Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A wormhole that ended at fudge

I turned the radio to the classical station just as the 1812 Overture was coming to the bells and cannon part. Naturally, I risked future deafness and cranked the volume up to 11 because that part has to be LOUD in order to fully enjoy it. The windows have to rattle or you're doing it wrong. At the end of it the announcer said that the song commemorated the Russian defense against Napoleon, which I didn't know. So I looked up the battle and then fell into a Wikipedia wormhole that started out with:

-the 1812 Overture. It was played as the inaugural performance at Carnegie Hall and conducted by Tchaikovsky himself. Then moved on to

-the War of 1812 (not related, although Napoleon played a part in both)(war is so dumb) and then moved on to

-the practice of impressment by the British of American sailors. They would literally park next to ships docked off the American coast and climb aboard and sniff out any British born sailors who had taken on American citizenship and force them come back and fight for the Empire. This did not go over well. From there is was a quick hop over to

-US and British naval ships. We had one called the USS Frolic, which seems like kind of a pansy name for a war ship, but the British had the HMS Reindeer. That doesn't even make any sense! Then a quick stop through

-Dolley Madison saving my favorite picture of Washington. It's called the Lansdowne portrait but I like to call it the "Well, here's this table, I guess." portrait because his expression says it all. It was his poor teeth! And then I read up on

-Naval Battles of the Great Lakes, including the Battle of Mackinac Island which made me giggle a little because I really wanted them to all eat fudge afterwards. Except that fudge wasn't invented yet. How do I know this?

-Because fudge was my next stop. Did you know that it's an American invention? And that it became popular through women's colleges like Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith ("Go to Smith?! She couldn't even spell it.") The Vassar recipe appears to be the original but it's tricky and you could end up with grainy fudge. Ugh, the worst! It was the Wellesley girls who added the marshmallows.

Who wants to come over for a fudge making party where we try out all three recipes and see who is the victor? We'll wear frilly aprons over our tweed skirts and form-fitting sweaters and in between tastings we'll fiddle with our pearls and talk about which boys we danced with after the Harvard/Yale game.

And we'll listen to the 1812 Overture to bring this baby full circle.

Monday, December 8, 2014


It was a crafty Thanksgiving season. Which is great because when I choose to do crafts during Christmas time I tend to find myself hunched over a pile of felt in tears because my fingers are so sore from stitching. But, just like my shopping, all of my crafts were done before December even started. I cannot emphasize enough how totally unlike me this is. But I've been feeling the old Christmas spirit since before Halloween so maybe that had something to do with it. If it did not go against my very nature I would have had all the decorations up in time for trick or treaters. 

First up, this wreath. 

I love it. I made it several weeks ago because I talked more at my ward's Christmas Craft Saturday than crafted and I was feeling unfulfilled. It doubles as a fall and Christmas wreath because GOLD! It's sparkly and the bonus of this is that after I made it I shook out the towel I was working on onto my stairwell and now the steps are covered in glitter. I hope all of my neighbors feel like royalty as they lug their laundry out. I know I do. True story: this is the first wreath I've ever made and hung and I like the look of it so much that I may turn into one of those crazy Pinterest ladies and have seasonal wreaths all year long. Somebody better stop me because I don't have any room in my wee apartment to store the off-seasons.

Up next, the stockings. I've made all of my nieces and nephews stockings. But I've failed that last two years at getting Addie's done so that was priority number one:

You can't really tell from this picture but she has embroidery floss pig tails. Cute!!! 

And here's Phoebe's:

That bunny kills me! 

Can we just take a moment to admire my lettering? I have the ugliest handwriting, it has zero grace or charm and I really believe it's the one thing that is holding me back from a true Life of Elegant Leisure. But I can't tell you how proud I am of my stitched writing. It was not always so. But the gift of the steady hand was with me that night. Christmas miracle!!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Naturally, I have opinions on Christmas trees.

At one point during the Thanksgiving feast we all found ourselves in tears and I thought, well this is exactly how a Knecht party is supposed to be, right. I mean, we laugh and then we cry and then we laugh some more. Which is to say that it was such a lovely day filled with family and pie. And I have many, many things to be grateful for. Family and pie being two of them.

The rest of the weekend has been jammed with Christmas prep. This is going to sound outrageous to you but I'm almost entirely done with my shopping. I know! I'm going to admit that there are many years when I'm still wrapping things up on Christmas eve. But I got brave today and knocked most of it out. Brave because I just really hate shopping. Also, most of the things I'm making for Christmas are also done. You guys, it's not even December yet! I finished Addie and Phoebe's stockings and they are darling. Pictures to follow, after I get back from Utah next week and hand them off. Mom, Lindsay and I are taking a super quick trip up there to meet Phoebe and to see Casey, Kylea, and Addie before they move to Oregon. In case you're wondering, that's now two states I'm in a fight with because people I really love live there instead of here.

What are your feelings on Christmas tree decorations? I am of the opinion that they should be random and quirky. I think it's lovely to have a themed tree with matchy ornaments. But it's more homey and Christmasy to have an assortment of ornaments you've picked up along the way. The only time I've done a themed tree was when I had first moved out and didn't have any decorations except for one giant disco ball ornament so I went out and bought about 50 more disco balls in various sizes and hung them on the wee little tree that I picked up in front of Stater Bros. It was so glorious. But that was many years ago and now I'm bursting with weird ornaments that friends have given me. The Art Society were over this morning and they helped me and Katie decorate the tree. They got a kick out of the weirder ones, like the pig on skis.

This weekend I have watched 3 of my favorite Christmas movies. White Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life, and the Muppets Christmas Carol. Let the month of festivities commence!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Watching and Listening

Remember in the last post how I said I had to settle for ham because Costco was slowly killing my soul and I had to get out of there before tracking down the turkey? Well, jokes on me, because that ham was the best second-choice purchase I ever made. We had our annual Thanksgiving feast at the Institute today and that ham was a champ. There was no repeat of the "warm gelatinous ham fat" episode from last year because there was no bone to deal with, or gristle, or giant clumps of fat. I didn't gag once while carving it. Tis a Thanksgiving Miracle!

Total change of subject, because it's time for my first ever Israeli television series recommendation to you. I know, I know. But stick with me here. It's called Srugim, it's on Hulu, and it's really good. It's like Friends if Friends was set in the orthodox Jewish community of Jerusalem. But it's not like Friends because it's not a sitcom. And no one is sleeping around because men and women can't even touch unless they're married or related. You'll have to deal with subtitles but you're cultured and literate so that's no problem. I watched the first two seasons over three days in the summer and now the third is out. On top of being a really great show with loveable and believable characters, you also have the bonus of learning all about Sabbath customs. Like, did you know that they can't cut things on the Sabbath so they have to tear off sections of toilet paper the day before. And you thought that Mormons were strict with their Sabbath observance.

While I'm on the subject of media I can't get enough of, have you been listening to the podcast Serial? It's the story of a guy convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend. Except that we don't actually know if he did it or not. I have to be careful with when I listen to it because I don't want to have to stop in the middle of an episode. It's great for the gym. And for my drive to and from work. What I really need is for someone to listen to it so that I can sit down with them and say, "Can you believe Jay?" "What about that phone call that Adnan made?" "Man, these kids smoked a lot of pot." If you've been listening, do you think he did it?

And finally, one more media related topic. This time, a confession. I've been listening to Christmas music for the last week. I've broken my long-held vow of no Christmas before Thanksgiving but you know what, I'm not ashamed so you can just stop judging, okay. Roll out the holly!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Huggin' and a Chalkin'

1. Stacy sent out this clip asking us if we remember Grandpa singing it.

Um, only every single time he was around.

Sometimes all it takes is for someone to say "a huggin' and a chalkin'" or "over the mountain" and we absolutely lose it.

2. I had 4 cars towed today from my work parking lot. We've had a real problem with ne'er-do-wells  parking without a permit, smoking pot, drinking, getting into fist fights, and giving us a bad name with the neighbors. It's a private lot so our only recourse is to tow. They're not our students, they're just MtSAC students who find the seclusion of the place perfect for loitering. So I thought I'd crack down. I always feel really great about it until I feel like a jerk about it. But they're the ones breaking the law, right? And I give out lots of warnings before towing. Which most of them promptly crumple up and toss on the ground. The first time I ever had a car towed the owner came in about an hour later, understandably upset, and said, "I thought you guys were a church. Jesus would never tow a car." Well, I think he would. And then he'd hug you and help you find the impound lot.

3. I heard this morning that people spend 2-4 hours a day texting. TWO TO FOUR HOURS A DAY!! This is absolutely astounding to me. I think I sent one text today. Which means I spent about 30 seconds on it. What are these people texting about? I get bored texting after just 1 minute. If you find that you are in this 2-4 hour range will you please contact me because I am legitimately curious as to what you are texting all day.

4. I braved Costco today and wanted to die. Why don't they have signs on the aisles? Why is that fresh produce room so cold? Why isn't there a single person that I can ask for help? Why did 2 people tell me that I would find the pre-cooked turkey breasts in the meat section but not a single one would come back to show me? I went there specifically for the pre-cooked turkey breasts!! I had to settle for ham because I was so tired of searching. I made it half way through my list and decided to holler uncle and get the rest of the stuff at Smart and Final. You win, Costco.  You always do.

5. Here's another song Grandpa loved. He was always whistling Big Noise from Winnetka:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wanted: A Cave

Farewell everyone! I'm moving to a cave in the wilderness to live the rest of my days in peaceful, technology-free bliss. If you need me I can be reached by pack mull.

Why the dramatic reaction, Rachel? Well, I'll tell you. Our modem went out yesterday. And it's a very long and boring story and you all know well because technology problems plague all of our lives, not just the lives of people who are dumb about it (me!), so I won't bore you. But I'll just say that it took four very frustrating hours of my life to fix it, no thanks to anyone at Best Buy, Verizon, or the tech support in India. It's fixed and I'm smarter for it. But I've had to use almost all of my decompression techniques to get back the old Bluebird of Happiness, namely a long hot shower (sorry CA water supply. Blame India), toast, hot chocolate, and You've Got Mail. And now writing.

Here's my question: have any of you ever had a satisfactory call with tech support? I mean, has your problem actually been resolved with any sort of ease? Because I can't think of a single instance where it has for me. I've either been told that there's nothing they can do about it and that I'm just going to have to buy a whole new whatever or I'm told that it's going to take a bazillion dollars to be fixed. All I want is, just once, for someone to say, "Sure we can fix that. Easy peasy." And I want it done in 10 minutes max. Why does every tech call have to last an hour? And it doesn't matter if I'm calling some place in America or being routed to a call center in India. It always takes an hour and it never works out. And, as I realized tonight, the answer I was looking for is probably online. I just googled it and within 15 minutes the problem was solved. I desperately wish that I had thought of that before calling India.

On that note, did you know that in order to work in one of those Indian call centers they have to have a college degree. And that they're the most coveted jobs in India. And did you also know that 50% of the population there does not have a toilet to call there own? That means that 500 million people are pooping in the gutter. And a job at a call center can literally raise a family out of that sort of poverty. Can you imagine getting a job and saying, "Well, maybe we can finally live in a place with a toilet. Celebrate!"

I guess what I'm getting at is that it's been a very frustrating night and a cave in the wilderness is still sounding very appealing. Just one with indoor plumbing.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


1. If you've finished marathoning Gilmore Girls on Netflix and you're looking for something interesting to watch try Women in Space from the Makers series on PBS. Did you know that when the government was looking for people to go into space back in the 50s they considered sending up women, simply because they were lighter and would therefore need less fuel, food, and room in the capsule. They put several women through the same tests as they did the men and found that on top of being just as competent in math and science they also handled isolation better and complained less. But you know, politics and men. And thus a few decades passed before scientists had to figure out what to do with a woman who has to pee in zero gravity (this is one of the funniest moments in the film). If you are looking for a real endorsement of this, here it is: Katie was engrossed by it. And Katie really hates space.

2. We had the missionaries over for dinner tonight and Katie made Yummy Pumpkin Stuff, or YPS, for dessert. It was so delicious that one of the elders, in a prayer he offered before leaving, gave thanks for it. As in, "We're grateful for this meal, especially the YPS."

3. Confession time: I really like it when we have Daylight Saving and it gets darker earlier. I just do, okay. It feels cozy and makes me want to go to bed earlier, which is just grand. The last 3 nights I've been in bed by 10.

4. I had the worst charley horse of my LIFE last night. My leg cramped for a solid 5 minutes. I woke up screaming. This is unusual as I do not usually cry out when I'm in pain. But I definitely screamed multiple times last night. When it was all done I sat up and tried to catch my breath and the first thought that came to mind was, "Charley horse is such a weird name for this. I wonder where it comes from." Nobody really knows except that they think it comes from a baseball player named Charley Hoss who would regularly get cramps.

5.  I went to a surprise party for my friend Laura's birthday. I've never been to her house before but I had an address. So I parked my car and walked up her street and because it was so dark and none of the house numbers were lit I had to walk up everyone's drive and peer at their porches to see the number. But guess what you look like when you peer at someone's porch in the dark. A creeper. To make matters worse several of her neighbors were sitting just beyond the door and could see me looking in at them. Please apologize for me, will you Laura. And happy birthday.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Cutest Pumpkin in Town

Well, I finally have a reason to like Halloween again. This little pumpkin showed up in time for trick or treating:

Welcome Phoebe Marie!!!!!! She had dark hair under that hat. And you may notice that she has a hint of the Orient about the eyes, much to the delight of Stacy. She has been praying for those eyes. I realize that most babies have a bit of the squishy eye but hers seem to be sticking. Sam and I would be thrilled to pass the torch to another generation. Phoebe, may you have many years of being asked by your grade school classmates if you're Chinese. (Do yourself a favor and click on that link. It is, without question, the funniest thing I've ever put on this blog.)

I was going to put up a manifesto here about how horrible Halloween has become but I can't word it in a way that doesn't make me sound like a cranky 80 year old. I mean, I am, but I don't want to be a total buzzkill. Instead, I'll just say this: please stop dressing your kids up like they've stepped out of a slasher movie. There is enough evil and violence in the world. Why would you want your 8 year old looking like they're about to murder someone?

On a happier note, my mom completely won Halloween.

She had ankle surgery 4 months ago and has gotten a lot of mileage out of that scooter. But I think she finally has found the greatest use for it. Boe is pretty cute in this too.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Not quite a pile of ash

In my last post I said we would talk about how I don't think it's much of a compliment when someone says, "You can NOT be 39." So let's.

I actually get this comment a lot because I spend my days surrounded by the Very Young who have no concept of age. To whom, in fact, 39 is nigh unto death. I remember being young and thinking that 40 would be the end of it all. So I get it.

I absolutely know this is meant at a compliment, but here's the subtext: "I think 39 is old and I'm so impressed with how you're not turning into a pile of ash right before my very eyes like that guy who chose the wrong cup on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." What's behind it all is that there's something wrong with being 39 and for now I've escaped it by looking younger than what they think 39 should look like. Folks, there's nothing wrong with being 39. Just like there's nothing wrong with being 16 or 52 or 78 or 3. Why do we feel like we have to cheer people up by telling them that they don't look their age. What if I want to look my age? I worked hard for this age! Those wrinkles around my eyes mean that I have spent a lifetime laughing.

"But Rachel," you ask, "what if I don't want to look my age?" Then dye you're hair and buy some face cream. I want you to feel good about yourself. But what I don't want is for you to think that there's something wrong with you simply because you've lived to be a certain age. On that note, lately I've seen advertisements for face creams that say what they're really doing is improving you. Which is just a bunch of baloney. Your wrinkles neither add to nor subtract from your value.

Don't think that it's not lost on me that I'm constantly referring to myself as an 80 year old woman, or that I have complained about feeling the effects of age (hello, arthritic shoulder!) But know that I don't think it's the end of the world. Plus, I'm jealous of the 80 year old ways. I'm going to be that sassy old lady, so you have about 10 years before I start saying what I really think.

I kind of want to get a group of people together and ask them exactly what it is about aging that makes them so uncomfortable. Is it the gray hair? Is it the thought of death? Is it that things stop working and their knees are creaking and there are weird bumps showing up in random places? Or is it that we have been conditioned to think that aging is bad? Do they genuinely feel like there is something wrong with getting older? I'm really curious about this. Who wants to be in my focus group? We'll eat cookies afterwards and watch the Golden Girls.

While we're on the subject, doesn't it just bum you out when you get excited for someone's birthday and they're all, "Ugh, yeah. Let's not talk about it." I mean, there is cake and celebrating in their future and all they can think about is the price of burial plots. We've got to stop this madness!

So I'm issuing a challenge. When you learn someone's age, instead of saying, "Wow! You do not look it." I want you to say, "Congratulations! Keep up the good work!" And when mentioning your age, stop looking like such a sad clown about it. Think of how smart you are for always wearing a seat belt and putting on sunscreen. You did it!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My standard of beauty

Does anyone else feel sort of bad for Renee Zellweger and her new face? Like, what is she feeling today now that those pictures are out and she looks drastically different and everyone is all, "Hmmm. Ummm. Whaaaaaat?" Do you think she went to the event hoping that people would just comment on how youthful she looked? And now she's home crying into her scrambled egg whites because that was absolutely not the reaction? It's just awful to think about. I feel doubly bad because I've been guilty of commenting on her old face, thus adding to the obvious problem that these poor women in Hollywood have to care so much about their looks that they end up doing things to themselves that make them nearly unrecognizable. I've repented and won't say mean things about faces anymore. I'm sorry Renee. It was a perfectly lovely face. I hope you really, truly love your new one.

Which brings me to my complicated thoughts on altering our looks. On the one hand I wish that we could all just age with grace and perspective and wisdom, embracing our wrinkles and sun spots and dark circles and love handles and gray hair and still have the Bluebird of Happiness in our hearts to keep us young and fresh. And on the other hand I think that if you're truly unhappy about the way something looks, I mean really down in the dumps, you should have the freedom to change it. I wear mascara, don't I? Because I like the way it makes my eyes open up. Is there a difference between wearing mascara and getting botox injected into your forehead (other than botulism)?

I suppose the difference is that I can leave the house without mascara on. While I almost always wear it I don't think I'm a deformed short-lashed freak without it. It doesn't alter who I know I really am, is what I'm saying. The other day I slept through my alarm and woke up 10 minutes before seminary started (heart attack!!!). I had 5 minutes total to get ready which means that I had to cut it down to the bare essentials: clean clothes and brushed teeth.  I didn't even consider putting make-up on. But that's my standard. Other people's standards could be a lot higher. Higher as in cutting yourself up and putting a brand new face on because you don't like the face you've had your whole life.

Personally, I think it's all in our heads. You know how you feel when you're having a really gross hair day and all you can think is that the world will finally know what kind of hideous monster you are and they'll shun you and you'll spend the rest of your days in a cave. And then you walk into work and someone says, "Hey, you look super cute today." We have no idea what the world sees in us. It's usually a lot better than what we see.

Later, I will discuss how I think, "You can't possibly be 39," is not a compliment.