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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I Got a Cupcake Stand and Made Cupcakes to Put On It


That is all! Ain't it purty?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cupcakes

I don't really like cupcakes all that much. Really, I don't. (And for someone with a sweets obsession, that's saying something).

I've moved to New York twice in my life: once at age nine (Cathedral School of St. John the Divine! Holla!) and once at age 22. Neither time was a conspicuous success (read: conspicuous non-success. Conspicuous!).

But both experiences left a few indelible imprints. And at age 22, it was the Magnolia bakery, which made me fall in love with their cupcakes. Which I am fully aware is a cliché at this point, but I don't care, as I am not very cool.

I went to the Magnolia bakery with my friend Serena, who has an unearthly ability to find both cute British teashops and awesome bakeries in any place she lives, from the Midwest to the Northeast to the Southeast. We went and dutifully stood in line (this was 2004, pre the SNL digital short paean to the Magnolia bakery but after the Sex and the City mention). I got a box of cupcakes and followed Serena, zombie-like, to a little park in the West Village (I was not functioning at the tip-top of my mental capacities at the time. See: conspicuous non-success). And, oh man. Those cupcakes. So amazing. With none of the cloying sweetness of supermarket cupcakes. Delicate and amazing. I munched on a few and felt that maybe life was worth living after all.

"Hey Laura," said Serena. "Is Liv Tyler pregnant?"

"Yes," I answered.

I was at the time reading gossip magazines on the regular, as I'd buy them to read on the subway. Serena was aware of this.

"Then I think that's Liv Tyler," she said. And I turned around and, indeed, there was Liv Tyler.

It's a very random memory and full of every New York cliché groaner (cupcakes! celebrity sightings!) but it was a nice memory in the midst of a very bleak time, and I feel correspondingly affectionate about it. It was gentle moment: things were what they were supposed to be. The cupcakes that were so famous were actually good. Think that's Liz Tyler? It IS Liz Tyler. Life is simple!

And since then, I've made the Magnolia cupcakes whenever I can. I don't really like cupcakes. I like these cupcakes.

Here's the recipe, which I ganked from the Magnolia cookbook (which I gave to Serena at one point) and which is available online.

If you follow that link, you'll see that several comments complain bitterly that this is not the actual Magnolia bakery recipe (the texture is slightly off, etc.). To which I say: duh. Obviously. Also, you know that Santa Claus person your parents told you about when you were a kid? That was them. Why would the bakery make their secret public property?

But what's available is still a great recipe, and I recommend it. The texture in the icing is a bit off, a little grainy and little too sweet, but I think the recipe for the base is amazing and the icing is still good, it just may not look as pretty.

I made cupcakes for Fourth of July (making this another installment of Really Old Pictures of Food). I find that red food coloring never works out, however. Blue and white was fine, but the red just looked like sludgy pink, no matter how much red coloring I put in, so I minimized the red I used. My attempts to make designs in blue and white didn't go over very, well either, though, and the cupcakes ended up looking diseased:
The next day, I found that the red icing had settled and looked more actually red; going with a simpler concept produced cupcakes that looked more "fourth of July":

Then, I made another large batch of cupcakes. Feeling ambitious, I decided to make the chocolate version and ALSO the vanilla cream version that the Magnolia bakery lady explains online.

Making three different kinds of icing was probably a little ambitious. I ended up essentially destroying the entire kitchen. I will say, however, that the results were edifying. I recommend the youtube vanilla cream version; the milk and flour base produces a creamy texture closer to the ideal texture of your dreams (a lot of the comments online were flipping out about the lack of confectioner's sugar, which also concerned me. I'll say that you don't strictly need it in this version, but also that it doesn't hurt to add up some when the frosting is done. I'd recommend it, actually).

I made A LOT of cupcakes this round. Some were decorated:

What's the theme of the decorations, you ask? Why all the crosses? Well...the each cupcakes is actually inspired by Spenser's The Faerie Queen. Yes, the poem. The epic poem. It's a long story. Yes, I'm a nerd. We know this. Why ask?

The chocolate icing looks aesthetically the best, I feel. In all the Magnolia bakery cupcake pictures, the icing has this lovely, smooth, swoopy texture. I can't quite seem to emulate it in my cupcakes, no matter how much I try. I've gotten better, in some fairly common-sense ways: using a knife is better than a spoon; put the icing in the fridge, but not for too long, etc. But...it's still not as pretty as I'd like.

I had leftovers after my Faerie Queen batch; I made some Big Cupcakes, to threaten their smaller brothers:
Here's wot I've learned from the cupcakes-baking. Some details do matter:
1) Sifting flour. It's easily done and it's making a difference. You don't need a special flour-sifter. Any strainer will do.
2) Make sure your butter and eggs are room temperature. You can cheat by running the eggs under water. But it makes a difference.
3) Beating the butter for the recommended three minutes matters, too. It releases the lipids or whatever. I swear, it matters. Beat all the ingredients a lot, actually, and scrape the bowl a lot.
4) Don't fret about the cupcakes not being done. The recommended time in the recipe is fine. Don't give into temptation because a few of the cupcakes look like they have a bubbly center. They'll be fine.

Even if you fuck up all of this, it won't matter. Even if your cupcakes look sludgy pink and runny, people will still ask for more, even if they claim they don't like cupcakes. Because this recipe fucking rocks. You seriously can't lose. No, it's not the same as going to the Magnolia bakery and seeing Liv Tyler. But it's close.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Non-Covert Rage

How much do I hate Covert Affairs? So much.

And let me just say that I have been watching entirely too much USA recently. Like, a problematic amount. Like, my two favorite shows currently, without question, are Burn Notice and White Collar. So much so that in a recent ad for a marathon in which they did a split-screen between Michael Weston and Neal Caffrey, as if the characters were talking on the phone, which obviously they weren't, my little fangirl heart went pitter-pat at the idea of a crossover. I go hard for USA right now.

So much so, that I set Covert Affairs to record automatically. And despite being lukewarm on the pilot and following episodes, I kept watching. Maybe it would get good! And I believe in giving a show with good credentials five-to-seven episodes before I give up on it.

Yes, I hear you, that's quite a lot, but I extend the same courtesy (not in terms of episodes, but in shot-giving) to novels and movies, so television can get it, too. Some amazing shows take a few episodes to get on their feet. Some amazing novels take a few chapters to get going. And Covert Affairs has Piper Perabo, of so-bad-it's-good Coyote Ugly and Imagine Me and You, a lovely romantic comedy with lesbian protagonists and Matthew Goode, which is all I could ask of a movie. Plus, she is so pretty that when she walks past pretty flowers, the pretty flowers start fretting that maybe they are getting old and maybe they need to work out more.

But, I officially hate Covert Affairs. And why? Well, let me count the ways.

1) Piper Perabo is new to the CIA. And of course, she's great at everything -- all the lame tasks she gets assigned to result in amazing missions! She's assigned to talk to the crazies who call into the CIA -- one of them is the real deal. Of course. Oh, and the real deal is an IRA cell. Yeah, cause the IRA is still totally a threat, complete with double-agents, double-crosses, and sophisticated communications. If this was a decade ago...yeah, that still wouldn't work.

2) She's assigned to go on the mission that no one can get! Ha ha, it's a joke, she'll never convince this bitter ex-CIA guy to come back in. But wait! She does! He pretends he's all mean, with mean dogs and a gun, but really he's nice. Just give his mean dogs some snacks (no one's ever thought of that) and tell him about his Long Lost Love, who coincidentally was killed by the guy on your current mission, and BOOM! You got the ungettable get!

At least with shows like Burn Notice and White Collar, the characters are experienced and dope at the beginning of the show. So you accept the fact that they're ridiciously good at everything, and it doesn't bother you. The tension of the shows comes from these ridicously pretty and talented people being put in increasingly improbable and challenging situations. Other people on the show doubt that they can be amazing and dope, and then it's like, "Oh yeah? Don't think Michael Weston can break out of a maximum security prison with just a hand towel? Well, BURN ON YOU!"

But ridiculously pretty and boring Piper Perabo accidentally being awesome at everything? Ugh.

3) Plus, 90% of any success she has that isn't accidental comes from her blinking pretty at the men around her. Sure, she's a woman in a man's world, but can't she be dope on her own terms? Whenever she needs help, some guy is around to think she's pretty and charming and help out. She even has an ex-boyfriend that FOLLOWS HER AROUND KILLING PEOPLE THAT THREATEN HER. That's not a joke or metaphor. That's a real thing in the show. Things getting sticky? Hey, ex-boyfriend is across the street with a sniper rifle!

This is worse than Weeds. I mean, I loved Weeds for three seasons, but I got pretty sick of the "anytime Nancy gets in way over her head (which is all the time) some hot guy that is usually non-white -- which is frankly a little racist if you really think about it -- thinks she's hot too and saves her as long as she has sex with him" all-purpose plot device.

4) Ugh, and speaking of which, Auggie. I hate this character with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. He's a Nice Guy, capital N. He's nice to Piper Perabo and helps her out whenever she sucks at anything, without asking. Okay, not so bad. But...he's smarmy. And oh so passive-aggressive.

To wit: He disses anyone she might possibly be interested in but doesn't actually make a move himself. He makes little passive-aggressive comments about anything that smacks of her treating him less than #1 (omg! she didn't bring him his coffee FIRST!) but doesn't come and ask her out himself. He's sort of flirty with her and is always complimenting himself indirectly ("You haven't laughed at any of my clever comments for ten minutes, something must be wrong") but he never comes out and asks her out himself.

We're supposed to automatically feel sorry for him and assume he's a nice guy because he's blind. But, here's an equal-opportunity memo: blind guys can be uninteresting jerks, too. And Auggie seems to want to go out of his way to prove that. In the very first episode, he tells her that "Girls love blind guys. They assume we don't care about looks." When she inquires, well, do you care about looks? He says, "All you have to do to figure out if a girl is hot is listen to how other guys talk to her." Of course, a guy comes up to Piper Perabo at that moment and says, like, "Hi, there!" and Auggie smirks his smirky-ass smile and is like "See?"

Wow. You just came right out and said that all you care about is that status of having a hot girl (how other guys talk to her). It's not anything that's actually attractive about her -- it's just pulling one over on another guy.

Bleck.

In another episode, Auggie is saying that Piper Perabo will be great on a mission because "she looks like a cheerleader."

Another CIA person says, "How do you know [blind guy] that she looks like a cheerleader?"

Answer: Creepy Auggie smirk.

Again: all Auggie gives a shit about is the status of Piper Perabo being "hot" (he gets off on the fact that she's clearly "high status" hot, the cheerleader being the stereotypical example. Also, he assumes her success will be due to the fact that she's hot and non-threatening in appearance).

He doesn't seem to like anything specific about her, other than 1) She's vulnerable (new to the CIA) and 2) she's "high status" hot. He's that creepy guy that always sidles up to the new girl, who hasn't been warned off him yet, and plays on her sympathy and vulnerable position to get her to feel indebted to him, disses any potential threats, and makes her feel guilty over any hint of abandonment. We've all met that guy and frankly he's more likely to shoot up a gym then be the adorable love interest.

5) Ugh. This actress. One of my favorite sites, Go Fug Yourself, just ran a thing about how she pops up in everything and she is so great and is "too good" for Covert Affairs. Are you kidding me? Yes, she pops up in everything. And she always grates on me. This one, I don't even have a good reason for. I just hate her, and it's totally irrational. I hated her on Mad Men. She popped up for two seconds on Bones, and I hated her. On this show, she plays Piper Perabo's sister, and they're supposed to be superclose. You're supposed to love her, even though her character says things like "I thought you'd hit off with this guy. You both have really boring jobs!" "I mean, when did you last have a real relationship?" "You're the worst liar. You're be, like, the worst spy ever!" (To be fair, that stuff is supposed to be bitchy, but you're supposed to take it in a "oh, big sister" kind of way--you know, the episode ends with them hugging).

But there's just something about that actress -- she's just seems like the kind of person who really would make those kind of sweeping, unintentionally judgmental comments about her sister's life and completely miss the fact that her sister is freakin' Piper Perabo and is not only supernaturally beautiful but also totally kick-ass and speaks like six languages and actually is a spy.

And it's really bitchy to tell someone that their job is boring--it's actually not adorable at all.

I know this is the character, but that kind of smariness just oozes out of that actress's pores. You know how some actors simply seem nice or seem noble or seem whatever? She just seems like a smarmy bitch, and I stand by that. And if the show gave me leave to hate her, I'd be all over that. But, no, we're supposed to think it's so sweet that they're so close, and Piper Perabo lives in her guesthouse, when if that was my sister, I'd live far, far away. A mission to Afghanistan? Yes, please. Anything to get me away from Auggie and my horrible sister.

6) Finally, the show just sucks. The writing is terrible. Here is a random example (I'd muted the show while writing this and randomly unmuted it. This is what played, approximately):

Piper Perabo: This wasn't the idea!

Bitter Ex-Cia: Yeah, what was your idea?

Piper Perabo: My idea was for justice!

Bitter-Ex-Cia: Oh yeah? Justice for who?

Piper Perabo: PRETTY FROWN!*

Then I got distracted again. When I tuned in again, Piper Perabo was defending Hot Guy on the show, and Augie was needling her for not thinking Hot Guy was a complete jerk. Sigh.

Covert Affairs, you are deleted from DVR. Even USA misses sometimes.

*Guess what solves this moral dilemma? Yep: ex-boyfriend with a sniper rifle!

Monday, June 28, 2010

I can haz analysis!

A cool thing to turn up when self-googling to see if a review had been posted. It hadn't, but I found this!

Friday, June 25, 2010

This is where I draw the line

Okay, so I obviously waxed fulsome below about my love for Twizzlers and Red Vines. Also, I love chocolate (to further underscore the cliche, I especially love chocolate during my bouts with PMS. Suck it, stereotypes).

But this is where I draw the line:


I mean, maybe I'll try them and they'll be delicious. But the thought makes me gag. Two great tastes that I can't imagine tasting great together. On the other hand, Hershey's chocolate already tastes like wax, which is the texture that Twizzlers aim for, so maybe it was inevitable...

Have rediscovered Aimee Mann recently, who brings my two obsessions together in a haunting, lovely way:


Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Nervous Chef: Really, really, really old pictures of food

Okay, am posting some cooking stuff, which is quite hilarious, considering that last semester my diet consisted mostly of:

-Red Vines and Twizzlers*
-Starbucks. Yes, all of it.
-The occasional salad
-Sushi from my University-where-I-teach's quick "to go" food store
-Yogurt

I made these pancakes I THINK over winter break? They are from, to continue my trend of making things from sources I'm slightly embarrassed about, this site. Even though she says annoying things like "I prefer mini sizes...it feels like more when it is less," I still like this recipe. I was pretty faithful to the recipe, except that I didn't have quite enough ricotta (and I think it is all needed -- in this case, it tastes like less when it is less), I didn't use the poppyseeds (not wanting to fail any Opium drug tests - HA HA HA HA HA SEINFELD LOL), and I didn't use the lemon zest, which I regret.

I have a tendency to skip adding zest, because I am lazy, and it seems like a pain. But I guess often you need it -- me and my mom used to make this chocolate orange pudding every Christmas; it was pretty much the only dessert ever made or consumed in my household and thus a big deal. I'll put the recipe up sometime. You were supposed to add orange zest, along with orange liqueur. I never really liked having the texture of the orange zest in the pudding -- puddings are supposed to be smooth, no? So, one year, we were having a guest for Christmas dinner that was kind of an insanely good cook and, wanting to be impressive, I suggested leaving out the zest. The pudding was duly served, and our foodie friend delicately ate some and looked unimpressed.

"It's...there's something missing," he ventured.

"Well, you're supposed to put in orange zest," my mother eagerly bursts in, "but LAURA--"

"Yes! That's exactly it! Some orange zest would add just the perfect flavor!" Foodie friends face lights up in a smile.

So, put in the zest, people. In this case, I think it needs it, too. The egg whites give the the pancakes this extremely nice lightness -- you can eat a bunch without feeling like you've eaten the entire world, a la normal pancakes. But without zest, I could almost taste the egg whites TOO much -- I think the zest (and more ricotta) would make the insides a little more substantial and less cloud-like. Plus, more lemon flavor is always a good thing. I don't know why, but lemon + pancakes = yum. One of my favorite pancakes toppings is a squirt of lemon juice with powdered sugar.

Here's the batter:

Here's my SUPER-AWESOME pancake flipper. I found it at a church jumble sale with Emily F., who didn't understand my excitement. Neither has anyone else I've shown it to. I don't care -- it's awesome. It helps me flip pancakes. I love it:

And here's the final result! With some honey. I ate up all my berries before they were done, but I bet fresh berries would be awesome:



* Red vines: watching TV while doing something else, I heard the song for a commercial: something about "you're my one true love...blah blah blah" and I had a quick thought, along the lines of "God, why does our culture sell this relentless ideal of the ONE true love, when in reality it's much more complicated and prosaic than--" I looked up, and saw the commercial was for Red Vines, and thought, "Oh, but that is how I feel about Red Vines."



But, here's the terrible thing: I don't think I do love Red Vines more than anyone else, not anymore. I've been having an affair with Twizzlers for quite some time. It started out of convenience -- the CVS near my apartment stocked Twizzlers and not Red Vines. And then I got TMJ, and Red Vines are a little hard on the ol' jaw. And Twizzlers Pull N Peel is much easier on the jaw, and also fun to eat, and better tasting than regular Twizzlers...





So I can't even commit to Red Vines. See: problems, serious.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Signs of Life




Have Put Out the Germ! Saw this for sale in the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. Supposedly, the Via Dolorosa is where Jesus carried the cross. This was also for sale:

In New York, I discovered that if you buy T-Mobile, you can avoid Sin!



A gas station in Wisconsin that I pass on the way to work every day -- well, they sell Freedom:


Yes, we will all have to pay at the pump for Freedom, America:
And, back in suburban Minnesota...well, this just sounds dirty:

Old Guest Poster: My Dad



Okay, the title is not a slight at my Dad for being old, but simply that this post is old. It's my Dad's quite hilarious account of spending Christmas Eve in Bethlehem -- you know, back forever ago when we spent Winter Break in Jerusalem.

I didn't end up going to Bethlehem, as I was feeling crappy and simply went back to our short term rental apartment in Jerusalem to go to bed. My parents came back at about late at night, pale and trembling. Here's what my dad wrote about the trip:


Julia arranged in advance for us to go to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, with St. George’s church in Jerusalem. It is the Anglican church in East Jerusalem, an easy walk from the Damascus Gate. It has an English and an Arabic congregation. Bethlehem used to be a sleepy Arab village, near Jerusalem. It is now one of the fenced in Palestinian areas, under the Palestinian Authority.

We needed to be at St. George’s by 7 pm, and arrived well before. People began to arrive en masse about 6.45. Our leader, Father Bob, was a huge man, wearing a bright red beret. These turned out to be valuable attributes. He greeted us jocularly, and we started to get on the buses. Each person had to identify themselves as they got on the bus, and have their names checked against a pre-established list. There was a waiting list, and I have no idea how many of them got a seat. As our names were checked off, we were given a badge and we were told to display it in easily visible place. This, like the red beret, turned out to be crucial. We had been told earlier to bring our passports, although it turned out we didn’t need them. I still don’t know whether we might have needed them to prove that we weren’t Israelis going into Bethlehem, or that we weren’t Palestinians coming out. The careful procedure was followed as each person got on the bus, and the third bus was delayed in arriving, making for a tedious wait. Finally, we were given our marching orders: Display your badge prominently, keep together when we got off the bus. Walk briskly together straight to the church. Don’t dawdle or stop for something to eat or drink. Look friendly but avoid eye contact. Return straight to the bus after the service. The bus will not wait.

Father Bob’s large and comforting figure took the seat immediately in front of us. His cell phone was constantly ringing. He always answered “Ho Ho Ho. Merry Christmas. Father Bob speaking.” * The calls were all from people in Jerusalem and Bethlehem keeping track of our progress. About a kilometer or two from Bethlehem, all three buses pulled over. We were assured this was a planned stop, to pick up an escort. We soon got back on the road and the escort turned out to be a HumVee flying two large Israeli flags. This did not make me feel safer.
Soon we drew up to a huge wall, made up of prefabricated slabs colored a drab beige. We stopped, and were briefly investigated by a border guard. We were then ushered through the gate, apparently made extra large for the influx of visitors on Christmas Eve. It turned out that about twice as many pilgrims came as were expected.

From then on it was utter chaos. The environment entirely changed as we went through the gate. The traffic was gridlocked; it took us 45 minutes to inch our way a few hundred meters to the bus depot. The streets were garishly lit, and full of people, some going about their business, some tending their shop or restaurant, most young males just lounging around. The scene was in the manner of most border towns: souvenir shops and cafes. Many people smiled and waved at us, yelling out “Merry Christmas”. Father Bob said, “Smile, but don’t encourage them!” **

We eventually got to the bus terminal, down a hill and around a sharp corner. We pulled into the half empty, underground bus depot. I wanted to make a joke about never realizing that Jesus Christ Our Lord was born in a parking lot. When we stopped, we were told again: stay together, go straight to the church, don’t stop, return straight to the bus afterwards, display your badge prominently at all times. We climbed out of the buses, left the bus terminal, and started to walk up the hill and around the corner to Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. The streets were full, and got more crowded as we approached the church. Our group soon spread out, and it was impossible to tell if the person you were following was a member, as we all wore our badges on our front. It was here that Father Bob’s stature and red beret proved invaluable, as you easily see his large red-topped figure moving confidently through the crowd.

More and more Palestinian soldiers were in evidence; their uniforms were entirely black, from their helmets to their boots. And most had machine guns slung over their shoulders or carried at the ready. As we approached the church, thousands of pilgrims jammed up against crowd control fences, with ranks of armed soldiers manning the fences. Behind us in the square, there were loud celebrations that were, as far I could tell, entirely independent of Christmas and the pilgrims. I think it was a Palestinian rock concert, and I was fairly sure I was hallucinating when I thought I saw and heard boy scouts playing bag-pipes. This turned out to be a Palestinian tradition.

Father Bob started to wave his red beret, and shout “St George’s, St. George’s”, and eventually, “Let’s go!” One of the security gates was drawn back, and a group of soldiers formed a gauntlet through which only people wearing St. George’s badges were allowed. There were thousands of people crammed together, all waiting to get into the church. Although they didn’t rush the opening, they didn’t exactly fall back to let us through, either. It was only by pushing and being pushed that we made progress.

Things were complicated by the fact that there were two-and-a-half high concrete bollards at various places, and as one was pushed against such a thing, one had to make artful, or clumsy, adjustments to get around it. As we arrived at the gap in the security fence, several nervous young men, armed and uniformed, looked anxiously for our badges, which we equally anxiously displayed. Emerging into the empty spaces between the security gates and the church, we hurried up to the latter. We entered the nave, but rather to my surprise, we didn’t stop there, but were ushered through to an empty courtyard. I have only the vaguest of memories of what the interior of the church looked like. None of the pictures of the Church of the Nativity look familiar. After many of us had gathered in the courtyard, we ducked through a four-foot doorway into a small chapel. Here I finally realized that we weren’t going to a Christmas Eve service in the church, for which St. George’s had a few places reserved, but to a small carol service, put on for St. George’s alone. For all I know, there were dozens of other such special services put on. In fact, there probably wasn’t a Christmas Eve service in the Church of the Nativity at all that evening. The Church of the Nativity is an Orthodox church, and they celebrate Christmas at a later date. The big Christmas Eve service on Dec 24 was probably held in the nearby St. Catherine’s, which is Roman Catholic. I should have thought of all this before. In Jerusalem, the western churches (Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal; I didn’t notice any others) were very much in the minority, even among Christians. There were several varieties of Orthodox, Coptic, and Armenian churches in bewildering variety. For instance, the main Armenian church (in fact a cathedral, I think) is St. James, in a large monastery in the Armenian quarter. But there is also an Armenian Catholic church, with the wonderful name of “our Lady of the Spasm”, on the Via Dolorosa.

The carol service itself was very simple: eight lessons and about a dozen carols (no choir or accompaniment). The service was all very familiar, except one of the lessons was in Greek (read by, I think, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem), and one of the hymns was in Arabic. The Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, Suheil Tawani, read one of lessons, and read a long prayer on behalf of Palestinian Christians. This latter was in part to thank the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Rather to our surprise, he was present for at least part of the service (who was present for at least part of the service, rather to our surprise). The service took about 45 minutes, and then we left the chapel, and the church. Now the crowd was even larger, and the Palestinians partied on in Manger Square. Father Bob and another leader (a Palestinian, I think) tried to persuade the soldier in charge to let us return another way. He decided against it, and we once again surged through a gap in the security gate, this time into rather than away from the crowd. It was easier, somehow. We easily got back to the bus about 10 pm, and I even had time to buy a glass of tea from a young boy manning a stand in the bus terminal. ***

All in all, I am extremely glad to have gone to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. It was quite an experience, though I don’t think I would describe it as spiritual.

David, Jerusalem
Jan 3, 2010

* My note: What is up with Father Bob?

** Seriously, what is up with Father Bob?

*** My dad drinks tea approximately every five seconds. Or coffee. Think I drink a lot of coffee and tea? Haven't met my dad. My dad is kind of the best.

My dad didn't take any pictures at Bethlehem. Here, instead, is a picture of my mom and me, at the Dome of the Rock/site of the second temple/end of the world:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Learn How To Park! You Are So Inconsiderate! Smiley Face!

Back in Minneapolis. There's a ridiculous amount of snow. And parking sucks.

I got on the wrong side of a snow emergency and had to wait multiple hours to get my car out of the impound lot. Multiple hours. Nearly three. And an hour of that was waiting outside. It was such a bizarre experience, actually, that it was almost worth it just to have the story. Almost.

The first hour (and this is at 10 pm at night, by the way) was, as I said, outside, and even with FUR-LINED boots my feet were freezing. The line was one of those lines that move so slowly that it seems as if it's not moving at all and how you progress forward seems mysterious and unlikely.

The lady in front of me had had a tracheotomy and talked by using one of those electronic devices that you press to your throat, which only compounded the surreality of the whole thing.

"I...want...my...car...back..." she said several times. "Just...give...me...my...car."

I sympathized. Also, she wasn't wearing a hat, which...what?

Once we got out of the cold into a makeshift covered waiting area, which was heated, the quality of life improved greatly, though the line moved even more slowly.

What was remarkable about the whole thing was that for the most part everyone was quite nice and well-behaved. You wouldn't think that, as we crept into the next day, in the cold, without our cars, having to face the prospect of paying a lot of money, that we wouldn't take it out on each other. But I think the fact that the line was so completely terrible, and that we were all in the same boat, and, to a certain extent, it was our own faults that we were in this situation (I mean, the snow emergency rules are confusing, but they're not impossible, and I certainly should have known better), combined to make us reasonably pleasant. Someone had written a note and hung it up: BE KIND TO EACH OTHER. NO ONE WANTS TO BE HERE. And for the most part, people followed this principle.

When I got the window, finally, the guy working there was even in a fairly decent mood. He couldn't read my handwriting on the form I'd filled out, and joked, "What, are you a professor or something?"

"Uh...yeah," I stammered. "Sort of."

"Really?" he said and we both laughed. "Why do professors always have such terrible handwriting?"

I'd actually never heard that before, though I'm willing to believe it's true. I thought he was going to say "doctors" since they're the ones who have the reputation for terrible handwriting. I guess professors do too.

I'm actually pretty confident I know why my handwriting sucks, but I'll explain that another day.

Anyway, I eventually got my car back. Here are two other parking stories:

1) Now, you can't park on the even side of non-snow emergency streets until APRIL. Which means available parking is cut IN HALF. This BLOWS. It used to be easy to find parking in my neighborhood, unless you came home past, like, one in the morning (if, for example, you were coming back from claiming your car at the impound lot). But now, even coming home at seven it's nearly impossible to find a place.

2) I've written before that parking at the University where I work is difficult to come by. I used to come to teach at an insanely early hour, meaning I could usually get a spot. Now, I still have to come early, but not insanely early, so parking is very difficult to come by. On Friday, even the metered parking was reserved for a special event. And I didn't have tons of time to find a spot. I ended up accidentally parking blocking a driveway. Which is awful, I know, but in my defense, the block where I parked makes it very difficult to determine what's driveway and what isn't, since snow basically covers all of it, the driveways don't occur in regular or logical intervals, and there are no signs. Anyway, when I got back, I realized what I'd done, and somehow I'd escaped a ticket. However, there was a note tucked into my windscreen wipers, written in cute, curly handwriting:

LEARN HOW TO PARK! YOU ARE SO INCONSIDERATE!

The contrast between the message and cute handwriting was so great that I almost expected them to add, HAVE A NICE DAY!

I also love how Midwestern all of this was: you are enjoined to be nice in a horrific line in the middle of the night, and the worst insult anyone can think to level at you is that you are "inconsiderate."

Anyway, parking sucks. And I suck at it. Please stop, winter.
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