Road-Tripping 101

At the end of August I went on a round-about journey to Denver and back with two of my goodest friends. It was fantastic. I firmly believe that going on a multi-day road trip is a quintessential part of one's formation as an American. It teaches valuable lessons about preparedness and plotting a course; it tests your patience and your friendships; it shows you just how big Wyoming is.

On packing and preparation:

Concerning preparedness, the lessons learned and the mistakes made were, fortunately, not too severe. We didn't get lost, the car didn't break down, and we had plenty of food. The best thing you can bring on a road trip is a good book and plenty of banana-zucchini bread. We had banana-zucchini bread (complete with chocolate chips and walnuts) every morning for breakfast, and it was glorious. In hindsight some of us should have packed warmer clothes and more than one of us should have brought a towel. On the first night we stayed in a campground outside of Helena, and we didn't realize there was no water until after we returned to camp late at night. But that was fine, because we had a pack of Angry Orchard and a bottle of Fireball. After seven days we were all wishing that we had some other liquor besides Fireball with us.

On tourist attractions:

You can keep driving past the 50,000 Silver Dollar bar, casino, and gift shop in Montana. It's just what it sounds like. The Potato Museum in Blackfoot, Idaho, also left room to impress. For $4 you can learn a lot about potatoes, but you can also learn a lot from the Internet and not subject yourself to a creepy “couch potato” family that sings an annoying song.

A tourist attraction that surprised us was the Frontier Prison in Rawlins, Wyoming. A tour is $10, and it's more than worth it. Our tour guide was unsettlingly cheerful as she told us about what life was like in the winter when there was no heating in the original cell block, the occasional daring escape, and the technological developments in how to execute people.

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The prison was open from 1901 to 1981. In 1987 the abandoned state penitentiary was the setting for the B movie “Prison,” starring Viggo Mortensen. The giant hole in the perimeter wall and the fake-blood stains that decorated the walls and ceilings are left over from filming.

Another interesting feature of the prison was the artwork painted on many of the walls. One of the prisoners who stayed a long time took up painting, and the warden commissioned him to paint some nature scenes in the cafeteria and make the place a little cheerier. 

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If you're driving through the southeast corner of Wyoming, stop at the Fossil Butte National Monument visitor center. They have a lot of fossils you can look at, over 300 of them. While we were there a ranger gave a talk on the history of fossil collection in the area and how it came to be a national monument. That part of Wyoming is pretty boring, but we got back in the car with a new perspective after we learned that the area used to be a giant, sub-tropical lake.

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On Yellowstone:
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It wouldn't have been a proper road trip through the western United States without a stop to see our local supervolcano, right? I had never been before, and now I can say I understand why it is that over three million tourists flock to Yellowstone every year. It's really cool! You aren't allowed to touch anything or venture off the boardwalks, because this might happen...  → 

...but there's lots to see while remaining in the designated areas. There are hundreds of rainbow hot springs; the vibrant colors are caused by different bacteria that are able to survive the extreme temperatures. Some of them bubble. We also saw quite a few hats.


Technically, I could have poked anything with a stick because we were standing inside the crater of a supervolcano, but here I am trying to poke a volcano with a stick:

On appreciating nature:

All credit goes to Emma for planning the route and where we would sleep. We saw some beautiful parks, climbed on rocks, star gazed, and swam in questionable bodies of water. We appreciated how hard the ground is while we slept in a tent. We would have appreciated the Grand Tetons (that's French for big boobs), but there was too much wildfire smoke to see them. We appreciated how boring and big Wyoming is. We had a few moments, whilst pretending to be mountain goats, that we appreciated how a healthy fear of heights might keep us from killing ourselves.

On friendship: 
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Most of all, we learned about friendship. Specifically, we learned that we can still be friends after spending 50 hours in a car together. Hannah will sing constantly and mess up the driver's seat. She also has to pee more frequently than the average adult should. Just let her be. Aiden will trick you into discussing traumatic childhood memories buried in your subconscious, the existence of God, and the fact we're standing on top of a super-volcano that could kill us all. Emma will spout fun animal facts. She will point out the pika, an adorable creature that will die if you hold it because they cannot survive in warm temperatures. She will also inform you that you have believed a lie your whole life: American buffalo are not, in fact, buffalo, but bison that have fooled an entire nation. Once we reached Denver and reunited with Jacob, we were shocked and appalled to learn that our dear friend has no sense of interior design, or possibly he has a secret agenda against short people, as evidenced by his microwave being on top of the fridge.

If I had to write a syllabus for the course "Road-Tripping 101," the learning objective would be: it is good to have friends to go on adventures with. 

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5 Strategies to Save Money

Hello, readers! It's been a while since I've written for you, my deepest apologies etc. etc.

As I continue to embrace my role as a responsible and mature adult, I am learning a lot about money management. With a whole 2 decades of life experience behind me, I'd consider myself an expert on most things, saving money being one of them. I will share some of my wisdom with you, in a list of 5 general principles (lists of 5 are insanely popular on the Internet and that is sure to get my blog some hits).

Some of these ideas will sound familiar to you, and some are more unconventional and tailored to the lifestyle of the average 20-something year-old. My sage advice to you, as you embark on your personal journey to being-not-nearly-as-broke-as-you-are-now, is to be creative. I won't tell you to find a better job with things like health insurance and more hours, because you've probably heard that enough times.


1. Keep an eye out for free stuff


Coupon clippers: Always worth a skim, but most of the deals require you to spend a certain amount of money first.

Dumpster diving: I haven't tried this personally, so I can't give you any advice there.

Find food in the wild: during the summer months it's easy to find a berry patch or a neighbor with a bumper crop they need to get rid of, but we have to talk about the drawbacks. You can't live off of berries alone (without really weird stuff happening to your poo), and they take up a lot of space in the freezer. Consider this before you try to store 5 gallons of blueberries in your mini-fridge.

Free samples at Costco: If you plan to make a complete meal out of free samples, bring some disguises so the employees won't catch on. However, you're still going to burn more calories running around the store than you will manage to eat.

Help people move: they might buy a pizza for the helping hands, and they always need to get rid of stuff. 

Attend a church with lots of old people: Go to all the potlucks, and keep your schedule free for lunch after the Sunday service. After 6 months or a year you might want to find a new church, that's when the congregants will start expecting you to chip in a casserole at functions and a few bucks in the collection plate, and the lunch offers will dwindle.

2. Don't spend money...


...on things you don't need: Give up any hobbies that cost money, and give up your friends.* Get a library card and find some jigsaw puzzles. People are always giving away jigsaw puzzles. Friends will inevitably invite you to do fun things with them, and fun things cost money.

*The ideal of having no friends conflicts with strategy #5

...on things you do need: Wait to turn on the furnace as far into the fall as you can stand. Don't buy a winter coat, wear 3 layers of sweaters instead and surrender your digits and the tip of your nose to frostbite. You also don't need air conditioning, or caffeine, or furniture. Even clothes are unnecessary for the 2 months out of the year you won't freeze to death or be turned into a burnt potato chip by the sun.

3. Waste not want not


Recycle: Recycling and yard-waste pick up is free in Spokane County, but garbage isn't. Solution? Become a recycling and composting pro and downgrade to a small garbage bin and save a whole $13 a month.

Reuse plastic bags: Some women spend hundreds of dollars on purses, why bother when they give out bags for free at the grocery store? You can even color coordinate with your outfit: a Safeway bag for neutral, earth-tone outfits, a Target bag adds a splash of bold red if you're going out, and your basic white grocery bag looks professional and goes with anything.


Leaky faucets: You are pouring money down the drain. By keeping a watering can under my leaky tub faucet and using it to wash my feet and water my garden, I estimate that I save a whole 10 cents a month.

Reusable menstrual products: Ladies, GET A MENSTRUAL CUP! Men, GET ONE FOR YOUR LADY-FRIEND!* Let’s guess-timate that, on average, a woman spends $5 on tampons every period.** A menstrual cup costs about $30 on the high end, and won’t need to be replaced for 1-5 years. It pays for itself after 6 months. And gentlemen, you’ve probably had to run to the store to pick up a box of pads or tampons for a woman in your life. If she switches to a menstrual cup, you could stand to save a few dollars just as a side effect. (You’ll still need to buy her chocolate, though.)

*Men, do not actually buy your lady-friend a menstrual cup. That would be a ridiculous thing to do. As wonderful as menstrual cups are, they are not for everybody, and no man should presume to tell a woman how to manage her shark week. 

**The Huffington Post calculated that, on average, a woman spends close to $40 every period. This calculation includes the cost of birth control (which, I guess kind of makes sense because a lot of people take the pill in order to regulate their periods, but I think it stretches the numbers unfairly), acne cream, the highest recommended dose of Midol you can safely take for 2 days, and a new pair of $5 panties every time. First, who throws away a pair of panties just because of a period stain? Has the Huffington Post not heard of SOAP? Second, a pack of 6 cotton panties costs $8 at Walmart. 

Anyways, I want you to appreciate the arithmetic I had to suffer through to arrive at that $40 a period calculation. The Huffington Post only gave the total amount a woman spends on period supplies over her entire menstruating lifetime, and I had to reverse-math everything to find out what one period costs. You’re welcome. 


4. Sharing is caring


Split the cost of groceries with your roomies and plan meals together: Even if you can work around your roomies’ hectic schedules and compromise on the percentage of fat you want in your milk, this won’t work for long because humans are selfish asses. You will either be taken advantage of, or you will get smart and learn how to take advantage of them. Fortunately, there is another way...

5. Mooching


Surround yourself with people who will let you use their stuff: Instead of giving up friends, as advised in strategy #2, carefully cultivate a friend-group that will grant you free access to their stuff, such as video games, food, and pets, without asking for much in return. Look for friends who spend most of their time on a couch, not going out on a Friday night. If they’re too outgoing, you’ll find yourself spending too much money on drinks and movie tickets when you should be inside enjoying their air conditioning and Play Station. Find a boyfriend who’s just a little bit sexist, he’ll always pay for dinner and buy you gifts, since women aren’t supposed to make money. (But watch out—you might get roped into doing his ironing.) See how long you can use your roommate’s toothpaste without them noticing. Save your friend’s girlfriend’s mother’s Netflix password. And most importantly, never turn 26.


~~~

There you have it folks, the expert’s guide to saving money. If you take my advice, you should be living comfortably despite your poverty in no time. Rock those grocery bag purses and let me know how it goes!


Lessons Learned from Trying to Feed Myself


It should be simple, right? You put stuff in the hole to keep yourself alive. That part is easy enough. What is more difficult, however, is preparing victuals that will both sustain you and taste good. Now I know I have it easy: I don't have to mess with a wood stove, lug buckets of water to my house, pluck feathers off my fried chicken, or grow any of my own food. I enjoy the benefits of electric appliances, convenient grocery stores, and a world wide web full of recipe ideas. But despite all the ways I have it easy, cooking remains so dang-flabbing hard.

In the last few years of fending for myself in the dangerous aisles of Winco and wielding weapons for good and evil in the kitchen, I have experienced my share of triumphs and defeats. Surely more failures are yet to come. Through it all, I have learned some valuable lessons that I would like to share...

1. The day will come when you will be sick of Top Ramen, and even (dare I say it) free pizza.
Do I still have a $5 pallet of Top Ramen in my cupboard, from well over a year ago? Yes. And I am never going to eat another bowl of the stuff. I haven't reached the place yet where I'd turn down a free piece of pizza, but there was a time last year when I came pretty close. I pray that day never comes. Have my tastes refined? Or did I just reach the limit?

2. If you're not sure if you'll like something, don't buy 5 boxes of it.
Why do I ever buy microwavable egg rolls? Every time, it's a trap. Those low low prices and the lure of convenience sometimes get the better of me. I just want delicious egg rolls, you know? Without having to go to a restaurant for them. But frozen egg rolls are always disappointing and mushy.


3. Even though you know you should eat your veggies, you also know you're not going to, so stop buying salad.
Stop watching spinach turn slimy in your fridge. Just own up to your faults, and admit you aren't strong enough to go through a whole bag of green leafies by yourself. Stop lying to yourself every time you go to the grocery store, thinking a new flavor of salad dressing will change everything. Come on, you're better than that. Just be true to yourself and buy a box of Cheez-Its instead.

4. You are one person, and a small one at that. Buying in bulk won't actually save you money.
Sometimes you just have to pay more for less to avoid slicing an inch of mold off that giant block of cheddar cheese every time you want to make a sandwich.

5. Food strategy: cook a giant meal on Sunday and eat left-overs all week.
The good news is that you won't have to prepare a lunch or bother with cooking dinner after a full day of work. That bad news is that you will be sick of potatoes and chicken by Wednesday. You'll also make way more potatoes than chicken and veggies, so by Friday you'll have run out of the things that make potatoes interesting. And be warned, if the left-over feast you worked so hard for doesn't turn out and you actually hate it, you're stuck with a lot of it.

6. When you're trying out a new recipe, be careful not to let it grow too powerful.
Just because a recipe exists on the Internet does not mean it's a good idea. And if you give that bubbling pot an inch of freedom, it will persuade you to dump an extra can of tomato sauce into its greedy maw, and another cup of ground beef... and before you know it, you've tripled the recipe and don't have a pot big enough to contain its hunger for power. And, guess what? Potato-apple pancakes aren't as good as you expected, and gnocchi with cannellini beans and red sauce is absolutely disgusting. You poor fool.


7. Put enough olive oil, garlic, and Italian seasonings on anything and throw it in the oven, and it will be good.
I promise you, it will be delicious. Also, double the amount of chocolate chips in any recipe.

8. Don't be afraid to try something new, or modify an existing recipe.
While a healthy amount of fear is essential to any cooking venture, don't let that stop you from getting creative and listening to your instincts. Need to get rid of something? Just throw it in there and see what happens! Some tasty experiments I've tried recently are brownies with banana chunks and chocolate cookies with peanut butter.

10. Most importantly, cooking should be fun!
Yes, it's terrifying and exhausting, and you have to wash a hundred dishes afterwards. Yes, things can and do go horribly wrong. Yes, I'm bored of rice, carrots, and chicken. But remember that this is just another adventure, and adventures can be uncomfortable at times, but the high stakes and element of danger make it more exciting. If you choose your adventuring companion wisely, it should be easy to have fun, no matter if the outcome is delicious or suspicious.

Hannah Attempts to Garden


When I visited my parents over Christmas, they gave me a few cloves of garlic from a bulb that had sprouted. (No, the sprouting garlic was not their Christmas present to me. They're not that mean.) I like to cook with fresh garlic, and it was already determined to grow where it was on the kitchen counter, so it seemed to me that only good things would come if I simply plopped the cloves in some dirt.

I drove home with five cloves of garlic sealed in a Ziploc bag in my trunk. I unloaded my back pack and box of Christmas treasures and left the garlic where it was, intending to plant it in a day or two.

And suddenly it was February.

After a weekend trip to Montana, I noticed that my car smelled strongly of garlic. I don't know if it was the sub-zero temperatures of the mountains followed by the warm spell that Spokane was experiencing that made the five forgotten cloves wake up and recall their true purpose as vampire repellent, but for whatever reason, I hadn't noticed the smell until then. My only passengers, my boyfriend and a hitchhiker, hadn't said anything. The odor took me completely by surprise.

The garlic had thrived in its dark, airless, plastic prison. The shoots were longer and a healthy green color. I resolved to plant them after work the very next day. Still, a week passed and the bag of garlic remained in my trunk. On Valentine's day I suggested to Dominic that we take his car to the movies. I drove with my windows down for a few days. Finally, I removed the grocery bag with the lively garlic and the plastic pots my parents gave me, and left it on the porch.

Finally again, I planted them indoors.

The cloves were not happy in their new home. In return for lovingly tucking them under a blanket of fluffy potting soil and giving them a sunny window, their pretty green stems turned yellow and they stank up the living room. Thinking it was the warmer temperature that caused this downturn in their health, I banished them to the front yard.

I can see them from here, looking down from the living room window. Wilted and colored like a bruised apple, it is obvious that they have lost the will to live.

The garlic incident is not unique in my history of gardening attempts. Last summer I started some herbs from seeds in a couple of trays outside. I forgot to water them and they dried out completely, then, a rain storm washed away half the dirt. The lemon balm pulled through, but I was demoralized by the limp strawberries and crusty marigolds, the ants and the sandy soil around my house. In the fall, the Christmas cactus I inherited at work quickly went from bad to worse under my care.

The apple tree I planted six years ago is doing fine, but I suspect that's only because I moved to the other side of the state. The tulips I planted are poking out of the ground just in time for spring, but again I can't give myself much credit because I buried at least two hundred of the things, practically guaranteeing that some of them would grow.

My parents gave me a little herb-growing kit for Christmas. I read the instruction booklet studiously and set a reminder on my phone to sow the seeds on March 20, about six weeks before the last frost. Predictably, I didn't get around to it until last night. This was supposed to be the easiest thing in the world. Four seed packets, four cardboard pots, four pellets of dirt. The dirt pellets had to be soaked in warm water for ten minutes to expand, then that same water I just added had to be squeezed out until the soil was moist but not likely to make the seeds mold. So there I was at ten o'clock at night, standing over the kitchen sink squeezing fist-fulls of soggy dirt, generally making a muddy mess of things, when there was a perfectly good bag of ready-to-use potting soil in the garage.

And now, I have little pots that promise basil, cilantro, parsley, and chives, sitting in front of the living room window. Behind them, through the glass, the yellow garlic stems can be seen, a mocking reminder of my most recent failure.

It's also Easter, and although the preacher didn't talk about plants or springtime this morning, my brain is making connections to the theme of resurrection and new life. I suck at gardening. If any plant in my care grows, it is despite my attentions, not because of them. So in 14 to 21 days, when little green faces are supposed to poke out of the re-hydrated, moist but not too-moist soil, I'll know it's a small Easter miracle.

Mom the Search Engine


One of the enduring mysteries of the human experience is how people managed to make it into adulthood before the existence of Google. I can easily imagine how old people and children survived those dark times: old people already have the knowledge and skills necessary to keep themselves alive, and children are protected from their own stupidity by the old people. It's the young adults I wonder about.

It's tough world out there, and for a young adult newly flown from her parents' nest, any number of things could turn deadly: laundry, shower mold, extreme sodium levels from a diet of Top Ramen and pizza, scheduling her own dentist appointments... Humans learn by trial and error, but only if we survive the errors.

It is my own estimation that the survival rate for young people living without the close supervision of older, wiser adults was probably only 70%, perhaps as low as 50%, in the time before Google. But if that was the case, you may ask, wouldn't our parents tell us about one third or half of their friends dying? Surely that would have been a pretty significant event in their lives!

I would agree that watching your friends drop off one by one – some suffocating under piles of dirty laundry, others suffering from a brain collapse when they couldn't recall the correct lyrics to a song – would be difficult. But you must remember that this was a normal, deeply ingrained part of culture that every generation went through. Perhaps our parents just don't think it's worth mentioning their old friend Jerry who died of shame when he sang the wrong words to a Jimi Hendrix song at the top of his lungs at a party, a tragedy that could have easily been avoided by simply googling the lyrics, had that been an option.

What did our parents do without the Internet? According to my mom, they called their mother. And if she didn't know, they called grandma. It was a simpler time, when instead of instant access to 500 different “perfect” pancake recipes from everyone's grandma and their aunt, there was only one perfect pancake recipe and you had to use a land line to get it.

I wonder how I would hold up if I didn't have Google to guide me... *cue the imagination sound effect* For some of the problems I encounter as a clueless 21-year-old, my mom would be a valuable resource in helping me avoid death by stupidity:


For others... I doubt she could provide any useful information:


And then there are the questions that Mom probably knows the answers to, but I wouldn't want her to know about:


If the Internet ever disappears from our lives, it's nice to know that we have moms as a back up solution for some of our burning questions, at least.







Valuable Lessons from Chrétien de Troyes' “Arthurian Romances”

A few months ago, I was in the break room at Lowe's making my way through “Cligés,” one of the Arthurian Romances. One of fellows who worked there, lets call him Joe, saw what I was reading and said to me, “Ah, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Don't you wish we had the same values of chivalry in today's society? Don't you admire the code they lived by?”

My response: “I'm a woman. So... no.”

Joe was taken slightly aback by my firm “no.” I didn't have a high opinion of Joe's intelligence – that may or may not be relevant since I hear a lot of people bemoaning the loss of chivalric values – but he was friendly and I was always nice to him because a lot of the employees made fun of him or griped about him behind his back. Joe was also the only person there who I knew was a Christian (at the time), which I have to admit I wasn't too happy about because, come on, that guy has to be the one who is very open about his faith? The guy that nobody likes?

That all is beside the point. I said, “No. I'm a woman, and all women got to do was embroider and get married off and watch men hit each other with lances. No thanks.”

To attempt at fairness, the ideals of chivalry aren't all sexist and macho-manly, there's some good stuff in there too. Defending the weak (which means pretty damsels, in this time period), being good to your word, giving mercy to your opponent, a strong sense of duty, courage and bravery, hospitality, religious devotion... that's some nice stuff. However, here's something we should keep in mind when we talk about the good ol' days of chivalry that we read about in the tales of King Arthur's court: we are romanticizing romance literature written in the 12th century that was romanticizing the good ol' days of the 5th century. At least that's what I gathered about Chrétien.

Here's what Chrétien says in the introduction to his tale about Sir Yvain, the knight with the awesome pet lion: “But today very few serve love: nearly everyone has abandoned it; and love is greatly abased, because those who loved in bygone days were known to be courtly and valiant and generous and honourable. Now love is reduced to empty pleasantries, since those who know nothing about it claim that they love, but they lie, and those who boast of loving and have no right to do so make a lie and a mockery of it.”

Doesn't that sound familiar?

Without getting carried away any more than I already have, here are the valuable insights I learned from reading the “Arthurian Romances.”

1. All ugly people are evil.
You can bet, if someone has any kind of physical deformity or is just plain ugly, he or she is a bad person out to harm you.

2. People with dwarfism are doubly ugly and doubly evil.
Really, it's safe to assume that any little people you encounter are working for the Devil.

3. Naturally, beautiful people are good people.
The best knights – the strongest, most honorable, and kindest – are incredibly handsome. And ladies are presumed to be virtuous and good based on their looks alone. There might be one exception to this rule: toward the end of “The Story of the Grail” Sir Gawain meets the “malevolent maid” who likes to taunt and goad knights into getting themselves killed, for no good reason. Her face and neck are “whiter than snow,” so we know she's pretty, but those are all the words Chrétien used to describe her. Compared to all the other ladies the author lavishes description on, perhaps it's safe to assume that the malevolent maid was just average.

I think the reason the simplification of pretty=good, ugly=bad bothered me so much is because there are so many references to Christianity and religion in this book. Views and attitudes that go against my understanding of Christianity, expressed in a book that is weighed down by Christian symbolism and references to God, is just a little bit frustrating to read. We know from the Bible AND J.R.R. Tolkein that looks don't always match one's good-evil alignment:
  • Proverbs 31:30: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain.”
  • 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Do not let your adorning be external … but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart.”
  • 1 Samuel 16:7: “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
  • Frodo Baggins: “I think one of [the enemy's] spies would – well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand.”
4. Winning honor and fame is THE most important goal for a knight, and you do that by accepting any dare, no matter how stupid.
Actually, you don't even have to double-dog-dare one of King Arthur's knights to get them to try something that has killed everyone else who ever made an attempt – he'll do it without being dared first, with you begging him to not do it! Now, if there's a damsel to rescue or you gave your word that you would complete a quest, then it seems to me that risking your head is the honorable thing to do. But there were so many times when a knight did something completely nuts just because someone said, “everyone else who tried to do this died.”

5. Knights must defend the helpless... upper-class ladies.
No poor people were defended. There were some females dressed in rags who were defended, but they turned out to be disenfranchised noblewomen.

6. It is proper procedure to always promise to help a damsel before asking what she wants.
This can lead to problems, such as when King Arthur promises to defend one sister, and then finds out she's completely selfish and wicked, and Sir Yvain promises to defend the other sister. Yvain ends up having to fight his best friend, Gawain, because of the king's foolish promise. There is no lesson learned, and sure enough, throughout the rest of the book it's still common practice for a knight to immediately pledge his sword in the service of any weeping damsel he encounters, even though she's a complete stranger.

8. The Welsh are really stupid.
And I mean reeeaaally stupid.

9. All women secretly want to be raped.
Ok, just to be fair, the man who espoused this view was one of the bad guys, named “The Haughty Knight of the Heath,” so it is entirely probable that the reader is meant to disagree with him. Either way, here's this gem. The Haughty Knight is explaining to Sir Percival why he is leading his sweetheart around on a starving nag, dressed in rags, and generally treating her harshly; it is because she committed the evil deed of allowing herself to be sexually assaulted:
“Then, by chance, along came a young Welshman, I don't know where he was headed, but he managed to force her to kiss him, so she told me. If she lied to me, what harm is there in it? But if he even kissed her against her will, wouldn't he have taken advantage of her afterwards? Indeed yes! And no one will ever believe he kissed her without doing more, for one thing leads to another: if a man kisses a woman and nothing more, when they are all alone together, I think there's something wrong with him. A woman who lets herself be kissed easily gives the rest if someone insists upon it; and even if she resists, it's a well-known fact that a woman wants to win every battle but this one: though she may grab a man by the throat, and scratch and bite him until he's nearly dead, still she wants to be conquered. She puts up a fight against it but is eager for it; she is so afraid to give in, she wants to be taken by force, but then never shows her gratitude. Therefore I believe this Welshman lay with her.” (From “The Story of the Grail”)


What can I say after that?

More Book Thoughts: "The God of Small Things" and "the sun and her flowers"

The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy

It's difficult to find words to describe this one. It's written like a poem; it blends Malayalam and English and the secret language of twins; it spins events in the present and the past and the future into an intricate web. It takes place in Kerala, India, a region I know nothing about, with a family of socially elite Syrian Christians, a people group I had never heard of, mostly in the year 1969 with a backdrop of a communist movement sweeping through the district, an event I never learned about. Big themes such as love, caste, colonialism, abuse, and misogyny are seen through the eyes of 7-year old fraternal twins trying to make sense of the world.

I cannot stress enough how beautiful the language is, how, even when the events described are horrific or... troubling... to my moral compass, the imagery used is precise and spectacular. I already returned the book to the library, so I can't provide examples of the lines that made me gasp out of wonder, but believe me, there were more than a few of them.

Arundhati Roy's book was awarded the Booker Prize and was highly praised around the world. She faced an obscenity charge for it in her own country, but it was eventually dropped.


the sun and her flowers” by Rupi Kaur

The next book I read was a book of poems by Rupi Kaur. I don't read much poetry, I'd heard Kaur's name but I hadn't read anything by her; I just bought the book on a whim because the cover art was pretty and I was intrigued by the few poems I flipped through while blocking an aisle in the store. I bought it as a gift for a friend who likes poetry, and I could hardly present someone with a book without reading it first, could I?

I liked it a lot. I read it as though it were a novel, all in one sitting, and what I really enjoyed about it (as a person who doesn't read much poetry) is that it tells one story. I imagine that all poetry collections, just like music albums and art collections, should tell a unified story and not be just a jumble of what the artist considers to be her best work. It helps that “the sun and her flowers” is split into chapters – Wilting, Falling, Rooting, and Blooming – that make the movements of the poet's journey really easy to spot. Again, as a not-poetry person, I appreciated the road signs.

My favorite poems were all of the ones about her mother, the ones that made me think of Dominic, and “the underrated heartache.”

Book Thoughts: "Etta and Otto and Russel and James" by Emma Hooper

Am I the only one who has the occasional urge to throw on a pair of sneakers and just... walk? Walk until I am forced by geography to stop, until I reach an ocean, until I reach a boundary that bridges can't span and eyes can't pierce. (Or until my feet fall off, which would certainly happen first.) It would have to be the Atlantic Ocean, since I'm from a port town and a two mile stroll probably wouldn't cut it as an epic spiritual journey.

Etta Vogel is an 83-year old woman who does just that. She sets out early one morning with a shotgun and extra socks from somewhere near Regina, Saskatchewan, and heads toward the ocean that's farther away by 2,000 miles. Otto is her husband, who she left behind to struggle with 3x5 recipe cards and the art of papier-mâché. Russel is their neighbor and Otto's de facto brother ever since he showed up one evening at supper time; he developed a crush on their young school teacher, Etta Kinnik, before Otto did. And James is a coyote who joins Etta on her journey, and sometimes talks to her.

The novel braids together the three friends' childhood memories from the depression era, falling in love during World War II, and their experiences as old people when Etta suddenly leaves. A touch of magical realism is the ingredient that binds the story together.

I liked it. I liked the matter-of-fact writing style, the intense practicality of the characters, and the almost fairy-tale feeling. I don't often get the chance to know characters from the very beginning to the end of their stories, and Emma Hooper's novel took on 80 years of story with grace, presenting a lifetime as if it were something small you can keep in your pocket as well as something enormous, spanning prairies and oceans.  

(Constantly) Under Construction

Bear with me folks, I'm still trying to make this blog look pretty. The first theme I was using made weirdness happen. The current theme is called "Simple." It's boring, but hopefully the weirdness will be minimized.

I realize now that I should have tried a more sophisticated platform than Blogger, but it's what I'm used to and I'd rather keep the enemy I know than trade it in for a different one.

I will also be sharing my posts on Facebook since what is the point of keeping a blog if no one looks at it? It's like writing in a diary every week and leaving it tucked away in a library among a bajillion other books and diaries with flashier covers and better card-indexing. It's somewhat comforting to know that not many people will see the mundane stuff I've written (mostly book reviews), but there's no reward in it. 

In anticipation of more people reading my blog in the future, I, Hannah McCollum, formally apologize for the infrequent and uninteresting posts that are sure to come, and my overzealous use of parentheses and run-on sentences. (I do love parenthetical asides.)


Further apologies for not using a scanner, or being able to find any blank white paper in the whole house. Also sorry that my speech bubble lines are bad. That is some weirdness I cannot blame on Blogger. 

Things that are pleasing

Things that are pleasing:
  • [Link] When the sky is clear and you can see Mt. Baker all the way down to Mt. Rainier, dressed in white for the winter. 
  • Finding something that was lost. 
  • Meeting old friends. 
  • Hearing a good cover of a good song. 
  • The sound of pages turning.
  • Closing a novel after coming to the end. 
  • The first clump of pine trees as you enter Spokane County.
  • Parallel parking perfectly on your first try. 
  • Expecting a kiss from someone you haven't seen in a long while.
  • Kissing someone you haven't seen in a long while. 
  • The rhythmic whirrrr-chaclunk-clunk of a copy machine.
  • Office supplies. 
  • When your old favorite radio station comes into range as you descend Snoqualmie pass and near your childhood home. 
  • The smell of engine grease on your hands and clothes. 
  • Clean glasses. 
  • Finding the perfect Spotify playlist.  
  • Clacking away on a noisy keyboard. 
  • A warm mug of tea. 
  • When you come out of that slight bend in I-90 and catch the view of Spokane below you, from atop Sunset Hill, and know that your journey is almost complete. [Link

Book Thoughts: “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul” by Douglas Adams

This one took some effort for me to get into, as the plot took sudden turns in a way that at first felt directionless rather than clever and unexpected. However, once I accepted that I was on a journey through a neighborhood filled with cul-de-sacs and a complete disregard for cardinal directions, with speed limit signage that made as much sense as a platypus does, I was much happier abandoning the road-map of the conventional novel and letting Douglas Adams drive.

Now that I think about it, the plot line followed private holistic detective Dirk Gently's own philosophy on investigating and getting around in general, “investigating the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.” Meaning that anything and everything could provide the needed clue to solve his mystery, so Dirk will pick a clue on a whim and follow it wherever it leads, even if it's away from the problem at hand. He does the same thing when he gets drives: “He had a tremendous propensity for getting lost when driving. This was largely because of his 'Zen' method of navigation, which was simply to find any car that looked as if it knew where it was going and follow it. The results were more often surprising than successful, but he felt it was worth it for the sake of the few occasions when it was both.”

“The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul” featured characters with the most affable of flaws. Kate Schechter, a New Yorker living in London, who enjoys harassing pizza joints on the telephone with demands that they deliver to her apartment, an americanism that apparently hadn't caught on in Britain in the 80s. A private detective who seems to be really, really bad at his job. And a couple of Norse gods struggling to adapt to the modern western lifestyle.

All of it written in Adams' wonderfully understated, sardonic voice that I can never get enough of. For a few afternoons of whimsical enjoyment surrounding a murder-mystery, go read this book.