Wednesday, March 5, 2014
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
It occurs to me that this column comes out on March 5th, my third wedding anniversary.
And by “occurs”, I mean my wife reminded me.
As I wrote a few years ago, it wasn’t supposed to be our “real” wedding. Our intention was to get married here in Indiana, then have a bigger celebration in her home state of Missouri. The first wedding was exactly the kind most guys want: Get it done and over with:
“Mark, ya’ll wanna?”
“Well … ouch! Yep.”
“Emily, ya’ll wanna?”
“I get his stuff?”
“By the authority of the World Wide Web Church Of Nigerian Princes, ya’ll is hitched.”
Just like that. Well, except without the accents, or the hesitation, or the questionable legality. Okay, really not like that at all.
But things happened: medical stuff, money stuff, bad timing stuff. Basically, real life. While we still intend to have that down south celebration, it’s far too late for that be our “real” anniversary.
March 5th isn’t so bad, because isn’t March when things start to warm up, the snow melts away, and we see the first signs of nature’s renewal? Okay, not this year, but still.
So what do we do for our anniversary? For early March, my idea included a trip to a place where you can sit on the beach without seeing chunks of ice, unless it’s the ice in your drinks.
Then I checked my bank account. There will be no dunes this anniversary, unless you count snowdrifts in the back yard.
As I mentioned in my Valentine’s Day column, I really stink at this kind of thing. So, for what to get my wife for our third anniversary I consulted a trusted source: Wikipedia.
Wikipedia is an internet website in which any Joe and his brother, and his brother’s dog (with internet access) can put in information, so it has to be always accurate. Right? So I asked it about wedding anniversaries, and this is the first line:
“A wedding anniversary is the anniversary of the date a wedding took place.”
Why, thank you, Captain Obvious.
But what should I get her as a present? Or should I just skip that and move a couch out to the garage? Too cold for that. So, it turns out there are two kinds of anniversary gift lists: the traditional one, and a “modern” list created by librarians at the Chicago Public Library.
If you need to know something ask a librarian. If they don’t know the answer, it’s not worth knowing.
So, the modern suggested gift is crystal and/or glass. Okay. Crystal! Snowflakes are crystals; I’ll just get her a bowl of snow. Salt’s a crystal; Pass the salt at dinner, and done. Or salt the snow! But no way could it be that easy.
I could go with glass—new windows for the house. I know she wants new windows, but that also seemed a bit too easy.
So I went to the internet again and asked what the difference is between crystal and glass. Turns out the librarians are talking about glass kitchen stuff, like glasses (which, duh) and bowls, and other breakables. As that last word implies, glass kitchen stuff doesn’t last long around my house.
So, what’s crystal? It turns out crystal is just glass, with the addition of at least 24% of … lead.
I thought lead was bad. Although I ate lead paint chips as a child, but it never seemed to have any ill … what were we talking about?
Okay, then what’s the traditional third anniversary gift? Turns out, according to the unimpeachable Wikipedia, it’s leather.
One can go two ways on the subject of leather anniversary presents. The first, which I call “50 Shades of Leather”, is questionable for a column that aims to bore people of all ages. Okay, so what about the second? Exactly when did leather become the ideal anniversary gift? Did women of olden times have a lot of leather underwear? That would explain why the women in old photos always looked so dour: They weren’t chaffing only because they couldn’t vote.
Armed with this, I knew instantly what my wife would like for our third anniversary: Tack. For those of you who don’t know (I didn’t, until my horse-loving wife told me), tack is all that stuff that goes on horses while they’re being ridden, like the reins, and the bridle (which isn’t related to brides at all), and bits, which are apparently the stuff that the horses bite. Better it than me.
So tack for my wife, who loves horses, and I actually did some window shopping before I remembered we had no horse. Just a horse-sized dog.
This whole time something had been bothering me, something niggling at the back of my mind. I’d been ignoring that as I searched for leather and crystal, or maybe crystal leather, which might be a brilliant invention and forget it, it’s mine. Finally I went back to the column I wrote just after we married, in which I described the wedding situation. Maybe I’d forgotten some detail.
I read the thing through twice. It wasn’t one of my best. Finally, something caught my interest: The date. I posted it on March 14th …
This isn’t our third anniversary. It’s our second anniversary.
So I’m off to find some China, thanks to the librarians. Or some cotton, thanks to someone from Medieval days. Or, I don’t know, a cotton plant made of China.
Anybody want some crystal leather?
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Speak of the Devil: And The Oscar For The Fakest Sincerity Goes To...: "And the Ogar for Most Disastrous Showing During A Hunt goes posthumously to Uthar of Grok for Uthar Gets Trampled By A Woolly Mam...
Thursday, February 27, 2014
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
People, we need to talk about holiday food.
I know what you’re thinking: “The holidays are over! Don’t make us rehash holiday hash!”
Yeah, well, these days you’re never far from the next holiday. We have to nip this problem in the bud, before we’re all eating rosewater Valentine soup.
(Yes, I’m late posting this column. Like the TV networks, I dropped everything important and fun in favor of the Olympics.)
It used to be simple, if strange. Pumpkin cookies at Halloween. Cranberry sauce and stuffing at Thanksgiving. Eggnog at Christmas. Spice flavored crap here and there. (Not literally crap. Ew.)
It was, quite frankly, food most of us wouldn’t even think of consuming any other time of the year. But during the holidays it was a “special treat” that somehow we felt duty bound to try despite our better judgment.
Most holidays have some questionable variation on this. Much as my brother and I liked to blow things up as kids, we didn’t consider going out looking for fireworks once Independence Day was past. New Year’s Eve party hats look ridiculous on January 2nd, especially once the wearers sober up. On Halloween we get away with stuff nobody even tries the rest of the year, unless they’re in San Francisco or a Washington, D.C. hotel room.
But now it’s out of control. For instance, in late summer last year Starbucks started selling Pumpkin Spice Latte.
I’ll leave off the debate about whether latte, by itself, it inherently ridiculous.
Dunkin’ Donuts pimped its pumpkin products in September. Brueggere’s Bagels has a pumpkin bagel. A pumpkin bagel! Oh, the humanity.
Now, some of this doesn’t bother me much. After all, it’s a free country when it comes to food, as long as you escaped the spice scented reach of the Bloomberg Administration. You want pumpkin yogurt? More power to you; as far as I’m concerned, yogurt joins buttermilk among those items that I refuse to taste because it’s impossible to tell if they’re spoiled.
But come on. Pumpkin Pringles? Ice cream? M&M’s? Good ingredients are being wasted. There’s only so much chocolate in the world.
There’s pumpkin-spice flavored vodka, and a beer made with pumpkin and cranberry juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. I suppose, as with the non-holiday version of those products, they taste better the more you drink.
If you’re full but still craving, you can get a pumpkin scented room deodorizer. You’ve long been able to get holiday spice scents, although the eggnog scented candle wasn’t a huge success.
Once Christmas approaches, you can leave the pumpkin and go to eggnog, which at its best is enriched in some nice, holiday buffering booze, and at its worst makes people violently ill. After all, it’s got milk, cream, and whipped eggs in it. And, of course, you can get it with pumpkin spice.
If you’re not careful, it’s a recipe for a sweet treat and a sour stomach. I’ll stick with hot chocolate, because … hey, chocolate.
But people love eggnog, to the extent that you can now get it in cupcakes, marshmallows, cake mix, bubblegum, popcorn, and of course milkshakes. You can even get eggnog flavored candy corn, thus taking you all the way through the fall and winter holidays. Next they’ll be dying it green for St. Patrick’s Day.
And why do people go for all this stuff they wouldn’t touch in June? White chocolate peppermint Pringles? Gingerbread shakes? A turkey shaped ice cream cake? (Although still – it is ice cream.) White hot cocoa lip balm?
There’s also roasted turkey Doritos. Perfect for that college kid who can’t make it home for the holidays, or someone who’s been smoking some questionable green leaf and doesn’t much care what flavor his snacks come in. Or both.
|Found in an Indiana college's parking garage. I assume the owner abandoned it in favor of turkey with the family.|
I’ll give you milk chocolate Lays potato chips, which at least combine two “normal” flavors. But pumpkin soup? Pumpkin martini? Shaken, not seeded.
Turkey and gravy figgin’ holiday cola???
As for fruitcake, no one has actually eaten any in all of recorded history. Oh, some people claim they have—but they’ve never produced proof. The truth is, the same dozen fruitcakes have been exchanged across the country every holiday since fruitcake was invented in 1866, by a guy who was drunk on eggnog.
(I kid. The first fruitcakes were “consumed” by Romans, just before the empire fell. Coincidence?)
Personally I’ll add to the list of weird holiday food: candied yams, which are just wrong, and cranberry sauce, which only exists in this dimension from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Also banana nut bread ice cream, which I realize isn’t so much holiday only, and certainly beats the heck out of pumpkin spice Eggo Waffles.
“Leggo my pumpkin spice Eggo!”
“Um … ok, it’s all yours.”
Well, every flavor has its advocates, and it’s not like I don’t enjoy questionable snacks. I used to eat salted pumpkin seeds by the ton. At one point my blood pressure was higher than the national debt, although they’ve since traded places. Still, I think I’ll pass on the idea I once read, to stir cranberry and ginger into mayonnaise, making a holiday themed sandwich spread. It goes on pumpkin bread, I assume.
I’ll stick with the basics: Fudge, no-bake cookies, and my personal choice in foods that are holiday only and a bit ridiculous when you think about them: peanut brittle. I can break my teeth and stop my heart at the same time!
Sheesh … I gained ten pounds just writing this.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
I foolishly asked everyone to vote on a title for my “Girl Scout” novella without actually telling anyone what it was about! So here’s a quick blurb, which might very well find its way to the back cover:
Fifteen year old Beth Hamlin is horrified to discover her beloved summer camp must go without campfires this year, thanks to the fire hazard from a drought. At first she and her friends try to perk up the other campers, but Beth isn't one to just sit (or swim, or boat, or horseback) around, when there's a challenge to be met.
Beth discovers her new cabinmate, Cassidy, knows a local Cherokee who claims the ability to do a rain dance. Now all they have to do is trick the Camp Director into letting Running Creek do the dance there, avoid the local bully and a flying arrow or two … and keep from getting caught plotting with the local fire captain on a forbidden cell phone. With luck southern Indiana will get a nice, soaking rain, and when it's over Camp Inipi can have proper campfires again.
But when things go horribly wrong, the whole area is endangered by a double disaster. Now Beth, Cassidy, and the rest of their unit may be the only people who can save not only their camp, but everyone in it.
When Beth's big brother told her being a teenager could be rough, he probably didn't have this in mind.
And here’s the Facebook poll on the title, if anyone’s interested:
Monday, February 24, 2014
Okay, so this YA “Girl Scout” novella I’ve been working on is almost ready to go, and it has no Girl Scouts in it.
(That’s for legal purposes. This organization is my own invention, and the fact that some of the proceeds are going toward the Girl Scout camp my wife worked at is completely coincidental.)
So, since the Girl Scout story has no Girl Scouts, I should probably give it a title. I brainstormed, writing down a list of a couple of dozen potential titles, which is what I sometimes do when I’m stuck for one (which is all the time).
The story revolves around 15 year old Beth Hamlin’s misadventures when she gets to camp and discovers they can’t have any campfires that year, due to a drought. She and her friends work to keep everyone’s spirits up while also taking steps to make it rain—steps that lead to disastrous consequences.
Some of the titles I came up with were discarded because they gave clues about things that happened late in the book, so those were the easy ones. For obvious reasons, I’m not going to tell you what they were.
Others were a bit too bland: “The Year Without a Fire”, “Rain Dancing”; or dependent on wordplay: “Weather … Or Not”, “Where There’s Smoke, It’s Dire”.
Some titles the reader wouldn’t figure out until they’re well into the story:
“If You Don’t Like The Weather …”
“Dance, Wind, And Fire”
“Don’t Kill The Messenger”
“They Don’t Listen To Teenagers”
“Totally Not An Emergency”
“Four Friends and a Drought” (A little shout-out to a fanfiction series of mine.)
“Riot Prevention Badge”
For you “Walking Dead” fans (and only you will get it) I found a title that fit the story and was also a shout-out: “Heroic Stuff, Dangerous Things”.
Two titles I discarded because they referred to a supporting character, and would be considered un-PC to our more delicate readers. I just didn’t feel like arguing. But the character, a half-Cherokee owner of an Indian-themed souvenir shop, also appears in a YA mystery I’m trying to sell—and will refuse to be silenced.
Toward the end I got a little silly:
“If You Like Your Weather, You Can Keep Your Weather.”
“Mary Potter and The Rain Dance Of Doom.”
Sadly, the story doesn’t have a character named Mary Potter.
When I was done winnowing the list, which I believe is also a dance move in Philadelphia … there wasn’t much list left. This is what I ended up with:
“Have a Safe Summer”
“Who Keeps Singing?”
“Best Session Ever”
“No Campfire Girls”
They speak to the story and Beth’s character. Emily was leaning toward “No Campfire Girls”, which left me wondering exactly how that title would go on the cover. We don’t want people to think we’re banning Campfire Girls, for instance. It could be:
“No Campfire, Girls”
Or, “No-Campfire Girls”
Or maybe an emphasis with bigger letters or italics: “No Campfire, Girls”.