Sunday, July 31, 2011

Weekend Blurbs

It's still the time of year when I don't really go anywhere or do much besides work and sleep, so I don't have much to report for the weekend or many new photos. I do have a couple of small things, though.

1) Maple bacon donuts are delicious.

One of Kristin's staff members arrived to move in with two boxes of donuts from Julie Darling Donuts in Chattanooga, and when the desk staff opened the box to look inside, they discovered this:

maple bacon donut (1)

A donut with maple frosting and bacon on top. (I think the official name on the menu is "Pancakes and Bacon".) I was of the opinion that I should eat it immediately and that everyone else should just back away from the donut box, because if ever a donut was created just for me it's that donut, but I'm not actually on Kristin's staff and the donuts were for them, so we took the box to her and then I begged for it.


I have no shame.

Kristin broke off a little piece, because she was curious, and then I devoured the rest:

maple bacon donut (2)

It was sweet and salty at the same time, and the donut itself was moist and slightly cakey, which is the way I like them, and I kind of want to drive to Chattanooga right now to pick up a dozen or so of them.

And then eat them in the car on the way home, cry, and turn around to get more.

2) On my way back from the office today I stopped at McKay's to turn in a small bag of books and look for a few new releases. While I was waiting for them to evaluate the books I'd brought in, I heard this in the aisles:

"Who's Ray Bradbury?"

"I think it's in fiction, but, like, the literature fiction, not the regular kind."

Wait, what?

I normally don't give other shoppers more than a passing glance, but I looked and saw two kids with a list in hand, probably buying cheap books for class. Do they not have high school English classes in Tennessee now? I thought Fahrenheit 451 was pretty much required reading at some point in your high school career, and if not that then maybe The Illustrated Man. I'm not saying you have to be familiar with his entire body of work, but is it really possible to get to college without having any idea of who Ray Bradbury is?

Maybe Tennessee should spend less time banning certain ideas from the schools and more time actually educating the students.

3) I invented the Braintini.

braintini (1)

I found a silicone ice cube tray at Target yesterday that promised to make ice cubes shaped like brains. It was cheap, and I need fun in my life, so I bought it. Then today, when I was getting groceries, I decided to pick up some heinously green Hawaiian Punch to fill the tray with.

braintini (2)

I recommend dropping the ice brain into the drink after, rather than pouring your drink over it, because otherwise your ice brain melts a little and the folds smooth out, just like Charlie's brain in Flowers for Algernon.

braintini (3)

The kids in McKay's today probably haven't ever read that, either.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Happy Anniversary to Me!

It's been five years since I packed up my stuff:

Bye, Bye, Bye

finished out the school year:

I won a clock!

road tripped to Washington, DC:

pale, untanned legs

went to Katie's wedding:

mmmmm... bride

had my car totalled by a drunk driver:

remember when?

moved into my first off-campus apartment:

lving room/kitchen


stupid alphabet

bought grown up furniture:

big bed

got another car:


started work:

my office

and fell deeply in love with Knoxville:


and the University:

Et tu, Barbie?

It's been five years, and I'm so happy I came. I have worked with amazing students, faculty, staff, family members, alumni, and members of the community, and feel privileged to be a part of it.

And I hope I'm here for at least five more.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"I'm gonna need a bigger saw."

I got home a little late tonight, because I had a 6 PM meeting with a committee that wanted to pick my brain and then somehow convinced me to think about presenting a program at their conference in October. I walked in a little after 7:30, and there was a definite smell of burning in the air.

Hmmmmm, I thought, checking for smoke. I wasn't here cooking anything, especially since I've been vomiting for a few days, so who burned something in the kitchen?

I didn't find anything burning, and nothing looked burned, so I got a drink and then rinsed out my glass.

Hmmmmm, I thought, checking to make sure that I'd turned the kitchen faucet to "hot". This hot water seems oddly cold, almost as if it's not really hot at all.


I have no hot water in the kitchen.

I immediately tried the bathroom faucets, and discovered that I had no hot water anywhere in the apartment. Like any normal adult would, I spent twenty minutes cleaning the bathroom and tidying the living room, and then called the maintenance hotline for my apartment complex.

"There's no hot water? In any of the faucets?"

"No." I believe I covered that when I said, "There's no hot water in my apartment," but maybe I was somehow horribly unclear.

"I'll need to come over and check the heater."

"OK." Pause. "Where... is the heater?"

I'm asking because I'm terrified that I also need to go clean the other bathroom.

"Oh, your hot water heater is buried under your stove. I'll need to pull that out. Clear everything off the stove, if you have anything on there, and I'll be there in about thirty minutes."

But I didn't clean the stove! Are you sure the hot water heater can't be in the bathroom? Like, maybe it moved? I mean, I don't live in filthy squalor or anything, but it's been a rough week or two and my apartment looks kind of like I come home every day and do a slow motion collapse from the door to the fainting couch and then to the bed. There are dishes in the sink, there's some splattered dried cheese on the stovetop, and the kitchen is just really not at its best at the moment, so of course the hot water heater is hidden inside it like the half-rotted pit of an overripe peach.

I got things wiped down as best I could, decided there was no time to mop, and thought about dimming the lights, but then I was out of time, and the maintenance man arrived.

"Oh, smell that burning?" How could I possibly not? It smells like Smokey the Bear rolled around on my carpets. "That's the thermostat on your water heater. It's burned up."

"That seems not good." Nothing gets by me.

"Yeah. I have a replacement, but I'll need to pull that stove out."

So he did, and then realized that he still couldn't get to the water heater:

behind the stove

"I'm gonna need to saw through that cabinet."

So he did, after I took all of the glass baking dishes out of it, and then we realized that he still couldn't get to the water heater:

two cabinets

"I'm going to go get a different saw, because I need to saw through that cabinet, too, and it's thicker. I might be here until two in the morning if this is as bad as I think it is."

I'd like to vote against that.

After several minutes of noisy sawing, he finally got to the water heater:

the hot water heater

"Look at that! It's burned AND melted!"


Eventually he wired in the replacement thermostat, which he said will last overnight so I can have a hot shower in the morning, and then tomorrow when I come home I will magically have a new hot water heater.

And possible some new cabinets.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Borders Watch 2011: My Week as a Vulture

On Monday I read a news story that Borders Books had failed to find a buyer, and was going to have to liquidate all stock and close all of their stores, forever. While this is a terrible thing, because it means that thousands of people are about to be out of work, it's also a pretty good thing for two reasons:

1) Of all the major chain bookstores, Borders is the one I will miss least. Every time I get a Borders gift card, I end up spending most of it online because I usually have trouble finding what I want in the store. I'm not asking for obscure books, either, like a Nine Gates or a Gutenberg Bible; I'm asking in December for a book that was on the New York Times bestseller list in October, and there's not a single copy in the store.

You know why?

Because the bookstore is full of crap that isn't books. The Borders by me has a book and magazine section, a CD section, a DVD and Bluray section, a toy department, a board games area, a coffee bar, a Burt's Bees health and beauty section, a stationery and greeting cards area, candles, backpacks and other apparel, calendars, a candy and snack aisle, and some register space where you can pay for something that, in all likelihood, probably is not a book. If I wanted a bunch of other crap, I would go to Target or Wal Mart or some other store that doesn't claim to be a bookstore.

2) Who doesn't love a sale? As an American, I would like more things, please, but I would also like them at bargain basement prices. With that in mind, I started my Borders stakeout on Monday night, keeping a close eye on the store by my house.

Monday, Day 1 of Borders Watch:

Given the freshness of the disaster news, I didn't expect to see any signs up yet, but I did want to go in and see if there was actually something in stock that I might want to buy at the end of the week. I settled on Chuck Palahniuk's Tell-All, because it just came out in paperback, they have a lot of copies and should still have them by the end of the week, and the cover art looks like Lana Turner. You know how I love having dinner with Lana.

After scoping out both locations in the store where copies of the book were displayed, and then making a quick circuit of the bargain books section to see if there was anything I might want even cheaper, I left, content to circle the parking lot like a vulture circling a cowboy crossing the desert with no canteen.

Tuesday, Borders Watch Day 2:

I circled the parking lot again after work, doing a slow driveby of the front doors like a high school mean girl trying to intimidate my rival for prom queen. I'm out here, Borders, and I'm waiting.

There are no signs on the front of the store, but there are also no outside display tables or racks near the front, something I've only seen missing in bad weather. I'm not sure if it means something or if it's just close to closing time because I stayed after work too late.

On the way back to my apartment, I thought for a moment of the time way back in the fall of 1999 when my friend Donna and I went to the closing sale at Stop and Go Video in Cortland, NY. Stop and Go was a really old school video store (they all were back then), a Mom and Pop operation where all of the video boxes were on shelves with clothespins clipped to the front of the shelf. If you wanted that movie, you took the clothespin with the number on it to the counter and they got it for you. If the box was sitting there with no clothespins, all the copies were rented.

Blockbuster and Hollywood Video came to Cortland at about the same time, closer to campus than Stop and Go, and that pretty much killed the store. Video Circus (a slightly seedy video store which had a back room and an "erotic thriller" section that had every Shannon Tweed movie, ever; Shannon Tweed movies are an oddly fascinating exercise in discovering how many different jobs require you to take your top off, and you have to wonder if she just started inserting those scenes into the movies herself out of force of habit) was still open the last time I was in town, because it was in walking distance of campus and none of the other stores were, but the Stop and Go sale was sudden and frantic. They announced it in the morning, and when we got there at lunchtime the parking lot was packed. Inside, people were running to and fro with handfuls of clothespins, and the lines at the counter snaked almost to the front doors. I was enraged to discover that someone had the clothespin for the second half of "The Stand", but the first half was still there, because seriously? Who does that? Who buys half of a miniseries? What am I supposed to do with the other half?

Annoyed and mildly enraged, I ended up with The House of Yes, Freeway, Nowhere, and The Last Supper, none of which I still own because I no longer have a VCR. Still, I've always been a little miffed that I didn't get that copy of "The Stand".

That's not going to happen this time, Borders. I'm getting that copy of Tell-All even if I have to pry it from some other shopper's cold dead hands.

Wednesday, Borders Watch Day 3:

There were still no tables in front of the store, but still no signs on the windows. The parking lot was very full, though, so I was intrigued enough to go in. As I parked, a family of little people started getting into the car next to mine, and like an Ancient Greek I wondered if it was an omen. One of them had on a neck brace, which seemed even more tragic somehow than a neck injury normally would.

Inside the store, nothing was on clearance yet, but an employee was going through all of the front tables, book by book, and removing the "Preferred Members save an extra 20%" stickers from each book, implying that the whole store will go on percentage instead. I scoped out my copies of Tell-All to see how many were left and then left the store, biding my time.

Thursday, Borders Watch Day 4:

There still aren't any tables or racks out in front of the store. I guess Borders doesn't do that anymore, in their decline. The parking lot was very full, more so than yesterday, and it occured to me that I might not be the only vulture circling in the parking lot. I made a point of trying to remember some of the cars, to see if they also came tomorrow. As I drove past the front on my now familiar loop I noticed a small sign on the door, and two older ladies standing in front of it, reading.

A sign! This could be it!

I immediately pulled into a space and walked quickly to the door, but was sadly disappointed to read that it was not a store clearance notice. It was close, though:

Effective July 22:

-All sales are final
-Checks will no longer be accepted
-Borders Reward Points can no longer be used

Intrigued, I went inside to see if anything had changed since yesterday. All of the discount stickers were gone from the books except for the very front table, where the brand new bestseller releases are, and the books on the bargain racks. Everything else was apparently going to start at cover price before discounts were applied, which would be a little annoying if the closing discount was lower than the discount I would have gotten on Tuesday.

Also, there were still plenty of copies left of Tell-All, so I left the store with confidence, and decided that if the discount was really good, I would also look for In the Garden of Beasts when the sale finally started.

"Finally" would apparently be Friday, July 22.

Friday, the end of Borders Watch

As I approached Borders today, I could see cars parked all the way out to the street, and between the trees I glimpsed the sign:

borders closing

The end had arrived.

It was time to get my copy of Tell-All.

The stack on the front table actually was depleted when I got inside the store, noticing on the way in that the small sign from yesterday had been replaced with giant window covering "Up To 40% Off!" signs instead. My slightly discounted (seriously, how can you have a going out of business sale at a bookstore and only have fiction 10% off?) copy of Tell-All safely in hand, I went to go look for a copy of In The Garden of Beasts, but was unsure of whether it would be in the 20% off History section or in the 10% off Biography section, since it was a story about a specific family. I couldn't find it in either section, nor on the 10% off New Hardcovers rack, so I went to the computers to look it up.

And discovered that they've shut off all the in-store computers.

Each monitor has a sign taped to it that says "We can no longer look up or order titles. Please ask an associate for help." This makes no sense to me. They could look up titles yesterday, and nothing changed between yesterday and today except that they hung up some signs. Suddenly they can no longer keep track of their stock, and even more surprisingly, the staff at Borders is going to suddenly be helpful after the ridiculously bad customer service I've received there in the past.

A while ago, I went to Borders to see if they had a copy of Queenpin. Even though it had just come out they didn't have any in stock, because they needed shelfspace in the bookstore for Legos or scented candles or something, so I went to ask if I could special order a copy.

"Oh, sure! Of course!" the guy at the information desk said. "Let me take you to the special order computer."

We then walked across the store to a computer that connected to the internet, and the guy directed me to I then got to look up my own book, enter my own ordering information, and have it shipped to my apartment, just like I could have done at home on my couch without even going to Borders. Thanks, Borders employee, for doing the bare minimum. If you'd at least ordered a copy to the store, I would have had to come back to the store to get it, increasing the chance that I wandered the aisles and bought something else. Instead I went home, waited for my book to arrive, and resolved to just order from Amazon from now on.

There's probably a lesson there about what went wrong at Borders as a whole, but I decided not to dwell on it and, instead, to go find an employee and ask for help in locating my book.

"Oh, we sold out of that about three weeks ago," she said, shrugging, and not asking if there was anything else she could help me find.

"Really?" I asked, taking on my comically haughtiest tone as I looked around at the line of shoppers picking over Borders' corpse and the limply hanging discount signs. "Well! I'll never shop here again!"

She looked at me for a second, until I smiled, and then burst out laughing.

"Yeah, I guess you won't. At least not after next week."

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Freshly Strained

Oranges are gross.

I'm not willing to debate this point. I'm just stating it as a fact. When you peel one, there's all that white stuff inside, and there are chewy parts and squishy parts, and membranes, and the whole thing is just vile. The idea of biting into an orange is roughly equal, in my head, to a zombie biting into a chewy squishy brain. If I were stranded on a desert island with only an orange tree, there's a good chance that I might die.

Orange juice, on the other hand, is delicious. Like an ugly duckling becoming a beautiful swan, somehow the lowly orange transforms into golden liquid sunshine, and all is right with the world.

Unless you accidentally buy the kind with pulp in it, like I did yesterday:

homestyle, with pulp

I'm not sure how this happened, but I have a few ideas:

1) Interference by an evil twin from a parallel earth. Homestyle, pulp-filled juice is exactly the opposite of the kind I meant to buy, so this is clearly part of a plot by Bizarro Joel and can only lead to ruin. I should ask Kroger to show me the security camera footage, so that we can see if the me who put this juice in my cart had a sinister black goatee.

2) Bad signage at Kroger. They can't even pluralize the word "toy":


How can we be sure that they labelled the orange juice shelves correctly to begin with? It's entirely possible that this is all Kroger's fault.

3) I wasn't paying attention. This seems the least likely scenario to me, mainly because it's the one where I assume blame. It's possible that while I was making sure I was getting the "not from concentrate" juice I forgot to also make sure I got the pulp free kind, but the idea that I make mistakes and that they are my own fault is as repulsive as the idea of biting into an orange.

Let's just blame this on Bizarro, instead.

It wasn't until I got the juice home and started to pour a glass that I realized it was the bad kind, and then I was stuck. You can't take opened juice back to the store, but juice is too expensive to just throw away because it has pulp in it. I thought about flinging the glass against the wall while shrieking, like JLo does when an assistant brings her a warm Diet Coke, but that doesn't really solve the problem. My next thought was that I could strain it, and filter out all the pulp, but would that actually work?

Let's find out!

strainer and jug

I had all the hardware, so I poured in some juice and immediately ran into a problem:


There's so much pulp that it made the juice pool up and not pour down into the jug. I grabbed a wooden spoon, and was careful to stir, not press, because pressing might push some pulp through the strainer:


Eventually, all the juice went through, and I was just left with a lot of pulp:

leftover pulp

I cannot possibly shudder enough.

After rinsing out the strainer a few times, I eventually filtered the entire half gallon of juice, and then drank a whole bunch.

Better luck next time, Bizarro!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Tale of Two Sun Eaters

I haven't updated in a few weeks, because I've been really busy at work, and have had to go in the last two weekends in a row as well as staying late a lot. Remember back in December and January when my coworkers and I had to fight the Sun Eater?

ferro lad speaks (1)

Ferro Lad? What are you doing here?

I mean, I'm glad you suddenly seem not to be dead anymore, but I was right in the middle of explaining how I've been spending the last couple of weeks fighting the Student Billing Statements Sun Eater, and

ferro lad speaks (2)

Well, you know, it's more of a metaphor, really.

ferro lad speaks (3)

Well, you know, it was kind of horrible anyway, even if it wasn't a real Sun Eater.

ferro lad speaks (4)

ferro lad speaks (5)

ferro lad speaks (6)

I... fell asleep early and missed one of my shows?

ferro lad speaks (7)

It's really nice of you to recognize that, and...

Hey, where are you going?

ferro lad speaks (8)

Ferro Lad?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Creamy Hearts of Palm Soup

Today I continued working through the 400 Soups cookbook that I got on the bargain rack when I picked up Countess LuAnn of New York's Classy Book of Classy Etiquette. Given the success of the spicy cauliflower soup and the easy pea soup (which, as my friend Justin suggested, was even better with the addition of cream and bacon), I figured I could branch out and try something completely new, and settled on the creamy hearts of palm soup since it used a leek and two cans of hearts of palm.

I've never cooked with either of those, or to my knowledge, eaten them.

I do know, from "Top Chef", that a leek is kind of like a big onion. I didn't realize how big until I got to Earthfare (no leeks at Kroger, I'm afraid) and picked one out:


It's like a club! If I got mugged on the way home from the store I could totally fight someone off with my leek. You could play baseball with that thing.

Of course, now that I had a leek I had little idea of what to do with it. I knew it needed washing, because I remember someone on "Top Chef" being accused of having sandy leeks (I can't remember who, but I want to say it was Top Scallops Jamie), but I had no idea if I was supposed to used the white part or the green part or peel it or what. Fortunately, a quick google search informed me that I should cut off the bottom, then cut off the leaves where the light green part started to darken. Once that was done, I cut up an onion and then peeled and diced a potato, and my mis en place was done except for draining the hearts of palm.

I have no idea what part of the palm the heart comes from, but they look like this when you dump a pre-sliced can of them into a strainer:

hearts of palm

Do palm trees have fruit? Is the heart from some sort of palm fruit? Or is it something more sinister, like the palm tree gets knocked out and wakes up in the thugee temple under the palace and then gets chained into a harness and then Mola Ram reaches into the palm tree's chest and pulls out the still beating heart of palm with his bare hand and throws it into a Kroger can while the cultists chant and pray to the Sankara stones?

Who cares? After all the slicing and dicing prep work I was too hungry to worry.

The soup came together in stages, but it was fairly simple. I started by melting butter in my soup pot (I've gotten really good at doing this slowly and patiently rather than turning the heat up really high and burning the butter to a brown smear on the bottom of the pain) along with some olive oil, and then cooking down the onion and leeks in it:

onion, leek, butter, olive oil

After that I added flour, chicken stock, and the chunks of potato, and then ten minutes later heavy cream and the hearts of palm:

more ingredients

and then the whole thing eventually went into the blender. I was going to use my immersion blender, but that always seems to miss a chunk of something here and there, and I wanted this pureed all the way down since there was a whole onion in it. While it was baking I put a loaf of bread in the oven (a Kroger take and bake loaf, since we already know that my homemade bread is awful, nightmare fuel) and suddenly dinner was served:

bread and soup

I'm not sure what a heart of palm tastes like, exactly, but the soup has a creamy taste with a slightly sweet undertone, and I didn't taste the onion at all.