Sunday, December 28, 2008

Another Saturday Night and I Ain't Got Nobody

Well, I have my laptop at least. It's 1:20 in the morning and I've been working well since about 8pm. I started this afternoon around 3:30 but then there was time on Facebook and checking e-mails and making tea and staring at the screen and getting a bunch of somethings for my mother, never at the same time and often just as soon as I've sat down at the desk, and, oh yeah, watching Must Love Dogs on Oxygen (cute movie!). So basically, my procrastination skillz were in mad form tonight.

I do better at night anyways, always have. Something about that dark cocoon brings out the creative in me. These long vacation days allow so much laziness, so much inertia. No need to wake up with that alarm clock, no sir. I can hit the snooze a thousand times, or just go crazy and turn the whole thing off. Madness! But after a day and a half of wallowing in my totally craptastic bed, despite the surprise treat of a Highlander The Series marathon yesterday
(yes, I have a geek side - have you met me?), my back rebelled violently and compelled me out if only to spare my spasming muscles. And, you know, shower.

Now, I've got 12 new pages, 3,300 new words and they're good words, they're keen words. They set up my hero much more clearly, I think, or at least his motivations. I think. I'm never entirely sure. I'm learning that when you're aiming to complete a 100,000 word novel, it's kind of hard to keep track of everyone and everything all the time. Yes, an outline would probably help, but I get partially into writing one, and realize I'd rather spend that time actually writing. I start writing and get in the flow and then later have to go back and make sure the choices my characters just made are in line with what they made 30 pages ago and, if not, do I now have to rewrite those 30 pages? Ugh.

But it's satisfying to have another 12 done. To feel like I'm getting a handle on where this is going - sort of. Now I'm off to jettison my cats from the hateful bed so that I may wrestle clean sheets on to the wretched thing. Clean PJs, clean sheets, clean Kiersty.

World's at my feet, baby.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bet You Thought I'd Forgot

Did you really think I'd leave y'all high and dry?

For those of you interested in making the Long Hill Chapel Easter/Christmas casserole for this Christmas or any occasion, here is the recipe. Enjoy!


9 eggs
12 pieces of bread
2 boxes of sausage (20 links)
1 can of Cream of Mushroom soup
1 10 oz bar of cheese (I like to use the Vermont cheddar cheese)
3 cups of milk (optional)
1 9 x 13 pan

Grease 9 x 13 pan lightly. Combine eggs
in a bowl. Add soup. Whisk together eggs and soup. If using milk, add it here. I think it makes the casserole soggy and tend to ignore it, but feel free. Set bowl aside. Slice bread into cubes and sprinkle throughout pan. Cook the sausage (I recommend the microwave for this) and cut into small pieces. The last few pans I've made, I switched to the lite sausage and it's reduced some of the overt and, to some, overwhelming richness of the dish, which I've liked. Up to you. Sprinkle sausage throughout pan.

Grate the bar of cheese. As noted above, I prefer the Vermont cheddar cheese. You can buy already grated cheese to expedite things, but that would be cheating and I would know and would have to revoke your privileges to this recipe. I'm just saying. Plus, the casserole won't be as good. Buck up, spend the time, and grate the cheese. It'll take you all of 6 1/2 minutes, really, and you'll be glad you did it.

Once grated, sprinkle cheese throughout pan. Make sure the sausage and cheese are as evenly distributed in the pan as possible. Carefully pour egg and soup (and milk) mixture throughout the pan as evenly as possible. Cover pan with aluminum foil and place in refrigerator overnight. When ready to eat, remove pan from fridge (obviously), remove foil, and cook in a preheated oven at 325 degrees for 45 minutes or so.

Remove, serve, and enjoy!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Well, That'll Teach Me to Shave My Legs in the Dark

I don't shave my legs regularly any more. I no longer wear stockings or pantyhose every day for work, so the need to have smooth flesh under nylon is obviated. I left that dubious joy with the demise of my publishing career and my 20s, which oddly enough coincided at nearly the same time, give or take a few weeks. That was also when there was at last the prospect of someone of the male persuasion seeing my legs bare. I am currently sans a man, so that option doesn't really come into play right now. On the plus side, there's no one I have to clean up for either. And it's winter, when having an extra layer is not such a bad thing. Come the summer, I'll employ my once-a-week regimen again, but I've got at least 5 months before I have to embark on that.

These days I save the contortions required to epilate for the rare special occasion when I might enjoy that extra bit of girliness. Such an event occurred this past week on Christmas Sunday. We, the church choir, were singing 2 choral anthems during all 3 of our church's Sunday morning worship services, which begin at 8:30am. As we do on Easter Sunday, when we face a similar worship marathon, we have a brunch for the choir and orchestra to enjoy in between the early services. I always try to make what my family calls the Long Hill Chapel Easter/Christmas casserole; it's an egg, cheese, bread, and sausage casserole with a can of cream of mushroom soup to add a nice tang. Out-of-this-world yummy.

I grew up at Long Hill Chapel and during my teenage years, my mother was the Hospitality Coordinator, basically coordinating any and all church social events from funerals to the annual mission's banquet. Big church = big job. Easter Sunday at Long Hill began with a sunrise service at 6:30am followed by brunch for those hearty 100-200 people who made it out in what was usually a really cold morning. This casserole is one that is made the night before and cooked in the morning. So while we were all singing in the sun with Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Mom and her cast of fives were cranking up Long Hill's industrial stoves and cooking casserole so we could all dive into it when service ended around 7:30. These days I make it for Christmas morning for Mom and I and I always bring it to the choir Easter and Christmas brunches where it's a big hit. (Two years ago, I wrote the recipe out for so many people at church and work [I made it for my account's Secret Santa breakfast] I can make it by memory now.)

I, however, do not have an industrial oven (though my new apartment's oven is a vast improvement on the archaic one I made due with in Weehawken), so for a 7:45am call for the 8:30am service this Christmas Sunday morning
, I was up at 5:30 to heat up the oven and get the casserole in so it could cook while I showered and got dressed. At that hour of the morning - really at any hour of the morning before 10am - I can barely contemplate consciousness much less add light to the equation. Ergo, I was showering in the dark, as usual, except for the nightlight, and, for some reason, decided that this was the right time to shave my legs. How hard could it be? I've been shaving since adolescence; it's not like I didn't know the motions intuitively by now. Besides, with enough shave gel on my legs, all I needed to do is follow the latent smears of gel to see where I'd finished and where I'd missed, right? Like a CSI Luminol test only for epilation. I mean, the gel is white after all, why else but to be able to see it in the dark?

It wasn't until later that day, post services, back at home when I was lying in bed with the kitties, pre-nap, that I ran my foot up my smooth leg - and found it, perhaps, in retrospect, unsurprisingly not so smooth. In fact, there were easily 4 or 5 patches where my modus opershave didn't quite do the job. That'll teach me to shave at 5:30 in the morning when I'm fool enough, or Polish enough, to do it in the dark. Still, no harm, no foul, no one but me and my Creator was the wiser. He's present for all these whackadoodle moments in my life, so I imagine it's not totally unexpected by now. He's there for the singing in the sun moments too. As well as those more poorly lit times of life, which, frankly, have been known to overshadow the sun singing parts.

These are some of the things I think of during Christmas.

Christmas never ceases to amaze me. Celebrating Christmas as a believer means to look on the stable scene and see not only a baby, but a redeemer. We cannot hear the angels announce His birth without noting their absence at His death. We cannot see the shepherds and wise men attend Him without remembering all those who abandoned Him, including ourselves. So many non-believers think we're nuts and foolish for believing in what must appear to be as real as something Hans Christian or those Grimm brothers dreamt up; it's certainly as bloody as any of those fairy tales (the original versions of those stories are gorier than a Dean Koontz novel). It is a fantastical story after all, no less so than for being true. But what they fail to see is that it is the weakest of us, the most flawed and vile that come to this stable, not the golden and perfect ones. We are the ones falling prone at the cross, overwhelmed by the love that hangs there in our place. It's not reserved for the special and holy, though they are there too, I guess, somewhere hidden by the rest of us rotten ones. We don't stopped being flawed and sinful simply because we accept Christ, in fact, we're often more aware of the missteps and failures we continue to make and be along the way. But we are then blessed to see a hint of the time when we will be special and holy as we were meant to be all along.

So we come to the manger full of awe and broken and sinful (that would be me), we lay down at the cross filled with grief and guilt and overwhelmed with selfish gratitude that we ourselves don't hang there instead (me again), we gape at the empty tomb, joyous and dumbfounded and unworthy and flawed and nasty and
damaged with full knowledge that we will be all those yet again (hi there!) and we are shown grace and mercy and unfathomable love over and over and over again. Unfailing, Unending, Incomprehensible Love.

Rejoice. Emmanuel has come.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lessons Well Taught

It's snowing today. Unless you've been living under a rock, this isn't exactly news. No offense to anyone actually living under a rock, although I imagine that would be a pretty cold rock right about now.

Last night was my office holiday party where I dusted off my atrophied pool playing skills without embarrassing myself too much. A rare event indeed. I actually made an outstanding combination shot that had to be seen to be believed - except no one was there to see it as my opponent had taken a potty break and no one else around me was paying attention. Typical. But then I won a raffle and got a $50 Home Depot gift card, so I was mollified.

I had traffic problems (must be a day ending in y) as I was winding my way from our sister office through idiot accidents on all major highways involving the number 8 - 280W, 80w, and 287N. I felt a little like Count Von Count from Sesame Street - EIGHT! EIGHT IS THE NUMBER OF THE ROAD! EH HEH HEH!!

Our office was a graveyard this morning, staffers wandering through the halls in ball caps and Saturday clothes. Thank God for bagel Fridays. Nothing like a deluge of carbs to weigh down a lazy morning. This close to Christmas things for us are fairly quiet, though our sister company is overwhelmed with launching several new brands for the new year and my department has been pitching in there for the last few months. Still, there wasn't a hell of a lot going on today. The snow didn't deign to start till nearly 10:00 when it blew in with a vengeance. Around 10:30, our CEO got on the paging system and played "Baby it's Cold Outside" and then gave us the gift of closing the office at noon. I think she was as eager as the rest of us to get out of there and home safe and sound. Unfortunately, her musical introit opened the floodgates for a flurry of Christmas songs on our office stereo - er, paging system - by anonymous deejays culminating with Porgy Pig's rendition of Blue Christmas, which I had nothing, nothing to do with, I swear.


At 11:30, our CEO sent out another e-mail that said, "if you're reading this at your desk - leave." I took her word for it, packed up, and invoked my Nanook of the North street cred to brave the elements. I couldn't clean my Honda off fast enough; by the time I finished with the passenger side windows, the rear window was covered over again. I finally headed out and, with the first slide out of the parking lot, settled in for the battle.

I do not understand why the slightest precipitation seems to rob the surrounding population of every brain cell in their collective heads. I just don't Get It. Please, whilst driving in a winter snowstorm, DO NOT get into the bloody left hand lane, cutting me off and spraying snow all over my windshield in the process, and then flip on the hazards and SLOW DOWN. Not Good.


A cavalcade of 18-wheeler trucks limped up the left-hand lane on 287N, blinding any and all possible visual perception. Nonetheless, I soldiered on, employing one or two slightly daring maneuvers, mumbling careful, careful to myself the whole way, as though willing my recklessness to behave more rationally until I managed to push through to an open pocket. See, the danger in driving in these conditions is not just only the treacherous roads or impaired visibility, but the stupidity of the complete and utter jack holes driving around you.

Anyways. My Honda behaved admirably, even on the vastly more treacherous local roads. This is when my stick-shift training came into use. I learned to drive in a VW Rabbit stick-shift that I affectionately called "The Turtle" not for its performance, but rather its dark green color. Plus, there was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle - Michelangelo, I think - that a friend had won me in the claw game on the Point Pleasant boardwalk. It held a place of honor on my dashboard for a while. Only four gears in that bunny, people, five if you count reverse, which I didn't. My father endured death defying feats in the parking lot of what used to be E. Toff Drug Store while teaching me tricks of the stick shift. Like the fact that you don't actually have to flip a turn signal fully on, but can just push it slightly with your finger and then release when done. This maneuver is best employed when changing lanes and helps prevent the toggle from getting stuck blinking ad infinitum while one drives on obliviously. And did you know? It also applies to automatic cars! He also taught me to downshift when approaching red lights so as not to wear out my brakes. Also a tidy thing to do in raging snow and rain storms so that the whole car works to slow down rather than its entire weight resting on the brakes.

See Dad, I do listen. Sometimes.

Though my Honda is an automatic, I still drive with my hand on the stick and if I'm driving a van or a rental car with the gear shift behind the steering wheel, every single time, my hand will still reach for the stick in between the seats, falling ignobly into empty space. And every time I drive in dodgy weather - like, say, today, - I still downshift on hills and through turns. At one point today, I was pulling out of a parking lot and had to stop behind a ginormous F-15000000 truck. He pulled out, no problem; but because I had to stop behind him, I was now stuck in a rut thanks to the local construction and, oh yeah, THE SNOW. Did I panic? I think not. I rocked the car into reverse and then plunged forward and free - learned on the stick shift baby. Later, as I was nearing home, sliding through my last left turn, and I do mean sliding as the roads had yet to be plowed, I reached for the stick to downshift and found it already all the way down in second gear or D2 as my Honda calls it. Ha! Yes, I actually thought to myself, HA!

Instinctive? Yep. A lesson well-taught nearly in spite of myself?

You betcha.

My young friend, Keyrsten, is learning how to drive now, with a mobile unit of prayer coverage hovering over her every step of the way. I've driven with her; I know of what I speak. She's no worse than I was at that age - and no cracks about how much better she may be than me now, thank you. But I think of these things when we talk about driving or when I'm picking her up from her job at the mall, or if we're driving somewhere together. I don't want her to pick up my bad habits, but I think of these good ones and hope she learns them. I think of the pleasure I still take in driving a stick shift car, in the control it gives you over the machine, in the joy of surging forward through the gears, the melody of 2nd to 3rd and 3rd to 4th. I drove a stick shift through nearly 2/3 of Ireland and loved every hill and valley I curved through (though perhaps not so much the bridge wall an 18-wheeler scraped me against in rain and the dark of Western Ireland.)

I guess I may have a few things of my own to teach well too.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Not a Domestic Goddess

It's not a revelation that I am not a domestic goddess. Well, not a revelation to me. Or to anyone who's actual seen my apartment. Nonetheless, there comes a time when even I have to step up and - gulp - do housework. I fail to understand why this has to be on my holiday weekend, but I imagine it has more to do with finally having the time than not being able to live with the dirt and cat fur anymore.

My Thanksgiving weekend was full with a capital F. T-day morning was spent being lazy before heading to my boss' for her usual awesome spread and cast of thousands. This is also where I discovered heretofore unknown mad skillz on the drums as I kicked serious ass on the Rock Band video game. Friday was the traditional trip to PA to visit grandparents - a long, late day with lots of driving, dodgy diner food, an overly warm apartment and the all important nap via recliner. I did get the chance to surf web sites with my grandfather as we searched for info on the aircraft carrier he served on in WW II. One of the sites had the boatswain's (or something like that) whistle that I could play for him. Ninety-year-old man grinning like a kid - priceless.

Saturday was shopping with Mom as we used up her birthday gift cards. Shopping with my mother is a trial to be endured with good supportive shoes, full mental/emotional armor, and a loaded flask. Sadly, I was sans flask. This is a woman who shops when she can barely walk - when I can barely walk. But I persevered, through Target, an abortive attempt at Walmart, and a successful if rude experience at Sears Hardware. Now, of course, about half of the stuff has to be returned/exchanged.

I then lost the battle against a live Christmas tree (my new furniture!!) and spent 10 cold minutes at the Lion's Club tree lot explaining to Mom that the happy, nearly 7 foot Douglas Fir she wanted would fail to fit under our 6 and a bit foot ceiling. We wound up with a 5 1/2 foot Canaan fir that is happy enough, I promise. Once home, I dragged the enormous Christmas decoration box out of the inferno that is my laundry/storage room, only to discover that I no longer owned a tree stand. Moving casualty. So off to Walgreens I went, tree still affixed to the roof of my car, like the Grinch and his sleigh only no Max.

And then came a frustrating hour setting the tree up.

How successful was I at this?

It tilts.

But so does my apartment, so really, from the right angle, it's actually straight.

Polish logic.

Sunday, I played hooky from church (yes, I know, I'm going to hell on an express elevator) and cleaned like a madwoman. This included installation of the new kitchen curtains (gift cards!) complete with hardware, a process that included creative swearing (why be dull?) mismeasurements, unscrewing the screws I just screwed (?) remeasuring, rescrewing...did I mention I'm not a domestic goddess?

On the plus side? Kitchen now looks bee-u-ti-ful.

I had planned to write this weekend, to clean things up for a submission, but Mice and Men have nothing on me for plans gone awry. It was 6pm Sunday night, back spasming, belly growling, before I was able to light my eucalyptus candle and set up my personal tea pot and matching cup and saucer with tasty Vanilla Carmel tea - all necessary elements for my muse to flow. Which she kind of did...but mostly didn't.

And yet? Still better than living in Weehawken.

How was your Thanksgiving - relaxing or fulfilling - or both?