Friday, January 30, 2015

Magic Plastic Bag Storage (In Which Laura Is Obsessively Organized)

I spent several hours this morning crawling around on the ground rolling grocery bags up into a center-pull tube so that they would take up less space. This is productivity, folks.

See, yesterday it rained all day, and when it rains, we give out plastic grocery bags for people to either put their books inside or stick over their baskets or library bags to keep the books from getting wet and moldy. We had classes visit, so I had to send home at least twenty bags with kids, and they were all crumpled up in our box we keep in the cabinet beneath the desk. Some bags were inside others. Some were full of onion skin. Some were tiny and useless. Some were much too big to use for just one book. It took forever to sort through them, the kids got impatient, some started pushing others, and a riot almost happened in our doorway--until the teacher told them that the time they were spending being rowdy might make them late for art, and they all calmed down and behaved like angels. They did NOT want to be late for art.*

After they left, I started searching the internet for a viable solution to make the mess of our cabinet less...messy. The tutorial I found is super-easy and it is genuinely fantastic to grab a bag without tons more falling on the ground behind the circulation desk or having to untangle them from the mess. Small things make me so very happy.

It is so wonderful, I am leaving the tutorial here. You can ignore it. Or you can do the same thing I did and get endless joy out of taking back all the mess of that one cabinet or drawer at your house (or workplace) that drives you a little more crazy every time you look at it.

For the record, when I came across bags larger than the standard grocery bag size, I folded them into triangles to keep separate. Now I know if I want a big bag, I grab a triangle, and if I want a normal bag, I pull one out of the roll. The triangles are the same as those paper footballs kids flicked across the classroom when I was in elementary school. You can make them by laying out the grocery bag flat, folding it in half and then, starting from the bottom end, fold one end toward the other, then back again and repeating this until you get close to the handle. Tuck the handle into the side of the now-triangle-shaped bag, and you're done. (If that explanation sucks as much as I think it does, Google "paper football" because there is bound to be a picture-based tut
orial for you to follow.)

* So called "specials" classes like music and art are important to kids. They love them. They learn TONS from art and music (and library time with a qualified school media specialist). Its time administrations stop taking away funding and instead make the arts a priority in ALL schools. If your school district isn't doing this, start writing letters to the editor of your local newspapers, talk to your school board, get in touch with other parents, and make a change happen. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Plastic Surgeon, The First Visit, and How to End a Blog Post

Jennifer graciously agreed to accompany me across the state (not exactly that far, but it was a LONG way from my house) to the plastic surgeon's office.

The whole appointment took less than fifteen minutes. The doctor looked at me, told me I needed to really be tested for a latex allergy, which miffed me because I HAVE been tested and am allergic. This annoyance grew through the day until the inevitable Twitter rant began. This also proves how well Kelly understands me.

I swear I am putting that attacked by bees thing in my future author bio. It is both accurate and HILARIOUS.

The doctor also explained how I (and my insurance company) would pay him to hack a chunk out of my face, sew it up, and send me home without so much as a candy from a jar or a sticker. Then I would be all done.

He used nicer terminology. He also told me that it was high time this mole went away--apparently it is more worrisome because it has blood flow. So he is sending it to a lab, which is lovely. (Sorry for the TMI post, guys.)

This will be way better than my other surgeries, because I will not have to be unconscious. It will also be worse because I will have to watch.

And now a break for gallbladder disease humor, because I have saved so much of it on my computer.

Then Jen and I went to Target, got Starbucks and ate at Biaggi's, making the whole trip completely worthwhile. We have also decided that we need to make all of our shopping trips before noon on weekdays, because it is much less busy than on Friday or Saturday nights.

We also talked blogging, and I told her about how I never know how to end these posts. Most of the time I just want to type"Okay, bored now."

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sock, Swimming, and a Book

I spent my weekend working on the sock. The first one is now finished, and I started the second this morning when I should have been eating breakfast. As one does. (I did eat breakfast, just rather hurriedly.) If you want to see pictures, check out my Instagram--the link is in the sidebar! Follow me there for lots of pictures of knitting (and of Darcy).

Not only that, I found a one-piece bathing suit, which is quite the accomplishment if you know how long-waisted I am. (You don't get a picture of that.) Now I can swim laps at the gym whenever I like! I always enjoyed swimming laps when I was younger, back before I had a giant scar I worry about hiding from the public eye. Now I'll be able to go back to swimming. I missed it!

I've been reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Loads of people, literature buffs and recreational readers alike, have already written reviews and critiques of this novel, so I will keep mine brief. The book is the first in a trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell (not to be confused with Oliver Cromwell, who came later) was a lawyer, political advisor,* merchant, and former mercenary. He rises to prominence through the fabric trade and with his work for Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII's advisor.

Plot summary aside, this novel is brilliantly written. I highly recommend it. Mantel manages to breathe new life into an often-repeated period of English history. The characters, like the real people they are based on, are multi-faceted, sometimes dangerous, sometimes hilarious, and always interesting. The BBC is about to release a miniseries based on the book, so pick it up now while you still have time to finish it before you watch!

I already have the second book on hold at the library, and I'm hoping to finish the end of this one tonight, because I just checked out All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and I have a feeling I won't be able to renew that one.

It's hard to read a single novel quickly when you're fickle and therefore are reading five of them at the same time. Maybe I should cut down. Nah.

* Dear Google, stop telling me the spelling of words is wrong when the spelling of them isn't wrong. There are two ways to spell "advisor" and both are correct.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Foray into Plastic Surgery

I have been to see my nurse practitioner who has called a dermatologist who has called a plastic surgeon. Yes, Laura has to have plastic surgery. Not because I want to, but because my lip is slowly being taken over by a mole that the doctor already got rid of once because it was weird.* It didn't get the hint and, like a creepy guy in the library, has returned to plague me even after I made it clear it wasn't wanted.

The look of it doesn't really bother me. I mean, it did when I was in high school, but I am over it.

See? Not terrible to look at. A uni-brow would be way worse. (On a completely different topic, those sunglasses are made of awesome.) My doctor, however, is NOT over it. It has been doomed by medical science, so it must go. Luckily, it is the only weird mole I have to get rid of. Hopefully it is the only one FOREVER.

Apparently, the reason a plastic surgeon has to do this is the line that makes your lip your lip and not the skin above or below. Once that line is screwed up, there is no fixing it and you grimace everywhere you go. Or make some other face. I just made up grimace because I thought that would be the look you'd give people of someone messed up your lip permanently. 

The bonus is, though, that a plastic surgeon will be able to do this thing without a scar. I have enough scars. Scars everywhere. So, that is the consolation prize for having to trek all the way to almost-Ohio for someone to poke my lip with needles and do goodness-knows what else to my face while I am undoubtedly awake and probably watching it all go down. Maybe they will let me listen to an audiobook instead of to the sound of the surgery like the oral surgeon did when I got my wisdom teeth out, because that was awesome. Although I now equate The Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" with anesthesia. 

I wonder if the doctor will draw on my face with a pen like they did to that one lady on the Today Show's special about plastic surgery...If they do, I will take a picture. Those sorts of things need to be immortalized on the internets. New profile picture of Laura Marker Face, as she makes her way in the world.

I shall find all of this out next Tuesday, when I have my consultation.

* The last time I had this thing taken care of, they used a laser and I smelled like burning flesh for two straight days, and it scared people at the bookstore Mum took me to afterward when neither of us could smell the war-zone smell and thought it would be fun to get a book to read at home later that day. I apologize, bookstore people from 18 years ago, and I will plan in advance to bring some kind of potpourri or something to carry around with me after whatever the plastic surgeon decides to do.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In Which I Feel Famous

I (and my sweater story) have made the Simply Socks Yarn Company Blog. I feel like I should start wearing my sunglasses indoors to cope with all of the fame. I will make you go over there to read it because Rachael has a sweater in that blog, too, and it is gorgeous.

Allison took such a nice picture of the lost-now-found sweater, and luckily, you can't see the weird/terrified look that was on my face when she took the picture. Bless you for cropping that out, Allison. Bless you. Thinking about that sweater makes me hungry for Thai food, though. Gosh, I want some Thai food right now. I love Thai food.

It is always nice when other people take pictures of me wearing my handknits, because it means I don't have to try to take pictures of myself reflected in a mirror or by using some kind of nightmarish camera timer setup.

Meanwhile, I have almost finished my fancy Icelandic sweater, which was almost completely knit during my bout with stomach flu last week, and I've already started my next project. I am making striped socks that are the colors of the Crayola Neons pack of crayons I had when I was in elementary school. Basically, this sock yarn brings me childlike joy.

Here is the official picture from Simply Socks Yarn Company's Instagram. And here are the pictures I took last night while winding my skein into a happy little yarn cake so I could start knitting. The other skeins are also being made into fun things...more on them later.

From left to right: Simply Sock Yarn in Hottest Pink, Poste Yarn in Danxia Landform (sold out now but watch the website) and Giants Causeway, and Miss Babs in Deep Sea Jellyfish.

Close up of Danxia Landform.
 It might be a while before the second sleeve on my sweater is finished. I need my colors.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Stomach Flu and Running Success

Oh my goodness, guys. I had the stomach flu last week. And it was dreadful. I think there was some kind of temporal weirdness going on, because I'm sure I threw up food I hadn't even eaten yet. The problems are now resolved, but it was a dreadful week.

I spent most of my time in bed, knitting. I knit while lying down, sitting up, and while curled up under a giant blanket. And I managed to knit a 16" body for my fancy Icelandic sweater and half the yoke in three days.

I was feeling better, but weak, on Friday. Saturday I went to work, and Sunday I felt well enough to attempt something I had not ever thought possible.

I went to the gym. I got on the treadmill.

And I ran a mile in nine minutes. NINE MINUTES. I couldn't believe I'd done it. I couldn't do that in high school. I couldn't do that in junior high or elementary school, either. I have never been able to run a mile that quickly.

I was disappointed that magically, no medal was waiting for me when I got off the treadmill. But the lady who was working in the gym did give me a high-five, so that's something.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Richard III and Laura Is a Giant Nerd

Jennifer is doing a linky party on her blog, The Yellow Brick Road and I had to join. I mean, books, right?

I accidentally walked through the new books in the history section at the library and ended up cleaning it out. I have very little willpower where books are concerned. Okay, I have no willpower. This is why I try not to walk through bookstores when I'm trying to stick to a budget.

  1. Digging for Richard III: The Search for the Lost King by Mike Pitts. This is one of many Richard III books out recently. Who knew Richard-Nephew-Killer-the-Third would ever be so popular? (It is possible that Richard did not smother his nephews while they slept peacefully in the Tower, but it is also possible that...he did. Or that he ordered people to do it for him.) After a brief history of Richard III's life, the author jumps right in and gives you his life death story, relating the rumors, fabrications, and historical evidence that brought archaeologists to the car park where they found his remains. Basically, people were parking their cars on top of dead Richard III. Shakespeare would have found that hilarious.
  2. The Demon's Brood: The History of the Plantagenet Dynasty by Desmond Seward. In other Plantagenet-related books, we have this 2014 release Richard III's family. I have read a bunch of other books about the various players in the War of the Roses, so why not read this one? I confess, I picked it up because it has a pretty (if fictional) cover, and I figured I'd give it a go. Before you judge me, if you don't judge books by their covers, you make all cover designers everywhere sit down and cry over the futility of their lives. Do you want to make the cover designers cry? I didn't think so.
  3. Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution by Peter Ackroyd. I really like Peter Ackroyd, so I'm giving this a try. I discovered as I was looking up a link for you that this is not his first history of the monarchy, so I may have to put in a request at the library so I can read in chronological order.
  4. How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman. This was recommended to me by various people who know how obsessed I am with the Victorian era of literature. Wilkie Collins is my homeboy.
I made you a collage of the book covers plus a picture of my bookshelf because I have stomach flu and got bored.
Yes, I am a massive nerd. Feel free to mock me in the comments. Don't forget to check back at The Yellow Brick Road to see what everyone else is reading!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Snow Again and Mum Takes a Pill

Did any of you get stuck in your driveway three times before finally making it out onto the road? (No? That was just me? Okay then.)

I made it to work and, as the snow falls, I both want to go home and also want to stay here because the roads are gross. GROSS. Don't you wish work got cancelled when the schools close? That would be beautiful.

This weekend we got a brief reprieve from the hideous cold, which my mother celebrated the way she celebrates every morning, by going into the kitchen and taking her thyroid pill.

Except that Saturday morning was not like every morning, because her pill bottle had fallen over and Dad had put his down next to it, and Mum picked up Dad's pill bottle and took one of the pills from it (both bottles were filled with small, round, white pills) and took that pill.

Then she went and walked the dog, came back inside, and started to draw. At that point, she asked me what would make her hand shake so much...

Turns out taking your husband's high blood pressure medication will do that to you.

She called the pharmacy to ask them if she was going to die, but the pharmacist said that unless she was losing consciousness, incredibly dizzy, or confused, she'd be okay. Mum spent the rest of Saturday shaking like she was coming down off of something, unable to walk around or feel her face. Her face had gone numb. Because that's always a good sign.

She is fine now, and she learned a valuable lesson: Don't just swallow a pill without reading the bottle.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Freezing Cold and a Book Recommendation

Everything is cold. Everything is so cold that I impulsively decided to knit this sweater, ordered the wool, bought the pattern, and plan to start knitting it as soon as I can get my mittens off the needles and onto my icicle fingers.

I keep thinking, all that Icelandic wool from the happy Icelandic sheep will keep me warm, right?

I doubt anything can really keep me warm at this point. I have been sleeping under my big puffy comforter with the electric blanket going, and I still wake up with cold toes. If I had a super-power, it would be to freeze my enemies with one touch from my frigid toes.

Meanwhile, no one wants to risk the cold by walking to the library or driving to the library, so it is very boring at work. The one thing that made this week interesting was The Martian.

This book is excellent. It is one of the best books I've read in ages. It was recommended to me on Twitter (in audio) but I had no Audible credits then, so I checked out the book and read it...very quickly. Okay. I read it in a day. That was how good it was.  So far I've ordered two other people to read it. And then I got my Audible credits and used one for the audiobook, because reasons.

Plot synopsis time. Mark Watney is on a research mission to Mars when crap happens and suddenly he is alone on the planet. His commander thinks he's dead. The crew thinks he's dead. The whole of Earth thinks he's dead. And he has no way to tell them he isn't. He has to use ingenuity, abandoned half-working equipment, and lots of 1970's TV to survive long enough for help to come--if it ever does.

Mark is hysterically funny. That's what makes this book work so well. He is wicked-hilarious, even when he is almost dying (which is most of the time). All the characters are complex and interesting people who I could easily imagine really working at NASA. If you want to feel better about humanity or if you ever think, "Dude, what is the point of space travel?" this is the book for you.

So as I step outside into the miserable frozen hell-scape, I now think, "At least I have an atmosphere," which is a whole lot more than Mark has in The Martian.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Classic Alice

My friend Kate has been tweeting about Classic Alice for a while, but, thinking it was a nonfiction book discussion vlog, I did not investigate it (and frankly wondered a bit about why she seemed so captivated by it). When Kate discovered I hadn't been watching, she compelled me to do so. I quickly discovered that you should always read the channel description before you write it off entirely, because Classic Alice is NOT a nonfiction book vlog and it is AMAZING.

See, Alice is an English major and a perfectionist over-achiever. When she gets a "failing grade" (this is anything less than an A) because her professor thinks she doesn't really understand literature. So, Alice decides to LIVE the novels she reads, meaning that she bases major life decisions on the books she reads. Hilarity ensues.

So basically, this is me telling you to start watching Classic Alice.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Best YA Books of 2014 (According to Laura)

It's 2015, which means it is time for a list of the YA books I enjoyed the most that were published in 2014. I narrowed this list to my top five YA (and one adult that teen-lit lovers will also love). I stuck to YA because I read more of that than adult--Teen librarians tend to do that. These are all upper YA. If you want recommendations for younger teens or tweens (or middle grade readers or intermediate or easy readers or picture books), let me know and I'll set you up with another list.

I've linked to Amazon for all of these just because it's easier, but you can also buy them at any online bookseller, local indie bookstore, or check them out at your local library!

5. Conversion by Katherine Howe. Set in a girl's school in Massachusetts, this novel explores the panic in Salem that led to the witch trials in flashbacks while following a similar mass-hysteria case in contemporary times. Do the girls have conversion disorder? Is the problem supernatural? All this goes on alongside the narrator's struggle to keep up her GPA and make it into the ivy league.

4. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. I can't even tell you what goes on in this book, because it would give away everything. Trust me.

3. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. This is the start of a fantastic epic fantasy series. It's marketed to adults, but teens will love it, too. The only problem I have with this book is that the next two in the series aren't released yet. LAURA WANT NEXT BOOK. That is all.

2. Unmade. This book ripped the heart right out of my chest, which is something Sarah Rees Brennan does to me quite often. Usually she puts it back again. Usually. Bravo, Sarah. I can't wait to read what you come up with next! This is the last book in a trilogy, so start at the beginning with Unspoken.

1. Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. Everything about this book is flawless. I could read it agian and again. Which...I have. I also have been listening to this series in and endless loop on Audible. That is just how good it is. I want to quit my job and move to Henrietta right now so I can join Gansey's hunt for Glendower. If you feel confused right now, go read this series and come back when it makes sense. This is book three of four, so start with The Raven Boys
before picking up this one! I also highly recommend the audiobooks, they are narrated by Will Patton, who does an incredible job.

I read tons of other books I loved this year, which you can check out on my reading spreadsheet. I keep track of everything I read here, and it goes all the way back to 2012. You can also follow me on Goodreads here.

Have you read any of these? What are your favorite books from 2014? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Offical Pinterest Food-Vomit Recovery Program

I spent my last post openly mocking various forms of hideous vomit meals that make me gag as I peruse Pinterest. I realize that I did so without giving you any alternative cooking tactics, and this is wrong of me. So I have created part two, a sequel, a continuation in which I try to help those who have been caught up in the can-cooking nightmare of modern life.

No one needs to be Martha Stewart. Heck, no one needs to be Gwenyth Paltrow. I am pretty sure both those women are secretly practicing witchcraft in their outdoor "bread ovens," conjuring demonic influences who iron their curtains, grow all their food in the backyard, raise their chickens for organic eggs, and switch out the normal sheets for flannel ones on a specific date each year.*

Here are some revelations I would like to share with the world of Pinterest, food blogs, and home cooks who take pictures of food to share it with the internet:
  1. No one is going to look at a pin of raw chicken suspended in a globular sauce with nondescript vegetables and say, "Gee, I'll make that for my dinner tonight!" 
  2. Tinned food, as a rule, doesn't look appealing until it is removed from a tin, heated, and placed on a plate. It never really tastes appealing (and we won't get into the lack of nutritional value), and really, vegetables shouldn't ever be gray-green. They should be green. Or orange. Or yellow, or purple. Or red. Not grey-red. Red. **
  3. Seasoning packets are, on the whole, mostly salt, preservatives, and a thickening agent, and you can achieve a much tastier (and cost-effective) result by spending five minutes dumping a few different spices into a mason jar, shaking it up, and using a spoon to sprinkle it over foods. 
  4. Tinned soups are...wait for it...mostly salt. You can achieve a better result using boxed stock*** and a roux. Or a roux and milk. Making a roux is super-easy and everyone should learn it right now. If you can make a pan sauce, you have made it. Not only that, you're actually cooking.****
If you follow tips three and'll be healthier. Seriously. If you switch out the tins for frozen'll be healthier.

If you stop taking pictures of raw meat, I'll be happier.

"But Laura," you say, "I don't have time to really cook! I can't make cheese at home! I need to use cans because they are fast! And I love my slow-cooker, and the book I have says to use cans to make--"

Only witches like Martha Stewart and foodies who Instagram all their meals make cheese at home. Buy that @#$& for crying out loud. No one is suggesting at-home cheese-making. Who even knows where to buy rennet? Plus rennet is gross. You don't want that in your fridge. I will let you Google it. I am not risking the internet putting pictures in my search results. It would be the same as that gunk that came out of Bode Miller's spine. No one wants to see it and once seen, it cannot be unseen.

No one should ever try to be Martha Stewart.

For the love of all good things in the universe. Via Pleated Jeans

If the book says to use canned soup for something other than throwing at zombies after the apocalypse, throw the book away. If you rearrange the letters in the author's name, it probably spells Satan, Spawn of the Pit or some variation. Throw it out. Do it now. Buy this one instead. Or this one. Or this one. Or this one. *****

Don't want to mess with slow cookers at all? There are tons of books designed to help you spend an afternoon mixing stuff up, shoving it in the freezer, and having meals to last you weeks/months. My aunt wrote all these books that tell you how. There are others out there, but I haven't tried them because my aunt wrote these and gave them to me. If you've used a few and like them, let me know and I'll add them to my freezer-meal arsenal.

Give up the horrifying nightmares of Pinterest Vomit Food. Come into the light, and eat food that no one has digested for you!

* Who the frack does this? Before this year, I didn't even know people BOUGHT flannel sheets in real life, I thought it was something that Martha dreamed up to make us feel inferior. But seriously, marking the calendar and changing them because it's the official day to do so? No way Martha Stewart isn't a witch. Normal people, do what I do with my electric blanket, they pull their flannel sheets out when they get cold. That's how you change from normal to flannel sheets. Wait for it to be COLD.

**  One exception to the rule? Tomatoes. Try getting decent tomatoes out of season and you'll find that it's impossible. Use the canned ones if you need tomato for a recipe. They aren't absolutely hideous.

*** Yes, boxed stock low-sodium stock is good. Shockingly, the best is actually the low-sodium instead of the regular, because they replace all the salt with herbs and veggies, making it beyond amazing. The regular stock they just dump tons of salt in with the chicken/beef, without any other seasonings. Go for the Swanson Organics low-sodium, because it is amazing. Way better than my miserable stock-making attempts at home, and it doesn't take hours to make it. 

**** If you're opening soup jars and cans, you're mixing food someone else made. These are wildly different things.

***** No, America's Test Kitchen is not paying me to recommend any book they publish or show they make, but I am totally cool with that if they want to in the future. I would also be happy to be an official food taster, or I would be happy to sit backstage and clean the kitchen or wash dishes. Also I would be okay with having this book's baby, if that were possible. Instead I just use it and no other cookbooks because having other cookbooks would be a waste of shelf space when all I need is this one.