Monday, October 17, 2016

Homecoming 2016

Next year it will have been twenty years since we left that building as students for the last time. We return as alumni and for me, it's a once a year return. Some of my friends have kids who attend that school and they return day after day to drop off and pick up, for cheerleading practice and football games, for parent-teacher conferences and for PTA meetings.  As the nominees for Homecoming king and queen were announced, one of my friends predicted both of the winners and as I looked at her in puzzlement, she just shrugged. "I have kids who go to this school." As if that explained it. I couldn't have predicted who would have won the year I VOTED for king and queen.

I got there early and walked into the school, past the band members milling around half in uniform and half out, half-heartedly tuning instruments and standing in crooked lines, into the cafeteria, into the bathroom. It smelled the same - hairspray and the undefinable funk of teenager.  I put on my long underwear, a sweatshirt with my high school mascot on it that I purchased for just this game, swiped on some mascara, and walked back out into the cafeteria just in time to see a junior varsity cheerleader fall onto her head after a missed handspring. I nearly rushed over there to help her until I realized that there were already three coaches heading her way.
I don't remember much of the day to day of my life in high school. It's so weird. You spend so much time there and then it all disappears into a poof of shadowy memories and yearbook photos.  We saw a woman there who everyone swears to me that I should know, but I could only shake my head. I don't remember that person. One woman who was in our graduating class passes by and a friend whispers her name into my ear. Oh, for fuck's sake, I think, do I look that old?

I remember these friends, these people who are sitting around me, look exactly like they did back then, I swear to you, but then I look closer. Maybe I am that old. My friend's daughter is one of the sophomore class banner holders during the half-time show. We scream when her name is called, hooting and hollering like we never did when we were actual students at this school. When she came up to us during the third quarter, she rolled her eyes at me when I asked her if she heard us cheer for her.  Her presence, this beautiful daughter of my good friend, her existence is the real clue that yes, we are older.  And that's okay.

We laugh at jokes that are decades old now, we ignore the glares from the guy sitting next to me who is actually watching the game, and we critique the marching band's performance. We clap at the introduction of the parents of the senior football players and cheerleaders. My ears perk as I hear the names of some of my former classmates out there.  We marvel at what a perfect football night it is, I silently marvel at the endless cornfields surrounding the campus, and the crowed trickles out at the end of the third quarter when the result of the game is no longer in question.  This is what Friday nights are about in small towns all across this country and I can't help but be glad for it, for right now.
Oh, we did win that game. 29 - 0.  Go TCHS!

Friday, October 14, 2016

2016 CSA Week 17: Bulbs!

This week is definitely an autumnal harvest.

Beauty heart radish (3)
Leeks (2)
Green peppers (4)
Baby ginger

We only have a couple weeks of CSA season left! And then what will I eat?!  The weather is turning cooler, the trees are starting to yellow, and today was maybe the last day I'll walk to go get vegetables without wearing a jacket.

  • I have left over cabbage from the slaw I made last week, so I'll include some of the radishes and the kohlrabi in another batch of slaw.
  • The carrots and peppers will be eaten raw with my lunches.
  • The romanesco is a cross between cauliflower and broccoli and we'll probably just roast it as a side with dinner one night.
  • I'm going make a potato leek soup with those leeks. I'm actually going to try a new recipe in the slow cooker.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I Capture the Castly by Dodie Smith

There is a HYSTERICAL Goodreads review of I Capture the Castle that totally sums up my view of the book. I was so underwhelmed by this book, but I wanted to love it because three different people have told me that this is a good follow-up to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, for which my love is deep and abiding.  But I just didn't love it at all. I know this book is beloved in Britain (#82 in the The Big Read), but I guess I'm just not enough of an Anglophile for it to resonate with me.

I found our heroine*, Cassandra Mortmain, to be absolutely insufferable in her faux-naive, "quirky" character. Sometimes she would be journaling her "complicated" feelings (do I love this man? or this man? or THIS one?) and instead of coming across as interesting or revealing, it came off as narcissistic and unaware. Overall, there wasn't a single redeemable character in this entire novel, except for the Heloise the dog.


I was reading this book in the midst of Trump/Bush tapes, presidential debates of looniness, and absolute sexism radiating out of every corner of society coming from men AND women. I heard graphic descriptions of sexual assault referred to as "locker room talk," I imagined a conversation with my dead father in my head in which he defended Donald Trump, and, in case that wasn't a giveaway, I was losing my damn mind. The mantra "you lived through the 2000 election, you are the product of Gloria Steinem and Eleanor Roosevelt, and you are strong" was not enough to keep me going.

And this book reminded me of how far we have come.

Yes, sexist language is rampant. Yes, women are still paid far less for the exact same work men do. Yes, victims of sexual assault are repeatedly revictimized by the criminal justice system if they want to see the perpetrators of the crimes against them punished legally. Yes, the right to choose a form of birth control is still mostly controlled by men (at my last ob-gyn appointment I was asked if my husband "approved" of my birth control method).  Yes, my teaching evaluations are lower than my husband's just because I'm a woman.

But sexist language is no longer acceptable in many homes in the United States. The polls showing support for Trump declined dramatically after the Trump/Bush tape was released.  Some women have the opportunity to live their dreams and aspire to careers their mothers and grandmothers could never have imagined.  You don't have to get married, have a child, and cook and clean every day to be a successful woman anymore. You can CHOOSE that and that's great if you want it. But you don't HAVE to.  Cassandra Mortmain could NOT have imagined a life other than marriage --> children or old maid --> failure.  She is not us anymore.

And somehow that's gotten me through this time. 

*I was grading a student paper recently and she had written "heroine" every single time she meant "heroin" and I was hysterical by the end of paper. She had also confused "hostel" for "hostile" and I just couldn't stop giggling. That is all. Thank you for allowing me to share this teaching story.

Monday, October 10, 2016

"Camping" or The Night of Shivering

We went "camping" on Friday night. If you're anything like me, you're imagining a backpacking trip, attempting to find a flat spot in the woods to find a place to stake a tent, and beef jerky and trail mix.  That is absolutely NOT what we did.

Dr. BB has been sharing his desire for more outdoor activities for several years now. I have enjoyed hiking and snowshoeing, but  my desire for sleeping outdoors was limited to non-existent. During the summer mosquitoes are a real menace and the rest of the year it is too cold. So I have been a supportive, if unenthusiastic, partner in his camping ambition.  My support has been in the consent to buy loads of camping gear AND continuously sewing bags to hold said gear.  I agreeably practiced putting up the tent in the living room four times before we left. My enthusiasm has been limited in that I have no desire to actually camp and so had done no preparation on my own. 

So we drove (CAR CAMPING) to the campground on Friday night, set up camp, had a campfire, and went to bed. The next morning we broke camp and went home.  There was no hiking, no beef jerky, and our campsite was carefully crafted with several good places for a tent.
We made some rookie mistakes. One, we didn't get to the campground until dusk. I had to work until relatively late and we ate dinner before we left home. This saved us from having to cook dinner over our camp stove, but it also meant that we were pitching the tent and starting the fire by flashlight, which was not ideal.  Two, we only bought one bundle of wood and that lasted approximately two hours and then there was no heat.  Three, we were woefully unprepared for the temperatures in the mid-30s that happened in the early hours of Saturday morning. We have nice sleeping bags and were wearing decent long underwear, but it's early October and we're not quite weather hardened. Talk to me in February and I'll probably go out in short sleeves with mid-30s temperatures, but I just wasn't quite prepared.  Lastly, we brought shitty pillows with us because we didn't want our actual pillows to smell like campfire, but we both slept like crap and I wonder how much that could have been avoided if I'd just packed our normal pillows and put them in the dryer when we got home.
So let's talk gear. We've been building up our camping gear relatively slowly over the last two or three years, carefully parceling out our REI member coupons to use for large purchases and funneling all our REI rebate money back into REI purchases (more on a sales pitch for why we are REI members here). Here are some of the larger items we've gotten.

1) REI Half Dome 2 Tent - This tent is pretty well designed (although I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, so take that with a grain of salt) and is super easy to put together. We practiced putting it together a few times in our living room at home and this served us well because we managed to put it together in about ten minutes at the campsite.  There has never been any marital discord surrounding tent assembly or disassembly, so I count it as a win. We purchased the footprint for this tent separately.  I've no clue if the footprint is super important, but after all we spent on this excursion, another $35 seemed reasonable at the time.

2) Sleeping bags and sleeping pads - We got the men's and women's versions of the Kelty Cosmic Down sleeping bags. They're rated to -7 degrees, but that's basically the limit to prevent hypothermia. I'm not sure I'd recommended it for below freezing at all.  We each got the same sleeping pad - a basic version that the guy working at REI recommended to us. Neither of us woke up sore the next morning and each of the pads stayed inflated throughout the night, so I'd say that was a win.

3) Camping stove - We went for a Trangia (25-2 UL). I swear we purchased it at REI, but I can't find it on their website. I almost cried at the price - it was nearly as much as the tent!  But my guess is that someday it will be something I'm happy we spent so much money on?  Maybe. It comes in an adorable package with a couple of bowls, a frying pan, and a TEA KETTLE. That is the selling point for me. Anyway, I did love that Saturday morning Dr. BB was able to make us thermoses of tea while I packed the sleeping bags and pads.

Because of Dr. BB's dietary restrictions, I see food as being the biggest obstacle for us in any camping expeditions that are longer than a brief overnight. We brought our cooler and that's great, but if we're backpacking or bike camping, that's not going to be an option. I'm really concerned about food options when/if we do more "serious" camping.
4) Cooking iron - I remember camping with my aunt and uncle (RV camping at a campground with electricity and water hookups!) and making mountain pies in one of these cooking irons. We put wild blueberries we picked in it, we made calzones with tomato sauce and pepperoni, and we made cinnamon toast with it.  I have VERY FOND memories of it. I failed to account for vagaries of gluten free bread (see: my lack of preparation from above) and we never actually made an edible one on Friday night.  I'm going to attempt to figure it out for next time.
5) Clothing - Look, we didn't buy any clothing especially for this. We live in Wisconsin, so having good long underwear is just a necessity for living here.  I'm a big fan of SmartWool. It is, sadly, not made in the USA, but it's good quality and almost all of my pieces of long underwear are SmartWool (I have some Icebreaker, which is less expensive, but doesn't fit me as well).  I also think you should know that my Windstopper hat makes life bearable. During the fall and spring I wear it almost daily and during super cold winter days, I wear it UNDER my winter hat to help with wind. I love it and whenever someone moves to a cold climate from a warm climate, I send them one in a care package.  I'm a huge proselytizer of Windstopper hats (not so much their gloves, though). 
6) Camping knife- Dr. BB also purchased a camping knife. We used it on the wood to get tinder and, honestly, even though he was using a glove, Dr. BB got a blister between his thumb and index finger. I'm pretty sure he's going to buy a hatchet for this purpose.

Things I Wish We Had:
1) Better pillows - Since we had the car, there was NO reason for us to be worried about how compressed our pillows could be.  Space wasn't an issue, so that was a big mistake.
2) Headlamps - We ended up making camp in the dark, which wasn't ideal, but moving our flashlights around was tedious.  Headlamps honestly aren't that bulky and I think we could find them super useful.
3) More knowledge on starting campfires - Some of this was my fault (no preparation on my part), but I was essentially no help when Dr. BB had some difficulties in starting the fire. It has rained for most of the day on Wednesday and Thursday and we'd even had a brief shower on Friday morning, so all the wood was wet. It took longer than it should have to actually start the fire and by the time we had it going we were FREEZING.
4) Crappy camping clothes - I only own two pairs of jeans. I was wearing one pair, but I was nervous about getting them torn, so I was a bit of a wimp about getting down on the ground. I actually wish I had gross clothing that I wasn't nervous about hurting, so I think I'm going to head to Goodwill soon and get a pair or two of jeans for that purpose. 
5) Camp chairs - Every year when we watch fireworks we lament the fact that we don't have outdoor chairs. We pulled the picnic table as close to the fire pit as we dared, but it would have been nice to have more flexible seating when the wind changed direction and smoke was in our faces.

So, all in all, I'm going to say that I don't really understand the appeal of camping. It is expensive - all this gear added up, despite our REI loyalty and careful coupon usage on the pricier items AND it cost us $40 for one night at the campground and we had to get a state park sticker for our car, which admittedly we already had.  It wasn't really fun - it seemed like A LOT of work for relatively little relaxation. I didn't sleep well and I didn't come out of it refreshed in anyway. Dr. BB suggests that if we camped LONGER it would be better because it won't be just put up camp and take it down, but I have my suspicions.

But Dr. BB really wants this, so I imagine we'll try camping one more time this season while it's still warm enough and then we'll try again in the spring with Dr. BB's ambitions of eventually spending multiple nights out, maybe at a campground further away from our house than ten minutes. I think he really thinks we're going to end up doing bike camping later on, but I don't know about that.

End dissertation.

(As always, no one pays me anything for this blog. These are things we've actually purchased and we actually are REI loyalists.)

Friday, October 07, 2016

2016 CSA Week 17: Lots of Stuff I Don't Know How To Use

This week begins the downward spiral into my ability to DEAL WITH GARLIC BULBS FALLING ON MY HEAD whenever I open up the cabinet. I'm going to visit friends next weekend and I'm going to bring them all the onions and garlic they can handle.

Butternut squash
Small sweet potatoes (not quite fingerlings; not quite bakers...hmmm)
Baby ginger
Lemon drop pepper
Daikon radish
Beets with greens
  •  The radish I'll eat raw, bit by bit. Look how big that thing is!
  • The squash will be roasted and eaten.
  • The onions and garlic will be given away THANK YOUR DEITY.
  • I'll probably roast those potatoes with some carrots and eat them for sides or for lunch. That requires me to be home at lunchtime, which is not very usual.
  • We used the beet greens in a polenta lasagna for dinner last night.
  • And...I don't know. What do you do with beets (gag), ginger (double gag), or lemon drop peppers (email from the farmers suggests "curry")?
  • We threw out the lettuce since it didn't meet my quality standards (ha! - if I don't think I want to eat it, Dr. BB surely won't) and the cilantro was "donated" to another box since it tastes like soap.
And now we definitely have to make it to the market sometime soon to get actual vegetables I will eat!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

If you're a Harry Potter fan, you've inevitably scoured the internet looking for lists of things to read after HP.  A book that consistently comes up is this classic (published in 1961!!) early children's chapter book (reading level 6.3). I'm not going to lie to you, but I've taken this book out of the library three times. Before last Saturday, I had never gotten further than three pages in.

But it kept coming up, so on Saturday, I was in the car for hours and hours and I packed nothing except this book. Dr. BB listened to dreary Nick Cave and I read this book.

And I didn't love it. I kept nodding off. From Dixon, Illinois until the World's Largest Truck Stop in Walcott, Iowa, I was totally asleep. 

But then chapter six happened. And the book started getting good. I started reading lines out loud to Dr. BB. Soon I was reading entire paragraphs and then an entire chapter. The word play was amazing. The scenarios were imaginative. The illustrations are perfect complements to the prose. I was laughing and chuckling.

I'm not sure I'd really recommend this book. It was a slog to get to the good parts and the ending was much too moralistic and preachy for me. But I'm not sure I wouldn't recommend it, either. The playfulness of the language was amazing and the setting was described so vividly I felt like I was there.

I'm not going to put this on the list of Books I Must Buy for My Nieces and Nephews, but if told me they were reading it, I would love to hear their thoughts on it.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Yearly Goals, Quarter Three

I am going to be honest in my evaluation of these goals, but I think it's possible that quarter three is not my strongest quarter. Quarter one here and quarter two here, if you're interested.

Area One: Fitness Goals
1) Get 10,000 steps a day on my Fitbit.
In the 92 days in this particular quarter, I hit my goal on all but three days. One of those days was a Fitbit malfunction, so I'm going to say 90/92, which is 97.8% completion rate. I'm quite happy with this. The average is about 5.3 miles a day and just over 12,000 steps a day for this quarter.

2) Work out at least three times a week (90 minutes total).
Week 27: 3 workouts (weights)
Week 28: 3 workouts (weights)
Week 29: vacation week - gave it to myself off
Week 30: 3 workouts (weights)
Week 31: 3 workouts (weights)
Week 32: 4 workouts (weights)
Week 33: 2 workouts (weights)
Week 34: 3 workouts (weights)
Week 35: 4 workouts (weights)
Week 36: 4 workouts (weights)
Week 37: 4 workouts (weights)
Week 38: 4 workouts (weights)
Week 39: 4 workouts (weights)
Week 40: 4 workouts (weights)

I only missed my goal once and I did workout twice during that week, so that maintains my 92% completion rate from last quarter. The average number of workouts is 3.5, so I'm okay with this.

3) Lift weights at least once a week.
100% again! I've really improved this since the first quarter and I like it.

Area Two: Communication Goals
1) Update blog at least twice a week.
 July: 13 posts
August: 16 posts
September: 8 posts
That averages to  1.93 posts a week. Damn it. That is STILL NOT 2. I'm not going to give up on this yet, though. I'll keep trying. September killed me - there's not much to say besides "I taught a class, graded, and cooked something" - but I'll have to figure it out.

2) Talk to important people (mom, sister, two best friends) at least once every two weeks.

I...still haven't really done this. I think I'm going to revamp this one for 2017 to include some more benchmarks to encourage a good system of measurement.

3) Keep track of sent snail mail.

Still a big nope on this. Again, I'm thinking I'll have to do something about this in 2017 to make this one more realistic.

Area Three: Being a Grown-Up
1)  Put away $X a month into savings account each month.

This didn't actually happen at all this quarter. We don't get paid during the summer and I actually traveled a bit in this period, so I'm going to go ahead and say that I'm proud I didn't have to take money OUT of savings for this period. So it's kind of a draw. I'll do better in Q4 because I'll regularly get paid.

2)  Keep the house clean so that you wouldn't be embarrassed if someone stopped by unexpectedly.

Sure. The maintenance guy came into our apartment last week instead of someone else's and I wasn't at all horrified that a stranger walked in. I have some problem areas still, but the kitchen, bathroom, and main living area are totally presentable at all times.

And that's it. It's going...okay. I can definitely do better, but I'm please with most of the progress I've been making this year.
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