On Possessed Cows, Indian Burial Grounds, and My Glorious Return to Blogging

Oh. Hey. Hey, there, Internet.

Look, I know it’s been a while. I’ve been busy. Really busy. But you and me, we were made for each other. Like the ocean and a slightly leaky life boat. Like a dinosaur and a tar pit. Like the working class and the Industrial Revolution.

My point is, I’m back. And I want to make things work this time. So let’s give it another go, shall we?

Of course, just because I wasn’t blogging doesn’t mean I didn’t have any mishaps, misadventures, or spend time in any generally ridiculous circumstances. In fact, that’s how I spend much of my time. Allow me to regale you with a tale of something that happened to me recently, when my friends Faye, Ann, and I decided it would be a good idea to go on a five day road/camping trip across Texas following the conclusion of finals week. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

Because nothing could possibly go wrong with that plan.

Actually, aside from a roundly unhelpful park ranger and an unfortunate thunderstorm, things were going pretty well until the last night of our journey. We had spent the previous night in Galveston, and wanted to break up the long drive back to Lubbock by staying a night in a state park along the way.

Enter Mother Neff.

I checked out the website pre-departure and decided it looked like a pleasant little spot. Lots of trees, the first state park in Texas… what’s not to like?

Oh, the naiveté of youth.

Allow me to set the scene for you. We had spent the first part of the day in Galveston, walking along the beach and generally enjoying ourselves. After lunch, we set off, not realizing that the length of our drive would put us at Mother Neff just as the sun was starting to set.

We turned off the highway we had been following, a two lane asphalt affair, onto a country lane. The day was fading quickly as we sped past isolated houses and patches of forest, almost missing the tiny sign that marked the turn off for Mother Neff.

The park office was closed when we arrived, leaving us alone in the park but for one creepy white RV, from which male voices could be heard at intervals floating through the trees, which were barren and gnarled, their crooked branches blocking out what little sunlight was left as we availed ourselves of a camp site. We parked the car and got out, the wind blowing dry leaves past our feet with an evil rattle. We were going to have to set up the tent by the light of the headlights.

Looking to our left, we saw no less than three old trees with branches completely covered in strange birds. With the last rays of sunlight, we could only make out their black outlines against the sky, and remarked upon their surprising size. We couldn’t tell the species in the poor light, and so of course did the logical thing and walked over the trees to try to get a better look. The birds made no sound but for the flapping of heavy wings as they occasionally traveled from tree to tree.

As Faye and Ann stood together beneath the trees, completely absorbed in trying to tell what sort of birds these strange visitors were, I could only think to myself “This is just like The Birds. It’s all over.”

Thankfully, the birds did not attack at once, and so we had time to get our tent set up as darkness fell completely. In the distance, we heard a strange sound, like a cow in considerable distress. We brushed it off as nothing, however.

There was a charcoal grill there, which we managed to light, and then we took stock of our provisions to see what we might marshal up for dinner. It being the last night of the trip, our rations we running rather low. That is to say, all we had was some Bisquick and a bag of apple cinnamon instant oatmeal. Yummy.

Behind us, the cow sounded again. “MMOOOEARGHH!”  We exchanged concerned glances, but pressed on.

Being the intrepid adventurers that we are, we were not deterred by the poor state of our provisions, and set about trying to make pancakes despite our lack of any sort of cooking fat. Unfortunately, the best we were able to produce was a gross sort of pale dough ball. So we did the logical thing and dumped the remaining batter into the pan, then threw in the oatmeal for good measure. And thus frankencake was born.

It was about this time that we heard a rustle in the underbrush, and turned to find the bright eyes of two small creatures right behind us. “Holy…” I started, but fell silent as the creatures stepped into the lamplight and were revealed to be nothing but a couple of rather sorry looking cats. Ann threw them a bit of frankencake, which they fell upon hungrily. The cow once again voiced its wretched call.

“Ok, seriously, that thing has got to be either giving birth or dying!” exclaimed Faye. “Maybe both,” I said.

Barely indistinguishable voices floated through the trees as we kept trying to cook our pitiful excuse for a giant pancake, stalked all the while by the cats and harassed by noise from the cow, which continued to come in intervals of about ten minutes. We could still hear the flapping of the mysterious birds in the trees next to us.

Thankfully for our dinner, I was able to put together some grilled cheese in the nick of time. We poured syrup on frankencake and picked at it sadly, but found in inedible and wound up tossing it to the feral cats. The night had taken on a distinctive chill and we had bundled up in layers of camping clothes, including socks under chacos and winter hats (plus, in my case, a horrible flower sweater we had found in a thrift store the previous day), so as we crawled into our tent for the night, stomachs full of frankencake, we looked as though we had recently spent some time living under a bridge. And Internet, we were scared. The weird cow, the stalking cats, the terrifying mass of birds, the gnarled trees and creepy RV had all combined to give us thoroughly bad vibes about the whole situation.

Somewhat shamefacedly, we decided to spent the night in the car, which at least had doors that could lock to protect us from the cow, and was warmer than the tent at any rate. We crawled in, swearing not to emerge until the sun rose and we could be sure we were safe.

Mother Neffer!

In the car, theories ran wild about who Mother Neff could possibly be and why her state park was such a terrible place. “I bet she was a convict!” “I bet she was a murderer!” I decided to put the theories to rest by looking it up on my phone (despite all the park’s creepiness, I still had service).

“Guys, Mother Neff was just the lady who donated the original land to start the park. There’s nothing to worry abou… Uh oh.”

“What?”

“It says the in 1935 three Native American graves were unearthed on park grounds.”

“We’re sleeping in an Indian burial ground?!” cried Faye.

“We’re gonna die.” said Ann.

“This is basically a horror movie.” confirmed Faye.

In the distance, we could hear the cow.

Of course, we didn’t die. We spent the rest of the night coming up with Mother Neff puns of such quality as “We are neffer coming back here!” and then fell asleep until about four in the morning when Faye set off the car alarm as she tried to sneak out to go to the bathroom.

When the sun rose, we packed up the tent and departed posthaste, not even taking time to change clothes or do anything but, in our infinite wisdom, take a couple of obnoxious pictures in front of the park sign. You know, for giggles.

And that, dear Internet, is how we wound up, at about 7:30 that morning, making an entire gas station avert their eyes from the strange homeless wanderers when we stopped to buy gas and coffee. They didn’t know what we’d been through.

See you soon, Internet!

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Tales from my Childhood: Fish Bubble Magazine

Internet, I was a bit of a strange child. For roughly a year when I was about 9, I maintained a publication called Fish Bubble Magazine. It was a general interest magazine… for fish. My parents were very supportive. But then how could they say no to this face?

Cute, huh? Come to think of it, my parents are also very supportive of this blog…

Gasp! Is this just a grown up version of Fish Bubble? Maybe. But I do at least have more than two readers this time.

Anyway, about the magazine. It was very advanced. I think I released about 7 issues before we were shut down due to… um, lack of funding? Let’s go with that.

Because colors are for fancy people, each issue was created using printer paper and a graphite pencil. Here is a typical cover, but with colors added via the magic of the digital age.

Brilliant, eh? Inside you would find an advertisement for a product a fish might find appealing, a couple of ocean-related articles, and a public service announcement advising the denizens of the deep against some watery peril.

While other girls played with dolls, I created a publishing empire. I can safely say it was the premier fish-related magazine maintained by an over zealous 9 year-old with a pencil. (If I recall correctly, it was during this time that I wanted to be a marine biologist.)

So basically I’m a creative genius. Or I just had a lot of time on my hands. I wasn’t allowed to watch TV on weekdays.

But what about you? What elaborate and/or nonsensical projects occupied the days of your youth?

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The Books That Changed my Life

Internet, as a blogger who is also an English major, I’m something of an authority on books, right?

…Right?

[insert raucous laughter]

Ok, fine. But your lack of respect won’t stop me from telling you about some of the books that have been most important to me throughout my life. Some of them have affected me for the better, some for the worse, but here they are. The books that changed my life.

1) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by the illustrious J.K. Rowling

Picture this, if you will. The year is 2000. I’m 7 years old, at the mall bookstore when malls still had bookstores. My father picks up a copy of Harry Potter for me. That night, he reads the first chapter or so to me as a bedtime story. Mind you, this is before any of the movies came out, so I genuinely had no idea what would happen in the fresh chapter he read to me each night. Things continued that way through the first three books. When we got to the fourth, I was just old enough to read it on my own, and I was off- away from the world of bedtime stories and on my way to being an adult in the world of books. Also, a childhood full of reading led me to score perfect on the Critical Reading section of the SAT… and the ACT. Twice. Not to brag.

2) Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

A brilliant apologetic work I stumbled across when I needed it most. Since then, I’ve become a huge Lewis fan, from Narnia to The Screwtape Letters, but I owe the most to Mere Christianity.

3)Night by Elie Wiesel

A true account of Wiesel’s survival of the Holocaust, we had to do a huge project on it in 8th grade. I was scarred for life by the Nazi atrocities, but the flame of humanitarianism was lit in me and has not been extinguished. If at all possible I intend to spend time volunteering with the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Borders (Surprise! I want to go to medical school. Didn’t see that one coming, did ya’?).

And finally…

4) Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

During a summer which will live in infamy, this book was assigned reading before my freshman year of high school. Basically, it makes the point that salt is the driving force behind… um… everything.

The Civil War? Salt.

The Silk Road? Salt.

CHINA?!? Salt.

I wish I were kidding.

I include this book not because it changed my life for the better, but because to this day looking at salt reminds me of that book. Oh, the horror.

It is worth noting that this same author also wrote an entire book on cod.

So, that’s my list. But the people want to know- has a book ever changed your life?

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Ain’t Got Nobody to Love

Did it hurt, Internet? You know, when you fell from heaven?

Ok, that was pretty bad. I apologize for my desperation. But let’s face it, Internet- I’m looking at another Valentines Day alone.

And by “alone” I mean “boyfriendless”.

The state of singlehood really got me down on Valentines Days past. When I was in high school, and even in middle school, the halls would be filled with happy couples exchanging cards and gifts. The worst were, of course, the girls walking around the hallways lugging huge stuffed bears. As I was feeling blue about all this, not to mention green with envy, I’m sure I appeared a lovely shade of turquoise to passersby. For some reason, this did not help with the boyfriend situation.

So now I’m at college, surrounded by people who are “in committed relationships”, “engaged”, and/or “going to spend the rest of their lives together”. And you know what? Good for them. I hope they have a happy Valentines Day.

Because while I may be single, I’m not alone. Against all odds, I’ve got friends. I also have 17 cats, and… wait, sorry. That’s 30 years from now.

Anyway.

For those of you who, like me, will be spending this February 14th without a significant other, don’t let it get you down. You’re still awesome. And for those of you who are with someone, enjoy your romance.

But if I see you carrying around a giant teddy bear, we’ve got problems.

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Skiing: My Attempt to Fall Down a Mountain in Style

Hey Internet. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that my sense of self-preservation is completely haywire. Why, you ask? Well, because recently I went skiing for the first time.

Now, skiing is fun. Don’t get me wrong. But as far as activities with low risk of injury go, you’d best look somewhere else. A sewing bee, for example. (On second thought, maybe not. Needles are stabby.) In fact, if there’s anything that I took from this whole experience, it’s that it’s best to learn to ski while you’re a kid. This bit of wisdom is of course garnered from the fact that 6 year-olds were whizzing past me on the slopes while I floundered about like a beached whale.

My skiing experience got off to a rollicking start when, less than 5 minutes after I first strapped skis to my feet, I went sliding down a slight incline straight into an old man. Well, I didn’t hit him, but I did run over his snowboard a little (he wasn’t riding it at the time). He helped me up, and I somehow made it to the bunny slope, thanks in large part to a couple of more experienced skiers who were with my group on the ski trip.

Once I was off the ski lift (a miracle in itself) I proceeded to fall down a lot. As I made my slow and laborious way down the bunny slope, this time under the patient tutelage of another couple of people from my group. I was about a quarter of the way down, laying in the snow on my side because I had fallen (again) and was having a time of it trying to figure out how to get up, when another novice skier from my group went streaking past me at top speed. “I don’t know how to stoooooopppppp!” she cried as she sped, completely out of control, to her certain doom. Fortunately(?) before she ran into a house or off a cliff, she completely wiped out near the bottom of the slope, losing both skis, both poles, and her hat, although thankfully no limbs.

From my position near the top of the slope, I whimpered softly. However, this was basically the low point of my learning-to-ski experience. Well, until that afternoon, when my friend convinced me it would be a good idea to try a couple of blues. Exhausted by the ordeal of the morning, I failed miserably. I mean, I eventually got down the mountain. But it took all afternoon and what little dignity I still possessed.

That morning, though, I eventually figured out how to stand up after falling down on skis. As anyone who skis can tell you, this is no small feat. I followed this achievement by figuring out how to actually ski, and I got down the bunny slope a couple of times without falling… very much.

The second day out, I found my equilibrium and went down some of the normal non-bunny greens. I didn’t even fall! Well, a few times. But still.

Next time (assuming I get to go skiing again at some point in my life) I’ll be skiing blues. DUN DUN DUNN.

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Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy

Internet, you will no doubt recognize the title of this post as that of the popular song.

What do you mean, you have no idea what I’m talking about? You really ought to get out more, Internet. (Speaking of which, it is still 1946, right?)

My loving father, who being of Pennsylvania Dutch origin is a huge fan of shoo fly pie, recently introduced me to this song, which he once sited to prove to my mother, who is of Southern heritage, that shoo fly pie is, in fact, a thing that exists. Interestingly, the other dessert mentioned in the song seems to hail from the south. According to my mother, my grandfather spoke fondly of apple pan dowdy, though she never got any. This resulted in apple pan dowdy being a Mythical Dish, so naturally I could not help but make some. In accordance with the song, I made shoo fly pie as well, to the delight of my father.

Now, for those of you clutching your craniums and wondering what these two mysterious dishes could possibly be, probably because they sound made up and/or inedible, allow me to explain. Shoo fly pie is a pie (obviously) that contains two mixtures. The first is a crumb mixture, consisting mainly of flour and sugar, but flavored by a myriad of spices including nutmeg and cinnamon. The second is a liquid mixture, the primary ingredient of which is molasses. Oh, and you have to make your own pie crust, or you’re a quitter. Anyway, the crumb and liquid mixtures are layered and then the whole thing is baked. It’s unusual, but tasty. (Here’s a recipe, though I’m afraid it’s different from the one I used as that one is not on the internet.)

Apple pan dowdy, which is not apple pie, also involves making your own pie crust (seriously, don’t be a quitter). However, this crust goes on top of the dish, covering a delightful mixture of apple slices, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and oh yeah, a quarter cup of orange liquor. Yes, the alcohol all cooks out. True to its name, I cooked this dish in a pan, although it is baked. We topped it with caramel icecream, and you can’t have any! (Here’s the recipe I used, though.)

So, what did we learn from this experience? Well, we learned that making pie crust, though it requires effort, is not necessarily nightmarish. We also learned that the people of ye olden times knew what they were doing when it came to desserts. And of course, we learned that you should never play me an old song about strange foods, or I will make them. (Unless I’m at college, in which case I will weep softly and go back to eating my sad dining hall pasta.) I ask you to use this knowledge only for good.

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Honest Work and Burning Plastic

“Hey there Internet. I would apologize for my lack of posting, but I have a pretty good excuse. You see, since it’s finals and all, I thought that this would be the perfect time to get a job. My logic is impeccable. Also, a combination of stress and being sick of campus food has dramatically decreased my food intake. I’m pretty much running on fumes at the moment.”

The above was written several days ago while I was still at college. Now I have returned home, to a magical land where there’s food in the pantry and the heating works. Actually, I’ll be here until mid-January, so I’ll probably be going bonkers by the time I’ve got to return to school. But until then, it’s good to be home. Plus, I got that “A” in College Algebra. Ha! Permission to laugh and point revoked.

But let me tell you about my new job.

So after a semester at college, my savings account was running too low for comfort. I knew there were only two solutions. But the first one was illegal and involved armed robbery, so I went with solution number 2: get a job. And just my luck, as I was walking through the Student Union one fine November day, I happened to notice a sign outside the campus bookstore. The very best kind of sign for a bum like me. A “hiring” sign.

So I applied. Two weeks later, I was in the library working desperately to finish a huge project for my writing class (I got it done in time, by the way. And the fact that I got an “A” in that class as well did nothing to deter future procrastination. Oh well.) when, of course, my phone rang. Because I’m a loose cannon, I ignored the social conventions of quiet in the library and had as quiet a conversation as possible with the woman on the other end of the line. I would have gone in the stairwell, but it smelled like asbestos and I was kind of afraid the door would lock behind me, leaving me trapped there forever.

Anyway, the phone call was to inform me that I’d gotten the job. Yay for gainful employment!

I showed up the first day to discover that I’d taken a job at Book-stacking store. I have never known the alphabet so well as I do now. That happens when you alphabetize approximately 17,000 books. But I won’t complain, because they are paying me.

Technically I’m supposed to be a cashier, but it wasn’t until day 4 that I actually got to perform cashier-like duties. On day 2, I had to shrink-wrap.

Let me tell you, Internet, that you should really appreciate shrink wrapping. Because the thin sheets of plastic you so carelessly fling aside were probably put in place by me, or someone like me, in the backroom of some store or factory, desperately trying to get two sheets of plastic to melt together in exactly the right way.

After a couple of hours, this song got stuck in my head. See all those stacks of paper in the picture below? Yeah. I had to shrink wrap all of them.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m really grateful for the job. Turns out you need money to live- who’d have thunk it? And for the most part I managed to stave off the rats. I just wish the plastic hadn’t smoked as I melted it. Cancer, here I come!

P.S. Some changes to the look of this blog will be coming in the next few days, so don’t freak out if it suddenly looks completely different.

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