Monday, September 30, 2013

Government Shutdowns and Sky-High Cats

Hey look! Another mish-mash of recent happenings. I'll be expanding upon a few of these later in the week.

I made eggplant parmesan for the first time last night. It was much easier and more fun than I thought it would be (both good signs, as I haven't been very into cooking lately). It was a simple matter of baking the breaded eggplant and making some sauce.

Spousal Unit and I found a three-tier cat tree near a dumpster. It had been rained on, but we let it dry in the sun and gave it a thorough cleaning. The cats seem to like it so far, though Oberon is still more of a ground-based kitty.

Last week at work, someone used "thru." In a professional report. I headdesked so bad.

Another item in my work week: someone emailed saying that if the government shuts down, she'll have to send her report on Monday instead of Tuesday. That should not be a serious sentence. I feel like "If the government shuts down" should be the start of a joke, not a qualifier that alters how work is done.

Chances are good that I will win my first fantasy football game this week, unless the Saints fall in a sinkhole and are never heard from again. I'm crossing my fingers that that doesn't happen.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Running Down a Fishy Dream


I dreamt last night that I had decided to run from Chicago to Madison (which is a really bad idea for me), and I encountered a car that had a fishing pole sticking out into the "running lane" on the highway. It was complete with a dead fish hanging from the end of it.

I was upset, so naturally I grabbed the pole off the back of the car, intending to give it to the owners to put elsewhere. But I seem to have forgotten that I can't run as fast as cars can drive on the highway. So the car drove off, and I turned back to Chicago, pole and fish in hand.

I came near Spousal Unit's parents' house, and stopped at a second-hand boutique. By this point, the fishing pole was collapsed to about one foot long, with it and the fish in a ziploc baggie. I set it down in the boutique while I tried on some clothes - the owner didn't turn me away, despite my sweatiness.

Turned out that the boutique had a whole bunch of my old toys that Mom had donated. How they ended up in Chicagoland, I have no clue. I wanted to buy back a bunch of it, but I had to run home (despite the car waiting for me at the in-laws).

That was when I noticed that the fish and pole were gone, leaving the confines of the plastic baggie behind. I searched everywhere, but to no avail. The shop owner was very apologetic, but for some reason, I suspected that one of the other customers at this borderline fancy boutique had a particular interest in abandoned fish and the implements of their capture.

Unfortunately, I could prove nothing. So I ran off into the sunset, feeling guilty for accidentally stealing someone's dinner and fishing pole.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Strange Conglomeration: Week 2 Highlights

It's been an interesting week. We hung up our first Halloween decoration.

I found The Most Gorgeous Tomato in the World. (On the inside, at least.)

Titania decided to become a heating specialist. She's been randomly taking apart the baseboard heaters while playing with her catnip mouse.

And I made beet chips for the first time. Here's a brief tutorial on how not to make beet chips.

1. Pay attention to the timer.

2. If the timer goes off while you're on the phone with your mom, set it again instead of thinking, I'll remember to take them out when we're done talking. Moms are understanding like that.

Edit: I have no idea why I dubbed this post "Week 2." There is no earthly reason that this could be considered Week 2 of anything at all. Even in football, this is the end of Week 3. I am very confused by my brain.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why Banned Book Week Still Matters

They say not to feed the trolls, but I can't help it. I've been baited, so I'm turning it into a chance to bring visibility to a subject about which I'm passionate: book banning.

September 22-28 is National Banned Books Week, and I was pleased to see that a site I frequent recognized it. This site usually has some civil, intelligent discussions, but there are always a few who have to bring it down, as on any site.

This particular troll started out innocuously enough, wondering why they were called "banned" if you could still get them elsewhere. A simple misunderstanding of the word is where it all began. But after several people pointed out the error of the troll's ways, he/she began to talk about book banning as if it wasn't a big deal. In shop/library displays, perusers run across books that were drilled into them in tenth-grade English class, so what's "banned" about it? You can still get a book, even if the library doesn't carry it anymore, so who cares? "It doesn't matter if they stop carrying it" seemed to be his/her main point.

Hello. I'm a novelist, reader, librarian, bookseller, English major, and editor, here to tell you that I care, and so should you.

First, let's form an understanding of the term "book banning." Banning a book can have consequences at many levels. As we in the United States know it today, a ban means that you can't get a book from your local library (most often K-12 school library), bookstore, or sometimes even in your whole town. If you ask for a banned book, you cannot receive it from these institutions because they do not carry it - it has been removed after someone petitioned for its removal.

This level of book banning may seem relatively harmless compared to the myriad countries that not only forbid sale/trade of a title, but will kill or imprison you for possessing or talking about it. True - the American form of book banning is small potatoes compared to threat of death and dismemberment. But I would argue that book banning at any level is troublesome, detrimental, and a challenge to the First Amendment.

Let's start with the most common method of book banning: a parent is upset about a book's content and makes enough of a fuss that its teaching/existence in a classroom or a whole school is prohibited. The reasons for this are understandable and sympathetic, in most cases. A book like Lolita can be categorized as pornography for its statutory rape and pedophilia. The Perks of Being a Wallflower involves lots of drug use and adult concepts. Harry Potter is the number one banned book of 2000-2009 because parents don't want their children exposed to the concept of magic or subliminal gayness, because exposure to such an idea might lead a child to witchcraft and false religions, or even being gay.

But what is the point of a school?

Schools give children a safe place to learn. They present knowledge and ideas from many different corners of the world. They are a place to discuss those ideas and to question that knowledge, where you can form opinions and learn who you are. Grade school is especially important because younger children are impressionable blank slates, and high schoolers have some ideas formed, but are still malleable. What better time to introduce a young person to controversy?

The point of a school is to learn that reading about gay people doesn't make you gay; reading about drugs won't turn you into a junkie. What reading about these books does, in grade school, is to provide a platform on which to have a safe, rational discussion about the issues that are brought up in a book. School is a place where you can talk about drugs and decide that you don't want to use them, or that it's not a black-and-white issue. It's a place to learn about the consequences of unprotected sex from someone who knows what is truth and what is rumor, when you may not have known otherwise.

The point of a school is to learn.

The importance comes across in the manner of teaching - both by the teacher and the parent. If a parent is concerned about the literature being taught at school, or the books a child is checking out from the library, then a discussion needs to take place, parent to child. The parent cannot simply leave it up to the teacher or librarian and then have the audacity to restrict his/her teaching abilities.

Besides, if parents know anything, they should know this: forbidding something just makes it more interesting to children. If they really want to read a book, they will find a way.

Beyond that, Banned Book Week is about celebrating the fact that we can read these books and not have a fatwa issued on us. We can read without being thrown in prison, or having our families tortured.

And that is a fact worth celebrating.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Stress! It's Everywhere! (Stab It With Cleaning Supplies)

Over the weekend, I had to do relatively little, and it was wonderful. There was Star Trek to be watched (though not enough), a museum to visit, a devastating Packers game to watch, and a few errands to do. I got to read more than I have in quite a while, and when the TV was on, I managed to quell my desire to multitask - instead, I just sat and enjoyed.

Unfortunately, at the end of yesterday night, I was thrown nearly into a panic and rushed around the house tidying like a cyclone in reverse. It was a feeling that if I woke up to a messy apartment, I would turn into a puddle of emotional goo; it was the proverbial straw ready to break my back (...okay, I guess I'm the camel in this metaphor. That's fun.). A clean apartment would keep me sane, and the cleaning process would calm my meltdown from Chernobyl levels to oh-crap-this-cheese-is-moldy levels.

The thing is, the apartment wasn't even that messy, and at the end of it, I hadn't crossed off anything on my to-do list (dusting, vacuuming, sweeping...). And you all know how much I love to cross things off a list. In short, I kept from freaking out, but I still felt unaccomplished when I went to bed.

I'm guessing this all means I need to spend more time meditating and doing yoga to manage my stress. And I bet spending more time on my novel will help, too. I've been exhausted for weeks, would rather stay home and read (as always, but now with a passion), and have spent less time knitting because I haven't been enjoying it. These are not terribly good signs.

Spousal Unit quoted some Confucian zen master or costume designer or something last week: Meditate for ten minutes every day, unless you are too busy. Then, meditate for an hour.

I may not do a full hour, but I can definitely make a better effort.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Frightened Rabbit and The National: Part II

Part I

One of the coolest things about Bloodbuzz Ohio was in the theatrics. Behind the band, a screen depicted, for the most part, live video of  the band in abstract. But for Bloodbuzz, they used a feature that looked like blood cells creeping across the screen. The band was also cast in red by overhead lights, making them individual cells on stage to match the screen. Then, white light swept across the audience in a beautiful contrast.

Aside from the fact that the lights were sometimes so bright that I had to close my eyes, the theatrics were wonderful. (No thanks to the idiot or two who started smoking during the concert. Inside the Orpheum.)

Lead singer Matt, about halfway through, tossed a drink cup into the crowd. Between songs, one of the twin guitarists asked him about it. "It was a plastic cup," said Matt, "with a few drops of white wine in it. That's totally punk rock."

He went on, pausing between each sentence. "They don't let me have glass anymore. Or machetes. That only happened once, though. I sent all the parts back."

The other guitarists said something about starting the next song, lest Matt go on and on. But I loved that little bit of ramble - it was something I would have said on stage, out of either nervousness or my awkward sense of what counts as human interaction.

Their encore was an absolute delight, and perhaps the most energetic part of the show, ending with acoustic guitars and all the band mates aligned at the edge of the stage. They sang Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, all concert-goers singing along.

It was a beautiful ending.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Frightened Rabbit and The National: Part I

On Sunday night, my friends Joey and Kaelin took me to see The National at the Orpheum in Madison, with opening act Frightened Rabbit.

I was excited for the opener because Joey was excited for the opener - he and I have very similar musical tastes, and I trust his opinion because he knows what he's talking about. He described them as very similar to U2, and lead singer Scott Hutchison said at the concert that they built their band with The National as a role model.

I don't remember what songs they played that night, but here's one I've enjoyed since then: Living in Colour, from their album The Winter of Mixed Drinks.

The National themselves were excellent. (Oddly comforting side note: the lead singer, Matt Berninger, wore glasses for the concert.) They had excellent sound throughout, with Berninger throwing in some interesting heavy-metal screams for certain songs (for example, at the end of Squalor Victoria - I hadn't thought about it, but their songs certainly have that heavier quality live). I think one of the most impressive aspects for me, though, was the brass - one person on trumpet and one on trombone. They were perfectly in tune, strong, and just as soothing as on the albums.

Before they began, Joey pointed out that their guitarists are identical twins, and the drummer and bassist are brothers, too, leaving Berninger as the sole band member unrelated to another. He's picked up nicknames like the Dark Lord for his pensive stage presence - most notable here at the end of Bloodbuzz Ohio.

(Stop by tomorrow for further thoughts on the concert.)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Back to Basics

Today calls for something naturally beautiful and uncomplicated.

Prairie pickles, as my grandpa calls them.

Old buildings on the farm

The ad my mom placed in the paper for my grandpa's 90th!
(I took the original picture.)

My grandpa, wearing his hat backwards before it was cool.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Return of Gauge, Arch Nemesis of Knitters Everywhere

I finished a new project! I'm so happy for me, even if the finished product has ... issues.

As with all the items I've been binding off lately, I began this set of Norwegian-style snowflake/flower leg warmers quite a while ago. I think I finished the first leg last winter. So when I started the second leg, I only had a rough memory of how the pattern went (these are self-designed, based on a pattern from The Knitting Stitch Bible by Maria Perry-Jones).

At first, it seemed to be going quite well. I knitted loosely, because I have problems with stranded knitting being too tight. I figured that if the second leg was a little looser, all the better - the first was tight enough to be a circulatory aid. I bound off the project with brandy on the rocks and excitement in my very strange mind.

Unfortunately, I learned too late that I had likely used the wrong size of needles. I'd debated at the start whether I'd used size 6 or 8 for the first leg and just couldn't remember. The yarn (Plymouth Encore worsted weight, in black and cream) suggested size 8, so I decided that's what I must have used.

I was wrong. The second leg is a full inch longer than the first.

That said, it's not entirely a bad thing; the second leg is much more comfortable, while the first is tight, but not so tight as to be obnoxious. It will hardly be noticeable this winter when I wear them with boots or under my long skirts.

What did I learn, boys and girls. Gauge, damn it. Always measure gauge.

And keep more detailed notes in the future.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Extended Crazy

Going Slightly Mad - Queen

In the last few days, I feel like I've gotten a little crazier than usual.

I've been researching viruses for the last several days, trying to understand them better so that I can write about them. The problem is, science was never my strong suit. I adore it beyond all reason, but I never got better than a B in most of my science classes. Another issue is probably in my methods - skipping from Wiki to Wiki in search of authentic sources in the reference list is a little ridiculous. I need to check out some books.

My 40-hour work weeks have begun. Before this I was doing 35 a week, and that was full time. But the Mighty Overlords have put their backs into our floggings, and now I spend less time sleeping and more commuting during rush hour. I hate driving in the city. People are idiotic behind the wheel. I do still love my job - I just didn't want to spend extra time loving it.

Family matters are ... complicated right now. So I've alternated between freaking out, general worrying, fits of anger, and tears. It is exhausting. This too shall pass, like everything does, but due to the circumstances, I'm not eager for that, either.

I woke up with a wrenching charley horse in my calf this morning. Not a good way to start the day.

All of this has led to my slightly altered mental state, mostly due to lack of proper sleep. I feel like I might break out in show tunes or start quoting the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition at any moment. My coworkers, for the most part, are serious, work-oriented non-geeks, which is just no fun.

All I'm saying is, don't be surprised if I show up at my grandpa's birthday party on Saturday dressed like a Wookie.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cat Logic: 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Don't let the picture fool you - they're little terrors.

10 p.m. - Yarn, my evil nemesis, we meet again. I am here to attack you. Oh, sorry, was your leg on the other side of that yarn? (Attacks it again.)

12 a.m. - Midnight snack time. Where's my favorite plant?...

1 a.m. - Cuddle interlude.


1:45 a.m. - The wild lioness stalks her prey, an unsuspecting fly. (Crashing noises from somewhere in the apartment.)

3 a.m. - Look! Another enemy to attack! I bet it's delicious. (Claws at unsuspecting feet.)


4:15 a.m. - Nap.

5 a.m. - Hey, are you awake yet? No? (Attack on plants, feet, and fly all at once.) You awake now?

5:30 a.m. - Intermittent meowing to summon my lord from the underworld isn't working. Perhaps if I sit on this sleeping head while doing it...

6:15 a.m. - Thank goodness you're awake! I was on the verge of starvation. I've silently been crawling through the desert of hunger all night, and now that I know you're going to feed me, HEAR MY MIGHTY MEOW.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Birthday With Pizazz

Today, I have a ridiculous headache and am totally exhausted. So it's another Monday full of pictures and little to no exposition.

We went to Chicagoland over the weekend for Spousal Unit's grandma's 80th birthday party. At one point, she remarked to me that all her friends are younger than her, and not just by a couple of years - many of them are 60 or even younger. But if not for knowing Gram's age, I never would have guessed that they were younger than her - she has all the energy and spunk of a woman half her age.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Color My Day

There are some gorgeous things out in the world that you need to see.

I follow The Creative Crochet Collective on Facebook. They are constantly posting the most creative, beautiful projects, and this morning is no different. Check out this shawl by millicurie on Ravelry.

It's called Venus Transit. Perfect.

A friend shared this beautiful book art with me. Elaborate paintings were discovered on the edges of 19th century book pages, visible only when the pages are fanned out.

Secret Fore Edge Paintings Revealed in Early 19th Century Books at the University of Iowa seasons painting illustration fore edge painting books

This gorgeous vegetable medley was in the CSA box yesterday. This is how it looked after I removed the spinach, and basil, and herbs. A rainbow of delicious.

Here are the tomatoes we received. I had trouble fitting them all into the fruit bowl. Sauce is upon us. (Not literally. That would be gross.)

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Spousal Unit and I went to the Aztalan Museum and part of the state park over the weekend. It was extremely whitewashed and focused more on the white settlers than the Native American population, but that doesn't mean there weren't still cool things there.

Click to read the cool slipper poem by Edna Wilson!

So many thimbles. Even a clown one. Why would anyone make a clown thimble?

Arrowheads found near Aztalan

Leatherwork on an old book cover

A.k.a. gauges

Handmade lace! I was excited to see lots of this.

A former home, lived in by about seven people. There are no additional rooms.
You're welcome for not zooming in on the creepy doll in the crib.
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