january 2013 books.

I read a lot of books this month! That makes up for December, where I read one and a half. I will attempt to discuss the books I read this month. I will pretty much fail to communicate anything profound.

The Fratricides, Nikos Kazantzakis
Did you know there was a Greek civil war after World War II? Me neither. After the Germans left, there was a power vacuum, and the Communists saw their opportunity. This book takes place in the midst of that war, in a small village, where the local priest wants brothers and neighbors to stop killing each other already. Many of the soldiers don't understand the fight at all. They want to fight for Greece! But which side is that?

The priest, after going between one camp and another, trying to convince everyone to just stop fighting, after begging God to intervene and bring peace, concludes that God cannot bring justice and freedom and love to the world - "so freedom is not almighty, it is not immortal, it too, is the child of man and needs him!"

Heavy stuff.

A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Karen Armstrong
This book took me forever to finish. My reading pace was slowed considerably by the amount of info, and I took a bunch of notes. And then I lost the book for a couple of weeks in the bag that I took to the tailor's containing my special bride torture devices undergarments. The whole thing is sort of an overview of the history of the concept of God, as opposed to god. Monotheism!

I read religion books sometimes, but I don't know anything about God. I used to feel like I knew some things, but then I learned other things that seemed like they contradicted the things I learned in the first place. It made my head hurt, so I didn't think about it much for a long time, because I was afraid of my own conclusions. At some point, I was like, maybe there isn't a God, but then I was like maybe there isn't that one God that I was told about. And now I am here, where I am just like, heck, I dunno. Could be!

This book introduced me to lots of other people's thoughts on the thorny subject. Some of them resonated very much with my experience and others struck me as kinda out there. For instance, there is an idea that God is pure thought, and all He does is consider Himself. As a result of His Whateverness, stuff is created. Emanations, they're called, and that's our us and universe. He doesn't care about these emanations, because He doesn't know they exist, because He is considering Himself still. Weird, huh?

There is a lot of discussions about the philosophers versus the prophets. Whether God can be reasoned out, or whether he can only be verified by individual religious experiences, which are subjective. Western religion has mostly followed the philosophers, while others, including Eastern Christians like the Greeks, are more comfortable with mysticism, which is fuzzy and mysterious, and they say that's the point.

One thing that I liked was an idea about the unknowability of God. Lots of people talk about God's being beyond our tiny pea brains, but then they proceed to tell you a lot of really specific things they know about Him. Anyway, the idea is that God is beyond our understanding. Like totally. And not only is he too big for our brains, he is too big for our language, a product of our tiny pea brains. So we are limited by our ability to understand and our ability to communicate, which is why you end up with a lot of religious metaphors. Some say that you can only speak of God in paradoxes: God is wise. God is not wise (because we can only understand earthly wisdom, and God is not on that level). God is more than wise. Got it?

So I learned about different ways to think about God, which hardly helped my overall befuddledness, but it was nice to know that I'm not alone.

Maus: A Survivor's Tale, Art Spiegelman
My thanks to my friend Sarah, who introduced me to this book by buying it at a flea market while I was visiting her in Brooklyn. I am sorry the vendor was not willing to make a deal. I got a great deal by waiting a few years and randomly finding it in Smalltown, Tennessee amidst the kinds of books you mostly find in small town thrift stores.

This is a Holocaust book. It's also a graphic novel. If that is an unfamiliar term to you, you might call it a comic book. About the Holocaust. It is an amazing book and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. You might possibly be inclined to dismiss it because of its form, but don't. Art does not care about your attempts to box it in.

The author/artist interviews his father about his experience surviving the Holocaust. He and his wife were Polish Jews. The frame story, which is the guy visiting with his dad, deals with the author's difficult relationship with his father, and also his father being sort of impossible to live with due to having survived such awfulness. His incredible resourcefulness (and also a good deal of luck) is what got him through the war, but years later, he is still living like he might need to bribe a guard at any moment.

I read this book with Remix snuggled up next to me. It's a good book to read while being snuggled.

Foreign Affairs, Allison Lurie
I wrote about this book a while back, specifically talking about how the cover says "trashy romance novel," except for the little gold Pulitzer seal which says "great piece of American literature." I can see why the Book of the Month club might think their readers would enjoy this book, as it was about romantic relationships. However, it did not follow the rules of romance novels, mainly the ones about being only about really, really, ridiculously good-looking people and having a (spoiler alert) happy ending (AHE, as we call it in the biz).

Ms Lurie is a perceptive observer of humanity. Each person introduced was someone that I felt like I had met before. And they all acted like idiots when dealing with romance, which is something that I have personally done before. The book points out how we change depending on where we are and who we are with, rather than us being constants. And it was funny! Seriously, those Pulitzer people know how to pick a book.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, Laura Hillenbrand
This was the book club selection for this book, written by the author of that Seabiscuit book. It's a true story about Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner, World War II bombadier, plane crash survivor, and POW. The book is about the knitting club he started when he got old. No, just kidding, it's about that other stuff he did.

I learned so much from this book, one of my favorite side-effects of reading. For example, if ever you are in the water and approached by sharks, open your eyes very wide, bare your teeth, and then bop the shark on the nose with your fist as hard as you can. The author must have done an incredible amount of research - interviewing veterans and their families, reading through diaries and old letters, not to mention the regular kind of research you do at the library. She writes very well, interweaving various sources into a coherent story. I mean, it's a heck of a story, but she told it right. When I think about all that I read, I realize that it was very dense with information, but she did a great job of keeping things moving.

It was a rough book. Even before he went into combat, people died all over the place because aerial combat was a new thing. We hadn't got the kinks worked out of the planes yet. Thousands of airmen died in training or accidents. Louie's plane went down in a mission to find the guys that were missing from a previous mission. They crashed into the Pacific ocean, where the 3 men that survived the crash stayed on 2 rafts. Provisions were pathetic - something like a couple of tins of water and some chocolate bars. Fish hooks, no bait. No shade. They drifted 2000 miles in the Pacific over 46 days, catching rain and food (birds, fish, a couple of small sharks, but never enough) as best they could to stay alive. Meanwhile, sharks circled them constantly. One of the guys died, one who had been in sort of a state of shock most of the time.

And then they are picked up by the Japanese!

Did you know that the Japanese were, uh, kinda jerks to their POWs? I had no idea how bad it was. Once they are picked up by the Japanese navy, they are then sent to a series of prison camps, where POWs was treated as "unarmed combatants," which is one of those made-up terms that don't mean anything but allow you to lock up people in camps, where you starve and beat them. If you didn't die from malnutrition or overwork or injuries, you would probably die of disease, because you were basically living in your own filth all the time.

Then the war ends, and he goes home, where he marries a nice girl but suffers from what we would now call PTSD. Drinks himself into a stupor everyday, until his wife drags him to see Billy Graham, where he gets saved and never drinks or has flashbacks again.

A couple of the women at book club complained that this book was sold to them as inspirational, where mostly all they got was sharks and prison camps. They appreciated the example of man's resilience. It just happened that there were a lot of examples of man's cruelty.

A question that the author asks, but does not answer, is where resilience comes from. Is it something born in some people, and the rest of us will just sit in a stupor on the raft until we die? Sitting in our comfortable chairs in the frozen yogurt store, it was hard to answer.

It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita, Heather Armstrong
Yeah, I know. Just looking at the title of that one, and you can tell it was no good.

I bought this book because I read and like the blog of the woman who wrote it. She writes very openly and honestly about her life, particularly her problems with depression and parenting. Generally, I like her writing, but this book felt rushed. It covers the same time period as some of her blog, and so I don't know if the text was taken directly from that or if she wrote new stuff for the book or some combination of the two. It just seemed like she spent a lot of time complaining about pregnancy and then gave short shrift to the more serious things, like her post-partum breakdown. And if the book was meant to be helpful to other people out there strugging with some of the same issues, they might have given up during the chapter about her belly-button popping out. I know that those chapters were meant to be over-the-top kind of humorous complaining, which is something that I do myself quite a bit. But I wasn't feeling it, I guess.

I'm sorry, Heather. I still read your blog.

To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
The next book on my list was actually a beautiful old children's novel I had picked up, certain that I was finding a lost classic. As it turned out, it was a book that should be lost. I got through about 2 chapters about Calico Cotton, in her calico dress and her cotton-colored mop, before I gave it up. Rather than just skip to the next book in my pile, I asked Josh to pick a book for me out of his collection.

He picked up To the Lighthouse, then put it down because he said it might be too hard for me. I bristled. I mean, I know that I am not great with literature, but I had gotten a lot better in the last couple of years. I had read hard books! I had even understood them, though sometimes I had to look up criticism online to make sure I understood them. I actually had a copy of To the Lighthouse upstairs in my vast to-read pile, though I'd been too intimidated to get to it yet. But I took it as a sign that it was time for me and Virginia to get to know each other. I reasoned that it was better to read something and not quite understand it than to not read it at all.

Alright, Virginia, let's do this.

This book was really hard. Her sentences are long, streams of consciousness from various characters, which she jumps between willy-nilly. I had a hard time staying focused, which meant that I lapsed into skim mode. However, after I finished it, I looked up what other people said about it, and I found that I had recognized 2 out of 3 themes. That is totally success for me. Now, when Josh says a book is too hard for me, I will be sure to let him know that I successfully picked out 2/3 of the themes in To the Lighthouse.

This book made me feel very lonely. Because you are treated to the thoughts of each individual in a scene, and you can see how everyone is sort of alone. They all misunderstand or ignore each other. There is a scene where a woman knows that she is supposed to offer sympathy to a man who is talking to her, yet she doesn't. She knows the part that she is supposed to play in this little scene, but she can't. I have felt like that many, many times. I know what I should say, and it would cost me nothing to do so, yet something holds me back, almost like emotional stinginess.

Nothing at all happens in this book. One day, they might go to the lighthouse. But they don't. Ten years later, they go to the lighthouse. A lady does not finish a painting, but she decides that creating art is more important than being known for it. People walk around and are irritated by each other, even as they wish the other person liked them. I'm being kinda flip, I know, but that's my fault. Even in my frustration with the writing style, which was probably done on purpose to reflect how people's thoughts tumble all over each other, I noticed Woolf's dead-on characterization.

"Half one's notions of other people were, after all, grotesque. They served private purposes of one's own."

Ain't that the truth.

Payback, Margaret Atwood
I've read a couple of Atwood's novels, and she is WONDERFUL. This book was only pretty good. It is sort of a noodling on debt, both monetary and not. Atwood is incredibly well-read, and so she drops references to literature all over the place, which was helpful in doing a study of society's feelings on debt through the ages. She covers debt as sin ("forgive us our debts"), debt as slavery, and the codependent relationship between debtor and creditor. She compares the story of Faust, who made a deal with the devil so he could have lots of money to spend on his friends, with Scrooge, who got his soul saved and then spent all his money on his friends. Debt goes in and out of fashion.

The last chapter was a retelling of A Christmas Carol, but with the Spirits of Earth Day, instead of Christmas. Basically, we are in debt to the earth, and payback is coming. It sounds a little out of nowhere, but she did a nice job of building up to it and integrating it in the previous discussion.


pop tab.

A lady at book club asked us all to collect pop tabs for her nephew, who was going to have open-heart surgery to fix the hole in his heart. This surgery may fix his problems for good. If not, the doctors will have to go back in and refit him for some kind of artificial plug every couple of years (I'm a little hazy on the details). It takes a year to recover completely from such a surgery, the thought of which makes my sternum hurt, and even after that, he can't quite run and play with the other kids. That sounds like a pretty unhappy existence for a little boy. But I guess little boys with holes in their hearts used to just die.

The real question is, what are pop tabs?

Pop tabs are the tabs on aluminum cans that you use to open the drink, at least they are if you are from Indiana and refer to soda as "pop." The Ronald McDonald house collects the tabs to help pay to put up families whose children are in the hospital. After making fun of her regional speech pattern, I decided to make up for being a jerk by collecting the pop tabs. I mentioned it to Josh, then I found a little cup to collect the tabs in. I put it in the corner of the kitchen, where we keep the jars where we collect bottle caps. This is not to be confused with the box in the cabinet where we put the wine corks. Someday, after the apocolypse, we're going to construct a flame-thrower with nothing but pop tabs and bottle caps and wine corks, and then won't you feel silly.

However, by looking at the still-tabbed cans in the recycling bin, I could tell that Josh was not yet in the habit of saving his tabs. So I moved the container to the counter, right near the recycling bin. I picked a clear plastic container that was not too obtrusive. Then I patted myself on the back for coming up with a way to remind him to save the tabs without resorting to actual nagging. Nagging by proxy, maybe.

This did not work, and I was forced to nag directly. I pointed out the subtle tab container, which he looked at with surprise, because it had apparently been too subtle to break into his brain. He is not a good noticer. He lives in his head a lot of the time, while his body wanders around aimlessly, drinking pop.

"Why don't you put a sign right over the recycling bin?" He asked.

"Because you would hate it. No one likes signs."

He blinked at me for a minute before wrapping me in a hug. "I love you."

Clearly, I needed to go with something noticeable. I picked up a big milk glass bowl and plopped it on the counter, right in the way of everything. Since then, all the cans in the recycling bin have been de-tabbed. At least, until Trevor came back from his trip to Las Vegas. Here we go again. Maybe some kind of blinking arrow over the bowl? Hmmmmmm.



Forget all the complaining about wedding planning I've done already, let me tell you about the really hard part of all this.

We would like to have alcohol at our wedding. Maybe it says something bad about me, but one thing I always wonder as I'm looking at a wedding invitation is whether there will be booze. And if there is, is it free? In my defense, the only reason I wonder about this first is because I am generally already sure that there will be free food and cake. I'm not saying that I would ever skip a wedding because they weren't going to quench my thirst, just that I wonder.

We decided to do an open beer and wine bar. So that way we're generous enough to foot the bill for our guests' libations, but we're not getting too crazy up in here with the liquor. Cost-efficient, and also prevents things from getting too sloppy.

In meeting with caterers, it became clear to us that we would like to supply our own alcohol and have the professionals serve it. For one thing, it's cheaper. Most places will charge you $2 for a bottle of beer, and anywhere from $8 to $15 for a bottle of wine. We can do better than that. After all, you can get PBR in cans for about fifty cents apiece.

Just kidding.

Except that the caterers are not. They want to charge me $2 to give my friends and family bottles of Bud Light. They have other choices, too. Miller Lite, for instance. Michelob Ultra, even.

One caterer asked what it was we were looking for that their selection of six beers could not fulfill. Obviously, they are making a little extra when they provide the beer, so they'd rather we go with their choices. But she really seemed aghast that we would require anything else. In fact, it is possible that she didn't even know there were other beers. Her manner seemed to suggest that there was just no pleasing some people. We told her we were just snobs.

Which is true, really. Some couples don't care about beer. If I went to a wedding, and my best choice was Miller Lite, I would happily drink it without a complaint. Buying the alcohol yourselves is an additional task, and if you don't care all that much about the selection, I can see why you might just let the caterers do whatever. However, we care. I do not want to drink beer I don't like at my own wedding. Especially when it turns out that it's actually cheaper to serve the good stuff. $2 a bottle is $24 for a 12-pack. You can buy Weihenstephaner for less than that, which is so good it makes me want to poke my eyes out. Since we don't want any eye-gouging at the wedding, we'll probably serve things that are more like $1.25 apiece (like Spaten or Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout or New Belgium Abbey).

And that brings us to the wine. We haven't picked out our beer list yet, but I don't expect it will be a problem. We know what we like, and we've tried a lot. That is not true of wine. I did some math and figured out that I'd like to pay a maximum of $6 apiece for the wine. I know some bottles that I like, but nothing in that price range.

So I went to Trader Joe's and explained my predicament to an employee who happened to be passing through the wine section. And she led me around the aisles, pointing to various things while I stuffed them into my bag. Man, buying wine for "research" purposes is really fun. I really only meant to buy a couple bottles for the weekend, but I ended up taking home eleven (averaging $5.50 a bottle). For the time being, I've switched to drinking wine. We both taste something, then mark our overall feelings on the receipt, and then I finish out the bottle (either happily or grudgingly and either way, not all in one night), while Josh switches back to those fifty cent cans of PBR. By the end of it, we hope to have a couple of reds and a couple of whites that we like well enough to serve to our closest friends. So far, we've found a couple of $4 bottles that we really like. I suspect that I'm going to be keeping a lot more wine in the house after this.

Oh, the miseries of planning a wedding. Pity me.


things from last night.

Thing 1: Drive carefully!
The forecast was calling for snow, but that didn't keep me from stopping at a couple of thrift stores on my way home. Buying secondhand often means making regular stops to browse through sections of the store where you might find treasures. In my case, about once a week.

From my purse came the sound of a goat - my phone was ringing. I didn't recognize the number, but I answered anyway.


"Told me to tell you to drive carefully because it's snowing."

"Okay...who is this?"


Nice guy.

Thing 2: Handmade
I found this cup at the thrift store and wanted it, because it is so lovely. But it was $2.99, which is on the high end for a cup that I'm going to take home and put my toothbrushes in, where watery toothpaste will drip down and accumulate in a fine crust at the bottom. Along with the price, it was marked "J" on the bottom, which meant I could wait until they started marking things "F" and it would be half off. But I decided to use my magical pocket internet device to see if I could find out anything about it. I was prepared to discover that it came from Pier 1, at which point I wouldn't want it anymore (I know that's not logical, but I have been spoiled by the secondhand lifestyle into wanting unique items). The only distinguishing mark I could find was the word "LEAP" stamped on the bottom. I googled "leap ceramic bicycle cup," which was surprisingly fruitful. A lot of times I know I could find out more about something, if only I knew the right search terms.

In any case, I found out that it was handmade by a real, live ceramics artist. I bought it immediately. Also a 100% wool sweater.

Thing 3: Snow!
I try not to get too hopeful about snow forecasts, due to a tragic childhood full of no snow. But it snowed. I stook outside in it, wearing my new wool sweater and having a glass of wine, watching the dogs go nuts.




Last night, I woke up at around 5 AM and my mind immediately clicked on, thinking about the wedding. Not about nice things like promises of eternity or dancing or being radiantly beautiful, but about hors d'oeuvres and flower girl baskets and specific pieces of classical music. This isn't even the first time I've found myself stressed out in the middle of the night over minutia.

I talked to my mom yesterday, and she asked how I was feeling as a bride-to-be. She is obviously excited, and when I answered "Stressed," I think it brought her down a little bit. I wondered whether she was worrying that my lack of enthusiasm about the wedding was really a lack of enthusiasm about marrying Josh.

Let me reassure her. A complaint could be made about some brides, that they do not differentiate between the wedding (the one-day party) and the marriage (the rest of your life with the same person). Some people (not all! not all!) get very caught up in the details, as if the particular guestbook you pick out is going to have any bearing whatsoever on your lifetime happiness. The wedding has to be perfect, otherwise the marriage will be doomed. After all, you can control which guestbook you use, while the rest of your life is sort of this yawning abyss that you are falling down down down, and now you're strapping yourself to this other person. Whee!

This is not my problem. My problem is that there just seems like an awful lot of stuff to do to throw a giant party. I'm not the uptight student who has to get a perfect score; I'm the kid who put off the project until very late and now isn't sure if she has enough time.

I was talking about wedding planning with some women in my book club, specifically making the complaint that it seemed to be a lot of deciding about details that were not especially important to me. And one said, "Okay, what is the most important thing to you?"

"Well, I've got the right man. Isn't that supposed to be the important part?" A couple women went "Aww," while the questioner waved her hand dismissively as if I had misunderstood her. I did misunderstand her. I did it on purpose.

What do I want out of my wedding, a.k.a., the party? I just want everyone to have a good time. And while I will do my best to hire a fun band and serve delicious food and ply everyone with free alcohol, I'm a bit of the opinion that if you don't have a good time at a wedding, you're just being a grumpus. Did you hear about the free alcohol? FREE ALCOHOL.

Sometimes, I realize anew how little time is left, how much there is to do! And I say to Josh, "Only 57 days to go, holy crap!" His response is to hold up his hand for a high-five, because he just wants to marry me. This is the right attitude, this is why I can treat the party itself like a to-do list, because I have the right man. He keeps me from sinking into the ground, and I keep him from floating away.

I just need to get over myself, get my own high-five attitude on, and get it done. Seriously, I'm complaining about having to throw a giant party for everyone I love to celebrate the beginning of my life with this marvelous man and being given complete freedom to spend someone else's money. Sheesh! Talk about a grumpus.


indian chili powder.

When I started learning to cook, I also began to accumulate spices. Some of the common ones, like oregano or garlic powder, was easily found at the dollar store (and cheaper than the regular grocery store). And that was good enough for most everything. But then I started getting adventurous. I was intrigued by exotic recipes and their funny spices. I did not know what cardamom was, but I really wanted to make something with it. Somehow, seeing that it was ridiculously expensive at my local grocery store only made me want to buy it more. Actually, I don't think they carry it at all at Food Lion. I had to go to the fancy grocery stores like Whole Foods, where I was discouraged from buying by the exorbitant price.

Now I had no real need for cardamom, just a burning curiosity. But surely some people used this stuff a lot. Indian people! Where did they get their cardamom?

The answer is at the Indian grocery store. Duh. I also picked up a bag of sesame seeds, some garam masala, and whole nutmeg. They came in bulk, and the big bags were still cheaper than the dinky little bottles offered at the fancy grocery store. I also bought a bag of chili powder. While chili powder is technically a dollar store spice, it comes in such large quanitities at the Indian grocery store that it's cheaper to get it there.

This is all great, of course, but there is a cautionary tale, specifically about Indian store chili powder. You know how Indian food can be pretty spicy sometimes? It is possibly because of their chili powder. Holy crap, that stuff does not mess around. Since buying it, I've made several dishes that I'd made a billion times before, and suddenly they were so spicy I couldn't even eat them. I made enchiladas, and no matter how much sour cream I loaded them up with, I had to stop after a couple of bites because my inner ears were in pain. Josh could only eat one, and he is much more heat-tolerant than I am.

It took me more times than it should have, but I wised up and starting cutting the chili powder amounts in half. It's still sufficiently kicky, but at least I can eat it now. Of course, I have a giant bag of this stuff, and I'm only using half as much as I would ordinarily, so it's pretty much going to last for forever.

This has nothing to do with anything I said above, but I just wanted to share a recipe with you. I've been making it a lot lately, and it's a nice sort of homemade hamburger helper - yummier and healthier hamburger helper. A one-pot meal, easy to throw together on a weeknight, delicious. It does have chili powder in it, and my only note is that if you are working with Indian store chili powder, use only 1/2 T. Trust me.

Skillet Chili Mac
Ripped straight from Alosha's Kitchen


1 lb lean ground beef
Salt and pepper
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained & rinsed
4 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 cups (8 ounces) elbow macaroni, dry

Optional toppings: shredded cheese, green onions, crushed tortilla chips, hot sauce

  1. Season the ground beef with salt and pepper. Add the beef, onion, and garlic to a very large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking the meat into chunks, until no longer pink. Drain, then return the mixture to the skillet.
  2. Add petite diced tomatoes, tomato paste, kidney beans, beef broth and spices. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then add macaroni. Cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 5-7 minutes or until noodles are just barely al dente (do not overcook), stirring once to make sure nothing is sticking. Remove cover, reduce heat to low and let simmer for another 5 minutes to thicken before serving.


toccata and fugue in d minor.

I had some wedding-related paper crafts to do, and I needed sheet music. Used sheet music is easy to find; the Durham Rescue Mission Bargain Center has a stack of it in the book section, next to the greeting cards. But most of it is for beginners. So the notes are big and spaced-out and occasionally labelled with numbers. I wanted something that looked complicated, with lot of notes. I can't play any of it, so it might as well look cool.

Among a stack of beginner books, I found Bach for Marimba. Count on old Johann to write a piece with a whole lot of notes.

So I had a small book full of Bach, but I needed about fifty sheets of music. We picked out our favorite piece and headed down to Office Depot to make copies. Our favorite piece, picked because it had a lot of complicated-looking parts, was the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. The fact that it turned out to be one of the most famous pieces of organ music was just a happy coincidence. Not that we can play it on our organ, but we do have the music to play it on the marimba now (needed: a marimba, ability to play the marimba).

I picked out some nice pale blue parchment paper and gave it to the lady working the print shop that evening, Christy. Then I went to check out the new beer store across the shopping center while my marimba music was printing.

When I got back, Christy looked around and leaned in to tell me a secret.

"I just got told that I could go to jail for copying this."


"It's copyrighted. I said, 'She's a music teacher copying stuff for her students.' Aren't you?" She gave me a conspiratorial smile, as if we both knew what kind of nefarious purposes I was really copying this music for.

"As far as you know, I am."

She nodded, satisfied that no one was going to go to jail for copying Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for marimba tonight.

As it turned out, the nice pale blue parchment paper did not work for the original intended purpose, as the blue was too pale. I needed another way to use it, so that Christy and I had not risked imprisonment for naught. I bought a fancy heart-shaped hole punch (extra-large - what a world we live in that you can buy such specific items in 3 sizes), and I turned the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor into petals for my flower girl to scatter as she made her way down the aisle. Now no one would be able to recognize the music, so we were safe.

You'll have to trust me, it's blue.

AND, because we live in such a world, here is Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on marimba!


see you next year.

Things We Talked About with Gail Over the Fence in the Dark While We Were Definitely Tipsy and Maybe Gail Was, Too
December 31, 2012
11 PM

  • Her daughter going to Australia
  • Australia's immigration policies
  • The need for tighter immigration control here to prevent people from coming over and taking advantage of free health care
  • Gail's plans to visit her daughter
  • Gail's hope to meet a matey
  • The high demand for nurses in Australia
  • My wedding dress
  • Gail's first wedding dress
  • Our honeymoon plans
  • The ability of two of Gail's dogs to get into our yard, one going over and one coming under
  • What a great time Remix was having chasing Brownie around our yard
  • Whether or not Gail should even finish building the privacy fence she started building over a year ago, since the dogs have such a great time in our yard and we didn't seem to mind
  • How long Gail's dogs have been coming over, which was new information to me
  • The New Year's Eve party downtown, which costs $12
  • How nice is it is to not live downtown
  • The gray fox we saw in the neighborhood a couple weeks ago
  • How much the gray fox would like to eat Gail's chickens
  • How Gail has good odd-numbered years and bad even-numbered ones
  • How we all had a good feeling about 2013


a new solution.

Thing 1:The old
A couple of years ago, I upgraded our movie storage from a blue wire shelf to a massive wooden cabinet. It's really quite a lovely cabinet, looks just like sturdy wooden furniture that you might find at This End Up. Unfortunately, not until we got it home did we realize just how homemade it was. It looked okay on the outside, but the shelves were deep and short, so finding anything in there was an act of excavation. We tried to rig up some Christmas lights in the back to help the lack of light, but in the end we just watched fewer movies on DVD and used the Roku a lot more.

While we organized the movies nicely when we put them in, in the end things just got stacked up all over the place. As long as the cabinet was closed, you couldn't tell how awful it was. And we lived with it, because that is a money-saving secret no one likes to mention.

Thing 2:Keep, toss, and watch.
We've been purging movies around here, because we are finally purging that hated wooden cabinet. Our new storage solution is vastly superior, in every way except capacity. We made a first pass through our movies and managed to get rid of thirty or so without any pain. It remains to be seen how many will actually fit in the new shelving, at which point, we may have to part with things we want to keep.

We made three piles as we went: keep, toss, and watch. Because we found that we had a good many movies that we had bought (or had been given to us) but had never seen. So we can hardly decide whether or not to keep them without even seeing what's on them. The danger here is that this is the way to hoarding - keeping things for later, I mean. But we are motivated. We've already watched Moonwalker and Gigi, and we've started on Roman Holiday.

That being said, we went ahead and threw Downfall in the pile to toss, just because we can never work up the emotional energy necessary to watch a movie about Hitler's last days.

Thing 3:The new
Friday, while I was at work, Josh sent me an instant message, asking where the stud finder was. After acting as his stud finder finder, I asked why he needed it. And he told me that he was installing built-in bookcases.

I'm sorry, what? Can we talk about this first?

As it turns out, he meant shelves, and this was our solution to movie storage. He had bought the wood, had it cut, and was all ready to get to drilling holes in the living room wall. The electric organ incident came screaming back to me, and I asked him please to not put any holes in the wall until I came home and we could talk about it. So he did, and we discussed the wisdom of beginning a new home project when there were plenty of other things that were undone or half-done, and oh, the wedding is coming up, too. AND, before we start installing shelves, we really ought to finish painting that room.

By "discuss," I mean that I griped a lot while he scowled.

Finally, I agreed that we could do this if we also secured the backyard fence this weekend. We sanded and stained the wood, which was a step that he was going to omit before he realized that he would have to convince me it was a good idea at all. And everything takes longer than you think, so right now the boards are laid out on the kitchen table while the stain dries. Every home improvement project is a learning experience, both in what to do and how to peacefully interact with your co-projecteer.

It has been a squabbly weekend, which frankly has not boosted my motivation to plan a wedding. But despite our inexperience and our bickering, it appears the shelves will look pretty good. When they are done, I will be glad to be rid of the old cabinet and proud of our custom shelves. Until then, I'm just kinda tired.



I went to the Red Cross this morning, for my bi-monthly (octo-weekly?) appointment to have my life force drained for the purpose of putting it into some stranger who is running on empty (or something like that, I'm not a doctor). But I got shot down. My blood was rejected because my iron levels were low.

For those unfamiliar with the blood donation process, the iron check is after you read the information booklet but before you answer the embarrassing questions about things you might've done with men who have done other things with men since 1977. They thoroughly wash your middle finger and then prick it while hiding behind a clear plastic splash shield, like the kind they have at the Golden Corral. Then they collect a little blood into a plastic thing that goes into a hemoglobinometer, which measures the amount of hemoglobin in your blood. Hemoglobin contains iron and carries oxygen from the lungs to all the various places in your body that need it. My number came up 11.4 grams per decilitre, and the minimum they allow for women is 12.5 g/dL (by the way, g/dL is probably the best unit notation ever).

So the nurse who was doing this told me to sit tight, because she was going to get someone else to check it again. She also advised me to rub my hands on my pants to warm them up.

While I was still pondering these things, a man came in. He pushed aside the splash shield and pulled a splash mask off the wall. Then he proceeded to sterilize and prick my other middle finger. I asked whether it was likely my iron levels were going to change from minute to minute (I wanted to ask why it would vary from nurse to nurse, but decided not to). He explained that if you are cold, your circulation slows down, which means more iron is absorbed into the body rather than being swept along in the blood. He seemed really nervous, as if he wasn't used to talking to, like, people. Maybe most people are not curious about the blood donation process. He was likely just struck dumb by my beauty, what with my hair being still wet from the shower and all.

In any case, my left middle finger turned out to be even more iron-deficient (11.1 g/dL), so I was not allowed to give blood. The nurse gave me an information sheet about low iron and what I could do to raise my levels (hint: eat more iron).

He made sure to reassure me that I was not going to die, at least not from slightly low iron. The idea is not that I'm sick, just that I shouldn't give blood, as blood loss would lower my hemoglobin to possibly dangerous levels, and then I'd have to get a transfusion. I hadn't been worried, because iron levels fluctuate, particularly in women, who experience regular blood loss. In fact, last time I gave blood, the nurse wished she had my kind of hemoglobin readings.

So I left, still wearing my "I MAKE A DIFFERENCE" sticker. I still had all my blood, plus I had gained a lot of confusing and incomplete medical knowledge, which I have now passed onto you. I'm keeping the sticker, though.


cork crafts.

"They're making these bulletin boards now with wine corks."

"I have one of those. Haven't finished it, because I'm lazy."

"Oh, you've had other things on your plate, that's all."

"I've had it for years."


It will be sad when the wedding is over, because then I can't blame my general laziness on the fact that I'm just so swamped with planning it. Then again, it will be great when the wedding is over, because that means that there are no longer wedding-related tasks that I am not doing, due to my general laziness.

Yeah, I do have one of those cork bulletin board things. It's very nice, actually. One half is a dry-erase board, and the other is an empty frame, where an industrious young lady can glue corks from wine bottles to create a lovely, yet utilitarian piece of decor. I'm sure that was just what my mother was thinking when she bought it for me seven years ago.

But after having had the above conversation over the weekend, I decided it was time. After all, I have approximately three million corks, collected from Josh's restaurant, yard sales, and people who heard that I had a cork craft in the works. I pulled out my partially completed cork board (after checking a few places, since I'd forgotten where I'd stashed it), the special glue (which had dried up, but luckily, I had some other glue on hand), and a giant box of corks. And I did it! I finished the cork board. It took like twenty minutes. I have 2,999,984 corks left. I'm going to make an easy chair next.

And then I drew a nice llama for my mama. Now I just need to get a picture framing kit and rig the board up to be hung on the wall. That should take, oh, two years tops.



A few months ago, I proved myself to be ridiculous by commissioning a portrait of my dog. You know, as if she were the Vice President or something. The Vice President of Licking the Cabinets or of Chewing the Futon Arm. Actually, she's probably the President of those things.

Anyway, we had this awesome custom painting, and we prominently displayed it by propping it up against some books on the mantelpiece. That's not exactly how they put up portraits at the National Gallery, but it worked okay. I traced an outline of the canvas on a sheet of paper and cut it out so that I could look for a frame that was the right size. Apparently, 9 x 12 is a weird size, or at least the citizens of Raleigh are not buying frames of that size and then taking them to thrift stores.

One night, Josh said that the mantel was no longer an appropriate place for the portrait. Actually, what he did was forcefully declare that he was done with the small diving helmet, also on the mantel. I said good for him, because I personally like that small diving helmet very much, so it wasn't leaving. Then he made various suggestions for other ways to use the diving helmet, such as sticking it on a teddy bear, using it as an aquarium, or turning it into a nightlight. However, it turned out that when he moved the portrait from partially obstructing the diving helmet, he decided he liked helmet again.

It's very difficult to decorate your home with a person who says one thing and means another. Actually, this makes a lot of things difficult.

Anyway, the solution was to move the portrait. And since the mantel had always only been a temporary home, that made a lot more sense than buying a fish we did not want so that we could put it in a diving helmet that probably wasn't water-tight anyway (the nightlight idea has potential, though).

So I dug up a frame with an old photo in it that one of us picked up at a yard sale. We took the frame, wrapped a piece of a burlap sack around the backing cardboard and mounted the portrait on top of that. Because when you are a hoarder saver, you always have extra frames and burlap sacks lying around. Also, duct tape. There is a lot of duct tape involved in this frame, but we'll just make that our little secret, m'kay?

We are both thrilled with how it turned out. I wasn't sure about the frame itself, because it's cheap and old, but the gold stripe matches the burlap, which matches the gold tones in the painting. The fabric creates a great texture, which is much more interesting than traditional paper matting, which we had considered before. Also, the dinged-up frame plus the burlap creates a nice folk art vibe, which suits us just fine.

We hung it in the entryway, right above a little reproduction of a mosaic in Pompeii that says Cave Canem, which roughly means "Beware of Dog." Hopefully any burglars that come in will be able to read Latin. I like that it's in a spot where I will see it everyday, but it's not so prominent that I look like an insane person who commissions a portrait of her dog. That'll be our little secret, too.