Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas Decorations

I can't believe December is knocking at the front door so soon. It just doesn't get cold enough here in November for it to feel like Santa's reindeer are out training for their big run. I'll admit, though, that it is easier to put up strings of lights when you don't need to be fumbling with thick mittens, so I do appreciate the milder climate.

I was outside last weekend, putting up the lights and giant ornaments on the front porch. It looks almost the same as last year's design, except that I put the white lights on the shrub and the colored lights up on the eaves. I stick to that general arrangement because it's the simplest way to decorate the front of the house without putting in support hooks around the window or door, or running extension cords to light up other trees. Maybe I'll do that eventually, but this is easy and pretty.

I searched in vain for last year's wreath to put up on the middle hook. It refused to be found, so I went to Michaels for some supplies and made myself a new one. It's not bad, but not quite fancy enough. I tried putting some ribbon on it and wasn't happy with it. The result looked like a quick craft project from Michaels, and I was hoping to achieve more of an illusion of actual value. We're going for simplicity this year, folks.

Of course, it's not Christmas without the return of Christmas Duck! I lost the little scarf he wore last year (possibly eloped with the wreath), but I think this new floral arrangement works well.

This year's addition to the lineup (besides the new wreath) is Mr. Moosletoe. First of all, it is a moose. Wearing a garland of holly and bells. This, in itself, is fantastic. But, even more impressively, it is a pun. Therefore, it could not be left at the store. Mr. Moosletoe had to come home with me.

All right, December.

Bring it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cheer Bear

Cheer Bear isn’t the pretty pink she used to be. Her fur is flat and smells of old closets. Her seams are strained, and her stuffing is lumpy. The rainbow embroidered on her tummy is worn after many years’ worth of nights spent hugged to my chest as I told her stories.


She came into my life on my third birthday. It was 1983, and Care Bears had just been introduced. My parents selected soft pink Cheer Bear for me, and my siblings received their own carefully-chosen Care Bears in the next few years. My sister’s Wish Bear was a pale minty green, and he wore a bright shooting star that could be wished on again and again. My brother was the youngest, and so waited the longest for Funshine Bear and the smiling yellow sun on his plush tummy. We eventually got more Care Bears as gifts from family and from Santa Claus, but those were the first three, the ones who spent the nights with us in the small bedroom we all shared before we moved to the big house in Saint-Lambert.

For years, I dragged Cheer Bear with me almost everywhere. She enjoyed Easter ham at Grandmaman’s and giggling sleepovers with my friends. I only ever left her at home when my family went on vacation. My wise decision not to bring her to Niagara Falls spared me much heartache. As it was, I spent half of my trip home moping in the back seat of the minivan, upset that my cruel and unfeeling parents wouldn’t turn around to retrieve Racky Raccoon, whom I’d left under a hotel bed. Had it been Cheer Bear under that bed, I’d have been inconsolable. I missed Racky, of course, but I would have mourned Cheer Bear as only a seven-year-old can.

Over the years, the paint slowly wore off of her bright eyes, burdening her with sad teddy bear cataracts. Her nose faded too, but Mom touched it up with nail polish now and then. Once a bright strawberry pink, the little plastic heart is now glossy with two coats of Revlon’s “Fuchsia Fever”. Her little arms are stubbier than they used to be, because being constantly swung by the arm isn’t healthy for a teddy bear. Both arms needed to be stitched back into place more than once when they dangled from their seams.

As I got older, so did Cheer Bear – she faded, lost her softness. I stopped bringing her to sleepovers, stopped telling her about my day. But she remained in my life. She stayed by my side as my parents divorced and I moved from home to home, apartment to apartment, getting used to new bedrooms and new nighttime noises. She followed me to Maryland, securely packed in a bag of my winter clothes, and found herself carried to bed by her arm and hugged every night as I adjusted to living on my own. She’s in my closet now, nestled on a shelf above my sock bin, where I see her every day. Some nights, when the world scares me and I’m three years old again, I take her down and hug her to my chest, so she can remind me that it’ll be okay.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Can't call it the Green Room any more

We've been referring to the wood-paneled room downstairs as the "Green Room" since we moved in, deciding to name it for its astroturf-like carpet instead of the woodsy charm of its pine walls. It's mostly a storage room for now, because it's got a whole wall of built-in shelves for books and DVDs, a deep cabinet for musical equipment, and a closet suitable for Christmas decorations. You can see that it's also home to stuff we haven't found other homes for yet. Dismembered computers, mainly, waiting for the day my husband will need a cable or a fan to repair another machine.

"Green Room" before the project
When we updated the floors in the house, we decided to leave this room alone, because the carpet was in decent shape despite being so old, and we weren't using the room very much. Unfortunately, after we got a few quotes and started the process, Mojo started to pee in the corner of the room. At first I was able to get the smell out, but he kept going back, and it became unbearable. We plan on replacing the carpet with vinyl tile sooner or later, but I couldn't stand coming home to an unfriendly whiff of cat pee every day (worse if the heater was on, because he was peeing by the radiators). I took matters into my own hands and pulled the carpet out.

I started by pulling the corner free of the tack strips underneath, which was easier than I expected. I folded it over and used a box cutter and something called a "flooring knife" to cut off small, manageable sections. It didn't take me long to figure out that cutting it from the underside was much easier than trying to drag the box cutter through the fluffy carpet side. The main difficulty with that was the need to fold over a large enough area of carpet to work on, and the backing was a thick plastic netting with very little flexibility. The geometry got tricky at times, and I had to kneel and work at funny angles to avoid cutting myself. This is what the floor looked like underneath:
First corner gone
Thin orange padding, disintegrating into dust, and some ugly tiles that are possibly made of asbestos. I had no serious concerns about working on the carpet demolition, because asbestos is only a problem when it's kicked up into the air as dust. A handful of tiles were cracked, but as long as I wasn't cutting through the tiles with a saw, or beating them into smithereens with a hammer, my lungs were safe. This was not a dangerous venture, according to the Internet and the two flooring guys we spoke to.

I did wear gloves and a mask, though, because the carpet was nasty. Between the cat pee and the pounds of powders I'd dumped onto it to mask the smell, this was a seriously offensive project. The area of carpet closest to the radiator was very badly stained. As I worked across the room, I found several old, dried up stains, which makes me think the previous owners also had pets who enjoyed peeing on carpets.

Almost done
I filled a total of six large trash bags with carpet and padding, and I was delighted that the trash collectors actually picked them up. I was afraid they might be over the weight limit and we'd have to drag them to the dump. Under all that carpet and padding, I found a mysterious substance - sand. Lots and lots of sand. Part of it is just plain dirt, part of it is disintegrating padding and carpet backing, and part of it is the remains of powder-based carpet cleaners that make their way through all the layers and don't get vacuumed back up. A few minutes with the Shop-Vac took care of most of it, and when I take a mop to the floor later this week, I'll get the rest.

The tack strips along the edges were nailed down incredibly well, and I wasn't quite strong enough to get them up. I had to ask the man of the house, he of greater upper body strength, to take over. There were two rows of strips, and he pulled them up using a hammer and small pry-bar. There are some missing pieces of tile at the edges of the room, and the nails from the tack strips left some holes, but I think that the vinyl tile will be able to go right over all that without any trouble.

So, here's what we're left with as we wait to get flooring installation estimates from a few other companies. It doesn't look any better than what we started with, but the house is rid of its stink, and I am delighted. I'll take ugly tile over stinky carpet any day.

"Green Room" after full carpet removal

Friday, November 23, 2012

Apple Pie

I'm sure there are more complicated ways to make an apple pie. I've seen recipes involving nuts and cranberries, vanilla and allspice, and delicate lattice crusts. I'm sure those are very nice, but I like to keep it much more simple.

The apples: there have been physical altercations over the types of apples that are "supposed" to be used in an apple pie. There are very aggressive Granny Smith and Golden Delicious contingents. Northern Spy is often praised as a pie apple, but I've never seen one in the flesh, so I've never tasted one. One of these days I will have to spend a day making a dozen apple pies with different apple varieties so I can see what all the fuss is about. As for my pies, I've always used McIntosh apples when I can find them, and Spartan or Empire as a backup plan. The internet will tell you that McIntosh apples get too mushy when cooked, but it's not like you get an applesauce pie at the end. I don't like my apple pie to have a crunch - the filling should be pretty soft.

The crust: I have tried making my own pie crust, and I find that the effort put into the process isn't worth it when the quality of pre-made refrigerated crusts has gotten so much better. Homemade is better, but not better enough for my pie needs. I used the store-brand stuff, because it's really close to the right texture.

The spices: Cinnamon and sugar. The end. I use about 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 tsp  ground cinnamon for a pie, but the measurements are flexible. I scoop out some sugar into a bowl, sprinkle cinnamon over it, and mix it up. It's ready for the pie.

The pie: I lay out my bottom crust in the pie plate, then I peel my apples and put them, whole, in a pot of water with a dash of lemon juice to keep them from browning as I go. Once they're all peeled, I dry them off one at a time and cut them into big wedges, tossing them into the waiting pie plate. Once I get a full layer, I sprinkle a mix of sugar and cinnamon over it using a big spoon. I aim for near-full coverage, and it's okay if some of the sugar falls through the gaps and gets to the bottom. I keep adding apples and sugar until I have a nice big mountain of apples.

Notice how big I keep the apple pieces? If I cut them much smaller than that, then they may get too soft once they're cooked. That is probably because I insist upon using the wrong apples for pie.

The top crust goes on to cover the apple sugar mountain, and holes are poked to let steam out. I covered the edges of the crust with foil to keep them from getting too dark, and only realized at the end that I should have tried that with the top part, too. I got a brown pie. 

I also may have left it in a tiny bit too long, so the filling got a little closer to applesauce than I like, but it was tasty anyway. 

Yes, that is a dirty plate. That's because it was my second helping and I was so eager to eat my first piece that I didn't bother finding my camera.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Many of my friends made November into an exercise in gratitude, taking time each day to be thankful for an aspect of their lives and to share those thoughts on social media sites. I didn't climb onto that bandwagon, even though I enjoy challenges and I think that this one in particular is wonderful and meaningful, because I was in a dark and bitter place as November rolled in. I didn't feel like I could be genuine in my gratitude.

I feel like it's been a long, rough year, and I will be genuinely glad to shut the door behind it. I suspect that I will feel tears of relief on my cheeks when the New Year is rung in. I sat to write this post today, and at first, all I could think to say was that I'm grateful the year wasn't any worse than it was, but that isn't really in the Thanksgiving spirit, is it?

I am thankful, above all, for my husband. He has been a steady and level presence, as he always is, and he has helped to hold me up. More than ever, this year, I am grateful that we cope with life's rough patches in different ways and that our personalities complement each other. If I'd married someone who was more like me, this would have been an even more difficult year. I am so, so grateful for his love and patience.

I'm thankful for my family back home in Montreal (and Vancouver!). I don't see them as often as I would like, but phones and the Internet are wonderful things (for which I am also grateful) and help us to stay together. I'm glad that my parents are both happy to put their busy lives aside to answer when I call, and are so eager to stay involved in my life.

I'm thankful for all of my in-laws, for being the sort of people who call me family and mean it. I don't think I could have stayed here without knowing I will always have the support of my American family.

I'm thankful for my friends, both online and off. They trust me to listen to their troubles and offer support, and they are always ready to return the favor. I'm especially grateful that they are the type of people who are happy to pick up the friendship where we last left it, if time and work and life's demands keep us apart for a while.

I'm thankful for my home and all the projects we've accomplished in it.

I'm thankful that I now have a job that pays my bills without jeopardizing my health, and coworkers who enjoy being silly whenever they can get away with it.

I'm thankful for the tools I've learned to use against the heavy blanket of depression, and for the progress I've made so far.

I'm thankful that many of my complaints are "First-World Problems". I live in a peaceful country (angry election rhetoric notwithstanding), where I can do, learn, and say what I please, and I always have clean water and access to good medical care. Compared to much of the rest of the world, I've got it pretty good, so I guess a little gratitude is called for. I'll try not to forget that as I welcome a new year.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Marian Call Adventure Quest: The Quests!

Marian Call's album release happened this week, which means the Adventure Quest game is completed and my entries submitted for her consideration. As promised, I will share my entries with you, along with explanations when necessary. The instructions for the Quests are taken (and abbreviated, for the most part) from Marian's European Adventure Quest website. The Quests mostly involved commenting on an album review or a blog entry about Marian's music. I've cut most of those out of the instructions because this post is getting tremendously long and my cut & paste was dropping the links.
The first word of your comment must begin with the last letter of the last word in the previous comment. All of the words in your comment should begin with the last letter of the previous word.
Example: “I imagine every young gopher requires starch heretofore.” But you should write about the music, of course.  Ready? GO!
This was harder than I thought it would be, and my entry is pretty short. (I'm "Jennifer" or "Jen" in these screencaps).


Your comment, however, may not contain the letter M or the letter C — yet it must be at least twenty words long.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to comment about Marian Call's album release when you can't use "music" or "album" or "record" or "CD", or even the woman's name?

Here are your guidelines today: your comment must include, in order, the letters in the abbreviations for the elements of the periodic table.  First H, then He, then Li, then Be, and so on.
The letters do not have to begin words, they can be anywhere within a word — your first H doesn’t have to begin a word, and He could be in the middle of “the” — but every letter pair must be preserved. You cannot separate the L and the I in Lithium, for example.  Where you have two letters that don’t go together so well, such as Mg or Zn, you may use a space between them — but never shall they be separated.  Dig as deep as you like into the periodic table, only a few elements or dozens of them.
I had to have the periodic table open in a second window as I was writing this one. I finished it, was ready to submit it, but after a quick review I realized I'd completely skipped Titanium and had to rewrite half of it. (My submission is at the very bottom)

Write a short but very positive thought. It can be directed at the album release, a lyric from the song you most connect with, a note for the folks in the US and around the world currently needing electricity and gas and food and health care, or encouragement for the crying child who wants the election to end – it can be anything, long as it’s sincere and not snarky.
Copy and paste your happy thought into Choose your favorite permutation of the translation (doesn’t have to be the final equilibrium post) and post it at this album review from the UK if it’s about the music.
This one was easy. I had a purring Mojo on my lap when I opened up these instructions, and that's a terrifically happy thought right there.

Write a comment in which each word of the comment starts with the consecutive letters of a Marian Call song title, (E.S.B. might be “Excellent song, bro”). Create an acrostic with your comment from the name of any MC song you choose. Longer song titles will of course make for longer comments.
I chose her songs "Got to Fly" and "Free Bird".

Have a listen to a little Something Fierce over on the American Songwriter live stream page. Grab a piece of paper or a post-it note — or, if you’re waiting in a long voting line, use a phone app or draw on the back of the upright citizen in front of you. Illustrate your interpretation of a lyric or image from one of these songs:
“The Avocado Song”
“Dear Mister Darcy”
“I Wish I Were a Real Alaskan Girl”
“Coffee by Numbers (Faon’s Song)” 

I chose to go with the obvious pun and use the lyric "You're my Avocado, Baby". I drew a baby avocado. It's adorable.

Let the digits of pi dictate the number of letters in each word of your comment.  First word gets three letters, next word one letter, next word four — etc.  Zeroes should be punctuation; use commas or periods or semicolons or dashes (you may use punctuation anywhere else too, but you must punctuate where a zero appears).
The last one was nice and easy, just a fun little doodle. But this? Damn, Marian, you made this one tough! Keeping track of which digit I was at was making me crazy, and there's a chance I've missed one and disqualified myself. But I tried! This one is by far the most nonsensical of my comments.

Leave a comment at least twenty words long. Your sentences much be complete, with subjects and verbs, and they must more or less make sense — but you may use only words from the titles of Marian Call songs. Cover songs are all right, and parenthetical or secondary titles are certainly valid.

My first try didn't have "complete" sentences, so I had to go back and leave a second comment.

Your task today is a creative writing assignment. Make some poetry. Rhymed or unrhymed, limerick or haiku or sonnet, song or epic. Your topic: “The bravest thing.” It can be about the bravest thing you ever did or hope to do, or it can be fictional.
Mine was very short, because I wanted to be able to share it on Twitter instead of making a blog post for it.


Listen through any Marian Call song (originals only) for the 42nd word. Compose a question for that word, an Ultimate Question of your own, that can be answered only with your word.
Well, I couldn't let that go without acknowledging the Hitchhiker's Guide reference, now, could I? Especially since word #42 in the song "Good Morning Moon" is "ground", opening the door for this:


Visit Marian’s collaborative music video with Awkward Embraces, a fantastic web series about a nerdy girl who tries her hardest to face the #wretchedhiveofscumandvillainy that is the dating world. Post the video on your Facebook or link it on Twitter, if you like — I would be very much obliged, this is the best possible way to get some NOVEMBER 13TH 2012 buzz (though that part of the task is optional). 

Once that’s done, leave a comment on the video. Your comment must include at least two of these four things: 1) a kind of animal; 2) a color; 3) a food; 4) a place name or specific geographic reference. 

Most importantly, your comment must include each of the last five words in the previous poster’s comment. They do not have to be in order or consecutive, so sprinkle them wherever you like inside your own comment. If you wish, strategically leave five words at the end that you want to inflict on to pass on to the next player.
I took strategy to heart and tried to be evil for the next poor sap, but three other people posted at almost the exact same time as me, so people could choose from those instead. Dang.

Link to the video (worth watching!)

My comment is at the top. I had to use the last 5 words of the post below.


Your comment must be in charcter, and it must be a character from one of the works listed below. In character, tell listeners which song from Something Fierce is your favorite and why. We ought to be able to guess your character — you are posing us a riddle — but try not to make it too obvious. Minor characters, like Yellin or the Borg Queen, are less obvious and extra fun. Both book and film interpretations of characters are acceptable. 
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy or The Hobbit 
  • The Princess Bride 
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation 
  • Firefly or Serenity 
  • The complete works of Jane Austen
Too obvious, perhaps, but it was so much fun to write!


Today I had a task for you about emailing your local radio stations and things, doing important minion-y work, but in light of some journaling I did on the airplane today I have changed my mind. Today’s task is for and about you. You have been doing enough about me, blogging and posting and all. This one is for you, and for everyone, and I hope you will keep it. You are important to me and I’m thankful for you. 

Choose a Marian Call song title or parenthetical title from Something Fierce. Use the letters of the song title like an acrostic; each letter in order will begin a list item. Create a list for yourself of Happy Thoughts, of things you do that make you truly healthy when you do them — think action words. List only things you enjoy doing, mind, this is not a to-do list. The results should be uplifting, not discouraging, and should include things you already do often as much as things you wish you did more. If it’s not too personal, take a screencap (if your list is digital) or a photo (if your list is on paper) and share it on Twitter using the hashtag #somethingfierce or on your own Facebook page. Feel free to post individual items on Twitter. 

Post the list somewhere you can readily see it, and try to look at it, in an affirming and not discouraging way, on a regular basis — try not to let it become invisible. Remember what you feel like when you do those things for yourself. Double Fierce. 
I'll let my screencap speak for itself.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Red Blood Cell Cake

This week at work, we produced our 50th lot of antiglobulin control cells. It's a week-long process, from testing red cells to treating them, diluting them, putting them into little vials, and labeling and inspecting them before getting them ready to ship out. Everyone here has a hand in the process, and so we all feel connected to the product. I decided that 50 was a big and important number, and that it called for celebration.

I made a cake.

When in doubt as to choosing a way to celebrate, the answer is usually cake.

I took a plunge into real baking and made this cake completely from scratch. It's something I've been wanting to try for a long time, but I've been intimidated by the process. It just seems so complex and touchy, especially when compared to the three easy steps involved in a Betty Crocker cake mix. But, a cake was needed, and what better time to finally just go ahead and try something new? The year's nearly over already, and since "bake a cake from scratch" is on this year's list of goals, it had to happen sometime.

I asked my sister-in-law (link goes to her blog) for some help choosing an idiot-proof recipe for both cake and frosting. She's been making tasty from-scratch cakes forever, so I figured she had enough experience to know which recipes may be unrealistic for a beginner like me.

On her recommendation, I made Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" chocolate cake, and topped it with an "easy vanilla buttercream" icing. The cake was a matter of measuring everything into my stand mixer and then pouring it into pans, not very much different from what I would have done with a box cake, except that I had to measure more things out. The final batter was extremely thin - the website warned me about that, but as I was making the cake, I hesitated. It was already looking very runny, and then I was supposed to mix in a whole cup of boiling water. I did as instructed, but the result was the consistency of tomato soup, and I was sure I'd done something horribly wrong somewhere. Despite my misgivings and my many peeks into the oven to see if it was still goo, it baked up just fine into actual solid cake. Hooray!


While the cakes cooled, I made the icing. I took the sticks of butter, which had been on the counter all day to soften, and dumped them into the stand mixer's bowl. When I tried to fluff the butter with the whisk attachment, the machine shuddered and wobbled, so I stopped it in a hurry. When the thing stopped, I saw my problem: a solid ball of butter lodged inside the whisk. I guess "room temperature" did not equal "soft" on this particular day. I poked the handle of a wooden spoon between the wires of the whip and dislodged the butterball one chunk at a time, scooping the chunks into a measuring cup. Once I'd gotten most of it, I microwaved the measuring cup so the butter would be of a more whiskable consistency.

The finished icing looked and tasted great, but it needed some color. I wasn't making a white blood cell! Again on my sister-in-law's advice, I'd picked up some Wilton gel food coloring for this project. Because red takes so much dye to get right, a gel works much better than the liquid color and doesn't dilute the icing. I picked "no taste red", thinking that maybe the others had a weird taste to them, but it turns out that this shade doesn't really go to true red. It was more of a pinky coral color. Still very nice, but not the bright oxygenated hemoglobin I was going for. I ended up using almost the whole jar.

I used a small paring knife to cut away an indentation on the top of the cake, because red cells are biconcave (dimpled on both sides), and I was going for realism. Or as much realism as an amateur baker and decorator could get out of buttercream and cake, anyway. This also gave me an opportunity to sample the cake before inflicting it on my coworkers. I was quite relieved to find it delicious.

Looks pretty good, even naked!

Here's the finished cake just before I covered it up to bring it to work. You can see that the red didn't really come out right, and I'm a little grumpy about that.

Finished Red Blood Cell Cake
Also, I tried and tried to make the icing smooth and flat, but all I had to work with was a small offset spatula. I think I'd need some fancy cake tools to get it right, but I'm not sure I'll do this often enough to invest in those.

If my coworkers were disappointed in the color or outer texture of the "red" blood cell, they didn't say anything. The cake disappeared in record time. Yay! Total cake success and I can cross something off this year's list of accomplishments!

Mmmm. Cake.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


I still know this by heart. I find myself mouthing the words every November, when the plastic poppies bloom.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

- Written in 1915 by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (1872-1918)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Old Lady

I am starting to feel old.

Not feel like a grownup - despite the husband and the mortgage and the nice respectable career, that feeling still eludes my grasp. I just feel old more often than I'd like.

It's hard to ignore the signs. I've got some grey hairs growing in. Right at my part, of course, and sticking straight up where they can catch the sun and reflect rays back in blinding silver. My joints creak dangerously when I get out of bed. I say "oof" more often than I want to, when I'm changing position. Without my pill reminder, I would forget to take my pills. My feet hurt sometimes for absolutely no reason. I buy underwear for comfort. I think my doctor might be younger than me.

Older family members are slowing down, taking more medications and fewer risks. The oldest ones are leaving me.

Time is moving faster. My nephew is talking. Thanksgiving is here again. I've been far from home for almost 5 years. Married two-and-a-half. How is any of that possible?

I can't ask time to stop, of course. If it did, I'd never see how my nephew will look as a teenager. Or how that Hobbit movie will turn out. I just wish I knew how to slow my perception of time's passing, to make it easier to enjoy all the moments. To cherish what's here and what's now. It's so very important that I learn how, so I don't look back and wonder how I missed so much.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Writing Assignment #3

There was no writing class last week, because of Hurricane Sandy, so I had two weeks to work on my "character" assignment. I started it and restarted it and walked away from it and got generally very grumpy at it over those two weeks. This is an important story for me. This is the first time I met Michelle, who would go on to be a very dear friend for - holy crap, almost two decades now. I can't swear that this is exactly how it happened. In fact, I'm probably wrong about much of it. But my hope is that the essence of that evening comes through anyway. I feel like I had to wrestle this one onto the page!

Michelle gave me her blessing to post this.

Meeting Michelle

The beat faded. Movement in the room slowed. Costumed dancers glanced around for a cue, shuffling their feet, ready for the next song. The first notes of a Bon Jovi power ballad began over the last of the pumping bass, and the crowd diffused. Boys gathered by the long tables folded against the wall, and girls huddled near the foggy windows. The school's few established couples moved to the center of the cafeteria to rock back and forth, hands an arm's length away on each others hips or shoulders. 

I sighed. The glass of the window was cold on my back.

“God, will they stop playing these slows?” Melissa huffed. “Nobody dances to these stupid things and they keep playing them.” She watched the boys' side as she said it, her eyes dancing around as she tried to avoid staring directly at Mike. He was oblivious to her gaze, as usual.

I rolled my eyes at her.

“Whatever, Mel, if you're not going to ask him, it's your own stupid fault you're stuck over here.”

She glared at me.

“I'm not stuck anywhere. I'm going to buy a drink.”

Obscured by the dark haze of the dance floor, we played our assumed characters with a measure of confidence, but under the fluorescent lights of the canteen area, our careful makeup and our homemade costumes seemed amateurish. I adjusted my pink poodle skirt, moving the fluffy white poodle appliqué back to the right side. Mel twisted her hairsprayed curls and straightened the headband holding up her devil horns.

The price list was fixed to the canteen kiosk with wide blue strips of painter’s tape. Brightly-markered bubble letters announced the going rates for drinks, chips, and chocolate bars.

“I'll get us some Cokes,” I said, reaching into my purse for some money. “You can owe me.”

The girl running the canteen wasn’t wearing a costume. She stood expectantly in the little kiosk, waiting for my order. I recognized her as the new girl, who had appeared in the halls at the start of the school year, but couldn’t remember her name. She didn’t share any classes with me, so we’d never spoken.

“Two Cokes, please,” I asked, putting three loonies on the counter.

Mel poked me in the ribs. I glared at her and sighed loudly.

Aaaand a bag of Doritos.” I added a another dollar.

The canteen girl had our Cokes out of the cooler and the chips on the counter in a flash, and handed me back my change – two quarters.

“Nice costume,” she offered. “Where did you get that skirt?”

“Thanks,” I replied, “my Mom threw it together.”

In fact, Mom had put so much effort into my costume that she’d even used a gold-tone chain from her own jewelry box as the poodle’s sparkling leash.

Mel popped open her Coke and took a sip, and we all stood there for a second, unsure who was supposed to say what next. At that moment, the volume of the music in the next room jumped up a little, and canteen girl turned her head towards it excitedly.
“Aw man, it’s the Twist! Somebody’s gotta come and dance with me!” She looked at Mel and me, hopeful.

Mel shrugged and popped a chip into her mouth, crunching. I looked at canteen girl and raised my eyebrows, gesturing to my white sweater, wide, tulle-puffed skirt, and crisp white socks and sneakers.

“Ummm…” I offered, “Duh!”

We were probably the only ones on the dance floor – I don’t recall. All I remember is the way my sides ached from my vigorous Twisting, and how my arm almost jerked out of its socket when canteen girl and I tried to get fancy with a twirl. We went up and down and round and round until the DJ moved on to something else, leaving us to pant our way back to the canteen.

“That was so much fun!” Canteen girl smiled at me. She held out her hand. “I’m Michelle.”

Monday, November 05, 2012

The note

Dave went on a fishing expedition this weekend, for which he had to be up and out of the house by 5am. When I told him I wanted to get up with him to see him off, he told me that was silly, and he'd let me sleep.

"But I need to kiss you goodbye!" I protested.

"Why? It'll be 5am. You can kiss me when I get home."

I was a little ashamed to admit my reasons. "If... if something happens to you, I won't have kissed you goodbye. I don't think I could live with that."

"Happens to me?" He laughed. "I'm going fishing. For a day. Not even a whole day."

"You could drown! The boat could sink!"

"I can swim."

"But with those stupid boots of yours, you'll sink to the bottom like a rock and meet a watery demise! Never to be seen again!"

He put his hand on mine to reassure me. "We'll stay out of the deep end. I'll be fine."

Not willing to push the issue or to force him to wear floaties in front of his friends, I acquiesced.

"Fine. But can you leave me a note, so I have that to cling to during the lonely nights when I'm mourning your tragic fishing death?"

A twinkle arose in his eyes. "Oh," he smiled, "I'll leave you a note."

This is what I found on the kitchen counter in the morning:

Reads: "Upon my death, please cling here"

Sigh. I married a smartass.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Marian Call's European Adventure Quest

I adore Marian Call.

I first became acquainted with her talent on JoCoCruiseCrazyII in February of 2012. She was one of the performers, but because her room was across the hall from mine, I met her before the ship even left Fort Lauderdale. A pretty redhead with a suitcase stopped in a doorway, said "Hi, I'm Marian," and held out her hand for a good cordial shake. After our short, polite, how-do-you-do exchange, we retreated to our separate rooms. That's when my husband told me I'd been speaking to a famous person! I'd heard that stars were generally bitchier and antisocial, so I guess that's why I didn't recognize her. Too nice for show biz.

Her show knocked my socks off. You know that episode of the Simpsons, where Bart and his buddies end up in Branson Missouri at an Andy Williams show, and Nelson is completely entranced? 

I was Nelson for her whole show. (Note: nobody was asleep or drooling during Marian's show, so the analogy isn't perfect. But I was still totally Nelsony the whole time.) Here's what I said about her in my cruise recap post:

Did I enjoy the concert? Well, I came home with Marian's double album, and would have come back with even more of her stuff if the gift shop hadn't been sold out of it. But Marian is so, so incredibly wonderful, that she handed out free download cards to the Sea Monkeys so we could all go to her site and get some of her music, even if we were too poor to buy albums on the high seas. Her concert absolutely blew me away. I was chatting with Dave about how I hoped the show would be good, and then the lights went down and she started her first song, Love and Harmony, and I was hooked. Some of her songs are silly, and some of them will reach inside you and push buttons you didn't know were there. I cried at Anchorage, and I didn't even cry when Bambi's mother died. While I enjoy Marian's albums very much, I think she's the sort of performer whose voice really comes alive in a live show. She tours a lot and does very small shows - look her up, ask her to come to your town. You won't regret it.

She's got a new album coming out - Something Fierce - and it's wonderful. Sometimes light and catchy, sometimes a little deep, and immensely re-listen-to-able. I find myself coming to my car after work and fishing out her CD to listen to whichever one of her songs has spent the whole day rattling around in my head. I wish I was a better music reviewer so I could describe the album and her music in fancy terms, but I'm not. All I can say is I like it a lot, I think she's incredibly talented, and I hope my friends check her stuff out and give her a listen. You can download two of her songs for free here - it can't hurt to try, right?

The album is being released with fanfare, of course, as all albums should, but Marian is a geek and she knows her fans well. Her recent European tour was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and was given a video game theme. She took the theme even further for the ramp-up to the album release, giving her loyal fans "Quests" to complete. She gets press, we have fun and interact with other fans. It's absolutely win-win, and it's been a blast so far.

I'll be participating in her Quests for the next two weeks, and I'll be reporting back on the game once I'm done. Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

A Limerick for a Mythbuster

Here's my best effort, just for fun. It doesn't fit on Twitter, or I'd just post it there.

This Mythbuster suddenly died
When a pumpkin into his head flied.
Instead of a wake
His body was baked
Because his poor head had been pied.

Edited to add: Silly me, not yet used to Twitter. You split it up into multiple tweets, of course! And I even did that part wrong. Sigh. Don't judge the newbie! Oh well. I'm leaving it here because I think it's pretty good.

We survived Sandy!

Many of my friends are doing a "30 days of gratitude" exercise through the month of November. I applaud the concept, but I don't think I'm going to be able to dedicate my blog to gratitude all this month. It's not that I have nothing to be grateful for, it's that a lot of it is difficult to put into words. Maybe I'll manage a thoughtful and introspective post around thanksgiving, while I'm immobilized by a food coma. That said, I do need to express how very, very grateful I am that we came away from Hurricane Sandy with only minor inconvenience.

We didn't lose a single tree. Only some small branches broke off in the wind, and none of the siding or gutters or roof have even a scratch. Despite some serious water pooling on the side of the house, we had no flooding in the basement. There was water collecting in the garage, which we expected and prepared for by moving most items off the floor.

Our house didn't lose power until Monday evening, and since the government shutdown kept us both home form work, we both got to spend a day here on the couch, watching TV together. It rained incredibly hard for the entire day, and the wind picked up steadily into the afternoon and evening, so I was surprised the electricity stayed on as long as it did. We spent the first night at home, sleeping under some extra blankets, but in the morning we decided to head to Dave's parents' place for a hot shower and a meal. They were also kind enough to let us keep our food in their fridge and freezer, a transfer made easier thanks to my weekend freezer organizing.

As usual when this sort of thing happens, we left the cats behind with extra food and water. Because it was cold in the house (56 was the lowest I saw, so it wasn't that bad) I left extra blankets on the couch so they could burrow and snuggle in a warm kitty pile.

Miraculously, the power was back on by Wednesday night, and the heater switched back on immediately without us needing to reset anything. I was expecting a week off the grid, given BGE's historical restoration pattern! I'm not sure why everything went so much more quickly this time. Maybe fewer communities lost power, compared to Irene and the derecho, or maybe they're finally getting their act together after the state and county laced into them about their previous failures. Either way, I am delighted to be back in my own home so soon, and I'm so grateful that our property and our persons are intact.

Not everyone was so lucky. I know several people in New York and New Jersey who had to leave their homes because of a lack of power and water, or who are toughing it out beside their fireplaces, trying to stay warm.

I've made a small donation to the American Red Cross, whose disaster relief teams are on the ground in the affected areas, doing what they do, helping people stay warm and fed and safe.

Because the storm caused many blood drives to be canceled and shut down donor centers and blood transportation for a few days, the Red Cross has put a call out for donations. Especially if you live outside of the affected areas, please consider making a donation of blood or platelets. The Red Cross normally only has a buffer of about 2-3 days' worth of blood products even in disaster-free times, so a pause in collections in a big area like this can have bad consequences across the country.

See to find a donor center or community blood drive near you. And if you can't or don't feel comfortable donating, then tell a friend, or say something on Facebook or Twitter about the need for blood. Every little bit helps.