Thursday, December 29, 2011

Some stories never die

Over the years I have had many stories come to my mind. I am not even sure I could remember all of them at this point. Some of them are little more than a vague memory rolling around in the dusty dark depths of my  mind. Some stories live forever. Some stories I couldn't forget if I tried.

I have a story that I have been working on for years. It is actually a joint story between me and one of my dearest friends. She and I have been trying to tell these characters story for almost as long as I have known her. Every time we pick the story up again it only grows more vivid in our minds.

At this point the characters, some of which are my creation and some hers, are almost like old friends. We know their inner workings almost as well as we know our own. The world they live in is one we have carefully sculpted but ever changing. Their story is one we have labored over with great amounts of love.

It has been discussed many times how we would love to solidify the stories into the form of books. We have plotted them and planned them, and even worked on them some. It is something we work at feverishly, and then let lie silent for a while. We always come  back to it though.

I am not certain we will ever manage to get it all written down. I am not certain we can ever manage to put into words the pictures that have become almost real in our minds. I know that we will never stop trying to get the words on paper and do the story justice.

I also know, that no matter what, the story will always be there. I know that even if it only lives in our minds, it will always live.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Random acts of kindness

One of the hardest things about the holidays can be buying gifts for someone that you are not terribly familiar with. In-laws I have discovered are particularly difficult in the gift giving and receiving arena. You don't always know them and they don't always know you, but you all feel obligated to give gifts.

I know that I personally am pretty good at asking other people about said person before I go out and attempt to buy something for them. This is also why I am a huge fan of the Amazon wish list feature. Sure it isn't incredibly thoughtful, and it is fairly generic, but at least you know it is something that they will like.

If all else fails gift cards are the best option really. If I have no idea what their hobbies are, or if they are readers, or movie people, I resort to Target gift cards, because surely they can find something they like at Target. It is my least favorite option though.

My way of thinking is not the same as everyone else, as is evident by the gift cards I get every year from my in-laws. Now I am not saying I am in any way ungrateful for the gifts I received. I am thrilled I really am. It just highlights the fact that they don't know me at all. Just a glance at my Amazon wish list, which is massive, will show you I am a movie fanatic. It also shows I really like books. Or that I like Amazon in general. Three gift card options right there.

Instead this year I got a gift card to Bath and Body Works. I suppose the assumption is that I am female and therefor like smelly bath stuffs. This is a completely valid thought pattern, yet it doesn't really work for me.

I stopped shopping at Bath and Body Works almost a decade ago. Back in the beginning of the shop they had some recognizable and sensible scents that I really liked. Body sprays that were not perfumes, but just clean fresh scents. Smells like lavender, and jasmine, and freesia, and other flowers I could easily identify.

Little by little they pushed out those familiar names and smells and replaced them with increasingly sweeter and more pungent scents with names that in no way tell you what you are getting. When I look at a bottle of lotion labeled 'Dark Kisses' or 'Winter Night' that really doesn't help me any. I mean they could at least say that it is a combination of jasmine and vanilla, or whatever they used. Instead though you are left to smell the bottle and guess.

This entire smell the bottle thing leads quickly to the problem of over stimulating your poor nose. If you have a sensitive olfactory sense, like I do, going into that store is sort of like turning on a strobe light near an epileptic. I can't distinguish one smell from another, and honestly it makes me more than a little ill.

Still I got this gift card and I was determined to use it. Surely there had to be something in there I could use. So yesterday we happened to be in the mall to see a movie, and afterward I decided to just go ahead and get it over with. I went in and found that it was as bad as I thought it would be. I did not recognize a single name on any of the products in the first room. The scents were all overwhelmingly sweet and I couldn't really find a body spray vs perfume. My body chemistry doesn't always work great with perfume so I try and avoid it.

I managed to make my way to the aromatherapy section and rejoiced as I found something I recognized. Lavender chamomile body spray and lotion. Lavender is my preferred scent so I quickly grabbed a couple of things and headed to check out before the smell of the store made me ill. I was just hoping that later when my nose could distinguish individual smells again that I would like what I was buying.

The lady rang me up and went through trying to send me mailers and store cards, and other promotions, but I politely declined and insisted all I wanted was what was in front of me. I was trying to maintain my holiday zen and not get annoyed by pushy sales people.

After running the transaction I realized I had failed to spend all of the money on the card. There were still almost $4 on there. I knew that I would never spend that $4. I will probably never go back into that store unless I receive another gift card. I have a few girlfriends who might shop there, but again it was only $4. It seemed pointless. Still I didn't really want the money to go to waste.

As I turned to leave, bag in hand, I realized something. The store was packed with shoppers with baskets full of stuff. Just because I didn't like the store didn't mean lots of other people didn't love it. I turned to the woman standing behind me in line as she perused the little last moment items near the register. I handed her the gift card and told her Merry Christmas. I told her there was only about $4 on there, but I would never use it, so I hoped she could enjoy it.

She looked both shocked and pleased by my gesture. Sure it was probably going to do little more than cover her tax, but it really at that point wasn't about the amount of money. It was about the gesture of kindness to a complete stranger. It is by the little things we do that we can make a difference.

I hope that I in some way made that woman's day a little brighter. This is what the season is really about after all. I know I feel better for it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

And the Grinches heart grew three sizes that day...

I am not sure I can really pinpoint when I started loathing the holidays. I can clearly remember as a child loving everything about the holidays; but then what child doesn't love the holidays? I waited with anticipation for the time when we could pick out and decorate the tree.

The idea of making a new strand of popcorn garland for the tree, fighting with my brother over who got to hang the special ornaments, watching the bubble lights softly glowing in the dark, adding to and then putting up the Christmas castle, and all the other holiday traditions we had started driving me out of my mind in early November. What can I say, I wasn't good with patience.

Then that all changed. I think it was around when I was probably 12 or 13 that things shifted for me. My mom had gotten remarried, we were in a new city, and all of our old traditions were gone. We didn't have any of our old decorations or ornaments as they were all actually our grandmothers. We had to start completely over and make new traditions.

I just wasn't cool with that idea. Traditions are traditions for a reason after all. Plus I was that obnoxious age when you don't want to go along with anything and making everyone miserable is your goal in life. Add to that the fact that, unbeknownst to us, my moms illnesses were causing her mental problems, making her incredibly manic, and the holidays just weren't fun anymore.

By the time I had outgrown that phase of life, and mom was properly medicated, and we had actually happily settled into our new life, I just had a bad taste for Christmas in general. I still liked looking at other peoples decorations, and I liked giving an receiving presents, and I still loved to bake holiday treats, but for the most part I was a Grinch.

I wish I could say this changed once I got out of college or married, but it didn't. I for years just didn't want to participate. I baked cookies, I gave gifts, I went to holiday parties, I was still present for the holiday; you just couldn't tell by looking at my house.

Then two things happened.

The first one was a gift I gave the husbeast one year. You see he loves the holiday season. He also loves the decorations. Since I was never inclined to decorate, we never had. It isn't that I said he couldn't decorate, I just said I wouldn't help at all. He being on the lazy side just never got around to it. Year after year I watched him get very sad and pout about not having a festive home.

So one year, about 3 years ago, I sent him out to play board games with his friends, and while he was away I decorated for Christmas. I employed the help of my two best friends, and we quickly put everything up. Now I didn't go all crazy or anything. There were some pretty pine cone garlands around the house, some very natural looking twig and berry wreaths, a small artificial tree, and some pre-lit garland around the windows and doors. It took us about an hour to get it all done.

He walked in the door and made a happy squeeing noise that normally you only hear from small children on Christmas morning. You would have thought that I had bought him a puppy for how excited he was. I now decorate for him every year. The decorations go up in ten minutes and come down just as fast, but he is happy none the less.

The second thing happened the year before I started decorating. We had found ourselves with no time off for Christmas, and nothing to do for the holiday. We sort of decided we would exchange our gifts that morning and call it a day.

So there we were sitting in our undecorated kitchen, opening our presents in no sort of excited state, and then he played on his computer and I watched TV re runs all day long. I don't think we even ate anything special that day. It was really sort of depressing.

Between those two events I realized something. While I don't enjoy making a huge fuss over the holidays I still like having a holiday. I like having our friends nearby. I like having a sense of excitement and anticipation. I like being able to look around my house and see the signs of the season. I like to have some traditions.

So there might not be 8 Christmas trees around my house, and you probably won't hear much in the way of Christmas music playing, and you most certainly are not going to convince me that driving around looking at lights on peoples houses is a good time; the holidays are still there.

You will find me at my house, or a loved ones, every night from last night until the 26th. You will find meals that could be considered feasts at every turn. You will see presents scattered through the house. You will find that even in the mundaneness of watching movies it is done in a sense of togetherness and celebration.
You will find that I am not, so much, a Grinch anymore.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'That' person

I screamed at a customer service representative over the phone today, and I feel very bad about it. Now don't get me wrong, I do not in any way feel bad about being so upset over the situation that I started screaming. The situation is more than scream worthy. It is genuinely rant worthy. It is squirrely wrath worthy.

This one poor woman though did not deserve to be screamed at. She did nothing wrong. She has nothing to do with what her stupid company has done to me and been doing to me for years now. It is not her fault.

I did apologize to her after I yelled. She sweetly said she understood why I was upset, but that really is no excuse. I worked in customer support over the phone, I know what it is like to have some random person start screaming at you for things that you have no knowledge of or control over. It is rude and it is just not right.

I try very hard never to be that customer. I don't want to cause some poor phone rep to need to chew on tums like they were breath mints. I don't want to make them hate their jobs and loath getting out of bed every morning. I don't want to be that way.

Today I was that person. I screamed. I used profanity. I was rude. I was a bitch.

I did apologize, repeatedly. She was very helpful and sweet, even if in the end she did nothing to resolve the situation. I apologized to the woman I was transferred to before I even began speaking. I tried not to scream at her. I think I might have sounded a little hysterical and my voice might have raised, but I don't think I yelled.

I am still very angry right now. I am angry that I am still having to deal with the same problem after three years and that it is effecting my bank account, my credit, and right  now my blood pressure. I am also angry that it made me that person. I hate this company almost as much for that as for fucking me over yet again.

Monday, December 19, 2011

It is the thought that counts...even if you don't remember having the thought

When I was a little girl my mother used to take great effort in packing our lunches. Not really so much effort into what went in the brown paper sacks, as I wanted the exact same thing every single day, but more so into the bag itself. Peanut butter and grape jelly is easy. A creative paper lunch sack every day is not quite such an easy task.

I am certain there were years in which I had a lunch box. I was the sort of Lisa Frank junkie that I am certain I would have wanted something with pastel unicorns and stars all over it. I know I at one point had a Gem lunch box as well. At some point though either my mother got tired of buying us lunch boxes or my brother and I simply no longer cared about them, because we went to paper lunch sacks only. I know incredibly unfriendly to the environment, but it was the mid 80's, what do you want from me?

So every day we would go to school with our lunches tucked away in a simple brown paper sack. I am not certain if Mom was bored, or just getting her craft on, or if she felt bad that we had paper sacks instead of cool lunch boxes; but every day she decorated the bags. Some days we had vines and flowers drawn all over the bag and some days we would have stick figure pictures acting things out for us. All we knew was that there would be something cool on the bag. Even our friends would get jealous of our bags sometimes. Total win.

The outside of the bags were not the only thing that my mother worked on. Like I said before our lunches were fairly standard, so we never actually got any surprises food wise. At least no food surprises that I can recall. What we would get on occasion were notes. They were notes of encouragement on days of big projects or tests, notes to tell us how much she loved us and how special she thought we were, silly notes written in code*, and little reminders that we could do anything.

I can't speak for my brother, but I know that every time I opened my bag to find a note I would get excited. They always made me feel better and they always made me smile. Nothing like an unexpected note of love to make your day better.

When I went away to college, after my family had left I was feeling more than a little anxious. I laid down in my dorm bed the first night and was beginning to doubt my choice in going away for school. When I put my hand under my pillow I felt an envelope. I opened it up and inside was a letter from my mom. She had slipped it under my pillow when I wasn't looking. It told me how proud she was of me and how happy she was that I was going out on my own. She told me she loved me and believed in me. I used to re-read that letter when I thought I just couldn't make it one more day.

Yesterday my mom was flipping through some old craft magazines looking for inspiration for a Christmas project. As she flipped through the pages she found an old grocery list tucked away. Upon examination she determined it was from one of my grandmothers previous hospital stays. She continued to flip through the pages and toward the back she found another slip of paper.

She almost just discarded it thinking it was another list, but decided to look at it instead. What she found was that it was a note from me. It was just a little something to say that I loved her and reminding her of all the notes she used to slip me when I wasn't looking. I reminded her how much I loved her and how she had made me the woman I was, and that I was lucky to have a mom like her.

My mom says she cried and that it was the best gift she could have.

I wish I could say I even remembered doing this, but I don't. It sounds completely like something I would do and it is signed by me, so I don't doubt that I did it. I just can't remember when I did. It has to have been years ago. I mean it has to have been at least four or five years ago. I am certain when I did it I assumed she would find it shortly after I left if she found it at all. It never occurred to me that she would find it so many years later, and when she needed such a thing so much.

I am glad though that I was so thoughtful, even if I can't recall the act itself. I am glad I brought my mother happiness when she needed it most, even if I hadn't planned it. It just shows that everything happens for a reason and everything happens in its own time.

*This backfired on mom once. She wrote my brothers note in Pig Latin and he of course couldn't read it. He asked his teacher to translate it for him. The teacher either didn't know Pig Latin or was just screwing with my brother and mom. He told my brother the note said that after school he could come home and get the ice cream out of the freezer and eat straight from the carton. Mom was both unamused and amused all at the same time.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Baby it's cold outside

There is a reason I live in the south. I was born here and raised here, so it is safe to say I am acclimated to the climate here. Yes in the summer it gets to be almost unbearably hot.

I had a friend who was vacationing out of country, and for the life of me I can not recall where now. She was on the phone talking to someone from home about the weather. The guy who was driving her overheard her talking about the temperature and was shocked. When she asked him if they had temperatures as high as we get in Texas he responded that yes there were places that got that hot; no one lived there.

We do live in those extreme temperatures. We complain about it, but we still live in it. Honestly I have to say I like it. I would prefer to be hot than cold any day of the week. I know people say you can only get so naked, but for me, once I am cold I stay that way. No amount of layering is going to save me. I have to take a hot shower or bath in order to get the cold out of my bones.

Thankfully while the summers are scorching hot, the winters are not all that cold. I know my friends from the north would scoff at me if I said our 40 degree winters was unbearably cold. They are being snowed in for weeks and don't see temperatures on the positive side of 0 for months on end. I really can't even wrap my brain around that concept.

For me though, 40 is cold. We have had snow the last two years, and it really sort of freaks me out. I mean I like snow and all, it is very pretty and novel, but I don't want to live someplace where snow is a normal thing. It is cold and wet and a real pain in the butt.

When faced with the choice of heat that will melt the soles of your shoes or cold that will burst your pipes, I will choose the heat any day of the week. Bring on the oppressive heat and take back your frigid winter. I am a southern girl for a reason. I really wish I could hibernate and just skip the cold.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Choose your words wisely

People get called a lot of things. Verbal descriptors are a huge thing in our world. They have both negative and positive connotations, but no matter which direction you go, these words are things we strive to attain or distance ourselves from.

No one wants to be called hurtful and hateful things. No one really wants to have a negative descriptor attached to them; fat, ugly, stupid, clumsy, worthless, and really I could go on forever. There is no end to the ugly hateful adjectives I could list off that people use to describe each other.

The hateful ones aren't the ones I am concerned with. It is easy enough to define the bad adjectives and the negative impact on our lives. I am more concerned with the so called good adjectives we strive for. While there is no doubt that being called fat or stupid or any number of things I am not even going to list is incredibly detrimental to the person having those words flung at them, there is also significant damage to be had from the 'good' words we aim for.

Words like pretty and beautiful are words I feel are sometimes misused, but even they are harmless. It is words like 'hot' that I am coming to feel are not really good words. Calling someone 'hot' is a compliment, I am not going to deny that. I mean what person wouldn't want to be told that they look 'hot' when they get all dressed up to go out? I know I like it.

There is the problem though. I like it. I want it. Now I am not saying it is bad to want to look good, my best even. What I am saying is that perhaps the emphasis on achieving such status is not healthy. I mean women in general get sort of crazy in their attempts to achieve a certain look, to the point of harming themselves to become what they think they should look like.

Stay with me here. What is the definition of hot? According to Urban Dictionary (because lets face it Websters is not going to have the definition we are looking for) 'Hot' is:

I. One who is: a. gorgeous, b. pretty, c. beautiful, d. cute, e. attractive

II. One who you would: a. lick, b. suck, c. nibble, d. flirt with, e. have sexual relations with

III. One who makes you: a. flip, b. crazy, c. nutty, d. pass out, e. drool, f. fantasize, g. (if girl) wet, h. (if guy) hard, i. masturbate

Alright so these aren't bad things. As humans we are sort of hard wired to attract other humans to us. So if that is as far as it went it wouldn't be a bad thing. The problem arises in the fact that for the most part we have these media based ideas of what 'hot' is. Just like we have media based ideas what beauty is.

If you were to go out and ask random strangers to give you examples of 'hot' men and women, I can pretty much guarantee you that the women that are listed will be incredibly thin and have big boobs, and the guys will have six packs and use too much product in their hair. You are either a huge exception to the rule or lying if you say that is not your definition of 'hot'. Hell I am the one writing this and I still pulled up in my own mind half a dozen celebrities who fit that criteria before I found someone I thought was hot that was outside those parameters.

If you ask the same question and replace the word 'hot' with say beautiful, I am pretty sure you will get a different list out of those people. Hot is a fantasy. Hot is the ideal that we all build up in our head in a media fed world. Hot are all the things that most of us will never be.

So to be 'hot' you have to look like Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Aniston (who was recently voted by some men's magazine the hottest woman of all times). I don't know about you, but I will never look like that. I would have to do some crazy dieting, and a lot of gym time, and probably some surgery. I would have to do some radical things to my body, which overall probably wouldn't be best for me, to look like those sorts of women. It is not a realistic goal, and it is not healthy to try and become that sort of thing.

We don't live in a society that is alright with you being the best 'you'. We live in a world where you are expected to be the best which equates to being someone most of us are not. Being the best you is by far the better choice. If the best you is fat, or has weird hair, or small breasts, or bad teeth, you shouldn't care. If that is your best, if you are happy with you, if you are healthy, then that is what matters. That is who you are and who you should be.

While it might be nice to be told on occasion that we have accidentally, or purposefully, achieved the descriptor of hot, I think that is not something we should aim for. I would much rather be told that I am beautiful, stunning, gorgeous, elegant, breath taking, striking, or a vision. I think these words all have a greater depth and value than just being 'hot'.

'Hot' is nice on the surface, but there are so many better adjectives to be. Don't be a surface dweller. Have depth. Be the whole package.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Some things do change

To say I am a picky eater might be a bit of an understatement. In fact I am fairly certain that if you asked my mother about my childhood eating habits she might cringe in memory. She has every right to do so. I was a ridiculously picky eater.

Now I was not the most picky eater ever. I still ate. I ate a lot actually, but my choices were limited. I have had cousins who when they were young wouldn't eat at all. I had a friend who when she was 5 or 6 turned into a little germaphobe hypocondriac and refused to eat anything but peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches. Of course she refused to eat those unless she watched her mother open a fresh loaf of bread and a brand new jar of peanut butter and jelly. She outgrew that phase quickly at least.

Still I was no picnic to feed as a child. When I was little the only green vegetable I would eat were green beans. I would only drink strawberry flavored milk. They found that other than a hamburger, which for the longest time was ketchup and pickles only but morphed to cheese and ketchup only after a near drowning incident*, the only way I would eat red meat is if it was served with Arby's Horsey (horseradish) sauce. Onions and mushrooms were straight out of the equation. I had serious texture issues with my food as well.

Once I decided I liked something that is what I would eat. That is all I would eat. I ordered the same thing at Chinese, Mexican, and Italian restaurants no matter what. There was no such thing as deviation in my dining habits. I loved food, but really only the food I was familiar and comfortable with.

Then something changed.

I was sitting here looking at the lunch I packed myself and I had to wonder what had happened to me. I know for certain 10 year old me would be horrified at my lunch. To a point 25 year old me would be disapproving as well.

I have a beautiful salad full of green and red onions, baby peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, and baby spinach, with a lovely red pepper Italian dressing. Growing up salad for me was iceberg lettuce and tomatoes with ranch dressing. There were no other options. Sure I eventually branched into Italian dressings and Caesar salads, but that was as adventurous as I got.

Now? Raw mushrooms? I only came to terms with eating cooked mushrooms in the last six or seven years. Raw red onion? Are you kidding me? Don't even get me started on raw spinach as my green in the salad. I really just put whatever was in the crisper drawer into my salad. This entire concept is foreign to me.

What changed you may ask. Well honestly I have no idea. I can't tell you when or why I became more adventurous in my eating. I know that sometime at the end of college I started experimenting more. I chose safe things like expanding my vegetable intake. I now love pretty much all vegetables. I am not a huge corn fan, and things like beets still haven't made their way into my comfort zone, but brussel sprouts? Asparagus? Zucchini and squash? Yes please!

Then in the last year or so I started just trying things. I would see a recipe that looked good or sounded interesting, and I would try it. I was using food combinations and preparations that quite frankly scared me. It was way out of my comfort zone, but I didn't care.

My mother probably turns a little purple in the face any time I tell her I am eating something weird or exotic, even if it is just weird for me. I can imagine her thinking back on all the times I refused to eat something simply because an onion was present and getting a little frustrated and angry that now I eat the things raw.

I think what happened is I realized how much I truly enjoy food. I enjoy everything that comes with eating, the preparation, the socialization, the sense of community, the sense of accomplishment; but also I enjoy the food itself. I was denying myself so much enjoyment and pleasure by being afraid of new things.

It might be a small thing to most people. It certainly is not sky diving or bungee jumping. It is just some edible fungus and raw vegetables, but food is my adventure zone. To me toasted hazelnuts are a crazy and wild ride.

It might not be your definition of adventure but to me it is. Delicious satisfying adventure!

* When I was very young I got dropped in the deep end at a pool party by an adult who thought I could swim when I could only barely tread water. I was upset at the time, though I never became afraid of water despite nearly drowning. As a reward for surviving and to try and appease me someone went out and got me fast food. They came back with Burger King which was doing a three pack slider thing at the time. The person got them with cheese and ketchup not knowing I despised cheese on my burgers. To me it looked like mustard which I hated, and so I assumed it would taste bad too. That day I was so tired and upset I just ate them. I loved them. After that I would only eat a burger if cheese was involved. It is amazing how nearly dying makes something like a food you feared become so inconsequential.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


It is no secret that I am a movie fan. It may sound a little cheesy but my favorite date almost always involves going to see a movie. The kid and I have a tradition of going to the dollar theater on Tuesday nights because it is only 75 cents. Any excuse to see a movie.

Of course now days the price of admission can be considered extortion. I take advantage of dollar theaters and matinees whenever I can. There are of course movies I happily will pay full price to see. Most of the time I don't regret paying the price of admission.

Tonight the husbeast came home from game early and took me to see the new Muppet Movie. We knew it was going to be silly and well, muppety. What is not to love about the Muppets? We waited a while to see it to hopefully avoid crowds of children.

All I have to say is that it was worth the wait. It was silly and muppety. The husbeast and I giggled through the entire things. It really was everything we had hoped for in a muppet movie.

For me though the best part was when they sand the Muppet Show theme song and then of course Rainbow Connection. I think at that moment I began clinging more to the husbeast and got all giddy. I was filled with a warm sense of nostalgia.

Sometimes nostalgia can be a wonderful thing. It filled me with warm thoughts of being young and carefree. It was like the flavor of cool water straight from a garden hose. It was like the smell of sidewalk chalk in the summer. It was like the tinny song of the ice cream truck approaching. It was like a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios with Saturday morning cartoons. It was like hot dogs and grape soda.

Happiness, innocence, worry free, good times.
Well worth the price of admission and then some.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Reasons I win

I am vaguely sick, incredibly sleepy, and more than a little cranky just now. In moments like these I could choose to be pitiful and miserable; that would be super easy. The problem with giving in to the misery is that it makes me feel all that much worse. I do not need that sort of help.

Instead I am going to think on happy good things. I can easily tell you all the reasons my life is unpleasant at this precise moment, but no one wants to read that. Hell I don't want to write that. We must not dwell on the negative.

So with that in mind I present you with a few reasons why I win at life:

- I have the greatest husbeast in the world. He will warm my spot in bed for me whether it is as we are going to bed at night or at 4am when I am off being ill. He makes silly references to things I like in conversation. He makes sure I have the things I want and need. He cooks me soup when I feel puny.

- I get random messages from my awesome friends just to tell me I am awesome.

- I have hit idea gold for inexpensive homemade holiday presents for my friends and loved ones.

- I have so many social engagements scheduled for the next few weeks that I am afraid I will have to start turning some down since I can't be in two places at once.

- It is Friday.

These are just a few reasons I win at life. Why do you win?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sick day

As a life long insomniac I am fairly used to being tired. Tired is just another state of being that you learn to live with. I am acquainted with most every form of tired there is; from 'I sort of need a nap' to 'Oh hell I fell asleep with my eyes open'*.

I have also experienced most every kind of sleep deprivation one can outside of actual forced torture. I have had the long stretches of simply not being able to fall asleep. I have had the fitful nights of waking up every ten minutes. I have even suffered through the inexplicable sleeping 8 full hours and waking up more tired than I went to sleep.

This week has been a fun variation on the first and second kind of insomnia. I am falling asleep just fine, and while I am asleep I am sleeping hard, but then about 4am every day I wake up. What the hell is up with that? It is like my internal clock has reset itself to 4am as my wakeup time instead of 7. That is a whole three hours I am missing.

So every single morning for 4 days now I have awoken at 4am and not been able to go back to sleep for close to two and a half hours. At the start of an insomnia cycle the tiredness is always the worse. You become more cranky than usual, you get less accomplished, and you are more frustrated than you should be. This passes though.

This morning I awoke at 4:46am and groaned to myself. I was annoyed understandably. This just isn't fair. Plus it is freezing cold right now so it isn't like I can comfortably go sit on the couch and watch TV. It is cold in my living room and it is warm in my bed.

I was prepared for another couple of hours of laying awake in bed when it happened; my tummy woke up, and it was angry. I got to spend most of the next hour in and out of the bathroom being incredibly ill.

The only comfort I had was that the husbeast woke up when I crawled back into bed the first time shivering and miserable. He tried to snuggle up to me to share his warmth but it did little good since I was jumping out of bed in a matter of moments. When I came back to bed the second time, and the third and fourth, I discovered that in my absence he had rolled into my spot on the bed so that when I crawled back in I was greeted with a warm and toasty spot to lay in.

Best husbeast ever.

After my early AM adventures in sickness and sleep deprivation I decided that it was time for a sick day. There is nothing in the office that is in dire need of finishing and my body obviously thinks that I need to not leave the house today.

I am hoping that this day of sitting on my couch and playing on Pinterest will be what my body was looking for. I am hoping, probably in vain, that tomorrow morning I will happily wake up to my alarm going off at 7, and not to the clock mocking me with 4am again.

*Yes you can, and yes I have. I walked into a class in college and did this once. I woke up because someone bumped me as they were leaving. I don't recall anything that happened in the class but my prof assured me that my eyes had been open, if not glassy, the entire time.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kitchen win: Cake Pops!

Yesterdays experiment with posole was a fail. Today I tried my hand at cake pops and it was a total win. I even documented the process.

I gathered together all of my ingredients. I wasn't going to go to the effort of making a cake from scratch since I was just going to crumble it up. Plus I wasn't sure if these were going to work so I wanted save some effort. Besides all of the sights I looked at with tips said to use the box stuff. It didn't hurt that the grocery store was having a ridiculous sale on box cake mix either. I found most everything else at Hobby Lobby; sticks, colored chocolate, and some other random cake decorating things that I was rather surprised to find in a hobby shop. I was set and ready to go.

The next step was to bake the cake. No I did not take a picture of the baked cake. It looked like a typical sheet cake. Nothing terribly exciting. I must say I did get some strange satisfaction crumbling the cake up though. Don't ask. This was my first taste though of how much waiting is involved in cake pops. I had to wait until the cake was completely cooled, which took a little longer than I really would have liked.

Product placement shot.

As displayed above, next came mixing in the frosting. I have to say I have always wanted to just stick my hand into a jar of frosting. No I am not sure why, I just have. Again, strangely satisfying. I didn't use all of the frosting, as I was told repeatedly I would not have to. In fact I had about a quarter of the jar left afterwards. I was good and resisted the urge to eat it with a spoon. No that is a lie, I didn't have the urge to eat it. I am not a frosting sort of girl. Now if it had been cool whip that would have been an entirely different story.

Here is where I think I made my biggest mistake in making the cake pops. I decided I was going to make Christmas tree cake pops as my first attempt. Most people would choose something simple, like a generic ball with sprinkles maybe. Nooooo. Not me. No I had to do something complicated. Let me tell you what making forty little cones took an hour. Balls would have been so much simpler and quicker. Not nearly as impressive, but still.

After I got the cones formed I then had to stick them in the fridge to cool and harden. I read lots of suggestions to put them in the freezer which would be a great idea if I had that sort of freezer. I unfortunately have a side by side fridge/freezer, which means my freezer is very narrow. Besides it is also very full. So I was stuck waiting a few hours while everything set up. 

Once they were nice and solid I got to put the sticks in. I melted a little of the chocolate and dipped each stick into it before inserting it most of the way into my cake cones. This was pretty much the easiest step of the entire process. Well actually crumbling the cake was the easiest part, but this was a close second. Pretty soon all of the sticks had been put in place. Then it was back into the fridge with the pops so that the chocolate could cool off. 

At this point I went and played some Final Fantasy X. Who am I kidding, I had been playing since I stuck the cones in the fridge the first go around. I needed something to take up all that time. Once the sticks had set it was time to dip the pops into the chocolate. This turned out to be the most difficult part. The chocolate is supposed to be microwaveable. The first bit I had melted for the stick application had gone through the microwave brilliantly. The same can't be said for the rest. I tried to melt more in the microwave and it seized almost immediately.

I got to spend the next ten minutes trying to locate both pieces of my double boiler and melting the chocolate on the stove. This also proved to be an issue when I wanted to dip the cones in the chocolate. You are supposed to just dunk the entire thing straight into the melted chocolate. Sadly my double boiler is so wide that the melted chocolate was not deep enough to dunk more than half of the cake in at once. In the end I had to tilt the pot to the side and sort of roll the cake in it. 

I do not, I repeat, do not suggest rolling your cake pops when coating them in chocolate. I dislodged at least two of my sticks doing this. I had to sort of sideways dunk them to get them covered. This didn't even always work. I have to find a better method of applying the chocolate in the future.

After I managed to get the chocolate on I had to shake off the excess. Everyone suggested holding the cake pop over the hot chocolate and gently tapping the hand that is holding the stick. It shakes off the excess without dislodging the stick from the pop. This method worked beautifully if not incredibly slowly. 

I want to point out that at this point I had been working on the pops for quite a while. I was really frustrated with the chocolate, so I might not have shaken off as much of it as I should have. Still I was getting a nice even coating, and really that was all that mattered. I shoved the sticks into a chunk of styrofoam so that the chocolate could dry. I did end up running out of chocolate with 11 cake pops to go. I will have to get more chocolate tomorrow. 

I was very pleased that they actually looked like little trees. Of course without decorations they could have been anything really. I was certain though that with a little decoration they would be perfect. I had to fight my urge to just stop at this point or to rush through things. This project was certainly a test of my patience.

The stars were a great addition, though a real pain in the rear. I had to take a drop of melted chocolate and then quickly shove the star into it because such a small drop of chocolate dries quickly. The stars were teenie tiny and I have big hands for a girl. Needless to say the process was very trying, but very rewarding. How cute are those?

Now the sight I got the idea from had suggested making the decorations out of little round sprinkles. The process of attaching said sprinkles was the same as the stars. Lets go back to how much of a pain the stars were for me. Imagine dozens of tiny dots on each one of the pops. Yea, not happening. So instead I took some cake decorating gel and just made dots. This still took forever but it was so much simpler. I think the finished look is wonderful really.

The kid threatening to eat it before the shot.

The kid being a good model.

"No you may not eat it until after I take the picture."

The husbeast behaved just long enough to get the shot.

The poor cake pop never stood a chance.

So that was my adventure in baking. Over all it was a simple project, just incredibly time consuming. I do not regret choosing such a difficult design as my first attempt at cake pops. I also can not say I won't choose an equally challenging design next time. I have my mind set on snowmen for my next batch, using chocolate cake and mint flavored chocolate.

We will see what comes of it. I rate this project high on the success scale. Ridiculously cute, incredibly tasty, and not terribly difficult. A win on all fronts.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Kitchen fail

Everything was simmering away on the stove, but our hopes were not high. It looked lovely but all we could smell was the cloves. It really was not a good sign. With an hour to go we were not holding out hope that the flavor would improve.

It is not often that I attempt something in the kitchen and come out disappointed. I am a good enough cook that I can normally salvage anything that is going downhill. I also know mine and the husbeasts pallets well enough to choose menu items we should enjoy even if they are new to us. I am not perfect.

With my teeth still a little sensitive from Thursdays marathon visit, and the weather turning cold and rainy, I decided that this would be an excellent weekend for a big hardy meal. I pondered through my well versed collection of soups and stews searching for something that would satisfy us all weekend long.

Suddenly it occurred to me that I didn't have to do something tried and true. I could do something different. I could be adventurous. I love taking adventures in my own kitchen. I was already planning on having craft adventures, why not food adventures as well.

I turned to Facebook and posed the question to my friends; what can I cook that will last all weekend, is warm, soft, hardy, and does not involve a crockpot* or beans**. I got a lot of things tossed around that were already in my culinary arsenal. Then one friend suggested making a posole.

I had never even heard of posole before. A quick google showed me it was a Mexican soup, and my friend was even so kind as to link me to a simple but tasty recipe. I might at this point should have remembered this friend and I don't have compatible pallets. Still reading the recipe it sounded good and I decided to give it a try.

The husbeast started the process, simmering the pork shoulder in all the fragrant spices. It was smelling and looking wonderful. We put the onions and garlic in to saute and were very pleased with the way the aromatics filled the kitchen with smells that promised a wonderful meal ahead. At this point we started adding the last of the spices.

When we got to the cloves we both frowned. It wasn't that we were surprised to see cloves in the recipe, just not that much of the spice. Making a quick decision the husbeast only applied half the amount that was called for, and we were both almost immediately regretful we had added any. The smell was overpowering. The lovely scent of onion and garlic was completely consumed by the almost sickeningly sweet clove.

At this point we should have dumped the onions out and just chopped another one starting this step over. Always trust your instincts in the kitchen people. We didn't follow that instinct and instead decided to trust the recipe. Foolish mortals are we.

Finally the time came to taste it, and our fears were realized. The flavor of clove was so overwhelming that the husbeast could not eat it. This was a disaster. Quickly I tried to think what to do to salvage it. I pulled out my trusty salt and a handful of fresh cilantro and began to try and cut through that awful sweet flavor. It was a vain effort I was sure, but I would be damned if I was going to give up that easily. Another 45 minutes to simmer in hopes the fixes worked.

At this point we actually ladled out a few bowls. The decision was if it was inedible still we would just order pizza. Now somewhere I had read that adding lemon slices to the posole made it really good. I figured nothing could make it worse at this point, so we each pretty much squeezed half of a lemon into the soup.

Surprisingly the lemon helped. Somewhere between the salt, the cilantro, and the lemon, it cut the clove flavor enough that we could eat it. It still had a mild clove like after taste, but it was at least edible. Small steps.

Unfortunately this was about the time I realized that hominy is not my friend. I like fried hominy so it didn't occur to me that I wouldn't enjoy it in this manner. I found very quickly that hominy boiled in soup is pretty much just like having beans in it. Considering I hat beans this was not a good development.

In the end dinner was not a win. It definitely goes into the fail column. We are however not that easily discouraged, or are huge culinary masochists. We have decided to try posole again. In the future when we make it we will leave the cloves out all together, add a little more cilantro in at the beginning and substitute the hominy for rice.

No it won't be a classic posole, and perhaps we are just not the type who would enjoy such a dish. We are however the types that will deconstruct something that doesn't work and reinvent it in a fashion that we find enjoyable.

*The husbeast had bad experiences growing up involving a crockpot. Namely his step father had no teeth and would cook everything in the crockpot until it was liquified. He once drank a steak through a straw.

**I don't enjoy beans. It is a texture issue.