The list that isn’t a list

20141203_231955People with cats and children have it easy because they always have a fast answer to the question “What’s the one thing you’d save from a burning building?” But I’m so rotten at prioritizing and deciding that I can never come up with an answer to that question. It would be easy if I had a single, sentimental piece of jewelry from a long-dead relative that I was very close to, but I neither have such an item, nor do I actually like jewelry all that much.

One answer would be, “You’re not supposed to take anything with you when you flee a burning building.” A snarkier answer would be, “You chose your cats/children/catchildren, but that’s a plural, so pick your favorite.” But those make for crappy dinner table conversation. No one wants to talk about choosing fire safety over their waffle maker, Star Trek movies on VHS tape, or collection of Chinese food menus.

As I said in “Dungeons and Dragons and Depression” I have too many things I want to do, too many skills I want to develop, and I’m horrible at prioritizing. A few months ago, I had the idea to write up sort of an overview of the month ahead, what things were happening, and what I was prioritizing.

I wish I could say that I came up with the idea of drawing my monthly overview instead of writing it because I’m one of those adorably artistic people who fills sketchbooks with twee people-watching doodles and makes the shopping list they scribbled in the corner of the page look like a work of art because they have artsy, legible-messy handwriting rather than malformed tangles. But honestly, I have a lot of lists, and I couldn’t look at another vertical stack of shit to do.

So I drew diagonal lines, and wrote out the three most important things in the largest letters.

Then I added 13 more things, making 16 total. I told you, I’m bad at prioritizing.

Earlier this month, I made my December list.  I managed to get it down to eight things, which is still not effective prioritizing.  This time, I drew holiday orbs for each item, the biggest one being the most important.  I managed to do everything except the most important orb, which is because I severely overestimated just how bad December was going to be for completing that task (which is a rough draft of a novel).

It might not have been an overwhelming success, but it was progress.  As I think about my New Year’s resolutions and what I did and didn’t do in 2014, I’ll definitely be considering how far I need to go when it comes to prioritizing.

Santa’s little telescreen

Even if the decorations are still up, we’re past the time period when it’s socially acceptable for me to put up a Christmas post.  But does anyone else find the concept of Elf on the Shelf a little sinister? Elf on the Shelf creeps me out, and not just because of its plasticky 1950s smile, or its overall vibe of cutesy, overbearing innocuousness.

The basic idea of Elf on the Shelf is that it’s a minion from Santa, sent into homes during the Christmas season to track children’s behavior. Sure, Santa sees you when you’re sleeping, and he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, and probably a lot of other things that aren’t specifically stated in the song.

As a high level wizard, Santa has made it his job to know these things. With all the power at his disposal, he chooses to sit in his fortress at the North Pole, gazing into his crystal ball at children’s behavioral problems and tracking their circadian rhythms.

When I was a kid, if I fought with my brother near Christmas, I would be told to behave because Santa was watching. But that was ok, because I knew that Santa had been watching all year and would account for all data, even if it seemed like my parents weren’t. Santa knew all. He knew when it was really my brother’s fault, which was always.

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The only elf on my shelf.

Santa watches you the way a parent watches you, albeit with better magical surveillance equipment. He’s tall and distant, authoritative yet jolly, a benevolent giver of gifts. He’s part of a long tradition of telling kids to behave because a magical creature will know if they don’t.

Stories about bad things happening to wayward children have been around forever. “Stop your shit, or that fanged shadow-demon-thing in the forest is going to emerge from its lair and harvest your kidneys.” In our consumerist culture, it only makes sense that the horrible, bad thing involves deprivation of material goods.

New traditions appear, and old ones fade away. That can be for the best. Traditions also reflect the culture they come from, which is why I believe it’s worth looking at them with a critical eye and asking if they reflect something good. The story of Santa watching isn’t a perfect one. I’ve already mentioned the consumerist aspect, and those who are so inclined wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find other criticisms as well.

Elf on the Shelf is some combination of a snitch, a security camera, and a telescreen. It looks like a friend, but it’s there to do a job. It will betray you the instant you do something wrong. The intimacy of it, the fact that it’s up on a shelf in the living room, makes all the difference. I’m not exactly losing any sleep over it, but this is the kind of thing I find disturbing at a cultural level. While I don’t have kids, I am still invested in the health of the friendly little surveillance state culture I live in.

So, if you are the type of person who doesn’t take down their decorations until March February January, know that your Elf on the Shelf sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows what you do on St. Patrick’s Day Valentine’s Day Martin Luther King Day, and he watches you watching TV.  And he eats nachos while watching you watching TV, eating nachos.


 

Coincidentally, a friend of mine posted this article about a day or two after I wrote my first draft on this post. At first I thought it was coincidence, but who knows. Maybe she snuck an elf on the shelf into my apartment when she helped us move.

Banana Gingerbread Granola for Maniacs

I’m a granola curmudgeon. “Call this granola? It’s all oats. Used to be they put nuts in granola but not these days, nosiree, get maybe two nuts in a bag… mutter mutter…”

There’s only one brand of store bought granola I eat, and there are only two granola recipes I use. I love granola with interesting flavor and texture combinations, but most of the time when I try to look up granola recipes online, I become irate and go back to my two standbys. The recipes either have too many oats, too much sugar, or not enough fat. Or, the recipe author is being condescending/cutesy, which makes me antagonistic towards the granola recipe, even if it’s perfectly good. Or, they’re being condescending/cutesy AND using too much sugar AND using too little fat AND telling me that I will not be able to tell how little fat is in the granola, which is not true because I’m a granola curmudgeon and I can always tell.

Think that’s bad? I’m even worse with yogurt.

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The “this is not a food blog” granola self-portrait.  Yes, self-portrait.

Anyway, one of my two standby granolas is this Pumpkin Spice Granola recipe. I make some changes to it, but it’s a solid recipe on its own. Or it was, anyway, until I became a crazed ginger addict.

I’ve always been a big fan of ginger, but lately it’s gotten out of hand. I would steal your TV and sell it and use the money to buy crystallized ginger on the streets, and I would refer to it as “ging” or “crys,” which would be a little confusing since my name is Kris. The last time I made the Pumpkin Spice Granola, I added powdered ginger, and then quadrupled the ginger.

The fact that it’s now Christmastime only means that it’s socially acceptable for me to eat ginger like a maniac because Christmas is all about gingerbread everything when it isn’t all about peppermint everything or eggnog everything.

Anyway.

Anyway.

Since I am both a granola curmudgeon and a ginger maniac, and I will only use two granola recipes, I had to use the Pumpkin Spice Granola recipe as the template when I decided I needed to make Banana Gingerbread Granola.

So. Here is how to make that.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Make it Fahrenheit, otherwise you’ll be even more grumpy about your granola than I am about most granola. Plus, you’ll have melted off your face.

Throw the following into a large bowl:

3 and 3/4 cups rolled oats
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup pecans
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 teaspoons gingerbread spice*

A couple pinches of salt

Chop a ton of crystallized ginger. Pack it down tightly into a 1/2 cup, like you would with brown sugar. Mix into the dry ingredients.

Measure and rinse 1/2 cup uncooked quinoa, unless you are positive it’s pre-rinsed. This isn’t like rice. Sometimes people say you have to rinse rice, but that’s a lie. Quinoa contains bitter saponins, and unrinsed quinoa will ruin your granola as surely as if you had set the oven to 617 degrees Fahrenheit, aka 325 Celsius.

Mix the quinoa into the granola.

Mash a couple of very ripe bananas. Mine came to about 3/4 of a cup.

Mix together the mashed banana with the other wet ingredients:
3 tablespoons ground flax

6 tablespoons water
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

If you don’t have coconut oil, use some other kind of fat. Just don’t leave it out. You could cut it down to 1/4 cup, because the Pumpkin Spice Granola only uses 1/4 cup. The last time I made the Pumpkin Spice Granola, I accidentally doubled the coconut oil. It came out extra crunchy, which I enjoyed.

Also, I usually measure the hard coconut oil into a 2 cup glass measure, then put it into the oven as it heats. Then I measure the other wet ingredients on top of it. Fewest dishes possible.

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones.

Cover a couple baking sheets with parchment paper. Or maybe just grease them. Then spread out the granola onto the sheets. Sometimes I plan my time poorly and end up throwing the granola mixture into the fridge overnight before I actually cook it. Because of this, I learned that granola forms larger clumps more easily when you refrigerate it first.

For some reason, granola cooking directions never work out for me. Here’s what I do instead of whatever the recipe says:

Cook the granola for 20 minutes, then stir it. You should see steam come up when you stir it. This will not happen when the granola is fully cooked. Keep the granola in the oven at 325 (yes, we’re still using Fahrenheit, good question) until it starts to brown some, checking and stirring every ten minutes at this point.

Once it gets a little browned (it should be slightly dry as well), turn the oven down to 200. Continue to check and stir every ten minutes. At this point, it’s just dehydrating until most of the moisture is gone.

Let it cool on the baking sheets before putting it into a container. Because it has plenty of fat and it’s been well-dehydrated, it will stay good for weeks. If you want to store it long term, throw a dessicant pack into the container.


 

*I get angsty about having to measure out tiny amount of spices, like 1/64 of a teaspoon nutmeg and a micron of cloves. Last year I mixed up a bunch of gingerbread spices from a cookie recipe and put them into an old spice container so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. I think this was 4 tablespoons ginger and 4 teaspoons each of ground nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. If you don’t want to do this, reduce appropriately. It doesn’t have to be exact.

Christmas swashbuckler

Today, I am a hero. Both the regular kind of hero, and the Christmas kind.

Actually, hero might be too strong of a word. Is there a word to refer to someone who fights against their normal morning slothfulness to do errands before going to work? Who finally returns DVDs to Big Lots for a refund after they’ve been sitting on the passenger’s seat for a month? Who pretends they don’t have social anxiety and asks people to be job references? I’ve overcome a lot of my lesser tendencies today.

But, I’m also a Christmas hero. Between this paragraph and the last one, I looked up “hero” on thesaurus.com. After all the synonyms meaning “hefty sandwich” was a list of awesome words. So when I say I’m a Christmas Swashbuckler, you know that this is not so much a reality-based or funny story-based title as it is a thesaurus-related whim.

Anyway.

My awesome new apartment has very few downsides, but one of them is that we aren’t allowed to have a real tree. This is due to the landlord’s insurance policy and the fact that dropped needles are a fire hazard. My mom got us a nice little spruce shrub in a pot, but adorable as it is, I’m having a lot of Christmas Jealousy over other people’s trees.DSC02239 My partner and I agreed that it isn’t worth it to buy a fake tree if it’s going to look like it’s made of pipe cleaners and sadness, so we agreed to go clearance fake tree shopping on December 26th after I get out of work and spend the evening decorating our new tree.

Today’s specific timeline of errands and car repairs made me decide to order Chinese food for lunch and dinner. Since I was six minutes away from the restaurant and the food would take fifteen, I pulled into a store that I hoped would have maple sugar candy (another errand, this one Grandma-given), even though I kind of knew it was actually a thrift store now.

The thrift store used to a large gift store, the kind of place that sold maple sugar candy, Yankee candles, and country primitives. Despite my lack of interest in most of their stock, I always liked going there around Christmas because it had that craft store cinnamon smell and was always decorated full-on for Christmas, like it was Santa’s workshop. Basically, depending on mood, it would either warm my heart with Christmas magic, or send me into a crushing depression.

The gift store was now a Christmas Thrift Store, at least for now, and as soon as I walked in, I saw a small grove of artificial firs. One of them was short and full, just like the real trees we always bought, and it had the same kind of realistic branches that I saw on a $400 tree just yesterday. “I am not lucky enough for this tree to be for sale,” I said to myself. “It’s probably a decoration.”

But I was lucky enough, because Christmas Magic.

As it turned out, the timing was even better than I realized. After I pulled up my car to get the tree in, I heard the woman at the store talking to someone on her phone. “Well, we had one you would have liked, but someone’s picking it up now. One is ugly. Yeah, like the Charlie Brown tree. And the other has fake snow on it. It gets everywhere.”

If the morning chain of events had been a couple minutes later, the store could very well have reserved the little tree for the person on the phone.

Instead, I now have a tree in the back of my car. Here is a Christmas tip from me to you: if you have a compact car (say, a 2001 Chevy Prizm) get a 5’ Christmas tree. It will fit in your backseat, even though your eyesight will tell you that this cannot happen.

Later, when my partner is asleep, I will sneak the fortuitous tree into our living room and decorate with the sneakiness of an elf and the daring of a swashbuckler.

Seven reasons why Kevin McAllister is my role model

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Behold the vengeance in Kevin’s face. As we will see, Kevin does not let Buzz go unpunished for eating all the cheese pizza.

It should go without saying that anyone who grew up in the 90’s wanted to be Kevin McAllister, hero of the only two Home Alone movies that count. Who doesn’t want to sled down the stairs on a tobaggan or zipline into a tree house? For me, it goes way beyond the desire to have a huge house all to myself and the awesome trap-making skills to defend it. After over two decades of watching Home Alone 1 at Christmastime, the ways of Kevin have had an indelible effect on my psyche, in ways that I’m only now starting to realize.

Kevin taught me how to best utilize my time when I have the house to myself.

If I’m home alone, it’s almost guaranteed that there will be ice cream, cookies, and TV. Normally, I’m not even a couch potato.

Kevin makes a mean diagram.

I’m a great lover of diagrams, but even on a computer, I can’t make as good a diagram as Kevin does.

Kevin is the Sun Tzu/ Grand Admiral Thrawn of the elementary school set.

He was able to manipulate Harry and Marv’s attempted entries into the house, somehow knowing that after Marv tried the basement and lost his shoes and socks, he would then try the window and step on stabby-crunchy glass ornaments. Of course the traps are impressive, but the subtle psychological manipulation is even more so.

Kevin is self-educated.

I didn’t know how to do laundry until I was 16. But when Kevin is left home at the age of 8, he quickly masters the skill, even conquering his fear of the furnace to do so. Between Home Alone 1 and Home Alone 2, it’s obvious that Kevin upgraded his skills at making elaborate, painful traps. He goes from Micro Machines and glue ‘n’ feather traps, to setting up an arc welder to electrocute a sink. Who taught him how to do that? School? Please.  And there’s no way his parents taught him how to do that stuff. Especially not his dad, who is the only member of his immediate family that isn’t a jerk to him the night before they leave him home alone.

Kevin is a master of fire.

C’mon. When I was eight, I couldn’t even light a match. Still can’t, actually, unless it’s the light-on-box kind. Fireworks are the least of it. This is a kid who makes a blow torch trap and a fire-lightbulb trap, while strategically deploying volatile chemicals.

Kevin knows how to improvise.

Despite his extensive plans, Kevin never sticks to them rigidly. He grabs Buzz’s tarantula and throws it at the bad guys when he needs to get away. Earlier in the movie, he escapes Harry and Marv by hiding in a nativity scene.

Kevin is a fair arbiter of justice.

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Always clean up your traps before you put out milk and cookies for Santa.

After the bad guys are carted off in a cop car, Kevin cleans the entire house. The tree is decorated, the laundry is clean, and there’s fresh milk in the fridge. When the family arrives home, the only signs that anything happened are a single gold tooth on the floor, and Buzz’s entire room. I suspect that Kevin is capable of rebuilding Buzz’s shelf, if he wanted to. But he doesn’t, and that’s because Buzz is an asshole.

The camera ate my color

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Perception and memory interest me. I took the first photo at the community garden where my partner has a plot, and it looks much duller than I remembered. This became even more obvious when I sliced off the top to use for my website’s header. Part of the blame for that falls to my digital camera, which does poorly with low light and action, and is also skittish around children and wolves. Part of it has to do with my own perception. How can a flat picture on a screen … Continue reading