Sunday, December 25, 2011

Twenty Hours

F-Bomb AlertTM This post contains language that may not be suitable for all readers.

Since my dad died, I've been spending a lot more time with my mom because she's by herself. Unfortunately, she also lives 629 miles away, and my husband can only take off one week of work at a time, so I'm generally driving by myself. It's 10 hours one way no matter how I slice it. Twenty total. Twenty long hours to be completely alone with just me.

Twenty. Long. Hours.

One learns quickly just how fascinating one actually is in twenty hours of solitary confinement (not very, in my case). Here are some random thoughts from my holiday drive, "lovingly" hand-coded, by the way (and by "lovingly," I mean I cussed the whole time I coded this bitch).

Crap. I left the book I was going to translate at home. I wonder how many more things I'm going to remember that I forgot. I hate packing.Eight whole days without dropping an f-bomb. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuckity, fuck, fuck fuck." Wow, I feel so much better now.
I am BYPASSING the entire drawn-out town of Vilonia. Woot!People who are easily offended generally take great delight in it. They probably derive an equal measure of pleasure from being offended than people who enjoy being offensive. Hey, win-win!
Stupid people are REALLY into each other; hence, their numbers are growing demonstrated by all the idiots driving around me.Whoa! The Led Zeppelin was in here the whole time. "Ah, caught you smiling at me/ That's the way it should be/ Like a leaf is to a tree, so fine."
Get your duct-taped hooptie out of my way!
If S...O...P...A passes, Big Bro is probably coming after me. I hope they aren't googling that acronym with my strategically placed periods of ellipsis. Note to self: Strike through Big Bro in case they're googling that.
Rice, rice, and more rice.Three-quarters of a tank and I will pull over to fill up just before Illinois, thank you.
What I've learned from the Marquis de Sade: Know and embrace your inner beast and never apologize for your beastly ways.
Is this that place where I was followed by that creepy van? Thank the holies (the Marquis de Sade, Nietzsche, and Derrida...someday you will remember this) for those two truck drivers.
Cotton.There is no right or wrong in nature. The ability to transgress is what makes us human. Acting on it probably also gives us humanity, empathy, and self-awareness.
This is the place where I rolled down the window and flipped off the dive-bombing crop duster who nearly caused a wreck on the freeway this summer. I wonder if he saw me?Man, Illinois is boring.
I-55 exit to Portageville, MO: "Drug Check Point, K-9, 3/4 mile." Let me wrap by brain around this. Put up a sign that you're going to be searching for drugs...with trained drug-sniffing dogs...and it acts as a beacon for mules transporting the illegal goods to...gee...I don't know...St. Louis...Chicago? People are actually stupid enough to exit here with 10 pounds of coke in the trunk? Oh, wait...exponential growth in stupid people.I can't believe I had to eat fast food to stay awake. Now I feel sick. I guess THAT will keep me from falling asleep.
"The Cleanest Restrooms in Fill in The State Here" usually means there is no toilet paper, no soap, and no paper towels. That's why it's clean.Where's that confounded bridge?
The entire state of Illinois is one giant speed trap. I know this; you know this. Why do you speed? Why do you think you are pulled over? I pass you with a whiff of schadenfreude and a tinge of self-righteousness.There's that confounded bridge. Just get me back in the South...and back up to 70 M.P.H.
Corn, corn, and more corn.Surprise! Wrong exit. Oh, well, the Exxon Pit Stop or Reeves Boomland...six of one, half a dozen of another.
How many times can I sing "Femme Fatale" before I become hoarse? Hit the button again and let's see.Hey, those restrooms really are clean...and well stocked. Maybe I should get gas here from now on.
They shut down seven miles of one freeway lane so two guys can watch another guy work at the half-way point. I'm amazed we even have roads in this country.Damn CD-Player. I guess I'll have to listen to KGMO 100.7 while it cools off.
I have never seen a single person visiting the aluminum-sided Big Damn Cross since it sprung up by the side of I-57 south of Effingham, IL.Thanks to the dick who nearly caused me to have a head-on. You were perfectly content doing 50 on 412 (which is a 60, BTW) when I started to pass you. What, you don't like being passed by a woman?
Time for something more sacrilegious. Oh, VU's Peel Slowly and See disc box set number four. That should do it.If I concentrate, I can get to 67/167 before the last bit of sun disappears behind the Ozark foothills.
There isn't a whole Effing lot going on in Effingham except for the Big Damn Cross, and it isn't exactly happening. *turns up volume*Woohoo! I'm burning up the freeway now! Look out fellow Arkies!
Thank everything I consider holy (the Marquis de Sade, Nietzsche, and Derrida), I'm in Indiana where they also appreciate guns and 70-MPH speed limits.Surprise! Wrong exit Beebe, Arkansas, population 5000 something. Seriously? I've lived here 25 years. I've been to Beebe a million times. I need to be home.
Arkansas smells like catfish and earthworms, Missouri smells like burning tires, Illinois smells like crude, and Indiana smells like poo. I can't decide which is worst.Still loving the Vilonia by-pass.
Where's my bootleg Led Zeppelin? Crap. Another thing I left at home.Gee, thanks for leaving the light on for me, Hubs. Damn, I need a drink. Fuck unpacking.

Photo courtesy Barb Henry through a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License via,

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thousands of Words, Hundreds of Miles, and Seven Pounds Later

Several of my friends have been using this month as a chance to reflect on the things they're thankful for. My mom and I conducted an e-mail exchange along those lines each November for a few years. But this year I spent the month winning NaNoWriMo (see badge at left). And when I finished that challenge, I realized the things I'm thankful for are things I made happen: I wrote a novel (no, it's not done and not even ready for revision), I became a runner, and I lost the seven pounds I gained after my dad died of cancer last year.

I celebrated these feats last night by drinking a couple glasses of wine and going to bed early. Hey, I know how party!

So let's start with NaNoWriMo: November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Anyone who wants to can sign up for an account at the website. Writers can then use a variety of resources to help them write 50,000 words by November 30: pep talks, a word count tracker, and merchandise like Chris Baty's book No Plot, No Problem! Writers who make it to the 50,000 word minimum "win" the contest. For their troubles, they receive a certificate and special internet badges that indicate they've won (see badge above). Yeah, that's pretty much it.

So now you may be wondering how I came to participate in the contest.

As with most meaningful things that have happened to me in my life, this one happened quite by accident. I woke up on November 1st, thought to myself, "Oh, NaNoWriMo starts today. Let's see if I can get 1667 words." And I did. Then I did it the next day and the next day and the next day until last night when I hit the 50,000 word mark and validated my word count on the NaNoWriMo site. Technically, I was supposed to have spent the month of October prepping, but since I wasn't planning to participate, I did no research whatsoever (which I'll come back to later on.) I had tried the contest a couple times before (never got past 6000 words), and then completely ignored it last year thinking that it just wasn't for me. So what was different this year?

First of all, I had a plot that included a beginning, middle, and end. Second, as I started writing, I either fell in love or in hate, as appropriate, with my characters. Third, the work is ultimately a discussion of some of my favorite subjects: art history, the Marquis de Sade, the link between pleasure and pain, the place of morality in the world, and what it means for something to be "beautiful." It also doesn't hurt that it takes place in Paris, the streets of which I can walk from the comfort of my home in Conwag.

And here's what I learned about life, writing, and teaching writing:

1) You have more time than you think. On Day Three, I had to respond to 35 student drafts while helping supervise the writing center where I am assistant director and attend two meetings. I figured I'd still have that night to write and was then that I had volunteered to act in a short film for my friend CEP. All the shooting was complete except for the green screen scenes, and he had reserved the screen room for that night and that night only. I asked if he didn't mind shooting everyone else's parts and then calling me when he needed me. No, he didn't mind (thanks, CEP!). So in the few hours between getting home and getting in costume, I managed my 1667 words. When I got to 35,000 words, my pace started slowing. I woke one morning at 3:30 and started feeling guilty. Then it dawned on me: "I'm just going to lie here tossing and turning feeling guilty. I'm never going to fall back asleep. Why not just get up and write?" So that's what I did. You've got five idle minutes? You gonna spend it on Facebook? Or you gonna write? Which will mean more to you in the end? Question answered.

2) This relates directly to number one: find people who support you because they'll make sure you've got the time. Leave behind those who don't support you because they'll only see your work as a frivolous excuse for turning down invitations and begging off extra work they've contrived for you to do. Facebook was instrumental in building a network of support. Posting my word count to strangers on NaNoWriMo didn't really mean anything to me. But posting the milestones on FB and receiving "Likes" and congratulations was a tremendous boost to my motivation. Which led me to another conclusion: psychologists say that if you tell someone you're going to do something, you're more likely to do it. That may be true, but if the people you tell start nagging you, you're going to dig in your heels and say, "Na, na, na, na, na, you can't make me." The reinforcement has to be positive. Also, The Hubs finally understands what I mean when I say, quoting Stevie Nicks, "I wanna be a star! I don't wanna be a cleaning lady."

3) Drafting and revising are separate activities. When you have a looming deadline for a rough, rough draft, just write the draft. It used to be that I had the leisure of writing from the beginning until I got stuck, at which point I'd go back to the top and start revising until I got unstuck. Then I'd begin drafting again until I got stuck and end up back at the beginning revising to "unstuck" again. I'm not sure that's the most efficient way to go about writing. I'm now convinced that just getting something down and often working on bits and pieces as the muse for that section calls is more efficient. Now that I've got a huge chunk of novel finished, I feel like I can continue moving forward without ever getting stuck again. And what's the point of going back to revise something that might end up cut from the original because of a plot problem? And this especially translates to teaching: why should a student revise a section of her research paper that may actually contradict her thesis or be completely irrelevant to her focus?

4) Sometimes you just need to write and fill in the gaps that need to be researched later. I could have spent the entire month reading about the philosophy of the Marquis de Sade, translating stories I wanted to use from Le Monde, etc. But I didn't have time for that. Better to get down the story line and develop the characters and worry about the details later. I used asterisks, blanks, and highlighting to indicate places I needed to develop through research, names I hadn't decided on, and fact and spelling checking I needed to do. I can now worry about those things during the December break. Le Monde is archived like any other newspaper; I can go back to the news that fits my story line and translate those articles later. And I get to keep Airaksinen's Philosophy of the Marquis de Sade until March, at which time I can certainly renew it from the library.

So that's what NaNoWriMo did for me.

I've written before about what running has meant in my life. I started the day my mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor (see post dated August 9). I had to put it aside when school started, but now that I've come to realize that I have more time than I thought I had, I've taken it back up again. Also, sitting in front of a computer for nearly a month has made me want to feel my whole body move again, not just my fingers as they glide over a keyboard. Funnily enough, it got a little cold yesterday, so I spent some time this morning doing research on technical gear for runners (that's backpacker/hiker/runner speak for clothes that keep you warm and dry) and discovered a new accidental challenge: the day I started running again (Thanksgiving), Runner's World started the first annual Holiday Running Streak: run one mile a day from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. Pfft. That's nothing. If you're friends with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you can be sure I'll be posting my triumphs daily, assuming this initial soreness doesn't put me in a wheelchair.

And as for the seven pounds...well, that came off without a hitch. I owe it all to single-serving bags of popcorn and Granny Smith apples for breakfast (because I don't like sweet stuff). If I lost a couple more pounds, I could easily rock a size two, but you know what...I'm pretty damn happy with what I've accomplished so far.

It's been a good year.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ladies and Gents, We Have a Winner!

Yes, folks, I won NaNoWriMo, and here's my badge to prove it. More on what I learned later. Right now, I'm CELEBRATING!!!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Running for My Life

The day after my mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor was the day I started running for my life.

I'm going on two and half years of major life upheavals, and just when I thought I might get a respite, I found out my mother needed brain surgery. Major brain surgery. I'm not a self-pitying sort of person normally. But these last couple years, I've woken each day, usually around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., with a heart-pounding sense of impending doom: "What bad thing will happen today? What important thing did I forget to do? Who's going to call with bad news? How much will the next bill cost me?" At 5:30 a.m. that morning, I got out of bed, sat on the porch, and decided to outrun the doom. At about 10 minutes after sunrise, I took off.

I can't say that first attempt was a resounding success: I walked three miles and managed, under the cover of the thick cedars along the nature trail I hoped would conceal my belabored effort, two pathetic 15-second jogs that threatened to kill me. It was more like running toward my death.

Now, a long walk with two short jogs has turned into mostly running the whole way, whatever "the whole way" happens to mean.

I've started exercise regimens before in the name of losing a few pounds, usually with friends, and it has never worked out (no pun intended). Those past attempts usually ended because the whole business started to seem onerous within days: "Crap, I've got to go exercise... again." Strangely, I wake up now, thinking, "Crap, it's too dark to run. Hurry up! I need to run!"

I've been wondering why this is so, and I've come to some conclusions. Here are the things I've learned from running:

  • Abandon goals: Lao Tzu said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Others have said it's about the journey, not the destination. Phooey. There's no use in trying to background a goal. If you have one (a journey which implies a destination), all you'll think about is how much farther you have to go in order to get there, no matter how hard you try. All the coloring books, car games, and breaks along the way do nothing to prevent the age-old question "Are we there yet?" If I wake up thinking "I don't have to run if I don't want to," I inevitably want to. Because I don't have to.
  • Be surprised by something every day, even if it's the thing you were surprised by the day before. I learned this from rabbits. Two of them reside along my normal route. They know I'm coming through every morning at the same time, and yet they sit in the same spot and wait for me by the trail, one of them standing on its hind legs, nose a-twitch. They hold back until the very last safest second, and then take off running in an exuberant bunny version of hide-and-seek. So, when The Loose Rooster of Bruce Street cock-a-doodle-does every morning when I run by, I still laugh and it still feels like getting a little unexpected present. I like unexpected presents.
  • Don't fight what you don't have to. Like the guy I met coming the opposite direction down a trail near my mom's house who only uses it to get to and from work, smoking like a chimney the entire way. While I've been known to imbibe in a cigarillo once or twice a year (I know, disgusting and unfeminine, whatever), I am NOT into sharing a ciggy-butt with a stranger sporting crotch-at-the-knees gangster shorts while I'm running. The best course of action, once you've determined that nuisance humans are invading a route, is to abandon it for a less cancerous one. Do not attempt to explain to the offender why and how he should get a life (this dude was in his 30's and vertically challenged; his choice of fashion only served to accentuate his "shortcomings"). This could result in hard feelings...and a fat lip. And even if it didn't, people never listen to the advice of others...except to rule it out.
  • It doesn't hurt to plan ahead. There is a certain kind of charm about running in the rain, the fog, a heat index into the 110's; if you refuse to truck wimpy excuses, you're among the running elite. Sprinting at lung-burning speed while peering over your shoulder at a monster thundercloud that looks like a skull with fangs and a gaping maw churning the darkest most evil hocker ever to be coughed up as it attempts to gain on your skinny little ass to spit the vile thing all over you is not that charming. Even if it does conclude with a personal best.
  • Cross-training is good for the body and mind. If you pair running with biking (or another activity like roller-blading or swimming that works your largest muscles, which are in your thighs and rear-end), you will develop your muscles in more ways and gain better balance. You will also cultivate hot legs (while not the point and certainly not the goal), which has shown to boost one's ego. (Yes, the link is sexist and borderline pervy. I still love Rod Stewart.)
  • Whatever you do, don't stop. Chiggers, mosquitoes, ticks, and other nasties are waiting for you. Your hot, naturally tanned, legs won't look so hot bathed in pink calamine lotion.
  • Apply liberally. The calamine lotion, that is. Also, a sense of humor.
  • Give up on your bad self and allow those corny thoughts. Maybe it's runner's high; I'm not sure, but I think the most worn-out, trite things while I'm running...and I don't care anymore. Case in point: Crotch-Pants forced me to run the same trail in the opposite direction. The opposite direction runs along the cemetery where my dad was buried last year. Sunrises in our part of the world are humbled by trees and our need for sleep, outshone by their evening counterparts. But, on this particular trail, I found out that if you get up early enough and head toward a place where the rising sun is visible, like a cemetery, it is every bit as majestic as the setting sun. I don't believe in an afterlife, but my father did, and it comforted me to think how happy he would be to see this sight every if he occupied the place he was buried...because it was glorious in a way that defies description. But I also thought about how every day we wake up to a roomful of choices. Every morning (every minute, really--the sun is just there as a reminder) you can change course. Or not. It's up to you. CORNY!
  • You are stronger than you think you are. The last time I ran for the hell of it, just to move, just to feel alive, I was probably 13. Then I gave it up for boys. In other words, I didn't want to run or do cartwheels or hang upside down from the jungle gym because I didn't want to appear foolish. Now that I'm no longer interested in "boys" I feel like I cheated myself. I define "play" as doing something for the sole joy of doing it. Once we give up play we forget what it means to feel joy. I think we're tremendously weakened by this. But joy is about the easiest thing to get back. I did a cartwheel today. It was as pathetic as my first attempt at running: my knees were bent, and I'm pretty sure they were at about a 45 degree angle from the floor rather than being perfectly perpendicular. Perfection was not the aim. I was just playing, permitting myself to look foolish, and I think I'm a little bit stronger than I was before (admittedly, only my two cats were watching, but they're a pretty tough crowd, believe me).

So that's pretty much it. I'm running for my life, but I'm swiftly catching up to it.

Photo: Me and My Mom Two and a Half Weeks after Her Brain Surgery. Credits: The Hubs.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

If You're a Masochist in Need of a Fix, Try Writing a Novel

Yeah, so what...I've been away for a while. I never expected this blog thing to get off the ground anyhow. Yet I still keep what can only be labeled a masochistic act designed to end in failure.

To whit: I've had a literary novel in my head and on my hard drive yearning for attention now over 10 years.

Too bad.

Because I got an idea for a novel, pure pulp fiction, no less, in a genre I love: the mystery/crime thriller that borders on horror. (I consider I Saw the Devil, a Korean flick, the penultimate film in this particular genre. But trust me, if you're sensitive in mind or stomach, avoid watching it at all costs; you've been warned.) In my opinion and since the novel is writing itself (even as I write this blog thoughts are coming to me left and right), this project should be easy.

Here's the problem: I keep re-reading and revising it and thinking, "This is total crap."

And by "total crap" I don't mean pulp fiction that sells millions of copies, all John Grisham like (a fellow who happens to hail from my home state, BTW). I mean "total crap" as in "I might as well join the Fulker County Writers' Society" (FCWS). (The name has been changed to protect the not so innocent).

Of course, if you're not from around here, you have no idea what the FCWS is all about. So let me clarify: if you write sentimental rhyming poetry, you might be a red...*cough*...a member of the FCWS. (A nod to Jeff Foxworthy for providing the lead in to that lame joke).

So I'm writing this stupid pulp fiction novel and beating myself up because it's not good enough. As far as this kind of writing is concerned, I'm thinking, "Plot and characters are your only concern. Don't sweat the cliches; they're short cuts the typical reader needs." But damn it, I want every sentence to be awesome in the way that my friend Kevin Brockmeier's sentences are awesome.

In other words, I secretly want this thing to be literary. Well, not so secretly anymore.

So I go back to baseball, which I'm pretty sure is the metaphorical cipher of the universe. There will always be minor leagues comprised of those players who want to make it into the big leagues and those who just love the game. So maybe I should just accept that I'm a minor leaguer with a passion for the game and keep on batting because, really, I've got nothing to lose, right?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Shopsin's of My Very Own

Dear Mr. Shopsin,

This letter may be a little long. I apologize for that; I tend to get a little verbose, especially when I think I have something important to say.

I want you to know, before I begin, that I'm sitting in my kitchen, part of which is pictured to the left, composing this letter after having made myself an unconventional brunch inspired by the upcoming Passover week: matzoh ball soup, latkes and bacon. Yeah, I know, which of these things is not like the others?

Several years ago, 2002 in fact, I ran into a New Yorker article about your know...the one written by Calvin Trillin. Two things fascinated me: the crazy menu items (Cotton Picker Gumbo Melt Soup, the Egyptian Burrito, and Mashed Potato Radish Soup, to name a few) and the two photos showing a steampunked warren of a kitchen piled high with nooks and crannies for storing odd-shaped implements, spices, stockpots, and various other sundries. Google was young then, and I couldn't find anything about your strange and mysterious restaurant. I was desperate to find out what went into the making of Indomalekian Sunrise Stew. Or Taco Fried Chicken. I came up empty handed, and so I meant to keep the article. But, as these things usually go, I forgot about it and threw the magazine in the recycling.

For years I could not remember the name of the crazy diner with the curmudgeonly but brilliant short-order cook. Every now and then, I would attempt a Google search, looking for "Greenwich Village" and "restaurants" to no avail. And then, as luck would have it, I was rummaging around in the documentaries on Netflix, looking for a film more edifying than my usual Asian horror flick, when I ran into the title I Like Killing Flies. It seemed like something that might satisfy both my yen (pardon the pun) for violent horror films while somehow educating me at the same time. Then I read the description. "Oh, my God," I said to myself, "I think I've found the holy grail I've been looking for all these years." I hit the "Watch Instantly" button, and there was the diner, in all its greasy, messy glory.

I cried at the end of the movie, yes, partly because Eve died (and I'm so sorry for your loss), but also because of what you said about raising your kids. You see, the week previous I had yelled at one of my classes for not paying attention during a mini-lesson, gave them a pop quiz over the lesson, and put them in a seating chart--as if they were high school students (I teach college writing). I felt like a bitch and couldn't seem to shake the guilt. But then you talked about your philosophy that we're all just assholes who occasionally do good things. I've read a lot of philosophers. I've read a lot of books on Zen Buddhism, meditation, getting organized to relieve the stress of life, etc. basically wasting my time when the person who held the key to the universe was happily busy flipping burgers in Greenwich Village all along. The guilt I felt over being so harsh to my students suddenly lifted: we were all just a bunch of assholes. That was mostly what made me cry.

After watching the documentary, I Googled your name. How fortunate Google has grown up, because the first item in the search results was a link to your cookbook on Amazon. I had to have it. I read it from cover to cover in one day, even reading the instructions for every dish. And I'll be damned if I didn't cry at the end of it, too. And not because of all the onion chopping required by almost every dish that ever appeals to me, either (the onion, is without a doubt, my favorite edible thing in the whole wide world).

The last sentence reads, "On the simplest, most basic level, I have never been happier than I am today." I realized in that moment that I could not say the same thing. That was what made me cry. Weep, actually. Tears, blubbering, the whole nine yards.

If someone were to have asked me a few weeks ago if I liked to cook, I would have said, "I hate it, but I'm very good at it." I realize now that I love to cook; I'm good at it because I not only love it, but I practiced at it pretty hard in the early days of my adulthood. No one puts 100% into practicing something they don't love. The problem is that I have been spending the better part of my eight-hour work day doing stuff that isn't covered in my personal mission statement, so I was coming home mentally, psychically, and physically exhausted, too tired to cook.

Too tired to cook, too tired to concentrate on my teaching and my students, to backpack, to hike, to canoe, to go with my cousin to take her horses for a ride, to write poetry, to read, to work on the novel I conceived of 10 years ago. All because I spent the day updating Web sites and creating Excel spreadsheets.

So I stepped down from some responsibilities, happily watched some other responsibilities come to an end, and vowed not to take on anything that didn't directly tie into doing the things I love. I also re-arranged the kitchen, trying to get everything a person needs to cook as close to the range as possible, which, from the scenes in the documentary, I gleaned is what you try to do in your own kitchen. I decided that a short-order cook probably has better recipes for getting dinner on the table in a hurry than a certain 30-minute celebrity I won't name here. And I started cooking again. I began with your ingenious African Green Curry Soup, using green onions (of course), collard greens, green beans, peas, cabbage, and spinach. So weird: really? peanut butter? and Thai green curry paste? are you sure? But so damn fast, so damn healthy, and so damn good!

I swear I shat green for a week, but I was, and still am, the happiest I've been in a long time. Perhaps even the happiest I've ever been.

With sincerest admiration and gratitude,

Jennifer Deering

And for those of you who read this blog I give you three recipes, none of which comes from Kenny Shopsin. You want his recipes? Buy his book: Eat Me.

Vegetable Stock
This is a great way to use up aging (but not rotten, for crying out loud) veggies.
1 onion
1 carrot
1 sweet tater
1 Idaho tater
As much garlic as you can find in the bottom of your vegetable drawer
3 celery stalks
6 cups of cold water
1 - 2 t. salt
pinches of the dried herbs of your choice (I use herbes de provence)
10 peppercorns
1 T. nutritional yeast
1 T. miso or Bragg Liquid Aminos

Chop your vegetables into large pieces--at least one inch long; quarter the onions. Leave the skins on (unless the onion skin has developed mold). Combine everything except the last two ingredients in a stock pot. Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer until all the vegetables have gone completely soft. Cool, and then strain. Put the vegetables on the compost pile.

Add the nutritional yeast and miso/liquid aminos. Ladle into three-cup containers and freeze for later.

Matzoh Ball Soup
4 eggs, separated
1 cup matzoh meal
1 T. baking powder
2 T. butter or olive oil
as much freshly ground white pepper as you can stand (I recommend going to the Asian store and buying Vietnamese white pepper; it's the best)
a pinch of cayenne
salt to taste (I go for 1 t.)

two carrots, chopped
two stalks celery, chopped
one onion minced
7 c. vegetable stock

Matzoh balls: Whip the egg whites until stiff. Mix the egg yolks with the baking powder, melted butter, pepper, salt, and cayenne. Gently fold into the whites. Add the matzoh meal in small portions, again gently folding it in. Place in the fridge for 1/2 hour. Shape into balls about the size of a ping-pong.

Soup: Saute the mirepoix (that's fancy-schmancy for "all those vegetables the recipe required me to chop") until the vegetables are soft. Bring the broth to a boil, add the vegetables, and deglaze the pan with a little of the broth. Add the matzoh balls, and turn the heat down to simmer for about 15 minutes. Eat.

Okay, so I cheat at this. Kenny Shopsin cheats, too: he does not make his own vegetable broth.
1 24 oz. package frozen O'brien potatoes, defrosted (this is the cheat: they already contain onions)
2 eggs
2 egg whites
2/3 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. salt
as much freshly ground white pepper as you can stand
olive oil for frying
sour cream or apple sauce

After you've defrosted the potato mixture, put it on top of several layers of paper towels, pull the towels into a ball and squeeze the ball over the sink until you have gotten as much water out of the potatoes as you can.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs until thick (if you replaced the word "eggs" with...nevermind). Add the flour, baking powder, and seasonings. Mix until the flour is fully incorporated. Add the potato mixture. Mix well.

Heat a skillet till it's good and hot. Add olive oil. Swish it around the skillet. Add latke mixture in large spoonfuls and immediately smash with a spatula. You'll know one side of the potato pancake is brown when it can be easily flipped. Brown the other side. Drain on paper towels. Fry in batches, adding oil as necessary.

Eat with sour cream or apple sauce. Or both if you feel like living dangerously.

If you have leftovers, freeze them. Thawed and baked in an oven, they come out pretty good.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf 4G

(Note: this was in perfect screenplay format, but you can't do that in HTML without really screwing things up and driving yourself crazy.)

*Four-Letter Word AlertTM The words are original to the movie. Sorry, Mom.


(MARTHA and GEORGE walk into the living room of their small home, Martha smoking a cigarette. She walks over to the wall and turns on the lights, pulling off her coat, which falls to the floor. George picks up the coat. Martha drags on her cigarette.)


"What a dump."

Martha taps George on the arm as he places her coat over the back of a chair.


"Hey what's that from?"

Martha puts on a pseudo-British accent, waving the cigarette in her hand around as she speaks.


"How would I know."

George walks to the kitchen. Martha follows.


"Oh, come on, what's it from? You know."

Martha drags on the cigarette again as she follows George.




"What's it from, for Chrissake?"

George pushes the kitchen door open as Martha continues to follow him.


"What's what from?"


"I just told you. I just did it. (in a pseudo-British accent) What a dump. Huh? What's that from?"

George opens the refrigerator looking for something to eat.


"I haven't the faintest idea."

Martha pushes George's shoulder moving him out of the way.


"Dumb. Dumb."

Martha begins rummaging in the refrigerator.


"Some damn Bette Davis picture of some goddamn Warner Brothers epic."

George removes his suit jacket and hangs it on the back of a chair.


"If you know that much about it, why don't you just Google it?"

Martha closes the refrigerator door and pulls her cell phone from the pocket of her dress.


"Ha, good idea."

Using her thumbs, she types some words into the keypad.


"Beyond the Forest. Look it's on YouTube!"

George and Martha watch the screen of Martha's cell.


"I remember that movie now."


"Oh, crap!"




"I invited that boring couple over for after-party drinks. You know, the math professor and that mousy homefry of his."


"Homefry? You mean the one with no hips?"


"That's the one. "


"He's in biology, not math. I'm too tired for company at this hour. E-mail him at NickD at UES dot edu and tell him the kid has a fever."

Martha giggles.


"Good one! But Nick's new, isn't he? You sure he downloaded the app for the school's e-mail system."


"He was complaining about it at the party. "

Martha thumbs more words into the keypad then sets the phone on the kitchen table and takes a seat. George pours himself a drink and also sits down. Martha puts out her cigarette and then lights another one. The cell intones a single note.


"He says they were thinking of calling it a night, too. Maybe another time."


"Thank God. I'm going to finish this Scotch and turn in."


"Could I have a sip?"



George passes the glass to Martha.

Camera fades to black.

(The End)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I'll Cry [Foul] If I Want To: Etiquette and Social Networking

I really don't have time for this, so I'll make it short. (Just so you know, I've learned the hard way that if inspiration crawls in your lap, you'd better give it a cuddle before it reverts to its old aloof self and reconvenes on its duty to shred your curtains. And, yes, I live with cats.)

I'm on spring break which means I'm cleaning the house as if I were expecting an international delegation. After this week, I'll have only one and a half months to get caught up on grading and finish teaching classes in addition to observing tutors and pre-tutors in the Writing Center. Not a lot of time in the scheme of things, so the house must finally, irrevocably, be in order. I've been rewarding myself for getting things done by peeking at Facebook now and then.

The other night I checked out an exchange between two mutual friends, part of a group that hangs out together, as in face-to-face, fairly frequently. There's a reason: we share the same values, political stance, and profession. We're the loathsome liberals everyone should fear, so naturally, we get along well. Somewhere near the end of the conversation I was following between these two friends, someone I don't know posted a statement I all too immediately recognized as Tea Party drivel, part of their tactics to ensure their voice is heard over all others so that it seems they represent the majority (Look it up on, if you don't believe me, or go to one of their sites, if you don't believe Wikipedia. They openly admit it.)

-->Begin slight digression. I get a bit irritated by people who hijack my Facebook wall, no matter the reason. I've had people plan get-togethers I couldn't attend on my wall: "Uh, hello, ever heard of wall-to-wall or e-mail? Because if I can't come, I probably don't want to hear about the fun y'all are going to have without me." I've had friends who fundamentally agree get into arguments over miniscule semantic problems: "Please stop, you're making me sad." I've had others take the topic of conversation into wholly other universes without so much as employing the old Monty Python segue, "And now for something completely different..." with a vaudevillian swing of the elbows from side-to-side. In these cases, I want to ask, "How about posting that on your own status updates? Because you do have your own, you know that, right?"<--End slight digression. But this situation seemed like a hijacking of much more momentous proportions to me, so I commented, "This is what the 'hide,' 'unfriend,' and 'block' features on Facebook are all about." Oh, and I might have said something about censorship being the right of the person who has to read a bunch of crap they don't agree with. (Okay, I was acting a bit of a provocateur myself. I know, you're thinking, "What, Sans? No. Never.") Anyhoo, the Tea Partier then tried to provoke me with some statement along the lines of "You're going to shut me down just because I say something you disagree with instead of engaging me in public debate." Well, he isn't my friend, so I couldn't shut him down. I could, however, ignore him, which is what I did, turning off my computer and turning in for the night. I woke the next day thinking about what had transpired and why this hijack perturbed me more than others I had witnessed (besides the fact the perpetrator was obviously a Tea Party troll).

Not to confuse metaphors, but my Facebook wall is my party--as in a social gathering at my house--not as in a political affiliation. I may have invited you to it; more likely you invited yourself (because I don't often friend people), and I agreed to let you attend. That does not give you the right to get shit-faced drunk, become obnoxious, spill your drink all over my antique furniture (in the form of your political invective), and insult my other friends. If you do that, guess what? I'll ask you to leave because my party is NOT your public forum.

As a matter of fact, I find this whole idea of "just engaging in public debate" disingenuous. When people say that what they really mean is "Here, come closer so I can beat you over the head with my opinion, which I stupidly believe will end in your total agreement with everything I say because my rhetorical prowess is just that good." Uh, no, actually, it isn't. And, besides, we all know I'll agree with you when pigs sprout wings and start offering private international flights at incredibly reduced rates.

The only way this is really going to end is with the cops being called. So why bother going there? If you disagree with something someone says at my, or anyone else's party, why not try to be polite to your host and avoid getting embroiled in a pointless argument that's just going to spoil the mood and break the party up?

If you want to "engage in public debate" either run for office or have a party at your house, on your wall, and I promise I won't attend.

BTW, all comments are moderated because it's my party and I'll moderate it if I want to.

Photo courtesy GarryKnight via Flickr

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Crown of Thorns

People around the Interwebz (okay, I exaggerate--this sentence should start, "My Facebook friends"--we haven't made it to LOLCats yet) are squeeing about the thing pictured to the left and calling it "cute."

I call it two things: "Lucky To Be Alive" and "Evil Incarnate."

It's lucky to be alive (technically "it" is a "he," but I'm mad at it right now and refuse to personify it with any dignity) because it chewed three quarters of the way through the power cord of the very netbook I'm typing on right now. Even if the netbook is unplugged, the power cord is ALWAYS plugged in, so I know that must have been quite a shock. I only wish I had been here to witness the ensuing melee because it would have been payback for all the traumas inflicted upon me by this creature everyone calls "cute."

That's just one of the many things its done to risk its life and my sanity, but I'm posting today to discuss its alter ego: Evil Incarnate.

Evil has lots of old tricks--biting my hand when I pick it up, biting my shoulder when I pick it up, biting my toes if they dare peak out of the bed covers. And when I say "bite," I'm not talking about a little love nip, like the kind our other cat occasionally gives. No, I'm talking "this-cat-had-better-have-a-rabies-shot-every-year-or-there's-going-to-be-trouble" biting. It draws blood, in other words. Every time. It's serious about something; I just wish I knew what. I mean, really, what has it got against my toes? Not to mention the fact that I now, unexpectedly, have to buy a new power cord for my netbook, after dropping a huge dime on a digital SLR camera and starter lens.

Evil now has a new trick. Every night I go to bed, Evil creeps up and wraps itself around my head so that its front paws are touching my right ear and, its back paws, my left (I'm a back sleeper). This kitty crown would be convenient because it certainly keeps me warm. There's only one problem: I'm slightly allergic to cats. Having one that close to my nose means I'm going to become congested which, in turn, means that I will need to play a little of what I call "nostril tag."

Begin Tangent--->I can't take pseudoephedrine because I have generalized anxiety disorder, and I don't need to be taking anything that will make me feel the least bit weird. So, I've developed a number of techniques to deal with congestion that don't require medication. "Nostril Tag" is one of them. You know how when your right nostril gets stopped up, you can turn over onto your left side and get a little relief from the congestion until it settles into your left nostril, and then you can turn over on your right side to repeat the process? If you didn't, at least you do now. I have another tricking for relieving congestion altogether, but this tangent is going long, and, BTW, it does not involve acupressure, so if you want to know the technique, leave a comment.)<----End Tangent

Anyhoo, this nighttime tiara of mine induces my allergies, so I need to deploy "Operation Nostril Tag." Except for one problem. Every time I try to turn over, my crown of Evil bites the shit out of my right ear, digs its front claws into my head, and does the bunny hop on my skull with its back claws. If you find that cute, I suggest you Google "BDSM" and "furries" because you're clearly into something I'm not. (And yes, that is my flagrant, and by now generic, attempt at pushing this URL up in the Google rankings; I had to find a way to work it in somehow).

So it looks like Evil will be sleeping alone from now on because, while I've always wanted to be queen, I'm not selling my soul or enduring everlasting punishment for it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

New Year's Resolution Success!

So, yeah, I need to make the typical apology so many lapsed bloggers have to make: "Sorry it's been so long, but I'm back...until I quit again."

The fact is I've finally hit upon a New Year's resolution that I can manage: "I resolve not to work so hard." And when I say "manage" what I mean is "be wildly successful at."

The fruits of my resolve are all around me, piles of paper, books everywhere, dirty floors and rugs, dirty dishes, hairy stuff growing in the fridge. I'm already behind in grading. I've got important documents scattered among three different computers, and there is no telling what file I've placed them in. So it has been a mighty struggle to spend the day watching my cats sleep and perform synchronized grooming.

In fact, I've feel so lazy, I'm going to call this post finished. Maybe next time I logon to Blogger I'll tell you about my spectacular, death-defying fall in the Writing Center. But it'll have to wait because I've already worked too hard.