ah, childhood

July 30, 2014

Turns out I’m not the only one going through a belongings purge and cleaning out the boxes from the basement and so forth.  My parents are cleaning out, too, which means the last few times they’ve been to my house, they’ve brought. . . boxes.  Of. . .stuff.  They say, “This is yours now,” and leave me to deal with it.  It’s hardly fair, as this has given me even more to clean out than I planned on.  My strategy is to not even let these boxes get to the basement.  Go through them immediately, throw stuff out, send them to the thrift store.  I’ve done pretty well so far.  Most of it has been toys I didn’t even remember we had, leading to the oft repeated phrase, “Why did we even keep this?”  Answer:  They got put in a box twenty years ago and no one looked at them until now.  And I can’t just throw away the boxes, because I’ve also discovered true treasures, like old Muppets toys, that I will not get rid of.

Then one of the boxes turned out to be filled with art projects.  My art projects, from when I was a wee small one.  Seems I took a pottery class when I was probably in second or third grade.  I made a lot of. . .stuff in that class.

What do you do with this kind of thing?  I actually remember making most of it.  I just hadn’t thought about it in thirty years.  And Mom saved it all.



I think the assignment on this one was making 3-D maps of an imaginary place.  We built up a mold of rocks and newspaper and things to make contours.  I actually kind of like it, but it’s huge, like the size of a small watermelon.



This was supposed to be a self portrait.  We will speak no more of it.


Another bust, done a few years later for a different class.  I kind of like this one.  I’ll probably end up putting it in one of the herb planter boxes for decoration, and to scare off bugs.

Seriously, guys, there was a whole box of this stuff.  Art, you know?  Not good art, but still.  It felt really weird when I took a hammer to most of it.  That’s right, except for a couple of little pieces I saved, I smashed the whole box into little pieces, which then went into the bottom of flower pots and planters during my last round of gardening.  So, recycling, which felt pretty good.  Still, it was weird destroying art.

But I think it’ll all be happier providing drainage for flowerpots.


four legged critters

July 7, 2014

My brother and his family came to visit this weekend, as we all gathered to celebrate my grandparents’ 65th wedding anniversary (!!!).  I got to do something pretty darned special:  I took my niece riding.  This was one of the things on my auntie bucket list — I’m the horse person in the family, and every little girl needs to ride a pony at least once, so I really wanted to make this happen.  We were a bit worried that Emmy wouldn’t be into it — horses are big animals, and if she’d decided she didn’t want anything to do with them, well, that would have been fine.

But see, right now I have access to Thumbelina, who is 13.1 hh — very kid sized.  Perfect opportunity.  Emmy did great:

Emmy and thumbles

(Thumbelina did great, too.)  Emmy even helped brush Thumbles’ tail.  She didn’t want to get off.  Her parents may be doomed, and my work here is done.

When we got home, I remembered that one of my Breyer horses is a little bay Shetland pony that looks very much like Thumbelina, so I gave it to Emmy.  Niece’s first Breyer!  She’s only two and a half, and doesn’t quite get that not all toys should be thrown around.  I had to close my eyes a couple of times, lest I see one of my beloved ponies take damage.  But hey, she has her first horse, and that’s important, at least to me.

We all spent the weekend in the mountains, and had some pretty cool wildlife encounters.  Here’s the moose who visited us at the cabin where we stayed:


Isn’t he lovely?



another story from AP English

February 24, 2014

It’s a wonder I ever became an English major, what with the terrible time I had in AP English in high school.  But I think part of the reason I had a terrible time was I loved the literature.  This is the class where I discovered Sylvia Plath and Tom Stoppard.  But the teacher…  I argued with her.  A lot.

So, in comments on the previous post I already told the story about this awful textbook we had that divided stories into “real” literature and popular literature, or “crap,” pretty much just like that (the book earned my eternal ire by placing Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” one of my favorite short stories at the time, in the “crap” category).  So one day as part of a group presentation I did a fake commercial with a blender where I announced “This is your brain on popular literature,” blended an apple, and said, “Any questions?”  The entire class cheered.  The teacher did not.  (I wonder, if I tried to bring a blender to high school now, would I be suspended because of zero tolerance policies?)

This was also the class where I pointed out that you can sing every Emily Dickinson song to the tune of “Yellow Rose of Texas.” (There are sing alongs on YouTube. Proceed at your own risk.)  Now, first off, you can’t sing every poem to that tune, and second, that just means it’s a popular meter and there was no reason for Dickinson not to use a popular meter.  In my defense, I would not have pointed this out to the class if I didn’t think everybody didn’t already know it.  Turns out, nobody else knew it, and I was subsequently blamed for ruining Dickinson for everyone.  (My response:  “If that’s all it takes to ruin Dickinson for you, you don’t deserve her!”)

It would have ended there, except test day came along.  The test, the big AP test that had kids puking in the bushes beforehand.  As part of the AP English test, we were given a poem cold, that day, that we had to do a close reading on and write an essay about in the space of forty minutes or so.  We cracked open our test books:  Yes, it was an Emily Dickinson poem.  And there were two dozen high school kids humming that song under their breaths.  If looks could kill, I’d have been a steaming pile of goo that day.

I, however, thought it was the funniest damn thing that had happened all year.  I could not stop laughing. And I got a 5 out of 5 on the test.

the goal list

February 14, 2014

I’m a big fan of setting goals.  I’ve written about it, given talks about it.  Since I was a teenager, I’ve used a goal-setting technique based on a timeline:  where do I want to be in ten years?  What do I want to have accomplished in five years?  By the end of the year?  I’d review my goals every year, adjust as needed.  This was a good way to make sure I was doing the little stepping stones that were necessary to achieve my long-term goals.

This method has fallen apart for me over the last few years.  Mainly because I did it all.  Just about everything on that long-term goal list?  Making a living as a writer, my house, etc.?  Done.  My “where do I want to be in ten years?” list had turned in to “Same as now, only more so,” which is too vague to be useful.  “Just keep doing the same things I’ve been doing” might be accurate but it feels…stagnant.

This year, I hit on a new way to handle my goal list and goal setting.  Instead of setting everything up against a timetable — which simply isn’t as useful at age 41 as it was when I was 20 — I’ve set up a rolling list of projects:  things I want to write, things I want to try, places I want to travel, and so on.  Because that’s where I’m at now:  I have this whole big list of things I want to do, but they’re not dependent on time or place, they’re just things I have to decide to do either now or later.  And I don’t have to do them all at once.  Every month or so, look at the list:  what am I going to do next? What projects are ongoing, and which are do them and they’re done?  What makes sense for me to work on now?

I think this is going to be a good way to make me feel like I’m still making progress without imposing the stress of an artificial timeline.  I’m excited.  Let’s see how this goes.

scuba highlights

February 10, 2014

I got to take a vacation to someplace warm last week — including two days of diving.  Woooo!  So hard to come back to the freezing cold.

My second dive in Cozumel was great because it was very relaxed and chock full of fish, including a bunch of species I’d never seen before.  A giant snapper of some kind, maybe 20″ long, followed our group for the entire hour-long dive.  He either needed a school to hang with for awhile, or maybe he thought we knew where the food was.  For whatever reason he was there, having his company was awfully cool.  He was a chill dude and he made the dive more chill by being there.

I also saw a lobster, perched on a lump of coral.  At least, I thought it was a lobster, but it was the strangest looking lobster I’ve ever seen.  For one thing, it didn’t seem to have a head.  It definitely didn’t have big long wavy antennae, which is how I usually spot lobster underwater.  I watched it as long as I could, and it was just kind of flat and wriggly — like a giant roly poly bug underwater or something. I was the only one who saw it, so I couldn’t ask about it after the dive.

So last night I finally got out my reef guide and was flipping through it, not even thinking about any specific fish, when there it was, that goofy flat antennae-less lobster thing that I saw:  Spanish (or slipper) lobster.  Wooooooo!  What a weird looking thing.  And so very cool.

My other favorite thing I saw, on an earlier dive:  baby yellowtail damsel.  The thing glowed like disco lights.  And it was tiny and cute!

I’m getting confident enough with the diving that I’m starting to think about learning underwater photography, so I can share some of these things with you.

cocktail laboratory

January 24, 2014



“As God is my witness, this is for Science!”

So, we did Cocktail Laboratory at New Year’s Eve.

My friends and I have spent awhile now talking about various cocktails and mixed drinks, inspired by a micro distillery run by a friend of a friend in Golden.  Golden Moon Distillery is making some vintage liqueurs, like Creme de Violette.  This makes it possible to mix vintage cocktails from the 1920’s and earlier, that went out of fashion because the ingredients were no longer available, or because they just went out of style.  (I’m becoming fascinated with how cocktails come in and out of style, how the go-to drinks of fifty years ago vanish, how new ones come into being, and how the old ones get rediscovered.  Some of those 20’s cocktails, like the Aviation, are making comebacks.  My parents’ favorite drinks from the 70’s have disappeared. What the hell is a Harvey Wallbanger, anyway?  Turns out it’s a screwdriver with Galliano added.  Um.  No.)

Using recipes from Golden Moon, a holiday recipe guide, and my trusty copy of Steamdrunks, we set out to figure out some of these drinks. And because this was totally For Science, I now share what we learned with you.


(We used plastic shot glasses for taster samples.  I take full credit for this brilliant idea that meant we could mix one drink and share it between 6-7 people, and thereby keep sampling all night long.  I still got drunk, but it took like 6 hours instead of twenty minutes.)

We made a lot of drinks, and we made people write notes, so we would remember what we actually thought about the drinks.  See?  SCIENCE!

White Christmas #1: 1 oz vodka, 1 oz amaretto, 1 oz cream.  Shake with ice, garnish with nutmeg.  Really really nice!  Boozy and smooth.  (recipe found online)

White Christmas #2: 1 oz heavy cream, 1 oz vodka, 1 oz peppermint schnapps, and 1 oz creme de cacao.  Shake with ice.  Tastes just like a candy cane.  (recipe found online)

French Martini:  1 1/2 oz vodka, 1/4 oz chambord, 1/2 oz pineapple juice.  Shake over ice.  Really, really nice.  A big hit with the crowd.  (discovered on a trip last fall)

Fallen Angel:  2 shots gin, 1 tsp creme de menthe, juice from 1/2 lime, 2 dash of bitters.  Shake over ice.  Not just no but hell no!  Although I just saw another recipe for a different Fallen Angel that looked much nicer. (from Steamdrunks)

Orange Abbey:  2 shots gin, 2 shots orange juice, 2 dashes orange bitters, garnish with long-stemmed cherry.  Shake over ice.  One of my favorites.  The Golden Moon gin does really well with anything citrus — really opens up the flavor.  (from Steamdrunks)

Golden Lily:  1 oz gin, 1 oz dry curacao, 1 oz creme de violette, 2 dashes bitters.  Fruity and a little astringent.  Kind of meh. (Golden Moon recipe)

Aviation: 1.5 oz gin, 1/4 oz maraschino liqueur, 1/2 oz creme de violette, juice of 1/2 lemon.  It’s sharp, citrus, interesting. (From Golden Moon recipe)

The Elf:  1/2 oz Midori and 5 oz champagne.  This tasted just like a watermelon Jolly Rancher. This is not necessarily a good thing. (From a holiday recipe book.)

Candy Cane Martini:  1 1/2 oz vodka, 1 tsp peppermint schnapps, 1 oz club soda. Mini candy cane garnish. Shake over ice.  Ugh.  Medicinal.  Actually got worse with each sip. (From holiday recipe book.)

Here we get into egg drinks, which are kind of scary, but also very Victorian.  Many of our participants refused any of the drinks made with raw egg, even though for most of them we used pasteurized whites from a carton, rather than whole eggs.  (We did not try any of the curdled milk recipes, because just no.)

Egg in a Blanket:  1/2 shot Absinthe, 1 shot brandy, 1 egg white, 1 tsp sugar, 1 dash orange bitters.  Shake over ice, garnish with lime.  Quite nice, complex blend of tastes. (Steamdrunks)

Rummy Egg: 2 shots rum, 1 shot brandy, 1 tsp sugar, 1 whole egg, grated nutmeg for garnish.  Shake over ice.  This was a very bland drink.  Just like eggnog, basically.  (Steamdrunks)

Brandy Egg Cloud: 1 egg, 2 shots heavy cream, 1 shot brandy, 2 tsp sugar, dash vanilla extract. Shake over ice, garnish with cinnamon.  This tasted like ice cream, and totally needs more brandy. (Steamdrunks)

And now some absinth drinks (plus the Egg in a Blanket above).  Confession:  I am not a fan of absinthe.  I kept trying it, lots of different brands, with the right kind of loucheing, the wrong kind of loucheing with the burning sugar cube, and I just don’t like it.  So I was very curious about making mixed drinks from absinthe — I had never heard of such a thing.  Turns out, absinthe makes lovely mixed drinks.  Other flavors tone down the licorice, and you end up with really unique cocktails.  As Steamdrunks says, absinthe cocktails need very little absinthe, but they make a great hit at parties because they’re so different and exotic.

Green Russian:  2 shots heavy cream, 1 shot vodka, 1 shot (or 1 tsp, depending on taste) absinthe, 1 tsp sugar, mint leaf garnish.  Stir gently in a lowball glass.  This was a big hit.  Creamy and licoricey.  Fun. (From Steamdrunks)

Death in the Afternoon: 1 oz Absinthe, 4 oz Champagne.  I wasn’t a fan of this one, but some people were.  Exotic, but there are too many good alternatives to settle on this one. (From Golden Moon’s recipes.)

Lessons learned:

  • If someone doesn’t like gin, there’s nothing you can dress it up with to make them like it, even as nice a gin as Golden Moon’s.  I have discovered: I like gin. It goes so nicely with fruit.
  • Eggs and cream basically turn cocktails into dessert — most drinks including egg and cream end up tasting like cake.  This should come as no surprise, but it makes for a nice set of experiments.
  • My hatred for the current trend of infused and flavored rums and vodkas has only increased.  What in five hells would you ever want chocolate cupcake flavored vodka for? Especially when you get the same taste by mixing vodka, cream, and Baileys or Kahlua?  There are so many more interesting, classic liquors out there, based on actual real fruits and herbs.  If you’re trying to mask the booze, you’re drinking the wrong booze.
  • A drink with more than 4-5 ingredients has too many ingredients.  Unless you’re really into stunt drinking.

Another project I took on has been figuring out what the cocktail is that the bartender pours during “Snow” in the movie White Christmas.  When you google “White Christmas” and “cocktail recipes,” it turns out there are something like ninety hundred different recipes for drinks called “White Christmas.”  I have not yet discovered a drink that makes that lovely white froth.  The quest continues. (Yes, I understand the actual drink was probably just a prop made out of dishsoap.  I don’t care!  Much like Mythbusters, I intend on figuring out what it would take to make that drink a reality.)

This is the post I did for Christmas Eve about six years ago, and I’m guessing some people didn’t see it then.  I like this story, and I end up telling it a lot this time of year, so I thought I’d post it again:

Right after college, I worked in a bookstore for about three years. I worked Christmas Eve all three years, and was the closing manager for two of those years. I’ll tell you a little secret.

I loved working Christmas Eve. Just loved it.

This goes against all common sense. You think shopping at the last minute is bad, what do you think it’s like for the people working retail? The people who have to put up with all those panicked last minute shoppers?

Here’s the thing, at least for me, at least in the bookstore, which is admittedly a different kind of retail: last-minute shoppers were so very, very easy to please. It was so very easy making them happy. Someone would come in the store, let’s say a guy in his thirties, nicely dressed, clean-cut. Obviously not hurting for money. But maybe Christmas shopping just wasn’t high on his list. He has this vague idea that his parents — who he is in on the way to spending Christmas with right now — like to read, so maybe he should get them books. But after that, his brain just stops. So he runs into the bookstore, finds a clerk, and manages to stammer, “You’ve got to help me.”

And we would. Because bookstores are, for the most part, staffed by intelligent, well-read people who want nothing more than to foist vast amounts of reading material onto the public. I’d ask a few questions: What do they like to do? Fiction or non-fiction? Do they cook, garden? Do they like biographies? And after a few answers I’d usually be able to pick out a nice selection. Sometimes all I’d need to do was lead him to the right section, and his eyes would light up, and he’d have an armful of gifts in a matter of minutes. And he’d look at me with a gaze full of shining gratitude and reverently murmur, “Thank you. You’ve saved me.” Then, as he paid for his stack of books, I’d say, “We also have free gift wrapping.” His expression would turn positively beatific. It would be like the heavens opened and rays of gold shone down on him with choirs of angels singing –

Or that might have been the Christmas carols playing over the speakers.

The closer to our 6 pm Christmas Eve closing time it was, the more manic and satisfying this whole process became. When our customers at 5:58 pm on Christmas Eve said, “You’ve saved me, you’re a lifesaver,” they really really meant it, and I felt like Wonder Woman.

But it didn’t end there. I’d close the store, which took about half an hour, then go straight to my parent’s house to celebrate with them, my grandparents, and brother. Now, out of this group of people, I’m the only one who’s worked retail for any stretch of time. They all believe the nightmare stories about working retail on Christmas Eve. So I’d get there around 7 pm. The kitchen would be filled with the smells of dinner cooking. There’d be an open bottle of wine. The presents under the tree would be waiting to be opened. And I’d be awash with sympathy as soon as I walked through the door.

“Oh, you poor thing, sit down, the food’s just about ready, here’s a glass of wine. Was it very bad?” I’d make sure to have a war-weary look on my face, as if I had just escaped the trenches, sigh heavily, and nod as I whispered, “Oh. It was awful.” Cue more sympathy. Pass the chocolate truffles.

Of all the jobs I’ve left behind, the bookstore is the only one I sometimes miss, and I think on this day I miss it most.

Have a very, very Merry Christmas, everyone.


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