Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Reflections on a Stuck Bundt Cake

Yesterday, we had this big thing at work where awards were given out and speeches were made and sandwiches were eaten. One of the programs was a PowerPoint and talk about stress relief "during these challenging times," referring to the economy, war, and the environment. Personally, I think we would be better off if we limited our pessimism and stopped dwelling on "these challenging times," but that is another topic. Anyway, he kept coming back to the holidays being a stressful time, regardless of the economy, etc. Oh, these stressful holidays. For a second, I was surprised, thinking, "Why do they have to be so stressful?"
I thought:
- The holidays are expensive. But do they have to be? I mean, won't your loved ones love you anyway if you don't get them everything and exactly what they want?
- There's a lot of pressure to get everything done on time. But that's life, really all the time, and if you plan ahead, you can manage it. This is my first year not having exams during the holidays, so this seems like a piece of cake to me! And again, won't your loved ones still love you if maybe you're a little late with...whatever?
- There's pressure, when seeing friends and family you haven't seen in awhile, to put forth some kind of appearance of perfection. Speaking as a female (because that is the only experience I have), there's pressure to look beautiful and also thin--despite the fact that this is eating season--and bring the best-looking, best-tasting dessert to every party. Or some variation of this. But does it have to be this way? Why not focus on the positives--seeing all the people, all the warmth and lights and music and giving to the poor and happiness?

Etc etc. And then I realized that all of my "but won't blah blah blahs" don't apply to everyone; therefore I am lucky.
I am going to a pre-Thanksgiving dinner tonight and for some reason volunteered to bring dessert. I am really not a dessert person. Why do I do this? I am a good cook (the hostess of this party has been telling people I am an "amazing cook" so I have a standard to live up to now) but baking is a challenge. Sometimes I bake things that are as good as the things I cook, but for the most part, there are many opportunities for disaster when me and the oven are involved.

I decided to try Joy the Baker's All Purpose Holiday Cake. I have a dearth of apples. I impulse-bought cranberries. My grandmere just gave me a ceramic bundt pan. No thoughts of recipe difficulty crossed my mind. So I embarked on the baking adventure--I used whole wheat pastry flour, maple syrup instead of brown sugar, 1/2 cup less oil, raw cane sugar and a little honey (if anyone cares). The batter tasted like Autumn Spice Toothpaste. Uh oh #1.

I baked a small amount of batter in a ceramic dish, and was relieved to find that my pre-cake tasted awesome. Nothing like toothpaste. Phew.

Except for the bundt pan. I didn't know you were supposed to only let it cool 15 minutes, so that the cake is cool but the pan is not! I let it cool until this morning; the party is tonight and the cake is stuck in the pan. Furthermore, the top is a teeny bit blackened. I am in the midst of Googling ways to un-stuck my cake. I fretted about having to scoop the cake out of the pan with a spoon and bring to the party a Pile of Cake. Which may have been a little burnt.

But then I realized something. I am incredibly lucky. I don't have the holiday stress people talk about--at least not to the same degree--because of the people who surround me in life. Everyone is going to laugh at my pile of cake, and that's where it will end. They will still love me if my cake is ugly. They will still love me even if the cake doesn't taste good.

I guess the conclusion of this is that I am thankful (haha) to have these kinds of people in my life, but also, I think this attitude is contagious. If you just march into the holiday parties, burned cake and all, being nice to everyone and ignoring any snottiness--kind of insisting that the point of these holidays is not being judgmental about presents, dresses, and food, but rather being together and having fun--maybe it will catch on.

UPDATE: It is now Thanksgiving morning, after the party. When I got home from work, I had half an hour to get directions from Google Maps, run an errand, and get the cake out of the pan. I tried several techniques for heating the bottom of the pan, and finally had to go with the last resort--putting the oven on low heat, putting the cake back in for five minutes, and then flipping the pan.
After five minutes, I opened the oven door.
Smoke and burnt-apple-cinnamon-smell poured out of the oven. The top of the cake was now completely black. I ran around the room opening windows before the smoke detector went off. At the sight of the blackened, smoking cake, I felt like crying or laughing--I went with laughing. I felt like I was in a movie--If Bridget Jones Were a Botanist. A single lady going to a couples party with a blackened cake.
And that damn cake still wouldn't come out of the pan! I had to cut it in slices, shake them onto a plate, attempt to arrange them nicely, and inform the party guests to eat around the burned parts, if they so desired.
When I ran my errand, I observed that burned cake smell had permeated my hair and jacket. I was walking around smelling like my cake-tastrophe.
But in the end, I was only half an hour late to the party, everyone had fun, no one starved, the cake was fine, and no one loved me less for bringing a half-burned, ugly cake to pre-Thanksgiving dinner.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bubbles and Vacuums

I have a lot of thoughts I want to organize and write. I'm going to give it a try now--but I might have to rewrite this and try again sometime.
The title comes from something I heard yesterday; I was talking with someone who used to live in Portland, OR (you know, my current dream city)*, and she described it as a "bubble." I think she either said, "sort of like Rutgers," or I just made that connection in my head. I'm not sure. What she said was that it's a great place and there's all this activism and you think you're doing so much, but really it's just activism in a bubble. This was how Rutgers sometimes felt to me, especially since I've left it for another world. I now realize that it was much more progressive and diverse than the rest of NJ.
Living in a place that is a "bubble" might get old for several reasons. One might be feeling that your activism has little point--it might start to feel equivalent to being a loud, complainy high schooler who gets together with his or her friend group and just rants all the time about what's wrong with the world and everyone agrees and no one does much. Or--well, I can't really put this into words, but what I'm leaning towards is that maybe a place that is like heaven would get old, would feel like living in a fairy tale or something, and even if the "real world" has problems, I could just see feeling antsy and wanting to be there. Maybe it's because I'm the kind of person who is obsessed with change...

In the car this morning, I was listening to the news and it was all negative. This is not always the case, but my commute consisted of coverage of the current status of Zimbabwe (famine, cholera epidemic) and of female students and teachers in Afghanistan being attacked by those who believe women should not go to school. When I hear things like this, I think "My God, what am I doing!?" I know I can't change the whole world. I know I can't singlehandedly stop poverty and famine in Zimbabwe (and if I could, I couldn't stop it from happening somewhere else) and I can't stop violence and hatred. But am I doing anything? Am I doing enough?

In this way, I think, activism in a bubble might annoy me--if I realized I was making a place that was already good even better but not helping a place that really needed it.

On the other hand--I think it's important to work in a place that's already good, to make it better. For example, gender inequality, racial inequality, and other inequality in America seems like nothing compared to schoolgirls and female teachers being burned with acid in Kandahar**. Does that mean we should stop fighting for women's rights in America? No! Is it bourgeois to spend so much time thinking about Proposition 8? No! Not in my opinion--I think that somehow, making a place like this even better, somehow improves the chances of equal rights for people in other parts of the world. We can argue about this later.

But what I also thought of this morning was that some places are unreceptive to change, unreceptive to activism. Doing anything in such places is like activism in a vacuum, and maybe this is just as useless as activism in a bubble. It certainly is annoying!

But nothing is really a bubble or a vacuum. If you help one person, but don't think that's good enough, are you really being fair? Do they not matter--are they not good enough--because they are just one of several billion?

I don't know the answers; that's why I'm writing. I might edit this later, but I'm just going to post it as is for now.

Somewhat of a conclusion--if where I am is more of a vacuum than a bubble, I still think it's good to spend some time here, to learn how to live in the "real world." By that I mean, get used to a world where it's okay to assume that most people fit a norm of being male, white, straight, and married, and they are are neither vegetarians nor Jews who keep kosher or part of any other group in the world that doesn't want a ham sandwich.

* Since my trip, whenever I meet someone from one of my "dream cities," I have this bad habit of bombarding them with enthusiasm and questions.
** I totally just used to Google to make sure Kandahar was in Afghanistan.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Blogging about weather

After an unseasonably warm last weekend, this week has been unseasonably cold. You know what I think? It sucks!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Postponed Dreams

If one has a dream, then it's a good idea to ask once in awhile, "What am I doing? Is this part of the dream or postponement of it?" It may seem like postponement but really it's part of it, preparation (too many p's...) for what is more obviously the pursuit (another p!) of that dream. Maybe you're not stagnating, maybe what you're doing now, while not directly related to the dream, is helping you get there. Something that needs to be done before being ready to take the next step. Or some other loose ends of your life needed to be tied up before you can move on. An example would be, stuff in your personal life that needs to be tied up or dealt with or just somehow completed, before you can do something professionally. Something that is the next big step in that big dream.

I realize it says something about me that I wrote about "dreams" in general and immediately narrowed it down to career, as though that is what everyone dreams of. Personal life is secondary. Or rather, in my experience, personal life falls into place. For me, I maintain ties with people from most stages of life and am able to make new ties wherever I go.

I was just going to write the postponed dreams paragraph, but I'll add the rest. A year ago, before it was clear that I would have a job after graduation, my roommate and I would have conversations about what we were going to do. One day, he told me that someone told him, "You're not in a relationship. You can do whatever you want." He realized it was true, and we discussed how this was true for both us. We were free. We discussed what that whatever we want could be. This economy limits those dreams, in a way. And yet, it shouldn't. For me, it makes me even more determined. My road trip--I thought, this is the time to go! When times are bad! Gas prices are high, but if we can afford it, we have to do it! It will be more than just vacation, it will be an experience to see the whole country in the midst of a historic election. Where was I going with this paragraph?
Anyway, I had a dinner party this weekend that was absolutely great. Friends from different circles were there and everyone got along and had fun. It was an evening of sappy, warm fuzzy feelings. A friend I've had since birth--in fact, our friendship was predestined before we were born--recently got engaged and I am in the small bridal party. We were discussing plans and I thought about how many of my friends' lives are changing now and then I thought, this is what I need to be here for. This is, I guess, what not only kept me in New Jersey but pulled me north of I-78, north of that Central/North boundary. I belong here now.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I knit wrong!

I have been twisting my stitches for THREE YEARS AND I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW IT!!!!!
That is why it is good to go to a Stitch and Bitch. I bet all my friends who learned how to knit because of me knit properly or oh God--I've inspired an army of twisty knitters.
I suspect it won't be too frustrating to learn to knit the right way. Apparently it doesn't matter in most patterns; however, it messes up my gauge (this explains SO MUCH) and I have a sneaking suspicion that this twisted stitches thing is the reason that:
1) My Argosy scarf rolls so much
2) My Odessa hat looked SO UGLY that it inspired me to quit knitting for like, six months
3) It rained on my picnic birthday party

My situation is not uncommon. Twentysomething, move to a new town, working a lot and not a lot of time to meet new people, and for all intents and purposes, newly single (and that's all I'm going to say about that.) Eventually, I realized that, were I to blog extensively about my life, it might resemble the very beginning archives of Crazy Aunt Purl. Starting over, blah blah blah. And what did she do? She joined a Stitch and Bitch!

I suspect this was a good idea because not only was it nice to get out and meet people, but it's a way to get help with my knitting. Eventually I'll re-tackle the Odessa hat without wanting to throw it out a window. Oh, it was also a good thing to do because the place is only 20 minutes away, but it's in normal civilization with things like Target and Best Buy and HomeGoods (who would have thought I would miss big box stores?) so I can do some shopping while I'm out that way. Teavana is nearby. ALSO it is exactly equidistant between my new home and my old home (New Life and Old Life) and therefore, a convenient meeting place. I have a lot of friends who live near there, too. We can all get after-work dinner or something.
It's funny because people were saying, oh wow, you had to travel to get here, oh wow. I was mildly confused and then realized, oh I guess so. First of all, I crossed the North-Central Jersey Line and the Morris/Somerset County Line (which is probably five minutes from my house, but still! artificial boundaries!) But where I grew up, you could drive 20 minutes and NOT HAVE LEFT TOWN. 20 minutes is nothing. In fact, it's nice to have a place to drive once in awhile (my commute is 2.7 trafficky miles.) Me, Stella (the car), some music, and something vaguely reminiscent of the open road of my June trip.
My next project involves DPNs; I'll see if DPNs and re-learning how to knit are a bad combination or what.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Amendment to my last post

I should have been more clear--most of the people in my class didn't just write "2" for the ethnic and religious groups. Most people wrote "3" and higher, meaning they wouldn't even want to be close friends with someone of a different race. Aahhhh!
I'm still really disgusted by Proposition 8 and everything else like it. But I am tired of writing about it. So I'm going to write about something light and funny. I've had notes for almost a month now about this ridiculous week I had.
And, the blog title--my big hair has reached new heights of late. I want to get it cut. Blah.
Oh, and here's a crazy news story. The comments are the worst. I need to stop reading blog comments. Good thing my blog doesn't get any!
This is sort of the area of NJ in which I grew up. Sigh...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

When I was a senior in high school, I took a class about social issues that involved a lot of participation and discussion. One day, we did an exercise where we got a list of groups--mostly racial groups, religions, and a few each class chose to add. (I have no idea what--usually it was something goofy, like people who went to our rival high school or people from a town we thought was trashy.) The exercise was anonymous; next to each group we wrote a number. The number was from 1-10 (or something) with 1 being most acceptable and 10 being least. "1" meant you would accept someone of this group as your spouse. "2" meant "best friend." "3" meant neighbor. "4" meant classmate or member of a club you were in. Etc etc.
After we all filled out our lists, the tallies were put up on the board.
For all of the ethnic and religious groups, it was a no-brainer for me. I am pretty sure I put "1" for everything except "Homosexuals." I knew that not everyone in the class would feel the same way as me, but I was really surprised by what actually happened.
One other person--I never found out who--wrote the same numbers as me. But every single other person in that class--a large class, mind you--wrote the number 2 or higher for the religious and ethnic groups that were not their own. With the exception of one of my classmates, not a single damn person in that room--young idealistic people in the year 2001--believed they would marry someone of a different race or culture. In the class discussion following, I was angry. I tried to assert that race was a construct--it doesn't and shouldn't matter. People's responses were horrible. They actually said things like "These people just aren't like us."
I don't need to go on and on about how I felt and why. I'll just say, I was really upset. Enough that it stuck with me seven years later. I felt shocked, that an overwhelming number of my classmates were racists. And they all thought I was the crazy one. I felt very alone!

This morning while driving to work and listening to the radio, I kept thinking about that exercise in my high school class. I felt that who I was when I Was seventeen and in that high school class asserting that people are people, all of them, we're all the same--I felt that the girl I was then was validated, in a way. She needn't have felt lonely. In a way, this victory was for many people in many different ways. Hearing people on the radio saying that they felt that now anything was possible for anyone--people who remembered when women didn't have the right to vote, people who remembered separate drinking fountains, and lived to see this day--I felt this victory was, in a small way, for me, too.
As Proposition 8 (argh) shows us, change doesn't happen overnight and sometimes the world moves backwards. But I still feel, today, that a better world is possible.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I'm so excited about the outcome of this election!
I can't believe we know so early!
I don't have to change my first name!!!!!!!!!! Yay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My Story of American Democracy - the post-vote post

I voted!!!! It was fun!!!!!!
I should preface this by saying that I take voting rather seriously. I'm not militant or anything; I don't even vote in every election, but I think voting--informed voting--is important. My birthday is April 9. I registered to vote on April 12 of the year I turned 18. Instead of registering to vote in New Brunswick, which would have been more convenient for big elections, I stayed registered in Sparta, so that I could vote for open space and farming issues and other things relevant to an area about which I was more informed than New Brunswick.
I've been thinking a lot lately about 2004. Partly because that was the year of the last presidential election, and partly because, going through "moving boxes," I uncovered a bunch of issues of my favorite hipster Rutgers newspaper with a small following, from 2003 and 2004. I was going to chuck them immediately, but I've been reading them for nostalgia, for the still-funny humor sections, and for the music recommendations. (That's the great thing about hipster/indie music--it's still cool four years later.) Nostalgia has taken over so much that I've been reading the no-longer-relevant not-so-current events pieces, and therefore remembering the last election.
I planned to get up early, dress nice, and go vote with a PASSION! and then go hiking or something. Instead, I got Day Off Syndrome (similar to Winter Break Syndrome from college life.) Realizing that I did not actually have to get up before sunrise, I turned off the alarm, told the dogs they could go for a walk later, and went back to sleep. Then, when I woke up, I fed the dogs and went back to bed! Proceeded to loaf around reading the paper. It's like, "I am ALWAYS active. I NEVER get to loaf around! Why can't I do that now? Why do I have to be active, even if it's for things I want to get done!? I'm TIRED!"
Then I couldn't find my sample ballot, which I meant to review last night, because although I knew which presidential candidate I was voting for, I wanted to vote for local representatives, too--as an educated voter.
I couldn't find the sample ballot anywhere!
So this morning, I was really grumpy because I got a late start and was about to go check off Obama like every other young person and I could either vote, uninformed, in the local elections, which would be lame; alternately I could just check off "Obama" and ignore every other page of the ballot, like many young people, and that would also be lame.
Also, I was thinking about four years ago. It was my first presidential election. Remember what people kept saying about that election? That we were voting between the lesser of two evils. Lesser of Two Evils. That's all anyone said. I felt I had to vote in the 2004 presidential election, but I was miserable about it. The night before, I spent hours on the Internet researching each candidate, praying I'd find something to make me love John Kerry, but I just kept finding more and more to hate about BOTH candidates. When I went to my hometown to vote and stood in the booth, I felt tearful. What a terrible way to remember one's first presidential election!
BUT! everything was different this morning, when I got to the polling place. I parked at the library because the lot at the polling place, my former middle school, was full. I walked up the hill past SUVs parked in not parking spaces, feeling grumpy at them. Grumpy that my vote barely counts because of stupid electoral college blah blah blah. Obama will probably win NJ whether I vote or not, I thought, and the popular vote won't do a damn thing! I was both grumpy and proud (like it was an act of subversion) to be standing on line to vote in my heavily Republican hometown.
As I stood on line, I looked at my surroundings. It was my old middle school. The stage on which I played Mae Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie looked exactly the same. The little old ladies running everything, checking off names, were dressed up and seemed to be wearing their Election Official nametags with pride.
A woman had brought her toddler with her to vote, and she was talking to him, quietly, while going through the process. I think she let him hit the Vote button and she let him hold the eletric pen thingamajig at one point. He was chattering in half-words, and I realized that he wasn't saying "Mama, mama" but "Bama, Bama."
When I was next in line to vote, an elderly volunteer in a red blazer and lots of jewelry came in. She was furious, ranting about how it was such a shame, all these young people voting for Obama just because! "Did you set her straight, Bev*?" another volunteer asked. "No, we got into an ARGUMENT!" I was annoyed--I wanted to say, "How do YOU know young people aren't informed voters? I'm voting for Obama too, SO THERE!" But I didn't. I was distracted as I saw the ballot, and the volunteer took my number. There the names were--it seemed much more real than before. Barack Obama and Sarah Palin--the first non-white-male-candidates of the major parties. No matter what, this election is going to change things.
I am not in love with everything Barack Obama says. And I don't hate John McCain. But when I checked off my vote and saw the box next to my selection light up, I felt so happy! Because this is only my second presidential election, and my first was so awful. It felt really great to be voting for a candidate I actually like! And it felt great to know that no matter what, the president I really dislike will not be president much longer. In 24 hours, we will know who is going to replace him. And you know what I think? No matter what, it's going to be okay!
We aren't voting for The Lesser of Two Evils. We are choosing between two candidates who believe climate change is real. Two candidates who want to get us out of Iraq, someday. Two candidates who are not George W. Bush.
That is something to celebrate.

As a post script, I was so energized by this that I did vote for senator and congressman and one of the questions, and THEN decided to make a bathroom stop. The bathroom looked the same as it did when I was 13 and that was weird. What a difference a bathroom stop makes--because I hung around, I ran into my former Biology teacher, the first to teach a unit on plants. I hesitated, and then exclaimed, "Mr. Pedersen!? Is that you!?" at his back, and then "OMG I DON'T KNOW IF YOU REMEMBER ME BUT I TOOK YOUR CLASS TEN YEARS AGO NO WAIT MORE THAN THAT AND OMG I'M A BOTANIST NOW ALL BECAUSE WE DID A WILDFLOWER COLLECTION IN YOUR CLASS!" We chatted for awhile and he said I made his day. What a great morning!

* I can't remember what her name was, but it could have been Bev!