Friday, December 25, 2009

On the ______ day of Christmas


We decided around here that we're celebrating Christmas through epiphany. If you follow me on facebook or twitter, you probably already know that. But my thinking (for those of you just coming in on this conversation) is that if you're going to work quite hard, the payoff should last longer than two days.

Even better, some of the payoff days might be quiet, relaxed days.

So I'm trying to come up with activities to include during the twelve days, from December 24th to January 6th. I'm thinking on the 6th, I'll make a nice dinner. In between, no specific plans.

Here's a log thus far:

December 24th (Christmas Eve): Danny doesn't get off work until mid-afternoon, so I catch up on a couple last errands (but do not set foot in a grocery store) before returning home to do a tiny bit of last minute wrapping. Danny comes home, and after a short nap, we dress for the Christmas Eve service at church. This particular service featured children in a nativity pageant, a first for a First Baptist Christmas (at least, in my sentient memory). Afterwards we had dinner and exchanged gifts at my parents' home, and had a very nice, very pleasant evening.

December 25 (Christmas Day): Sloooooow start to the day, and I realize that while most of my wrapping is done for family members next weekend (Danny's family), none of the Christmas Day extended family wrapping has even been touched with a ten foot pole. Also, the kitchen is a tiny wreck (tiny, because the kitchen itself is tiny). Danny tackles the kitchen, I tackle the wrapping. We finally exit for the Big Christmas Extended Family Event, each in one of our new, cozy Christmas present sweaters (mine, a cute ruffled J. Crew merino sweater from Danny, his, a handsome Calvin Klein, dark emerald green merino sweater from me. Truly. This Christmas brought to us by sheep. Love it.) We greet, we eat, we enjoy the barrage of family. I receive a cupcake cake stand that gives me yet another reason to finally throw a cupcake party.

December 26 (Boxing Day/After Christmas Shopping Day): Considered doing some After Christmas Shopping, but when faced with the option of staying home for a cozy day with my husband...husband won out. I made Blueberry Buckwheat pancakes for breakfast, and Magic Chicken for dinner (a mango, coconut milk, tumeric, and chicken slow-cooker dish). We saw Sherlock Holmes later in the evening, and really enjoyed it.

December 27: Taught Sunday School in the morning, enjoyed a very nice nap afterwards, then went to my grandma's and played her piano while Danny studied. We both munched on tree-shaped Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and watched Pushing Daisies episodes on DVD. We may finish Les Choristes afterwards; it's been a nice, relaxing day.

Not sure what we'll do tomorrow - I need to finish Chapter 11 soon and get to work on Chapter 12. I also have yet to make Christmas sugar cookies, but may wait until we're in Lincoln City with my niece and nephew. I do need to take Danny's Christmas sweater from last year (as yet unfinished and ten-stitches off) to the Knit Shop to ask for assistance. I don't know where I went wrong, and am willing to pay cash for help! (Not to say that I couldn't figure it out, but it's a whole lot of brown wool stockinette with a whole lot of decreases, and for the sake of finishing the sweater, someone else needs to take a look before I go a little crazy).

Lots of things, but open to ideas - leave a comment if you've got a suggestion!

From Our Fridge to Yours...


Merry Christmas!!

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given . . . His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
~ Isaiah 9:6

Monday, December 21, 2009

Avatar: Paint With all the Colors of the Wind, Marine


I had my doubts about this movie. I'm not a Titanic fan, although I've never seen it. Never felt the need. And the trailers were pretty clear that that there were some fairly strong political undertones. People said the plot was kind of like Dances With Wolves, and if anything sounded like a film disaster, it was Dances with Blue Aliens. Really.

We saw it on Saturday, and I was frankly a bit cranky about it. I was still tired from our whirlwind Portland trip and wanted to spend a day being agoraphobic. We debated over seeing the 2D version over the 3D; I thought better to see it in 2D first to see if we wanted to shell out the extra for 3D. Danny agreed.

But when the film started, things changed.

I don't impress easily. Really, I don't. I was impressed by Avatar. This was how I wanted to feel about Star Trek and couldn't, not quite. A few notes:

1.) Cameron may have intended certain political messages, but they're not wholly successful. Better still, it's his own fault. He's so effective at creating this world that it's more difficult for parallels to be made.

2.) The plot shows resemblances to not only Dances With Wolves, but also Disney's Pocahontas (bear with me) as well as The Matrix. Obviously, the Matrix similarities lie in the whole plugged-in-Avatar concept. Pocahontas? Stay with me on this. There are seriously spots where you're half expecting Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) to turn to Jake (Sam Worthington) and say, "You need to learn to paint with all the colors of the wind, moron!" Also times when she looks at Tsu'tey and thinks to herself, "should I marry Kocoum?" Somehow, though, it all works. Probably because there are no cute little animal sidekicks.

3.) Disney references aside, there are certain brilliances to the plot. First, that the Jake Sully character is paraplegic. His disability is part of what makes his character work. Secondly, unlike Dances With Wolves, not only is Jake vulnerable because of his attachment to the people he was supposed to spy on and influence, but he's also got it rough because either his actual body or avatar body is unconscious at any given time. When the bad guys are out to get you, this is not advantageous.

Now, understand the plot doesn't take you anywhere unforeseen, but that's partly because Cameron loves his set-up/pay-off's. Just about everything that happens has been set up earlier, so the plot has a very organic flow.

On the subject of the film's appearance:

1.) It's breathtaking. Cameron creates a complete and inhabited world you want to be in the middle of, with incredible detail. The night scenes were my favorite. I was totally ready to move there.

2.) All that motion-capture stuff? Totally works. It's funny - we've seen a fair amount of Zoe Saldana's films - she does this thing with her eyes, looking downward while flitting her eyelashes. Well, so does her animated Na'vi character.

3.) What's also striking are scenes where the military-esque vehicles are invading on the Pandora landscape. There's a very interesting juxtaposition on the harsh, dusty colorations of the military equipment in comparison to the jewel-toned Pandora jungle.

4.) A bunch of critics have criticized the Na'vi ears. Sure, they twitch. It didn't bother me. I think there's just disappointed they couldn't laugh and point at the film as much as they wanted to. You'd think they'd have it out of their system since this summer's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra.

5.) Let us hope that nerdy teen boys will not try to learn the Na'vi language. Please. No. That's what Swahili is for.

Overall:

1.) See it. See it on the big screen, and honestly I'd spring for the 3D. I really would.

2.) It is a long movie. Good, but long. Keep your theater fluids low, if you catch my meaning.

3.) The main part I thought was dippy was the sitting together, swaying and chanting while connected to the earth parts. But it's such a fraction of the movie (truly, since it's about three hours), I suggest you shake it off and think of the pretty glowing flowers.

Because they're just that cool.

P.S. Danny read in his Popular Mechanics magazine that James Cameron is the product of an artist mother and engineer father. We now know what our children will turn out to be like, and that we will be well supported in our old age.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Of bras and radiator fluid


Yesterday we wound up making an emergency trip to Portland. Danny's in his final term of graduate school; this term consists of participating in a final design project. He's designing and making calculations for a footbridge from the main U of O campus to the buildings along the Millrace, something I would have loved when I was a student, lugging a large format camera, tripod, portfolio bag, and shoulder bag well after dark, in the rain.

Anyway, he needed bridge codes and the Norwich University librarian did some checking around. The only college with a copy was Portland University. An interlibrary loan would have taken eight weeks, the library was closed on Saturday...thus the emergency Friday afternoon trip.
All is well, Danny got the codes (which are contained in a six-inch bider that isn't quite large enough), and we had time on our hands before meeting up with Danny's brother and his family. I had planned on shopping for a few items, so we headed for the Clackamas Town Center's Nordstrom.

See, I wanted to find a bra. I had a fairly concrete idea of what I wanted, brand, color, and size, and it's a tough brand to find in Eugene. I was delighted to find that a.) Nordstrom carried exactly what I was looking for, and b.) it fit the way I wanted.

Very happy. But that's when the inquisition began.

"How do you wash your bras?" The salesgirl asked as I handed her my card.

I hesitated. First, not many people ask me how I do laundry, and they're probably smart that way. Inviting a discussion about laundry techniques is to invite a longer conversation. I was raised in a family that takes laundry pretty seriously. Laundry and stain removal. And I love clothes, so it makes sense that I obsess a little over such things, because there's nothing I hate more than losing a perfectly good garment to a badly performed washing.

I had to be prompted. "Cold water?" She asked.

I nodded. "Cold water. I fasten everything together."

"Do you have a lingerie bag?"

I feel guilt. I don't. I've been meaning too, but haven't gotten around to it. I consent to purchasing one.

But she's not done. "What detergent do you use?

This is a more complicated question than she realizes. I generalize. "I use Tide Total Care."

(Note: I have used Tide Total Care since the second they claimed it prevented pilling. I hate pilling like no other, and frankly I don't care much about the other six signs of beautiful clothes, I just don't want things to pill.)

"Oh, you should never use Tide. Too sudsy," she said. I may as well have said that I wash my clothes with motor oil.

At this point, I feel like my laundry skills are the subject of criticism, so I disclose a portion of my laundry dark secret. "I also have Woolite for colors."

(Note: This is hedging. Big time. I technically have three laundry detergents. Three. There's the Tide Total Care that I use for linens and pill-prone garments, but there's also the Woolite for colors for brights, and Woolite for darks. In my defense, Martha Stewart told me to use the Woolite for darks on jeans, because it's the one detergent that doesn't contain red-based brighteners that make the jeans fade and appear lighter. I hate fading jeans almost as much as I hate pilling.

In addition to my three detergents, I have liquid fabric softener without dye and fabric softener sheets. And powdered Biz. And Shout. But the salesgirl doesn't need to know this.)

"Oh no, Woolite's very sudsy too."

I know where this is going. She wants me to buy the Nordstrom brand lingerie wash. She makes her pitch.

Now, I can buy into a decently made lingerie bag. Truly, I can. You'll use it over and over for several years. Lingerie wash, though, has a more finite lifespan, and I really can't justify buying such a thing from a department store when I'm quite certain there has to be SOMETHING by SOMEONE that isn't (oh horrors) "sudsy."

And yes, I weasel this out of her. "Something from the grocery store by Arm & Hammer is fine too."

Aha.

"And you let them hang dry?"

I tell her I wouldn't think of doing otherwise. This is not a lie. She tells me they've recorded my name and bra size into the system. I nod, not sure I feel about having such things on record. You never know what's going to end up in your FBI file.

I finally pay and leave, getting the slight feeling that the sales crew does not quite trust me with the care and keeping of this bra. That's their problem.

We walked back to the car and I mulled the bra experience over in my head. The more I mulled, the more I felt like I'd just gone in to get an oil change and been told I desperately needed a new filter and new ____ fluid and my ____ changed and if I didn't it was likely my car my explode.

See, I'm not opposed to taking good care of my garments. I think I've demonstrated that. But at a certain point...seriously? For a $38 bra? If this were a $100-something Aubade bra, sure, throw in the specialty wash and a glass case for when it's not being worn. But really? A $38 bra?

Am I going to look for Arm & Hammer detergent next time at the store?

I decline to answer that question.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Me, myself, and fairy tales

It's been memory lane in the Lodge home recently. Last week it was all manner of Mermaid nostalgia, and tonight it's princesses. Dancing princesses.

I've gotten hooked (and by "hooked," I mean, "can't put it down, this is kind of embarrassing, haven't been this stuck in a book since the Twilight books, but at least it's much better written" kind of hooked) on Juliet Marillier's books since one of the blogs on Writer Unboxed mentioned her Daughter of the Forest in a lovely blog about fantasy and fairy tale.

My fairy tale addiction has been very, very well observed and documented. In every library I visited, I knew where the fairy tale section was. I loved the pictures, the ethereally beautiful princesses in their gowns, the illustrations of Walter Crane:



Hilary Knight:


Gustave Doré:


Susan Jeffers:

Paul O. Zelinsky:


and K.Y. Craft:
The Twelve Dancing Princesses was one of my favorites. And why not? For a princess fan, you get a lot of bang for your buck. I can't tell you how much I loved this book, every page.

I was still more excited to find that Juliet Marillier had done an adaptation of Twelve in her book Wildwood Dancing. I picked it up at the library today, and looked at the cover. Then really looked at the cover. Because the art looked familiar!



I checked the jacket to find out who did the cover design. Kinuko Y. Craft. Seriously! I was so excited to find that. How perfect could that be?

I'm twenty-six now, and since I've married an engineer, I no longer desire to marry into royalty. Now that I'm a writer, I don't particularly want to be a princess when I grow up (mind you, this was my career goal until I was, like, nine). But there's still something about fairy tales that holds a special place in my heart.

In this blog, Sophie Masson wrote:

"Fairytale is less grand than myth, and less ’serious’ than legend, but it is more romantic than both. More human. And yet more magical. More geared towards not the great ones of this world, but the little people."

It's my hope to one day get to write a fairy tale, or a fairy tale adaptation. Right now I'm writing Amish, but it won't be forever. I won't be a princess, but at least I can write about one.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Red-Nosed Herald Angels Sing it Twice


I've wanted those refrigerator word magnets for years. Last week, my mom gave me a set of them, all snippets of popular Christmas songs. Here are some of my favorite rearrangements:

Jack Frost walking our reindeer

Deck the halls with chestnuts on the first day of jingle bells

Making a list and checking your nose
Mommy gave to me the nose

(there's a lot of noses in secular Christmas music. Just noticed)

'Tis the season
we don a partridge in a
very shiny town but
Christmas in a pear tree
is coming
to find out who's gonna be
jolly

Santa Claus is frightful

The red-nosed herald angels sing it twice

I saw a one horse open sleigh dashing through a Winter Wonderland

Rudolph nipping at boughs of holly


and my personal favorite:

Hark!
kissing my true love is nice
he's so delightful
since we've
got no place to go
let it snow
outside
And now I'm totally hooked on word magnets, this was so much fun!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Little Mermaid and Me


Disney's The Little Mermaid released to theaters in the fall of '89. I was six. I remember my parents taking me to see it in the theater. I remember being frightened at the climax by Ursula (Giant evil octopus woman on the big screen? Who wouldn't be?), but it didn't change my feelings about the movie. I was hooked.

I collected all things Mermaid. Pencils, beach towel, at least one, if not two swimsuits. My best friend and I watched the video over and over, singing the songs. I dressed as Ariel the following Halloween, wearing an old sea green dress of my mother's, with curling ribbon around my feet to make it look like a tail. I think I had orange curling ribbon in my hair, too, to make it appear more "red" like Ariel's.

While I loved Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, for some reason The Little Mermaid was the seminal film of my youth.

I know I'm not alone. I know several women my age who can sing "Part of Your World" word for word, without much provocation.

For the last couple years, we've attended Christmas concerts at the Hult with my family. It started with the Eugene Symphony Yuletide Celebration, last year it was the Mason Williams show, and this year back to the Symphony. We missed the tap dancing Santas, let me tell you. The other lure to this year's Symphony extravaganza: Jodi Benson. Who is none other than the voice of Ariel. Daughter of King Triton. Wife of Prince Erik. Inspiration to all.

The moment she stepped out onto stage and spoke, I waited for her to tell Flounder he was such a guppy. I loved every moment, especially when she sang "Part of Your World," and believe, me, I didn't know until moments beforehand if anything from Mermaid would be sung at all.

After the show my mom and aunt were on a particular mission. First, they wanted an autograph, but they both knew that was child's play. What they really wanted was a photo. With me and Jodi.

You should have seen my aunt. She positioned herself at the autograph table, and when the moment was right, she said "Jodi!", expecting Jodi to turn when she heard her name.



Which she did. And smiled beautifully.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Baby, it's cold outside


I'm writing this from the inside of a -20 degree down sleeping bag. Also wearing a down jacket. Also wearing thick hiking socks.

At the moment, it's 18 degrees and dropping. That may not seem that bad to some, but average low Eugene temp this time of the year is 33 degrees. Which, at this point, sounds toasty.

The other thing about the cold is that our apartment doesn't much heat up. Scratch that. The section with the couch doesn't heat up. See, if you're standing directly in front of the heater, you feel heat. BUT, if you stand just to the side, there's a cool draft.

Now, I know it's very feminine to feel a draft. But see, this is a man draft. It is strong. It is cold. It's freezing my fingers as I type. Frankly, I'm beginning to think we need to rearrange the living room, which is tricky because there's a tree where the couch needs to be, in order to optimize the little heat that we have.

(at this point, I have suggested moving the living room into the dining area and the dining table into the living room. Danny has responded by trying to find a fan to redistribute the heat. And I think it's working. Wishing this solution could have been thought of earlier, but whatever. We've only been here 2 1/2 years)

Anyway.

My Life in Ruins. One of the latest Nia Vardalos releases, got creamed by critics, but I wondered if it could really be that bad.

The short answer is yes.

The long answer is that it's horrible. The jokes fall so flat that you get the distinct feeling, when you do laugh, that you're only laughing because all the other jokes are so bad. It's the ugly shirt effect - you know, you're shopping discount and find something you think you like, mainly because everything around it is so ugly.

The one part (and truly, we could not finish it, so there may be another, but I have my doubts) that was funny was funny for reasons the script did not intend.

In this scene, Georgia (Vardalos) is intending to send a letter to her superior from the cheap hotel where she and her tour guests stayed the previous night. The scruffy, unwashed, bald and pudgy desk clerk says it will be 20 euros to mail, but he could make a deal if...insert suggestive eyebrow waggling and glimpses toward his unmade bed only ten feet away. She steps back in disgust, pays the 20 euros.

On the surface? Not funny. But the guy cast as the scruffy, unwashed, bald and pudgy desk clerk is Ian Gomez, Vardalos's husband (head-scratcher, but true).

Aside from that, none of the characters were believable as human beings. Well, maybe the ones who never spoke. But the rest, no.

I won't even go into the bearded bus driver who shaves, turns out to look like Fabio's understudy, and no one notices. Maybe they notice later, but I have no desire to lose the extra 10 IQ points it would take to find out.

IQ. Now there's an amusing movie. I could list hundreds of amusing movies. My Life in Ruins doesn't happen to be one of them.

In other news, I think I promised to follow up with the funny B&B story.

So. We show up to our B&B, a lovely, secluded spot on the McKenzie River. We've visited every winter since we married, and this is our third trip. We show up and are greeted by the happy innkeeper-ess, who informs us, moments later, that ladies from Harvest House will be arriving in the morning to make wreaths.

That's right. My publishing house followed me.

If there was ever a motivation to get work done, that one scores pretty high.

Better still was the following morning, and the looks of sheer surprise to utter shock! Very fun; I've been blessed to have a wonderful house that I get to meet with in person. If I wanted to, I could walk there. If I didn't mind walking down West 11th. Which I do. But I could.

Oh, I also wrote, like, most of a chapter that day.

Speaking of characters, if the wrong way to do characters is My Life in Ruins, one of the right ways is Glee. My favorite characters are the ones that I feel like I already know, but still manage to surprise me and that's Glee. I can't tell you how much I love them. And now I'm going to watch.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Plain Jayne, Civil War, and Good Vino

Danny and I are at our favorite getaway spot for the weekend, and at the moment we're both working on our respective laptops, eating grown-up lunchables (Pepperidge Farm wheat crisps, cheddar cheese, and summer sausage) with an inexpensive bottle of Pinot Noir that I'm quite pleased with.

In all likelihood I won't finish this post in one sitting, because I'm working on the Simply Sara FINALLY!!! Things have been so crazy, what with the holidays and projects and Civil War and that pesky writer's block that not a lot's been going on in that department, which is a problem because this book, like the last one, has a deadline.

Note to uncontracted authors: Savor your leisurely writing speed. It will disappear at some point, but savor it now.

So, where were we?

Books, that's where. I got my copy of Plain Jayne! It's lovely, it's happy, I wrote it, and now it's all bound and official looking. You'll be able to get yours soon! I'm really looking forward to it, so we can talk about it. Good times for all in the future.

It was kind of funny how I got it - I wasn't expecting it in the slightest, but I heard a UPS truck pull up (very distinctive sound), and a few minutes later a person coming up the steps and a thud at the door.

The package at the door was small and, well, book-shaped. And from my publisher...I did put two and two together. Thankfully, a friend was on facebook chat, so I had someone to celebrate with!


Then there's Civil War. In case you're not up to date with your sports news, last Thursday's Civil War (the game between the University of Oregon and Oregon State University) guaranteed for the winner not just bragging rights, but a ticket to the Rose Bowl. Now, there's a lot of animosity every year surrounding the Civil War, animosity that makes presidential election season look tame. That tension was ratcheted up just. A. Bit.

The Ducks won, and I was happy, being a third-generation U of O grad. I was placed in a duck onesie at a young age, so I never had much choice in my loyalties.

Danny on the other hand, his last completed degree (soon to be his second of three) was from OSU. While he is not a rabid football fan, this does get a bit...complicated, at times.

The great thing about the game, though, is that both teams played well. This is not to say that there were not sore losers, but at least they have nothing to be ashamed of. I was seriously impressed by OSU's passing game, and their defensive lineup was nothing to sneeze at. UO found their edge and momentum toward the end after putting Blount (!) in, who played well, with skill and graciousness.

In the end, the whole thing was a beautiful end to a season that started very, very badly. It speaks well of Chip Kelly (who apparently read the team Judith Viorst's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day after the Idaho State game), and his coaching and leadership skills.

So. If you can't feel happy that a coach, in his first season, who recovered from an embarrassing loss and the resulting scandal, who read his team Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, is taking his team to the Rose Bowl, then it may be time to soak your head.

(The irony does not escape me that the Civil War is scheduled during a season in which we begin to sing yuletide songs of peace on earth.)

Okay. Danny's picking on me to get back to the book. We brainstormed all the way out to our getaway and came up with some HILARIOUS plot points! So more to come, including the hilarious thing we found out upon our arrival...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Trees and Tarts



This is Danny cutting down the Magic Tree (I love this picture!).



Here's me and Danny in front of the tree. Not sure why the white balance is so off...but we're clearly doing our best Cullins impersonations here. And yes. Danny's getting a haircut soon. Until then, he's rocking the surfer look.



This is our Magic Tree in our mostly tidy, recently vacummed living room. Why is the tree magic?

1.) The needles are soft and pliable, and don't pull off in your hand.

2.) The tree drinks water.

3.) The tree gives off a strong evergreen scent.

4.) The needles have not clogged our vacuum.

5.) The branches are evenly spaced.

6.) Essentially, it's not DOA.

Granted, the trunk is shaped a bit like a banana. But, it is from nature. It's supposed to be irregular. And from the front, you can't tell at all.

I feel like I've learned more about tree buying this year. We really checked out the needles, including the ones along the trunk, before settling on this one. I don't think we did last year, because our previous tree pretty much flatlined the second it set trunk in our home.

In other news, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving with our families. Danny's parents came down to Eugene from Lincoln City, and we all enjoyed the holiday together. My baking came together well - after admiring the recipes for tarts in my favorite dessert cookbook, I finally bought a tart pan and made a pear tart with almond cream, and a brown butter tart studded with cranberries. Both turned out very well; in the future, I think I'll add lemon zest to the pear tart and more cranberries for the brown butter tart.

The brown butter tart is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. I'm a fan of recipes that are deceptively simple, versatile, and can be made ahead! The original recipe calls for raspberries.

~ Cranberry Brown Butter Tart ~

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (I use Pepperage Farms), thawed
11 tb. salted butter
3 eggs
1 c. sugar
3 1/2 tb. flour
1 1/2 tb. vanilla
1/4 - 1/3 c. cranberries, or 1 c. fresh raspberries

Powdered sugar for dusting.


1. Heat oven to 350.
2. Roll out dough a bit on a floured pastry cloth (anything else is an exercise in frustration). Fit dough into a 9-inch tart pan, trim off at the top. Refrigerate.
3. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until golden brown.
4. Whisk eggs, sugar, and flour together.
5. Whisk in butter and vanilla, slowly.
6. If you're using raspberries, put the raspberries in the tart crust and pour the batter over the top. If you're using cranberries, pour the batter in and add the cranberries (otherwise, they'll just roll to the edges. You may want to be fancy and put the berries in some sort of pattern.
7. Bake for 45-50 minutes. The tart will probably crack across the top, and that's okay.
8. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Dust with powdered sugar.

Tip: to remove the tart rim, I stick the tart over a slightly smaller pot or bowl, then gently work the rim off, pressing down. This tart is kind of rustic looking, so don't worry too much if you biff an edge. Try very hard not to let the batter go over the puff pastry crust when you pour it, though, or the rim will be harder to remove.

Adapted from the original recipe in Mary Englebreit's Sweet Treats book.

P.S. We saw The Blind Side on Friday night, and enjoyed it very much. Perfect family viewing for the holidays. The sequence in the Big & Tall store shows that in her own way, Sandra Bullock's LeAnn Tuohy is very much a kindred spirit, despite her Beth Moore-esque hair. Looking forward to The Fantastic Mr. Fox and An Education next.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Holiday Shopping, Part II


I really love finding gifts for people. Gifting tends to be one of my love languages. I don't usually gift other than Christmas and birthdays, but when I do, a LOT of thought goes in to it.

The kinds of gifts I give vary per person, but the response I'm after is always the same - lit eyes, a smile, interest. I've had my hits and misses, but I always like to try.

For example, we gave my nephew potatoes for Christmas last year. Yes, we got him books too, but when he and I had talked earlier (he was eight at the time), he told me he wanted potatoes. So I gave him potatoes in a gift sack, with ribbon tied around each potato. He sat there, on my in-laws' couch, and proceeded to take the ribbon off each one. It still makes me happy thinking about it.

Finding Christmas gifts, though, can be overwhelming. So here are some thoughts from me about keeping life as (relatively) simple as possible during the holiday season...

1. Make a list of everyone you're giving to. Write what you're giving - or thinking about giving - to that person next to each name. Save this list for next year. Sure, you'll remember some of these gifts, but I never remember what color of earrings I've already made for my sister, and I hate asking. Keeping a master list of the finals solves everything.

2. Keep your recipient in mind. You might think something's the greatest item ever, but if your gift-ee doesn't think so, it's not a good gift. And don't choose just because you want to borrow it later. Make sure it's something the recipient will actually like.

3. Consider a theme. Two years ago, I knit hats for my brothers-in-law and nephew, and hat and scarf sets for my sister and niece (in case you're wondering why my own brother didn't get a hat, it was because he was going to Africa in a matter of weeks, and a woolen cap didn't seem all that practical. Oh, and Danny already had a hat). Last year with the book I scaled back and we did a book Christmas for most everyone. It was really handy, because we did the bulk of our shopping on Amazon and Half.com. More on bargain shopping in a bit...

4. Shop year-round. Okay, saying that in November this isn't so practical, but Christmas will return next year. Generally, I'm too tired from the holidays to consider shopping until later, but one of these years I'll actually buy yarn and knit far ahead of time.

5. Shop online - the deals are there. We found really great products for great deals the year we did our book Christmas. And last year, I found superwash merino yarn for Danny's (as yet unfinished) sweater online at a really great price. The rule to online Christmas shopping is to do it early. We had a close call last year for one item, which almost didn't arrive on time. It was stressful!

When buying books, DVDs, CDs, that sort of thing online, condition is everything. I'm all for finding good deals, but for a gift, don't buy used. It's like pulling a book off your shelf and wrapping it. A dinged, cracked case or dented cover sends the wrong message. Visible dust is a no-no. I have no issue with remainder marks on books (black marker line on the top or bottom of the pages), since you can buy books new from bookstores like that.

If you buy a book that's marked new by the seller and it arrives obviously not new (and I've had this happen a couple times), by all means notify the seller. Most of the time they're horrified and send you another, gratis. This is another reason to order early, so you've got all the time in the world.

6. Speaking of damaged goods, re-gift with care. Anything you re-gift shouldn't look re-gifted. And if you're re-gifting, it should be the kind of thing you'd give the recipient anyway. Obviously, this does not hold true for White Elephant Gifts, which are my favorite way to discard odd gifts with style. Just try to take things that could potentially be enjoyed by someone at the party. This is why you invite people with a sense of humor...

7. Try to finish all of your shopping at least two weeks before Christmas. I'm not saying that to make people's lives harder, it's just that entering into places of retail in those last two weeks is like stepping into the Fire Swamp. On purpose. The crowds, the lines, the lack of parking, why do that to yourself?? Also, stores get picked over at this point.

8. Shop TJ Maxx, Ross, and Marshall's. Again, the deals are there. This kind of shopping you have to do with an open mind. What I like about these stores is that you can find really nice, high quality items marked way down. Cashmere is suddenly affordable (TJ stocks a lot of cashmere in the winter, btw). These stores get VERY picked over in the weeks before Christmas, so hit them early. Look for leather gloves, scarves, glassware, bath and spa items, hats, blankets, runners - walk through the whole store, you don't know where a good find is hiding. Check Costco, too, for books, clothes, and food gifts.

9. Rules for happy shopping still apply, especially if you have children with you! Make sure everyone goes potty/ gets a diaper change before you leave. Stay hydrated, bring snacks. You might opt for stores with easily accessible public restrooms.

10. If you're shopping alone, and you hate lines, you might try my sanity trick - take a library book in your purse. Library book, because you're clearly not shoplifting. Having something to do in line can make all the difference! You may look a little nutters, but at least you're happy by the time you reach the register.

A note on After Christmas Sales:

1. Case the joint ahead of time. This is a particularly good idea for stores like Target.
2. Only buy items if they're truly a good deal. Honestly, this is the only time I buy Christmas decorations.
3. This is also a good time to stock up on gift wrap, gift bags, gift tags, ribbon that sort of thing.

And most importantly -

4. Store all of your After Christmas Sale Loot in one place, near your Christmas stuff. If you can't find it come December next year, that's kind of sad.

Not that it has anything to do with shopping, but I'm also intending to wrap as I go this year. Last year's last-minute wrapping was almost as much fun as invasive dentistry. If you're buying items one at a time, you might consider wrapping them immediately afterward.

My gift shopping starts tomorrow. Now I have to decide when the Christmas music is coming out...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Holiday Shopping, Part I

The holidays approacheth. With them, a lot of shopping for all sorts of reasons.

There's shopping for yourself, preparing for holiday events - you may have realized your formal wear has seen better days, or your warm sweaters looking the worse for wear.

There's shopping for others in the way of Christmas gifts. There's also grocery shopping...but I don't like to talk about that.

Part I is going to focus on shopping for yourself. I've had a few conversations over the last few months involving shopping, and hearing from women who hate to shop.

Now, I love shopping. Sometimes. Sometimes, it's stressful. Driving from store to store, trying on things that don't fit, putting out a lot of effort for no return. But there are things you can do to prevent the stressful from happening...

Happy Tips for Successful Shopping:

In stores:

1. If you're going out to stores, plan ahead the ones you're going to visit. If they have websites, you might take a few moments to get an idea for what they have in stock. Look at the styles, the prices, what they offer. If you find something on the website that you like, call the store to see if they actually have it before you drive out. You'll probably have read them the item number, but it beats driving all the way there and striking out.

2. When picking out clothes to try on, always grab items in multiple sizes. I read recently that there can be as much as an 8-inch difference in the waist of the same size of pants. The tag means nothing, so start with your usual size and consider grabbing both one size up and one size down. That way, you can keep trying on clothes without having to get dressed, hunt for the other size, and find your room taken/clothes put away when you get back. Sure, in smaller stores the sales girls will run and fetch for you, but start off prepared and everyone runs around less. Also, the sales girls will go AWOL on occasion.

3. When trying on clothes, start with the largest size and move down. I say this for a few reasons. First, larger items are easier to get off if they don't work. Second, it's a lot kinder to your ego to swim in your clothes, then size down until something fits you perfectly. Remember, size tags are just a number.

4. Look for clothes that aren't exactly like the ones in your closet. If you have a lot of red, try orange. Realize that if you like a garment, it might be because you already own something similar. Don't buy repeat garments unless you're planning on replacing/retiring the one you already have (I say "retire" because I have a white sweater that I wore on our first date, and while it's too short in the torso and sleeves, I can't bear to truly part with it!).

5. Keep the time of year in mind. Now is not the time to look for a swimsuit in a store. However, evening wear is everywhere, and if you're a tough fit or have something specific in mind, this is the time to look. If you're feeling thrifty or like to plan ahead, remember that a lot of the evening wear stock will go on sale in January and February.

6. When purchasing something to wear during the holiday season, don't pick something too Christmas-y. Look for something that can be comfortable worn for events from November through February. There's no use spending the money if you can only wear a garment one month out of the year. Look for details that make things special - beading, chiffon ruffles, satin trims.

7. Purchase clothes that fit you now. If you're planning on losing weight, fine, just have the garment taken in later.

8. Be kind to yourself. Use the bathroom before you leave. Drink water. Consider taking a snack or stopping for one. If you're tired, dehydrated, and starving at the end, it's no wonder you hate shopping!

9. If you find a basic item you like and fits you well, consider buying it in multiple colors - I'm talking chinos, tees, basic sweaters, that sort of thing.

10. If money isn't a concern, consider buying two pairs of pants at a time. Have one hemmed for flats and the other for heels. Technically, trouser and bootcut pants should never be more than an inch off the floor. The longer your pants, the longer your legs look.

11. If you're open-minded about what you're looking for, do check stores like TJ Maxx, Ross, or Marshall's. I could write a whole blog about the wondrous finds I've discovered behind those doors. If you're hitting several stores, start with one of these first, while your energy's fresh.

12. Take someone with you, if you can. As second opinion (one that doesn't earn a commission) is a happy thing.


Shopping online or from catalogs:

1. Online and catalog shopping is a good idea if you're a special size - tall, petite, or plus, or if you live in an area without a lot of shopping options.

2. I've come to the conclusion that if you're not sure about the size when ordering, order multiple sizes. A lot of websites have item reviews, and will tell you if a garment is running true to size or not. While I hate shelling out extra money just to try things on, I really hate ordering a garment and having it not fit, then paying to ship it back. I figure if you're going to pay for return shipping, you might as well increase your chances of something working for you. A lot of companies will offer free shipping if you order a certain amount - if you're ordering in multiples, you stand a better chance of getting free shipping more often!

3. Even if you've worn a size for forever at a certain store, be aware that things can change. Gap tops are running HUGE these days. I tried on a slew of dresses at J. Crew this last summer and found one size to work for me, ordered a dress in that size, and found it small. I was able to have it let out, but it was a pain.

4. Pay attention to the measurements listed, particularly for length. Everything looks longer on a mannequin.

5. Be realistic when measuring yourself. It's often best to ask someone to help, if you can. Some stores, such as Nordstrom, will tell you how the sizing for that brand runs.

6. Be very, very careful buying final sale items online. There are good deals to be had, but if it doesn't work, you're pretty much stuck with gifting it or selling it on ebay.

7. Watch for in-store sales online. Handy tip.


That's all I've got for now. Check back in later for ideas to make gift shopping easier!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Brothers Bloom: Belated Thoughts


I didn't write a lot about films this summer. I wrote about Up. We saw a lot of movies - Harry Potter, The Proposal, Cheri, The Time Traveler's Wife...a lot of movies, but for some reason, I didn't feel the need to write about them.

Except for The Brothers Bloom. I sat in the theater and heard myself preparing the review even as Danny and I watched.

It's not a great film. It won't be nominated for anything come February. But of all the films we saw during the summer, I think I enjoyed this one the most. For all of its faults, it's ambitious; while it doesn't fully succeed, it's a joy to watch it try.

The film stars Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody. I've liked Ruffalo since The Last Castle and, honestly, since 13 Going on 30 (I just love when he looks at Jennifer Garner and says, believably, "We're not friends anymore, Jenna," like he's revisiting his high school days all over again). Brody was superb in The Pianist, with his huge sad eyes. They work well for him here.

They are two brothers. One named Stephen, the other, Bloom. That they're called "The Brothers Bloom" is a bit of a mystery, but whatever. We meet them as children, drifting from foster home to foster home in a decidedly Tom and Huck sort of existence. There, Stephen discovers his knack for conning, with Bloom wishing that, maybe, it were real.

Their adult lives proceed in the same fashion. Stephen (as described in the best line of the movie) "writes his cons they way dead Russians write novels, with thematic arcs and embedded symbolism..." He scripts Bloom as the brooding anti-hero. The more elaborate the con, the happier Stephen is.

Stephen is dating Bang Bang, whom he describes as their fifth Beetle. Bang Bang doesn't speak much. Her non-speech is so effective that when she does talk, it's a bit of a disappointment. There's a Marx Brothers sensibility to a lot of the film - Bang Bang is a more elegant version of Harpo. She carries a blowtorch instead of a horn, and she's not afraid to use it.


The other female character is Penelope. Rachel Weisz plays her somewhere between eccentric and certifiable. A wealthy recluse, she is a collector of hobbies. Stephen writes her as Bloom's love interest. Whether or not Bloom is interested is besides the point.

Rian Johnson also directed Brick, a noir-esque whodunit set in a high school with characters who'd watched a lot of Humphrey Bogart and Gene Tierney movies. It was an homage to the genre.

Likewise, The Brothers Bloom is an homage to the caper film, as loving if not as successful as The Sting, which Johnson lists as an inspiration.

Brothers drips with literary references. Stephen and Bloom walk around a somewhat modern world dressed like characters in mid-nineteenth century novel, and not just because they're based on characters from James Joyce's Ulysses. Their approach to the con is all about style.

The weakest part of the film is probably Weisz's Penelope, who seems the sort of person who really should not be allowed to cross the street without adult supervision. There is also a sequence on the train which makes no logical sense.

Like I said, it's not a great movie, but it tries hard. Johnson is good at creating films with familiar parts made fresh. I'm looking to his next film - even if the journey doesn't reach the intended destination, at least it's a fun ride.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Grammar Matters


With the rise of facebook, twitter, and blogging I read a lot of...unedited prose. And I'm good with that, most of the time. There are several blogs I love to follow, several people I'm perpetually amused by.

I just want to change their grammar.

So to take a break from the monotony of "No, I'm not contagious but I still have a concerning-sounding cough"-type prose, I thought I'd take a minute to share my top 10 (or so) grammatical beefs.

1. Your vs. You're. Drives. Me. Crazy. I see it much more often than I should. Whenever you're writing either, take a moment to say, "can this sentence be said properly if I say 'you are'." Because if it can, you may need to make a change.

2. Yay/Yea/Yeah/Ya confusion. This one's a biggie, so we'll take a minute to define each one.

Yay: Interchangeable with "Hooray." A spoken/written cheer.
Yea: A sign of affirmation. "Yea" is the opposite of "nay."
Yeah: informal form of "yes." While not a cheer, is often more emphatic than yes (oh, yeah!)
Ya: even more informal form of "yes." I would discourage this one.

3. Their/There/They're. An oldy but goody. I see less of this one than the your/you're issue. Maybe that's a sign of progress.

4. O/Oh confusion. It happens. "O" on its lonesome can be short for "of," as in, "bowl o' goodness," when telling time (four o' clock), or when praising God (O Magnify the Lord). "Oh," on the other hand, (according to the Encarta Dictionary) is used to express or introduce a strong emotion or response, used to show thought, or attract attention.

5. Its/It's. Another oldy but goody. Again, see it less than #1. Or maybe it just bothers me less.

6. Farther/Further. Farther is distance. 'Cause it starts with "far." Further deals with non-physical things: "Push the concept further, see where it will take you."

7. Non-plussed. Pronounced "Non-pluhst." Means baffled. Most people think it means unfazed. They're wrong.

8. Texting language. You've seen in. Ur instead of your. R instead of are. There is no reason for this. Because a.) you should be able to spell all of these words correctly, having exited from grade school, and b.) the shorted forms arose from lazy texters, but now we have smarter texting functions on cell phones (have for a few years now), so go ahead. Splurge. Spell the whole word. I dare you.

9. Than/Then. Than is used in comparison (fall is wetter than winter). Then is not. Got it?

10. Gender-neutral pronoun issues. This one's a bit trickier to explain, but we've all seen it. "If your volunteer is late, sometimes you need to show them grace." Okay...there's only one volunteer. The trouble with English is that we don't have a proper singular gender-neutral pronoun. If you try to say "it," it makes your volunteer sound somehow inhuman. Writing he/she, him/her is too cluttered. Just pick a gender. You may appear sexist depending on which pronoun you choose, but at least you'll be accurate.

Okay. There are other problems out there, but these are the ones that bug me most when it comes to grammar.

Here's the thing. The internet's big, people. You write something, and most likely, more people will see it than you think. So go ahead. Make a good impression. Spell things correctly. Most browsers these days have automatic spell checkers. If you see the red squiggly line, consider it a sign of a problem, not a decoration. Write things correctly. You never know when it might be useful to look like you know what you're doing.

Coming at some point in the future: Words I hate, words I love. I've been working on that post for a LONG time. This may come as a surprise, but I have strong feelings about certain words...and words in general.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

When I don't have the piggy flu, I'm going to...



1. Make a green wool pencil skirt. Finally.

2. Wear my gray slacks and cashmere hoodie in public.

3. Go out in public.

4. Watch Bright Star, though the showings at the Bijou are fairly inconvenient.

5. See if I can talk Danny into a recipe I found in November's Real Simple, which involves Brie, mushrooms, and arugula. Or maybe not.

6. Go to the library.

7. Pay my library fines.

8. Try a new recipe, one that Danny will be excited about (don't know which, yet, but thinking positively).

9. Watch Men Who Stare at Goats, which is releasing Friday.

10. Clean my house. Oh, heavens. It's like a cave of sickness and disease.

11. Properly grocery shop. *Cringe*.

12. Bake something. Because I can.

13. Get a proper influenza shot, because I'm not doing this again.

14. Catch up on writing.

15. Consider giving Sara piggy flu.

16. Have mercy, partially because keeping her home for seven days would make for dull prose.

17. HOPEFULLY get to shop with my sister for homecoming jewelry.

18. Ooh, open that bottle of Pinot Gris that's been in the fridge.

19. Wake up in the morning and do something other than cough and hack.

20. Christmas shop. I've never started this late.

21. Get to spend time with my sweet husband while neither of us are sick!


Saturday, October 31, 2009

H1N1's the New Black


...which makes me feel like such a follower. Oh well. We stocked up at Target on prescriptions, Kleenex, soup, laundry detergent, and magazines. Really excited about the hard-core cough syrup. Tastes better than Nyquil (but then, so do many things), and packs a lovely punch. Looking forward to sleeping tonight!

In other news...

1. The car's fine. We replaced the alternator and fan belts, but the flying sparks didn't damage the electrics. Yay!

2. The fruit flies returned. We have a new trap, so at least we've got something to do while we recuperate.

3. Going to Urgent Care is great marketing. I have these fantastic little Plain Jayne postcards with me, which I find myself handing out with remarkable speed, and Urgent Care is no different.

4. I'm reading Moira Hodgson's It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: My Adventures in Life and Food. Really enjoying it.

5. Also watching Britney Murphey in The Ramen Girl. Low Budget, but cute so far. It's like The Karate Kid Makes Soup. Makes real Japanese ramen look really, really yummy. But then, it's noodles with broth, and I'm sick. Coincidence? Probably not.

Any good movie recommendations? 'Cause, you know, I've got some time on my hands.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cough Drops and Tow Trucks

Whether the illness that Danny and I are suffering from is what I had last week or a fresh incarnation - hard to say. Either way, our throats hurt and I decided that I needed some of the heavyweight cough drops, the kind that make you forget you had a throat in the first place.

Danny agreed to come with me.

On the way, I told Danny about how the brake and battery lights had been coming on for the last couple days. He figured it was probably alternator-related, decided we'd take it to our favorite car electrician tomorrow.

Went to Albertson's. Bought cough drops. Went out to car. It's dead in the water.

We call Danny's brother. Isaac and I push the car, car starts. Car runs while we chat for a moment...

Car dies.

Re-push car. Run out of space. Push car in the opposite direction. Nothing. Jump Start car, car starts. We say good-bye to Isaac, pull out of the lot, I shift gears...

Car dies.

Call Isaac back. Try to jump car again. A red wire attached to the negative lead of Isaac's car inspires Danny to attach the wrong cable...sparks...damage...and our car isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Twenty minutes later, the happy tow truck man comes. If Santa were a tow truck driver, he would be this man. With mutton-chops.

Car's at the shop. We have cough drops. And we're not going to take the truck anywhere tonight.