april 2013 books.

I read some books this month. Since we are going to France this year, I went through my giant to-read pile and picked out books set in France or written by French people. I figured this would be a good way to enrich my trip. I found that I enjoyed having a theme, as the books sometimes related to each other in unexpected ways.

Map of Another Town: A Memoir of Provence
MFK Fisher
Years and years ago, I read a long and flattering article about MFK Fisher, who is known primarily as a food writer. Since then, anytime I see a book by her, I pick it up. I did most of this collecting without ever having read any of her work.

This book is not about food, but some general reminiscing about her life while living in Aix. She is a good writer, but her style is a little quiet for my tastes. She paints a picture more than she tells a story. It must have been a good picture, because I did want to go to Aix. I have another of her books about living in France (in Marseille, I think), but I had to take a break from her voice for a while.

Maybe the lesson here is that I should've started reading books by the person who wrote the article about MFK Fisher. It was really good.

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children
Ransom Riggs
This was the book club selection for last month, and it has nothing to do with France. I was a bad book clubber due to getting married, but since I had already bought the book, I read it.

The author collected old photographs from thrift stores and flea markets and such. He gathered a bunch of these, and then wrote a story around them. It's a cool idea, though the execution of it was a little flat for me. It is meant for young adults, so it's pretty plot-driven, and there are lots of supernatural stuff like magic powers and time travel.

The story is about a kid whose grandfather dies. Grandpa used to tell crazy stories about this orphanage where he grew up that was full of children who had special powers - levitation, invisibility, that sort of thing. The kid realizes at some point that it was all made up and he becomes disillusioned with his grandfather. Then Gramps dies and the kid is left to find out about his secret past by travelling to the orphanage.

Maybe I just haven't read a good one, but I do not find books about secret pasts very compelling. They are filled with this urgency - SECRETS! LIES! HISTORY! - but I never feel it. It mostly seems to consist of the characters running around and demanding that they have a right to know. Maybe I just cannot relate to the experience of a shocking family history. Once I found out that my mom used to own an accordian and she got rid of it, and I was kinda pissed about the accordian I could've had, but I never went on a quest to find out about my mom's lost accordian career. I did not go to Kansas music shops, slam my fist on the counter, and tell them that I had a right to know.

Does that fact that a relative did something before they were your relative mean that you have a right to know about it? I mean, curiosity is fine. But a right? Driving isn't even a right, so I don't see how knowing about your grandfather's secret past can be one.

Anyway, the book was fine. Sometimes the book club discussion changes how I feel about a book, but I guess we'll never know how I might have felt about this one.

Émile Zola
This is the kind of book I pick up because I've heard of the author, but know nothing about him, so I assume it's important. And Zola was important. He wrote the J'Accuse! letter that appeared in the newspaper and accused the government of anti-semitism. Rather than sit down and think about what they had done, they prosecuted him for libel. Also, he wrote a whole lot of books and invented a style of literature called naturalism.

But before all that, he wrote Germinal. This book is about coal-mining! I know, aren't you excited already? Sign me up for some coal mining. French coal mining.

More generally, this book is about the inevitable conflict between Capital and Labor. It shows coal miners living in abject poverty in rented Company housing. Children work in the mines, as do young women until they are fifteen or so when they start having babies. Everyone is sick, from the combined forces of various miner's diseases and malnutrition. It's basically awful.

The Company is experiencing a downturn due to various factors (it mentions the Americans mining their own coal now), and so it is cutting corners, specifically wages. Unfortunately, the people are already starving. The miners refuse to go down into the mines at the urging of a travelling young socialist. The strike goes on and on, and both sides suffer. The Company stakeholders don't get as much money and the miners have to sell the wool in their mattresses. As this continues, formerly sensible people become warped by suffering. The miners go on a riot and vandalize a neighboring mine that belongs to a different company.

This was a great story. There were a lot of characters, and I admit to getting them mixed up from time to time (stupid French names). This is not a socialist novel per se. Your sympathy cannot help but being with the miners because of their destitution, but Zola does not take sides. It's more that you can see how each person ends up behaving the way they do, no matter what side they are on. Each plot development ends up seeming inevitable because of the characters and the situation. And there are characters on each side that represent different facets of that argument. So there is what we might call a Union man, who is in favor of strikes as a way of negotiating better conditions for the workers. Then there is a socialist, who sees the strike as the first step to the people becoming the masters. Finally, there is an anarchist, who also wants the people to become the masters, but he thinks the only way for that to happen is to burn the world down and start over. There are sympathetic characters on each side, though many of them become less sympathetic as the strike wears on and they become more entrenched in their position.

There is a lot of sex in this book. It's treated as the only way that the miners have any pleasure at all (they also drink and gamble when they can afford it). The fields around the mines are often just filled with couples canoodling in the grass. Sexual morality is not something they can afford. Their freedom is mildly shocking, though the descriptions are not graphic. Everything is treated as matter of fact, or at least matter of life. And that is naturalism!

I just want to say that I feel like a Grade A Smart Person, because I have an opinion on Zola. And all I had to do was read a 500-page novel about coal mining.

Defending Jacob
William Landay
This month's book club selection. I was not enthusiastic about reading it, and I did not enjoy it.

So, a kid is accused of murdering a classmate who used to tease him. The story is more about his parents. There was a whole tangent about the grandfather's hidden past (gah), and then it's just legal thriller until we get deus-ex-gangster. The book tries to say interesting things about parenthood, but they were not interesting enough.

At no point did I care whether the kid did it or whether he was found guilty. Needless to say, I did not care about the grandfather's hidden past.

Satori in Paris
Jack Kerouac
The neat thing about picking a wide open theme like "France" is that you can go from Zola to Kerouac.

I have mixed feelings about Kerouac. I read On the Road in my teens, because I liked the kinds of boys that like Kerouac. I related to exactly one character in the book, someone's wife who basically stood to the side, tapped her foot and looked annoyed. That was me, tapping my foot and looking annoyed at these dudes who wandered around getting drunk and acted like they were being deep. About this same time, unknown to me because he was unknown to me, Josh also read On the Road. His reaction was to decide that he wanted to go to Columbia University and then drop out, just like Kerouac! And he did! Dreams do come true.

Later, he found out that Kerouac went back to school. What else did Kerouac do? Drank for about 30 years straight and then died. Pick your mentors carefully, kids.

On the surface, the book appears to be just a retelling of Jack drinking his way around Paris and Brittany. It must have been a very expensive trip, between the booze and the replacement tickets he had to buy for the planes and trains he missed by being drunk in the middle of the day. Jack comes to a realization somewhere in the book, though he makes clear that he's not sure when it happened. He implies it has something to do with a cab driver, but his interaction with the cab driver is very limited and consists of going to the airport and drinking. He makes the flight at least. Maybe that's what was special about the cab driver. Can you hear my foot tapping?

The guy does know how to use his words. He also knows a whole heck of a lot. I would periodically get a reference, and I found them to be obscure. For instance, he talks about Judas being the one that Satan "chooses to chew," which is a reference to Dante's Inferno, where Judas is in the center of Hell, being eternally gnawed on by Satan. I appreciate the wordplay, and I felt smart for getting the reference to a classic piece of literature (an epic poem, no less), but it made me realize that the book was probably stuffed full of such allusions that I missed completely.

Josh calls this a problem of being overeducated. It's great that you are using your nice Ivy League education, but do you expect the majority of the population to read this and appreciate it? Are you writing to communicate something or just to impress us? I guess you don't have to get the references enjoy the book, and that sort of stuff is in there for the people who study literature line by line. At least, that's the most generous explanation I can come up with. My other reaction was to say "Shut up, Jack, you're not saying anything."

Josh, who has recovered from his youthful crush, says that Kerouac is better in shorter forms. He has things to say and the words to say it, but he lets himself get in the way, thus we end up with these trainwreck of thought type novels. Apparently his very short poems are the best. I can't speak for that, but after my grumpy dismissal of one of America's classics, I thought it would be nice to include the opinion of someone who gets the appeal of this guy.

I'm sorry. I don't get Kerouac. Maybe someday.

The Lily of the Valley
Honoré de Balzac
This book was terribly wordy. I know, it's a couple hundred years old and French, but reading it was sort of a slog. After I finished, though, I discovered that I liked it. The ending in particular was great and made the rest worth it.

The bulk of the book is in the form of a very long letter from Felix to his fiancee, Natalie, describing his life and loves to her. Most of it is taken up with a love affair with a Countess. He sees her at a party and is so overcome with love that he bites her on the neck. Then, he figures out who she is and shows up at her house in the country, with the aim of wooing her. They end up becoming very close friends.

The Countess, Henriette, has an awful husband. He is frequently ill with something nebulous that may not actually exist. He is supposed to run an estate, but he has no head for business. His wife basically runs the place, though she has to do it through him. He occasionally doesn't like her ideas, rants and raves about them, and then when they work, he takes credit for them. The Count will periodically scream awful things at his wife while she sits there, takes it, and works on a tapestry. Just because someone is hurling generalized insults about women at you doesn't mean you can't get a little work done.

Felix declares his love for her, but she is a virtuous woman. She really, really, really wants to drop the Count like a hat and run off with Felix, to be happy and loved, not to mentioned treated like a human being. But she stays for the sake of her children. She forces herself to think of Felix as a son, since if she allows herself to consider him as a lover, her virtue will not hold up. Felix promises to be faithful to her, even as he cannot actually have her (Spoiler alert: he breaks his promise).

I was really impressed with Balzac's ability to create such full and rounded characters, particularly Henriette. For most of the book, we are treated to Felix's perspective of her, which is adoring to the the point of being almost idolatrous. But there are a couple of letters from Henriette included, and it shows her a much more complicated person than one might suspect. Also, I was impressed with the recognition of the very frustrating position of women at the time.

Since we're talking about styles of literature, I'll mention that Balzac is considered a founder of literary realism in Europe. Zola was influenced by him!

There was a little history scattered throughout. At one point, there is a statement about the "events of the 20th of March," and I had to go look that up (Wikipedia is so awesome, because you can look up a date and see what happened on that day throughout history). I found out that March 20 is when Napoleon came back to power after exile. The characters, being part of the aristocracy, were somewhat affected by the larger goings-on in France, though I think being in the country shielded them from too much. I started reading a bit about the Revolution and then Napoleon, got confused, and decided that I needed some books with characters dealing more directly with French history. So that's coming up soon.  I know you can't wait.


shadows on the street.

Last week, a woman at work asked me what the best vintage thing I'd ever seen at a yard sale. I had no idea how to answer that. I mean, I can't even remember the things I've seen. Plus, the category of "vintage" threw me off. Vintage is cool, but it's not the only kind of thing you can find while shopping in people's yards. There's anything from antique to brand spanking new. The question comes from the mindset that the only reason to shop secondhand is to find stuff you wouldn't be able to buy new. It's more of a lifestyle choice for me. Yeah, I buy unusual and old stuff, because that stuff is there and I've got a house to fill. But I also buy skirts for church or reusable grocery bags or power tools. This is just shopping to me.

But that's alright. People going to yard sales to find crazy vintage stuff is better than them not going at all. I wish everyone had a little secondhand in their lives, whether an occasional browse through Goodwill after dropping off some donations or forgoing retail completely. I started out just shopping for novelty, and now I can't go into a regular store without complaining.

What I really want to do right now is tell you about something amazing that I bought this weekend. It's not vintage. If I had to categorize it, I would label it as foreign or art or decor.


When you first look at these, they look like some kind of foreign roadside tourist art, which they probably are. They're colorful and sort of exotic and strange. But things get crazy when you get a light source involved.

SHADOW PUPPETS.  Way better than that thing your brother can do with his hands that looks sorta like a rabbit.

I found these in someone's garage, sticking out of a bottle shaped like a fish. I knew exactly what they were, because of some time spent on eBay (I swear I was looking for something else, but somehow I ended up with searchTerm="puppet"). You can find them online pretty easily for as little as $10 - $15. The only reason I hadn't bought one already was because once I start buying puppets online, where would it end? However, when you find something at a yard sale, that is like a Sign. The Universe brought me to this particular garage and it led me to the shelf with the fish bottle. It was $6 for the pair. I immediately picked them up and took them over to the cashier (by cashier, I mean "old dude at a card table") to reserve them. I didn't want to carry them around and risk messing them up, nor did I want anyone else to swoop in and buy them, in case there were any other puppet fans at this particular sale.

As Josh and I left the sale, we each carried one. The sun was at our backs, and we used them to talk to each other, admiring the intricate shadows cast on the suburban street.

I'm so excited about these and the fact that my growing collection now features shadow puppetry. I've put on my problem solving cap to figure out how to display them in such a way that the light hits them just right. Maybe some kind of shadow box?

It just goes to show that you can really buy anything at a yard sale.


the visual week, 4.28.13

This week:

Josh hung up our hammock, and I basically never left it,

but Remix was not allowed on.

I bought something amazing at a yard sale (that I will be sure to tell you about later).

And Spring continued to remake the world.


patriotic radish.

I was thinking about problem creators and problem solvers, and I think there is another category of people, we'll call them problem noticers. These are the people who look at the world and find something that could be improved. Many of us wander aimlessly through life, using whatever tools we've always used to do what we've always done. Problem noticers say there could be a better way. Problem noticers say there should be an app for that.

Being a natural problem solver, I'm not sure how much I can really become a problem creator. But I can improve my problem noticing.  Since I've finished with wedding decorations, I was on the lookout for some way that I could use my new-found love of papercrafts.  I noticed that I needed a custom poster frame.

I have a poster that I bought at a puppet show. Not the puppet show at the socialist book store, this was a completely different puppet show that I didn't tell you about. I guess I'll tell you now. It was disappointing. There were not enough puppets. And the script suffered from a bad case of Complaining But Not Saying Anything. They pointed out that a lot of people died in Iraq. I'm not quite sure who didn't already know that, particularly among the people who go to puppet shows. They pointed out that corporate lobbyists wield a lot of power in our government. They pointed out lots of things, and I wanted to say, "Yes, and..." each time. They didn't want to have conversations about anything, just point at things.

Anyway, I did buy things at their merch table, because I like to support live puppetry. I bought a couple of homemade books about making puppets from household items. I skipped the many tracts that continued in the vein of pointing at things. And I bought a poster. It was a colorful picture of a radish, and it said "PATRIOT" at the top. According to the fine print, it was a picture from their 2006 Homeland Security Vegetable Calendar. I think the vegetable calendar said something about sustainability and looking to nature in these difficult times. That is my interpretation, but I really have no idea.

I read up on the radish to try and figure out if there was something patriotic about it or if those guys just stamped words on pictures of vegetables. The radish did not originate in North America, so maybe the latter. But the radish is quite a fantastic little plant. It's a trap crop, which means it's planted next to other crops to lure pests away. The bugs each the radish leaves, but they don't bother the tasty roots. They're very hardy, and you can grow them pretty much anywhere. The seed's oil can be used as a biofuel (possibly patriotic?). In Oaxaca City, Mexico, they celebrate the Noche de rábanos (Night of the Radishes) every year on December 23, where people get together to eat, dance, and carve radish dolls.

Now we have all learned about radishes.

So I had this patriotic radish picture, and I wanted to hang it up. But I noticed that I needed a frame. Enter paper crafts. I saw some frames on the internet made by taking colorful magazine pages and rolling them up. As usual, it took me a while to get the knack of rolling the pages up tight enough, and I got hot glue everywhere. But at the end, I had some colorful rolls.

Then I cut them into 2-inch pieces. I was not very precise on this step. I chose to do rough measuring, and then that would add some natural variation in the finished product. In art, lazy measuring can be part of an artistic vision, rather than just sloppiness.

I got ahold of a giant cardboard box and cut out my frame base, using the poster as a guide. I attached the frame back to the front, being sure to leave an open edge to slide the picture in. Continuing my trend of using very expensive tools, I went with painter's tape here.
And finally, I glued each little roll to the frame. The rolls overhang the poster about 1/4-inch on the inside. I tried to keep the inner edge even, so that any variation in the lengths shows up as the outer border.
It turned out okay. Now that I've done it, I'm not sure that this poster is really the right piece for this kind of frame. Or maybe two-inch rolls are too wide for such a tall poster. But whatever, I made it and hung it up, because it was way better than the poster drooping on my dresser.

And finally, continuing on this kind-of-all-over-the-place entry, I leave you with something that must be included in any discussion of radishes.

"A radish?"


problem creators and solvers.

With the wedding over, I do not have an obvious creative outlet. No more can I spend my time folding silly little paper flowers and saying that it's worth it because I'm saving a ton of money by using Rand McNally as my florist. I'm pretty proud of myself for how the decorations turned out, and it makes me happy to think about all the guests who have used hymnals folded into pinwheels sitting in their homes right now (maybe in their trash, but technically, that is still in the home). I was actually sort of amazed at myself. I've always done some writing, which is its own kind of creation, but making tangible things is pretty new. And here I went and made a whole lot of things. I made so many things that I was freaking sick of them.

I've always been very drawn to creative people and am consequently very aware of my not being one of them. Sure, we're all creative, blah blah blah, but there are some people who walk down the street, trip and fall and some art comes out their nose or something. They can't not create. I don't wish I was like that, because I have very high self-esteem. I want to be around it, enjoy it, be influenced by it, and in Josh's case, make out with it, but I know who I am. I also know that people like me are necessary, because if the world were all artists, nothing would ever get done, because no one would have invented a standard system to measure time.

I've come to think of creativity as problem solving. That is probably not a good definition, but it's the kind of definition that works for people like me. It works great in programming, because the life of a coder involves being given problems to solve. My problem was that I needed flowers for the wedding and I didn't want to pay for them. Solution: make them out of old books.

But now my floral problem has been solved, and I'm all out of problems. Then I read a quote by Chuck Close, who most definitely would not have come up with a standardized time system but was definitely the type of person I would want to hang around. He said that art was problem creation. And that made sense to me, maybe because I was already halfway there. I'm good at recognizing a problem and coming up with a creative solution. But to be an Artist, you have to make up the problems for yourself to solve.

I have to say, that idea resonates with me. Particularly when Josh tells me about his great new idea (problem creation), and I have to explain to him all the many ways in which it is completely impractical, thoroughly unnecessary, exorbitantly expensive, and, a lot of times, really pretty stupid (problem solving). Then we snuggle. And sometimes his ideas are only slightly impractical, next to free, and they end up being kinda fun and cool. They are still generally unnecessary, but that's art. Art is technically unnecessary. You don't need it to live, it just makes life worth living.


the visual week.

This week, I:

saw lots of things covered in pollen,

interrupted a hornet reading the paper in the break room,

attracted a moth with my bedside lamp,

worked on code while sitting out on the back porch,

baked three loaves of bread using this recipe,

and went to the yard sale of someone seeking the Deathly Hallows.


mexican candy.

I arrived home one evening to find a package in the foyer, unopened and addressed to the new Mr. and Mrs. of the house. Shockingly, it was unopened. Josh had been home during the day, so he had been in the house with the package, and yet he had not opened it. For some reason, he had waited.

Now, some of you might think, awww, he waited until you could open it together. Well, if that was his plan, I thwarted it immediately. I also thwarted the dogs' plan to go outside and do their doggie business. I was just thwarting all over the place.

That was not Josh's plan. Josh just knows that between the two of us, one of us really likes to open things, flinging tape and wrapping paper right and left in a flurry of ripping until I am left panting next to an open box, styrofoam peanuts in my hair.

It was a present, from our friends in New Mexico. Opening the package revealed more opening, as contained therein were several small things wrapped in brown paper and cushioned with bubble wrap. I unwrapped them each and made a stack on the counter. Six cans of roasted chiles, some lemon-salt seasoning, and a whole bunch of candy. It was a New Mexico goody box!
This is not quite as strange a gift as it might seem. Several years ago, one of Josh's friends was getting married. I went out one day with the mission of finding a gift. Either I did not have any registry information due to Josh being essentially useless at communicating any sort of information or I was feeling particularly anti-registry at the moment. In any case, I ended up at the Asian grocery store, where I bought a bunch of candy. Asian candy is awesome and inexplicable. The packaging is geared to another culture and is frequently in another language, so you're never really sure what you're getting until you take that first bite. It was my hope that the newlyweds could enjoy a big candy binge.

I actually have no idea how that present was received. They may have hated it all and vowed to not invite us to anything ever again. But I thought it was great, so we started buying Asian candy for everyone that got married. Including our New Mexico friends, who received their own giant bag of weird candy last November. They must have liked it, because they shipped us a big box of Mexican candy. Turns out, weird candy is universal!

To make up for not saving any package-opening fun for Josh, I sent him a picture of the contents, because that's the same.

And I did wait for him to come home before I actually ate anything. We had a little Mexican candy tasting party. Here are our findings.

The box says that these are dulce de leche almohaditas, which means sweet milk pillows.

Wouldn't you like a sweet milk pillow?

I sure as heck would, because these were AWESOME. They were sort of like those candy orange slices, except far superior - creamier and less chewy. They came in six color-coded flavors which were listed on the box. Not that I could read the box, but a couple of the flavors had some recognizable words, like "tequila" and "whiskey." The word borrachine is the feminine version of borrachin, which means drunkard. So some kind of liquor candy. Feminine liquor candy.

Nugs - Before I get to the candy, I just want to say what a great time I had talking about Nugs. I missed no opportunity to say the name. You want some Nugs? I got a whole box of Nugs. Someone sent me some Nugs through the mail and now I got Nugs comin' out my ears.

Nugs are sorta like a condensed Snickers. If you took out the nougat and chopped the nuts up smaller, you'd have Nugs. These were Josh's favorite, but they were the only ones that contained chocolate. I could not find a picture, mostly because "nug" is marijuana slang, and I got tired of scrolling through pictures of contraband. I would've taken a picture of my own Nugs, but I ate them all. I ate all the Nugs.

Nucita Trisabor
I can totally understand why our friends picked these out, because the box does not really indicate what they are. They look like Handi-Snacks. There is a cartoon dinosaur on the front, because Mexican kids like dinosaurs and sugar just like us. Inside the box was a bunch of little plastic dinosaur-shaped sticks, similar to the Handi-Snack sticks used to spread cheese product on cracker product. You're meant to use the little dino-stick as a spoon.

Inside each package is a trio of flavored icings, laid out neapolitan style. The children are being encouraged to just eat straight icing. It was gross. I'd much rather have a Pixy Stix. Apparently there is a version of them with just vanilla and chocolate, with a squirrel as a mascot. What's up with that, Mexico?

San Juan
(Picture is not the same brand as we had, but it appears to be the same candy) These are very cutely packaged. At first, we thought that the white you see on the label was part of the packaging, then we discovered that it was inside the package. And then we thought it was weird that they'd put little pieces of card paper in each one before we finally realized that it was part of the candy. If only we had read the label, which said Obleas con Cajeta (wafers with goat's milk caramel).

These were delicious. The wafers were like communion wafers, but thinner. The caramel was not as hard and taffy-like as the caramels I've eaten in the past. Must be the goat's milk.

Guava Wafers
These are more commonly called sugar wafers. I've had the strawberry and vanilla versions, so I'm not sure what makes them Mexican other than the flavor. I mean, Nabisco makes them. For some reason, they remind me of Sunday school. I ate these after I'd eaten everything else.

Bubbaloo Tamarindo Chile gum
Tamarind is a fruit that is indigenous to Africa, but it was introduced to Mexico and Mexico said yes, please. The only place I have ever come across tamarind is in the Mexican aisle, where they have tamarind soda. I do not enjoy tamarind-flavored products. It's a weird, earthy sort of flavor. But then again, maybe I just haven't had it prepared properly. I am open to loving tamarind.

According to the wiki page, Bubbaloo was the first gum to feature a liquid center. Also, the brand mascot, Bubba the Cat, is known for being creative, ingenious, and intelligent.

This gum was chili-flavored, moderately spicy. The tamarind coating went away very quickly, though that lovely brown color stayed. The gum kept its flavor much longer than Hubba Bubble style. That might be a factor of the chili, which may stick around in the mouth even after all the flavor crystals have gone away. We got sick of chewing the stuff before the flavor ran out, which is not exactly a compliment.

We did not have any more of these. Josh is planning on taking both these and the Nucitas to work, where there are several real live Mexicans. Maybe they will be transported back to their childhoods, or maybe they'll tell us that crap is just for the tourists.

And there you have it! If you have enjoyed this rundown, please feel free to send me candy and I will happily review it for your pleasure.


sweet and refreshing caffeinated beverage.

"First stop is the Koreans. After that, we'll come back home and drop off the food before going on to the next sale."

"Mm-hmm," Josh muttered. It usually takes him one yard sale to wake up. As I pulled into the church parking lot, he exclaimed, "Oh, it's our Koreans!" Yes, because we have Koreans. What he meant was that it was the Korean church that shared an entrance with our own Episcopal church.

The first time I ever heard about a Korean church having a yard sale, I was really excited about all the things I might buy. But I was disappointed to discover that Koreans mostly had the same sort of stuff that other church-goers have. We ended up buying a few items of clothing (old and faded Stanford sweatshirt, button-down shirt, long black velvet skirt) for $1 apiece, then we headed inside for the food.

We always get sushi. The first year, we picked up some egg rolls, but the problem with that is it's too early for fried food and it goes soggy in the fridge. So I had to settle for sampling instead. I had a fried donut, and while I was in that line, a lady shoved a sample of the fried pork cutlet into my hand. Well, okay. If you insist.

Josh wanted to branch out from our usual. I'm in favor of this, but I think I would have gone a different direction than the tiny barbecue fried shrimp. They still had their shells and legs on. Shrimp legs creep me out. They're so small and jointed and there are too many of them and just ew. Me, I guess I'm not that brave or maybe I have a lot more sense. I decided to sample the iced coffee.

It took me a long time to like iced coffee. I had to stop thinking about it as coffee, and think about it instead as a sweet and refreshing caffeinated beverage. And who doesn't like sweet, refreshing caffeinated beverages? Not me or the Koreans, that's for sure.

Man alive, the iced coffee was gooooood. Sweet and cold with an intense and rich coffee flavor, like coffee ice cream almost. Why isn't everyone in the world drinking this? Why do we even have hot coffee anymore?

I remembered that the Pioneer Woman posted an iced coffee recipe many moons ago. I had bookmarked it and then forgotten about it, like most recipes with big beautiful pictures that I drool over but never make. The Pioneer Woman is not at all Korean, but maybe that wasn't an authentic recipe. Maybe someone at the church just tried it and decided that it was the best thing since hot coffee. I went back to the PW recipe and figured that was a good place to start my quest for delicious iced coffee at home. She makes 8 quarts of the coffee at a time, then keeps it in the fridge to pour herself a nice cold cup every morning. I started with 1 quart.

The Pioneer Woman's Iced Coffee

The process is a bit weird, but mind-numbingly simple. Combine coffee grounds and cold water, let it sit at room temperature overnight. Strain, then you're done. To make your morning cup, add some sweetened condensed milk and a splash of half and half.

I steeped the coffee last night, strained this morning, and then recruited a work friend to try it out. Oh, wow, this stuff is dangerous. Without trying them side by side, I can't be sure how this compares to the Korean stuff, but I don't even care, because it is so amazing. PW recommends using a bold roast, but all I had in the house was Kona, which is pretty light. I upped the beans just a tad to make up for that (maybe an extra half ounce). She also says you can use any combination of milk or cream and sugar or syrup, but I went with her recommendation of the sweetened condensed milk and just a little half and half. The result is delicious decadence.

I'm all out of over-the-top positive adjectives, so I'll stop. But please. The Koreans, the Pioneer Woman, and I beg you: make this stuff. Come over to my house and I will make you some. It is a thing that will make you go mmmmmmmmmmm.



When you get married, you're supposed to give your guests party favors to thank them for coming or to commemorate your big day or to thank them for the gravy boat you didn't want. I've been to weddings where the favor was as simple as a little box of chocolates. Another wedding gave us each a potted plant. Still another couple gave us all guitar picks with their names and wedding date on it.

Our guests ended up taking the decorations, which we encouraged, but that was more of an unofficial favor. We made a paper pinwheel for everyone, made out of book pages and green pencils. The original idea was that people would blow on them (and us) as we made our exit, instead of throwing birdseed or blowing bubbles. I'm not sure how that would have turned out. When I mentioned the idea to someone, they asked if people were supposed to throw the pinwheels at us. In any case, we didn't really make an exit. We left with the last of our guests. The best man drove off with the kegs as we walked out to the parking lot. But people still took the pinwheels, so it counts.

We also made poetry books. I had this idea that Josh could write some poems for the wedding, because what is the point of marrying a poet if you can't demand he write you some love poems? Luckily, he thought this was a great idea, rather than seeing it as a ploy to get myself immortalized. In Josh's poetry club, they all work from the same prompt and then individually go wherever the thought leads them. In this case, love was the prompt.

This is sorta how he writes in general. Except usually there is no poetry buddy or demanding fiancee giving him a prompt. Life gives him prompts by happening, the way life happens to all of us. He just processes life by writing poems, the big wonderful weirdo.

We started with the poem for the invitation. Inside was the pop-up card, but on the front we needed a poem. Now it sounds really sweet that I asked him to write a poem and he did, but it was more of a back-and-forth process than that. The poem we ended up with was maybe the third one he wrote for the assignment, and even that was heavily revised with my input. The first one was not particularly inviting. The second one was just weird, like I dunno, modern poetry or something. I told him that the most poetry-deficient guest would need to be able to understand it, and well, okay, we'll just use me as a guide for what is considered poetry-deficient.

I felt terrible for rejecting his first drafts, and I worried that he would get frustrated and refuse to write any more. Luckily, he saw it as a necessary process to revise the prompt. To me, it was obvious: write a nice love poem for the front of the invitation. But that's the thing about prompts - they mean different things to each writer. And the poem we ended up with was not at all what I had imagined, but that's because it came from him. Something that came out during the process was a desire to keep it general, rather than about us. That was not something I had really thought about, but we returned to it again and again in our planning - make it about love, not us.

So as we went on, the prompt was refined. In the end, we had something we were both happy with. I had him write it out by hand, like it might have been a page from his journal, and then I copied it 100 times on fancy paper. We glued it to pop-up cards and sent it in the mail to a bunch of people, many of whom were poetry-deficient and probably didn't read it.

And then he just wrote some love poems. I did not provide any editorial comment on these, because the prompt was more general now: love poems. He worked on it whenever life prompted him. In the end, he had ten poems. Add to that the one from the invitation and one he wrote me when we were first dating to make a round dozen. I spent a late evening in the office printing them out. He designed a cover by making a heart with some magnetic poetry, and I printed those out, too. Then I gave him a five-minute lesson on how to use the sewing machine, and he sewed each one together. It was his idea to sew them rather than use staples, and the books are much classier for it. The books were a hit among the people who like that sort of thing (the poetry-sufficient?). Several women pointed to a specific one and sighed enviously (as well they should, because check it out, my now-husband wrote me a freakin' book of poems).
Part of the appeal in being with an artist is the idea of being a muse. While that thought does make me sigh dopily, a muse is separate, on a pedestal, whereas a spouse is integrated in the artist's life and creative process. And being a muse is real sweet until you find a poem he wrote when he was really pissed at you (these did not go in the book).

What I like is finding bits of our lives together in the finished product. I can read his poetry and I know where the ideas came from, because we talked about them when they were bouncing around his sweet curly-mopped head. Everyone else sees the output, but I see the input, the prompt. Even when a poem is not about me or for me in any way, I feel closer to him by knowing where his idea came from. I have a tiny insight into the poem, which is good, since being poetry-deficient means I don't often understand the whole of it.

Not that I won't ask him to write me a book of poetry whenever I think I can get away with it. Pedestals are awesome as long as you can get back down.


short list.

Thing 1: Heat.
We finally have heat. It's funny what you get used to, such as wearing three pairs of pajama pants and wool socks all the time. We all came home and marveled at what a perfectly comfortable temperature it was. Today, I walked around barefoot all day, which reminded me that I really need to sweep. You know, my wool socks would have just picked all that stuff up for me. Oh well.

Thing 2: Battery.
Yard sale season is on! I found ads for several large church sales on CraigsList for this weekend. Yesterday morning, I was all ready to go with my coffee and my cash, and then the car would not start. Just so you know, this was the day after I got the heat pump replaced, and so I was not in any kind of mood for large expensive repairs. Other things I was not in the mood for include talking to mechanics and deciding how many expensive repairs were necessary. I was all full up of being an adult for now, thank you very much, Universe.

It was just the battery, which is (comparatively) cheap, but it was fixed in half an hour. By then, the yard sales were over. I told myself that those yard sales only had Danielle Steele novels and stirrup pants anyway.

Thing 3: HLTAE.
Ham leftovers continue, because a day we don't eat ham is a wasted opportunity. Aside from the ham fried rice, we had ham and pineapple pizza, a ham and cheese stromboli, and a Quiche Lorraine with ham. This afternoon, we made ham sandwiches based on something I had the morning of the wedding: a BLT with avocado and a fried egg. Of course, ours was an HLT, or I guess an HLTAE. Or whatever. Whatever you call it, it was delicious. If you still have ham and you can get ahold of an avocado, I recommend it.



I'm here to report on our registry experiment. The experiment was that we did not register. We told people that we did not want or need any presents, but that if they wanted a way to honor us, they could give some money to some of our favorite charities. Or, if they like to give actual things, they could write us a letter.

I've never heard of anyone "registering" this way, and I wasn't really sure how it was going to turn out. I read some post on a wedding forum about the charitable option, and it said that some of their guests had complained about it being kind of a downer. I was in the midst of being the bride, which means trying to please everyone, so I was briefly worried. But then I came to my senses. I'm sorry that the starving children are bringing you down. It brings the starving children down, too. Sheesh.

Most people did not give us anything. That is excellent. I like to think they were all secretly relieved they didn't have to spend the time or money. I hope that it freed people from feeling required to give us something. I wish gift-giving was geared more toward the giver's urge to give, rather than all these widely-recognized events where people feel they have to do it. It made me feel like the people who gave us something did it because they wanted to, not because we asked for stuff.

A few people took the charitable option. We recommended half a dozen causes that we like, though we made it clear that they could donate to something close to their own hearts as well (that might have turned out weird if a donation had been made in our honor to Puppy Kickers of America or something we did not agree with). We were relying on either the people or the charity informing us of the donation, so there may have even been more. In any case, each one made me feel very warm and mushy inside. I got married, and therefore, a hungry person was fed. I think it would be awesome if we had more of that, more giving events that were giving to the needy, rather than to those that don't really need anything.

I am noodling over how to integrate this idea into my own gift-giving. I don't want to stop giving presents or sending cash to my niblings for their birthdays, but perhaps I could augment that with charitable giving. I already do some donating, so maybe I could adjust it so that I honor people when I do it. It would be more of a gift if the honoree cared about the cause. I really prefer to give anonymously, because I'm shy like that, but if I want to spread the idea of donations being an actual honor rather than a lame gift that your weirdo aunt does, it needs to be made known. Like I said, I'm still noodling on it.

We did get a few gifts, though not very many. And because we gave our guests absolutely no direction as to what to get us, they were able to do what they wanted. I feel good about that. Part of what I hate about registries is that I feel confined by them. I want to buy people presents that are meaningful and specific to my relationship with them, not some generic household item. Someone bought us a return address stamp. I send a lot of mail, and this person knows that, because she receives some of it. Great gift! And now, every time I use our stamp, I will think of her. Whereas if I had requested a return address stamp as part of a whole list of requests, I probably would not remember who got it for me.

We also received a fair amount of money in the form of cash, checks, and gift cards. These were much appreciated, particularly when we found out we'd need to be buying a new heat pump.

And finally, we received letters! I got this idea from my high school english teacher, who made us write a letter to each of our classmates. Like the donation option, I really had no idea who was going to respond to this request. It's easy enough on the surface, but it is sorta like an assignment. Also, writing is not everyone's medium. But a few people did do it, and each one was truly excellent and personal. A couple people wrote us poems. We learned new things about some of our favorite people. I am going to save them all forever and ever.

The night before the wedding, Josh's mom handed me a bag containing a sewing basket that had belonged to Josh's grandmother (heirloom!). Inside the basket were ten envelopes, each containing a letter from someone. She had used whatever coercive means she had to get people to actually complete the assignment. Rather than roll her eyes at her weirdo daughter-in-law's request, she took it seriously and made it happen. It meant a lot to me.

In conclusion, our non-registering experiment was a great success. We didn't have to ask for stuff, we didn't get a bunch of stuff that we'd have to find a place for, and the things we did get were thoughtful and specific to the giver. Also, some homeless people were provided with shelter. I could not have asked for anything more.


ham fried rice.

Let's talk about ham.

A couple of years ago for Christmas, I made ham in the crockpot. It was truly awful. One of our guests was rather late to dinner, and so I just left the ham cooking. This was a mistake. When it came time to finally eat the delicious pork product that had been emitting wonderful smells throughout the house all day, we discovered one dried-up piece of meat sitting in a crock mostly full of juice, juice that should have been in the ham. My guests graciously chewed on their servings of ham, and then asked for more salad, please.

The next night, we had dinner with some friends, who cooked a roast beef. And Josh said, Let's have roast beef at Christmas from now on! as if the problem had been the pig.

Anyway, for Easter, I cooked another ham in the crock pot. I was much more mindful this go-around of the cooking time. In fact, though the recipe said to let it cook for 6 hours, I noticed that it seemed to be plenty hot after 3 hours, and I turned the crock to the "keep warm" setting. Then I basted it every half hour or so, because I have dry ham anxiety.

And it was fine. I mean, it's ham. I think I'm not going to cook it in the crock pot anymore. But I still have a whole lot of it, and you might, too. I went looking for recipes to make with leftover ham. It was a lot of soup and quiche and tetrazzini. I might yet make a quiche, and having extracted the hambone, I will definitely make some soup, but that still left us with a lot of ham, even though I bought the smallest one I found.

But then I had a flash of brilliance. I have those from time to time. I sorta wish it had been about something better than ham leftovers, but you take your flashes where you can get them.

How about...ham fried rice!

A month or so ago, I came across a recipe for chicken fried rice. We made it, it was delicious, the end. Since then, I've been trying to come up with a good angle to write about it and share it with you. Because you need some reason for me to tell you about how to make fantastic fried rice at home. I can't just tell you about it, that would be silly.

We made this last night, using diced up leftover ham. We left all the instructions the same, even frying the already-cooked ham in there at the beginning to give it a little scald. We did have to use some paper towels to soak up some of the ham grease, but it turned out just fine. More than fine, it was awesome all the way around. It was leftovers that don't feel like leftovers.

Chicken Ham Fried Rice
ripped straight from Alosha's Kitchen

3 cups cooked Jasmine rice (or yield from 1 cup dry)
1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces and seasoned with salt and pepper (or ham! Try it with ham!)
1 large carrot, diced (about 2/3 cup)
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
2/3 cup frozen corn
2/3 cup frozen peas
6 scallions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 eggs
4 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 8-ounce can peeled, sliced water chestnuts

Whisk eggs with 2 teaspoons oil in a small dish and set aside.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Add seasoned chicken and stir fry until cooked through, about 6 or 7 minutes. Remove to a plate.

Heat remaining teaspoon oil in the wok, then add diced carrots and chopped onion. Stir fry until moderately soft, about 3 minutes. Add the frozen corn, frozen peas and green onions. Stir fry until tender, just 1 to 2 minutes, then add garlic and ginger and cook for 30 more seconds. Push vegetables to the side of the wok and add eggs and sesame oil mixture into the center and scramble.

Lower the heat to medium. Add cooked chicken, cooked rice, soy sauce, oyster sauce and water chestnuts to the pan and toss well to combine. Serve immediately.


vertical purple and sister bear.

For a few days after the wedding, we went to Asheville to go think about what we did. Aside from that, we did a whole heck of a lot of nothing. Well, okay, we drank good beer and ate bread and cheese in bed. We also walked from our hotel to the bar across the street to get pizza, a form of bread and cheese, to take back and eat in bed.

The first night, I guess we were feeling spunky, because we actually ate dinner in a restaurant instead of in the hotel room. We had dinner at The Wicked Weed, a gastropub located a couple blocks from the hotel. We had no idea what a gastropub was, but the online reviews recommended the fish and chips, which was really the only selling point Josh needed. It was also one of Asheville's many breweries. We saw a sign welcoming us to Beer City on our way in, and we made fun of it, saying, c'mon, Asheville, you can't just declare yourself the Beer City and expect us to believe it. But we counted three breweries just walking around downtown, and I heard about two others, so okay, fine, Beer City it is.

Alas, they were out of fish and chips. Josh had a burger with a short rib on it, and I had a fried chicken and kimchi sandwich. Thus we found out what a gastropub was. It's the kind of place you can get a fried chicken and kimchi sandwich, which by the way, was delicious. I mean, you can get a regular fried chicken and coleslaw sandwich in a regular pub, but the kimchi indicates that someone in the kitchen is thinking about food.

After dinner, we went downstairs to their tasting room to try some more of their beers. We were sitting at a picnic table on our own when a true Ashevillian came up and started saying a lot of things that were not necessarily related. He apologized in advance for being a bit out of his mind erratic, but his life coach often told him that he needed to slow his roll and also, he had just cut his dreadlocks that day. He told us some jokes.

Q: What did one Grateful Dead fan say to the other when he ran out of weed?
A: Man, this music sucks.

Q: Why did the hippies come to Asheville?
A: They heard there was no work.

Then he sat down across from us and showed us his "GDF" (Grateful Dead Fan) tattoo.

At least, I think that's what happened then. See, I'm doing this from memory, and usually I can remember the order of things by connecting the various dots in the conversational flow. However, this guy didn't so much flow as bounce, which is pretty unhelpful in terms of composing a blog entry two weeks later. I'm sure he gets that complaint a lot. In addition, his understanding of time was different from mine. He talked about things he was doing now, and it became clear that he may have once done those things, but was probably not currently doing them. I don't think it was malicious, just that his brain was processing time in a non-traditional manner, either due to various lifestyle choices or his nature or an insufficiently slowed roll. It occurred to me later that he probably had not cut his dreadlocks that day, which I find disappointing because that detail made our meeting seem significant. In any case, I remember a lot of the things he said, but I don't remember how they connected. I think now that they didn't.

He name-dropped a lot of local bands that we had never heard of. I'm not sure if he was trying to impress us or just find a foothold in the conversation. In any case, he struck out until he mentioned that he toured with Bread and Puppet Theater. A ha! I told him that I had seen them just a couple of weeks ago. He blinked a little at me, then asked when it was again. I said two weeks, in Carrboro. He said they did so many shows it was hard to keep track. Then he said something about how the Bush administration had given them a lot of material. So he probably wasn't doing puppet shows recently, but he may have done them at one time. He also mentioned that he was a "Vermonster," and Bread and Puppet is out of Vermont. Also, the difficulties he probably has functioning in daily life may very well be assets in a touring puppet company. Okay, fine, I admit, I want to believe that he did a stint as a puppeteer. If I hadn't been so traumatized by his free-range conversation style, I might have asked him about it like a starstruck schoolgirl.

He told us that he had a certificate from the Omega Institute. I used to just let people keep going when they said things that I didn't understand, but I'm too old for that now. So I asked what the Omega Institute was. He gave me about three words before getting to "holistic," and then I understood. Then he said he was going to read our auras. He apologized in advance for blowing our minds. He guessed we had been together for about fourteen months. We didn't say anything for a second, pausing to figure out how to let him down easy, but for the Vermonster, pauses are meant to be filled.

So he kept going, repeatedly referring to Josh as my "vertical purple." He explained that my red was overwhelming my blue, but it was okay, because I had my vertical purple. At this point, I was starting to feel a little impressed, because though I didn't know what red signified, it sounded like something that might overwhelm my blue. Finally, when we communicated to him that we were total squares that don't know the colors of the aura, he explained that my red was my free spirit, and my blue was my feminist side. So I was letting my desire for life experiences prevent me from asserting myself, but he totally understood, because "it's tough out there for a sister bear." Luckily, I had my vertical purple, who provided me with stability. He guessed we'd been together for about eight months. I'm not sure if he was revising his initial guess or if he had just forgotten that he made it.

That's just wrong on all the levels. I feel like he could have done better using, you know, regular people skills.

At some point, he asked us for a ride. He was willing to trade us some Blueberry Yum Yum for it, which apparently is marijuana. He even offered to show us his Colorado dispensary card, as if being able to buy pot legally in another state would provide some kind of verification of the product. I allowed my vertical purple to figure out how to say no, because I was afraid that my red would've taken over and gone for it. Josh said we were too drunk to drive, which was obviously not the case, but it worked. His next offer was to trade us pot for a beer, because I guess he was out of one kind of green but had plenty of the other. Josh just bought him a beer.

He guessed again that we had been together for six months. Josh told him that we had gotten married the day before. He looked positively shocked, like he was going to call up the Omega Institute and demand a refund. We may have blown his mind, and we didn't even do him the courtesy of apologizing in advance.

He said he was going to go get his banjo, to play us a song in thanks for the beer. He listed some Grateful Dead songs he could play, and we had to tell him we weren't really familiar with their catalog. He named some more Grateful Dead songs before wandering off. We finished our beers in record time in case he wandered back. We went giggling down the street back to the hotel, just a sister bear and her vertical purple.