Thursday, December 28, 2006
The year is almost over.

A very full day. Lots of driving, smiling, etc. Tomorrow we are going to Chicago for the night. We're taking the train, which would normally mean reading time, but will probably mean sleepy time. Speaking of, I'm wiped out.

Monday, December 25, 2006
Hey, it's Christmas. Happy Christmas to all of you who celebrate it, which is probably most of you, and according to Congressman Virgil Goode should be everyone in this Christian, God-fearing, Muslm-hating country. Mr. Goode. That's funny.

Anyway, on the past few Christmas Eves, it's just been me and Paul. That's totally fine; I don't celebrate xmas anyway, and we usually spend Christmas day with his family, and that provides enough excitement for two days anyway. But last night we had some friends from out of town over for dinner, which was nice mostly because we got to see them and hang out with them, which we don't get to do all that often, but also because there's usually a lot of food around here on Christmas Eve, and sharing it means we have to eat leftovers for only two weeks instead of three.

On Christmas Eve, since Paul and I have been together, I make what I like to call (and Paul finds weird) "Paul's Memory Dinner." It's basically the food he remembers having at his grandmother's house on Christmas Even when he was little. It's all good food, and though I don't know that I'd normally serve this as dinner with guests coming over, I guess it worked out okay. We had shrimp cocktail with snappy sauce (extra snappy), which most people like a lot, so that was fine. And then some cheeses with bread and crackers, which I like a lot, and I made sure to get a wedge of Brie, even though Paul's not a fan; I am, and I will take any excuse I can get to eat a wedge of Brie. I even got up early yesterday to run out to Panera and pick up a few loaves of fresh bread. And then dried fruit and nuts. That seems kind of strange to me as something to put out with dinner, but I guess it's harmless. We had dried figs and dates and cherries with some mixed nuts that Paul picked up from the local nut roaster. (Yes, we have a local nut roaster in Kalmazoo. His motto? "Nuts to you from Kalamazoo." No I'm not kidding. Have a look for yourself.) We had an enormous pot of soup that I made from scratch. I'm never real clear on what kind of soup it's supposed to be, but Paul seems to remember it being a vegetable-minestrone kind of soup, which is probably the easiest kind to make anyway, but because it has so many different things in it, you kind of can't make a small amount. So I made about six gallons of soup. But it was good.

And then there was the ham. Paul remembers eating one of those ghastly canned hams -- you know, the kind shaped like a football? Yeah, one of those, but covered in pineapple rings and cherries and pierced with cloves. I have to tell you, it's such trashy food that I can't even appreciate the irony of eating it. And, I think all that hammy binder made my stomach a little upset. We've had those the past two years, but since we were having guests over this year, I refused to buy one of those and suggested a real ham instead. Paul reluctantly agreed, so I got a half spiral cut ham (which was big, but the quarter hams at the store were all dated December 21, and I didn't want to make us all sick on bad ham), made a quick ham goo with mustard, orange juice, brown sugar, and a teeny bit of ground cloves, glopped it on top, and stuck it in the oven until it was brown and crusty. And you know what? Holy crap, real ham is fucking good! I mean, I guess I knew that anyway, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that Jews who don't keep kosher absolutely love pork (especially bacon -- if you take my mom to lunch, fifty bucks says she gets a BLT), but it's so rare that I actually get to eat actual ham that's not lunch meat. It was just so good! I'm never buying one of those pressed loaf ham stumps again. Paul liked it too, and I guess it's good that we liked it, because a half of a spiral ham is a lot of ham. I froze most of it in dinner-sized packets, and we'll be eating it for a while. Along with the five or so gallons of soup left over.

Anyway, it was a nice memory dinner, and our guests seemed to enjoy it all. Hope you all had a good one. And Mr. Goode, please remember that this is a time of year for tolerance and acceptance. Muslims aren't bad people. Non-Christians aren't bad people. And you know that Jesus guy you love so much? He was Jewish.

Friday, December 22, 2006
You know what I love about this time of year? It's not the snow, and it's not all the food, and it's not the upbeat persona that a lot of people take on, and it sure as hell ain't Christmas. No, it's when I don't have any more shopping to do. I take a lot of satisfaction in knowing that there's all kinds of traffic and lines and oops-we're-out-of-that's, and I don't have any part of it, because I don't need anything else and I can just sit on my couch and not be a part of all the insanity.

And the time off. That kicks ass too. Starting today, I'm on holiday break, and I don't have to go back to work until January 8. Yes fucking yes.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Well, it's sort of holiday season, and I was kind of getting the itch to make some treats. Not for me, but to give as gifts, mostly to all of the people I see on a really regular basis but for whom I wouldn't otherwise go shopping to get an actual gift. I don't know these people well enough to buy them something, I'm not a big fan of the whole gift card ethos we as a country seem to have adopted, and really, during this time of year, I think people like and appreciate food. People especially like and appreciate chocolate. In the past, I've made chocolate covered pretzels, and they went over well, but I was feeling sick of dipping pretzels. So I decided to make bark. You know: chocolate bark. It's chocolate with other stuff in there and more chocolate drizzled on top, then broken into pieces. So far I've made cookies and cream (well, it's just Oreo, but cookies and cream sounds better) and s'more (same deal, but graham crackers and marshmallows) bark, and tomorrow I will make some rocky road (peanut and marshmallow) bark. And I have to say, they look amazingly fantastically incredible. Here is what I did, in case you want to make some bark of your own:

First, I went out and got a whole lotta chocolate. You can get whatever kind you want, but I got the following, all in 20 ounce bags of chips and all Ghirardelli: three milk chocolate, two bittersweet chocolate, and one white chocolate. I got it all on sale, so it wasn't too bad, but this is one of those recipes where you should probably use good chocolate. The store brand might not cut it, but do what you have to do. Then I got a package of Oreos, a box of graham crackers, a bag of mini marshmallows, and a can of dry roasted peanuts. I buttered three cookie sheets, not so that the chocolate wouldn't stick, but so the parchment paper on which I'd be pouring the chocolate would stick. Then in a makeshift double boiler, I melted a 20 ounce bag of milk chocolate, put a third of it on each cookie sheet, and spread it out until it was thin but not too thin. Then I put the topping (Oreo or graham cracker/marshmallow or peanut/marshmallow or your-combination-here) on the chocolate and lightly pressed it in. Then I melted some white chocolate and drizzled it on top, and then I did the same with some bittersweet. Then I let it cool and cut it into big chunks. Then I put it in nice little plastic treat bags and tied them with ribbon, which I then curled. And now I have really nice gifts that maybe cost me a buck a bag but look like a $5 or $10 bag of chocolate that you'd buy in noe of those upscale overpriced places. Yay me! They all taste good too, though with all of the nibbles here and there (I allow myself the crumbs and a few chips along the way), I'm getting sick of chocolate. I guess I'd better slow down.

Anyway, if you're looking for a fun and great-looking and super tasty treat to give your friends this holiday season, and you've got a few hours on your hand, I would highly recommend making up a few batches of chocolate bark. You will be so impressed with yourself. You: a chocolatier! How cool is that?

And, due to my excessive partying ways on Saturday night, I missed Saturday Night Live. Actually, I miss SNL a lot, since I have a tendency to fall asleep early. But apparently this past Saturday's show was kind of funny, and my brother Randy alerted me to this Digital Short. Oh man. That's some funny stuff. And to think I forgot all about Color Me Badd. (Err, probably NSFW.)

Sunday, December 17, 2006
Last night, we went to not one, not two, not three, but yes, yes, four holiday parties. We actually got invited to five, but since one was two hours away, we made the executive decision to politely decline that invitation. So, the other night, we went out and picked up four host-type gifts (two bottles of wine, one boxed Panettone, and a box of jelly beans that came with a jelly bean ornament). And then, at around three yesterday, we started. We were out at parties for nine hours. Nine hours! That's like a full-time job. I guess it's the time of year to see people, and I guess it's nice to do a lot of that at parties, and I guess it's nice to do those parties in one day instead of spreading them out over four weeks, and sure, free food and booze are always appreciated (and people tend to go whole hog and put out all the good stuff this time of year, so the food is good and the wine goes with it well and the booze is all top-top-top shelf), but holy homemade fudge, I'm exhausted. Not even hung over. Just exhausted, and a little burned out on smiling and hugging and happy-holiday-ing and politely conversing and hesitantly maneuvering through the crowd in the kitchen (I swear, one house we were in was huge and had more than adequate space on three levels for the 60 or 70 or 80 people who were at the party, and at least three quarters of these people were all huddled in the kitchen, even though all the food was two rooms over; though, another house we were in had the kitchen kind of closed off, probably because their hired servers (!) were in there) and eating buttery things wrapped in more buttery pastry and covered in cheese. Guh.

But sure, it was fun. Who wouldn't have fun going to that many parties? Today I just want to do nothing, except maybe see a movie.

Oh, and just because I try to write down my thoughts here so that maybe one day in the future I can read through all this nonsense and try to get an idea of my mental picture at a given time, or maybe just because it's nice to write down one's thoughts, and also because if you've been reading this site for a while and are interested, or even if you've just stopped by for the first time and are interested, or fuck it, just because we've been telling everyone and I don't want to leave anyone out: Paul and I are getting married. Pretty big news! And exciting. Now you know. And I find that the in-the-loop-ish-ness is always nice.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Yesterday I burned out my second hand mixer in three years. I don't know what I'm doing wrong, but it's not like I do any super heavy mixing with them. Okay, maybe a little, but shouldn't these things last longer? The mixer my mom uses is from like 1973, and while she uses it maybe once or twice a year, it still freakin' works. The motor on my first one burned out on a batch of shortbread, which is, granted, a very dense cookie dough, but still, I think a basic handmixer should be able to handle it. And then yesterday, I had mine running on a batch of gingerbread while I was trying to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a butter knife, and the tip of the knife just barely nicked the spinning things, and the tiny little piece of plastic that holds one of them in place snapped, and now the mixer won't hold the...umm...spinning mixer things. And now it's no good.

So today I went out and picked up a $12 Sunbeam 220 watt mixmaster, mostly because I need a handmixer (because you really can't bake if you don't have electronic appliances in your hand, not without giving yourself an arm cramp anyway) and partially because I liked that it was called a mixmaster. It sounded vaguely hip-hop and cool, and while that's not necessarily important in a small kitchen appliance, I appreciated the name. It was actually a tough choice, because I've had my eye on one of those super sweet Kitchen Aid 325 watt hand mixing dynamos, but $99 for a small appliance isn't in the budget right now. Hopefully my new mixmaster (mix-m-m-mixmaster) will last until I get an upgrade.

Sunday, December 10, 2006
We went to see the documentary Jesus Camp earlier today, and now I am thoroughly disturbed. Not at the content: I knew that very religious people in this country (mostly Christian) teach their children exaggerations and practically brainwash them with a lot of that Christ's blood stuff. But, it was kind of a lot to see it all on the screen at once. The movie focued on one particular ministry that works with kids and holds a Bible camp every summer, and I felt particularly bad for these kids. They thought they were having fun because they've been so inundated with all this Jesus stuff since birth, but meanwhile they're on the ground crying hysterically because some creepy youth pastor told them they're not living for Jesus. I just kept thinking that these kids should be having a fun summer, not crying because they're not living up to some standard their parents drilled into them. It just seemed sad and wrong.

I also found a lot of hypocrisy with this group, as it seemed the filmmakers wanted you to. Immediately after the theatre darkened, there was an overweight youth pastor lamenting the state of the world and blaming it all on the fat and lazy people. (Pot, check. Kettle, check. Both black.) And then, as Paul pointed out, there was the whole notion that these people were preaching all kinds of Christianity and yet no one once opened up a Bible and actually read it. And then there was the whole Ted Haggard thing. Haggard was featured prominently in the film, condemning the homosexual lifestyle and sin and all that. Of course, the footage was shot before the whole world found out that he actually sort of enjoys the homosexual lifestyle and illegal drugs (a big sin, no?), so the entire section featuring him comes off as one big hypocritical rush. Although, you kind of feel badly for the kid who approaches him at the end of his sermon. This kid dreams of being a preacher and obviously looks up to Haggard. Haggard responds to the kid's wide-eyed gushing with cockiness; he was a real asshole, and knowing what I know now, it's not surprising.

I guess what bothered me most while I was watching this movie was the extremism of these people. In one scene, the youth pastor seemed to acknowledge that there were similarities between how they train their children and how Muslim extremists train their children. Except, she declared, "We're right." But of course, she never tells how she knows she's right. Yeah, I saw those similarities too, but if you were to ask me who was right and who was wrong, I'm not sure I could say. It's a good movie, and well worth seeing, but like so many other documentaries with a particular sway or agenda, to use a somewhat fitting phrase, it preaches to the choir. No one's going to have their mind changed after watching this movie, but it might make some people think twice before going to church.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006
I slept badly last night because the left side of my back has been killing me. I think I messed it up shoveling snow at 5:30 in the morning yesterday so that I could get my car out and get to work because, no, we can't cancel school, it's just a foot of snow. I think if they hadn't called off schools on Friday because of the ice, we would have had yesterday off and I would have been asleep at 5:30 in the morning and my back would be totally fine right now. But today it's somewhat better, and I have a massage scheduled for tomorrow, so hopefully everything will be back to normal very soon.

And tomorrow is my birthday! I will be 32, and I think people have finally stopped assuming I'm a high school student. But now suddenly I'm getting the urge to share my birthday with all the kids in the class. So, on the way to work tomorrow, I'm going to stop off and get some mini muffins or something for my students. And then I have to teach tomorrow night (boo!), so those kids are getting donuts (yay!). Yeah, it's a lot of sugar for me in one day, but Paul's in a meeting 75 miles away all day, and neither one of us will be home until around 9 or so, so I don't think I'll be having any birthday cake.

Also, my brother Evan sent me these super sweet electronic drum stick things! I'd seen them in Marshall Fields and had been tempted, but Evie figured I'd like them too. I think I can hook them up to my Mac and run them through Garage Band, and I was all psyched to try it, but then when I opened up the packaging, I saw (boo!) no batteries included (BOO!). No batteries? I didn't think they did that anymore! And it takes AAA batteries. Who the hell has AAA just lying around the house? Not me. I don't even think I have any minor electronics that I can pull some out of. So AAA batteries are on the shopping list, because of all the things I might get for my birthday, a blister-pack of AAA batteries is probably not one of them. That is probably a good thing.

Monday, December 4, 2006
Holy crap, it's December already.

I'm feeling the pressure of a new month and all this white space below, but I'm sorry, I'm feeling a bit quiet today. Perhaps tomorrow I'll be more chatty. Until then.

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