awful that you don't want to share them with anyone - but I want to  put it out there because there should be no shame in mental illness. There should be no shame in a chemical imbalance over which I have no control, or even in simply feeling sad.

I think the best way to contribute to an overall change in the way things like depression are viewed is to be bold enough to be part of the change.

I recently bought a light therapy box, in the hope that getting extra "sunlight" every day will help shake me out of the worst of this. It won't change things overnight, but maybe it will make the days more bearable and help me to enjoy winter again. I love snow; I feel like an absolute Scrooge for not enjoying it as much as I want to. (I even had trouble motivating myself to make a cup of tea last night.)

But don't worry. My shrink is a phone call away. I have Spousal Unit to help me through the worst of times. And I do still feel joy on a regular basis - I haven't shut down completely.

Things are just rough right now. And I'm working on it.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Exhaustion

Some days, I wake up tired.

Tired of the day-to-day. Tired of eight hours, commutes, tiny unsolvable word problems. Tired of not being able to do it all at home.

Some days, I'd rather stay in bed.

Tired of cats knocking over plants, clawing carpet, biting the beads off of my skirts, using my hands as a launch pad. Tired of cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Tired of The Voice in my Head that says it's not good enough, you have to keep going, you have to do more, or else.

Some days, I don't want to move for weeks.

Tired of depression. Tired of bad feelings ambushing me on a beautiful day. Tired of little things making me into a Midwestern Hulk. Tired of remembering my faults for years on end.

Some days, the sunrise takes that all away.





On days when it doesn't, there's always poetry.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cookie Party!

Sunday was cookie day. Sandy, Kaelin, and I baked all day and ended up with 12 batches of cookies for us to split and take home. It was delightful fun. We made:

Orange Cardamom Biscotti
Snickerdudes for the Masses
Jam Shortbreads
Chocolate Mint Surprises
Almond Crunch Sugar Cookies
Orange Snaps
M&M cookies
Cranberry Orange Pinwheels
Viennese Hazelnut Cookies
Peanut Butter Blossoms
Nutella cookies 
Gingersnaps

The gingersnaps had a kid in their class who wasn't very smart.

Action shot! Rescuing the bowl from Death by Floor.



We laid all the cookies out to count, and only now am I realizing that we were missing the Nutella and Chocolate Mint Surprise cookies. So the actual number of cookies per person was more like 225. Amazing. We rock.

Friday, December 6, 2013

...And a Kitty Cat in a Pear Tree

The cats haven't terrorized the tree too badly yet; it's been knocked over once, but it only fell halfway, thanks to a nearby chair, and nothing fell off of it. One ornament has been broken, but it wasn't sentimental, and it was a small enough break that it's not noticeable by anyone who isn't as freakishly detail-focused as me.

Mostly, they like to sit under the tree, peering out at us one-lifed creatures.


Somehow, I feel like we don't have as many surface-dwelling decorations as we did last year. No boxes are missing; I think we might just have more surfaces. So I'm making do by spreading them thinly between rooms until I can find a good Christmas sale.


I like my decorating style.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Impending Jolly Boots of Doom

Christmas is coming! Who's ready to go caroling?

Captain Picard sings "Let it Snow"

Christmas at Ground Zero by Weird Al Yankovic

Anyone need to decorate the tree yet?

To: Jabba, Love: Boba (more geek decor)

Um ... what?

Brought to you by The Morning: It's short, and I'm out of time!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I Haz a Blerg

Source

My apologies at this extended hiatus, and at the general lack of blogginess in the last few weeks. I've had some kind of awful bug that started with a hoarse voice, interimed with a cold, and seems to have settled on an unconsolable sore throat.

Today features yet another doctor's visit so that I can do little things like eat oatmeal without getting a lecture from my tonsils against ingesting things that feel like this.

Source

See you soon, I hope.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Apocalyptic Doom Engine's Demise

Some days begin more slowly. The morning arrives like a thing on wheels, an apocalyptic engine heralding the day's doom. Plodding through sleepy, cracked eyelids to see early winter's dark gloom is the first unjustice; bitter floor that shocks warm feet is the second.

Perhaps the day goes on like this. A shoelace breaks. The ice on the windshield has strong fortifications, and you're already running late. You're convinced the commute is one sentient being, rising up against your well-meaning rush to crush what little spirit is left.

And the work day hasn't even begun.

So the day might continue indefinitely, until you lie down to sleep again, exhausted. But perhaps there's something there, something early on, that breaks through the crust of disgruntlement you've used to shield against bombardment. Perhaps all you really needed was one bit of glory--one moment of peace.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Eager for Christmas? Idle Down, Turbo.

Now that we've gotten a few snowfalls, I'm really gearing up for winter and Christmas. They're my favorite time of year, meaning that I love to pull out books like this and go nuts.

Snowflakes for All Seasons by Cindy Higham

But one thing at a time.

I understand the myriad reasons that people like to set up their Christmas decorations early. Some feel like I do and want the season to last as long as their families will stomach it. Some have to do it early because December is just too busy, or have to take advantage of help while they have it.

All that is fine, but I prefer to wait until after Thanksgiving, and I wish retailers did, too. But this list of retailers open on T-giving shows they're much more concerned about the shorter shopping period between holidays than people being thankful for what they already have, for even one measly day of the year.

(Yes, most people are thankful on other days, too. But I think it's reasonable to set aside one day just for that. Does anyone corporate get the irony here?)

Usually, I'd use a post like this to ask that you not shop on Black Friday. But if you're choosing between evils, go with the evil you know: Shop on Black Friday rather than on Thanksgiving. Let me detail how this can affect your world.

If stores are open on Thanksgiving, people have to work at them. People like my sister, who have to work the graveyard shift and therefore have to sleep all day. Even though she wouldn't be working during dinner hours, she still gets no holiday.

If stores are open on Thanksgiving, other stores feel pressure to compete. This means every year, more and more employees are asked to give up their holiday.

If stores are open on Thanksgiving, people will go shopping. Think of all the families that won't get to be together because one or two people just had to get in line at 3 p.m. on Thursday for the evening sales. Think of how these people might otherwise spend their time.

All of this can be solved if those who decide when the doors open come to a consensus to behave more like human beings and less like dickwads. But I know that's not likely in America, where greed rules the many with an iron fist and the few look on disapprovingly. Call me naive, but I still think we can reverse this trend.

Don't even go to the grocery store on Thanksgiving. Money speaks too loudly in this country; as long as that's the case, speak loudly by keeping that money to yourself.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Little Cactus That Could

When we first moved back to Wisconsin, Spousal Unit's mom got us a Thanksgiving cactus (much like a Christmas cactus, but also different). That year, it bloomed, and it had the most beautiful flowers.

Over the course of the next year, an apocalyptic mayhem was apparently wrought upon it by yours truly. A few sprigs of cactus fell off, much like the fabled Charlie Brown tree. And in its little plant mind, it screamed at me, "Why?! Oh, why would you do this to me?! For the love of GOD, just end it already!"

And then we got cats.

Titania is our mountain climber, nibbler, and all-purpose troublemaker. She steals yarn from my lap while I'm using it, eats candy wrappers that have any bit of chocolate stuck to them (yes, the whole wrapper), and tries to destroy our pipes by shredding the insulation off of them. (I don't let her do any of these things, but when the human's away ...)

Spousal Unit and I were still surprised (and horrified) when she decided to start nibbling on the cactus. It may not be super poky, like most cactuses, but it's still a cactus. 


As she usually eats plant matter in the early morning - as a signal to us that it's time to stop lazing about and feed her already - we began to sequester them on the top shelf in the closet, far away from her dagger-toothed villainy.

And this year, with three tiny sprigs and one limp bit of dying plant matter, it decided to bloom again.





Do your worst, kitty. Apparently, this plant is more hardy than most.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Custom Sushi Dishes! Yay!

A few weeks ago, I went to The Vinery in Madison and took one of their classes.They do lots of glasswork, including stained glass. (One of my favorites at the shop is of a great blue heron. You can see some of their custom work here.)

The class I took involved artfully layering glass, which would then be fired and melted into the shape of a sushi dish and two sauce dishes. I think mine turned out pretty well.


I definitely like the sauce dishes better - the orange stood out more, while it falls a little dull on the black surface. Plus the designs on the white dishes are cooler. I'm also a fan of the corner striping. I wasn't expecting the interesting curve on the big dish - it rocks like a rocking horse, while most dishes I saw were bent up on each side - but it's pretty and unique.


It also holds a lot of sushi! This is three rolls' worth, and I easily could have stacked a fourth. They're filled with teriyaki eggplant and yellow and orange peppers. I made these with brown rice and worried that they wouldn't turn out as well as those with jasmine white rice, but they were tasty and held together just fine. The sauces are soy sauce and wasabi.

A decadent meal on decadent dishes. The class itself was only $50 - as if you could get custom dishes for that price anywhere else! I'm definitely going back for another class.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My Writing Station: Now With 100% More Fur

You haven't had cats in a while. You've been good, though. You get cats today.

Here is my typical writing station. Titania and Oberon are concerned that I'm taking pictures instead of writing.



I'm glad to have such picturesque kitties. Not that I love them for their looks, but it helps when one needs blog photos.

Friday, November 15, 2013

How to Teach Decision Making

My sister Brooke and I, somewhere around 1993, I think.

When kids are little, they don't know what a decision is or how to make one. Whatever's in front of them at the moment defines their existence - and it's usually either the best thing in the world or the worst.

My little sister Brooke was no exception. Like all kids, there were some things that she knew for certain that she liked (the color red). There were some that she knew she didn't (me not hanging out with her, because let's face it, I'm awesome). But most everything else in her life was without preference.

I noticed this in particular one hot summer when we begged for popsicles and were allowed to choose what we wanted. It was one of those multi-flavor boxes, and most had been eaten already. The only ones left were cherry and grape, red and purple.

I unwrapped them and held them out before her. "Do you want red or purple?" I asked.

"Purple!" she exclaimed.

But I'd been down that street before, so I asked her again. "Do you want purple or red?"

"Red!"

Being only about eight or nine myself, I didn't get why she wouldn't decide, other than maybe she didn't know how. So I decided to explain it to her.

"No, you're just saying the last one I said. You have to pick which one you like better."

In explaining this to her, I created a monster.

This singular popsicle debacle (and others like it, I'm sure) created an opinionated young woman. She knows what she likes and doesn't like, and she'll tell you in a heartbeat if she thinks you're wrong. She's passionate about pretty much everything in life, one way or another.

"Try again. Which color do you want?"

"Um ... red!"*



*Note: This is not how the story actually ended. This is a lying device called "poetic license." It sounds better to end the story like that than to say that Brooke continued to ask for the last color that I'd said until I gave up and just gave her the one I didn't want. Because that's how sisters work sometimes.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cheeseburgers in Madison

Last weekend was good stuff. I cuddled my kitties.


My mom came to town - we went shopping, had tea, and got crafty (and if you were wondering, this is where I get it from).


We saw horribly, terribly, gaudily ugly Christmas sweaters by the pound, way too early in the season.


We ate Cheeseburgers in Paradise ...


... And crazy drinks to go with them. All Spousal Unit ordered was lemonade and it came like this.


Mom had a Mai Tai!


We were all confused about their hiring tactics. Not sure what an "ass host" is.


One of the best parts for Mom was seeing the huge tree lit up in Greenway Station. (But don't tell Neal.)


Monday, November 11, 2013

Rise Above (Anything; My Standards Are Low Right Now)

I've been making some progress on my goals for the coming year already, particularly number 14: making yeast-based bread more often. I've already made three different recipes in the last month.

One was by Real Simple - you know, the Martha Stewart thing. This Foolproof Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread apparently had me fooled - it was only about two inches high when it came out of the oven. Still, it was tasty.

Sandwich bread, my butt.

The others have come from my Pillsbury Healthy Baking book. (I've shared this with you before, but it's really amazing. I've loved everything that's come out of it.)

975830

The first recipe was for braided loaves, made from no-knead refrigerator dough. I've used that recipe for rolls, but the bread was so good that I can't not make it again. It was sweeter than I wanted, despite cutting back on the sugar, which is fine; it's a sweeter recipe, dotted with almonds. But I bet I could take out all (or almost all) of the sugar for a savory loaf. It was definitely the prettiest bread I've ever made, so naturally, I forgot to take a picture.

Yesterday, I made whole wheat bread with walnuts. Everything seemed to be going well until I realized it was really hard to knead in the flour, and I still had a cup and a half to go.

I forgot to add half a cup of water.

It was supposed to be heated and added with the milk and butter early on. I called both my mom and my grandma, who had no suggestions (they know better than to forget ingredients in bread). So I stopped adding flour, let it rise, and baked it for a shorter time. I think it ended up okay, despite the fact that I also needed 8x4 bread pans and only had 9x5.

Looks decent, even if it rose funny because of the big pan.

I may have been making bread. But I haven't necessarily done it well. But that's okay - it's edible, and my goal doesn't say I have to master breadmaking.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Writing Prompt: Silence

Write something around the proverb "Silence is a great healer." - from Creative Writing Prompts


They both knew the other was awake, but pretended not to. Mornings lately were a grinding of gears, a tearing of pages, and best before the first word.

He shifted to his side, feigning unawareness; she flowed against his back, taking what meager enjoyment she could. It was bitter beyond the covers; she tucked her nose back in.

Neither could say exactly what brought them here. She would say it was months of effort with nothing to show for it. He would say the same, if he thought the truth wouldn't scald her.

She exhaled, oven-warm, against his arm, but the air outside still chilled.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Peace and Light

This morning is going to be trying. The kitties are going to the vet for a check-up, and last time I had to take them, Oberon wet himself in the two blocks to the vet. This time we're going to a vet we like better, who is farther away, but hopefully it will mean better comfort for them overall.

Regardless, it's hard to hear them meow at me from within their carriers like I'm driving them to Auschwitz. So zen and peace is a good way to start the day.


Source

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Costumes Done Right

Halloween has gotten pretty ridiculous in some ways. (To be fair, so has Christmas.)

Chuck & Beans

I've been over the Drool-Inducing Costume of Uncreative Idiocy since before it started. Now, it's almost impossible to find a prepackaged women's costume that isn't focused on getting laid as quickly as possible. We all get it: sexy mummy, sexy Mad Hatter, and sexy pizza are all a thing (NSFW links, duh). Try a different adjective; you're starting to sound like a bad romance novel.

This is one of many reasons I prefer to craft my own costumes. I've always really enjoyed pushing boundaries and pretending to be someone I'm not. For example, these are some of my previous costumes.

Tigger
A hobo boy
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull
Bonnie Parker of Bonnie and Clyde

Sure, baring it all is bold and sassy. But I think it's bolder to think outside the conventional and be true to your inner badass.

That's why I'm Freddie Mercury this Halloween.


We're all a little bit Freddie at heart, I think.


P.S. For fun: terrible sexy literary costumes to try!
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