19 December 2008

Grammar point: What is the plural of hiatus?


Point being that I am going to Florida for some much needed rest and time with my family for the remainder of 2008.  And then for the early part of 2009, too.  Hiatus 1 & Hiatus 2.  

Going from my home, where there are at least 4 operational computers at any time, to the parents house, where there is but one laptop, means I'll be feeling some withdrawal.  At least, I think I will.  Even with the diversions of BEACH. POOL. BOAT RIDES. DAIQUIRIS.  SIBLING SILLINESS.  I'm sure there will be a moment or two where I am wondering what is missing.  

But then again, I do have a blackberry, with teh interweb available 24/7, so I'm not particularly worried.

Semi-regular posting to resume after January 5th.  Have a happy or a merry, whichever suits your inclination, and I'll be thinking of you in the Sunshine State.  Today's forcast high is 84, just in case you were wondering.

18 December 2008

Where did I go wrong?

One of my all-time favorite foodie blogs is Smitten Kitchen.  I like to read her recipes.  I haven't made a bunch of things she's written about, not because they don't sound awesome, they do.  I just usually don't print whatever it is out, and baking with my laptop in the kitchen?  Bad, bad, bad idea.  So I'll read something she's posted, courtesy of my feed reader, in the early AM, and think, "wow, yeah, yum." and then I never make it, because the laptop isn't usually hooked to the printer and that is more than I can handle doing in the early AM.

I read about her home-made Oreos several times, clicking back on the link frequently, re-reading, and thinking, hmmmm, I'd like to try those.  From the way she writes alone, I think she'd be someone awesome to have a few drinks with; she's sarcastic, self-deprecating, and hilarious.

Finally, I copied the recipe to a Google Document and printed it.  The day I planned to make it, I actually did read through all 150+ comments, and I was forewarned that they might get super obnoxiously puffy and large.  So I used my smallest cookie scoop, a #100 disher.  I don't think this thing holds more than a teaspoon of matter.

Since I am going to blather on about the recipe for a while longer, I'm going to copy and paste the ingredients here so that you can refer to them (should you care) without clicking back and forth and back and forth between tabs.

Homemade Oreos
Retro Desserts, Wayne Brachman

Makes 25 to 30 sandwich cookies

For the chocolate wafers:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1 large egg

For the filling:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Set two racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 375 degrees.
2. In a food processor, or bowl of an electric mixer, thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. While pulsing, or on low speed, add the butter, and then the egg. Continue processing or mixing until dough comes together in a mass.
3. Take rounded teaspoons of batter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately 2 inches apart. With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough. Bake for 9 minutes, rotating once for even baking. Set baking sheets on a rack to cool.
4. To make the cream, place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer on high and beat for 2-3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.
5. To assemble the cookies, in a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch, round tip, pipe teaspoon-size blobs of cream into the center of one cookie. Place another cookie, equal in size to the first, on top of the cream. Lightly press, to work the filling evenly to the outsides of the cookie. Continue this process until all the cookies have been sandwiched with cream. Dunk generously in a large glass of milk.

The ingredients include dutch-processed cocoa, which if you live anyplace with any sizable population and some culture, isn't hard to find.  Since I am living in the Midwest in a very small place, we don't need none of dat furin cocoa.  I found Hershey's Special Dark cocoa, though, and thought that since it says it is a blend of dutch-processed and regular cocoa, it should be close enough.  

Or - not.

They got huge.  And the 9 minute baking time is too much in my super-hot oven, they were some crispy critters after 9 minutes.  Instead of being the size of Oreos, or just ever-so-slightly larger, these things were the size of a whoopie pie, or a moon pie, or a lunar pie, depending on where you hail from.  If you're not a yank....they should have been about 4 cm in diameter, and instead were 10 cm in diameter.  

So that didn't end well.

If we're going to be scientific about the whole thing, you could theorize that since baking soda doesn't react with the alkali used to process "dutch-process" cocoa, and I didn't have the right cocoa, that having both baking powder AND soda made 'em huge.  Or that the longer oven stay made them bigger, as the butter continued to melt.  I'm not entirely sure.

The frosting for them was excellent, tasting exactly like I remember Oreos from my childhood.  With the frosting and cookies combined, though, it wasn't the heaven I was expecting.  The cookies tasted scorched, and were apt to fall apart with a bite instead of holding together.  But I could see how they'd be fantastique if they were done properly.  

The nagging mystery of what exactly went wrong, however, will continue to bother me until I get it figured out.

Edited 12/19 to add:


After allowing the cookies to sit out in the open for about a day and a half, on my dining room table on cooling racks, I was contemplating trashing them all.  But maybe there was one that wasn't burnt, and the cream filling was yummy, so I poked around and picked one up and bit into it and O. Mi. God.  Other than over-baking most of them, and the fact that they were larger than they should have been, a day or so to cure was all these things needed to become amazing.  As in Ahhh-Maz-Ing amazing.  They taste like oreo cookies.  They taste like the oreo cookies I remember as a kid.  Yum.  Hey, Luce: just don't burn 'em next time, k?

17 December 2008

Yarn-related ranting and some non-sequiturs.

I love knitting with big, bulky yarns.  Bulky yarns, according to standards provided by the Yarn Craft Council of America, are yarns that knit 6-11 stitches to 4 inches.  The smallest category, for those readers who are not fiber fanatics, lace weight, can be as many as 40 stitches to 4 inches.  Bulky yarn should be knit on big needles, size 11 (8 mm) and larger.  

I am not a fan of lace weight yarn and teeny-tiny needles.  I know knitters who think that my size 7 (4.5 mm) needles are "huge".  No, size 7s are small.  I knitted a shrug for my sister on size 7s; that sucker took me 5-1/2 MONTHS to knit.  Urgh.  I want to make things that are finished a little more quickly than 5 months.  And maybe next time I knit that same pattern (for ME!) it might go more quickly, because I'm familiar with the pattern.  But making things that take eons...just not my style.

Sadly, I realize that I am indeed part of the instant gratification everything-all-the-time set.  Wonder if my obsessive-compulsive disorder has anything to do with that.

Back in March when I visited my sister in New York City, she took me to a wooooonderful yarn store in Brooklyn on Atlantic Avenue, Knit-a-Way.  My sister is a great one for monopolizing my knitting time; she sends me patterns via e-mail or links via instant message, asking if I can make whatever it is for her.  She has 3 hats, a scarf, and a shrug of my making.  I'm not complaining, I'm usually thrilled to accommodate her, and she is always appropriately excited about the finished projects.  2009, however, will be the year of me knitting for ME.

At Knit-A-Way, sis picked out some very yellow yarn for me to use to make a hat for her.  Manufactured by an Italian company (di.Ve Fiamma) and imported by Cascade yarns, the 100% wool was surprisingly a delight to work with.  Surprisingly because 100% wool makes me itch like crazy.  I can not wear wool next to my skin in a sweater or trousers without at least one layer of cotton between me and the wool.  I think my skin is hypersensitive to wool.  I've worked with wool before that made my hands itch from holding it.  But this didn't make me itch.  The pattern I chose for my the hat was probably part of the reason that I enjoyed working with the yarn.  I like the pattern so well that I've made 2 more hats with the same pattern and have a third on needles, not done.

I've searched locally for more di.Ve, and while one local store does carry many of Cascade Yarn's products, di.Ve isn't one on their list.  They're quite happy to order it for me, with me paying the shipping, and a bit of an elevated price.  Thank you, but no.  Not that I don't want them to make money, I do.  I support local merchants whenever possible.  But this stuff is expensive at the MSRP.  Adding to the cost makes it worse, and paying shipping adds insult to injury if you ask me.  

So I've watched eBay and searched on Ravelry for people willing to part with di.Ve that they already own.  Found some, and the person was willing to part with it for a very reasonable price.  In our exchange of e-mails, I mentioned the trouble I have had trying to track this stuff down, and she informed me that many of the Fiamma colors are no longer manufactured.  What?!?  WTF?  Turns out that with the rising cost of, oh, EVERYTHING, bulky yarns are getting too expensive for local yarn stores (hereafter referred to as LYS) to buy and carry on inventory, and so buyers for the yarn stores are purchasing less, and money talks, people.  Bulky yarns tend to be expensive, and so to purchase enough of it to make, say, a sweater or a full-size afghan, you'd be breaking the bank.  The volume that your LYS sells, then, is much diminished from the volume of finer gauge yarns.  Result?  The LYS doesn't have a lot of bulky yarn.  Boooo!  Boooo!

On to the non-sequiturs, then.

I went to the doctor's office, my usual family doc, to get a flu shot.  Yes, yes, you're supposed to get that in October or November, but I didn't.  I plead laziness and lack of time.  I'm leaving for Florida in a week and the flu is making the rounds there, so I wanted to make sure I finally got one.  The entire collective office where I work has also been passing a viral infection around.  Fun.  Yeah.  Like a hole in the head.

I hate waiting in doctor's offices, but usually manage to stay calm by knitting or reading.  Several of the other folks waiting were really pissy about their wait, making lots of passive-aggressive remarks.  Equally as annoying as waiting, if you ask me.

When I finally got called back, the exam room where the nurse was waiting with the shot had a framed bit of advertising from a drug company advertising medication that treats an extreme form of sleep apnea.  Like many of these posters, there was a checklist of questions to ask yourself, and the oh-so-helpful tag line that if you answered yes to three or more of these questions, you should talk to your doctor about this apnea thing.  These kind of things are bad for me, because I am a major hypochondriac.  So I try to look at these posters with a humorous eye, not with an omigod I'm going to die eye.  That said, the list intrigued me.

Waking up with headaches.  Check.

Sleepiness during the day.  Check.  My caffeine consumption has gone up A LOT recently.

Chocking sensation while sleeping, waking up coughing.  Check.

Excessive or very loud snoring.  Check.  DH claims I snore.  I know he snores, lots.  Dunno if I do, really, but I believe him because my dad snores.  

Hmm.  Something to think about.  Maybe the headaches have more to do with something outside of my usual litany of suspects; hormones, weather, ciggy smoke, stress.

16 December 2008

Time to make the cookies!!

Remember the Dunkin' Donuts commercials from the 80s, where the poor guy got up every morning at an ungodly hour, with the tag line, "Time to make the donuts."?

It has been 'time to make the cookies' for several weeks now, and I've been busy doing just that.  I don't feel like the Dunkin' Donuts man, though, I truly enjoy making the cookies.

There was a cookie exchange earlier this month, and I pulled out my Swedish cookbooks in search of that elusive something different.  I found a great recipe (yes, I'll share, but not in this post, sorry) that translates to the unfortunate-sounding Nut Logs.  I made a test batch, and figured out quickly that those suckers couldn't stay at my house.  Way too buttery, way too good, way to get fat!  

I took them in to work, along with every other cookie I've experimented with this season, and I should have been prepared for the consequences.  Take the cookies, and everyone moans about how I'm ruining their diets.  Don't take in cookies, and they're annoyed that there is nothing to nosh on along with that all-important 3 o'clock cup of coffee to keep you going through the late afternoon.

Either way, they make me laugh.  The whining and moaning and complaining about how I'm ruining their diets mean that they're eating and, better, enjoying the cookies, so I take that as a compliment.  The whining that there are no cookies in the office kitchen (horrors!  whatever shall we do?)  also means that they like 'em.

There are 2 standbys for holiday cookies for me.  Coffee Cookies, which I have written about pretty extensively in the past, and Rose's Crescents, which I don't think I've written about before.  

In an attempt to at least stay awake until after 7 PM on Sunday night, I made the dough for the crescents, but they require a stay in the fridge, so I wasn't going to actually bake them that night.  Monday morning, I realized that it was Monday, and for about the last 6 weeks, I've taken a batch of cookies in on Mondays.  Uh-oh.  

When I take in cookies, I don't want to take just a dozen; first of all, that isn't enough and secondly, that isn't enough.  So I shaped and baked two dozen mini crescents at 6:30 in the morning.  Clearly, I'm nearly as insane as the author of the christmas cookie cookbook from which the crescents come.  The gingerbread house in the back of the cookbook is the Cathedral of Notre Dame, for heaven's sake.

Worth it, sure, for the happiness the crescents give anyone who eats them, but silly to fire up the oven and bake during the six o'clock hour.  I mean, really.

The crescents use ground almonds in place of some of the flour, and the resulting cookie is buttery, crumbly, and ohmigod delish.  This is good cookie to make if you're looking to impress someone, and actually have the patience to shape the crescents.

Almond Omigod Crescents

(adapted loosely from Rose's Christmas Cookies)

2/3 c finely ground almonds
1/3 c sugar
1-2/3 c flour
2 sticks of butter, cut into small cubes
1/4 tsp salt

Her directions spell out the way to make these either in the food processor or with a mixer.  Go with the food processor.  Trust me, easier.

I buy blanched slivered almonds, and grind them up in the food processor.  Add the sugar, and process until it is crumbly looking.  Add the butter (using the food processor, it doesn't necessarily need to be softened) and process again, briefly.  If you allow the dough to come together in a big ball at this stage, you will have to spend considerable time kneading in the flour by hand.  Again, trust me.  So minimal processing on the butter.  Take the lid off of the food processor, and sprinkle the flour over the top, along with the salt.  Process again, and this time, it is OK to allow it to come together in a ball.  Run it too long, though, and your food processor's motor will be unhappy with you.

Dump the contents of the working bowl out onto a big sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper, and shape into a large round flat disc.  You might have to knead in some of the bits no matter what you do, so if it looks like panko breading, allow the warmth of your hands to help it become more cohesive.  Spend 10 minutes or so just patiently kneading it until it has a consistent texture.  Let it hang out in the fridge for about two hours.

I use a small ice cream scoop (I think it is a #100 disher, to be exact) and use that to make little balls of dough.  Then I shape them into crescents by rolling them into a short snake between the palms of my hand.  I make it crescent shaped by draping it over the back of my index finger.  The book says 325F for 12-14 min, and even making them much smaller than the book's instructions with my #100 scoop, they still need just about that much time.  They should be only lightly browned on the bottoms, and hardly even golden on top.  The final pain-in-the-ass step can't be avoided, and perhaps makes these even fussier than they need to be.  You roll them while they're still warm in cinnamon-sugar.  Gently.  Really gently.  They're still kinda fragile.  Cool on wire racks.  Eat.  Rinse & repeat.

The recipe claims that it makes 5-1/2 dozen 3-inch long crescents.  I don't know how the heck that happens, because when I make them following the directions to the letter I still don't get that many.  And people, I never follow directions to the letter.  Ever.  Recipes and patterns are a starting point, a road map, but not the be-all end-all.  The recipe directions say to shape 3/4 inch diameter balls into 3 inch long crescents; but the picture in the book shows big, big fat-looking cookies, and making them 3 inches long makes for skinny puppies.  To illustrate how much I followed the directions to the letter, I even used a ruler for a few of them.  Finally, in the end, I threw up my hands and decided I'd make them like I want them to look.  Really you could skip all the fussy-fussy shaping and just make them round.  They won't work as cut-out cookies, but you could make them any shape you cared to.

12 December 2008


In the sidebar for almost two years now, I've had a countdown timer from backwardsbush.com. Anxiously awaiting the day when there would be another president, even when I had no idea who that other president might be.  Someone, hell, ANYONE would be better than him.

Now that there are far fewer than 100 days left in his miserable administration, the Bush White House is striving hard to make sure that President Idiot leaves his mark on history.  He's been busily signing stuff into law that maybe he thought would fly under the radar screen, but instead is big daily news.

The most recent thing that has me all riled up is some 500 pages of revisions of rules for the guest worker permit program, also known as H2A.

It is my general opinion that Republicans tend to be pro-business, pro-big business, often at the expense of the environment, or, as in this case, at the expense of the impact it will have on the most exploited group of workers in American society.

But this is just the latest thing in a long list of stuff that the Idiot Administration is pushing through during the twilight of their days in office, railroading a laundry list of "reforms" through while they've still got time.  Relaxation of environmental impact study requirements.  Reduction in the amount of input scientists have over how much damage new power plants would do to national parks.

President-Elect Obama has said that he will overturn much of the damaging legislation that Pres Idiot has pushed through in recent days, but that will be a much lengthier process than getting them into law in the first place.

How much MORE damage will he manage to do in the remaining 39 days?  The end of his administration can't come soon enough for me.

11 December 2008

He knows. (And no, I have no idea how.)

My beloved DH baffles me sometimes.

Let's be honest, men and women are baffled by one another, most of the time.  Men?  Completely incomprehensible.  I mean, really.  But I know that they're just as confused by us.

DH was on a little business trip.  Someplace in that middle distance of "too close to fly to" and "takes all damn day to drive there".   He called me, to let me know approximately when he would be home.  It went something like this.

(telephone rings)

Me:  XYZR, this is Lucy.

DH: Hi hon, its me.

Me: Hello darling.

DH: What are you doing?

Me: Working, dear. (This is my answer every time he calls me at work.  You called me at work.  WTH do you think I'm doing?)

DH: You sound like you have a headache.

Me: !!!

Me: Yes, I do.  I have no idea how you know that, but yeah, I do.  It is bad.  I have an appointment with Joe later this afternoon.  I'm hoping he can fix it.

DH: That's not good, you've been getting a lot of those lately.

Me: (whispering now, because even this mundane conversation is making my head pound) I know.  Its been fun.

Anyway, he got home safe and sound (not that I expected otherwise) and I went to see Joe.  Joe is the massotherapist, to quote the rock band Heart, "he's a magic man!"  But not like that, get your mind outta the gutter!  Joe worked on my neck and shoulder muscles, working out some of the kinks that may or may not be causing the headaches, but even if they're not causing the migraines, they certainly aren't helping to ease it with as tense as they are.

I digress.

How the bloody hell does DH know I've got another one of the blankety-blank headaches from two sentences?  Beats me.  I wasn't whispering, or making "ow, it hurts" noises, he could just tell from the way I answered the phone.  The man knows me well.  And is a complete mystery to me!

10 December 2008

WTH Moments

I'm having problems with migraines again.

I am really tired of it, too.

I started getting headaches when I was about 10 years old, and complaining about them landed me at the eye doctor's.  I remember being terrified that I needed glasses; I was enough of a social outcast without them, I didn't want to contemplate how much worse it would be with them.

At the time, though, I did not need the glasses that I now wear; my diminishing eyesight is due to the fact that I am getting older, nearly everyone sees some diminishment in their eyesight as time goes on.  

That's not the problem.  The glasses are not causing the headaches.  

The problem is that I don't know what's causing them.  They're increasing in frequency and severity, exponentially.  If they were pain in one particular spot, over and over, I'd be far more concerned that they were indicative of a specific problem, but they're not.  The pain is on the right side of my head.  No, the left.  No, behind my right eye.  No, at the base of my skull.  No, like a ring around the crown of my head.  Wait, what day is it?

Work is stressful, here and there, but not really at a level that I think should be causing this much pain.  It is a slow time of the year for me, so the pressure I'm feeling for upcoming "stuff"is self-inflicted.  I think that it goes without saying that I'm not giving myself migraines.  Or at least, I don't think I am.

The worst part of this is that I can't fix it.  Taking analgesics doesn't really help much, they diminish the pain that comes with the headaches, but the painkillers don't kill 'em off.  I have tried everything.  Freaking EVERYTHING.  Tylenol.  Motrin.  Advil.  Aleve.  Excedrin.  Lavender everything, teas, rubs, baths, soaks.  Tried to get more and better sleep, thinking that might be a factor; used Valerian root, melatonin, chamomile, Ambien, and every over the counter sleep aid available.

Huh.  In this listmaking, as I'm trying to figure out what is new and different, what has changed recently, it occurs to me that there is something I haven't been doing that is normally part of my routine; I haven't been at the gym, on the treadmill, the elliptical, or at my yoga classes for a few weeks.  The yoga classes are in the middle of the day, and as of late, I've been too busy to get to them.  Ugh.  Could be that's the problem right there.

09 December 2008

Secrets to spill

My friend S owns a salon.  I found her in the phone book, but in yet another demonstration of how small my hometown really is, S was close friends with my cousin J when they were both in high school.  J wasn't really one for having her nails/hair done, but before she passed away, she used to spend time hanging out at the salon.  I didn't discover this until I'd been going to S's place for a couple of years, hilariously.  

After going there for more than 10 years, I consider S a good friend.  She teases me during the holiday season, because I bring cookies and other hand-made gifts to her and her staff; she tells me all the time: "You're so crafty!" and I snark back: "Martha Stewart is crafty.  I'm creative, which is way cooler than 'crafty'!"

But I've never thought that the stuff I make for holiday giving is all that difficult.  Bath salts, hand lotion, sometimes vanilla sugar, always cookies, usually one or two knit things.   Nothing that requires a degree in food science, chemistry, or really, a high skill level.

I don't know where I got the idea for the bath salts.  Can't remember.  I've been doing it for about 9 years now, and it couldn't be easier.  The ingredients are 4 things.  Yeah, seriously.  

1. Epsom salts (from any big box retailer or drugstore)
2. Sea salts (from an online supplier, or sometimes the health food store)
3. Lavender essential oil (again online or health food store)
4. Water-soluble colorant (totally optional, but fun.  From the same place as the sea salts.)

Equipment required:
2 buckets, 5-gallon size work well for me
a large spoon, like they used in your elementary school cafeteria for serving food (one you don't care about, because really, you don't want to use it for food after making bath salts)
about a half-hour of time
jars to put the finished product into
a funnel to get the salts into the jars (one of these works best if your jars have a wide enough mouth)

I don't really use a recipe; I've just done it long enough that I don't need directions.  You can Google "making bath salts" but many of the recipes call for glycerine (so not necessary) or baking soda or obscure soap-making ingredients like rhassoul clay....I call all of that "trying to re-invent the wheel" because they're making it so much harder than it needs to be.

I mix the two kinds of salts one bucket.  I should probably note here that I use equal amounts of sea salts and epsom salts.  That's an important detail, sorry.  I measure out the required amount of lavender. Which really is a personal preference kind of thing.  For roughly 20 pounds of salt, I use about an ounce or an ounce and a half of essential oil.  Yes, it is strong.  Yes, it makes the whole house smell like lavender (and that's a problem....why, exactly?).  

No one has ever complained to me that hey, Luce, the bath salts are great, but couldja scale back the lavender?  Ever.  

The next step almost requires three hands, but I manage OK by myself.  I pour the salts in a steady stream from one bucket to the other, and pour the lavender oil into that stream of salts.  Of course this results in clumps of heavily-saturated salts, so that's where the spoon comes in.  You stir.  And stir.  And stir some more.  When the oil is fairly evenly distributed, I use the same process to add the colorant, pouring carefully and slowly, and then stirring some more.

So your spoon ends up purple-ish, and smelling like a perfumery.  I strongly suggest washing it by hand several times before putting into your dishwasher, or all of your dishes will end up with a soupcon of lavender-scent.  But it has taken me longer to type this out than it does to make the salts.

The vanilla sugar is even easier; plain old white granulated sugar and a couple of vanilla beans are the ingredients; cut the vanilla beans in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, combine the sugar and vanilla in the food processor, pulse to combine, put into clear glass jars.  Whoa, rocket science, eh? This year I used half-pint mason jars, which hold about 2/3 of a cup of sugar; I used 4 vanilla beans and using a measuring cup that is a 2/3 cup, scooped eight of those 2/3 cups into the food processor's working bowl.  Somehow, though, I ended up with 9 half pint jars.  Maybe I can't count.  I wanted 12, but the food processor wouldn't hold that much, and the food processor is very noisy, so because I finished the first batch after 9 PM and DH was trying to sleep, I decided to make the rest another night.

The funny thing to me is that people are so impressed with this stuff; the vanilla sugar takes maybe 10 minutes to put together, and that's if you're slow cutting the vanilla beans.  The bath salts take a few minutes longer, but the ingredients are cheap, easy to come by, and folks, this is simple.  

The hand lotion is easy too, and I wish I could claim that as an original idea.  Nope.  I buy a kit from the same online supplier, although whilst searching for the kit today, I can't find it on her site; good thing I bought two of the kits when she had a sale this summer!  I don't make it exactly per the directions (oooh, shocker, right?) I add Shea butter, usually purchased on eBay, and lavender.  Thematic, anyone?  But the incredibly cool thing about this stuff is that it is solid at room temperature, which means that it will never spill.  It can melt, but doesn't spill because the kit comes with little tubes, slightly larger than a chapstick tube, with a solidly-closing cap.  So very very clever.  Also takes about a half hour to make.

Most of my holiday gift-giving secrets, shared with teh interwebs.  I'm just not telling you about my re-gifting plans.

05 December 2008


Further proof, if any was really required, that I am out of my mind.

Despite not being into the religious part of the holiday (heck, the material part isn't all that interesting to me either) I do enjoy the holiday season for a number of reasons: people tend to be nicer in December, my birthday is in December, I love finding unique presents for my friends & family, I enjoy the orgy of cookie baking.

For many years, I've sent a ton of Christmas cards.  Since I came back home from Sweden, it has been a way to keep in at least vague touch with a worldwide network of friends.  Because many of those friends are not Christian, I've always been careful to find a message that is kind of neutral as far as mentioning Christmas/Hanukkah/Eid, but I want to at least let these people know that they're in my thoughts. 

As the years have gone by, the list has changed, grown, expanded, and it now encompasses more than 70 names, in 4 countries.

People, this is insane.

I worked on the cards this week, and while it isn't an ordeal, it is a lot of work.  I cheat by NOT addressing the invitations by hand; you can't read my handwriting anyway, so what's the point? Usually, I order cards in August-ish, they get here in October-ish, and I send them out over Thanksgiving weekend.  When I order cards, I have them printed with a message from DH and I, and have our return address imprinted on the envelopes.  This year, sometime around April, I stumbled across a bunch of Product (Red) Christmas cards at a Hallmark store that were 90% off.  I bought all they had, figuring it was far cheaper than what I normally did and since I was working on commission at the time, it seemed like a good idea.

Amazingly, when it came time to send out holiday greetings, I actually remembered that I'd already bought cards, and was even able to find them in our storage room.  Wonder of wonders.  I could not find my pre-printed return address labels, but that's OK, I made more.  

I use a mail-merge to print out labels for the cards, and once this was done, they sat around for a few days until I got to them.  When I started slapping labels on the envelopes, there were more than a few names that made me stop and go, "huh?!".  These are people that I used to work with years and years ago, or old high school friends that I have not actually spoken to in years, or even in one case, the children (well, adult children, but still) of old neighbors of my parents.  Come on!  This is patently silly.

DH refuses to have anything to do with the holiday card insanity; he won't even sign the ones addressed to *his* family.  It is a fight I'm not interested in having, so I just leave him out of it.  But he always asks if I've remembered to send out cards to a few old friends of his and a business contact or two.  Yes, they're still on the list.  When I was going over the list with him, there were one or two people that he raised his eyebrows over; again, people we have not actually spoken to in years.

So in my infinite wisdom, I've decided that this is the last year for more than about 20 people on that list.  People I still talk to, fine, they're staying.  Relatives; well, can't leave out so much as a single cousin or there would be hell to pay, so they're staying too.  People that I have some semblance of a relationship with, even if it is just inside the computer, they're staying.  Old co-workers from 4 jobs ago: gone.  High school friends whose parents still live in town but they never bother to call when they're around: gone.  People that I sent cards to out of a sense of obligation (i.e., I sent one to their best friend, so I should send one to them, too) also: gone.  People that I send cards to that I don't actually like: gone.  

Wow, that was liberating!  Sad, too, but incredibly freeing.  

01 December 2008

Heroes a little closer to home

This is a storytelling post.

News stories about the possible nomination of Hilary Clinton to the position of Secretary Of State in the Obama administration abound.  Senator Clinton, should she truly be offered the position, and provided that she accepts, will not have the distinction of being the first female Secretary Of State. 

That honor belongs to Madeline Allbright.

When I'm asked to list my heroes, she's always on the list, along with Nelson Mandela, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ghandi, and a few other fairly predictable folks.  The unexpected people on that list (well, maybe it is unexpected for you, not to me) are my parents.

It wasn't until I was in my early 20s that I realized that they're both...words fail me here.  Amazing?  Brave? More giving than the average person?  Yes, all of those.

As a college graduation present, my parents and I traveled to Palm Springs, CA, spending a few days there before driving on to the Grand Canyon.  Among the many things we did there, one of the more memorable was a ride on the Colorado River.  Not through the famed Grand Canyon rapids, but rather from Page, Arizona, to the entrance of the canyon.  Billed as a "smooth water" canoe trip, it was peaceful, beautiful, sun-drenched.  

At the end of the river trip, the bus which had delivered us to Page picked us up for a return trip to our lodging at the Grand Canyon.

Our bus driver was a woman who studied the Anazai Indians, and had a deep love - and an extensive knowledge - of the Grand Canyon.  As she drove, she used the bus's PA system to regale us with stories about the native peoples of the area, information about geological formations, and what it was like to live in the housing the Grand Canyon (i.e. the national park service) provides for staff.  

I was sitting midway back, and had turned off my Discman to listen.  All of a sudden, the bus lurched to one side and then stopped.  I glanced up at the windshield, but all I saw was a cloud of dust far ahead of us at first.  As the dust settled, a horrific accident scene spread out in front of us.  An old lead sled, like a 1979 Monte Carlo, was in pieces on the road.  A motor home had its front mashed in, and there was wreckage everywhere.  

The bus driver asked that we stay in our seats, and asked if anyone had any first aid training.  She then asked for volunteers to help the injured.  Of all of those people on that bus, it was my parents who stood up, got out of their seats and volunteered to help.  As both of them got off the bus, they turned to me and in chorus said, "You stay here!"  Which made me smile a little in the face of such tragedy, because they're usually so much on the same page, thoughts in tandem.

The bus driver came back and asked if anyone knew emergency radio codes.  As DH (although then he was DB) was a firefighter for a very long time, I was used to listening to the scanner and familiar with the radio chatter.  So I sat in the driver's seat and directed the first responders to our location.

I don't remember how many people died that day.  All of the occupants of the lead sled.  The car disintegrated around them.  The people in the motor home survived, but with some injuries.  I don't remember what those injuries were; cuts, contusions, bruising, but not much that was serious as I recall.

While I talked to the authorities, a woman came to the front of the bus and began taking pictures through the bus window with her disposable camera.  I was deeply disgusted; people are such vultures.  I asked her, "Why in the HELL would you want pictures of this?  People died here."  Her response?  "It is a piece of history."  I glared, and snarled, "Lady, it isn't your history, and it is ghoulish and insensitive."  She sat back down.  Good thing, too, I mighta smacked her if she kept it up.

But the contrast in reactions to the accident is what has stuck with me.  My parents: got up and helped.  Other people on the bus: rubbernecked.  How could you not find that admirable?

In case I hadn't mentioned it lately: I miss them when they're off in the sunny south!

30 November 2008

Sprint to the finish

Turns out that this whole post-a-day-for-30-days wasn't the agony I thought it would be.  I wasn't tortuously searching for material, desperately seeking subjects to ramble about.

Some pretty damn exciting things happened, though.  This year's historic presidential election.  A Supreme Court case or two that caught my attention.  The financial services meltdown.  (Have I mentioned how glad I am that I don't work for the bank anymore lately?)  Even a few news stories I wanted to comment upon, something I've been avoiding for a laundry list of reasons.

Did it get me back to writing fiction?  No.  Unfortunately.  But it did make me think more often about my little novel, and I'll take that as a positive result.

Will I do it again?  Yeah, I think so.  Not next month, that's fer sure.  Probably not in the fall again, too much conflict with some other obligations.

The best benefit is that I feel more confident identifying myself as a writer.  I am.  I do. I will.

29 November 2008

Are we there yet?

The end is in sight!  NaBloPoMo, almost there, almost there!

I'm going to Florida for Christmas with my family, and nearly each time I talk to my parents I remind them how many days left until I can get on an airplane and escape the cold.  Almost there, almost there.

I have a friend who is about to graduate from college.  She's got a bad case of senioritis.  I keep telling her, "Hang in there, sweetie.  You're almost there!"

When I was a kid, and my parents asked if my homework was done, my answer (and my sisters' answers, too) was always : "Almost."

It became a running family joke; the state of homework is always ALMOST done.

The laundry, too, always almost done; whatever you're wearing still needs to be washed, so it never ends.

Cleaning.  Never done either.

I don't feel that way about the 30 posts in 30 days, I am glad I decided to do it.  It has been fun. 

And I'm almost there.

28 November 2008

Avoidance factor

Today is "Black Friday".  So-called because retailers are 'in the black' rather than 'in the red' traditionally on this particular Friday.  The entire US economy is dependent on the Christmas shopping season, sadly.

I worked in retail for a long time in college.  

I hate Black Friday.

One place I worked opened at 5 AM, and stayed open until midnight on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  It wasn't really the norm then, but most of them open in the wee sma's now.  One outlet mall within driving distance from my home opens at midnight.  To quote the kids these days: SRSLY?  R U kidding?

Sadly, yes, seriously, and no, I'm not kidding.

My usual routine since I quit working for the retail establishments has been one of two things; at Ye Olde Evile Bank, we were open, and I was usually at work.  When I took the day off, though, I stayed home.  Put up the Christmas tree.  Addressed holiday cards.  Stayed the heck at home.

Not this year.

One, I'm not putting up either of my two trees, because DH and I and my sisters will be with the 'rents in Florida for Christmas, and I can't see a good reason to bother getting the decorations out.

Two, the chi-chi yarn store where I learned to knit is jumping on the Black Friday sale bandwagon.  They don't open at the crack of dawn, but they are offering large discounts on their usually expensive yarn.  This means that instead of being frightfully expensive, their wares will be just pricey.

But the straw that breaks the camel's back on this is that in addition to having a chance to fondle fibers, I get to eat Indian food!

Maybe I'll grow to love Black Friday.  Don't hold your breath, though.

27 November 2008

She's off the recipe kick, at least.

American blogs are going to be full of "I'm so thankful for this and that" today, because it is Thanksgiving.  I'm grousing.

Two weeks ago, I was on my way home after a long day, and my car started acting up.  I avoid our small town's main roads whenever I can, the stop-and-go traffic lights really annoy me.  I had turned on to a side street to miss a red light, and when I made a left hand turn to get back to the main road, the steering wheel was suddenly nearly impossible to turn.

My first car (a 1984 Pontiac Fiero, her name was Lola) didn't have power steering, so I know what it feels like when there isn't any.  This was harder to turn than Lola's steering wheel, so I knew that there was a problem.

Then warning lights started to flicker all over the dashboard.  The battery light.  The oil light.  The check engine light.  The car started to overheat.

This is bad, y'all.

I was less than a mile from my house, so instead of stopping the car, I drove it home.  If this ever happens to you, please be smarter than I am: STOP THE DAMN CAR, don't continue to drive.  I managed to not create further damage by driving while the car got hotter and hotter, but I could have scrapped the engine with this foolish decision.  Which would have been very costly.

When I pulled in to our garage, the car shut itself off.  This is really bad.

My father is a car guy, and I grew up surrounded by cars that were works-in-progress, so I do actually know my way around an engine.  Sort of.  I'm not an expert, but I'm not going to say something like, "The doohickey quit working the thingamabob." because I know the correct names for the doohickey and the thingamabob.  I'm reasonably good with tools, too.  

The power steering crapping out on me could have been the pump that pumps the power steering fluid in the engine, but with the rest of the symptoms, there was only really one thing that could have broken: the serpentine belt.  This small-ish rubber belt runs your alternator.  Your power steering.  Many of the electrical components of the car.  It costs about $15, but without it?  Your car's gonna be imitating a brick.

DH and I dug around in the engine, burning our fingers in the process because that car?  It was HOT.  (Remember the overheating bit?  The car shut itself off because it was too hot.) We discovered that the belt was in OK shape, but something that keeps the belt running around all of its little gears and pulleys, called the tensioner, had partially melted and partially fallen apart.  

This isn't a difficult fix; the tensioner practially came off in our hands, so putting a new one in was easy-peasy.  The hard part was getting the belt wrapped back around all of the proper components.

Great, car's fixed, we're back in business, everything's OK.


I took the car for an oil change after this fiasco, and the oil change guys informed me that my gas tank is leaking.

Bad?!?  We're past bad and on to dangerous.

Since they told me that the gas tank is leaking, all of a sudden, the car smells like gas, inside and out.  The gas gauge is slowly, but steadily, dropping.  That wasn't happening before.  Urgh.

I am thankful that I have a car.  That I have a job and can afford to get this fixed.  That DH and I can do this ourselves and not pay a mechanic $1000 to switch out the gas tank.  Not so much with the thankfulness for it being broken. 

26 November 2008

...and how did she forget the taters?

As MotherMe noted....the cranberry bread recipe is nice, but ya left out the potato casserole recipe.

Well, yes.

There was sort of a reason I did, though.

I am not a fan of pre-packaged anything.  Sure, I admit, I use cake mixes from time to time.  There's a coffee cake that I make which can be made from scratch or by using that stuff that rhymes with smishquick; guess which one gets made more often.  And I admit to the sin of using condensed soups from time to time while cooking.  

But mostly, I belong to both the Eat Local and Slow Foods schools of thought.  Buy fresh local ingredients whenever you can is the Eat Local bit.  Slow Food, as one might suspect, is the antithesis of fast food; i.e., something that you take time to make, and take time to enjoy.

So I cringe both to admit that I love, love, LOVE this potato casserole and that it includes several things that usually are not in my house, let alone in my lexicon.

And after all that moaning and wailing, when you actually see the recipe, you will probably be asking what I'm fussing over.

Auntie B's Cheesy Potatoes

Oven 350F (175C)

2 pound bag frozen hash brown potatoes (cubes, not shredded) 
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 c chopped onion
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup 
16 oz sour cream
8 oz package shredded cheese (no particular type...Auntie B probably uses cheddar.)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl, reserving a small amount of cheese to sprinkle over the top.  Pour into a casserole dish, sprinkle remaining cheese over the casserole, and bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes.  

Auntie B used to put corn flakes on the top, too, which sounds bizarre until you taste it....I think she tossed the corn flakes with melted butter and then put them on top.  In the last few years, though, she's stopped doing that, and I can attest to the fact that it is good without them, too.  Don't try substituting croutons or bread crumbs for the cornflakes, it lacks the....flair? of the cornflakes.

What would I do differently?  The bagged frozen potatoes, outta there, just on principal.  Bagged frozen potatoes!  *scoffs* The very idea.  The cream of chicken condensed soup would be tossed for its mystery ingredients and high salt content.  The package of shredded cheese, also chucked out for its mystery ingredients...have you ever actually READ the labels on some of that stuff?  The corn flakes, for their corn syrup and associated yuckiness.

Which would leave us with the butter, sour cream, salt, pepper, and onions.  I've never tried to make this recipe using more, shall we say, natural ingredients, but I suspect that I would not like it nearly as well, because we're all so accustomed to the mystery ingredients that it seems to be missing something without them.

Maybe next year.

25 November 2008

Food Meme of Sorts

I wrote about searching for a cranberry quickbread recipe a few days ago, bemoaning the fact that my improvised recipe hadn't turned out quite the way I intended.  The recipe I was trying to re-create was something that I knew I had made in Girl Scouts many years ago as a Christmas project.  I don't really remember why we made cranberry bread; maybe to give to a nursing home?  Or to earn a kitchen safety badge?  Skit samma, as we say Svenska.  Doesn't really matter.

My mother reads my blog from time to time (hi Mom!) and she saw the post.  She has the recipe with her at their warm and sunny winter residence (as to that...we have snow on the ground and are forecast about 5 more inches of snow by tomorrow morning, so I say :ppppp) and she e-mailed the recipe to me.  I went wrong in not including butter, not using enough baking powder, and, of course, not using enough sugar.  I'm always trying to figure out ways to cut granulated white sugar out of things, and the resulting end product is usually a little....tart.  Duh.

As I recall, though, this cranberry bread wasn't tart, and was not usually what you'd expect from any recipe with fresh cranberries as an ingredient.

(Don't worry, I'll share the recipe at the end of the post.)

That's item #1 to make for the (count them) TWO Thanksgiving dinners I am going to.

Next I had to call my mother's sister, my Auntie B, to get her recipe for a potato casserole; when we were kids, we always called it "Cheesy Potatoes," and looked forward to it each holiday season.  I suspect that this is a recipe she got off of the back of a package of one of the ingredients, but I've never asked about the origins.  I've never made it myself, either, but it isn't hard.  That would be item #2 I'm making for Thanksgiving.

Finally, in a mostly vain attempt to banish that icky cranberry glop that comes out of a can from the Thanksgiving table, I'm going to make a cranberry relish.  I made that for the first Thanksgiving I shared with DH's family.  Unfortunately, I can't remember where I got the recipe, and I haven't had time to look for it yet.  That'd be item #3.

Thank the gentle goddess that *I'm* not making the entire dinner, because I'd really rather not.

So here's the meme part; what is an unexpected essential part of YOUR Thanksgiving dinner?  Not the traditional turkey, dressing, mashed 'taters, sweet potato, green bean casserole.  Post it & share the recipe.  

Grandma's Fancy Cranberry Bread

1 loaf 9X5  greased pan
Bake for 1 hour 10 min @ 350
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 t Baking pwd
1 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 cup of butter
1 egg beaten
1 t grated Orange peel
3/4 cup O juice
1 1/2 c yellow raisins
1 1/2 cup fresh cranberry chopped

Sift flour all dry ingredients cut butter into mix until crumbly; add egg, OJ, and orange peel.  Fold in raisins and cranberries.  DO NOT ADD NUTS (n.b., apparently, nut oils react badly chemically with one of the ingredients, and it ruins the bread.)

Pour into prepared loaf pan & bake.

24 November 2008

Movie Review

I went to see Twilight with my sister-in-law.  As I have said previously regarding the Twilight Saga, the story is captivating, the writing not spectacular.  I liked Twilight.  I did not like New Moon at all.  I was lukewarm on Eclipse.  Breaking Dawn gets a so-so from me.  I've read the portion of Midnight Sun that Stephanie Meyer posted on her website, and I do like that.  Too bad she's shelved the project for now.

Even though they aren't great literature, I've read each of the novels more than once, but I am not as rabid as the fanpiers (who would be called fangirls in any other fandom).  My expectations for the movie weren't particularly high, because the movie is never better than the book.  When Hollywood gets its hands on something, they inevitably screw it up.  That said, I thought that the actors selected to play Bella and Edward were pretty spot-on, when I saw that information in the gossip rags.  

The movie met my expectations.  So incredibly much was left out.  The storyline was altered.  I HATE it when they do that!!!  

The "bad" vampires, James, Victoria, and Laurent, played a much larger role in the movie than they do in the book.  That's crappy, because who the hell cares about them?  The price of admission was to see BELLA and EDWARD, ffs.  The guy who played Jasper always looked like he was in pain, although after reading Midnight Sun, that makes sense.  

Some of the choices for characters puzzled me, though.  Laurent is played by an African-American actor with long, black dreads.  He had the French accent down, but page after page after page in the book talks about how all vampires are pale, unnaturally so.  Pure white skin, like marble or granite.  While there is not a single mention of ethnicity or race anywhere in the books, that refrain of pale, pale, pale is constant for the vampires.  Forgive me for saying this so bluntly, but it is difficult to make someone with mocha-colored skin look pale.  They did get the eyes right, at least.

You're left to draw your own conclusions about what Bella's fellow high-school students Eric Yorkie, Angela Webber, Jessica Stanley, and Tyler Crowley look like, because other than describing Jessica as having dark, curly hair, there ain't much to go on for the humans in the books.  The novel specifically says that Mike Newton is a blonde, baby-faced guy, and he was in the movie.  He came off as fairly annoying, as he does in the books.  Well done, there.  

The school isn't a collection of buildings as the book describes, and Bella meets Mike and Jessica in gym rather than separately.

They leave out all of the information about Bella doing the cooking, they added a cafe/restaurant that doesn't exist, altered the girl's choice dance to prom, Tyler and Eric never ask her out (or if they did, I missed it), huge chunks of all kinds of things were missing.  

Dialog lifted straight from the book was altered, a word or two here or there, which is all right, but when there's so little of it, why not keep what was there to begin with?  Edward and Bella's first kiss is nothing at all like it is in the book, they never talk about her sleep-talking, and worst of all is the Cullen family house.

It is amazing, the house they used.  It looks NOTHING like the description in the books of a three-story WHITE wooden structure, with a back wall of glass.  The movie house was a cedar and glass confection, beautiful beyond imagining, but....not the same. 

The bit about the artwork, Carlise's story, the 300 year old wooden cross, Bella, Jasper & Alice spending three days in a Phoenix hotel, all left out.  

What was good?  The chemistry between Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.  I liked the way Pattinson played Edward, brooding, intense, and lest we forget, oh-so-pretty.  Stewart showcases Bella's shy and awkward persona well.  Nikki Reed plays Rosalie's icy beauty flawlessly.  The location was great, Port Angeles and Forks displayed well.  Cinematography was excellent.

The scene in the dance studio was done well, although they left out the explanation of Alice's origins.  Wonder how they'll cover for that in the sequels.

Will I watch it again?  Yeah, probably.  If I were grading, though, I'd give it about a C.

23 November 2008


This is a storytelling post.

I was listening to a Celtic music program and was reminded of the first time I went to Stockholm for some reason.

Shortly after arriving in Sweden, I met a boy that I thought was the entire world.  Black hair, fair skin, dark blue eyes.  Mesmerizing.  He asked for my phone number, and I happily obliged.  He'd spent a year in northern Pennsylvania as an exchange student, so he understood well the disorientation and adjustment that takes place for all exchange students.  Besides his mesmerizing eyes, he had an amazing voice that I still remember.  A great voice for whispering sweet things in your ear.  

Our first date was at a restaurant on a lake, and after dinner, we went outside to look from the terrace at the moonlight on the lake.  He couldn't have planned a better place for our first kiss.  I was hooked.  Naturally.  Years later, I found out he was a player-with-a-capital P, but at 16, I was.....um.....kinda naive.  (Just a little.)  He probably did plan it that way.  The story of how I found out that he was a player...is for another day when I feel like playing 6 degrees of separation because I found out about his history when I was back home in the US.

He lived in another province, outside of a city called Västerås, about 45 minutes away from my little home town.  We talked on the phone frequently, and in November he offered to be the one to show me Stockholm.  Said he wanted to see my reaction to his favorite city.  I had been itching to get to the capital, mostly because I love cities, and this was a new one to explore.  But the important this was that he had a car, an unusual thing for a Swedish high school kid.

We parked outside of Gammla Stan (Old Town), and walked over a foot bridge that is probably 600 years old.  The moment I set foot on Gammla Stan's cobblestoned streets, I had this feeling that I'd come home.  Comfortable.  Like I belonged there.  This isn't a sensation that I can easily describe; there are a few places on this earth where I've felt like that; where we vacationed in Michigan when I was a kid; Lilydale; and Stockholm.  

I felt like I'd been there before.  This sensation of coming home was not a thing that raised the hair on the back of my neck, not a spooky or frightening feeling, not at all.  I wanted to stay forever.  I felt like shackles had been taken off of me, shackles that I hadn't even known were there, and suddenly I was free and 100 pounds lighter.  Nevermind that if I lost 100 lbs when I was 16, I'd have been dead, 'cause I would have weighed about 6 pounds.  And free from what, the gentle goddess only knows.  Not like I was escaping tyranny when I left the United States, nor was there any tyranny in my host family's home, either.

Maybe it was just wishful thinking, that I belonged there.  But I've felt that way each time I've returned, so either the delusion continues, or it is a genuine feeling of deja vu. I don't know.  I quit trying to figure it out years ago.

Is there anyplace that makes you feel that way?

22 November 2008

I'm outraged.

No, really!

People magazine's Sexiest Man issue is out and Jared, Jensen, and Jeffrey were all left out!  Not that they didn't pick a cutie, they did.  Hugh Jackman is very nice eye candy.  But not even a little mention of the Brothers Winchester.  How on EARTH could they leave out these two?

(Just in case you've never been exposed to my Supernatural fascination....Jensen Ackles is in the foreground, and Jared Padalecki is in the background.  Take a moment, it is OK.  Admire the pretty.  Then there's the car, too....1967 black Chevy Impala w/a 454 cubic inch engine.....breathe, breathe.)

Not a mention of Big Daddy Winchester, either.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan isn't really my style, but still, he's easy on the eyes.

It entertains me to no end that for all that women are objectified in this world, one of the largest gossip rags in the country puts out a "Sexiest Man" issue, rather than a "Sexiest Woman".  And then they proceed to drool all over male celebs, objectifying them within an inch of their lives. The accompanying articles always revolve around one central theme: Is he single, and who is his 'ideal' mate?  If that's not objectification, lordee, I don't know what is.

21 November 2008

Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer

I mentioned wanting to read Mike Huckabee's new book to someone the other day, after hearing an interview with the former Arkansas governor.  

No one who has met me in person has any doubts a'tall about my political leanings.  So this person did a double take, and immediately asked "Why would you want to do that?"

Simple, really.

Disagreeing with a political movement or a particular point of view does not mean that the other side is dumb.  What is stupid is shouting at one another, not having a rational dialog.  How can you defend your point of view when you don't know why your opposition feels the way that they do?

Over the summer, I had a plethora of books checked out from the library, a lot of non-fiction from biographies to political dissertations and everything in between.  I never finished any of them, *AND* I incurred massive library fines from having the books in the back seat of the car for a few months.

Two of the biographies got raised eyebrows at the pool; one by Benazir Bhutto, and another by Vicente Fox.   Bhutto's, obviously, got raised eyebrows because the cover had her pictured wearing a veil.  Not a full hijab, but a scarf covering her hair.  I get very offended when people make remarks about all muslims being terrorists.  Islam is a profoundly peaceful religion, and if we don't try to understand why an extremist faction is intent on raining destruction down on the western world, we're never going to get anywhere.  As I said, I didn't finish the book, but it was a fascinating read.

Fox was more conservative than I had previously realized, and someone did stop by my poolside chair and ask why I had chosen to check that book out of the library.

For the same reason that I want to read Huckabee's book: to understand.

20 November 2008

Where the bloody hell is MY bailout??

I have refrained from commenting on the economic mess thus far because the election was far too engrossing.  Now that I don't have to have hysterics over the McFailin/Same ticket, I intend to make up for lost time.

I worked in the financial services industry for seven very long years.  I wasn't a loan officer (thank the gentle goddess) but I worked with many of them, and understand the process well.  I don't have much sympathy for the lenders who ended up with a bunch of bad debt.  At Ye Olde Evile Bank, they had a simple calculation that they did to figure out how much they could lend to a particular person.  If you didn't, oh, HAVE A JOB, then you weren't getting a loan.  If you couldn't afford a bazillion dollar a month mortgage, you weren't going to get one.  If you didn't have serious cash for a down payment on a house, your interest rate was going to be high.  All of this is pretty common-sense.  So allowing people to get into mortgages where they end up upside-down (where they owe more than the house is worth) was not the smartest move the lenders could make.

I have a very difficult time stomaching the 700 BILLION with-a-B bailout package.  Big problems with that.  I'm astonished (and disgusted) that it passed Congress.  Keeping fat-cat executives swimming in golden parachutes does not sit well with me.  I'm also disgusted to note that Bloomberg News has had to take the ridiculous step of suing the federal government to get information about which banks are taking advantage of the bailout.  Transparency, anyone?  Ugh.

Now the US auto manufacturers are requesting an additional 25 billion dollars.  If you've never seen the number shown in a numerical format, here it is: 25,000,000,000,000

That, my friends, is a large number.

I have little sympathy for the automakers, in the same way that I don't feel sorry for the lenders.  American car manufacturers have spent the last 10+ years focusing on SUVs, ginormous gas-guzzlers that the average person has no need for.  If you're not hauling big stuff around in a trailer, or living in super-rugged territory, YOU DO NOT NEED A 4-WHEEL DRIVE BEHEMOTH.  *ahem*  Sorry.  I'll step down off the soapbox.

But US car manufacturers haven't spent the time or the money working on alternative fuels, and have lobbied against more stringent CAFE standards, the government acronym for legislation that involves vehicle emissions.  Of course, I also place some blame for this squarely at the feet of the Idiot Administration, which funneled money for research into alternative energy to other sources, and spent a bunch of time trying to convince Congress to allow drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and in Anwar.  But that IS what ya get when you have an oil executive and his cronies running the country.

The thing is that when I was unemployed in the summer of 2007, there wasn't anyone handing ME a financial bailout package.  There were no lines of taxpayers willing to pony-up for me to fix all of my economic woes.  So how about it, Uncle Sam?  Where's MY cash?

19 November 2008

Crazy 8s

A meme of sorts.

Eight things I like about the winter:
1. With a blanket of new snow, the whole world looks a little cleaner.
2. I am more grateful in the winter that I have a roof over my head and a functioning furnace.
3. I get to wear the pretty scarves I've knitted.
4. Skiing!
5. Dressing in layers.
6. I get the urge to bake gingerbread as soon as the temperature drops.
7. Things outside tend to be quieter; no birds waking me up hours before sunrise, no crickets chirping long into the night.
8. Boots!  I love my high-heeled boots!

Eight things I despise about the winter:
1.  It is frigging bloody freezing.
2. Snowplows piling up mountains of snow along sidewalks.
3. The people who clear snow from my development do a crappy job, and every year I am afraid they are going to kill plants that they pile tons of snow on top of.
4. My skin gets so incredibly dry.
5. Chapped lips.
6. Cold toes.
7. Hazardous roads.  Not because they're snow-covered and slippery (although they are) but because people manage to forget how to drive in the snow in the time period between April and November.
8. Limited daylight/grey skies.

Since tagging people with memes is obnoxious, I'm not insisting that specific people do the crazy 8s.  But should you be inclined, knock yourself out!

18 November 2008

It is NOT winter.

Not yet.  December 21, more than a month away, is the official start of winter.  But you wouldn't know that from the weather today.  

Why yes, that is what it looks like outside.  The picture is fuzzy because it is snowing so hard that it made the scene blurry.

I like snow.  I don't like the heat, when it is 90 degrees and 100% humidity.  But I do not like snow in November, especially 6+ inches of snow in November.  We're forecast a grand total of about 7 inches, if (and that's a big if) we get everything the weatherman says we will.

November.  Not even the start of winter.  We've got a long way to go until spring, usually late March in this part of the country.  Winter.  I'm already over it.

17 November 2008


Even though my family has declared a moratorium on gifts for the holidays this year, and DH and I managed to convince his family that we should all just buy for the kiddos, that does not mean I'm exempt from the gift-giving madness.  Which is OK, mostly, because I like doing nice things for people during the month of December.

But I decided earlier this year (maybe....August?) that I could manage to make something for everyone that I work with AND my friends, knitted somethings.  As soon as I made the decision, I started knitting.  Part of the method of my madness, too, is that I'd like to use up some of my stashed yarn.  (stash yarn = Ravelry-speak for yarn that you already own, most likely stashed in boxes or plastic bins about your house.)  I'm making good progress and using up yarn I've had for years and years.  I've made several scarves, a handful of dishcloths and face-scrubbie wash cloths.  The wash cloths are small, and I put a little bar of handmade soap (not soap *I* make, c'mon, I'm not that nuts) in the middle of the washcloth, take a complimentary yarn and run it through the 4 corners, tie it up, and it makes a cute little packet.  Easy, easy, easy present, takes no more than an hour to knit one.

So why am I stressing over it?  

The main reason is that like almost everything in my life, I have defined parameters, rules about the knitting.  I don't allow myself to have more than about 3 projects on needles, because it makes me f-ing batty if I've got too many projects going.  It stresses me more than I need to be stressed.  

How many projects are on needles right now?  
1. a scarf 
2. a hat 
3. a washcloth 
4. and 5. baby blankets (although those shouldn't count because I'm not actively working on them)  
6. another hat, 
7. a shrug that is 99% done, and 
8. a shawl I started last night and then ripped apart because I can't figure out the pattern.  

There's another scarf that I don't have on needles yet, but it is my next project, swirling around in the back of my heard.  Urgh.  That'd be 9.  Then I have two skeins of a soft yet sparkly yarn that I plan to make hats with, one red and one black.  I can't wait to get started on them.  Which, for those keeping track, would be 11 projects.  It is with the crazy-making.

There are not enough hours in the day to get them all done.  

And then I have to figure out when (and what) I'm going to bake for the people I give cookies to every year.....

16 November 2008


I went to Church earlier this year. Now before you go gettin' all excited about my return to Christianity, this was a familial obligation. My niece had her First Communion, which the Catholic Church is starting to call First Eucharist. The title change annoys me, but then, there isn't much about the Church that DOESN'T bug me.

I won't go into the details of the family dynamics of the event, except to say that some of that side of the fam is Catholic and some isn't, so there's the usual back-and-forth Catholic vs. Protestant bullshit. Tangentially, I always wonder about the crappola that goes on between the different sects of Christianity. If they're all following the path of righteousness, where do they get off bashing one another's forms of Christianity? But I digress.

My niece is 7. First Communion (I flat out refuse to call it First Eucharist, its too cumbersome and strange-sounding to my ears.) at that age is about the pretty dress, the presents, and the little veil that you get to wear. The significance of accepting the body and blood of Christ, as Catholics believe the communion bread and wine are transformed during the blessing from bread and wine to body and blood, is largely lost on your average 7 year-old. Trust me. Been there, done that, have the pictures to prove it.

I haven't been to Church since my nephew's first communion, two years ago. At that Mass, I enjoyed myself hugely, but not for reasons of faith. Firstly, because DH was not raised Catholic as I was, and the subtle cues that indicate to the congregation when to stand, when to kneel, and when to sit are lost on anyone who doesn't have that doggerel pounded into their heads from birth. So he's half a beat behind, and each time the congregation moves, he rolls his eyes at me, as if to say, "What? Again? Why can't you people just SIT STILL?" So that makes it hard not to giggle through the Mass. A benefit of being with someone for nearly half of your life is the ability to telepathically communicate with them. 

Secondly, at my nephew's first communion, the priest had all of the children come up to the altar and sit down on the dais. He joined them, in his vestments, sitting down on the floor with them, and giving the homily to them. He ignored the rest of us, just having a conversation with the kids. I know it made them feel special and involved in the Mass, unlike every other Mass they'd ever been to in their lives.

The priest made an effort at this Mass as well to bring it to the kid's level. Might have even been the same priest, I'm not sure.

The communion song was about growing; a part of the refrain was

Seed scattered and sown
Wheat gathered and grown

I was thinking about English, and a few of the other words in English that sound like seeded; seated, ceded. As these words swirled around in my head, I was remembering so much of the dogma of my childhood. The Nicene Creed, a recitation of Catholic beliefs. At the end, it talks about Jesus seated at the right hand of of the Father. I can't tell you how many homilies I heard over the years about growing and gardening, seeds, seated....and how I've refused to cede my viewpoint that the Catholic Church wants women to be barefoot and pregnant, or nuns.  According to Pope John Paul II, the only two acceptable vocations for women:  wife AND mother (The two are NOT mutually exclusive; to be one is to be the other.) OR a nun.

Ladies, isn't that wonderful?  You can choose to become a member of a religious order, or you can get married and start popping out kids.  Y'all have fun with that....I'm not allowing them to plant those "seeds" in my head.

15 November 2008


I heard a news report about the religious right being "energized" after their candidate was defeated in the US presidential election.  Organizing, planning, getting ready to make sure their point of view doesn't get bounced off the country's agenda.

Here's something I've never understood.  (OK, yes, there's a long list of things I don't get, but I'll stick with one today.)  I actually heard one of the interviewees talking about "protecting the sanctity of marriage".  I do not, and probably will not ever, understand why these people get so cranked about the fundamental right of anyone on this earth to love whomever they please.  And don't quote the biblical verse to me about marriage being between a man and a woman, because it holds very little water with me.

How would the hetro community feel if suddenly there were referendums on who they could marry?  Tall people, no, no, you can't marry short people.  Fat people, you can't be in a relationship with skinny people.  If you were to substitute any other minority for the word 'gay' in the language of these "sanctity of marriage" laws, such as Hispanic, Bi-Racial, Oriental....you'd have people all over the country (and probably some of those same fundamentalists) screaming about racism.

The root of what I don't understand is this: how does homosexual marriage "destroy" the "sanctity of marriage"?  Why does it matter to you if there are or are not gay couples?  It'll cause the breakdown of society?  What. Ev. Er.  That same argument was used when laws were still on the books about blacks and whites marrying.  It was as wrong then as it is now.

I'm very disappointed in Prop 8 passing in California.  Ever Governer Ah-nold called the passage of the act "unfortunate".  It'll be dragged through the courts again, and in the meantime, same-sex partners are denied the right to be married.

Homosexuality is not "wrong".  It is not an "abomination".  And it certainly isn't a lifestyle "choice".  And why do you care, anyway?  What goes on in my neighbor's bedroom is none of my business....how is it any of your business?

14 November 2008

Thanks. I love being frightened half to death. Good Times.

No, this is not a book report about Duma Key.  It could be, I suppose, as I've finished the book, but after reading the book to the end, I think it is more sad than scary.  The beginning was far more frightening than the end, and I was disappointed with a bit of foreshadowing he did....but yet again, I digress.

I had about the most terrifying asthma attack of my life recently.  Normally, environmental factors like cigarette smoke and strong perfume set it off, and I'll hack-hack-hack like a three pack-a-day smoker, wheeze for a sec, and move on with my life.  No, I don't use the rescue inhaler that my family doctor prescribed for me.  Hate.  Hate.  HATE. The inhaler.  Plus any that are lying about in my house are very likely to be far past their expiration dates.

This started during a yoga class, and I thought it was due to over-exertion during the class.  It is a power yoga class, after all, and I sweat profusely.  I often have to work hard to keep with the proper breathing pace.  But when it didn't calm down during Savassana, well...I thought there might be something wrong.

I trundled down to the locker room, stripped off my sweat-soaked clothes, and got in to the shower.  (No, this is NOT going to turn in to one of those kind of blog entries, please see MonMouth for that, he provides a delightful bit of smut every time he updates.  Anyway.)  I stood under the spray, and just tried to catch my breath.  Imagine having  run straight up 8 flights of stairs, and standing at the top, panting for breath.  Yeah.  That's what it felt like.  I usually try to explain asthma attacks this way: imagine trying to breathe through a straw, after running a marathon.  Sound like something you'd enjoy?

Now that I think about it, it probably sounded like I was up to some....adult activities....in the shower, breathing heavily as I was.  Heh-heh-heh.  That is the ONLY funny thing about this whole episode.

I made it back to my office, still panting, intending to just sit at my desk and catch my breath.  Yes, I'm an attention whore, and I can be a drama queen (Hey!! Quit laughing over there!) but I don't like it when a fuss is made over my asthma.  It is embarrassing.  I don't want people to pay attention to it.  I ain't gonna die, trust me.  If I actually pass out (not bloody likely) please call DH, and only then try to get me medical attention.  Because it is not life threatening for me.  

So I resolved to just quietly wait it out, keep my mouth shut, everybody just ignore Lucy for about 10 minutes.  But nooooooo.  Course not.  Someone asked me a question, and I had to wheeze my way through an answer.  "That's" GASP "in" GASP "the" GASP "file." WHEEZE WHEEZE WHEEZE. It is a small office, and everyone hears everything, so immediately, everyone can hear that I'm having trouble.  "What is wrong?" "You OK?" and an "Is she crying?" all ring out from corners of the office.  They want to call 911.  They want to dig through my purse for "your inhaler" (don't have one!).  They want to know what to do.  

Nothing.  Just chill.  It'll go away.  Really.  (WHEEZE WHEEZE WHEEZE)  It sounds far worse than it is.  (WHEEZE GASP WHEEZE)  I promise.

Sure enough, about an hour later, everything was back to normal.  But this one really frightened me for a couple of reasons.  

One, I just couldn't get my breathing under control.  That is scary, when you're making a concerted effort to innnnnnnhaaaaaale and exxxxhaaaaaallee, and nothing is happening, you're still struggling to get enough air.  It isn't that I can't breathe; I can't get enough air, I feel like someone is squeezing my lungs with an iron hand. 

Two, I have not had an attack like that since I was 20 or 21.  I'm 33 now.

Three, since being diagnosed with asthma at 19, I've had exactly two asthma attacks this bad.  In 14 years, two attacks that were....serious.  See why I don't take it so seriously most of the time?  

I don't know what set it off last time, I just remember lying on the bed in my parent's room in their old house and trying to get enough air.  My mother had been dealing with asthma herself for a few years, and her advice to just be calm and breathe worked it out eventually.  I don't think that it lasted for more than 10 minutes.  I remember being freaked, but not ever in major distress.  

I don't have even the slightest clue as to what got it started this time.  Yes, my yoga instructor is tough, and she knows both that I'm asthmatic and that I sweat like nobody's business.  She also knows that if she's doing something beyond my limits I will stop and catch up to her when I can.  I stopped holding a difficult pose when the attack originally started, but at that moment, I didn't know that it was asthma rearing its obnoxious head.  I just thought I was workin' hard.