Archive by Author

Audio Book Magic

19 Sep

Unwelcome Change

I grew up with paper books, flipping pages and reading words. The thought of having someone read TO me has been distasteful for a long time. What if I wanted to go back and re-read a particular section? What if I wanted to skim through some boring bits to get to the good stuff? What would I DO while listening? I imagined myself sitting on the couch, hands held awkwardly as I tried to figure out what the hell to do with them.

I love the ACT of reading. I don’t view an audiobook as a shortcut – a great way to avoid having to squint at words and flip pages. Instead, it seems a hindrance to the way I typically enjoy a book. Some OTHER person injecting themselves into my reading time and inflecting the story with THEIR interpretation just feels … awkward. An uninvited guest at a dinner table, so to speak.

However, I don’t have as much time for reading these days as I used to. Ah, the golden days of high school, when responsibilities were pretty much insignificant and days stretched before me without things like work and bills and cooking and cleaning to gobble up my free time.

Audio Books of Yore

Friends told me how much they loved audio books. How they allowed for books to be consumed while doing other tasks (such as commuting or cleaning or cooking or even working in a quiet enough environment).

I tried a few only to immediately dislike swapping tapes or cds every hour or so. The cds would be scratched or the tapes not rewound.

I discarded the notion and simply savored my reading time where I could steal it.

Recently, though, I tried again and found that swapping cds was a small price to pay for an audiobook’s company on a long car drive.

Audio Books of Now

Then a librarian showed me their new mp3 player audio books – just plug in your own earbuds and the tiny device could be plunked down in your pocket for the duration. No cds, no tapes, no extra equipment required.

With their help, I finally read Hunger Games.

Five hours in, I finally abandoned my distrust of audio books.

Now, halfway through Poison Study on my little ipod shuffle (thank you, Audible.com!) I feel compelled to evangelize.

Audio books will never, ever replace the feel of READING. My eyes ache to seek the words the narrator is speaking, and I’m not sure I’ll ever quite get over the feeling that something is MISSING as I have a book read to me.

On the other hand, I’m READING again. Maybe not “reading” – but I am consuming stories. I am enfolded into the world of books without having to desperately carve out a few uninterrupted hours to devour a book.

There’s a magic in that. I love books, and being so far from them for so long has weighed on me.

Give Them A Chance

If you’ve discounted audio books as I did, but miss READING, please give them another chance. Libraries are free, and I know the mp3 audio book format is growing in popularity.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve left my heroine in a tree with pursuers below her. I think I can see her safe to the ground by the time I’m done shopping for groceries.

 

 

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Dog-eared Old Friends

11 Sep

I’d say most of us here love books. Probably have one or two (or three or four) bookshelves lined with adventures and stories and knowledge cultivated through the years.

What books have stayed with you? Which ones did you love as a child? Which ones kept you smiling through high school, and which ones do you STILL get a little nostalgic when you see the title standing there in your bookshelves, waiting patiently for you to read it again?

I’d like to restrict the list to titles you found before high school, if possible.

Tami’s List

Beauty, by Robin McKinley. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, this was the book that made me fall in love with writing. [ Amazon Link ]

Lad, a Dog by Albert Payson Terhune. This is the story of Lad, a standard collie, and the trials and tribulations that took he and his family through wars, dog shows, thieves, and puppies. [ Amazon Link ]

Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders. Based on a true story of a dog cruelly mutilated as a puppy and raised by a family that loves him, this was the first book on animal cruelty that I truly understood. [ Amazon Link ]

Watership Down by Richard Adams. This one came later in my list than the others, but follows a group of rabbits as they try to rebuild their warren in the face of humanity, but also more dangerous rabbits. This is still my favorite book ever. [ Amazon Link ]

How To Caramelize Onions

4 Sep

Okay, this seems really obvious, but it took me forever to learn how to do it properly.

Caramelized Onions

Ingredients

  • Sweet onions (any kind, really, but if they’re labeled “sweet” they’re probably a cut above the rest)
  • 1 T olive oil (or please-don’t-burn-stir-fry grease of choice)
  • Salt

Directions

Cut the onions* however you like. I love onions, so I do a lot of onion here. I like big red onions. Not only are larger onions a little sweeter than their smaller brethren, red onions are just plain prettier. YMMV.

Get out a large pan with tall sides. You want as much surface area as you can wrangle, so the onions cook more evenly. Heat pan over medium/low heat. (I’m talking 3, assuming 5 is your medium). The key is LOW heat, here. We are not frying these onions.

Add oil to warm pan. Allow oil to warm if you’re patient, or squish the first three steps into one if you’re me.

Add onions to pan.

Lid the pan, stirring frequently until onions not only turn into something that looks like it could be used as a prop on a slimy alien horror movie, but it’s also starting to turn a little golden/brown in color.

This should take anywhere from half an hour to 45 minutes. If you hear SIZZLE, it’s too hot. Steam without sizzle is the key.

What can you DO with caramelized onions?

My favorite is to mix it in with some rough-mashed potatoes (a mixture of the little golden taters and the waxier little red taters). Salt, pepper, and onions is all you need and it’s GORGEOUS.

Carmelized onions are ALSO awesome on sandwiches. I see it paired with beef pretty often, and if you’ve got a little RockNRolla Gorgonzola cheese to add, so much the better.

They’re good in omelets or salads.

They are ALSO amazing right out of the pan, but not everyone loves onion as much as I do.

*Bonus How To Cut An Onion

I didn’t know how to do this for AGES, so apologies to everyone looking at this and privately judging me for thinking this was blog-worthy. SOME of us were raised on frozen pizza and macaroni and cheese, and had to pick up vegetable-related skills as an adult.

Right, onion cutting.

  • First thing I do is cut the onion in half, from stem to stern (in other words, not around the belly).
  • Next, lay each half flat-side down on the cutting board and dock the “tail” back to the bell of the onion. Discard cut off bits.
  • Peel the outermost layers off the onion. If it’s rubbery or papery, it’s no good. Sometimes I get lazy and peel off one layer of GOOD onion and discard that along with the rest. (I use BIG onions, so it’s no like I’m losing much here, Judgey McJudgersons!)
  • Next is the fun part. If you are cutting STRIPS of onion, just turn the onion so that the flat area where the tail used to be is parallel with your knife, and cut thin slabs out of the face of the onion until you reach the stubby core on the other side. Separate the strips by hand.
  • If you are dicing or chopping the onion, turn the onion the other way (with the stubby core on top) and cut guidelines from core to flat area, making sure to leave the core portion of the cut still attached (kind of like your fingers are attached to your hand).  After that, turn the onion sideways and cut in the strips method above. The result will be that each “strip” is pre-cut along the diagonal already, netting you neat little cubes of onion based on the distance between your cuts.

This method is SUPER FAST and gives really great results.

It would also look better if I took pictures and posted them, but this is why my career as a food blogger never quite got off the ground.

I love to cook, but I don’t love to stop and arrange well-lit pictures OR upload said pictures for use later.

Also, don’t cut your fingers when dicing your onion. And you might want to wear protective headgear because onions are the most tragic of all the vegetables.

If you plan ahead, you can put the onion in the freezer for like ten minutes before you plan on chopping it, thus negating most of the tear-gas effect of fresh-cut onions. If you are me, you never really plan ahead, you just make with the chopping and the sobbing.

Dirty White Lies

16 Aug

Lies and the subtleties of capitalization

I lie to my friends a lot.

My capital-F-Friends, they know the truth, but there are precious few capital-F-Friends in this world. That takes a special kind of person, to look at the dark side of your personality and still want to be with you – and that you look at the dark side of theirs and feel the same.

On the other hand, friends are pretty common. Folks who are well past the “acquaintance” stage, but never quite reach that inner sanctum. Friends of circumstance, friends of convenience, even friends who just aren’t quite bad enough to kick to the curb, you know what I mean?

“Oh, you work here too and have lunch at the same time as me? Also, you don’t speak like a mouth-breather spouting racist hate? Rock on, pull up an uncomfortable plastic chair and let’s waste a half hour together.”

That kind of friend, I lie to a lot.

Not LIE lie. I don’t tell them I’m actually an international super-spy or that the lady in the mail room has been shredding their mail or anything. I just don’t speak up and tell the truth like I would with a capital-F-Friend.

Religion and Politics are two biggies where I clam up big time. It’s a losing battle, and one I don’t want to fight. As long as no one is actively getting hurt by the conversation, I’ll steer it away from the danger zones and pretend an abnormal fascination with the text on the back of the ketchup bottle.

Two Faces

Sometimes, this two-facedness bothers me, and sometimes I really don’t care. I think it only bothers me when the friend seems to value our relationship more than I do. When things take a turn and all the sudden I’m invited for dinner, and this feeling of horror washes over me. Now, it’s too late. Now, I can’t go back and say, “You remember all the times you said that thing about that guy? Well, I wasn’t THAT hungry that day, I was just trying to keep my mouth busy so I didn’t tell you how big of an idiot I thought you sounded.”

Years can go by and all the sudden they’ll say something, and it’s like being snapped out of a half-doze. The urge to reveal myself like some kind of Scooby Doo villain will wash over me. I’ll be tired of it — bone-crushingly exhausted by the wash of idle conversation that I for so long encouraged in this lowercase-f-friend.

Funny, I don’t FEEL like a heathern (where I’m from, that’s how you spell it)

For example, I read tarot cards.

I don’t go around with a booth, wrap myself in sparkling silk scarves, and wave my hands in front of a crystal ball pretending to be possessed by the spirit of Bathsheba or anything. I just have a tarot deck and periodically I’ll do readings from it. I enjoy it. I’m drawn to it. I don’t know that I’d say I’m any GOOD at it, but it’s this thing. I have a somewhat uncomfortable relationship with the cards that I’m still sorting out, but I’m no longer fighting the fact that “I Read Tarot Cards” is a part of who I am.

Every once in a while, a friend will say something that gives me the impression they would stop talking to me if they knew.

I don’t blame them for not knowing. I don’t carry my cards with me and I don’t have a “I ❤ Tarot” pin on my lapel or anything – no more than I advertise that I’m a writer or a programmer or that I have a cat. (Okay, the cat hair’s a dead giveaway on that last one, but you know what I mean.)

Or they’ll catch sight of my tattoo and pause slightly before smiling. (Heaven help them when I get my new tattoos, those things are like potato chips and I finally found an artist I trust)

Maybe I’m being too sensitive. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. (Ha! Tarot humor! I crack me up!)

And then again, maybe I’m not.

This Is Not The Advice I’m Looking For

The thing is, I wonder how many of you are sitting at your keyboards, ITCHING to advise me to just TELL them already. If it scares them away, then they weren’t worth keeping anyway. Am I right?

“Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

My Actions Brought Me Here

The thing is … I don’t want to start battles when there’s nothing to win. This isn’t them judging me. This is also me judging them. If they were capital-F-Friends, they’d already know. My friends and I talk about the weather and shopping. My captial-F-Friends and I talk about the morality of veganism and how damn good a burger tastes. We talk about religion and politics and science and passions and dreams.

I am the one who has drawn this line in the sand. I am the one who has said, “Yea, all who stand on this side of the line shall henceforthe be capitalized Friends.”

I am the one who hasn’t given these friends the ability to file for an upgrade in our friendship. (Sometimes I do, and hoooooo boy, is that a mistake sometimes. Backtracking from there is MUCH harder.)

It all works … until something shifts, and the easy balance we’d achieved with friendship levels is upset by them doing something that tells me they want to cross that line.

I’m left sitting there, forkful of salad halfway to my mouth, wondering just exactly how I’m going to handle the mess I’ve caused for myself and thinking longingly about going back to hiding in dark corners and avoiding eye contact, the safe “Do Not Disturb” sign of a book between me and the rest of the world.

I’m not social by nature . I’m an introvert. Un-clamming to the point where I make lowercase-friends instead of just clutching my captial-Friends close has taken practice. Effort. STRESS.

People DO cross that line. Sometimes they waver on the line for a while, not sure which side they want to be on, but I do make Friends.

It’s the folks I already know I don’t want anywhere near my soul that are causing me heartburn.

I just realized, I sound a lot like a guy trying to figure out how to break up with a girl he’s not very interested in, even though there’s nothing BIG WRONG with the relationship. *facedesk*

Can’t we just be “friends”?

Used vs New

12 Aug

Everyone seems to have different opinions on what must be purchased new and what it is permissible to buy used.

Vehicle

Cars, for example. I bought my second car this past winter, and both of my cars have been new cars. I’m fortunate in being financially able to do this, I know, but I also consider it to be an investment. My previous car lasted me ten years, and I only got rid of it (read: gave it to my mom) when I finally came to terms with the fact that I need to drive in the snow and the car I purchased in Texas was probably never going to get less knuckle-clenchingly terrible in said snow over time.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me why I would buy new – often with an air of pity or smugness that made me angry. I KNOW that the value of my car dropped the moment I signed the papers on it, but I also know everything about that car. I know that it’s been in to get its oil changed when it should, I know it’s not been in any accidents, I know how it’s been driven and when it behaves oddly enough that it needs to go in. I realize that EXCELLENT used cars are available for a fraction of the price … and I also see people purchase used cars that immediately fail or become albatrosses around their necks. We’ve got one guy at work who we constantly joke about the great deal he got on his van … because it breaks down in the middle of the highway multiple times a year, and won’t start even more often than that.

For me – the me who doesn’t know and doesn’t care to learn what a carburetor looks like – a new car makes sense. I want no fuss, no muss, no hassle, no surprises.

Clothes

Clothes, on the other hand? I pride myself (probably the same smug pride that the used car buyers in my earlier examples feel) on buying used clothes.

I love getting a great deal on something. I love getting compliments on a lucky find. I love giving an old piece of clothing a new life. I love the thought that my dollars are often benefiting charity and promoting local businesses rather than directly encouraging sweat shops in foreign countries.

St. Vincent de Paul stores, Goodwill, Savers, garage sales – I have no shame. When I do buy new, I tend to stack coupons and sales.

Most of my friends do not share my enthusiasm for resale shops. I have friends who routinely drop $30-$50 on a single shirt. Who, when I mention my great deal on the skirt they complimented, mention that they have a bag of clothes they need to remember to drop off at the donation center.

I laugh and ask if I can dig through the bag before they do.

(Note, I always buy new undergarments. The price of bras these days is just STAGGERING, though. *fans self, decides her current bras are probably fine for another couple of months. It’s not like anyone can see the holes.*)

You

What about you? Any other discount clothing fans in the audience? Anyone else have strong opinions on things they refuse to buy used, or items where the deal matters more than the certainty of condition?

Any lovers of Banana Republic and Coldwater Creek in the audience, or conversely, anyone who hyperventilates if they walk past the open store door?

UnRoast

Today, I love how tiny my wrists look in oversized sleeves with cuffs.

Spicy Slaw

4 Aug

I love modular cooking. Like tacos, for example.

You lay out the taco fixins, and everyone piles on whatever they feel like eating on a taco at that moment. Got some roasted chickpeas? How about some bbq baked beans? Maybe a little mango salsa? Slap that puppy on there. No wrong way to make a taco.

This slaw recipe is a great “piece” of a meal – one of my favorite “meal modules”. You can use it in place of shredded lettuce on your taco, put it on a tostada with some baked beans, maybe use it in place of lettuce on a fresh burger, or just eat it by itself if you feel so inclined.

Best part? It’s simple.

The Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 package pre-made slaw mix (You CAN make your own, but it comes out perfectly with the pre-bag mix)
  • 2 tablespoons jalapeno brine (the liquid from a jar of pickled jalapenos)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  • Put all ingredients in a large bowl and toss until brine is fully incorporated into the slaw mix.

That’s it.

No cooking, no baking, no complex measuring (I think we’re using 4 tablespoons of jalapeno brine, because we love the taste of vinegar), no “marinate overnight”.

Just mix and serve.

We’ll toss a batch of this and keep it in the fridge to use throughout the week. Beans and salsa for snacking? Add some spicy slaw to the mix and bring it alive with the fiberlicious glory of shredded cabbage and jalapenos. I think it gets better over time, and I like mine a little warm so that the slaw mix wilts just a little.

Unroast

Today, I love how girly I feel when this flowy paisley skirt swishes across my knees.

The Post Office Pisses Me Off A Little

28 Jul

Don’t get me wrong. The majority of postal workers I’ve met are lovely, helpful people. This is not an attack on post office staff, who are doing their jobs to the best of their abilities.

I value the service the post office performs.

No, this is a rant against the way the post office is doing business.

Hours

I have a full time job. Regardless of whether you think that’s a shame or a gift from God, it does mean that I am AT WORK and not AT HOME during a significant portion of my day.

If I need to USE the actual, physical post office building during the week, I am pretty much screwed. The post office closes well before normal work hours let up, and opens long after I’m already at my jobsite.

I can’t pop in quick before work, nor can I stop in on my way home. My lunch break doesn’t give me enough time to reach the post office, wait in line, conduct my business, and drive back. I know this because I’ve tried.

If I get home and I see a yellow note saying that the post office tried to deliver something to my home, I say a few choice not-safe-for-children things as I snatch it off the door.  It will be DAYS before I see this item. Why? Because the post office is already closed. Tomorrow, I can try to contact them and find out what I can do to get my package – even if I take off work early to go pick it up from the post office, it will probably be “out on the truck for delivery” so I still can’t get it.

I am stuck in this limbo hell, trying to get my package before it is returned to the sender as undeliverable, while working around the post office’s anti-work-force hours.

This was especially fun when I pre-ordered a Harry Potter book and didn’t get to read it for over a week while I played doorbell hockey with the post office. (Yes, I’m still bitter. I PRE-ORDERED, which meant I didn’t want a week’s worth of internet spoilers.)

Rule 1 of running a business should be : Be Open When Thy Customer Is In Need of Thy Services.

I know it’s not, though, because every restaurant in the city is closed during breakfast hours on the weekend.

Of COURSE people are using places like FedEx and UPS for mailing anything bigger than a postcard – those places are actually OPEN after we get off work. The only thing I use the postal service for is something I can slip in the “outgoing mail” slot or things that can wait for the weekend to ship out. (let’s not even mention the monstrous dragon’s tail of a line full of other people who had to wait till the weekend to use the post office … and of course, there’s only one person working the desk)

SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM

I’m not a hippie, but I’m pretty crunchy. I recycle. I try to minimize packaging in foods that I buy and I shut the water off when I’m brushing my teeth.

Hauling my recycle bag out to the trash every week or so, it bothers me that half of it is mail that I do not want, did not ask for, and cannot find a way to stop getting.

No, I do not want your credit card offers. If I did, I would seek you out.

No, I do not want your newspaper crammed full of coupons and sales to stores I do not shop at. If I happen to go to the store, I usually examine the flier just inside the front door before I begin shopping.

No, I do not want your internet or tv or dish or whatever it is you’re selling. My name is not “Resident.”

I can opt out of emails that bother me (usually). I can sign up for the Do Not Call list. I can verbally tell callers to stop calling me. I can do NOTHING about this antagonistic flood of papers.

Also, only marginally related, there’s someone named Jacqueline Moore whose mail I have been getting ever since I lived in my first apartment back in College Station, Texas. I have been getting this chick’s mail for YEARS, through several address changes, and no amount of “Return to Sender” and hand-written notes on the mailbox saying “Jacqueline Moore does not live here, please stop giving me her mail” keeps me from getting her stuff. She actually got a court summons once (which we panicked when we saw the envelope and opened before we realized it wasn’t addressed to us). The court told us to mail it back to them on our own dime and they’d make sure they found the right person. Yeah. Classy. Unless we have a domovoi named Jacky, I’m pretty sure we’d know if someone else was living in our house.

Business

I’m not even complaining about postage rates skyrocketing, although that, too feels antagonistic towards users. I know they need to stay in business and they’re operating at massive profit deficits.

There’s got to be a better way to run a business than this. I know it’s a government entity, but that just makes it worse. My taxes are paying for this craptastic service and it galls me. (UPDATE: This is apparently not true – it is not a government entity or funded by tax dollars)

If we looked at the USPS as a business, we would be disgusted.

Let’s re-evaluate the busy hours of the post office. When do people use it? When do they NEED it? The post office should be open during those hours.

Let’s get them a marketing department. Let’s get folks sending letters again. Let’s promote postcards in schools and encourage pen pals around the world.

Let’s use the post office to make connections, as the ORIGINAL social media network that it was. The post office was Facebook before anyone even DREAMED of MySpace.

Let’s get the post office some revenue by real people, sending things that recipients are excited to get instead of accepting spam mail from every shady business willing to give them enough money to stay afloat.

The post office is competing with the internet right now, and even though they offer services that email cannot, they seem to have just shoved their head in the sand and given up.

I think it’s time they were held accountable. Time they made an effort, put up a fight.

And DAMMIT, I think it’s time they let me read my gorram Harry Potter book on the day it was supposed to be delivered!