Saturday, November 30, 2013


This is a happy season--or at least it's supposed to be. There's food and family and Christmas is less than a month away. These things can all mean stress along with happiness, so it's nice to have a list of ways to stay chipper. With Thanksgiving just two days ago, recalling happy moments should be easy to do.

  1. Visit a retreat center. I consider my parents’ house a retreat. First, it’s in Wisconsin. Second, the food rocks. Third, there’s no traffic. Fourth, sweatpants all dayyyyyyyyy.
  2. Write out your holiday shopping list. Done-ish. I wrote down who I need to buy for and some preliminary ideas for them.
  3. Use only reusable things - don't throw anything away. Pretty much my life. Paper products are used sparingly at the Naw. We throw out banana peels and tea bags (after steeping them several times).
  4. Organize a family reunion. Hmmmm...can't say I'm organizing one, but I attended Thanksgiving dinner and have a reunion in my tentative summer plans.
  5. Vote. I exercised my right to vote for my favorite dancer on Dancing With the Stars this month...and she won!
  6. Get a psychic reading. Instead of paying someone to tell me vague things about myself, I instead read several self-reflection books on birth order, creativity, and financial personalities this month.
  7. Visit a nursery of newborns. OH HOW I WISH. Teenagers are great and all, but sometimes I want to work with someone a little cuter who doesn’t sass back.
  8. Update your knowledge of your chosen field. Check. I read about writing and reading all the time. I even get in a little human services reading every now and then.
  9. Have a brainstorming session. Check. Brainstormed blog ideas for the next year, ways to use pureed pumpkin, and dinner ideas.
  10. Support a local artist. I consider myself lucky to be friends with several self-identified artists and they always have my support. Someday it might be monetary (like when I commission a family portrait), but for now they'll have to be happy with emotional support.
  11. Think about the nature of war and warriors. This is kind of second nature to humans in 2013, so much that we don't really think about war. War just is. And then there’s Storage Wars.
  12. Bake a cake. I baked a cinnamon roll cake a few weekends ago, then ate basically the entire thing.
  13. Winterize your home. Candles: check. Blankets: check. Doubling up on socks: check. Flannel sheets: check.
  14. Play the blindfold smell game. I play the What Are the Downstairs Neighbors Cooking Tonight game whenever I get home from work. Usually I like that game, unless it turns into the When is the Last Time the Neighbors and/or We Took Out the Garbage game.
  15. Get dressed up and go out. I wore nice jeans to my anniversary dinner and to a MercyWorks event. More likely I will get dressed down and stay in with a bottle of wine.
  16. Sell something in your house. I have little to nothing that anyone would want to pay money for. I donate or recycle.
  17. Have a slumber party. With the amount of houseguests we get, it’s always a slumber party at the Naw. This week was slumber party time at my parents' house.
  18. Subscribe to a magazine. I tried to do this. I looked up a few magazines that I thought I would be interested in, but mostly I just want magazines with great pictures that I can use for arts and crafts, and I can't justify a subscription for that. Then I found Byliner. It’s online, which means better environmentally, and the price is right.
  19. Make a fool of yourself. Daily.
  20. Attend a play or musical. Jesus and I wanted to see Wicked, but both of us are unwilling to pay $100+ for the ticket. Maybe next time it’s in town.
  21. Hangout in an airport. Check. Spent time there waiting for my Van Galder bus before Thanksgiving.
  22. Look through a book of photos on one subject. When I do this it’s usually photos of Rome or food or babies.
  23. Go house hunting. Ha. Like I want to hunt out someplace better than the Naw? Trick question, there is no better place.
  24. Take a siesta. I am an awful napper, but if an afternoon break of several hours was culturally a thing, I think I could learn how.
  25. Enjoy each and every morsel of food. On the whole I do this.
  26. Start reading a long novel. Ok.
  27. Eat salad with chopsticks. I can’t even eat Asian food with chopsticks.
  28. Listen to music using headphones. A requirement on the bus. I’d rather not hear all the ringtones, phone conversations, and snoring.
  29. Don’t kill anything (animals, ideas…). I don't? I guess for one day I'm supposed to allow myself all the crazy ideas I can think of. I'm not an idea squelcher by nature, so this is easy.
  30. Know when to quit. According to Epstein, sometimes you can’t stay happy doing what you are doing--and that’s when it’s time to quit. When things aren't fun anymore, when they are more stressful that what they are worth, it's time to try something different.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Thank you. Two of the most simple, yet most effective words in any language. We all have lots to be thankful for, both material things and intangibles (which are usually absolute necessities). Take a minute and think: what makes my day(s)? Who helps me, who has made me into who I am, what things do I have that get me from morning to night? I'm guessing it won't take you long to come up with a nice list. Like this one:

  1. A bed. Not just my bed at the Naw, not even just a bed--but feeling welcome at so many places and knowing I have a place to go wherever I might find myself.
  2. My health. My appetite.
  3. A good hair day. These aren't always guaranteed with hair like mine, so when they come around (like today!) I'm all about it.
  4. Going back for seconds and thirds.
  5. Football, even when it doesn't end how I want it to.
  6. Not having to shop today or tomorrow. (Except for food!)
  7. Lists that don't go on too long.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Brass Teapot

What's better than a genie in a lamp? Money in a teapot. When John and Alice discover a magical brass teapot at an antique store, they think all their financial worries will be gone. John is a struggling telemarketer and Alice can't find a job with her art history degree, but all they have to do is hurt themselves and the teapot "pays" them cash. Eventually, they learn that emotional pain works just as well as physical--and that the teapot will pay up when other people get hurt.

If you see this getting out of hand fairly quickly, congratulations, you're right.

From full Brazilian waxes to dental work the "old fashioned way," Alice and John know a lot of ways to feel pain. They start attending MMA fights, visiting delivery rooms, and frequenting skate parks. They get dirty in the bedroom. Then they get personal and start sharing secrets--their own and those of their friends.

I'm willing to suspend a lot of disbelief when I'm home alone on a Saturday night, so I got past the "yeah right" phase pretty quickly, and started thinking about what I would do with such a teapot. It's hard not to think about the benefits, but at what cost? It's one thing to purposely stub my toe on the coffee table, but would I hold my hand inches above the stove for a few hundred bucks?

Critical reception for The Brass Teapot was mixed, but I found it entertaining. The dark humor could have been way more dark or way more slapstick-y, but the movie stuck to an even mixture of carefree spending/money-throwing montages sprinkled with mildly graphic violence and borderline heartbreak. The acting was solid, the writing felt natural, and the soundtrack fit the movie's every emotional up and down.

Friday, November 22, 2013


I'm always working on something. Less frequently, I finish something (like printing out all my pictures and putting them into albums OR finally recycling my old and broken laptop--pats on the back for finishing those projects!), but mostly I'm "in process" with projects. I define "projects" loosely--actual arts and crafts, house improvements, recipe testings, self-improvement/self-reflection projects, or just plain old reading from my official Books to Read list. Here's some of what I'm working on right now:

Poems: I read a poem a day. Sometimes I like them, sometimes they confuse me, sometimes I have to make the poem a part of my world so I write it down in my Poems Enjoyed journal.

Duolingo: I finished my Spanish class last month and couldn't fit the next session in my schedule, but I still have my book and I downloaded this app to keep practicing--I might not advance too far, but I hope to keep up my current level of semi-comprehension.

Mayo: I love mayonnaise. I'm not a fan of the ingredient lists on most jars. Solution? Find a homemade recipe that I like and go crazy with sandwiches/salads/carb-heavy foods.

Horchata: Another pipe dream recipe that might become reality with the right combination of free time, craving, and gumption.

Candles: We have a lot of candles. We also have a lot of candle leftovers. I want to melt old candles down and make new ones, using up some of our random jars. I think all I really need are new wicks. Wow so many stories must get subscription to keep reading.

Mattress: Long story short, I need a new one. Shopping around isn't my favorite thing to do, so I'm holding off for a sign from the universe about how to proceed. (Again, "in process" is the key phrase.)

Two Rivers: My current read, a loaner from Becca, recommended by her mom/her mom's book club. It's an intricate story of past and present mistakes that reveals itself in slow layers, like peeling back wallpapers and paint jobs from a room you haven't been in before.

My Hair: Always a project in process, my hair is currently two very different colors. I'm growing out my bleach job and trying to train my bangs. It's also the longest it's been in my entire life.

Christmas Presents: Gotta get 'em.

This is plenty for me to work on for the rest of the year, give or take a few more books on my reading list. And of course, this blog is my ultimate project right now. She's like my 5 year old child, always changing/growing/re-evaluating who she is and how she presents herself. Ok, so a pretty advanced 5 year old. My pet project nonetheless. My short term project is to pack for Thanksgiving and bring my appetite up to speed. JK, my appetite is SO READY.

Monday, November 18, 2013

"Cinnabon" Cinnamon Roll Cake

I've been craving cinnamon rolls for several weeks now (and actually have a homemade cinnamon roll recipe bookmarked on my computer, where it haunts me daily), but I don't have the patience for yeast recipes when all I want is a classic sugar/butter fix. Then I found this recipe at work. It's on a piece of printer paper, so I have no idea where it's from or who should get credit for it.

Don't let the lengthy ingredient list scare you--while this is a three part cake: actual cake, cinnamon marble swirl, vanilla glaze--mostly it's just butter and sugar repeating itself in different magical combinations. The measurements for the cinnamon left me with a LOT of marble swirl, which some might like, but I found to be a bit excessive. I baked mine for a solid 30 minutes, and it needed a few extra minutes to firm up.

If by some chance you don't eat it all in one sitting (or your roommates are counting calories and refuse to be seduced by the sugary madness, leaving you to finish an entire cake on your own), just reheat it in the microwave before eating. This cake is perfect in the morning with your coffee, or for lunch, or even as a bedtime snack for those of you who like to enter dreamland via sugar rush/crash.

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
4 tbsp butter, melted

1 cup (Yes, that's two sticks) butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp cinnamon

2 cups powdered sugar
5 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

With an electric mixer, mix flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, milk, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl. Once combined well, slowly stir in 4 tbsp melted butter. Pour batter into a greased 9x13 baking pan.

Using the same bowl, mix together two sticks softened butter, brown sugar, remaining flour, and cinnamon until well combined. Drop evenly over cake batter and use a knife to swirl.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle (pro tip: insert into cake part, not marble part) comes out nearly clean.

While cake bakes, whisk together powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla until smooth. (I again used the same bowl...we're baking a cake, not testing out all of our bowls.) Drizzle over warm cake, serve immediately.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

My 2nd Nannyversary

There will be no big celebration for my Nannyversary today. No cake representing two years of laundry, dishes, driving, and homework help. What will greet me at work in a few hours is actual piles of laundry and dishes in the sink, teenagers needing to go here and there, and groceries needing to be bought for the weekend.

Chores don't care how long you've been doing them, they just want to get done...and for the right hourly wage, I'm the gal to do them.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

9:10, 11/12/13

It's 11/12/13. I woke up at 9:10. I can only hope that means something magical, despite the fact that I promptly snoozed until 9:19. If today is at least an ounce more magical than yesterday, I'd be content. The sun is out; so far so good.

Yesterday it snowed while it rained. The trees haven't even finished shedding, which meant I shoveled leaves at work. Freshly frozen leaves. It's a poetic image at least.

Today I will bike through temps in the lower 30s while wearing several layers of clothes--as long as there's no snow accumulation I'd much rather bike than take the bus.

I'm not ready to have winter this early, but I don't think winter cares all that much. My only defense is non-stop cups of tea.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Lover's Dictionary

novel, n. and adj.

How a book can tell the oldest story known to man, but in a new and interesting way.
A love story dressed as dictionary entries: arranged alphabetically, not chronologically.
A relationship constructed with words. Words defined by the relationship.

David Levithan's novel of a modern love story told entirely in dictionary entries is a witty jaunt through one couple's relationship highs and lows. The narrator defines each chosen word with a vignette--a brief illustration, sometimes no more than a sentence, of what the word means to the couple.

I was hooked from the very first entry (aberrant) to the concluding entry (zenith). This novel ranges in depth from fresh and sweet to heartbreaking and bitter--all in the span of the alphabet. It even sent me to the actual dictionary a few times, especially when an entry could only be considered a "definition" in the most abstract sense.

Reading this book made me wish I had thought of this idea. My story would be different, but the unique format intrigues me. This would make a good writing exercise, even a personal self-reflection. A Rachel's Dictionary. We all bring baggage to the words in our lives--what feelings, stories, and memories would you attach to the words in your dictionary?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Half a Life

Half a Life is a study in halves. My copy has only half a book cover, the top half showing its original red binding, its title stamped in gold above the bottom half, featuring the protective shell which carries a few endorsements and the author's name, Darin Strauss, in white type. Most of the chapters (chapter segments?) are mere half pages--paragraphs centered on stark white--and contain half thoughts, either unfinished or unexplained. Reading the memoir only took me about half a day.

It's the starkness of the format, and of the writing itself, that creates the environment for the story: 18 years ago (or half the author's life), Strauss hit a bicyclist with his car. She later died. As an 18-year old, he didn't know how to deal with his grief/guilt, or even how to begin naming what he felt as grief, guilt, or any other number of emotions. The book carries on from the time of the accident until present time, where the author has married and become a father.

We don't get a lot of details about Strauss' life during the second, darker, half of his life--what we get are a lot of questions, a lot of pondering, and a lot of realization that sometimes there are no epiphanies, no clean healings, no logical place to put things in our minds. I tried not to put myself in Strauss' place as I read--I don't think he wants his reader to ask "What would I do if that was me?", but rather to look at our own personal baggage and understand that what we have is what we have--now what are you going to do with it? I don't think there's a wrong answer any more than there's a right one.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Before You Know Kindness

Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian is a study of characters, a slow-paced heft of a novel. It takes place largely at Nan Seton's New Hampshire home, a place where she and her grown children and their children gather every summer. Here is the main cast:

Nan herself is a vigorous woman, scheduling daily activities for her family at the club where she is a member.

Her son, John, is a lawyer who recently took up hunting near his home in Vermont.

John's wife, Sara, is a therapist and new mom (again) to Patrick, who is five months.

Willow is John and Sara's daughter. She is ten, and tender.

Spencer is Nan's son-in-law, who also grew up spending his summers in New Hampshire. He now lives in New York City and works for FERAL, an animal rights organization.

He married Catherine, Nan's daughter, a school teacher in the city.

Their daughter is Charlotte, 12 going on 17.

The characters learn what it takes to make a functional family not so functional when one night Charlotte finds John's hunting rifle in the back of his car and shoots her dad in the shoulder, believing him to be the deer that destroyed their summer garden. We also learn that Catherine is not supportive of her husband's animal rights activity in that it causes him to care more for anonymous animals than for his own family. Willow wants badly to tell everyone what really happened the night of the accident. John really only went hunting once, and had the rifle in the car, loaded, because he couldn't get the bullet out and planned on dropping the gun off with a guy on his way back home from New Hampshire. Spencer believes his shoulder injury is punishment for the pre-animal rights summers he spent as a chef, preparing tray after tray of lobster for tourists. And Nan, the matriarch, wants everyone to get along again and stop sharing their feelings all the time so they can get back to hiking, biking, and swimming.

This book had a quiet suspense and an understated humor. It took me several solid chunks of time to get through, but the chapters are short enough that I could dip in here and there as well. Bohjalian used the words phosphorescent, duress, and telegenic enough times in the book for me to make a mental note of it. I don't know if that has anything to do with the quality of the story, but take that for what you will. He did his homework to create an authentic scenario, though I don't know any family who would act quite like the Setons/Seton-McCulloughs did. The ending of the book also seems to work out pretty well for everyone involved, and though the book hasn't been made into a movie it felt a little Lifetime-y at points. On the whole, I'd say give the 50-page test--if you aren't interested in this family drama by then, you probably won't ever be.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Silver Linings of Defeat

After watching that heartbreaking Monday Night Football game, I have to cheer myself up with some small silver linings:

  • Everyone around me will be in a good mood tomorrow. Not so much if I still lived in De Pere, or most anywhere in Wisconsin.
  • Today marks two years since I was hired as a house manager/nanny.
  • I had two dinners today.
  • There's still a lot of Halloween candy at work for me to eat.
    • Sidenote Silver Lining: today was National Candy Day.
  • It's November 4th and I still haven't heard Christmas music anywhere.
  • We almost ran out of toilet paper, but Brit and I made an Aldi run this morning before work so now we are set for a while.
  • My cold is nearly gone, allowing me uninterrupted sleep.
  • I got out of work early today.
  • It didn't rain while I was riding my bike.
  • I have a new candle and it makes my room smell brand new.
  • There are only four more days until the weekend.
  • Brit and I also bought a new type of cheese at Aldi: cracked black pepper cheddar.
And on that note I must now go to the kitchen to eat said cheese.