Year In Review: 2013

2013 Juliet beer foil

January
I don’t know why i waited a whole year to talk about last NYE. It’s not even worth mentioning, but i said i would. We had the party with our friends here at our house. People were falling asleep before midnight. And that’s pretty much all i remember about it.

In January i read The Night Circus, and it changed my life. It ignited a passion for fiction that’s carrying on into 2014, and i imagine well beyond.

February
In February we went to Colorado to celebrate my sister-in-law’s 30th birthday. We visited Celestial Seasonings, Oskar Blues, and a bar that was tapping Pliny The Younger. That’s right, we had PTY on tap. And we also got to have it side-by-side with the Elder. Huge difference. It was amazing.

Hop slam at El Bait
Also, we had a pour of Hop Slam at El Bait Shop.

March
I think it was in March that i quit sleeping in on the weekends. I thought it was pretty great. We got more done on the weekends and getting up in the morning seemed a little easier. I also went to a Barre/Pilates class a few times on Saturday mornings, and it was a kick-butt class that i liked a lot. But sleeping in just feels so good, i eventually went back to that instead. Maybe i’ll try again in 2014…

April
We had some sort of fun party, but i can’t remember why. Later i went out with my friends Emily and Sara to celebrate their golden birthday. Someone mistook us for high school kids, so that was pretty encouraging.

May
In May it snowed! That was crazy. I took my mom to see The Great Gatsby on Mother’s day. We both loved it. And i re-read the book and that was also dreamy and great.

June
In June we made the 3.5-hour trek to Decorah to celebrate both our two-year wedding anniversary and the exclusive release of Toppling Goliath’s fabulous Kentucky Brunch stout. We drank beer at 7:30 in the morning. Later, we met up with my brothers, my sister-in-law, and my nephew. A few of the aforementioned may have been there just to be warm bodies, but i also had a lot of fun hanging out with them. Each person present was eligible to buy a bottle of the coveted beer, and Nathan and i had arrived just early enough to also be invited to buy a second bottle apiece. People were passing open bottles of rare beers around the taproom. It was a really fun experience, and i hope the timing will be this good for us again in 2014.

July
In July we went to an Independence Day party at my cousin’s lovely new house out in the west. I played volleyball in my dress and drank Bud Light and watched the kiddies play on many-colored scooters in the street. It was great except for the very big kid trying desperately to sound cool during the fireworks show. Oh well, it was worth enduring his incessant talking for the great view.

80/35 also happened in July. Dancing along with Yeasayer was super fun. I like that band very very much.

Later in the month, Nathan and i went to Chicago and stayed at a friend’s condo, which was great. We went to The Publican for the second time, had some tasty Korean food, hit up some bottle shops, and went to the Pitchfork music festival. We decided to go to the Animal Body Worlds exhibit at the museum before the concert, so we only wound up seeing two acts: Joanna Newsom and Bjork. Those were the only two i really cared about anyhow. And because we’d been to the museum earlier in the day, i recognized the Tesla coil Bjork was using to create some of the booming bass notes in her songs. ROCK.

August
In August we had my ‘90s-themed birthday party. It was wonderful. We had two TVs set up in the living room with N64 on the flat-screen and Super Nintendo on the old CRT. We made Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cap’n Crunch cupcakes and ate all manner of nostalgic junk food: Gushers, Cool Ranch Doritos, Frappuccinos, Pop Rocks, Jones Soda, Pizza Rolls, Jell-o shots… Several people got stomach aches. I also found a box of Polly Pockets and Little Mermaid dolls in the basement that i didn’t know i still had. I’m so glad Nathan had the idea for this party. It was perfect.

The '90s party group

We went to the fair on my actual birthday. I don’t know why i’ve never done that before. On my birthday, i mean. It was a great way to spend the day, since it fell in the middle of the week this year. At the end of the month i took a couple of girlfriends to see Geographer with me, and i was gratified that they enjoyed the show almost as much as i did. What a good band.

September
In September Grandpa died, and i already wrote about how much that sucked, and how seeing my siblings at least made it a little better. We managed to still have Nathan’s birthday celebration, though, which was a gastronomic dream featuring delectable cheeses, delicious pork products, and of course many rare and wonderful beers. Stouts, to be precise.

Bodhi feeding a giraffe
At the zoo with Bodhi and Amy

We also went to a cabin in Minnesota with a group of our friends at the end of September. It was a welcome release from the stress that had been building up all summer for me. Nathan and i celebrated five years together over—what else?—a lovely rare cherry stout. I wanted to stay at that cabin indefinitely, even though the plumbing situation was a little sketchy.

Every day i'm puzzlin'
We got really into the puzzles.

October
I don’t think we did a lot in October. Drank pumpkin beers… I carved a pumpkin with my girlfriends… We went to a Halloween party dressed as Washed-Up Batman (Nathan) and the host of the party (me)—who, by the way, was a large redheaded man. They didn’t get what i was at first, but once they were told they enjoyed the little details i’d put into it: his wrist tattoo, a pocket knife, an orange beard, Nathan’s jeans, etc. It was fun.

My jack o' lantern

November
In November i surprised myself by doing NaNoWriMo. And finishing! But i still just feel like what i wrote is very short and very stupid. I hope that some day i’ll come up with a story worth telling. I plan to try again next year.

Nathan cooked Thanksgiving dinner for four with very little help from me. It was a really wonderful meal.

Nathan's thanksgiving dinner

December
This month we’ve been spending a lot of time with friends and family, which is what the holidays are all about. We went to California early in the month to see my grandparents. I got them to tell me some stories about how they met and what their first jobs were like and about my great grandfather, who shares a few pretty prominent traits with Katniss’s dad. He had two daughters, he worked as a coal miner, he liked to practice archery, and he had a vegetable garden. Makes me want to try archery even more than i (and every other female in the country) already wanted to.

We also hit a few breweries while we were in California, and i had one of the best meals of my life in a place that didn’t even have chairs (The Lost Abbey). The beer, called Duck Duck Gooze, was expensive, and the food, from a truck called Devilicious, was cheap, and everything was fantastically delicious. I had a pork belly sandwich and parmesan truffle fries that blew my mind.


Here’s to another great year. Cheers!

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Something.

I feel like i’ve got to write something. Anything. I heard myself say to a coworker yesterday “i feel like i’m disappearing” because i don’t really document my life anymore. I quit journaling years ago, i hardly take photos anymore except of my beer, i’ve whittled my social media posts down to what i would consider very little, and now i’ve all but quit writing my blog, too. None of this is inherently bad, but i have a horrible memory and i feel like i’m just going to forget these years altogether if i don’t at least write about what’s going on. And i don’t want that to happen, because this is my life and i want to remember it.

And i f*cking hate blog posts that open with big rambling paragraphs about how ‘i haven’t posted in way too long,’ but still i seem to begin every one of them that way these days. I’m going to quit whining and apologizing about it and i’m just going to write.

So. My grandfather died recently. That happened. And that was really goddamn difficult, to a much greater degree than i had ever anticipated. I’ve been bracing for any and all of my grandparents to die ever since i was about eight years old and one grandfather had open heart surgery and the other—the man of the hour—had a heart attack and had to go on some restricted diet to save his life. I wrote him a letter back then pleading with him to do it, believing that he would simply drop dead if he didn’t change his food. He made the change, but i still remember lying awake in my bed at night very often for a long time, crying about his impending death and my dog’s probable untimely demise and my own inevitable mortality, wishing to God that i were just a few years older like my siblings; thinking i’d somehow grow out of my fear when i hit puberty. Little did i know that almost every adult fears death, they just learn to make peace with it, or how not to think about it when the lights go out.

And so i’ve kind of always kept my grandparents at arm’s length, at least partly because i knew i’d be losing them soon anyway. I’ve tried not to hold too tightly to them, and that’s been easy because my nature is to be extremely shy. But a few months ago, my grandfather started talking like he thought he wasn’t long for this world, and so i let my attention shift a little bit from myself onto him and started trying to talk to him more. I asked him about foods he ate when he was little, and got to hear about what life was like during the Depression and the first time he ate a steak. I visited him at the hospital when he went in, and he told me about how ‘his day’ was the best of times, when everyone got married and had kids and did fine and how things will never be that good again (and i was actually sort of surprised to hear him say that, knowing that he lived through the Depression and a couple of absolutely harrowing wars). The wars didn’t affect them much here, he told me. And i visited him at the nursing home. And at the hospice. And at his funeral, the boy scouts told stories about the funny and altruistic things my grandfather did and said during his time up at camp with them, and i realized that i didn’t know him terribly well and he hardly knew me at all, but that it just didn’t matter. I loved him and he loved me and the unconditional love of a family is what life is all about, and losing that to death is just heart breaking no matter how long you brace for it or how much sense it makes to let a person’s suffering end. So i cried my eyes out. And gradually i accepted that it wasn’t lost so much as simply ended, and i started to move on with my life.

A rose for grandpa.
a rose for grandpa.

Seeing my sister and my nephews and my brothers during that time was kind of a salve on my wound. Amy and i took Bodhi to the zoo, and seeing his delight in all the animals and helping him eat a fruit cup and drink from a fountain were such simple but wonderful things. He’s a joy to be around most of the time—Nathan even thinks so. I’m learning how to interact with babies a little bit, but i still have no desire to have one of my own.

We went to a cabin about two hours west of Minneapolis with a group of friends late in September. It was a long drive, and the leaves were just barely starting to change color. I was amazed how green all the grass was in Minnesota when back home our lawns were just starting to recover from the dry summer. It was a large log cabin with a grassy lawn and plenty of big, comfortable furniture inside. We had a blast. We played frisbee and built puzzles and read books and enjoyed fires and ate s’mores and drank hot cider and tea out on the porch during the rain and had plenty of beer and rum and tasty food: steaks and brats and tacos and cinnamon-swirl pancakes. We went on a warm and not very spectacular hike together. Nathan and i took a blanket out under a tree that Sunday and enjoyed a Bourbon County Cherry Rye stout together to celebrate five years together. Three nights didn’t feel nearly long enough, the trip was such a welcome release after all the stress of the summer.

The burden of trying to do two jobs at work is lightening, and while there are still a couple of things causing me worry in my life, i feel like i’m starting to feel pretty content. After two and a half years in our house, we finally got the chimneys cleaned and repaired, and it’s been comforting to have a warm—REAL—fire going right in the living room of an evening. The dog contentedly chewing his bone on the floor. My handsome husband starting to doze off on the couch. A mug of tea in one hand and a good book in the other. That’s just about all i need.

That, and something to write about.

July 2013 Update

Holy Hell, 2013 is more than half over already. How did that happen?! I guess time sort of passes without my noticing since i’ve always got my nose buried in one book or another. Currently it’s The Once and Future King, by the way. Here are some recent goings-on from the past month or so:

The 4th was good fun; we finally got to see a good fireworks display this year and hang out with family at the same time. My cousin Amanda’s brand-spanking-new house has a prime view of the Des Moines Golf & Country Club’s not-entirely-private show. There was a keg and a volleyball game and lots of food and a stunning array of booze and a good time was had by many.

On the 5th i went to 80/35 once again with my dear friends Emily & Sara. We got to see Annalibera, who were very decent, The Emperors Club which didn’t sound a thing like their YouTube video, Yeasayer (left; Photo: Jonathan Krueger/Iowa State Daily) which was our very favorite act and excellent to dance to, Menomena—briefly—whose newest tracks are IMO just no fun, and David Byrne + a surprisingly blond St. Vincent. That duo’s collaborative work is rather odd, but they also performed a few other songs including a few of St. Vincent’s own, which i quite enjoyed, and at the end of the night “Burnin’ Down the House.” What a kickass sendoff for we delicate ladies who had to leave before the encore.

St Vincent at 80/35
Beautiful blond St. Vincent; Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes and/or Michael Watson

I borrowed my sister-in-law’s ice cream maker recently because i needed something to do with all the mint that’s growing happily by the side of the house. My first-ever ice cream turned out so well that we decided to buy our very own ice cream maker and have been dreaming up all kinds of exciting flavors (like Kentucky Brunch, blackberry + sage, and Horchata) to busy ourselves with making in the months to come.

mint ice cream
My first ice cream: vanilla / honey / mint

At some point a while back, probably when i was planning our wedding and learning the names of all sorts of flowers i’d never bothered to care had names before, i fell in love with the big white mophead hydrangeas like this one at the August Home test garden, and i finally bought one last weekend to adorn the front of our house. I’m pretty happy about it.

I think i’ve decided that i don’t hate summer after all. Last year it was offensively hot and i was angry about the world in general, and i’m a little angry this year that i can’t go outside without being awarded a new itchy mosquito bite, but it’s significantly cooler and the flowers are beautiful and the fireflies are abundant and the cicadas are starting to sing and the air in the evenings smells like fond memories and good times. So Summer has redeemed herself a bit in my estimation this year (but i’m still secretly dreaming of Fall).

Snow in May

Snow in May in Iowa, 2013
The Carriage House

Pretty amazing. And it’s still coming down! But, strangely enough, this bothers me a lot less than the eighty-degree day we had earlier this week. I’ve done a complete one-eighty from loving heat and loathing the cold. Gimme hot tea and blankies! You can keep the sweat and bugs and burns of summer.

The real bummer is that all the precipitation we’ve gotten this week has led to water seepage in our basement. Again. But my wonderful handy husband is on the case, so i’m not too worried about it just yet.

They in our heads | A reaction to The Help

The Help cover imageI’ve been thinking a lot lately about the lines people draw around and between each other. The boxes. Expectations, i guess, is what they really are. Stereotypes and standards. The shapes of the holes we try to fit each other into—black, white, male, female, hipster, atheist, nerd, beer lover, wine lover, environmentalist, skinny, fat, married, single, young, old, American, whatever. I’m trying to figure out how i feel about it and where the real issue is, if it even exists. Some people feel a huge amount of pressure from society to be/say/do certain things. I don’t, really, at least not in the usual ways. (I feel like i can’t say all the things i want to say, but that’s because i’m kind of a jerk and i wouldn’t have a lot of friends if i did.)

I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to draw conclusions about certain groups of people. Our brains rely on heuristics to identify potential mates and enemies, so it’s important that we be able to jump to conclusions about people. There are real distinctions among certain groups. Men are on average taller than women. That’s a fact. Men are on average physically stronger than women, too. I think that would be a fact even if nobody ever thought or talked about it. It’s not socially constructed, it’s just a trait of our species. There are more detailed conclusions that are based on observation; for example, i’ve observed that most people my age have seen The Princess Bride, and so it shocks me when i meet someone who hasn’t. That’s an expectation that’s pretty harmless. But then there are conclusions that are just dead wrong and harmful, like atheists are immoral people, or fat people are stupid. These are stereotypes that have no basis in fact and have definite negative consequences.

What interests me the most, though, is the blurry in-between ground that’s a lot trickier to tease out, like the notions that women love shoes or men like sports. Do men like sports because they’re expected to like sports and therefore pushed toward them from the time they’re little, or do they inherently have a propensity to enjoy friendly competition? I think it’s definitely both. We do steer our children and our peers in certain directions with our expectations. And usually those expectations have originated from perfectly natural patterns of behavior and are therefore pretty harmless.

But occasionally someone feels unnatural in the box they’ve been “put” into; a guy who doesn’t like sports, for example. So what should he do about it? What does our society really allow? Well, there are plenty of guys who don’t like sports and don’t pretend to, and nobody seems to mind very much. It’s not really an issue that we expect guys to like sports. What if a girl gets an unusual haircut and gets teased about it? Not a huge deal; she can either choose to get a more normal look when the hair grows back, or simply tell the teasers that she likes her hair this way and they can go worry about something else. I don’t think it’s a huge deal that there are norms and that we aren’t usually very graceful about it when we notice something that’s out of the norm. But what if, say, a kid is obese and doesn’t want to be obese, and he gets tormented for it? Then we have a problem.

I just read The Help, which is about race relations in Mississippi in the ‘60s. I don’t want to delve into what i thought of the book (good but a little overrated), but here’s a quote from it that i thought was interesting—and for reference, it’s from the POV of a black maid named Minny and she’s talking to her friend Aibileen about her white employer, Celia:

“She just don’t see em. The lines. Not between her and me, not between her and Hilly.”
Aibileen takes a long sip of her tea. Finally I look at her. “What you so quiet for? I know you got a opinion bout all this.”
“You gone accuse me a philosophizing.”
“Go ahead,” I say. “I ain’t afraid a no philosophy.”
“It ain’t true.”
“Say what?”
“You talking about something that don’t exist.”
I shake my head at my friend. “Not only is they lines, but you know good as I do where them lines be drawn.”
Aibileen shakes her head. “I used to believe in em. I don’t anymore. They in our heads. People like Miss Hilly is always trying to make us believe they there. But they ain’t.”

Obviously racism is a harmful stereotype. The characters were facing down some very real and very devastating consequences for failing to conform to the roles they were expected to play. They knew that opposing their white employers meant certain financial ruination, likely physical harm, and even possible death. And yet Aibileen said the lines they were crossing didn’t even exist.

I think the point being made here is that in a free country, the boxes we’re put into are only as real as we allow them to be. It is the conformity to them that allows them to exist.

That bully wants the fat kid to hate himself. In his world view, he’s superior to the fat kid because he’s skinny. And if the fat kid and all the other kids in the school say nothing about it, then the bully wins. In his head, he was right.

I think, by the way, that this is what the fat acceptance movement is all about. It’s about giving the bullies the finger instead of trying to change for them. It’s not wrong or harmful to other fat people to want to lose weight if the weight is causing you pain or ill health. But maybe it’s wrong to want to lose weight just because somebody called you fat once. I mean, fuck them. Change for yourself, not for anyone else. Right? Right.

I see people taking the backlash way too far though, too. If someone pushes you in one direction and you go running the opposite way, you’ve still allowed them to determine your course. If the world loves Twilight so you automatically hate it just to be “different”; if society seems to expect you to be feminine so you throw away all your makeup and bras and high heels just to spite “them”; if you get a whole bunch of piercings because of the negative attention they garner; if someone tells you fat isn’t sexy so you go around shouting that skinny isn’t sexy either, you’re not changing the world for the better. You’re just trying to bring attention to the other side of the same damn coin—the outside of the box. That’s not the solution. The solution is to realize that the box doesn’t exist at all, and act accordingly.

Constantine sat down next to me, at the kitchen table. I heard the cracking of her swollen joints. She pressed her thumb hard in the palm of my hand, somthing we both knew meant Listen. Listen to me.
‘Ever morning, until you dead in the ground, you gone have to make this decision.’ Constantine was so close, I could see the blackness of her gums. ‘You gone have to ask yourself, Am I gone believe what them fools say about me today?’

Life Update: February 2013

I think i’ll take a look at how i’m doing with my 2013 goals, shall i?

1. Spend way less time looking at and commenting on Facebook, Twitter, and other people’s blogs. I’ve actually been surprisingly good about this. I’ve hardly looked at Twitter at all this year. I’ll occassionally post a tweet or a reply, but i try to keep it positive. Same with Facebook. And i’ve entirely quit reading blogs except for one that i peek at every week or so. I don’t miss any of these things at all. Getting away from social media has definitely been necessary, and possibly even beneficial for me.

2. Take care of my health. I’ve been to the doctor a lot recently. I don’t have gastritis after all, but they’re not sure yet what exactly is going on. So right now i’m having a bunch of tests done and i’m pretty much back to my normal diet. I still feel a little shy with alcohol and coffee, though. I haven’t been walking the dog much because i feel like he’s sort of afraid of it…

My next endeavor is to get up at the same time for a solid month, weekends included. It’s going to suck and i might completely fail to ever do it, but right now the absolute worst part of every day is getting out of bed and i want to change that. They say it sucks less if you just stick to your schedule even on the weekends, so i’m going to give it a shot.

3. Avoid watching violent shows. I think i’ve been doing this. And i think it’s a good thing.

4. Send more cards. I’ve sent one card and one pretty awesome birthday gift so far this year. It makes me feel really good. I need to keep gradually increasing this.

5. Blog more. Hence, this post.

6. Do more research. Eh… Not so much. I’m still trying to find a better source than YouTube for videos that are informative and interesting.

7. Curl my hair. I cut my own bangs, does that count? I thought it was an improvement. And i sort of learned how to put my hair up in a sock bun. I changed my conditioner and started using more of my sleek-ifying hair product, so i think my hair is generally starting to look a little better. I want to continue to figure out things to do with it. And i want to keep getting clothes that make me feel pretty. I’m kind of figuring out better ways to do my makeup, too. And now i’m quite sick of talking about this subject. Next!

8. Read good books. I decided to go on a fiction stint instead. I’m really enjoying myself, and for that reason i think it’s surely worthwhile. I’m currently reading The Time Machine, which is a lot shorter than i realized. I like it a lot.

9. Do more gardening. We’re still buried in snow here, but this reminds me that i need to start some seeds this weekend…

10. Take more initiative around the house. I’ve been doing more in the kitchen, but i haven’t done much beyond that. I’m sure i’ll get into the swing of it when spring comes.

11. Be a better friend. I’ve been better about not giving advice, but i’ve also been pretty much avoiding trying to arrange to meet with people. I’m such a homebody lately; i enjoy being at home with my dog and my husband and my teas and my books so much that i forget to go out and socialize once in a while.

12. Do more with my job. I’ve been doing some Javascript lessons on Codecademy. Slowly. I’m not sure what else to do.

13. Listen to a broader range of music. I’ve been pretty focused on my ’90s playlists, which are composed mostly of things i’m already familiar with, if we’re being honest. I discovered Ride and Superchunk and Pavement and The Breeders and Talk Talk and Cocteau Twins, but i haven’t listened to any of those extensively and i’ve been kind of ignoring new music, so i’d call this one a fail. I’ve purchased a couple of CDs, at least, including the fabulous new Tegan & Sara album Heartthrob.

heartthrob cover

14. Take really good care of Griz. Ugh, i think i’m failing at this one, too. He seems sad and i haven’t made any progress with his behavior issues. I’m trying, it’s just a lot of work to take care of another being. I need to try harder.

15. Work on being less negative. I occasionally still catch myself griping about something or being grumpy in general for no good reason, but keeping away from social media has made me feel way less negative in general. I rarely go home from work with a storm cloud hanging over my head anymore. And i’m trying not to hate people, but that’s going to take a lot of work. 😐 Possibly i need to work on how i feel about myself first.

February Stars

So far February 2013 has had more to do with sniffles than stars, but one of my favorite things about this month is listening to this Foo Fighters song over and over again, so February Stars it is.

I stayed home sick the past couple of days. These were my companions:

Sick Day Companions

A warm puppy, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and lots of rooibos tea (one of the wonderful things i’ve discovered on my new diet).

This is my third book of the year. It’s a thousand pages long. First, i finished The Night Circus. It was just wonderful. The end could’ve perhaps been a little more spectacular, but it could’ve been a lot worse, too, so i’m quite happy. Then i finished The Antidote, which was not as good as i had hoped but was thought-provoking enough that i can’t even really figure out how to write a reaction to it without trying to delve into the nature of happiness and getting myself into a big mess. And now i’m working on this book because it’s one that Erin Morgenstern cited as her inspiration for The Night Circus. They’re quite different, but i can see the small things she borrowed from it here and there.

Nathan and i went to see The Book Of Mormon at the civic center last month. I loved it. It’s very much what you’d expect from the creators of South Park. We had dinner at HoQ beforehand and an all-around lovely date night. Here’s something for stars—my lucky ones. I have counted them, and they are beautiful.