the neck cramp section.

Spoiler Warning: This entry is about the final Harry Potter movie. It reveals secrets about the movie and the books. However, if you have already read the books, you know what happened. And if you haven't read the books, I don't really see how you'll be able to follow the movie anyway.

I met some girls who proudly stated that they had seen every Harry Potter movie at a midnight showing at the IMAX. I didn't realize that such a thing was possible. I've only seen two IMAX movies, both documentaries. One was about fossils of ancient sea creatures found in Kansas. The other one was in high school, and I don't remember what it was about, but I do remember being called out for talking during the movie. If the person had just listened, I'm sure they would have found my commentary very amusing. But I guess some people like to watch the movie or something.

So I decided that I might as well see one of these newfangled 3D movies, and since I wanted to see the last Harry Potter movie anyway, it looked like a two birds and one stone situation. The IMAX theater in Raleigh is part of the children's museum. When you buy a movie ticket for $11.95, you can pay an extra dollar to get into the museum. I guess they know where the money is.

My previous experience with the IMAX theatre taught me that I wanted to get there a bit early to get good seats. If you have to sit at the very front, then your neck gets cramped trying to look at the giant screen. So we showed up fifteen minutes before the show was supposed to start, our internet tickets safely in my purse (next to the grocery store Milk Duds and Raisinets). There was no one waiting outside, and I felt maybe that paying the convenience fee to buy tickets online was wasted. But then we got inside and saw the line to get into the theatre. Neck cramps, here I come.

There was a lot of smart marketing for the Harry Potter dorks inside. The elevator was labelled the "Floo Network," and a subway baggage cart was sticking halfway out of a wall, as if it were on its way to platform 9 3/4. I didn't see any costumes, though a couple of people had wands with lit tips.

The doors opened, and we were allowed into the theatre to take our seats in the neck cramp section. An usher passed out 3D glasses, green and blue pairs. She handed me a blue pair, saying that they would fit right over my prescription glasses. I felt pretty old at that moment. Just because they are prescription glasses doesn't mean that I like young whippersnapper ushers calling them that. My vision is not that bad, so I experimented with watching the screen with just the 3D glasses. Kinda blurry.

There were previews. In between the second and third preview, we were instructed to put on our 3D glasses. Thus began my first ever IMAX 3D experience.

3D is cool when it works and annoying otherwise. There were certain parts where it was fantastic - the whole Gringotts sequence and the fire in the Room of Requirement in particular. It really does seem like the action is coming towards you - not just the audience, but YOU. It is sort of an individual experience that way, even if you logically realize that the other audience members are perceiving it as coming towards them. And any scene where there are lots of little floating objects (snow, paper, essence of Voldemort) works really well with the medium. However, the problem is that there is really only one thing you can focus on. You have to be looking directly at something for the 3D to work right, which means that everything in the periphery is just blurry, as if I had taken my prescription glasses off. Also, it's really hard to wipe your eyes when you're wearing two pairs of glasses (and if you don't tear up a little at the death of a Weasley, then I guess you're just made of stone).

As for the movie itself, it was fine. As usual, I was annoyed at the little things they changed for what seems like no reason. But then again, I don't know anything about turning books into movies, and the fact that very few people seem to be able to do it well indicates that it's probably hard. I was very irritated at Dumbledore's dialogue in King's Cross station, just because it was out of character. Also, it took too long to kill the snake. Even if it was a magical snake, I have a hard time believing that Hermione could not have finished it off sooner, though I am glad they respected who actually killed the snake in the book.

And I guess that's about all you can ask for. There are going to be changes when going from book to movie, and the best you can hope is that the movie is true to the spirit. And it mostly was, even if I got sick of people saying that dead loved ones live on inside our hearts.

In the end, the Harry Potter IMAX 3D experience hurt my neck and gave me a headache. It was really expensive, but it was a fun thing to experience once. I don't think 3D is worth it at this point. It's cool, but I left feeling like I didn't really see the movie, which means I'll be seeing it again at the $1.50 theater in a few months. I'd like to see a movie that was designed to exploit the 3D medium the whole way through, rather than a regular movie that has certain scenes that look good.

Make it shorter than 2 hours, though. Those glasses give me a headache.


a death in the family.

He had come in the door last Thursday and immediately enveloped me in a strong and silent hug. Our daily reunions are always affectionate, but something in his embrace made me ask what was wrong. He said it was nothing, then immediately contradicted himself: there's a funeral on Sunday. He warned me that he would cry, explaining how he was just a sensitive guy. I didn't understand how crying at your grandfather's funeral meant you were sensitive. Sunday morning, I packed my purse full of tissues.

Together six years, this would be our first funeral as a couple. Somehow these sorts of things are always left out of the movies.

We arrived at his grandparents' house for a family potluck lunch and were greeted with lingering hugs. The atmosphere was tense, as everyone seemed to be dealing with the loss by being anxious about the ceremony itself. His mom told us about having to reprint the program three times because of mistakes and omissions. She said it was the work of the devil, rather than a inattentive Kinko's employee. Blaming the devil for a misprint seems like asking God where you left your shoes, but given the amount of stress the whole thing had given her, maybe she had a point.

It was important that we get there in time, so we left an hour early to drive less than a mile. The fellowship hall smelled like flowery discount cleaning products. Everyone looked so nice in their dress clothes. Josh was in a suit that his parents had bought him back in high school. He was a pallbearer, so he had to go off somewhere with his brothers and cousins, each wearing the one suit they owned.

I stayed in the perfumey fellowship hall and did more awkward standing. Funerals have a way of making everyday things seem surreal. Really, a funeral is an everyday thing.

Josh's mom asked me to walk in with the family. Rather, she said she would like me to and then asked if that was okay. It seemed silly to even ask, just like it was silly for his aunts to thank me for making the ninety-minute drive. They were just going out their way to include me in the family. They're good people like that.

Finally, we filed in, the family and also me. No matter what they did to include me, I still felt like an intruder into their grief, as if I was not sad enough to sit in the special section. Honestly, that's been much of my experience at funerals, even when I was a blood-relation. Most of them have been for elderly relatives who lived far away. I saw them infrequently and knew them only as their old and world-weary selves. When other family members would tell stories about the deceased, I would be unable to connect the person in those stories to the person I had known. Those stories were about active and vibrant people, while the ones that I knew had been merely old. I would watch my older siblings mourn and feel sad and a little jealous that I had never had the opportunity to become attached. And now it was too late.

I knew Josh's grandfather only a little. Someday, I will go to a funeral with these same people, and I will be sad because a member of my family has died.

I sat in the reserved section, behind an aunt, next to another girlfriend. Josh was sitting across the aisle with the pallbearers. I craned my neck to get a look at him, to see how he was doing. My purse full of tissues would not do him any good from this distance.

Josh's younger brother and cousin performed a piece by Sibelius on the violin and cello. His brother's face was impassive and focused on the sheet music before him, while the cellist looked about to break at any moment. Her grief flickered onto her face every few seconds, so fleeting that I hoped it was just an expression of concentration. But she got through it, and it was beautiful.

Josh stood and walked up to the lectern to read a poem. He took a breath, and then one more, before starting. Once started, he did not stop, though his voice shook once or twice. His emotion added more beauty and depth to the moment than the words themselves. Sympathetic tears formed behind my eyes, and I wished that I could somehow telegraph him the strength to get through it. But he didn't need it.

There were four preachers, and half of them made a joke about four sermons. I was disappointed in them all. I couldn't tell that they knew the deceased any more than I did. The intimacy of the music and poem highlighted the genericness of the speakers. I suppose that's a hazard of being a preacher - having to give eulogies for people you didn't know very well. Then again, it's probably worse to give one for someone you were close to.

When the service was over, and we all filed out to the graveyard. As I left the church, I got my first glimpse of the crowd. It was a packed house, all the way up to the top row in the second level of the sanctuary. From the perspective of world history, Josh's grandfather was an ordinary man, living an ordinary life. But from the vantage of my own ordinary life, he seemed to be have figured it all out.

More evidence of his legacy stood next to the gravesite: a row of pallbearers, eight strapping grandsons, ages ranging from sixteen to twenty-nine. They carried the flag-covered coffin like some sort of generational baton that has now been handed down. Their youth and strength was thrown into sharp relief by the occasion; in the midst of death, there is so much life. Their duty complete, they stood looking straight ahead, hands clasped in front of them. I watched their faces, searching for any betrayal of their feelings. There were a few surreptitious nose-wipes, but mostly just stubborn jaw-clenching.

There was one in the middle, though, who had given up on trying. I saw a tear make its way down his face, a face that I had kissed, oh, about a million times. I snuck around behind the row of men and slipped a tissue into his hand. He gave me a small and grateful smile. I walked back to my position in the crowd. It made me angry that Josh should feel like less of a man for daring to show emotion upon the death of his grandfather.

This stoicism was all a surprise to me. The men in my family cry at funerals. Sometimes they even cry at other times, too. It's not because they are blubbering sissies, it's because life is sad. It was a little shocking to me the first time I saw one of them cry, but also natural. I cry, they cry, life is sad.

But I guess that's not how it is for everyone. I felt sorry for the rest of them. Maybe some people really don't ever tear up, but maybe they were so busy keeping their emotions on lockdown that they didn't allow themselves to grieve. I actually hoped that the younger guys, the sixteen-year-olds, would see Josh and rethink their ideas of manhood. Being a man is a lot more complicated than being strong, and strength is more than lifting heavy things and being invulnerable. I was proud that among those men, mine was the one who was not afraid to feel.

The service ended, and finally I was able to hug my sweet and brave man. We returned to the perfumed, but mercifully cool air of the fellowship hall. Old ladies, and a couple of old men, came up and told Josh how much much he has grown and how they had loved the poem. We talked with family and friends over cucumber sandwiches and orange soda. The crowd thinned out gradually until it was just us, the family. We cleaned up the plastic cups, packed up the flowers, and drove back to the house and our interrupted lives. A funeral is only a ceremony after all. It's the next day and the next and the next that you have to watch out for.

We stayed awhile for leftover potluck, but then we had to leave, too. Just like that, our first funeral together was over. Here's to many more, my darling.



By the time we had arrived back at Grandmother's house after burying her husband, she had already changed from her church clothes into a faded pair of baggy jeans and t-shirt. I reminded Josh that our time here was limited, because back in Raleigh was a dog that probably needed to go to the bathroom. I felt terrible for even suggesting that he cut short time with his family for the sake of letting the dog out.

While the rest of the family sat, ate, and visited, Grandmother was already out the screen door. Predictably, Josh was only a step behind, still wearing his suit pants, shirt, and tie. It was predictable because he is just so helpful all the time. Before I can even recognize the opportunity to lend a hand, he is already two hands in. Sometimes, strangers compliment me on it, as if I had done something other than stand stupidly by. He doesn't ask what needs to be done, he doesn't offer assistance, he just jumps in and does it. Then later, I point it out and tell him to please, please, please teach that to my children. I don't even know if it's something that can be taught.

After a minute, I decided that the best place to spend our dwindling time was with Grandmother, so I followed them out. I found them in the barn, feeding the sheep. Actually, Grandmother was feeding the sheep, and Josh was taking pictures of them with his phone. There has been talk of getting rid of the animals. While they did sell the wool and eat the lambs, the sheep were mostly pets. With Grandfather gone, Josh's mom and aunts thought that the sheep might be too much work for a widow in her eighties.

I didn't know the sheep-feeding process (we had goats when I was growing up), so I got in the way twice and also almost let them all out. I worried about looking like a city kid. She gave them two coffee cans full of feed before taking a pitchfork and throwing in a fork-load of hay. It was the last of the bale. Josh asked if he should get another bale ready for her, which was the first time he had offered to do anything. She said they had enough for now; she'd get another bale in the morning. How she was planning to do that, I don't know.

Then we went down to the chickens. We collected eggs in an old saucepan. She went into the henhouse with a bucket of feed and a broom to fight off the rooster. She came back out with a bucket of dirty water. She carried the water up to a flower bed that had fallen into neglect. There were flowers, blooming and beautiful, but also weeds and a series of chipmunk holes. She said that Grandfather had just gotten out the trap for the chipmunk the other day, but it was still sitting on the picnic table under the carport.

She refilled the water bucket from a spigot in the henhouse - indoor plumbing! I was still carrying the saucepan of eggs, feeling somewhat useless tagging along for farm chores. We went back to the house. She keeps the eggs in a fridge in the basement, but the door was locked, so she set the saucepan on a shelf in the garage and said she'd get it in the morning. Anxious to be helpful, I thought that I should offer to run in the house right quick and unlock the door from the other side, but then it seemed like the moment had passed.

Back inside, with all the food and the folks, I saw Josh disappear down the hall. And I knew then that he had gone to the basement to get the eggs and put them away. Somehow he knew what to let Grandmother do and when to step in.

I thought Grandmother seemed to be doing pretty well, all things considered. But I guess the sheep and the duck and the chickens get hungry, just like the dog needs to be let out, no matter what day it is.


coffee shops.

Maybe I would not have started liking coffee so much if not for my roommate, who worked at the campus coffee shop. It was a very convenient gig for her, as the shop was located in the Student Union, mere steps from our dorm. And that made it very convenient for me to drop in when she was working and order something with my roommate's discount. To get the roommate discount, you have to a.) have a roommate working in the shop and b.) go around to the side to order, rather than the register. Obviously, if it's very busy or if the manager is standing right there, the roommate discount does not apply.

Even without abusing the discount, I went and got coffee there often enough. I had this magical thing called a "meal card" that I could swipe in exchange for caffeinated beverages; it was like they were free! It was at Crossroads that I got into the sweet drinks; my favorite was the Grasshopper, which is the beautiful flavor friendship of mint and chocolate, hanging out inside a latte. I was there so often that I knew who made the best drinks, because all baristas are not created equal. I had a particularly transcendent experience with a Grasshopper one Tuesday morning before my Anthropology class. It was made by an immaculately dressed man, and from that, I came to the conclusion that gay guys made the best coffee.

Jimmy's Java
Jimmy's was located on King Street, the main drag through downtown Boone. Or rather, King Street is downtown Boone. That shop was something else before that and now it's something else again, but for about a year, it was Jimmy's Java. They had a deal for a 16 ounce drip coffee for a dollar, which I would enjoy on the mornings when I hit the snooze button one less time than usual and could afford a nine minute caffeine detour on the way to class. It was there that I started to recognize the difference from one coffee to another. My favorite was the Nicaraguan. Sometimes, on those evenings when I would take myself out to the $1.50 movie after a long day of waiting on tourists, I would stop at Jimmy's on the way back. I would order decaf, which is how you know that you really, really like coffee.

Jimmy's closed just as it was starting to get regulars. Apparently, it's hard to pay your employees when you're only charging a dollar per customer. And so they just didn't, which meant that all their employees quit.

Espresso News
Espresso News is a Boone institution. It lived in a building on Howard Street that used to be a Ford dealership. There are pictures on the walls of its former life, and you can just recognize the building behind all the banners and posters for Zero Dollars Down. I started going there when Jimmy's closed. It was always good, but somehow a little too hip for me. And then I moved out to the country, so there was less downtown coffee for me.

When I lived in Winston, I enjoyed Starbucks more as an excuse than as a coffee shop. It was a Get Out of Work Free card, a way to kill half an hour with a few friends in the name of morale. There was no standing appointment, just someone would decide that right now would be a great time for some coffee that did not come from the break room. And then that someone would round up other interested parties and we'd head down to the one on Stratford Road, across from the Thruway. One thing I missed at my job in Raleigh was those impromptu trips to Starbucks. Either they weren't happening, or I wasn't in the circle.

Then another young female came to work here, and I started my own circle. We go to Starbucks on Friday afternoons, where I get a drip coffee in a travel mug, and she gets something non-fat. We talk about the weekend, music, and health care policy. We are not close, but it's still nice to be in a circle, particularly one with coffee.

There are several things you can get at Taylor's, including wine, beer, and live bait, but I like the coffee. The full name is Taylor's Wine and Bait Shop, and it's located inside a BP station. Taylor's started out with just bait, supplying people going up to Falls Lake to fish. But then North Raleigh kept expanding, so Taylor's added a biscuit grill in the morning for the people building houses and a wine shop for the people who would live in them. They also have Slim Jims and candy bars, just like any other convenience store.

It's not a true coffee shop; there are no baristas. Just like the pumps, the coffee is self-service. There is a counter full of thermal canisters, each labeled with a laminated sign. The best ones are made with Larry's Beans, a Raleigh-based company. There are usually three or four of Larry's coffees sitting out, including "Taylor's Blend." Its sign features the Taylor's logo, a worm in a tin can, drinking a glass of wine. Last Christmas, I even bought a bag of Taylor's Blend beans to drink at home.

I stop at Taylor's on Saturday mornings when my yard sale route takes me past Six Forks Road. Or maybe I plan my yard sale route so that it does.

I consider Taylor's to be "my" coffee shop, as do the old men sitting on the porch in rocking chairs and the young professionals who stop at the produce stand in the parking lot. It's close to my house and has that small town charm that seems hard to find in North Raleigh. But you can find it, and Taylor's success is proof that people are still looking for it.


bleeding realtors.

My appointment was at 11, and I remembered it at 10. For an hour, I drank water like it was my job.

Around the corner in the office park where I work is some sort of building company. They sell houses that have not yet been built. Every six months or so, they host a blood drive. They don't have room in their office for a bunch of beds, so the Red Cross sends out the Bloodmobile, a travelling blood donation center.

The lady who organizes the blood drives is Jenn, the receptionist at the building company. She is enthusiastic about the blood drive, which makes me think that she has personally been affected by the losing and giving of blood. Or maybe she is equally enthusiastic about selling homes. I am on the mailing list of people in the neighborhood who will come out, so I schedule my appointment ahead of time. When I check in, she says hello to me by name, even though our whole relationship exists at blood drives.

Usually, I can get in and out with my complimentary Rice Krispie treat within half an hour. But there were two people waiting in front of me when I arrived to fill out the questionaire about my history with mad cow disease. They weren't even allowing people to go out to the bus, because it was full. Another lady who was waiting with me was a saleslady at the home building company. She said that Jenn had scheduled the blood drive on a day when there was a sales meeting so that everyone would be in the office.

Jenn knows how to drum up some blood.

Once inside the bus, there was even more waiting. I had to wait for a donation spot, one for a right-arm-bleeder. My left arm is capable of bleeding, and I suppose if you cut it off, you'd get just as much blood as you'd get from the right. But the vein in my left elbow is shy. Every time someone comes near it with a needle, it rolls around in an effort to escape what surely must be a terrifying sight to something that spends all of its time indoors. I make it sound real cute, but I assure you, it's incredibly unpleasant for me. So I just go ahead and let them know that they'll have more luck with my right arm, thankyouverymuch. Anyway, this arm restriction only lengthened my wait.

Finally, I was seated in the special donor bed, one of five in the blood bus. Four of the beds are in one section, facing each other. The other is at the front and is used to hold a cooler. The coolor looks like a regular ole cooler that you might buy for taking drinks on a long drive, except that it's labelled "BLOOD" in red marker - pretty fancy equipment on the Bloodmobile. In front of me, in front of each donor, was a tiny personal TV. I was just in time for an episode of Cannon. The volume was turned down, and the stereo was playing the hits of the 70s. It was cold, but the blood bus is always kept cold to keep people from passing out after having their bodily fluids taken away from them.

I guess the sales meeting was over, because everyone besides me in the bus seemed to be an employee of the building company. There are a couple of people at my company who regularly give blood and probably a few more at offices all over the park. But most of the people in there with me had likely been personally persuaded to give by Jenn. They were realtors.

Realtors are VERY EXTROVERTED. Their personalities come screaming out of them faster than blood out of my right arm.

Picture little-old-me, tied to a plastic-coated bed in an enclosed space, having my life force drained, while half a dozen laughing people in business casual wear acted more familiar than our relationship would require. Also, Cannon is on.

I don't want to imply that I was cowering in my donor bed, surrounded by small talk and laughter. Okay, I cowered a little. It was just odd. I spend most of my time in a little cube, not talking to the people in the other little cubes. And I think that's just awesome. Obviously, it takes all kinds. If it were up to people like me, those houses would never get sold.



Dear Sandra,

We are separating unlimited DVDs by mail and unlimited streaming into two separate plans to better reflect the costs of each. Now our members have a choice: a streaming only plan, a DVD only plan, or both.

Your current $9.99 a month membership for unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs will be split into 2 distinct plans:

Plan 1: Unlimited Streaming (no DVDs) for $7.99 a month
Plan 2: Unlimited DVDs, 1 out at-a-time (no streaming) for $7.99 a month

Your price for getting both of these plans will be $15.98 a month ($7.99 + $7.99). You don't need to do anything to continue your memberships for both unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs.

These prices will start for charges on or after September 1, 2011.

You can easily change or cancel your unlimited streaming plan, unlimited DVD plan, or both, by going to the Plan Change page in Your Account.

We realize you have many choices for home entertainment, and we thank you for your business. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to call us at 1-888-357-1516.

–The Netflix Team


Further confirming my suspicion that everyone is on Netflix, it seemed like everyone was talking about this bit of news. I even went over to the Netflix blog to read the official release and the comments that resulted. The comments were angry: threats to cancel service, accusations of money-grubbing, demand for more streaming options.

This last one had me astonished. I am constantly delighted with the selection on the instant viewing. Now, if you are looking for something specific, you might not find it. But if you are looking generically for something to watch, it's there. And plenty of it is really good, even if it's not new or popular. Maybe this is all in line with my thrifty lifestyle - I am willing to be less picky for a lower cost. My idea of going to the movies is heading to the $1.50 theatre and picking out whichever sounds the most interesting. The movies are not brand new and the floor is sticky, but I'm still getting the entertainment I wanted.

Such is Netflix instant viewing. It would never occur to me to complain about the selection, because I've always found something worth watching. I'm paying for entertainment, not specific movies. In some ways, I like that I am forced to watch things that I might not have seen otherwise; some of them are really awesome. Netflix even recommends things it thinks I would like, which means it shows me a big list of puppet shows and crappy monster movies. Plus, there is a lot of old stuff out there that is still new to me. Maybe I should thank my parents for not having cable or letting me watch anything when I was growing up, because now I can finally catch up on what everybody else was talking about. Annnnnnd, in another five years, I'll be able to catch up on what everyone is talking about now. No, I don't watch True Blood, but did you see that episode of Buffy that aired ten years ago?

I am considering dropping my DVD plan. I've let DVDs sit unwatched for weeks at a time, but my Roku gets daily use. Paying $8 a month might light a fire under me as far as watching my DVDs sooner, but if I can simply live without it, why not? We were going through the discs at a good clip for a while, because Josh and I were working our way through Star Trek: The Next Generation. But now, the whole series is available on instant viewing, so why bother with the discs? If Star Trek were removed from the instant viewing, I guess we'd be stuck. Or we would just find something else to watch. We could always get the DVD plan again if we wanted.

As for the cost, while no one likes price hikes, I still think it's a great value. The $8 streaming plan is worth it to me, even if I decide that the $8 DVD plan is not. I have no idea what Netflix's operating costs are or how much money they make off each individual customer. I just know that I still feel like it's a good value for me. That's all I am qualified to judge.

My one worry is that this is just a first step. We've all seen companies turn evil. I would hate for Netflix to do that, because I like them. They took an old model (movie rental), made it awesomer and cheaper (movie rental by mail), and then blazed a trail into the future (instant viewing). Companies like that deserve to win.

So. Netflix, I still love you. Don't turn evil.


awesome sauce.

I had forgotten all about barbecue chicken. It was something my mom used to make, one of the many things in her rotation of cheap, fast meals. She did not get them from a 30-Minute Meal cookbook. She did not find them on a $5 Dinner web site. I don't know where she got them, but she did, because she had a lot of kids and not a lot of time or money to work with. I grew up on poor people food.

I was reminded about barbecue chicken by the Pioneer Woman when I was browsing the web for something to make with chicken. This dish was never my favorite. I didn't dislike it, but it was really just chicken with sauce on it, and the way the skin was a little fatty always bugged me. But I decided to make it, just because I felt vaguely nostalgic about it now that I remembered it existed.

The Pioneer Woman makes her own barbecue sauce, because that's what the pioneers did, I guess. So I did that, too. However, I did not have a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (also like the pioneers). Even if I did, I was not interested in opening one up so that I could use a small fraction of the contents. Then the rest of the can would sit there in the fridge. It would make me feel wasteful for not coming up with some way to use it, so I would push it towards the back. Then one day I would find it, nasty and growing wee beasties with a penchant for spicy food. So, I'm sorry, Pioneer Woman, it's just not worth the guilt.

So I used a substitution. A year (or two?) ago, I made my own hot sauce. It's a delicious hot sauce, so good you have to wear gloves while you make it. It mellows as it ages, so by now it's mild enough that even I can eat it. I threw a few tablespoons of that stuff into the saucepan and then used the results to make the chicken.

The chicken was fine. Like I said, it was never my favorite thing in the whole world. It might not have even been my mother's favorite thing in the whole world, but it was at least one more cheap and fast meal. But, man alive, that barbecue sauce. I have two bottles of store-bought barbecue sauce in the pantry, and I don't even know what to do with them now. The thought of using them instead of my newly-discovered awesome sauce makes me lose my appetite. I could not stop singing my own praises for having brought this sweet and tangy sauce into being.

How good is this stuff? I'll tell you. The next day, I had some leftover fries with lunch. I ate them with my homemade ranch dressing (my mother's recipe). I was unable to enjoy them, because I was wishing that I had the magic barbecue sauce instead. This sauce is so good that it makes me not enjoy ranch dressing. Not just any ranch dressing, but the ranch dressing of my childhood. That's, like, heresy.

The coolest part about my new sauce is that now I can say that make my own barbecue sauce. What's even cooler is that it has a secret ingredient. And it's not even like one secret ingredient, it's thirteen of them blended together in secret quantities and then aged for a secret amount of time. I feel like a freakin' superhero, or at the very least, Colonel Sanders.

If you are at all interested in making this, please do. It's not hard. The hot sauce is a blender recipe, and the stuff keeps for a very long time, so you won't feel guilty for not using it right away. The barbecue sauce is very good and quick and good and easy and so very good. Did I mention that it's good?

Hot Sauce
Barbecue Chicken - The recipe for the sauce is in there, sub hot sauce in recipe for adobo sauce. Depending on how long you've "aged" your hot sauce, you will need to add to taste. Whether you make the chicken is up to you and your nostalgia.


space camp. duh.

There was a lull in the conversation. Actually, there were several conversations going on all around me, but somehow I seemed to be on the outskirts of each one. I started with the one on my left and listened quietly to each one to figure out which one was the most interesting. One hundred and eighty degrees of boring conversations later, I realized that the girl to my right was doing exactly the same thing. I decided that I would start my own conversation, and I would make it interesting.

"So. Tell me about yourself."

Yup. I guess my idea of starting a conversation is to sound like a job interviewer or perhaps someone on a blind date. It seemed like an appropriate thing at the time. I sorta knew this person. She was the new roommate of some people I did know, and we had been introduced. However, if pressed to give her name, I would look panicked for a minute before guessing something really common in the hopes that she was one of the 750,000 Sarahs in the world. Had I not known her at all, I would have gone with "So. Who are you?" When I'm not complaining about other people being boring, I like to be awkward.

Since I demanded it, Sarah (we're just going with that now) told me about herself. I learned that she was from Alabama and had an English degree, but was spending time here to establish residency so she could get into UNCG's Master of Library Science program. I pounced on that bit, asking what her grand ambitions were with regards to Librarianing, but found out that she had just hated teaching and wasn't sure what to do next, so was gonna go back to school while the economy was so bad. I was disappointed. I was really hoping that she was just a vessel for a hot ball of Dewey Decimal System passion. I really wanted to meet someone who was enthusiastic about being a librarian. Maybe someday I will.

If I was disappointed about her lack of card catalog conviction, I was surprised to find that, with very little prompting, Sarah will give you a spirited spiel on the virtues of Huntsville, Alabama. I am very much in favor of embracing your roots, so I encouraged it. She was ecstatic to find out that I had heard of her hometown. Seriously, the fact that I had merely heard of the place was enough to make her day, because I guess no one else in Raleigh had. Sensing that I was obviously also het up about Huntsville, she informed me of the ridiculousness of everyone else's ignorance of it. Space Camp is there! I mean, Space Camp! Duh.

I feel her pain. People in Raleigh make fun of me for being some kind of backwoods mountains hick, no matter how many times I try to explain that I'm from the foothills (It's different, okay?). I imagine they all figure that any town in Alabama not named Mobile might as well be named Podunk (okay, maybe Mobile, too). Us folks in the Shallow South like to think that we are better than the Deep South. You know, the good cooking and the hospitality, but only a little bit redneck and racist. I do have a redneck past, and Sarah probably does, too, but redneck pasts are all relative. Bless her heart, far away from home and being treated like a bumpkin by a bunch of kids attending agricultural college and playing cornhole.

You never know what you might learn when you start a conversation. I learned a lot about Huntsville. They have missiles. Perhaps I could have cheered her up by pointing out that there are probably a bunch of people in Pakistan who knew about Huntsville. They also have Marshall Space Center, and, of course, Space Camp (duh). At that point, someone from another conversation sensed that ours was more intersting than the one they were engaged in, and then Sarah was forced to say that she had never been to Space Camp. Then that person learned about Huntsville, too.

Maybe if that whole librarian thing doesn't work out, she could go work for the Huntsville travel bureau.


an acquired taste.

Shortly after my twenty-first birthday, I ordered a beer at Black Cat, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant across the street from my apartment in Boone. I had come to the conclusion that I was going to have to learn to like beer, mostly because drinking wine or mixed drinks at bars was really expensive. I was going to ease myself into beer appreciation, so I ordered a seasonal ale: something expensive and fancy. My birthday being in the fall, seasonal meant pumpkin beer. It did not take multiple sips for me to realize that I hated it. I can't say for certain that I even finished it. I resigned myself to the conclusion that I would never acquire the taste for beer.

That was the wrong conclusion. The right conclusion is that pumpkin beers suck. Always. Even when they are not loaded up with pie spices, they taste awful. Ever the idiot, I am periodically convinced to try a pumpkin beer, thinking that since it's so novel and interesting, it must be good. Unfortunately, novelty is not a flavor. Pumpkins are not meant to become beer, and while that is sad for them, they should just learn to accept and appreciate their many other uses.

Pumpkins notwithstanding, I did learn to like beer. And now I like it the most of all. At the end of a long day, it is a brew that I crave. I had not understood the idea of an acquired taste, thinking that if I just found something that was easy for the novices, I'd become an instant beer drinker. But the truth is that liking beer is work. There is no shirking it, so you might as well get to it.

I learned to like beer by dating a musician. True, I dated a musician before him, but we didn't really drink together. For one thing, I was underage for most of our relationship. For another, he didn't really like the way my tactlessness increased with my blood-alcohol level. Other people thought I was just so candid and funny; well, except that one girl who I made cry.

Josh never met anyone he didn't like to drink with, and the first few months of our relationship coincided with Lowes' Foods offering twelve-packs of Bavaria for $9. Bavaria is kind of Heineken knock-off, and it is a beer for novices, though it still took me a while to actually like it. It's light and non-offensive. That's my code word for boring, now that I've moved on to much bolder brews, but it was I needed back then. Not bursting with flavor, but refreshing without the bitter beer face.

At some point, the price of Bavaria went up, probably due entirely to us. Sometimes I pass by the Bavaria in the grocery store and think of buying it for nostalgia's sake. But then I see that it's $13 now. For that price, I'd rather drink something else. Actually, I'd rather just pay less and deal with a worse product. With Bavaria out of our price range, and our relationship no longer in the stage where he was trying to impress me all the time, we became PBR people.

It's a funny thing about cheap beer. Most people that I know prefer a specific cheap beer and will eschew all others (unless it's free or there's nothing else around, of course). I know that PBR is bad. It is actually offensive. Bavaria was a mid-range beer because it didn't taste bad, even if it didn't exactly taste good. But PBR doesn't manage even that. It tastes bad in the mouth. Sure is cheap, though. And by now, I am so used to it that it is what cheap beer tastes to me. Give me a Coors or a Busch, and I will think it is positively nasty, because it is nasty in a way that I am not used to.

So in my fridge, there is PBR. For a while, Harris Teeter carried Lionshead (which we called Gryffindor beer), yet another cheap American beer. Lionhead had the benefit of being non-offensive at offensive beer prices. Josh tried taking it over to other people's houses in an effort to spread the word and get everyone on the Lionshead train. But I guess it didn't work, because those gold and red packages stopped appearing in the beer aisle, so it was back to PBR. Sometimes we will get Yuengling when it's on sale. Yuengling is less offensive, though you don't notice it until you go back to PBR.

Even PBR is not as cheap as it used to be. Whenever it's at $7 for a 12-pack, I consider dropping the extra $2 to get Yuengling. And then while I'm down at that end of the aisle, I think about just going for the extra $3 after that for Sam Adams. At that point, I realize that I've managed to talk myself into spending $5 extra, and maybe $7 is not so bad. I am not a starving musician, so I could afford to buy nice beer every single time, but I don't. I really don't mind cheap beer now, and if I drank Sam all the time, it wouldn't be special. Sure would be good, though.

We drink beer out of glasses. A long time ago, when my family was visiting Italy, my mother saw another woman request a glass to pour her beer into. My poor unsophisticated mother was embarrassed for not doing the same, as if drinking out of a glass was another of those Lady Rules that she did not know (and thus did not teach to her daughters). I'm not afraid to drink out of a can or a bottle, but we have beer glasses, so I use them. And it does make me feel sort of fancy and classy, even though I know it's still just PBR in there. If you didn't see me pour it and didn't hear me burp after finishing it, you might think I knew the Lady Rules.

We have a lot of glasses, picked up at thrift stores and yard sales. A couple were stolen from restaurants. Shocking, I know, and I swear we haven't done that in years. But we have them now, so what are we supposed to do but use them. They come in all shapes, including some hideous bulky glass goblets that have the labels of the very cheapest beers on them (PBR, High Life, Falstaff). Josh even has a fancy German beer stein that he picked up at an estate sale, though he informed me that it was just for display.

And that's what I have to say about beer.