Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Picture frames and other decisions

I’ve made the biggest decisions of my life quickly and confidently. The house and the dog — I didn’t deliberate endlessly even though they were decisions with life-changing consequences. Maybe because, even though buying a house and adopting a dog both entail risk, they also require a leap of faith. I couldn’t possibly know the outcome of those decisions in advance, so I just had to trust myself. Also, because there are a limited number of houses and dogs, I didn’t feel like something better would present itself if I just looked harder.

The house and the dog have worked out just fine.

This weekend, I searched for a picture frame. Among all the decisions we make on a given day, that's a tiny one. But it was a gift, and if I wanted to put the photo in a forgettable wood or silver frame, I could just leave that to the recipient, right?

Off I went to World Market. No luck. Then TJ Maxx, which usually has nice frames. Also no luck. Then Marshalls, where I found almost the right frame. It was pale blue leather, but it had a white flower on it. Very small and simple. I asked a girl carrying a cute purse, “If you were a guy, how much would this flower bother you?” She said, “A lot. My husband wouldn’t like that.” I love when a stranger will tell you the truth.

After staying another half hour and deliberating about other frames, I found nothing that suited the photo. The problems with the others: too ornate, too plain, cheaply made, wrong color. And the worst ones became the focal point rather than the complement to the photo. I almost bought two frames as possible defaults, but I think the buy-and-return strategy is a waste of time. So, dejected, I headed to Target.

And found the perfect frame. Nice color, good style, and most importantly, it suited the tone and scale of the photo. I wrapped it up in recycled calendar paper and admired my handiwork.

Even though it wasn't a life-changing experience, I'm happy that I overanalyzed to find the perfect gift. And you never know how those small decisions will have an impact on the bigger ones.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

I want my MTV and my Mensa

On Friday, Yukie and I attended the Mensa RG (regional gathering) in Wauwatosa. We were there to drum up interest in a GenX SIG (special interest group). For Mensa purposes, that includes anyone born between 1961 and 1981. Alas, we did not hand out many flyers to the mostly over-50 crowd, but we did meet some friendly people and eat chicken gyros and baklava at the Greek-themed dinner.

Yukie and I joined Mensa a couple of months ago. She belongs to the L.A. chapter, where the GenX SIG hosts fun happy hours with a good group of thirtysomethings. (I am really bummed I couldn't go to Mensa karaoke.) Wisconsin Mensa has a relatively small membership — about 700 in the state, with about half in Milwaukee — so I expect a challenge in getting a group together.

That said, if you live in Milwaukee and are curious about Mensa, come have a smartini with Addie and me at the Social this Thursday, May 1.

If you're hesitant about joining, I get that. Sure, some intelligent people have esoteric interests. But who doesn't? And, there's nothing wrong with wanting to be around like-minded people. Being part of a group can be whatever you want it to be — we make our own experience. So why not start with a drink?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A doggone mystery

Keith and I just spent three and a half hours assembling the new queen bed I ordered for the spare bedroom — just in time for Yukie's visit tomorrow. Okay, so maybe we did spend 20 minutes eating Chinese food and a few minutes paying attention to Ginger. Here she is at about the halfway point. Incidentally, she also got trapped when Denise and I assembled the bed in my upstairs bedroom.

How did she get in there? No, I did not ask her to pose in the midst of our handiwork. Gigi wants to be a part of the process, wants to take a nap while people work around her — then wakes up disoriented and puzzled about how to get out. The bed frame is too low to crawl under, too high to just step over. After a few forlorn moments, she'll halfheartedly leap over the obstacle.

There is probably some cute lesson about perseverance here, but I am just too tired to think of it. Three hours of twisting a tiny wrench can really sap your energy.

By the way, the bed does look great. Not quite the same once I added the comforter heavy enough to withstand Midwest winters — but striking nonetheless. Plus, I figure that Ginger will never again be ensnared by my furniture-building trials. I'd ask her how she feels about that, but she's sleeping.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Hooked on beginnings

This past week, I’ve been busy — not with any one thing, but with lots of little stuff that adds up. On my list: I’m hoping to submit an essay for publication, but the writing and editing are just plodding along. The beginning of my essay needs to be better. Catchier. So, I just got a copy of Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go.

I don’t write fiction (truth and reality are more compelling to me), but I'm hoping that fiction techniques can help me write a more interesting essay. This book focuses only on the first few pages of a story. I could use help with that; beginnings are especially challenging for me. I prefer endings: the neatly (or not neatly) tying things up, leaving the reader with a last thought. Beginnings are too much pressure, and I've never been good at sales.

Maybe it is no surprise that I can write about breakups but can't always remember how a relationship started?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Celebratory chocolate mint cake

Where I work, food is a huge part of our culture. We use it to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, promotions, and even just sending a special issue to print. The art department has a broad definition of what constitutes a holiday, and there are a lot of people who work in the department, so they almost always have food. Laura (their former copywriter) once made Winterfresh Fudge Bars. These brownies with mint filling were fantastic, so I decided to make a batch to celebrate my five-year anniversary at BeadStyle.

By the way, I think “bars” is an inadequate name for these chocolate-mint squares. I think of it, in its totality, as a cake. A dense, flat cake.

This recipe is a bit labor-intensive, mostly because you're making two batters and it’s challenging to spread the top layer of chocolate without over-marbling it. Also, I have to move in a circle as I mix each batter, because the bowl is at Ginger’s face level and she will put her head in if I don’t block her out. She seems particularly drawn to dairy products like whipped cream and minty cream-cheese filling, though she has also consumed merlot, lemon bars, and banana cake with chocolate frosting — none of this with my approval, by the way.

Anyway, the difficult thing about a cake: unlike with cookies, you can’t test it first to make sure it’s good. I’ve found a solution (albeit, not an ideal one). I just gouge a chunk out from the middle with a fork. Once the cake is frosted, no one will be the wiser.

As always, some notes:
1. I reduced the sugar in the brownie part to 1½ cups.
2. I reduced the sugar in the mint filling to just below 1/3 cup.
3. I reduced the sugar in the frosting to 1 cup and skipped the mint extract. You may want to increase the recipe slightly; I had barely enough frosting.

Taste-wise, I don’t miss the sugar, but I don't know how that affects the final result. Also, I reduced the temperature to about 340 degrees. Not sure if that's because of my oven or the glass baking dish I used.

By the way, Laura uses Andes chocolate mint candies instead of candy canes. It takes too long to crush them, though, so I just slice them and prop them up in the frosting.

And my friend Katy says that the cake freezes well. I wouldn’t know: what to do with leftover cake is never a question for me.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Heartfelt earrings

Yesterday I made ten pairs of earrings. I was on a roll, knowing that the Team in Training bachelor auction is quickly approaching. (Note: Give the TNT crew a few days to get the site up. And then browse, browse, browse!)

My favorite pair of earrings so far: red hearts dangling from vintage gold chain. The beads are from a mixed tub I bought at Hobby Lobby. Even though the hearts are plastic, the ruby color is gorgeous and a bit pearlescent. (The assortment also had fun stuff like bright green dolphins, purple seals, and yellow teddy bears.)

I also got a bunch of hearts from Rings & Things. Personally, I like the 20mm pink glass hearts on a length of geometric silver chain, but I'm making a variety. Each pair is a little different. I also made some 12mm earrings with just the hearts (no chain) in clear, gold, or peridot. I figure that some gals like more conservative jewelry. And some actually hate hearts, but I can't worry about that right now.

I do hope that someone finds love (and not just a good story) at the bachelor auction. Call me a hopeful romantic.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Use old calendars as wrapping paper

Hello Kitty wall calendars have such vibrant colors and graphics, it's hard to retire them when the year is up. I figured out a way to share the Hello Kitty love beyond its allotted time: by using the old pages to wrap gifts. (I try to hide the areas where I've written on the calendar.) Even though this isn't a revolutionary idea, I'm glad to recycle and to not have to buy low-quality wrapping paper.

Some notes:
1. Watch where the center fold goes. If the staple holes are visible, try to put the fold in an inconspicuous place. (You could probably use spiral-bound calendars, too, but the pages would be half the size of the stapled pages.)
2. Instead of cutting the paper around the gift, measure first and then use a paper cutter to neatly trim the sides. Use the extra strips for a bow or a tag.
3. If you make a bow, you can use scissors to curl the paper. Just be careful not to pull too hard, otherwise the strip will tear.

Happy wrapping!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A new friend for Ginger?

Yesterday I got a message from Holly, a counselor with the Wisconsin Humane Society. Back in October, she handled my visit with Jake, a dog I adored, and then Ginger’s ill-fated introduction.

Holly was calling because she had a new dog in mind: Sammy, a submissive chap who she thought might be a match for Ginger. She said Sammy is "a very nice guy" — a good thing when you're talking about dogs.

I'm not sure whether I'll visit Sammy. Ginger and I have been through the introduction process three times already, always with the same result: her intolerance of potential canine friends. Also, Sammy is a "busy bee," which might be a lot to handle. But I appreciate the effort behind the phone call. I think that's excellent customer service, and it makes me want to always adopt my own canine friends from the humane society. With all the dogs up for adoption, it's also reassuring to know that the counselors are committed to finding good homes for them.

In the meantime, what do you think of Sammy? What can we tell about him from his photo? Yukie thinks he looks like "a dog's dog." I'll let you know if I visit him.