Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Thing About Music

I know. It’s Tuesday. But you know, I was giving thanks with my family, then I was stranded in the Denver airport on Sunday night, and then I was so sleepy last night that I didn’t even eat. Today I wanted to write about the people that annoy me at the gym or the people that annoy me on the phone at work, but I got too annoyed thinking about it and didn’t want to annoy others by writing about it.

Recently, someone asked me, “Do you like music?” I replied, “Doesn’t everyone?” I was sure music held universal appeal, that only specific preferences varied.  Then I heard of someone’s uncle, who doesn’t “get” music.  Doesn’t care about it.  Doesn’t choose to play it for personal enjoyment.  This baffled me, and I wanted to write this long-winded opus on the importance music has in my life, on how even in my darkest days Concert Choir was always a sunny ray of hope, on the reasons why I was named after a hymnal and my dog was named after a country music star.  But I knew that I’d get carried away and start bragging on the number of songs in my iTunes, but forgetting to mention the percentage of them that I’ve never listened to.  Somehow I’d find myself arguing on the side of Pitchfork for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’s perfect score, but disagreeing with just about every other rating they’ve given and berating them for being such a pretentious gang of garrulous band geeks.  Before I knew it, I’d find myself making claims that I can in no way substantiate about the most underrated bands or the best lyricist of our generation.

And so, as I type this, I’m pulling up iTunes. In this Friday 500 exclusive, I shall bare my ears’ and my soul’s true preferences.

The first glance at the list of my Top 25 Most Played songs reveals to me that almost all of these songs wouldn’t be on the list in the first place if it weren’t for my weird penchant for putting songs on repeat.  Sometimes, no other song will fit my groove (see #19, “O Children” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds).  Sometimes, I’m trying to up my street cred by learning all the words (see #10, “All of the Lights” by Kanye West).  Sometimes it’s because I was studying for hours and didn’t realize the repeat button was on (see #21, “Dawn”—the first track on the Pride & Prejudice soundtrack).  Or sometimes it’s because I was studying and was very aware that the repeat button was on because I need to drown out the music in the Union and receive an uplifting message at the same time (see #2, “Don't Let Me Fall” by B.o.B.).  And sometimes it’s because I made a playlist of only four songs and played it every time I showered for six months (see #3-6).

But as far as I can remember, I’ve never put #1 (“I Feel It All” by Feist) on repeat.  It’s my happy song. The one I play when I’ve had a victorious day, or when I want to pretend my life has a soundtrack.  I must say—I’m pleased, and somewhat relieved, to discover that my happy song’s playcounts far surpass those of my weird-repeat-phase songs.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Half a Year as an Adult

As of this past Monday, I’ve been a college graduate for six months.  I’ve learned some surprising things since then. Here’s a sampling.

1.  Everything in my life is now my fault.  If I don’t have clean pants to wear to work, it’s because I didn’t do laundry.  If I have eaten nothing but beans and rice for three days, it’s because I didn’t go to the grocery store.  If I can barely see my face in the mirror, it’s because I haven’t replaced burnt-out light bulbs in my bathroom.  There are no work orders, no cafeterias, and no offices that will allow dirty and/or wrinkly pants.

2.  I should never live alone.  I have come to embrace my introverted self in the past couple of years, and I’m finding that it’s easy to disappear into my own world in the evenings, even when I live with three other girls and two dogs.  If I didn’t have them to interact with, there would be a strong chance of my semi-misanthropic behavior completely consuming my days.

3.  This is the first time in my life my friends aren’t readily available.  While it may sound contradictory to #2, I hate not being around them on a daily basis.  Seeing each other takes intention and planning—no more spontaneous dropping in or trips to Wal-Mart.  What’s hard, though, is realizing that this is the norm for adult life.  I haven’t made the adjustment well.

4.  Words are still the love of my life.  I haven’t been without a book since I graduated, although I haven’t had as much time to read as I used to fantasize about (see #1).  Last night I met with a friend who’s working on writing a book, and just going over her work with her left me giddy.  Times like that, coupled with the mind-numbing job I have now, strengthen my confidence in the fact that some day I will make money by writing.

5.  The new love of my life may very well be cooking, especially for other people.  When my right-hand man and I get a weekend together, we try to have at least one cooking adventure.  We’ve made some delicious things together, which motivates me to keep trying new things when we’re apart.  Some of our proudest achievements include a whole roast chicken, a hummus pizza, and chicken tikka masala.

6.  I’ve gotten to the point in life where I have to do math to remember my age.  And that number still confuses me some days.

7.  I will never ever ever ever ever ever ever be a morning person.  Ever.  I have tried for months to make this happen, but all it’s doing is turning me into a no-time-of-day person.  Early to bed and early to rise may be making me healthy, but it sure isn’t making me wealthy or wise.  Just cranky.

8.  Discipline is good for me, and I’m not as bad at it as I previously thought.  I’ve been to the gym nearly every weekday morning for over three months.  I went to a volunteer training session at the local community college.  I went to an eight-week class at my church.  I’ve written this blog every single week.  I’ve cleaned my room and bathroom, washed my sheets and towels, vacuumed my carpet and car more than once since moving in.

9.  I’m certainly not where I thought I’d be, and I still have no idea where I’m going.  Here’s to hoping the next six months bring more surprises and greater adventures.

Monday, November 14, 2011


For the first time ever, I'm responsible for feeding myself on a daily basis. I find therapy in preparing a meal, and victory when the first bite reveals itself to be exactly what I wanted it to be. It's like in Julie & Julia, when Julie is making a chocolate pie and says, "I love that after a day when nothing is sure-- and when I say 'nothing' I mean nothing-- you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate, and sugar to milk, it will get thick. It's such a comfort."

And in the fall, few things are more comforting than soup. One of our family's signature dishes is a Mexican stew called posole. After I left for college, cold weather always brought a hankering for Dad's posole, and I always requested it on visits home. I always assumed it was a complicated recipe, because we're the only family I've ever met who a) knows what it is b) eats it.

But this last weekend my right-hand man was coming to visit, and I wanted to cook to impress, so I asked my dad for his recipe. He said he'd never used a recipe, so he made a batch and wrote everything down for me. Turns out, it's pretty much a foolproof meal. And now, I'm going to share it with you. Make this the next time you feel like you'll never be warm again. It'll warm you up, fill you up, and clear your sinuses out. All measurements are estimates, so tailor them to your needs and wants.

The Cast of Characters
-Boneless pork chops (I bought 1.3 pounds)
-2-3 cups of vegetable stock or chicken broth
-2 16 oz. cans of red chili or enchilada sauce
-1 big can of white hominy (mine was some weird size like 29 oz)
-One large onion
-Spices: cumin, oregano, salt
-Minced garlic (not pictured)

Step one: chop the onion.
Fun fact: I only cry while chopping onions when I'm not wearing contacts. I like to think they act as little plastic shields.

Step two: cut pork into bite-sized pieces.
Raw meat always makes me feel weird. I could never be a cannibal.

Step three: drizzle some oil into a large soup pot. Cook onions with a heaping tablespoon of minced garlic. Giggle with satisfaction when your creation starts smelling magical.

Step four: add pork chop chunks (say that five times) and cook thoroughly.

Step five: pour in can of hominy, with juices.
If I had a British twin sister, her name would be Hominy.

Step six: pour in enough broth to cover the contents of the pot by about half an inch.

It should be this color.

Step seven: add spices to taste. I used a full teaspoon of cumin and about a teaspoon
and a half of oregano.
Look closely and you can see my awesome apron.

DON'T DO THIS. Leaving the lid on prevents extra water from evaporating. You want it not-too-runny and not-too-thick. If the latter happens, add boiling water a cup at a time.

Do this.
Step eight: bring to a boil and then immediately turn it down to a simmer. It can simmer while you finish make guac or shredding cheese or pulling some rolls out of the oven, but don't let it go much longer than 45 minutes, or the hominy will fall apart. I can't imagine hominy crumbles to be that appetizing.

Serve it up. I'd guess my pot could have served 4-6 people. That hunk in my bowl is part of a roll. I like sopping my soup. Sue me.
Typically, I also like grated cheese in mine. It gets all melty and stringy and happy.

I also made these Buttery Cloverleaf Rolls from How Sweet Eats, my favorite food blog. Mine weren't as pretty, but they were just as delicious.

Leftovers keep really well. I know because I just had some for dinner, and tomorrow I'll have some for lunch. And my heart and my lips will tingle with joy once more.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Fright Night.

Short of sitting upright, I awoke in the middle of the night in the same fashion as every movie character victimized by a nightmare has woken up. I gasped for breath, eyes wide, trying to find comfort in the reality of my room. My ears strained to confirm the silence around me. But wait—there was a sound. It sounded like slow, sneaking footsteps on gravel—the gravel that surrounded our window wells out back. While we had neighbors, our house was remote compared to the tight security of a suburb. We were about to brutally robbed, tortured, and murdered, and no one would know for days. Then I remembered that Mom and Meagan were out of town, and tears sprang to my eyes as I imagined them coming home from their trip and being welcomed by the grisly scene. I had no choice but to wake up Dad. I knew he had a gun—I just prayed he could get to it and load it in time.

I counted to three and leapt from my bed, tiptoeing as quickly as I could without making a lot of noise. My parents’ bedroom was on the other side of the house, meaning I’d have to cross in front of the windows where the thieves were operating. I braced myself, waiting for a gunshot or the sound of broken glass, but I still only heard the crunch crunch crrrruuuuuncccchhhhh of the gravel under their feet. I made it into the bedroom and loudly whispered Dad! while shaking his shoulders. When disturbed, my dad always wakes with a start. “What? What?! What is it?” he said.

I burst into tears. “I think there’s someone outside and I heard people walking on gravel and I’m so scared and what are we going to do and will you go check and can you take your gun?”

“What?” he said, cocking his head in confusion. In this interest of full disclosure, this was not the first time my middle-of-the-night frights had interrupted my parents’ slumber. I took a deep breath and described the noise I had heard outside of the window. He got out of bed and followed me to the back doors. Sure enough, crunch crunch crrrruuuuuuuncccccchhhhh. But after a minute, the sound seemed to move, and we followed it to our left, pausing every two feet or so to reevaluate. After a few steps, the crunching was louder than ever. Surely only the wall was separating us from our inevitable attackers.

After one more step, Dad bumped into Shania's crate. She looked up at us with those sweet brown eyes, and we realized that the crunching sound seemed to be coming from a spot much lower than we had originally thought. I squatted in front of Shania, and I heard it again. Crunch crunch crrrrrruuuuuunnnnnnchhhhh. It wasn’t coming from outside. It wasn’t coming from the soles of serial killers’ combat boots. It was coming from inside my dog.

“Is that her stomach growling?” Dad asked.
I continued to stare at my dog and tried to make sense of these new clues.
Crunch crrrrruuuuunnnnnchhhh.
“Um, yeah,” I said. “I guess so.”
Dad sighed. “Did you remember to feed her today?”
My face flushed as the final pieces of the puzzle snapped into place. “No,” I said, shaking my head. “I forgot.”
“Well, give her some food and go back to bed,” he said as he walked back to his room.

I was fourteen years old.

[As a way to thank my indefatigable readers, I'm going to start doing giveaways every now and then.]
YOU COULD WIN a $10 Amazon gift card! Just post a comment that answers this question:
What are you afraid of?
One (1) winner will be chosen at random on Tuesday at 8pm. One entry per person. Make sure your comment identifies you in some way-- email address, website, name, SSN... I'll contact you and we'll figure out the best way to get you your prize! --M
edit: Caitlin W. is the lucky winner! Not so lucky for the whole kidney stone thing, but lucky nonetheless.