Practically Free

Once upon a time, a long time ago, Jim Cooper told a bunch of us that houses built in the 50s in Nashville are poorly insulated because the TVA promised everyone never-ending practically free electricity. Why bother to try to keep the heat in a building when it only costs pennies to heat it?

I live in a 50s ranch. It’s going to be 7 degrees tonight. We’ve already got a space heater in the garage running, because we’re in the middle of a pitched battle called “try to keep the appliances above 32 degrees so that we don’t have to replace them.” Well, not in the middle. That’s the point. While it’s a balmy 27 out, we’re trying to get the garage into the 40s, hoping that will give the heater the headway it needs to keep the garage above freezing all night.

I’m trying not to imagine what our electric bill is going to be. More than pennies, though, most likely.

My next HVAC unit is going to heat the garage. Somehow. Just to keep it at 35 in cases like this.

Failures in Cooking

This week I made chicken noodle casserole instead of tuna noodle casserole and it was a disaster. I’m not sure why, except apparently the chicken available to us up on the north side is just so fucking bland that it manages to suck the flavor out of surrounding food items. I don’t know. I seasoned the crap out of the meat and you’d be eating along, wondering, how is this so bland considering the amount of garlic in here? And then you’d occasionally hit a a pocket of flavor. It was as if all the flavor in the dish would pick a random noodle to cling to like a life raft and you’d hit that one noodle and be like “Ugh, too much, too much!” While all around it, even the other noodles touching it, would be like chewing on air.

Story Research Hits a Snag

I’m writing a story about a creek, well about a dance done in 5/4 taught to a man by some dudes he met near a creek that barely exists anymore. Today I went out to photograph said creek. It did not go as well as I hoped, because my goal was to go out on the bridge, reach the camera over the side of the bridge and… take some pictures. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, but it was. It seemed fine at first, but the longer I stood there, the dizzier I became and the more unable to get off the damn bridge I found myself.

But I’m glad I went, because I put my creek in the story in slightly the wrong spot.


I love the tiny violets in the yard. Walking this morning was brutal. I’m not sure why but I just lumbered around the neighborhood and couldn’t wake up.

But you do some things, even if they suck at the time, because you know it’s going to be better later that you did.

Lovely Weekend

I got no writing done, which is not ideal, but the dog went over to his friends’ house with the Butcher yesterday and, after a couple of hours, demanded to come home, where he just lounged around the house with me. So, that’s nice. I did accidentally throw a cat at him, which was not good, and he barked at the cat, very close to the cat and made his “I could bite you, you know!” faces at her, but he didn’t bite her (of course) and I think the cats are figuring out that he’s just kind of a lug, but harmless.

Oh, yes, here’s how you accidentally throw a cat at a dog. You’re in the kitchen, cutting up meat for your maiden attempt at paprikash, when the cat you thought was safely outside (for this very reason) comes out of nowhere, from some direction behind you, and lands square on the big chunk of as-of-yet not cut up meat. You will, just be instinct, holler, “What the fuck?!” grab the cat, and toss her away from the meat. But, of course, even though this happens in a split second, the dog has decided that, at his new house, it must be customary for everyone to get as close to the meat as possible, so here he comes. And there will be a kind of cat-dog mid-kitchen collision that ends up in barking and hurt feelings.

But, America, I have to still eat that meat! I feel fairly certain that I got all the cat cooties off it, but I’m glad I’m not serving it to guests.

The recipe I found for paprikash is basically an onion, two red peppers, a shit ton of meat, some garlic, and liquid that is beef stock, tomato paste, caraway seeds (I think, some kind of seeds) and all the paprika I had in the house. I added some Worcestershire sauce just because the smell kind of seemed like it needed it. And then the Butcher is going to put the liquid on the meat and veggies and stick it in the oven in a covered casserole dish all afternoon.

I’m already convinced that the next time I make it, I’m not going to want two red peppers, but I’m also already convinced–without yet tasting it–that I will make it again, just because it smells so fantastic.

I’m sure the cat hair and toxoplasmosis will only add to it.

Why Walking in My Back Yard is Like Walking on Marbles

This is technically from my neighbor's yard, but the effect is the same in mine. You step on that and you're going to go rolling.

This is technically from my neighbor’s yard, but the effect is the same in mine. You step on that and you’re going to go rolling.

On my walk this morning, I paused in the wettest spot to look at a track. Surrounding it were deer tracks, pretty clearly frozen into the bog. But this almost appeared to be canine. I convinced myself that it might have just been two overlapping deer tracks. But I do wonder. The thing I wonder about is–yes, we have coyotes and yes, that area is pretty soggy when it’s not completely frozen. But how heavy a coyote would we be talking about, to leave that deep an imprint?

I should have taken a picture of that, instead of the weird dirt marbles. But I’m sure it was just a deer track on top of another deer track.

Or, perhaps, a werewolf?

Ha ha ha. Oh, life, of course I would be the first person to be verifiably eaten by a werewolf! My poor mom, so afraid of someone hitting me while I walk in the road in the dark, hits a kid while he’s walking in the road in the dark. Of course I would get eaten by a werewolf! It’s so clear that this is a likely ending to me.

Oh, which reminds me, I got sick before I could do it justice here, but I saw a sketch for the herbal in Project X. In the book, the conceit is that the herbal was put together by Mrs. Overton out at Traveller’s Rest. But it’s just an herbal. There’s nothing really directly about her in the story, even though her presence stretches over the rest of the book.

But this sketch is her. Not in a way anyone working at Traveller’s Rest would recognize. But in a way that I recognized as the author of the book. You look at that picture and you understand something I didn’t put into words about how the woman who would take the first steps towards dealing with the werewolf saw herself. It’s amazing. I told the artist that I want to marry the image. And she’s surrounded by these moons.

Oh, god, everything about it is perfect and occult and weird and lovely.

The artist wants to talk about maybe collaborating on something, just her and me. Yes, in addition to the kids’ book (different artist).

It makes me feel like I might have to reevaluate what I mean by “success” for myself. I had thought that it meant getting a book contract and having a “real” publisher. But I have to tell you, there’s something about having these amazing artists wanting to collaborate that blows my mind. It feels like a way to carve out a happy writing life for myself. But I’ve been so focused on Ben & Sue (still not back from the reader) and then on this short story which is still going hilariously poorly (I’ve got another good beginning from a different perspective, but still not sure that’s the POV that’s right for the story. Yes, pushing 3,000 words, none of which I think are quite right, though getting closer.). I’m not bummed about it, though. This is the kind of story that just has to go like shit at first.

Anyway, my point is that I’ve been focusing on finishing things up for a while now. I haven’t really given any thought to starting new things out. But, man…

Cold is Weird

Today was not colder than Tuesday morning, at least according to my iPhone, but cold is weird. Tuesday’s walk ended when I came in the house and had breakfast. It went off without a hitch. Today’s cold made my ankle ache. It made my ears want to die. And, even though I’ve been back for a half an hour, I can’t get warm. I feel like my fat is frozen, so my skin is cold from both the outside and the inside. I’m shivering like a fun woman’s sex toy. My legs ache.  This, my friends, is bone cold.

And yet, like I said, Tuesday was technically colder. So, that’s weird. Is it somehow slightly more humid, thus giving the cold more stuff in the air to put a chill in and thus put a chill in me? Less humid so that cold puts its icy lips against my skin and just sucks the moisture and thus the heat right out of me?

And the ground in the back yard! It’s weird as fuck. There’s a while section around the tree where the trailer used to be that seems like it’s just turned to marbles. You don’t dare step there because you will slide. So, yes, to go for a walk, you have to navigate the part of my yard that’s all torn up from people moving a camper in and out, then the weird dry lake of mud marbles, then the uneven terrain from the moles and then there’s a brief flat spot before you hit the AT&T yard, which is more uneven terrain, because you’re basically walking on top of a frozen bog.

When I walk, I wish I were a shallow geologist or maybe a hydroengineer who specialized in ground water, because I’d love to understand what the fuck is happening to the dirt around here.

An Office of One’s Own

I’m still trying to settle on the problem of how to write here at home when the Butcher is here. And I’m thinking of actually setting up the den like a den. Using it as an office. Which would mean cleaning it out somewhat and putting the drums away. But would also mean, I think, moving the desk so that I could look out the window.

I need to be making a list of thing that need to be done at work, too, when it comes to moving offices. One thing I like about how my office is set up now is that I don’t feel like being at my computer means having my back to the world. But it then means, when people come to talk to me, I have to look at them around my computer. I’d like to find some way to both have my computer facing out and be able to meet with people without barriers between us.

It’s weird to think about how I want to inhabit a space. Mostly, I just let the Butcher figure out how things in a room need to go and settle in to whatever he’s figured out. I guess I could do that for the offices, too. Ha ha.

I’ll Just Be Over Here, Throwing Up

The car is in the shop today. The problem is expensive.

And the plumber came by the house this afternoon and the two-year-old bullshit thing on top of my water heater is fucked. As is the 60 year old bullshit thing in the crawlspace. And my crawlspace has a glacier. A glacier, people! You want to see a river of ice? Fuck going clear to Canada. Just go stare in my crawlspace.

To get that shit fixed? More than the car.

You know that feeling when you’re just cresting the hill on the roller coaster and your stomach goes up to your throat and your head goaes all woozy and you just have to wait to hit bottom, because there’s no getting out of it?

That’s how I feel.

Merry Christmas to Me!

Sometimes your local alt.weekly will run a story about the Harpe brothers and the illustrations will be so amazing that you will track down the artist and ask her if you can buy prints. And she will say yes and you will be so damn happy.


The Difference Between the Side for Shaking and the Side for Spooning is Substantial

Here’s how I remember my first (or maybe second) Thai meal. One time I ate Thai with Coble and Sarcastro and another time I ate it with JR and Elias. I just can’t remember which order.

Anyway, I was in Colorado for work. But I was hanging out with JR and Elias in my spare time. We went to this little Thai restaurant and Elias ordered everything hot. I remember the waitress trying to dissuade us. I remember it being delicious. And then I remember my eyes watering and snot involuntarily running down my face and my skin melting off the back of my head and all my whole upper body just disintegrating into a beacon of fire. Viggo Mortensen saw me from a distance and was like “Crap, are they filming another Lord of the Rings without me?” Hunter S. Thompson came by our table. He was riding a cheetah named Betty Grable. The ghost of Jerry Garcia was wearing a tutu and singing “Sugar Magnolia” while my arms turned to jelly. The cooks from the back room came out to laugh at us. I started speaking in tongues. In the language of angels, I predicted the world would turn into a giant bread pudding. How many lifetimes did we sit at that table? How did we get home? Did we really dance down the aisle at someone else’s wedding set-up at the Stanley Hotel or was that part of dinner?

I have no answers.

But I was reminded of that experience a little bit last night, because I made stir-fry for dinner. I marinated the skirt steak in Coke, as is my new favorite trick, and I meant to add a few shakes of red pepper. But my stupid hand shook two or three times before my stupid brain realized that the flap on the red pepper flakes I had open was not the one with three holes for shaking on your pizza but the one with one, big gaping maw, which no one ever needs, ever.

It wasn’t as hot as hallucinatory Thai, by any stretch. But it was hot enough to make my teeth feel strange in my mouth.

And delicious.


Coke Marinade

It was fantastic. It did make the meat really tender and it mixed really well with the spices and it gave the meat a nice taste that wasn’t too sweet at all. And it did, when I first threw it in the pan, smell a little like a Chinese dish, so that made me wonder how many more Chinese restaurants, on top of the one where the waiter told me, use it as a tenderizing trick.

But I have to say, I was most surprised by how much it seemed to accentuate and compliment the garlic and chili powder. I didn’t use more of those two spices than the cumin or black pepper, but I could really taste them. Not in an overpowering way, but just like something in the Coke really brought those flavors to the forefront.

Anyway, I highly recommend it. The only thing I would warn you about, though is that, if you get a little of the marinade in your pan, it will foam up when it gets hot in a kind of alarming fashion.

Surprises from The Red-Headed Kid

The Red-Headed Kid came by yesterday to mow my lawn, after we broke the gas can trying to figure out how to undo the child-proof nozzle. It is indeed child-proof. Good job, gas-can manufacturers. It’s now also broken and useless. Oops. Glad there was another gas can then.

Anyway, he started mowing and I went to work. Then like at 1:30, he called to say he was done mowing and that he’d run the dog out and was now leaving. And I was like “Christ Jesus, did it take him five hours to mow the lawn?” Because I’m not sure I want to spend five hours on a lawnmower should the task ever fall to me.

But I came home and found he’d eaten a pork chop (but not any asparagus, which is his loss), left a bunch of Gatorade in the dining room, watched some TV and, I’m guessing by the towel in the bathroom, taken a shower.

All things that are fine. And he is more than welcome to do any of those things in my house as often as he wants. Hell, especially if he’s going to mow my lawn for nothing.

But it still startled me when I got home, to see all this evidence of someone else, going about his ordinary day in the house, coming and going, and doing things.

It made me miss the Butcher.

But the best part was how happy it made the dog. From her perspective, she had a visitor. The Red-Headed Kid appeared when no one else was home, and hung out with her, and then left. And she was exhausted when I got home, but happy, and that made me happy.

As Close As You’re Going to Come to the World’s Greatest Potato Salad

My roommate in grad school made a potato salad that tasted like I imagine french kissing an angel must taste–slightly sweet, slightly sour, and there’s bacon. This is not that potato salad, because she does not give out the recipe. But it is the potato salad equivalent of french kissing someone who’s french kissed an angel.

Okay, here’s what you’ll need:

4 medium potatoes

4 hard boiled eggs

6 strips of cooked bacon

1 cup Miracle Whip

1 heaping tablespoon of yellow mustard

at least 1 teaspoon of relish

salt, pepper, paprika,

Here’s what you do. Cut those potatoes up into bite-sized pieces and throw them in a pot of salted water and cook them until they’re done but still firm (about 15 minutes, give or take). If you time it right, you can do the eggs first and then use the fifteen minutes they have to stand to cook the potatoes. I’m not quite that talented, but if you are, it saves a bunch of time. Plus it helps if someone cooked a pound of bacon for breakfast, but saved you out the six pieces you need. Otherwise, your cooking is going to run you a half an hour.

Now, in a large bowl, put your Miracle Whip and your yellow mustard. Stir those together. Now, put in your tablespoon of relish. Give it a taste. If you like relish, feel free to add more, up to a tablespoon of it. Stir and taste. You’re going to want a little pinch of pepper, a generous half teaspoon of paprika, and to stir again. You want to taste it before you add the salt while keeping in mind that you’re about to add a butt load of bacon and add just a pinch of salt. Remember, you can always add salt. You cannot take it away. And bacon is salty.

Okay, cut your bacon into bite-sized pieces and stir it in there. Now your eggs are probably ready and your potatoes could probably use another five minutes. Cold water your eggs and then peel them and cut them into bite sized pieces and throw them in your bowl and stir. Check your potatoes, which are probably done. Drain them and then add about a third at a time to your bowl so that you can get them coated.

Oh, damn it. It occurs to me that your pot to cook the potatoes in was probably a huge stew pot–bigger than your bowl. If you throw everything in your pot to stir it and then just move it back to your bowl to store it, you won’t have to be so dainty.

But that’s it. The general principle is that you’re making what amounts to deviled egg innards, but scaled way up, with bacon, and smothered over potatoes.

Put it in the fridge and try to wait until it’s chilled before eating.

And, note, the easiest way to vary this recipe is just by changing the type of relish you use. I usually use sweet, but we only had hot relish in the fridge and it is also delicious.

Headachy Day

I’m supposed to be napping so that I feel better in time for roller derby. I am, instead, just sitting here feeling nauseous and like maybe eating McDonald’s for lunch was the biggest mistake of my life. But, in good news, I did the dishes and took some pictures.

Evidence of an Unseen Flood

The dog and I tried to walk, but it’s too wet back there. We did, however, find firm evidence that the creek flooded this weekend, though it never made it far enough into the yard for us to see it. Thank goodness.

It's a balalaika! Thanks, Dad!

It’s a balalaika! Thanks, Dad!

In “The Phillipses Eat a God Damn Vegetable” News

I think I’m becoming worse at making gravy as I get older. It used to be a skill I innately possessed. No longer. Now it’s always either lumpy or runny. Last night, it was lumpy and runny.

But we did have peas, which are among my favorite vegetables.

I’m thinking of getting a vegetarian cook book. Not because we want to become vegetarians, obviously, but because we’d really like to eat substantially more vegetables and it seems like that’s going to require incorporating them into more than just the way we’ve been flopping them on our plates next to the meat. We need to regularly move vegetables to the center of the plate, so to speak.

Any recommendations?

My Neighbor Negged Me

Here is some important background you need to know. We used to have really awesome neighbors, who then had a couple of kids and moved down the road a way into a bigger house. They now rent their house to a couple I, until yesterday, had almost no opinion of. I did have an opinion, which was “The wife seems nice, the husband seems like he’s a mean drunk.” That was enough for me to basically avoid them. And, when I do see them or hear them, it’s either when they’re going to work when I’m walking the dog or when they’re yelling at each other. Also, my old awesome neighbor now owns my old lawnmower, since he was the only one who could keep it running when I owned it and he needed a lawnmower. He tried, recently, to pay me for it, but I refused, because, as far as I’m concerned, he saved me the bulk trash pick-up. That he later got it and kept it working is just his good luck.

Anyway, yesterday, I’m in the flower bed under the trees, cutting down privet and the dude comes over, “What are you doing?” “Cutting down privet.” What was your name again?” “Betsy.” “Oh, right. I don’t know why I can’t remember that. I know it. Hey, didn’t you say you worked at Vanderbilt?” “Yes.” “What do you think about them hating Christians?”

So, we get into this incredibly uncomfortable discussion in which I try solely to focus on the idea that he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who likes the government telling him what to do–and he doesn’t–so he should be uncomfortable with the government setting the definition of Christianity. And I keep repeating that the State doesn’t get to say who’s a Christian. And he’s all “It’s not a problem. It’s obvious who’s a Christian. John 3:16. There’s no problem. It’s obvious.”

Until finally he says, “Well, I don’t want to argue about politics or religion when I’m drinking.” People. He came into my yard! And then he says, “But my brother is a minister, a real minister, who went to school and everything.”

And that’s how he ends the argument. I kept waiting for him to say “And my brother says…” but no. Just the end to the “discussion” is that his brother is a minister. Like that counts for anything when it comes to his opinions.

And then we enter phase two of the bizarro conversation. He goes off to the bathroom or something and his wife is explaining how they don’t like their landlord to mow their lawn, because they think he does a crappy job. So whenever the weather is nice, she mows the lawn so that, when my old neighbor calls to say he’ll come by in the morning to mow it, she can tell him it’s already done.

Then the dude comes back out. He’s explaining how he finally convinced our old neighbor to let him put vegetable beds in the front yard, where it’s sunny. And then he says–and this is where I thought, “Hmm, I’m being negged, here, like some chick in a pick-up-artist’s sights”–“Your yard looks like shit. No offense. But I can tell that [the Butcher] doesn’t really care about it.” Then he proceeds to tell me all the things wrong with my lawn and all the ways that the Butcher is obviously failing to maintain it. And I’m all like “Well, maybe, but the yard’s his thing and I’m not going to stand over him and make sure he does it how you’d want it done.” Which you’d think would be a huge clue to just back the fuck off, since even saying it outloud sounds so fucked the fuck up. But no, it’s like he doesn’t even hear me. He’s all going on about how he can tell that the Butcher doesn’t sharpen the blades enough and the blades are probably ruined by now and I should just expect to pay to replace them. About how he’s been dying to do something about/with my greenhouse and why hasn’t the Butcher chopped down the trees around it?

And on and on about how much the Butcher sucks and he’s sorry to be saying it and about how shitty my yard looks and he’s sorry to be saying that.

And then comes the offer–“I’ll maintain your mower and mow your lawn, too, if you let me use the mower to mow my lawn.. Just think about it.”

And then, I got the sense that he realized that, if I thought more about it, I was going to run screaming into the night, because he was all “I don’t mind. I used to be a landscape guy.” Etc. All this stuff about how he was well-qualified to do it.

But let me repeat, he’s insulting my yard and my brother in order to get his hands on my mower because he wants to use it to mow his yard, which his landlord would prefer to mow. His landlord, who has always been good to us and who we like. And the dude is offering to mow our lawn, even though his wife has already admitted to me that she’s the one who mows theirs! So, really, he’s trying to make some “deal” on her behalf.

And did I also mention that, in the whole course of this bizarre conversation, he’s also telling me about all the guns he owns and the things he likes to shoot? (And let me be clear, I didn’t take this as a threat about “So, I could kill you if you don’t go along with my weird lawnmower scheme” but more about how he was, I think, trying to demonstrate how powerful he was.) And about how there’s just some stuff I don’t know about the world, since I’m from here? (Which I also thought seemed like a pick-up artist move–to confidently make guesses about a person that make it seem like you know more about her than you possibly could.)

The whole thing just felt like: Step one: put B. on the defensive with some bizarro argument. Step two: insult her lawn and the ability of “her man” to properly maintain it. Step three: demonstrate power and prowess. Step four: demonstrate a mastery of things she couldn’t possibly have. Step five: get her to give us her lawnmower.

The whole thing was just… ugh… so fucking weird. And the whole time it was happening, he had his shirt off and was just rubbing his belly.

And I came inside and I just felt like I’d been in-person attacked by an internet troll.