Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Some are Meant to be Broken

Last year, in the final week's of December, I started to be able to smell gas fumes in my car. They were faint at first, but gradually grew stronger, to the point that it was nauseating to drive for long periods of time in slow traffic. (At higher speeds, the air movement thinned out the smell of gas enough that it wasn't too bad - though it still wasn't good.)

On the 27th of December (2013), I took my car in to the shop, and although they couldn't find out the exact cause of the smell, they found there was some issue with one of my oil hoses, which was causing my sparkplugs to misfire. So they fixed that and cleaned it up, in the hopes that that was enough to stop the fumes.

It wasn't.

So, on December 31st of 2013, I took my car back into the shop, where they this time found the gaskets which were causing the leakage - and just happened to mention that the gas fumes, combined with the misfiring spark plugs, could have resulted in a massive car fire.

But that didn't happen. (Phew.)

This year, on the 27th of December, I was in South Dakota, having driven to my home town to see my family after spending Christmas Eve and Day with Christopher's side of the family. I'm happy to say that there were no issues with my car on the drive there on the 26th, and no noticeable issues on the way back on the 29th. The 30th, however, was a whole different matter.

After the massive temperature drop between the 26th and 29th, I started to notice the gasoline smell again while sitting in traffic on the 30th. It was faint at first, though, and I thought it might just be traffic smells caused by the cold temps. Until I was driving home and the car was filled with the smell, which only got worse when I drove to and from a movie last night.

Which, then, resulted in me taking my car in to the shop this morning on the way to work - on December 31st of 2014.

Apparently taking my car to the shop on New Year's Eve is becoming a tradition for me. Though, truth be told, it's one that I'm very much hoping to break away from on December 31st of 2015. In fact, I've decided that it's going to be my primary resolution for the coming year. I really hope that it's one I can keep.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Inter-holiday Slump

The time between Christmas and New Year's is... strange.

There's such a huge build-up to Christmas, and then it's over in a day or two (or three, if - for instance - you have to travel between locations).

And there's also a lot of expectations leading up to New Year's Eve. Everyone tries to figure out how to spend the Eve, and to be sure that it's the best night possible.

The week between the two is kind of a slump, right in the middle of a peak.

I guess you could kind of look at it as New Year's being a way to "taper down" from the excitement of Christmas, but at the same time the week in the middle is kind of just weird.

You have to go back to work, but can't get anything done.

You have to try to eat well, but you're surrounded by bad-for-you leftovers.

You think you can get back to your "normal life," but you have another couple of festive days in front of you.

It's... well... odd.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Holiday Post "Exchange"

Okay, so I'm not so much exchanging blog posts, as I am stealing one that a friend of mine posted. Why? Because I read it a couple of hours ago, and have been thinking about it ever since, and so I thought I'd see if any of you had any thoughts on it.

The bulk of the blog post in question is truly quite simple.

Who would you be today if you had gotten that long-ago asked-for pony then?

How about it you got that pony today?

How would things change?

It was posted by Miz Tiz over at TiZ and AsS (

It's easy, of course, to guess what I might have done if I'd gotten a pony way back when, though in my case it would have been a metaphorical pony. (I never wanted a pony. My closest equivalent was probably wanting a cool car back in high school - instead of having to drive my parents' green 1973 Pontiac Catalina station wagon.)

Even so, I'm thinking of this even more metaphorically. The idea of "what if you got 'the brass ring' way back when?"

What if I'd gotten that perfect job right out of grad school?

What if I'd hit the jackpot the first time (or second time - aka "last" time - even) I was in Las Vegas as an adult?

What if I'd gotten to drive a better car in high school or college?

I really don't know.

I've talked, before, about the fact that there are split points in my life that I really wonder, sometimes, what would have happened if I'd taken a different path. If I'd taken a different job. If I'd move to a different town. If I'd never cut my hair in grad school.

As the old year ends, and the new year begins, this is the kind of thing that I ponder. And I love that I'm apparently not the only one.

So... What about you? What would you have done if you'd gotten that pony way back when? Or two days ago, even?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Whether you've found a Christmas Dragon of your own, or received a bunch of cards, or spent the day watching the Yule Log on TV, I hope that it was a great day.

Heck, even if you didn't do any of those things, I still hope you had a great day.

Here's one of my favorite thematically related videos for you. I hope you enjoy it.

(It's "Present Face" by Garfunkel and Oates.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Christmas . . . Dragon?

I fully admit that I really like seeing the Christmas lights in the neighborhood. (Christopher and I, unfortunately, don't have any outside outlets, so we can't join in the fun.)

The house next door has "icicle" lights and a wreath at the peak of their roofline.

The house kitty-corner from us has their tree in the front window, and a "star" in an upper window.

A house about a block away has wrapped the trunk of a huge maple tree in stripes of white and green lights, and the house across the street from them has a white picket fence lined with white twinkle lights.

We may not have the brightest street in town when it comes to Christmas lights, but it's definitely festive.

A couple of years ago, one of the houses across the street from us had an inflatable snowman that kept partially deflating and tipping over. Another house had an inflatable Santa.

This year, the house across the street has lights along the eaves. And a dragon.

Sure, during the day the lights are simply draped in the front shrubs and along the fence. But, at night, the dragon comes out to play and shoots fire out toward the street. It's both magical and festive, in it's way - definitely better than a deflated snowman.

And did I mention that it's probably only visible from our house, because of the angle you have to be at to see the effect?

The view from our living room - you can see the top of the blinds at the bottom of the photo.
Magical, festive, and ephemeral in its way. If that doesn't make the dragon perfect for Christmas, I don't know what would.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Shortest Day of the Year

The first day of winter, as we all know, is the day with the least daylight of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

I almost started to write that it was the day with either the least sun or the least sunlight of the year. But the way things have been, lately, we haven't really seen much sun for the past couple of weeks.

I'm not really sure what Mother Nature has against Minnesota this year.

Between the freaky cold in November and the past couple of weeks where we've only had about six hours of sun (cumulatively), it's definitely not been the most pleasant late fall. Honestly, this has been one of those seasons where pretty much everyone is talking about moving somewhere warm - myself included.

But now we've got the promise of the lengthening days ahead of us. Yes, January is typically our coldest month of the year, but it's also usually pretty bright and sunny.

Right now, I'm definitely looking forward to that - and I'm very glad that these gloomy days have been during some of the shortest days of the year.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Fragrance Fantasies

We don't watch a lot of commercials.

I mean... most of what we watch is actually recorded, so we fast forward through the commercials and only see them as they fly by. We only really watch full commercials if we're watching something "on demand" and the fast forward isn't an option.

Even so, this year we've noticed a resurgence of men's cologne commercials. Lots of very artistically filmed 30-second spots, most with swimming or horseback riding. 

And most with half-naked men smoldering as they look at the camera, or perhaps quickly romancing a willowy young woman. (Okay. Not gonna lie. Seeing the half-naked, tan, toned guys enjoying exotic locales in the middle of December is not necessarily a bad way to spend 30 seconds...)

We're not really a cologne-wearing couple. But if there were any way that spritzing myself with one of those would suddenly give me a body like one of the guys in the commercial, I might consider it. 

I guess that's all part of the joy of this time of year - the wishes for things that we'll never have. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Getting (Christmas) Carded

I've mentioned in the past that I really like getting "real" mail. I mean... email is nice, and text messages have their purpose, but getting a piece of physical mail is definitely the winner.

I think that's one more reason why I really like the weeks that lead up to Christmas. This period between Thanksgiving and Christmas has been my favorite time of the year for a long time. I like that it's about the anticipation and the hope and the joy of the season, but without the pressure of the actual Christmas day.

Because, let's just admit it, there's a lot of pressure wrapped up in trying to have the perfect holiday every Christmas. Perfect presents. Perfect meals. Perfect set-up for let-down.

On the other hand, this week, I've been thinking about baking cookies, and listening to seasonal music, and - yes - getting really excited when the mail comes and we have Christmas cards.

I love the styles of them. I love the way you can really look at one and see the person who sent it (whether or not it's a photo card). And I love putting them around the living room and being able to kind of be surrounded by the well-wishes of people I may have known for years, or months, or even (since Christopher and I each have friends from before we started dating) people I've never met.

Luckily, Christopher and I both feel pretty strongly about Christmas cards, so we do our best to send out a bunch of them - mostly on time - each year. We add new names each year, and are always hoping to get a card from some new friends, as well.

It's festive. It's fun. And it's a whole lot fewer calories than eating another pan of cookies. (Wait. What? I'm supposed to share them? Says who? Is this one of those "he knows if you've been bad or good" qualifiers?)

And, yes, it's one of only two times of year when I truly don't mind getting carded.*

*(The other - if you're looking to mark your calendar - is my birthday at the end of May. Because even Christmas cards can't beat getting carded on your birthday.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Follow-ing Up

I am rather behind on blogging, having missed a day a couple of days ago. And I realize that I'm also behind on answering some questions. So I figured this would be a good day to do some of that.

First of all: Toilet paper tubes do not sound as good as wrapping paper tubes or even paper towel tubes when bonking people over the head. I think it's the fact that they're smaller, and, thus, you don't get the resonance of the full-length tube.

Next, I need to point out that - yes - I know that I posted the "One week past Thanksgiving Day" post two weeks after Thanksgiving. But at least I did it on a Thursday, so that should count for something, right?

I did not shop on Thanksgiving, and the only shopping I did on Black Friday were actually small local businesses.

Okay. So... Umm... I think that's all the stuff that I've really missed, lately.

I blame the week of totally grey and depressing weather might have something to do with it. I mean... it's been weirdly warm, but it has also been foggy and drizzly the whole time. Bleh.

But Christopher and I are on "Staycation" this week, so I'm planning to try to get some sleep and get a little caught up on my life. Hopefully before Christmas...

Wish me luck!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

One Week Past Thanksgiving Day

The Holiday season seems to be going by crazy fast this year. I assume that that is because Thanksgiving was so late, and so there is less time than usual between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This means that all of the Festive has to happen in a condensed timeframe - including all the decorating and baking and card-sending and re-connecting. And, often, those are activities that end up being a blend of joy and AAACCCKKKKKK - especially in a short amount of time.

Luckily, it's also the time of year when the smallest of things can make it all worthwhile.

An out-of-the-blue hug from a friend.
A parking space that isn't half a block from the store.
A random memory of joy had in past years - which doesn't detract from the current year, but adds to it.

I had the extreme pleasure of having one of those last kinds of happiness land in my inbox this evening. A reminder from a friend of a shared experience, resulting in a smile and that kind of warm feeling that doesn't mean heartburn (which - let's face it - can be pretty frequent this time of year).

Long story short, the email mentioned "We Need a Little Christmas" from Mame. So I thought I'd continue using videos to wrap up my posts with this song. (There's no actual video - just the album cover.)

Here's to old friends and carols at the spinet and, of course, Angela Lansbury.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The True Holiday Dilemma

Every year about this time people start to talk about what you're supposed to say to each other - whether it's to be "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukkah" or "Festive Solstice" or some other greeting.

That's not what this post is about.

Every year people also try to figure out how to ship gifts in time for the holidays, how to manage their weight during the parties, and how to not get sent to jail for murdering their relatives.

That's not what this post is about, either.

This post is about a dilemma which I've never actually faced until tonight, as I sat down in front of the TV and realized - to my dismay - that both Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Comin' to Town were going to be on tonight.

At the same time.

Opposite each other.

Forcing me to choose.

Sure. I could have done one of my standard tricks and flipped back and forth between the two, but it's hard enough to get really engrossed in stop-motion animation when you're watching it from start to finish. Having to jump back and forth between stories just takes all the magic out of it.

Rudolph jumped to the front of the line pretty quickly, for sentimental reasons, since this was apparently the 50th anniversary showing of it.

But Santa Claus has always been a favorite of mine because I really like the songs.

Yes, Rudolph has Burl Ives, and Hermey, and the Misfit Toys, but as much as I like the song "Silver and Gold," I'm not all that psyched by the rest of the soundtrack.

So I chose Santa Claus, with Fred Astaire, Topper the penguin, Burgermeister Meisterburger, the Kringles, and the Winter Warlock. Mainly, I have to admit, because it has "One Foot in Front of the Other," which I'm sure I'll be humming all night.

Even though I did find a solution to my dilemma, I still can't really believe that the networks made us choose tonight. Just for that, I'm offering you my two favorite songs from the two shows, here. Enjoy.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Going Tubeless

I just saw an add for "tubeless" toilet paper rolls. And, yes, they are basically exactly what they sound like: rolls of toilet paper without the cardboard tube in the middle. (Because, really, what purpose do they serve?)

Ironically, earlier today, I saw something on social media that pointed out that no matter how old you get, you always want to bonk someone on the head with the inner tube from a roll of wrapping paper.

It's a strange little coincidence, in its own way, the two different cardboard tube stories both showing up in my life on the same day.

I'm not sure what it means, but it really makes me want to try to bonk someone on the head with the next toilet paper roll tube, just to see if it produces any sound.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Friday Fairydust

Did you see "Peter Pan: Live!" this week on NBC? 

I watched most of it (I was doing some things at the same time that it was on, so I missed some bits), and I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. 

I fully admit that I have a higher "suspension of disbelief" ability than a lot of people I know, though. 

So I was able to sit back and try to enjoy it for what it was - a stage play on TV. And, to me, that was all it needed to be. 

I really enjoyed it. I liked most of the cast (Christopher Walken as Hook? Who thought he was a good casting choice?), and I loved the sets. 

And the flying... I really loved the flying. 

But my favorite scene, I think, was the very end. Perhaps it was because of how sad/happy it is, or perhaps it was because Minnie Driver carried it off so well as Wendy all grown up. Either way, it really tugged at all the right emotional spots for me. 

If you get the chance to see it - or, better yet, if you can find a live production of it somewhere nearby - I highly recommend it. 

There's nothing like a bit of live theater to get you in a festive mood, after all!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hand-me-down Holiday Baking

Pretty much everything I bake this time of year is from a recipe that I had when I was growing up.

Even the things that we didn't have every year are things that have been around for a while (like "Peanut Butter Blossoms" - the cookies with the Hershey's kisses in them - which other people made, but which weren't in Mom's standard repertoire).

So, as I was baking some cookies on Monday, I was reading an old recipe and going right along, minding my own business, because I've made a double batch (or three) of the same recipe every year for as long as I can remember.

In the middle of cracking eggs, though, I came upon a strange realization.

You see, when I was home over Thanksgiving weekend, my mom was telling me a story about how she was taught to "clean out" the last of the egg white inside an eggshell by swiping it with her finger. I was in the middle of making a pumpkin pie when she told me that, so I was very self conscious, kind of watching myself to see what I did - but I knew that the "test sample" would be tainted, because her story was so fresh on my mind.

On Monday, though, I was simply baking along, not really thinking about what I was doing as I cracked open an egg, dumped the contents into the bowl, then - without thinking about it at all - swiped my finger across the inside of the shell to remove the last glops of egg white.

The movement wasn't pre-meditated. It wasn't something that I was doing because I felt that I had to. It was simply an automatic action - something I've obviously been doing for ... well ... let's just say I probably learned to do it when I was learning to bake, so apparently I've been doing it for a very long time.

Every year, I spend literally hours in the kitchen baking at this time of year, and using the recipes to connect to the people and places that are no longer as close at hand as they used to be. I never knew that some of them were more "at hand" than I ever could have imagined.

Monday, December 1, 2014

the case for opposable thumbs

I had planned to write a holiday-themed post this evening, but - as the photo below demonstrates - I currently have lost the use of my right hand.

You see, a Cocker Spaniel, with no opposable thumbs, needs a little help from her friends to be able to lie in front of a laptop and gnaw on her antler**.

(A little hard to figure out, but my right hand is in the lower left of the picture, holding the antler, which she is gnawing on, while facing to the left.)

What you cannot see is her paw currently on the track pad, or that I am typing this all with my left hand, reaching around her as she is stretched out between my torso and the keyboard. Hence, no contractions, and few capital letters... but lots of backspacing and re-typing.

I hope to have my right hand back in time to blog on Wednesday.

**the antlers, we have been assured, were cast off by the deer as part of the annual cycle, and were scavenged for in only the most humane of manners. we buy them from a good company with good ethics, so we believe them.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Greenery, Garland, Swags and/or a Partridge in a Pear Tree

For the past few years, I've headed home to my parents' house the weekend of Thanksgiving to help decorate for Christmas.

Depending upon whether they're actually going to be in South Dakota for the Holidays, there is either more or less decorating to be done, since more gets done if my sisters and their kids are going to be in the house.

I'm not entirely sure why it is that I learned early on how to hang greenery on the stairway banister. I'm guessing it's because - as the youngest - I was the easiest kid for my mom to rope into helping. Then, as I got older, I was home more than my sisters. And, having moved back to Minneapolis about 10 years ago, coming home for Thanksgiving made it very easy to help out.

So, long story short-ish, I've gotten good at putting up the stairway garland. Today, in fact, I think it only took me about 20 minutes, and it looks like this:

Some years it has red bows on it, some years it has gold beads - depending what Mom has on hand.
(NOTE: That's not a filter, that's just low light and my computer's camera.)
Everyone has a trigger that makes him/her think of Christmas. Baking a ton of cookies is one of mine. Listening to Christmas CDs as soon as Thanksgiving dinner is over is great for me. But there is something about the greens going up on the stairway that makes me want to fa-la-la-la-la all the way to December 25th.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Why I Won't Shop on Thanksgiving

There are two very different viewpoints on the whole idea of retail stores being open on Thanksgiving. As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I happen to fall on the "no retail on Thanksgiving" side of things.

As I was watching people talk about this subject on social media, I realized that I apparently had pretty strong feelings about it, and I wasn't sure why.

I mean... I know there are a lot of jobs which are always at work - 365 days a year. Nurses and Firefighters and Security guards, for instance. And for as long as I can remember movie theaters have been open on Thanksgiving, as well as some restaurants, and of course places like hotels and 24/7 customer service phone lines are always open. And grocery stores are usually open for at least part of the day. (I did a last-minute back-up dessert dash to the store today, in fact.)

So why is retail so different in my mind?

I think that my reasons have two sources.

The first source is the fact that I grew up working in my family pharmacy in a small town. The store was open six days a week, year-round. And my dad was there each of those six days. On Sundays, even though the store was closed, he'd almost always go into the store for a while after church. There were no days off.

I don't remember any Christmases which weren't interrupted by someone calling with a last-minute need for film or batteries. On Thanksgiving, there wasn't really anything that the drug store had that people would need, though. It was - typically - the one day in every year that the entire family could be together all day.

The other half of my anti-Thanksgiving-Day-retail stance is because, for a number of years as an adult, I worked retail in various malls. A number of those years, I worked in kitchen stores, where Thanksgiving is a huge business. Honestly, with all the people shopping for everything to make a Martha Stewart-style Thanksgiving dinner, it was kind of insane. We all needed the day off to recuperate.

Luckily, I got out of retail before Black Friday meant that stores were open all night. The worst I had to deal with was a year when we opened at midnight. The store had shoppers for about half an hour, then it was dead until about 8am. It picked up for about 4 hours, then was pretty much quiet the rest of the day. We honestly did not have enough staff - even with the seasonal ramp-up - to have a full complement of people in the store the whole time we were open, so the managers all had to work 10-hour shifts, with pretty much nothing to do. (For the record, if you've never experienced it, most malls are pretty much empty of shoppers from about noon until 5 on Black Friday - meaning that all of the shop workers are standing around with nothing to do, trying not to fall asleep after having gotten there at 6am, or earlier...)

I keep hearing people say things like "But there are people who really want the extra money they can make on Thanksgiving. They would rather make money than stay home." or "All those other people work on Thanksgiving, why is it different for people who work in stores?"

Here's the thing: For every one or two people who truly do want to work and make some extra money instead of being at home on Thanksgiving, there are 20 people who don't want to be there, but have been told that they either have to show up or be fired.

There is - at least in my experience - no "holiday pay" in retail. Unlike so many service industry workers who might get "time-and-a-half" for the holiday, retail workers simply get the "work today or don't work again" offer.

Maybe if the people who are actually on the front lines in retail were truly given a say on whether or not to work the day, I'd feel differently about it. But I can't imagine that the folks sitting in the corporate office being told "we might be missing sales" ever thought to actually ask their staff whether a true day off was important to them. (Even though most of those office types probably all check out early on Wednesday to spend a nice 4-day weekend at home with their own families.)

So... Anyway... I refuse to buy in to this whole "gotta get there early to get the stuff you don't need" mindset. And I don't imagine a time when I'll actually go shopping on Thanksgiving. I'd much rather spend as much of my day off as possible snuggled in on the couch with Christopher and the pup, secretly hoping that sales numbers tank so that all those corporate offices will reconsider giving their staffs a real day off next year.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pie Season

One of my favorite things about this time of year (referring to a generic "fall"), is that there tends to be a much higher incidence of pie.

Sure, there are pies during other seasons. Summer has the lemon pies and key lime pies and even cherry pies. In the middle of winter there are things like mincemeat pie or maybe chocolate pies.

But fall is when pie really hits its stride. Apple pie with all of its spicy goodness is amazing (I prefer the two-crust variety). Pumpkin pie, though, is my favorite.

Pumpkin, you see, has many of the other attributes all in one. It's got the creaminess of some of the summer pies, but the spiciness of some of the fall/winter pies. Plus, because most pumpkin pie recipes have a greater fruit to sugar ratio, you can almost rationalize it as being healthy. (It has eggs! It has milk! It's a health food!)

Sure, on Thanksgiving the turkey and stuffing and all that are great. But the pumpkin pie is what truly makes it for me.

And... yes... I prefer mine with Cool Whip. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Expectation Management - Freak Show

Christopher and I have been watching American Horror Story: Freak Show on FX. We also watched last season (Coven), but we didn't see either of the first two seasons. But, with the experience we have already had, we kind of knew - on some level - what to expect.

We were expecting something odd, and we knew there would be a whole bunch of character studies helped along by a fairly strange overall set-up. And - given the nature of this season's conceit, we knew that the characters would be an interesting bunch.

Yes, there've been some seriously freaky characters and situations, but for the most part the show is simply a drama. Okay - maybe more of a heightened-emotion drama than most, but still a drama.

It dawned on me a couple of episodes ago, though, that the opening sequence of the show is really really freaky. It's creepy. It's macabre. It's probably the most bizarre part of any episode, if you come right down to it.

I kind of wonder what the show would be like without it. If the episodes simply showed the story, without the credits, would it still be as creepy? Or do the opening credits simply set viewers up for something seriously freaky - so that's how it appears?

Not that I expect to find an actual answer to that any time soon, but it makes me wonder how much of the show's emotional impact is truly only held in the credits.

Friday, November 21, 2014

What a Difference a Day Makes

As of today, Minneapolis has recorded the second-highest number of consecutive days  below freezing IN NOVEMBER since records have been kept. That's 12 days in a row below 32.

To hit the number one slot, we'd have had to do 15 in a row - and that would have tied us with sometime in the late 1800s. 

Yesterday, on the other hand, we were only at 11, which merely tied us with three other years. So pushing through to today put us in that coveted 2nd place slot. (In case you weren't sure, that last sentence is dripping with sarcasm - as would be anything I might say about loving this weather we've been having.)

But, there's a change in the air. And even though we know that it is only going to last for about 48 hours - and most likely result in things being even worse on the roads next week - it's kind of amazing. 

Christopher and I were out tonight, and when we left the bar/restaurant to come home, I didn't even have to do up my coat. After all those days struggling to get out of the teens, tonight at about 11 it was in the 20s. 

It is warm enough out right now that the ice on the sidewalk is melting thanks to the breeze that is happening - a breeze that didn't take my breath away. 

I fully realize that we're supposed to have a rain/snow mix on Sunday and Monday. And that the rain/snow mix will freeze when our highs drop into the teens again on Tuesday. 

But, for that brief, shining moment that was the walk to the car this evening... Wow. 

What a difference a day makes. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Dark Months

I have been reminded, this week, what really bothers me about the cold weather months.

Yes, it's true that I don't much like being cold, and that I don't like having to put on enough layers to look like a linebacker every time I want to go outside. Especially because both of those make it hard to do basic tasks, like getting my keys out of my pocket, or walking down the street without looking like a penguin pensioner.

But I think that the real reason I don't like the dark, cold months is that it is so much harder to get together with people in this part of the world.

We all - or at least most of us - have to rely on automotive transport to get around, which means that our travel is dependent upon the weather. Massive snow - or, worse, ice - means that we can't get out, and if we are out, it means that getting home can be treacherous. So, frequently, if the forecast is bad, the choice to stay home is good.

Even if the weather is good, though, there is something about going outside when it is pitch dark out, and the windchill is in the single digits - or below zero (yes, if you live in places like Minneapolis it is possible to have a day of good weather even when the temperature is below zero). I'm sure there was a time in my life when I had no problem doing that, but these days it just seems ridiculous to come home, get all settled in and cozy, and then have to get re-bundled up to go out and be cold again.

I think that's why this month's weather is such a bummer. Usually, we get to gradually ease into the cold. Most years, we get to readjust to the crappy road conditions, and slowly add on more layers of clothing. We can gradually pare down our social events, so that we keep ourselves active, but also get used to a little extra hibernation.

What we have to go through to get somewhere on Thanksgiving is usually more food-related than it is weather-related (though there have been plenty of years with snowy Thanksgivings), so we can be pretty certain we'll go.

Then, by the time Christmas and New Year's roll around, we're pretty used to it all, and the over-the-river-and-through-the-woods-ing that we do is less scary, but is also more heavily planned. There's more travel-work involved, on top of everything else. Which probably adds to the extra cocooning that happens in January and February as the days take their time getting longer.

This year, though, we got tossed into the deep end, where we're expected to sink or swim. No easing in. No psyching ourselves up for it. Just flat-out winter smack-dab in the middle of fall.

Suddenly all of the events on the calendar look daunting. Will it be too icy to drive home if we stay late on Thanksgiving? How long will it take to get there if the snow starts blowing around and we have blizzard-like conditions? If parking is difficult, how many layers should I wear - all of which I'll have to take off when I arrive? And there's been no chance to get ready for the isolation and the angst.

Yes, winter has its moments - and there are days when I really love what it's like on those cold, sunny days when everything just kind of shimmers in the light. Or the nights when the moon makes the world seem irridescent. In the cold, harsh darkness of winter isolation, though, sometimes it's hard to remember that.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Weather... or not

I have not, yet, complained on this blog about the massive cold snap we've seen in Minnesota. Even though the temperatures and wind chills of the past week or so have been the kind of things we typically see in January - and are a full 20 or more degrees below average.

I haven't complained about having to wear my "dead of winter" coat because nothing else keeps me warm.

I haven't mentioned that my hands feel like I've coated them in sandpaper or that the outer brick wall of my office at work is cold enough that it actually creates a sort of downdraft across my desk.

I haven't even pointed out that, at this rate, we could end up with a full 5 months of the year with snow on the ground, since usually the November snows melt after just a few days and aren't replaced until December.

But... if the weather doesn't turn around soon, there is a very good chance that I'll mention all of that in the very near future.

I thought you deserved appropriate warning.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The "Friend" Situation (with bonus video!)

I have been having a few strange occurrences with the whole online "friend" situation, lately.

Well, it's really not just been "lately" as it's been going on for a while - pretty much ever since I got hooked up to Facebook. I fully admit that I am fairly selective about who becomes my online "friend."

For one thing, I refuse to become online "friends" with anyone I work with. If they leave the company, sure. If they want to connect with me via online business-networking sites, maybe. But if we are currently working together, no. There are simply some lines I don't want to cross.

I don't necessarily need people I work with to see photos I post of family events. I don't need them to know what TV shows I watch. And I certainly don't need them to read my "personal" (in quotation marks since we all know that anything online stops being truly personal) comments about life and/or work.

But there are other people in my life who also don't show up in my Facebook feed. These, for the most part fall into two groups: People I've only met once and really haven't spent enough time with to know whether or not we might be friendly offline; and people whom I've met more than once and have never considered to be friends of mine in the offline realm. Unfortunately, this has - over time - resulted in a number of contact requests being left un-dealt-with, which keep popping up as "reply to this request" notices in the margins.

For the most part, though, I'm okay with this. If I know - at the time of the request - that we have nothing in common and would never spend time together over dinner (whether we've only just met or have known each other for decades), I simply don't feel obliged to say "want to be my friend?" to the person - or to reply "gee, I'd love to" when asked.

The trouble (of sorts) comes in when people who seem to know a ton of my/our friends show up and say that they want to connect. There's that weird gray area of "Did we meet at a party? Were we introduced 5 times, and I just don't remember?" mixed with "I'm pretty sure you don't know me, but it might be rude if I don't reply." But, with more sophisticated spam out in the world, it's becoming harder and harder to know for sure.

Oddly enough - for me, at least - it's causing me to throttle back the big, wide Internet and narrow my window. Making sure that my "friends" are truly my friends. Which, when you come right down to it, probably isn't a bad thing. It's just a thing.

To make this less of an odd downer of a post, I decided to include the following video by Garfunkel and Oates. I debated between this one and another one, but this one seems to work best, here. Enjoy. (Though you may want to send any kids out of earshot, since it's wonderful, but does include some adult language.)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Funeral Insurance

I've kind of gotten used to the fact that a lot of sites track all that you do to try to figure out how to advertise to you.

It's a little weird, sometimes - like when you go look at a pair of shoes online, and for the next three days every sidebar includes an ad for those shoes. But, for the most part, it's unobtrusive, and I fully admit that I kind of like seeing ads that I might actually be interested in.

After all, I'm just never going to be clicking on the "Meet sexy women over 50" ads. And - as far as eye candy goes - those ads don't do as much for me as the brown-on-brown Bass saddle shoes that have been showing up, lately.

A while ago, I created a social media group for some friends of mine and I to keep in touch a little better as we plan to meet up next spring. In the title, I included the word "reunion," and a number I'd rather not discuss at the moment.

Almost immediately, I started getting ads for Rogaine and Just For Men beard coloring. For the record, I have not purchased either. Considered them, yes. Purchased them, no.

Today, though, I got one that I was even more surprised by. Yep. It was an ad for Funeral Insurance. This strikes me as odd for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that I'm pretty sure at some point I'll have a funeral. I'm not sure I need to pay someone to guarantee that. I mean... we all die. And even if all you get is a pine box and an unmarked grave, that's still - in essence - a funeral. Don't need insurance for that; Death will take care of it for me.

All things considered, I kind of feel like I need that insurance almost as much as I need the sexy women over 50. At least the women might appreciate cool shoes.

**Yes, I know that the insurance is supposed to cover all the costs so your family doesn't have to. But... still... I'd rather have the shoes at this point. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bad Quote Quotient - Just Desserts

When I was at the South Dakota Festival of Books, I heard a couple of editors (literally, they are a couple) speak, and one of their tips was that you should always read your entire manuscript out loud as you're in the final stages of editing. Word for word, whatever is on the page you should read out (preferably with a partner in the room listening to you).

Well, today at work, I found that to actually be a helpful technique.

You see, sometimes, when I'm editing, I'm working with authors who might rely just a tad too heavily on spellcheck to do their dirtywork. So you get the wrong versions of it's/its or their/they're/there, but you also get words that are a little less common.

You might have someone telling you that he checked his suite in the mirror before leaving. Or that a fax had gotten into the chicken coop the night before and eaten all of the checks.

Seriously. I've seen some doozies. And, about 98 times out of 100, I can usually figure them out pretty quickly and substitute in the right word.

Today, however, I was stumped. I read the sentence about 5 times, trying to figure out what the author meant. I put the questionable word into an online dictionary to see if there was an alternate meaning I was missing - or whether just maybe there was an "often confused with" suggestion that would clue me in. I was completely at a loss.

Finally, I turned to my office mate and said "I have no idea what this means. You have to help me."

Here's the sentence:

"He licked the gelato where it started to melt down, then sat at a table under the big canapé."

When I got done, I said, "I have no idea what that is supposed to mean."

She laughed, and said, "When you first read it, I heard it as 'canopy.'"

"OHMIGOD. That's it! It's supposed to say canopy!"

I could have sat there for another hour and never figured that out, since in my head I kept reading it the way it was spelled, and not letting the context take over.

Here's hoping the author realizes how much we're going through for him - and just how hungry the manuscript is making me.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Yet Another First

As you get older, there are fewer and fewer things that you can do for the first time. It's just basic math and logic.

First steps, first words, first day of school, first solo bike ride, first lost tooth... They all take place pretty early on. Then you move on to things like first date, first kiss, first time driving a car. Again, for most people, these are pretty early in life.

Eventually, the firsts take more time to come around. There's typically a big gap between the first day of high school and the first day of college.

First day at your first real job comes up at some point. Maybe first passport. First massive hangover. First plane trip.

Yes, you can keep finding firsts if you look hard enough, but some of them may mean you're trying to hard. If you start tagging the "first time at this new Starbucks" or "first time I've commuted home using that road" they just don't seem to mean as much.

Well... I happened to have a first on Friday night which I don't think I'd ever expected I would be having at age 47: My first time at a "male revue."

There's a mid-length backstory which got us to that point - it involves people Christopher works with and a group of au pairs - but that's not the important part. The important part is that at 8 on Friday night we were in the suburbs at a bar where the sign outside said they were hosting a "Male Review" and the crowd was 99.8% women.

(The people working there, however, were incredibly gracious to us - as the random men who showed up for the show. Yes - that's one of those things you hope for in the 21st century, but at a dive-ish bar in the 'burbs, you really never know.)

I'm going to cut to the chase and bullet point this for you:

  • It wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. 
  • We figured out which dancer was the gay one before the performance even started.
  • We think we've probably gotten spoiled by the quality of dancers that typically perform in the places we go - like on Broadway show tours. (And, sadly, this seemed to be pretty much the "third string, playing to the 'burbs" troupe.)
  • Yes, we each tipped at least one dancer who came to the table (it was actually less uncomfortable to just tip them so that they'd move on). (Ironically, it was not the gay one.) 
  • The fried cheese curds were decent, and the beers were cheap.
  • And, okay, it was actually kind of fun - and definitely not a boring Friday night by any means.

Will we ever do it again? I won't say never, because that usually means whatever I say never about ends up happening. But... definitely not any time soon.

For now, we'll just look at it as one more first checked off the list.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Time Change Hangover

No. You didn't miss a blog post this week. I did. I completely missed Wednesday's blog post. It wasn't intentional. I had planned to write one - though I hadn't thought about a topic, but that's pretty normal for me. I just found myself going to bed on Wednesday night thinking "I was supposed to have blogged today."

I thought about posting something yesterday, and moving ahead from there, but I decided to wait so that I could stay on the same every-other-day schedule, simply with a missing one in the middle. Which brings us to today.

I have to admit that this kind of "oops" is not confined to the blog, lately. I'm only 10% of my way through reading a novel for my book club - a book that I recommended - and I'm close to realizing that there is simply no way I'm going to get through it in the next 10 days.

I've decided to blame pretty much all of this on the change of seasons and the time change that happened last weekend. Suddenly I'm getting home after the sun goes down, and walking the dog in the dark. Oddly enough (because I'm not a massive snow fan), I was thinking last night that some snow on the ground would be nice, because then it would be easier to see her. 

The office at work has suddenly gone from being too chilly because the air conditioning was on to being too chilly because the heat isn't flowing properly through the ductwork. My mousing hand is constantly cold, but I refuse to work while wearing gloves or sitting under a blanket.

Hmm... a blanket might be nice... and a pillow... maybe just a short, autumn-inspired nap...

Monday, November 3, 2014

When You Realize Your Age

Yesterday, one of my nephews was in town for a three-hour layover at the airport. He and his girlfriend were flying from South Dakota back to California, and I was able to carve some time out of the weekend to go pick them up and give them a driving tour of the area.

Among other things, we did a purposeful drive across the Mississippi River, because his girlfriend (a Californian born and raised) had never been east of the Mississippi. We later went on a walk halfway across a bridge over the river in downtown Minneapolis, so that we could take their picture "in the middle of" the Mississippi.

In return, she took a picture of my nephew and me in the same spot. At which point something odd dawned on me.

I'm starting to ramp up for a 25-year reunion trip to Paris, to see some of the people I knew when I lived and taught there between college and grad school. And, when I lived there, when people would send me postcards or photos I would put them up on the edges of the window in the "living room" (it was a very small apartment, so that's using the term very loosely).

One set of photos was of my sister, and included a photo of her newborn son. My nephew. My now-25-year-old nephew. With whom I got my photo taken in the middle of the Stone Arch bridge, yesterday.

Yeah... if the years don't get you, the photographs will.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

There's A Time For Everything

I think that Christopher and I have set all of the clocks back tonight. At least all the ones in the house. (If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that this is a relatively large event, with more than a dozen clocks, not including watches, car clocks, etc.)

I haven't tackled my watches, yet, and the car clocks will have to wait until tomorrow. But the majority of them are done.

I wish I could say I was excited about the extra hour of sleep. I mean... I am excited about the idea of an extra hour of sleep, but there's one catch to that that every pet owner knows: pets don't pay attention to clocks.

This means that the pup will still be getting up at 5am (make that 4am) because that's what time Christopher usually gets up to feed her.

And she'll be sure it's time to go for a walk at... umm... I guess it will be about 7am, since I usually take her out for a walk around 8am.

It's going to be very strange for her, I know. And it's going to be kind of difficult for us, too, I'm sure.

Oddly enough, although we lose an hour of sleep in the spring, it makes this kind of thing easier.

You'll forgive me if I yawn a lot the next few days. But, of course, if I'm doing it when I walk her in the evening it won't matter - starting tomorrow, by the time I walk her at 5:45pm, it'll be too dark out to see my face.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Driven to Distraction in the End

It's been a while since I posted a bad quote from work. I'd love to say that it's because everything I've been working on has just been too good. But, frequently, the reason has been because the things that are funny to me just won't stand on their own.

Basically, it is the equivalent of what I like to call a "location joke" - a joke where it only works if you were where it happened. The kind of thing that, in the retelling, someone will probably say "I guess you had to be there."

But, finally this week, I came across one that made me laugh out loud. I hope my laughter wasn't entirely location-bound.

I’ve been craning my neck for years, and only occasionally have stone walls made contact with my rear end.

Yeah... Something about that, where we have someone craning her neck and having her rear end attacked by a stone wall (in my mind, it's actually a large brick column which is part of a wrought-iron fence)... it makes me laugh a bit.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Is It Over, Yet? (part two)

I may have to stop watching TV for the next week. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. It's just that I can't deal with the political ads any more. It's getting to the point where even the candidates I like are annoying me so much that I don't want to vote for them.

Maybe that's the whole plot - to annoy enough of the voting public that they simply don't go to the polls and hope that those who do go vote in your favor. You know... that seems almost stupid enough that a lot of politicians might try it.

All I know is that - and I know Christopher will be shaking his head as he reads this - I am so glad that we have a DVR and are able to skip watching most of our favorite shows live. After all, this way we can skip 90% of the commercials. (We could skip 100% if we were better with the remote, but no matter what we always seem to end up with one or two commercials that we give up and watch after bouncing back and forth around it.)

At this point, the main thing I know for sure is that I will be voting next Tuesday. And, yes, I have some people already in mind, but there is still room for them to totally annoy the crap out of me in the next week and lose my vote.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Is It Over, Yet?

I realize that there are any number of people who may hate me for the opinion I'm about to state in this post. I get that feedback every time I give my honest answer in conversations. I've mostly gotten used to it.

In fact, I think that the people who might bug me even more are the ones who don't ask, but simply assume that I love it. Because - according to that group - everyone loves it.

What am I talking about?


I really really dislike Halloween. For some aspects of it, I'd even say that "hate" is a good descriptor.

I don't know that I really know when that started. I usually point to the fact that I remember having to trick-or-treat with a parka over my costume a number of years. I just never got to really enjoy the costumes and everything. So, while I do rather enjoy people handing out free candy, most of the rest of it I can do without.

Even more, though, I'm just not a fan of gory horror stuff. And, lately, everything has gone to the blood-and-gore angle. There are houses on our street with little kids living in them which have cute little ghosts and pumpkin cutouts in the windows. And then there are the houses with gravestones and coffins and bloody skulls. When did those start to become the norm?

When I walk the dog these days, I try to avoid the houses with the most gruesome yards, in part because I don't want her to get tangled in all the weird displays. But also because I really don't care to see it.

The past week or so, I've simply gone for my walk and checked the calendar. At this point, we have about 11 more walks to do before this stuff should be going away, to be replaced by Christmas flotsam.

I'm not a huge fan of some of the massive Christmas displays, either, but I'd much rather have the illuminated, inflatable snowman that keeps getting blown over across the street. At least he doesn't stain the snow red with his blood.

Friday, October 24, 2014

8/28 Cooking Challenge - Creamy Cheese and Basil Crostini

On my list of things to do while Christopher was gone I put doing a bunch of 8/28 Cooking Challenge items, because I figured I could just take my time, make the food, and not worry about forcing him to try something he might not like. (Not sure what an "8/28 Cooking Challenge" is? Check out the original post where I discussed them, here.)

I pulled three cookbooks off the shelf and was all excited to find that one of the recipes fell squarely into something I wanted to make for Book Club. Another was... well... a tad boring, but I bought all of the ingredients for it, anyway, since that's the whole point. The third seemed kind of basic, but I figured I have always enjoyed the author's recipes, so what the heck, I'd try it. 

I pulled all of these cookbooks out about 2 weeks ago. The cookies did get made for Book Club (and photographed for a blog post), but haven't made it in here, yet. The second... well... it was for a salad. And after I bought the ingredients I got a little distracted, to the point that - as fresh ingredients do - some of them went a bit off. But the third thing I made last night, and this is about that. 

"Creamy Cheese and Basil Crostini" come from Melissa d'Arabian's Ten Dollar Dinners. 

Honestly, those are all the ingredients you need. The background orchid is totally optional. 
I know that I usually include a photo of the actual recipe - or a link to a website - but the paper in the cookbook is a heavyweight gloss, so it just reflects instead of photographing. And the recipe isn't actually on the Food Network site. I've included it, below, but you'll have to trust me on the recipe as we go along. 

The actual recipe for making the Crostini was on the page before this. 
I make a lot of crostini for various events. Basically, it's a nifty way to say "crusty little pieces of bread." They're a great alternative to crackers, and you can put almost anything on them. I've made them where you simply slice the bread and toast them, and then rub them with a raw piece of garlic. I've made them where you drizzle them with olive oil before toasting them. And I've put everything from cheeses to meats to veg on them. 

In this version, you start by mixing equal parts of vegetable oil and olive oil (1 Tbsp each for a full baguette), with a little salt and black pepper. You slice your baguette into thin slices (at an angle gives you more slices, as well as more surface area per slice), then you brush the oil/salt/pepper mixture onto the bread, place it on a baking sheet, and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. 

The brush got a tad out of hand. Not gonna lie. The flavor was amazing, though, and the dog loved my shirt afterward. 
I'm a pretty quick study in the kitchen, so while those were in the toaster oven, I moved on to the "creamy cheese" part of the recipe.

Now, you'll remember that this is a cookbook for $10 dinners - for four people - so the ingredients aren't massively expensive. In this case, you're using 3/4 cup of 4% fat Cottage Cheese, which you put into a food processor until it's smooth. (The recipe said that you could add milk if it was too thick because you want it to be "the consistency of whipped cream cheese" - but I have no idea what that consistency is.)

Oh... And I didn't want to dig out our mini food processor, so I went for our hand blender. Check out the amazing before and after shots:

Ugh. Boring cottage cheese. (Kidding. I actually ate some of it off the spatula. It's one of those foods that you forget how good it is when you don't eat it that often. And I have never had the high fat version before. It was yummy.)

We're going to say this was smooth and the consistency of whipped cream cheese. 
The next step weirded me out just a tad. I'm not a big fan of lemon in savory dishes - except for Christopher's A-MA-ZING Lemon Chicken - but I've liked all of the recipes I've made from Ten Dollar Dinners, so I trusted that Ms. d'Arabian would not lead me wrong. So I added a bit of salt, and the zest of 1/4 lemon and stirred it all together.

The yellow stuff is lemon zest, not egg yolk. (I figured I should say that since most of you probably expected me to be baking...)
Okay... So... Crostini come out of the toaster oven looking all toasty (and smelling amazing - the olive oil I used was infused with garlic), and I let them cool a bit as I picked some basil leaves, rolled them up, and sliced them into ribbons. (I think that means I "chiffonaded" them, but that might not be a verb.)

If only we had smell-o-vision for blogs!
Alright. We have nifty toast. We have creamy cheese which... not gonna lie... tastes incredible. (We're talking "eat it with a spoon" incredible. The cottage cheese is completely transformed with that little bit of salt and the lemon zest. I second guess a lot of recipes, but I am so glad I did not second guess this one.) I drizzle a little extra oil on the cheese and top with the basil, and I am good to go.

Now here's the thing: This is not exactly a meal by itself. I mean... It certainly could be, but it's not intended to be. But it is incredibly inexpensive, and if you were to cut the entire baguette (I only did half), you'd probably have about 20 crostini when you were done. That's a lot of food for very little money.

And it was FAST. I realize I'm pretty handy in the kitchen, but I could never do any of those 30-minute meals in 30 minutes or less. But in the time it took to make these, I was able to do a quick re-heat on some leftover pasta with chicken and spinach.

Take a look at the following photos, and tell me which you'd rather have for dinner on a Thursday night:

a) Leftover pasta

b) Leftover pasta with fresh, flavorful, easy Creamy Cheese and Basil Crostini

Yeah. It's a no-brainer. This is one 8/28 Cooking Challenge recipe that I'm incredibly happy to have run across. I suspect it will be showing up at dinners and gatherings in the future.

(Fair disclosure: I have loved every recipe I've made from Ten Dollar Dinners - both the TV show and the cookbook. I watched the show fairly religiously when it was on, and I still follow Melissa d'Arabian on Facebook. If you're looking for a good, basic, easy-to-follow, and budget-friendly cookbook, this is a great way to go. Plus, you could get the full - exact - recipe, instead of my paraphrasing.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wednesday Watching - The Mysteries of Laura

I'm sure that talking about this will jinx it. But since I'm amazed that it has lasted this long, I figure I'll take my chances.

You see, I've actually found a new TV show this season that I enjoy. In recent years, those have been few and far between. But I saw a story on line, today, talking about the fact that no new shows have been cancelled, yet, this season. So I'm taking my chances.

I've been watching "The Mysteries of Laura" - it's a light, relatively fluffy, yet still police-procedural show on Wednesday nights. It stars Debra Messing (she was Grace on "Will and Grace," and has had other shows since then), and has a really good mix of characters in the ensemble.

She's not the best cop. She's not the best mom. She's not always styled to the hilt, nor is she a total schlub. She's funny, brassy, and ballsy.

And the show makes me very happy when I watch it.

I highly recommend it. (And, since I've done that, I recommend that you watch it soon, because with my luck it will now disappear...)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Movie Monday - That Awkward Moment

A couple of months ago, I made the mistake of going to see "Neighbors," in part because Zac Efron was going to be in it and... well... he was going to be shirtless. I know... I know... that's kind of weird and creepy and all that. But he's over 21, so it's not so bad.

Unfortunately, the movie was so bad. It was awful. Horrible. Not even good horrible, but just bad horrible. Like when you crack open a rotten egg horrible. (Not to say that I didn't have fun at the movie, but that's because of who I went with - not in any part due to the movie.)

This week, though, my Netflix account did one of those weird shuffles and sent me a disc that was supposed to be about three layers down. It was "That Awkward Moment", which starred Efron as one of three guys who make a pact to not date any more after one of them has a really bad breakup.

It's a strange little movie. It's got some frat-boy-ish humor, but it gradually pulls you into their lives. And their lives are good, but not great. Sure, they have good friends and bad relationships, but they also have sparks of good relationships and the realizations that friendships are often malleable.

Sure, the movie gets a little predictable along the way and you kind of guess what's going to happen in the end. But, along the way, it actually seemed to get... well... good.

Which, I guess, means that this is that awkward moment when I admit that I liked the movie against my original prejudice, and that I'd actually recommend it.

Overall rating - B+. It's not a really great movie. But it's good. It even hit a few of those "ohhh..." chords along the way.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

So Close, and Yet, So Far

I have a strangely conflicted worldview tonight. 

On the one hand, Christopher is pretty much half a world away from me right now. Cape Town, South Africa, may not be exactly on the opposite side of the world, but between the distance east, and the distance south, it sure seems like he's about as far away as he can be. 

On the other hand, though, my phone rang this afternoon, and it was - out of the blue - Christopher. We had kind of agreed before he left that we wouldn't talk on the phone, but instead we'd text and email and "see" each other on social media. Calling, we figured, would be too expensive - assuming that his cellphone would even be able to work from there. 

So I was sitting at my computer, home from all of my errands, typing up an email to him. And then the phone rang. And I heard his voice on the other end of the line for the first time in 10 days. Suddenly the world was very small. 

We talked about where he's staying (his balcony overlooks the pool and vineyard...). We talked about what I've been up to (no balcony, no vineyard, just errands). And we talked about the fact that we'll get to see each other on Friday. For about 15 minutes, the world was small enough for us to talk about anything and everything, and enjoy each other's company. 

Not gonna lie, though. Hanging up the phone, the world expanded again pretty quickly, and he seemed to be almost farther away than he had been before. Friday seems further away, too. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Careful... It'll Get Stuck In Your Head...

Last winter, the driver's window in my car got frozen shut. As I worked to try to get it to release (trying the "a little up, a little down" maneuver), it didn't get any better. So, eventually, I spent much of the winter simply opening my door whenever I needed to do something most people would do with the window down.

I got really good at reaching out to scan my parking garage pass. I figured out which drive-through banks were easier to get to. I even tackled getting drive-through food a few times.

When it got warmer out, the window worked again. Then it got cold again (does anyone remember how cold Minneapolis was last winter?), and it re-froze. After about three cycles of that, it no longer opened even when the weather was warm.

I spent a few months adjusting, but aside from the drive-through stuff, it wasn't a huge problem. Usually, when I'm driving, I open the front passenger window and rear driver's window for a cross current. So... No biggie.

Then, a few months back, we were doing something and Christopher just reached over and hit the window button. And it worked. No problems at all. Except that, when it went all the way down, it didn't seem to stop, so it would make a CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK sound. And the same happened when it went "too far" up. As if the mechanism pushing it was simply flapping against the window, instead of pushing it.

So I once again stopped using it.

Yes, I know that I could have fixed it at any point along in there, but I was trying to save money, and figured I could just live with it. But then it threw another curve ball. It stopped staying closed.

Now, it never actually dropped all the way down or anything. But as I was driving along, I started noticing that traffic noise would get louder. When I looked over, I noticed that the window was just ever-so-slightly open. Maybe 1/16th of an inch. Barely worth noticing. So I'd lift up on the window button, it would CLUNK, and the window would seal. For a while.

This week, though, it started to drop by about 1/4 inch. And that's a lot. Especially in damp/rainy weather. And with cold rain expected tomorrow, and the definite possibility of snow in the next month... It was time.

So I took it in today to get it worked on. Both of the major pieces that work the window were dead. One was cheap. One was... not. I'm really glad I've been saving up.

But the important thing is that, as I was leaving the grocery store to come home, they called me to say it was ready. And I went and picked up my car. The window, for one thing, is SO clean. Kind of freaky clean.

I had to try it. Before I was even out of the parking lot, I had already rolled it down once, and back up. On the way home, I was like the annoying little kid who realizes, for the first time, what that button does and spends the entire drive rolling the window up and down. I was giddy by the time I got home. Pushing the button to let it auto-open. Pulling the button up to listen to the "whoosh-schwump" as it sealed.

The windows in my car go up and down... up and down... up and down... The windows in my car go up and down... I'll be using them all over town.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Caution: Metaphorical Leap Ahead

You know how, sometimes, you need to step a little outside your comfort zone to really be comfortable?

It usually happens at about the same point when you've started to get used to what you're doing and possibly even a bit complacent. There's that point when you figure you're good at what you do, and so you don't see a reason to do anything else. And you start to feel one of two ways: bored or smug.

I'm not sure which is worse. I mean... I know that smug ought to be worse, but bored usually feels a lot worse than smug does. (I mean... that's what I've heard... I've no personal experience with them... >cough<)

Well, I think I'm going to try to step out of my comfort zone in a few weeks. No, I'm not going to go into it, here - at least not yet.

In the mental and metaphysical parallel of Christopher's pre-trip packing, I'll probably be thinking through what to take with me for the next couple of weeks before I make my jump. But I've bought my metaphorical ticket, and I might as well take the ride.

Don't worry - I'm not going anywhere that my wi-fi can't follow me. I'm not making a major life change of any kind. I haven't bought the Rogaine or Just For Men. I'm not doing anything that drastic. I promise to send "blog post-cards" as I go to fill you in.

And... although I hate when people are really vague in public forums, I'm going to leave this as it is.

Details to come... when I become just a bit more comfortable with them.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A "Coming Out" Tiz List

As many of you probably know, yesterday (October 11th) was National Coming Out Day. It's a day to celebrate coming out of the closet and living a true and honest life.

Having come out a couple of decades ago (does that sound longer ago than "twenty-some years ago"? I'm not sure which makes me sound older...), these days I try to spend a little time on National Coming Out Day to think about the changes in my life since then, and to think about the changes in the world since then.

In light-hearted homage to that, I'm taking today's blog post as an opportunity to write up a Tiz List of things that I figure many of you don't know about me - and which may be a tad bit of a surprise. (Not sure why this is called a Tiz List? Check out this blog post, or search previous blogs under the header of "Tiz List".)

1) Yes, I'm a book guy. But I have never read most of what we're told are "the Classics." I know enough about most of them to talk my way in and out of conversations, but that's about it. I'm a really slow reader (which is, ironically, good in my line of work), and although I love the style of that incredibly in-depth and moving writing, there is simply no way I'd ever make it through Moby Dick or Les Miserables in less than a year each.

2) I'm an editor, but I would prefer to make sure that an individual author's style is maintained rather than make sure that the Chicago Manual of Style is perfectly represented. (This, obviously, is why I prefer to work on fiction and memoir and not non-fiction with all of its annoyingly anal citations.)

3) I love to bake, and I almost always use margarine. Everyone I bake for always says "oh... you can really taste the butter" or "I'm sure the secret is the butter..." but unless the recipe specifically calls for butter over margarine (or if I'm baking for someone who has a soy allergy or something of that type), I grew up with margarine and I still use it.

4) Yes, I'm gay. No, I do not think Halloween is "the Gay Christmas" (yes, I know people who call it that). I, personally, really can't stand Halloween. Sure, in the right situation, and with the right people, a costume can be fun (for instance, possibly a masquerade ball - get your minds out of the gutter), and who doesn't like a night when random people give you free candy, but I like Christmas as my Christmas, and I'd really rather skip directly past the final couple of weeks of October when everything is orange and black and covered in spiderwebs.

5) I like good, new food, but I hate trying to get into "hot, new restaurants." I don't want a "funky new concept" where they think it's "more fun" for customers to have to wait an hour because there are no reservations (I was actually told that, once). I want a restaurant where I can understand the menu, where the staff don't look like they just rolled out of bed, and where the food tastes good instead of just being "a great concept."

Okay... I'm never going to get a full list if I do them all as paragraphs. Let's go a little faster...

6) I really like Cool Whip.

7) I have no problem finding north when I'm outside (it helps if the sun is out), but I sometimes get totally confused when driving around Minneapolis.

8) Given the opportunity, I can fall asleep pretty much anywhere.

9) Succulent plants freak me out.

10) If I had a ton of money, I would totally fly first class everywhere I go, even though I'd still clip coupons and watch the rest of my budget.

11) I think too many people have too many tattoos. (Note: This does not say that I think no one should have tattoos. I just think that there should be some kind of fashion police out there monitoring who has them and saying "Dude, come on. Getting a full sleeve is not going to make people think you're an edgy, independent thinker, when you're actually a 40-year-old barista who lives in his parents' basement.")

12) I think there should be a way to turn in people for staring at their phones (or whatever) while driving.

13) I don't understand men's underwear without a functional fly.

14) In the past 6 months, I have picked up boxes of Rogaine and Just For Men for beards - but I have not bought them.

I had every intention of making this list 15 points long, but I started watching the dog breathe (see this post if you missed that reference), and got totally off my train of thought.

So... Let's let #15 belong to each of you. If you had the opportunity to come out and put some random information about yourself into the electronic ether, what would be top on your list? Drop it in the comments down below here so everyone can see it, if you feel so inclined. Or - if you're not up to that - just ponder it for a bit and see what odd little secret you've been keeping - possibly even from yourself.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Forbidden Foods

(I thought I had set this to post yesterday, but apparently I set it for mid-November... Oops. We'll consider this a bonus, and I'll be back to my every-other-day postings tomorrow.)

Christopher is travelling at the moment, which means that I have the house to myself. (Well, the pup and I have the house to ourselves, technically.) It's kind of weird, if I'm being honest. And it's not just because every evening the pooch sits and stares toward the kitchen door, sure that he should be coming in at any moment.

Based on past experience, I know that we both take a little while to adjust when he's not here. The first few days are the ones when you do kind of expect him to be showing up at any moment. Then there are the days when you're kind of used to it. Then, in the final few days, the countdown begins in earnest.

I'm not going to lie, though. There are also some perks. I get to watch whatever I want whenever I want. I can be as tidy or as messy as I feel like being. And - the big one - I can eat things that Christopher would never ever ever eat.

Let's face it: We all have foods that turn our stomachs. Things that taste, smell, or even just look so nasty to us that we won't touch them. I can't do any of he raw sushis, because of the texture. I like smoked sausage (the "ring bologna" kind), but really can't deal with the way the house smells after it has been cooked, so Christopher makes that when I'm not here - and uses the kitchen fan on high. And Christopher can't stomach the smell of any kind of canned meat - especially canned tuna.

Of course, the smell of canned tuna is pretty pervasive. Since it's not something that I fry up, the kitchen fan doesn't really help get rid of it. It sort of lingers for a day most of the time. So I pretty much avoid it - unless he's gone for more than a day.

Which means - you guessed it - there are currently multiple cans of tuna in the house just waiting to be used. Tuna salad sandwiches. Tuna melts. And - my all-time favorite - pasta with tuna and Swiss cheese and Dijon mustard and mayo (something I started cooking myself for dinners when I lived in France and had no money).

I won't be having these every night while he's gone. (In fact, he's been gone for 3 dinners and I haven't had them at all, yet.) But while he's gone and I have to try to fill the void in the house, I'm definitely going to be filling some of it with tuna.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Whole New World

As we get older, there are fewer and fewer "firsts" available to us. We all have that list in our head that we tick off as we go along - for better or worse. Some of the firsts on my list I took as just some of the things that happen in life: 

First lost tooth. 
First fender bender. 
First hangover resulting from age more than alcohol consumption. 

Yeah. They're not fun things, but they happened. Then there were the amazing things: 

First serious kiss. 
First trip to Paris. 
First Broadway show. 
First date with Christopher. 
First serious kiss, trip to Paris, and Broadway show with Christopher. 

Those things were amazing. Things I'll never forget - for all the right reasons. And, of course, there are the kind of random things that also had to have a first: 

First time in surgery. 
First missed plane. 
First really bad job interview. 

Those are the things that you deal with for that first time and hope you'll never have to deal with again. But you figure you probably will. I'm sure that, at some point, I'll have more surgery. I'll miss more planes. I'll shoot myself in the foot in more job interviews. Those are the firsts (and seconds, and thirds, and...) that make life interesting. 

Today's first... Well... I'm not really sure where it's going to fall. It certainly wasn't as good as that middle group. It wasn't necessarily as bad as the last group. Perhaps it should go into the first group, since it's something that is bound to happen again, and I suspect I'll be more prepared for it in future. 

Today, you see, I was asked to verify whether or not I was eligible for a discount. Not because I'm from South Dakota. Not because I knew the answer to a trivia question. But because the very sweet (really - incredibly sweet), very young (maybe 16 years old?) girl behind the counter wasn't sure if I was in the "55 or older" category. 

I'm pleased to say that I did not freak out. I didn't sputter or steam. I simply said "No. Not yet. But thanks for asking." 

I also did not purchase my first package of Just for Men for my beard. 


Monday, October 6, 2014

Book to the Future - (SD Book Fest, post 3)

If we learned anything from Marty McFly, it's that sometimes it takes going back in time to learn about the present and future.

And, while the South Dakota Book Festival didn't literally send me back in time, I did kind of do a little time travelling when I was there.

We've already talked about what it was like to run into former professors, as well as authors I have known of in one way or another for years. But what we haven't talked about is what it was like for me to rediscover... well... me.

Before I left last Friday, I made up some personal business cards. I was also taking my company cards, but figured I should also market myself. My old cards had listed "Copywriter, Editor, Proofreader, Baker" on them, but I've found that I've gotten more and more away from the copywriting, so I made up a new batch that say "Writing Coach, Editor, Proofreader, Baker" because I've had so many great compliments from authors about how I do when I'm working with them along the way. And I like that coaching aspect, since there has always been a bit of teacherliness in me.

When I was at one of my first sessions, I handed the presenter one of my cards, and he asked if I was an author, and I said "no." Because, you know, I spend 8 hours a day editing and proofreading and doing all those kinds of things - not writing. So I kind of apologized and said "I'm an editor." I don't really know why it is, but for some reason that seems to end up as an apology much of the time when I'm around people who call themselves writers.

On the other hand, while I was wandering around meeting and re-meeting people, I was also handing out cookies with my business cards. After all, if you're at a conference where "writing coach" doesn't get people's attention, there's a very good chance that they'll remember "baker." And that resulted in some fun interactions. Like someone walking up to me the next day saying that she had told someone else that she'd gotten cookies and he had asked if she had really eaten a stranger's cookies. And then there was Sonia Manzano, who - when I saw her a couple of hours after I gave her the cookies - said, a bit shyly - "I ate all those cookies." (And, yes, that did great things to both my sense of "people will remember me" and "Ohh... Fanboy moment!")

Then, somehow, it dawned on me somewhere in the middle of everything, that I've been published. In three different books. And on the walls in one exhibit. All juried. No favors, even though I knew the organizer. Published. A published author. Yes, I'm an editor, but also a published author.

Okay. So... Over the course of 26 hours, I had realized that I am, in fact, an editor who bakes. A Writing Coach, Editor, Proofreader, Baker - and Author.

Remember how excited I was when I was looking at information about who was going to be at the conference? That's how I learned about the professors I could see, among others. And I found a name on the list of volunteers that kind of made me stop. It was a name from my past. Someone I knew from college was on the list. A guy I had really respected and looked up to. One of the first people I came out to when I was about 25, and just figuring out my life. And who then completely dropped off the face of the earth. So many people I've known who found out I was gay have just said "Oh. And how's your family? What have you been up to?" And yet that one person who just disappeared from my life is the one who bothers me. I had a few moments of panic - a little fight-or-flight time - after I realized he was going to be there. I reached out to some other friends for support. I figured out that it would happen one way or another. That was that. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Two hours before the end of my time at the conference, I was sitting in a hallway waiting to host my final session, and processing all the rest of it. The room I was about to walk into, he was about to walk out of. And, somehow, after 26 hours of fanboying, and passing out business cards and cookies, and meeting people, and schmoozing, and having a really good time, I realized that I was pretty much okay with it all. Okay with my job. Happy with who I am. Thrilled to have Christopher at home, and family and friends who support me no matter what.

I thought I'd go to the Book Festival and learn a little about editing. Meet some authors. Hang out with some people and talk about books. Instead, I found myself going through 28 hours of intense personal therapy. Not exactly what I thought I'd learn during two days at a Book Festival, but, then, the best books always do have a way of surprising you, don't they?