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What I'm Reading Now: 12 December 10

Even though NaNoWriMo is over, I still haven't made it to the library. Besides, between the online stuff being so convenient and the knitting project I have going, I don't have a lot of time to read. (By the way, Roland and his sibs made it home via a biker gang, a fairy ring, a private plane, and virtual reality.)

However, I have read two books relatively recently.

Jack Reacher is contacted by ME Froehlich, the head of the Secret Service detail protecting the Vice-President elect. She wants him to run a full security audit to see if it would be possible to assassinate her charge. Reacher handily proves that it would be possible, and Froehlich keeps him on as a consultant to prevent anyone from actually following through. Reacher navigates the politics of the Secret Service while he, Froehlich, and a few trusted people try to find out who is threatening the VP(e) and why. I'd read Without Fail (by Lee Child) before, and enjoyed it, but I'd completely forgotten that until I got half-way through. A fun read once again, and I expect I'll be reading more. (I stay ambivalent about the movie.)

I found a free book t'other day: The encyclopedia of unsolved crimes, by Daniel Cohen. It's a series of short chapters on whodunnits, missing motives, is it really a crime?, and unproven crimes. The stories are interesting, although I found that the writing style was a little sparse. However, it was free, so I won't complain.

Akron: 12 December 11: on food and things (vaguely) related

So... Let's talk food.

I'm not going to bother more than mentioning whoopie pies, shoofly pie, or pretzels. They're here; they're all right. This is more about some lesser-known regional foods, and a few other things that may only be tangentially food-related.

First of all... Saturday, we went out on ed/rec. For the uninitiated, that's "Educational/Recreational outing." The volunteers have a set per person budget, and we take turns organizing an outing once a month. It can be strictly for fun (apparently a ball game in summer is traditional) or it can have an educational component as well (museum visit or what have you). This month, it was my turn to organize, so I turned to that trusty repository of all knowledge and wisdom, the interwebs. On Saturday, we visited a local Christmas tree farm's "Gift of Lights" drive-through show, plus gift shop and Santa barn, and then went out for chocolate fondue. (You knew I'd get to food eventually, right?)
The Christmas lights show was interesting, and delightfully cheesy. It was made up of wire-frame figures with lights attached. From a distance, you only saw the lights, not the frame. Some of the figures were animated - there were reindeer leaping over the road, dogs playing baseball, a large mammal dancing in a tutu, and of course a flying sleigh or two. A number of figures were set up so that they were reflected in the pond, which was a lovely effect. There was a section of fairly closely-spaced light strings that made a squared arch over the road, kind of like a covered bridge.
It seemed pretty obvious to me that this show has been going for several years, as the bulbs are large incandescent types, the colors don't all match, and a few of the figures weren't lit at all. There were also a couple that I just couldn't figure out. For example, what kind of tutu-clad mammal was dancing for us: a bear? a hippo? an elephant? And that white shape - could that have been a reclining walrus, and if so, why was there a reclining walrus in a Christmas light show? All told, I quite enjoyed it, and I enjoyed the model train setup and the displays in Santa's barn as well.
As for the chocolate fondue, well, there's a restaurant in the vicinity of the tree farm called Cafe Chocolate, which is run by a delightful and outgoing lady who is passionate about people and chocolate. The cafe buys local and fair trade, and donates what would be its advertising budget to charity. Equally important, the chocolate fondue was dark and delicious, easily the best chocolate we've had since we got here. As it turns out, the lady has Canadian roots and MCC connnections, and she flattered me by outrageously underestimating my age. I'm hoping we'll find other times and reasons to go back.

Ordinarily, we volunteer-types would be eating lunch Monday-Friday in the dining hall, as a part of our benefits. However, the dining hall will be closed for much of the month for one reason or another, so we're responsible for our own lunches. (We get a pleasant boost in our food allowance to cover it, so I'm not complaining.) With this in mind, we shopped at the Green Dragon a few weeks ago, and bought half a stick of Pennsylvania Dutch bologna. This is not your Maple Leaf cold cut, friends. It's dry cured, so more like summer sausage, but it has a noticeable sweetness to it. It's also smaller than your usual bologna - more like 3" diameter instead of 5". (I'm sorry for the imperial measures, but that's what's on the ruler at my desk.) Along with the swiss cheese we picked up at a local discount store, it makes for a lovely sandwich, especially with a little sweet hot mustard.

Speaking of cheese... sometimes cheese is expensive, and sometimes it's hard to find anything but "American cheese" - I'm sure you all know what I mean - or the pre-shredded stuff. But we are discovering places where there is good cheese to be had, for a good price. The previously-mentioned discount store - all right, let's name names, because we thoroughly enjoy shopping there - Glenwood Foods, has a shifting array of stock, and we can often get mozzarella fresca there (fabulous on pizzas), and the aforementioned swiss cheese. We've also found smoked cheddar there for a  steal. We've found aged cheddar for reasonable prices here and there, and some seriously smoked cheddar at the Green Dragon. We've also lucked into bargains on smoked Gouda and blue cheese. (Before you make that "ew, blue cheese" face at me, let me just say that you need to try my sweetie's garlic & blue cheese mashed potatoes. Really, You do.)

One last thing about food before I go: remember I mentioned the boost to our food allowance for this month? It came in perfect time for us to take advantage of the local market's annual meat sale. $1.99/lb for lean ground beef; 1.89 for boneless skinless chicken breasts; .89 for chicken leg quarters; 2.99 or something like that for pork tenderloin. Bear in mind that for these prices, you must buy a 10-lb or so package, but still... (For those who wish the per kg or per 100g prices: 1.99/lb= 4.38/kg or 0.44/100g; 1.89= 4.16/kg; .89=1.96/kg.) We bought a package each of ground beef, chicken breasts, chicken legs, and tenderloin, as well as a frozen turkey breast. Our freezer is well-stocked with protein, and we're thinking of visiting a seafood market in Lancaster to pick up something extra-special for Christmas. Jumbo shrimp, anyone?

Sadly (yes, I know I said "one last thing." Deal with it), mandarin oranges are not available locally, except peeled and canned in syrup. Clementines are to be had, but they don't smell quite the same or taste quite the same. I'm going to miss them almost as much as I miss farmer sausage.

What I'm (not) Reading Now: 12 November 19

I haven't read anything this week.

I've done some novelling, though, and Roland has found his sister, won the battle, freed his siblings... and now I have to figure out how to get them home. (it didn't take 18K to find the party, find his sister, and win her freedom from the King of the Elves, as I predicted, but it did at least take about 10K, which is better than I expected.) As I said, four people and one motorcycle don't really make for a practical travel combination. Also, I suspect they're going to get attacked by... stuff... en route, but I don't know what. Snakes, I suspect - they've become a theme - but ... hmm. Could work. It will require some re-writing at certain points earlier in the story. Also... are there snakes in Detroit, or am I going to have to get fantastical?

Hmmm...

Akron: 12 November 14

It's been a while, I know. I've been a little occupied.

I'm trying to do National Novel Writing Month again, in spite of working full time, and that does tend to eat a few hours here and there. It also doesn't help that sometimes I'd rather do "research" (ie futz around on the internet) than actually write. And, while I'm piling on the excuses, I was sick for a few days last week.

I can't believe it's mid-November. It still looks and feels like early/mid fall to me. There are still a lot of trees with leaves (I can actually see a green-leafed tree from where I sit) in a variety of colors, and it mostly stays above freezing. As for snow, we've had rain. (We got brushed by Super Storm Sandy, as I think I've mentioned elsewhen, but in addition to that, it's probably rained six or seven inches since the beginning of October. It's weird). Oddly enough, even with the higher local humidity, I'm noticing some bits of dry skin. Perhaps my skin doesn't appreciate the local water.

We're in a flurry of transition here, as one of the people I work with quite closely is retiring, and is training her replacement. Her replacement is a lovely and vivacious lady who is going to make sure the volunteers here have a social life (somewhat to John's unspoken regret). Anyway, we're trying to fit in a unit meeting, a birthday celebration, and a farewell lunch around trying to make sure that all the knowledge that needs to be passed on has indeed been imparted (or at least written down somewhere semi-obvious). This is happening more in the back office, though, and for the most part, up at the front desk where I am, it's quiet. Enough so that often I'm done my day's tasks (aside from answering the phone and starting the next day's newsletter) by 9:30 a.m. Of course, this means I have plenty of time for getting acquainted with the contents of the files (both paper and electronic) associated with my position. I've spent quite a few hours culling and re-organizing. (I also have time -with explicit permission from my supervisor, mind you!- to write this blog post at my desk while I'm waiting for the phone to ring.)

I suppose I could try writing for NaNo at the desk as well, but I'm a little concerned that both my phone-answering and my writing would suffer from concentration interruptus. I might try it tomorrow if it's as under-scheduled as today. Anyway, I should enjoy it while I can, as I understand that come January, things will pick up and I'll have trouble getting my regular duties done at all in between phone calls. We'll see, though, won't we?

I was pleased to note today that I've got the script down for most standard occasions ("just a minute while I put you through to his/her desk" as an example), and I know how to find a lot of the information I need. Just when I get confident, though, someone throws me a curve and wants information on how to ship bicycles to Zambia, or something similar. Ah well. It keeps me on my toes.
 
And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a newsletter to start.

(note: composed at 3:30 pm; posted at 9:30 pm)

PS: I drove to and from choir by myself in the dark. I did go on a bit of a GPS adventure due to a wrong turn very early on, but I was at choir just in time.