My 21st

The trouble with having a birthday right around Christmas time is that it’s right around Christmas time, the time of year when everyone is frantically buying last minute gifts no matter how early they started. It’s busy, there’s things going on, everyone’s running around like mad. Jolly good fun.

This was the first year in a long time that I’ve had a proper “party,” (i.e. more than my immediate family and the neighbors who hang out at our place a lot), and it was all put together by my friend Carrot*, who is a wholly decent human being. A flawless example of what humanity should be. One of those people you have trouble being around for too long because they make you seem like a thoughtless jerk in comparison.

Really, nothing bad to say about the guy.

At any rate, Carrot organized a group of a dozen of my closest friends and we all went out to see Rogue One. Mid-late December is a lovely time to have a birthday because Hollywood likes to release the high-effort shows in time for the holidays. No weak summer comedies for us!

After the movie we retired to Carrot’s place for ordered-in Chinese food and board games. We would have gone out, you see, but it was the day before my birthday and I still couldn’t technically drink.

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I had two teaspoons of alcohol that day, wrapped in chocolate and tin foil.

But that’s okay, really. I’m not a “going out” kind of person. Neither are any of my friends. It’s the reason I stopped having parties to begin with, because parties are exhausting and require you to interact with people, and wouldn’t it be much better to just celebrate your birthday from the comfort of a blanket nest in a dark corner?

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Hence, board games. Always board games.

Carrot had a cake for me, which was incredibly sweet, and they painstakingly lit the whole twenty-one candles. Every year I wonder if this will be the last year people attempt to light the correct number of candles for my age.

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Amelie’s boyfriend, Jonas, gifted me Redd’s Ginger Apple Ale. “It’s because you’re a redhead, get it? Get it, Jean? Get it?” *nudge nudge*

I’d have taken a picture of everybody, but I’m trying to maintain some semblence of privacy, so instead I offer up this picture of a cart full of Pikachus, and I wish everyone a Merry Christmas. As of now, I’m so officially an adult that I could order alcohol on the plane back home if I chose. I won’t, but I could.

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What happens when some of the boys you take care of are veeerry into Pokemon, to your eternal torment.

* So named in this blog because he puts me in mind of Carrot Ironfoundersson, Discworld character and decent human being dwarf. They’re also similar in height.

Geeky Drinks for Geeky People

If you’ve never mixed a drink before, my recommendation to you is: Don’t. Don’t do it. Put everything back where you found it, don’t touch it again, and let the already proficient people clean up the remainder of your mess.

Last Friday we had a going away party for my friend Amelie, and we happened to hold it at the apartment of my friend Paul, my fellow Renaissance faire enthusiast. I’m not sure what Paul does for a living, but I want in on it, because his apartment is gloriously outfitted with every slightly nerdy luxury one could ever hope for.

Including, naturally, a fully-stocked bar. The little ship on top of the setup alone is worth more than I am.

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Current market value: 2.3 Ludvigs.

This going-away party was attended by a number of Amelie’s friends, who are all older than I am, sometimes by as much as “being able to remember the ’90s” and “having enough years on me to comment often about how young I am”. This is the problem with skipping college, all of the people your age are too busy getting wasted in dorm rooms instead of getting wasted in Paul’s incredibly swanky apartment.

Because, you see, our good friend Cherry, the facilitator of the party, announced that we were going to play a game called “iron liver.” Believe it or not, this is not a game where you see how much alcohol your over-worked liver can take, but rather a game where you are presented with a random ingredient and given ten minutes to create a drink that features it.

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Take, for instance, my friend Oliver’s “Ginger’s Lost Soul.” I’m fairly certain the ingredient was pineapple, but I can’t quite recall.

This whole affair was great fun for those people over the age of twenty-one (i.e. everyone else), because even the nerdiest among them had had some semblance of a history with drinking alcoholic things.

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Sure, maybe I hadn’t had any alcohol, but my back problems were telling me I was only allowed to stand up straight or lie flat on the floor, so an impression of a drunkard it was. 

I was having great fun watching the creation and judging process, up until the point that Cherry turned to me with her terrifying smile and announced that I was next up to create an alcoholic beverage. The ingredient: Candied oranges.

Now, I know as much about mixing drinks as the next underage homeschooled Christian farmgirl, so I was very prepared for this. I wasted my first five minutes under the bar, absently fondling mysterious bottles and wondering how many of them were worth more than the first eight years of my life. When the time was almost up, I panicked.

“What goes with oranges?” I thought frantically. “It’s… there’s… chocolate! Chocolate goes with oranges! Like those chocolate oranges you can buy around Christmas time. And… oranges! Oranges go with oranges! And hey, this ‘Rum Chata’ stuff smells all right.”

This is how I ended up with a drink consisting of Rum Chata, dark chocolate vodka, orange juice, and a candied orange stuffed in the middle.

And the thing was… it didn’t taste half bad. Not that I would know because I’m underage and definitely wasn’t drinking.

It did, however, look absolutely hideous.

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Mine’s the one on the far left. The one that’s like a milkshake left in the car on a hot day. It turns out creamy Rum Chata and vodka do not mix, and they don’t even associate with pulpy orange juice.

But I did garner one out of three of the judges’ votes, which I consider a rousing success, given that… well, given that everything. I don’t ever plan to touch a bar again, but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to waste a great deal of expensive alcohol.

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Not a bad night, despite the fact that I spent most of the time viewing it from the ground.

Computer Woes

If it seems like I, for instance, haven’t posted a blog post in several days, it is in fact because I haven’t posted a blog post in several days. The reason for this is that my laptop broke.

On Friday I attended a party and I brought my laptop with me (as requested, because it was a nerd party and therefor socially appropriate). The screen that greeted me upon opening, however, resembled the Enterprise consoles when they are malfunctioning. There were difficult to grasp words like “boot” and “LAN”, and wiggling the mouse furiously did absolutely nothing for me.

Naturally, my friend Paul fixed it in thirty seconds. But when the problem reappeared the next day, I brought it into the only computer repair place within thirty miles, which happened to be the glamorous Geek Squad of Best Buy. You take what you can get.

I left my darling HAL 9000 there with them for a few days, over which time they called again and again to inform me of the various terrible illnesses my computer was facing. And as they described what needed to be fixed, and as the numbers climbed higher, I started to wonder if it really needed to fix it at all. It had been haphazardly backed up only a few days prior, and it was a little over three years old (around 74 in computer years).

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Gee, I could pay a lot of money to help it limp its way through a few more years, or I could abandon it now and save a lot of hassle. With this mindset, I apologize to my parents for the quality of the nursing home they’ll find themselves in in twenty years.

It had lived a good long life, and frankly I wasn’t keen on paying a ludicrous sum of money to repair something that wouldn’t be able to handle programs coming out in 2018. So instead of having it repaired, I quietly abandoned it in favor of purchasing an entirely new model as a birthday gift to me.

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Meet the DELL Inspironion 73898 Something. I don’t know. It had good reviews and it plays Fallout 4, what more could you want?

The new computer has its problems, of course. I have to completely reinstall a lot of my games, the keyboard is making me type with two fingers like someone who only has two fingers, and I’m fairly certain Cortana actually owns my soul at this point. But it’s not a bad machine, and I can’t wait to troubleshoot in a completely new operating system.

Paul can have my old computer so that he can magically get it working again with a hand gesture and a few ancient incantations.

Tea, Books, and Eyeballs

It’s the “season of giving”, that phrase that TV shows use when they don’t want to ascribe to any particular religion but also really want you to buy from their sponsors. I fall for it whole-heartedly every year, and it’s why I was roped into two different Secret Santa exchanges; one in person, one by mail.

Last Friday was in person, and I got together with a mess of my board game playing friends to unleash the flood of gifts.

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“This is the perfect bag to carry the presents in,” I said. “Absolutely no one will know that this cheesy Barnes & Noble book-related quote is from my arsenal of reusable bags,” I said.

Before we got to the presents, my very creative friend Amelié deposited approximately two metric tons of crafting supplies on the center table and told us in no uncertain terms that we were all going to be creative with her that night, yes, even you math teachers. She went on to explain how to make various Christmas ornaments, and flawlessly produced a golden snitch using only feathers and sheer force of personality.

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This thing is better than anything I will ever accomplish in my life.

The rest of us, ranging from incompetent to highly incompetent in the making of crafts, fiddled around with the adorable supplies until Amelié was satisfied that we had had enough fun. I just glued eyes to a plain Christmas ornament in the hopes of creating some kind of minor eldritch abomination to put on my miniature Christmas tree.

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Another friend of mine took one look at it, exclaimed “It’s an eye-ball!” and I did not stop laughing for ten minutes. I still giggle a little when I look at it. I’m easily amused.

Then it came time to open gifts, and when it was my turn, I steeled myself to pretend that I liked it and tore open the paper to reveal…

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Oooooohhhh…

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Ooooooooooooooohhhhh….

I’m so supremely bad at giving gifts, you see, that I’d forgotten some people are actually very good at it. And, to be fair, my love of tea is rather obvious if you spend any more than eight minutes in my company.

I tried it out today. My back has been doing its best impression of an eighty year old’s back this week, and the only thing that helps it to briskly walk half a mile to stretch it out. In this case, it’s a brisk half a mile walk in 23 degree weather through bone-sanding winds. I was very, very ready for warm tea when I got back.

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It’s like a lava lamp for tea lovers!

While I waited for it to steep I cracked open my by-mail Secret Santa gift, which turned out to be the book Fangirl, a book that all my writer friends have been subtly suggesting I read. (“Jean, you should read Fangirl,” is what they said, every day, for two months.) I’ve never picked it up, but apparently it’s… uh… similar to my style of writing. Or sense of humor. Or something. I can’t remember what their reasoning was, as I’m only a very basic fan of any given thing, but I do like reading.

The tea, meanwhile, was looking lovely.

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And- get this- if you set it down on the rim of your cup, it starts pouring automatically! Like magic!

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Note to self: It does not automatically stop pouring, don’t get carried away.

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It was, I have to say, one of the better cups of loose-leaf tea I’ve ever brewed up. Not only was it strong, but I only came away with small pieces of tea leaves in my teeth, which is a tremendous victory in my book.

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I then took the tea and my book and lay down flat on the floor to read, to ease my aching back. The window looks pretty neat from down here, though.

The Creation of Caramel

Though I’m given full run of the house and the kitchen, being a live-in nanny means that there’s a level of awkwardness that remains when it comes to baking for pleasure in my employer’s house. I keep my own supply of dry ingredients, but eventually I have to use one of their eggs or some milk and that just feels wrong, despite it being emphatically allowed.

So I don’t do a lot of cooking or baking these days, unless the house is quiet and empty and I have everything prepared. Fortunately, I have creative friends.

On Sunday night my friend Oliver invited me over for dinner and the creation of caramels, and I agreed to go if he would pronounce “caramel” correctly the whole night, which he most certainly did not.

Oliver is dangerously domestic. We had a lovely homemade dinner, which Oliver creates on the fly with no effort and with the earned superiority that comes from being competent in the kitchen.

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And it was delicious, damn him.

We did up some Bailey’s Irish Cream next, pending the creation of our own chocolate syrup, and I don’t think I ever fully understood how much heavy cream goes into it. It’s a lot.

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I, of course, had none of this because I won’t be 21 for seven days and it’s illegal and I’m a good citizen, don’t arrest me.

Next we went on to craft the caramel, and as it turns out, I never truly wanted to know what goes into caramel, and I even find it fortunate that I haven’t consumed much of it in my life, because after making it I feel like any I ate is probably still lining my intestines.

The ingredients are really quite simple. First, you dump several cups of white sugar in a pot. Then you add the corn syrup.

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And you just… just mix up this sugar and corn syrup. I know this is difficult to follow.

After that you heat it to 310 degrees, which is, as we discovered, hot enough to melt a rubber spatula. Note to future self: Do not use rubber spatulas when creating caramel.

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Nothing makes you feel more like a witch than watching this stuff boil. Bubble, bubble…

After it’s reached 310 degrees, you throw in a lot of heavy cream, which results in an interesting reaction and which causes everything to instantly congeal. When this has become a horrible oobleck-resembling mess, you throw in the healthiest ingredient (butter!) and you’re done. And somehow, these four terrible ingredients have produced the smooth and chewy substance we all know and will probably die from.

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Now you just stare at it for several hours until it hardens under your harsh gaze.

We did this twice more just to really experience it, and because Oliver, who may not actually be a real human being, is planning on distributing homemade caramel and homemade Bailey’s to his co-workers, who are probably very glad that they know someone who will provide them with 50% of their Christmas treats.

If you have a friend that creates, go spend time with them, because there’s really nothing like the feeling of scraping congealed brown junk off the bottom of the pot and knowing deep down that you ate far too much of this as a child and that it may never have left your body.

Feliz Navidad!

Puzzle Rolls

On Fridays both Mr. and Mrs. Parent and all the boys are gone, leaving me with the run of the house. As such, I’m torn between doing something productive and lying around like a lump all day. Typically lump wins out, but last night in a heroic feat of athleticism I managed to pull something in my back while sleeping, so lying around was painful and I was forced to keep on the move.

I cleaned up my room a little, and after I piled six pairs of leggings on the bread machine box I realized that the bread machine could be used for things other than storage, such as for making bread.

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There really is no greater feeling than knowing you don’t have to mix this yourself.

I opted to make some dinner rolls reminiscent of my mother’s, which is typically a Thanksgiving treat. Because Idaho is 2,600 miles away, I went to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving, and they were light on rolls and heavy on cranberries. Unacceptable.

I used the recipe I found here, because it looked good and most importantly I had all the ingredients already. After throwing all the ingredients in haphazardly and only consulting the manual four or five times, I managed to start the machine again. Thirty minute wait for the kneading and first rise.

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“Hey,” I thought to myself, “maybe I’ll actually put together a puzzle to justify the fact that I impulse bought it during that Barnes & Noble sale!”

I pulled out my Thomas “Every Christmas Card You’ve Ever Received” Kinkade puzzle to pass the time and decided to pick one at random. This turned out to be a good idea, because there was actually had no choice in the matter.

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This certainly is a puzzle. Ha.

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I spent the thirty minutes of the cycle sorting edge pieces and center pieces, and there was something quite soothing about it. Puzzles are an excellent way to send your brain into hibernation, and the room was soon permeated by the smell of rising bread. It was charming.

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Thoroughly appetizing.

When the cycle was done, the recipe dictated a halving, flattening, and eighthing of the dough. I’m a slave to instructions.

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The recipe called for a twelve inch circle of dough. Not even the boots of the gods could have gotten this dough past eleven.

Once it was sliced into eight pieces, I rolled them from the bottom up and tucked the tip under the bottom of the roles.

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Hey, these are kind of cute.

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It’s not American enough if it’s not slathered in obscene amounts of butter.

While they rose for a second time, I pieced together the outside of the puzzle. This may have been the only time in my life that I’d managed to correctly separate all the edge pieces from the box; there was not a single gap. I’m done with my life now, everything I needed to achieve has been achieved.

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For people prone to forgetting they made tea and letting it run cold, might I suggest a covered Death Star mug.

Just a preheated oven and fifteen short minutes later, rolls were produced.

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And re-buttered. You can’t have too much butter. AMERICA.

They actually came out well, and I was appropriately shocked. They even tasted adequate. Much like any generic roll you would find at a church gathering or the local buffet. This is all I’ve ever really wanted in life, let me tell you. This and never needing to do laundry again.

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I may have neglected a little of the children’s laundry during the baking process.

It’s Been a Thursday

The most frustrating thing about being a nanny is how little I can really change. I see patterns of behavior that careen past disrespect and rub shoulders with bullying in the older boys, but any progress I make is instantly gone when I’m off for the day.

The most I can do is consistently enforce the rules. These rules are:

  • Don’t hit people.
  • Talk to people with respect and not that weird sullen snippy muttering you do all the time, yes, I can still hear you calling your brother an idiot and that’s not okay, I mean it.

Or, if Mr. and Mrs. Parent are home, these rules are:

  • No rules, but we’ll tell them to stop but not actually do anything about it because we don’t want the children to feel bad about themselves. Yes we do, it’s bad behavior.

I don’t know if you can tell, but I’ve had a stressful day. I have seen the future, and it is loud, crude, and violent.

And when I’ve had a stressful day, I like to light a candle or two to create a more peaceful atmosphere in my living space.

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This isn’t working.