sandra salsa.

One thing about Meetups is that you always seem to meet new people at each event. I guess that's the point, but in the beginning, I found it frustrating. How was I supposed to make friends if I was constantly thrust into a completely unfamiliar group? I feel that I personally shine when I already know the people at least a little bit (Thought question for the comments: When do you feel that you personally shine?). It's settled down since then, and I'm starting to see some of the same people. Or maybe I'm just going to particular kinds of meetups, and the same people go to those.

Because there are so many women, a lot of them have the same first name. It gets confusing. I haven't met any other Sandras, but I have met about eight Kate/Katies, three Ashleys, and four Heathers. As a result, people end up getting nicknames that associate their name with something about them. That helps the rest of us differentiate Kayaking Katie from Organ Harvesting Katie*, neither of which is to be confused with IBM Kate. Then there is Flashdance Jessica, who is the only Jessica that I've met, but I just really like that she works at a welding factory.

I bring all this up just to share a pair of recipes with you. I've been to several potluck-type meetups, which means that some of the girls have food nicknames, based on what they brought. It also means that after the meetup, I send an email to one of my new friends and ask her to tell me how to make that fantabulous dish that she brought. No one has yet emailed me to ask for a recipe, but I'm just going to assume that it's because they're too intimidated by my good looks.

Both of these are salsa recipes, actually. That could be a coincidence, or it could be an indication that I like an excuse to stuff my face with tortilla chips. Salsa recipes aren't so much recipes as lists of ingredients. They don't need a directions section, because the directions always say "Mix it up."

Strawberry Salsa
Courtesy of Kristy, who told a great story about panties, but would probably prefer not to have a nickname related to that.

1 pint strawberries, chopped
2 pints cherry tomatoes, cut in half
4 - 6 green onions, finely sliced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
6 T olive oil
2 T white balsamic vinegar
1/2 t salt

White balsamic vinegar is sort of mysterious. I found some and only bought it because it was on sale. I think it's just an aesthetic thing, so if it's not on sale, feel free to use the regular stuff. Your salsa will be ugly and delicious.

Bean and Corn Stuff
Courtesy of Fruit Tart Anna, who brought a great fruit tart to a meetup once, and has lived to regret it. Fruit Tart Anna did not actually respond to my email request for her recipe, so I found an approximation online. I've decided that she just didn't get my email, or she was too intimidated by my good looks to reply.

1 can corn
1 can black beans
1 package block feta cheese
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
4 tsp. white sugar

I used very little feta, because I only bought 5 ounces and I had to stretch it between two recipes. So I probably only used 2 ounces, yet it was still awesomely delicious. Fruit Tart Anna used a lot more feta, and it was oh, so good. So my point is to, uh, use feta, I guess.

*Organ Harvesting Katie works in organ donation services, and would like me to note that they prefer the term "organ recovery" as opposed to "harvesting."


too relevant.

Whenever I get unwanted emails, I try to unsubscribe from whatever list sent me the email in the first place. It's an exercise in futility, like crushing individual ants. It's not even as satisfying as crushing ants. But I do it, because it feels like fighting the good fight.

I especially do it whenever the email is from a big, well-known company, because I trust big, well-known companies to have policies about spam and working websites. With smaller companies, sometimes you have to unsubscribe several times. Sometimes, after realizing that the automated unsubscribe system does not work, I will send them nasty emails. NASTY. That is reasonably effective, and is every bit as satisfying as crushing ants.

Staples is a big company, so I did not expect trouble when unsubscribing from their list. Indeed, I did not get any. But I did get a survey, asking me why I was unsubscribing. I'm always a little amused by these surveys. Sometimes they have options like "I receive too many emails," which makes me picture someone harried and frustrated, unable to ever get any work done because they keep getting emails, that friendly "You've Got Mail" mocking them every five seconds. Once, I saw one that said "I do not remember signing up to receive emails," which pissed me off. They did not leave room for the possibility that I actually didn't sign up, only that I had forgotten about it. Jerks.

Anyway, Staples has a question I'd never seen before.

Did you catch it? Aside from the understandable option "Staples emails are not relevant to me," they have "Staples emails are too relevant (feel watched)." Apparently, Staples is concerned that its customers will think that an office supply store is stalking them.

You know, I feel like I have a little insight into this one. You know how some people are crazy or even idiots? And sometimes those people get to make decisions? Some higher-up at Staples is convinced that the internet is spooky, and every time he gets a targeted ad on his Google search, he tries to call Google and complain. Or maybe his first idea is to call Google, but then he thinks better of it because then they'll tap his phone line. So he insisted that the developers put this option on the unsubscribe survey. They tried to tell him that it was colossally stupid (they used nicer, smaller words), but in the end, he's the boss. Being the boss in software means that other people have to implement your whims.

Not that I know anything about that.

Or maybe I'm all wrong, and they added that option because so many people were picking "Other" and writing "Feel watched" (although my guess is that they would type it "fEEL wATCHED"). In which case, we could all band together and get our own option added. We just subscribe to Staples emails, then when we unsubscribe, we all put down the same answer under "Other." Now we just need to think of a good line for our write-in candidate. Some ideas:
  • Staples emails contain inappropriate/offensive content.

  • I am illiterate.

  • Staples emails remind me of my dead husband.

Other ideas?


other people's code.

The first real world code that I ever wrote was on the flagship product at my old job. You remember, the one where I wrote software that talked to trucks. I was given a relatively smallish task: Add a column to a chart full of truck information, and fill in the appropriate info into that column. It was a good assignment for a newbie in that it was fairly representative of the kind of work I've done in the real world. In college, you write small applications from scratch. In the real world, you write code to add functionality to an existing product. In college, the whole program is designed and written by you. In the real world, your new chunk is designed and written by you, but all that other code was designed and written by other people. Not one other person, lots of them. The older an application gets, the more fingerprints it has on it. When you add your own fingerprints, you have to work with the design and code that is already there. In college, you write code. In the real world, you shoehorn it.

Sometimes, this is okay. I've had mostly good experiences with other people's code, because the majority of people that I've worked with have been competant programmers. Some of them are fantastic programmers, and it's frequently a pleasure to add my own contribution. Because what they wrote was designed well in the first place, it is easy to add on. Other times, it is not okay. When Sartre said that hell is other people, he had not yet met the hell that is other people's code.

Anyway, back to that first assignment of mine. I did an okay job, I guess. It worked pretty well and there were pretty icons, which seemed to make people happy. There were bugs, but there will always be bugs.

A year later, I was asked to fix one of those bugs. I jumped back into that code that I had written, and I found it very difficult to figure out just what was going on. It was downright confusing. That was my first experience with code amnesia. I could tell it was my code, because it looked like my style. And I had a vague memory of writing the feature. But I had no recollection of how it worked. This has happened several times since then. Spend six months away from some code that you've written, and you'll have no idea what it does anymore. It's as if a novelist forgot his characters' names six months after finishing the book.

Having spent some time away from that first assignment and then being thrust back into it, I noticed some glaring design problems. Namely, that it was a really crappy design. It was unnecessarily complex, when it could have been much more simple and elegant. I'm not sure if I was able to realize it was bad design because I was coming at it with fresh eyes, or if I had grown so much as a programmer in that first year of real world coding that I had actually learned something about how not to write bad code. What it amounted to in the end was that I had written code that would be hard to maintain. If even I had a hard time following the design well enough to fix a bug (and remember, I wrote it), then the poor fellow who had to fix the bugs after I left the company was in worse shape. Hell was my code. It was a very humbling experience.

Only the programmers among you will understand this part, so I only include it as an aside: there was a hashtable of arrays. There might have been more than one. While there are appropriate times to use such a thing, it should be a red flag.

This week, in my real world job, I had to fix a bug in a feature written by someone else. And the deeper I got into this code, the more I suspected that it just wasn't a very good design. Now, I wasn't here when it was written, so I don't know the requirements. I was thinking about maybe rewriting a couple of parts in it, just small parts, to make it a little less, you know, crashy.

And then I saw the hashtables of arrays. There were ten of them. TEN. I wanted to cry. Or have a beer. Or cry in my beer. Working with this code feels like penance for the bad code that I wrote, that some poor sop now has to maintain. I don't know what he's doing penance for. I can't even feel superior as I try to fix this bad code, because I know that I once wrote something just as bad.

The worst part is, I could still be writing bad code now. Maybe this is why people in this industry switch jobs so often.


the switch to low fat.

I had thirty minutes to kill.

It used to be a lot easier to kill half an hour in a giant shopping center. Once upon a time, back when I lived in a city whose mall was not so much a mall as a series of furniture outlets, the opportunity to visit a quarter mile of shiny capitalist temples would have thrilled me.

I decided to go to Barnes & Noble. Used to be, I would visit a B&N once a week at least, but in the last five years or so, I've made maybe three visits. I'm not sure how places like this can compete with the internet. I could sit outside the store on a bench and order a book from my cell phone and probably get a better price. There seem to be people here, though, so maybe there are those who like the experience of a brick and mortar store.

As soon as I walk in, I see the coffee shop. It's after 8 pm, and I haven't had supper yet. Never, ever shop when you're hungry. Just half an hour earlier, I had almost bought a bag of Twizzlers at Best Buy, which is sort of like buying a hammer at Food Lion; it's got impulse buy written all over it. Heaven help me if I went to a grocery store and accidentally wandered down the Dorito aisle. It's funny, I asked a coworker if you could still get Teddy Grahams, and he acted shocked that I didn't know. Don't you ever go down the cookie and snack cracker aisle? No, not really. That was a realization for me, that I so rarely walked down the Teddy Graham aisle that I had forgotten you could buy bear-shaped sweetened crackers. I felt a little smug, because the reason I don't visit those sections of grocery stores is because I just make my own cookies. But I don't know how to make Doritos. Maybe that's for the best.

The reason I used to visit B&N every week was because it was open until 11 pm, and I wasn't old enough to go anywhere that was open later, but I was old enough to have a 12:30 curfew. My boyfriend and I went out every Saturday night to Hickory, which had furniture outlets, but also an actual mall and a Best Buy and a used record store. These were our dates - dinner somewhere cheap, then hitting stores until they were closed. Then we went somewhere and made out until it was time to go home. I don't know what other kids did on their dates. The making out part was probably universal, but maybe they went to the movies or had nicer dinners than Cici's Pizza.

I hate Cici's Pizza. When they opened in Hickory, it was still only $3.99 for the buffet. The food was decent, the price was right, but we went so many times that I couldn't have told you if any other restaurants in town were even still open anymore. They'd all be relegated to the Teddy Graham aisle in my mind. My boyfriend liked restaurants in phases, so we went to the same place over and over for six months before he switched to somewhere else. It sounds like I'm complaining, but I didn't mind it so much then. Having grown up in a home where our eating out experience consisted of getting milkshakes every two years when we bought a new car, I was happy to go anywhere. Plus, I was young and in love and still had really good metabolism.

The mall closed at nine, and some of the other stores closed at ten, so that's when we went to B&N. Sometimes we would to go Wal-Mart, which was always a mistake. A bunch of other kids, who were also too young to go to bars but not interested in books, would go to the Wal-Mart parking lot and cruise. It was impossible to get in and out without spending twenty minutes in between two pimped-out Civics. Eventually, it got better, because the Wal-Mart manager finally called in the Hickory police to monitor the parking lot, direct traffic, and tell the kids to move along now, move along. I suppose if you were going to commit a crime in Hickory, Saturday night at 10 pm would be the best time to do it.

At B&N, we would get hot cocoas, because we were too young to drink coffee. Then we'd go through the bargain books. Once we finished with those, he would go look through the art books and then the magazines. I ran out of things to look at before he did, particularly since I had to look at things which were close to him because he didn't really like me to wander away from him in the store. So I would sit on a bench and page through bridal magazines, because I was too old for Seventeen, but too embarrassed to read Cosmo. I wasn't making wedding plans, but I liked to look at the dresses. I wonder if it weirded him out, seeing me pour over pictures of brides. Probably not then, though maybe it would have a few years later when we were both in our early twenties. Sometimes we sat in the coffee shop, flirting across the table. Once he tore up one of the to-go cocoa cups and made me a flower. I kept it in a shoebox in my closet, along with all the other random keepsakes, including a purple paper hat and an envelope full of rhododendron leaves.

Last night at B&N, I gave in to temptation and walked to the coffee shop. It wasn't a fight at all, but a quick surrender to hunger and nostalgia. I'm too old to drink coffee that late, so I ordered a medium hot cocoa. It was $2.94. Seems like it had been two bucks when I was sixteen. The lady handed me my drink and I meandered over to the bargain books, still kept right at the front of the store. My cocoa was too hot to drink yet.

The bargain books are always the same, even when they are different. They're remaindered from the publisher or collections of classics put out by Barnes & Noble. Some coffee table books heavy on pictures and light on content, with popular topics meant to draw you in and then hook you with the fact that they are half the price of the regular books in the store. A few of them were interesting, but years of buying books for a quarter at yard sales has pretty much ruined my ability to give B&N any of my money.

I still had ten minutes to kill. I guess I could go look at bridal magazines. I'm still too embarrassed to read Cosmo. I wandered around aimlessly instead. The cocoa was not good. Maybe they've switched to low fat milk instead of whole, but I'm inclined to think it's just bad cocoa mix. It used to be a lot better than this, at least I think it did. Seems like Teddy Grahams used to be good, too, and Cici's Pizza.

There was a table of paperbacks labelled for "summer reading," whatever that means. They were classics, and I greeted them like old friends, maybe like old lovers, except that I've never greeted an old lover, so I don't know what it's like. I counted the ones I had read and picked up the others to read the blurbs on the backs. I wished that I had a book with me so that I could kill time by immersing myself in it rather than taking a stroll through a place that looked just like I remembered, but wasn't the same at all. It was like walking around in your old elementary school and marvelling at how short the water fountains are. It's just a change in perspective.

I'm not sad that I've changed, and I have zero desire to be sixteen again (apart from that metabolism bit). Nor do I necessarily care that I no longer get any enjoyment out of a cup of Barnes & Noble cocoa. But the fact that it is so far from good now makes me wonder if it was ever good, or if I just didn't know any better. It's hard to not let this cup of bad cocoa sully memories of cups of good cocoa past. Because it was so good then, rich and creamy. I remember enjoying the cocoa, the books, and the magazines, though maybe it was just all about the boy the whole time. But even that has been tainted by all that happened later.

Sometimes it's best to assume that they're just not using whole milk anymore.


yard sales, july 17.

I've noticed that during the middle of the summer, yard sales die off.  This might be more of a Raleigh thing, because I don't remember this being the case back in Lenoir, which is much cooler in June, July, and August.  Then again, the season here extends all the way through October, whereas in Lenoir it peters out in early September.  Yard sale seasons are like growing seasons; they vary depending on your location.  You could plot the season here by the number of ads in the News and Observer.  I thought very seriously about doing that, and then decided that it was too dorky of an endeavor for even me.

Anyway, we're in the thick of the summer doldrums around here.  That doesn't mean that I'm not going to sales.  Let's not be silly.  It just means that there are fewer sales to go to, and almost all of them are single family sales.  Come September, maybe we'll get some big church sales again.2010-07-18 19.16.14

There was a small church sale, and I bought these small glass nesting bowls.  I bought them for a silly reason:  the Pioneer Woman has a set, which I've seen in the pictures that accompany her recipes.  It's really the equivalent of buying strawberry pop tarts because they're the favorite breakfast food of the youngest New Kid on the Block, as revealed in this month's Tiger Beat.  These Duralex-brand bowls are sold as a set of nine, but I guess the original owner of these didn't have much use for the tiny bowls, probably because they're not internet cooking stars.

Aside from being cute, these bowls are both French and indestructible.  Josh threatened to test their promise of unbreakability by dropping my sweet new bowls on our hardwood floors.  I was temporarily insane at the time, so I took that as a challenge.  I took the bowls from him, and just dropped them.  The tiniest one went flying across the room, but they all remained intact and free of chips or cracks.  Which is a relief, because we were both barefoot, and it was a pretty stupid thing to do.  Still!  Now we know.  Duralex:  can't bust 'em.

My main purchase of the day was a cast iron skillet.  I've been sorta-kinda looking for one for over a year now.  I could wax poetic about the lesson of delayed gratification inherent in buying secondhand, but to be honest, I've seen several cast iron skillets at sales, but never bought them.  When the time would come to pick it up a2010-07-18 19.10.57nd pay for it, I just never did.  Maybe it was because I didn't really have any idea what it was I was going to do with one, only that I had some sort of vague notion that it was a good thing to have in my cookware.  Also, I didn't really know anything about cast iron, so I wasn't sure what to look for.

Two weeks ago, Josh told me he thought we should have one.  Last week, I read a blog entry about cast iron skillets and which brands to look for.  These elements combined to give me the motivation to buy a skillet.  So Saturday, I bought a Wagner 10 1/2 inch, which is a brand recommended by that other blog (also:  Griswold and Lodge).  I bought it from a guy who clearly used to be an avid fisherman.  He was selling a dozen fishing rods and a bunch of outdoor cooking gear.  I felt bad for him, that he was being forced to let go of a hobby which must have brought him a lot of joy (or at least cost him a lot of money), but I liked the idea of having a skillet that had cooked fresh fish over a campfire.2010-07-18 19.10.42

I still don't know what I'm going to do with the dang thing, other than wield it threateningly during arguments, of course.  IT'S YOUR TURN TO DO THE DISHES!

Finally, this little table is more than just a prop in my front porch photography studio.  I went to an estate sale of someone who did a lot of woodworking.  Is it odd to pick up someone else's homemade project?  Seems like those are the kinds of things most people keep because they feel obligated to the person who made it.  But I like it's rusticity, and I think it would be a good place to put a couple of potted plants.  Will I ever actually put potted plants on it?  Who knows?  I'm still trying to figure out what to do with the skillet.

Oh, okay, one more thing.  Best yard sale sign ever.

2010-07-17 10.38.07


new puppy muffins.

I bought four pints of blueberries from a coworker whose father grows and sells them. It was an impulse buy. I was thinking about delicious blueberries and picturing a little old man with a big floppy sun hat working out in his garden, picking fruit and throwing them into a gallon milk jug cut up to be a berry bucket. I was not thinking about what I was going to do with four pints of blueberries.

There are lots of things you can do with blueberries. You can just eat them straight, or you can do smoothies or pancakes or shortcakes or muffins. You could make a pie or scones or one of those American flag cakes (provided you also have some kind of red berry). I like all those things. Unfortunately, my partner in eating is a little more cool to fruit-based desserts. When you are cooking for only two people, both people have to like the food or it won't get eaten.

Josh does not like fruit pie, or rather, it's not his favorite. The basic problem is that he doesn't like fruit that has been cooked. If I were to make a blueberry pie, I could expect to eat it all alone. Part of me likes that idea, but the rest of me knows that being forced to eat a whole pie by yourself before it goes bad just sort of ruins the idea of pie for you. I would never, ever want to ruin the idea of pie for myself. So no pie.

He does like fruit shortcake. If asked, he raves about it, which leads me to believe that someone in his family made a really good one once, maybe on a day that he got a new puppy or something, so that he has very strong happy associations with shortcake. Whenever he mentions how much he likes shortcake, I go look up a recipe. Every time my man goes on and on about some kind of food he loves, I feel compelled to create the experience for him. Maybe it's love, or maybe it's me trying to convince him that there is no reason for him ever to venture outside my house in search of fulfillment of his desires.

HOWEVER. I have been down that road before, I have made him a shortcake. It was lumpy, but tasted the way it was supposed to. Yet again, I was forced to finish most of it myself. I could blame it on the recipe. Perhaps it wasn't as good as the new puppy shortcake. I should try a different recipe, right?

No. Absolutely not. It will be the same all over again. It will be me eating shortcake, and frankly, if I'm going to have to eat most of a dessert, I'd rather eat pie. I remember being very frustrated by the whole shortcake experience. You said you loved shortcake, I made you a freaking shortcake, now you're gonna eat it all while I stand here and glare at you.

The problem was not the shortcake. It was actually a problem in communication. Though Josh said he loves shortcake, that's not exactly what he means. After years of studying the Joshua in his native habitat, I have finally figured out what he is actually saying, as opposed to what it sounds like he's saying. Here is a little translation guide, in case you should ever find yourself with a Joshua and a lot of extra berries.

What he says: I love shortcake.

What he means: Shortcake is very good for a dessert that doesn't have chocolate in it. I would happily eat a piece of shortcake. If it is a particularly good shortcake, I might eat yet another piece tomorrow.

What he says: I love chocolate.

What he means: I must have chocolate or my life will spiral into despair. I could eat two or three slices of chocolate pie every day for the rest of my life. The same goes for brownies or chocolate cookies, or just straight squares of bar chocolate.

I honestly only figured this out recently. Silly me, I had been taking him at face value! He was not trying to deceive me. He just didn't realize that to me, a person who has a sane and normal relationship with chocolate, the world of desserts is not automatically split into chocolate and everything else. No matter how much he likes shortcake (or any kind of non-chocolate dessert), it is not on the same level as a chocolate one. So if I make such a dish, I had better be prepared to eat most of it.

I don't mind this limitation. Now that I understand it, I can work with it. The realization gave me peace about the shortcake incident (which had gone from "the time I made shortcake" to a full-blown "incident"). It was not my shortcake, it was the fact that all shortcakes since the beginning of time are inherently inferior to anything at all that contains chocolate. I had been trying to build a repetoire of dishes to make for him, because there are many desserts that I love, and I enjoy the variety. He loves a variety of chocolate desserts.

Back (finally!) to the four pints of blueberries. Last night, I made muffins. I picked the recipe with the most five-star reviews and made it. I tell you, I was kinda ho-hum about fruit muffins. They're okay, I guess. But that was because I had never had muffins like these. These were more like coffee cake with fruit inside. This is what all fruit muffins aspire to, it's why fruit muffins were invented. These are new puppy muffins, but you don't have to put down any newspapers! I ate three of them last night, and then another two for breakfast. Five muffins in twelve hours. If someone had asked me yesterday morning whether I liked blueberry muffins, I would have shrugged and said "Sure. Everyone likes muffins." Now, my answer might be more like "I love some blueberry muffins, but a lot of them are crappy. Those muffins do not deserve to be in the same room as the good ones. It's like comparing chocolate to shortcake; it's not even close." Then that person will never ask me a question again, and they surely won't be offering me any baked goods.

Josh agrees that these are about as good as fruit muffins can get. In the middle of his muffin, he said, with his mouth full, that this was going to be our muffin recipe, for now and all time. And then he finished his muffin, got up and got himself a brownie.

Blueberry Muffins
The only change I made was to substitute brown sugar for white in the topping. I also only had to bake them for 18 minutes.


yard sales, july 10.

I had a wine tasting Friday night and got to bed somewhere between 1 and 2 in the morning. It was poor planning, because Josh was supposed to be in Athens, Georgia by 4:30 Saturday afternoon. We had to leave Raleigh by 9 to make it. Given that information, my thought was that I could still get in two hours of yard sales.

At 6:53 on Saturday morning, I woke up. My alarm was set to go off at 6:55. During the week, I hit my snooze button half a dozen times before finally dragging myself out of bed to go to work. But on Saturdays, I wake up before the alarm. I don't usually even bother setting an alarm most weekends, just because I know that my body knows when it's time to get up and go poke through other people's trash.

In the car by 7, driving to the first sale on a list of seven. I had picked sales close to my house, mindful that I had only an hour and a half of sale time. On the drive, I started to wonder whether I was crazy. Not like ha-ha fun crazy, but obsessed crazy. What I needed was sleep, not more crap in my house. Yet the idea of sleeping through yard sales was unthinkable. I couldn't help missing sales because of the trip to Georgia, but I didn't want to count the whole day as wasted.

Then I went to the first sale, bought five Pyrex dishes, and forgot all about worrying whether my hobby was becoming unhealthy. Five lovely vintage Pyrex dishes, all for $5. The sale was run poorly. It was a living estate sale, run by an old man and a couple of his descendants. Nothing was marked, and as I came in, a young guy told me to just make a pile of what I wanted and then he'd price the whole shebang for me at the end. I found that sort of irritating, as whether I want to buy something hinges on the price of it. But it turned out to work in my favor anyway.

Here's a yard sale tip for you embedded in this post: price stuff individually ahead of time. It is long, difficult, and tedious work. But if you try to do it on the fly, you'll get panicked trying to read the buyer standing in front of you, rather than thinking about what the thing is actually worth to you. You might even do what this guy did, which was ask me what I was offering. He put the control of the negotiation into my hands. I said $5, and I could tell by the look on his face that he thought that was way too low. But then he turned to the old man and asked if that was okay, and the old man indicated that he didn't care, as long as the crap got cleared out.

I drove to the next sale, not at all thinking about whether I should join (or found) some sort of Yard Salers Anonymous group. I was thinking about Pyrex. I got to the sale and bought something that I need even less than I need more dishes: furniture. My house is full. When I moved in last March, I had lots of room to fill. But I don't anymore. I only have room to upgrade, which means if I buy something big, something else will have to go. That's not so bad. Buying used is a bit like continuously upgrading. You get something, use it until you find something that you like better. Then you reintroduce the first thing into the secondhand market so someone else can use it.

I bought two folding chairs. As furniture goes, they don't take up much room. I told myself that I had need of extra seating. You know, for parties. Not that I regularly have enough people over such that additional seating is needed, but I could. Besides, these are the most amazingly cool folding chairs in the history of the world.

They are in fantastic condition, particularly for being fifty years old. They make me want to throw a party, just so I can use them. Three bucks apiece and totally worth it. They are called "Wonderfold" chairs, made by Coronet. As the bottom of the seat says, "You have to be told...they fold!"

And that was it. I went to a couple more sales and bought a couple of small things (blue Mason jar, stationery). In terms of finding neat stuff and paying very little for it, it was a great hour and a half day.

I also saw these solid wood filing cabinets. I was actually a little relieved that they were already sold. I have no need of filing cabinets, not even ones which have reached the pinnacle of filing cabinet beauty.


got hops.

This is a hops vine.

You know, I've always liked the phrase "got hops" to indicate that someone could jump really high. It's like saying someone's got chops, but for basketball players instead of musicians. That doesn't have anything to do with anything, I was just thinking about it.

This vine is growing on a piece of twine that goes from the ground to the roof of the Terrapin Brewery in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm not sure if they use their own hops. For one thing, they probably do not grow as much as they need. For another thing, maybe the quality is inconsistent or at least not as good as hops that you buy from the beer-making supply store. Still, it's a nice gesture. It shows that the people who make the beer know where beer comes from. It doesn't just appear, cold and delicious, in front of them. It comes from plants (and water and yeast).

A coworker of mine makes his own beer in a giant stock pot in his kitchen. He invited us all over to brew up a batch once. I confess that I was a little disappointed in the process. He was just following a recipe. Boil some water, put some stuff in it. Then boil it some more, add more stuff. The stuff he added had been bought in pre-measured quantities, which somehow took a lot of the magic out of it for me. I mean, I know that I follow recipes when I cook, but at least I have to do my own measuring and chopping. It was like watching a TV chef who had everything all set out in little matching bowls by an invisible assistant. He wasn't really doing anything.

So in the real world, that is where a beer's ingredients come from. They come prepackaged in bags that you can just dump right in. And I bet that Terrapin makes beer that way, too, but with much bigger bags. So it's nice to see that even if it doesn't make business sense to grow your own hops, it makes a kind of poetic sense, and that's enough for them.


broken butt.

I saw a girl break her butt one time. In high school, a girl on my volleyball team went up for a spike, but then landed right on her butt rather than her feet. She immediately started screaming. Usually when someone gets hurt in public, they wince and whimper and maybe actually cry, but mostly they try and hold it in. But she didn't care about any of that. She laid out on the floor, unable or unwilling to move, wailing in pain. I didn't know before that day that a butt was something you could break. I knew about the tailbone, of course, but the butt is not really the tailbone - it's the muscle and fat around it. Still, there was no other way to describe it, because if you asked her where it hurt, she would have no choice as to where to point. So I learned that day that you could break your butt and that it really, really hurt.

Last weekend, I broke my butt.

I'm not sure if there is any broken butt story that is not at least tinged with embarrassment. But mine is not a good story. We were fly fishing on Wilson's Creek, which has huge boulders in it. I was trying to get upstream by climbing the boulders. I misjudged my ability to climb boulders, and I fell on my butt and slid into the water. I shrieked. Then I wished that I had shrieked in a lower pitch, because those who did not see the fall knew who had created the shriek and splash. In any case, I broke my butt while I was fishing. Fishing.

It didn't really hurt all that much. It hurt a little, the way things hurt when you have a minor mishap. It was more like bumping your head on a low ceiling rather than falling off your bicycle and smashing your head on the pavement. I certainly had no idea that I had the equivalent of a butt concussion. As the day went on, I noticed that the tenderness did not go away, but I had other things on my mind, like catching fish and falling in the river again. I thought I might have a bruise, and I even looked for it when I finally got back to the house and peeled off my waders.

But then my butt didn't feel better. The pain did not go away, it got worse. Sitting down for dinner consisted of me shifting my position every five minutes, as one position after another became unbearable. The only thing worse than sitting on my tender bottom was changing positions to find a better way to sit. And then we drove the four hours back to Raleigh, and I felt every bump in the road. Yet still I did not even think of it as a broken butt. Because broken butts hurt immediately, so much that you lie screaming on the floor.

Then I looked it up on the internet, and the internet says that sometimes broken butts don't hurt until later. Apparently the butt's emergency broadcast system is not very efficient. The internet also says that you can go to the doctor, and he will give you painkillers and an inflatable donut, but nothing else. This is the most frustrating part of a broken butt - you can't do anything about it. I don't mind problems that I can fix, but this is a problem where I have to wait on it to fix itself.

Using my status as expert of my own butt, I have decided that my tailbone is not broken, only bruised. If I had really broken it, I would have filled the forest with my high-pitched shrieks. Since I do not intend to go to the doctor, there is no way to confirm or deny this theory. However, even if my tailbone is not broken, my butt still kinda is. It's not broken as in fractured, it is broken as in it does not act the way a fully functioning butt should. Well, okay, it acts exactly the same, but it hurts all the time. I had no idea how much I use my butt. It's not just sitting, it's walking and climbing stairs, too. The absolute worse is getting up from a sitting position. I had no idea a butt could hurt like that - a sharp stab of pain at the very bottom of my spine. I bet if I went around saying that I bruised my spine, I would get a lot more sympathy.

Because you get no sympathy at all for your broken butt, only jokes. My sister, who broke her butt last winter (snowboarding - much cooler), pointed this out to me. And I remembered how I made fun of her broken butt, not realizing the special kind of pain that only a broken butt can create. I remembered how we all laughed at the girl on my volleyball team, once she stopped screaming. I would say that I learned my lesson, but I haven't. In telling this story, I'm playing up the fact that a broken butt is, well, funny. Just the words are funny - broken butt. I broke my butt. I went fishing and broke my butt. I'm laughing right now, the movement of which, by the way, hurts my butt.


gypsy rides again.

Last August, my car Gypsy stopped running at a red light. She just quit, like she had sudden-onset car narcolepsy, and I could not wake her. I did not know it, but there was a short in the wiring, which caused most of the wires in the electrical harness to just sort of melt. A tow truck took it to a mechanic, who told me that maybe, if I had the finances, it was time to buy another vehicle. I was very sad, because I thought that she was a good car who still had a lot of miles left in her. But I bought another car. A red one, with amazing gas mileage and the ability to transport just about anything I might care to buy off someone's lawn.

Gypsy sat in my driveway for many months. Every day I would park the new car, the red Honda Fit, in front of her, and I imagined her looking at the shiny new car and feeling inadequate and abandoned.

I have a mechanic friend. He was my college roommate for a year, after he married a girl who was already my college roommate. He works at a junkyard, and he told me that he would keep an eye out for an electrical harness for a 2001 Toyota Corolla so that he could replace my fried one. That hope kept Gypsy in my driveway, and after a while, I didn't even feel guilty as I went off to yard sales in the Fit.

Months passed. Apparently the rest of the Corolla owners in the world were repairing rather than replacing their cars, so my mechanic friend didn't have the part. At some point, I made the decision to just sell her off for parts. I have packrat tendencies, but this was a little too much baggage for me. I was going to put an ad on CraigsList that I'd take the best offer from anyone who wanted to take a broken Corolla away. And then my mechanic friend emailed me and said he had the part. He came up on a Sunday and fixed her. She passed inspection, but might need a new battery and one new tire. Also, the mouse that was living inside seems to have died.

Here's a bonus hint: if ever you have a car that won't go and you want to make sure the mice are comfortable, be sure to leave a box of tissues in the trunk.

The timing was fortuitous. Right before Josh left for his tour, his SUV decided that it was no longer interested in turning left. It has 240,000 miles on it, which I'm sure was a lot of left turns. It was just a broken CV joint, but the repairs on this thing were getting to the point where it just wasn't worth it. So it sat next to Gypsy. For months, we had two disabled vehicles in the driveway. I suppose that's my redneck blood coming out.

Anyway, it's still sitting there. And maybe it sadly watches as Josh drives Gypsy to work every day. Last week, Josh had a show in Durham. We were arriving at different times, so we drove separately. After the show, he followed me home, Gypsy's headlights shining at me through the rearview of the Fit.

And I was a little jealous.

Let me expand on that. I was driving a car that is less than a year old. He was driving a car that is nine years old, has 160,000 miles on it, burns oil, accelerates painfully, and smells like rotting mouse flesh. And I was jealous.

I'll take a moment to tell you that I love the Fit. When I see my car, I get the warm glow of a decision well-made, because I am the kind of person who takes pride in responsible choices. I love every time some stranger helps me load a large yard sale purchase into the Fit, because they go from being skeptical that it will go in at all to asking just what kind of car is that, anyway. I love the forty-plus miles I get to each gallon. And I love the giant windshield, which makes it seem like the world itself is a bigger place.

And yet, and yet...Gypsy and I have a history. We were friends. Sure, the Fit and I will be friends someday, but right now, we haven't been through enough together. If I were into cliches, I'd say something about metaphorical trenches right here.

Once, back when I lived in Winston and drove to see my boyfriend every weekend, Gypsy's check engine light came on during one of those many Friday night drives to Raleigh. I was just past Greensboro, about halfway to my destination. I was terrified that I would be stuck somewhere on I-40, left to rely upon the kindness of strangers. So I talked to my car the whole rest of the way. It was an hourlong monologue, encouraging her, supporting her, reminding her of my complete faith in her ability to do her job.

Of course, I know that talking to the car had no effect whatsoever on what her engine was doing. It was really just keeping me from bugging out. We made it, I got the catalytic converter fixed, everything was fine. I do understand that a car is just a car. Yet we spend so much time in our vehicles, and our daily lives revolve around our ability to just go wherever we want. Though most of our treasured memories and rites of passage do not happen within a car, the car is how we got to where they did happen. I can't be the only person in the world who thinks of a good car like a good friend.

And I am a good friend to her, too, so I am glad that Gypsy rides again. I just would have preferred that she did it someplace where I would never see her with her new driver. Then I wouldn't think about the good times they're probably having together, her calmly and reliably getting him from place to place. Maybe this was my punishment for all those mornings that I climbed into the Fit, right there in front of her.

Then, the Saturday after that drive from Durham where I thought about how Gypsy was going to be friends with Josh now, I took Gypsy to get her inspection. I drove her all of five miles, the first five miles I'd driven her since she took a nap last August. And for all my talk about friendship and trenches, I was mostly just noticing the fact that Gypsy drives like an old car. An old car with a dead mouse inside.

At that point, I decided that I could be okay watching Josh drive Gypsy. I could be happy for her, happy for Josh, and happy for me, too. After all, I have a very nice, new car that will gladly provide me with years of reliable transportation. We shall go through our own trenches. And, it doesn't smell like death.


normal people stuff.

In the week leading up to last Saturday, I didn't really think about yard sales. After all, it was a holiday weekend. Not just a weekend with a holiday in it, but a weekend attached to a holiday Monday, which means people would be out of town. But then Friday came along, and I figured I might as well look and see what sales were advertised. And then come Saturday morning, I had a list of seven sales, ready to go.

With only seven sales, all of them single-household, I was possibly setting myself up for a disappointing outing. But actually, no, I had a very good day. I didn't find a bunch of ca-razy items. No vintage lamps, no antique glassware, not even a single piece of old stationery. I bought really sensible things, and I present them to you to demonstrate that yard sales are not just for ridiculous people like me. You can find normal people stuff, too. Some of you are normal, right?

Normal People Item 1: A bed frame.

I haven't had a "real" bed situation in five or six years. I used to sleep on a hand-me-down futon. It was fine, though as time went on, it got progressively lumpier. Then someone told me that grown-ups deserve grown-up beds, and I spent $1000 on a nice king-sized pillowtop mattress set. In that huge splurge, I did not buy a bed. So I had really nice mattresses sitting on the floor for a year and a half.

That's not a big deal, really. There's nothing wrong with mattresses on the floor. The only time I really cared about looking for a bed was when I wished I had an under-the-bed space to put things. Otherwise, it didn't bother me. But I found a bed frame at a yard sale for $5 (retails for about $60), and decided that it was a good enough price to get me to upgrade.

When we got it set up with the mattresses and everything, I realized how much I had been missing the frame. For one thing, the bed feels different - springier. Plus, the bed skirt I bought last year finally hangs prettily, rather than dragging the floor like a fancy dust collector. But the best thing about getting the mattresses up off the floor is that it made me feel more permanent, less transient. I took out a huge loan to buy a whole dang house, but it's the $5 bed frame that gave me roots.

Also, I could fit a whole bunch of stationery under there.

Normal People Item 2: Spice jars.

For this, I must apologize. See, my sister-in-law told me that she needed spice jars. I've bought her several, enough that I was starting to wonder whether she had enough. And then I found a huge box of jars at a yard sale. Some of them were dark glass, which made me wonder if they were from some kind of home photography studio. But then I noticed that the box was labelled "Penzey's" and I realized that I had found something that cost someone else a lot of money. Faced with this box, I decided that I too wanted to put my spices into pretty glass jars that I could label neatly. So I bought the whole box for $5 with the intention of keeping them myself and not even sharing with my poor sister-in-law. She probably had enough anyway. By the time I received her email that said she still wanted more spice jars, I'd already labelled these. And labels are forever.

For the curious - the price per jar as stated to me by the seller was fifty cents. By offering to take them all away for a fiver, I paid about sixteen cents a jar. And if you really want to know, the price on the Penzey's website for them all would have been over $50, plus tax, plus shipping. Of course, having your spices neatly organized with labels written in my impeccable handwriting are, as the ad goes, priceless.

Normal People Item 3: Movies.

My mother asked me to get her some movies appropriate for young children, as my niblings have already seen The Aristocats five thousand billion times. So I bought these for fifty cents each.
A Bug's Life
An American Tail
101 Dalmations (original version)
The Great Mouse Detective

I also got Don't Eat The Pictures, a Sesame Street tour through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but that one's for me.

Ridiculous People Item 1:

I did not buy this. There was a time in my life when I would have, provided they were willing to come down from $65 to $50. They probably would have, because how many ridiculous people are there in this world?


brownies outside the box.

We've been looking for a brownie recipe. The weird thing about brownies is that the kind from the box taste the best. It's a terrible thing to say, but I stand by it. You can argue that it's because I've been conditioned to think that something called a brownie is supposed to taste like those things that result when you combine a box mix with oil and eggs and milk. I guess that's a good point, but it does nothing to change the fact that when I want a brownie, I want something that tastes like it came from the kitchen of Betty Crocker.

Homemade brownies are good, sure, but they are not the same. Box brownies are chewy, with a thin, paper-like crust on the top that shines. When I bite into a homemade brownie, I am not really concentrating on how good it is, but how it is not what I wanted out of a brownie experience. I am focused on what it is not, which prevents me from appreciating what it is. This is a general issue in my life, but that's a different blog entry.

Josh wanted brownies one night, so I turned to Allrecipes. I begged it to give me box brownies without the box. I found a promising recipe, and I made a half batch, which was plenty for two people. It was very well-received. So well-received, in fact, that as the last brownie was eaten, Josh said that we would have to make more now, as if running out of brownies was the same as running out of milk.

When I did not immediately replenish our brownie supply, Josh took it upon himself to do the job. However, he did not notice that I had halved the recipe. He did notice which pan I had used to bake them. I think he is a selective noticer. So he put enough brownie batter for a 9 x 13 pan into an 8 x 8 pan. Josh thinks he has just invented the best thing since sliced bread. I'm not sure what he invented, but it is something different than what the recipe intended.

The double-decker brownie has a thick crust. It is so dense that I don't think you could eat it cold or even at room temperature, as it would be like biting into a chocolate bar two-inches tall. So you have to heat it up until it is no longer a brownie, but a piece of molten chocolate that would be roughly cubed shaped if not for the oozing. He can eat it plain, but I have to have ice cream with it, because I do not have whatever gene he has that enables him to eat pure chocolate all the time without a chaser.

I think that we have found our brownie recipe, which I now share with you. If you are the type, you can make oozy chocolate cubes, which are excessively rich, though some people like them.



corn water dogs.

We had hot dogs and corn on the cob last night. Which seems like kind of an unusual combo, but we ate what we had. And what we had was three-quarters of a pack of hot dogs and eight ears of corn that had been sitting on the counter, unshucked, for two days. I wanted to make chicken parmigiana, but then the leftovers would overcome me and we'd end up forgetting about the hot dogs and have to throw them out next week, sometime after they started growing blue stuff.

So we had hot dogs and corn on the cob. We had six hot dogs and five hot dog buns.

Last weekend, we had company, and I served hot dogs and french fries with homemade cincinnati chili. I don't like to tootle my own horn, but I make fantastic hot dog chili. It is better than my mother's. Which is to say that we follow different recipes and mine produces a superior product. I take no credit in this chili, because although I do the leg work of making it, someone else did the more difficult work of writing out the instructions. It would be like me using the GPS to drive you to a theme park and then taking credit for rollercoasters.

The nice thing about this chili recipe is that it makes enough chili for about four packs of hot dogs. So after that first lunch, I stuck the whole pot of chili into the fridge, to be divided up into 1-cup portions and frozen later. But then I had to go to my brother's on Monday, and Tuesday, I just didn't feel like it, and then on Wednesday, I found an open pack of hot dogs in the fridge. This threw me off, because I had not been planning to eat hot dogs again soon. I was thinking about making chicken parmigiana or maybe something that went with corn on the cob. But hey, I'm hip, I can roll with the punches. I can adjust my plan when a blue-eyed eating machine rummages through my fridge.

It was a little weird, though, because I knew we didn't have any hot dog buns. We didn't even have any sandwich bread. I'd actually bought hot dog buns on Sunday to serve to my guests, because when you're already making a big pot of delicious hot dog chili, going the extra mile of making buns is just too much. So Wednesday night, I decided to make a batch of hot dog buns. A batch usually means sixteen, but today it would mean fourteen. I specifically made enough for one and three-quarters packs of hot dogs, because it would not make sense to not have a one to one correspondence of buns to dogs.

Josh came home from work and saw the buns cooling on a wire rack, still warm and a lovely shade of golden brown. He grabbed a jar of olives, a pack of salami, a block of cheddar, and a single hot dog bun. That was his dinner. We now had six hot dogs and five buns. My head exploded.

So last night, I decided it was time to eat hot dogs. We had buns, we had dogs, we had chili, and we had corn. I was filling a giant pot of water for the corn when Josh said, "You can use the same water for the hot dogs after the corn is done."

"And then we can make coffee."

A long time ago, my brother "invented" something called coffee dogs. Which means that he boiled some water to cook hot dogs, and then after the hot dogs were done, he made coffee with the water. I would call that hot dog coffee, since it seems like it was the dogs modifying the coffee, not the other way around. But it doesn't really matter what you call it, because it's nasty. Don't ever make coffee dogs or hot dog coffee. It is gross, but it will make a good family joke. I will allow you to borrow my family joke, though, to spare you having to ever drink coffee that tastes of a ballpark.

So even though I was more than a little freaked out by doing anything related to the idea of coffee dogs, I boiled the hot dogs in the corn water. I ate mine with delicious chili and cheese, but couldn't really enjoy it. All I could think about was what I would call it. I settled on corn water dogs.