Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Harrowing Tale

I stopped to get gas on my way home from work, just like any other day.  These tales always begin just like any other day, you know.  The summer heat wave was reaching another crest, rolling in with the kind of sweltering air that awakens and angers things... dark, creepy things.  Actually, the heat makes me pretty grumpy, too, so I can sympathize.

While I was standing by my car, waiting for the small tank to fill up, I noticed a few of the armored-looking, grey bugs that have been plaguing our area for the past few summers.  They seem to always be thick at this particular gas station, so it was nothing out of the ordinary to see a few of them flying around, displaying their insectoid intelligence by bouncing off the triple-bypass burrito ads atop the pumps.  But just as I was wishing the tank would fill up faster so I could get out of there before any of the bugs flew closer to me, one flew into my shoulder.  Slightly panicked, but fairly sure the bug had already moved on, I began brushing at my shoulder and trying to use the windows of my car to catch a reflection of my back so I could be sure I had no hitch hikers.  About the time I was convinced that nothing was crawling down the collar of my shirt or hanging out in my hair, the pump clicked off and I collected my receipt and made for the safe haven of my car's cool interior.

In what I can only assume was a dastardly conspiracy conceived by evil plotters in some secret lair, at the exact moment when I opened the door to my sanctuary on wheels, one of the vile, armored bugs flew in and plopped down on the threshold, barring my entry.  Pausing to gather myself for the offensive as much as to wait for my brain to begin functioning after the moment of sheer terror that had flash frozen it, I struck out with my only available weapons: my trusty credit card and the gas receipt.  My credit card has stuck by my side through many late night bouts of ill-advised shopping, but it was no match for the steel-nerved bug.  The bug merely laughed in its shiny, plastic face, causing my insides to quiver.  As I was rallying for a second pass with the card and receipt, another iron-sided bug made a successful landing on the car door and set about entrenching itself in the gap between window and door.

I instantly realized that the bugs which had, moments before, seemed so stupid, flying into and bouncing off of signs, had actually staged that as a ruse to lull me into a false sense of security.  They were, in fact, evil geniuses.

I knew that I had mere moments before thousands of the grey bugs would fill the sky and swarm over my car.

I resumed my shaky onslaught against the armored nightmares, my nerve deteriorating rapidly.  I would be stuck at that gas station forever, blocking the pump while more sensible people honked their horns and wondered why the crazy girl was waving her arms and wailing about two harmless little insects.

When I had lost all hope of ever seeing home, I heard a voice break through the terror-induced darkness: "Those pesky things are over here, too."  Another car was being filled up beside mine, and waiting patiently at the pump, was a man wearing a ball cap and mirrored sunglasses.  Through my terror-stricken eyes, he was transformed to a knight, armor shining in the sunlight, his trusty steed munching away with its nose in its feed bag.

Mustering what little sanity I had left, I cried out, meekly, "I'm terrified of these things, and there are two of them in my car."

The knight was at my side in a instant, and had drawn his sword against the evil, monstrous insects.  Outside of my warped reality, the man in the ball cap had walked over to my car and was using his keys to pry the bug out of the space between the window and door.  In what would have been a very anticlimactic fight scene, he knocked the bug out almost immediately.  Relieved, but aware that one yet remained, I beseeched the knight, "Thank you!  Would you mind terribly getting the one that's just down there, as well?"

He obligingly grabbed the offensive insect with his bare hands (in actuality, just a couple of fingers) and removed it from the threshold of my car.  "Those stink bugs are sure annoying, aren't they?" he said.

"Oh, thank you, so much!" I exclaimed.  "You have no idea how much I appreciate it!"

And just like that, the knight, having bested the terrible beasts, jumped upon his steed and rode off into the sunset.  Reality flooded back into the still terrified reaches of my brain, and I hopped back into my car and slammed the door before any more bugs could try to tag along.

Thank you, sir, in the ball cap and sunglasses.  I have recovered from my mental lapse now, but I'm sure you saved my life yesterday!

The Anniversary Cake

A couple of Sundays ago was my parents' 30th wedding anniversary.  Happy Anniversary, Mom & Dad!  Inspired by an anniversary gift from my ever-thoughtful fiance, I enlisted said fiance's help in creating a photo book encompassing my parents' lives together.  And, as 30 years is such a big deal, I stuck two tickets for a hot air balloon ride between the pages of the book.  Then I figured, what better way to top all of that off than with a delicious and nicely decorated cake?

I love decorating cakes.  Examples of my work, in all its amateurish glory, include the cake I made for Halloween last year:

And the tiki cake I made for Denny's birthday in May:

Which he murdered....

Of course, I wanted people to eat it.  I mean, that's what you do with a cake.  I just wasn't expecting my cute little tiki cake to be knifed in the face on the first slice.  (What?  It's not normal to cry when someone slices a cake?  Oh.)

Ahem.  Anyway, I had planned to experiment with fondant prior to my parents' anniversary and make them a really awesome cake.  But (surprise, surprise) I let the date sneak up on me without any fondant experimentation.  In fact, I let it sneak up on me without any cake even baked.  So I concocted a plan to secretly bake the cake at Denny's house, wanting it to be a surprise for my parents.

I stopped at the store for the ingredients and drove over to begin baking the cake.  I wanted to get it in the oven early so it would have plenty of time to cool before I decorated it.  Cool is such a relative term.

The first snafu was at the grocery store.  I had planned to buy two 8" round cake pans because I knew Denny only had 9" rounds, and I like the cakes to be taller and less flattened-looking.  Unfortunately, the grocery store, too, only had 9" rounds.  I told myself it didn't matter, skipped over the decorator icing because I was sure I had plenty of that already, and headed to Denny's house with all the necessary ingredients.

Denny was visiting his parents, so I had the house to myself.  The first order of business was to switch on the air conditioner; it's a window unit, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept.  I quickly mixed up the cake batter, popped it in the oven, and then did the dishes while I waited for it to bake.  With perfect timing, the cake was done just after I put the last dish in the drainer.  (I just love washing dishes by hand.)

When I crouched down to pull the cakes from the oven, I noticed that they were both rather high on one side.  And then I saw the oven rack.  It was bowed in the middle as if someone had cooked a small child on it.  No wonder the cakes were lopsided.  Enter snafu number two.  I told myself that I would just turn the cakes so as to balance the high side on one with the low side on the other, and I went about my business.

In addition to the 8" cake pans, I was also missing a cooling rack, so after letting the cakes cool in their lovely 9" pans for fifteen minutes, I plopped them onto plates.  Denny had returned by this time, so we sat down to watch our favorite cooking podcast, Food Mob.  About fifteen minutes in, I checked the cakes, but they were still pretty warm.  Denny suggested putting them in the fridge, and I thought that sounded like a viable solution.

When Food Mob ended, I pulled the cakes out of the fridge and grabbed the icing from the counter.  Having carefully arranged the first layer on the cake plate, I opened the can of icing and began to stir it with a knife.  "Wow," I said to Denny, "I will say one thing for the 'weather' in your house, it makes it much easier to stir icing!"  I like to tease Denny that his house has weather because it lacks central heating and cooling.  It probably doesn't bother him... or it didn't the first hundred times.

Ready for the thick texture of the icing, I tipped the plastic can down over the cake so I could use the knife to scrape some onto the top.  Rather than coming off with a glob of icing on the knife, the icing poured down over the cake like one of those chocolate fountains.  As I watched the icing pool on the cake plate, I thought, "Ok, no problem.  I'll just throw it back in the fridge for a bit."  And I placed the second layer on top of the dripping icing and put the newly stacked cakes and the icing in the fridge to cool down.

Ten minutes later and half an hour before my parents were due to arrive so we could all go out to dinner, I again got up to pull the cakes and the icing from the fridge.  It was do or die time.  I had to finish the cake now, or there would be no adorably decorated dessert to celebrate my parents' milestone anniversary.  Little did I know what horror awaited behind the closed refrigerator door.

I opened the door, and my eyes came to rest on the cake.  The top layer had slid nearly completely off of the bottom layer because of the melted icing.  "Ok, no problem.  I'll push it back on, ice over the whole thing with the nice, cool icing, and no one will be able to tell."  I pulled the cake and icing out and sat down to finish the cake.  I righted the top layer (tearing a chunk out of the side in the process) and again tipped the plastic can of icing over the top of the cake, knife poised to scrape a glob of icing out of the can (hoping I could cover the missing chunk with the icing).  The icing again poured over the cake and began pooling on the plate.

"Ok, well, it'll just have to do.  It's sort of nice and smooth, like ganache!  It will still be pretty," I told myself.  I went to the cabinet and grabbed my bag of decorator icing.  I was going to pipe on a simple hot air balloon design and the words, "Happy 30th Anniversary!"  Easy enough, right?  I dumped the bag of colored icing tubes on the table, and saw that I did not have as many colors, or as much left of any one color, as I had originally thought.  "How could this happen?!  I always buy way too much decorator icing!"  I scanned the colors remaining and decided that there was enough black and red to do the balloon (no brown for the basket) and enough purple for the lettering.

I piped on the balloon first, and I must say, it didn't look bad.  With little time remaining, I began the purple lettering.  I got "Happy 30th Anniversa-" piped on the cake, the purple icing gave up the ghost.  I squeezed as much as I could out of the little tube and used a toothpick to borrow from the already completed letters and finish the last word.  With that accomplished (to the extent that it could be), I added a few clouds in blue and stepped back to assess.

The (black) basket of the hot air balloon and some of the lettering had slid over the edges of the cake and down onto the sides.  As I watched, the pretty, blue, cumulonimbus clouds stretched into cirrus streaks and over the edges, as well.  Without a word, I stood up, grabbed the knife with which I had intended to ice the cake (ha), and stabbed the center of the cake.

Right in its red, hot-air-balloon heart.

A temper makes you do horrible things sometimes.

Despite my angst, the cake still tasted fine, and by the time we returned from dinner and I showed it to my parents, I could even laugh about it.  The top had slid off again when I pulled it from the fridge, so I just gently slid it back on with the knife, thus the large gash on the side of the cake.

I need central air.  It makes me a better person.  Really.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

This is the spot

One year and seven months ago, I drove into the parking lot of Friday's and saw a man in a black coat, standing in front of the entrance, talking on his phone. The man was tall with very dark, very spiky hair, and he was my date for the evening. I had seen him in a few goofy pictures on match.com, but this was the first time I had seen him in person. He looked very tall and surprisingly business-like.

It was black Friday, and my parents and I had hurried home from visiting family for Thanksgiving so I could get ready for my date. I tried on at least three outfits before resorting to something comfortable and safe, but cute: jeans with low-heeled black boots and a plum sweater with a modest neckline. I think I had chosen my green coat that night, but I don't remember for sure. The only jewelry I wore was a pair of dangly earrings with purple stones and the rings that I wore every day, minus the one I had worn on my left ring finger since middle school. I had intentionally removed that ring because I didn't want my date to think I had any unsavory baggage... Because I didn't. I just liked the ring, and for some reason, had always worn it on that finger. It served as excellent unwanted suitor deterrent at times.

As I walked toward the man in the black coat, I hoped he wasn't irritated that I was a couple of minutes late for our date. For me, a couple of minutes late is the practical equivalent of being 15 minutes early, but I know that not everyone has my sense of time.

I was nervous and excited, of course. It had been a long time since I'd been on an official date; it was time. I don't remember what I said when I walked up to the man in the black coat, but I'm sure it was something along the lines of, "Hi, Denny?" We followed a waitress back to our table and began the awkward ritual of getting to know each other. I wish I could remember more of what we said, but I know I made a serious dating faux pas and brought up politics, then called myself out on it. He just laughed. The man in the black coat seemed to be amused by me, rather than offended, so it couldn't have been going too badly.

We finished dinner, and he asked if I'd like to do something else. I was surprised, but happy that he felt it was going well enough to prolong the experience. We wandered around Target for a while, and then went to see a movie. The next morning, I got a very sweet text from the man in the black coat, and from then on, the sweetness never stopped.

That Sunday, the man in the black coat invited me to his house to make dinner for me. Despite the vague but troubling fear that he would murder me and make dinner out of my corpse, I went to his house. Since you are reading about this now, I clearly survived, and the man in the black coat continued to want to see me.

One day not much later, I unexpectedly saw the smiling face of the man in the black coat as I was passing through the morning traffic, and in that moment, my heart told my brain what it had not yet worked out: the man in the black coat was going to be a big part of my life, a wonderful part of my life.

One year and seven months later, the man in the black coat asked me to go geocaching (the wikipedia entry explains this concept, if you aren't already familiar with it). This has become one of my favorite activities, and the geocache he mentioned was a new one in one of my favorite spots: a battlefield with a beautiful walking trail. The man in the black coat had introduced me to the battlefield, and we often walked the trail. The first geocache we ever attempted to find was there, as well.

So it was that we walked the battlefield trail to what I consider to be a magical little pocket of the world: this section of the trail is flanked by trees, which have grown together overhead to form a leafy tunnel. When we reached the benches in the tunnel, the man in the black coat told me to sit on one bench and watch for muggles while he checked for the geocache. So I sat, peering back and forth, up and down the tunnel. After a moment, he handed me a pill bottle. Smiling, because I love to see what people have placed inside the caches, I opened the bottle to find a slip of paper, which is not the least bit unusual. However, the note written on the paper read, "This is the spot where I asked my soul mate to spend the rest of her life with me," and was dated Jun 25, 2010. I looked up to find the man in the black coat (who, by the way, does not wear a black coat in the summer heat, of course) down on one knee, with a ring box containing the most beautiful ring in his hands. I vaguely remember hearing the words, "Heather, will you marry me?" and I apparently shrieked, "Are you for real?!" though I don't remember that at all. It's so very eloquent, it does sound like something I'd say. I then lived the tried, true, and wonderful cliche, threw myself into his arms, cried, and said yes more times than I can count.

After more crying (on my part), he put the ring on my finger, I jumped around for joy, kissed him over and over, and smiled from then until I fell asleep that evening. I smiled so much that my cheeks were sore.

Two days later, I'm still smiling, still drooling over my gorgeous ring, still counting myself as the luckiest woman in the world, and will be 'till death do us part.

I love that black coat. ;)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The current object of my affection

Keyword: object.  But before I clarify that, allow me to begin by injecting a little continuity into this blog.  I just posted about polka dots and my undying love for them, but my love is so large, it won't fit in one tiny post, so here is another.  Also, be warned that my love is so large, in fact, many future posts may be written on this subject in order to fully explore its magnitude.  Have I lost you?  Don't worry, the continuity will never last.  If you don't like polka dots (sacrilegious as that may be), I'm sure my next post will be sufficiently schizophrenic to appease you.

Ah, and before I forget, this is the object of my affection, which is not to be confused with the love of my life.  More on him later.  On to the glorious object.

This is one of the most agonizingly cute little dresses I have ever seen.  It comes to you courtesy of my favorite clothing site, ModCloth.  If you have any interest in vintage-inspired clothing, I challenge you to visit this site and not come away lusting after something you have found, or downright addicted to ModCloth, in its entirety.

I have been waiting for this dress to come back in stock for weeks.  When it was first put on the site, it sold out before I could even get my credit card out of my wallet.  Okay, that's a slight exaggeration and only serves to illustrate the point that it sold out very quickly.  Like I'd actually need to get my credit card out of my wallet to order something online.  Of course I have the number, expiration date, and security code of my credit card memorized.  What?  You don't?  Oh, umm... forget I said that.

Back to the fascinating saga of the dress.  ModCloth has this handy little feature that allows you to sign up for email notifications when something, after which you are lusting particularly keenly, comes back in stock.  I use this often and have even been known to make two orders (with two times the shipping charges) in one day because two things I needed came back in stock that day.  So I signed up to be notified when this transcendent creation of a dress came back in stock.  And so it was that, several weeks later, ModCloth sent me an email, happily informing me that the dress was back in stock.  However, this serendipitous little nugget of knowledge was sent while I was on my way home from work one evening, and, because I spend all day at work reading and sending emails, I don't always run to check them when I get home.  Thus, the email went unread until I crawled into bed with my iPad that evening.  And all within the span of less than 1 minute, the miracle of the email notification lifted my spirits to soar among the clouds and promptly dashed them on the rocks below.  My beloved dress was out of stock again.

So it's back to waiting and lusting, lusting and waiting.  But, being ever the optimist, I know I'll get my hands on that swath of polka dot sunshine someday... at which point the cynical side tells me it won't fit.

Polka Dot Problem

I have a polka dot problem. Most acutely, a black and white, polka dot dress problem. My closet is full of them, and I can never seem to get enough. Anytime I see one in the store, a pre-programmed "oooh" burbles out of my mouth, and I physically cannot move on without first stopping for a closer look. I'm so sure that if I can just cram my closet full of every adorable polka dot dress I find, it will result in eternal happiness. Not to delude myself further, but I do instantly feel happier when I wear any of my polka dot dresses. I don't think anyone can argue that they aren't the essence of cheerful.

But it's not just dresses; I am inexorably drawn to anything with dots: bags, luggage, sheet sets, shoes, tights, rain boots, umbrellas, coats, couches, rugs, wallpaper, those awesome wall decals, ties, dishes, blog backgrounds (insert sheepish grin), and even food. Who could pass up a polka dot cupcake?

I'm pretty sure polka dots simply make everything better.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Perfect World of Barbie

I love Barbie. I am 26 years old, and I feel I can say that without shame. Barbie always looks glamorous and elegant. She never has a bad hair day. She has the perfect outfit for every occasion. She has been to the moon, won Olympic gold, and been president of the United States. In fact, she's had more careers than I've had haircuts. And all of her careers have been successful, which is more than I can say for my haircuts.

When I was young, playing with Barbie was magical. It all started with, "K, 'tend like..." and the story was off and running. Making up a new adventure for Barbie was always fun. Sometimes it lasted a few hours: Barbie goes camping, or Barbie opens a new boutique. And sometimes a story was good enough for several days of play: Barbie goes on a talk show to confront Ken when she finds out he's been cheating on her with her hot friend, Midge; Barbie is a witch who can levitate and cast spells on her enemies (like that bitch, Midge).

Even when I wasn't actually playing with Barbie, I was designing new outfits for her (read: wrapping leftover scraps of fabric around her and securing them with pony tail elastics and safety pins) or "fixing" her hair. I tried not to chop all of Barbie's hair off like other little girls - I didn't want to ruin what was more than just my favorite toy, but sometimes the urge to create overwhelmed my desire not to damage Barbie's perfection. Other times, I was satisfied just to brush Barbie's hair, braid it, twist it, and pin it to her head with my earrings - they make great hair accessories for Barbie, and I swear, she doesn't mind the holes in her scalp, as long as you can't see them!

Often, picking out Barbie's outfit and accessories for a new story line took more time (and was more fun) than walking her through the story. I even folded up little tiny notes for Barbie and made her magazines. When I was shopping, I always looked for things that could pass as Barbie props. Remember those little key chain notebooks? - perfect Barbie books once the key chain was removed. Equally important as Barbie's outfit, accessories, and props was her backdrop. I spent hours constructing Barbie's boudoir with filmy scarves as curtains and the legs of my jewelry armoire as the very classy pillars in her room. Of course, being a spoiled only child, I had a fair amount of pre-fab Barbie furniture, and I even got a fold-up Barbie house, eventually, but I loved creating new spaces for Barbie.

One of my favorite sets was a boutique clothing store, complete with neatly folded and hung fashions, a cash register, and tiny credit cards with real Visa and Discover logos. I have to give credit (har har) to my dad for the credit cards; he cut the little, rectangular logos from his cards when they expired. Over the years, he contributed a few things (other than his money) to my Barbie doll habit, despite the fact that he like to complain about how much Barbie stuff I had. He once made a beautiful little hammered copper bowl from a penny. One of my most memorable Christmas mornings was when there was a pink Barbie RV waiting for me under the Christmas tree. I later found out that my parents had been up almost all night assembling the plastic bits and pieces and applying the stickers.

My mom and memaw contributed by crocheting and sewing the most beautiful Barbie clothes. I was always delighted when mom took me to the craft store and let me pick out a new pattern and the color for the crochet thread and notions. Even my cousins got in on the act. Michelle, 10 years older than I, was (and is) also a Barbie fan. My first memories involving Barbie are of playing with Michelle and her Barbies. She is an incredible artist, and it was she who first inspired me to create the elaborate Barbie sets with scarves and people-sized furniture. Bryant, younger than Michelle, but older than me, occasionally made Barbie a computer or lent his G.I. Joe's as dates for Barbie.

As much as I love the brand, Barbie was never named Barbie once I brought her home from the store. I would search through the baby name book my parents used to name me to find new names for Barbie and her friends. I wasn't satisfied with Jennifer or Rachel; I looked for names like Chloe or Zoe. I couldn't name the outlet for my creativity anything ordinary or plain.

Barbie still holds a very special place in my heart. Though I've graduated from ripping the box open and playing with Barbie's hair, I still collect. I limit myself mostly to the red-haired variety, and Barbie now remains safely in the box, but she is no less magical. The pink aisle is smaller than ever, and though I prefer the website for its collector editions, the rows of pink boxes never fail to put a smile on my face and a pink, shiny glow around my heart.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Musings of a wanna-be writer

It's rather ridiculous that watching Julie & Julia inspired me to begin blogging. I really identified with Julie. With that dissatisfying hole of a worthless job where her career should be, she longs to be a writer, but is too scared to try. That is, until she is inspired by, of all people, Julia Child.

I cannot make French food; I can barely make enough meals of any nationality to require counting them with my toes in addition to my fingers. I just have a job I don't like and a deep longing for some sort of meaningful career. My biggest problem is that I don't know what that would be.

Microbiology was great in college, but the jobs you can get with a B.S. in biology aren't jobs that I want to do for an extended period of time. I could have gone on to get my masters, but I didn't really want to do that, either. I have a nagging feeling that I will only be happy if I can find a job, and hopefully, a career, in which I can be creative.

I love to write, but whenever I mention that to someone, I am invariably met with this response: "There's no money in writing." I would love to retort that some things, such as happiness, are worth more than money, but I will not stoop to that level of triteness. I also have an interest in drawing and painting, but I don't need any helpful captains of the obvious to tell me that the phrase "starving artist" is in our lexicon for a reason.

So for now, I continue to work in the field to which I consigned myself in college. And I have started blogging in an attempt to satisfy my restless creative soul while I search (read: fumble blindly) for a career I can love. So I will write... about whatever comes to mind. Just the sheer act of typing is soothing. I love the tapping of my fingernails on the keys, and I love watching words and paragraphs drizzle onto the screen like icing on a cake.

At some point, I'll look back at what I wrote, realize that I've blathered on about nothing for several paragraphs, and feel acutely embarrassed about it, but right now, I'm just enjoying the clackity-clack of catharsis.