Monday, December 23, 2013

You're a Little Bit Better and Ready for Some Celebration

Once as a kid I got a stomach bug over Christmas break. This was the same year my cousin Auggie made batches and batches of Chex Mix. It made my grandma's whole house smell like roasted Worcestershire sauce. I had never had Chex Mix before, and the whole family sang its salty praise. I desperately wanted to nibble even one of those checked cereal squares but my little belly was not accepting anything, let alone seasoned snack mix. To this day, a whiff of homemade Chex Mix still smacks of sickness, sadness, and feeling left out.

This year I am starting Christmas break with the flu. Initially, I felt grumpy that my first day off consisted of aches, fever, and restless sleep. Then I felt miserable and lethargic, unable to muster enough energy to get dressed. Finally, when my lethargy would not give way and I had to miss my work holiday party, I felt very sad and lonely. Missing out again. I pouted pathetically.

As the TMBG lyric “The after party has been moved to your house, to your house,” played in my head, I dared not speak my wishes lest they sounded more far-fetched outside of my head than they did in. But just when I thought the window of possibility had come and gone, the doorbell rang. My spirit leapt, casting lethargy aside. From the front hall I heard Jen say to Matt, “We don't have to come in...” “Come in! Come in!” I stuffy-headedly squealed from the couch, and there she and Kevin were in their fancy clothes handing me a plate of food, smiling, and remembering me. Their arrival seemed so natural and yet I could scarce believe the little cry of my heart had been answered. I thanked God for my very thoughtful friends and my little Christmas miracle, however seemingly small.

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Favorite Photos of 2013

Emerald LakeFox Theater CeilingFormal Night Self PortraitSt. ThomasSt. Thomas from the ship (behind a window)I'm coming home now, Matthew!
Perch Search part I: I perch til you lurchPerch Search part II: I sits where I fitsKitty and MeBottle CollectionFamily FunWork Buds
Beautiful FriendsFor cheering JenMan Photographing FountainChicago SkylineThe Berry Fairy's BountyFlower for desk: check!
Cat, in tube, at sunsetEarly July4th of July Sunset over Lake MichiganSleeping Bear DunesLake Michigan Sunset on the BeachLake Michigan through the trees
Best of 2013, a set on Flickr.
These are my favorite pictures of 2013 that were taken on my iPhone, and thus in one convenient folder from which to cull them. Clicking on a picture will take you to a bigger version and the whole set on the Flickr website.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Operation Pantry Purge Part VI: Tea Time

Operation Pantry Purge did continue, despite my not blogging about it. My initial deadline was a bit too aggressive, but the spirit of the purge remains with me still (and has transferred to other areas of the house as well). Notable purges include:
  • 4 bottles of sparkling juice taken to Thanksgiving dinner
  • a box of brownies made and donated to a bake sale fundraiser
  • a batch of bran muffins given to Kevin for his birthday
  • a bag of paper plates and plastic cutlery donated to Becky's home group
This past weekend produced a highly successful general purge, and to kick it off, I worked on the hot drinks and candies shelf of the pantry. If you saw our tea collection, you might deduce, “Wow, these people really like tea! They must drink tea every day! There must be 100s of tea bags there!” and you'd be right, but only in your third assumption. If you conjectured “Wow, these people must really like variety in their tea selection. They must have trouble choosing. I bet they have a really messy tea shelf,” I think you'd be more correct.


When I began thinking about how to deal with the toppling tea boxes problem, I researched buying a wooden tea box like they display for you at fancy restaurants. But it wouldn't quite hold the quantity of tea we had, wasn't cost effective, and many options wanted you to buy it full of tea already which would only make the problem worse long before it made it better. So I went looking down in the basement, that veritable treasure trove of clutter where our inner hoarders hide out, to see what storage options I might find. I returned to the pantry with a MacBook Air box, an unused stacking cannister set, and a child's play basket. With luck, the computer box comfortably sat 5 packaged teabags across, the cannister held a nearly full box-worth of loose tea bags, and the blue basket wrangled almost all of the tea odds and ends! I even found a nice colorful fabric piece to lay in the bottom of the box (which already had sticky squares in all four corners to hold it down). I won't see it unless we drink more of this tea, but you know, someday!


I refrained from actually counting the tea. Some metrics aren't worth the effort. :-)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Half your cake and eat it two

I dedicate this exercise in amalgamated idiomatic phrases to Becky, without whose influence this would have been more difficult, but under whose tutelage it was a piece of pie:

  • A stitch in time saves the silver lining.
  • You can burn that bridge when you get there.
  • Shoot from the laurels and rest on your cuffs.
  • I heard it straight from the gift horse's mouth.
  • The grass is always greener before the dawn, and darkest on the other side.
  • It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle in a haystack than find the last straw that broke its back.
  • Beer before liquor, sailors take warning. Liquor before beer, sailors delight.
  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the frying pan.
  • Have your cake and eat it like everyone else: one leg at a time.
  • Hind sight is 50/50*

*Thanks for reminding me of this one, Julie! :D

Thursday, December 12, 2013

That moment when you realize your blog name abbreviates to 'TMI'

Does reading my blog make you feel like you know me? Do you feel like you know me better than I know you? You read my thoughts and ideas--maybe they even inspire your own--but I do not know that unless you tell me. For those who see me IRL, do you feel there is a disconnect between me on the blog and me in person? Do you wonder why I don't talk about some of the things I write about? Why do you even bother to read this drivel? Are you a voyeur, an admirer, a friend? Do you want me to read your blog?

I wish more people had blogs so I could know what they are thinking about. You might tell me that is facebook, or that is twitter, but it's not. Many people do not generate content containing their thoughts and ideas. They repost other people's ideas, tell me what they are watching/eating, or simply do not post at all. None of these are what they're actually thinking about, assuming everyone is actually thinking about something. I use many different social mediums to follow people I want to know about. If you don't post and if I don't get an opportunity to talk to you, I cannot know what you are thinking. If you only post pictures, I can begin to infer things about your life and what you like, but I guess I'm a words person, and I want to read a little bit of your journal.

Some people don't want to share their lives, or maybe they think they are not interesting enough to share. I think everyone is interesting enough to share at least a little bit, though many people share too much. Fortunately we don't have to follow everything everyone says. You know, I'm trying to make this your problem, but maybe it is my problem, because I don't call you, and because I don't talk to you. I am a passive person, I wait for you! I'm a good listener. Really good listeners ask a lot of questions, though. I'm probably only a so-so listener, but I'm getting better. Mostly I want to listen to you and be listened to by you, but only when I have good things to say. Sometimes I don't have anything good to say and I'd rather be quiet.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I'm a NaNoWriMo Winner!

Thank you to all my friends and family for putting up with me again this year during the harrowing month of writing in November! Many of you accurately recalled which questions were on the ASK and DO NOT ASK lists, and when you asked about it I enjoyed boring you with details about how I wasn't doing it conventionally this year, but I was writing, and it was all crap, etc, etc. It is a blessing to have supportive friends like you to keep me remembering to take myself seriously!

This year I think I forgot how hard it is to write so much in so short a time-frame. I have been writing more consistently all year so I thought I would be warmed up and ready to go. Even doing it unconventionally (as in not just one single story), I still lagged behind in word count until the last week.

This year during NaNoWriMo I think I learned that all writing is going to feel crappy, unless it doesn't, in which case it is probably crap. No, that's not it. I relearned to turn off my internal editor and see what comes out unfiltered. I learned that sometimes I think up kind of boring stuff. I learned that I'm a fairly fast typer. I sort of knew that, and I still totally hit the backspace key a ton, but I can really crank out the words if I have something to say.

I also learned that I am still an incorrigible speller with a vocabulary list larger than the set of words I can occasionally accurately spell (both 'incorrigible' and 'occasionally' being on that list). I will type something out thinking it looks perfectly sensible with the vowels I have chosen, but then I get the telltale red squiggly line that tells me I am wrong. Some document programs offer me suggestions, but sometimes I have to keep trying until I get it right, or go to Google, which is generally quite good at figuring out my spelling faux pas. (You know I took French, but I'm not sure how to pluralize 'faux pas'. Maybe I shall Google that… Ah, spelled the same, but pronounced differently. Pronounced such that people would think you'd made it up, but you really knew and were correct.)

Now that all this deadlined writing is over, I think I'm going to have to take it easy in December to attend to my long list of other hobbies which hopefully include cleaning, washing dishes, and doing the laundry, as well as crafting, baking, and shopping.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"I want to pump you up!"

You remember my friend Yuri, right? The one who did my dishes? Apparently she was just buttering me up so she could torture me later and I'd still think she was sweet!

She talked Matt and I and our friend Jen into buying Groupons for classes at her gym. I should have known the torture that would befall us after her fiancé Nick has been all "wall sits" this and "I almost puked" that for the last several months. But I thought I might as well take advantage of the deal since I really have been meaning to exercise for like the last 11 months.

On Monday, Matt and I went to the gym after dinner to check out the place and figure out how to use our Groupon. Yuri was there doing some cardio, so she took us on a tour. Turns out she's already famous there and introduced us to several staff members as we walked around. Everyone was very friendly, though, so that was encouraging.

We decided to come back the next day for a Body Pump class, the description for which reads:
"Body Pump is one of the world's fastest ways to get in shape as it challenges all of your muscle groups while you squat, press, lift, and curl. The cutting edge Body Pump choreography and chart-topping music is refreshed every three months, so with your choice of weight and highly-trained instructors you can get the group effect and the results you've been looking for!"
Admittedly, I didn't really know what this meant, but it sounded like there would be music, maybe some cardio, and a variety of weight training, and that all sounded okay considering all of me is not-so-strong at the moment, so might as well spread the attention. I think part of my problem with the description, though, is that I was parsing it incorrectly and misinterpreting the words "choreography" and "chart-topping". Another part of it is that I don't know what "the group effect" is. But the biggest confusion was that I read it as "your choice of weight and your choice of highly-trained instructors..." That sounded weird, that you'd get to pick your instructor, but the gym *is* called One on One, so maybe that's their gig? Alas, no. And turns out "choreography" just means different lifts in combination--no actual "moves" or cardio--and "chart-topping" means generic pop I've actually never heard of, though that might not be saying much given my musical preferences.

The facility is in a repurposed office building, from what I can tell. It is a very unconventional but fun and quirky layout, and the accent colors are a delightful early 90s teal and plum (a stark and fitting contrast to Vie's modern oranges and lime greens with double the price tag). The thing about the repurposedness, though, is that directly inside the front doors is a flight of stairs up that takes you to the check-in desk, and from there the locker rooms are just around the glass-walled classroom and down a flight of steps into the basement. Which means at the end of a workout, you are immediately faced with a tall flight of stairs down no matter which way you need to go.

After our Body Pump class full of squats and deadlifts and heck-lets-do-some-more-squats-for-fun, Matt and I exited the classroom and excitedly talked over our triumphs and failures while we put on our coats in front of the desk. Then we turned towards the exit and immediately stopped dead in our tracks. Stairs. Lots of them. No other way out but down, and no other legs than the jello ones attached to our torsos. Instinctively, we each veered towards a handrail, me to the left and Matt to the right. Matt decided to take the "slow and not-so-steady" approach, while I took the "just let gravity take you and try to keep your feet under you" approach. We both almost bit it, but it was funny and such a relief to get to the bottom without seriously embarrassing ourselves!

For kicks, and because there didn't end up being any cardio, or even any sweat really (thanks to the enormous fan above me) in Body Pump, I decided to go with Jen to a Zumba class today. I've never done Zumba, and I can't say as though dance is a forte of mine. I'm a marching band girl. I can keep tempo with my feet, give you a 90 or 60 degree angle with my leg, and probably even still keep pretty close to an "8 to 5" step, but ask me to move my arms simultaneously and you've got yourself a deal breaker. Regardless, I gave it a try. It was fun, even though I can't really shimmy any part of me to save my life (I prayed desperately that my friends wouldn't peek in the glass-walled room and see me awkwardly trying to zumba on their way into their class). Best of all, though, it was only 30 minutes, and there were only a few squats. I might even consider doing it again!

Not sure what class I'll try next, but there are a few more I want to check out, including Kettle Bell and Yoga. But probably not anymore this week--I can hardly walk, sit down, or stand up as it is! My thighs and gluts are so sore. Matt had to carry something to the basement and I stayed in the kitchen cheering him on every step of the way as he grimaced his way down one step at a time. So glad we live in a ranch house right about now.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Goodness. Gracious.

I want to be a good person, but I prove to myself daily that it can't be done. I'm mean, I'm thoughtless, I'm selfish, I'm judgmental, I'm overly emotional, and when I get upset I shout. I don't always do what's best for other people and I'm not even very nice to me. I am broken, tired, inarticulate, and weak. I am human, and I am not good enough. I never will be good enough. I'm smart enough to know what 'good' looks like, but dumb enough to keep trying to attain what isn't possible. Sure, I can do nice things for other people. I can love them with all my heart. I can try with all my might to do right by everyone, including myself. And that's what I should do, it's what I must do, and it's the best I can do. But to keep beating myself up about not measuring up is to look God in the eye and say "I don't want your grace. I don't want your mercy. I just want to work every day climbing this impossible hill." But it's kind of a lie, because I don't want to climb this hill anymore. It's so pointless and I already know I'll never make it to the top. Why can't I just figure out how to accept the grace and accept that I am broken simultaneously? How can I be just hard enough on myself to keep trying to be a better person, but not so hard that I can't allow anyone (including myself) to show me grace? I want to find forgiveness. I might find it from some people. I might show it to other people. But I seldom find it from myself. My own offenses against myself stack up, I hold grudges, and I start to feel like there's no way anyone else could ever really forgive me either.

I've totally lost sight of a concept I think I used to get. I got good grades, but never perfect, and I was good at things, but never the best. I was totally okay with this. I thought I was an interesting person with interesting hobbies. I lived by my morals, and I was happy with my progress against those ideals. If I 'screwed up,' I'd recognize it and vow to do better next time. So how did I start placing unrealistic expectations on myself to just not 'screw up' ever? And when did the line defining what constitutes a 'screw up' move so close to simply 'breathing'?

It is a well known fact that adults make mistakes, too, it's not just a kid thing. Did I honestly expect that when I became an adult that I would have arrived at some sort of mistake-free enlightenment? And why do I feel like 'having your shit together' is a requirement for guilt-free living? Nobody has it all together! Anyone who looks like they do is hiding something. You know this, Rachel, this is not news. It is not binary where 0='has shit together' and 1='doesn't care'.

New plan for living: On a daily basis, thank God for his grace. Continue to be gracious to others and thank others when they are gracious to you. Stop beating yourself up and then find a way to thank yourself for it. Tell yourself you can have a treat if you make it through the day without admonishing yourself, and when you fail, give yourself a treat anyway and say "Take that, Self! That's grace!" When you feel guilty for rewarding bad behavior, give yourself yet another treat. Repeat literally ad nauseum until treats run out, or you finally start to grasp the concept of real grace, whichever comes first. Do it all again the next day.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

a nut on a can o' tuna*

Last week I was just starting to wonder how I was going to deal with my dangerously stacked canned goods when I remembered that Matt and I had signed up to volunteer at a food bank later in the week. Overly convenient, right? So the night before, we took another another toodle through the pantry looking for items to purge. First, we selected dinner: Tuna Noodle Casserole.

We lacked the suggested potato chips for the crunchy top, but I stumbled upon some French Fried Onions which I thought could fill the role instead. We found not 1, not 2, but 3 bags of egg noodles in the pantry! We only use them in 2 recipes which we clearly do not make all that frequently, but think we should when we're at the store.

While the casserole baked (thanks for the easy recipe, Aunt Nan!), we pulled out the cans and sorted them into types. I had no idea we'd bought stock in the Campbell's Soup company!


We decided to donate most of the duplicate items which thinned the can herd (what should a group of cans be called? How about a topplance?) significantly enough to get them all back on the shelf safely.


We finished packing up our donation grocery bag just in time for dinner. Yumz! I threw a salad together at the last minute to offset the starchy yellowness of the tuna casserole. Plus we found 5 unopened and just expired salad dressings in the pantry so I figured we must not be eating enough salad. (Finished off the bag of croutons from the pantry, too!)


Our task at the Food Gatherers the next day was to package large boxes of apples into family-sized bags. Volunteering never smelled so good!

*I really wanted the title to be a palindrome. I don't know why. This was the best I could do under pressure. It was better than my first one which was "ai po tuna can utopia". :)

Monday, November 4, 2013

And So I Go NaNoWriMo

Once again this year, I am participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)! I've done this for the past 6 years, and I have "won" (winning=writing 50,000 words in 30 days) the middle 4 of those 6 years (last year I put my energies toward editing a previous draft instead of writing something new).

I'm sure every writer is temperamental in their own way, but if you see me this month, I thought I'd share a few tips: 

Please try not to ask:
  • "What are you writing about?"  I probably won't know until I'm done! (Maybe not even then.)
  • "What genre are you writing?"  I don't know why this is a hard question for me, but it is. Hopefully I'll figure out how to answer it someday.
  • "Can I read your story?"  I'm glad and flattered that you want to read my writing! But I can't let you read something that is crappy, and it probably won't be edited and ready to read any time soon. It's also possible that this rough draft may never see the light of day--but that would still be an acceptable outcome for this writing exercise! If you want to read something I've written now, I would love for you to keep reading my blog and even provide me feedback on the writing if you feel so inclined. When I finally have something ready, I will be equal parts thrilled and terrified to let you read it.
And if you can avoid it, please don't say:
  • "I haven't seen you in awhile. We should totally hang out!" I already feel guilty that we haven't hung out lately, no need to lay the guilt on thicker.
  • "I know this other person doing NaNoWriMo, and they're already at 50,000 words during Week 2." You might think this would motivate me, but usually it just makes me feel like a loser because I'm likely behind on my word count.
  • "You should write about thing X!" If you have a good idea, you should join NaNoWriMo and write it! It will be fun! Don't let me get the glory for your idea. ;)
It's okay to ask:
  • "How's it going?" Be prepared for an honest, and possibly lengthy, answer.
  • "Do you have an idea you like this year?" Be prepared for a dejected no.
  • "How many years have you done NaNoWriMo?" (Though I guess I just told you that.)
  • "How many words have you written so far?" Hopefully more than yesterday!
  • "Is it too late to join this year?" It's never too late, it just gets harder! Join me now and we'll dig ourselves out of this 3-day word count deficit together!
And feel free to say:
  • "That's so cool, it sounds like fun!" It is!
  • "I'm really proud of you for doing this, so I made you a casserole for dinner so you can keep writing." I love you so much right now.
  • "I'm going to see if Matt wants to go to the movies with me tonight." Sounds good! Just have him home by 11!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Crushing It for the Cause

If time wastes you, waste it right back. It is perfectly acceptable and expected that if you finally make it to your day off or the moment when you are free to do anything you want, your first order of business should be wasting time by playing Candy Crush. You can't always be doing something productive. It would offset the Productivity-Procrastination Balance, and productive things with low but positive productivity value would lose their worth altogether.

It would be a travesty. Stress levels would be through the roof. We would feel like failures simply surviving what life throws at us unless we had a grand masterpiece work of art to show for it besides. Any lesser accomplishments would be meaningless. It would be all or nothing, go big or go home. And the weary would only find rest at the cost of being trampled to death beneath the feet of those still foolishly pursuing a life of unrivaled productivity.

So whip out that primitive color-matching game with the unpredictable physics and waste a half an hour in pursuit of grouping colored shapes into threes. Do it for the sake of humanity, you monster!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Operation Pantry Purge Part IV: The Muffin (Wo)Man

Since Matt was not looking forward to wheat bran meatloaf, I thought I'd better pick up some buttermilk to make bran muffins instead.

The recipe for enlightenment.

I have made these muffins before and brought them in to work to receive surprisingly good reviews for something so healthy. Plus I thought they might make a better gift for our weekend host than an oatmeal packet.

Even though this recipe dirties three bowls, 4 measuring cups, and two muffin tins (though by employing dirty-dishes-avoiding techniques, I reduced my mess by 1 bowl and 1 measuring cup each since I didn't have Yuri this time), the end result is worth it.

Happy little bran muffins.

However, if there is anything of which Matt should be afraid, it is not "wheatloaf". Rather, it is the raw bran muffin mixture. I can't help but be surprised each time I make these and they don't taste like the ground bologna salad they so uncannily resemble in their unbaked state.

Sometimes you have to bake with faith that it's all going to turn out okay.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Care-full

I can't take care of everyone (I can't even take care of myself), but I feel compelled to try. I feel called to give of myself as much as I can, that others might feel loved, might feel the Love, might see and understand that it is not my love or my will or my strength that is caring for them, but it is God's love/will/strength reflected. I am not my own and would not want to be. I take care of me so that I can take care of others.

I wonder if this is how women of child-bearing age feel when they want to have children. When the biological timer goes off and they want a baby more than anything in the world, does it feel like they are compelled to love another, despite their own flaws and inability to even really care for themselves?

If so, I am closer than I have ever been to wanting a baby--the only problem is the size. Babies are sort of cute, but they aren't very interesting. Their thoughts are limited. It is the adults who deeply feel, who have experienced much, and who are trying to take care of themselves and others who I find more interesting. Babies cry for food, comfort, and protection, but adults cry for forgiveness, passion, and purpose. Can I just adopt an adult or two or three or four who need loving and support (and food and comfort and protection)?

If you said yes, don't worry, I already have. I'm a crazy cat lady of adopting people into my circle of care. It might not look like it--I only have legal custody of one--but I can't stop myself from getting all heart-panged and melty whenever one wanders near enough to really get a good look at. I confess, sometimes I try not to look, because my heart feels so full and I don't know what more I could possibly do. Because sometimes you have to let someone else adopt the next stray cat.

I'm worried that you will believe me less if I show you my hand. That you will say I am not very good at loving you or the people you see around me. I will be the first to say that I am not and that I have a long way to go. That I could love more people more deeply. That I could be less selfish and more giving. That there are a million, nay a few billion, more people I could love and care for. Strangers, babies, sick people, poor people, people I don't agree with or don't like. It is true! It will always be true. That is why I can't rely on my own strength to get me by.

I can't take credit for any success I've had in connecting with you, or affecting your life, or being there for you in your time of need. It is but selfishness, chance, and misunderstanding apart from God. But it is important to me that I recognize my calling, know why I am crying when I see your beautiful heart broken, and forgive myself and try again when I fail to love you as completely and perfectly as the love of the creator I am trying to emulate. It is only when I give up my life that I am truly alive.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Operation Pantry Purge Part III: Be Our Guest


As the pantry purge continues, we invited our friends Nick and Yuri over for an adventurous dinner of whatever could be made from pantry ingredients.

This isn't much different from what I usually do for dinner, but when we have company, I try to plan ahead so it isn't as risky/random. This time, we not only didn't plan ahead, but we invited our guests to participate in the tv-cooking-competition-style experience.

When they arrived, they each took a turn sifting through the pantry items looking for options. Yuri selected a can of black beans, and left it to Nick to come up with the rest. He only made fun of a few of the items he encountered as he dug around and fished out a box of dried hashbrown potatoes, a bag of quinoa, and two cans of mushrooms. Matt and I surveyed the selections and found that the back of the quinoa bag had a recipe for black bean burgers that would work nicely with many of the ingredients in the house.

Black bean burger ingredients
As I set to work heating up the chicken broth for the quinoa, I invited Yuri to pick out a dessert from among the brownie and cake mix boxes still crowding the top shelf. She selected the“Chocolate Ugly Cake Mix” and spearheaded that effort, managing to bake the dessert and get it on the cooling rack long before the rest of us finished our parts of the main meal.

Yumz
Understandably concerned about our protein options in the pantry but appropriately engaged with the spirit of the event, Nick had brought over 4 hotdogs, as well as some beer, Russian-style vinegar-less pickles, and sauerkraut that looked like coleslaw. Nick fried up the hashbrowns, mushrooms, and the hotdogs cut into thin strips while Matt and I fumbled through the slightly complicated black bean burger recipe.

Matt contemplates what he's done while Nick forges ahead with the skillet items.
“'Patty' is a loose term...” Yuri said as we tried to form the black bean slop into burger shaped patties for frying purposes, and 'loose' really was the best way to describe it. The recipe called for 3 cups of cooked quinoa, and while I only had 2 left in the bag, we had far more than the '7 to 8' patty yield suggested. But we persevered, and even if the texture didn't end up burger-like, it did taste pretty good.

Plated
Despite being almost 9pm when we finally sat down to eat, the meal was a success. In total, we removed 10 items from the pantry: 1 box of hashbrowns, 2 cans mushrooms, a bag of quinoa, a can of black beans, a carton of chicken broth, and a box of cake mix, as well as two boxes of pudding and 1 canister of protein drink mix that were well well beyond their suggested “best by” date.

Did I mention how amazingly wonderful Yuri is? She did all the dishes! I heart her!
So thanks for coming over, Yurolay! (Yurilay? Nickori? Can I call you the Ikhazas?) Our pantry is a better place because of you.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Operation Pantry Purge Part II: Cereal Killers


To wash down tonight's tastings, we have selected tea as our beverage of choice. There is no way we could thin the tea collection by 30% in the next two weeks, but we show spirit and dedication to the cause all the same.

Tonight, anything breakfast-y gets pulled from the closet. A much smaller pile than the “snacks”.


After condensing the unexpired oatmeal packets, we turn to a box of granola that seems to be leaking granola out the bottom corner. Not a good sign. “It's only moderately stale” Matt says as he chews. I give it the universal thumb over the shoulder sign for “pitch it”. Another granola gets the ax because it tastes ew. Not sure if that is due to age or intention by Bare Naked brand. Swig of tea.

I wonder how we are going to make a dent in this oatmeal/cereal in the next two weeks if we only eat it for breakfast on Saturdays and we're going away the next two weekends... You're supposed to bring your hosts a gift, right???

Belgian waffle mix. Status: less than a quarter cup. Um..... that's enough for like one pancake.

Unproccessed wheat bran, ~ ¾ cup. The back of the box has recipes so I look up what we can make with only that much. Meatloaf or bran dinner rolls. “Wheatloaf?” Matt says. “Yuck! You're going to have to sneak that in if you want me to eat it...”

Quaker oatmeal. Best before Jan 2008. Guess we haven't made oatmeal raisin cookies in a while. Hard to tell if it's really “bad”, but it's nearly 6 years old and opened, so I give it the boot. Matt wants to keep the container however, as it has re-usability potential. “It's a good quality item. If you don't mind my asking, how much did she set you back?” he quote-jokes.

“Look at all these other products Silver Palate makes!” Matt shows me the Silver Palate brand oatmeal box and points at a picture of a jelly jar: “Chutney is my horse's name.”
“You have a horse?” I inquire.
“Well, it would be my horse's name if I had one. Or my Southern daughter.”

So far we have reclaimed two chip clips.

This is how the 7 boxes of cereals (that we only eat on the weekends or for lazy dinners) fared:
  1. Frosted flakes: still crispy and don't expire until next month. “Non-nutritive cereal varnish. coats and seals the flake, keeps the milk from penetrating it.” (keep those National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation quotes rolling, Matt!) Kept.
  2. Spidey berry: Weren't good to begin with and expired. Thus, axed.
  3. Spartan crisp rice: several years past and still crispy! But pitched out of principle because the cute child on the front is probably in college by now.
  4. Corn Chex: not expired but not fresh...
  5. Barbara's shredded oats: expired this year but not bad.
  6. Honey Nut Cheerio: just expired but the flavor remains.
  7. Golden Grahams: unopened and unexpired.

I spot another box of wheat bran hiding amongst the brownies! Unopened and hardly expired. Unfortunately, we don't have any ingredients in the house to make any of the recipes besides the “wheatloaf” so Matt's still out of luck.

Brownie mix tower

Lastly, judging that oatmeal may not make the best hostess gifts after all, we jump ahead and take stock of the boxed dessert mixes: 7 brownie, 3 cake, 1 bread, and 1 tiramisu. Two are selected for immediate production. We clearly have more work to do in this area...

Operation Pantry Purge: Snack Attack


Matt and I are borderline dry good hoarders. Collectors of canned, boxed, and bottled foods. When we moved in, the obvious closet by the kitchen was deemed too small for a pantry, so we fixed up the larger closet in the dining room to suit our food storing needs. Truth be told, the dining room closet makes for a rather large pantry for two people, and our diverse collection of teas/cereals/soups grew accordingly.

The problem with hoarding is that it becomes unsafe. What used to be a walk-in pantry is now more of a lean-in-and-reach pantry. Cans regularly dive bomb toes from overpacked shelves. The peanut butter impaled itself on a beer bottle. The wound suffered by the leaping corn syrup was not immediately discovered, and, well, you can imagine the sticky mess that ensued.

Pantry before the Purge

Enter Operation Pantry Purge.
  • Goal: Make pantry useable again.
  • Definition of success: Floor space cleared by 90%, contents of shelves reduced by 50%, and tea tray can be extracted without contents toppling over. Pantry users can feel safe perusing cans.
  • Strategy: Reduce stock by pitching inedible food and eating/donating ~33% of good food. Organize and store food better.
  • Deadline: November 1.
  • Exempted: Liquor, reusable Meijer bags, and brooms on wall.
  • Not exempted: plastic bags and paper products.
Floor: Don't worry, the caps with stars are sparkling water.

We begin by getting rid of the inedible snack foods.

After pulling all the snack foods out, and deciding that granola bars are breakfast and not snacks, we each select a beer to wash down our samplings. The beer serves a double purpose, really, because opening space for two more beers in the fridge means two fewer beers in the pantry.


Surveying the lot of it, I can see that there are certainly some easy wins, such as cookies that I know are from last Christmas. We agree that we don't have to test-eat anything past its expiration without regret, but decide that unopened, expired items might be worth a nibble later on in the process. I pull the trash and recycle bin closer for easier disposal.

First up, Keebler Pecan Sandies. Status: mostly eaten. Date: Feb 2013. Number of bugs: 1. As Matthew goes to try a cookie, I tell him he definitely doesn't have to eat it if there are bugs. He shrugs, saying the bug was not in the same compartment as the cookies, and takes a bite. Verdict: stale, but not bad. “Do you want to try it?” he asks. I decline and he pitches the package.

Next, Walkers Short Bread Rounds. Date: Nov 2013. Status: 8 of 9 cookies remain. No bugs, at least. We each sample a cookie. Whoa, that's a strong butter flavor! Despite being open for who knows how long, we decide they are okay, but I feel like I should chase that with something salty and a swig of beer. Wow. Walkers makes a buttery cookie.

Matt turns to an unlabeled ziplock bag with 4 lady finger cookies in it. I recall these being leftover from a tiramisu we made months ago. Matt takes a bite and declares that it tastes like an old, dusty Christmas ornament. As I have never eaten a lady finger outside of a tiramisu, I'm not certain how Christmas ornament-y they usually taste, but I try a bite anyway. Edibility aside, we declare that we have no use for these and pitch the contents of the bag. Swig of beer.

Two mostly eaten packages of Pepperidge Farm cookies (Milanos and Genevas) were expired or nearly expired when we bought them from the Pepperidge Farm outlet store in the summer. These packages have been thoughtfully resealed after opening by our past selves with masking tape, which is better sealed than many other opened crackers and cookies currently in the pantry. I decline to try them, but Matt says the Milanos (exp. 9/13) are a little soft but still with good mint flavor. They are pitched. He decides to keep the 2 Genevas because of the chocolate, but tosses the bag and begins a little pile of cookies he intends to eat later. Again, I decline to taste.

Next comes a half-consumed package of Keebler Fudge Stripe Dark Chocolate cookies. We ate some of these last night and they were okay. They can stay.

Trader Joe's maple leaf cookies. So delicious in their prime. “Too good to eat” all of last fall, in fact, despite being “Best by April 2013”. Six cookies remain in a poorly folded plastic covering inside the box. Bug count: 1, but on outside of plastic. Eagerly anticipating their tasty maple cream filling, we dig in. Soft but yet somehow oddly crunchy. Smell good, but flavor is only a hint of its former self. After one bite each, we reluctantly pitch 'em.

TJ's dark chocolate stars, clearly from last Christmas. Best by March 2013. Opened plastic bag inside a box. Status: 2/3rds empty. Matt selects a star cookie for each of us, avoiding ones that have white spots on the chocolate. He reports that some stars have inseperably “hooked up”. After less than one bite each, they are quickly rejected due to cheap chocolate flavor and soggy shortbread cookie base. Swig of beer to wash it down.

Matt tears open a two-pack of Biscoff cookies I was pretty sure were going to be bad. He reports that it is crispy and delicious, so I make him give me the other cookie. He is right. Well, almost. They stick in your teeth in a way the fresh ones don't, but I am happy to eat a decent cookie so I keep it nearby for chasing the less-than-tasty cookies yet to come.

Mini-peanut butter cups from last christmas. Smells like aged peanut butter. Exp Date: Oct 2013. Hey, that's this month! And yet, ew, that isn't even peanut butter anymore. More like peanut dust in a crappy chocolate shell. Despite being mini, we each deposit at least half a cup into the trash. I take another bite of my chaser Biscoff cookie.

Recently purchased pretzel bites get a pass on tasting tonight. I didn't like the when I tried them, but Matt did, and so he is taking the box to work for snacking. A win for OPP in any case.

Granola Thins. Matt always enjoys these when I steal them from work, but when I purchase him a whole box of his own, he neglects to eat them. They expire in two weeks. I vow to hide them somewhere and then bring them out one at a time saying they're stolen from work to see what he does.

Keebler Grahams crackers. Status: mostly empty. Expiration date: April 2010. Ummmm, why is Matt sticking that in his mouth right now?? Facial expression and lack of words indicate that this was a bad idea. Best he can come up with is “Tastes like some sort of perfumed cleaning product. Or dryer sheet.” He takes a big swig of beer as he dumps the box.

Mostly eaten bag of Garden of Eatin' Sweet Potato corn chip. Best by Jan 2014. Yum. They have sugar on them, I think. Mmm.

Unopened bag of oyster crackers. Best by July 2013. We'll try these when we get to the soup on the other side of the pantry.

Snyder's honey mustard and onion pretzel pieces. Unopened. Best by Sept. 2013. Generally considered by Matt as “too good to eat”. As I find them rather gross, he's on his own for those, and usually finds himself on his own after he eats them because of his terrible breath. He sets them aside to continue not eating. As long as he has a bag in the pantry, I guess he won't buy another, so really, we're saving money the longer he holds onto each expired bag.

Half sleeve football Ritz crackers. We opened that sleeve on Sunday and have eaten on them twice this week already. Fortunately, they are the last of their kind as we know they are not from this football season...

One short stack of unopened saltine crackers, not yet expired. To remove the bulky box, we store them in the collector's edition Ritz tin and move on without opening to taste them.

Crunch black and white rice rolls from Trader Joe's. Status: 7 of 8 remain. I think I bought these before last Christmas. They are sort of sweet and like a rice cake, but it turns out I don't crave sweet rice cakes very frequently. Also, they were a weird shape and too large to bite. Matt says it looks like a stogie. Very chewy. Clearly not the right texture since the box says “crunch”. I return to my beer and Biscoff cookie to remove the after taste.

Bag of TJ's trek mix. Status: 80% uneaten. Best by May 2010. I encourage him to sniff before he eats. This convinces him to just pitch it, and I am relieved. The pineapple pieces look like petrified wood.

Part of the snack shelf pre-purge.


Onto the dried fruits.

Unopened bag of dried apricots are good. Mostly eaten bag of cranberries also get a pass. Mostly eaten bag of Craisins from 2012 must have slipped behind something else. Matt tries one and says “well, they're really dry now,” and pitches them.

Vacuum fried pineapple chips from Trader Joe's. Exp Nov 2012. Retain signature crunch and acidity which keep one from eating them very fast.

Bag of dried pineapple from my father. Matt thinks they taste smokey. He may be correct, but I've never had this kind of dried pineapple any other way, so the flavor tastes normal to me. *shrug*

We have uncovered a lot of plain popcorn. Will have to make some caramel corn or something to use that up.

Two bags of bacon popcorn. I popped and shared one bag at work and I have to admit, it was weird. Let's just eat bacon as real bacon, okay? If you want bacon with something else, just add slices of bacon to it, not bacon flavor. Eight bags of other misc microwave popcorn with misc. exp dates. Maybe I'll take some of these to work for afternoon snack. One is caramel corn. I wonder if that is any good?

Unopened chocolate cordial cups are left for another day. They might pair well with the mousse mix I spy on the other side of the pantry. Unopened packages of Triple Berry Newtons and Dark Chocolate Sandies as well as 5 unopened apple sauce cups (exp. 2014) also stay untested.

And that concludes night 1 of thinning the pantry! We tackled the most unruly section first to "secure early wins" (literally the only concept I learned in one of my grad school classes, so I like to repeat the advice frequently), so future OPP chronicles will likely be shorter. ;)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Let's Go Stand-Outside-In-The-Rain-All-Day Blue!

Over the years, I've sacrificed a lot of personal comfort in pursuit of one thing: Michigan Football. Whether it be cheering from the packed stands on an 85 degree day with high humidity, or watching the team nearly lose to an unranked small school that nobody has ever heard of, I have suffered my fair share of physical and mental discomforts. And for what? Entertainment! Camaraderie! Marching band! Worth it? Generally! ;)

Today I am attending the homecoming game as a member of the alumni band. And for the second year in a row, rain is predicted. Why am I doing this again? Oh right, because last year was ridiculously fun and I thought, "What are the odds it will rain two years in a row? I've been to so many football games where it hasn't rained. Surely, surely it will be even more fun when it's not raining!"

And so I got up (at weekday work time) this morning to the sounds of rain pouring down, voluntarily got wet for the first time today (by showering), and attempted to plan out (to the best of my abilities with what I own and what the weather could be like at any given moment) what I should wear and bring with me for the day. Wish me luck! But don't weep for me (unless Michigan loses)--I get to hang out with my best friends from college* playing our trumpets (after virtually no practice) in front of an audience of 110,000. It's going to be rad! GO BLUE!

The view from the sidelines on a rainy homecoming game day in Ann Arbor, 2012.


*Except for the one who accidentally punctured her foot this week and subsequently won't be here--miss you, friend!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Regrets

I have regrets. And they all come flooding back to me in wave after merciless wave when I fall into certain moods. I regret things I've said, things I've eaten, and things I didn't do. And I regret feelings and thoughts I have as well as ones I don't.

It's always surprising which things still have the power to overwhelm me during a regret assault. For instance, I regret inexplicably running directly into Ben Godfrey's chest during a game of Red Rover senior year of high school. I regret tweets I wrote several years ago. I regret trying to make that one guy like me. I regret trying to make that other guy like me. Okay, I regret 99% of the things I did to try to make any guy, or girl, like me ever. I regret boasting about my awards and accomplishments in poem form in an attempt to win a student council position in 6th grade (oh how that couplet mocks me!). I regret boasting about getting the biggest cupcake in first grade on a classmate's birthday. I regret not sending a nice older lady a wedding picture of Matt and I when she asked for it but said she knew we would never send it to her (she died). I regret several Christmas Eves ago not finding out if that person who looked like my friend Erin from high school was actually my friend Erin from high school. I regret not doing more to connect with my friend Maureen after every dream I've had in which I've met up with her and I'm so happy to see her again. I regret not going to Karen and Mike's wedding even though I had to miss it because I was in another wedding. And then there's the uncharitable thoughts I had about a random selfish lady on my college graduation day... Anything I've said when I'm hungry... That biker I cut off when I made a bad judgment call about if I should pull out or not...

I have to remember though, there is hope. Not "hope that I will eventually forget" (though there is that) as much as "hope that I will eventually forgive" my past self. Some recollections that previously manifested as regrets have finally faded to mere nonchalance. Like not telling my last job reference that I got the job (5 years ago). Not giving a professor a copy of my paper after the term ended even though she asked for it because she said it was good. The bouncy ball I lost to a gated-up empty store in the mall in first grade. High school band. My past dating relationships. The time I went out with somebody I was pretty sure was going to be boring and I was right. Calling in to quit a job before I even started it. Spilling that entire gallon of milk in my friend's living room and crying over it (though I'll never forget the way he laughed and laughed about my crying over it as I sat there witheringly embarrassed).

Logical thought holds no power during a regret storm (distraction is the only way to thwart it), but afterwards if I'm lucky I am able to remember and take comfort in the fact that there are some things that I have never regretted. Believe it or not, some times I actually approve of nay relish in the actions I did take even when I've had time to think them over. Starting a blog, for instance. Or immediately ditching work one day to hang out with a friend who admitted to feeling self-harmy. Quitting high school band to join choir. Convincing Matt to date me (the 1% of things I did to get someone to like me that I don't regret). All the money and effort I invested in my education. All the time and energy I expended on college marching band. Telling a guy I had a crush on who didn't like me back that I didn't want to go to lunch with him anymore so I could get over him.

Regrets and embarrassment are from the same cloth. Do you happen to know any of those self-possessed yet humble people who don't really get embarrassed? My friend Mike doesn't seem to get embarrassed by anything and it is the most amazing thing to me. He seems so at peace with himself. I'm not even in the least worried that he'd be embarrassed I'm saying this about him on the Internet. I wish I'd met him sooner in life, when I suffered from crippling embarrassment that kept me shy and from exploring new and unknown things. I could have used more role models in being comfortable with one's own self and abilities. Heck, as someone who made herself cry today because she was upset that she freaked out and cried earlier in the day for some lame reason, I could still stand to work on being comfortable with my own strengths and weaknesses. Because there's a good chance today will rise up and attack with the other undead zombie recollections the next time the regret offensive strikes.

I've realized that one of my coping strategies for dealing with my own regret and embarrassment is to support other people when they feel regretful and/or embarrassed, to try to make them feel less dumb. If they can see I'm not judging them, maybe they can judge themselves less harshly and healthily move on instead of carrying regrets around like me. I'm reluctant to make anyone feel bad about stupid things they did, perhaps to a fault. If you want tough love, go elsewhere. If you've already judged yourself and learned your lesson and just want a fresh start, I'm the friend you're looking for.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wake Me Up Before You Go Go And Bite Me

My sleep last night was heavily punctuated. The first time I woke up was when I heard a mosquito buzz past my ear. I opened my eyes, targeted the bug, and brought my hand down hard on the pillow under which rested my other hand. I did not succeed in squashing the intruder, but I did succeed in hurting my hand. We couldn't find the mosquito again, so I went back to sleep. The second time I woke up when I experienced the sensation of falling and my legs twitched violently. The third time I woke up when Matt heard the mosquito and leaped up to chase it down. He couldn't find it so he sat there waiting and watching for awhile, and I fell asleep again. I next awoke when he accidentally shined a sizable Maglite directly into my closed eyes (presumably still searching for the bug) which caused significant momentary pain in my eyeballs. A strange way to wake up, rivaled only by the fifth time I woke up which was when the back of both of my hands became spontaneously tremendously itchy. I scratched and clawed at my knuckles in a confused and tortured stupor until after several minutes the telltale white bumps of twin mosquito bites appeared. I couldn't fall back asleep, so I thought I'd try out the hot spoon method of bug bite relief. I had to run the hot water tap for several minutes to get it hot enough, so I used the cooler water to rinse out some yogurt cups and other dishes in the sink first. Wet itchy hands were worse than dry, but eventually I administered the hot spoon to both bites several times before giving up with that and getting out the hydrocortisone cream. I laid back down and the cat sat on my chest, so I distracted myself from my itchiness (which my mind was telling me was all over now) by petting her until I fell asleep again.

All that happened in under hour.

Luckily I got in a few hours of sleep before morning when I awoke all tense from a dream in which I was attempting to get out of being executed for providing the wrong proof of purchase of a digital song by bribing the executioners with a new fireplace. Like you do.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Red Hook Ramblings

I was feeling all emo, but then I made and drank a Red Hook and now I feel pretty chill. Matt was bored so he took a nap on the couch, and then I drank his cocktail, too. Kitty stares out the window, but it is light inside and dark outside, so what can she see? The new patio table perhaps. I left the light on in the kitchen. Sometimes the neighbor probably wishes I'd turn off my kitchen light like I wish she'd turn off her bathroom light. We should both probably just get curtains.

I'm a really good friend. Know why? Because I can't hardly say no. I want to sometimes, but I usually find a way to say yes. I hope I'm less of a pushover as a parent.

Matt and I worry a lot that we drink too much. I don't think we do, though. Despite drinking on a weekly basis, I get tipsy maybe only once or twice a month. I used to get tipsy faster, but enough craft beer drinking in the last year has really toughened me up. And I've only had a hangover once, when I really didn't expect it. Okay, I've suffered from gluttony a few times, but that was pretty much instantaneous, and there was a lot of food and over-eating involved. I probably should have had a hangover the day after I drank 3 Vangelico Hazes, but I didn't. Those were seriously good. I can't wait to have another sometime. I hope it's as fun as the party for Ross and Pam, and they're there.

I'm a loving drunk. I just want to hug you and then fall asleep on your shoulder, because you're the best, man! I'm so glad we're friends. You should come over and stay awhile so I can make you a Red Hook.

------------------------

Written tipsily last week from the safety of my couch. No hangover was experienced. Many thanks to Kezia who introduced me to the wonder and delight that is the Red Hook. If I only use 1/4 oz of maraschino liquor for each drink, I'm seriously going to have that bottle forever, so please bring over some rye whiskey and I'll share. Then we can all drink merrily before falling asleep on the ridiculously large and comfortable couch (which I also did shortly after writing this) and play a game to see who wins by waking up with the cat perched on them (Matt and I both won that game at different times today).

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Abstracting Communication

I've realized a concerning pattern in my behavior.

When I'm talking to someone and it becomes apparent that we are not understanding one another, my instinct is to switch over to talking about WHY we aren't understanding each other.

And if we can't get seem to work out why we aren't communicating very well at this time, then I want to talk about our patterns of communication in general, with the hope that we can avoid ending up here again.

And if the person with whom I'm conversing still doesn't understand me and our whole conversation breaks down (probably because I've moved it up two levels of abstraction), I begin to assume that we shouldn't even try to communicate because we clearly don't have anything in common on a basic level.

And since it is nearly impossible to be friends with someone with whom you can't communicate on even a basic level, if I consider this person a friend now I'm worried that this whole friendship to-date has been ill-conceived or a misunderstanding. I assume it's mostly my fault. I must have accidentally misrepresented myself early on, or misunderstood that we were good friends when we weren't. Oh crap, how do I get out of it politely? How do I back away without hurting their feelings or getting hurt more myself? I thought I was cared for and understood so I was putting in all this effort, but I realize now that I was misguided!

My intentions are good—all I want is to understand and be understood—but now I don't know how to get off this ledge onto which I've backed myself. So I guess I'll just be hanging out here for a bit, assuming everything is crap.............until I realize that I like my friend anyway, regardless of why we're friends, or how we communicate. And I miss my friend! It's lonely out here on the ledge—and I keep having panic attacks that I'm going to fall off. I'm going to step down and try again.

It's terrifying how quickly that escalates. And it's unhelpful how upset I get when I feel misunderstood. I guess I have another thing to add to my list of things that stress me right the heck out.

Sorry (again), friend! Can you forgive me my abstraction climb out onto the ledge? And can we try again and anew to find understanding? I truly believe investment in communication infrastructure among friends pays out priceless dividends.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

An Ode to My Notebook on its Last Page

(Written in the notebook, obviously, but transcribed here to spare you the effort of deciphering my nearly illegible scribbles.*)

The last page. The end of an era. This notebook has seen me through the transition from an occasional, haphazard writer, to a more frequent, deliberate one. Purchased on a whim from TJ Maxx or the like roughly 4 years ago, I was drawn to it's funky cover, and the price was right.

My beloved notebook's funky 80s-inspired cover.

I skipped the first page as I often do in a new notebook there's just too much pressure to get it right and started listing NaNoWriMo 2010 ideas on the second. I only had 2, but I ran with the first idea, finishing the required 50,000 words in a personal-best-setting 2 weeks. I have some details of the plot sketched out in the next few pages. Though I hit my word count, I never did write the end of that story, and I look forward to detailing out what I already know happens at the end.

Five pages in records details of the dream I had that inspired my NaNoWriMo 2011 story. I remember writing it down one morning before my visiting houseguests awoke. NaNoWriMo 2011 would mark my first foray into Fantasy writing, which proved so fun at times, but confusing and beleaguered at others. I look forward to returning to that world one day to edit my story.

Next comes a very short story, because I told myself I should sit down and write sometimes, just to write, not for NaNoWriMo or anything. It wasn't terribly good, but it isn't terribly bad either (and does contain the sentence "Paul wasn't about to put the 'budge' in 'budget'.").

Now we get to something pivotal: Right Brain's Manifesto. These statements propelled me into the next phase of writing by recognizing the inner struggle and dysfunctionality between my right and left brains. Until then I had no idea.

Rephotographed with slightly less appalling lighting but same bad focusing.

As I grew more comfortable with my notebook being a safe place, I tried out a little opinion piece about Ann Arbor's crosswalk laws, recorded some story re-write plans, and jotted down a few future story ideas I haven't pursued yet. Then in a journal entry of sorts I even admitted that I really do want to be a writer and I really should take myself seriously.

Here things really started to pick up.

I attended a talk by local, published writers and transcribed their advice in my now trusty notebook. Then I got a book they recommended on writing for Christmas 2011 and used my notebook to do the book's prescribed writing exercises.

That winter, I made the mistake of not taking my notebook with me on my vacation (JCCC2), thinking it would be too heavy and needlessly bulky in my luggage. This would be my last trip without my treasured notebook. The cruise turned out to be wildly inspiring due to the mix of talented creators and highly supportive fans. The Right Brain/Left Brain war flared up to its worst yet when RB got inspired and had ideas but the only paper I'd brought was my small notebook dedicated, per LB's wishes, exclusively to lists. Such drama on the high seas! How many thoughts were needlessly lost in this and other battles between free-form and organized methods of documentation? When I got home, I knew something needed to be done, so I started this blog.

Now that I was drafting blog posts, doing writing exercises, and journaling my reactions to my experiences, the notebook began to fill up quickly. The notebook came with my on all trips short or long, attended writers' conferences, and planned the launch of the PotMC. For the first time, my thoughts were all together in one place. Right Brain had a home, and Left Brain let her be (so long as she generally confined herself to one notebook and wrote front to back without wasting any pages (the first page notwithstanding, of course obviously don't want to mess that up! LB and RB agree on that point, even if for different reasons.).).

Typical notebook page with blog post draft and edits.

In the last year and a half, I have filled the last 95% of the notebook with my various scribbles. What a delight! What a beautiful tidy mess. You won't be far from reach, dear friend, and I will visit you often. Less as time goes on, perhaps, but your duty as keeper of the thoughts, 2010-2013, will always remain, and a noble calling is that. I can't thank you enough for your sturdy and colorful covers, no-nonsense lined pages, and durable spiral binding. I did not know the treasure I had in you until it came time to find your equal!

(*This blog post is admittedly modified from the original text, because the notebook's dying breath reminded me "The notebook serves the writing, not the other way around!" Such a noble notebook!)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Conversationway Traffic Report

"And now, over to our communications correspondent for breaking news on the latest miscommunications. Jim?"

"Thanks, Hal. We are receiving reports that a tanker of words has overturned on the conversationway causing a major miscommunication. Authorities believe the tanker was on its way from Rachel's Brain to deliver a shipment of thoughts when it started to self-analyze the way it was driving. The tanker driver tried to correct course but was unable to regain control. Emotion-wrought words spilled from the tanker as it began to tip, making the conversationway confusing and incomprehensible. The leaking words are causing quite a backup of conversation now, and it doesn't look like any sense will be coming out of Rachel's Brain tonight.

Meanwhile, police are searching for the cause of the accident. Could a patch of sarcasm or willful misunderstanding on the conversationway be to blame? Or was it careless driving of the word tanker, which some estimate was in violation of the bottled-up thought limit by at least 2,000 words?

The driver of the overturned word tanker could not be reached for comment but the mess of words themselves reveal that they are likely the product of over-thinking. We may never know the intended meaning or destination of this shipment, but if spills like this one are to be avoided in the future, an investigation into the thought factories in Rachel's Brain will be necessary. Back to you, Hal."

"Thanks, Jim. Keep us appraised of the investigation."

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sometimes I Want to Write

Sometimes I want to write something, but I'm not sure if I should because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I want to write about the end of an era, and I want to share about a thing that used to exist in order to commemorate what it meant to me. But unless I am at least equally positive about the new opportunities made possible by the change, I'm worried that I will come across as though I categorically hate the Now or the Nouns involved in bringing the previous era to a close. I might really like the new era, given time—innocent until proven guilty and all that—but I'm reluctant to drive head-on into the future when I can still see glimpses of a pleasant past in my rearview mirror. I want to take a detour down Memory Lane. Perhaps I'll meet you at the corner of Closed Door Rd and Opened Window Ave in a few miles.

Sometimes I'm so unsettled inside that I can't write anything. Conflicting thoughts swirl around in a flurry of unfinished sentences and unsupported arguments. Bits of dialogs I'd like to be having interrupt analysis of situations and events of which I can't make sense. The tiny piece of me still grounded in reality has long since realized I can't think my way through it, but the greater part of the mind is stubbornly fixated on the idea of Sherlock Holmes-ing a discovery and a resolution.

Sometimes when I'm thinking about a thing I want to write but the words aren't making much sense, the white noise in my head gets louder and I slowly slump over onto the couch. I wake to find a cat perched like a mountain goat atop my hip or stretched out like a worm aside my legs.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Bye Bye, Little Shermy

Sherman's gone up to the heater in the sky.
Sherman's gone up to the great big heater in the sky.

Sherman Luke Simba Sam Tesla Gump Oram, known to many as "Sherm", 18, of Allegan, Michigan, passed from this life July 18, 2013. He was proceeded in death by his frenemy, Yoda.

Sherman came to us a bit earlier than a kitten should, and we suspected this contributed to his special quirks. As a kitten, his infuriating persistence landed him across the room on more than one occasion and his proclivity for noisily licking plastic shopping bags yielded remarks that he was "tetched in the head".  Indeed, it was his bag fetish that led to the infamous Cat War between Sherman and Yoda.* He never received an official diagnosis, but those close to him surmised he suffered from Kitty OCD and/or allergies, and he would often lick patches of his fur clean off.

Sherman, swaddled in my t-shirt as a kitten

From birth, Sherman had a longer than average tail, which extenuated his bony frame. Finickiness about food and his tendency to binge and purge when anxious contributed to his fur-and-bones figure.

In his later years, which were about the last 12, Sherman was known for being a 'grumpy old man cat'. His favorite pastime consisted of sleeping in a warm place, preferably a lap, and he would meow and meow until you sat down and yielded to his neurotic kneading. A sunny patch by the front door, a large padded mailing envelope on the table, or directly in front of a space heater characterize other favorite napping spots, though he would occasionally choose under the covers so you almost accidentally sat on him or right inside the back door so you had to step over him.


Despite his quirks and conditions, Sherman led a plush life. A goblet of water near his padded envelope and a heated cat pad in the corner represent a few of the luxuries afforded him, not to mention a caretaker who regularly obliged him her lap for hours at a time while watching television or talking on the phone or reading or falling asleep in the recliner, to name a few occasions.




He will be missed not for his less-than-dainty meow or spontaneous vomiting, but for his listening ear, perfect little nap circles, and regular companionship. You were part of the family for 18 years, Sherm, and you will not soon be forgotten.



*No one knows exactly how it began, but one night after we had all gone to sleep, out in the kitchen there arose such a clatter that we all sprung from our beds to see what was the matter. It sounded possibly like a clumsy intruder, for a strange cry had been vocalized and there were empty pop cans strewn about everywhere. Yoda stood at the bottom of the stairs, hackles raised, and hissing. Sherman could not immediately be located, but a thorough search of the house found the poor guy quivering under a bed with his back end stuck through the handles of a plastic bag, which he had soiled. For many weeks hence, Sherman was banished to the top of the steps and Yoda would hiss any time Sherman tried to come down.