I can't help feeling vaguely guilty that Borders is closing. Yes, I know that one person's purchasing habits could not have saved an entire chain, etc. But I could have done more. When we buy books (which is seldom), we generally buy from Amazon (hey, it's cheaper, and we've got that Prime shipping deal). Because I have too many books at home as it is, I've been patronizing the library. And lately I've been getting into ebooks, which doesn't make Borders any money either... though I've been reading epubs, so B&N has been getting a tiny smidgen of my cash.

(Because I can finish a standard paperback in two hours, give or take, I don't generally feel like spending $6 or $7 to take the book home and have it sit on a shelf. I have been known to read books in their entirety while sitting in a comfy chair at a bookstore, and then carefully return the book to the shelf. I'm a bad person.)

I'm still sad, though. Because I still love bookstores. A bookstore is more than a place that sells books. Writing groups meet in the coffee shop areas. Parents take their kids to the children's section to browse. Knitting groups sit together in the comfortable chairs and talk in low voices. Local musicians play small sets in the evenings. Readers wander the aisles, leafing through books, and avoid one another's eyes... although every now and then, someone will say, "oh, you like reading X too? Have you tried Y?"

The Borders where I grew up is gone now, closed as a result of the previous round of shutdowns. There weren't a lot of places for quiet, nerdy high school kids to hang out as a group, but my friends and I liked the Borders coffee shop. They'd give you your coffee in a ceramic mug, which would make you feel satisfyingly grown-up, and then you could snag a table and a pile of books, and sit for hours. Later, it turned into something that my sister and me could share. I've spent hours in such places, grazing on books.

Sometimes - rarely - I even bought one.

I don't know if there's a economically sustainable model that a brick-and-mortar bookstore can follow. I do know that, even though I'm an avid reader, I haven't really done my part to support them. But I do love the feeling of being surrounded by books, and being surrounded by people who love books. I hope that somehow, somewhere, that feeling can be sustained.
I woke this morning to the news that the attempt to use helicopters to dump seawater on the reactors was called off, because the radiation above the plants was just too strong.

I respect their pulling back the pilots in those cases, but it made me wonder: why can't we use robots? We have UAVs that can fly over mountains in the Middle East and target insurgents. Can't we arm a UAV with a water cannon, or even just a bucket on a string, and fly it right over the reactor without irradiating a single human being?

Am I missing something? Why are we not doing this? I mean, if anyone can design a robot to do this sort of thing, I would think it would be the Japanese.
One of the coworkers asked me this morning why I loved winter so much; it made no sense, because I get cold so easily.

I thought about it and I believe I have come to an answer: I love protecting myself from the cold.

See, I love wearing fuzzy hats and fuzzy scarves, and feeling the textures of them wrap against my skin. I love wearing thick socks, and I love layering sweaters underneath my wool coat. I particularly love getting a steaming cup of something hot and sweet and cradling it in my palms, sipping it cautiously and letting it warm me from within. Sure, snow is pretty and playing in the snow is a blast, but the best part is when I get to go back inside, shuck off the outer layers, and curl up under a blanket with a mug of hot chocolate. With a big mound of whipped cream on top.

Winter encourages you to stay inside, where it's warm and cozy. Winter tells you to get comfortable, get under an afghan and open a book and laze about on the couch all day. Winter is a nesting, hibernating season.

Really, it's my favorite time of the year.
I went to bed last night with a headache and woke up with a headache and a stuffy nose... but that's the risk you run with winter concerts. Camerata Musica's holiday music festivities start TONIGHT. We will be singing...

Thursday (tonight) at East Columbia Library, Columbia, 7:00pm. The event was billed as a "Holiday Music Coffeehouse" and there will be other musicians as well. I'm guessing there will be coffee and maybe even light refreshments.

Dec 4th 5th (Sunday) at Trinity Lutheran Church, 117 Main Street in Reisterstown, 3:00pm. This is much further away, but a much better venue (a grand, echoing space) and we'll be singing for longer.

Dec 8th (Wednesday) for Moonlight Madness at the Annapolis Farmer's Market at Riva Rd and Harry S. Truman Pkwy, 5pm to 8pm (probably closer to 5pm). It's outdoors, under a tent, so it'll be cold, but I'm told that free hot cocoa will be available. And, of course, it's an opportunity for last-minute holiday shopping...

Drop by and enjoy some free holiday music.
I picked up a book by China Mieville, even though I had been underwhelmed by his young adult attempt, Un Lun Dun; people told me that his books for adults were much better.

I had originally wanted King Rat or Perdido Street Station, or ideally The City & The City, which got rave reviews practically everywhere; however, when I got to the local library, all they had on the shelves was Iron Council. So I went with that. It took a bit of time to get properly involved with the characters' quests and motivations, but the book really began to pick up about a third of the way through.

I gotta say, Mieville's much better when writing for an older age group. He doesn't feel the need to dumb things down or make things cute, or give everything happy, solid resolutions at the end of the day -- and that makes the writing so much stronger. When dealing with adult themes and complex longings, even the most fantastical of his creatures (and Mieville's imagination is crazy wild) are sympathetic and understandable.

There's quite a lot in this book, actually. On the grand scale, there's war, terrorism, industrialization vs. untouched environment, labor rights, political dissent, racism, and the difference between legend and reality; on the personal scale, the characters deal with conflicting ambitions, loyalties, and loves.

The writing is almost too ornate, but still manages to be understandable; the descriptions are beautiful, each word used with purpose, and the range of Mieville's vocabulary is staggering. I learned several new words, some of which I share here:

bits and pieces of IC )

In summary: good stuff. Fortunately Mieville's writing is such that not knowing a word doesn't stop you in your tracks, unlike some authors (Dorothy Dunnett, I'm looking at you (though she got much better after the first Lymond novel)). Also, despite the sometimes overly-grandiose diction, the characters and plot are still compelling. Off to the library for more.
me: I'm sorry I snapped at you.

K: It's okay. Sometimes you have to snap at me to get over being mad at me, so you can be nice to me again.
A few miscellaneous bits, because time seems to be running very fast* right now:

the Marla Mason series; the Atrocity Archives; free online reading )

Thomas Keller vs. the Lee Bros: battle creamed corn )

Concert: Vienna Teng, Alex Wong, Joey Ryan )

Race for the Top )

* I keep thinking about that article on NPR which said that time moves faster because we're increasingly familiar with routine. It's a pity that I find such solace in routine. I guess I'll just keep trying to cram more into the interstitial bits.
"This waspishness was new. I had always been aware of a frame of malevolence under his urbanity, now it protruded like his own sharp bones through the sunken skin." -- Brideshead Revisted, Evelyn Waugh

I got such a gorgeous, shivery visual from that sentence.

I like Jo Walton's post on Tor.com re: addictive reading habits. It definitely rings true to me, especially how she manages to slip reading into the interstitial moments of her days.

Man, what I wouldn't give for a train commute. (And by that I mean one in which I can actually sit and read. I had a summer job that involved Metro commuting and although it is theoretically possible to prop up a book in the five inches between your face and the body of the person crammed into the train next to you, it's not really practical.)
Currently the state of Maryland is on a tax holiday week, hoping to get people out shopping and spending. (Don't go nuts; I think it's only for clothing and "accessories" less than $100.) I feel very ambivalent about the tax holiday. I recognize that it's supposed to give the economy a boost, get people out to spend money at local businesses, etc, and I certainly wish our local businesses the best of luck.

However, I'm torn, because I actually want to pay my sales tax. I think it's needed. I mean, look around. The state, although doing pretty well compared to other states in the nation, is still in debt and facing budget shortfalls, and social services are being threatened with cuts. I, on the other hand, have the great good fortune of being debt-free (discounting my mortgage), and I absolutely do not mind paying my 6% share of sales tax. I want to help the state government along, in order that they may build roads, fund schools, pay pensions. I like this state. I want to do what I can.

I realize that I'm quite the exception and that for many people, the 6% savings can make a significant difference. I wonder if the tax holiday can be optional? Maybe they can give you a form with boxes to check: "yes, I would like to pay the sales tax / no thanks, I'm on holiday".

Oh well, whatever. It's only for a week. I can wait a few days to do my shopping.
I am sad to note that, although my yogurt container is labeled "Strawberry Banana" and indeed tastes of both fruits, neither of these fruits are actually mentioned in the ingredients list. Instead, I seem to be ingesting milk and sugar, mixed with corn syrup, gelatin, and random chemicals.

I may have to ask [livejournal.com profile] p_sunshine for yogurt-making help. Because now I really want yogurt with actual fruits in.
K finished test-driving the Insight and pulled it into a parking spot at the dealer's. We got out, ready to switch drivers. Instead, the salesman took the keys and asked what we thought.

K said he thought his wife would like to drive it too.

The salesman looked mildly surprised, but nodded, and said he'd pull out the car for me.

Peeved by the assumption that I a) wouldn't want to drive the car, and that b) I wouldn't be able to back out of a perfectly normal parking space, I proceeded to drive the Insight much more aggressively than I normally would -- speeding down straightaways, whipping around corners. And thus I got a much better picture of what I liked and didn't like about it.

I should get ticked off before every test drive. )

I guess my takeaway is this: I think we got at least some of this treatment because we were going car shopping as a couple. This is by no means universal (we had a perfectly reasonable, no-pressure time at the Toyota dealership) and could conceivably be limited just to this particular dealership, but I think the guys had one particular way of dealing with married couples and could not get themselves out of the groove, no matter what signs we gave them otherwise.

My other lesson is, as [livejournal.com profile] paleotheist told me, "Sometimes you just have to be rude." Next time I'll just get up and go. I definitely had better things to do with my day.
I yawned, my ears popped a little, and sound rushed in from all around. It was stupendous. My ears had been lightly blocked all day, victim of this viral infection I've been fighting; until that point, I hadn't even realized how much of my hearing had gone missing.

Like health, or solvency, sensation is something you don't fully appreciate until it's restored.

Also, apparently I care deeply about the taste of food even if I'm not hungry. I was stirring together a batch of chicken a la king, which I intend to be our go-to microwaved meal for the week (we often don't have time to do real cooking on work nights), and I found myself unhappy with the flavor. I kept adding and tasting, thyme and pepper and curry powder, until I was satisfied with it.

Then, for dinner, I served myself a tiny tiny bit. Because I'm sick. And I don't really want any food. Hopefully I'll want some tomorrow.
Tor.com recently made me aware that Tove Jansson did illustrations for the Hobbit. Moominhobbits are the cutest things ever. I love those expressive eyes.

Oh! and she also did scenes from Alice in Wonderland.
Word of the Day: trou·ble·shoot
Pronunciation: \'trə-bəl'shüt\
Function: verb
Definition: to follow the most convoluted possible path, in the most outrageous amount of time, while experiencing the maximum amount of frustration, in order to finally discover the simplest possible problem.

(Fifteen itty-bitty relays, hooked up backwards.)
I very much enjoyed a lovely poem on Jonathan Carroll's blog today.

The poem also encapsulates what I really like about the class I'm taking right now. It's an easy class, by far the easiest I've taken in my never-ending journey to get an MS on one night a week, and it's also the most enjoyable. The professor lectures off the top of his head, with nothing more than a one-line template: "What's our topic for today? Ceramics? All right, let's talk about ceramics." And off he goes, a stream-of-consciousness flow onto the dry-erase board. It's all born out of experience; he's had an entire career in the packaging field, and when describing various fabrication techniques, he throws in offhanded comments like "but sometimes you could really burn yourself if you weren't careful." The class is in the middle of the week and late at night and I would much rather be on the couch zoning out in front of the TV, but I really do feel I'm getting something out of the experience by just being there -- a statement that I cannot honestly apply to some of the other classes I've taken.

In other news, my current lunchtime reading is Who Hates Whom, a collection of snapshot portraits of woefully unfortunate places to be. (We bought it awhile back, I think on [livejournal.com profile] cheetahmaster's recommendation; I'm taking another stab at it.) I'm currently learning about various utterly horrible African conflicts, in which the populace is buffeted this way and that by greedy dictators, child armies, and drug gangs, and life expectancy hovers around forty years. It makes my lunch break seem surreal. While I sit in my cubicle, eating chili and crisp green salad and clicking idly around on the internets, people on the other side of the world are scrabbling to stay alive.

That sort of thing does remind you to appreciate the moment.
From the wiki entry: The dish originated during the Korean War, and was popular for a time afterwards, when people had little to eat.

Apparently budae jjigae (Army Base Stew) is quite big right now as an example of fusion cuisine. It's a Korean noodle soup, but with American ingredients added in, like pieces of Spam or hot dogs. The story is that the soup got quite popular outside American army bases, because people cooked with what they had to hand, and the American troops would sometimes share their food.

My cousin took his mother out to eat at a Korean place that served budae jjigae. She was horrified to see it on the menu. Budae jjigae, she told him, was the name given to the soup that people made when there was literally nothing else to eat. They rooted through the garbage piles outside the army base, picking out any edible material they could find, and boiling it in water to (hopefully) extract any possible nutrients and (ideally) kill any germs. Spam and hot dogs? No; my aunt remembers chewed-over bones, gristle, discarded vegetable matter. Sometimes there were still cigarette butts in the soup when it was served.

Budae jjigae? No thank you. My aunt ordered something else instead.
I'm sitting in the cube, working on some documentation, and eating glazed carrots from the cafeteria. The carrots have a little too much crunch and are a mite lacking in flavoring. The pieces are cut unevenly, so that some are tiny and soft, whereas others are huge and chewy.

Nevertheless, I am grateful for the carrots. I missed my midmorning snack, and my stomach began making loud embarrassing gurgling noises. I went to the cafeteria to see if I could find something to shut it up; besides, I needed a vegetable side for my lunch. (Rice and [livejournal.com profile] neonnova's awesome chili does not a complete meal make.) Sure, I could have had a granola bar, but why eat dry, oversweet granola when carrots can be had?

The tragedy is that there are actually carrots in the refrigerator at home, and I already know how to make the best glazed carrots in the whole universe. I just haven't had the time. It's sad because these cafeteria carrots pale in comparison. Eating them makes me long for the Carrots that Should Have Been.

If there's time after I get home from rehearsal tonight, I fully intend to make a stock of glazed carrots. They reheat easily and well. I don't intend to be caught carrotless again.
I wrote up a long entry regarding hospitals and the details involved in visiting sick relatives, and then I discarded it. When I look back over my journal, my memories are reinforced by what I have written, and these are the things I'd rather remember:

cut for (extreme) length... )

biscuits!

Jan. 30th, 2010 07:05 pm
Apparently biscuits are the most dead easy thing to make and I never knew.

What I had really wanted to make were scones. I had been obsessing about scones all week, but it had been an especially busy week, and besides, the fridge still contained the garlic-cheese scones that I'd made last weekend. So, when the snow started coming down this morning, and we finished off the last of the garlic-cheeses, I thought, "yay, scone-making time!"

Unfortunately, scones require butter. After rooting around in the fridge and two freezers, I determined that the only butter in the house was a sad little leftover pat. Bursting with the desire to bake something, and needing a recipe that used neither butter nor yeast (another thing missing from our pantry), I clicked around for a bit and found these cream biscuits.

They were so easy. Seriously, they finished cooking in the time that it took me to clean up the mess I'd made in bringing them together. Sift flour with baking soda, salt, and sugar; add cream until it forms a dough; flatten the dough and cut circles. (Well, in my case, I cut eight-pointed stars. We only have one set of cutting shapes, and the recipe called out a 2.5-inch circle; unfortunately, our circle was 3 inches, and the closest thing to the required size we had was a star. So I went with that.) The biscuits baked up in fifteen minutes.

"Bonus," K said, "you get to bake and I get biscuits."

cut for biscuit pictures. )
The first snow of the season is falling outside. It started out as wet clumps of snow mixed with rain, and now it's all snow, sticking to the grass and tree branches. It's not the first snow I've seen this season -- our trip to Denver last month took care of that -- but it's the first snow I'm seeing from my living room window, so it feels like winter has finally come.

I love this time of year. I love wearing hats and scarves, drinking mulled cider or hot chocolate, wearing big fuzzy socks against the chill. Cooking in winter is the best, too: hearty soups that fill the house with savory smells, or roasts that take hours in the oven, warming the kitchen.

And of course there's the time with family. We had both sets of parents and siblings over for Thanksgiving, and crammed twelve people into our living/dining room area; K's deep-fried turkey was met with praise, and my turducken roulade was admired too, though people ended up mostly asking for the duck. I'm looking forward to the Christmas holiday, and seeing relatives over the break.

Another holiday tradition: Camerata had a retirement home gig. )

All right, now to try to extricate another squirrel from the fireplace. This one's patient; we've opened a gap for him but he hangs back, unwilling to make a break for it. We've shut him up again and maybe he'll be more desperate to escape next time.
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