Saturday, December 31, 2011

Rambling: Still More Sewing

The sewing continues, with limited success. I babble on in mind-numbing detail:

I cut the HotPatterns Classix Nouveau Dolman Blouse, previously discussed and altered within an inch of its life, out of a drapey rayon blend, and made up the main bodice, and pressedpressedpressed the shoulder-and-sleeve seams so that I could see how they draped, and tried on the result. I was delighted--the fitting issues that I saw in crispish muslin went away in the drapey stuff. It looked good. It hung well. I looked like a grownup, rather than my usual persona of a severely aging college student. And it was still comfy.

That was before....The Collar. The notched collar found in the HotPatterns Plain & Simple Princess Shirt is somewhat famous. That is, infamous. There's a long tutorial here, with ten photos, on how to get the bleeping thing to assemble correctly. And a nine-page thread on PatternReview, with even more photos.

The collar on the Dolman Blouse is very similar, and the pattern offers roughly four lines of text, and no diagrams, as guidance for assembly. Unsurprisingly (though of course I was surprised; if I'd seen this coming I would have made a more complete muslin muslin), mine failed, and took the whole "wearable muslin" with it. Ripping out won't help; I was encouraged when _half_ of it went together not too badly, and I trimmed things, thus eliminating any opportunity to restart. While I may eventually master the collar, the only hope for this specific half-made blouse is a recut faced neckline. On PatternReview, I begged for guidance on adding a facing, and when I get that guidance I'll remove the collar, thus stripping even more of the original design out of the pattern. Bwaha.

So. Meanwhile. Grumble. I traced and did a muslin of the Sewing Workshop Cowl Top. It worked surprisingly well without alterations - the main flaw was insufficient material to skim over my hips. Instead of changing the front and back, I instead added a triangular piece of fabric (A gusset? Do I mean gusset?) going down from the underarm seams, and that worked just fine. I have fair to middling hopes that the wearable muslin of this one will actually be wearable. But not enough hope to use silk, even though I bought the silk in my stash so long ago that I have no memory of what it cost. I'll be buying a really cheap piece of something.

Oh, and I started working on a dress pattern, the HotPatterns Wong-Singh-Jones Kimono Wrap Dress. I got as far as doing the bodice and sleeves in muslin, and it failed miserably. The sleeves are almost symmetrical, which is generally held, I believe, to be a bad thing in a set-in sleeve.

Grumble. It's past time for a wearable garment. The Cowl Top had better work, that's all I have to say.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Rambling: Holiday rambling, and sewing again

Yikes. It's been almost two weeks since I posted. I caught a cold. Is that an excuse? And I'm stressed. That usual worry fifteen hours a day, sleep eight hours, eat one hour, thing. Except the cold means that I'm sleeping lightly and have the opportunity to get in more worrying then. Somebody in charge of worrying should really pay me overtime. I seem to remember holiday vacation last year as being pretty worry-free; how'd I manage that?

So we had Christmas. It was good. Himself roasted a duck. There's crispy duck skin left in the fridge. Yum.

In addition to the sneezing and hacking and wheezing, I've been sewing. Well, I've been altering one measly pattern; no appreciable sewing has yet occurred. I started with the HotPatterns Classix Nouveau Dolman Blouse. I increased the length of the bodice and sleeves,  removed the big pleats on front and back, and blended three different sizes going from shoulders to waist to hips and cut it out from muslin and based it together and tried it on. And I have no idea whether I like it or not. There's a folds-of-fabric thing going on that might look good in an actual drapey fabric, or might just end up looking like I'm wearing melted plastic. It is comfortable; at least it's got that going for it. I suspect that whoever drafted it would take a look at my changes and wonder why I bothered to use their pattern at all. Like those movies that are named after the really good book, but don't actually resemble it.

After all this focus on a blouse, it occurs to me that I should be working on dress patterns. Why? Because the local garment fabric store (Fabric of Vision, that is, as opposed to Quiltz, which is the quilting fabric store) is having a sale in January where your discount is based on the length of the cut of fabric. More yards, more discount, up to forty percent off for four yards. Bwahaha. And a blouse doesn't use all that much yardage.

Himself said that somebody said that Buffy should be watched starting with Season 3. I don't agree, but I thought I'd start my traditional holiday BuffyFest with Season 3 instead of the first season as usual, just to see. The end of the graduation episode ("Fire bad. Tree pretty.") is on right now.

Is it deeply and fundamentally wrong that my favorite relationship in Buffy, my very very favorite, is the one between Faith and The Mayor? In fact, it's one of my favorite fictional relationships, period. Does anyone else also really love watching those two? How often do you see two fictional character derive so much pure, unconflicted enjoyment from one another's company? Sure, I can wish that they could have somehow met in another universe when they weren't evil, but would they still get along so well without the evil?

A dress pattern. I need a dress pattern, altered and ready to go. Quick.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Perfume: More Chanel Sniffs, and some Lutens

I ran by Nordstrom's one last time, to sniff more of those Les Exclusifs testers.

28 La Pausa: For the first few minutes, this was sunlit-bright, feminine without being girly, tangy without being citrusy; very nice, though not really exciting. Half an hour later, it was... celery. I've forgotten which note it is that I read so often as celery--ah, yes! It's cedar; I realized it when I read "pencil shavings" in the one-sentence review in BitterGrace notes. Half an hour after that, it shifted from celery to a friendly well-behaved iris, one of those moderately complex, slightly mysterious scents that I don't fall immediately in love with, but that I can imagine becoming addicted to. I think this is worth a modest decant, to help me make up my mind.

31 Rue de Cambon: I didn't like this one bit at first. I got a very rough, furniture-polish or cough-syrup-without-the-fruit opening. Later it grew much sweeter, leathery, providing much of the pleasure of a gourmand without actually including any edible-seeming notes that I could point to. It's dark and dense from beginning to end, while 28 La Pausa is bright and transparent all the way through. If I were the sort to buy perfume on impulse, I suspect I'd be ordering a (small) bottle of this right now.

One thing that I'm realizing from all this Chanel sniffing is that I'm developing a dangerously modern nose--I keep judging these fragrances from the top notes, and being surprised when they utterly transform within half an hour. Oh! And that reminds me:

Serge Lutens Jeaux de Peau: I tried this one at The Perfume House.  I keep being surprised that Serge Lutens' top notes sometimes seem to last for hours before the heart of the scent, much less the base, is revealed. The beginning of this scent was entertainingly yummy, but it was a little too gooey to make me happy--it mostly just made me laugh. I'd largely dismissed it, until I smelled it two or three hours later and found that it had settled down to something more grainy and dry, not in the sense of less sweet, but in the sense that the smooth-frosting "gooey" vibe was gone. I love sweet and grainy, so I'm rethinking this one.

Serge Lutens Vitriol d'oeillet: Cranky and medicinal. I like medicinal. I need to try this again, but that's all I have to say; all that sweet buttered toast on my other hand distracted me from paying this proper attention.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Perfume: Quick Chanel Sniffs

We're spending a few days at a hotel that's two minutes' walk from the downtown Portland Nordstrom's, which has a surprisingly good perfume department. It isn't, sadly, good enough to have many niche fragrances, except for Bond No. 9, and I have Issues with Bond No. 9. So when I drifted through, I spent my time sniffing Chanels.

No. 5 EDT: My main experience with No. 5 is my miniscule gift-set bottle of the parfum, which I perceive as strongly structured, smooth, and glowingly aldehydic for hours. The EDT, in contrast, dried down to something soft, powdery, and a little bit fruity, in less than an hour. I had expected the parfum and the EDT to be essentially the same thing, with different notes emphasized. But no; I'm perceiving them as fundamentally different.

No. 5 Eau Premiere, probably EDT: To my surprise, it's No. 5 Eau Premiere, smelled for the first time yesterday, that I see as a very closely-tied variant of the parfum. It started with a great deal of citrus, a bit more than I altogether approve of, but it dries down to the same firm architecture and glow that I get from the parfum. It still has, to me, a classic "old-lady" vibe, and I approve; nothing with No. 5's name should ever be mistaken for, say, a teen beach scent.

No. 19 Poudre, probably EDT: I love No. 19. (At least, I love the parfum.) I disapprove of flankers. So I was planning on hating this. But I found that I quite liked the top notes; they did have a family resemblance to No. 19, without doing anything to make me use the word "travesty". As it developed, it was oddly variable from sniff to sniff. Sometimes it had a good streak of green in the powder, making it a green comfort scent that I could like. Sometimes it was all retiring powdery boredom. I don't love it, but if I pretend that it doesn't carry the No. 19 name, I like its greener moments.

No. 22 EDT: Nordstrom's had Les Exclusifs testers! They told me that actually buying a bottle required a special order, but all the same, what are the odds of finding the testers? So I tried No. 22. (Why only one? All other sampling skin was already covered, that's why.) It wasn't at all what I expected--based on Luca Turin's review (I love his review of this one), I expected it to be sweet. It's not sweet, and I'm not getting the incense, and I'm not getting the white flowers. All I seem to be getting is a note that I perceive as one of the background notes in Chanel No. 5 parfum. This is a puzzlement; I'll need to try it again, with a nose not recently contaminated by any other perfume.

The dangerous result of this experiment is that I now plan to buy a .25 oz No. 5 parfum, and a 1 oz No. 5 EDT, in the not too distant future. I've mentioned my fear that I'll learn to love No. 5 after it's been reformulated out of existence; now that I am growing fond of it, I'm feeling all the more urgent.

Image: By Eric Pouhier. Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

SOTD: Chanel Coco

There are perfumes that I want to like. Chanel Coco. Chanel No. 5. Guerlain Mitsouko and Shalimar and Jicky--really, all of the older classic Guerlains. Walking away from the classics, I also want to love Tauer L'Air du Desert Marocain, Parfumerie Generale Bois de Copaiba, Frederic Malle Une Fleur de Cassie... the list could go on.

I've found the right time to wear these: When I'm grumpy or stressed or expecting a bad day. See, I don't want to wear my favorites at those times, and weigh them down with negative associations. And I don't want to wear no perfume, because any perfume I don't hate is still better than no perfume. And it's not as if I hate those perfumes, I just don't love them. So if I learn to hate them, so be it. If I learn to love them, spiffy.

So today I wore Coco. I've mentioned that my main issue with it seems to be association with someone that I can't remember but apparently didn't like. I'm guessing that enough wearings will wipe that out. The other issue is that tiny tiny bit of fruitiness that I get behind the spices. The fruit that offends me isn't orange--I see that in notes lists, but I don't smell it, and it wouldn't bother me. At least one review mentions peach, and I think that's it. I like peach, but for me all of Coco's other notes belong to winter--oranges are a winter fruit to me--and that bit of fresh stone fruit clashes with them.

I suspect that I'd like Coco better if I'd never smelled Coco Mademoiselle. Just the sight of the Coco Mademoiselle bottle, with all that pink juice in it, makes me recoil. I can smell the pink in the perfume as well. And there's just enough Coco in Coco Mademoiselle to reverse-contaminate the parent in my memory's nose--when I smell Coco I get a memory of the pink. But I'll keep wearing it now and then; I'm confident that I'll grow fond of it in time.

I wore No. 5 the other day, pure parfum from that set of tiny (1/8 oz?) bottles that Chanel comes out with at Christmas, one I bought about five years ago. That was more successful; I like the otherworldly, don't-mess-with-me mood of No. 5. I can't pick out a single real-world note; I know that there are flowers in there, but they don't present themselves as flowers. It is, in fact, weird--the likely most famous perfume in the world is weird. I like that.

Image: By David Scelfo. Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Perfume: The Under Twenty Project

I was bad. I bought stuff. I blame Black Friday and Cyber Monday and my current state of "meh."

As previously mentioned, I ordered a bottle of Aftelier Cepes & Tuberose. It came, and I still love it. And I love the bottle. And everybody who was there when I rudely opened the bottle at lunch in the restaurant claimed to like the scent as well, though they might have just been humoring a fanatic. ("Giles, don't make cave slayer unhappy.")

Last night I went online shopping, and I kept finding perfumes with positive reviews available at less than twenty dollars. When I reconsidered my cart, I realized that there were fewer than I thought, because two of the candidates were sample size, and that doesn't count, based on the rules that I made up. The rules are that the product must:
  • Be a fragrance, rather than, say, a lotion or soap or spray deodorant or hair spray. (I swear, I saw at least one perfumed hair spray.) But any strength is OK.
  • Contain at least half an ounce.
  • Be available from a retailer, rather than an individual.
  • Be an original manufacturer's bottle, not a decant.
  • Cost less than twenty dollars. Achieving this price with a non-product-specific discount doesn't count.
I might make a series out of this. I'm not requiring myself to actually burn the price of the bottle; if it's available as a sample as well as an under-twenty bottle I'm allowed to buy just the sample, I decree. But I confess that bottles of Balenciaga Rumba and Madame Rochas are on their way. Unsniffed. 

I was bad.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ramble: Soap Challenge

I just took a bubble bath. I'd used up my previous fancy bar of soap, so I cracked open the box around a new bar of Pacifica Tuscan Blood Orange soap. The soap itself was, as usual tightly wrapped in shrinkwrapped plastic, and, as usual, it resisted my efforts to open it with my fingernail. I would normally find something to stab it with. But this time, I found myself vaguely staring at it, and my brain said, "Oh, never mind."

There's something wrong with my brain this week. And part of last week. Rather suddenly, it's doing an awful lot of "Oh, never mind." There are frequent and growing intervals of just-don't-care. And I don't know why. I don't know if I'm depressed. I don't know if it's the lack of sunlight as winter deepens; that never seemed to happen to me before. I don't know if it's stress. I am worried about several things, but I'm always worried; I'm worried fifteen hours a day, with eight hours off for sleeping and some momentary distractions here and there. I've been that way since... OK, I don't remember not being that way, so that's not it, or that's not it alone, so what...

Oh, never mind.

Image: By Roberta F. Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Link: That Fume Scout Thing

So, I've created my little small list of links to information about brick-and-mortar perfume shopping. It's on this permanent page, and I figure I'll add a quick link post here when I update it.

Got more links? Send 'em! Please! Got your own lists of links? Send, them too! We may get a bit circular, but I never mind clicking a few times in the hope of new information.

Image: By Ed Uthman. Wikimedia Commons.

Link: In case you missed it (Basenotes thread about feminine perfume packaging)

I enjoyed this thread:

Stereotypical "Feminine" Bottles, Packaging: Irritating? Offensive? Humiliating?

and thought you folks might too, if you haven't already run across it.

Image: By tanakawho. Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rambling: Random Thoughts, Mostly Sewing

NaNoWriMo is almost over. Unless I write thirty-four thousand words in the next forty-nine minutes, I'm not going to "win", but as already burbled, I'm content with my NaNoWriMo experience this year. (Oh. Yeah. Twenty-four hours and forty-nine minutes. But still.)

We didn't eat any turkey today. This is a bad thing, because there's a lot of turkey left. I think that we're approaching the point of frozen turkey Tetrazzini casseroles.

All the yams are gone. This is sad.

Himself is continuing to hide the dark chocolate mint Lindor balls because I asked him to hide them from me because the caffeine was making me crazy. Who knew he'd obey me so thoroughly? (Edited to give proper credit: He bought me the dark chocolate mint Lindor balls in the first place, because he knows I love them. He's a very nice Himself. I understand that I get them back during the relatively-low-stress (we hope) days of Christmas vacation.)

Sushi Imperiale is still beautiful. I wore it today to belatedly celebrate the fact that we got the tree set up in the stand yesterday. Yesterday I wore Serge Noire. It was also gorgeous.

We're taking two weeks off for Christmas. I'm under the delusion that I'm going to sew. I said it exactly that way at the fabric store and people laughed. I bought the Taylor Made Designs Sew Easy Pajama Pants and and the Sewing Workshop Mixit Shirt pattern. (I'll be making the variant with sleeves.) I also have my eye on a whole bunch of HotPatterns patterns, and I'm hoping to find the HotPatterns Miss MoneyPenny Trumpet Skirt that I already altered to near-perfection.

My theory is that I stop sewing because it's too much trouble to get a pattern fitted, and that I'll keep sewing if I can just hold on until I have a tiny wardrobe of patterns perfectly fitted and traced onto that pattern cloth stuff that's easy to work with and doesn't tear all the time. The Mixit Shirt, Trumpet Skirt, and either the Wong-Sing-Johes Kimono Wrap Dress or the Deco Vibe Delicious Dresses might do the job. Or I might look pregnant in the dresses. We'll see.

Why is it so hard to find Burda Patterns? It's even harder to find Burda Plus patterns. I want them because last time I sewed, Burda Plus blouses were almost exactly right for me, without a bunch of fitting. It's almost inconceivable for shoulders, chest, and sleeves in a fitted blouse to all work right out of the envelope; with Burda Plus, they did.

My head hurts. I blame lack of caffeine.

That is all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Proposal For All Perfume Freaks: Fume Scout. Or something like that.

Perfume can be hard to find. Not nearly as hard as pan-fried chicken, but hard all the same. It's especially hard when you're just traveling, and you didn't do your Googling ahead of time to find out that you should go to the right-hand back corner of that little salon between the pizza place and the paint store, to the one shelf where they keep the Carons, below the shampoo and above the nail polish.

The perfume freaks who live in that town know all about that shelf, and they're certainly not interested in hiding it--the more Caron that gets sold, the higher the odds that they'll add one more shelf and start selling some Guerlains. But they don't necessarily have an accepted way to share the knowledge. OK, yes, there are the appropriate threads in Basenotes, but, really, can information like this be disseminated in too many places? Of course not. I'd sky-write it if that were an option.

So I propose that we disseminate it, all of us perfume bloggers. Under some common phrase, string, meme, whatever, so that when you've bought your plane ticket, you can Google that phrase and find out where to get the perfume. I already have a post about buying perfume in Ashland, Oregon, one that's sadly out of date. I was sitting down to start updating it, when it occurred to me that we could all do this, and then came this post.

So, what do you think? Want to join in and write your own post or page about where to find perfume in your own area, or for that matter, any area where you have knowledge? We could all crosslink madly. And what's the phrase? Ideally, it would be something that doesn't produce a lot of Google clutter when searched. I just Googled the string:

"fume scout" perfume

and got precisely one hit. But I'm sure that there are dozens of other possibilities.

Of course, the "fume" part reminds me of the way that I suggested #fumechat and then vanished into the ether, but on the other hand it looks like #fumechat is rolling along (with the active help of people who, unlike me, are not slackers), so, hey! Maybe this could, too.


Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rambling: Weekend Sloth Update, or Digressions Galore

It's Last Saturday and Black Friday Weekend. I'm watching movies and shopping for perfume. War of the Roses just ended, and now Blast From the Past is on. And I finally agreed with myself that of all the perfumes I haven't bought, the one that I would most regret missing, if it went away, is Aftelier Cepes & Tuberose. So I just sent off for it. Bwahaha.

(By the way, Josephine, I just went to look at my post for that perfume and saw your comment, and I wanted to mention that I miss your blog. I hope that you're being refreshed by the blog break.)

Digression: I should be focusing on my BlogAWriMo, or whatever one might call it, but I'd have to blog slightly more than thirty-four thousand words to get there by the end of November, so, well, no. I've decided that what I'm going to get out of my NaNoWriMo Rebel experiment this year is (1) experiencing a higher blog frequency and a freer "ah, just go ahead and post it" attitude and (2) increasing my blog post length. Those are rather mechanical goals, but I think they're valuable anyway. The first ties into a life philosophy of anti-perfectionism, and the second I burbled about here.

Digression: Longer and less edited burbling is making this blog a bit more like a journal, except, of course, for the part where it's not the least bit private. That makes me curious about the practice of "journaling", and exactly how it's described and why it's recommended. So, of course, I Googled. Websites claim that journaling exercises or left brain, frees up your right brain, and improves your immune system. I'm eyeing these claims skeptically, and am tempted to make a sarcastic remark about floor polish. But I do see a mention of a specific study where a group of students was asked to write about plain old stuff, and another group was asked to write about traumatic events, and the trauma group had a higher immune function response, based on, er, some measure.

This suggests that not just writing, but writing about all my worries and deepest undisclosed thoughts, would be useful and help with my immune system and psychological state and all that. I'm not going to be posting a great deal of that on the blog, though, and I find that I'm just not that interested in writing nonfiction off the blog.

Digression: For that matter, I'm finding that I'm not all that much interested in writing fiction off the blog. I was just looking at a thread about "why do you write?" and realized that I write fiction because I want to have written it, while I write nonfiction because I want to write it. This strongly suggests that whether I like it or not, I am a nonfiction writer.

I have trouble entirely accepting this, because I've been creating fictional scenes in my head all my life. But I rarely if ever string those scenes together to form a story. I can create situations and trigger a beginning, as I used to when I gamemastered Call of Cthulhu adventures, but I rarely create an entire story, characters and situations and plot and sequence, from beginning to end. This might just be a roadblock that I need to plow past a few times until it's flattened, but I suspect that it may be a fundamental lack of either capability or inclination.

Digression: On the other hand, I very much miss those Call of Cthulhu adventures. And Shadowrun adventures. And online roleplaying on MUDs. It may be that I want to create fiction, but in a roleplaying context, which is a context that was never all that widespread and seems to be less and less popular every day. All the new online games have little to do with roleplaying, based on my definition of the activity--any setting where a computer or a predefined set of possible events limits what the characters can do is not, IMO, roleplaying. And face-to-face roleplaying...

Actually, I don't know if face-to-face roleplaying is fading. I'm reassured to see that Chaosium,  the company that created the face-to-face Call of Cthulhu game, is still selling gaming modules and has in fact branched out into some "basic roleplaying" thingie that apparently applies the same roleplaying system to a variety of different settings. I always liked Chaosium's roleplaying system, both of the variants that I experienced; the mechanics were simple enough to get out of the way of the roleplaying itself.

I loved roleplaying. Did I mention this? It's absorbing, it's exciting. I give it credit for bringing me out of an isolated shell and into the world--something about interacting with others as a person that I wasn't, allowed me to interact with other as the person what I was. I miss it, a lot.

Himself and I and some friends have discussed getting a roleplaying group together, and now that we live in the same place all the time, the idea is more plausible. But while I love roleplaying and miss it badly, the thought of digging out the books and writing a scenario and restarting my gamemastering career gives me qualms. I tell myself that I'm too old and that I'll make a fool of myself. I tell myself that adults might write novels, but they don't create character sheets and throw dice. But, really, either you're too old for Let's Pretend by around age twelve, or you never get too old--I'm not all that much older, mentally, than I was in my late teens and twenties.

It is Last Saturday. I could buy myself a shiny new Call of Cthulhu module, for inspiration. I went browsing, and I realized that what I'd really like is a combination of Call of Cthulhu and Shadowrun--Cthulhu cyberpunk, essentially. I Googled that phrase and found that I'm not the only one who's this crazy; in fact, Steve Jackson Games produced a book called GURPS CthulhuPunk. Sadly, it's out of print.

Have any of you folks ever been into face-to-face roleplaying games? Are any of you still into them? I don't know what it's like to play at age thirty and beyond--does it work? Is it possible to maintain the excitement and the suspension of disbelief, or is the brain just too far past childhood?

All righty, that's my digression quota. The next idea that I have will be a new post. And Hell On Wheels is on. I didn't think I'd like it. I was wrong.

Image: By Rama. Wikimedia Commons.

Rambling: Shopping with your inner ten-year-old

I remember someone writing, I don't remember where, about being an adult and being able to buy the riches of childhood at will. I think that that particular author was referring to chocolate turtles. Last Saturday is tomorrow, and Black Friday was today (though we did Buy Nothing Day instead), and my mind is turning toward shopping. If I were ten years old but had a credit card, what would I buy?

Silk scarves, without a doubt. Probably one giant red silk square, like the one that my grandmother once owned and tore in half to give to my mother. But I already have a gaudy plenty of inexpensive silk scarves; my inner ten-year-old is well taken care of in that area.

Ding Dongs. A whole box of them. When I was a kid, they were wrapped in that thin foil, making them even more special. Nowadays they're sometimes in silver-colored plastic. Hmph.  I loved the coating and the way it snapped a little when you bit it off; back then, that seemed like a sign of quality confectionary. I always ate the chocolate from around the edges, then bit mercilessly into the main body.

One of those dolls, those eighteen-inch historical-themed dolls. (I decline to mention the brand name.) With a bankrupting extravagance of accessories. No, they didn't exist when I was ten; I don't care. I just went looking through the website, marveling at the details and the prices. Forty-eight dollars for a doll-size picnic basket, complete with hibachi and shrimp-and-pineapple kabobs. Eaten, apparently, with root beer floats. It's really a good thing that I have an adult's respect for fiscal survival.

Marbles.  I never knew how to play marbles, but I wanted the gorgeous glass anyway. Another thing that's gotten far more exciting since I was a child; just look at these things.

And red Keds.

What about you?

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Books: My prime nonfiction choices, Part I

Last night, being unimpressed with my latest batch of library books, I picked up The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant, a book that I've discussed before. It's a nonfiction book about fashion, not a topic that normally interests me. It goes deeper than fashion, or it goes to the depth of fashion, whichever way you might think about it. But all the same, I don't care that much about fashion, and I love this book, and I concluded that that's because Linda Grant is an extraordinarily good writer. She's not the showy kind of good writer, the kind where you're always noticing specific phrases. Instead, she's the kind that makes every word communicate, seamlessly, so that you're not consciously aware of the words. Reading the book, I feel almost a sense of motion, traveling down the path of the thoughts at a moderately fast clip, so that I'm never bored or wanting to get to the end of the passage or the page. And that metaphor doesn't work altogether, because I'm not just passively traveling; as I read, I feel as if I'm somehow involved in making the journey happen.

That made me think about my favorite nonfiction books, and my favorite nonfiction writers. I started making a list. I'm narrowing the criteria--I'm not including memoirs or biographical works, or primarily comedic books, or what I'd call "nonfiction novels" where the book is different from a novel primarily because it happens to be true. So, for example, American Fried by Calvin Trillin, one of my very favorite books, isn't in the competition because the author is the main character in most of the pieces and therefore it has a little too much memoir, and also because it's so very, very funny. But I still recommend it. Go read it. Then read the other two in the Tummy Trilogy. Then read everything else Calvin Trillin ever wrote.

OK, moving on to my favorites among books that fit the criteria:

The Essential Earthman,  One Man's Garden, and Henry Mitchell On Gardening. Henry Mitchell is the best garden writer. Period. He was a journalist, and I find that that's something of a pattern among my favorite authors. He wrote a gardening column for the Washington Post from 1973 to his death in 1993, and the books are drawn from those columns.

I'm at a loss to describe his writing. It combines solid information with philosophy, but something about that statement suggests the cute and pseudo-profound, and that is as far from Mr. Mitchell as I can imagine. I learned most of my gardening knowledge from these books, the information settling into my mind so quietly that I can't remember the time when I didn't know it. But I re-read the books for the philosophy and the sheer pleasure of the words. Deborah Needleman, in an essay on Henry Mitchell, said "He provides a sense of comfort, much like the feeling you get from a cookbook when you have no intention of making any of the dishes. He had scores of devoted readers with little or no interest in gardening."

I've never read his fourth book, the one that isn't focused on gardening; I suspect that I'm reluctant to reach the point where I've read all of his writing and there is no more.

Why We Buy, by Paco Underhill. I'm annoyed with myself; I can't find my copy of this book. I'm not interested in retailing or marketing, so it's a prime example of an engaging book about a topic that doesn't interest me all that much. I am interested in psychology, so that's part of the explanation. Psychology and anthropology, maybe. The appeal is, I think, mostly the author's instinct for stories and nuggets of information that will fascinate, combined with engaging writing. 

Oh, dear. And I see that he has another book out. The second book, The Call of the Mall, didn't appeal to me nearly as much as the first one. But now there's one called What Women Want, and I'm tempted, though the reviews are lukewarm.

Nassau Street and Fun and Profit in Stamp Collecting, by Herman Herst. Henry Mitchell is the best garden writer; Herman Herst may well be the best writer about stamp collecting, though my reading in that area is much less extensive. Mr. Herst dealt stamps from 1933 through 1973, putting him right in the middle of the most exciting events of philatelic history--or were they so exciting because he brought them to life by writing about them? It's hard to say. He also qualifies as a journalist by my standards, contributing columns to "virtually every stamp publication in the country," continuing well after his retirement.

Mr. Herst's writing is less philosophical and more consciously instructive than Mr. Mitchell's. His books are full of stories and advice--in fact, each chapter of Fun and Profit is titled with a piece of advice, such as "Cheap stamps never become rare." I haven't collected stamps since junior high, but I was delighted when I recently found that Nassau Street was available for purchase; I suspect that I would enjoy these books just as much even if I'd never collected. They're full of stories, psychology, and anthropology; that, too, seems to be a pattern in my favorite books; it describes The Thoughtful Dresser as well.

I can see that writing this post is going to end up being expensive; I hadn't realized that there are several more Herman Herst books than I was aware of. And some are in print.

Much Depends On Dinner and The Rituals Of Dinner, by Margaret Visser. Stories. Psychology. Anthropology. Here we are again. In Much Depends On Dinner, Ms. Visser takes the ingredients of an ordinary meal--chicken, salt, butter, corn, and so on--and follows their roles in human customs and history. The Rituals of Dinner has a similar approach, but it follows dining customs rather than food. I've blogged about these before; I still love them. To my dismay, I don't love Ms. Visser's other books as well; I'll be trying them again, but these two are the ones that I'd urge you to make the time to read.

Googling tells me that Ms. Visser is a "broadcaster". Does that qualify her for the journalist pattern? Hmm.

The Fear of Cooking, by Bob Scher. This is a delightful combination of cookbook and therapy for kitchen phobia. As written, it takes the non-cook through facing their fears and cooking, but it's fun to read whether or not you ever turn on a stove. (Quote: "I mean, here's a whole duck, say, and it's cold and guppy and slimy, with pieces of skin flopping around.") I think that the journalist pattern here fails, unless it helps that the author is, among other things, a documentary filmmaker.

All of the Miss Manners books, by Judith Martin. I feel a little odd including books that are written in question-and-answer format (interleaved with essays), but I don't care. Judith Martin is funny and intelligent and an extraordinarily good writer, and her expertise isn't just in etiquette, but in human problem solving. Psychology. Anthropology. Stories. She's also (ta da!) a journalist.

The Forest for the Trees, by Betsy Lerner. A book of advice for writers--not advice on when to use an adverb, and how to avoid passive voice, but about, to quote her, "what makes writers tick." I'm interested in the topic, but I also just really like Betsy Lerner's writing. I bought this, I bought Food and Loathing (a memoir-like book, so it doesn't qualify for this list), and I'll probably continue to buy any book that she writes.

There are, without a doubt, many more. That's why I'm pre-titling this Part I, though I don't yet have a list for Part II.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

DCOTD: More Magazines

No, not the same batch a third time. This was a box of back issues of Threads, given to a friend who thought that another friend might have other friends who might want them. If you see what I mean. I hope that they don't end up causing her too much annoyance.

But they're gone! Yay! And just in time, because I like Threads. I selected and kept a dozen, which is plenty for a paging-through-Threads fix, but the boxfull was calling to me all the same.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Television: Thanksgiving Episodes

I love television. I read books and I watch movies, but I also watch a lot of television. Days off, like Thanksgiving weekend, are an opportunity to keep the TV on through all my waking hours. I'm not so much watching it all that time, but it's still on.

So right now, Himself and I are lounging, puttering with our computers, and watching some of our favorite Thanksgiving-themed TV.

Buffy: It is a sham, but it's a sham with yams. It's a yam sham.
Willow: You're not gonna jokey-rhyme your way out of this.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Pangs"

We already watched Pangs, an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, yesterday while getting the living room in shape. This is what I call a "payoff episode", an episode of a TV series where the ongoing character and plot threads come together and we get to see the things we always wanted to see, or things that we would have wanted if we'd ever thought of them.

For example, we get extra Spike. First watching wistfully-lit scenes of murder and torture, and mourning the fact that he can't join in. Then interacting with the Scooby gang to a previously unprecedented degree, because for once that interaction can't be cut off with a fight. ("...Spike had a little trip to the vet, and now he doesn't chase the other puppies any more.")

And there's a lot of Anya--I love Anya, and this is one of her best episodes. She's changing roles, from vengeance demon to Xander's girlfriend and member of the Scooby gang, but her demon past still influences her view of the world. ("To commemorate a past event, you kill and eat an animal. It's a ritual sacrifice. With pie.") There's Angel running around on the fringes, and Buffy's desperate determination to have a perfect Thanksgiving. And that's before we've actually touched the core plot, the ancient spirit determined to avenge past wrongs, and the gang's conflict over the right or wrong of killing him.

Next were the two Mad About You Thanksgiving episodes, Riding Backwards and Giblets for Murray. Riding Backwards is set entirely in the train, as Paul and Jaime (the young married main characters) ride to and from New Haven to spend Thanksgiving with her parents. There's squabbling and fake engagements and a FedExed Jell-O mold from his mother. ("What an insult!" "It was a gesture.") Giblets for Murray is the next step--they're hosting Thanksgiving for both families, and battling for control. The same mother that mailed the Jell-O mold last time, this time brings her potato casserole and, upon being told that Jaime already made potatoes, declares "so she'll freeze hers."

C.J.: They sent me two turkeys. The more photo-friendly of the two gets a Presidential pardon and a full life at a children's zoo. The runner-up gets eaten.
President Bartlet: If the Oscars were like that, I'd watch.
The West Wing, "Shibboleth"

President Josiah Bartlet: If I cook it inside the turkey, is there a chance I could kill my guests? I'm not saying that's necessarily a deal-breaker.
The West Wing, "The Indians in the Lobby"

Next? West Wing. Shibboleth includes Christian refugees from China, prayer in the schools, and turkeys in need of a pardon. The Indians in the Lobby includes two Native Americans looking for some justice, and a call from the President of the United States to the Butterball Hotline.

Then we ran out of Thanksgiving television and watched Buffy in Beer Bad. It's not unusual for our television watching to begin and end with Buffy.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Rambling: Turkey Zombies

We're fatter now.

This year we had a heritage turkey from Rogue Valley Brambles. Yum.

We'd heard delicious-sounding things about this turkey. Moister breast meat. More fat, and there's no time when I don't approve of more fat in my meat. Actual turkey flavor. So last year we tried to order one in early fall, and while they didn't precisely laugh at us, we were too late. So this year we got our order in somewhere in midsummer. We drove up with the cooler to pick it up on Monday, Himself started brining it yesterday, and he roasted it today, largely based on the method described in this post on Tigers & Strawberries.

It finished roasting far sooner than we expected--we had put the turkey in, contentedly made and eaten pancakes to tide us over the anticipated turkey-roasting hours, cleared the decks in the kitchen, and were lolling with our computers when I got up for a drink and glanced at the thermometer tethered to the turkey. Our goal temperature for turning the oven off and finishing with residual heat was 140, and the thermometer read 124. Panic!

We went into a frenzy of washing and trimming and boiling and melting and smashing things, which taught us that we will spend exactly as much time cooking a meal as we have available to us. Without the rapidly browning turkey bearing down on us, it would have taken us two or three hours to make the mixed-white-and-yam mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts and the second batch of candied yams. There would have been puttering and debating and examination of multiple cookbooks and much discussion of whether the potatoes were ready to mash. We didn't actually eliminate any of these steps, we just went through them a great deal faster. ("Drain 'em! Drain 'em now!") Everything landed on the table while the turkey was still in its resting-after-cooking prime and was just ready to carve.

Again, yum. Best turkey we ever had. It had so much flavor that Himself has resolved to also start buying chickens from Brambles, to see if they're similarly superior. Sadly, we'll have to wait until May--they don't harvest chickens in the winter. No one took us up on our Thanksgiving invitation; it was sad to not be able to share our turkey, but on the other hand it allowed us to be post-dinner slobs. The first load of dishes are swooshing in the dishwasher, and we're watching classic Thanksgiving television now.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, November 21, 2011

DCOTD: The garden magazines are really gone!

Yeah, I know, I'm taking double credit for the things, but someone did finally take them all. Tomorrow, the back issues of Threads hit the driveway. Plus maybe a vase or two.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

SOTD: Robert Piguet Bandit

I know that I'm back into perfume blogging when my scent of the day is based on whether I'm interested in blogging about it. Today, I didn't have time on the way out to lunch to choose a sample, so I grabbed Robert Piguet Bandit; it's been months since I wore it and I'm having trouble making up my mind about my bottle. I wanted another wearing, and of course a blog post.

I bought Bandit based on a sample. The sample was leathery and a little furry-sweaty, a note that I described as being like a clean cat sleeping in the sun. Today's wearing confirmed that that note is altogether gone from the bottle--the bottle is leather and something spicy that reminds me of Chanel Coco, of all things. It's ladylike with good posture, not contentedly lounging.

I'll give it a few more tries, but I suspect that I'll have decluttered the bottle within a year--it no longer does anything at all that Cuir de Russie doesn't do a lot better.

Image: By Tomascastelazo. Wikimedia Commons.

Rant: "I'm not a feminist, but..."

Over at NaNoWriMo, there was a recent thread about writing female characters. Women, intelligent articulate women, were concerned about writing female characters that might put off male readers, or might give the wrong impression of women. Some of them were just writing male characters instead. I realized that I believed that ideas of women about women were improving over time, that women would have more confidence and strength in themselves than when I was younger. And I'm realizing that, no, we seem to be losing ground in the nearly-twenty years since I was in my twenties. So I ranted the following rant, and after I thought about it, I I brought it over to the blog:

I've often heard the phrase, "I'm not a feminist, but..." and I've never understood it. No matter how many times I try, I can't get my mind around it.

Now, the logic part of my brain has an interpretation. It interprets the phrase to mean that women have somehow acquired a gut-level negative response to the term "feminist", and that as a result, when they advocate the ideas that a feminist advocates, they still can't bring themselves to call themselves feminists. But I don't have that gut-level reaction, so I can't understand it emotionally.

I assume that the reaction has been achieved by the people who take the most extreme positions taken by anyone who has called themselves a feminist, add them to extreme positions that have never been taken by any feminist at all or in fact any person at all, attribute them to all feminists, and publicize the result as far and wide and loudly as they possibly can. Add a few thousand incidences of someone saying, "feminist" on television with that combination of fear, contempt, and pity, and the job is done.

The result is to make women feel that they have to take their focus off their goals and instead focus on being perceived to be pursuing those goals the "right" way, and apologize for even having those goals, for fear that others will misunderstand. A woman who wants a fair shot at a job, or who wants to wash the dishes no more often than the other adult in the house, feels that she has to clarify that she doesn't also want to kill all men, or outlaw fatherhood, or whatever crazy position has been falsely attributed to feminists this week. And when the fear of being perceived that way is a factor, she'll quite often dismiss her own concerns as trivial, rather than risk it.

So she's distracted from her goal, or induced to abandon it altogether. She feels the need to distance herself from other women that might have scary feminist views, because she's been told that lots of women have those views, and she doesn't want to be associated with them. The result is to dilute her focus, dilute her sense of purpose, and suppress any cooperation and unity among women. The strategy takes the natural tendency of women to find a consensus and to work with others, and turns it to making women afraid to work with other women, and afraid to find solutions to their common problems. Women want to be reasonable, and substantial forces are aimed at making a woman feel that any concern for her rights as a woman makes her part of an unreasonable crowd.

It's wrong. I'd go so far as to call it evil. And it should be fought fiercely, even if that fight does raise the risk of someone asking, with that wide-eyed, please-don't-eat me, eew-I'd-never-want-to-date-you, air, "Are you a feminist?" Please, don't ever again say, "I'm not a feminist, but..." Fight for what you think is right without apologizing, and if that means you're a feminist, embrace the label.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Rambling: Sundays and Grudges

My goal this weekend was to keep tidying and decluttering. My success was limited, but there are five boxes of books, one of magazines, and one of clothes, bundled up and ready to go. These don't count as DCOTD material, because they haven't gone yet, but it's still good.

And there are substantial pockets of tidy. I'm particularly pleased with the hall shelves, all nice and neat and organized for use. There's a section for library and borrowed and new books. And another for books waiting to be shelved. And the subset of cooking magazines that we're keeping is organized in month groups--after all, in November you don't care about the recipes from Thanksgiving of 2007; you just want all the Thanksgiving issues. And the popcorn bowl for wallet cards that are rarely used, like the cupcake punch card or the discount card for the bookstore in another state that we may get to a few times a year.

Details, details; what's my point? My point, I think, is that it delights me to have a home that has systems.

See, I grew up in a hoarded home. Oh, it was a mildly hoarded home--it would never never make it through the audition process for either of the Hoarders shows. But an important thing to know about a hoarded home is that it's organized for the convenience of the hoard, not for its occupants, not even for the hoarder. A hoarded home is owned by the stuff. And systems are for people, not stuff. Therefore, we didn't have systems. Most of the closet and bureau and cabinet space in the house was filled with rarely-used junk, and the things that we actually used either had to be shoehorned in and out, or had to find some surface to perch on. Even the refrigerator crisper generally contained more decayed than usable food.

The situation wasn't entirely out of control. When it was no longer possible to put a fresh item in the crisper, it would finally get cleaned out. The junk usually only filled the closets and bureaus, and maybe a thin layer stacked on top or nearby; the piles were low, and there wasn't much overflow onto the floor. But that strikes me as all the stranger. Clearly the situation wasn't one of uncontrollable accumulation. But if it was possible to stop accumulating when all of the storage, plus a bit more, was full of stale unused items, why wasn't it possible to clear some space for items in actual use?

It was as if a home that was arranged in any way for daily life was a little bit distasteful. We crept around the edges of the house, using elements of it rather like a peasant farmer, tasked to maintain an ornamental garden, might surreptitiously grow a few vegetables in a corner somewhere. Concern for our own convenience and comfort would be like eating an ice cream cone in church, except it's not a deity being worshipped, but junk. I find it interesting that my metaphors are about food. Our home didn't feed us. We fed it; we fed it junk, and then we left it in peace and tried not to disturb it as it digested.

The house did let people live there, but grudgingly. Drawers stuck and weren't fixed, handles fell out and weren't replaced, one of the stove burners failed and was never repaired, the bottom of the sink cabinet rotted out and was never renewed. One of the base supports for my dresser fell out of the front right leg regularly, several times a year, and several times a year I took the bottom drawer out and shoved the support back in the leg. It never occurred to me that it could ever actually be fixed. It wouldn't hold any more stuff if it were repaired, it would only be more convenient for the humans, and what did that matter? I remember my puzzlement when a neighbor friend talked me into painting my battered old bedside table; the idea of making a household item prettier and cleaner was a revelation to me.

The rice pot--I've mentioned that rice pot--had no handle on either pot or lid. We used the pot a few times a week, but why should a handle matter? Handles are for people. Closets exist to hold as many hangers and garments as possible; the people who might want to use a tiny subset of those garments are just there on tolerance. I maintained a running battle against my room, organizing the junk into the drawers and closet and making the room look civilized for a brief moment, only to have it revert to chaos again in days. It never occurred to me to keep less junk; that would, again, just make the room more convenient for me.

I'm casting all of the issues with my childhood home as being about hoarding; I know that there were other issues, there were relationship issues, there were two adults who were too unhappy with their lives to do anything about the stage on which those lives were acted out. I sometimes wonder if I'm just nursing petty grievances.

I do feel grievances. I couldn't dream of having a school friend over to the house. My parents never, ever had people over; I reached a pretty advanced age before I realized that adults had friends. We were so isolated that I was well into my school years before I was able to speak to a stranger to order my food at a restaurant; for years, my parents had to order for me. That fact apparently didn't worry them. Neither did the fact that, aside from a neighbor or two, no friends visited my home or invited me to visit theirs. I often wonder; should it have worried them?

But I had heat, functioning plumbing, clean clothes, and safe food. It was possible to find a flat surface to do homework on. By the standards of the average life of a child of a hoarder, I was in heaven. Sometimes I think I should be grateful; sometimes I think I should be furious.

Image: By Christina. Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rambling: Scentless Saturday, and Whining

The garbage disposal is broken and not draining, meaning that the sink is nonfunctional five days before Thanksgiving. Himself made a flurry of phone calls and drove out to get a new disposal and we should have a sink soon, but it's worrying as the dishes pile up.

On the same drive, we took my Mac in to get it fixed, because it broke and now I'm writing this on the very old one that has a battery that's good for about forty seconds because I abuse my batteries. So I'm tethered to the wall.

My head hurts and my sinuses are cranky and I feel like I'm catching a cold and the Co-op no longer carries the chewable echinacea pills that used to make me feel better when that happened. Or used to give me the delusion that I felt better, and that's almost as good. So I'm chewing Airborne zinc tablets with echinacea instead and they taste absolutely dreadful. I want my old echinacea tablets. Now.

Monday we have to drive out and get a turkey. Sunday we have to find the cooler to put the turkey in. We may or may not have guests for Thanksgiving. The house is a mess. I'm pretending that we know we have guests, because I want the motivation to make it not a mess. I don't have the faintest idea what to give anyone for Christmas.

I'm way way extremely very much behind on NaNoWriMo.

The weekend is already half over and I didn't relax yet.

Morning Glory no longer has fried chicken on the menu.

I'm almost out of milk.

These are all minor trivial fiddling little problems, but I still want to take a nap until everything shapes up.

Image: By Osm agha. Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

SOTD: Parfumes de Rosine Rose Kashmirie, and Tastebud Rambling

For the first hour or two, Rose Kashmirie reminds me of candied orange peel. I don't mean that it actually smells like citrus. But like sugared citrus peel, it has a strong bitterness paired with, but not really tempered by, an equally strong sweetness. And I don't like bitterness; its presence usually distracts me from all other notes. I keep trying to like bitter roses--Paestum Rose, Une Rose, No. 88, Dark Rose, Incense Rose, the list just keeps going. I like the idea of a sweet flower made darker and deeper and more interesting by contrasting notes, but I just can't stomach the bitterness. Gasoline? Yes. Mothballs? Great. A little touch of bitter? Eeeeew!

As it turns out, Rose Kashmirie sweetens over time. After an hour or two, it becomes a very warm female scent; it feels like furs and velvet and quirky old-fashioned hats. Around the sixth hour it's almost all sweetness, mellow and powdery and deep, a perfect comfort scent without the sticky-foody aspect that dominates so many comfort scents. I love this final drydown so much that I'm tempted to buy the perfume just to have access to it.

When I read other reviews of Rose Kashmirie, I don't see much made of the bitterness--it's acknowledged, but no one seems to get, or at least be bothered by, the teeth-on-edge feeling that I get. It's rather like my reaction to red wine; for me, all the sweet or raisiny or other flavors are drowned by a gritty bitterness that most people either don't perceive or actually enjoy.

I've read more than once that small children are picky eaters not because they're unsophisticated little monsters who want nothing but sugar and have spent too much time at Krispy Kreme, but because they can taste sharper flavors much more strongly than adults. Perhaps as a survival characteristic--many poisonous things that a toddler might stuff in her mouth have those unpleasant tastes--small children are wired to reject bitterness. Over time, those extra bitter receptors go away. 

In fact, over enough time all of our taste buds go away, one by one, until when you're very old almost the only thing you can taste is sweetness. My father, late in his life, was often only willing to eat meat when it was accompanied with cranberry sauce, and he couldn't understand why he no longer liked green beans. I proposed the sweetness theory to him, and he largely rejected it, while at the same time being quite pleased with sugar-glazed carrots. I suppose old habits are hard to break, and I rather wish that I had broken them for him and made him some sugar-glazed green beans to try. Sugar and soy and garlic might have made them perfectly palatable to everyone at the table. I'll need to remember all of this for when I'm older.

There's also the phenomenon of the "supertaster", a person who even in adulthood has an enhanced response to certain tastes, including bitterness. My taste preferences seem to run along the supertaster scale, and I'm using that as an excuse for why I was a terribly picky eater as a child. I also blame the cuisine of the parts of the southern Midwest where I grew up - vegetables in those areas were very thoroughly cooked, or canned and then again very thoroughly cooked. In the water from the can. And then they were served in the water from the can. Salad, too, was often served in a pool of water that diluted the Wishbone dressing. I'm not sure why all produce had to be accompanied by dampness.

I remember my amazement when I ate a package of Green Giant Boil In Bag Chicken A La King (and I find myself wondering why we had one--it was surely pretty expensive for Mom's frugal habits) and ate a pea that was still colored green. Bright green, not gray-green. And sweet. Peas have sugar; who knew? I realize that many people can taste the sweetness of canned peas; my father used to love the tiny Le Sueur ones. I've never gotten any flavor but "can" out of canned vegetables; maybe it's another supertaster thing.

So my introduction to "fresh" vegetables came from frozen food; that seems vaguely sad. It's not that Mom was a bad cook, but her talents lay in thoroughly cooked meat dishes--spaghetti sauce, fried chicken, pot roast. Himself goes into rapture over restaurant pot roast that makes me say, "Yeah? Tastes like Mom's." Sadly, Mom doesn't remember how she used to make the pot roast, because she doesn't make it for herself; I'm going to have to figure out out myself. All she's sure of is that it involved a packet of onion soup mix, and all I'm sure of is that it involved chunks of beef, not a full-size roast.

Er. Where was I going? Acquired tastes, that was it, and bitterness specifically. Red wine is a lost cause for me, and so are bitter salad greens. I'm fond of olives, though I prefer the butterier, blander ones. I like my chocolate with extra cocoa but also extra sugar to counter it. The puzzlement is why that preference, which is surely about tastebuds, should extend to smells. I'd like to acquire a taste for bitter perfumes, but along with red wine, it may be a hopeless cause.

Writing: Daring to be Long

I write short things.

I thought about this while I was considering the possibility of writing 2500-word posts for NaNoWriMo, but this post isn't about NaNoWriMo, it's about why I write short things. At least, I write short things when they're going to be "published"--in other words, blogged.

One piece of standard advice for blogs is to write short things, so that the reader doesn't get bored and run away halfway through. But if I took blogging advice, the title of my blog wouldn't start with "chickenfreak", and I'd be on a self-hosted Wordpress blog with a fancy expensive theme. I'm not big on advice. And the short post advice strikes me as being as valuable as the workplace advice to avoid writing long, detailed documents with actual information, and to instead compress the information on a nice PowerPoint slide with no more than twenty words on it. Who wants to be informed when they can look at something snappy?

And there are successful blogs that do have long posts. Really long posts. I just measured the latest post on Author! Author! and found that it's more than four thousand words. Often the opening mood-setting anecdote on that blog is longer than an entire post on mine. And I'm not naturally concise; I can babble endlessly in forum posts or work documents. I clarify and analogize and clarify the analogy. I go on a lot.

I suspect that my blog posts are short because a long piece of text takes itself seriously, and I hesitate to be seen doing that. It's like my motive for not dressing up--someone who's all dressed up hopes that they look good, and I'm afraid that if I appear to have that hope, people will point and laugh. So today I'm wearing a Lost Boys tee shirt and my last post was less than seven hundred words. Not, of course, that I don't love the Lost Boys tee shirt. It's fabulous; it pretends to be from the Santa Carla boardwalk, and it doesn't say a word about the Lost Boys movie itself.

Also, I don't like my serious writing voice. It rhapsodizes or pontificates or both, and while I'm sometimes pleased with the piece immediately after writing it, I cringe within a week and stay that way. I know that a voice for a serious piece doesn't need to have those flaws; Calvin Trillin, for example, can write about the most serious of subjects and still maintain his comfortable, readable voice. And I have, many times, picked up an over-serious post and scrubbed out the unnecessary gravity, always hoping that I was leaving in any necessary gravity.

On top of that, long posts often require me to have a point of view, and communicate it, and defend it. Apparently I'm not so sure about doing that. I have plenty of opinions, and will argue at length on forums, but, again, this is my blog. You know it's me. People on the street in my town could, in theory, know it's me. So I'm happy to praise things that I approve of, but praise is often brief. When an issue gets thickety or messy, I run away. Again, it's about the point and laugh factor. "Look! She's excited! She's passionate! She has an opinion! Bwahahaha!"

Can you see them all rolling on the floor, while I hide under my keyboard? Of course you can.

I advise others to take risks, because it costs me nothing. I used to love Threads magazine, the sewing magazine from Taunton, when they were still catering to the experienced sewer. They had extreme projects, and once in a while one of those ideas would fall flat on its face, and that level of risk was why they were good. Similarly but more impressively, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival here in town takes the risk of falling on their face many times every single year, and the risk never goes bad on them. They push, they balance on the edge of the cliff, and they never fall.

I don't do that. Cliff? I want a climbing harness and a net. But if I want my writing to progress, I'll have to give up the harness and write about things that I take seriously, like the Lord-of-the-Flies-with-blackboards nature of public schools, or the way that the mental health profession is dead wrong about the nature of hoarders and hoarding, or the dysfunctional parts of my family.

But today, I suspect I'll be writing about perfume. Or food. Or both.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, November 18, 2011

DCOTD: Books


It turns out that Wednesday's box of fancy gardening magazines wasn't taken from the driveway, it was rescued by the neighbors when it looked like it was going to rain. However, they're not re-entering the house; I'll toss them in paper recycling before that happens.

Meanwhile, a friend took a dozen of the outgoing books Thursday, so, woohoo!

Friday, er, nothing went away. Hey, that's not true; another friend took one more book. So there.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

DCOTD: Magazines

I just cleaned the kitchen. The counter was full of groceries, so I took the canisters out of the cabinet, on the theory that canisters are tidier on the counter than miscellaneous boxes and cans.

Then I found the groceries in the backpack. Now the counter is full of groceries again. Also, the toilet paper is stacked on top of the Swiffers, and the paper towels are on the boxes of straws. A sixpack of cider is on the floor because the fridge and the shelves are full.

I need to accelerate the decluttering. So I'm moving the old Declutter Of The Day posts from that abandoned blog to this one. (That is, I'll be entering new DCOTD posts here.) The rules are that a DCOTD is something that left the house. Not something sorted and boxed and ready to go, not something listed on Freecycle, not even something on the driveway with a free sign or in the trunk waiting for the next trip to the GoodWill. It has to be Gone, irretrievable, never to be seen again.

So today's DCOTD is a file box full of garden magazines that someone took off the Free end of the driveway. Yay!

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Books: Wanting Sheila Dead, by Jane Haddam

I rarely trust a novel that mentions the current President by name, or demonstrates an awareness of the latest movies. I'm not saying that an interest in current events is bad. I'm not saying that brand new novels are bad. I'm saying that the combination of the two makes me suspicious. I've read, for example, books from the early eighties that seemed to think that "Hey, wow, I've heard of this Internet thing!" qualifies as a substitute for plot and characters, and I don't like to repeat that experience too often.

So when the jacket of Wanting Sheila Dead revealed that much of the novel is based around a reality TV show, and when the first page contained a side reference to Oprah (who, admittedly, isn't exactly a new phenomenon), I normally would have put the book back on the shelf. But the first page also said:
Sheila Dunham's voice came into the room like battery acid over a bullhorn. That was a metaphor that made no sense. Olivia didn't care. It fit exactly.
That's not something that would come from someone who's saying, "Hey, wow, I've heard of this reality TV thing!" at least not at the expense of the book. So I bought it. I bought it used, so sadly I won't do the author, Jane Haddam, a bit of good, but I liked it so much that I can imagine buying one of her books new. In paperback. There is almost no level of desperation to get my hands on a story that will cause me to pay for a new hardback. So I'll have to wait a while for her next book, though there's a huge backlog of past books that I can work my way through.

The book reconfirms a theory of mine: I like male protagonists, but I like them best when written by women. In my admittedly limited experience, male protagonists written by men tend to be too uncomplicated, too strong, too clear in their purpose. They don't muse. Unlike Haddam's Gregor Demarkian, they wouldn't speculate on how and why the sidewalk in front of the church was washed, or think about their decision to initiate, or not initiate, a handshake with a woman. I like Gregor Demarkian; he seems to be full of stray thoughts.

And I liked the book. There were two mysteries, so the whole book wasn't about the reality TV show, which was a good thing--there's a limit to how much even a good author can do to overcome my severe lack of interest in that topic. But I was engaged by the TV plot, and all of the annoying young woman tied to it, so imagine how much I'd like a Jane Haddam/Gregor Demarkian book without either one.

I recommend the book, and I probably recommend the author more than the book. Which is just as well for the author, because Wanting Sheila Dead is already down to bargain pricing, and the next book is still in hardback. And some of you might buy hardbacks. Maybe. I realize that getting the author paid isn't my problem, but, well, sometimes I think about it.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.