Monday, February 28, 2011


You know what the high point of the visit with my parents last weekend was?

(Other than all of us getting to see each other, I mean.)

Our trip to The Apple Barn, because we had apple fritters with our lunch:

apple fritter

Apple fritters, covered in apple butter, are delicious.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Is that a Diana Ross menorah?

I'm starting to really, really love Nostalgia. Even though the only thing I've bought there (so far) is my fantastic orange clock, whenever I go I see things that I want to buy, or at least can't stop pondering.

Last time I went it was an industrial antique, a set of rusty, corroded doll-head molds:

babydoll head mold (2)

babydoll head mold (1)

I didn't buy it, because it was (and still is, as of today) $1100, but isn't it spectacular? I want to hang it over my bookcase and stare at it, but I also fear that when you stare into the creepy doll heads, the creepy doll heads also stare into you. Still, it's unique, it's striking, and I'm still thinking about it a month later. It's not so much an antique as it is art, but I'm not really in the right income bracket to become a serious art collector. I'm barely a frivolous one.

I went back today with my parents, who are in town, and the doll-head mold was right there in the window. Upon seeing it, they somehow resisted the siren song of rusty factory salvage, and went on to look at other things, so I followed, and that's where I saw something even more strange:

diana ross menorah?

I stared, and it stared back as I wondered, "Is that Diana Ross? Like, 70's disco Diana Ross? Why is her hair made of bubbles? Wait, are those candleholders? Is that a Diana Ross... menorah?"

Now that I have time to study it, several things have occured to me:

1) It's not a menorah. It doesn't have enough candleholders. It does have enough for Kwanzaa, though.

2) That's not Diana Ross. The eyes are wrong. It is a fabulous diva, though. With those huge gold hoops, the big hair, and the good bone structure, there's not really any question.

3) This may not have any religious purpose whatsoever. It has enough candles for kwanzaa, but then who would that lady be? Lady Kwanzaa? It could be for Diwali, I guess, since that doesn't really call for a specific amount of lights, but again, who would that lady be? And Diwali is about small lamps, not candles. I don't know of any other holidays that use lights, so maybe it's just a secular candleholder of some sort.

Unless, you know, disco is now a religion.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Explain this to me, please

I have questions without answers, because I have seen inexplicable things this week.

Mystery #1: There are two vending machines in the basement of the building my office is in.

twin vending machines

After nine months or so of bringing in a yogurt for breakfast every day, I've started bringing in a banana instead, but some days I forget the banana and have to go downstairs for Pop Tarts, and that's where I noticed something a little odd. Both machines are owned and operated by the same vending company, but in the machine on the right, Pop Tarts are 85 cents:

85 cent pop tarts

In the machine on the left, 75 cents:

75 cent pop tarts


Mystery #2: What do clones have to do with love?

I saw this in the Valentine's Candy section of Wal-Mart:

clone wars love

While I understand that somehow George Lucas needs more money and has to license Star Wars out to candymakers, too, I don't understand these at all. Would loving your clone be masturbation or incest? And why bring love into it at all? Cloning is about science, not romance. And who are these intended for? Here in Tennessee, we have enough trouble with evolution; do we really want to put pro-human cloning candy in the hands of our impressionable children?

Mystery #3: I spotted this on the loading dock last week:

bad, bad microwave

What happens when a microwave goes bad? Does it hang out behind the Five and Dime with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in its t-shirt sleeve, falling in with a bad crowd of surly blenders and antisocial George Forman grills? Is there a toaster oven somewhere holding onto a baby picture and sobbing softly, silently remembering the day when they brought home the little microwave from the appliance section, full of hopes and dreams? And where is the bad, bad microwave going? Is it too late? Or is there still hope that he could turn things around?

We may never know.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Two Weekends Ago Part 2: "Sometimes people go there to commit suicide."

Making banana bread wasn't my only adventure two (Or is it now three? I've lost count.) weekends ago. After leaving a cryptic comment on my entry about exploring the Ross Marble Quarry and seeing the giant Alex Haley, Elizabeth finally convinced Kristin and I to go with her, Ben, and William on a mysterious hike to a secret destination.

I say "mysterious" because this is what she told us to prepare us:

1) Bring strong flashlights. You'll need them, even during the day.

2) It's nearby, but most people don't know about it.

3) "Sometimes people go there to commit suicide."

Wait, what was that last one?

"You know, sometimes people go there and kill themselves. But it's totally safe!"

OK, see, I've seen The Descent, and I don't want to die in that movie. (What movie do I want to die in? I dunno, but I prefer that it's one where Tom Welling and I spend the first half making out pretty much the whole time. And clean shaven Tom, not that mess he turns into between seasons.)

"You're not going to die! It'll be fun!"

Yeah, the chicks in "The Descent" thought they were going to have fun, too, and you saw how well that worked out. Still, I picked up Kristin, we drove the Elizabeth and Ben's, and then the five of us piled into their truck and drove to Keller Ridge in nearby West Knoxville. Sure enough, neither Kristin nor I had heard of it, and when we pulled to get onto the hiking trail I realized that we were in a totally different movie:

scary road

Abandoned, gated road leading off into the middle of the forest? Great. Now we're going to die in Silent Hill instead. You might think I'm exaggerating, but look:

in the woods

Plant William alone and vulnerable in the middle of the shot, change it to black and white, and tweak the contrast so all the shadows are darker, and suddenly the forest is totally menacing.

Regardless, we followed Elizabeth into the woods anyway, because that's what you do in those movies.

kristin, with tree

I figured a couple of fun "along the trail" photos would add a certain poignancy to our demise when the searchers found my camera buried under the corner of the Blair Witch's cabin. After several minutes of uphill climbing we burst through the trees into a gorgeous view of Fort Loudon Lake:

by the lake

ft. loudon lake view

It was a gorgeous day to be out there, but what's hard to see in the pictures is that once we reached the lake, the path pretty much clings to the ridge. If you slip, it's a long, long drop, a point Elizabeth emphasized when we reached the part where people climb onto the rock ledge and then jump off and kill themselves:

the overhang

It will surprise no one, I'm sure, to hear that I did not climb down there. I'm bad with heights and a little clumsy, and there's really nothing down on the suicide ledge that I need.

Likewise, there was nothing in the cave, a little further down the trail, that I needed, either. Clearly, it was safe, since Elizabeth, Kristin, and William went inside and didn't die:

keller ridge cave (1)

keller ridge cave (2)

but when I got to the entrance and crouched down to peer inside my little danger voice said, "Don't. Don't go in, ok?" so I didn't. I think Elizabeth was disappointed, but I really did enjoy the trip and the hike. I'm not totally afraid of new things. I try new food and walk down creepy alleys and drive to places I can barely find on a whim, but when my little danger voice says things like, "Get out of this deserted cemetary right now" or "Don't go any further into that abandoned asylum, ok?" I listen without question, because it's never steered me astray.

And I still had a good time even without going into the Cujo bat cave.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"I carried a watermelon."

There's this boy that I kind of like. He's not actually a "boy", by which I mean that he's not under the age of eighteen, not that he's not actually a male, because I think he is even though I haven't officially checked or anything. After tonight, of course, I never actually will, because I ran into that boy that I like at the store, and managed to grind the conversation to an awkward halt in under a half dozen sentences.


I've been running into this boy, who I'm guessing is only a little younger than me, like maybe 30 or 31, at various events and meetings and things since about November or so. Whenever I see him somewhere, though, we always seem to be in passing. One of us is leaving while the other is arriving, or one has to go as soon as whatever is going on is over, or one of us is trapped in the corner talking to a needy friend who can't seem to take the hint that the reason why I'm looking over your shoulder is that the boy that I like is over there and now he's about to head out the door and you won't stop talking about your cat and your car and whatever the hell else it is that you won't stop babbling about while he's leaving yet again without me getting to talk to him.

Not that I would talk to him, anyway, other than to say hi or something, because I am horribly awkward around boys that I think are cute and they always have to talk to me first. This is what happens when you don't come out until after college. Everybody else got to perfect their flirting skills in high school, but you were busy trying to figure out how to pretend to be straight and never learned how to chit chat with boys. Instead, you just run into them at the store and manage to destroy any chance that you might have had to ever talk to him again in just under six sentences.

Here's what happened:

I rounded the corner of the aisle at the store, slowly pushing my cart and wondering if buying a bag of BBQ flavored chips for dinner was a good idea or a bad idea (I decided it was a bad idea, mostly because I was in such a hurry to leave the store and run home to finish dying a thousand deaths of mortification and embarassment that I forgot that I had ever wanted BBQ chips to begin with) when I looked up, and there he was! The boy that I like and never talk to!

O! M! G!, right? Since I'm bald now I no longer have to think, "Oh, God, is my hair ok?" but I did have a fleeting thought of, "Crap! Do I look dumpy in this outfit? And is it sexy dumpy, or homeless bum dumpy? Maybe I don't look dumpy at all? I have cute shoes on. Oh, God, please let him look at my feet," and then it was too late to think anything because there he was, and when he saw me he smiled really widely and his eyebrows went up and I probably looked like Veronica seeing Kevin with the little hearts exploding out of my eyeballs.

"Hey, you." Sentence #1.

"HI!" Overenthusiastic sentence #2.

"What's going on? I haven't seen you in, like, forever." Sentence #3 and #4. Also, you think about how often you see me?

"Oh, just, you know, doing some shopping. I need toilet paper, real bad." Sentence #5 and # OH MY GOD, WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST SAY?

There it is. I might as well have just told him that I carried a watermelon

"I carried a watermelon"

and then just let someone put Baby in the corner.

As soon as I said it, the two of us immediately glanced down, into my cart, where the only grocery I had picked up in the entire store was a huge economy twelve pack of toilet paper. Because, you know, I don't just need to buy toilet paper. I need to buy it REAL BAD. Like there's an emergency at my house, the kind of emergency that makes you need toilet paper REAL BAD. And it's the only thing I need. There's nothing else in my cart but this huge pack of toilet paper that I need REAL BAD because not only do I need it REAL BAD but I need a lot of it, at least twelve rolls, and even that might not be enough, because I need it REAL BAD. Not just the regular kind of need that everybody has but the kind of REAL BAD need that implies that I'm going to leave the store and drive home as fast as I can so that I can use the hell out of this toilet paper.

He looked me. I looked at him. He looked at my toilet paper again.

"Well, I'll let you finish shopping. It was good to see you."

"Yeah, you, too." Also, I wish I was dead, but I'll leave that out, because I've said enough.

You just go on your way, trying to imagine why I could possibly need toilet paper REAL BAD, and I'll be over here trying to imagine why I said it.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Two Weekends Ago Part 1: I Made Some Banana Bread

I didn't do much of anything this past weekend, because I have a stomach bug that's been going around and spent most of the weekend desperately trying to keep soup down. I could have written about that, but the sentence I just finished is probably all you want to hear about that particular adventure, so let's talk about last weekend instead, ok?

I spent the entire weekend, except for an insane trip to Panera, eating banana bread that I baked myself from Mom's recipe. In sharing recipes, Mom has learned to anticipate the kind of questions that I will ask, and now provides things like exact measurements and descriptions of color and consistency. We've come a long way since the days when I sort of suspected her of Martha Stewart-esque culinary sabotage but never actually accused her of it. I've instead come to understand that she's made many of these things so many times that she doesn't actually look at a recipe anymore, so when she tries to write it out for me something's bound to get left out, and when she says "add water until it's the right consistency" she knows what the right consistency is, while I think, "Syrup? Soup? Pudding? Concrete?" and wander horribly astray.

Like I said, we've gotten better at this whole thing, and I am now capable of following a Mom recipe from start to finish with some degree of success.

Mom's Banana Bread

1 cup very ripe bananas (mashed)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda (NOT baking powder)
1/2 cup oil
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1) Preheat the oven to 350 F. I did not take a picture of this step. If you don't know what an oven looks like or how to preheat it, you should stop trying to make Mom's banana bread right now and just go buy some.

2) Mise en place: This part is implied in the ingredient list, not written in the actual recipe. I turned the oven on, got out all of the ingredients and the things that I would need to measure them, then got to work on mashing the bananas. 1 cup of mashed ripe bananas works out to be about two really, really ripe bananas:

very ripe bananas

When you mash them, the consistency of the pulp is almost like pudding:

mashed banana

After the bananas I decided that even though the bag said that the walnut pieces were chopped that they were still too big and I wanted them smaller, so I measured them out and then chopped them up even smaller:

choped walnuts

Mise en place ready, I moved on.

3) Butter sides and bottom of loaf pan. Lightly dust with flour, shaking out excess. OK, I've never buttered a pan before. I was unsure of how to do this, and thought about just spraying it, but the recipe said butter so I ended up unwrapping a stick of butter and coloring in the inside of the pan like I was using a crayon. After that I floured and shook out the excess over the sink:

floured pan

4) Mix sugar, oil, and egg until creamy and light yellow in color. I know that Ina Garten always says to break eggs into a seperate bowl in case you get a bad egg, but I never seem to get bad eggs so I always ignore this, and since I use a lot of eggs on a regular basis I always crack them right into my bowl because I'm so good at it and I never make mistakes and what does a professional chef know that I don't know and... and...

eggshells in my egg

God damn it. There are eggshell pieces in my egg. Like any trained, highly professional chef would, I fished out the eggshell pieces one at a time with tweezers and then continued with step four.

5) Blend in bananas, add nuts, and stir.

6) Add flour, baking soda, and salt. Break up lumps and stir until smooth and all flour is mixed in well. See? This is what I meant about Mom getting better at offering descriptions. Up in step four she added a color, and now she's made sure I understand that it should be smooth and free of lumps. Thanks, Mom.

7) Spoon into loaf pan. I cheated on this step by mixing the batter in a bowl with a spout and handle. When it was all mixed up, all I had to do was pour and then scrape down the sides:

before baking

This looks exactly like it looked when I was little and Mom made this. What's odd is that I'm pretty sure I didn't like banana bread when I was little, but I love bananas now.

8) Bake one hour or until top springs back and toothpick comes out clean. It should look like this:

after baking

9) Cool 15 minutes on rack, then dump loaf out of pan to continue cooling on rack. I don't have a rack, so I cooled it on top of the stove on a burner, which probably will not work if you have a glass-topped stove. Also, before dumping it out of the pan, I ran a knife all the way around the inside, just in case it was sticking a little.

Did I mention that it's delicious?

two pieces with butter

I ate it for breakfast and lunch all last weekend, and as dessert after dinner.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Crime! (And Punishment?)

None of this would have happened if I hadn't made Kristin drive Kate and I to her own birthday dinner, but sometimes I don't feel like driving and I made a lame excuse about how it's cruel and unusual punishment to make people ride in the back seat of a VW Beetle, and that's how Kristin ended up driving and my car ended up sitting behind her residence hall where I've parked dozens of times with my bag on the front seat and my iPad fortunately in Kristin's office, because I like to use it in front of her to taunt her and watch her seethe with jealous rage.

When we got back from dinner Kate got in her car and I walked to my car... and my bag was gone. So was my iPod charger. And all of the change that's usually in my cupholder. After Kristin and I figured out that my bag wasn't in her office and that it hadn't been tossed in the dumpster behind Clement after someone figured out that there was nothing of value in it besides an eight year old cell phone, we called the police to report that my car had been broken into, but it turns out that it wasn't.

Instead, my car is just broken. Again. After I spent $1800 on it last month.

See, when I push the button on my key, the car beeps and the passenger door locks with a satisfied thump, but I never noticed until tonight when my bag walked off that at some point recently the driver's door has stopped locking. Fantastic. I can't even imagine what that costs to repair.

Back to the story, though, we were sitting in Kristin's office waiting for the police when they called and asked us to come out to the car. I thought they were just going to take the report, and that maybe I'd be able to get a free new phone from Verizon with it, but when we got to the car the policeman said, "If you'll get in the car, we can take you over to identify your property and have it returned."

That's some speedy police work.

Kristin and I were kind of shocked and amazed, but it turns out that two guys had hit a number of cars, stealing whatever they could carry including a few hundred dollars worth of golf clubs, and the police stopped them because they looked suspicious. After driving a couple of blocks, I was asked to come over to identify my bag in front of about ten cops and a number of cop cars. (I don't know the exact number. I thought seven, but Kristin insists that she counted them and that there were more.) Before they could give me my bag, I had to identify enought things in it before they opened it for my identification to stand up in court.

"There's a really old flip phone."

"Can you identify any of the numbers in it?"

"It probably has three missed calls from Kristin?"

"Yeah, we talked to your Dad on it."


I love my parents, but I guarantee that there was a good hour of full on freakout that may or may not still be going on. They get wound up kind of easily, especially when it's late at night and the police call them to talk about their children, but I think that probably happens to most parents.

"What else was in the bag?"

"Um... a Talking Stick magazine. A laminated list of hall director phone numbers. I think that's blue or turquoise? Some papers. A wooden pen from Colonial Williamsburg with my name carved into it. My mom bought that. A spare Volkswagen car key. Oh, and a couple of comic books in plastic bags on white boards."

I didn't realize that they were taping all of that until the officer spoke into his microphone: "Confirm that victim has identified magazine, comic books, and personalized pen."

They spent about twenty more minutes writing things up, taking information from me, and then finally giving me my bag and sending me home. I'm supposed to call next week to get a copy of the police report, and then a detective is supposed to call me about pressing charges.

And that was the story of how Kristin's birthday dinner ended with the two of us sitting in a cop car.