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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

An Open Letter to Ms. Amy Herzberg

Dear Amy:

It was either 1992 or 1993... either way, it was at least 20 years ago. I can barely believe it. Can you? I took your Musical Theater class every single semester that I was at the University of Arkansas. It was my favorite, and certainly most humbling, class. I love musical theater. I love acting through song more than anything else in the world, even though I'm not naturally a gifted singer.

You helped me learn things about the way music is written for performance, and how to enrich every word, even the repeated ones, with meaning. I remember very little about college. But I remember you. And I remember that theater. And I remember our class. Thank you.

I just thought of you because I heard a song that I tried to perform when I was newly-20. It's a song from the Broadway musical "City of Angels," (no, not the movie, which I've never seen) one of my favorite musicals ever. The lyrics are hugely clever, the subject is one that is close to my heart, and the 40s "feel" is so much fun. Actually, I performed another of the songs from the show, "You Can Always Count on Me" for one of our fund-raiser reviews, and everyone was a little surprised that I could "belt" like that.

This song, however, was different.

This song is ironically named "Funny."


How'd I fail to see this little bed time tale was funny?
I could cry to think of all the irony I've missed!
What an unusual twist 
Right at the end of it. 

Who could see that this pathetic scene would be
So funny?
Once you strain to find the grain of humor
Life double crosses with style
Forcing you into a smile
So it can kick you in the teeth.

Just desserts 
We can all laugh till it hurts
At my expense. 
I'm accustomed to working on "spec."
I always pick up the check.

I think it's funny. 
Who could top or make this comic op'ra more
You could weave in some deceit to even up the
You'd have us all on the floor.
That would be roaringly


Sad enough my life's a joke that suffers in the telling.
Just another hoary chestnut from the bottom drawer
I've heard so often before
That I can't laugh anymore.

When I was finished with my performance, you and everyone else critiqued it, we talked about it, but in the end you said that no matter how much I polished the delivery, you would never buy it. You told me that I had not experienced enough life to pull off this song. I wasn't mad, but I didn't really understand.

I understand now.

And you were right.

Hearing the song now, I start to shake a little with rage, thinking through it as an actor. I get where the character is. Much of it is his own fault. He's made stupid decisions. And he wants to do the right thing, but he just can't catch a break... So he's ready to give up.

There is never a situation in which I would need to perform this song... unless someone decided to do a cross-dressing performance of "City of Angels" somewhere other than Austin (because I'd never be cast in a part versus all of the talented actual musicians around here), but if the opportunity arose, I could do it this time. It stinks, but I could. And I thank God every day that I don't relate to it in the present tense.

Just wanted you to know that you hit the nail on the head. That wasn't the only time, but it is one that stands out in my memory. Thanks for being good at what you do. And thanks for helping me realize that life experience makes for better performing all the way around. I find that to be true in my writing, and that's something at which I happen to be a bit more gifted than the whole singing thing, anyway.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Review: Hammond's Pigs N' Taters

You're not even going to believe me when I tell you that this thing exists, so let's just dispense with the introductions and I'll show you proof:

Yes, ma'am... sir... ma'amsir. Yes. This is a thing. It is a glorious thing. It is so heavenly, it has a halo. That's how out of this world a chocolate bar with bacon and potato chips is. Let's not argue about it, okay? Let's just bask in the wonder.

I found this at Breed and Company when I was there for a Soda Streamer refill (they're still out of Diet Dr. Pete, dang it!). When I got home and checked out Hammond's website, I realized that we're scheduled to tour the facility next spring when we're on vacation!

So, on to the main event:

This is milk chocolate, so it's light and creamy. Since it's about 80 degrees in the house, that chocolate "snap" isn't easy to judge. The melting point of chocolate is between 86 and 90 degrees, so we are getting close. (Incidentally, that's why it has such a pleasant and unique mouth feel; it melts just below our body temperature, so it liquefies as it makes contact with the tongue.)

I didn't see any potato chips when I broke into the chocolate, but I did see quite a bit of bacon.

There was, however invisible, a very satisfying amount of crunchy chip content in the smooth chocolate. Between the chips and the bacon, this is an incredibly salty bar, which I love. This might be one of my favorite candy bars ever, which is saying a lot. It is a testimony to my adoration of my husband that I didn't open it before he got home and that I haven't now, while he's at work, finished the candy. It's just that amazing.

I have mentioned this before, but just to review: When eating chocolate, you will enjoy it more if you don't chew it. Remember that melting point? Letting the chocolate melt on your tongue allows the flavors to assault your senses of both taste and smell, and the result is a lot more enjoyable than if you chomp it up and swallow it. This is especially true as the chocolate gets darker. Very dark chocolate can taste like black glue if you insist on masticating it. But even with milk chocolate, I prefer to let it linger for a while.

With this bar, when you do that, you end up with a bunch of crunchy bit of chips and bacon left over to enjoy after the chocolate has mostly melted, but you can still taste it. It's delicious and fun to consume.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Facebook... Fast? More Like a Purge

The week before last, something descended upon me on Friday afternoon. It had been several weeks in coming, and I can pinpoint when it started snowballing the fastest. By the end of the day Friday, it felt like I was ingesting poison. On purpose. And it was all coming off of my Facebook feed. It hit me: "What are you doing to yourself?" and... I inactivated my account.

It was only for three days, but during that time, I cooled off. I figured out how to reset my feed so that I don't see very much when I do log in, which is increasingly rare.

First of all, I want to say that I get that my own Facebook wall can be inconsistent: funny, horrifying, offensive, encouraging, gleeful, and depressing. That's kind of... well, me. And if that doesn't work for you, then you should block me, because I don't want anyone having the kind of soul-crushing anger that was darkening everything for me.

For my own sanity, might I offer some suggestions that one might want to consider before posting things on Facebook, or before transmitting any thoughts or information in a wide-ranging manner? Please?

1) Before you forward that inflammatory (or not) story, infographic, or link, make sure it's true. Barack Obama did not tell a bunch of students not to celebrate July 4. Bill O'Reilly did not criticize Obama's nostril-flares as racist. That was not a contemporary picture of Trayvon Martin; it was a rapper (besides, however you feel about that whole thing, the fact that someone is covered with tattoos, smokes pot, and has bought a gun does not necessarily mean he "deserved" to die at the time and place that he was shot... if you want to make an argument, argue facts of the situation, not circumstantial information).

A guideline here is that if what you're about to post doesn't have a date, or an exact location, or some specific names and is therefore impossible to verify, maybe don't share it. Also, if the only place you can find the story is on either conservative or liberal websites, it's probably not reliable. Especially not if the wording is the exact same everywhere you see it, so that it's obvious someone cut and pasted it the second they saw it and did no research at all.

Also, if your infographic has misspellings and grammar problems, how do you expect the rest of us to take it seriously?

2) If you find out that something you posted was in error, acknowledge the mistake, take it down, and apologize for the error. Seriously, folks, we're all grown-ups here. We all make mistakes. Admitting to those things is a huge step in, you know, being a decent human being. Just saying, "Oh, I found out this was not what I thought it was, but the idea is the same, so I'm leaving it up" shows the absolute worse kind of arrogance and willful ignorance. Besides, if you can't support your point of view with anything that falls within the realm of reality, you might want to reconsider your point of view. Or at least be gracious enough to allow others to have a different one without-- wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.

3) Not everyone who believes differently than you do hates you and wants to destroy your way of life. It's entirely possible that you have a dear friend who loves you completely and who is very glad that you are on this planet, but who disagrees with you on a very important (to one or both of you) topic. Rarely are things this cut-and-dried. This goes part-and-parcel with its extension:

4) Not everyone who disagrees with you does so because they are ignorant or evil. Granted, there are some people who have baseless opinions... But to automatically ascribe cultural or parental brainwashing, lack of real-world experience, lack of humanity, nefarious intent, or just outright stupidity to the viewpoint of anyone who disagrees with the opinion you have reached shows a lack of confidence in your own conclusion. If you have a valid reason that you believe what you believe, what threat to you is it that someone else reached a different conclusion? I assume that most people who believe unlike myself have come to their world views based on their experiences, research, and careful thought, just the way that I have. 

If I believe in absolute truth, then there are some viewpoints that cannot coexist. But I'd never walk into one of those serious discussions leading with the condescending thought that "They just don't know any better" or, worse, "They are the antithesis of all that is good in the world." This does not help build bridges, even if you never say it out loud. Harboring this attitude comes through in your manner and it absolutely closes doors.

If you're not a Christian, you can skip to the final paragraph now. I'll put a bunch of stars so you'll know where to start. If you're a Christian, please read on because, seriously, you guys, we can do a lot better. We have to do a lot better.

5) The government of the United States of America is not a Christian institution, and it never has been. Before you try to argue with me, I have studied the Christian roots of the foundation and establishment of our country. I understand that many of the first settlers here came to pursue religious freedom. I get that many of the founding fathers were believers. I also understand that law in general owes a lot to the law of Moses.

I, as a Christian, believe that living life guided by the teachings of the Scripture is superior to any other set of guidelines to which one might ascribe. This is due to my firm belief that the author of life itself knows how we're best set up to operate, and that when I try to figure it out on my own, I make a mess out of things. This is a very personal decision, however. It is not our government's place to force anyone into living according to my Scriptures. Remember that whole "religious freedom" thing? Unless we're hypocrites, that applies to all religions (to the point of its not infringing upon others' rights, like underage/unwilling marriages, human sacrifice, animal cruelty, abuse under the guise of "spiritual leadership," etc.).

For a Christian, the place to have external encouragement to live by Jesus' teachings should be the church, not the government. Trust me, you don't want the government enforcing any religion, even yours. You probably don't agree on every point of your faith with your family members; what are the odds that a behemoth like the government is going to enforce the Scriptures in a way that is appropriate for you?

Regardless, appealing to the historical faith of our Founding Fathers does not mean that our country itself is supposed to be specifically Christian. This is not a theocracy. We are not Israel. We are not even Israel, Jr. God did not call the United States out to himself the way he called and covenanted with Abraham. That is not what's happening here. We say that the Lord has blessed America, but I think that the Lord has blessed us as individuals, and that as individuals, we should be active in our government and in our communities, but not in a bloc.

6) Where are you getting this "stand up for our rights" mentality? I don't understand it. We're all up at arms because "our" rights are being stomped on every day? Who told you to do that? Do you think it honors God to be pissed that the Target greeter doesn't specifically use the word "Christmas"? And to spread the animosity with a snarky post? How does that fall into line with peace-making? Do you think that showing up with signs or shirts with slogans of solidarity ever results in the actual life-change of the Gospel, which we have been assigned to carry forth?

Christianity is not a privileged class, rich with rights to be protected. It is voluntary slavery to the Lord, and to my fellow man, whom I am to love only second to my love for God. It is taking up one's cross every day. It is actually allowing my supposed rights to be violated if it would win one for Christ. It means praying for and loving and serving all, especially those I would tend not to like.

Every positive example we have in the New Testament of what it is to be a Christian is someone who loved others, served God, and endured poor treatment with dignity. No Biblical martyr died with the words, "This is an injustice!" on their lips. It was always a pointing to God. Jesus did not encourage the zealots who would overthrow Rome. He was too busy being focused on loving people the way that God loved them, and telling them as much about his Father as he could while he was alive.

Jesus also begged forgiveness for those who saw to his death. Could any one of us do that? How about show up with water to hand out at a flamboyant gay pride demonstration? Or volunteering to tutor a prison inmate? Or praying for that guy at work who asked your HR supervisor to tell you to take down your religious Easter decorations? Maybe inviting him out to coffee, just to hang out for a while?

We are supposed to love our "enemies" and pray for those who persecute us. If we spend more time with these people, loving them and praying for them, I think it will be impossible to hate them. I think we will learn that they aren't actually our enemies. No person is ever the enemy.

7) Salt and light are both pretty quiet. Yes, we are called to be in the culture, preserving and enhancing it. Do you know how salt works? By getting into food and being salt. It doesn't stay in the spoon and yell at food to be saltier. It does its thing, and what needs to happen happens. But it has to be in there.

Same kind of thing with light. Light always overpowers darkness. You shine a flashlight into a darkened room, and the beam penetrates the darkness. Darkness doesn't have that power (unless it's created by a black hole, which the Bible mentions not so much). Light wins. So if a light is working, it will change the face of the landscape. It doesn't need to make petulant pleas for everything to stop being so stinking dark.

I get it: there is a place for accountability and encouragement toward morality. Might I suggest that that place is in church, in the context of a community of believers, and in interpersonal relationships? Might I suggest that that place is *not* your Facebook wall? You're not responsible for the public-at-large's ethical and moral behavior. If you ever want to be able to have a rational, heart-felt conversation with anyone who feels differently than you do about a given moral issue, I recommend not posting anything that might alienate that person. Which leads us to...

8) In a battle between your First Amendment rights and adhering to the Scriptures, God's Word always wins. You might be tempted to say, "Well, *that side* gets their say; I should get mine, too." Really? You want to match rights with someone whose exercise of that same right irritates you? Let's try this on for size: "I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it."

Paul wasn't talking about being manipulative. He just meant that he was able to chill out and fit in and not offend people. The Gospel can be offensive enough. We don't need to make it worse."If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."

There are some things that are definitely worth fighting for. But real change doesn't happen from your posting vitriolic and argumentative things on your Facebook wall. If you believe in something, *do* something; bullhorns rarely change minds, and your Facebook feed is a digital bullhorn.

9) Do not call the President "stupid." I'm not picking on any one political leaning here; I've heard this word hurled at almost every President we've had since I was aware of what the office is. Never mind the fact that, agree with the guy (and maybe lady, in the future) or not, I personally believe that a person has to possess certain baseline of cleverness or keenness or intelligence to get that far in the political world.

Again, you're free to express opinions against the policies a President supports, or even personal views that he (or she) holds. I think it helps your case in a big way if you can avoid emotional histrionics and name-calling and stick with facts, reason, logic, and research. This holds true for anyone, regardless of faith.

However, for a Christian, calling someone "stupid" like this is especially egregious. "[A]nyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell." Okay, so you say, "This is talking about other disciples, and I don't buy that *fill in the blank* is a Christian." Then there's this: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment." There is a place for civil disobedience, for being opposed to policy, etc. But there is no excuse to disrespect our President. I see this most often happening by my elders, and it embarrasses me.

There are a lot of youngsters on Facebook, and their seeing people who should be able to conduct themselves as adults condescending to "poopyhead" is permission for them to be disrespectful. There's no excuse to be disrespectful in behavior toward anyone else, even if we privately do not respect them. Our behavior is our choice, and I don't believe that we, as Christians, have any excuse to stoop to ugliness.

10) The devil is not responsible for every less-than-ideal thing that happens. Sometimes, a storm is just a storm, a traffic jam is just a traffic jam, and frustration is just a part of every day life. Satan is not attacking you all of the time. He is not omnipresent. He is not omnipotent. You might just be having a random bad day. It happens. Besides, what you call "bad" might be good; you don't see the big picture. Please stop ascribing more power to the devil than he has.


Facebook should be fun. It's fun for me; I love posting weird and funny things. I adore keeping up with my friends. I love to see your summer vacations, your favorite recipes, thought-provoking articles you've read, what's going on with your kids, things that break your heart. I love all of that.
What I can not tolerate are lies, ugliness, lazy arguments, bigotry, sweeping assumptions, and the like.
I am responsible for my own reactions, for my own responses. And what I've learned in the past few weeks is that I am apparently not mature enough yet always to let these things slide off of me. Maybe I expect better from my friends. Maybe I see something in these posts that reminds me of myself and that I find unbearably repulsive. Whatever it is, until I can manage my response more maturely, I'm having to block a lot of stuff from my feed.
Please, if I post things that cause this kind of recoiling in you, let me know. Hold me accountable! I don't shy away from controversy, but I would hope that anything I would share might be controversial in nature, but respectfully presented. And if not, it needs to come down.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Review: Wild Ophelia American Roadtrip Chocolate

Today, Whole Foods had their Wild Ophelia bars on sale for $2.99 (they're normally $4.99). I've been curious about them, and could not pass up this deal, so I bought two.

Wild Ophelia is branded as the "sister" to Vosges Chocolate. I've reviewed two of their bars before: the fantastically fun Woolloomooloo bar, and the so-delicious-I-forgot-to-share Blood Orange Caramel bar.

It seems like Wild Ophelia is just an alt label, as they explore more down-to-earth US flavor combinations.

I am curious about their beef jerky flavor because Daphne and I tried to chocolate-coat jerky once, and the result was horrific. My curiosity isn't $3 strong, and it's certainly not $5 strong, so I'll just have to wait to see if they're ever sampling it. The Vosges bacon bar is exquisite, though, so maybe they're on to something I missed.

The insides of the boxes have a neat old-western-looking motif, which is interesting, considering that they're not actually engineered to be fully opened.

Since the hibiscus peach bar was labeled 41% cocoa, I expected it to be darker than the peanut butter banana bar.

As it turns out, they're both 41% cocoa, it's just not touted as prominently on the pb&b box.

Immediately, the hibiscus peach bar was overwhelming in its rich, fruity chocolate aroma. Because of this, I tried it first.

The chocolate was very smooth, with the only little "crunches" coming from pieces of freeze-dried peaches. The hibiscus adds a tart edge that accentuates the peach's sweetness, and the overall flavor is strong and overtly fruity.

I made the mistake of tasting the pb&b bar immediately. The flavor of this bar is much more understated, though, so I had to wait a while, cleanse my palate, and try again.

This bar is also creamy smooth, save some bits of dried banana. The peanut butter adds a richness to the chocolate, and the overall effect is much less sweet than the other bar.

I like them both, but think that I'll enjoy the peanut butter and banana bar more if I eat it first, because the flavor profile is so much subtler. The hibiscus peach is definitely more "fun," taste-wise.

Here's a little intro video to the Wild Ophelia brand. Leave a note in the comments as to how many times you count her say the word "movement."

Friday, July 26, 2013


For as long as I can remember, I have been a rabid fan. I have loved things so much that I have had T-shirts made, built websites, written about them, traveled, studied, created, planned, cooked, and devoted a great deal of enthusiastic energy into pursuing my interests: Scarecrow and Mrs. King, writing, family trips, Rockapella, chocolate, film and theater...

I love loving things. I love having passions that motivate me to learn, to grow, to get out there and meet people, and a chance to express who I am in a way that also connects positively with other people.

This is the first time in my life that I have had this kind of relationship  (this sounds pretty pathetic now that I put it in writing) with a person.

Don't get me wrong: I have loved people in a big way. It's kind of my "thing." I take a while to warm up to people, and then I just go crazy. Which is scary to some folks. I get that.

This is the first time that I've been able to love as much and as loudly and as crazy as I want to and he not only handles it, he seems to thrive on it. Additionally - and this is huge - he actually loves me back!

So it's like we have this closed-circuit of happiness and love and the current just keeps getting stronger.

I have always been a very hungry person. For the first time in memory, I am full. <3

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Beer-Making, Part 1: Boiling, Brewing, and Boxers

James has brewed his own beer several times before. He has all of the equipment and only had to purchase the actual ingredients, which he did weeks and weeks ago at Austin Homebrew Supply.

Gotta give a shout-out to Austin Homebrew, by the way. We got our mozzarella cheese-making stuff there, and have recently purchased a kit to make hard cheese. Their staff is so helpful, and they love what they do, and they'll talk to you and help you decide what to do, then they'll make sure you have everything that you need. I'm definitely a fan!

Anyway, Sunday afternoon, "we" (this is mostly James, with my taking pictures and sometimes using a spare hand to hold something or to stir) started the process: cleaning and sterilizing equipment, and activating the brewer's yeast.

Some notes: 1) James had a spill on his bike Saturday afternoon, so that's what that's about. 2) The cool-down process languished into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, and clothes gradually came off as apparent bedtime approached. You know how it is. 3) Since James has done this before and had all of the equipment, the actual ingredients were fairly inexpensive. Less than $30 for 5 gallons of beer, including the water. 4) What you've heard is true: I don't particularly like beer (and that's being super generous). But I LOVE hanging out with my husband, I love making things in the kitchen, and I love science. So beer-brewing appeals to me. I've made German chocolate cakes for friends, too, and I'm not a huge fan of that, either. Can't we all just get along?

Yes. The man *will* clean stuff (that he finds important to clean).

He'll even use a flower-backed scrubber!

To activate the yeast, you have to smack the packet to open the nutrient pack inside.

To the left is what the yeast packet looked like immediately after we hit it.

Below is what it looked like 24 hours later.

Now I'm just going to follow this process with pictures, for the most part. If you need detailed instructions, you can find them here. Also, you can find recipe kits like the one we used here.

I'd say the yeast is good!

Thorough review of the instructions.

Barley, malt, and... one other thing; liquid malt extract (sugar), yeast, honey (sugar), and Galena (hops).

First, we needed 2 gallons of clean, filtered water.
In the water, you boil the grain the same way you'd brew tea. We realized, setting this up, that James hadn't gotten a grain bag (think tea bag, but bigger). So...

He ironically used a Halloween promotional Budweiser beer T-shirt!

After about half an hour of steeping, you pull out the grain bag and let it drip dry. No squeezing!

The beginnings of beer. It smells deceptively (according to me) good. Some might call it an accurate preview, but I felt about this smell the same way I feel about coffee. Glad it's filling up our house with the smell, but that's it.

After the initial brew, James added 5 pounds of liquid malt.

And a pound of honey.

Little known fact: Beer contains rabbit food. Okay, that's a joke. These are hops. They smell delightfully earthy and add a bitterness to beer. People seem to like that.

He added 1/4 of an ounce immediately after returning to the post-sugar boil, and then added another 1/4 of an ounce after 55 minutes, cooking only for 5 minutes after that.

The greenish yellow bits are the bottom of the picture are the disintegrating hops.

Here's where the laboratory science comes in!
You are supposed to lower the temperature of the beer as quickly as possible to 80 degrees. This coil drops into the brew, and you run cool water through the coil for... well, until you die, if our experience is any indication.

Cold water comes from the tap, then circles around in the copper coiling in the brew.

Extremely hot water comes out the other end.

147 degrees

117 degrees
The cool-down from boiling to 90 degrees took the better part of half an hour. An hour after THAT, the mixture was still hovering around 85. The ambient temperature in the house is 80, and we were getting nowhere fast. The water coming out of the end of the coils was cool, and we'd even dumped the contents of our ice-maker into the sink.

Eventually, we decided to dump the brew from one vat into another, and back and forth until it cooled off. This also served the dual purpose of aerating it, putting a nice foamy head on the stuff.

By this time, it was well after midnight and some of us were getting sleepy! But there was a light at the end of the tunnel!
Now, we fill up the 5 gallon container. In Daphne's room, since she's gone and it's the darkest/coolest room in the house.

Topping it off with water.

Adding the yeast. Check out that foaming action!
James checking the specific gravity of the mixture, and realizing that he needs glasses because when it's dark and the print is small, we have some issues.
So, that's it for a week or so. We're leaving the mixture to ferment in Daphne's room. This morning, when I got up and went to check on it, I found that Carol had deemed herself the guardian of the beer. We can all rest assured. Check back for Part 2 late next week, when we move the mixture to another fermenter!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Question for the Public

Does anyone know anything about this van?

Once or twice a week, it parks to the side of Taco Cabana for a couple of hours. People come and go, hang out, chat, and it's basically just like a roadside living room.


We've been tempted to go over and see what's happening. They're always having a nice time. When they parked the other day, the person on the bike rode over to join them, and when the van moved, they loaded the bike up and took that person with them.

I wonder if they stay until they're made to move, or they only hang out at certain places for a certain amount of time, so that friends will know where to find them.

If you know anything about this, leave the info in the comments! I'm really curious.

The last time they were here, I had a mystery shop for a dinner delivery, and we've decided to order them dinner as soon as they park next time, then watch to see what happens...

Review: Garnier Olia Oil Powered Permanent (hair) Color

In the past, over at the other blog, I did quite a few hair color reviews, including this random observation about gloves.

This week, I tried a new hair color, Garnier Olia.

For the past few months, I've been getting my hair color at Whole Foods. I tried Naturtint as well as a henna-based colorant. While the results were adequate, they weren't vibrant. My hair stayed a reddish shade of mostly brown, and I like my red hair to be pretty red.

Because hair is what it is, and mine isn't in the best shape, any color will fade after a few weeks. That's why I need it to start out even a little bit over the top so that when the initial *bang* of color washes out, it's still... well, red, to beat a dead horse.

I am trying to avoid ammonia or anything else that's going to strip or dry out my hair. The henna dye lies on top of the strand, which means it washes out, albeit slowly. I'm starting off with pretty dark brown hair naturally, so that makes it even more stubborn to color.

Thus, I tried this.

It comes with a weird squirt application bottle, the developer, the color itself, conditioner, and a pair of, get this, BLACK gloves.

Fancy! Actually, it's nice because when I color my hair, it usually looks like I'm wearing gloves to avoid leaving proof that I violently murdered someone.

The dye mix was thick and did not drip. As soon as the mixture was activated, I knew I was on the right track. The dye began to turn a very dark pinkish orange-red, which I prefer to having it turn purple, which means that it's more of a dark auburn and not the look I want for summer.

There's nothing hugely radical about this hair color, but I appreciate that they didn't try to go the foam route which has been the rage recently. In my experience, it's difficult to use all of the foam and it's messy. I was also pleased that it was as thick as it is and didn't drip.

The end color was exactly what I wanted, but I ran into one issue: because the dye was so thick, I somehow managed to miss some pretty overt spots toward the right side of my head, near the bottom of my hair. I decided to take advantage of the fact that ombre is a fad and just leave it... 

Until a few days later when I decided to go one step further and actually color the bottom layer of my hair purple. Now, it looks like this. The pretty, bright red is courtesy of Olia, which I will definitely purchase again. Only I'll be careful to comb though to make sure I don't miss anything else.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Review: Triscuit Brown Rice and Wheat Crackers

Since having moved just off of the UT campus, I have rarely darkened the door of a "big box" store. We get most of our food from Whole Foods, though I occasionally will ride my bike to Wheatsville Co-op to pick up a few things or stop by Central Market or Sprouts when I'm out. Within the next couple of months, we will have a Trader Joe's within a few miles, and then the other one opens next year close to our house.

But I digress. You get the point.

MY point is that, today, while James and I were out running some errands, we went in to Target for... something we realized last night that we really needed, but we couldn't exactly put our fingers on what that thing was.

As we walked the aisles, we were still completely lost as to what we'd felt it was so important to obtain that we would end up inside a store like this. Whatever it was, it was something that CVS probably wouldn't carry.

We never figured it out.

We did, however, find these. And they looked interesting enough that we picked up a box.

It's a mouthful, but here is what they are: Brown Rice Baked with Sweet Potato Triscuits, Roasted Sweet Onion.

The ingredients?

Long grain brown rice, soybean oil, whole grain soft white wheat, dried sweet potato, onion powder, brown sugar, sweet potato powder, sea salt, sugar, garlic powder, dried molasses, natural flavor, dried parsley, yeast extract, distilled white vinegar, citric acid.

Hey, did you notice something? That stuff is all food. Even though there are three sweeteners, and the wheat is white, and the second most plentiful ingredient is oil, the thing is made out of food ingredients that I can immediately place by name.

What's the difference in sweet potato powder and dried sweet potato? I have no idea!

But these crackers are delicious. I know you probably either love Triscuits or hate them. I like them okay, in general. I tend to prefer Wheat Thins, of which I can eat an entire box. But with a nice dip or when they're well-flavored, I can go for some Triscuits.

These are delicious. The sweet onion flavor is stronger than the sweet potato flavor, but you still get that, too. The flavor is balanced, and it's delicious enough to be addictive on its own...

But there is an idea on the box that I desperately need to try: topping the Tricuit with a square of gouda and a slice of fresh fig. Yes. This needs to happen.

Highly recommended.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Moment of Brokenness

I mentioned at one point some old pictures that my mom had brought when she'd culled her photo collection. I said she could throw them away, but she didn't. She brought them. I thumbed through them briefly and set them on a shelf. I should throw them away. I don't have anything to do with them, and most are repeats.

But I feel like that stack of pictures is a living, breathing animal that threatens me if I get too close to it. I don't want to pick it up to throw it away. I don't want to do anything with it. I hate it.

And I think that I just realized why.

I don't want James to see those pictures. I don't want him to see all of the years condensed like that: when I was carrying so much weight after having Daphne and not being able to breast-feed, but still being in the "pregnancy appetite" mode. But mostly, I don't want him to see the pictures of me when I was much trimmer. I'm scared to death that he'll look at those pictures and think, if only for a moment, "Wow. She looked great." And he'll wish he'd known me then. Or maybe he'll wish I still looked like that. So I place myself of today in competition with a me of the past.

The worst part is that, in the pictures where I look so amazing, I was dying inside. In my early/mid-20s, I had a full-blown eating disorder. I weighed less than I had since grade school, and because the scale at GNC told me that I was still 8 pounds overweight, I felt like a monster.

In my mid-30s, I lost weight more "healthily," consumption-wise; meaning that I ate food that was balanced and I exercised regularly but not as desperately as I did in my 20s. But I was still sick. I thought about food and how to ration it and how to prepare it and what I could have next every second of every day. I knew that if I didn't maintain a certain appearance, I would lose what affection I had from the person whose opinion mattered the most.

Still, when I look at the exterior of that young woman, I'm very tempted to wish that I could be the 40-year-old me on the inside and look like the "extreme weight loss" version of me. I hate myself for that impulse, and it breaks my heart to think that my husband would have it, as well.

I'm sharing because, if you're someone who struggles with this kind of body image issue, I want you to know that you're not alone. I do not want anyone to comment about how, if I would do a) or b) then I could lose weight. I don't want to lose weight. I am fit. I ride my bike or walk all of the time. My body does whatever I want it to do, subject to some limitations from my back injury. I am investing exactly as much time and effort into physical fitness as I want, and I am happy with myself... I am confident that my husband is pretty happy with me, also.

It's just that old hurts, habits, and hang-ups die hard. And I'm sometimes pretty sad for that girl who looks fabulous but was clawing at something solid to hold to.

The other night, my daughter texted me, having found a scale at her dad's and weighed herself. She wanted to know how much I weighed. I know she wanted to compare it to her own weight. Thing is, unless I go to the doctor's office, I don't know how much I weigh. I'm so grieved by the fact that she's being tempted to define herself by those numbers.

When I was younger, I worked with a bunch of women who were in their late 50s, and they were always trying a new eating plan or exercise, comparing notes, talking about weight loss, etc. And they always seemed to be in the exact same place. I didn't want to live my life like that, and I think of it often. I want more for my kid than this. I want more for her than the me of junior high, when I'd stand in front of my parents' mirror sideways, stick my belly out as far as it would go, and say out loud, "I hate you. You're so ugly. You're so fat."

I can tell her over and over that who she is is so much more than having a flat front panel on your jeans, whether or not your breasts are larger than your waist. I can assure her that her identity and worth come from other places, from the God who created her and loved her enough to pursue her, from who she is as a person, and all of that... But what is it about "us" that allows a size to make us forget who we are and see ourselves as these monstrous caricatures?

What is it about me that makes me jealous of my husband gazing on my younger self and perhaps desiring her more than he desires me?

What is wrong with us?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Speaking of Competition

*ahem* Someone in this house and I had a conversation last night about "like me" versus "like I."

For my non-Facebook friends, I'd posted this picture of a camera case I'd seen at Claire's:

It seems that this person in my house had done some internet research and felt that either is appropriate. I will agree that either is used, and I have found a lot of support for "like me" today, mostly arguing that, like "ain't," native speakers say it, and it sounds awkward to make an, and I quote, "awkward hypercorrection." In this case, I would argue that "correction" implies that one is incorrect, so even if the alternative is awkward, it's still RIGHT.

Another support I just read says this: "As a former teacher kids would often come up with statements like 'Him and me went to the mall last night.' From what that kids said it is obvious what was meant, so I wouldn't correct a kid for making those errors." Really, former teacher? "As a former teacher kids..."? That's actually an exercise in finding an improperly-used modifying clause. I know that this former teacher meant, but she's still incorrect. "As a former teacher, I wouldn't correct kids for saying, 'Him and me...'" That's how you do it, person formerly of the educational system.

BUT, MY POINT IS: This morning, as I was showering, I was mentally diagramming the sentence "Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?" and realized: 1) that they also leave out "that," which I do all of the time because it's largely understood, even though I do know that it's wrong. (I fix it for professional letters, though; but Darlene can tell you she caught this one a lot when I was working for her). 2) I was mentally diagramming sentences in the shower, for the love of Pete, and seriously considering making a vlog (video + blog for some of you) so that I could parse this out and discuss both accusative and nominative forms, as well as the hypothetical "were" versus "was," and, of course, once I realized it, the invisible "that."

To summarize, I understand that the song says "Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?" but the case was taking that stupid, vapid anti-girl-power anthem and changing it to something still somewhat insulting, but at least it's a value to be prized: smarts. So if they really wanted to do it "smartly," the sentence should have read, "Don't you wish that your girlfriend were smart like I (am)?"

In this specific case, I prefer awkward and right than casual and... less right, even if it's accepted.

But my bigger point is: What kind of a pathetic loser diagrams sentences on the weekend, first thing in the morning, and then gets excited about making an educational video about it?

And so, I got out of the shower and ate a cookie. And then wrote this blog update. I think it's still kind of sad. But I feel better.

P.S. Before you message me about the grammatical errors in this blog, let me assure you that I included all of them as irony and just to bother you.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Dark Side of Cake

This morning, as James and I were eating cake for breakfast (it's pound cake but we had lots of unsweetened strawberries and blueberries on it, so it's healthy!), we had a conversation about angel food cake.

James said that he remembered his grandmother being so proud of her Angel Food Cake, then horrified when James would cut a slice and crumple it up into a ball to eat it, destroying her hard work. (I used to do the same thing with Wonder Bread!)

He also remembered a pastor saying that he LOVED Devil's Food Cake, but that he had to hide in his closet when he ate it, because he couldn't bear the thought of his congregation knowing that he'd eat something called "Devil's Food."

This led me to ponder how to rename the cake into something less offensive. James' idea was "chocolate cake," but I think I might have eaten something else known commonly as "chocolate cake" before.

My ideas were:

1. The Supremely Misguided Angel's Food Cake
2. The Angel Formerly Known as Prince of Light Cake
3. Beelze-Yum
4. Hell-o Cake! (With a nod to Hey Cupcake!)

What about you? Any other ideas? Leave your renamed cake titles in the comments!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Competition, Frustration, and Keeping an Eye on the Enemy

There are some things about which I don't care at all and can easily let go. But in some areas of life, I'm sad to admit that I am a very competitive person. Just last night, I was talking about Haiti and how frustrated that I was called off of hauling duty while Jerry Espinosa continued because I wanted to keep going as long as he did... and even one haul longer.

It's the important things, right?

Things at James' work have gotten quite heated lately. There are times when he comes home with his head still in the coding, and he has to continue work from the house. There are also times that he has personal to-do list things that he'd like to accomplish. Add to that the fact that he has a whole new family, and down time for this introvert is not always plentiful.

Last week, when I mentioned to him that I was missing him, he thought about it and said that it might be an interesting experiment for me to spend one day working without checking Facebook or blogging or watching a video or checking personal e-mail even once, just to see what it was like to reach the end of the day and still have not connected to the world in any way like he does every day.

At first, I told him that my world is very small, and I probably wouldn't miss any of that too much. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted very much to tell him that I know he thinks I spend my day wiling away the hours in social media and ease, when the reality is that I cook and clean and run errands and parent and actually *do* a lot.

Then it hit me: why does that matter? I mean, I do want James to appreciate and value what I do for our family, and he does. He tells me this. So why is it important to me to let him know that I have must-dos also? It's not! Unless I am trying to compete with who has a harder day, it matters not at all. It's not a competition.

But if it were, you know what? James wins. I fold. His day is a lot more stressful and busy than mine. This isn't good sportsmanship or my being a gracious person. It's reality, and I am woman enough to admit this. James' days are a lot more packed, mentally draining, and exhausting than mine.

What do I do during the week? I work about 20 hours doing insurance stuff. I work from home. I don't have to get dressed, if I don't want to. Daphne does school, but she's largely self-sufficient and we largely unschool. I do clean. A lot. Daily. Between the cats and our wooden floors and us and being home all of the time, and life, etc. I sweep at least once a day. I vacuum at least once a day. I do laundry every two or three days. I cook dinner at least 6 days a week and make lunches at least 5 days a week. I keep the cars clean. I  buy groceries. I check mail and pay bills and largely keep track of planning and scheduling. I do some mystery shopping.

But I do this all on my own time, for the most part. If I'm exhausted, I can usually lie down for 15 minutes (or an hour). Additionally, I LOVE what I do. I get energy from it. I spent most of the afternoon Sunday cooking. But even though I was tired by the evening, it was a good tired. I was filled. So making dinner and preparing stuff for lunches throughout the week and putting dishes away and all of the things that I was doing... it's not a drain. It's a pleasure.

James has to drive between 30 minutes and 50 minutes each way to and from work. He has to be in that building for at least 9 hours, 5 days a week, and it's often more. Our entire way of life rests on his shoulders. I have a work ethic and commitment to excellence that internally dictates that I do my work well, but if I happened to lose my job, it'd be a blip on our budget. I don't even make enough per month to pay half of our rent. James bears the full brunt of this on his shoulders.

James eats dinner with us, as a family, every night. He usually has about half an hour of down time before that, and then whatever he can get after dinner, plus time to connect with Daphne and/or me. And he does have his own interests to pursue. God, please let me never resent this.

Also, this might come as a huge surprise to you, but I have a lot of emotional needs. One of my wedding vows was that I would not hold James responsible to my scars. I can't do that. It's not fair. But it's tempting.

This morning, I mentioned to him that I *do* get it, at least a bit. When I come home from a trip and know there is stuff that needs to be done - like starting laundry, cleaning out the cat boxes, looking around for accidents/hairballs, etc. - it's very difficult for me to sit down and relax. I want to finish the re-entry stuff first, and THEN I can enjoy a nice glass of, well, hypothetical wine and conversation. I need to bear this in mind when he's far away, his brain still engaged in the business of the day.

The thing I'm not going to do is to go to that place where, in an effort to have my needs met, I forget James' needs. I don't want to see him as the enemy, or get into a situation where I view his dealing with stress and decompression as robbing me of anything.We are on the same side. We are Team Dave's. We are for us. Forever.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Independence Day

Last week, we drove over 800 miles in 36 hours. When James got off of work on Wednesday, we drove up to McKinney and spent the night with my parents, then Thursday morning, we headed further north toward Lake Tenkiller for the Gates family annual 4th of July celebration.

This was special for a few reasons.

First of all, it's the first tradition for Team Dave's. James and I went there together last year - when he was living in Tulsa and I was living in Sherman - so this is the inaugural family tradition.

Secondly, it was even better than last year because Daphne got to come with us. She was shy most of the day, but around dusk when the sparklers came out, she started to get more involved. I know it's difficult to be the new kid in a family full of cousins who have grown up together. It's just one small path to navigate in the entire roadmap of blended-familyhood (yep, I just made that up). Next year, I think it'll be easier.

It actually makes me shiver a little bit, thinking about "next year." And the year after that. And of being part of a whole other awesome family. With my James. It's incredible.

We have a plan to start saving for awesome fireworks next January, so by this time next year, we'll have some serious cash and can orchestrate some serious pyrotechnics! Also, I want to take stuff for the kids to make their own black snakes. We did that in Enrichment Classes when I taught "Science in the Kitchen."

Oh, and thirdly, Daphne got to see an important landmark so now we're all on the same page.

Also, randomly, we saw some cool stuff and listened to "Peter and the Starcatchers" and laughed a lot, and just had a great time, considering how much we were driving around.

Also, there were these two places. If you want to see the rest of the pictures, go here.