2016 reading challenge

huzzah i met my reading challenge for the year! i set a goal of 60 books, and i met it. (not that the last two years haven’t been great reading years). 

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but what’s REALLY interesting is my pages read:

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first, i think it’s interesting that 2012 and 2013 were within 400 pages of each other. and this year, i read 2000 pages more than those two years.  (i don’t know what happened in 2014 or 2015.)

generally there are a couple books each year that i start and then decide, naaahhh, and toss aside. i mark them as “read” on my goodreads because otherwise they just hang out in my queue forever. i know in 2013 i started infinite jest – a lot of pages – and quit after less than 100 pages. so these numbers aren’t completely indicative of my reading habits. BUT this year, i know of two books i quit – one i was 3/4 done with (just couldn’t anymore) and the other i’d gotten about 1/4 of the way through – that one was “duma key” by stephen king, so it was pretty long. 

i wish i could set a goal by pages, not books read. i can choose books that are 250 pages or books that are 800 pages, and they both count as one. 

see ya 2016. bye. just go away.

2016 was not a good year for celebrities or politics. or bernie sanders fans. D;

anyway, let’s take a look at my resolutions for this year and see where i ended up.

  1. same old same old: take more pictures.
  2. train for the half marathon liz and i signed up for in may!
  3. maybe a deck this year?
  4. spend more time at whitewater. it worked well last year; i should be able to keep the trend!
  5. another garden โ€“ fine tune my plant-starting skills. they need help.
  6. i have no trip plans besides my derry fam reunion in july. i wouldnโ€™t mind an excuse to go somewhere, though
  7. letโ€™s try kablpoye again. i felt like it was a good exercise in making sure i wrote every day, and i know my four readers enjoyed it. every day blogging, here i come.
  8. i think i should just focus on being happy! whatever makes me happy, iโ€™ll try to do. 

 

  1. same old same old: FAIL. BUT. summer 2017 i got another gig doing a photoshoot for a book. awesome!
  2. CHECK! train i did, and finish we did!!! in may, liz and i ran a half marathon in sub 13-minute miles! it was long. it was difficult. it was really hard on my hamstring. BUT WE FINISHED. huzzah! now liz wants to do a marathon. i’ve got to get my foot figured out before then.
  3. well, yes. we did put on a deck. unfortunately, i don’t get to enjoy it.
  4. that didn’t happen ๐Ÿ™ 
  5. a garden DID happen. i had a ton of tomatoes and a ton of pumpkins – it was awesome. however, i didn’t get to spend as much time as i’d’ve like in it.
  6. trip? did someone say TRIP???? OMG. CHECK. i went on a TRIP. jane and i went to california!!! it was awesome. i’d go back.
  7. FAIL. every day blogging just didn’t happen. i don’t know if i’d try it again. i’ll have to think about it.
  8. you know what makes me happy? being in central minnesota. and guess what. i made that happen. in april i had an interview at the college and accepted the job offer. started commuting between st. charles and st cloud in may, and in july, someone put an offer on our house. we bought a house in avon, just four miles from the st. john’s campus. in september, we closed on both houses and moved up here. there are some little things that i forgot about – namely the traffic and the hatred – but overall, it’s VERY GOOD TO BE BACK. and nate just got a full-time job at the holiday station in albany, so things should be smoothing out. i’d call this one a check, even though it took some work to get there. CHECK CHECK CHECK!

some not so great things about 2016: my grandma died. she’s been on a downhill slide for a long time, and about 5 months prior to her death, she was pretty much bed bound. so that sucked. i did get to see her a few times before she died, so that was good.

****

2017 resolutions to come. 

happy yule

when we lived in austin, and the tree was up in the living room, people were stopping to get their christmas trees, and gifts were on everyone’s mind, one of the catalogs that my parents inevitably got every christmas season was the swiss colony catalog

for a person entranced by food, such as myself, the swiss colony selection was a glorious thing to behold (or so i recall). thinking back, it probably wasn’t great food, but it looked enticing at the time: little summer sausages, rolls of cheese covered in almonds, candies tied up in bows, nuts, petit fours, mini cakes, fruitcakes, beefsticks, and gift boxes from four items to four hundred. it was mesmerizing. 

9eeef082a0bfefe8b71ca0b40012975fone of the most very interesting food stuffs in the christmas catalog, though, was the yule log advertised year after year on the front or back covers, little raccoons peeking out of a chocolate log. a little holly with berries stuck on the edge, and slices with the telltale swiss roll look. every year i looked at that thing, and every year i wanted to buy it. it must have been outrageously expensive, or shipping was, because i never sprang for one. come to think of it, i think my parents may have purchased one thing from there one time – i remember getting something from swiss colony at one point, but it wasn’t frequent. (knowing my dad, it was probably cashews.)

fascination with the yule log (or, as the french say, buche de noรซl) has stuck with me since. thanks, swiss colony.

however, every christmas, my makes a red cake, and why have two cakes? don’t need it. so i just never made a buche de noรซl because there was already christmas cake. but this year, i stayed home, and i spent ALL DAY today making and putting together a yule log cake. FINALLY.

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so started off with martha stewart’s recipe, and then kind of migrated over to bon appetit because it didn’t require mixing cake batter over a double boiler -_-

(THAT right there should set the tone on how tedious these things are).

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the cake itself was even an ordeal: you need to separate the eggs and beat a meringue and then beat the yolks til light and fluffy. on top of that, you melt your chocolate with sugar to make a chocolate syrup and then add it to the yolks slowly (so you don’t cook the eggs) then fold in the meringue, then finally add your half cup of sugar and half cup of cocoa. good grief. anyway, spread that out into a jellyroll pan and it bakes just like that – 12 minutes.

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i really should have taken a pic of the rolled cake. right after it’s out of the over, you flip it onto a dishtowel that’s been dusted with powdered sugar, and then roll it up IN THE TOWEL and let it cool. 

meanwhile, make your mousse…. round one i failed and threw it out. round two went a lot better. mousse involves melting chocolate and beating more separated eggs. oh, and homemade whipped cream. 

at this point, if you need to go to the store to get more chocolate chips and eggs and cream because you’ve just thrown out your first attempt at chocolate mousse, now’s a GREAT time. 

time to unroll the cake from the towel!

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oohh noo.

well, spread the mousse on and attempt to roll it back up…

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AAAHHHHHHHH

at this point, i was kind of crying inside, but i knew that everything tasted good, so it would at least be delicious. ok, i knew the MOUSSE tasted good. at least that would be yummy.

i set that out in the garage for about 3 hours in hopes that it would harden up enough to frost. then i made frosting, which i feel like should not be a big deal, but ended up being a big deal

for future reference: always just go with a cream cheese/butter/powdered sugar/nutella chocolate frosting. it’s just so much easier.

martha said “make a ganache and whip til the consistency of butter.” ok, martha. after whipping for 20 minutes, it was still the consistency of unwhipped cream. so i added butter and some powdered sugar and sort of rescued my frosting.

after rescuing the frosting, it was time to make my bark chunks, which was probably the easiest part of this whole mess. melt chocolate chips and spread into a thin layer on wax paper, then cool til it’s hard. break it up! easy peasy. and i didn’t screw it up.

then came the part i knew i couldn’t fail! meringue mushrooms! most people would balk at making these little guys, but not me! after years of macaron work, i knew how to deal with making meringue for baking. whipped up egg whites, poured in some boiling sugar water, then mixed in a little cocoa and vanilla. poured it into a piping bag and got to work making little mushrooms on parchment, which are pretty much the same as making little macarons on parchment.

the fun part was also making the stems, and since the meringue was stiffer than macaron batter, they stood up! 

mushrooms

and of course, the mushies took 2 hours to bake *eyeroll*. when they were done, all i did was put a little frosting on the stems and stuck them to the caps.

time to frost, place the bark, and set the mushrooms.

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i did use real pine needles, so those weren’t edible, but they sure do look nice! final step was to dust with powdered sugar and a little cocoa.

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now, there are no little raccoons. and i think i spent a solid 5 hours of work on this thing. but this tastes pretty good. i would use a vanilla mousse or cake next time – it’s so rich that it needs something to cut it. overall though? swiss colony ain’t got nothin’ on my buche.

solstice

it was the doldrums of earth’s axial tilt, and mariah had to find it that night, or the light wouldn’t come back. she tromped through knee-deep snow, dodging an occasional shrub or short tree, winding through the tall trees, looking for a glimpse of light, of anything, in the darkness. 

she’d been searching for a couple hours already, but she knew that she wouldn’t find it until the last minute, and while panic hadn’t quite set in, she was starting to get a little antsy. her snowpants caught on a stump, and she stumbled, landing softly on top of the snow. slowly, she gathered herself back up and started onward, patting her pocket to make sure she had everything. snacks: check. matches and backup tinderbox: check. dagger: check. 

every year she did this, and every year it was in a different spot, and there was no way to dupe the system. for some reason, it had to be work to get there. and she had to go on foot. no help from anyone or anything. she’d tried that one year and she’d been locked out. the people never forgave her for that year; mid-june and the sun was setting at 5 p.m. sighing, she leaned against a tree before heading on. 

the goblins would be there first. they were generally a resourceful bunch and seemed to have an instinct for finding it. there were clues given over the year, and they were especially clever. then the elves, who seemed to be almost as clever as the goblins, but not quite. after, that it was anybody’s game really, but mariah was usually one of the last ones to show up. just once she’d like to get there third. maybe fourth, after the yeti. she was good friends with him and he was nice to snuggle up to after being cold all day.

she pulled back her coat sleeve and held her watch up so she could read the hands in the moonlight. she had 20 minutes; she was cutting it close this year. it always seemed to work out, though. even if she knew she should be late, at the last minute, she seemed to find what she was looking for. sure, her surroundings got a little fuzzy, and she got light-headed, as if she was moved through time and space to get to where she needed to be. 

a little bit farther, she knew, and she’d be there. there was always a weird sort of tingling when she got close, and she could feel little sparks in her fingertips. sure enough, through the trees ahead, she saw a muted light. she picked up her pace as best she could, and there it was in front of her. a tall, shimmering pane. the veil to the other world. she took a deep breath, ready to slip through. her mittened hand reached inside her pocket and gripped the dagger. 

it was never fun, slipping through, and she stepped up and down at the same time, then tumbled to the ground. no one was ever graceful when slipping. she got up and walked to the high, roaring fire, smiling at the others, and started stripping off her snow gear, grateful to be near the warm fire. she glanced around. as per usual, she was the last to show up. the goblins, elves, yeti were there. so was the rabbit, the cat, the turkey, and the man in red. 

“thank gods,” the cat said. “we don’t need a repeat of 300 years ago.” mariah rolled her eyes; he said that every year. the yeti smiled at her and held out its arms. mariah huddled into the yeti, warming up before the task at hand. 

then there was a crashing sound in the woods around them, and mariah went to her jacket and found her dagger. she flicked the edge – sharp as ever. she turned and watched as a couple goblins and elves pulled in a deer, tethered to ropes and a muzzle over its mouth.

“he had one early this year,” said a goblin, nodding toward the man in red, “but decided to kill it right then instead of saving it for this. which would have been logical.”

“he ate my entire herd. i wasn’t going to let him go after that.”

mariah nodded. 

“i was there. it was the best thing to do. that deer was completely out of line,” she said. “if we get more like that, i might have to start carrying silver bullets myself.” she spun her dagger in her hands. 

“and i had to rebuild the herd after that. do you know how difficult it is to find one reindeer who’s willing to take that job, let alone eight?” she grimaced, then beckoned them forward. “let’s do this before we lose the time.”

they brought the deer forward, and mariah could see his glistening fangs through the muzzle. not a deer any longer. just a blood-sucking vampire whose death would bring back the sun. the others started chanting, and the fire spit sparks and popped and cracked. she wiped her dagger on her buckskin pants and got to work.

the next day, the sun stayed in the sky a little longer. 

christmases of yore

i recently read that christmas in the late 1800s was like a mixture of christmas, new year’s, halloween, and a little bit july 4. there was a lot more getting out and being merry, as it were, than there is these days. less caroling door-to-door. less revelry. more sitting at home stuck in our tiny universe.

there has been a kind of resurgence, somewhat, with krampus runs and santa pub crawls, and of course each little town has some sort of winter celebration. you go out and visit santa, mingle with others when cutting your christmas tree, go to the company christmas party. but i feel like it’s pretty disjointed.

think halloween: we know what happens on halloween in every town across america. something like that but for christmas, and for everyone, would be awesome. maybe it IS caroling. or christmas night shenanigans – maybe instead of going door to door getting candy, you go door to door and give christmas cookies. while drinking a spiked hot chocolate from a beer stein. hmm. 

i don’t know why i’m getting twitchy about christmas lately; i love christmas and i love tradition, but when it’s the same thing for the past 37 years, maybe i’m getting an itch for something a little more interesting. i’m not going to my parents’ house for the first time ever. it’ll be different for sure, but something adventurous would be nice ๐Ÿ™‚

the 1/5 compromise electoral college

WELP. let’s get political and talk about the electoral college. why? because i THOUGHT i knew why it was in place and actually tended to agree, being a rural person, then i read something that contradicted it, so now i’m out for the TRUTH. in this world of fake news, i’m hoping that katerrific.com can provide you with some facts and more truthiness than trumpiness (read – lies). 

right now, hillary clinton has a popular vote margin of 2.8 million votes. MILLION!! al gore had 500,000 more votes than GW in 2000. GW won by SCOTUS appointment in 2000, and now DT will win by electoral college in 2016. 

at this point, if you live in a less populated state, say, in the rocky mountain region, your vote is one of the most valuable in the country. if you live in a densely populated state on the coasts, your vote is crap. If you live in wyoming, your vote has the same power as about 4.5 new yorkians*. this “everyone’s vote counts”? not true. 

these days, the reasoning behind the electoral college is that if it weren’t in place, candidates wouldn’t pay attention to flyover states and instead do most of their campaigning on the coasts in well-populated areas. 

but is this what the founding fathers had in mind? they couldn’t have predicted the current reach of the country or the populations back when the college was put into place. 

so what were they thinkin’?

well, some wanted congress to elect a president. others wanted a group apportioned to the states’ populations so that there would be no collusion amongst congressmembers. and some wanted a popular vote.

however, there was concern with a popular vote in the southern states due to slavery. they figured the south could have no effect in the election because voting rights were much more extensive in the north (because slaves couldn’t vote; you’d think they’d think that through…). so, in a way, they were concerned about population, just not the one you are currently thinking. 

they set up the electoral college using the 3/5 compromise (which they used to elect population-based congressmembers and figuring taxation).

alexander hamilton’s had a resurgence lately. he thought there were some good things about the electoral college: the electors weren’t federal representatives, so in theory they wouldn’t be able to elect based on party affiliations OR someone influenced by foreign interests. hamilton was also concerned about someone gaining office who was unqualified and more along the lines of “low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity”.

obviously the electoral college has morphed from the 3/5 compromise days, but its unfair representation of people is still has a stronghold. the number of electors a state is allotted equals the total number of congresspeople (number of representatives plus the two senatemembers). the number of representatives states have is kind of wonky, also, and not truly representative of their populations. but that’s another story; we’re talking about the electoral college right now.

we’ve had five presidents elected who’ve lost the popular vote: in 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016. in 1824, no candidate got the minimum number of electoral votes, so the choice went to congress. in 1876, rutherford b. hayes won by ONE electoral vote. in 1888, we have an electoral college situation similar to what we have currently, but with a much, much narrower margin of votes. we all know what happened in 2000 (hanging chads). and now we have a popular vote winner with a margin of nearly 3 million votes losing to the electoral college winner. 

so the current thought is that without the EC, the low-population states wouldn’t get the same attention or representation. guess what – when you think about it, they don’t get a lot of attention as it is. if we’re worried about the general populace not being informed enough to make a logical decision (which the founders were concerned about in the 1700s WHEN THERE WAS NO PERVASIVE INFORMATION DISBURSAL), that is definitely not the case**.

at this point it seems that the EC is so disproportionate that it needs a revisit. when one voter’s say is 1/5 of another voter’s say, that’s worse than the southern states’ 3/5 compromise. our current voting system (and house of representatives) is representing the american people in densely populated states worse than slaves in the 1700s. think about that for a moment. 

that, my friends, is what i would call a degree of disenfranchisement. and what we don’t want to become is a country that stifles its core beliefs of representation. time to get rid of the electoral collegeโ€  and revisit how the house of representatives is allotted***. 

*http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/map_of_the_week/2012/11/presidential_election_a_map_showing_the_vote_power_of_all_50_states.html

**unless you count fake news, countless lies and promises not intended to be kept, etc. etc. but lack of information or ability to research a candidate is NOT a problem. ability to discern what is correct and is incorrect, probably is.

***another thing low-population states are worried about: not getting the money and support from the federal government they need. i don’t know; at this point, i’d say it’s pretty up in the air who has it better or worse: urban or rural people. besides, urban people contribute WAY more to the tax base than rural areas do because of the number of people. they should, in theory, get more spending, and can get kind of defensive about it. now, i like a decently paved road as much as the next person, but i also know that i spend some time in the cities as well, using their roads. i don’t spend as much time roaming around grand rapids. anyway, that’s also another story. 

โ€ another option could be to allot votes within each state according to whom it voted for. so minnesota’s 10 votes would be like, 6 for clinton and 4 for trump, instead of all 10 for clinton. it would be more in line with the popular vote, and it would allow the third-party candidates to show up on the map and maybe start an insurgence of third-party candidates, which would be really really nice.

an etymology break

i KNOW i wrote a post on the term jury-rig (aka jerryrig), but i think it got lost in the great blog migration of 2012. so i’ll repost since megan asked me about it, and i think it’s interesting!

jury-rigged goes back to the late 1700s when ships were out and about sailing the seas. when you’re out there, you only have so much to work with.

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photo courtesy http://www.fineartemporium.com/. i put the duct tape on.

i’ve seen a couple backgrounds, one referring to a jory sail, from middle english for makeshift sale. it’s also referred to as a jury mast, which is a temporary mast after one’s been lost. by lost, i assume been torn off by the unforgiving sea. yarrr.

either way, seems like sailors had to do a lot of fixing on the fly, whether it’s the sail or the mast, and had to rig it up pretty quick, and i’d guess, a little haphazardly using what they had o hand to get things going. hence, jury-rig. 

 

a haiku and ideas

an advent haiku

 

light advent candles

in a pervading darkness

solstice time is close

 

speaking of solstice, i think it’d be a grand idea to have a giant bonfire on solstice. seems so very pagan and ritualistic. but it’s a wednesday, so it’s probably not a very prudent idea.

in other news, nate has an interview thursday for a full time overnight position at the holiday in albany. i’m happy he’ll have a job and i’m happy we’ll get not poor, but i’m sad i’ll probably never ever see him. some day, we will have the same work schedule. SOME DAY.

oh GBBS

i decided to donate to TPT (st. paul’s pbs station) in hopes that more money would encourage it to get the create channel on its airwaves. in the meantime, i have access to a bunch of aired shows, including the great british baking show! i watched season one on netflix a while back, and was instantly hooked.

the premise is simple: get a bunch of brits together for a bake-off, including a technical challenge where they have to read directions and use their know-how to create these arcane recipes, and every week someone is picked off. two judges: mary berry, who reminds you of that great-aunt who’s slightly on the saucy side but likes to wax eloquent about foods of yore, and paul hollywood, who’s harsher than mary but also better looking (when he compliments a baker you know that the baked good is top notch). add in a couple emcees in blazers who like to make bad puns and weird sexual references, and it’s a, ahem, recipe for success.

so with my newfound access to tpt’s archives, i watched season three over the past week, and just finished up the finale with the winner earlier tonight. i’ve never been so emotionally invested in reality tv! maybe it’s because the contestants really are just joe schmo next door and looks like they could be your neighbor who’s really good at baking cakes. maybe it’s because everyone is generally sad to see people go. there tends to be no drama between contestants (that we can see), and everyone’s just so dang happy for the winner. no hard feelings.

the person i was hoping would win won, and it was so emotional for that person as well – you could tell throughout the competition that it was hard to feel like s/he was actually good at baking. it ended with real pick-me-up words from the winner:  “Iโ€™m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. Iโ€™m never gonna say I canโ€™t do it. Iโ€™m never gonna say โ€˜maybeโ€™. Iโ€™m never gonna say, โ€˜I donโ€™t think I can.โ€™ I can and I will.”

*******

as an aside, i’ve decided to stay home for christmas, and i’m going to make a buche de noรซl. and have a bonfire. 

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something to think about

today i was asked by a dean at work if i’d be interested in teaching a class spring semester 0.o

it’s a fundamentals of web design class, which i feel like i should TAKE, not teach. some of the stuff i do know; ok, a lot of it i do know. but, there is a lot of newer stuff, like dealing with responsive sites and advanced stylesheets, that i do not know. at this point in my life, i let web design websites take care of business, like wordpress. it’s been a long time since i’ve made a site from scratch. 

another thing is the time. this owuld be on top of the job i’m already doing at the college, which takes up 40 hours of my week, and my coworker has moved on to a different job, so i am it for the department. thinking about having to teach and assess 24 students’ web design work on a daily basis is kind of overwhelming to think about when i’ve got to deal with all the other stuff that’s happening in the next five months. (i’m working on content for an all-new eorientation for the school, and we’re migrating content from our old website to new in february or march.) (on top of all the other stuff that needs to be done.) (and it’s just me. did i mention that?)

but, the dean told me to talk to my boss and see what she says, and to think about it. i’m not sure what they’re going to do if i decline. it’s flattering that she (the dean) thought of me to teach this class, but i really enjoy my free time, and i also don’t want to be working every second of every waking moment. what if i want to just laze about in my pjs all day and let my brain be free of work thoughts? 

anyway, that’s the thing i have to think about.