Follow the links

I recently started following this blog because a post appeared on Freshly Pressed and I thought it was really funny.  I read some more, and this one had me trying to unsuccessfully squelch my laughter at 1 am so I wouldn’t wake anyone else up.  Why is it that when you try not to laugh, it just gets worse?

This post is so thought-provoking, everyone should read it.  It’s about not speaking up, something we’re all guilty of at one time or another, but something we should all work harder to avoid.

If you read my recent post about spam vegetable strudel, you’ll know why I chose this one

I think I’ve found a new favorite tag to search blogs for. It’s “Stupid.”  You should try it yourself, but first, check out this post about possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of a politician trying to do…

Spam vegetable strudel

Have you ever had one of those ideas that seemed completely brilliant until you said it out loud?  I had one of those today.  It was a thought for an essay, but when I tried to describe it to my partner, it just sounded sort of dumb.  Reflecting on it, the idea isn’t actually dumb – it’s the fact that I can’t articulate it in the brilliant way my brain first conceived of it that’s dumb.  It was a flash thought (though there’s got to be a better phrase for this concept) – a thought that must be made up of more emotion than thought, because at the moment it makes great sense, has tons of promise, and is something I can most certainly write and immediately have accepted for publication in a highly acclaimed literary journal, if I can only find the time to sit down and get it on paper.  Now that I’m sitting down, though, I can’t capture that perfect thought, and I think it’s because the words around the idea never solidified.  They zapped themselves in and out of my brain the way a person’s name does when I’m first introduced to them.  I forget names before I even finish hearing them.

Anyway, I guess there’s not much harm in having a smart thought turn dumb on you.  As long as it’s a thought, anyway.  Say it out loud, put it on paper, inadvertently send something moronic in an email to your coworkers – that could be more harmful, but in my case, it’s just a writing idea I need to kick around a little longer to see if it develops.  If it does, great – if not, no big deal.  Spam vegetable strudel, on the other hand, seems like it is probably a true monstrosity.  As a Google fan, I use GMail, and it doesn’t bother me at all that they target ads to me based on the content in my emails.  The ads are so unobtrusive, I rarely even notice them on the screen.  A few days ago, though, this line virtually leapt off the page at me.

Spam Vegetable Strudel – Bake 20 minutes or until golden, serve with soy sauce.

I couldn’t comprehend first why this ad would appear above my inbox, but more importantly, why anyone in their right mind would not only put those three words together, but actually create a recipe, then pay to advertise something so preposterous.  I believe I have solved the mystery of why it appeared in my personalized ad window.  At first I thought I must have used the word ‘strudel’ in an email.  That would be odd, but not unheard of – I come from a very German part of Wisconsin, and ate plenty of apple strudel growing up.  In fact, we had to sell something like strudel door-to-door to raise money for band at school.  Technically, those were kringles, though, not strudels.  Anyway, I thought maybe I discussed a recipe for apple strudel or something with my sister, who is an excellent baker, and just didn’t remember doing so.

Apple Strudel

I searched my mail, though, and was surprised to find that the other two words were the culprits.  They appeared in plenty of emails in my trash folder.  Don’t worry.  I didn’t intentionally have regular discussions about vegetables or spam with other real human beings.  The words show up at the bottom of other advertising emails I get because I bought something and never bothered to unsubscribe from a mailing list.  ‘Vegetable,’ in the case of a gift from Williams Sonoma, and ‘spam,’ courtesy of Writer’s Digest emails that have a daily ad for some other writing website at the bottom promising that if you sign up for their weekly email report, you will get no ‘spam.’

Back to Spam Vegetable Strudel, though.  Because I am obsessed with looking things up on the Internet, I took a few minutes to Google ‘strudel,’ because I thought strudel was only a sweet pastry.  It turns out that savory strudels are not uncommon in Germany, but I have to think Germans would be mortified at this version of a time-honored tradition that dates back hundreds of years.  Serve with soy sauce?!? Come on.  There’s just something wrong with the whole picture.

Gopher-man’s vacation adventures

So, Gopher-Man just got back from vacation, and I never could have predicted what stories he’d come back with.  I generally try to avoid conversations with Gopher-Man, because he is so incredibly long-winded it’s painful to have to hear him out.  He pulled me aside yesterday, though, to express his concern that he is not the best resource to be assigned to do some work that he’s been asked to do.  A typical escape attempt on his part, but this one a bit more subtle than normal.  I listened and listened and listened, and then suggested that if he really thought he wasn’t the right guy for the work he was assigned to do, he should talk to his boss, which is not me.  I tried to give him this advice in the most compassionate way possible, considering I could’ve spit out the sentence after two of his, but had to listen to fifteen minutes of his introducing the concept to me instead.  When I finally had the opportunity to put in my two cents, he nodded his head seriously, and told me that he, too, realized, this was what he needed to do.  But he was so concerned about giving the wrong impression to his boss, he was afraid to have that conversation.  In an effort to motivate him, and make it not my problem, I offered to talk to his boss for him, knowing he would turn me down.

I then made a horrible mistake.  In an effort to make some polite small-talk after our heart-to-heart, which was clearly quite stressful for him, I asked about his injured finger.  His ring finger on his left hand was all wrapped up.  When I looked closely, I could see the stiff outline of a finger splint under the wrapping.  It wasn’t wrapped in just anything, though.  It was wrapped in what I am pretty sure was one of those awful plastic grocery bags.  The wrapping was pretty puffy and wrinkled, as though he’d circumnavigated his digit with plastic multiple times, then wound a rubber band around and around the base of his finger, criss-crossing it repeatedly to make it tight enough.  I couldn’t for the life of my understand the need for the plastic grocery bag on his hand – I had to find out more.

Turns out while Gopher-Man was on vacation, he slammed his finger in between two doors, breaking it and beginning a long-lasting blood-gushing ordeal, in which he ended up in a hospital in Thailand and got stitches.  What I just wrote in one sentence, though, took another ten minutes for him to explain.  He can’t leave the finger alone – he’s constantly squeezing it with his good hand, running his fingers up and down and over the curvy part of the metal splint, even trying to flex his broken finger despite the stiff metal holding it straight.  He’s like a six-year old that has to constantly peek under his band-aid.  I never did ask outright if he’d wrapped it in a garbage bag.  I don’t have guts enough to do that, but I swear, the Safeway logo was tucked away in there somewhere.

You may have noticed that Gopher-Man went to a hospital in Thailand.  I, too, was intrigued by this part of the story.  I’ve been to Thailand.  It’s a beautiful country, and I thought perhaps we could talk about something that maybe wouldn’t drive me so absolutely crazy as everything else I have to discuss with him.  So I asked him about it.  I asked if he’d been visiting friends, or just travelling alone, and I almost fell over when he told me he went there to “get engaged.”  I’m not sure if I’ve made clear that Gopher-Man is not a young man.  I’d put him in his fifties somewhere.  He is mostly bald, with just a few hairs on the top of his head that look really soft and wispy.  The only conclusion I could come to was that he ordered a bride from Thailand.  I am not sure if I am right, but so far, that is where the story goes in my head.  Next week, I will brave the conversation current in an effort to find out the gory details of his engagement, and don’t worry — I will share them with you.  I’m sure you can barely wait!

People don’t write about complexity

I make an effort to regularly surf other blogs, mostly on WordPress, because it’s easy and I’m lazy, but I also keep a list of blogs in Google Reader.  I hit a couple of tags regularly – Random, Rants, Writing, Musings, Life – you get the picture.  Now and then, when nothing grabs my attention, I search for more specific topics.  In a week, my final course in my Master’s program begins, and it’s not a real course – it’s a seminar, where I have to choose to write a thesis or a theoretical paper.  If I did a thesis, I would have to do some kind of study, gather data, analyze it, draw conclusions, etc., etc.  I’m not that interested in doing a study – I think it’d be difficult with no money and not enough time, so I’m leaning towards the theoretical paper.  I have a topic in mind, though I still need to come up with a more in-depth idea.  The topic is complexity theory, which I’ve written about once before.  It fascinates me to no end, so while many people dread this part of their degree program, I’m really looking forward to it.

In anticipation of kicking off my new project soon, I searched WordPress for ‘complexity theory,’ assuming many people had written about it and I might find some interesting ideas for my project.  I was wrong.  Seems there aren’t so many people writing about complexity theory, at least not in blogs, so I will have to look for further inspiration elsewhere.  I don’t know why I’m surprised I found no exciting blog posts about complexity theory – I realize it’s not a topic on the tips of everyone’s tongues as they gossip around the water cooler – but I somehow assume that absolutely anything I am interested in or need an answer to is a simple search away, and on the rare occasion where that doesn’t turn out to be true, I’m flabbergasted.  I wonder how I ever got by without the Internet.

Follow the links and make your day a little richer

Michael’s analogy between the ultra-precious video game tokens of his youth and the concept of value in his current life is a great read, especially if you remember how priceless those tokens really were.

I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of people apologizing for their lack of blogging, but here is one brilliant exception.  The Wuc always makes things funny, but follow her into the doldrums as she describes “The elastic gave out in my blogging undies and they’ve been languishing around my ankles for some time now.”

Claire sets her goals for 2012, and you can’t help but be taken in by her optimism.  Go Claire!

You know I’m a pushover for language, for absurd vocabulary.  I just couldn’t resist this post.

Sarcasm is a great device for making a point.  Though not a new topic, still, a well-written account of how we shouldn’t treat grandma.

I can relate only too well to this piece, and I’m guessing I’ve reached this point many years earlier than the author.  A good reminder of what can happen if we let ourselves succumb to the fear of aging, or, if read another way, permission to tone things down as you move well beyond the age where you think you’re invincible.

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now how much I love Graham’s perspective.  His take on culture shouldn’t be missed as we head into the New Year.

Heat Waves

I just spent a few days back home.  I think I’ll always consider Wisconsin home, even though I’ve lived away longer than I ever lived there.  It’s been almost twenty years since I officially left home, almost 17 here in the Bay Area, and although I love the way the Northern California climate spoils me, there’s something reassuring about the cold of a Wisconsin winter.  It reminds me who I am, though my ability to capture what that means is rather like watching my breath freeze and disappear every time I exhale in the frozen air.

As I was leaving California, I couldn’t believe how bad my timing was – we were about to have a heat wave here, and the temperatures were going to be in the 70s, while I boarded a flight to the frozen tundra, bracing myself for the deep cold.  Turns out, though, there was a bit of a heat wave in Wisconsin, too.  It was in the 40s almost the entire time I was there.  The first day, though, the temperature hovered around 20.

While I’ve lived through many days significantly colder than that, 20 degrees is just cold enough to make you stiffen, to feel sharp pinpricks on exposed skin when the wind blows, and to curse the fact that you don’t have gloves or a hat to help fight back the advance of  invisible frozen fingers that grip you and hold you stiff as a board until you find some relief in the heat of a car or a warm living room.  Living through that kind of cold, day in and day out, breeds a sort of toughness, and comes with a warped sense of pride – it has something to do with survival, I think.  Or maybe I only see it that way because of the distance I now have.

I called my dad to wish him a Happy Birthday after I got home today, and I mentioned our Northern California heat wave.  He lives in Northern Illinois, and I wasn’t home long enough to visit him.  He said, “Well, we’re having a heat wave here, too, really.  It’s been in the 40s and we haven’t even had two inches of snow this year.”  “That’s nuts,” I replied.  “Well, it doesn’t hurt my feelings any,” he said, to which I began to laugh.  He joined me, both of us chuckling at the words he had chosen.  “I”m getting too old for snowmobiles, I sure as hell don’t want to shovel it, and I damn well hate to drive in it,” he continued.  “So it can stay this way as far as I’m concerned,” he finished.  And he’s lived in it all of his 59 years.

I often wonder why people stay in the harsher parts of the world when there are places more temperate, where Mother Nature is more accommodating, less of an adversary.  Then I go back to the cold.  I breathe it in deeply, very deliberately feeling the way it freezes the passageways it follows into my lungs, and a sense of familiarity settles in.  It’s that very cold comfort that reminds me of my roots, my family, my heritage, and I realize again that it’s home, and though I wasn’t meant to stay there, not everyone likes to leave home.

Grass Phobia Girl turns 30

December 30 is Grass Phobia Girl’s birthday, and this year, it was her golden birthday – being that she turned 30 on the 30th.  Her younger sister was determined to create a birthday bash that would knock her socks off, and last through the entire New Year’s weekend.  I partook only in the actual birthday part of the festivities, since I am no longer 30, and cannot party for multiple days as easily as I might once have been able to.  Grass Phobia Girl and her friends are known to be some serious lovers of fun, all things inappropriate, excessive celebration, and lots and lots of alcohol.  And cupcakes.  Let me explain.

Invitation, part 1

Bon Voyage Invite, Part 1

Grass Phobia Girl’s sister works in an admirable sector of the non-profit world, focused on bringing educational and job opportunities to those whose tough lives have made it difficult for them to figure out how to accomplish those things after high school – if they made it through high school, to begin with.  On the side, though, she has a cupcake making business, and bakes some killer desserts.  Often, Grass Phobia Girl is roped into helping with the baking, the decorating, and even the delivery and set up of creative cupcake displays.

Little sister recently set up a fake job, which was part of the overall birthday surprise scheme.  It just so happened that she landed a job to make cupcakes for a couple in a nearby town that was heading off for their honeymoon in Paris.  So, the theme of the cupcakes was French – Bon Voyage.  The cakes themselves were dark, baked with Guinness, and the frosting made with Bailey’s Irish Creme.  Fondant decorations included the French flag and little baby croissants.  The party was scheduled for the 30th.  Little did she know, Grass Phobia Girl was decorating cupcakes dedicated to the loss of her youth.

Meanwhile, little sister sent invitations to the rest of us – these brilliant cards and balloon you see here.  We were to send photos of ourselves indicating whether we would attend the party or not, with the use of the balloon as a key prop.  There were some real zingers sent in.

Bon Voyage Invite, Part 2

When we arrived at the party location, it turned out to be a huge empty house on the island of Alameda.  Little sister arranged for food, lots and lots of alcohol, a photographer that took pictures prom-style while attendees adorned themselves in feather boas with elbow length black gloves, and wielded a baguette in ways no baker ever intended.  The empty living room turned into a dance floor, and the kitchen was a help-yourself bar with more jugs of alcohol than I could count, and a fridge full of mixers for the the wimps that couldn’t just suck down the liquor straight.  A couple kegs outside invited a keg-stand competition, which I’ve never actually seen before, but became a willing party to – it was my job to hold up the legs of the person competing with Grass Phobia Girl.  We won.

RSVP by Balloon

Grass Phobia Girl arrived with boyfriend and little sister, to a house full of screaming friends and family who’d already been drinking for an hour or two.  She was truly shocked – friends had flown in from around the country, and she really had bought the whole cupcake catering story.  Little sister and some friends made a movie – a dark and ridiculous film noir style flick, in which the detective goes on a dangerous investigation to try to determine what happened to Grass Phobia Girl’s youth.  The film includes lots of cigarette smoking, lewd references, a car accident, implied affairs, and in the end, a shocking murder.  Little sister is the one doing the murdering – she murders in order to get big sister to stop hanging out with other people and spend more time at home watching TV – their biggest shared passion.

Bon Voyage Balloon