Before I get into it, I'm going to repeat a frequent gripe of my sister's: there is no word that means "nieces and nephews." We have siblings when we want to talk about multiple brothers and sisters of different genders, but there's no analogous term for the children of your siblings. There is no SAT question that says "brother : sibling :: nephew :: _________." Maybe this kind of thing is only important in families like mine, where the members are so fruitful that you need a term to describe the huge population that is the next generation of loud, large-foreheaded gremchkins. I've heard my sister complain about this many times, and it never bothered me until today, when I tried to write this entry and I found myself saying "nieces and nephews" over and over. I even used to the internet to see if there was such a word, maybe even an archaic word. The internet says that there is no such word, so I was thinking that I could make one up, start using it, and then get a Nobel Prize in Useful Word Coinage. The best I came up with was "nerfs," but then I found that someone else on the internet had come up with something much better: "niblings." Aside from having a silliness factor which I love, it's also pretty intuitive in terms of people knowing what you mean without explaining. I'm never going to win a Nobel Prize now.

I therefore declare that the word "nibling" is good and will be used on this blog henceforth. And now back to your regularly scheduled blog entry.

I've decided to rework my Good Aunt Birthday System. A few years ago, I made good on a New Year's Resolution to send birthday cards and money to each of my niblings. My system up until now has been to send a card containing money, the dollar amount matching the age of the kid. This is admittedly very cutesy, but it worked great for the seven-year-olds.

I've discovered a couple of problems with this system. For one thing, the dollar-for-each-year thing stops being cool at some point. I felt pretty silly sending my niece a check for $17 last year. Aunts have a bad reputation for treating their niblings like they're perpetually five, and I don't wish to contribute to that stereotype. Also, I needed to figure out a cap on that tradition, otherwise some future niece-in-law is going to be asking her husband why he just received $42 in the mail. And he'll say it's because his Aunt Sandra is out of her mind. His wife will then ask who even uses the postal service anymore. Then they'll get in their flying cars.

This year, I decided that the cap was 18 years old, and so I sent two niblings plain old twenty dollars bills. That cost me an extra four dollars this year, but when it prevents them from thinking how sad it is that someone only eight years older has already completely forgotten what it was like to be 18, then that's four dollars well-spent. Because all I really want in life is not to save the odd dollar here and there, but for kids not to think I'm corny and out of touch. There are two kinds of maiden aunts in this world: cool and batty. It's a fine line sometimes.

So: my new system. After the tenth birthday, the dollar amount will no longer correspond to the age. When you are ten, you will get ten dollars, but when you turn eleven, you get fifteen. You'll continue to get fifteen until you are fifteen. At sixteen, you will get twenty, and that's all the moving up you're going to do. At twenty, you'll get twenty. At twenty-seven, you'll get twenty. At thirty-nine, you'll get twenty, so stop counting on your Aunt to support you with birthday contributations and get a job already.

I haven't yet decided what happens up until age ten. I could stick with the old system and give them a dollar a year. Or I could give the under fives a fiver and then six thru tens would get $10. Also, what kind of bills do I use: all ones or can I through in a five when it's appropriate? What is neatest for a young man, newly seven-years-old? Parents, I ask for your input, because I'm only a cool maiden aunt here, and I really have no idea about kids these days.

Some of you are giving this a lot of considered thought and some of you are wondering why people even think about this sort of trivial crap. For the second group, please cover your ears while I tell the first group something (Secret: I already made a nice Excel spreadsheet mapping out my many niblings, their birthdays, how much they would receive each year, and the overall expected annual cost of being a generous aunt. There was color coding.) Anyway, these are the things I think about: how to win Nobel Prizes in obscure made-up categories, how to convince niblings that I'm hip and with-it, and how life goals can be represented in spreadsheets.


trying it and knocking it.

"Don't knock it 'til you've tried it," another bridesmaid said, which seemed like sound advice to me. As someone who enjoys both trying things and knocking them, I was surprised I hadn't thought of it first. And yet here I was, unsure about the idea of having a manicure and pedicure, when I'd never even tried it. But then I realized that my hesitation wasn't because I thought I wouldn't enjoy it, but because the whole thing seemed pretty unnecessary.

And yet still, in my secret heart of hearts, I wanted to try it. Does this make me less true to the marching-to-my-own-beat person that I've tried to cultivate? No. Making decisions based on what I think a person who does their own thing would do is about as silly as making decisions based on what other people do. I should just, like, do what I want. Being yourself is hard.

The next morning, I got up at 8 am, with the idea of writing this paid pampering session off on my personal budget as good blog fodder and a bonding experience. That's what you do before a wedding. You do girly things with other girls. At least that's what I think you do. I've been a girl for more than 26 years and I still haven't figured it out.

We pulled up to Happy Nails, where the door said "Walk-ins welcome" and "We love you." I worried that I was going to have to tell Happy Nails that I just wanted to be friends. Inside, two Asian women and two Asian men waited to make good on their claim that walk-ins were welcome. After picking out polish colors (I picked clear), three of us sat in padded black chairs with our bare feet resting in mysterious bubbling green liquid. I never figured out if the green was from a light that came from the machine or from some magic liquid additive. Had they employees been standing in a circle, chanting "boil, boil, toil and trouble" before we walked in?

We played with the shiatsu massager buttons while strangers sat on stools at our feet and got to work. There was clipping and buffing and massaging and other verbing that I wouldn't even know what to call. I was glad that I had shaved my legs the night before. Walking around in a skirt, baring my hairy legs is one thing; having a stranger rub lotion into them is quite another.

The lady working on me was fast. I couldn't tell if that meant she was efficient or cutting corners. Perhaps she could tell from the state of my toes that I didn't really care how they looked. I wonder what else you can tell about a person from handling their feet. We didn't talk much to the employees. It was sort of a relief to me, because I dread having haircuts just because I'll have to make small talk to the person doing the job. But either there was a language barrier or you're just not supposed to talk to the person clipping your toenails. I'd probably just embarrass myself anyway, asking things like, "So, how do you like washing feet for a living? Is this part of the American Dream?"

After the clipping and buffing and massaging, the lady painted my toenails with impressive speed. Sure, it would be hard to tell if she had messed up, given that she was using clear polish. But the few times I have painted my nails have been slow and messy, like a kindergartener trying to stay in the lines with a too-big crayon. She didn't even stick her tongue out and furrow her brow in concentration. It was just swipe, swipe, swipe, you're done, and she was sticking foam separators between my toes.

We walked over to a fingernail station (she walked, I hobbled). There was more clipping and buffing and massaging. After the polish, she led me over to a bizarre combination table and lamp, where I held my hands underneath a light for six minutes. And then the six minutes was over, and I was done. I had just received my first ever mani/pedi, and I don't think a word ever passed between me and the lady who had done the work, though the door did proclaim some pretty strong emotions for me. Um, thanks? I think you're neat?

While I waited for the others to finish, I sat and browsed through women's magazines. I secretly enjoy the few waiting room opportunities I have to look at pictures of famous people, though I always feel embarrased to be seen looking at periodicals that promise to reveal 12 New Ways To Drive Him Wild (based on a survey of over 100 men!). It's always sort of fun to be empty-headed every once in a while before I get back in the car to my NPR and get depressed by the world again.

All finished and pampered, we got back in the car to drive to the hotel. Of course, everyone wanted to know how I felt about the whole experience. I was probably less gushing than they would have liked. I know that the appeal of a mani/pedi is in the pampering: having someone else spoil you a little bit, even if you do pay them to do it. It's like having a server bring you your food at a restaurant or the shampoo before your haircut. And I can get behind that idea (I love having my hair washed), though not really like this. This, this was too degrading for her and too intimate for me, no matter what the sign on the door said. I just felt bad for the woman and uncomfortable about what she was being paid to do for me. In all likelihood, the people doing it don't see it that way, but it was distracting enough to me that it prevented me from really enjoying the otherwise very pleasant sensation of having my feet rubbed.

So there. I tried it. And I think I just knocked it, too.


finger-scrapin' good.

I've mentioned Josh's affinity for chocolate. When I started cooking, I tried making chocolate desserts for him so that I could find one that would cause him to give me his heart such that I could keep it in a little jar under my bed. I tried cakes, cookies, brownies, pies, lots of things. He liked everything, of course, because there is nothing made of chocolate that he does not like. But I wanted to find the thing that he loved, that he craved, that he asked for on his birthday. I searched for the perfect texture, the perfect moistness, the perfect pairing with a glass of (chocolate) milk.

That was silly. I should have just looked for the thing that stuffs the most chocolate in. I made a flourless chocolate cake that he liked, but it sorta caved in. He still ate it happily, scraping his finger across the bottom of the pan in a way that his very proper mother would be embarrassed to see (My mother, on the other hand, would tell him to move over so she could get her own finger in there). I guess I would have tried the cake again if I hadn't found the cookies.

The Raleigh News & Observer runs a column every Wednesday where they get the recipe of a specific dish from a local restaurant at the request of a reader. One day, it was a fudgy chocolate cookie. I cut out the recipe and brought it home to try for my chocoholic. It was a great success in terms of taste, though there was still a lot of finger scraping. I've since made it twice more, and I think I've figured out how to make this recipe into cookies that you can pick up and serve on a plate, rather than something that has to be eaten with wet and sticky fingers (or a spatula, if you have company).

Here is the News & Observer article, or if you want to cut right to the chase, here's a direct link to the recipe.

My changes:
1. I up the flour to 1 cup. They're still very fudgy, but it makes it a little easier to get them to act like cookies, instead of The Blob That Was Really Delicious.
2. I bake these on an Exopat, one of those fancy silicon baking mats. After baking the cookies, I almost immediately pull the Exopat off the cookie sheet and onto a counter to cool them off quickly. Then I put the Exopat, cookies and all, in the fridge for ten minutes or so. You really have to cool them down to be able to get them off that mat in one piece, because the melted chocolate acts like delicious glue. You're still going to get some chocolate residue on the mat, but you'll at least be able to serve them to people who are too embarrassed to go with their instincts and scrape their fingers along the baking mat.
3. Despite that helpful note at the bottom of the recipe, I use whatever chocolate chips I have, usually Aldi brand, though sometimes Hershey's or Nestle. I'm sure it's positively amazing if you use expensive high-quality chocolate. I hear they're good with Dom Perignon, too. But at the rate my boyfriend would like to eat these, I would like to be able to oblige him and still pay my mortgage.

These are Josh-approved, due to their very high chocolate-to-other-ingredients ratio. I get very sleepy after just one of them, and once they made my brother want to drink a beer. I'm not sure what that means, but it seems significant somehow.


pirate legs.

A couple of years ago, I was eating lunch with some people at my old job. We were sitting on the patio of the giant office building where we worked, taking up two or three tables as we munched on cafeteria food. Across the way sat a woman at a table by herself, reading a book while poking at a salad. I was casually observing her, sizing her up and inventing a life story for her based on her clothing choices. I was thinking about her aloneness, and how few people you see eating alone.

"What do you think about people when you see them eating alone?" I ask a coworker, gesturing to the lady with the book and the taco salad (it must have been a Wednesday). I asked because I knew what I thought about people who ate alone, but I had the sneaking suspicion that other people did not think the same way. It's been a long hard road, discovering that other people think differently than I do.

"I think they're lonely and sad."

That's what I was afraid of. Here's what I think of people who eat alone: I think they're cool and brave. Because I eat alone sometimes, and I used to do it pretty often. I always felt self-conscious, sometimes only a little but other times quite a lot. I thought that other people would look at me and think that I was lonely and sad. In truth, I was not lonely and sad. I had friends, but sometimes I happened to not be near any at mealtimes and sometimes I just needed the solitude.

And so I think that people who eat alone are cool and brave, because they have the confidence to be by themselves in public, because I like to be by myself in public but don't always feel confident about it, because those people know that other people think they are lonely and sad. Every time I see someone eating alone, I feel like they are taking a stand for tables for one everywhere. They reaffirm my belief that I have the right to eat by myself if I want to, and that it's totally okay.

I feel the same sort of way about shaving my legs. You did not see that coming. I have taken segues to new heights today.

I have mostly gotten over eating alone, because I've been doing it for so long. But the hairy legs are a new test to my confidence. Since I moved to Raleigh, I've pretty much stopped shaving my legs. Most of the time it's not an issue, because I just wear pants. But sometimes I want to wear a skirt or even shorts. I hate to shave: it's inconvenient, unnecessary, and the results don't last very long at all. The stupid rules of modern American society say that women should have smooth legs. I don't want to play by those rules, but I don't want to be left out of the game either. I'm not trying to make a statement or give society the middle finger. I just don't like shaving my legs, and I believe in my right to not do it.

Given a different set of chromosomes, it might be easier for me to get away with forgoing the razor. But I was not blessed with fine, light-colored hair. No, my leg hair is thick, coarse, and black. Any guy would be proud to sport leg hair like that, if guys ever think about such things. Mine could be the legs of a swarthy pirate. So if I am making a statement, it's certainly a bold one. Underlined, even.

Sometimes I make myself wear shorts, just to prove that I can, just to put my own beliefs to the test. I went through two whole seasons of adult league volleyball without shaving once. All my teammates certainly noticed and thought that I was just the kind of girl who didn't go for the smooth look. They probably had no idea that I was hyper aware of every little hair. But then I had to go to a wedding last fall, and the thought of baring my pirate legs in front of girls from my high school was just too much for me. I dusted off my razor, grumbling about society and norms during the half-hour bath. Then I sighed as I admired how nice legs can look and feel when they're not covered in coarse black hair. I felt like a natural woman. Also a bitter one.

I understand that this is really my issue, and blaming it on arbitrary standards of beauty is just being defensive. Yes, the idea that women should have smooth legs is determined and propogated solely by society. But that's the way it is. Railing against it won't change a thing. So if I want to go my own way, I have to be strong enough to deal with the thought of people judging me. I have lots of self-confidence and usually have no problem at all being different from others. Maybe it's because I have that confidence in other areas that it frustrates me so much to not have it with regards to pirate legs. Worrying about what strangers are thinking about me all the time is demoralizing and distracting. I hate to be so susceptible to it. It makes me doubt myself completely: I've never been eccentric or free-thinking at all! I'm just another razor slave!

I have no conclusions here. I may someday get over being the hairy woman that I am or I may start buying stock in Gilette. Or maybe I will develop a rare disease where the only symptom is that all my leg hair just falls out and never ever grows back. There need to be more diseases that solve personal inner turmoil.

But here's a thought that I had while considering that woman eating alone with her book one day in Winston-Salem. Seeing her reaffirmed what I already knew, but still felt self-conscious about: it's okay to be by yourself. So maybe the next time I take my pirate legs for a walk, I will inspire someone else who thinks shaving is a huge waste of time. They will think that I am cool and brave.


back to work.

I received my assignments for the year this week. I know, it seems a weird time. I've found that time in general is pretty odd in AdultLand. There's nothing to really separate one year from another. It used to be that the school year defined when things happened. I lost my first tooth in the first grade, I got braces in the middle of eighth grade, I worked as a hotel housekeeper between my freshman and sophomore years of college. And then, what? Using my age doesn't seem to help, as the older I get, the more those years blur together. I broke my arm when I was seven and four-fifths, but I moved to Raleigh, oh, sometime in my early twenties.

We won't even discuss the lack of a summer vacation when you're an adult, one of the harshest realities that a youngster fresh out of school must ever face. The only difference summer makes for me now is that it's still light outside when I leave the office for the day. Why did I want to be a grown-up again?

Our company is on a yearly release cycle, which does provide an odd sort of timeline for me, though I'm not sure if it's one that I want to use. Hrm, when I bought my house, I was working on that file tool window, and when Josh had his bike wreck, I was working on the feature that exported the user's options. I don't particularly want to associate life events with a dialog or feature in a piece of software. I guess I'm just not that hardcore about software.

I was thinking about all this today, which is the beginning of our new release cycle and right in the middle of summer vacation for the youngsters. I could tell, because I was wearing my flip-flops at my desk. I had grabbed a fresh notebook out of the supply cabinet and was christening it with my name and the year. It's a blue notebook this year, not to be confused with the yellow notebook I used last year and the green one from the year before.

In college, I would go to the back-to-school sales and buy single-subject, college ruled notebooks in different colors, one for each of my classes. And then I would label them: Modern Algebra, Assembly Language, History of Rock Music. By the end of the semester, I didn't need the labels anymore, as the colors themselves were associated with the classes in my mind. Some classes required more notes than others, and so by the end of the year, some notebooks were more than half untouched. I saved those to use the paper later, and now I can glance through them to see formulas I copied during the fall of my junior year or notes I jotted down during the summer session before I graduated. There are also pictures and catchphrases, which sometimes can be understood by reading what else is on the page, but more often seem like non-sequiturs when taken out of the context of the day it was written more than four years ago.

Today, I label a blue notebook with my name and the year. The blue notebook is clean right now, but it will become a historical document of my work-year. As I work on my features over the next several months, I'll write down notes and ideas in there. I'll create sticky colored tabs for each assignment, using different colored inks to write down questions, my own answers, sketches of dialogs, and TBDs. I'll stick post-its all over the place to create checklists and remind myself of important points. Will the paperless society come up with a replacement for a well-used notebook?

Today is the first day of this year, the year of the blue notebook. I already have my assignments, but I don't yet know what events will occur in the coming months that will be associated with this year, these feature assignments, the blue notebook.


amish furniture.

When I first got interested in cooking, I would peruse Allrecipes by section. Looking at one recipe would link me to another, which would lead to another, until finally I ended up making three Greek side dishes in one evening. I dabbled in many cultures this way, including Amish culture.

The Amish have a very good reputation in my book, and seemingly in the books of others. The term is often used in conjunction with furniture, though I really have no idea what Amish furniture is. Is it furniture made by Amish people, without electrical saws and electric drills and electric whatever-else-can-be-plugged-in? Or is it furniture made in the design of Amish people, but not necessarily by Amish hands? Or is there just a guy named Jim Amish who makes furniture?

Whatever Amish furniture actually means, it's a great marketing term. Like this piece of furniture was made carefully and is meant to last a good, long time. It reminds us of simpler times that we're too young to actually remember. No one actually wants to go back to those simpler times, because blogging on paper is lame, but we don't mind paying a little extra to have a bed that was made that way. It's the same thing when you're at the farmer's market, and someone's got some Amish jams or Amish peanuts or Amish candy. Again, I have no idea what's Amish about them, but it tastes better somehow. Purer and truer. Or something.

Anyway, one of the dishes that I discovered when I was making "Amish" foods was this macaroni salad. I use an electric stove to make it, but that didn't seem to affect the taste. You can also add a couple of cans of tuna "to make it a main dish." I used quotes there because that's straight from my mother, who believes that a main dish has meat. If you're going to go through all the bother of boiling pasta, hardboiling eggs, and chopping up peppers, you might as well toss in some tuna. To her, a side dish should require no more work than it takes to boil a vegetable and then add butter and salt. She also likes this dish so much that when I gave her my Tuna Casserole recipe, she ended up adding a bunch of sugar to it to make it taste like this one.

Amish Macaroni Salad. I leave out the onions because they're yucky. Also, I use real mayonnaise instead of Miracle Whip, because I have taste buds. Also, I'm pretty sure that Amish people don't use Miracle Whip. Maybe Jim Amish does, but what does he know?


the luckiest.

There is a conversation going on around me. I am actively listening, but not actively participating. I've not got the right to say anything.

We are sitting on the back porch of an apartment in Charlotte. It's late, I think. Or maybe the evening just got off to an early start. It's dark, and there are slugs crawling along the brick. It is neither too hot nor too cool, which I only surmise later based on the fact that I don't remember what the temperature was like.

What were we talking about? Having children? Or maybe not having children? Maybe it was wanting children later, but being really happy about not having them now. I was a part of that conversation, but at some point it shifted from being about having children to having parents. I'm certainly qualified to talk about that, but we, or rather they, were talking about parents that I have no experience with.

I have never been afraid that my parents would cause physical harm to myself, themselves, or each other. I have never called the cops on them during a fight. I have never attempted to talk a parent out of having another drink. I have never had to make myself english muffin pizzas for dinner because the one parent I relied upon was working late. I have never had to act as parent for a sibling or had a sibling act as parent for me. I have been lucky.

I sat on the brick half-wall and tried not to squish slugs. I did not say anything. I was witnessing a bonding experience between those who had shouldered adult responsibilities as children. I listened and wondered how anyone would ever come out of that sort of childhood to be a functioning member of society. Apparently they do. I suppose that I was part of that bonding experience, too, but I was definitely outside looking in. I had good parents, two of them, and a stable, carefree childhood. Being on the outside never felt so good.