A madcap recap

It's the last day of January. For bookkeepers in the US, it's New Year's Eve. In four minutes, it's all over. Anything i file after this day is late, and oh-freakin'-well.

I'm exhausted. I'm a list maker.

1. I shaved my head recently. Not bald. Just shorn. I've received several semi-uncomfortable extra-long looks from male clients who, judging from the way their mouths curled into devious smiles, were grappling with whether or not they should tell me aloud how sexy they thought it was. Several have. Some have asked to rub my head. I've let them.
2. I turned 31 and spent my birthday at a spa. I think I actually sweat out every last drop of fluid i had drunk in the last 6 months and replaced with fresh water. It was a thoroughly cleansing and remarkable experience.
3. I have been working 12 hour days for almost 20 days straight.
4. I want to live on a sailboat. I'm guessing it'll be in 2 to 5 years from now. I want to sail around the world, too, but that might be because i don't know how it feels to be pummeled inside the tiny hull of a boat by a twenty foot wave. I have never sailed before. I am slightly phobic of water.
5. I'm reading "Island" by Aldous Huxley and I'm amazed at how timely it is, even now.
6. I'm moved by how emotional people are getting about the upcoming presidential election. I wonder how many people will turn out for the vote. The current president is still an idiot.
7. I'm currently doing books for a family that is going bankrupt and might have to sell their house to pay off their debt, and another individual who is battling for custody of his kids, and everything he's got. I am working on setting emotional boundaries and it is difficult.
8. I call my brother daily. He was involved in a bad car accident in December and had to have part of his face reconstructed surgically. Getting injured in America without insurance is a terrible and unjust thing. I often wonder how a country that won't provide health care services for all its citizens thinks it's qualified to teach the rest of the world about democracy and freedom.
9. The sub-prime crisis has hit home. My home equity line of credit was frozen two days ago. I also wonder how a country that allows its citizens to be dispossessed of their houses because of a failure to mandatorily educate them about the predatory practices of its economic system thinks it has a right to label who is a terrorist and who is not.
10. It's February. Hallelujah.

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Everything Is On the Internets

CLH just sent a virtual hug to his brother via Facebook. I don't know why that bothers me so much, but it does a little.

We just found a picture of a friend of ours featured prominently (and nakedly) on Wikipedia under the term "Naked Cyclists". I am guilty of looking at pictures of old classmates online like I would look at a car crash: one eye closed to shut out the horror, the other open in morbid curiosity. People have found me, too. I'm creeped out by it every time. "Hey, is this the same Lauren that did so and so back in '89?" Eeeeeeesh. It's weird being found. I never think anyone's looking for me. But they are. Think about how often people are googling your name. Lots of people have googled me and it's weird that I can be found so easily. And with such a random attachment of stuff to my name. I write poetry. I sometimes update this blog. There's another one of me in California, somewhere, and she's an actress. Here are other things that you won't know by googling me, but should, if you are to really know me:

I like popcorn. A lot. I make it the old fashioned way: in a pot with oil.
I have completed several jigsaw puzzles with over 3,000 pieces.
I like to make art out of junk.

I have a client whose employees google just about every customer who contacts them. Just out of curiosity, they say. Y'know, for fun. There's a link to almost all of us out there somewhere. Isn't that odd? Isn't it weird that someone knows your shopping habits? Can track your credit card purchases? Knows your cell phone calls? I'm not talking in my conspiracy theorist voice, either. I'm talking in my David Byrne, "Isn't Technology Weird and Wonderful?" voice. There's a trail of ones and zeros behind all of us, stuck like toilet paper to the soles of our shoes and we track that stuff around everywhere we go and we can't shake it loose. Some program, right now, is plotting to put ads along the side of my email homepage based on the words on my screen. Some program, right now, is pumping out hundreds of junk emails to be sent to me because I am an identity that is a series of numbers and letters that most of the world can access if they just put those numbers and letters together in the right sequence. Who was I before I had a data trail?

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Thumbprints for Christmas

It's close to midnight and I sliding my 40th or so sheet of cookies into the oven. While I typically shun all things mainstream, I am a total sucker for tradition, including baking my mom's Betty Crocker recipe cookies for Christmas. They're made with the three basic ingredients that are almost like swear words around my house: butter, sugar, and wheat flour. My digestive system backs up from too much wheat in my diet, CLH doesn't eat sugar anymore (and has dropped thirty pounds since), and butter is... well, butter is no one's enemy. Yet.

I make the same cookies every year: chocolate chip, peanut butter, Spritz, Russian Tea Cakes (which my family calls "snowballs"), oatmeal raisin, candy canes, and thumbprints. The thumbprints are a family favorite. But this year, the recipe didn't quite live up to its former magic.

I'm not sure what the issue was exactly. I'm pretty sure I put in all the ingredients (although, i quadrupled the recipe, and i may have lost count of the cups of flour in there somewhere). The batch should have yielded 12 dozen, or 144 cookies. I got only 113 cookies out of it. I don't see how I could have lost almost three dozen cookies in that whole mess, but, apparently, I'm not the only one with a missing cookie issue. Thank goodness for the Internet. Who did I bitch to before this thing was invented?

Now, the original recipe I learned to make these cookies with resides on an oil stained, dog eared, high gloss page in the Betty Crocker cookbook, publication circa 1966 or so. It lives in my mom's house somewhere... though when I called over there years ago to collect the recipe, no one could find the book. It often goes missing and then reappears like some kind of magical prop. Well, since I had no access to the book, I had to look up the recipe online. And there it was at bettycrocker.com. I've made them for several years now, and, since I only make them once a year, I forget what a blatant lie the recipe is. The cookies taste great, but the yield measurement is WAY off, AND, the depression you make in each cookie RISES to meet the sides of the cookie so the whole "thumbprint" effect is rendered null and void.

My recipe was printed from the website, and i noticed on my (oil stained, dog eared) sheet of paper that there's a link that didn't quite get all the way printed called "Betty's tips". Thinking i had missed a critical clue to making these all these years, I headed over to the computer to log back in to Ms. Crocker's site. No tips to be found, but I did find a really angry (and therefore hilarious to me) review of the recipe posted by another Betty fan. The reviewer said the recipe didn't work because "There is not enough ingredients". I couldn't agree more, reviewer. I might disagree with your grammar, but I totally agree that the tiny bit of flour and sugar they told you to put in the bowl will not, no matter how you slice it, yield three dozen cookies. </p>

I'm a little bleary eyed right now. I've filled most of the lidded receptacles in the house with cookies. I even used the salad spinner bowl. Tomorrow, I start crafting the gifts. Better get to bed so I can get up early and do that. You've been warned about the thumbprints.

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Down the Slide of The Bell Curve


There's a You Tube video going around featuring some pretty young thing from the South on the game show "Are you Smarter Than A Fifth Grader" grappling with the question of whether or not Europe is a country. She doesn't know if France is a country or not. She has never heard of Budapest, the country capital she is being asked about, nor Hungary, the answer. The worst thing about this is not that she doesn't know (I concede that there are probably questions on that show I wouldn't know either); it's that she's unaffected about not knowing. She boldly announces, as if it is pretty common to not know if Europe is a country or not, that she has no idea. She screws up her face and says the word Hungary like the answer to the question was as unexpected and obscure as "cat doo doo" would have been.

Here's something else: I heard on the news recently that we are trailing quite a few countries in our childhood literacy rates. Amazing, huh? With all this blogging and texting, we don't appear to be able to read and comprehend any better. I don't have the numbers, but it appears that girls fare much better in the literacy category all around. US girls carry the US over other countries only because our girls' reading levels are higher than average. And I just read something the other day about Ian McKewan handing out novels, in a little social experiment, to eager and excited women in London while the men turned up their noses in suspicion.

Why am I posting this? I'll tell you. It's one part confession, and one part record keeping. It's a little self aggrandizing and probably smacks of "I Told You So", but I'll say it anyway. When the shish hits the fan, and it will, I want the world to know I was a witness.

I was there when gas prices crept up from record lows to record highs. I was there when people complained and talked about the magical boycott of the big oil companies that would happen if it ever reached such and such a price. It never did.

I was there when children shot other children in their schools and we blamed things like music and the Internet for their disturbing behavior. I was there when we called the victims heroes and installed police officers and metal detectors in our learning institutions.

I was there when our junk mail folders were filled for ads for male enhancement drugs but we couldn't say "fuck" over the airwaves. I was there when we banned insurance coverage for women's contraceptives, and bombed abortion clinics. I was there when gays were not given the same civil rights as heterosexuals.

I was there when our magazines were filled with ads for plastic surgeons and we hated ourselves and each other so much, we cut off pieces of our bodies and filled them with agents to plump and distort them so often, we considered this normal and created TV shows around it.

I was there when one in three women had been sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. One in three. One in three. One in three. One in three. Our mothers, our sisters, our lovers. One in three. One in three. One in three.

I was there when big box stores replaced independently owned stores and these stores became the places where most people shopped most of the time. I was there when people loved their low low prices but did not understand where their jobs and their sense of community had gone.

I was there when we launched a campaign to crack down on illegal immigration and people installed themselves on the borders of our country to shoot at people trying to get in. I was there when the idea was tossed around to build a wall, a security fence, around our country.

I was there when we were told that a terrorist threat was imminent. I was there for the imprisonment of people without charges at Guantanamo.

I was there when people went bankrupt paying for medical bills and insurance could not be provided for free for all from taxpayers' dollars. I was there when insurance rates went up every few years while the insurance companies cited reasons like "more diabetes". I was there when energy drinks, packed full of caffeine and high fructose corn syrup, were available in every convenience store. I was there when we took our kids to coffeeshops and allowed them to drink "coffee drinks" in plastic cups. I was there when we threw these cups away, at a rate of thousands per day, into the garbage. I was there when we still couldn't decide what to do about global warming.

I was there and watched it all happen. I took notes. I smelled our demise coming. I felt hopeless. I felt I had to survive. I slid down the slope of the bell curve knowing what was at the bottom and I went anyway.

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My metal heartbeat

Lately I've taken to pounding out letters to my two brothers on my old Royal typewriter. I happened upon the thing in vintage clothing store (which also stocks old typewriters and typewriter-themed clothing. Odd. And perfect.) I have been longing to replace the one from my youth for years now. (It suffered the scourge of one of mom's manic cleaning frenzies back in the day. Probably wound up on the sidewalk next to the trash can, which was fitting, since that's where my grandfather found it several years prior when he decided to take it home and restore it). I don't think this model is exactly the same. I remember ours being slightly darker in color, but it's nearly a dead ringer. Apparently, gray was THE color to make these suckers out of back in the day, and I have come across varying shades in my travels. This one most closely resembles the gun metal gray of my childhood typewriter. I remember, too, that ours had a case that fit over it. It was made of the same steel the typewriter was made of. The whole thing must have weight 30 pounds or so. It could have herniated our backs several times over, but that didn't stop my brother and I from moving it around the house when we were kids.

I've been searching the Internet for the past hour for images of Royal typewriters. The one I own now is the KMG model (i think). The M in the middle stands for "Magic Margin", a feature which is not so much "magic" as a series of levers and release buttons that allow you set up and then remove a few margins along the length of the roller. Ah, the 40's... a time when machinery that outperformed your expectations was dubbed "magic".

I wasn't sure, when I first bought this KMG model, that I was actually going to use it. I thought I might shove it on a wide plant stand and stick it in the hallway for passersby to leave quirky messages on... but, on a whim one night, I took of its dust cover, and started to pound out a letter.

I'm beginning to fall in love with typing on the thing. I can't type at my normal clip because the hammers get jammed. Instead, I have to be very deliberate with each depression. I have to make sure the hammer has slapped the roller with an "a" before I pound down the "b". It takes quite the effort to get a rhythm going, but once I do...it's the sweetest sound in the world. It drowns out all other noise. I become consumed. It's a wonderful break, too, from a plastic keyboard. By comparison, I am lazy and slack-wristed on the keyboard. The delete key is so handy, sloppiness is always an option. But on the typewriter, because I don't have the special white correction ribbon, sloppiness is not an option. Which is refreshing, because with the slowing down of the typing comes great intention, and with great intention comes great flow. I find that having to slow down my typing just that little bit gives my brain extra time to think of the next string of stuff. There's a slight delay between brain and hand motions, and it puts me into this strange and wonderful state of ease. It feels like the most natural thing in the world. Hands take care of last minute's thoughts while Brain and I starting setting up the next sentence. I can't express how much more relaxed and spent I feel after typing letters. It's a full body workout. I think I am beginning to understand how the great novels of the world were created on these things. It's hard not to write novels when sitting down in front of them.

So far, my brothers haven't written back. Mom thinks I'm weird for writing them using a typewriter (then again, she's the one who threw out an antique with the last week's leftovers, so I'm not going to count that comment). I'm going to keep writing them. Even if they never write back. At some point in the letter writing, it becomes about satiating a need to hear that thwap thwap thwap... the need to hear my writing as regular as my own heartbeat in my ears.

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