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Old Year’s Revolutions 2015

river road

 

We didn’t have a white Christmas but Mother Nature sure made up for the oversight two days later. I went to the historical society to do some genealogical work on Monday and when I walked into the building, it was still late November weather — in fact, not only was I not wearing mittens or decent footwear but I didn’t even bother with a coat — a light cashmere cardigan was fine. When I walked out two hours later, it was full on blizzard conditions.  We’re sitting under 13 inches of fresh powder dropped in about an eight hour time frame.

Perhaps it’s that shocking reminder — the idea that everything can change in a moment while you’re distracted with other things — that reset my head a bit. I’ve always been ridiculously nostalgic anyway.

You know that journalism nugget of “if it bleeds, it leads”? Well, if it’s schmaltz, I exhalts.

Clearly I write the wrong kind of fiction. For as much as I want to be the next Margaret Atwood, I seem to recall that Nicholas Sparks is outselling Mags ten to one.

So, it’s been a good year. I have maintained my track record of one short story published in a pro mag per year (this year’s in the current issue of Barrelhouse and if you love winter, it’s definitely a story about winter). We sold our house (finally). We kept Zuzu alive (through the grace of modern medicine, hallelujah) and found out that she didn’t have “inspecific seizure disorder” but rather “congenital hydrocephaly” (aka “Why irresponsible dog breeders all deserve an extra toasty spot in hell”). We celebrated the publications of several of our great writer friends and their magnificent books. I turned down two job offers and took door number three. I taught classes, both official and unofficial. I learned to prioritize better. And most importantly, we did a massive landscaping project and still stayed married.

I made new friends. I kept the old. All in all, definitely another checkmark in the Win column.

Happy new year, friends. Thank you for being here.

Trigger

Frozen

I’m thinking about the kids of Sandy Hook Elementary school today.

Like all national tragedies, where I was when I heard the news is burned into my brain. I was in an airport business lounge checking my work email. My coworker at my then-company, located in a suburb of Boston, gave me the news that there was an active shooter in a nearby elementary school. I spent my flight thinking it was a mistake. Much like when I heard that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers, I thought it couldn’t possibly be as bad as it sounded.  I was actually hoping that it had just been a personal vendetta, maybe a guy who wanted to kill his ex-girlfriend or something (how sad is that — that was the best case scenario in my brain) but then watching the screens when I landed in the Minneapolis airport, it wasn’t. It wasn’t.

Until I was about nine-years-old, I grew up in a house with guns. They were everywhere — on a big wooden rack hanging on the wall in the living room, propped up in corners, nestled in a sock drawer in dressers. I was seven- or eight-years-old when someone put a hand gun in my hand and propped a sick bird — a sparrow that the barn cats had been playing with — up on a fence post and told me to pull the trigger to put the bird out of its misery. I couldn’t do it — not because I felt bad about the bird (I did, I’ve always been a tender-hearted fool) but I physically didn’t have the hand strength to pull the trigger, which was sticky. I’m not sure why this adult gave a kid a handgun and told her to shoot. Maybe he wanted me to see the bird absolutely explode with the impact? Maybe he wanted me to feel the kickback, have the gun jump in my hands and slam back into my face? Maybe he was trying to teach me respect. I don’t know. It was not a good moment. He was disgusted with my weakness and swatted the bird off the fence post then stomped on it with his boot. I believe that was the only time I’ve ever held an actual handgun in my entire life.

We don’t have guns in our house. This is something I feel very strongly about. I’m just not interested.

It’s been three years since the little happy village of Newtown was forever changed. Those kids are now frozen in time.

On that business trip when I heard about the tragedy, I actually ended up flying to Boston a few days later. I had a hard time getting a rental car because so many journalists were flying in. In fact, at the rental counter, when they looked at my profile and it said that I was a journalist, they assumed that I was covering Newtown. There were signs all over Logan Airport directing people to special services teams the airlines had deployed specifically for the crisis. It was basically terrible on so many levels — from a grief perspective, from a national coverage perspective and from a national systematic nightmare perspective.

So, three years ago, 20 little kids were murdered by crazy person who got his hands on guns that were acquired legally, but the number of little kids who have been murdered since then is absolutely shameful.  Since then we’ve lost at least one American kid under the age of 12 every other day to gun violence. Those kids rarely get news stories. They certainly don’t get big news coverage on the anniversaries of their murders. They just become part of the statistics. 554 kids under 12. Not to mention the 100K more deaths since then among people over the age of 12.

If terrorists had done something like that, we would be calling for a nuclear strike.

Let’s forget about Donald Trump and his entire diatribe about entire religions for a second. Forget about closing our borders. The call is coming from inside the house. We are our own worst enemies. And maybe guns aren’t the root problem — maybe it’s mental illness or a growing sentiment of helplessness or disenfranchisement or just something in the damned water. I don’t know. I don’t care. If you left rat poison-laced food out on the floor, you wouldn’t blame the dog who ate it, you’d blame the person who made it accessible to the dog.

I’m just not sure why our right to safety and freedom from fear isn’t more important than a gun zealot’s need to have their buying experience be convenient and hassle-free. If it weren’t a real life hypocrisy, it would almost be funny that the same people who would love to see Planned Parenthood burned to the ground are the same people who feel that handguns should be in every home, in every purse and in every glove compartment.

Either life is sacred or it isn’t. Either everyone is free or no one is. It’s just that simple.

 

An ode to fungus

Me and AceLiving in Wisconsin makes you a very particular kind of human. We’re extremely nice — almost annoyingly so. We value hard work and kindness over sophistication and intelligence — which is charming on a variety of levels but can be somewhat painful at times too. And in the winter when it starts getting dark by 4 pm and the roads become treacherous, we’re pretty happy to bunker down and stay indoors until roughly Cinco de Mayo.

Well, unless there’s a Packer game. Then it’s “Cold weather be damned, I’m taking off my shirt so that everyone can see my rigid nipples on the TV!”

Here’s the thing: Esteban is a really social person and is an extravert. Second, believe it or not, I’m an introvert at heart. So if Esteban is  relying on me to give him 100% of his social stimulation, that’s not going to go well for either one of us. This is easy to balance in the summer, when we’re going to the farmer’s market every weekend and the drive in movie theatre and the dog parks and going to hang out in his parents’ pool and the countless chats with neighbors who are out working in our collective yards, but in the winter, those things dry up.

Also, Esteban and I are home creatures. We like our little house and our little dogs and cat. We don’t drink very much and when we do, we’d rather do it at home because otherwise one of us has to stay sober to drive home and also, our wine and scotch libraries are better and cheaper at home anyway. If left to our druthers, we too would just batten down the hatches and avoid winter all together by never leaving Chalet Bix. But this is kind of unhealthy behavior. So we made a decision. We’d make an extra effort to go out and do things during the winter. Like, make it an actual priority. Last winter, that meant that we went out and did stuff that we’d never done before, like go walk around the Botanical Gardens to see their ridiculous winter light show and setting up entertainment dates in our house for people we never get to see very often.

This year, we’re upping our game. I’m going to start back up at my old pottery studio this winter (primarily so that I can make some really big bowls, which my local pottery studio can’t seem to accommodate very well and also so that I can see my friend Sara more often, as that’s her local studio).

And last night, we attended one of my alumni functions. They had reserved a VIP area at our local semi-pro hockey home games and the tickets were relatively cheap (plus beer and soda were free), so we decided “What the hell?” I had never been to a hockey game in my entire life. Esteban had been to exactly one about three decades ago when he was practically still in short pants.

I like ice skating! This is ice skating soccer, right? Kind of like manly ice capades?

NOPE.

Pucks. Pucks hitting the glass right in my face.

I’m super not kidding. This photo was taken from my seat. It. Was. Awesome.

The view from my seat

I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to watch it from the stands though… Even if you are on the glass, it can’t be as good as when you can sit at your own bar table and frequently rub elbows with the mascot, the hot rink girls who do things like shoot t-shirts and cheese curds into the crowd with a cannon (yes, that’s right, they had a CHEESE CURD CANNON!) and have a private bathroom that is accessed through one of those doors marked “AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY!” because we were authorized, baby. Authorized up the wazoo.

So hockey. I like it. Who knew? Next up, I want to go to a Blackhawks game, although Esteban has his eyes on the Milwaukee team, to which I said, “Sure, what the hell?”

So our Winter Wonderful Year 2 agenda is off to a flying start. We are planning on tromping through the Botanical Gardens again next week and then, of course, Christmas is going to be a socialization fire hose, so that’s going to be a good time. We’re entertaining at our house on Christmas Eve AND Christmas Day — I may have to burrow into a hole on Boxing Day and not come out for several days after that until my introvert energy stores are recharged.

Unless we get another chance to go to a hockey game, of course. That was kind of the shit.

 

How to make new lasting friendships as an adult

Weetacon 2015 class photo

About eleven years ago last month, Poppy and I met for drinks in Chicago and she said “Hey, have you ever considered having a Diaryland-Con in Green Bay? I like spa weekends, and I kind of want to experience the Bad Bar.”

A legacy was born on March 4, 2005 when we held the first “Green Bay Minicon” (as I was insisting it be called, even though people started calling it Weetacon immediately… it only took five more years before I gave in and started calling it Weetacon too).

After that weekend, we assumed that we had caught lightning in a bottle and the magnificence could never be repeated. I mean, somehow we got 27 people up to Green Bay in early March… that’s just crazy business, right? And yet, the next year we had more people! We added more activities. And the next year we had more people after that! We added even more activities! And then after that we had to set a capacity limit. And every year since 2005, we’ve been meeting in the same hotel on or around the same weekend to hang out, be silly, gossip and ostensibly network with other writers and readers. In theory, anyway.

So, we’ve got a lot of history behind this little weekend… and we work really hard to make sure that it’s a success. This year, we’re going back to our roots — the Weetacon 2016 will be held once again on March 4-6 and many of the same people who were at the first one will be there again this year! This year’s theme is “Slumber Party” which means — Comfy? Yes. Sexy? Possibly. Fun? Definitely!

I often call Weetacon my labor of love — and it truly is. About eight years ago, we added a fundraising component to our ‘writer’s weekend’ — we matched the theme of that year (“Meatacon”) by raising funds for a Green Bay food pantry that serves low-income and no-income local families. I basically raffled off a bunch of freebie stuff I’d been sent by rabid PR companies hoping to have me feature them on my blog. It was successful in my eyes — we raised over $400! Now the raffle has grown each year — everyone donates raffle prizes and then donates a dollar a raffle ticket for those same prizes. Each dollar goes directly to the charity of choice — we have three now so folks can choose where they want their totally tax-deductible donations going (the afore-mentioned food pantry, a no-kill animal shelter and the family housing non-profit where I stayed during Esteban’s prolonged hospital stay two years ago). After eight years, our annual fundraising total is usually around $4000 and in eight years of fundraising, we’ve raised almost $30,000 for these charities.

I think a lot about what my purpose is on this world. I used to think it was to write stories, but now I think I’m just a connector. Like the round thingy in a pack of Fiddlestix. It’s a lame part because you can’t really build anything out of just the round thingies, but without the round thingy, you only have a bunch of sticks. Okay, I’ll work on that metaphor, but I also do kind of look like a cog, so there’s that.

The cool thing about Weetacon is that we love meeting new people — in fact, because we normally sell out so quickly, I wanted to make sure that we still have space for first time Weetaconners every year. So now we reserve at LEAST four spots that only first timers can use — this ensures that we’ll give every newcomer equal opportunity to join in the fun.

Basically, half of the fun of Weetacon is getting to show new people how damned magical it is — and we get to experience it again for the first time in a tiny way. Disneyland may be the happiest place on earth all year round, but for 48 hours a year, the Waterford room at Weetacon central absolutely OWNS that title.

So we love new faces and you don’t have to be invited. Many first timers don’t really know anyone! In fact, I even made a video talking to former first timers about what their first time was like! And if you come to Weetacon this year, you’ll get to hang out with at least four of these people because they’ve registered for Weetacon 2016 already!

You can register for Weetacon 2016 by going here and following these instructions. If it seems too easy, it’s because it is.

Registration is just $129 per person and covers at least one meal and a private karaoke party, plus a weekend of coordinated social activities. Hotel is just $89 a night for four star lodgings and a giant jetted tub and separate shower in every room. Plus free breakfast and free wifi. Why is this such a good deal? Three reasons a) they haven’t increased our hotel rate in 12 years b) Green Bay is about 20 years behind the rest of the country in cost of living and c) Weetacon is designed to be incredibly cost effective and respectful of all travel budgets. If you can get yourself to Green Bay, you shouldn’t have to spend much more than a few meals to entertain yourself.

Normally, Weetacon’s attendee capacity is 50 people but through a series of various life things (babies, job changes, life changes, etc) we’re looking a little more intimate this year. I can’t keep it set at 50 because I have to start finalizing contracts with vendors and need to have a good grasp on how much budget we have, so I will likely be reducing the Weetacon cap down into the 30s by sometime next week.

That means if you thought you had all the time in the world to decide if you wanted to go to Weetacon or not, you may have less time than you thought. On Monday, I’ll probably set the cap around 2 or 3 more than whatever we have registered at that point. And then that’s it.

I keep wondering how long we can sustain the magic of Weetacon, especially given all of the various implications for our usual suspects this year.  When we hit 5 years, I was pretty impressed. Then when we hit 10 years, I thought, “Huh… we can’t keep up at this rate.” Maybe we’re starting to see a natural ebb that I have been predicting for almost a decade.

At some point in the not too distant future, we may be calling it the Last Weetacon. Or, more likely, the Last Weetacon will happen and we won’t even realize it at the time. I will just decide that I can’t do another one for whatever reason and it will just be over. That will be a little bittersweet.

Let’s face it, as we get older it becomes really fucking difficult to make friends — REAL friends — and the fact that you can just show up at Weetacon and instantly be approved as a Tribe Member For Life? That’s some kind of magic. And we still have new faces every year, so the fact that the Tribe is still getting larger? Amazing.

So even if this IS the last Weetacon (and I’m not saying that it is, let us be clear right now), it’s nice to know that Weetacon will be around in the form of these friendships for a very long time.

Register for Weetacon 2016! This is your year! Your Tribe is waiting.

Holly jolly

photo 3

Remember when I said that December was a bit of an exhale? Bwah! I was smoking something really special.

This weekend we were full of stuff to do — Esteban left today for a business trip to Vegas. Since he had Scotty’s bi-weekly Dorkathalon on Friday night, we spent most of Saturday morning running around to help him get packed while also squeezing in our normal Sunday routine into Saturday morning, since we wouldn’t be able to do it Sunday. This routine involves giant vats of Starbucks followed by the splitting of a Swiss cheese bagel. We also did what every middle class yuppy seems to do on a Saturday morning — we went to Costco, where our Get Up And Go-edness was our own downfall, as we were far too early for samples. Because seriously, that’s the reason you go to Costco on the weekend, right? Well, and to also get dog drugs at their pharmacy (Let me tell you, if your animals need regular medications, Costco is the BEST and way way way cheaper than anywhere else. Plus the pharmacists at our Costco seem to be kind of lonely, so they know Zuzu by name and always ask for updates on how her med cocktail is going.) We did manage to do some holiday shopping too, and buy at least four items to fulfill our “All important random things that we spend money on that you really need but make you feel like you got screwed” quota for Costco shopping. In this case, plastic bins. Why should plastic bins be so expensive? Even at Costco, I can’t believe these things aren’t basically free. Or, you know, a dollar a dozen wouldn’t be unreasonable.

We went back home and Esteban finished packing while I made pecan pies for the holiday party we had in the evening. We tucked out for sushi lunch, which was lovely, and then made it back home in time to get ready, wrap our gift swap gifts and medicate the dog.

The party was fun. Any chance to slap on whorish amounts of eye makeup is a good time in my book. We stayed up far too late and got home and stayed up even later (more dog medication) and then sacked out.

This morning was fairly uneventful — I dropped off Esteban at the airport and then headed out to one of my favorite rural Wisconsin experiences — a chicken hall. Melinda and Kevin were up for the party and we made plans to brunch together. I called up Ward and June (who refuses to call it a chicken hall, but seriously, that’s what it’s called), and also my bestie Fern, who has two growing ravenous children to feed. You see, in Wisconsin, we have a tradition of gathering entire families who go to these family style chicken feed places. You basically eat like ravenous dogs off of communal plates and you don’t even care because it’s just so damned good. And fried. Sure, they offer baked chicken too, which is oestensibly healthier but why eat healthy when you can have broasted (aka pressure deep-fried) chicken and as much as you want? Let’s not fool anyone — that’s the entire point. Plus, it comes with a variety of vegetables, salads, stuffing and gravy and a bunch of dessert bars. So, think Thanksgiving, but with fried chicken instead of turkey and without the drama. All for the low cost of $14 per person. It’s a good time.

I came back home, dealt with the dogs, and then actually took some time to play Minecraft. I now need to clean up the house (because Esteban made deep-dish pizza on Friday night and the kitchen hasn’t been right since) and finish decorating the Christmas tree in the living room. In theory, I will feel good enough to then set up the tree in the scotch room, but that involves removing the loveseat from that room. The loveseat is going into the guest bedroom for now, but before that happens, I want to remove two dressers from that room. Before I can remove the dressers, I have to empty them. That’s why we needed the bins. Ah yes, full circle. Tidy.

I still think bins should be a nickel each, damn it.

For now, the oral syringes for the dog’s medication are soaking/sanitizing, the dishwasher needs to be emptied and refilled and there’s a Christmas episode of Gavin and Stacey up on Netflix that isn’t going to watch itself.

Ho Ho Holy crap I overschedule myself

"I fell. This is okay I guess."

If you know one thing about me, it is that I frequently overplan my time.

Take, for instance, the month of November. At work, I had planned for a month of insanity. It was great for my revenue numbers but super not great for my mental health.

I also have been playing professor once a week at the community college. When I had agreed to start doing this, I didn’t have a full time SF-based job, so it wasn’t that big of a deal to spend hours of my time grading poorly-written intro to journalism stories and writing lectures and clock off at 3 pm PST to go teach a bunch of people who are just trying to jump through the hoops to earn their degree so that they can get promoted already. But of course, I took the job after the end of spring semester, and then figured that I would have learned enough of the ropes by fall semester to be able to handle both. Bwah! The ropes! I now know the ropes – the problem is that there are so many fucking ropes! I’ve been more or less managing everything through September and October, but in November, the class not only had so many more pieces of homework to grade but it also had its final and final projects. So, there was that.

Because that’s not enough, I also signed up for NaNoWriMo! Because when you are chained to your computer 12 hours a day, what’s better than also deciding to spend some more time typing? But wait – because it’s not enough just to write 50K words in 30 days, I volunteered to be ML for Coldington in its first ever year being its own region.

You crazy, Lucy.

(This is where Jane will send me a text yelling at me for complaining for something I clearly invite onto myself and she’d be fucking right because I am my own worst enemy.)

I think I must really like to be busy. I do this to myself all the time, both on a macro and a micro level. My To Do lists are never complete because I’m completely aggressive on what I think I can get done. Basically, my calendar is always ten pounds of shit stuffed into a five pound bag. Add onto that a compulsive need to be on time and it’s a wonder that I don’t need to take anti-anxiety drugs.

Wait. Maybe I SHOULD be taking anti-anxiety drugs?

But, November is over now and it’s the big exhale. December is less crazy at work for a variety of reasons and school is all over but for the final grade submission. NaNo is done and I managed to squeak out the completed 50K (but my novel isn’t done), and I’m devoting January to getting my other thing I’m doing finished enough that I can inflict it on some beta readers in totality.

That being said, December is as busy as December always is. So that must be why I signed up for Holidailies. Because it’s not a party unless it’s a Wendy Bix Insanely Packed party.

Speaking of parties, you should know that registration is open for Weetacon 2016. It hasn’t sold out yet and this year is going to be a doozy. If you’re scared of Weetacon or if you have never been, I invite you to check out some of the videos we did this year to help answer questions and ease your own anxiety.

Besides, when you have entirely too much to do and not enough time to do it, it’s important to have something amazing to look forward to that is entirely just for the fun of it. Hope to see you there!

 

I don’t know how to bra

IMG_3131

My boobs and I have always had a very complicated relationship.

Saving aside the bittersweet reality of happy fun pillows combined with scary mystery bumps that require frequent medical squashing, there can be — how shall we say — too much of a good thing.

My husband would of course disagree.

Somewhere along the highway of middle age, my torso has decided it no longer wants anything to do with bras. Whenever I put one on — even bras that used to work fine — the band now starts to roll and creates this terrible situation where a snippet of skin is trapped and then the rubbing starts. It probably doesn’t help that all of my bras are basically designed to hold up the entirety of Cleveland so they are constructed out of what is essentially high tension power cables. So I now have this abrasion where the bra band likes to chew into my body — which of course gets worse every time I put on a bra. And as it heals it seems to be forming a skin shaped channel that wants to host a twisted bra strap so damned bad. Please! It puts the bra strap in the gulley of fat and old age!

The alternative, of course, is not wearing a bra. My job is remote — I work from home. However, I also teleconference a great deal. No matter what I do, the camera eliminates all doubt about whether or not I’m wearing supportive undergarments as are fitting a lady of a certain age.

I’ve tried new bras. I’ve tried old bras that used to fit. I’ve tried sports anti-chafing lubes. The only things that work for sure is jamming a giant towel down there to hold the strap in place so that it doesn’t roll into a death knot or going all Woodstock with my unmentionables.

I’m pretty much hoping corsets come back in style for people who aren’t goths or Dita Von Teese. The worst part? I’m pretty sure this is because my skin has lost elasticity because of all the oldness I’ve collected. Until someone fixes that, I will just keep abreast of the situation, I suppose. Or finally invent a better bra.

So, basically, in the next two months, you’ll either see a link to my Kickstarter or I will continue my course of failing at being an adult woman.


 

It’s Holidailies time! I usually am about as successful at Holidailies as I am at wearing a bra for more than four hours, but eh, what the hell, I just knocked out 50K words for NaNoWriMo, I can certainly update my blog more frequently in December, eh? Or, you know, try at least? We’ll see.

The best of times (Holiday Card Exchange 2016!)

Amazing

 

Hello! How are you? Is that a new haircut? Damned you are looking good!

Somehow it’s fall. I’m not sure how that happened – the last several months have gone by incredibly quickly and now we’ve got a limited number of weekends before everything kind of shuts down for the winter.

Please indulge me in some whining for a moment: I’d really like to paint the front door.

Part of the hold up here is that I have no idea what kind of cool and quirky color will look good with our dark red brick house. Painting the front door will be at least a day’s worth of work, start to finish. Oh and hey, I never actually finished painting the laundry room – but I can finish the trim work when the snow starts flying, in theory. Before snow happens, however, my office is going to be dismantled because the skylights that the previous owner SWORE weren’t leaking? Guess what. They were leaking. So we’re getting them replaced, the trim fixed and with that, I have to paint my office – but by “I” I mean “I will pay someone” since I’m not really in the mood to fuck up the exposed brick, the 18 feet of French doors/windows on one wall and the entire wall of windows on the other wall, and the angled 20 foot ceiling. So again it comes down to picking a color – something that fills me with absolute anguish. It’s so permanent! Okay, I know it’s not really permanent, but let’s be realistic, painting is a PITA and I’ve never painted over something I painted in my entire life – once I pick it, it pretty much stays that way until we sell the house and the new buyers hate my color palette.

Complicating things: I got a job. I mean, I had a job before but now I no longer run my own business and have devoted myself to one company full time. That company is extremely fancy. I still work from home – because the office is in San Francisco – but I now work all the hours that ever were. To complicate things some more? I also agreed to teach one section of community college again this fall. Why? Because I’m stupid, that’s why. Okay, because I really like teaching, it turns out. It’s fun. Even with the plagiarists and the people who write like 7th graders yet are somehow in college and the people who are great except they never get their shit done in time and want exceptions to the rules. I especially like teaching in person, which they offered me this semester. I am probably going to have to make a decision about this, though, because I can’t maintain the kind of cadence required for grading – I spent probably 13 hours this weekend working through this week’s grading and I’m still only 2/3s done. That’s time I could have spent painting my front door (or at least sitting in the paint store whining about color choices).

Complicating things some more: Did you know that I’m an author? It’s true. In theory, it’s true. I have two novels, real actual novel drafts, that need second drafting. One is closer to the finish point, but there’s still miles to go before I sleep. I have friends who have completed full books – one, two or three books in some cases – during the time I’ve been sitting on my more-or-less-almost-there novel and my “I haven’t even looked at this” romcom treatment. And now I’m writing another one for NaNoWriMo — and I’m volunteering for them as well as Coldington’s been given its very own region, a thing I started bugging Sarah Janet about forever ago. File this under “Ways Wendy Is Her Own Worst Enemy.”

Maybe I just really love being up to my eyeballs in projects? Because clearly I need to sit down with myself and have a serious one to one chat.

Esteban frequently points out that I am afraid of something and that I keep filling my hours with things that matter less (like working 70 hours a week for my day job and then teaching community college kids that the period goes inside the quotation marks for quotes, for the love of god). Maybe he’s right. Or maybe working and teaching is just more fun than editing (this is true) or painting (so really fucking true).

Also, Weetacon 2016 is coming up! Okay, it’s not until March 4-6, 2016 but registration is open now! Right now! Check it out. I love Weetacon so damned much and every time I start to wonder about whether it’s worth all the volunteer time, I get feedback like this and remember that it actually changes lives. It is doing exactly the thing I try to do every damned day: Making the world a better place. So? Worth it.

Also! I am coordinating a holiday card exchange! Oh did you make it this far through the entry? This is your reward – the That’s My Bix! 2016 Holiday Card Exchange! If you want to join, sign up right here. Sign ups are ongoing until November 26th (Thanksgiving) at 12 noon CST because I plan to spend my morning on December 5th finishing my cards. Bwahahahaha, no I don’t, we have a holiday party that night and probably house guests too. Well, I’ll figure it all out.

Also, clearly I should blog more. In my minutes of free time, perhaps. This post has been in the works for about a month – pathetic. But at least it’s here now. Showing up — I’m finding that it’s 90% of the battle to doing everything that you want to do in half the time you’re allowed.


 

Dear Target,

No one “loves a good poncho.” There are exactly nine women on the planet that look good in a poncho — 7 of them are supermodels, one is a nine year old ice skating protege and one is Mimi from the Drew Carey show (and let me tell you, she looks FABULOUS).

The rest of us look like we are either like A) we fell getting out of bed and gave ourselves a concussion before attempting to get dressed in our duvet, B)Martha Stewart so happy to be out of prison that she’ll wear something she knitted to keep from going insane, or C) the misguided outlaw in a spaghetti western who gets shot by Clint Eastwood for stealing from the collection plate.

Stop trying to make ponchos happen. Ponchos will never happen.

Sincerely,

Bix

Easiest and most delicious pumpkin cupcakes you’ll ever eat in your entire life

I get embarrassed by box mixes.

I was raised in a household that had a 500 square foot garden and basically lived off of The Moosewood Cookbook. We went an entire year without having white flour in our house — and we’re talking early 80’s wheat bread, people, not this kinder, gentler soft stuff that we have these days. We’re talking bread that you couldn’t eat without some kind of lubrication condiment like butter or jelly or ketchup, because otherwise it was quite possible that you’d be taken out by a well-meaning dry turkey sandwich on wheat. You could shingle houses with the toast made from that bread, or strap slices onto your feet to wear instead of shoes.

So no box mixes when I was a kid. And I always coveted them then, when I’d see totally perfectly normal families with moms making brownies out of their Pillsbury box mix on the television commercials. I swore things would be different.

And now that I’m an adult? We actually don’t cook with them very often, but I still fetishize them a bit. And let’s be real — box mixes are sometimes a facet of life. There’s no judgement here — if a box mix means that you have the chance to make a rice pilaf without spending more than six bucks buying a bunch of different rices you’ll never use up or maybe you can throw together that Shake N Bake that tastes exactly like your grandmother’s short cut Friday night chicken? Then yay for box mixes!

Yet my own personal hang-ups on box mixes are compelling me to preface this particular recipe with a big caveat: I know how to make a damned good cake from scratch. I’ve tried lots and lots of from scratch cakes, vanilla, chocolate, spice, and carrot. And with the exception of the one weird WWII chocolate cake that requires a strange reaction with vinegar to turn it into the moist and lovely tangy concoction, none of them — not a one– is better than the similar flavor available in a box mix. Not a one.

I’m not sure if cake mixes just have better stabilizers or were simply perfected by teams of food scientists while my recipes were maybe tried and true by a handful of cookbook writers and church ladies, or maybe the 70’s just trained me that cake love tastes exactly like the product of a Duncan Hines red box full of mysteriously pre-measured goodness.

What’s more — this cake recipe actually requires a SECOND convenience box — and it’s the secret ingredient. It’s the one that no one will guess but if you leave it out, blammo, these are no longer magic. The secret ingredient:  Instant butterscotch pudding. It sounds weird and yet, it’s perfection.

So, that being said, I actually tried to make this recipe from scratch once — with a pumpkin cake recipe that was very well regarded and a bit of butterscotch essence. And… underwhelming. So we stick with the tried and true formula.

I make this only once a year because they are controlled substances. It’s especially handy to use these magical pumpkin cupcakes as peace offerings, apologies, door openers or general karma earners because people will think you are some kind of culinary genius or something.

Usually I use regular canned pumpkin puree (which is actually any kind of winter squash puree, not what we think of as pumpkin, for real) but if you are diligent about putting up some sugar pumpkins from the farmer’s market, like Esteban did last year, you have a freezer full of 8 ounce baggies of roasted sugar pumpkin puree that you should probably use instead.

The original recipe is for a bundt cake and I tended to drizzle a vanilla glaze across the top so that it solidified, kind of like the glaze on a pumpkin crueller, but lately I’ve really been enjoying a classic cream cheese frosting. Sometimes I make it ginger cream cheese and garnish with some crystalized ginger (much to the surprise of my guests, who don’t expect that spicy BLAMMO when they bite into the ginger– I think they suspect it’s simply a gum drop… one way I prepare them for the evil deliciousness that is these cupcakes) but mostly I like to just throw some vanilla bean paste into the mixer while it’s whipping the cream cheese with the butter and powdered sugar. I also used cinnamon as the main flavor profile in a vanilla cupcake once and it was lovely and would likely work really well on pumpkin cupcakes too.

The recipe below makes just exactly enough for one dozen cream-cheese frosted cupcakes (and not an ounce more) so if you enjoy spooning entire ladles of frosting into your piehole (and if so, all hail, you clever person), make a double or a triple batch.


 

 

Pumpkin cupcakes with vanilla bean cream cheese frosting

 

Super Easy Pumpkin Cupcakes

  • 1 yellow cake mix
  • 1 package instant butterscotch pudding
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup water (you can also use carrot juice to amp up the flavor)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 t “pumpkin pie spice)*
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree

Preheat oven to 350. Using a mixer, beat the four eggs in a large bowl. Add the canned pumpkin and mix well, then add dry ingredients and water and oil. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds and then medium speed for at least two minutes, scraping the side of the bowl as needed.

Dish into muffin tins 2/3s of the way to the top and bake at 350 for 19-24 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Don’t overbake.

Let cool for at least ten minutes before inhaling because you can’t wait any longer because it smells like neverland in your kitchen. Wait at least 30 minutes before frosting with cream cheese or buttercream frosting, but a glaze can be done immediately.

*I don’t own “pumpkin pie spice” so I fake this with a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, ground cloves and a few hits of allspice. You can do that too and no one will notice, which is especially handy if you have food sensitivities to one of those things.

 


 

World’s Best Cream Cheese Frosting

The best part about this frosting is that if you are like me and already have butter sitting at room temperature in the butter dish on the counter, you don’t have to wait until the cream cheese softens — you can use it right out of the fridge.

This recipe originally was posted on Slashfood but then they removed it for some reason. Luckily I found the original on the WayBack Machine and here it is so that you don’t have to go through similar extremes (or in case they ever take it down). It’s modified by yours truly.

  • 8 ounces cold cream cheese
  • 5 ounces butter (regular/salted)
  • 1 Tsp good vanilla bean paste
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, SIFTED

Beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla bean paste until pretty combined. While beating, add the sifted powdered sugar a spoonful at a time, letting each spoonful disappear completely before adding the next. When 3/4ths of the sugar has been added, start tasting for sweetness — it should not be overly sweet, but also shouldn’t taste like too much cream cheese.

I’ve found that 2 cups is pretty consistently perfect to go with the pumpkin cupcakes, but if you are making a sweeter base cake like chocolate or if you added carrot juice instead of water in this pumpkin cake recipe, you’ll definitely want to consider putting less sugar in the frosting.

Obviously, because this has cream cheese in it, it must be stored in the fridge and all resulting cakes should be stored in the fridge as well. Keeps for about 5 days under wraps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bix Beauty Blow By Blows five years later

Bix at 43

Five years and two days ago, I wrote about what I’m doing to keep the rosacea demon at bay. Five years and two days later, my skin is half a decade older, but in my humble opinion, looks no worse for the wear.

Here’s my current “Look at me! I’m 43!” rosacea beauty regime:

CLEANSING

Ditching the wash cloth and towels – I only use my fingertips or those throw away face tissues to clean my face, and then a microfiber towel to pat it dry. Yup, no lie, my tests have proven that my rosacea gets worse when I even carefully pat with soft terry cloth, but of course, your mileage may vary. My towel is actually the same towel they recommend that girls with curly hair use to dry their hair. You can also just use an old cotton t-shirt to pat your face dry. Everyone’s got an old t-shirt lying around, right? Hack it up into a towel shape so that it doesn’t look like you’ve forgotten laundry in the bathroom and you’re ready to roll.

Micellar water: I still use this, but hold the phone! I’ve been using Caudalie cleansing water (which I wrote about in the last Bix Beauty Blow By Blow) but it’s Simple now makes micellar water at a fraction of the price! This is the entire reason I wrote this blog post! I haven’t actually tried this version yet, but as soon as my Caudalie is gone, I’m loading up with this bad boy. If you have shied away from Micellar water due to the price points, give it a try. It’s pretty eye-opening to use it on a clean face and see how much gunk ends up on your cotton ball after you swipe. This is what I use nightly before moisturizing on days when I didn’t wear makeup (which is most days).

Clarisonic with Sensitive Head: I can’t use this every day because my rosacea would seek revenge, but once a week, I hit it up Clarisonic style, particularly around my T-zone. Clarisonics are expensive and I only have one because they sent me one for free when they first came out (yup, I loved writing for a beauty blog seven years ago) so I wouldn’t run out and buy one of these – there are cheaper versions on the market now that do the same thing. I typically keep Philosophy Purity liquid cleanser around to use with this.

Trader Joe’s Organic Jojoba Oil and Vitamin E Oil: On days when I wear makeup or if I’ve been out in the winter elements, this is my nightly face wash. I use my fingertips only with this and a very lukewarm-to-cool splash to rinse. When I clean with oil, I don’t moisturize afterwards. Which brings me to…

MOISTURIZING

Aveda All Sensitive Moisturizer: I’m still using this, even though five years ago I mentioned that I suspect I was mildly allergic to it. I think the itchiness I was getting was related to something else I was using or something in my diet, though, because I haven’t noticed any related itchiness in some time. Maybe I just powered through it and my skin gave up? This stuff is kind of spendy ($25) but it lasts a really REALLY long time. Five tiny pumps covers your whole face and your neck. I use this twice daily OR I use:

Simple Replenishing Rich Moisture: Simple has two kinds of face moisturizer – the stuff with sunscreen in it and this stuff. I use the one without the sunscreen in it, because I’m allergic to chemical sunscreen, plus I feel like the other one is oddly sticky for an hour after application, which I loathe. I switch out between this one and the Aveda. It’s slightly less moisturizing than the Aveda, so it’s good for summer or when you’ve got some pore clogging going on, plus it’s only ten bucks and goes on sale frequently at Target and Walgreens. Don’t be surprised if your gentleman caller steals this for his bathroom too.

Simple Soothing Eye Balm: Light, never clogs those little pores by your eyes (if you have tiny bumps by your eyes, whatever you’re using is clogging those tiny pores, so stop it) and it’s cheap as sin. It’s not quite as awesome as my gold standard eye cream, Kinerase Advanced Eye Cream, but it gets you almost there and at a 1/10th of the price? Almost there works for me. As far as I can tell, they don’t make this anymore, which is a TRAVESTY OF BEAUTY because it was awesome. The green Revitalizing Roll On is NOT THE SAME. You can still find it on eBay and Amazon. I like this stuff but now that it’s harder to find, I’ll probably rely more on:

Boots Expert Sensitive Hydrating Eye Cream: This is almost better than the Simple Soothing Eye Balm stuff but it does sting my eyes the tiniest bit (and other reviewers said it makes them feel like they’re going blind) while the Simple stuff doesn’t sting at all. However, the Boot’s stuff is also slightly more emollient than the Simple version, plus they still make it. Another cheapie, this one is usually around $7. Look for the one with the picture of the big brown eye on it – the other Boots stuff is more expensive and stings like hell if you rub some into your eye by accident. I alternate between these two and treat myself with:

Kinerase Advanced Eye Cream: This is so so so expensive but you know what? I don’t even care. I stretch it out by only buying one tube at a time and alternating between this and the cheaper stuff above. This is the gold standard in eye cream, almost on par with La Mer The Eye Concentrate (which is amazing, but holy shit, even I’m not going to spend $200 on eye cream) and the jaw-droppingly even-more-expensive AmorePacific Time Response Eye Renewal Creme. (Yes, looking at those prices does make me feel positively frugal for opting for the $50 Kinerase).

OTHER STUFF

Aveda Outer Peace Cooling Masque: I still use this about once a month, sometimes more if I have a thing where I don’t want to go all red faced when I drink wine. Last time I wrote: Kind of a “fooled ya!” moment though when you remove the masque because the pressure of washing it off (you have to use a soft cloth, as it’s tenacious) makes you MORE red temporarily. Kind of a ridiculous green treatment like the Eucerin Redness stuff in the Loser pile but used probably twice a month in combination with the All Sensitive Moisturizer, I definitely had a reduction in redness the next day after application. Not advised for every day use but a must the morning of a party to reduce the wine flushes.” I now remove this with Yes To Cucumbers daily face wash wipes instead of the soft cloth and it’s still a bastard to remove.

Sunblock: Yes, daily. Even in winter. All the time. I can only use physical sunblock because of my allergies to chemical sunscreen benzones, so that means zinc oxide usually but the newest physical sunscreens now go on invisible and don’t do that chalky white thing that the old school zincs used to do. Here’s the thing: if you’re only relying on chemical sunscreens, you’re one step above the people who are going skin cancer commando but why go through all that effort if you’re not getting the job done completely? Scientific studies have proven that physical sunscreens are the way to go. Bare Minerals has a natural sunscreen element in its foundation, but it’s barely enough to get by for daily “walking from the car” or “sitting outside under a tree” exposure – I need a minimum of 30 SPF. Dermalogica has a super sensitiv 30 SPF sunscreen that is pricy, but it’s great. CeraVe has a broad spectrum zinc-based sunscreen with 50 SPF that I plan to try this summer in the pool, since it’s water resistant and way cheaper than Dermalogica. I also like Alba Botanicals Very Emollient Mineral Protection Sunscreen for kids. Of course, I also use a gigantic ridiculous hat, bug eyed sunglasses and long-sleeve surfer rash guards in the pool too. Investigating titanium full-body covering for the near future.

Tweezerman Skin Care Tool: In our house, it’s the “skin thing” and we have four of them because one time I took the sole skin thing with me to California, unaware that another resident of the Bix Proper was reliant on said skin thing and I received a phone call. A phone call that did not end well when I revealed that I had taken the skin thing on a vacation. Be warned: This is the one element of my skin care regime that my beloved Svetlana did NOT cosign — in fact, she was adamantly against it, but you know what? It makes my nose look better and helps the general state of my pores. If you’re careful and don’t go in there like you’re digging for treasure, you can gently apply pressure near your pores and out pops the sebum and clogged grossness. If you’re making a little loop mark on your skin? Ease off, baby, this isn’t a race. I should also mention that when Svetlana did extractions, she used two cotton swabs and said that it was the ONLY thing people with sensitive or aging skin should use. So there you go, forewarned. I personally think the cotton swabs hurt more and use more pressure, but again, I’ve got an extremely light touch with the skin thing and only ever use the small end.

 

Bix Final Word:

Looking back at that blog post five years ago, it’s interesting to see how much has changed and also, how little has changed. Sadly, my beloved Svetlana has moved back to Russia and I haven’t had my monthly facials in over two years, so it has fallen to me to keep up on the upkeep. We also now know that rosacea is caused by tiny dead skin spiders (I’m not making that up) so my unscientific tests about the relationship between diet and rosacea flare-ups actually may have some merit.

Here’s the thing, and it’s one of my biggest tips: if you’re in your late 30s or beyond, you have to change your routine. What worked for you when you were 34 just isn’t going to work for the long haul. If you could never use moisturizers before because it made you break out, maybe that was your 24-year-old skin, but your 39-year-old skin has a different story. It’s time to get serious because if you’re 40 or beyond, your skin is going to start losing its elasticity (aka wrinkles) its luminance (aka you look grey) and its tone (aka wrinkles).

And no matter who you are and what your skin story is like, you should be using eye cream twice a day without exception. I’m not kidding. Twice a day. I keep tubes of eye goop next to my bed, at my desk, in the bathroom, in my travel kit and in my purse. This is how serious this is. Your aging starts around the eyes. Head it off at the pass.

Make this your mantra: Eye goop every 12 hours. Try it for three weeks. When you realize that the past 42 applications of eye goop have de-aged you five years, you can tip your wide-brimmed sun hat to Ms Bix, who always has your back.

 

 

 

 

 

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