Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Spread This

We're about thirty years in, now, on making our own Christmas cards, and by "we," I mean me, with Dave's usual lavish support. Until five years ago, I carved a block and hand-printed over a hundred cards in black ink, and then hand-colored each one, and then wrote inside them and addressed the envelopes, and in the days before email that also entailed a fat recap of our entire year in longhand, because some of those people only heard from us that often. It worked out to about, carry the one, five thousand minutes per card, which means--move the decimal--I should be done with 1994's batch any time now.

Utterly ridiculous amount of time involved. Of course, I worked then, and as everyone knows, retired people are oh so busy. You know why retired people tell you they're busy? They just want to work "retired" into the conversation as often as possible because they enjoy the look on your face.

So, yes, I'm busy, but that's after working in nine or more hours of sleep a night, and a leisurely morning with the newspaper and coffee, and a considerable chunk of time staring into space. I now devote about three days to carving out my card block and getting a decent print and coloring it, and then it's off to the print shop for mass production. One "Murry Christmas" in my illegible hand on the inside, slap on the stamp, and Bob's yer uncle. The only really aggravating part involves Microsoft.

I made a spreadsheet of my Christmas card recipients. It's got three columns. Name, address, city.

I don't even really know what a spreadsheet is, and my Microsoft Excel spreadsheet knows this, and tries to wipe me off on the first low branch it trots under.

Wikipedia: "A spreadsheet is an interactive computer application for organization, analysis, and storage of data in tabular form." Sure it is! And you can manipulate all that data. And by "you" I mean you, not me. I try to alphabetize my list, for instance, and I get a nice column of names in order, which is useful if you don't mind that their addresses didn't tag along with them. Every time I try to do something like this my spreadsheet goes tectonic. The columns shift along predetermined fault lines with the names uplifted and the cities subsiding. Yes, I looked up how to do it right, but my spreadsheet can smell fear, and is in fact quite energized by it. My spreadsheet will stop suddenly just to watch me sail over its head into the bushes.

At one point I thought I couldn't add a new name to my list unless it fit alphabetically where I deleted a dead person.

So after a while I quit trying to manipulate my data and just flang it in. Which is inelegant, but at least it's all there. Until that dark day comes that I need to do a Mail Merge and get all those data on sheets of label paper.

But this is Microsoft. There's going to be a quiz. What is the name of your printer's first pet? Bzzzt, wrong answer, the parakeet totally counts. What kind of label paper are you using? Here's a list of a thousand brands of label paper. It's probably one of those, have a spin. What is the PIN number for your account? Do you want to start an account? Would you like 10% off for doing a survey? What's your maternal grandfather's first name? Are you sure? They changed things when they left the old country. What? Oh, you wanted to print labels? Never mind. What is the name of your printer's first pet?

Every year. Every year I would curse and drink and spend hours and finally my labels blundered into the barn and I slammed the gate behind them, and then I carefully wrote out instructions for the next year for what seemed to work. The next year those instructions did not work. Shit, I bought a Mac ten years ago, but I was afraid to not use Microsoft, so I got Microsoft Office for Mac all saddled up and tied it to my toolbar where it is routinely spooked by just about everything.  So this year I sidled up to my computer and threw a blanket over my spreadsheet's head and went to retrieve last year's instructions. And guess the hell what? I didn't have instructions from last year. What I did have was last year's list ready to print. I apparently saved the successful last step of the Mail Merge as a word document, and I was able to edit it for this year and hit Print and the gol-durned thing sprinted away and came back with my labels. Like that.

Which means I can send the spreadsheet to pasture and just update my word document from now on. I'm sure I didn't think of this wonderful thing. I think one of my young friends came drifting through and pulled a beer out of the fridge and fixed the settings on my computer and evicted the gremlins and reamed out my phone and said BTW (that's the way they talk) you can just use this document from now on, LOL. And I forgot it until now.

And this is why old ladies keep a lot of beer in the fridge.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A Slug Named Skippy

I spied a hyphenated slug trail the other day.

Slug trails themselves are not at all unusual around here. We have lots of slugs, and they're always trying to get somewhere else, even if the place they end up isn't any different from where they started. The main reason a slug produces a snot trail is to make a Slip 'N' Slide so it doesn't scratch up its belly. (It's not really called a belly--they call that whole bottom portion a "foot," even though it's really more like a zamboni.) Also, it is thought that other slugs can find each other by following their trails if they're feeling sociable. And, of course, theoretically an individual can always use them to find its way back to where it's been, although it never does.

There are many uses for the mucus they produce to make their trails. One memorable ancestral slug of my youth used his to make sure I never walked barefoot in the grass again. Human observers are able to examine the slug's thought process by means of its trail, which usually wraps up in less than the width of a standard sidewalk. There's the heroic first sally, followed by an arc of doubt, indecision, looping, and despair, culminating in desiccation or the Rapture, depending. The Rapture, in slugdom, is when the good slugs are lifted up and go straight to bird shit.

This particular slug trail worried me because it was like when you don't have enough paint on your roller and there are dry bits on your wall at regular intervals. Slugs need a lot of paint on their rollers. They manufacture mucus from an area just below their mouths, right about where their foot starts.

At first I was very excited about my hyphenated slug trail in case it was evidence  of a sense of sluggular humor. Slugs are known for randiness and ick, but not really humor, so much. But what I saw on the sidewalk was precisely the joke in the comic strip Family Circus. Little Billy is supposed to come straight home but never does. He goes all over the place! Ha ha! It's such a staple of hilarity you can count on seeing it every couple weeks. Could my hyphenated gastropod be pulling a funny? Comedy has to start somewhere. There's a lot of evolution involved before you get to true stand-up, as pioneered by the meerkat family.

We like it damp here, and so do slugs. You could dang near navigate by slug trail on a full moon night. So when a Facebook friend posted a photo of a heavily slimed tree and asked whatever it could be--tree sap was the prevailing guess--I informed him he was looking at the aftermath of a slug orgy. I was right, too, but for some reason no one believes me anymore. [At least, not since the time I declared that a group of caterpillars once beat up a famous entomologist, trashed his place, stole his coin collection, and bought a bunch of meth.]

But I knew it was a slug orgy because one of the many things slugs do with their vaunted mucus is goo themselves up to a tree branch and hang from a slime string to have sex, and lots of it, and they aren't at all averse to doing it in a group. Everybody has the same equipment. A slug is not just an undifferentiated bag of snot: each slug has one vagina, one penis, one nostril, one mouth, one anus, and one foot. Pity the poor forensic artist who has to work with that description.

The hyphens! That's it! Slugs got only one foot! They're hopping!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

TLDR

These days it's more important than ever to stay informed. Everyone says so. We must be intelligent consumers of the news, able to discern fact from fiction in a world that aims to deceive. That's right. News is something we consume. Not sure what happens to it down the line.

Say you find something interesting, something serious, something from a famously thoughtful journal, and you click on it. You settle back. It's a comprehensive review of judicial and recent stippled history as it pertains to the current ascendancy of the alt-elf estate, with bonus analysis by highly ornamental exports in the field of cross-germinated flagitation. You concentrate on the first few paragraphs, consuming away in a righteous state, brow furrowed, and when it doesn't seem to be in a hurry to wrap up, you start to wonder how long is this, and you glance over at the scroll bar, just to see exactly what sort of commitment is being asked of you, and that little dingus is way up there on the page, and then you go back in for another paragraph or so, soldiering away, but it's troubling, and then you give that scroll bar a big spin like Wheel of Fortune, and holy moly but it's a long one, and so you bookmark the page and file it away in your online hidey-hole of worthy things you mean to read sometime, which is nearly as virtuous as reading it, and have to recuperate with a video of kittens falling off things.

Don't let this happen to you.

Because these days it's more important than ever to monitor your information diet so as not to damage delicate emotional tissues. It's not that you don't want to stay informed but sometimes a glancing blow of news is good enough. Get the gist, enough to fill in the right bubbles on the ballot, and move on with your life. Fortunately there are ways to gauge your level of involvement before it's too late.

For instance, listen to the language in the first few moments of a radio broadcast. They'll tell you what you're in for right up front. It's a good sign if the host of a show is going to have a conversation around something. Or if he is interviewing someone and asks for help to get his head around an issue. Or even wrap it around. You can anticipate a pretty easy data dump here--a moderate but not insurmountable degree of information is headed your way. If you're lucky, they'll even do some spitballing, or they'll offer to circle back.

But use caution if someone is planning to unpack a story. That can get grisly in a hurry. Before you know it, they'll threaten to drill down or, worse, do a deep dive. You might want to back off and change the dial until you find someone willing to give you the takeaway.

The takeaway is really where it's at, but keep your instincts sharp; if the conclusion is anything other than "The future still remains to be seen," or "No one expects that to change anytime soon," you might be getting into some suspect content there.

In troubled times, you're probably safest just getting your news from snappy memes on social media. These are designed to be short, sassy, and to the point. Your friend might post it with the single comment "This." Or, look for something that ends in "Think about it. Take all the time you need." This will generally be a slam-dunk absurdity and, usually, a shout-out to the choir, which should puff out your righteousness sails for minutes at a time.

For even more pointed commentary, look for the words "Let that sink in."

There! That didn't take long! Now you know which bubbles to fill in, you've limited your exposure to abrasive reality, and you're back in kitten territory.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Oh, Fudge It

What's in YOUR refrigerator?
I believe in tradition, even if I have to make one up every year, and so it is with solemn pride that I report this is the thirty-fifth year in a row I have screwed up the fudge-slathered fudge cake in a completely new way.

It's never come out right, but it never comes out wrong the same way twice. I am not a baker. A baker understands things about temperature and chemistry and eggs. I have the reputation in my family as a baker on account of I do bake things, and I bake things because I like eating baked goods. In much the same way, Dave is a cook because he likes eating, um, food. We come as a set. It usually works out.

My baking works out mainly because it's hard to throw flour and sugar and butter and cream together without getting something yummy out of it, even if you have to rename it.

Usually I mess up the fudge frosting on the fudge-slathered fudge cake. It either sets up too strenuously and slabs onto the cake like shingles, or stucco, or something other than smooth shiny slatherance; or, conversely, it doesn't set up at all, and we have to chase it all over the counter with spoons. In all likelihood this is a matter of temperature and if I were an actual baker I would have a sense how hot to bile it and for how long, OR I would have a thermometer and precise instructions. The recipe doesn't mention a thermometer. It merely suggests I cook it on medium low for about ten minutes. On the test kitchen's stove, using the test kitchen's saucepan. The home cook is on her own.

I messed up the frosting a little this time. Calls for six ounces of unsweetened chocolate, for which I substituted the three ounces I actually had on hand, two ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips, and a pale, desiccated old ounce I scrounged from my neighbor, because it's not really Thanksgiving unless you're missing a key ingredient and the stores are all closed.

I don't usually mess up the cake. At least, not any more than it's been messed up every year. It involves whipped-up egg whites and whipped-up egg yolks. You're supposed to fold the egg whites into the rest of the cake batter. "Folding" egg whites is one of those baker jokes. Real bakers laugh themselves silly over putting that instruction into a recipe, because it is not possible to mix fluffy egg whites into chocolate and ground nuts and keep any loft in them at all. There's really no point. Nevertheless, I try for it every year. The two cake layers bake up fluffy and then swoon into sad little cratered crackers as they cool.

This year, however, I dropped a bit of egg yolk into the egg whites and couldn't persuade it out, so I just went ahead and tried to whip it all into Soft Peaks. I did not achieve Soft Peaks. I achieved an apathetic foam floating on a sea of snot.

Hell with it, I said. It's not like this cake ever stays fluffy anyway. I mashed all the egg portions together with the nuts and chocolate and poured the whole mess into the pans, and I will be dogged if the cake didn't turn out better than it ever had. It's not fluffy, of course, but this time it's not actually concave.

Well! The frosting turned out perfect too. Without any doubt, this was the most successful fudge-slathered fudge cake in 35 years. Somewhere, there's a cabal of bakers cackling their fannies off thinking of how much pointless bullshit they get people to do. I should've known right off the bat when the first instruction was "grease two pans and then line with tin foil." Because everyone knows how much tin foil loves to stick to pans! Very funny, baker cabal.

Next year I'm going to throw all the ingredients at once into a big bowl and chuck eggs into it from across the room, fish out the shell fragments, and mix. It'll be fine.