Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Every year I make the same New Year's Resolution, and I think I've been satisfying it, more or less, but Mom has pointed out that it's so subjective that I can always claim victory which makes it "not fair!"  So she's asked me to make some new resolutions, ones that are actually visible to others and that I have a reasonable chance to fulfill.  So here they are:

1. I resolve not to have to ask my colleague Amy to find my office keys more than once a week, and I further resolve to check both hands and my pockets before asking her to help me find said keys.
2. I resolve to buy or steal a cowbell.
3. I resolve not to set my backpack on fire this year.
4. I resolve not to fall down and roll down the hill on my property more than once a month.
5. I resolve not to buy anymore orange clothes, no matter how they look in the store.  Orange is not the new black or pink.  Orange is the old "makes my skin look green," and I resolve to remember that.
6. I resolve that if I go upstairs to ask my Chair a question, I will not forget that question before getting up the stairs.
7. I resolve to keep the letter that goes with book reviews I'm writing inside the books I'm reviewing, as sending reviews to the wrong journal is often met with confusion.
8. I resolve to stop letting myself get angry about pi.  It's not going to stop being irrational just because I want it to, and I have to learn to accept this with grace.
9. I resolve to remember which team has the ball when I watch a football game because accidentally cheering for the wrong team can produce bruises.
10.  I resolve not to use the word mayhap except in the presence of other nerds of my ilk.
11. I resolve to stop walking into the coffee table, as I'm starting to damage the finish on the corners.
12. I resolve not to correct anyone's grammar on facebook.  Unless I am really provoked.
13. I resolve to stop sniggering whenever I see a Ron Paul sign, as running over curbs can damage my alignment.
14. I resolve to keep a straight face when calling roll in a class with cree8tivLee spelled names.
15. I resolve to make more blog posts transcribing real conversations with Mom, as they are clearly the most popular posts.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Funny Book Titles

One of my students is reading this blog (which is quite alarming, and I hope it doesn't damage her in some way), and she asked me to write a post on my books.  I sent back the classic teacher response ("?!"), and she said that I obviously had read "a whole lot more than normal people" and should have something to say about books.

Well, yes, I do.  That's where teaching literature classes comes in.

But, as it happens, I've never talked much to students about book titles, and book titles have actually played quite a role in my intellectual development, mostly by stultifying it.  You see, if the title is clever enough or funny enough, well, I end up buying the book, even if I have a strong suspicion that I'm going to regret the time I spend actually reading the tome in question.

So instead of cleaning the house this morning, I went into my home office (where most of the books live) and pulled out the ten funniest titles I found there.  Now, these are not the ten funniest books I've read or even the ten funniest I own; they're just the ten funniest book titles.  In addition, I have deliberately excluded non-fiction and picture books (because, really, There's a Wocket in My Pocket is probably the funniest title ever, at least until Walter the Farting Dog was published).  These are fiction only, so if you're going to add suggestions to the comments (and I know some of you won't be able to resist), please stick to the rules. 

Note:  I accept no responsibility for any injury, physical, mental or emotional, that you suffer from actually reading these books. 

1. The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocolypse by Robert Rankin
2. Black Rubber Dress by Lauren Henderson
3. Flip This Zombie by Jesse Petersen
4. Bras and Broomsticks by Sarah Mlynowski
5. Anonymous Rex by Eric Garcia
6. The Meanest Doll in the World by Martin Godwin Selznick
7. Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett*
8. How Much for Just the Planet? by John M. Ford**
9. Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb
10. I Still Miss My Man, But My Aim Is Getting Better by Sarah Shankman

*Go ahead and read this one.  In fact, get off of this blog right now and read everything Terry Pratchett has ever written, if you have not already done so, finishing up with Nation which will make you cry.
**If you are a fan of the original Star Trek series and you have not read this book and you have a sense of humor, go read this right now.  It's a Star Trek musical comedy, among other things. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Real Conversation with Mom: New Year's Eve

Mom:  "I want to go honky-tonkin' on New Year's Eve.  Where can we go?"

Me:  "Um, what?"

Mom:  "Honky-tonkin!  Dancing with men!  New Year's Eve!"

Me:  "Well, I know of a club that's supposed to have a pretty good band.  Should we go?"

Mom:  "Is that honky-tonkin'?"

Me:  "No, it's just going to a bar with a band."

Mom: "What do we wear?"

Me:  "Something slinky.  And a push-up bra."

Mom:  "No, no.  You'll just get upset."

Me:  "Why would I get upset?"

Mom: "Because if we go out together, all the men will dance with me and ignore you.  Then you'll be impossible to live with."

Me:  "Mom, you are seventy-six years old."

Mom:  "When you've got it, you've got it!"

Me:  "And I don't got it?"

Mom:  "Not like me.  You'd cramp my style."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Take the Tags Off?

I went shopping today.  I also went shopping yesterday.  Yes, I realize that's admitting that I'm participating in a consumerist lifestyle and setting a bad example and probably making a big, ugly carbon footprint that someone else will have to clean up in order to assure the survival of the species.  Feel free to post aggressive comments with photos of baby seals.

(No, they won't persuade me to stop buying next year's giftwrap and cards half off every December 26, but I like photos of baby seals.  Not dead ones; don't post horrible murderous photos, just the cute ones.  Thanks.)

Every once in a while, I contemplate my life, usually when confronted with an incredibly ugly blouse that I bought half-off on December 26 five years previously and have never worn.  Fortunately, I live pretty close to a Goodwill dropbox, so I know what to do with that blouse (not because I think the poor like ugly clothes!  I've been poor, so I know that's not true, but someone has to like the damn thing; they chose to produce that shape and pattern).  Anyway, while stuffing the blouse in a box, I remind myself that I bought a house without cathedral ceilings because I'm too cheap to heat or cool empty space just for aesthetics, that I recycle, and I haven't inflicted any mini-me's on the world, so if I want another pair of shoes, well, frell, I'm getting another pair of shoes.

Cute ones.

The important part, though, is that those cute shoes will not come from some upscale store where people pay three hundred dollars or more per pair.  Nor will they come from an on-line store and cost one hundred and fifty dollars a pair at "bargain" prices.  No, no, no.  At most, they will cost seventy-five dollars, but if they cost that much, the second pair had better damn well be half off. 

Three hundred dollars for shoes.  Egad.  Now that's not just consumerism, it's stupidity, especially if we're talking about those awful spiked heels everyone started wearing again when Sex and the City became a hit.  Three hundred dollars..or two or three or four times that much...for a pair of torture devices.  Do you know how many books I could buy for that?  It's like my students paying top prices for those Rainbow flipflops that are not only deeply ugly (all flipflops are ugly), but become sweat-encrusted in a month, making them ugly and smelly.  Bleh.

And don't even get me started on Crocs.

I love to buy shoes.  And books.  And clothes.  But I don't particularly like to spend money.  So I spend as little money as I can while still taking a certain pleasure in my possessions.  And if I can't go cheap for one reason or another (off-brand batteries are not bargains), I like to use coupons or discount codes or huge enormous sales.  It becomes a challenge:  how little can I pay for this item and still get the item I want or need?  Some hunter's instinct takes hold, and I find myself spending six months stalking a silver and black watch, rejecting the weak or infirm, and disdaining full-price offers.  When I finally find it, quietly gleaming from the 75% off table, I feel at one with the universe.

This brings me to the topic of this post:  buying gifts.  I love buying gifts.  I can indulge my quest for the perfect bargain combined with the challenge of finding just the right item for someone, something he or she will actually like, and, if at all possible, something I paid less than half of the sticker price to obtain.   

Now, I'm sure this comes as a shock to my nearest and dearest, but I've always sort of assumed that everyone else takes the same approach: buy well, but most of all buy cheaply.  It's one of the reasons that I hesitate to get people gift cards; not only are they difficult (though not impossible) to find at a discount, but it's like waving a flag in front of someone and saying, "You are worth $20 to me this year!  Enjoy!"

As a result, one of the things I try very, very hard to remember to do is to remove any trace of a price from an item before I wrap it.  It's not that I want people to think that I spent more than I did...okay, it is that I want people to think that I spent more than I did.  Or, at least, that I might have spent more.  Or, best of all, not to think about the price of the gift at all, but about how touched they are that I picked such a perfect gift, either for them or for whomever they're planning to pass it on to.

So when someone accidentally leaves a price tag on a gift they give to me, I have a kind of metaphysical crisis.  What does it mean?  Did something terrible happen in their lives, so that they only remembered to buy a gift at the last minute and had to wrap it in the car while speeding down the highway at 70 mph?  Do they resent that they bought me a gift at all and leaving the tag on was some passive-aggressive message that our relationship is worth exactly $9.99?   Or is that that they live such exciting lives between saving the lives of starving orphans in the morning and going to fancy cocktail parties in the evening that their minds are just floating on the memory of dancing with a hot Hollywood star while wrapping?

Or could there be something wrong with me?

Maybe no one bothers to take off price tags anymore because the protocal changed in the same way that it's now okay to wear white shoes after Labor Day or tell people off in public for being fat, and I missed it.  Maybe everyone is judging me because they can't find their tags?!

Usually, this is the point at which I either make a joke or have an adult beverage.  Or both.

But this Christmas, I have to tell you, oh, digitalized friends of mine:  every single person who gave me a gift left the price tag on.  Everyone.  My aunt, my cousin, my sister, my mother...even the neighbors across the street.  Everyone.  Except for my Aunt Trudy.  She sent a gift card.

Now I'm flummoxed.   I'm considering having a fit of the vapors (though I'm not sure how one does so; I think it involves corsets).   Earlier this morning I collected all of the price tags, so that I could take a picture of them and post it to facebook with the caption, "Do people do this to you?  Should we start a facebook support group?" but when I went to get the camera, the cats stole the tags and dropped them in their water bowl.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Worst Cooking Disasters.

Today was Christmas day, and I did not burn anything.  I cooked a turkey (okay, a turkey breast, and yes, I do worry about mutant turkeys bred to have giant breasts only to have them cut off in some kind of traumatizing and probably sexist operation, but, I have to be honest, what happens when I try to carve a whole bird is ugly and dangerous), stuffing, mashed potatoes, and asparagus.  Oh, and I stirred up the cranberry sauce to get those ugly lines from the can off of it.

The best part of the meal was that it wasn't terrible.  No one had to surreptitiously twirl a utensil in the potatoes to make it look as if she'd taken a few bites, do the mouth-napkin-toilet transfer maneuver, or even slip anything to the cats.  It was all quite edible.

It has not always been thus, my friends.

While I am not actually a bad cook, I am an erratic one.  Most of the time, I don't care all that much what's for dinner provided I can eat it one-handed while reading a book.  Every once in a while, though, I pick up a cookbook and, taunted by the alluring photos, decide to follow a recipe.  Of course, I tend to make this decision at 11pm in the middle of a thunderstorm, and I haven't actually shopped for any ingredients ahead of time, so one substitution follows another until I set a bowl of vegetable soup in front of someone which only has one vegetable in it unless you count the onion salt. 

[No one counts the onion salt, by the way.  Apparently, it's not onion.  It's probably not salt.  And, though I've never bought any, there is always a container of it in my cabinet. Since it's clearly not a fruit, I'm going to call it a vegetable, and you can eat your (Two) Vegetable Soup or flush it; it's all the same to me.]

I'm not exaggerating.  Last week I decided to make a mexicanish thing which involves tortillas wrapped around a chicken-onion-bean mixture, only to discover that I had no beans.  I very nearly used peas, but saw a jar of artichoke hearts lurking behind the tuna and used it instead.  It turned out wonderfully, and I was very proud, but the point is that I could have chosen the peas or even the tuna.  It was a near thing.

Anyway, Mom was eating my entirely adequate Christmas dinner today (which I served with a nice bordeaux; no, bordeaux isn't supposed to go with turkey, but, I must tell you, turkey does go with bordeaux), and she started to reminisce about the time when she made an amazing-looking apple pie when she was a teenager but which was flavored with cayenne pepper rather than cinnamon.  I immediately accused her of senility, since I'm certain this was the plot of an episode of Little House on the Prairie, except that Laura used the pepper on purpose because Nellie Olson was flirting with Almanzo, and it also happened on an episode of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer if you substitute lemonade for pie and sugar for cinnamon except that instead of switching it with cayenne pepper, it was just left out altogether.  Mom told me that she was not senile, that she couldn't remember either of those episodes, but that the language her father used when he took a bite of that pie was not spoken in Sunnydale, let alone Walnut Grove.

Then we started discussing whether Angel or Almanzo would look better naked and forgot all about pie.

Later on, though, Mom suggested that I post my worst cooking disasters to this blog, and because this is a day made for nostalgia, I agreed.

My Worse Cooking Disasters:

1. I once broiled a cake.

Um, you know what?  I can't top that.  I've had a lot of cooking disasters, but that broiled cake is just...incomparable., no, I don't think anyone who hasn't broiled a cake can imagine what it was like.  It was, well, broiled.  Cake.

Broiled cake.

I'm just going to leave you with that image.  I suggest you contemplate it while sipping a nice bordeaux.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Becoming a Crazy Cat Lady

When you are a teenager, there are any number of nonsensical things to worry about:  whether someone will hear you tinkle in a public restroom, whether or not your nightgown will fly up around your shoulders, exposing you to the neighbors when the aliens abduct you from your bed, if your right knee is less attractive than your left...all of the haunting questions that fill the adolescent mind leaving little or no room for things like finishing algebra homework or remembering to do the dishes.  But one thing I never worried about was whether or not I'd grow up to be a Crazy Cat Lady.

Part of this was the arrogance of youth and its general and quite reasonable disdain for anything an older person would be tempted to call a knick-knack.  Moreover, my visions of my future life came out of the books I read rather than any kind of personal insight. I was certain that when I grew up and moved out on my own I would live in a sophisticated abode where I would hold the kinds of parties where people would sip wine and quote Proust (I was a nerd, okay?) at one another while occasionally throwing envious glances at the artwork on my walls or stopping to ask about the unusual sculpture I'd picked up on my last jaunt to Argentina or Alpha Centauri to gather classified information for some mysterious government agency.  I'd quietly make sure that my weapons were well hidden under my Parisian ensemble before inviting everyone outside to gaze at the stars from my terrace.

I didn't actually know anyone with a terrace, mind you, and I wasn't quite clear about what kind of home had one, but whatever kind it was, I was going to buy it and damn well gaze at the stars from it.  Sometimes I even imagined having a house with a name like The Gables or Marmoset Manor.

At the very least I was going to have a big, remodeled house like my friend Kim (mentioned in earlier posts) has now, where I could express my excellent decorative taste.

The problem with this scenario is that it only works if you have excellent taste, and as a series of frustrated or amused roommates can attest, my taste runs to torn scifi posters, shelf after shelf of books, and floors that serve mostly as laundry receptacles.  And it doesn't matter what you have on your walls if no one can walk across the floor to see it. 

The fact of the matter is that I probably always had "Future Crazy Cat Lady" stamped across my forehead for everyone (except me) to read.  The only thing that temporarily held me back from this inglorious fate was a biological quirk:  I am highly allergic to cats. 

Mom, however, isn't.  And after my father passed away, I loaded up on allergy meds and bribed her to come live with me (which I correctly supposed would keep me from being reported to Clean House) with a kitten:

This is Leia, no longer a kitten, but still a princess, as you can see.  The thing about being owned by a cat, however, is that, as with potato chips, it's hard to stop with just one.  A few months after Leia deigned to move in, this little guy came along:

His name is Spike, not because I was trying to be ironic or because I really wanted a dog, but because my colleague, Vivian, had rescued him, his sister and his mother from living under a building on campus.  Vivian is a wonderful person, but my friend Amy and I did not trust her to name cats, so we did it for her, and Darla, Drusilla and Spike did not seem to resent being named after vampires.

Although, now that I think about it, I'm not sure how they would have told us if they had resented it.

Leia did adapt, more or less, to Spike, but she has made it clear that she's not going to share her humans with any other creatures, and she enforces her will with tooth and claw. 

But like I said, cats are addictive.  And they started to multiply.

Okay, this one is cute and was a gift from my neighbors.  He's also useful, as he's a teapot, and I actually love to make pots of tea.  But I can't see anyone discussing Proust while pouring tea from a ceramic mouse, even if I could figure out how to make petites madeleines.  In fact, it's entirely possible that a fat cat teapot is antimatter to conversations about Proust.

This is a cat kitchen timer.  You'll note that it's stuck and doesn't actually time anything.  So it lives next to the kitchen timer that actually works, a nice sleek black one that my sister gave me.  My sister who probably could stand in her kitchen and chat about the weather in Florence in the spring, if she cared about that, which she doesn't.  But the point is that she could, and her kitchen wouldn't actually repel such a conversation.  Mine would.

I had to have bookends anyway, right?  And these do look more sophisticated than cute, don't they?  Maybe?

Er, we're veering into Crazy territory with this pillow, but it was a Christmas gift for Mom and adds a note of whimsy to the living room.  I hope.  The fact that their eyes follow you around the room with a slitted gaze in a way which specifically does not remind you of the Mona Lisa is not at all likely to make you dream about a feline sequel to Hitchcock's The Birds.  Moving along...

So maybe they sell these to humans who visit Alpha Centauri.  I'm sure it will be worth lots of money in a few centuries.

Everyone needs somewhere to safely place his or her rings while doing dishes.  The fact that I neither wear rings nor do dishes is completely irrelevent.

I don't have any children, but many of my friends do, so it's only polite to keep a supply of toddler entertainment devices around.

Oh, frak.  They're breeding in the kitchen.  I'm doomed.

And then there are the Christmas cats:

The stocking holder.

The tree ornaments.

And, of course, the salt and pepper shakers.

I'm pretty sure that the salt and pepper shakers put it over the top.  This is not whimsical or charming or quirky; no, I have become a Crazy Cat Lady, and the only satisfaction I get from the whole thing is from imagining some future teenager helping my family clean out my cat-infested home when I'm an old lady retiring to Alpha Centauri.  Hopefully, by then I'll be able to afford a robot cat to take with me.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas with Family

Many of you (okay, one or two of you, because that's the maximum number reading this blog) are probably waiting for a holiday post, one which records the amusing peccadilloes of various family members, possibly including strong drink and/or violence.

You're kidding, right?

Obviously, none of you who are not my family know my family if you think I'd include their holiday misadventures on my blog.  I mean, one of the sweetest--and clearly the most attractive--members of my family, my cousin Bekah, has spent half of this fall dismembering animals.  No, I don't mean she's taking an anatomy class.  I mean that she, along with my uncle, has been taking apart the corpses of Bambi and his relatives who were victims of vehicular homicide.  Do you understand what this means?

You all may have relatives who give you the cold shoulder or gossip in church, but my relatives know how to use knives.  I mean, is there all that much difference between cutting up a deer or a pheasant and doing the same to a smartass cousin who embarrasses you on-line?  Not enough for me to risk it, that's for darned sure.  And that uncle I mentioned?  He's like eight feet tall and could crush my windpipe with his pinky finger.  Even my sister, who doesn't look that intimidating at first glance, teaches something called bikram yoga, which means that not only can she balance her entire body on her elbow, but she can do it at 500 degrees fahrenheit.

My only weapons are the evil teacher glare and a set of worn ironic bon mots.   You understand where I'm going with this, right?

When you think of me this Christmas, I want you to envision my amazing and lovely family through the gauzy vision of an old film starring a bunch of wholesomer-than-wholesome stars:  my aunts, who fall into one another's arms whenever they meet and who only argue because each wants to be the one to do the dishes and let the other relax during the holidays; my cousin (not the knife-wielding one) with her five perfectly behaved children, each eager to hold open doors for their elders and sing a sweet Christmas carol that moves even the hardest of hearts; my loving sister and her family who gift everyone with handmade ornaments woven from their own hair; my uncle, who dresses up as Santa and jovially bounces the newest baby on his knee while nudging the yule log; and my lovely mother who knits car covers from dried kudzu vines while stirring the egg nog.

Currier and Ives would be pwned by my kinfolk, and the Hallmark channel could find five, maybe six, new films just by gazing through the delicately frosted windows looking in on our yuletide celebrations.   I mean, we're talking Duggar levels of peace and harmony and goodwill toward all the species.

As for the rest of you, just remember:  you can put whiskey or rum in the eggnog, but not both.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Real Conversation with Mom

Mom: "No!"

Me: "But it's warm."

Mom:  "You are not cutting down weeds in the rain."

Me:  "I'm already wet."

Mom:  "You will slide down the hill in the mud and break your leg.  And catch a cold.  And give it to me.  Then I will probably have to kill you."

Me:  "You wouldn't kill me."

Mom:  "I think I would have to."

Me:  "Who would bury the body for you?  You can't do it with your arthritis."

Mom:  "Hmmm..."

Me:  "You can't kill me until you decide who will help you bury the body."

Mom:  "Dennis will do it."

Me:  "Dennis?  Dennis, my former department chair?!"

Mom:  "Yes.  Dennis will do it.  He likes to dig in the dirt.  And he could probably use the fertilizer.  Yes, Dennis will bury your body, and I will just tell people that you never came back from your trip to Ireland."

Me:  "It disturbs me that you have this planned out so clearly."

Mom:  "Then you'd better not act like an idiot and garden in the rain and give me a cold!  Mom has spoken!"

Me:  "Indeed."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Joy of Making Fudge

When I finally bought a house a few years ago, a switch flipped in my brain that said, "You own a kitchen; cook things."

This wasn't very good advice.

Because I have a passionate interest in healthy eating, one of the first things I decided to make was fudge.  Now, I know what you're thinking:  everyone knows how to make fudge.

Uh-huh.  That's what's called an unsupported generalization, and I take off points for that in my classes.

I do, however, know how to read, and I just happened to have a cookbook that I vaguely remember buying in graduate school when I tried, and failed, to hardboil an egg.  You've heard of this cookbook, but given the nature of this story, I think it would be better to give it a pseudonym.  Let's call it The Joy of Turning Plant and Animal Products into Food.  I now know that this is not a cookbook for beginners, but at the time I bought it, what I knew was that it was available in paperback and included how to hardboil an egg.

Using the magic of the index, I found a recipe for fudge and purchased the ingredients.  I then returned to the recipe, and I was delighted to discover that the first step, buttering a pan, was child's play.  If you have butter.

When I got back from my second trip to the store, I moved on to the next step, which involves cooking various ingredients in a pot until they reach something called the soft-ball stage.

This gave me pause.  Then I thought, “I’m a worldly, experienced woman.  Surely, I can detect the soft-ball stage when it’s in my own kitchen.  In fact, this cooking stuff can't be that difficult since reaching the soft-ball stage is such an obvious path to joy!”

Filled with confidence, I continued to follow the recipe. Eventually, it instructed me to stir until stiffening occurred.   Again, I thought, “I’m an experienced woman, and I’m well aware that if you want stiffening to occur, you have to stir.  In fact, sometimes you have to stir for quite a while.  I can do this.”  I set upon utilizing some enthusiastic arm motions to stir that fudge for all it was worth.

Stiffening did not occur.  And, as most women know, a pan of fudge soup is, well, sadly flaccid. 

But I didn't give up.  This was not the first time, I have to say, that things have not stiffened even when I carefully followed instructions for stirring.  I'm not embarrassed to ask for help when I need it, though, so I called a more experienced woman, one whom I knew to be an expert at producing stiffening in all sorts of circumstances. "You need a candy thermometer," she said to me.

"Ah," I thought, "of course!  As an experienced woman, I should have known that sometimes one must turn to mechanical aids to induce stiffening!  And how fortunate I am to live in a century when they are reasonably priced and in plentiful supply!"  So off I went to the store to buy more recipe ingredients and a mechanical aid of my very own. 

Again, I followed the instructions carefully, using the mechanical aid to help me detect the soft-ball stage so that I would know exactly when to adjust the heat and stir to induce the stiffening which, according to my cookbook, was part of joy.

Once again, stiffening did not occur.

This time, I must admit, I was a bit embarrassed.  Here I was, an experienced, adult woman with her own kitchen in her own house, and even with a mechanical aid, I could not induce stiffening.  Sadly, I trudged back to the store, bought more ingredients, and tried again, this time very slowly and very carefully.  You see it had occurred to me that my very confidence and enthusiasm might have been the barrier to stiffening.  Perhaps I stirred too much, too fast.  I've heard that such things are possible.  Gently, carefully, I worked to stiffen the fudge.

Alas, my friends, stiffening once again failed to occur.

It's difficult to describe just how painful this series of misadventures had become.  Was I just kidding myself?  Perhaps I wasn't the independent adult woman I'd imagined that I'd become.  Maybe I should just give up and leave stirring and stiffening to those who could generate more heat on more expensive stoves.

It was one of those moments where life could go either way.

Devastated, I turned at last to the internet where, I'd heard, there were whole web sites devoted to giving advice stirring and stiffening.  And, like so many before me, I found what I was looking for:  Easy fudge, made with a miracle formula called sweetened, condensed milk

This!  This was it!  The sad fact was that I needed a little chemical enhancement to produce the desired stiffening.  And, my dear friends, I have to tell you it worked beautifully, so beautifully that I would, if asked, do commercial ads for this product.  Yes, I'm willing to proclaim it with pride:  Sweetened, condensed milk is  the miracle that restored joy to my kitchen.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ugly Pottery

As some of you know, I like to make pottery as a hobby.  With some encouragement from friends, I've posted some photos of my better pieces to facebook; with no encouragement from anyone, I've forced nearly everyone I know to take pieces of pottery because the problem with this hobby is that, well, you just keep getting more pottery.  Some of it is nice, but all of it collects dust.  And I don't dust.

Some pieces, however, are so awful that, even covered in dust, I cannot bring myself to thrust them at unsuspecting acquaintances.  I keep them around my house, where they lurk accusingly, flaunting their misshapen bodies until, sooner or later, I toss them in the trash.

There's a lot of trash on the internet.  Here's some more.

This one is from my first pottery workshop, and while others in the class used this technique to make really neat bowls, I ended up with something the color and shape of smashed feces.

It was supposed to be a vase, but it looks more like a post-apocalyptic burned out building from a bad science fiction film to me.

I suppose that runny glaze happens to every potter, but how many insist on using the same glaze again and again hoping for a different result?  Sadly, this could have been a nice mug.

Of course, sometimes this happens:  the inside of this bowl looks lovely, but the outside, done exactly the same way, looks like colored chalk.

This egregious little jar looks like it belongs on the Cake Wrecks blog under "Colors Icing Should Never Be."

Generally, it's a good idea to know which lid belongs to which jar so that they actually match.  Of course, nothing could match that lid anyway.

There just aren't any words for this one.

Now, don't go adding comments saying that these aren't that bad.  I assure you, they look far worse in person than they do in these photos.  Thankfully, now that I've sent their images into cyberspace, I will no longer hesitate to send them on to the landfill.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Brief Interlude, in Which We Answer Questions about the Blog

Cast of Characters:

Me played by Me
Artemis (pseudonym for Me) also played by Me

 Q and A:

Artemis:   "So, I have a few questions for you about this blog.  Would you mind interrupting your busy cookie-baking schedule to satisfy my curiosity?"

Me:  "I'd be delighted.  The mulled wine cookies were a disaster, and I find myself in genuine need of a diversion."

Artemis:  "First of all, and I hope you don't mind if I'm blunt, but there have been some comments about the language in your first blog entry.  I see here that in spite of the fact that you do not have an adult content warning on your blog, you have used a few expletives, to wit:  damn, hell and frak.  Don't you feel this is a bit indecorous?"

Me: "If you would refer to that very same blog entry, you will note that I have no sense of decorum, so the fact that my language can be a touch salty should not come as a complete surprise.  I have decided, however, to limit my use of expletives to three:  damn, hell and curse words from science fiction."

Artemis:  "The latter category then is not limited to the word frak?"

Me:  "Oh, indeed, not!  I'm certain that the word frell will appear at some appropriate time, and I'm conducting research into the less savory conversation of the Time Lords as well."

Artemis:  "Will you be referring to anyone as a p'tahk, perchance?"

Me:  "Possibly, possibly.  One never knows when one will need to drop a bit of klingon into one's prose, but I am prepared for that eventuality."

Artemis:  "I'm relieved to hear it.  But you will not be using stronger expletives in your blog?  Given your lack of decorum, one wonders why not?"

Me:  "As you know, being, of course, me, I am in fact a professor, a condition that involves having students on a somewhat regular basis."

Artemis:  "Yes, yes, I accept that.  So you're restricting your use of expletives to avoid setting a bad example?"

Me:  "Ah, that would be a nice explanation!  Let's go with that, shall we?"

Artemis:  "Wait, you had another explanation..."

Me: "But I like yours better!  Yes, I'm trying to set a good example for my students.  Write it up just that way."

Artemis:  "If I must.  But it seems to me you're being deliberately infuriating."

Me:  "Being me, you should know."

Artemis:  "Speaking of students, will you be including any anecdotes about them on this blog?  I believe you have a great many humorous tales concerning those who've come through your classroom."

Me:  "I do, but none of them will be posted here."

Artemis:  "No tales about students?!"

Me:  "Certainly not.  A professor has a certain amount of power over students, not only by virtue of the authority to record grades, but also due to age and experience.  Self-deprecating humor is delightful, but when the powerful ridicule the less powerful, well, that's just distasteful."

Artemis:  "Very high-minded of you.  Almost suspiciously so.  Please remember that, being you, I have a certain insight into your true motivations."

Me:  "Oh, very well.  If I started blogging about students, I'm fairly certain I would, sooner or later, get fired."

Artemis:  "Reluctantly, I must agree."

Me:  "I'm glad.  I really do hate when we fight."

Artemis:  "Naturally.  Since I am, of course, you, we always lose in the end."

Me:  "Though we win as well.  And on that note, we must both repair to the kitchen to work on removing those wine stains."

Artemis:  "Frell."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Family Timeline of Technology Challenges

Date:  Today
Combatants:  Mom vs her Cell Phone's Contact List

Mom:  "Alyce?  Hello, Alyce?  Are you at home?"

Her niece, Bekah (confused):  "This is Bekah."

Mom:  "Bella?  Goodbye!"  [fist shaking gesture] "Who is Bella?  I'm going to learn to use this cell phone if kills me!  If it does kill me, please have 'killed by cell phone' put on my tombstone."

Date: February, 2011
Combatants:  Me vs. Texting on my new iPhone

Text sent to my friend Anne:  "Fish?  Hi!  I need help, iffy as I can't get the aquifer off."
Text sent to my friend Susannah:  "Now I can text, but I can't figure out how to turn off the aquifer!  Aquiver!  Thing that changes the spelling.  Goldfish."
Second text sent to my friend Susannah:  "Do you know how to sht off the aquiver?  Saunas?"

Date: January, 2010
Combatants:  Mom vs. Childproof door locks

Me: [answering work phone] "Yes?"
Mom:  "I'm okay now."
Me: "That's good.  Were you not okay before?"
Mom:  "You didn't answer your phone, but the mechanic managed to get me out of the car."
Me:  "What happened?"
Mom:  "All of the doors locked!  I was trapped!  Also, the windows didn't work.  How do I make the car know I'm an adult?"

Date:  Fall, 2008
Combatants:  Me vs. a Chair

[sound of running feet, followed by frightened squeaks and something slamming into the wall] 
Colleague, peering into my classroom: "Are you alright?"
Me:  "Just a little bruised; I had to lower the chair."
Colleague:  "I've never seen anyone use that technique."
Me:  "Well, you have to sit in it to lower it, and I can't get into it without taking a running start."
Colleague:  "I think I understand why students enjoy your class."

Date: 1998
Combatants:  My parents vs. the Answering Machine

Answering machine message:  "[My father's voice] 'What do I do, Carolyn?' [Mom] 'Talk into the thing, Ben!  Do it now!' 'Now?' 'Now!' [throat clearing] 'HELLO!  YOU HAVE REACHED..." [beeeeeep]

Date:  August, 1997
Combatants:  Me vs. Tools

Me:  "Um, I'm almost finished putting the computer desk together, but I wondered if I could borrow a different hammer and screwdriver."
Physical Plant Worker at my new job:  "Are those the wrong size?"
Me:  "No.  I'm really sorry, but I broke them."
Physical Plant Worker:  "You broke a hammer and a screwdriver?"
Me:  "The handles just sort of flew off." [handing him four pieces that were once useful tools]
Physical Plant Worker:  [long pause while gazing at broken tools] "Why don't you let us finish this up for you, okay?"

Date: 1991
Combatants:  Me vs. Office Supplies

Me: "Do know if the thing that removes staples works on cloth?"
My grad school advisor: "Cloth?  What kind of cloth?"
Me:  "The stuff my socks are made out of."
My advisor: [blank look]
Me:  "I was trying to hem my pants."
My advisor: "Should I ask why your left hand is covered up to the wrist in purple ink?"
Me:  "The stapler flew into some toner."

Date: Summer of 1988
Combatants:  Me vs. Buttons

Mom:  "You realize you're wearing a man's shirt."
Me:  "What man?"
Mom:  "Not what man, any man.  That shirt was made for a man."
Me:  "How can you tell?"
Mom:  "The buttons are going the wrong way."
Me:  "Are you sure it's not just inside out?"
Mom:  "Then it would be inside out."
Me:  "I'm confused."
Mom:  "Never mind."

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Dog Story

Now, don't everybody get all excited.  I will not be posting multiple posts every day.  However, due to the miracle of the "sent items" folder, I still have a copy of the story about my sister's new dog trying to kill me, so I thought I would add it.  That way, if everyone thinks it's not funny, you can all go ask Kim what the heck she was thinking to encourage this nonsense.

The setting:  I have just returned from a sojourn at my sister's home in Florida.  The purpose: See previous post.


So, we're back in Spartanburg with more shoes, art posters and a souvenir shot glass.  Also, an astral globe from Cape Kennedy which I hope makes me look smarter when I turn it on even though constellations make me kind of dizzy.  I had a rather traumatic experience in Florida and felt the need for some sympathy. 

The newest member of the family is a little dog named Penny.  Who hates me.  Seriously.  She is ferociously adorable.  When Mom entered my sister's house, even though it had been six months since she'd been there, the little dog trembled with such anticipation that she actually fell over.  Mom sat down, and Penny hurtled herself into her lap, rolled over twice, fell off onto the floor, bounced back onto Mom's lap and moaned adoringly as Mom scratched her behind the ears.

Then she noticed me.

Now, I had been warned that this dog (who looks just like an ewok) had been abused before my sister adopted it and that it fears strangers.  "Fear" apparently means "will growl like an itty-bitty grizzly, leap into the air, bark insanely and snap its itty-bitty teeth."  Which is what it did when it saw me.  It was, I have to admit, alarming.  I have never been attacked by an ewok before.  There's this mixed message thing where I wanted to say, "Your itty-bitty canines are so cute when you're attempting to intimidate me," but it darted around so quickly that I had trouble keeping it in sight, let alone carrying on a conversation.

My sister's approach was to tell off the dog.  Here's a sample of the telling off of the dog:

"Penny!  Stop that right now she's not a threat to anyone she won't hurt you I've never let anyone hurt you Natalie your head is too high put your head down put your head down right now the dog is afraid if your head is too high!"

You see what happened there, right?  She speaks logically to the dog and give me orders like a pet.

Then, "down down down!" which was a command to me, not the dog.  I dropped to the floor in confusion, and the dog rolled over on her back and glared.  This, it seems, is the signal to pet the dog.  Now, she had just been baring her little fangs and trying her best to eat me, but I was not supposed to hesitate.  "Pet her, pet her now!  Scratch her tummy or she'll bite you!"

Not kidding.  "Scratch her tummy or she'll bite you."  I wondered, as I scratched the tummy, if this would work on terrorists.  Maybe there should be signs on planes reading, "Warning:  terrorists will have their tummies rubbed without mercy!"

It worked on the dog.  Sort of.  Until I had to go to the bathroom.  You see, it's not actually possible to keep your head below the head of a ten-inch tall ewok dog and use a toilet at the same time.  Of course, someone could put down some paper.  I suggested it, but received the Glare of Death from my sister and the Sigh of Exasperation from my six year old niece, Isabella, so I had to stand up and leave the room, followed by itty-bitty vicious growls.

Now this really is a very cute dog.  Ewoks are cute too, but I was feeling like Han Solo hanging from that spit while teddy bears poked him with a spear.  Do you remember that scene?  It's all very cute until someone lights the fire.  Walking back into the room?  That's lighting the fire.

Many hours later, Penny (which is a terrible name for an ewok dog; I suggested Grendel or Grand Moff Tarkin, but I just got the Glare and the Sigh again) saw me cross the line completely:  I handed my six year old niece, she of the capitalized Sighs, a tinker toy.

Itty-bitty hell broke loose.

Penny's eyes turned red, she spun twice in a circle, then flew at me like a furry little bullet, foaming and barking.  I dropped the toy, while my sister started shouting ("Stop that!  She's not threatening Isabella you have no reason to bite her it's a tinker toy why is your head so high put it down put it down!) and my niece burst into tears.  Even though my sister moved fast, the itty-bitty insane ewok got to me first, snapping her itty-bitty fangs as she latched onto my arm and, well, slobbered on me quite aggressively.  So I helped build the tinker toy tower from a prone position with frequent rest stops to pet a growling animal into blissful silence.

I spent the rest of the time at my sister's place sitting in a corner on the sofa while the ewok stayed between me and the rest of the family, being petted and crooned to, while shooting me tiny red-eyed glances of hatred.  I only tried to move to the center of the couch once (Growl bark bark bark growl growl scary cross-eyed look What are you moving for?  Stay in the corner stay in the corner your spot is in the corner!  Why aren't you petting her?!).

When I finally got back to my hotel, I turned on Return of the Jedi on pay-per-view and cheered for the imperials."

Now there is an update to this story:  Penny no longer hates me.  In fact, at Thanksgiving, she followed me around, making sure to sit under my chair at all times, gazing up at me with love.  What changed?  I'm not telling.  You see, my sister might read this blog.  Let's just say that Penny had a very happy Thanksgiving and leave it at that. 

Here is a photo of Penny the ewok dog:

This Is All Kim's Fault

This is probably a bad idea.  This blog, I mean.  It's not that I don't have anything to write or that I think people won't enjoy reading it.  No, it's just that the only filter between me and the vast internet is, well, my own sense of decorum.

Hark!  Seriously, hark!  Hear that?  That's all of my friends snickering or flinching at that last sentence.  They know I don't have any damn sense of decorum.  Even my employers know that which is why they wince if they see anyone remotely important (a Board member, a wealthy donor) get within ten feet of me.  Then they hustle over to "make introductions" which really means hope like hell their presence will keep me from saying anything embarrassing.

I have at least one colleague who has a blog, though, and so far he hasn't been fired for it.  That's Mark Byrnes, by the way, and his blog "The Past Isn't Past" provides insightful, educated commentary on politics and history and the history of politics.  You will not find that here.

There are, on the other hand, plenty of humorous blogs out there, and some of them are even funny.  I'm going to put links to my two favorites in the sidebar if I can figure out how blogger works.  Don't hold your breath.

So clearly me writing a blog is neither necessary nor particularly desirable, but that didn't stop me from trying to cut down bamboo at 1am this summer (thanks, neighbors-who-called-the-cops-on-the-person-with-a-scythe-lurking-on-my-property!  someday, we will groan about that over drinks), and it's obviously not going to stop me now.  But it wasn't my idea; I want that to be perfectly clear at the outset.  This is Kim's fault.  Well, Kim and my sister's new dog.

You see, my friend Kim had a baby this year, and my sister's family got a new dog.  While Kim was on leave bonding with her offspring and learning how to function without sleep, or pretend to function, or just give the frak up on functioning, I started sending her mildly humorous anecdotes so that she wouldn't think we'd given away her office and sold all of her books while she was gone.  One of these anecdotes was about my sister's family's new dog and how it tried to kill me.  Kim seemed to think it was pretty funny, and she told me that I should start a blog and that if I did she'd even read it.

Red flag in front of a bull, my friends, red frakkin' flag.

But I'm not entirely confident that writing a blog won't get me fired or stalked or sued or something, so, Kim, if you're reading this (and you'd damn well better be), if one of those things happens, I'm moving in with you and your beloved husband and adorable offspring, so you might want to start fixing up the guest room just in case.