Monday, December 30, 2013

Splitting Nails

I have no idea what has been going on, lately, but I seem to keep finding myself with split or chipped nails.

I moved a piece of luggage over the weekend and left myself with a crack in the middle of my thumbnail that probably won't grow out for a couple of weeks.

I took my hand out of my glove this afternoon and found a chip in the other thumbnail which snagged on the glove's lining.

My nails used to be indestructible. I was that guy who used his nails for screwdrivers. I could split open taped boxes with them.

Then something happened and I started to get chips and cracks in my nails.

I suspect it has something to do with getting older. I'm probably eating the wrong foods.

All I know for sure is that I won't be treating my nails like Swiss Army knives any time soon.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Whither the Weather

I am having a bit of an issue trying to wrap my head around the actual and forecast weather for today and the next few days. 

Today, we had the warmest day on record for the 28th of December: 46 degrees according to Tomorrow, on the other hand, we're supposed to have a high of somewhere around five below zero.

Earlier in the week, we were warned that, with wind chills factored in, the "feels like" temperature overnight tomorrow night could be somewhere around -45 degrees in the Cities. 

Since we had no real wind chill today, that means that the actual high temperature difference will be about 51 degrees. But the "feels like" temperature difference will be over 90 degrees. 

In case you're wondering, tomorrow I don't plan to leave the house except to take care of the pup's constitutionals. Sadly, I suspect that I cannot stay in the house until March.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Brulee - the Follow-up

I think we can all agree that the Creme Brulee story from the other day kind of tops most of the odd cooking stories we've talked about, lately. So I thought I'd just put a quick post-script on it.

Here are some of the follow-up points:

1) Christopher did get some hair singed on the back of his hand and wrist. But no pain was involved.

2) Christopher's dad simply got one of those "I got to close to a fireplace" pink spots on his hand - no actual burn-type burns - he didn't even run cold water over it or anything.

3) By the time we got back out to his parents' house on Wednesday, the torch was no longer in the snow in the front yard. It may have melted its way through to China. Or it may have simply gone out and then been properly disposed of.

4) Dessert on Christmas day was a bread pudding made with applesauce in it, drizzled with a vegan caramel sauce made with coconut milk. Even with that description sounding very much not in its favor, it was quite good. (Honestly, there was no doubt about this - Christopher's sisters also know their way around the very tasty kitchen.) Although, in another time and place I might have suggested carmelizing the top with a kitchen torch. Just not this year.

5) Seriously, though, best creme brulee ever. If Christopher ever invites you to dinner and asks what you want, I strongly suggest putting that on your list of possible desserts to request.

The only problem is that there are never any leftovers.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Brulee Goes the Holiday

Let me start by saying that the creme brulee was incredibly tasty. And no one was seriously injured.

You see, Christopher makes the best vanilla creme brulee that I've ever had.

This is just one of a list of foods which Christopher makes the best of. I don't mean to say that "I like hamburgers and he makes hamburgers, so of course I like his hamburgers." (For the record he doesn't make hamburgers.)

What I mean to say is that I have basically stopped trying to eat creme brulee anywhere else, because none of it compares to Christopher's. This is also a problem I have with pasta with red sauce, lemon chicken, and chocolate spice cookies, to name just a few things.

The creme brulee, though, is kind of a once-a-year thing. He makes it for Christmas Eve dinner with his family. Last year, something went wonky and the batch curdled. Yes, we had other desserts to eat, but it was a sad Christmas Eve with no cracking of the sugar crust on the creme brulee and no scraping of the vanilla flecks from the bottom of the ramekins.

We were worried that we were going to be brulee-less again this year. The oven once again did something weird (we're guessing that the gas oven is not regulating well, and is overheating, then overcooling - I had problems with some cookie batches this year, too), and the first batch of creme brulee went into the trash. The second batch got cooked in the toaster oven, though, and came out perfectly.

But, as we all know, the best part of a creme brulee is the "brulee." If there's no carmelized/burnt sugar on the top to crack with the back of your spoon, there's really no point to it.

We've got a kitchen torch for just that reason, but Christopher's dad gave us his larger torch (the kind you find in a tool box - the kind that Julia Child used to use) a couple of years ago, and since that was good to go, we took that with us when we went to dinner tonight.

Christopher set about lighting the torch to brulee the creme, and the torch was acting up. There was only flame when the match was still lit in the "stream," and as he tried to adjust the flame, it flared a bit causing a bit of a flash and a little bit of a shock to pretty much everyone except Christopher, who just kept moving along as if this always happened. So we all ignored it.

Until... well... something went rather massively haywire with the gas and a leak seemed to start up around the valve where you adjust the amount of gas coming out of the tank. The flare up was kind of big and orange at that point. His sister gasped, and we all turned to see what was going on, just as Christopher tossed the (still lit, since he couldn't get to the dial to readjust the flame) torch into the stainless steel sink.

There was a bit of amazingly calm chaos after that, with lots of people trying to figure out the best way to put it out while keeping the dogs out of the way. (Note to EVERYONE out there: KITCHENS NEED FIRE EXTINGUISHERS! If you don't have one, buy one on Thursday as soon as the stores open.) Eventually, with the help of some kitchen tongs, the torch ended up upside down out in a snowbank in the front yard. Christopher singed some of the hair on his arm, and his dad got a slight - very mild - burn, but there were really no other signs of anything gone awry.

The creme went under the broiler to brulee, where the sugar melted and crisped up and darkened to just the right degree. And we all sat back down at the table and cracked the crust, and dug into the best creme brulee we'll have all year - or, now that it has a story attached to it - probably the best we'll ever have.

May your Christmas also be merry and bright - just not too bright.

C - j t m - R

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Random Work Quote of an Emphatic Nature

Lately, the things I've been working on haven't really had comically bad quotes in them.

There have been moments where they were bad enough that it was comical, but there wasn't anything that was specific that I could pull out.

And there have been plenty of times when the manuscripts have just been so bad that I was fighting back tears or anger while working on them - but I wasn't laughing.

So I've been taking pleasure in the random messages sent in by clients.

I fully admit that the people we work with are passionate people. They've put a lot of time, money, and heart into what they've produced - for better or worse - and many of them obviously feel that now that the manuscript has been sent to an editor they are done. They simply don't realize that there are brand new pieces of work that are just now beginning.

There is the editing - the part I'm most involved in - and the interior design, and the cover design, and the marketing, the website, and - fingers crossed - sales, distribution, and maybe even income and taxes to deal with. And the company I work for can help out at every step along the way.

Which brings me to today's random quote. The standalone message in the message center was the following: "I DO NOT WANT ANY OF THE SUGGESTED WORDS."

First glance made those of us in editing a little worried, because we thought the author might have been actively rejecting the entire edit.

But then we realized that the author was simply emphatically rejecting the marketing copy written for the back cover of the book which had been written for him.

In case you're wondering, no, he didn't say why. He just gave that one line. And, you know, that's his option. We'll see, in a few months, whether it was a good choice.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Solstice-ish Tiz List

I know that it's been a while since I've written a Tiz List, so here's the explanation of what one of those is: It's a list of semi-random things which you may or may not know about me. 

I got the idea (and the name) from a blog by a very good friend of mine, which you can find at - if you go there this month, she is doing a full 25 Days of TiZMaS thing and writing 25 of these lists. I'm only brave enough to do one every so often. 

So, tonight, I offer you 25 Random Things You May Not (or May) Know About Me: 

1) Although my beard is going massively gray, my hair is not. So I guess I won't be playing Santa any time soon.

2) I'm gradually realizing that shorter hair is my best option, even though I've always really liked my hair. 

3) There was a time, in Grad School, when my hair was so long in the back that I could reach my hand behind my back and grab hold of it between my shoulderblades. And I am not overly bendy, so that's saying a lot. 

4) The last time I went in for a haircut was the first time in a long time that a male stylist cut my hair. It was also the first time in a long time when the stylist didn't make me second guess getting my hair cut really short. We went shorter than I have in... well... probably ever. 

5) Part of me wants to get it cut even shorter the next time. 

6) Part of me wants to Rogaine the heck out of it and grow it out long just one more time.

7) I believe that there comes a time when you get an age stuck in your head and that's kind of what you always think you are. There are people who are 80 who still act 18. There are people who are 30 who act like they're in their 60s. It's not so much one of those "age is a state of mind" things, it's just what you expect to see when you look into the mirror each day. 

8) The age that I am in my mind is 25. 

9) The age that I am in my body is much older than that.

10) The age that I am when there are really good things going on, according to Christopher, is 5.

11) I still cover my eyes when there are gross things being shown on TV or in the movies. 

12) I really don't understand the apparent need to show torture as part of TV dramas, lately. 

13) I've been missing a certain amount of TV dramas this season because my eyes have been covered. 

14) Sometimes I prefer telling a good story over a completely correct story. 

15) The more memoirs I read at my job, the more I believe that telling the whole truth can, at times, be incredibly overrated. 

16) I firmly believe that sometimes a correct story and a truthful story are two completely different things. 

17) I worked on a novel, recently, where the final scene is written truthfully (as in, written in such a way that - although it's fiction - it follows what would normally be done in real life), and I think that changing it to be more of a story would have made it better.

18) The author disagreed. 

19) If you ask me what novel and go out and read it, I'll happily discuss the final scene with you after you're done. But I won't talk about it in advance, because I won't give out any spoilers. 

20) I am a believer in the ritual and tradition of the Holidays. 

21) I bake cookies using the same recipes that I grew up with, because I can't imagine doing it any other way.

22) I used to spend a lot of time on the phone around the Holidays. Now I tend to text Christmas greetings. 

23) It's not quite as fulfilling, but it does kind of serve the "I'm thinking of you" purpose without interrupting whatever the person on the other end is doing. 

24) Sometimes I miss being interrupted by phonecalls from friends just checking in. And, yes, I know that's a two-way street. 

25) I have a list of movies that I need to watch between now and Christmas, which includes (but is not limited to): The Muppet Christmas CarolA Charlie Brown ChristmasHow the Grinch Stole Christmas, and A Muppet Family Christmas (which includes the Muppets, the Sesame Street gang, and the Fraggles). The last of those is on VHS.

**Sidenote: When I spellchecked this post, one of the words that was flagged was "Muppets" - but "Muppet" was fine. Does that strike anyone else as odd?

And there you have it. My almost-Solstice-2013 Tiz List. I hope it finds you warm, cozy, and snuggled in as we light the Christmas tree and hope to push past these darkest days of the year and start looking for some extra light - though preferably not in the form of any more grey appearing in my beard... at least not this week. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Heat Wave!

It's amazing the difference a few weeks can make. A month or so ago, a high of about 35 degrees would have sent everyone to parkas, hats, gloves, and scarves. 

But, after a couple of weeks of highs in the single digits, and a whole lot of below-zero windchills, today's foray into the mid-30s was great. 

The pup actually seemed to enjoy her walk this morning. 

My hands didn't turn white in the chill as I dealt with baggies. 

I was able to fill my car without shivering. 

Heck. I even took my car through the car wash, and the roads were dry enough that when I parked in the parking lot it still looked dark blue, instead of salt-grey. 

Yes, I know that it is going back to frigid starting tomorrow. We're going back to cloudy with possible snow and temps that look more like January than December. 

But today... today was nice. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Almost... Almost...

I kind of think that I might almost be ready for the Holiday.

Cookies are almost done.

The house is almost all tidied and spruced up.

Mailings are almost ready to go out.

Unfortunately, Christopher is almost coming down with some kind of cold/sinus thing. I am almost constantly feeling about half a step behind and an hour short on sleep. And it seems like the Holiday will be almost over by the time we're fully ready for it.

This all almost bugs the heck out of me. But - at least for tonight - I'm too tired to deal with it. In fact, as I'm posting this I'm almost off to bed.

Here's hoping that weather that isn't supposed to happen doesn't result in me tripling my commute times tomorrow so that I can actually try to get some things completely taken care of while I'm at home. (This morning, each time I turned on the weather they said "there's going to be a little snow, but it shouldn't impact rush hour" - then my commute to work took about 30 minutes longer than usual. The drive home took 70 minutes, instead of 25, basically killing an hour of my evening's work time...)

Rats. I almost made it all the way to the end of the post without totally going into whine mode. Almost.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Seasonal Shopping

I fully admit that I kind of like shopping this time of year. I enjoy the heightened sense of adventure and joy during the month of December. I especially enjoy it all when I'm mostly done with my shopping and can kind of wander through all the chaos and not get anxious about anything I've missed.

The problem comes from needing to go shopping for non-Holiday things during this time of year.

When I lived in Maryland, I learned that as soon as a winter storm was coming there would be a run on milk, bread, and toilet paper in the stores. The problem with this kind of thing is that basically everyone would find out about the coming storm at the same time, so everyone would go to the store at the same time. Because, apparently, everyone needed an extra 18 rolls of toilet paper to survive the one snow day that might be coming.

Although there was always a little camaraderie about being in the store with everyone else if you were buying milk, bread, and toilet paper, it was always a pain in the tuchus if you were in the store because... well... you needed to buy groceries. I have no idea how many times I would hear there was a storm coming while watching the news and pouring the last glass of milk out of my jug. Which, of course, meant that I was in the store for a necessity at the same time as everyone else buying milk out of paranoia.

Which brings me back to today's shopping. I needed to go to Target for the things I usually go to Target for. Basics. House stuff. Toiletries. Yes, even milk. Okay, I'll admit that I also went into the Christmas aisles for extra wrapping paper and tape. And, for that, I was prepared for the chaos.

There was no chaos. The calmest part of the store was the Christmas area. I'm not sure whether people shopped early or they're going to be shopping late. All I know for sure is that even though there were no carts available when I got there, there were also almost no lines at checkout.

And, for the record, I'm really glad that Minnesotans don't raid the stores every time a snowstorm threatens, because I would have really hated not being able to buy milk.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Life is a College Load

When I was in college, and would go home to my parents' on the weekends, I would always take along any laundry I needed to do. This is something that pretty much everyone I knew did. Just one of those things about college.

Well, when I got home, I'd have a nice load of whites, and a nice load of colors. So I'd start in with doing those nice, specific loads.

But then, on Sunday morning, just before heading back to school, Mom would encourage me to throw in one last load to get everything clean that I'd worn while I was there. That was the "college load."

I don't remember when I kind of stopped having a white load. I mean... I still wear white socks and white t-shirts from time to time, but that's about it. Definitely not enough for one whole load. So now I do one "warm with non-chlorine bleach" load and one "cold with non-chlorine bleach" load. And, yes, when I'm sorting, I tend to think to myself that things are either "warm" or "cold" as I sort.

I feel like, when my life is going the way I would plan it, I'm in a "warms and colds" world. I can sort out everything that I'm doing. I can compartmentalize. And, when I come out the other side, everything looks exactly as it should.

But, lately, I seem to be in a constant college load state of being. Remember how I've been saying that I'm way behind on my Holiday prep? Well, I'm trying to get caught up. But that means that, on nights like tonight when I was actually home, I spent time prepping for tomorrow's work Christmas party/pot luck, doing actual laundry (warms and colds), making cookies, AND doing almost an hours' worth of freelancing.

On the plus side, yes, I got a decent amount of stuff done. I even had time for dinner in front of the TV. But... wow... my list is still really long.

I know that I'm totally going to look back at tonight as a successful night. But, even so, there's a part of me that wishes I had time for just a few days of "warms and colds" and didn't have to worry about constantly living a college load life.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Last-minute Posting

In case you've never noticed, I try to put up a new post every other day. I find that there is less anxiety-causing pressure on that than there is in doing it every day.

But, on a day like today where I actually did work all day at work, then came home to have dinner with my parents who have been in town since Sunday but are leaving tomorrow to go to LA for Christmas, then needed to do 3.5 hours' worth of editing on a rush project... well... now it's 11:55 and I haven't posted anything yet.

This is, to a large degree, a description of how my Holiday season is going. I've got it all planned out, I know what needs to be done, but I'm just not sure it's all going to actually get done.

Cookies are baked - just not all of them.

Presents are purchased - they just haven't all arrived to be wrapped and/or re-shipped to their final destinations.

Cards and stamps are purchased and letter is written - but who knows when they'll go in the mail.

I keep trying to tell myself that the up side of this is that I should be able to enjoy "the moment" more, since I'm apparently not rushing around as much and getting things done early like I often do. And yet, with Christmas just 2 weeks away - and this blog deadline just 2 minutes away - the pressure is still there.

Maybe next week we'll enjoy the bliss of the Holiday season. This week I'm still trying to figure out which to-do list to put that on.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Lawn Guys

I fully admit that there is really no good reason why Christopher and I have lawn guys. I mean, we could easily mow the lawn on our own. We could even edge and mulch and aerate, if we wanted. But we don't.

Instead, since before I moved in, Christopher has had lawn guys. They do all that stuff I just mentioned, about once each week. And they lightly nag us about watering our lawn.

And then, when the seasons change, they also take care of the snow that accumulates on our driveway and sidewalks. Even when the city re-plows the snow and creates a massive ridge of snow at the end of the driveway, they come back and clear it out so we can get the cars in and out with having to go mountaineering.

Of course, they only do that when we get at least 2 inches of snow at one time. So when we got a random, day-long snow today, they didn't come by. Since we were expecting guests this evening, I headed out to shovel.

The snow was light. Except where it had been packed down by people walking on it. It was pretty quick work. Except where it wasn't.

By the time I got back inside, my back was reminding me why we have lawn guys. And why I am happy that we do.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Moving Christmas

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that the title of this post means that I'm going to write something emotional and tear-jerking. But, no. What I'm referring to is that I think that Christmas should be moved to a different time of year.

To wit (which I admit I always thought was spelled "whit" but I just looked it up and the h-less version is apparently idiomatically correct), I offer the following:

1) At the point in the year when there is the least light (at least in the northern hemisphere), people are most prone to depression and the inability to focus, both of which are kind of counter to the whole "let's throw big parties, plan a lot, and be happy" holiday set-up. To keep it even between hemispheres, we could maybe move it to spring or fall - even keeping to the pagan calendars (since Christmas is when it is in large part because putting it on the Solstice made a lot of converts happy) by dropping it on an Equinox, maybe.

2) The weather at this time of year (again, mainly in the northern hemisphere) frequently sucks. Both for errand-running and for over-the-river-and-through-the-woods-ing. Again, an Equinox might be better.

3) I found an article online, recently, that pointed out that one of the main Bible stories of the Nativity references that the shepherds were watching their flocks by night (we all know that line), and that shepherds would only have been in the fields during the summer months. During the winter, the sheep would have been kept closer to the towns/farms to be kept warmer. So... If the original Nativity was during better weather months, I'm thinking that moving it just seems better and better.

Okay... Okay... I know that Christmas isn't going to be moved. I know that we're stuck with it when it is. But since Thanksgiving does move around, I'm totally taking advantage of the "I got thrown off by Thanksgiving being so late" factor this year. I think it's the only way I can even come close to being ready for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Snow What Fun

I realize full well that it is already December, and that we frequently have snow on the ground in October.

But I also know that we had our last snowfall in May this year.

I realize that it is frequently below freezing for long periods of time in winter.

But I also know that the average highs this time of year are around 30 - not 10.

Which all goes to say that the weather we're dealing with - and about to deal with - is not amusing to me. It has taken me about an hour to drive home from work two out of three nights this week. And it took me about 15 minutes longer than usual to go in this morning (a trip which, on average, only takes me about 20 minutes total).

Consequently, I find myself simply feeling really tired tonight. I think it's because on long, snowy commutes, you're not only paying attention to all of the traffic, but also paying attention to the road. You're not just worrying about the people around you, but also worrying that the road is suddenly going to be glare ice and you're going to lose all control. Mentally, it's exhausting.

I know that, within the next month, I'll readjust to this style of life. I'll be used to the sub-zero windchills and the slippery streets. Not that I'll enjoy them, but at least I'll be used to them.

Until then, I apologize if my posts are less upbeat than usual. It's hard to write when your entire body simply wants to hibernate.

Monday, December 2, 2013

I Admit It: I Cyber-Monday-ed

As much as I avoid Black Friday (which, this year, seemed to start last Monday), and as much as I love Small Business Saturday (which, really, I try to do every day), I usually also kind of try to stay away from Cyber Monday (which was hard this year since it seemed to start last Saturday).

It's not that I am worried about online shopping in any way. I just hate the feeling of being manipulated into buying things. Especially when I feel like I might end up buying something I didn't want in the first place.

Today, however, I admit that I enjoyed the Cyber Monday deals. And, yes, I'm proud to say that I shopped around for the deals. There were a couple of things I could have bought off of sites that I like, but they didn't have any coupons - and my purchase would have been too small for free shipping - so I skipped them in favor of going out and doing in-person shopping later on.

Instead, I bought things that could get me discounts and free shipping. Well, except for the one thing which I thought was a slam dunk, but which kind of fell apart when I went to purchase it. So, instead, I went an alternate route which resulted in me paying regular price and shipping. (The horror!)

The end result? I'm still not done shopping, but at least I know where I stand. And some days that's all you can really hope for.