Friday, May 31, 2013

An Unreasonable Slaughter (As Opposed to the Reasonable Ones)

I don't buy Darth Vader's zero-to-evil-in-five-seconds shtick.

A few minutes before the whole "slaughtering younglings" scene, Anakin Skywalker had turned Chancellor Palpatine over to the Jedi. He recognized Palpatine as evil and an enemy.

(I just want to add that I hate the use of younglings instead of children - as if that makes this galaxy any cooler/farther away. They're freaking children, George Lucas. You don't need a new word for them.)

Anyway. Anakin had questions, and he was confused, but he still had enough sense to recognize evil and right and wrong. Then suddenly, he makes his decision.

I have no problem with that. What I have a problem with is that when Palpatine says, "Time to go slaughter some kids so you can learn how to save your hunny-bunny," Anakin just says, "Okay."

Even as a newly initiated Sith Lord - who earlier that same day turned in his friend for being an evil beeyotch - you'd think he would have at least some hesitation. Something like, "Hm. Are you... are you sure that will help?" Especially someone who's about to be a father, who later convinces this same evil guy that his son would be better off evil than dead.

No questions at all, Anakin? Really?

Later on, Darth Vader proves that there is still good in him - has been all along - but when it comes to slaughtering kids, he shows no trace of that. That kind of evil is not something that crops up in the middle of the night. Not even people in the Star Wars universe jump out of bed and say, "Hey, it's a great day to kill some kids in order to protect my lady love." There's some kind of build-up to that - at the very least, a strong history of mental health disorders.

Yes, there's the whole bit with the Sand People. But that had a driving motivation (revenge for his mother) and he likely slaughtered everyone because of a killing rage that he was already in, which blinded him to what he was doing.

He has no such excuse for killing the young Jedi. Even if you were to argue that his love of Padme drove him to it, Anakin still would have had a few questions, and I don't think it's a far stretch to say that revenge is a more believable motivation for killing than love. (If you ignore all religiously motivated wars, which I am at the moment. This is a different galaxy, after all.)

The more likely explanation for all of this is bad writing. And when it comes to the prequel trilogy, that's the explanation for a lot of things.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Most Interesting Cats in the World?

I do not always cuddle, but when I do,
it's 4 a.m. and your leg looks like a scratching post.

 I do not always hide in shopping bags, but when I do,
I seem to be plotting your demise... because I am.

They are the most average cats in the world. But not to me.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An Unexpected Letter

Over the weekend, I rearranged the library a bit, making room for a new bookcase and shifting subjects. I'm not sure why, but I picked up the book Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, about Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Ambrose was a pretty famous history writer and very well respected. Among other things, he wrote Band of Brothers, on which the TV show of the same name was based.

While reading the dust jacket, I flipped to the back cover and found some newspaper articles about him.

There was also a letter from UW-Madison geology professor Robert H. Dott, Jr., written to Ambrose in 1996 to ask whether the Lewis and Clark expedition had tents, having spent many cold, wet nights camping himself.

... And there was a reply from Ambrose (a UW history professor at the time), saying that they had buffalo hide tepees on the journey there, but slept "a la the geologists" on the trip back.

As far as I can tell, it's a totally authentic letter. The paper is watermarked, and does not look like a copy.

This is one of the best things about used books. We picked this one up from one of the Friends of the Memorial Library book sales, but I'm sure Professor Dott wouldn't have intentionally given this letter away.

I think I'll see if he wants it back.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Good Excuse for a Sunset

I really ought to put some effort into writing a nice post for y'all this morning. But the sky is so dreary, and it's pouring quite steadily outside. I slept late and want to keep sleeping, even though this is the start of a four-day week and my workday will be shorter than usual.

I do have to give myself some writing slack: I missed a day this weekend, but what I wrote yesterday was so strange and remarkable and ... disturbing. It might seriously be the best part of my book. So. When it comes to writing, I can take a break now and then. Especially when I'll be finishing this book in a few days.

Then come the edits.

For now, though, we have only sunsets.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Uber-Excited, Uber-Shy, Uber-Happy

Last night, I met one of my favorite authors, and by the time I'd left for the night, I was convinced he hated me.

This is likely just what my weird brain has conjured up. At most, I probably induced mild panic in someone who had already signed his name a lot that day. But here's the story.

John Scalzi spoke at A Room of One's Own in Madison last night, thanks to my friend Gretchen's amazing author-getting skills. He was as funny in person as he is on the Internet, read from his new book The Human Division, and was terribly gracious when someone commented (not unkindly) that "You look much better than the last time I saw you." ("It's the slimming yellow," he responded.)

So slimming, that Gamma Rabbit.
After his reading, he took questions, and I was lucky enough to be selected. So I asked him what part of the writing process makes him bang his head on the desk repeatedly. ("Starting," he said, "which is why I don't write short stories.") 

I was all kinds of excited. I'd been excited at work all day, I barely controlled the shake of excitement in my voice for my question, and then I jumped up to get in line.

Lines like that kind of drive me nuts. It's a long time to stand around contemplating how witty you can be when you reach the front. What can you say that would possibly make an impression on this guy who eats his churros just like everyone else, yet is incredibly smart and is doing what you want so desperately to do and is succeeding at the speed of light?

I'd decided to ask him to sign my writing notebook - the one I've carried around for two years and is full of all my novel ideas, and which would make me die a little inside if I lost it. It is full of possibilities, and I wanted to add inspiration to that as well.

So when it was my turn to speak to the Nice Man, I shyly slid my notebook toward him and said, "This is why I asked the question that I did. I've been working on a book, and I'm on the last chapter, and this is where I keep all of my ideas for it, and I'd appreciate if you would sign it."

Perhaps dear Mr. Scalzi just had on his usual "I'm listening with great intent" face. It's also possible that I filtered his gaze through my Crazy Lens too many times in the following minutes. But I felt as though I received some kind of look.
It was sand under my skin until I came home and described it to Spousal Unit. Then I realized what I had done wrong: I started my interaction with an author by saying, "I've been working on a book..." and sliding my notebook toward him.

I can't imagine how often he's asked to read something or slip it to the publishers while on tour. I think I involuntarily gave him a mild heart attack. So here's my Internet apology to him: I am so sorry for accidentally committing a faux pas. (It counts once it's on the Internet, right?)

I should know better than this - I read enough author blogs to know this kind of behavior is sigh-inducing. But I was nervous and excited, and I couldn't possibly be bothered to remember such etiquette at that moment. (Right? Right?) Plus, I wasn't asking him to read my stuff. So... there's that. But I've been kicking myself since then.

As I said, this is probably all in my head - my anxieties have been more 'splody than normal of late. This is the man responsible for Gamma Rabbit, after all. In all likelihood, Mr. Scalzi's thoughts at that moment were, Oh, she's writing. That's cool, I like writing. And I like churros. Churro churro churro.
It really is plausible.

P.S. When I got home for the evening, Spousal Unit had flowers waiting for me, for no particular reason. So I got writing inspiration, a good dose of laughter, and a smelly love note all in one evening. Overall, it was good.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Pigs in Mud on a Cake

Ages ago, I found this picture.

From this place.

I immediately knew I wanted to make it for my friend Kaelin's birthday. So this weekend, I set to it. I made my melted ice cream cake (from the Cake Mix Doctor cookbook): a pint of Chocolate Explosion Ben and Jerry's, a chocolate fudge cake mix, and three eggs, baked at 350 for about 40 minutes.

Unfortunately, this was the weekend in which I learned exactly why you don't put a whole cake mix into an 8-inch round pan. The cake ended up with a muffin top.

No problem; once it cooled, I needed to cut part of the top off to frost it, anyway. So while it cooled, I made fondant piggies. I've never worked with fondant, before, but it was a lot like clay. Except if the fondant is perfect and your hands are slightly moist, you end up with glop in your hands. But the piggies turned out well.

(There is a little pig-butt in the upper left corner.)

Next, I sliced the top off of the cake, so I could work on a flat cake surface. This did not work very well. I highly advise not slicing crookedly.

Luckily, the ganache topping would cover it, I hoped. But first, the sides. I frosted them with chocolate icing and attached Kit Kats.

It was an incredibly warm day when I did this. The chocolate was so many kinds of melty. Rather than fingerprinting the whole cake, I stuck the candy in the fridge and waited till it had solidified again.

Then I continued. The awesome thing about this cake is that if the frosting oozes between the candy, it just looks like the pigs were splashing in the mud.

I'd mixed up the chocolate ganache earlier (1 cup of boiling heavy cream over 12 ounces of dark chocolate, whisked and allowed to cool). I poured it on the cake, covering the whole surface up to the edges, and then placed the piggy fondant pieces.

The white thing is a bar of soap. And I'm especially proud of the curly tail.

As was hoped, Kaelin loved her cake. I realized halfway through making it that this counts as one of my 25 things: baking something more complicated than usual and making other people eat it. It's not as picturesque as the original, but I think it was decent for a first try with fondant and ganache (and making it from memory, as I didn't have the picture in front of me).

My evil mission was a success.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Simulating the Death Star, or Going Outside?

A friend pointed out that I haven't posted sunset pictures in quite a while. This is partially because with the changing of the seasons, the sun has moved out of range in the evening. Much like the Death Star waited on Yavin, we at the Batcave now wait for the sun to move back in range.

Or we could, you know, go outside.

This sunset was the day of my friend's wedding. They are the same sunset.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Art of Joy

It was a busy weekend, but I have some great pictures to show for it! I went to my friend Liz's wedding, and it was gorgeous and fun and full of love.

I saw friends I haven't seen in a long time.

Spousal Unit rode a tractor.

I took artistic photos of random stuff. (Or I tried to be artistic, anyway.)

There was a gorgeous moon above a white farmhouse.

And there was happiness.

All of the greatest things for Liz's wedding. (I include the tractor in that, too.)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Loopy Cats

Lack of sleep has made me loopy and zombified. To conserve energy, all I'm posting today are these cat pictures. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Tea From the Black Lagoon

Republic of Tea is my favorite of the more commercial tea companies. Their teas are tasty, their teaware is gorgeous, and they have a sense of humor, referring to themselves as "ministers of the Republic of Tea." I've loved everything I've gotten from them.

Until now.
Get Clean

I bought this Get Clean tea to see if it would help relieve some of the general "yucky" I've felt lately. I'd never tried detoxing tea before; it sounded like it would taste of pigs' feet and smell of elderberries. Not so, according to the website's reviews.

Everyone seemed to really enjoy the tea's flavor. The least favorable reviewer just said she wasn't "that crazy" about the taste, which implies it's in the middle ground. I decided those reviews were good enough, so I ordered and waited.

Boys and girls: you should never trust strangers on the internet.

The tea arrived and I gleefully made a cup, ready to feel more refreshed. I took an eager first sip, paying special attention to the taste of it. But I can only imagine the grimace I must have made. 

It tasted like utter crap. Its weird combination of bitter and sweet, plus something in between (not unlike the mud caked to the bottom of one's shoe) made me feel such revulsion that I did a spit take.

I am not kidding. I spit that crap right into the sink. I'm just glad I didn't retch.

Part of the problem was that, after those reviews, I was expecting a much more pleasant imbibing experience. I felt akin to a child at Christmas, who has reached the present she was told to save for last, who felt in every fiber the thrill of the last and best Christmas present, only to tear away the paper and discover a box of Wheaties. (Not that such a thing ever happened to me. Ahem.) With such high praise from a fair number of reviewers, the tea ought to have been mildly enticing at the very least. But all of those reviewers must have added something to their tea. 

It was probably crack. That's my only explanation for such high praise of this hot leaf juice.

Now that I'm aware of its terrible taste, I can make myself drink it. The tea does its job, after all, and after a cup of it meanders through my body, I feel more refreshed, lighter. But I can only drink it if I add a tablespoon of sugar, which probably takes away from the cleansing a bit.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tears to Laughter

On Saturday, Spousal Unit and I were driving home and this song by the National came on.

The day had been long. It started out lovely, but something shifted when I went to buy a dress for upcoming weddings.

I think it had something to do with my self-consciousness about my body. I didn't terribly feel like putting on different skins, analyzing them, scrutinizing myself. But I did it, because it needed doing.

I went to run a few other errands, and there were more of bad drivers out than usual, giving me heart attacks at every turn and making me seethe at their idiocy. I called errands off early and went home, where Spousal Unit reminded me of his need for dress shoes. So we went out again, because it needed doing.

Something about the song Runaway speaks to the softest part of me - the part I'm always trying to protect, the part I rarely show. Part of it is the lyrics, but I think more of it is the emotion in the lead singer's voice.

Sitting at a stop light, this song played on the stereo. It perfectly captured what I'd been feeling, and I was completely caught off guard. (It was a little like this scene from Equilibrium, which I just watched.)

"The more I listen to the National, the more I like his voice," Spousal Unit commented.

I nodded, biting my lip. A few tears escaped me.

"I think he's able to put emotion into his singing more easily in the higher register," he added.

I said nothing, and he looked over at me. He looked horrified. "Are you crying?"

I nodded.

"... There's nothing wrong with the lower register!" he blurted out.

I went from crying to laughing. The light turned green. And I felt better, because even when I'm sad, he can find a way to make me smile.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Guest Letter: How Pens Relate to the Nazis

*Spousal Unit works at a medical supply company. He sent this letter last week to the woman who orders company supplies. He really did.*

Hi Michelle,

I had a question about the pens that we have. Well, it's really more of an issue. You see, earlier today, I took a pen out of the supply closet for use on an Official Document. This document was not time sensitive, though it could very well have been. I could have had need to write a note on an important certificate for a doctor's signature, or I could have needed a pen to correct an authorization request to Medicaid. What if the patient's house had been on fire and I needed to sign an attestation in order for Medicare to cover replacement equipment, but the patient was cold, hungry, and without their medical equipment until I could do so? I hope I've impressed upon you the gravity of this situation.

So I took a pen from the supply closet for use on an Official Document. At this point, I'd like to refer you to the attachment called "Thing 1." Go ahead, I'll wait.

This is the very pen that I selected from the supply closet. I was right next to the fax machine, and all I had to do was sign my Official Document. This fine, blue, COMFORT STIC. pen from Staples was supposed to be the tool with which I endorsed the veracity and urgency of my Official Document. However, as you may have intuited, things did not go as planned.

Being in a rush, with a sense of urgency surpassing "pressing" and falling short of "panic," I went to remove the cap from the pen to affix my signature to my Official Document. I would now like to refer you to attachment "Thing 2."

As you can see, the cap and the point remained a bonded pair, like so many doves who mate for life, never to be separated. Like two tragic youths whose love is forbidden by society, leading to a series of events that culminates in their deaths, one accidental, the other out of grief. Indeed, ball point, ball point, wherefore art thou, ballpoint? Needless to say, this is unacceptable. This does not live up to our office values. I'm sure none of us need to be reminded of the 5 Official Values? One of them is "Quality."

I approached our office clerk. I asked her if she was responsible for ordering these drab pen imitations. She said that yes, the responsibility was hers. I then rebuked her in a very strong fashion, letting her know my displeasure with our office hardware. She then backtracked and said that, in fact, Michelle is responsible for ordering the pens. She says that you, Michelle, let our office clerk know which pens to order. She said that she, the office clerk, was merely following orders. (I won't go into details, but I told her that "only following orders" was found to be a vile and cowardly argument used by the Nazis).

And so we arrive at the point of this memorandum. Michelle, I have found the pens to be less than satisfactory. How can our company achieve its vision if the pens of the lowest workers are literally falling to pieces? Are we to be so ill-equipped that even the slowest, albino alligator could work more efficiently than an office full of our best and brightest? This supply closet serves everyone at the company, from field staff in nursing and respiratory therapy, to the underappreciated customer service representatives. It even serves the Vice President and the company President and CEO!

No, we will not stand for this. We must not stand for this. We, the workers, demand office supplies that will facilitate, not hinder, our productivity. Our pens must draw the most clear and even lines, free from blotches! Our paper must come in neatly stacked reams, easy to open when refilling the copier, but not so heavy as to invite workplace injuries. Our bathrooms must be stocked with the finest silken soaps! And our pens, our pens. They must be worthy of the men and women who hold them. Was Excalibur not worthy of the Once and Future King? Was Lucille not worthy of B.B. King? Was the bat not worthy of the Great Bambino?

I implore you, for the sake of our company, please reconsider the Staples COMFORT STIC. The British Isles will not be ruled by lesser kings and queens, the blues will not be played by inferior instruments, and baseballs will not be hit with rotting sticks. Nor will our Official Documents be signed with trifling pens. This injustice, for I name it so, has now been recognized. It must now be corrected.

The ball(point), madame, is in your court.


Spousal Unit

Friday, May 10, 2013

Shen Yun, Part II: GIR and the Fog

As we headed toward the Overture Center for the big concert, Spousal Unit and I still had time to kill, so we went to the art museum next door. We stood in awe of the beautiful interior for a moment, then asked the guy at reception what the coolest piece in the museum was at the moment.

"Well, we're technically closed right now," he said. "But I think it's the painting over there."

The painting was more or less an upskirt shot of a lady's crossed legs under a table. She seemed to have a tuba or something draped over one foot.

Art is weird sometimes, but awesome at others. Through the glass wall next to the painting was an exhibit of children's art, and I saw this piece of glory.

It's GIR from Invader Zim! At a distance, it was hard to tell the medium, but I think the black parts are felt and the green is papier mache.

Anyway. You want to hear about the concert.

We sat in the front row of the second balcony (there are three total). It was really high up and kind of terrifying to walk beside that railing, but I felt better once I sat down. For a little while, I considered how cool the show would be if we were closer to ground level, but after the dancers came out and started twirling their long sleeves, I was glad to be high up. It was so much more visually impressive.

Each dance included a projected scene in the background, which moved along with the music and allowed the appearance of flight for some scenes. (It was also probably a lot cheaper than constructing a set.) The dancers told Chinese stories about Buddha coming to Earth, a troll who became a monk, and some of the darker parts of Chinese history.

The MCs were right in saying these dances couldn't be performed in today's China, but part of the reason for that was their overarching historical significance. There were several dances traditional to different regions of China, and traditional dances are now banned there.

I have two distinct favorites from the show. One was the phoenix dance, in which the dancers wore beautiful royal blue outfits with long skirts and a length of orange cloth, draped like a rope across the dancers' backs. The way those skirts spun with the bright orange accent was gorgeous. I want one of those skirts.

The other part Spousal Unit and I loved was the music. My favorite unusual instrument was the suona, and Spousal Unit's was the erhu. In one scene, the curtain rose up, and the stage had been filled with white clouds (thanks to a smoke machine). As the dancers began to spin and leap, the fog also swirled around ... promptly engulfing the bassoonist and other members of the pit orchestra. We could hardly contain ourselves.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Shen Yun, Part I: Pizza and Fire-Guys

Last night, Spousal Unit and I went on a date to see Shen Yun. With a trailer like this, we were really excited, and have been since we bought the tickets. Which was in March. That's a long time to sustain such excitement.

We went out to dinner at Gino's on State Street. It's basically Spousal Unit's favorite place ever, and they made us yet another stellar Chicago-style pizza.

After dinner, we headed back to the car (parked across from the fire department) so I could put on fancy shoes for the performance. Across the street at the fire department, we noticed a pink hardhat on the other side of the window that had a smiley face on top. I was about to take a picture when an ambulance pulled up.

"You're going to get run over," Spousal Unit pointed out. I quickly moved, and we were about to go on our way without a picture when...

"You're welcome to come inside, if you'd like!" one of the fire-guys said enthusiatically. "Would you like a tour?"

I explained my desire for photographic evidence of the smiling hat, and the other fire-guy promptly ducked inside, grabbed it, and came back out.

"Want to put it on?"

"Oh, no that's okay-"

"Aw, come on. I'll take a picture."

I couldn't say no to that.

Smiley hat! They were the awesomest fire-guys in the world.

(Side note: Last night was when Spousal Unit realized that his mustache is starting to make him look creepy, even when he's not trying.)

We headed off to the Overture Center for the performance. We couldn't take pictures of the show, but I can tell you about my favorite parts tomorrow! (Hint: One of my favorite parts involved the orchestra and a smoke machine.)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Back It Up

Today, I'm backing up the blog. Enjoy another gorgeous day - go for a walk, plant some flowers, throw a frisbee, or throw on a black cloak and pretend you're a vampire. I'll see you Thursday.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Prison-Colored Bookshelf

Yesterday, I painted a bookshelf I found for $7. And the paint was free, too.

The shelf used to be a dark brown shade, kind of sickly, and splattered with white paint in some places for no good reason. I decided it was my job to make this thing presentable and hella cool.

The paint was from a coworker who had trouble finding the right shade for her kitchen - I chose two of the nicest-looking tans and went to work. I think it turned out pretty well...

Or I did until I brought it inside. To my dismay, without natural lighting, this shade looks exactly like the ugly old radiators at my former high school. High School Radiator is a terrible bookshelf color.

I do have a few other paint colors that I can splash around, though in much smaller quantities. Maybe it would help to paint the front of each shelf green. My big hope, though, is that it will be salvaged once I write book quotes all over it. So far I'm planning on quotes from Lord of the Rings, the Dark Tower series, and The Sandman.

All I have to do is draw the eye to something other than color. Challenge accepted.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Things That Are Awesome About Being a Grown-Up

I've shared this xkcd a million times. Never gets old.

When your 10:30 bedtime rolls around, you can say, "Nah... Time for another episode of Arrested Development."

You worry about the little fuzzballs/poopers when you go away, but it's oddly satisfying that you have a little someone to worry about.

Mama always said you could be whatever you want when you grow up. Turns out you're not limited to one choice! You can be an astronaut, a firefighter, and a teacher! (Though why would you ever quit being an astronaut?)

Learning doesn't stop after school is done. (Check out the Richat Structure!)

Dancing to your favorite songs for half an hour is totally exercise. There are lots of fun ways to exercise as an adult...

It's harder to make new friends as an adult, but you can pick your friends' traits, to a degree. Want to make friends with an artist? Take an art class. A marine biologist? Talk to the people who run the local aquarium.

You can develop new hobbies whenever, and no one will tell you you can't. Unless you take up throat singing.

Popcorn and ice cream for dinner!

Best of all... you get to do everything you did as a kid. Dress up, make believe, play outside all day, make mud pies, build a blanket fort - the possibilities are endless.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Things That Should Be Awesome as a Grown-Up but Actually Suck

You can do whatever you want, whenever you want! ...But people look at you strangely when you make monkey noises at the post office.

You can watch R-rated movies anytime. But if you re-watch any of your favorite childhood movies, you discover that they've magically stopped being awesome. It's like they've gone through puberty too.

Your job gives you money. And you have to decide whether to spend it on a Darth Vader mask or on rent. (Often, it's not a choice. Your geeky stuff needs a place to stay, after all.)

High school is over, but some people never evolve. They are stuck in high-school mode and force you to suffer through their personal, debilitating dramas.

You can choose your own direction, but you do so at your own peril. There is no academic adviser to help you, and there are no save points to which you can return later.

All of the video games and cool outfits in the world are right at your fingertips, without Mom there to tell you, "That's too violent! That shirt is too short!" But you have to pay for them yourself. With money.

You were all excited for the day when it all finally made sense. The more days you live, the more you realize that day will never come and never existed, except in an alternate dimension. Onion-and-banana monsters probably live there.

The day never comes when you don't have to eat all of your vegetables. Not if you don't want your eyeballs to shrivel up and your hair to fall out.

If you can afford it, you can get your own car. But then you have to be responsible for it, and feed it gas, and bandage its wounds. And say, "Aw, who's a good Amy?" when it resists the highest hills.

Money. Money sucks.
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