Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday traditions

This time of year is all about traditions. You can ask just about anyone and they will happily tell you about their holiday traditions and all of the fond memories they have surrounding said traditions. It doesn't matter which of the plethora of holidays you are (or aren't) celebrating, it is still a season of celebration and with that comes traditions.

Growing up I can remember a tradition of making gumbo on Christmas Eve. Our big dinner was always on Christmas day, so the night before was much more casual. A meal that could be cooked started early and mostly ignored for the rest of the day until it was time to eat was ideal. My grandmother had a recipe she learned from some little old Cajun woman in Lake Charles when my grandfather was stationed there. Her gumbo was sort of a big deal (or so I am told because I never ate it as it had seafood in it and I don't eat seafood).

There was one year that we all awoke Christmas morning to the great Freezer Gumbo Tragedy. Late Christmas Eve my mom and aunts had ladled the left over gumbo into gallon sized ziplock bags. The bags were then taken and placed in the large 6ft standing freezer in the garage. It wasn't until the next morning that we discovered that the stacked bags of gumbo (on the top shelf might I add) had burst open from having been stacked one on top of the other. The gumbo had oozed down through all the other shelves, covering all the other food, and then puddling on the floor of the freezer and began to freeze.

There are pictures somewhere of my mom and my aunts cleaning the gumbo out of the freezer. They found it much more amusing than my grandmother did. I can remember them all giggling about it even as they cleaned. Everyone swore we would never get all of the gumbo out.

That freezer is still in the garage. A few years back (probably 20 years or more since that happened) the motor on the freezer began to go out. My grandmother had someone come out to fix it. When the technician pulled the freezer out from the wall there were still some old rock hard shrimp underneath.

Now that I am grown up I never really get to make it home for Christmas. I live 5 hours away from my family so it is not exactly a quick trip. There are always issues of getting time off for both myself and the husbeast, and then the issue of whether or not we can actually afford the trip. Normally we make it down to celebrate a weekend or two after Christmas actually occurs.

Still, just because I am not home does not mean I can't have a little tradition. For the last four years at least we have had gumbo as part of our pre-Christmas tradition. In my household we do our big dinner on Christmas Eve so there is no gumbo that night. The days preceding Christmas Eve are fair game. My very Cajun husbeast happily makes a giant pot of gumbo (chicken and sausage only so I can enjoy it too) for everyone to enjoy as we prepare for the big day.

The other tradition that stands out in my mind from Christmas as a child was the potato clock. Yes you read that right; potato clock. I am certain that it started out as a joke. One year someone (probably my Uncle Bob knowing him) gave someone else a potato clock. I have no real idea why anyone would give anyone a potato clock, but it happened.

The next year someone else got the same potato clock as a regifted present. That potato clock was thereafter passed between family members for years. Some years it would not show up. Sometimes it would be a few years before it made its way back under the tree. Eventually though it would show up and we would all laugh at its reappearance.

I am not certain anyone ever opened the box to see if there really was a potato clock in the box. I have to assume if there was another gift inside someone would have made mention of it. Then again they might simply have been waiting for someone to open it up and find the real prize within. I don't really think it matters. I think the smiles and laughter that accompanied it were enough of a gift.

Traditions are important. Whether it is a family dish, a novelty toy, or a movie that must be watched, everyone has something that helps make the holidays. They are the things that years later we can look back on and smile fondly. They are the things we remember and have great strength and power to them.

They are things that will always make you smile and laugh and will make other people wonder why an ancient shrimp under the freezer is so damn hilarious.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Waitressing woes

When I was in college I worked for a little Chinese restaurant during the spring semester of my sophomore year. It was a mostly miserable experience. I have had worse jobs mind you, but there is something uniquely unpleasant about waiting tables that just sort of sticks with you forever.

The restaurant was not considered a nice restaurant. Don't get me wrong, the food was fantastic. I think it was by far the best Chinese food in town. In fact it is some of the best Chinese food I have had. When we go back to visit family up that way we always make sure to get at least one meal in at this place.

Great food aside, the atmosphere was lacking. It was in a building that had once been some sort of fast food chain with a decor upgrade to make it look more traditional kitschy Chinese restaurant. There was a drive thru at the restaurant and you ordered your food at the counter. Nothing about this screamed fine dining. It made everyone who came in think of it more like fast food Chinese and they liked to treat us as such.

While you ordered at the counter, the rest of the dining experience was more like a normal restaurant. Someone brought you your drinks and your food. A waitress (because at the time the only men in the restaurant cooked or were the owners sons who just mooched our tips) would come by to refill your drinks, get you anything you needed, and in the end clear your table. No one was assigned to a table per se, but we tended to stick to one section if we weren't busy.

We did work for tips sort of. We were paid more than a normal server but a lot less than minimum wage still. Since we weren't assigned tables we tip shared. Can I just say that tip share is evil. We had one girl that never worked. She would sit and chat with friends, stand and stare into the order window ignoring customers, or disappear completely but still get an equal cut of the meager tips that we earned. We started pocketing tips when she worked and secretly meet in the parking lot at the end of the night to tip split without her.

I remember one night, prom night to be exact, we got a couple dozen kids coming in pre prom for dinner. Amazingly these kids almost all left tips. As my coworker and I were clearing tables two girls, who were actually too young to go to prom and had just dressed up to have dinner with their friends, were still lingering at a table. As they got up to leave they saw a $5 bill sitting on the table and one girl scoffed to the other "Someone left a tip. That is so stupid, you don't tip here." and then she reached for the money.

I have moved faster in my life, but not many times. I crossed the room in a blink of an eye and snatched the money out from under her hand. I fixed the teenager with a death glare and as politely as I could informed her that yes, we do work for tips, and she should think twice about trying to steal from servers in the future. I turned and pocketed the tips off of all the other tables quickly before returning to my cleaning duties.

Aside from poor tipping habits a number of the patrons treated the restaurant like a fast food joint. I remember one day a woman came in with 5 children between the ages of 3 and maybe 9. She insisted on ordering all of them a regular portion of chicken fried rice. Our portions were huge. I almost never finished a full plate and I have a healthy appetite. Still we couldn't convince her to get a childs portion or allow the kids to share.

Now I don't have children, but even then at the age of 19 I knew what very young children were prone to do with heaping piles of rice. For the next 45 minutes my coworkers and I stood and watched helpless and horrified as these children proceeded to destroy the booth they were in. They threw the rice at each other, at the window, on the floor, at other people. They got on the floor and ground the rice into the carpet. They turned over all the sauce containers and emptied out the salt.

All the while the mother just let them do that, while also being ridiculously demanding on the staff. She would shout at us across the restaurant to bring her more drink or another fork since her kid had thrown yet another one at the floor. She was rude and snapped at us constantly. I was the one who ended up helping her, and I was as polite as possible though it was hard not to just slap her.

When she finally left, hauling her rice covered hellions with her, she did not leave a tip. I stood with a bucket and the rice scraper (it was like a squeegee for the carpet to get out ground in rice) staring at the mess and hating my life. It was the single worst clean up I ever had to do in that restaurant and it was all in the space of one booth.

After a few minutes of wiping down everything and scraping rice a man walked up to me with his 6 year old daughter at his side. He politely interrupted my rice scraping and told me he had watched the entire debauchal happen and how impressed he was with how I handled all of it. He wanted to apologize for how that woman acted. Then he handed me a $10 bill and walked out.

I was stunned. What was even more shocking was the fact that when I finally made it to his table (15 minutes later) to clear it, there was a $5 tip there as well. The man tipped me for his meal and for the woman as well. It was one of the few moments that I didn't mind working in that place.

The only other truly nice moment I remember from that job was on my very first day. I had no idea what anything on the menu was, I had no idea how to work the register, I had no idea how to work the drive thru, I had no idea how to write out an order, pretty  much I was clueless and terrified. The other girls were trying to help, but not doing a great job of it.

The very first order I took was for, what I would find out later, a regular. All the girls knew this woman but they failed to tell me that they knew her well enough to know she never ordered what she wanted. She had a bad habit of ordering one thing but meant another. I want to say she ordered crab rangoon when what she wanted were won tons. This was a pretty significant difference in food and in price.

When I took her the order she immediately snapped at me that I had taken her order wrong. I was mortified. I apologized up and down and went back to fix things. I looked at the ticket to verify I had written down what came out of the kitchen. I went to one of the other girls in a panic and she chastised me for obviously taking the order wrong.

I felt like an idiot. It was my first day and I had already screwed up. I was fairly certain that I was not going to be able to keep this job for very long. It was miserable. Not really the way you want to start a job.

I corrected the order and then slunk back to the counter to wrap silverware since that seemed safe. I sort of wanted to cry. No one had told me at this point that the woman always made this mistake. Apparently they had just all forgotten this simple fact. I would have never really known if it weren't for the woman telling me herself.

As she went to leave she came up to me and apologized for snapping and for upsetting me on my first day. She said she realized after that she had ordered the wrong thing and that normally the other girls just corrected the order and brought what she really wanted. She was so very sweet about the whole thing that I suddenly didn't feel bad about it at all. She also slipped me a $5 bill before she left to further apologize. It was actually the only time I ever pocketed a tip and didn't share it with anyone else.

Overall it was an experience I would happily never repeat. Like I said, I have had jobs that were worse, but that doesn't mean this was something I enjoyed. It did however give me many insights into people in general. It made me look at my food servers in a new light as well.

Because of that job I almost always tip something. I think in the decade since I had that job I only walked away without tipping once, and that was a spectacularly bad service. I will leave 'bad' tips if the server is rude or incompetent, but even then that is a 10% tip at minimum. I typically tip between 20-30% depending on the service I get. I will leave an extra tip if I see a server get stiffed. I always am polite and apologetic if I think I am being overly fussy or needy.

Basically I learned to never be the customer who sends my server home in tears wanting to quit their jobs. I strive to be that customer that makes waiting tables just a little less miserable. I think that is a good lesson for us all.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Customer service

The world is full over over entitled jackholes*. I am not referring solely to the generation of 4G cloud pampered kids; I am referring to the populace in general. I suppose that is a little unfair considering I do not have vast dealings with non Americans, so I will amend my statement to only include my fellow Americans as over entitled insufferable jackholes.

Nothing makes this more apparent than the holidays. We enter the season of love, giving, togetherness, peace, joy, cookies, and consumerism and discover that the vast majority of people have absolutely no idea how to behave like a decent human being. All you have to do is spend 20 minutes in any busy retail environment to see multiple painful examples of this reality.

This has been the week of my car having very expensive tire related issues. I have had to deal with mechanics who may or may not have been screwing me over and then had to add onto that very large bill two brand new tires. I was cranky for multiple reasons, but I wasn't taking it out on the nice young man at the tire shop. He gave me a total that was less than what I expected, said it would be at least two hours, and all I did was sigh, smile, pay, and quietly take my seat.

I did this because I always try and be a decent human when dealing with people in a customer service capacity. It is not this kids fault that there were 15 cars ahead of me at 4pm on a Monday. It isn't his fault what happened with my mechanic. It isn't his fault that my car decided to have these problems a week and a half before Christmas. I wasn't going to take out my frustration on him because that would just be wrong.

So I sat there for two hours (without a book, which again was no ones fault but my own), and like the other 10 people sitting there kept to myself and just accepted that I was losing out a chunk of my evening. Sadly there were several shining examples of what is wrong with this world.

There was a wealthy 19 year old girl that called her father to yell at the poor guy at the counter because she had driven her car around on low pressure and ruined her tire. There was the man who cancelled and order and read the guy at the counter the riot act because they had taken too long in shipping his tires. They apparently shipped the day after he ordered but got diverted due to the ice storm, to which he said wasn't his problem and they should have gotten his tires there despite the roads being shut down.

The one that really was the winner of the night was the woman who walked in about 5 minutes after they closed. This is the sort of tire shop that 'closes' at 6 so that they can finish working at a decent hour. Normally they lock the doors at 6 so that they don't have any new customers come in. Unfortunately the guys were all handling the last couple of people who had come in just before 6 and they hadn't made it to the door yet.

This woman comes rushing in, looks around, notices they are all busy, and leaves. I watched her hop in her car and then go to find a parking spot. There were at this point 19 cars still waiting to be serviced, so the lot was pretty well full (it is a very small lot). About a minute after she walked out the young man came over and locked the door. Another minute or two passed before the woman showed up again to find the door locked.

She absolutely lost her shit. I watched as she yanked and rattled at the door, waved her fists angrily, and shouted what I assume were not nice things. The young man had to excuse himself from the customer he was helping to go open the door for this woman. As soon as the door was open she began shouting at this young man.

Woman: I was in here before you locked the doors! I went to park and I come back and you lock me out?!

Young man: I am sorry I never saw you walk in, I have been out front the whole time.

Woman (still shouting): I was in here. I had to go and park but you have no parking.

YM: Yes mam we have 19 cars waiting to be serviced, they are taking up most of the spaces.

Woman: Well I had to park all the way at the end because you have no spaces up front for me.

YM: Yes mam, I am sorry about that but we are busy and the parking lot gets full when we are busy.

Woman: Well I was here.

YM: Yes mam, and you can come in, I am sorry about that. How can I help you?

Woman: We are going out of town next week and I need an alignment now.

YM: Well mam there is going to be at a minimum a two and half hour wait tonight, possibly longer.

At this point the woman's husband steps up

Husband: Would it be better if we came back in the morning?

YM: Well of course it would be, we probably wouldn't have anyone in line before you and could get you finished in 45 minutes. If you really want it done tonight though we can do an alignment tonight, it isn't like I want to go home at any point tonight (by this time he was not attempting to hide his sarcasm) 

Husband (obviously missing said sarcasm): Oh good then we will do it tonight.

The poor guy just stared at them a minute before ushering them back to the counter.
After they had finished all the paper work the woman asked again how long it would be. The young man told her again it would be close to three hours at this point before her car was ready. She looked around at all of us playing on our phones and then back to the young man and asked, without hiding her disdain, "We don't have to wait here do we? That is a really long time."

I watched as this poor guy stopped and made himself swallow whatever nasty comment had popped to mind. He took a deep breath and shook his head. He told her "No mam, you don't have to stay here and wait for your car. We will stay here extra late to make sure that your car gets an alignment, but you don't have to be inconvenienced by having to sit here wasting time for the next three hours, we will call you when it is ready and then sit and wait for you to get back to pick it up."

I can't help but to imagine that that poor guy had to sit there waiting for them to come get their car well after everyone else was done and gone.

These people were awful. They did not have an emergency with their car. Their was nothing urgent that couldn't wait until the next day. They were made well aware that they were going to make the staff of the establishment stay late on what was obviously already going to be a late night. They were rude to the guy and yelled at him because he had been doing his job. He was nothing but polite (if not a little snarky) and he went out of his way to help them. He easily could have told them to come back the next day, but he did the good customer service thing and defused an angry customer.

We have become a nation of people who expect to be able to have any problem solved immediately. We want 24 hour customer service that can fix every issue no matter how trivial. We don't just want someone there to help us when our power goes out, our credit card is stolen, or our car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Those are all things that are reasonable to want immediate help with. We also want someone there to handle 'problems' that are nothing more than wants and whims.

We don't think about the fact that in order for us to have someone there on the weekends, holidays, and after hours, that we are making someone give up their weekends, holidays, and after hours time. We don't think that those people, while it being their job, might not want to give up that time to work so that you can have support on your brand new Kindle. Yea it would suck to get a new toy on Christmas that doesn't work, but it sucks more to expect someone to give up their Christmas just in case your toy doesn't work.

I think that everyone should be forced to work two very specific jobs for at least 6 months of their lives. I think everyone should have to work as a server at a non fine dining restaurant and I think they should be forced to work in some form of customer service, preferably retail customer service. There is nothing like counting out your tips after having dozens of people yell at you and kids throwing food at you to make you appreciate everyone who ever served you food before. There is also nothing like coming off a 10 hour retail shift, or phone support shift, to make you want to give a hug and send chocolates to every person who has ever helped you in a store.

I have worked in both of these situations and because of it I am a better customer. Really what that is what it comes down to; being a good customer. Yes it is the job of the person in customer service to be helpful and courteous. They are being paid to serve you. What they are not being paid to do is to be treated like some second hand citizen. They are not there for you to scream and yell at them. They are not there for you to take out your frustrations on. They are not there to be your punching bag.

Service is a two way street. If they are there to help you, you should be thankful that they are willing to do this job, possibly giving up weekends or holiday time to do it, and you should treat them with respect. If you are angry or frustrated keep a calm tone and explain to them that you are angry but not angry at them, and while you may get loud or a bit ranty it really isn't their fault and you are sorry if it comes across that way. You should do your best to not make their jobs and lives harder, especially if your problem isn't an emergency.

Yes you will come across people in the service industry who are incompetent, inconsiderate, inept, or are completely disinclined to actually help. Yes at that point you can be justified in getting angry at them, but that still doesn't give you the right to be a jackhole to them. Call their manager, tell them what the problem is, explain things in a rational way like civilized people should do.

Keep these things in mind this holiday season. As the world is rushing about like chickens with their heads cut off, remember that this is a season of peace and joy and happiness. Remember that the season is about being together with people you love, not about the things you give. Remember that everyone is in just as big a rush as you are and that patience and understanding really could be the best gift you could give to some poor stranger who is trying their hardest to make everyone's holidays work.

Most of all remember to treat people the way you would want to be treated.
Don't be a holiday jackhole.

* I am writing at work and the last thing I need is someone to walk by and see me repeatedly typing expletives, so I just combined two of my favorites. If you don't get it, your friends are nothing like my friends.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Scratching at a thought

Observations on itching-

- Every time I put my gloves on to go outside I get an itch. Whether it is my nose, or cheek, or thigh, something starts to itch and I am unable to scratch it because of the stupid gloves.

- As soon as I take my gloves off all itching stops.

- When I get to the perfect comfy position in bed and am almost asleep I will get an itch that will require me to move out of my comfy position. If I do not give in and scratch the itch it will become agonizing quickly. If I do scratch it then it will simply migrate indefinitely.

- When I wear shoes that are impossible to get out of (like my knee high boots) the sole of my foot will randomly start itching.

- It is impossible to scratch an itch through denim, so inevitably the only place you will itch while wearing jeans is in a place that you can in no way access without taking off your pants or looking incredibly inappropriate.

- When I am having a super good hair day my scalp will start to randomly itch requiring me to mess up my hair.

- If I wear eye makeup my eye will itch and require me to either rub it and smear my makeup or ignore it which will cause my eyes to water and make my makeup run.

- Anytime I ask someone to scratch my back I become incapable of giving them directions on how to locate and destroy the itch.

- Anytime I scratch someone back I am incapable of following their directions to find the itchy spot to scratch.

- Having been a child very prone to hives the worst places to have hives/a rash/a terrible itch are as follows: Under your nails, between your toes, behind your elbows and knees, your armpits, inside your ears and nose, your gums. All of these places are difficult to scratch without causing pain or will not stop itching no matter how much you scratch because they are body parts constantly in contact with another body part.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Kitchen Win: Ingenuity Pot Roast

When the weather takes a turn to the cold I immediately want to start cooking warm hearty meals. I want to make giant pots of soup, and loaves of warm crusty bread, and stews, and all of those rustic hot dishes that you associate with the cold weather. To be honest though I never actually seem to do this.

For one thing, I do not actually like stew. The few times I have made it I always make the remark afterwards of "Oh yea, I am not a stew fan.". I have also never baked a loaf of bread in my life even though I own a bread maker. I think it is out of laziness or possibly the fact that my Kroger has a really decent bakery in it.

Still this urge is overwhelming sometimes and I just have to give in. With the impending icepacolypse last week I decided I wanted to try my hand at pot roast. I know for a fact that I adore pot roast so it was a pretty safe plan for something tasty to eat. I could put it on early on one of the ice days and come supper time we would have a warm hearty meal to fill our bellies.

I set out last Wednesday to first off find a recipe for pot roast that looked good. Again since I never follow through on these cold weather cooking urges, I have never actually made pot roast. I know the basics of a pot roast but I wanted to see if there were any tricks I could incorporate into my cooking. Always take pro tips when you can.

The search was frustrating. I discovered almost instantly that the crock-pot craze that has been going strong lately was more of an epidemic than I thought. We have turned into a crock pot nation. People have apparently stopped slow cooking in anything other than one of these electric wonder machines. It is the no thought cook alternative that makes people happy.

Here is the thing; we are a crock-pot free household. First off I have never in my life so much as heated up queso in a crock-pot. We didn't own one growing up. I learned to cook things that require slow cooking the old fashioned way; on the stove or in the oven. Spaghetti sauce and soup were things that simmered on the stove top and were lovingly attended to all day long. Roasts went into the oven. We used a dutch oven when needed. This was just how I was raised so I have no idea how to cook in a crock-pot.

Secondly, the husbeast refuses to eat from one. Don't get me wrong, if we went to a friends house and they made us dinner out of a crock-pot I am pretty sure he would eat the food, but mostly because he is polite. When he was growing up his step father had no teeth and had an intense love of a crock-pot. Apparently their meals would be put in the crock-pot and cooked down until they were basically hot soupy mix. He says it was the day he got a steak that he could drink through a straw that he swore he would never eat from them again.

So in the interest of a happy marriage, I do not even attempt to use a crock-pot. I am fairly certain if someone gifted us one under the theory that if he had good food out of one he would change his mind, one of three things would happen. 1) He would throw it in the garbage. 2) He would re-gift it. 3) He would leave it in the box, in the attic, and years from now the next owners of our house would get a surprise bonus of a crock-pot with purchase of house.

So crock-pot recipes don't really do me much good. I know that I can apply the same principles to a dutch oven, but still I would like to see a few more recipes that do not rely on the wonder gadget. Maybe that is just me being old fashioned or whatever, but it is how I am.

I finally settled on something that sounded good to me. I went with red onion (because we like red onions more than white onions), mushrooms (because while I didn't see any recipes involving mushrooms, we love mushrooms), baby carrots (because they come pre-peeled and I am lazy), and small red potatoes. There is apparently a huge debate between small red potatoes and mashed potatoes, but I don't really care. Potatoes are potatoes and these were easier, and this meal was all about the easy. I also decided that I would use lots of garlic and some red pepper to give it a little kick. My plan was sounding like a winner.

The plan was to cook this on Saturday, however time got away from me and that did not happen. Sunday also was a bust. Finally I managed to get around to cooking it last night. I had all my ingredients, and was ready to go. All I needed was my dutch oven and we were in business.

Now I have never used our dutch oven. Like I said I never manage to follow through on the urge to cook foods that would go into a dutch oven so it is a fairly useless piece of equipment in our world. Still I knew that at some point someone had given us one. I just needed to find it.

After a thorough search of the kitchen I realized that I was apparently wrong in my assumption that we owned a dutch oven because we clearly don't. This did complicate matters. I discovered in fact I do not own any deep baking dishes or roasting pans. My pyrex was woefully undersized for the task at hand. In the end I discovered I only own one oven safe dish that was an appropriate size for this sort of roast; an old soup pot (which honestly was a little too small, but I am good at making things fit).

Necessity is the mother of invention though, so I made due with what I had. I quickly seasoned and then seared the meat and tossed it in the pot. All of the veggies then also got the same treatment. After they were all in the pot I poured in some beef stock and added more seasoning. This was pretty simple after I found something to cook it in.

I covered the top with a ton of tinfoil and then shoved it into the oven at 275 and walked away. I think honestly that walking away was the hardest part. I have a want, no a need, to futz with my food. The solution ended up being to just leave the house and go run errands so I couldn't give in to the temptation to open the pot and look.

After a little over 3 hours I finally pulled the pot out of the oven. Honestly it was supposed to stay in at least another 15 minutes, and I would have loved to leave it in another 45. The thing is it was already almost an hour and a half past our normal dinner time and I was getting to 'fat girl needs a sammich' phase.

I told the husbeast that it was time to see if the pot roast turned out or if we would be ordering a pizza. I pulled the meat out of the pot and was pleased. It wasn't falling apart tender, but it really was almost there. I popped a piece in my mouth and it tasted pretty damn good.

Once I had gotten all of the meat and veggies out of the pot I grabbed some corn starch and salt and went to making a gravy out of the leftover juice. I was worried for a while that I had added too much corn starch, but then the consistency came together perfectly. I actually think that the gravy was by far the best part of the entire meal.

I heated up some rosemary potato bread that I had picked up at Kroger, and added that to the side of a heaping steaming bowl of pot roast and settled in on the couch under a blanket to enjoy. Other than the fact that the meat wasn't as tender as I hoped for, I thought it turned out wonderfully. The husbeast agreed with this assessment. He even pointed out that he did not try and put ketchup on it (which trust me is no small miracle).

In the end I call this a total win. With a little ingenuity, a lot of determination, and the inspiration of some very frigid weather, I think I have come up with a meal that could easily, and happily, be repeated. Now I just need to go out and buy an actual dutch oven.  

Friday, December 6, 2013

Chicken Little Syndrome

If you are from the north, or anywhere that is snows on a fairly regular basis, you will probably find today's post a little on the absurd side. I promise you that what follows is an accurate representation and I am in no way exaggerating. You only need to spend one day in Texas during an ice storm to realize how truthful I am being.

We are having an ice storm in Dallas and the world is coming to an end. As soon as the weatherman foretold of the coming icepocalypse the entire metroplex lost its everloving mind.  Nearly every man woman and child could aptly be renamed Chicken Little at this point in time. It doesn't matter that we have lived through storms just like this before, some even worse, this will always be the reaction. Every. Single. Time.

The first symptom of the oncoming icy doom is an intense fear of being trapped inside for long periods of time and not having enough food or water to survive. I know that according to the forecast the wintry mix is only supposed to last for two days, but that means absolutely nothing. The inability to drive for more than a day means we will all starve to death.

I totally agree that you should have a stock of food and water in case you are stuck at home and the power goes out or your pipes freeze. Of course you should probably keep a case of water around your house for emergencies at all times. You should also probably always have at least two days worth of something to eat in your house, even if it is just peanut butter and pickles.

Going to the grocery store you would think that people never kept any food in their house whatsoever. The shelves are practically bare come the day before the storm hits. Notably the water aisle is desolate, canned soups are completely gone, most canned goods are pretty well picked over, and there isn't a frozen pizza to be seen.

Also, because of the high level of panic everyone is exhibiting, the general atmosphere of the grocery store is like the Hunger Games. I nearly got run over by an 11 year old in a school uniform because I stepped into the aisle as she was trying to rush by. Her mother didn't even pause to make sure I was alright or tell the girl to watch out. I have been grocery shopping the day before Thanksgiving and people weren't as mean and ruthless as they are the day before an ice storm in Texas.

Now that we have pillaged the grocery stores we are prepared to hunker down in our houses and wait out the end of days. All the food supplies are in the house, there is a stack of fire wood (if you are smart) in case the power goes out, and almost all work and school has been canceled well in advance. This is a good thing because Texans do not know how to drive in ice and snow.

First off we can't get into our cars. No one owns a suitable ice scraper unless they are a transplant from the north. The plastic things we can buy around here are only good for really light ice. When there is 1/2" or more ice coating your car that thing is going to break. I can't tell you how many people I have seen or heard of throwing hot water onto their windshield only to watch it shatter the glass underneath. De icing our cars is pretty much a Herculean effort. 

If we can manage to defrost our cars then there is the nightmare of trying to drive. I know my friends in the north love to roll there eyes at the way we panic over 1/2 an inch of ice on the roads, but that is a big deal for us. We don't get to practice how to handle our car skidding on black ice. Most of us have no idea which way to turn the wheel when you hit an ice skid. Most of us will end up in a ditch or someones back yard if we hit an icy patch with our cars.

Anyone who does venture out drives about 15-20mph the entire way. There is typically only one lane people drive in; the lane that someone before them created in the ice and snow. This lane normally straddles two lanes. Everyone is pretty much content to drive in a slow single file line with good distance between each driver mostly because we are (justifiably) almost as terrified of the other drivers as we are the ice on the road.

Highways are pretty well unthinkable in these weather conditions. We don't have the benefit of having salt trucks to run about spreading salt over the roads to help driving conditions. What we do have are sand trucks. I know my cold weather readers are probably cringing at the idea of pouring sand over ice on the roads. Trust me it is worse for those of us driving in it, but it is all we have. We only have maybe two days like this all year, why would we have salt trucks or snow plows?

In a couple of days the storm will have passed and the ice will have melted and people will become mostly sane and rational again. Everyone will comment on how the weather wasn't quite as bad as they expected, and make it like they weren't worried at all. They will all swear up and down next time they will be more prepared.

Then the next storm will come crawling in and Chicken Little will appear again.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Observations from a Ren Faire

Today is the last day of NaBloPoMo and I have pretty much nothing to say. After 30 days of writing a post every day I really have nothing more to say. Being in the middle of a three day faire weekend is really not helping me much either.

So we will have one final set of highlights from faire.

- We didn't turn the fountain on since it is cold outside. Without the water running the milky colored water is very still and looks like glass. All weekend we have been watching people cautiously touching the surface of the water to see if it is a solid or liquid. Most everyone was quietly surprised that it was water with one exception.

About mid afternoon today a little girl of about 4 walked up to the fountain and after all of a second plunged both hands into the water. The reaction to her hands going into the water was priceless. She was obviously not expecting it to actually be water because she shrieked in shock and horror before jumping about three feet backwards. I am sure the ice cold water helped with that.

She then stared at the fountain like it was made of pure evil and had somehow betrayed her. Her parents, and the rest of us, were too busy laughing to really soothe her.

- We sell a large dragon skull that is about 3 feet long and weighs probably 15 pounds. It is pretty cool looking. We have had people buy it as decorations for their kids rooms, trophies in their man caves, and accents for nooks in their homes.

Today a woman came in and looked at the skull three times before she started asking us about the price and logistics of getting it home. She finally looked at me and asked me if it would do well in a garden. I told her I thought so especially if she put it so it was in some bushes. She responded by saying: "Yea I am going to nestle it in the bushes so it is a little hard to see and scare the crap out of the president of my HOA."

Best reason for buying a giant dragon skull ever. Sort of makes me want to have a house with an HOA.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Mothers day

Today is a very special day. Today is my mom's birthday which makes it the most special of days. I don't think I could ever really explain why my mom is so awesome, but she really is the most awesome mom anyone could hope for.

When we were growing up my mom was the cool mom. It was thanks to her that our house was always the place that kids wanted to go. When other kids would whine about  mean parents it was always my mom that they would wish their parents were more like. I couldn't ever really disagree.

I don't think I ever had a birthday party or sleepover that wasn't the most inventive and well planned event ever. My mom didn't need Pinterest to come up with crazy cool creative theme parties, she just instinctively knew what to do. I mean come on the woman threw me a Gone With the Wind birthday party when I was seven (which I totally didn't appreciate at the time.).

It wasn't just birthdays or sleepovers, her being amazing was an every day event. I can remember being very young, under seven, and my mother organized a parade on our street for all the little kids. It might have been in honor of Fiesta (I grew up in San Antonio where Fiesta is a thing) or perhaps it was for Easter. Honestly for all I know it was just because the children were bored. We all ended up making parade 'floats' out of shoe boxes and paraded them up and down the sidewalk in front of all the neighbors. Coolest thing ever.

She also was exactly the mom you wanted to have as a kid in school. She made us do our homework but was always there to help with any project and make it that much more amazing. My mother boasts that she always got A's on our projects and we still always learned something. I can remember her spending countless hours gluing bugs to poster board for an entomology project I did in 5th grade. It was winter in Texas and there were no bugs out but my mother knew that our cousin had a freezer full of bugs (she froze anything that got into her pool so she could show the kids what was safe to touch and wasn't safe) and had gone and collected all of them for me. My mother hates bugs but she still glued them all down so I could have the best project ever.

My mother remains incredibly supportive of me and all of my siblings. She has always been there giving as much as she can whether she has it to give or not. She is selfless when it comes to her kids and I love that about her.

If I had to say who my hero was, it would be my mother. I could go on and on about the amazing woman she is and the amazing things she does but there are not enough hours in the days or space on my blog. You will just have to take my word that she is amazing. She is my mom.

Happy birthday Mops, I love you. Xoxo.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving traditions

When I was younger Thanksgiving was an almost predictable thing. Every year was almost identical to the point that they all sort of run together. I am fairly certain any member of my family could tell you almost to the minute what was going to happen on Thanksgiving day.

Dinner was always the same thing. We always had turkey and stuffing, though the stuffing if I recall wasn't cooked in the turkey. There were mashed potatoes and turkey gravy and frozen corn and green beans. There were dinner rolls and jellied cranberry sauce in the shape of a can. There was always a relish tray with green onions and whole black olives and deviled eggs that inevitably were all eaten before they were served. There was also fruit salad that no one ever actually ate.

I am certain if you suggested to my grandmother that we change the menu even slightly that her head would have exploded. She was very big on traditions which is not a problem in the least. Traditions are important and in our house they were sacred.

Growing up there were only a couple of times that I ate Thanksgiving dinner away from home and each time I was completely freaked out by how different dinner was. I can recall eating dinner with my step family and how I was fairly certain they had no idea what a proper thanksgiving meal was. They had cooked the turkey the day before and served it cold, they served sweet rice instead of potatoes, there was ambrosia salad instead of fruit salad. I was incredibly uncomfortable the entire meal.

When I got out on my own and I was suddenly free of the requirement of tradition I was torn on what to do. I remember the first few years when I was planning my Thanksgiving with friends I found it hard to buck tradition. It hurt my brain to think I was voluntarily making a non traditional dinner.

Now, a decade and a half later, I couldn't tell you what I consider a proper Thanksgiving meal other than it is served among loved ones. I have made chicken, cornish hens, turkey, ham, pork roast, and prime rib for the main portion of the meal. These days we are more likely to serve collard greens than green beans. If someone offers to bring something new I actually find it exciting and not a painful thought.

In the end this day is about being thankful for what you have no matter what it is. Whatever I am eating, I am happy for it, and I am going to enjoy it. It doesn't have to be a specific food made in a specific way. All it really has to be is something that was prepared with consideration and love and served amongst people that warm my heart.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Flitting away

Day before a holiday weekend and I have all the focus of an ADD squirrel. I am fairly certain at this point I have had a dozen brilliant ideas for posts which stayed in my brain for less than a minute before they were consumed by thoughts of looking up recipes, packing, lunch, candy crush, facebook, my neighbors talking, a song I really like on my Pandora, or you know something like breathing.

There is no real point at trying to focus. I can't focus on work either. I am not really sure why I am here other than I am told I have to be. I know in theory we are getting off early, so I am just sort of sitting around waiting for that to happen while poking at some work items.

Basically I am completely useless today.

I am completely alright with this. I will happily flit from one thought to another until it is time to go home where I will flit from one project to another. Days like this were made for flitting.

So I say unto you, my lovely minions, go and flit about on this most flitty of days. Flit and flounce and fly!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Evolution of presents

When I was younger the idea of Christmas or my birthday were exciting for many reasons, but mostly because it meant that I got to get and give presents. The entire act of exchanging gifts has always made me incredibly happy. Whether it was baked goods or expensive toys I was pleased to be on either end of the exchange.

Of course as I have gotten older things have changed. I still love giving and getting gifts, but I find that the nature of the gifts have changed. There are still homemade baked goods, thoughtful trinkets, and expensive toys exchanged. I am not sure that will ever really change. If I think it would be something you would enjoy I am damn well going to give it to you.

What has really changed are the things that I want to receive. I love getting all of the things people think I would enjoy and I do have an Amazon holiday list full of DVDs and books. The thing is that when I really think about it, the things I want aren't material things easily wrapped with a bow.

My mother once told me that she knew she was an adult when she asked for new tires for Christmas. It was an expensive gift, but it was completely practical. You aren't supposed to ask for practical gifts for Christmas or your birthday, you are supposed to ask for things that are more want than need. Apparently growing up means those two things blend together more.

Every time someone asks me what I want for Christmas I will generally shrug or point them to my Amazon list.  I have things that I want, but they just aren't things you ask people for. I mean telling someone that I would love to wake up and find that someone has finished mudding, texturing, and painting the guest bathroom, or that someone had fixed all the cracks in my walls and ceilings from the foundation leveling doesn't seem festive or feasible. Saying I want a new back fence doesn't really go over as well as saying I want the series 7 of Doctor Who on DVD.

Don't get me wrong, I am perfectly happy with getting the things on my Amazon list or baked goods or whatever. I don't expect anyone to just randomly do manual labor or chores for me, that is sort of ridiculous. I may ask for a hand when I get around to these projects, but they are all things I will do myself. I am just pointing out that the more practical things have become so incredibly appealing.

I think it is safe to say that I have grown up and am no longer a Toys R Us kid, but now very much a Home Depot adult. Not that that will stop me from playing with any new toy that comes my way. All it really means is I will consider a new Dyson or power drill as much a toy as I did a Barbie or Lego set as a kid. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Things to love about the cold

Things I love on a cold night:

- A warm fuzzy blanket or three wrapped around me.

- The smell of home cooked food simmering on the stove (tonight it is collard greens).

- A purring kitten (if you have read many of my things I love/like/make me happy you will see a recurring theme here).

- TV I enjoy (not necessarily good TV mind you).

- Puppy snores.

- How the husbeast always gets super silly when their is a chill in the air.

- Going to bed under the big down comforter and snuggling up with the husbeast on one side and at least two cats on the other side.

- The way the sound of the wind seems so much crisper and clearer outside.

- The smell of chimney smoke on the air from neighbors lighting fires in their fireplaces.

Cold day blues

*This was set to post yesterday. We were having spotty internet service and were so concerned about the weather that I wrote a post to autopost on Sunday so I wouldn't miss a day. I have no idea why it didn't post, I just know that I logged in this morning and it was still sitting in draft state. Technology is not always my friend. So a day late but with the best intentions.*

When it comes to a renaissance festival you really want the weather to be nice. No one really wants to go walk around outside when it is too hot, too cold, too wet, or a combination of any of those. I mean I am sure there are people who like to run around in bad weather, but I am fairly certain that they are the exception and not the rule.

When we have heavy rain days we always say that the patrons who show up are hard core faire lovers. These people obviously want to be there if they are slogging about in the mud and rain for faire. They don't care about muddy boots and wet clothes and they still manage to have fun in the rain.

After this weekend I have determined that bitter cold and rain means that no one will actually have a good time. Not even my die hard regulars were chipper and smiling when they came into my shop. I saw more life out of people when it was insufferably hot and so humid you felt like you needed a snorkel to breath.

The cold is just miserable and adding wet into the scenario is just cruel. We shivered. They shivered. Our teeth chattered. Their teeth chattered. We grumpily huddled against the wind and so did they. Smiling, chatting, shopping, being pleasant all went out the window as the wind blew in. It was miserable.

Thankfully the forecast is showing pleasant weather for our final weekend. After all the unpleasant weather conditions we have suffered through this season I would say we are due. It will be nice for everyone to be able to actually enjoy their faire experience.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

This little piggy went wee wee wee all the way home

Driving is a thing that has many dangers associated with it. From well before the time we first sit behind the wheel of a car we all pretty much know that driving is a complex activity fraught with numerous hazards and obstacles. Whether it is weather, other drivers, road construction and hazards, or animals; you will eventually run into something that is going to try and kill you.

I have been in the car for my own fair share of crazy adventures. I once was in a car on a dark back east Texas highway where we hit a couch at 4am. Yes you read that right, a couch, in the middle of the road. Thankfully it turned out to be just the cushions of the couch set up to look like a full couch so that when we struck it the pillows just rolled under the car. The only damage was mental damage in the end. We never figured out if it was someone playing a prank or someone hoping to kill the people who hit the couch but since I am still alive we will assume it was a prank.

Still, of all the things I have seen and experienced I never expected to be saying that I was almost hit by a pig. Yes I said a pig (and here you thought saying I ran over a couch was going to be the weirdest thing I said in this post). To be precise it was probably a 400lb wild pig that darted across the highway in the middle of the night in the cold rain.

We were lucky that the husbeast was driving and not me. I would have hit the pig, the husbeast managed to avoid it, though I swear the thing clipped the bumper as it streaked past. A few weeks back my friend Flo was not as lucky and was hit by a pig on the same highway. That pig pretty much took the front end off of her car.

Even having heard Flo's story I didn't really think that I would ever have a similar story. I mean you hear about people hitting dogs, cats, birds, deer, hell I have even heard of someone hitting a gazelle (in Texas), but pigs being hit by cars is not something you hear about. I apparently know very little about animal collisions.

Texas has a huge problem with wild pigs. Wild hogs are wreaking havoc across the southern united states and half of the feral bacon factories are in Texas. I have seen numbers estimated around 1 to 3 million of these things. If you want to know about the horrible things wild hogs do you can read a number of interesting articles. I can tell you that they destroy everything in their path and can easily kill a person.

They are also very difficult to kill. They have thick skin and an even thicker skull. The husbeast shot one with a 30-06 (which can I tell you I had to ask him how to write that out) and he hit it right between the eyes. The pig dropped bu then stood up and just shook its tusky head in anger. The bullet had hit the skull and just skimmed off. He put the next two shots into the pigs shoulders as it charged him.

The pig problem is so bad that there are pig hunting teams. In some areas they hunt the pigs from helicopters with machine guns. Yea I know this is probably one of the weirdest posts I have ever written, but it is totally true. This is not only a real thing, it is a very common. Go google wild hog helicopter hunting and see all the links that appear.

So along with my couch story I can now add nearly being hit by running bacon to my list of strange car stories. I am just really glad that thing didn't hit us. I really would have hated to be bitter every time I ate bacon just because a pig took off the front end of my car.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Baking imperative

So there should totally be a post here today, but I didn't write one. Seeing as how we are jumping in the car to drive to faire in an hour and I still have to pack, I don't really have time to write a post. I have a good excuse though.

Those lovelies are little apple hand pies. I made almost two dozen of them this afternoon because I had to. I don't mean I had any pressing thing that required pies, I just had to. It is finally cold outside and my reaction to the cold is to bake. It is an imperative.

So I left work early, stopped by the grocery store, and spent the next couple of hours baking. Because it is cold and when it is cold you bake. Right?

Well whether you think it is weird or not I think it is delightful. My soul (and my tummy) are now soothed. Now to figure out how to pack them for transport to faire.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Office cohabitation

Living with another person is difficult. Sharing your personal space with someone else presents with all sorts of challenges. Getting used to how the other person behaves and becoming comfortable with it is sometimes the hardest part of a relationship. In order for it to work people have to be willing to grow and change, but that is what you do to make cohabitation a happy and functional thing.

Sadly this is not true in an office environment. There are 50 people in the office trying to share the same small amount of common space, and yet no one ever seems to treat the area with any sort of concern or respect for the other people inhabiting the area. As if the whole cube farm environment were not uncomfortable enough, adding in the inconsiderate habits of dozens of people does not help any at all.

Thankfully my cube is mostly a sanctuary. Most people recognize those three grey walls as the borders of my personal private space. True it doesn't stop people who are visiting my cube from touching my stuff or sitting on my desk. I can at least take comfort in the fact that the bad behavior is only from people I invite into my space. I am not aware of strangers coming into my cube and pawing at things when I am not around.

The worst space in the office is the break room. The one place that is designated as a safe place to eat, relax, and gossip is also the place that people respect the least. It is the place where people seem to lose all scope of socially acceptable behavior. It is the one place that makes what I would assume are otherwise tidy people turn into absolute pigs.

Let us address the sink first. My break room, like many, has a large sink in it. This is used to wash personal dishes, clean produce, fill the coffee maker, and other such sink like activities (we have a filtered water dispenser for drinking water). Mostly the sink is a place where we clean things yet that shouldn't give people the ability to leave the sink filthy.

I just went in to get my morning cup of water and found that someone had dumped coffee grounds into the sink, the same way they do every morning. Seriously people? You couldn't have dumped the grounds in the trash can? You couldn't have turned on the water for the 20 seconds it would take to wash them down the drain? You had to leave a pile of stinking coffee grounds to fester in the sink for someone else to deal with?

Or perhaps we should move on to the afternoon in the life of the break room sink. This is when the used coffee grounds are replaced by bits of peoples lunches. The drain on the sink has one of those grates on it to prevent large bits of anything from going down it. Constantly the drain is full of bits of rice, pasta, meat, and other unidentifiable pieces of peoples lunches. By looking at the acquired glop in the drain it is obvious that the lunch dregs are from multiple peoples meals.

You have to notice that the food you are slopping into the sink is not going anywhere. You have to notice that the last person who did this had no better luck and your lunch actually has less of a chance to go through the tiny holes in the drain since another persons lunch is already blocking it.  I get that you don't want to clean up other peoples messes, but you are just adding to the problem and leaving it for the next person which is not cool.

I want to know if this is how these people behave at home. Would they just leave coffee grounds and leftover food sitting in the bottom of their sinks? I mean I know that I am very particular about how my kitchen gets cleaned, but that seems like a thing that people just wouldn't do. Why would anyone just leave that in their sink?

The sink is not the only demonstration of a lack of consideration. Let us not forget the counter tops with the puddles of old stale coffee lingering on it. People know that when they remove the large coffee jug from the coffee maker that the coffee will still drip down. There is a cup sitting there to catch the drippings that no one ever bothers to put back. The least you could do is put down a paper towel to help soak it up.

No one ever bothers to clean it up either. Yes we have a cleaning staff at the office, but they only come in the evenings. When you spill the coffee at 8 am that means that the coffee is going to sit there for 12 hours. It takes all of a minute to grab some paper towels and wipe up the spilled coffee. I should know, I am constantly cleaning up after other people and I don't even drink coffee.

We also have a Keurig in our office. While this is nice for preventing unsightly coffee spills and leftover coffee grounds in the sink, it is just as big an offender in this mess. No one ever removes their used pods from the machine. Any time I go to make myself some hot chocolate I come across a smelly used coffee pod. It takes an extra 10 seconds to pop out your empty pod. It is only polite to do so.

It is also only polite to refill the water reservoir when you empty it. Sure it is something the next person could do as easily as you could, but you are the one that used the last of the water. I don't know about you but I was raised that if you used the last of something you replaced it if you could. Take the extra minute and pour some water in the machine because you know how much it annoys you to come in and find that there is no water.

There are many other examples of how no one respects the break room or the other people who are going to use it. I could rant on and on about how annoying this behavior is, but it would do me absolutely no good. Any time you mention these grievances the responses you get are "Why should I clean up after other people" or "Well if no one else is going to do it why should I?" 

So just remember, while your office is a work space, you share it with other people. It might not feel like cohabitation, but it is. Give them, and the space, the same respect you would give to your own home and the people you share it with. It is a level of respect you owe other people and would want for yourself.

Otherwise with the way people act I would not be surprised if the office one day degraded into a Lord of the Flies scenario with the developers holding the coffee pot hostage and stoning people with k-cups. This is the way that people go mad, and we are mad enough here already.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Finding the spirit

Normally if you were to ask me if I was excited for the holiday season I would make a non committal noise and move on with my day. Holidays are nice and all, but I am never very good at getting into the spirit of things. As much as I love all the togetherness, and the food, and the gift giving (because gifting is a love language for me), and those social aspects of the holidays, I typically find the other holiday trappings to be tedious and exhausting.

The idea of spending all of that time and effort on decorating for the holidays sort of sets me on edge. I dislike the kitschy side of the holidays finding it all together gaudy and unappealing. I find that decorating to the point of excess is only more opportunities for my cats to destroy things. I know that I will be the only one putting up and removing decorations as well so that isn't really adding to the appeal.

Also can I tell you how much I loathe being surrounded by Christmas music. If it were just gently interspersed in my regular life starting a few weeks before the day that would be one thing, but that is not how it works. Instead every shopping center in the land is blaring some form of Christmas music starting earlier and earlier. One of my favorite radio stations has converted to all Christmas all the time already. It is still over a week until Thanksgiving for Pete's sake.

Normally aside from buying presents you can't really get me into the spirit until about the week before. I will do my minimal decorating in early December just to get it over with, but we don't put up the tree until Christmas Eve. For one thing trees come cheaper the day before and I am already spending too much money this time of year. Really though I like waiting that long because then the tree seems to hold some sort of magic as opposed to a decorative item that my cats have been using as a water dish for a month.

This year something seems to be different. While I still detest the idea of doing anything Christmas like before Thanksgiving, I am finding myself lamenting the fact that I will not be home the weekend after Thanksgiving to do my decorating. I am actually looking forward to decorating and considering maybe doing a little more than I normally would.

I have no idea what has come over me. I am actually feeling the spirit of the holidays early. It is just weird and it is really freaking me out a little bit. I am not a holiday person. The only thing weirder is if I suddenly became a morning person too.

I think what it may be is simply that I need it. I need a little extra joy and merriment in my life right now. I need some cheerful happiness to counteract the doldrums that occupy my life. A few twinkly lights and sprigs of holly is sounding more and more like what the doctor ordered.

I am still not listening to Christmas music, I am not that far gone.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Wings of a dove

Saturday I was sitting in my shop in the evening chatting with one of my shopmates. It was after 6 so there were hardly any people in our area of the festival let alone in our shop. At this time of day we normally only see people who are returning to pick up purchases or are just passing through sort of lost.

As we sat there a large family came in through the far door and were headed out the other door. They took one look at our shop and decided it wasn't the shop they wanted to be in. We said hello, we said goodbye, we went on with our conversation, or at least that was the plan.

As the father passed the counter he let out this loud laugh and said "Honey look it's a nekkid lady with an eagle."

I stopped mid sentence and looked from my friend, to the man, and then over my shoulder to what he was referring to as I tried to figure out what he was talking about. We don't have anything with eagles in the shop this year.

What he was referencing was the three foot bronzed statue of Aphrodite that sits on one end of our counter. The Greek Goddess of love is indeed mostly without clothes, simply having a wisp of fabric floating about her waist. In her hands is a dove in flight. There are also several doves at her feet. There is nothing obscene about the piece. It is very much in the classic style. Most people who buy this statue from us put it in their bathrooms or gardens I am told.

All I could do was look back at the retreating form of the man and say "It's a dove."

My friend pointed out for the bird to be an eagle Aphrodite would have to be a giant. I just chalk it up to his discomfort in seeing a naked form displayed in public.

It is by far the strangest comment we have had about our classic art pieces, but by no means the first. Mostly we get parents who cover their children's eyes when they see the Three Graces or any of the other Greek statuary that depict naked breasts. I have been told it is pornographic and immoral. I have been told that we should be ashamed of showing that. I have heard so many lectures on it that I easily tune them out now.

The thing I find funny is that these are the same people who will turn around and buy their 7 year old daughter a statue of a fairy that is dressed like a hooker doing suggestive things with a dragon and not think twice about it. Or they will buy the statue of the succubus in chains and leather that would be much closet to pornography than replicas of classic art.

I try and understand where people are coming from, I really do. I know that there are people who consider nudity in any form wrong. I know that they think that people should not look at or appreciate. I get it. I mean I don't really understand it, but I am not going to tell them they are wrong. People can think whatever they like.

I am bothered though by the hypocrisy. You can't look at something that is simply a nude form and call it pornography and then turn around and not condone something that is obviously being overly sexualized and meant to be provocative. I mean a fairy in thigh high boots, a thong and the scantest of bras over heaving breasts that is bent over touching tongues with a dragon should be considered higher on the pornographic scale than say The Birth of Venus.

At least that is the way I see things. I am sure there are people who would disagree with  me. I am sure there is some odd logic about the fact that it is a depiction of imaginary creatures that makes the sexual content of the piece invalid, where Aphrodite or Venus are both very obviously human (despite the fact that they are Goddesses) and that is these peoples lines.

Still, lines or not, you should be able to tell the difference between a dove and an eagle. If you can't, I seriously doubt you were looking at the naked woman's birds.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Under the weather

I am still sick. Alright so this is a new sick not the sick I had all week last week. Today I have a stomach bug of some sort. Just what I needed; more illness.

Anyways I am really not fit to do much more than eat popcycles and ramen while curled up on the couch. That is precisely what I have been doing all day long.

Tune in tomorrow when I hopefully feel better and will have a post worth reading.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Conversations at faire

I walk into the shop with two boxes in my arms for patrons. Standing in front of the entrance to my register area are three people completely blocking the entrance.

Me: Pardon me.
Patrons do not move.
Me: Pardon me.
Patrons still do not move or acknowledge me.
Me: *stepping right up next to them and speaking louder* Pardon me. Pardon me. Pardon me.
Woman finally looks up at me
Me: *speaking slower and louder* Par-don me.
Woman: Oh *shoves the men with her out of the way* Sorry we don't understand your language.

All three of the people were speaking English to one another so English is not what she meant by she didn't understand me. Apparently 'Pardon me' isn't English anymore.

It is barbarian themed weekend at faire so there are a lot of people wearing loin cloths and no shirts. One man walks in in jeans and a t-shirt and I immediately recognize him as a regular patron over the last decade who normally is shirtless.

Me: Well you certainly look different.
Him: Yea you are more used to this *lifts his shirt to show off his chest*
Me: Yes we are though I recognized your face first.
Him: Wow that is really nice, thank you.
Me: Yea I wouldn't know anything about people only knowing what my chest looks like.
Him: *glances at my chest blushes and looks back at me*
Me: Remember the phrase is 'My eyes are up here'.
Him: I've heard it enough, I just never realized I should be the one saying it.

Still barbarian weekend. Young man walks into the shop wearing what is basically a diaper and a rabbit fur around his neck.

Coworker: When did diapers become barbarian gear?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Dark waters

I do not understand people. This should not come as a surprise to me, but I am actually always surprised by how people behave and react. I am especially surprised how people act with children, whether theirs or others. They just make no sense.

I bring this up because of behaviors I have seen on a regular basis over the last decade and a half of working at renaissance festivals. I understand that ren faires are fun magical places where rules are apparently different, but seriously people they are not that different. Basic common sense should still apply.

I could tell you all about the horror stories of parents allowing their children to run with swords, grab the unsheathed blades of swords and knives (sometimes ending in blood shed), allowing their young children to swing about swords with no concern for their surroundings, or (my favorite) allow their children to lick the blades of swords. All of those are terrifying tales that would make you question why people are allowed to breed without a license.

What I am going to tell you about is the ongoing saga of the fountain.

In front of my shop stands a fountain. It is about six feet tall but only a few feet wide. It has a raised square base with a square pillar coming out of the center. Years ago there were multiple streams of water coming from the pillar and landing in the basin bellow. Now only one of the streams actually works as expected and the rest of the hoses merely dribble water out of them. Still it is effectively moving water in an eye and ear catching fashion.

The fountain has always been the focal point of our shop. It is the first thing you see or hear from our shop. It can be seen from quite a distance. When people get close to it they want to take a picture of it or with it. Heck I have several photos of it in my photo a day project. It is really pretty.

The other thing people like to do is stick their hands in the water. They like to wash their hands in it, splash the cool water on their faces and arms, and clean off dirty children with it. They also like to encourage their children to play and splash in the water of the fountain.

This is not alright!!

Perhaps I should explain.

As lovely as the fountain is, the fountain is actually filthy. I mean seriously seriously filthy. I mean I wouldn't even allow my dog to drink from the fountain it is so dirty. I go and immediately scrub my hands with soap if I have to touch the fountain water.

We do not clean the fountain. Ever. There have been years we drained the fountain and scrubbed it out and put some chemicals in it, but that hasn't happened for years. Now we are lucky if we throw a little bleach in it at the beginning of the season.

During the days people like to throw things in the fountain. Soap chips are the most common thing tossed in the water, which oddly makes the water turn a strange milky color and have an oily consistency. There is of course all of the red clay dust and bits of pine tree that get into the water. Children like to throw trash and turkey bones in. Currently there is a bloated half eaten pickle that Lena is calling George lounging in the bottom of the fountain.

At night I can not say what happens to the fountain. There are a lot of drunks wondering around the sight at night so there really is no telling. I can say for certain in years past I have found out that people have urinated in the fountain on a regular basis and on more than one (or 10) occasion vomited in the fountain. Like I said it is at night and I can't really say what happens.

So what you have is a algae covered rock basin full of water that contains heavy chemicals, bodily fluids, and rubbish filled water. This is not clean or sanitary. We can try and keep it clean but really the best we can do is skim the trash out and throw in more cleaning chemicals to try and kill whatever is alive in there.

Still people play in it and bathe their children in it.

I know, you are thinking "But beylit how would they know it is filthy?"

Well for one thing if you look at the water it is pretty sketchy looking. It has a strange milky oily appearance to it and if we haven't had the chance to skim the trash there is that. Still most people don't look at the water in the basin, they only focus on the fact that it is moving water so they think it is clean.

Also there is the fact that this is an outdoor fountain. It is out in nature that also happens to be what is basically an outdoor shopping mall. I don't know about you but my mom wouldn't let me touch the water of a fountain in an indoor shopping mall let alone one outside.

Still they touch it and bathe their children in it.

I know they still don't know that it is as filthy as it is. I know a little dirt is good for kids because it helps build the immune systems. Dirt is not the enemy.

Did I mention I wouldn't let my dog drink this water let alone wash the face of a 6 month old baby with it? Yes that happens all the time.

Now normally if we see this happening we will shout a warning to the unsuspecting parents. We will tell them that the water is dirty and if they need to wash or cool down their child, or themselves, that there is a bathroom not 50 yards away from where they are standing. At least the water in the pipes is sanitary.

Most of the time they will listen and thank us for the warning. Most of the time.

Today I watched as a young mother allowed her 4 year old to play in the fountain. I mostly ignored it as he skimmed his hand over the water and just inwardly cringed. It was gross but it was nothing too foul. Then he stuck his arm in all the way to the shoulder. Normally when this happens it is older children stealing the coins that other kids have tossed in as wishes (which I stop them from doing and give them a stern lecture about stealing other peoples wishes). His mother just watched him as though it was nothing.

That is when he stuck his hand in his mouth.

After I repressed the urge to vomit in my own mouth I ran outside where his mother was telling him not to suck on his fingers in that tone that clearly said she wasn't going to actually stop him or punish him for whatever he was doing and would obviously continue to do. This kid obviously know he could do whatever he pleased.

I quickly walked up and kneeled down in front of the child and mother and as politely as possible explained how gross and nasty that water was. I explained that it would  most likely make him ill if not give him a rash for playing in it. I basically pleaded with her to take her son to the bathroom and at least wash his hands lest he continue to suck on his fingers.

The mother really didn't acknowledge me. The boy just stared at me. He didn't listen to his mother, why should he listen to me?

I went back inside as there was nothing I could do. I had to sit and watch helplessly as the boy, now feeling defiant, continued to stick his hand in the fountain up to his shoulder. It was only then that I realized he was pulling small rocks from the bottom of the fountain and shoving them in his mouth to suck on. Choking hazard was the least of his worries.

The mother never once tried to stop him despite the warnings we gave her. She never once really looked to see what he was doing. She never took him to wash his hands. She just let him play in and effectively eat what she was informed was filthy.

The worst part of this is the fact that something like this happens on a daily basis. For every family that immediately wipes down their baby with baby wipes after being informed the water is gross, there are five families that do absolutely nothing if not encourage their kids bad behavior.

Far be it from me to tell anyone how to parent their children what with me having none of my own at this time. Still I can't be the only person who sees this as a parenting fail.

So let this be a lesson to one and all. Just because water is moving and in a public place does not mean that it is something you want to play in. Well that is unless you want hives.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Like a busted can of biscuits

This morning when I woke up I felt, as my friend Niki would say, like a can of busted biscuits. After a week of being sick I felt like I looked the way I have felt all week long. I didn't feel like I fit in my own skin. Waking up feeling all fat and frumpy is not the way to start ones day, especially not a Friday.

With this less than favorable mindset already in place I did what any reasonable girl would do; I got all dolled up. I know you were probably thinking I called in sick to work and curled up on my couch to watch old movies and eat ice cream from the carton. While that was an appealing option it really wasn't a productive one.

Any time I just don't feel pretty I dress up to try and fool myself. I typically don't look in mirrors on days like today because it always ruins the illusion I am building in my head. I am a firm believer that what we think is often times much more important than reality. Reality is so overrated.

So here I sit with my textured tights and knee high boots, my short flowy black skirt and my cowl neck purple sweater, my hair with product perfect curls, and just a little eyeliner and lip gloss to give me some facial definition. I sit here knowing that I look fantastic today. I know that I am totally hot right now. I know that this is true.

I may still feel like a busted can of biscuits, but I know I look good anyways.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

T is for Tall

Before I started buying clothes for the husbeast I thought that sizes progressed from XS to XXXL (fill in as many X's as needed to reach the right size). If you were going by those generic clothing sizes you were a S, M, L, or some number of X's preceding your L or S. It was the way of the world.

In my world the only solution to a shirt not fitting was to go up an X. For me this has always been a rather unfortunate truth. I have an incredibly large bust, so I always have to go up in size to compensate. In the end my shirts always sort of hang around my mid section like a potato sack.

It also always meant that my shirts were too short in the front. If I raise my arms or stretch the world will see my belly. Even when I was younger and belly shirts were cool (I have no idea if they are currently a thing or not) I was uncomfortable with the idea of showing my pasty stomach off to the world. Again the solution was to go up an X and enjoy the extra material that covered my stomach but made me look like I was a small child playing dress up in their parents clothing.

Then I started buying shirts for the husbeast. He is an incredibly tall man at 6'6. He is also mostly torso. I am 5'10 and he and I have the exact same length of legs. The 8 inches he has on me are all in his torso. This is apparently very common in men. It is in fact common enough that they have an entire additional letter option in clothing; T.

So if you have never shopped for a long torsoed man you will probably have no idea what the T is all about. The T is simply for Tall. So we can have XL for extra large, which encompass a broader chest and shoulders or more of a gut, but it won't be long enough to cover all of their torso.  The T on the tag means that they have added an extra 6 or so inches to the bottom of the shirts so it will cover there stomachs and actually tuck into their pants.

This is brilliant. Why the hell isn't this an option in women's clothing?

So maybe there aren't as many women with long torsos, but somehow I doubt that is true. Even excluding that thought, there are a ton of women with big boobs who would like to cover up their stomachs. We are not all 16 or spend enough time in a tanning bed and doing ab workouts to make our bellies socially acceptable.

For a very short time I could find shirts at Lane Bryant that were labeled Long. The idea was the same as the Tall for men. The shirts were long enough to cover my stomach while being the right size for my chest. It was glorious and perfect so it, much like a Joss Whedon show, didn't last long.

Apparently the only place in women's clothing that it is acceptable to have shirts that are long is in the world of maternity clothes. The maternity shirts are made to compensate for growing bellies and busts and keep everything covered.  Obviously this means I shop in the maternity section a lot.

Can I tell you how annoying it is to be shopping maternity as a fat girl who isn't pregnant? The number of times I get asked when I am due is annoying. I get that I am shopping in the maternity department, and I am fat, but I am not pregnant. You should never ask a woman if she is pregnant unless you pretty much already know she is.

Alas this is an annoyance I have to get used to. I doubt that the women's clothing manufacturers will ever mass produce clothing for women shaped like me. I am honestly just thankful that I have a work around that will work for me, even if it does mean having to repeatedly tell strangers that I am no pregnant, just fat.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Final Countdown

I was looking at my calendar today and I realized something; it is 7 weeks to the day until New Years Day. Yes that also means that it is 6 weeks to the day until Christmas (if you are starting to panic after that nugget of truth, you are welcome) but while that day is exciting, it is not the day I am looking forward to. This year I am focused on New Years.

Now for me New Years (January 1st) is only the calendar start of a new year. Being Pagan I actually celebrate the new year at Samhain, which is around Halloween. For me that is when we let go of the old, say goodbye to the past, and start fresh on a new year. It is a pretty cool thing and by far my favorite holiday.

Of course this has never stopped me from celebrating the turning of the year come January 1st. I will gather with my loved ones on December 31st, stay up until midnight, toast with champagne, and kiss the husbeast amid sounds of horns and cheers and Auld Lang Syne. Come the next morning I will inevitably rise earlier than I like and bundle up to go to the zoo, because that is what we do on New Years Day (and it is better than losing a finger).

This year though it is something a little more for me. Yes there will be friends and midnight kisses. Yes this year there will be the zoo full of our boys enraging gorillas and tales of the mighty baby duck. Yes this year will be like many others, but for me the end of the year is not the only time line ending.

I can't really go into detail right now for many reasons. What I can say is that there is a deadline in my life and it expires at the end of this year. Come January 2nd if the deadline has not been met I get to start out on a new adventure.

Now do not fret my minions. This is not anything bad. This is actually something very good. If the deadline is met, it is a good thing. If the deadline is missed, I think it is a good thing as well. Actually part of me hopes they miss their deadline so I can be free to start a new adventure. I have no idea what this new adventure will be, I only know that it will be an adventure for sure.

Seven weeks and a day from now my life may change. It will be a New Year to remember for sure.
Let the countdown begin.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Simple comforts

I am not a good sick person. I am miserable, whiny, and down right mean when I am sick. Sometimes I am just pathetic, but honestly I am mean more often than not. I like to be left alone for the most part so people constantly asking me how I am irks me and I tend to snap at them.

After rereading the last three posts I have written this morning I have discovered that I am very whiny and negative in my writing when I am sick. Not exactly thrilling entertainment for you my minion readers.

So instead of subjecting you to my less than positive views on the corporate view on sick time, I am going to try and instead focus on things that make me happy when I am sick.

Ramen- Only the Oriental flavored ramen will do when I am sick. It was what my mom served us when we were kids, and it is one of those things that just makes me feel better. The husbeast makes his ramen and drains away almost all the water so there is nothing resembling a broth, but I like mine very brothy. Sipping warm liquid is always comforting.

My cats- I have heard that animals can tell when you are sick. I totally believe this. When I feel poorly all the cats will come and curl up as close to me as they can. I think part of it is they are enjoying the extra heat my body is putting off, but I still find their closeness incredibly comforting.

Popcycles- This was our sick treat when I was a kid. My mom would feed us popcycles any time we felt under the weather. We weren't allowed to ever eat the red ones though, or eat anything red come to think of it, because she didn't want to have to figure out if we were puking blood or red food coloring.

Fuzzy blankets- I don't really care if it is mid July in Texas or snowing outside, when I am sick I want my fuzzy blanket. I will wrap myself up to my chin and snuggle down on the couch and be content in my fuzzy little cocoon. There is safety and healing inside my blanket.

Apple juice- I don't know why, but I associate apple juice with being sick. I mean I like apple juice when I am healthy, but when I am sick I always request apple juice. I suppose it is because orange juice is just too acidic and I associate cranberry juice with kidney stones. Apple juice is just happy to me when I am sick.

What about you? What is your go to comfort item when you are sick?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Plague excuses

Between being sick, being exhausted, and it being the husbeasts birthday I have little room in my brain for blogging. The energy it would take was used up on things like wrapping presents and napping. Napping is a very important thing after all.

So please accept my lack of real content during my NaBloPoMo writing marathon. I am just happy I could manage to get up the energy to write that I am not writing. Which totally counts.

See you tomorrow when hopefully I will feel more human.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Things people say

Conversation at faire:

Patron walks into my shop.

Me: Good day!
Patron: I am just looking.
Me: I just said hello.
Patron: I am not buying just looking.
Me: That is fine. I was still just saying hello.

This happens all the time.

Patron looks at a pair of earrings with a fake moonshine.

Patron: What stone is this?
Me: Synthetic moonstone.
Patron: What is that?
Me: It is a fake moonstone, basically glass.
Patron: So it isn't real?
Me: Well it is real glass.
Patron: I don't understand.
Me: I am not surprised.

This happens a lot too.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Lucky girl

My mother used to tell me that when I found myself a man I should make sure that he could cook. She also said that spaghetti that consisted of opening a can and boiling noodles did not count as cooking. If they said they could cook spaghetti then make sure they can cook something else as well. I married a Cajun who has opened multiple restaurants and cooked in several others; I win.

There are many things that he cooks beautifully but the things I will sing the praises of forever are his steaks and his gumbo. Seriously he makes the best steak I have ever eaten. We had our friend Dan and his wife K over for steaks one night and Dan insisted on a moment of silence because the steak was so good. Two entire biker gangs once drove all the way across Texas to decide who had the better steak; Jessie won.

The gumbo is also amazing. Now I came from a family where we ate gumbo for Christmas Eve dinner and I never in my life ate a single bite of it. The thing is I do not eat seafood and we always had seafood gumbo. The husbeast was the first person to ever make me chicken and sausage only gumbo. It was a life altering experience.

Once a year at TRF the husbeast will make a big pot of gumbo and crawfish pie for the shop. Once a year everyone in the shop waits with spoons ready for him to walk out of the kitchen and declare dinner is ready. Once a year they are ready to stab each other for a chance to get some of his delicious delicious food.

Tonight was gumbo night. Tonight the only sound coming from the shop crew was the sound of forks scraping across empty bowls and happy contented sighs from everyone. Tonight everyone is fat, happy, and full.

I am such a lucky girl.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Dayquil daydreams

So here I am; sick. I have caught some variety or chest/sinus infection from any one of about half a dozen people who are also suffering from a variety of chest/sinus infections. It is the time of year where we all share our crud and all suffer together.

The most persistent symptom I am suffering from right now is a foggy brain. I can't tell if it is the cold meds I have been taking or if it is from actually being sick or not. All I know is that I have the attention span of a four year old after a fist full of pixie sticks.

My attempts at work are laughable today. One should never be allowed to work in a job that is about looking at details and finding errors when there are cold meds involved. I am pretty sure that when I look at my work in a few days I will cringe and have to re do most of it.

That is all I have. I keep getting distracted. I need Jello. And a nap.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Childs play

I was never a normal child. This is a statement that I know for a fact that my mother would endorse. Actually I am pretty sure anyone who knew me as a child would wholeheartedly agree with this assessment. My weirdness in childhood is what made me who I am today, so it is not something I look back on with any shame.

I know you are thinking that most children are weird. Children are always pretty quirky. They make up weird games, say strange things, and do stuff that makes you turn your head to the side in confusion. It is a skill that I think children are born with.

Even at that I still think I was not a normal child. I actually tend to think I was weirder than most kids were. At least I was always rather acutely aware of the fact that I was weirder than all of my friends were. It didn't bother me that I was weird, it was just something I always knew.

I never was much of a joiner. I never had a lot of friends. I mean I had friends that I played with often. The thing was that I really preferred not to go play with my friends. Sure there were times that I would spend hours with the other kids on our block running around playing freeze tag or some weird made up game like Adventurer (because seriously who wants to play house?). Those times fill my memories, but there were so many more times when my friends were not in the picture.

My favorite thing to do when I was a kid was to play by myself. Yea I know lots of kids are loners and just play with their My Little Ponies or GI Joes, but I actually wasn't that kid. Don't get me wrong, I had a ton of toys that I played with because I was a spoiled rotten little brat. More often than not though the thing you would find me playing with was a collection of old nail polish bottles.

Yes you read that right; old nail polish bottles. I probably had two dozen barbies and an entire stable of Ponies, and there I was playing with nail polish bottles. If you are thinking that I was just painting my nails for hours on end you would be wrong. I am pretty sure I never really opened the bottles (mostly because I wasn't allowed to). Besides I hated having my nails painted.

What I would do was play with the bottles like they were people.

My grandmothers bathroom counter was huge and had a chair at the vanity spot. I would pull out all the bottles and divide them into families by brand names. The colors would determine if they were boys or girls, though since most of them were reds and pinks it was always some arbitrary decision on my part as to what constituted a boy color vs a girl color.

Darker colors tended to be evil, while lighter colors were good. The clear polishes and the white (for French tips) were typically some sort of outcasts along with the bottles that were some weird off brand. Yes my nail polish people had a caste system.

I would build houses out of shoe boxes and cold cream jars so that my polish bottles had places to live. I would take tissue and hair bands and make the bottles clothes to wear (costuming even as a child). I would even get cotton balls out to make hair for the bottles when I was feeling especially industrious.

Most of the time there was some sort of Romeo and Juliet star crossed lovers thing going on with my polish people. There was always a feud raging between the Revlon and the Maybelline (there were never enough Almay bottles to be a clan but sometimes they were adopted) clans. Sometimes it would be one of the clear polish bottles trying to be accepted into a world of colored polishes. Whatever the story in my head was it was worthy of any day time soap opera.

My mother would also probably tell you that the nail polish bottles were an upgrade from my original favorite toy; pot holders.

So like I said; I was never a normal child. All I can say is I was having a damn lot of fun and now as adult I find that I can be easily amused which is a blessing in a lot of situations like meetings at the office.