Writer’s Block

Monday, May 25, 2015

SoundHorn_sm2

Wait, what should I do here?

 

Well I survived my year-long provisional existence, where every day lasted a month and the year was over in two weeks.

I had a nice visit with some new friends at the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County Oregon, and got to spend a few days wandering around Portland.

All good.

And I had on my list of things to do before leaving “write blog post” but it didn’t happen, so that is still on the list.

And now I’m back but I have NOTHING TO SAY.

But in a desperate attempt to get this crossed off my list, I’m writing anyway.

My parents came to visit for my graduation, my mom said that it had been a while since I’d given them a new recipe. She said I was due. I said, “Hmm… I don’t have any new recipes because I haven’t cooked anything.”

I said here’s my recipe for the year: you can get a McChicken sandwich and a yogurt parfait for two dollars at McDonald’s. Cheapest meal around. You can’t even get food at a convenience store for that.

She was nonplussed by this bit of wisdom. Nor has anyone else I’ve shared it with been much impressed.

Go figure.

Nonetheless, I stand by it. This works especially well when you leave your house at 7:15 a.m. and return at 9 p.m. (or later) every day. There is a McDonald’s every half-mile in this country, and if you have two dollars ($2.15 if you’re in Durham, sales tax is 7.5%), you can stop thinking about what you might or could or should eat and just go get a chicken sandwich and yogurt parfait and be done with it. And no dishes either.

Problem solved.

The last new recipe I gave my parents was Marion Cunningham’s version of mahogany chicken. It meets all of my key recipe criteria: easy, cheap, good. And it makes good leftovers, all that yummy sauce. And if I ever manage to get back to cooking actual meals again, it will be one of the first things I make.

(For the record, I have moved past the McChicken sandwiches and on to scrambled eggs, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. One step at a time.)

So this post won’t help my mom, she already has this recipe, but maybe someone else will like it.

Mahogany Chicken Legs with Fresh Ginger
from The Supper Book by Marion Cunningham

4 Tbsp peanut oil
8 chicken thighs and legs
1/3 cup peeled and sliced (1/4 inch thick) fresh ginger
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup sherry
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup sliced scallions [optional]
1/2 cup whole cilantro leaves [optional]
4 cups steamed long-grain white rice

Put the peanut oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken pieces, skin side down, and the ginger slices. Brown the chicken for 10 minutes, then turn over and brown for 5 more minutes. (It is important to use a deep skillet because the chicken tends to spatter while browning.) Reduce the heat if necessary to keep the chicken and ginger from burning. If the ginger slices brown too quickly, remove them to a paper towel and put them back in the skillet when you add the soy mixture.

Mix together the soy sauce, sherry, and sugar. Pour the soy mixture over the chicken, cover, and cook for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the scallions and cilantro leaves. Serve immediately with the rice.

The Provisional Existence

Thursday, April 23, 2015

“The unemployed worker, for example, is in a similar position. His existence has become provisional and in a certain sense he cannot live for the future or aim at a goal. Research work done on unemployed miners has shown that they suffer from a peculiar sort of deformed time — inner time — which is a result of their unemployed state. Prisoners, too, suffered from this strange “time-experience.” In camp, a small time unit, a day, for example, filled with hourly tortures and fatigue, appeared endless. A larger time unit, perhaps a week, seemed to pass very quickly. My comrades agreed when I said that in camp a day lasted longer than a week.”
Viktor E. Frankel, Man’s Search for Meaning

On Jobs

Thursday, March 26, 2015

I grew up reading the newspaper — and I am old enough to remember a time when there was not one but two newspapers a day, one delivered in the morning and one in the afternoon — and the printed newspaper remains my preferred source of news.

As far as I’m concerned, the printed newspaper is a superior product.

It shows up on your doorstep every day. It doesn’t have pop-up ads. It doesn’t keep track of which articles you read. It doesn’t require electricity. You can let it sit for three days and when you finally get around to it, you can see what you missed, the news it presents will still be the same.

And it also has additional uses as a physical product — you can use it as a packing material or worm bin bedding or to start a fire in your woodstove.

But the main reasons I like it are because (a) it is finite and (b) someone else has done the work of deciding what to include.

So that means I can review and read what interests me and skim the rest and be done. I’m not in danger of getting sucked into clicking on the next thing the next thing the next thing. I just read what’s there. And then I read the comics. And then I put it in the recycle bin.

Done.

Another benefit is that sometimes you come across things that you probably would not have seen if someone hadn’t put them in the newspaper for you.

In 2012, I was reading the paper and came across an article about a woman who had gone missing three years earlier and whose husband was trying to find her, or to find out any information about her disappearance. It was kind of a weird story.

The article reported that the husband said that his wife’s “preferred occupation is stripping.”

“She used to say she could drink, get her exercise in and work all at the same time,” he said. “She thought it was a very efficient use of her time.”

And I don’t know what it was about that, the story overall was strange and sad, but I just thought that quote was so funny.

I told my friend Ann about it and we have been laughing about it ever since. We’re like okay what is your stripper job — the thing you get paid for that also accomplishes other goals at the same time. It’s like the holy grail of job seeking.

The Stripper Job.

And there’s really no point to this post other than to send the idea of the stripper job out into the world, and to get the thankfully outdated snow picture off the top of the page.

Hope all is well with everyone in readerland.

School done in 34 days.

Snow Day

Thursday, February 26, 2015

SnowHats_all

Coneflowers wearing their snow hats

I don’t think this picture does justice to how amazing those coneflowers look with four inches of snow piled straight up on top them, like little men with stovepipe hats.

Buses not running, classes cancelled, exam postponed.

Julia in the Mail!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

celebritychefs

So I’m at the post office a week or two ago to mail some things and pick up some stamps. Hearts and flowers are okay but usually they have better options too. I like to see what they have that’s interesting. I’m checking the board where they put up which stamps they have on hand, mostly seeing things that didn’t do much for me — Charton Heston, Wilt Chamberlain, Battle of New Orleans.

But then what catches the corner of my eye but Julia Child!

It’s the Celebrity Chef series!

Of course I had to get that.

I’m not so keen on the picture, though. I wish they had taken one from the early French Chef days, maybe the mallet-wielding one that’s on the cover of The French Chef cook book.

Très formidable.

She looks a bit bloated in this picture. I bet it wasn’t one of her favorites.

And the celebrity chefs stamp series reminded me of a story from 15 (or more) years ago, when I got a card in the mail from my friend Molly, and the stamp on it was Emily Post. And I’m like what in the world…? What stamp series is this? Advice mavens?

So I send a quick email and thank Molly for the card and ask about the stamp and she says that is so funny that I noticed that because she and her husband had just been having a conversation about how neurotic she was about stamps and how she refused to use boring flag stamps and Ari was like why do you bother with this, no one is going to notice anyway. And then like three hours later I emailed and asked about the stamp.

I responded, “Of course I would notice an Emily Post stamp. I was wondering if maybe it was the ‘Etiquette Series’ and I was going to run right out and get a few Miss Manners stamps, or possibly the ‘Advice Mavens Series’ where I could expect — in addition to Emily Post — Ann Landers, Heloise, Beth (from Ask Beth) and all my other newspaper friends.”

She said it was from a series on the 1920s, and she was holding onto the stock market crash stamp trying to decide who deserved that one.

I said I was a bit disappointed, but maybe the USPS just hadn’t thought of the Advice Mavens series yet.

And on that note, I will leave you with a great live version of this classic from John Prine

with these words to live by:

Unhappy, unhappy you have no complaint,
You are what you are and you ain’t what you ain’t.
So listen up buster and listen up good,
stop wishin’ for bad luck and knockin’ on wood.

Swap-O-Rama!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

This post is for the NC locals (Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill and environs). Everyone else can just be jealous.

The Scrap Exchange is hosting a Swap-O-Rama Rama community clothing swap on Saturday, January 31 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Full details on what a Scrap Exchange Swap-O-Rama looks like can be found in a blog post I wrote for the Scrap Exchange in 2009.

I also wrote about it here, for Story Number Three in my ten days of Scrap Stories for my 2011 fundraiser.

Best event ever! Come out if you can.

Step Zero

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

[Ed. Note: This is from the drafts folder, written October 2013. Don’t know why I never posted it, seems good enough to send out into the world. Even though it will bump Julia from the home page, and put Dave Ramsey there. That’s an unhappy trade if ever there was one. But in the interest of Fresh Content, I am hitting the “publish” button.]

For a while, I’ve been thinking of doing a new feature on this blog called Where I Read Books So You Don’t Have To.

I was reminded of this recently when I read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. Man. Talk about stretching things out. That book is barely a magazine article, it’s maybe a Reader’s Digest article, yet the author and publisher managed to stretch it out for 280 completely excruciating pages. Holy schmoly.

I’ll save the full analysis for a future post, but in the meantime I want to talk a little bit about I what I found to be the biggest flaw with Dave Ramsey’s strategy in that book. (Okay, one of the biggest flaws. There were quite a number of flaws, but I’m going to stick with just this one for now.)

One of the main flaws I found with The Total Money Makeover is that Step One is Save $1,000.

Well, okay!

Most people I know who are struggling with their finances are struggling BECAUSE THEY ARE UNABLE TO SAVE MONEY. How is telling them to save a thousand dollars useful? If they knew how to save a thousand dollars, wouldn’t they just do it?

Maybe I’m missing something here.

So personally I would suggest a few preliminary steps to get people to the point where they can save a thousand dollars.

The very first step is to think about why you want to fix your finances. What problems are you having that you do not want to have anymore? What goals do you have that you will not be able to achieve living the way you are currently living? What do you hope to accomplish with the program you are thinking of starting?

It might seem like you can skip this step, of course you want to fix your finances, who wants to live paycheck to paycheck for the rest of their life, but the reason you want to do this is because it’s going to be hard and it’s going to take a while and you are going to run into things that totally knock you off track. You need to be motivated enough to get through the hard things, to get back on track, to keep working.

I learned this lesson when I was trying to be more organized.

Progress was slow, and sometimes I felt like I tried as hard as I could but I kept ending up back in the same place. When I started to feel like it wasn’t worth it, I just wasn’t going to be able to do it, maybe I just didn’t have it in me and who cares anyway, the thing that worked to get through was to remember what I was trying to accomplish. Not the grand plan of “being organized,” but living in a house that didn’t always have piles of laundry, or not being late. Those are the things that bothered me, so those were the things I focused on. And those are the things I fixed.

I’m still not organized, but I’m not late anymore, and I always have clean clothes when I need them. [2015 note: Hmm, okay. May have to revise this now that I’m in school. I always have clean clothes when I need them, but they are not always folded and put away. Clearly experiencing some backsliding on this particular goal.]

So think about specifically what you want to fix, and why, and keep that foremost in your mind. Especially when it all feels hopeless.

The other thing you can work on if saving a thousand dollars sounds like taking a trip to the moon is imagining yourself saving money.

If you can imagine yourself saving a thousand dollars, that’s great, you can start working on saving a thousand dollars. If not, get it down to an amount you can imagine saving, in a time frame you can think about. How much can you save each week? Can you save twenty dollars? Ten? One? Start with whatever you can think about starting with and build from there.

As Marilyn Paul says in It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys, it’s very difficult to make something happen if you can’t even think about it.

Think about what you want your life to be like. Think about being able to save money. Then imagine yourself doing it.

Step Zero.

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