Thursday, October 29, 2009


The annual Halloween potluck is tomorrow, which means that I just finished making a big pot of vegetarian chili and two different recipes of cornbread.

I haven't made any of these particular dishes before, and with my well-known aversion to following directions, it probably doesn't matter. The chili smells more like curry to me (which makes sense given that it has cumin, coriander, and cinnamon for seasonings). I've made corn bread many times before, but I'm trying something new with jalapeƱos, corn kernels, and cheese. And then I modified it for the second batch to use habaneros instead of jalapeƱos. We'll see if any of it is actually edible.

Potlucks are the best time to try new dishes as far as I'm concerned. If it's a total disaster nobody will know you made it and there will be plenty of other food to eat. If someone really likes it, they will seek you out in order to get the recipe. And usually you don't end up with too many leftovers, which is a huge plus if you live alone and don't relish eating the same thing for the next week and a half.

So, really, there's no downside. Oh, sure, there's always the possibility of public humiliation, but who better to accidentally poison than your boss and most of your coworkers?

The humiliation factor is nothing like the bouquet toss at an outdoor wedding I went to fifteen years ago... The bride (who generally wasn't too bad but had definitely developed a bit of bridezilla attitude by the time the ceremony took place) forced all of the single women who hadn't already fled the reception to stand in a group near the pool. Then she stood about ten feet away and tossed the bouquet high in the air.

We all took a step back and the flowers hit the concrete with a wet splat. (In my defense, who's ever heard of a wedding without at least one woman diving for the bouquet? I was just getting out of the way.)

The bride marched over, picked up the bedraggled flowers, and hurled them at the closest person. She was not a happy camper.

Maybe that's part of why I avoid weddings. But I still don't mind occasional potlucks.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Such a Literary Family

This evening I shocked the obnoxiously smiling grocery clerk when she asked if I had any big plans for Halloween. My answer: "Give candy to the little bastards so they won't egg my house." She stopped smiling after that.

(Normally I don't mind the cashiers and their attempts to be friendly since it's a requirement of the job -- this one is just over the top and she bugs me.)

Anyhow, for this evening's post, I'm going with two letters. Both were written on tissue paper and accompanied handmade Christmas ornaments that I received as part of a package while I was living in Germany.

Letter # 1 (from Jojo the Enforcer):

Dearest Theresa,
I decided I would be nice just this once and write to you on tissue paper. (Save money, of course.) By the way you better like the hot chocolate, it weighed a lot. Hope you like my present. I did it last night when mom reminded us she is mailing it tomorrow. Last night was an earthquake and me & sis were alone (mom & dad were cleaning up at the gym.) It measured a 5.0, but it was scary. On Tuesday night I get to go see the glory of christmas at the crystal cathedral. I'm going with the gym team because sue can get the tickets cheap since she is going to dance in it. Last Wednesday she was at rehearsal and one angel's cord broke. She was supposed to be 50 feet but the cable person decided to lower her and got her too low. When he tried to pull her up the cable snapped. She was 15 feet when it happened (no serius [sic] injuries.)

Well, Bye

(P.S. Karen copied my tissue paper idea!)

And then the other letter from K-poo:

Dear Theresa,
I'm writing to you on tissue paper to save money. It was Johanna's dish week on Thanksgiving. I hope it's going to be her week on Christmas. I hope you like the gift from Ubar [my budgie]. I made districts in gymnastics, as you know, and I made state too! They are having a contest in the paper about the person that can finish the story that they had in the paper the best wins $25 and thier [sic] story is printed in the paper on Christmas. Bye,
From Karen.

P.S. I didn't copy Johanna by writing on this!

This stuff is way funnier than anything I could come up with.

Friday, October 23, 2009

You Have Old Mail

(Seriously, I was done with this post two hours ago, but Blogger was having issues. Then I got sidetracked reading a thread about the worst DIY project I've ever seen, and now it's almost 1am. I'm going to bed now.)

So I stayed home on Wednesday (just because I could) and instead of getting anything done, I sat around and read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It's an entertaining book, told through a series of letters written to and from an English writer immediately after WWII ended. Most of the letters touch in some way on conditions and happenings in Guernsey during the German occupation.

(My sum total of knowledge about Guernsey before reading this book: Guernsey was the original source of Guernsey cows. I could never remember the difference between Guernsey and Jersey cows. I think they're both small and brownish, but I could be mistaken.)

Anyhow, the letters that make up the novel are witty and clever, and as you might expect, this requires a huge suspension of disbelief because who writes like that? However, since we all know that everyone in post-war Britain was witty and clever, I was able to get over this hurdle.

However, just for comparison's sake, here is an actual letter I received from K-poo (on bright orange paper) while I was living in Germany. (I'm assuming that I had given her some stationery as an incentive to write...)

June 4, 1989
Dear Theresa,

You know on the card you sent me, you said that I looked like one of the gators on the front. Well, theres
[sic] three so the other two must be you and Johanna. I think you gave me this as a hint to write to you. (Actully [sic], I know you did.) Anyway, I liked the colors, but theres [sic] only one of each color so I can't write with these all the time. I wrote you with one of the colors that I liked best. The other color I liked best was the hot pink. Well I think your trick worked. I did write to you. Sorry this letter wasn't very long. Be seeing you soon.
Karen (B.)

P.S. This week is my last music lessen [sic] till next year with Mr. Orr.

[sic] I love my rat.

(Then, in a different handwriting style (big fluffy letters) on the end of the page...)

Hi! now you can't tell me I didn't write. Johanna B.

So, yeah, not a lot of references to Charles Lamb, or Jane Austen. In fact, other than reiterating the fact that they were both writing to me, there was not a whole lot of information in the letter...

While I was looking though my old letters, I also found an envelope that has scrawled in big angry letters "Warum haben Sie keine Namen an Ihren Briefkasten?" This was from the evil postman, chastising me for not putting my name on my mailbox. Ah, life in Germany...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Maybe it's another drill."

Well, the five year old's birthday party was this weekend, and you know what that means... Okay, aside from a short term boost in the economy as the entire output of China is funneled into his living room. No, the important thing here is that the party was the deadline for the storm trooper cake.*

Now, I know I've had a couple of misfires on this whole project, but everyone knows I never really do anything until the last minute, so I figured there was still a chance that it could all turn out alright.

I did decide to do it from molded Rice Krispies treats instead of cake mix, mostly because I like Rice Krispies treats better. Also, molding something seemed a lot more forgiving than cutting pieces off a cake.

Anyhow, Jeff and I whipped up a double batch and began the process...

My two fears were that I would burn my hands molding this, and that it would set too quickly. Both fears were unjustified. We had lots of time to tweak things, and it was pretty much room temperature after about a minute. If you do this at home, make sure you have an extra set of hands to help compress the Rice Krispies. Also, Crisco is your friend.

Next we covered the base with the marshmallow fondant. The source of many of our problems at this point was the web site from which we got the recipe for marshmallow fondant. It called for two pounds of powdered sugar, and at one point says to add 3/4 of the sugar, but that extra half pound is never accounted for. I suspect it was supposed to be kneaded in at some point. As it was, the fondant was very saggy...

I think this was the point when Jeff, in a heretofore unseen streak of perfectionism, began referring to this as his Alan Smithee project. I've done enough of these things to know that no matter how bad it looked at this stage, it could have looked much worse. Like a true diva, Jeff eventually changed his mind again and re-attached his name to the project.

A little black food coloring later, here we have the final product. I think it looks great. The only part I wasn't really happy with was the mouth line because there was no way to make it look like anything but a mustache. It sort of makes him look like a bad guy from a Clint Eastwood movie.

We referred to him as "Pancho the Storm Trooper".

Anyhow, it turns out that most kids prefer Rice Krispies treats to cake and the whole thing was eaten. And now the saga is truly over.


* The other important thing that happened was that my nephew finally remembered my name for the first time. However, apparently he only has one slot for that sort of thing since he forgot K-poo's name as a consequence. It worked out great for me since K-poo got him a nice gift and he can't remember which one of us gave it to him.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Spectacular Failure #2

Okay, so apparently marzipan is not my medium either.

After the huge success of the marshmallow fondant storm trooper, I decided to try modeling in marzipan.

First off, the pre-made marzipan (imported from Denmark with no expiration date) was hard as a rock and could only be formed into a solid log with dimensions to fit in the box. Luckily, I had a backup plan, in the form of almond paste, which makes marzipan when mixed with powdered sugar and a little corn syrup. That, at least, could be dented.

I'm sure you'll agree that the results are spectacular. "Wow" is the appropriate response here.

In this next image, the storm trooper is being menaced by Cthulhu (aka, the unknown tentacled being from my reef tank). The part of the rock is being played by my Blackthorn cider bottle. (I suggest that you consume a bunch of it and view these photos again -- it only makes it funnier.)

You can tell the storm trooper is frightened because his arm is sliding off.

Perhaps I'm not ready for prime time, but who cares? My skills can only improve from this point onwards.

In other news, I remembered that I was supposed to put extra shells in the tank so the hermit crabs don't kill off the snails when they need a new shell. I couldn't find exactly the right shells, but I found a bag with a bunch of different types. I threw some in the tank.

Both hermit crabs were extremely excited about this one. It's about ten times as big as either one of them, and I don't think there's any way they could ever grow large enough to need that shell, but it's good to dream. This seems to be the hermit crab version of a deluxe apartment in the sky. If I didn't refuse to name the invertebrates, they would henceforth be known as George and Weezie.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

These Droids Have Bad Motivators, Too

This is what you're supposed to do on Sunday...

A few hours later the dog had shifted position...

(And yes, I do check sometimes to see if she is still breathing.)

While I was outside, I got a shot of the nice new fence.

And then I had help while surfing the web.

And people wonder why my goal is to become a shut-in...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Now with More Crappy Photos!

So, I haven't seen the tentacled being since I accidentally dropped a rock on it while prepping the tank for photos. However, I'm sure it will show up again, especially if it's something that I don't really want in my tank.

In the meantime, I fed the coral some mysis shrimp today. (Some of the coral in my tank is almost purely photosynthetic, but some do better with supplemental feeding.) I thawed a cube of little frozen shrimp, and then tried to put just one on each head of the coral with a turkey baster.

Here's an exercise for anyone reading: Go get your turkey baster, mix some fish flakes (or something appropriately flakey) with a few tablespoons of water, then suck in up in the turkey baster and try to administer just one drop to something at the bottom of a few gallons of water. It's not as easy as it sounds, and that's why there are dead little shrimp all over the tank. Anyhow, the coral were all very excited and I got to watch them eat. Very cool.

And then something (crab? large shrimp?) ran out of a hole in the rock, grabbed a dead little shrimp off the sand, and ran back in. Bizarre. I have no idea where that one came from.

Again, I took a bunch of really blurry pictures and this is the best of the lot. The Blastomussa polyp on the right has a fuzzy little shrimp going down the hatch. (The mouth is the darker spot in the middle of the bright green.)

And just because I think it's so cool, here's what the Xenia does when all the pumps are off. It's moving all on its own in this clip.

(Um... okay, you may have noticed that this is a still picture. That's because I'm giving up after trying to get the 15 second video to load for the last two hours. Just imagine the little polyps opening and closing like tiny little fists. Using your imagination is good for you...)

Someone today said they would never put a Xenia in a tank because you shouldn't "plant weeds", but I think it's just the coolest thing. What's a weed anyhow?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tanks a Lot

I'm telling you, for sheer entertainment value, the nano-reef is hard to beat. I know you might find it hard to believe, since there's not even any fish in there, but there's always something going on.

It's a little stressful, too, of course. After having to float ice every few hours to keep the temperature down low enough not to kill the coral and snails, I finally bought a chiller. But before I could even figure out how to install it (which, sounds like it should be easy, but isn't), suddenly it became winter and I had to install the heater to keep the water warm enough not to kill the coral and snails. The only reason that I don't have the central heating on in the house right now is because less than a week ago I had the A/C on, and I'm too stubborn to switch from one to the other without at least a month in between.

Then there was the night that I realized there were hundreds of tiny little bugs crawling all over the rocks. I've learned to love these copepods because they're a sign of a healthy tank, but for the first few minutes my skin was crawling.

And then yesterday, after what, two or three months of the rocks being in the tank, I saw long tentacles coming from a hole in the rock, going around the corner and grabbing at things. Holy crap. The tentacles have to be at least four inches long. They're really skinny and translucent, but still, how did I miss seeing this for months? True, they all sucked back into the rock when I changed the lighting, but still.

I think the aliens have arrived...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Top 10 Ways To Procrastinate When You Ought To Be Writing

  1. Wonder if you can get the exotics pathologist (who is one of your Facebook peeps that you've never actually talked to in person but seems very cool and also writes fiction) to proofread the fictional pathology report (after it is written, of course).
  2. Consider getting a word count widget, like the one Cherie Priest has on her blog.
  3. Remember that you need to get Cherie Priest's latest book (Boneshaker).
  4. Remember that the Kindle version of Boneshaker isn't for sale until a few days from now, so you can't order it yet.
  5. Watch the reef tank for a while. Wonder why the Xenia is so tightly curled up.
  6. Wonder which pseudonym to go with when the book is finally written.
  7. Hey, there are probably some shows in the queue...
  8. Why is the Xenia so tightly curled? Check the specific gravity of the tank water just in case there is a salinity problem.
  9. Check Facebook for the fifth time in ten minutes. Surely somebody must be doing something interesting...
  10. Remember that it's Thursday and thus blog day...