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!