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The Fine Line

22 Sep
giddy-up!

U.S. President Calvin Coolidge’s exercise horse

This week I have (so far) seen the homes/museums of four U.S. Presidents, four authors and one eccentric art collector. I have learned that the lines between “eccentric” and “crazy” and “collector” and “hoarder” are either “becoming President” or “publishing a bunch of books, at least one of which is a huge success.”

I ponder this idea as I finish eating some leftover mushroom risotto for breakfast because this week I’m storing the delicious restaurant leftovers for three people, two of whom are tourists and don’t wish to eat them (but none of us can let that food stay on our plates). I’m also thinking about where to store the five new books that have entered the house this week. They may be used to finish creating a bedside table for me, as my current next-to-bed pile of books-I’m-definitely-reading-next is getting pretty high.

I hope to publish a book soon. Because I can’t really imagine running for elected office at this point in time.

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My Saturday Plans

15 Sep
Obi Haan Kenobi grout kit

The great Obi Haan Kenobi sent me some gear to prepare for the arrival of Ma Jaracz.

 

(sung to the tune of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”)

 

You better not shout

You better clean up

You better scrub grout

And wash all of those cups

Ma Jaracz is coming to town

 

She’ll walk through the house

To tell if it looks nice

Though she can’t really see

She’ll know if there are mice

Ma Jaracz is coming to town

 

She sees the books are dusty

She knows you don’t wash walls

She’ll run her finger over the shelf

And she’ll really be appalled

 

You better not shout

You better clean up

You better scrub grout

And wash all of those cups

Ma Jaracz is coming to town

This DIY Trick Can Suck It

30 Jun
Make your own powdered sugar!

What do you think? Can we make this work?

A few weeks ago, I had a little baking crisis. We were having people over to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and in the middle of making the cake (THE CAKE), I realized I didn’t have enough powdered sugar to make all of the frosting we’d need for it.

On top of this, it was a holiday weekend and the stores were full, and I’d pretty much promised the Boy, No, we really aren’t going to need to go to the store to pick up anything else. I’ve got it all under control.

Ha!

At the point I realized I needed more powdered sugar, the Boy asked, “Do you want me to go to the store and get some more?”

“Well, I don’t….no, it’ll be fine….we’ll just go with–wait! I can make some!”

Now, I’d read about making your own powdered sugar. It saves you so much money! It’s so quick to make! Why would anyone in their right mind buy powdered sugar when you can do it yourself?!

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Yes! It’s supposed to be easy!” And I scuttled around the kitchen to make this flash of genius happen.

The recipes I found do vary (some add corn starch to prevent clumping), but basically, you put a cup of regular sugar into a blender and blend it until it’s the fine consistency of powdered sugar. This is supposed to take all of 30 seconds. Here’s how it went down for me:

Blender - circa late 1990s. It still works!

Here’s the blender. This blender is likely at least 20 years old. We don’t use it much.

Blender -- Yes, you need to see this angle too!

In case you didn’t know, here’s the inside of a blender. I just thought I’d show you.

We're gonna make our own powdered sugar! This is gonna be great!

Put on your imagination caps here, readers. Pretend that I’m pouring some Sugar in the Raw into the blender. I forgot to document the entire process for you, as I was in kind of a rush that day, but as successful cooking blogs show, more pictures are necessary to guide your readers through every step of the process.

If you’re ready to say, “Jill! Sugar in the Raw?! That’s not going to work–the granules are too big!” I’d like to respond that according to the package, this Sugar in the Raw was “great for baking.” Why, then, wouldn’t it be just as great for making powdered sugar?

Not-so-powdered sugar

This is what it looked like when it was done. You’d think it’s fine, but then you taste-test it….

Not-so-powdered sugar is not going to make tasty frosting.

….and you discover that it’s really gritty and is nothing like the consistency of powdered sugar. It’s close though. So you put it back in the blender and keep blending until either your ears give out or you start to smell a smoking blender motor.

And yet, it doesn’t get finer.

Will this mock me from the pantry?

At some point, you say, “Fuck it! I’m done with this!” and you slap a lid onto the container of semi-powdered sugar and throw it into a cabinet because you just can’t bear to throw it out yet. It can either sit in the pantry and mock you, or perhaps on a different day, you’ll finish off the project.

At the first sign of swearing, the Boy hears his cue that it’s time to go to the store. In no time, he’s back with your true friend:

Real powdered sugar!

 

Which makes excellent frosting. And costs $1.89, which is close to what you’ve just spent on regular sugar, electricity to make the blender run, and soap and water to clean it. Plus I have enough leftover to use on another recipe.

This isn’t a DIY trick, my friends, it’s DIY trickery. Don’t believe the hype.

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Postcard from Ohio

16 Jun
Pressed Penny machine in an Ohio rest stop along I-90. What a monstrosity! Click through to find out why!

What’s wrong with this picture?

Oh, Ohio.

I used to look forward to finding a great pressed penny machine at your I-90 rest areas. But this? This newfangled “penny press” machine? No.

First off, it’s electric. What a waste of energy. Traditional pressed penny machines with a hand crank don’t need electricity–people make them work! Do these break down more (I’m sure there’s got to be some issue with active kids overturning a handle until it breaks, but still)?

Secondly, pressing a button and watching the machine do its thing is boring. Part of the fun of the machine is getting to make the penny yourself. Not that you have a ton of control over what it looks like, but it’s a lot of fun to crank that handle and see what comes out. Sometimes the penny comes out long, sometimes it’s fat. It’s always a surprise. Passively watching the machine work disconnects you from the process. The penny becomes something you gather, not something you’ve made.

Thirdly, it’s a buck. I realize that pressed penny prices for the most part haven’t changed much over the years — most machines are two quarters and one penny, except for those lame machines that are four quarters, or even worse, the machines at Lincoln Park Zoo that are five quarters, one of which is pressed. Why do I want a pressed quarter? It doesn’t fit into a pressed penny wallet! A quarter is actually useful to buy other things!

At any rate, it’s expensive for a tiny souvenir. I get that people might have a dollar in their wallet versus 51 cents, but still. If pressed pennies are going to cost a dollar, that’s something I might take a pass on–well, actually, I did. My philosophy has always been that whenever I see a pressed penny machine, I get one design. If I don’t like the design (“lucky penny” and “I love you” designs are lame in my book–a pressed penny should say something about a particular place), or by some fluke, have all of the designs, I skip the machine. Driving across Ohio, I should’ve picked up three or four pennies. Instead, I got one, because only saw one design I liked enough to spend a dollar on. Who’s losing here?

Let’s not make this a trend, Ohio. Modernity isn’t always progress. Other owners of these machines, you’re on notice.

Your pal,

Jill

Well, That Was Quick

2 Jun

While folding a load of laundry today, I discovered this:

A sad moment, considering that I’d just written about them, but maybe this guy couldn’t handle the pressures of fame, the pressure of living up to the dream of being the ultimate sock in the drawer–that sole sock that knew the history of my feet better than I did.

But I have at least one other pair just like this–and it’s continuing with the dream of eternal sock longevity.

[Hopefully my grandiose dreams won’t result in another follow-up post next week with another sad picture of holey socks. I’d take that as a sure sign.]

Waiting for the ‘Wear it Out’

26 May

socks.jpeg

There comes a point in time when something that’s potentially embarrassing becomes an exciting challenge, and I’ve hit that point with these socks.

I’ve had these socks for a long time–probably a good 12 to 15 years, although time is relative because there were many years that I avoided wearing them in favor of other socks. They’re pretty thick, so they were too hot in the summer; because they’re anklets, they were often too cold in winter. Now that they’re fairly threadbare on bottom, they’re just about right.

The Boy saw me put them on one day and kindly suggested that I retire them. He’s one to talk, as Old Stripey still takes up space in his closet. Old Stripey is a short-sleeved button-down white dress shirt with bluish and reddish vertical stripes. It’s at least 20 years old, though I think I’m being kind with that number. The Boy doesn’t wear short-sleeved dress shirts–if it’s a short-sleeved button-down, it’s a Hawaiian shirt.

Why is it so beloved that it has a name? Well, we live in New England in an apartment with closets that any HGTV-home-searching couple would reject in an instant, so space is at a premium. We don’t really have the room to house clothes that we don’t really wear.

I was cleaning out one day, and since I’d never seen him wear this shirt, I thought maybe he’d want to donate it.

“Not Old Stripey!”

“What?! This shirt has a name? And you think it still fits?”

Gauntlet thrown, he squeezed into Old Stripey, and by some miracle, no seams ripped or buttons popped off.

“See! It fits! We’re keeping Old Stripey!”

OK, we’re keeping Old Stripey. He’s been hanging out with us ever since. Never worn, but the proof of fit still happens on a regular basis.

Needless to say, based on Old Stripey, I can keep my socks for a while longer. Sure, I don’t really need to keep this particular pair–my sock drawer is full of socks that are in much better condition. Why keep these?

Well, one day I put them on thinking that my heel would poke through immediately, and that didn’t happen. Then I thought for sure the threadbare area would rip in the wash. That didn’t happen either. Now the question is, how strong is this amazing thread?

So far, they’ve lasted the entire winter, with no signs of ripping. I wear them at least once a week–more if I do laundry more often–so they’re getting regular use. Can they go the entire summer? Can they make it to 2018? Looks be damned, that’s a challenge I want to try.

Unless I make a bargain with Old Stripey.

 

 

 

 

Postcard from Fremantle

31 Mar

Two words of advice: Always volunteer.

OK, maybe not in every situation–really, now that I think about it, there are plenty of times you wouldn’t want to volunteer, so let me qualify that: If you’re a tourist on a guided tour, and the tour guide asks for volunteers, do it.

That’s how I happened to get flogged while visiting Fremantle Prison.

My friend Connie took me to Freo on one of my off-days before the WFTDA Perth Officiating Clinic so we could go on a couple of the prison tours–the general Doing Time tour and Great Escapes, which focuses on the clever folks who tried their best to get out.

Fremantle Prison, when you really get to thinking about it, is a mind-blowing place. Unlike other Australian settlements, Fremantle itself wasn’t a convict town, but eventually the British started sending prisoners there. The prisoners even had to build their own prison, which they did in the 1850s. Fremantle Prison closed in 1991. During its existence, the original cell plan never got upgraded–i.e.–cells never had toilets. In the 1990s. Wrap your head around that one. Prisoners got two buckets: one with drinking water and one for personal waste. Heaven forbid you mix them up.

Anyway, during our tour, we stopped at the flogging station (or whatever the technical term for this was). Our enthusiastic tour guide (quick aside, but both of the tour guides we had were really informative and entertaining. If you like doing tours, go for the talent alone) asked for volunteers, and of course, I said yes. The last time I volunteered on a tour, I was at the Jameson Distillery and volunteering meant I got to taste a bunch of extra whisky.

Not so at Fremantle (had they had samples of some of the prisoner-made booze, I probably would’ve thought twice about my always-volunteer philosophy). Volunteers on this tour got to demonstrate prisoner punishment. So I was the brave prisoner who stepped up to endure the punishment, which was a set number of lashings, which my friend lightly “administered” (i.e.–barely touched me with the flogging whip).

The best part about being a volunteer is that you’re the unknown element for the tour guide. They’re in control of the tour–but not of what the volunteer does in the volunteer moment. As a volunteer, I know my job is to keep the show going in as entertaining a way as possible, so I committed to my role of punished prisoner and dutifully screamed with every tap of the whip and hung limply off the rack, to the delight of our tour guide.

But the flogging was only the first part. Prisoners have to come down off of the rack at some point, so I channeled what that would be like, which to me was basically collapsing down onto the ground like this:

To which, the tour guide responded (and these are the words you always want to hear), “No one’s ever done that on the tour before.”

I’ll admit I didn’t give a perfect performance. Our guide went on to explain the details of punishment by flogging. While a prisoner was getting the lashes, someone from the prison would monitor their condition and stop the process if it was getting too out of hand. So if you were sentenced to 97 lashes and you were nearing unconsciousness after 17, they’d take you down, clean you up and send you to the hospital part of the prison to heal.

Sounds OK in the grand scheme of things, right? Well, no. You still have 80 lashes left on your sentence, so when you’ve healed enough, they haul you back to the rig for more flogging. And the process repeats for as long as it takes to get through your sentence.

At that, I popped up and said, “You’re kidding me, right?!” (hopefully without swearing). Sure, it broke character, but I was truly dumbfounded–both at prison punishment and the notion of why anyone would commit a crime that would involve a prison sentence when this punishment–along with other horrible everyday occurrences–was a distinct possibility.

After that moment, my job was pretty much over. I hope my efforts were useful for the others on the tour. It was nice to know I raised the bar for other tour groups (our guide said the afternoon group was really going to have to step it up), but ultimately doing this also helped me remember the tour a bit better, and this was definitely an experience I want to remember.

Postcard from the Future

3 Mar

wp-1488502607327.jpg

“Shit! What day is it?” I’m panicked, thinking that it’s Friday and that I haven’t posted my weekly blog.

My buddy Seer informs me that it is Friday–at least here in Australia. I check my phone, and it tells me that back home, it’s still Thursday, so I’m safe. For what it’s worth, I’ve really been trying to stay on schedule with this blog, so keeping this Friday deadline is really important to me.

But it’s also kind of a relief to know that my deadline is safe. So hello from the future, dear Readers! I’m here to teach a couple of officiating clinics, and my Friday is consisting of finishing up lesson plans. Sure, I’m happy to be out of Boston’s weird winter weather and lounging next to a solar-heated pool at the end of an Australian summer while I’m doing it, but all the same, there’s a lot of PowerPoint in my day today.

And that makes me wish it was tomorrow, because I’d be finished with my lesson plans by then.

 

Let’s Get Season 9 Started!

24 Feb

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Back in 2009, this Windy City Rollers fan got an e-mail saying that the league needed volunteer officials, offering free admission in exchange for helping out. At the time I was a very, very poor freelancer who couldn’t afford the ticket prices, but I was in love with roller derby and wanted a way to go to the games.

I’ve never really seen a game since then.

Just like many random choices one makes during one’s lifetime, the choice to become a roller derby official has been life-changing. To say that I’ve made a lot of interesting friends and been to places I never dreamed of going would be an understatement. I could joke and say Marion, IL, but my weekend in Marion was actually really fun–great officiating clinic, great hospitality, a pressed penny machine, and the opportunity to ride in the cockpit of a small plane.

Over the last season, I’ve had conversations with some officials about how to keep going and avoid burnout. It’s really easy to get sucked into a big derby vortex where your life is all derby, all the time. It can be a lot of travel and a lot of weekends in a warehouse/hangar/skating rink/arena/convention center. The time and money spent on that comes from your own personal account.

For years I’d thought about being involved with derby for the long haul. Decades. This past year was the first time I thought about quitting. I’d been spending way too many hours doing committee work to the detriment of my job. I’d had to deal with a lot of family things, which meant dropping out of tournaments and missing game opportunities. I was trying to balance being a high-level Non-Skating Official with trying to be more than a beginning Referee (I recently realized I’ve been skating for four years and have reffed a mere 17 games, compared to over 150 or so off-skates).

In short, I was tired. After Champs last year, I really wondered how I would come back for another season. A lot of great fellow officials retired from officiating. Maybe that would be the best option for me too.

Instead, I took time off.

A lot of time off.

Sure, I handled a couple of small obligations, but otherwise, I didn’t do any roller derby. I didn’t write the 13 evaluations I owed from Champs (to the extent that I missed a deadline and won’t be allowed to Crew Head or Tournament Head at Playoffs/Champs this year); didn’t read the new rules and casebook; didn’t go to any off-season scrimmages; didn’t go to any neighboring league events; didn’t apply to officiate at events/tournaments–even ones that have been on my list to do for a few years.

It went on like this for about three months.

When Boston’s season started up again, I reluctantly packed my bag and went to scrimmage. I wasn’t thrilled about going, but I wanted to see if I still enjoyed the activity itself…and guess what? I had a blast! Roller derby officiating is so much fun! Every week, I’ve enjoyed strapping on skates to work on my positioning and impact assessment. I’ve liked remembering the rituals I have for NSO positions. New rules? Bring ’em! It’s been really excited to see the league’s new skaters improve and learn strategy, and I’ve loved the challenges that officiating a highly-ranked travel team bring. It’s been really difficult for me to not blurt out, “This is so much fun!” in the middle of scrimmage (though I might have done that too). And I finally submitted those Champs evals.

This weekend is the home-opener, and I couldn’t be more excited about being an Inside Pack Ref for one game and managing the penalty box for another. I hope it’s a fun start to a season that’s likely going to be different than how I’ve managed my officiating in more recent years.

In a way, that might also be a good antidote to personal burnout. If there’s anything roller derby’s taught me, it’s that things don’t have to be status quo, so I’m looking forward to a ninth season that’s hopefully got some surprises in store and can help me set some new goals for this year and beyond.

 

Road Tripping: We Did It All Wrong

20 Jan

sob-for-blog

For about five years or so, the Boy and I have pointed the car south to spend Christmas with the family in Florida. Sure, it’s a long trip–two days at least–but we like having access to a car, and it’s fun to experience little bits of the country along the way. Driving south reminds me of how vast and different our country is–how interesting it is–and how those differences weave together to become one.

Over the years, we got pretty good at making this trip, finding great stops that we looked forward to making every drive. This year? Not so much. It’s as if we had never taken the car out of state before. How bad was it? Well, it made me feel like I needed to turn in my frequent traveler card.

It was a learning experience though, and if you’re not experienced with road-tripping, here are some of our biggest blunders. Learn from them so you can have a better time in the car!

  • The night before you leave, don’t go to bed so late that you oversleep the next day and are forced to make a late start.
  • Don’t start late enough to avoid Boston rush hour traffic, and then wonder why you’re in New York/Philadelphia smack dab in the middle of evening rush hour.
  • Know where you’re going to spend the night more than an hour before you decide to stop so that you’re not driving from hotel to hotel looking for a room.
  • If you don’t want to deal with full-service gas stations, don’t calculate your gas tank refill to be smack dab in the middle of New Jersey.
  • Stop at Wawa. Don’t bypass Wawa.
  • Find decent restaurants for meals. We actually did better on Day 2, when we found Molly MacPherson’s in Richmond Hill, GA, and had decent food (including excellent salads) and great service).
  • If you want to stop and see something along the way, figure that out early on in the day, not when you’re driving by and realize it’s closed for the day.
  • Pack good snacks.

We did make our traditional stop at South of the Border, but having spent far too long on the road, we were in and out as fast as possible.

Needless to say, we got to Florida in a less than optimal mood, and that’s not a great way to start holiday vacation. It got better, for sure–because sun and warmth really do make a difference–and we had a really fun trip. However, we also pledged to make sure our drive home was something we actually wanted to remember.

 

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