Camp Cooking Part 3: Valley Girl (the butane cookstove edition)


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So, our most recent roadtrip took us from Las Vegas out to Long Beach. The shortest distance between two points might be a straight line, but there are very few straight roads out in the mountains and that’s no fun anyway.

Now, since we were going to be out in small towns and the middle of nowhere, I looked into food ahead of time. Not a lot of vegetarian options. Even Las Vegas isn’t exactly hip to the concept of vegans yet — though they’re learning (we found a tiny pizza place with vegan cheese in a casino). And the guide book for Death Valley warned vegetarians to “B.Y.O.B. – bring your own beans.”

I can do that.

We stopped at a Target and picked up a small butane cookstove, some cheap metal spoons and forks (seriously, the 4 pack of each, total, was the same price as a box of disposable junk), flexi-cutting mats, dish soap, sponges, aluminum foil, aluminum pans, zippered plastic bags, small plastic containers, and a paring knife. (Everything but the aluminum pans and the butane canister came home with us in our checked bags.) Then we hit up Whole Foods for the following:

  • two tomatoes
  • whole wheat wraps (burrito or sandwich size)
  • two boxes of black beans (boxes are easier to open than cans if you forgot your army can opener and don’t want to buy another)
  • a box of vegetarian baked beans
  • a white onion
  • a bag of new/fingerling potatoes
  • a 4-pack of veggie Italian sausage
  • a mini box of Italian seasoning
  • a mini box of Tex/Mex seasoning
  • two avocados, one “hard” and semi soft (meaning one riper than the other so I’d use them as they ripened)
  • yellow bell pepper
  • jar of salsa
  • tub of siracha hummus (This was delicious and I want it NOW.)
  • bag of bagels
  • tub of vegan cream cheese
  • tortilla chips
  • Daiya cheddar
  • jar of coconut oil

Later, at Von’s, I picked up a box of Minute Rice Medley (had wild rice, brown rice and quinoa in it). Minute rice, as opposed to regular rice, works best for camp cooking because “simmer” is hard on a butane or propane stove and it’s crazy to run a camp stove for 20-40 minutes trying to get rice to cook.

Meal 1 (Potato and Sausage)
Cooked at a picnic area in Valley of Fire State Park after a hike.

I sliced up the onion and potatoes on the mat. I cooked the onion in some coconut oil in one of the aluminum pans for a few minutes before adding the potatoes. I sliced up two of the four sausages into small bits and added those with a bit more oil and several hearty shakes of the Italian seasoning. Then I stirred it all up and covered it with foil. We talked and watched the slide down the sky while it cooked.

Meal 2 (Leftovers and Baked Beans)
Cooked at a picnic area outside Tonopah, NV.

We’d left the potato-sausage dish in the aluminum pan, but it was only half full, so we filled the other side with the box of baked beans and heated it all up.  We’d been hiking around the Tonopah Mining Park and eaten a small breakfast, so I also made some guacamole with the softer avocado and some salsa to eat with chips on the side. The single serving of leftovers went in a plastic storage container.

Meal 3 & 4 -& beyond (Tex-Mex & Italian Casseroles)
Cooked on the mini-wall around the hotel in Death Valley.

Pan 1: Oil, some of the onion and chopped tomato, sauteed.

Pan 2: Oil, some of the onion, and the yellow bell pepper, sauteed.

Pan 1: Dumped onto a paper plate. Added water and boiled. Added rice and Italian spices and cooked covered on low for about a minute. Then removed from heat, still covered, and put on the rock wall.

Pan 2: Dumped on another paper plate. Added water and boiled. Added rice and Mexican spices and cooked on low for about a minute. Then removed from heat, still covered, and put on rock wall.

Pan 1: Back on low heat, I added the other two Italian “sausages,” cut into small pieces and the contents of that first paper plate (the one with the tomato). Heated and stirred until the sausage was cooked. Recovered and put back on the wall.

Pan 2: Back on low heat, I added the two boxes of black beans (drained), the contents of the second paper plate (with the pepper), and some salsa. Heated and stirred for a couple of minutes. Recovered and put back on the wall.

Both were ready shortly after and yielded enough food to feed most of the people in the hotel. I had a burrito with the Tex-Mex mixture and some more avocado. We ate on this for several days (though the next hotel lacked the amenities of the Clown Motel (microwave), so I had to eat some of it cold.)

Teaching, Instructing, Leading

Teaching math and teaching karate have been wholly different experiences and not just in the obvious ways.

As math teachers, we were always demonized — both by the students and the other faculty. No one wanted to do math. No one liked math (except a couple of nerdy kids who pretended to hate it to keep up appearances and the stray science teacher who actually liked science, too). We were always pushed to pass the kids along, to make things easier — as long as they still passed the standardized tests! — and fun. We were assured regularly that no one does math outside of high school so it really didn’t matter if anyone understood it because ha ha ha, no one does. I always took exception to this because I’ve used math regularly and not just to teach it.

As karate teachers, we’re supposed to be tough, but fair. We’re supposed to challenge and when things are hard, we’re supposed to encourage kids (and adults) to practice more, to study harder, to give it another try until they get it. People who don’t do martial arts tend to view it as either something so easy six-year-olds can manage or so complicated we must all be secretly action movie stars who leap over cars instead of walking around. Some parts are more fun than others and most students tend to accept this fact even if they whine a little. Then again, they’ve signed up for this, agreed to it, so they’re more willing to put their all into it.

As math teachers, we were told never to grade lower than a 50. I wasn’t allowed to take off points if the kids hadn’t circled their answers, or if they wrote in pen, or even if they blatantly copied the answers of the kid next to them.

In karate, we have standards, concepts and skills students have to learn and perform sufficiently to progress to the next phase or belt. Sure, the five year old isn’t expected to do as well as the 22-year old, by the time both get to the higher belt levels, a lot of that leeway has been leveled out. By the advanced material, you can either do the thing or you cannot and if you cannot, you should practice until you can. (And because by the time they reach the higher belt material, the five year old is likely around ten and much more in control of muscles and mind.

As a school teacher, I always wanted to lead, to instruct, to facilitate learning. What I ended up doing more often than not was disciplining and grading on the biggest curve this side of the Sierra Nevadas. My “teaching” often got swallowed up in a culture of disrespect and displeasure.

As a sensei, I find myself shocked to realize students listen to me, expect me to have answers, and follow my lead. And I just hope I’m leading them to their better selves.

F.A.S.T Sandwiches


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This is a recipe my buddy came up with and if he ever actually opens his own restaurant, go and eat one of his along with anything else he cooks — it’s all delicious.

Anyway, one hot summer Vegan Dinner Party night, we were thinking of something to make that would be tasty, but “summery” and didn’t involve a lot of cooking. He found a picture of a BLT on his phone that someone had put sprouts on, and said that looked good. The husband loves sprouts, so he voted yes. That just left the vegan-zing. Hence:

F – is for “facon” or fake bacon. (I prefer the tempeh strips from either Lightlife or Tofuky. The husband likes his crispier like the fakin bacon from Lightlife or Morningstar Farms (note the Morningstar is owned by Kellogg’s and is vegetarian, but not vegan.)

A – is for avocado. Mmm…avocado. (a little citrus juice will keep it from browning before you can eat it.)

S – is for sprouts. Spicy sprouts are our favorite, but alfalfa sprouts, kale sprouts…whatever. go nuts.

T – is for Tomato. Heirloom, big boy, Florida 91, you know…tomatoes.

For bread, I love this recipe (I use the Bob’s Red Mill egg substitute) and I make this loaf of bread at least once a week for sandwiches and toast. You, of course, can use whatever bread makes you happy — chewy sourdough, French loaf, ciabatta, multigrain…

As a spread, we use Vegenaise. I like it with a sprinkle of dried jalepeno on it. The budy likes with blended with fresh herbs and garlic.


Candle Tins!


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Candle fans, I’m test-marketing a batch of my soy candles in travel tins during Bouchercon. If I keep them, they’ll be a bit more expensive on the website (plus shipping.) So, if you want to leave Bouchercon with some yummy soy candles in little travel tins (great for freshening a funky hotel room and small enough to fit in the suitcase or box you’re taking books home in), help me pick the scents to bring.

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I’m making three sizes (4oz, 6oz, and 8oz), two of each scent in each size. So, the top twelve scents below get made. Here’s your chance to pick the scents (up to twelve). Ready? GO!



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DEADLY DEBUT is an anthology of short stories written by some terribly murderous residents of NY. You should, honestly, just pick it up because it’s seven stories by great writers for less than three bucks. That’s less than most of the coffee drinks at Starbucks and will keep you entertained longer than finish one-seven venti-mocha-frappa-soy-latte-whipped whatevers depending on how fast you read/drink.

Just in case there’s even one of you out there thinking “Two-ninety-nine?! That’s too much to pay for a book! Only seven stories! Ha! Never!”…let me just start with, “Don’t say those things out loud, please. Especially while you’re holding a six-dollar coffee. Art takes time and energy to create — far longer than that beverage — so treat it well.” Beyond that, let’s break this down and consider that 2.99 divided by seven is just under 43 cents a story. Now, imagine the author in front of you, offering to entertain you for a few pages, to tell you a story of a little kid’s lie that left a lasting, life-long weight or about a dutiful daughter who uses her P.I. skills to help out her dad’s friend or a just-sober guy who finds a body in his closet only to have it disappear before he can figure out what to do about it. Now, realize that if you’re like me you haven’t even seen vending machine soda for fifty cents in years, much less forty-three. Isn’t it worth 42.7 cents to find out who murdered the belly dancer in the locked room? Or who stole the test out from under the flustered newish professor’s nose? Or how Edgar Allan Poe managed to kill a boy in 1961?

Besides, somewhere in these pages is the only other female Davis I know of besides the one in my own fiction, so go make with the clicky and find her. (She’s just as tough, but far less damaged than mine.)


Barnes & Noble




Travel Planners


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So, I may have made some inserts for our trip binder for Bouchercon. My desk generally looks like a tornado hit a stationery store, but on extended trips  (especially those with multiple stops or drastic weather changes) I like to have a discbound notebook with tabs for each day, maps, forecasts, reservations, notes, etc. Along the way, I’ll use my portable punch and add brochures, receipts, and other paper flotsam, and when I get home, I pull it all out and put it in a folder. 20141013_142455

If you’d like your own sheets to help you pack up before Bouchercon (or anything else), the PDFs are below. They’re all 8.5 x 11 because that’s the size notebook I use for trip planning.

Packing List

Travel Journal

Outfit Planner

Daily Snapshot Planner

Office Depot & the Terrible, Very Bad, No Good Product Release


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I’ve been a big fan of the Levenger Circa discbound system for a while now. I like that I can add and rearrange pages. I like that it’s a cross between wirebound notebooks (of which, I still love the Mirquelrius stuff both for the variety of covers and the quality/lines of the paper) and a binder (of which I appreciate the flexibility and hate everything else).


Now, if we’re gonna get all disclaimer-y about things, I worked for Office Depot many years ago and while working around that many office supplies should have been awesome, I often just felt dismayed by choices the buyers would make. Back then, they regularly rotated merchandising interns around and moved other staff for various petty reasons that didn’t seem to have anything to do with how well those people knew the product lines or their attachment to them. A lot of years have gone by, so let’s hope they’ve wise up, but the introduction of their “foray” into the discbound notebook market doesn’t make me believe it.

Various office supply aficionados, stationery addicts, notebook fans, and pen freaks blogged about the possibility of an Office Depot entry into the market and included a few reviews when they could get their hands on the product. That last bit points out one of the biggest problems. You can’t sell a product you don’t have — Kickstarter tech ideas aside, because Office Depot is hardly launching a the next big iAccessory here. I tried three stores locally and never found any hint of the system besides the punch hidden on a mid-aisle rack at the back of the store, sandwiched in between some markers and discontinued breakroom cups. I have no idea if they plan to re-introduce this system at any point in the future or if they decided the “test” failed. If it’s the later, these are some pretty good reasons why:

1) The name. I get that most people aren’t going to choose to buy or not buy based on that, but “REVOLUTION” is flat out presumptuous and stupid when you’re coming along on the heels of Rollabind, Circa, Myndology, Martha Stewart, and Arc (at Staples).

2) The test. I understand the concept of test markets and that’s all fine and well, but if no one can find your product, you failed the test immediately. If people ask employees in stores your website said would have it have never heard of it, you’ve failed the test. If you wanted a limited-run test, you’d have been better off sending a few samples to all those discbound/stationery bloggers to try out and pimp rather than tossing the samples into the mess that is Back-to-School.

3) The timing. Which leads me to this point. BTS, or back-to-school, is a huge profit boost for the office supply industry. I get that. And I get that companies start prepping for it before kids have even gotten out of school and nothing is bigger, not even the winter holidays since the margins are higher on markers and notebook paper than on TVs and computers. Still, expecting parents, already bitching about how much they have to spend, to spring for things that aren’t on the class lists is, again, presumptuous and stupid. And the number of teens who are going to spend their own money on funky looking notebooks isn’t all that high.

If, however, this had been marketed well to college students (especially grad school and returning adults), and was at a price point they could afford along with books and housing and food, this might actually do pretty well. The system makes organizing class handouts and notes easy, is more portable than a binder, and can be reused each semester or stored away as future reference.

4) The product. With the selection they released, Office Depot seemed to be aiming for the teen/tween market or the young-at-hearts. All that’s fine and well, but if you’re looking to sell specialty notebooks, you might want to offer a few things appropriate for use in offices — in other words funky stuff AND business casual stuff. They already have a “Jane” line and could have easily worked those design elements in. At the same time, all the “Revolution” items I saw online looked fairly “girly.” Granted, there was some black and gray, but it was mixed in with flowers and pinks. No primary colors, nothing “professional,” and yet no skulls or other fun, but gender-neutral designs.

About this, I want to be clear because my husband and I both have a fair amount of Circa and Arc stuff that we’ve combined and blended with other stuff to make our own notebooks. We have “professional” looking notebooks that wouldn’t look out of place on job interviews or in high-powered meetings. We have a set of discs holding a chopped and punched folder full of accounting files. We have translucent covers with cardstock flyleaf paper. We have our vacation plans in a Circa notebook. I have a manuscript I need to edit in one.  I have some “fun” and “pretty” discs and I have a bunch of black discs because they’re cheaper and easy and go with everything. In other words, variety is key, and gender-neutral or enough variety for “girly” fans and everyone else.

Office Depot already offers professional-looking padfolios in several colors (I took a picture of the teal because I’m a little obsessed with that color, but they also had black and at least one other). The texture’s nice and the design isn’t bad. Modified slightly as a discbound cover (and at prices more comparable to the Foray padfolio instead of the Levenger executives-are-made-of-money line), I’d be all over that. Especially since the Foray padfolio looks nice without being leather. (HEY, hint to Staples, if OD is going to utterly drop the ball here, could you offer a faux leather notebook for less than the $59 Levenger wants? Because I don’t really need a dead cow to protect my notes.)


6) The discs. I’m making this a separate item even though it’s technically a subset of the product because the discs are SO important. They’re the most important part of the system, and some of the reviews have said the Foray/OD discs aren’t so smooth. Seriously, Office Depot, you cannot have a discbound system without good quality discs. I’m not sure if your store-planning department has pointed this out, but the only place you compete head-to-head with Staples is online. In-store, people are closer to one or the other and will generally gravitate either to the closest or the one more likely to carry what they need. Which means, you don’t have to be cheaper than Arc if it means cutting quality. You just have to be cheaper than Levenger. (Only diehards have ever heard of Rollabind, so don’t worry about them so much.)


The Simpsons & the One-Trick Pony


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So last night was the the hyped Simpsons-Family Guy crossover show. The husband wanted to watch it, so I paused my writing and we settled in on the couch. I mean, we’ve been watching The Simpsons off and on for our entire marriage and, well, for more than half our lives. The Simpsons first came on when I was in middle school. And, yeah, some episodes weren’t all that great, some were funnier than others, but oddly enough, even though the characters haven’t aged, they’re grown and changed over the years while remaining true enough to their original sketches. Lisa Simpson is bossy and smart, but she’s insecure and caring. Bart Simpson is a bully sometimes who is also bullied, who’s not so bright in class, but he’s clever in his schemes and the problems that arise from his and the family’s adventures. Homer is the king of saying dumb things, but he almost always figures out when he’s hurt someone and tries to fix it–the episode when he has to come to terms with Lisa’s vegetarianism (and her coming to terms with her dad’s meat-eating) comes to mind.

Family Guy on the other hand, I find…just not funny and mostly downright unpleasant. When it comes on, I find my face automatically assuming that expression you make when you bite into something terrible — like a diarrhea sandwich. It’s had a few moments — always between Brian and Stewie as their adventures are about the only time Stewie isn’t actively promoting matricide or threatening his sister or some other random female character — but overall, it just feels tired and dated. It feels like the same kind of “domestic abuse is funny” mentality that fueled jokes in The Honeymooners and various sixties and seventies sitcoms. Every episode is an endless parade of rape jokes (there’s a whole character that’s a rapist played for laughs), anti-women jokes, matricide jokes, and healthy number of race jokes, handicap jokes, and child rape jokes.

The crossover episode put the husband to sleep. It left me feeling like I’d spent an hour watching Seth MacFarlane’s therapy session. And I felt like I should send him an invoice and a list of suggestions for better handling his insecurities. The whole thing starts out with Peter writing comics labeling dead women as broken dishwashers and being run out of town for being a misogynist. The outrage against this comic is presented as a joke — who’d take such things seriously, ha ha ha? — except that that mentality is what makes certain people think it’s okay to abuse women as objects, like sex toys or dishwashers. (I think frequently the outrage isn’t so much against a joke or a comic itself, but against the culture that perpetuates the idea of the joke, that stamps it as not only “funny” but “acceptable” and “normal.” I just don’t think the outrage is always good at expressing that difference.)

From there, it’s a series of various levels of rape jokes, “look how clever we are for making fun of crossover episode” jokes, and jabs at The Simpsons for being old and stale and having more Emmy awards. What really stood out — and I’m fairly certain it was supposed to but I’m not sure why anyone thought it’d be a good idea to highlight it — was the difference between Lisa and Meg. Lisa (who over the years has sometimes been mocked by her father until he grasps that the things that are important to her need to be important to him, too because she’s important to him) attempts to prop up Meg’s self esteem only to witness the verbal abuse that is her father’s sole form of communication with her.

It’s also worth nothing that Chris has so little characterization of his own that he apparently couldn’t stand up to Bart and had to hang out with Brian the whole episode to give him a reason to exist and that even “bad boy” Bart Simpson came to see Stewie as a dangerous sociopath. I mean, maybe this is supposed to illustrate how out of touch the “stodgy” Simpsons family has become compared to the levels of modern violence we’re capable of inflicting, but since the ads for the news following the show kept highlighting the shooting of fifteen teenagers at an all-ages club, maybe Bart’s slingshot isn’t such a bad thing.


On Expectations and Hypocrisies and Footwear


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It’s back to school season, but I won’t be heading back into a classroom this year. I have a lot of thoughts swirling in my head in connection to that statement, that fact, but I can’t find one that’s regret. Not even a small one, hidden under a pile of the others. Or maybe blown up under one of the eaves of my mind.

I know, in our judgmental, “do it for the kids” society, I sound like a monster. Teachers are supposed to care. They’re supposed to nurture and support and they’re always supposed to want to keep coming back for more.

But teachers are also supposed to just keep taking it. Because they’re all lazy and greedy. Because they just want to hoard supplies and take the summers off. They need to be watched and constantly assessed and graded and monitored like prisoners. And Star Lord help them if they complain because they’re the ones who signed up for the job, right? They could have been doctors or lawyers or engineers or stock brokers, but “those who can’t do, teach, ha ha ha.” Amiright?

They’re Joan of Arc with a nuclear death cannon.

I sometimes feel like having “teacher” on my resume is a little like admitting my past job was with the mafia. Perhaps that might even make me a little more attractive to certain industries. “Oh, it says here you managed money laundering. Just so happens we’re looking for a new branch manager here at Bank of America.” Whereas teachers now occupy some twisted social realm between martyr and supervillain. They’re Joan of Arc with a nuclear death cannon.

So, if I’ll never be able to get another job without first joining the mob, why am I not going back to school? What kind of lazy, entitled bootstrap-less monster am I?

The short answer is that I couldn’t. The long answer takes us through the recent tragedy of Robin Williams and the hundred thousand posts about depression with a detour through episode six of The Mindful Creator podcast.

My first few years teaching, I worked tirelessly to find creative ways to reach students who were not only non-traditional, but were locked up — literally incarcerated — during the time they were in my classroom. Some students I saw off and on for years until they aged out of the system. Some I saw once, for a few days or weeks, and never again. Some students went to programs and thrived only to fall apart again once back on the streets. Some may have made it. I’ll never know.

I’ve known teachers who worked in correctional and/or alternative education for years, sometimes whole careers. I worked with several of them. The light and effort in their eyes slowly died during the time that I knew them, though they still did as much as they could, or were allowed. These are teachers who have memorized stacks of supplemental workbooks and materials because they either don’t have enough textbooks, don’t have the right textbooks, or aren’t allowed to use the textbooks (for a number of reasons). They can design a month of lessons adapting mid-year algebra concepts so kids tenth graders with barely-third-grade math skills can understand them. Teachers who can get murderers and gang leaders to carry on an intelligent discussion on Of Mice and Men or get excited about They Iliad.

But the last three years I worked with them, I watched them die a little inside every day. New standards, unreasonable expectations, requests that compromised safety and security, a revolving door in facilities that left classrooms unsafe, the constant insecurity of the staff that remained, rumors, teachers moved across the county in the middle of a semester… It wore on them. And they stopped talking and joking in hallways and around the copier in the morning. They started counting down the days until retirement or retired early or just went home each night to drink until they passed out.

For many years I did a good enough job of compartmentalizing. My coworkers and I made the sort of terrible jokes you hear from cops and firefighters and EMTs and coroners. We found the humor because it’s how you cope with being surrounded by darkness. And having a never-ending stream of children who rape and steal and kill; who abuse drugs to dull their pain or who molest little brothers the way someone molested them; who sell weed for their grandparents or steal pills from their grandparents or beat the crap out of their grandparents; who climb on furniture and scream or tear their hair out at the root and laugh; who interrupt lessons to ask if it’s okay that their boyfriend is forty-five or to explain how that the problem with crack isn’t that it might lead you to being nearly killed by a John you stole from but that it ruins your looks; who want to stay clean so the state won’t take their next baby or who need their GED already so they’ll be done with high school before the next baby comes…. You know, that kind of thing. So much of it is common stories in schools these days. But like police officers and firefighters and EMTs, you need to know your coworkers have your back. And if you know they don’t, it’s a level of stress that makes the job unbearable.

We’re a country obsessed with the idea of “manning up” and some level of personal responsibility and survival-ship that assumes life must be, not a daring adventure as Helen Keller once suggested, but an arduous battle. If one is not at constant war with sloth (while yet somehow celebrating by binge-watching on Netflix and eating anything with the phrase “meat stack” in it) and privilege, one is doomed to be entitled and whiny, a “pussy.” (Because to be feminine is to be weak, we’re told, which might be why so many hate teachers as their clipart image is a wizened crone of a woman, not “hot” enough to still have use, but that’s another kettle of ranty fish.)

Yet we’re also a country devastated by the loss of Robin Williams (and countless other actors and musicians and artists in general who have fallen prey to mental illness, something damn near impossible to battle alone forever). So we’ll tell each other “you’re not alone” and post the suicide prevention number on all our Facebook statuses. And we’ll turn and bite the head off a blogger who suggested people pick up the bigger pack of markers for their kid’s teacher. (Seriously, the comments in that post explain a lot about how we, as a nation, view our teachers.) We’ll scream to send refugee children back across dangerous borders to near-certain death. We’ll tell young mothers to “get a job” and decry food subsidies (even for the working poor) and we’ll threaten succession and revolution over the idea of supplying citizenry with basic health care. Which tells me what we really mean is: Why didn’t you get help, famous person I was entertained by, but please just go die quietly, anonymous poor person I don’t know.

Let me reiterate that one.
What we basically say to one another, collectively is this:

Why didn’t you get help, famous person I was entertained by?

Please, just go die quietly, anonymous poor person I don’t know.

This is the message we put out there. If we don’t mean it, we need to change it. Collectively. Starting now.

So when Berni Xiong talks about walking away from her corporate job because she wanted more, because she felt she had something else to offer, but that it left her full of doubt because she broke free without a trust fund or a venture capitalist or a reality show backing her up… I find part of me nodding and part of me horrified. I know too well about walking away from a “sure thing” I know was killing me. I know, too, there’s no such thing as a “sure thing” anymore, whether it’s in teaching or corporate sales, that we’re all on shaky ground. And maybe it was the shaking ground that made me step away without a solid road map.

I stepped away because I was surrounded by broken, paranoid, drowning people who would pull me down with them if I stayed. Because it’s just too hard to wage a war on all fronts at one time. I stepped away because I was allergic to my antidepressants and I wasn’t getting enough exercise and I left each day so exhausted from bad* stress that it was a struggle to get through basic chores and errands. I stepped away because I had to.

See, I’m actually very good at a lot of things. I’m no expert. My interests are too varied to be an expert. I have a degree in business and a degree in criminology. I’m still certified to teach both math and English and I’m qualified to teach martial arts, too. I write. I make and sell candles. I shoot photos and, after almost twenty years of trying to talk me into it, the husband convinced me to mat and sell some of those, too. I paint when the mood strikes. And one soon, I’m going to finish sewing those dresses I started.

It’s easy to forget you’re good at things when people tell you daily how terrible you are at existing. Anyone who didn’t make the superlatives list in high school can probably understand that. And, of course, if you have previous experience with being told you’re not good, it gets easier to believe.

For now, I’m going to go knock out some of my to-do list.

And if my bootstrap pulling isn’t up to your standards, well, it’s because I mostly wear flip flops.




*Note that I distinguished “bad” stress because it’s quite different to spend a day busy doing something you care about or that holds meaning and spending days being degraded by administrators, literally threatened by students, the subject of a rumor mill among some coworkers, and a sounding board for other distressed coworkers. When my job was filled with the “good” or “normal” stress of finding the best materials and methods to reach my students, of remembering all the accommodations for each new kid and adapting to each new mood swing from the students, I felt energized.

Review: Thomas Pluck’s BLADE OF DISHONOR


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It’s been a while since I did a review (that isn’t on Criminal Element).
It’s been a while since I read this book, so…parallels. *twirls in chair, gets dizzy*

Blade of Dishonor is riotous good fun and it has a little bit for nearly everyone. Plus ninja.

Pluck expertly weaves men’s action adventure pulp from the days of dime paperbacks, a modern love story complete with a competent and compassionate female who needs more help than she’d ask for (& gives as good as she gets), gritty WWII historical fiction, and ninjas.

It has a little romance, but not enough to get steamy about and if you’re looking for the sort of dry, literary tome you can hold over your hipster friends’ heads at the next raw-vegan pot luck at your rich friend’s loft that’s been decorated with thrift store cast-offs and road finds by a professional decorator, this isn’t it.

If you’re looking for a good beach read, airport companion to keep you awake while you wait for Delta to find your plane, something to hide under your keyboard at work and keep you entertained when you’re supposed to be making spreadsheets… This is your book.

Pros: Fun, not-demeaning pulp that passes the Bechdel Test, kicks ass, includes a fascinating subplot/parallel story about WWII. Ninja. Samurai. Explosions. It’s like Kill Bill sort of. (Who am I kidding. I still haven’t seen that. Just read the damn book.)

Cons: Probably won’t impress your lit snob friends quite the same way as reading obscure Taiwanese poets in the original language.

Bottom Line: Why are you still here?


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