And then, there’s cooking…

Right at the heart of all my closest relationships is cooking.

Believe it or not, I can cook. Not everyone in my family can. There are a lot of “family recipes” that involve a trip to the deli, an extra spoonful of garlic or sugar, and our own patented technique for transferring  deli food into heirloom dishes.

Don’t tell, though. It’s a secret.

I have no moral objections to deli salad for the company picnic, or take-out chicken for the family reunion. If I’m short of time, I’ll do that in a heartbeat.

But if I love you… if I really, really love you… I’ll cook for real. I’ll start out with ingredients and everything. My sister (who did not get the cooking gene) used to show up with very long lists, and we’d eat together.

So, here’s one of the many brownie recipes, and one of the oldest.


Brownies

Ingredients:

2 cups sugar (450 grams)

4 beaten eggs

¼ cup melted butter (57 grams)

1 cup cocoa melted in boiling water (125 grams) (basically make it runny enough to mix in smoothly)

1 cup flour (140grams)

1/8 teaspoon salt (which my mother would omit on the grounds of good health)

nuts (completely optional, but if you are going to do this, they’ll be pecans. Either chopped with a knife or run through a hand coffee grinder.)

vanilla (lots of vanilla. I’ve never seen anyone in my family actually properly measure vanilla. Ever.)

Instructions:

Beat eggs well.

Add sugar… and blend well.

Add butter, cocoa, flower and salt.

Stir in nuts and vanilla.

Bake at 350 until done. (Yes, that’s what the recipe actually says. We’ll say in the neighborhood of 25-35 minutes.)

This recipe comes to me through my mother.

By way of my great-aunt (Who kept her first replacement hip on the bookshelf.)

From Aunt Goldie. (Who was—I think—my Grandfather’s aunt, and who had scleroderma)

Steel Cranes

Since nothing was familiar enough to photograph on my trip back to my childhood home, I wound up taking a couple pictures on the way back.
Yup. More rest area art.

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Central Nebraska is one of the places the cranes stop to rest on their annual migration. And this…  Well, this would be a 100% all American origami steel crane. Mostly. Rumor hath it that if you fold enough of them (About two. We really don’t have the Japanese attention span, and besides… STEEL!) Your wish will come true.

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The Central Nebraska Visitors’ Bureau wished for more tourists and more attention from the press.
They got me on both counts, so obviously, the legend is absolutely true.

Them Crime-Writer Suspicions

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Now, doesn’t that seem like an awful lot of duct tape to keep one junk refrigerator closed?

There’s a lot of baggage in this picture. This house–this refrigerator–is about two blocks away from where they found a missing woman’s car last week. Her phone, as I understand it, was in that car.

And her apartment was all torn up.

The local paper hasn’t picked up the story.

And from what I hear, the working theory is that she wrecked her place, ditched her car, dumped her phone, and ran away with “HIM.” The man her family suspects of foul play.

Her family is still using the word “kidnapped.”

I don’t know the girl, personally, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say she doesn’t live in a place like the house in that picture. I could be wrong.

But, they’re the kind of people who have to figure out what to do when the paper can’t be bothered, and the police think the girl ran away.

I hear a lot of stories in the silence.

Nostalgia and Fugue

In a fit of nostalgia, I let myself be talked  into the idea that I  should go back to the town I used to live in, and the house where I spent the better portion of my childhood.
Five hours later, I was there, staring at a town that could have been anyplace, and a few buildings that might have been familiar, one remodel and half a dozen coats of paint ago.
It’s a strange feeling, going back to a place you haven’t been in years. I spent some time looking for the old landmarks, and finding nothing. A neighbor’s house, that was still recognisable thanks to the distinctive windows was as close as I got to identifying anything.
Two trips past a house that must have been mine, once,  and I still don’t feel like I’ve been home. I don’t feel it. I do know that those pines used to be little, and once, you could see into the back yard, and there used to be a cottonwood tree somewhere in the front.
There are a lot more houses in the neighborhood than when I lived there. Closer together, and almost claustrophobic. No one has horses, anymore, and the field where Other Karen’s father used to pull our sleds behind his snow mobile? Gone.
It’s not the first time I’ve gone back. Last time, I was horrified to find a buffalo skull above MY garage door, but at least it was still MY house.
This time… I had to go back to the main street and look again to convince myself I really had turned at the right place. Things had changed.
My old school got a gym. And a bunch of plastic things in the yard. When I was there, we had old fashioned swings and merry-go-rounds. And…  I’m ashamed to say… It looks like someone may have removed the tractor tires we used as forts.
There aren’t many people left, either. None of the mailboxes had names I recognized, and anyway, it’s a mobile society.
I kept track of a few friends for a while. Saint Louis for one, Lincoln for another. Followed them until their older sister went to the Air Force, and their mother had a replacement baby, or until we ran out of letters, one way or another, and stopped writing. They aren’t there for me to look up, at any rate.
I can still find one. I might track him down some other time. If and when I feel like talking. Or… If and when I need him for points in the next blog hop scavenger hunt. Whichever.
And by the way… Blog hop deadline today. Few hours left.

3 Tools For Break Room Writers and Misanthropes

If you’re like me, you try to squeeze in as many words as possible in as many strange and under-equipped places as possible. After all, you have a life. You have a job, family, friends, and pets. You probably want to eat, sleep, and shower, too.

High expectations.

Here are some of the things I’ve found most useful, when exploiting every last second.

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1.) Full size, folding keyboard. You’ll have a much better typing speed on something closer to what you’re used to. I’m using a Verbatim folding keyboard, which I’ve had for several years. Aside from the fact I dropped it and broke a hinge, it’s still working perfectly. Right around sixty dollars.

2.) Smart Phone or Tablet. I don’t have a secure space at work to store a laptop, so smaller is better. My phone more or less lives in my pocket, and I type into an email document. When I run out of time, I just mail the document to myself. My particular phone was a deep discount on Amazon, and just squeaked by under a hundred. (Well, yes, but compare to a laptop, and you’ll see why.)

The keyboard-phone combo is easy to drag along almost anywhere.

3.) Headphones. These should be wired, and clearly visible. If you are listening to music, they’ll keep the din of the Break Room in the background. However, they’re an important accessory, whether you’re listening to music, or not. The sad fact is that no amount of clearly visible work will keep people from interrupting your work time. Nope. It takes a pair of headphones to do that.

StoryTime Blog Hop-Let the Countdown Begin!

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I’m working on pulling a story together for the StoryTime Blog Hop later this month.  One day before the deadline for Links (July 20th), and just eight days left before the blog hop, itself (July 27th). Everybody’s invited to write with us, this g0-round, and you’re always welcome to read.

One of the benefits of the blog hop is that it forces you to write, and it forces you to write on a deadline.

I happen to be one of those people who’ll be writing–or at least editing– right up to the last minute.

I’m never confident there’s actually going to be a story, until I get to the end of one, push the button, and send it out to the world.

You can host a blog hop and not actually write a story for it…. Right?

That’s my insecurity, of course. In the end, I always wind up with a story. Then, I move on to the ego trip, in which I wonder whether I should use the story for the blog hop, or if I should just go ahead and submit my little bit of brilliance directly to the Nobel Committee.

So, keeping in mind that there’s another week to keep writing after the links have to be in, hop over to the blog hop page, decide if you’re interested, and get back to me!

About Masculinity

I’d like to be able to claim it’s my own depth and intelligence that got me onto this subject, but let’s be honest. It’s those soaps.

I’m caught somewhere between laughing and crying. I’m trying to figure out just what a lap dance smells like–body glitter and strawberry body spray?–and I still haven’t thought of a single manly combination that doesn’t have me rolling on the floor.

What do I think a man should smell like? Honestly? Just pick something that doesn’t make me sneeze. My preference? As little as possible.

But step slowly away from the soaps.

Masculinity is a tough subject.

And it’s a subject that’s everywhere. One of my coworkers just asked her grandson what color he wanted to paint his room. And he did NOT get what he wanted. (Pink.)

Let’s be honest. There is no color of paint that will make a three year old even a tiny bit manly. Camouflage and blood spatter? Uhm… nope. Still three.

Aha!

1.)  Masculinity is achieved. It is a variant of adulthood. Nobody is born a man.

and

2.) Not everybody who is born male makes the cut.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of them wind up male enough, but the vast majority of them will never be able to kill a bobcat with their bare teeth.

This is where I usually get tangled up talking about Masculinity. #2. Not everybody who is born male will achieve the ideal of Masculinity.

I may be defining a word using itself, right there.

Or maybe, the word has just become increasingly complicated by the modern world. Masculinity=the traits attributed to the ideal man.

That was pretty simple, back in caveman days.

InterviewerWhat’s your ideal man? 

Cave-Woman: I don’t care. Whatever one’s going to keep that saber-toothed tiger from eating me.

Modern Woman: No idea, but he sure as hell better not be wearing pink, and I hope he smells like body glitter and strawberry body spray a lap dance.

Clearly, the whole subject requires more thought. And research. I’ll watch a few Jason Statham movies and get back to you.

It’s a Small World, and Damn It, It’s Mine.

One of the things I love about the Internet… Well, maybe the only thing I love about the Internet is the way it connects people. And that’s a good, solid building block. If it connects people, it can connect groups of people, and groups of groups, and so on, until world peace and eventually, mass collaboration on my giant robot…

So we can play Battlebots with space aliens.

But one step at a time.

The internet connects people. It’s given me a writers’ group… a book club… a really broad and interesting group of strangers to just talk about nothing and everything with. Most of them are people I would never have met in real life–distance and time would get in the way. Even the internet people who live closest to me. Without the ‘net, how would I know there was novelist like me in Kansas City? How would I find them?

The internet closes the gap. There are people I’ve never seen that I’ve been friends with for years. There are people who live on another continent that suddenly, I want to know better. And, with the internet, there’s no reason I can’t get to know them better. Distance is irrelevant.

More and more often, I find myself watching the news–seeing the bad things that are happening in far away places–and thinking of people by name.

Where is X? I hope Y made it out okay.

I want my friends to be safe. I want my world to be safe.

I’m looking at the news–at things that are happening right now, and things that happened yesterday and the day before, and the day before that–and I feel like a raving lunatic when I say this, but… I think we’re getting closer.

I weigh a handful of cherished names against all the violence and extremism in the world, and I see that we are winning.

Be safe, everyone.

That’s Sooo Going on the Internet

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I found this soap in my local hardware store the other day. And the moment I saw it, I knew I was going to have to share it.

So, here, we have Man Hands Soap, a brand of scented soaps marketed toward men. I really don’t know what that means. I’ve seen it, and I still don’t know what it means. The originals are scented in Manly scents… You know… like Bacon and Muscle Rub. And because “Clean” just isn’t a manly option, they also have Top Soil. Yup. That would be a soap that actually, literally, smells like dirt.

This is Man Hands Soap (for kids!). Note that gender-neutral, kids. Because these days, it’s not just little boys who want to smell like a Man.

Apparently, men also smell like bubble gum. Who knew?

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Oh, look. And they’re even made here in Nebraska. I guess that means they get a link. Hmmm… Now, what shall I link to, exactly? The only picture of a man on the whole site.

Wait. You mean I’m… a hippie?

I keep running into those moments. You know the ones. The kind of things that make you feel like you’re the most permissive libertine who ever walked the earth. Three in a row, today, and still counting.

So, my day began with co-worker complaining about the parental controls on her computer. It seems that 10 year old granddaughter found a joke. And actually, it’s kinda a funny joke.

A priest goes over to an elderly parishioner’s home. They go into the living room to talk, and he can’t help but notice… There is a crystal bowl on her organ, and floating in the crystal bowl is a condom. Well, it takes him most of the visit to find the courage, but as he’s leaving, he very delicately brings up the topic. What do you have in this bowl? he  asks.  And the elderly woman replies, Oh, it’s the most wonderful thing. You place it on your organ to prevent disease, and it works! I haven’t been sick all winter.

The woman I work with was not amused. And she didn’t want to explain that to a ten year old!

I had to ask which word the kid was having trouble with. Condom or Organ? And either way, I guess I don’t see the problem. She thinks the problem was “organ.” So, tell her it’s another word for penis, says I.

The shocked silence that followed was so loud, even I couldn’t miss it. She does know they have penises, doesn’t she? Well, yes, but–

Nope. I’m a hippie. Apparently, there’s a quota of body-part-words children are allowed to learn, and sorry, kid. You’ve hit it.

And then

I ran into a random vending machine in the bathroom conversation. The little girl was asking what the vending machine was for. And the mother was dodging the question, as if her life depended on it.

But what’s in it?

Something for grownups.

Sudden and obvious interest. What?

Something.for.grown.ups.

I know, but what?

A single moment of panic, as the mother looks for any available exit, and then realizes that even chewing her own arm off won’t get her out of this one. Then: I DON’T KNOW!!

(BTW: Frantic lobbying for condom machines in every bathroom in the world goes here. ‘Cause I’m a hippie.)

I think I’ll always have trouble with the idea of information as taboo. Problems with the idea that knowledge about something results in people doing that thing.  After all, I have fairly detailed information about bowel re-sectioning,but I’ve never felt the need to whip out a knife and try it at home.