mokie: A package of meat wishes you happy holidays (holiday of the day)
On my merry little calendar of daily holidays, today is listed as I'm Not Going to Take It Anymore Day. Given that the past week has been full of reams of legal documentation that is only English on a technicality - not because it's translated but because it's legalese, boo - that is indeed pretty much where my brain is at. "Words? No. No more words. NOPE."

So I took a look at what absolutely had to give today.

Someone trying to squeeze a manifesto into a tagline? NOPE. I can summarize, I can epitomize, I can capture the spirit of the thing, but I cannot take the client's list of eleventy things that absolutely must be mentioned specifically and squeeze it into a five-word tagline.

Glitchy file? NOPE. Pure stupid stubbornness on my part to keep fighting with it this long, instead of asking for help, but that's what legalese does to me - makes me irritable and bitey, even against software.

The flu? NOPE. Okay, it's not that easy. I wish it was that easy.

Maybe this should be 2015's theme song...



(No video embedded above? Sorry, journal sites are inconsistent that way. Try viewing it at Youtube instead.)

Vocabulary fun!

Thursday, 30 May 2013 01:44 am
mokie: Ghostbusters' Vinz Clortho wears a collander and answers questions (nerdy)
UK: That's a tank top.

US: No, that's a sweater vest. That's a tank top.

UK: No, that's a vest.

US: No, that's a vest.

UK: No, that's a waistcoat.

OZ: Guys, that first one is a singlet.

US & UK: No way, we've heard your national anthem. What you're speaking is English only on a technicality.

AL: No, no, no, that first one is a wife-beater.

UK: What the--?

US: Dammit, Alabama!
mokie: Cartoon Calvin sneezes and checks his tissue (lurgy)
I recently discovered I might not be allergic to coconut after all.

When is an allergy not an allergy? When it's Oral Allergy Syndrome, also called Pollen-Food Allergy Syndrome (along with several other names, because everybody wants to be the one whose name gets used on House M.D.), in which regular nose-based allergies masquerade as food allergies, due to certain fruit and veggie proteins vaguely resembling problematic pollen proteins.

Basically, it's like your body mistaking a dust-bunny for a spider and wigging out inappropriately.

Outside of allergy season the problem food isn't a problem, because your body hasn't been primed by pollen and pushed into kill it with sneezing! mode. The heat involved in cooking and canning can also denature the troublesome proteins, which is how some folks can be allergic to a raw fruit or veggie but able to eat the same item cooked--because they're not allergic to the food itself, even though they are having an allergic reaction to it. Either of these could explain why I've been able to eat coconut just fine until recently, mostly baked in cookies or simmered in soups, but also just noshing on raw flakes without any ill effect. I just happened to do it at the wrong time of year this time.

The upside of this, apart from that OAS usually doesn't cause anaphylactic shock, is that it would also explain why my late winter/early spring allergies have been so bad since moving to this neighborhood: birch.

I used to live next to Tower Grove Park and the Missouri Botanical Garden, two big green spaces dedicated to growing a large variety of greenery, pretty much all of which I tested allergic to back in middle school. Apart from swollen hands when walking past a bushy area on Magnolia Avenue, though, my allergies just translated to a runny nose and some occasional sneeziness--and good luck narrowing down which bit of all that greenery was responsible for which sneeze. (Especially since the allergy scratch test throws a lot of false positives, as dracunculusdracunculus pointed out.)

What the old neighborhood didn't have, and this neighborhood does, was a lot of birch trees. Specifically, a cluster of them half a block down from my current apartment.
In springtime, two of the biggest cross-reaction offenders are birch and alder trees. Depending on where you live, anywhere from 20 to 70 per cent of people who are allergic to birch and alder pollens will also have oral allergy syndrome. (Janet French, "Oral Allergy Syndrome: Why do Pollens and Foods Cross-React?" Allergic Living 2 July 2010)
The doctor interviewed in that article pointed out that OAS is more common than the legitimately scary food allergies like peanut, which might explain why so very many people believe they have food allergies even after a smug host points out that they just ate something they're supposed to be allergic to. (And fuck you if you do that to people. Seriously.) The article also mentions a point I regularly make, that chamomile and echinacea cause cross-reactions to ragweed because they're in the same family, which makes it really annoying when every suggested cure for your allergy woes is a nice cup of chamomile and echinacea tea.

The author does lose points for bad editing when she inadvertently (I hope) suggests that honey is somehow a plant related to ragweed, rather than that honey could contain ragweed (or related) pollen. That in itself sidesteps the point that many allergy sufferers intentionally eat honey hoping there's allergy-causing pollen in it, due to the old wives' tale that this will desensitize them. It doesn't work, though, because most of the honey on store shelves is (a) filtered, microfiltered, and then filtered some more to remove all possible pollen; (b) heated and treated till it's thoroughly dead so that it won't crystallize on store shelves; and (c) from China, and thus unlikely to contain any pollens you're familiar with. You could try raw local honey, but as someone who gave it a go, just go take a Claritin and save yourself the disappointment. (And the awfulness that is clover honey. Ugh.)

Back to the point! How vile is birch?

Here is the Wikipedia checklist of foods that are cross-reactive with birch: almonds, apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, carrots, celery, cherries, chicory, coriander, fennel, figs, hazelnuts, kiwis, nectarines, parsley, parsnips, peaches, pears, peppers, plums, potatoes, prunes, soy, strawberries, walnuts and wheat. That's not even a definitive list--other lists add all the tree nuts, and coconuts, and peanuts, and tomatoes, and turnips...

If you Google "oral allergy syndrome" and a food, Google will say, "Birch. It's the fucking birch, man."

Birch will take from you everything that you love.

Apart from a visit to an allergist, the only way to know for certain if my coconut allergy is a real allergy or a birch cross-reaction is to wait till the birch stops its arboreal spooging around June or July, and then nibble a little raw coconut while someone stands by with a heavy dose of Benedryl. A preemptive strike on the trees is out, as they wisely chose to be planted in front of a cop's house.

Sneaky, bastardly birch.

Update: TESTED AND CONFIRMED. The same coconut that made me miserable in April and May caused no reaction at all in June. Of course, now my grass allergies are in full effect, so I couldn't taste the coconut, but still...
mokie: Cartoon Calvin sneezes and checks his tissue (lurgy)
I recently discovered that I'm allergic to coconut.

Scoffing scoffer: "Aw, did ums get a bellyache? Getting the shits after eating a bad slice of pie isn't an allergy."

No, I got puffy lips after a piece of coconut creme Easter candy, and put it off to some weird reaction to spring pollens. "Maybe I touched my face after checking the mailbox...?"

Then my lips swelled up like someone had just popped me one, the inside of my face swelled up like a sinus/ear infection, and I got a nice big can't-swallow lump in my throat after a bowl of homemade coconut milk-based ice cream. "Maybe it's the way it was processed? It can't be the coconut--I used to nibble shredded coconut out of the bag..."

Then I got the lip and face and throat swelling after having a piece of chocolate cake that had been touching a piece of cake with shredded coconut on it. "But...but...I had coconut curry soup and I was fine! And I use coconut oil in all my soaps!"

On the upside, it turns out the oil is [usually] safe, as the problematic protein is in the meat and milk and water.* You know, all the tasty parts. Also, I'd taken allergy medicine before eating the soup. Tricksy allergies!

Okay, fine, I don't eat coconut anymore.

Except no.

I peeled potatoes today, shedding the skin into a bowl that had previously covered the coconut cake. Lunch was fried potatoes, a cup of coffee, a reusable bottle of water, my 2x daily dose of penicillin (root canal, joy) and a swollen lip and throat and right hand.

What the...

Did I cross-contaminate the potatoes simply by peeling them into the ex-cake cover? Did I cross-contaminate the cup by handling it after the bowl, even though I didn't touch the inside of the bowl or the lip of the cup? Did I cross-contaminate the water bottle during the 'my cakes can't touch' issue, or after the coconut curry soup?

Did I touch a bit of counter on which coconut cooties had previously wafted from mere proximity to the cake? Was the plate I used for the finished potatoes previously used for coconut cake, and if so, how goddamn, do I need to bleach everything in the cupboard just in case?

Is this not cross-contamination at all, but a sudden allergy to penicillin too? Or did I touch the pill bottle after touching the potatoes after touching--GAH!

Mold and pollen and pet fur I can handle: basic cleaning, an air filter during bad spells, take my pills and wash my hands, blah blah blah. An allergy that practically requires me to become OCD might be out of my league.

Update: WOO! I am not allergic to coconut! One of my run-of-the-mill pollen/tree-spooge allergies was having a weird oral reaction to coconut. Once the spring allergies gave way to summer allergies, the coconut reaction went away. VICTORY!


* An allergist's website says the oil is safe. A friend spoke up to say (a) oh hey, me too, and (b) no, the oil is not necessarily safe.
mokie: Man with an old computer monitor for a head drinks through a straw (eljay drama)
The old joke is that Livejournal users hate Livejournal.

Most of it isn't really a Livejournal thing, but an Internet thing: once a website reaches a certain size, long-time users begin to reject all change to it. Not just the big stupid changes to functionality that break the way they've always used the site, either--even small, trivial changes get blown out of proportion. Every foaming-mad comment is really the user saying, "This is to please those new people, isn't it? What about me? I was here first!" It's not so much a rejection of change as it is a rejection of that loss of insider status.

But anyway.

What about this phenomenon at LJ makes it seem so silly?

How about a comment thread where an admin essentially reassures a Russian-speaking user that they can ask questions in their native tongue and be understood, and the English-speaking users wig out and accuse the admin of attacking the user for not asking questions in Russian?
mokie: Thelma Harper glares at the viewer (stfu)
I'm medicated, because it turns out I'm allergic to coconut. (Ooops.) It also turns out that Benedryl makes me chatty--more so than liquor, surprisingly. And thus you get the benefit of my doofy wisdom!

#1. Vaguebooking is punishing everyone who reads because one person pissed you off. It's throwing a rock into a group because you're angry and you want someone to pay attention. It's an act of verbal aggression, and should be met with equal aggression--call that shit out when you see it.

#2. I don't mean privately. Those "Are you OK?" private messages and emails are what the poster wants, someone to come and coddle them so they can spread their misery around without actually asking for help or dealing with the person they're upset with. It just feeds that godawful behavior.

#3. I don't mean nicely, either. Vaguebooking is punishing everyone because you're mad at one person. That's not nice behavior and it doesn't deserve a nice response.

#4. At the same time, I know sometimes folks are just looking to vent. They're not trying to passively-aggressively lash out at someone, they're not asking for help, they just need to release a little steam before the auto-smacking starts. The problem really comes in when they fail to notice that all of their blog posts or status updates or tweets or [insert next big thing in social media] are this kind of venting, because they're never actually socialling in their media--they're just sticking anyone who reads in the position of having to be their ear for venting, without ever giving anything but venting.

#5. And who the fuck wants to read a non-stop negativity engine, just churning out nothing but misery and spite? Fuck, at least toss people a cat picture once in a while.

#6. Ironically, this looks very much like vaguebooking. I'm aware of that. Two minutes before I loaded Semagic, the free-form rant flowing through my wobbly grey bits was all about avocados, so at least this is moderately relevant to the medium.

Edited for clarification: I could have also mentioned in #6 that what sparked the vaguebooking rant was some Buzzfeed article in passing, but that would have made too much sense.
mokie: A cardinal sits on an icy winter branch (cold)
There's nothing like being slammed with work to steal all the words right out of me.

It doesn't help that a large part of the work involves Googling terminology from specific fields. One fashion-related writing job, and for the next week Amazon and Buy.com send me emails about great sales in leggings, while Pinterest has oh so many fashion boards to share...
mokie: Clue's Ms White saying, "Flames on the sides of my face" (irritated)
"Is that canned chicken?"

With two bowls of slow-cooked and shredded chicken breast in the fridge? No. Why would I open a can of shredded chicken when I already have shredded chicken?

Ugh.

I prefer fresh ingredients over tinned veggies and heavily processed boxfuuds, not out of a puritanical fear of any edibles that come from a container but because I'm cheap: ingredients go farther than prepackaged meals, and I don't have to worry about the sugar/salt/fat tango*, or the corn/dairy industry shoehorning in fillers to earn those subsidies. I keep a good supply of tinned and boxed food on hand for weather troubles and scheduling issues, but generally access to fresh food isn't an issue, since I live within walking distance of two supermarkets and a summer veggie stand. Time isn't even an issue: in the same time it takes a Pinterest mama to pull up a "3 cans + 2 boxes = homemade meal!" recipe, open her boxes, Instagram it and throw it in the oven, I can have my ingredients sliced, diced and cooking.

It just doesn't make sense to rely on boxfuuds in my situation.

If I don't tell older relatives what the meal is made of, it's the tastiest damn thing they've ever put in their mouths. If I reveal that a meal doesn't contain at least one can of Campbell's Cream Of Soup, or one box of Cheezy Noodle Product, they look at the dish like it's toxic. I don't know if it's generally generational or just my family, but there seems to be some kind of deep distrust of, well, cooking. Like it's not food unless someone opened a box.

And forget leftovers. Forget any big meal meant to store or stretch over several days, unless it's boiled (to death) ham'n'beans. "Eh. I'm not in the mood for that." Mood? You don't get to be in the mood to waste $15 of chicken that you requested.

"Is that canned chicken?" Would she know the difference without asking? Nope. And yet she didn't want it unless it came from a can.

No wonder my grandfather was such a cheap bastard, if this was what he was up against.

If you're not quite ranted out after all this, I offer: The Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater


* It's difficult to maintain tastiness in a product meant to sit on a shelf for months at a time. Boxfuuds therefore rely a lot on salt, sugar and fat for flavor. If the box claims to be low in one, look over the ingredients carefully, because it's probably high in one (or both) of the others to make up for the cut.
mokie: Cartoon of an angry tea pot raging (drink tea)
What's the secret to green tea, mokie?

Time and temperature, mokie. Mostly time.

Experts suggest water heated to 160 - 180 °F for green tea, 190-ish °F for oolong and 212 °F for black, and argue over 140 °F or 212 °F for white, presumably debating whether to lower the temp because of the lower oxidation or raise it since herbals are given a full boil. Herbal experts, meanwhile, huff that just as you can't boil all teas, you can't boil all tisanes. (That's the proper name for an herbal tea, since they don't actually contain, you know, tea.) And yet more expert experts point out that there's a difference between Japanese and Chinese greens, and spring-plucked and summer-plucked greens. All that's before you even get into the Celsius conversions or the debate over whether greens should be steeped just 1 minute or 7 minutes...

And they wonder why green tea didn't take off in the US until Lipton started bottling it.

Let me make your life easier the Chinese granny way: 'shrimp eyes'.

For black tea, your water needs to come to a full raging boil, but when you put on the water for green tea, wait for little bubbles rising to the top, the size of--you guessed it--shrimp eyes. The next two steps up are 'crab eyes' and 'fish eyes', and they're well within the green tea range. If you think your bubbles are too big, or you've just lost track of time and hit full boil, turn the pot off and let it sit a minute or two. With a bit of practice, you'll be able to tell where your water is just by the sound of the kettle.

That said, time is the killer. Water that's too hot may leave you with a bitter green, but most greens, including those you're going to pick up from the shops, also become bitter or astringent if they're steeped too long. Most packaging on green teas is oblivious to this; people from countries that drink sugary coffee milkshakes and sugary milky black tea are told to steep their green teas up to 7 minutes, as if to confirm the healthy benefits of green tea we must first make it taste godawful. Trust me and aim for 3 minutes; if your cup is too weak/strong, you'll at least have a good reference point for adjusting the timing on the next pot.

Now that's out of the way...

What's the biggest problem with flowering teas, mokie?

Time and temperature, mokie. Mostly time.

First, let me explain (finally, halfway down the entry) that flowering teas are whole tea leaves tied together in such a way that, as they steep, they 'bloom' from a hard round ball into a floating 'flower' in the pot, often with actual flowers like jasmine at the center. It's also, according to some, a very pretty way to sell off really outdated tea stock, and I believe it, since I haven't had any yet that didn't taste stale.

Second, there's the issue of steeping time. A flowering tea starts out as a hard bound ball o' tea, but tea leaves need room to move and infuse--that's why bagged tea is chopped into tiny pieces (more surface area), and why tea balls are great for corralling herbs and herbals, but not so great for actual teas. It can take anywhere from 3 - 7 minutes for the outer leaves of a flowering tea to infuse enough that they unfold, and that means that while the outer leaves are oversteeping, the inner leaves aren't getting much room to infuse and expand at all. You can easily end up with a contrarily astringent cup of weak tea.

Which I did.

In the Bag:
Oh look, the actual review! The brand in the cup today is Primula's flowering green jasmine tea. It has several negative Amazon reviews which mention that the customers' tea arrived already several years old judging by the 'manufacture' date and/or expired. I find this perversely funny, since, again, flowering teas seem to be made exclusively from stale tea.

In the bag, this is a little knobby ball that smells a little dusty. No jasmine scent.

The Steepening:
Took forever.

The unfolding of the leaves and flowers into a little bouquet is the real point of flowering teas (more on that below), but this one underwhelmed me. The leaves are rolled and bound in such a way that it didn't gently bloom into a dainty bouquet, awaiting the oohs and aahs of onlookers, as much as it porcupined out into a delicate tea mine, awaiting passing U-boats.

The scent was also disappointing. The mark of any good jasmine tea is its ability to make you forget you're supposed to drink it, because you're too busy inhaling the aroma wafting off the pot, but jasmine barely showed up to the party in this tea.

The Verdict:
Weak, astringent, and not even particularly jasmine-ish? Blah.

I'll admit that the primary draw of flowering teas isn't the cup but the pot: they're not drinking teas, they're watching teas. If you're hosting a little girl's tea party (raiding party, whatever), and everyone's going to drink their flower tea with a heaping spoon of sugar and a handful of cookies anyway, then it's not a problem. They're also not too shabby for that relative who'll drink it and think, "Ah, so that's what a fancy tea tastes like," and then return to her Diet Coke quite pleased at having had fancy tea that one time.

If you want a drinking tea, though, flowering teas aren't the way to go. And if you want a watching tea, you can certainly do better than Primula's.

Happy New Year!

Friday, 4 January 2013 08:55 am
mokie: Stonehenge with the sun shining through the stones (holiday renewal)
Three days late for a new year post. Well, so much for that resolution...

Let's get right to business, shall we?

NEW
YEARS
RULIN'S


1. WORK MORE AND BETTER. I've been very fortunate in my current line of work, but I need to buckle down and more actively seek more of it. This means overcoming my oddly specific fear of work-related scheduling conflicts, a result of having to fight at three different retail jobs to make them respect my 'unavailable' days.

2. WORK BY A SCHEDULE. A new soap or related product every week! This year, I will keep the shop stocked.

3. Here's where I break from the Guthrie list, because the man has eight different hygiene-related resolutions, which is a little worrisome. So instead, I'll take one from a very cool project manager I know: PUT ON A BRA AND GO OUTSIDE. Between working from home and working night owl hours, it's easy for me to forget to put on real clothes and go outside every so often. While the fresh air may be trying to kill me, I could probably use the vitamin D, and the socialization.

4. DRINK GOOD. With all due respect to Mr Guthrie, I want to expand my alcoholic horizons this year, from trying out more of the local beers to adding some of the better reviewed absinthes to my liquor cabinet.

5. READ LOTS OF GOOD BOOKS AND WRITE EVERY DAY. When scheduling gets crazy, one of the first things to fall by the roadside is my own writing. The next is recreational reading. I miss both, and so this year, instead of being something to fit around the schedule, they're going to be part of the schedule. That includes staying on top of the journals, and getting older entries properly tagged. All thirteen years of them.

And a corollary: read less tabloid fodder and media gossip, view fewer celebrity photos. This isn't a new resolution for me. I was never big on gossip rags, and working in retail during Britney Spears' Very Bad Year, seeing her mental illness played out over rows of magazines every day for entertainment, didn't raise my opinion of them. Unfortunately it's easier to get sucked into gossip online, where you're often looking at a row of links to news stories mixed with a row of links to stories that shouldn't be considered news at all. ("The Senate passed a bill requiring--wait a minute, Lindsay Lohan did what?")

It also weirds me out that our celebrities have WWF-style heroes, villains, grudges and sob stories that are wheeled out as a form of advertising every time they have a movie coming out. That can't be healthy for us as a culture.

But mostly, it's the idea that being a celebrity means someone gives up their right to common respect and privacy--that they don't have the right to sit in their own yard without cameras peering over hedges, that they can't walk their kid to school without hiring someone to first push the press out of the way, or that it's acceptable to put lives at risk chasing them through traffic in search of that perfect shot. And for what? For a picture to put in a magazine intentionally designed to make the rest of us feel old, fat, ugly and unhip so we'll buy products to fix what isn't broken. Why feed that beast? Why pay anyone to make myself and a handful of famous strangers miserable, when I generally feel better not knowing or caring who's seeing/breaking up with/stalking who?

6. DON'T GET LONESOME. I'm not just an introvert, I'm one of those introverts that makes other introverts uncomfortable. But I've been slack when it comes to maintaining my social ties lately, so this year I'm going to make an effort not to be such a hermit--from a family game night with the nephew, to taking a friend up on an offer to tutor me in local beers.

7. LEARN PEOPLE BETTER. I've seen some cooing over Guthrie's self-awareness, and even a project on Tumblr about interviewing people to learn them better. As a girl with roots in southern Missouri, though, I suspect Woody was using 'learn' in the rural sense--that this really means "Teach people more effectively." That's how I'm taking it, albeit in a personal direction.

Though I rant about random topics that rile me and get way too cozy with the TMI, I'm really a pretty private person. I don't open up often or easily about my personal life, feelings, beliefs, relationship status--anything, really.

In my hesitation to become that friend who won't shut up about their cause or their boyfriend or their faith, I've become instead something of a relatable blank slate. The end result is that I find myself fairly often with an angry ___ who is upset because suddenly my experience/feeling/opinion/belief doesn't mesh with what they've projected onto me, and I'm not an angry ___ too. (It's usually atheists. Don't know why.) I'm never whatever enough to fit the idea they've formed of me, so they want to push me to their position, or lecture me on how wrong I am to not be like them, or tell me what I really am/believe (and you would not believe how much that pisses me off). There I am, left with the awkward choice of smoothing things over and putting up with their crap for the sake of peace, or telling them to fuck off and dealing with the fall-out. I admit that I lean more toward the latter these days, because life's too short to cater to other people's personal issues. But anyway.

Essentially, I need to open up more, and get comfortable with expressing who I am and what I think (etc.) a little more, and not worry so much about becoming that creepy friend who nags you for wearing leather, or being targeted by that creepy friend if I reveal that I'm not also a Baptist/vegan/UFOologist.

For the record: I'm a relatively liberal blue-haired bisexual hammock-dwelling pulp-reading hippie-ish single neopagan who eats meat, listens to whatever damn music feels good at the time, and really only feels strongly about reproductive rights and single spaces after sentences. (Never double. It's a relic of the printing press and HTML ignores it anyway. Let it go.) There's probably more worth adding, but nothing comes to mind at the moment. If you're conservative, don't eat meat, don't dig hammocks, listen only to K-pop, etc., it makes me no nevermind.

8. STAY GLAD. I used to live within walking distance of one of the world's greatest gardens; now I'm a tedious bus ride from any of the city's fun activities. I used to live beside a well-planted park, in a picturesque neighborhood that I wandered with a camera in hand; I now live in a closely packed neighborhood with bland lawns, where I feel like an intrusive guest even without the camera. I used to have my own little garden, with plantings older than I was and a makeshift pond; now I have a tiny patch of weedy dirt that I share with a rotating cast of neighbors who always, always, take it over and ruin it.

I've let this vague, sulky, gloomy dissatisfaction rule my roost far too long. I need to zhenzhizhenzhify my outlook! To look up and find the beauty in the moment and where I'm at, to look out over the neighborhood not as an intruder but as an explorer, to take bootyloads of photos and share them, if only to remind myself that it's not where my body is, it's where my head is.

9. SAVE DOUGH. Enough said, right?

10. LOVE EVERYBODY. And I do, even when I don't.
mokie: Cartoon of an angry tea pot raging (drink tea)
Earlier this year, I imposed a tea moratorium: not another box, pouch, brick or bag would I buy until my drinking was under control. Until my stash no longer took up its own kitchen cabinet. Until I no longer had more varieties than the grocery store. Until I could look at my supply and reasonably say, "Uh-oh, better buy more tea before I run out."

It wasn't easy. I ran out of my favorite blends one by one. I used up my runners-up. I forced myself to pitch the try-it-outs that didn't work out. But finally, in November, my stash was down to one basket on the kitchen counter. Sure, it was holding about a pound of tea, but seven or eight varieties, and most of those green, and shut up, I don't have a problem, you have a problem! with cold weather coming, I decided some black teas were in order.

Long story short: I've got new sippage, so you get new tea reviews!

One of my new regular vendors is the English Tea Store, purveyors of bulk tea and snackage from the UK. One of the teas I ordered was 4 oz of blackcurrant 'naturally flavored' loose leaf black tea, to see how it stacked up to my custom currant-y blend from Adagio Teas. I love the custom blend, but Adagio botched it twice in a row and their customer service leaves one wishing for the care and attention of, say, Charter or AT&T.

I also regularly order from Baltimore Coffee & Tea Company, because they own the Eastern Shore Tea Company, seller of loose leaf tea in white paper pouches with nifty labels and reusable muslin bags. I don't remember where Eastern Shore and I first met, but after a long dry spell, they turned up again sporadically in the shop at the Missouri Botanical Garden, tucked behind items on random shelves like they'd been stocked by someone who's never worked proper retail before little surprises. Though it's been a few years since I had their blackcurrant tea, named Black Raven in honor of Poe, I purchased a pound because I remembered it fondly.

In the Bag:
- The English Tea Store's blackcurrant contains blue and yellow petals--cornflower and sunflower, probably, since they're popular fillers these days. (I guess hibiscus has been retired.) The petals aren't in the sample photo and the ingredients only list black tea and 'natural flavor' (i.e. flavoring sprayed on the tea leaves), so either the site is outdated or you only get uncut tea in larger amounts.

The bag smells like perfume with a whiff of berry behind it, and the reviewers describe it as 'smooth and fruity', much like you'd expect from people who've never tasted blackcurrant-flavored anything before. Put the two together and it doesn't bode well.

- Eastern Shore Tea Co.'s blackcurrant is just flavor-spritzed tea with no petals or mystery bits, so it's already a step ahead. It smells like malty black tea and Ribena. Taste buds puckered, I had a brief flashback and wondered what markfinnMark's up to these days. Good signs!

The Steepening:
Plain cold tap water boiled in the electric kettle and a little hot tap water in the pots to swish off any dust from the tea--a general hazard of dried plant matter rubbing against itself in packaging. Each tea steeped long enough for me to put on coffee for the non-tea drinkers, and each poured mug was sniffed and sipped hot before cream and sugar, for thorough comparisons.

- The English Tea Store's blackcurrant is ridiculously floral, almost like a berry chamomile, with a strange oily mouthfeel. Maybe the base tea is too bright--it's all perfume and no fruit, especially as it cools down. The effect is less a nice blackcurrant tea than it is sipping regular tea out of your great-grandmother's powdered cleavage.

- Eastern Shore's blackcurrant is already gone. I finished the cup before I could write anything down. Dark, malty and tart and perfect for cold mornings and long novels.

The Verdict:
Oh, Black Raven, I'll never let you go again.

Meanwhile, a quick trip to Google [turned up a now-defunct link that] confirms that it's not me: the English Tea Store's blackcurrant tea is all wrong. Not just cornflower and sunflower petals, but blackberry (not blackcurrant!) leaves, which are the special ingredient that gives Celestial Seasoning teas its gritty "How do you fuck up herbal?" astringency, and mallow flowers, which Google proclaims floral and earthy, and which is on the list of ragweed relatives (along with chamomile) for allergy sufferers to avoid--which explains why I had to suck down ibuprofen and sinus meds after breakfast.

And, again, none of these are listed as ingredients on the packaging or the website, but now I've got an inkling why their Earl Grey left me sick as a dog...

Update: The now-defunct link was to a blogger who had requested a full list of ingredients for the tea. The blog's MIA, but the English Tea Store itself now lists ingredients, so that's good.
mokie: Ghostbusters' Vinz Clortho wears a collander and answers questions (nerdy)
First I flood you with dream entries, then my social ineptness, and now nitpickity book talk. I bet this isn't the exciting chronicle of chronic excitement you thought it would be.

For those who believe there's nothing as boring as hearing someone else's dreams, let me reassure you that I don't usually remember and record them this often, and this recent burst of dream entries probably won't last. For those uninterested in my social ineptness, you and my mother both. For those who don't care what I'm reading, take solace in the fact that I at least cut the spoilers. Unless you're reading by RSS, which I hear ignores cuts, in which case...oops?

Now, onto the nitpickity book talk!

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm twitchy about genres. There are genres for settings (westerns), genres for audience (young adult), genres about types of relationships (romance), genres that include unreal elements (fantasy), genres that include unreal elements that could be real maybe (science fiction), genres about types of relationships that include unreal elements (paranormal romance, though arguably chick lit would fit here too), genres within genres, genres overlapping genres, an entire wide swath of fiction dismissively dubbed 'genre'. It's chaos!

It irks me.

I look upon my shelves of science fiction/fantasy and sigh with relief at the convenient compromise that is 'speculative fiction'. I glance at the horror shelves and wince at the idea of a genre based not on the book, but on how the reader reacts to the book. I organize my nonfiction shelves by the Dewey Decimal System because it makes sense.

So I was happy to stumble on The King of Elfland's Second Cousin's entry "Ephemeral Horror and the Diffusion of Genre Markers" even if it wasn't about ephemeral horror, as I thought, but about horror as an ephemeral genre, which is something of an ephemeral horror. This will start making sense any minute now, I promise.

The following points made my inner M&M sorter very happy:

#1. "[W]e categorize stories based on the conventions they employ and the devices that show up within their texts. Spaceships, time travel, aliens? Let’s call it science fiction. Magic and knights? Let’s go with fantasy. [...] These devices, the objects and tropes of most genres, can easily be slapped on a cover to communicate the story’s category to booksellers and readers."

Sometimes, in my flailing about order and chaos and systems for big cohesive pictures, I lose sight of the tiny common sense trees--namely, that 'genre' is just a fancy French word for 'kind', and is not, never was, and never will be some high and mighty literary infrastructure. It's just a big mental box into which vaguely similar stories are tossed so that the stuff you like is near the other stuff you like, so you can find more stuff you like.

#2. "Horror lacks the constraints that more solidified genre conventions impose. We can write a horror story – like Shirley Jackson’s classic 'Flower Garden' – without a single element of the supernatural or the inexplicable. [...] This freedom means that – in order to be effective – horror must sneak past the reader’s natural defenses, must directly speak to the reader’s perceptions, values, and fears. This is the kind of deep-seated, emotional and perceptual communication that the literary fiction genre has traditionally claimed for itself. But where literary fiction uses such emotional and philosophical intimacy to explore comfortably distanced morality, horror uses a highly sensitized point-of-view to get as close to the nerve as possible, to map even the most painful experiences from the inside."

It's a fantastic parallel: like a good horror story, the horror genre is about wandering into the dark and unfamiliar room to check out that bump you just heard.

I've argued the merits of horror with haters before, and pointed out that like fancy pants literary fiction, good horror says something about the viewer and society (and not just "We watch movies with naked co-eds taking a hatchet to the face"). To play on our fears, horror has to be able to get into our heads and push the buttons it finds there.

#3. No quote here, because it's a bit too spread out, but the point is brilliant: there are (of course) horror tropes, except when we become too used to them, they stop being horror tropes.

When horror begins relying on tropes to define it, those tropes cease to be scary, and in a fundamental way, the works that feature them stop being horror. Once the tropes are no longer new and unsettling--once we know them by heart--we begin to redefine and re-imagine them. We turn vampires into moody romantic leads, disfigured undead serial killers into comedians, and the lonely werewolf from an alienated loner into a member of a highly organized underground society of walking AIDS metaphors.

It won't make me change how I organize my reviews, but it does have me rethinking the horror movies of my youth.
mokie: A girl in a bathtub wearing a snorkel (hair)
'OM-bray' is Spanish for 'man' (hombre), from the Latin root hominem, and has nothing to do with hair.

'Om-brr' is French for 'shade' or 'shadow' (ombre), from the Latin root umbra (which also gives us the color umber), and is used to describe a hair coloring effect featuring gradation in shades--usually dark roots with lightened tips as if a dye job is growing out, but sometimes a dip-dye of less natural colors.

'Om-brah', spelled ombré, is not a real word, and people should stop using it.

Update: Okay, I'm wrong, it is a real word (French for 'shaded') and not just people slapping an accent mark onto a word because they think French words all have those. Though the French term for hair is used in plural (les cheveux), so wouldn't the adjective also be used in plural (ombrée?), and unless I'm mistaken (again) still not pronounced 'OM-bray' or 'om-brah'? Oh, but it doesn't matter--all of this is entirely irrelevant, because Google suggests that the actual term used in French for this trend is, in fact, shit thee not, not cheveux ombré(e) but simply ombré hair.

It's a bit like finding out that chop suey is an entirely American dish, and Chinese restaurants are just humoring us.
mokie: A patriotic squirrel holding an American flag (politics lol)
Courtesy of The Riverfront Times: Missourians File Petition With White House to Secede From Union (Leah Greenbaum, 12 November 2012).

Well, not quite: "The Missouri petition was filed on Saturday and currently has 2,231 signatures (a great number of them from out of state)." (Emphasis mine.) I'm going to cry foul though, not because lol, rednecks!, but because Get in line! St. Louis has been trying to secede from Missouri for a while now (and regain control of its police force from the state government), and I think that should be settled before the red bits of the state decide to go gallivanting off.

Though I think we're in line behind Puerto Rico, so this may take a while...
mokie: Cartoon of an angry tea pot raging (drink coffee)
The climate is changing, and the important issue isn't whether this change has been caused by man or is merely influenced by human activities.

No, friends. The issue is how do we save the coffee?
Running Arabica’s chances against three emission scenarios, over three timescales (2020, 2050 and 2080), and with a geographical resolution of 1 Km for the plant’s Ethiopian homeland, the models “showed a profoundly negative influence on the number and extent of wild Arabica populations”, Kew says. (Richard Chirgwin, "Coffee next on climate chopping-block: The looming ARABICA APOCALYPSE," The Register 10 November 2012)
This is how the zombie apocalypse starts.

Or the Rage virus pandemic, because I will surely beat someone to death without coffee.
mokie: A vintage image of a girl and kitten smiling (pets)
Back near the end of July, during that fun 3-month heat wave/drought combo platter, I got a call from Zaphod, my nephew, asking if I would take in a stray kitten he found. It had been hiding under some bushes near his house, panicking at the passing cars and panting in the heat, and it had been out there for a while.

But you know young animal lovers. A baby bird on the ground must be in dire danger, a bunny out of its burrow must need rescuing from any potential threats, and a kitten under a bush must be lost and in need of saving. I gave reluctant and conditional permission: I'd bring the kitten in, check it out, and let it get some water and cool off, but in all likelihood it was simply an outdoor cat trying to dodge him.

A few minutes later, my sister came up the street with the boy and a couple of neighborhood kids, and I realized it wasn't just Zaphod being oversensitive. The kitten wasn't starved, but it did seem a little bony and dehydrated, and it was petrified by every sound, from random dog barks a block away to squealing tires a few streets over.

That's how Maynard came to us.

The fact that he was so affectionate, and so willing to be lugged around and snuggled by Zaphod, told us that Maynard was most definitely not a feral cat, but he did like to dodge out the door--and then freeze on the porch, as if asking himself what he'd just done. We were banking on Maynard being a local kitten who'd darted out one day and not been able to get back in, so we checked grocery store bulletin boards, looked for Lost Cat posters, posted notices online, and the nephew said he even put up a Found Cat notice near his apartment building.

Nothing. Poor thing. I'd only saddled him with the name 'Maynard' because I thought he'd just be here a day or two.

As the month creeped by, the other possibility started to look more like a probability. Maynard was (I would guess) eight or nine months old, at that gangly stage where cats stop being cute and start knocking things over in earnest, and we live in a neighborhood dominated by apartment buildings, with a lot of turnover in the summer months. It was all too possible that someone simply decided they didn't want a kitten anymore, or was moving and didn't want to lug him along.

Due to a human medical emergency earlier this year, Ming and Murphy's visit to the vet to be fixed ended up being pushed back, but with a second intact male in the house, procrastination was no longer an option. Last week I called the vet to ask if they check for microchips as a last ditch effort to find Maynard's previous owners, and made an appointment for all three cats to be vaccinated. (It's required at least two weeks before spaying/neutering, even for indoor cats.)

I didn't even need to fully explain to the vet. I started with, "There are a lot of apartments..." and she knew where it was going. How's that for depressing?

Ming's check-up included an ultrasound to be sure there were no surprises. While the vet saw some fluid in her uterus, there were no signs of kittendom, so she was vaccinated and yowled all the way home about it. Kitty PMS!

Maynard's check-up revealed no chip and no health problems. He's now vaccinated and officially a member of the family. He took it so well, the vet's assistant dubbed him 'loverboy'.

Murphy's check-up took place in the office sink, since he felt a little less exposed there. He's about as social as I am--we both hide when new people come into the apartment--so I was surprised he was willing to come out of the carrier at all. The exam revealed a blocked eye duct and problematic tooth, possibly allergy/sinus related since the weepy eye seemed to act up most often when the people-allergies flared up. The vet warned that vaccinations and antibiotics together could make him feel sick, but I figured a little sick was better than stressing him out with a string of vet visits. Two minutes after we got home, he felt so sick that he bounded up the cat tower, flung himself at Maynard, dodged a swipe from Ming and rolled across the rug chasing absolutely nothing.

And everyone was happy to be home.
mokie: A child lays in a bed built into a bookshelf, reading (reading)
Old, by this point, but still irks me every time it comes up: "The Hunger Games is just a rip-off of Battle Royale!"

Says people who (a) have read neither, (b) have not bothered to compare the stories beyond "teens fighting to the death!", and (c) are not familiar with the dystopian genre in which "fight to the death for the entertainment of the masses!" is a relatively common trope.

The statement implies that Battle Royale came up with this concept. As someone who spent her tween years in the science fiction/fantasy section of the library (and who knows the Greek myth that The Hunger Games author cites as an influence), that alone pisses me off to no end. More importantly, it ignores the plot and themes of Battle Royale, and its commentary on Japanese culture, all for the sake of reducing the story to 'teenage gladiators' so someone can snark and pretend they're so much more in-the-know, so much better, than the unwashed American masses reading the latest popular book.

It's snark that insults both stories, not just the intended target.

Then again, the snark has gotten Netflix to license the "Battle Royale" film adaptation and its sequel, so it's not all bad...
mokie: Text, "Fuck politics, I just want to burn shit down" (politics)
The upside of getting steady work is that it means steady pay.

The downside is that, because it's writing and editing, by the end of the day I don't feel like doing more digging and sorting and taping-together of meaningful words. So I piece together a few notes for a post or a rant, and vow to come back and flesh it out the next day. A few weeks later I spot the file, when the world and I are both out of steam on the issue.

For example, the whole contraception kerfluffle. Who said anything about asking taxpayers to pay for birth control? Most people just want their own insurance, insurance that they pay for with their premiums and their co-pays, to cover their medical needs adequately. And contraception is medication: forms of contraception are used to treat a variety of medical needs of which birth control is indeed one, but only one--and not a damn one of those medical needs is anybody's business but the patient's and her doctor's. For that matter, neither is her sex life. No woman should be obliged to give her employer her medical records and full disclosure of how much dick she is or isn't getting to justify receiving medication that her doctor prescribed.

Why should anyone's employer get a say in their medical care anyway? Who made CEOs experts in health care? Would a Muslim employer get to override a heart transplant if doctors decided that I needed a baboon heart? Would a Jehovah's Witness have a say in whether I received a vital blood transfusion? Would a Scientologist get to nix my prescription for antidepressants and send me in for an 'audit' instead? Would I have to sit down in a Christian Science prayer circle and hope that fixed a cancerous mass instead of seeking actual medical attention? If it's all about not asking an employer to violate his 'morals and beliefs', will racists be able to dictate that their employees only see white doctors? My freedom of religion should include the right not to have my employer's religion dictate my health care choices.

But I'm all out of rant about it. Now it's just a sad resignation to the idea that some people don't get how contraception works or why it's necessary.

Or the whole SOPA/PIPA debacle. I saved a lovely quote from TechDirt just for the occasion, but even with Obama hinting at another round of that inanity, I can't work up the oomph to do more than nod:
"What they might not have known -- because the RIAA never wants to admit this -- is that the overall music industry is growing, not shrinking. Sure, the dollar value of music sales has shrunk, and perhaps it's because of file sharing, but the overall music industry -- including things like concerts, licensing and publishing -- has continued to rise, quite significantly. More importantly, these are the parts of the business where artists actually keep a much larger percentage of the money -- meaning that artists are significantly better off today than they were in the past, contrary to what Sherman and the RIAA will tell you."
For example: Bandcamp and Noisetrade. Go forth and support an artist on their own terms.

But I digress.

Now that work has quieted down some and I can think up words for fun and pleasure again, I've found I'm pretty much out of things to apply them to.

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mokie: Earthrise seen from the moon (Default)
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About dream/reading tags

y-* tags categorize dreams.

For types: beyond the obvious, there are dreamlets (very short dreams), stubs (fragment/outline of a partially-lost dream), gnatter (residual impression of a lost dream).

For characters: there are roles (characters fitting an archetype), symbols (characters as symbols), and sigils (recurring figures with a significance bigger than a single dream's role/symbolism).

x-* tags categorize books.

Material is categorized primarily by structure, style and setting. If searching for a particular genre, look for the defining features of that genre, e.g. x-form:nonfic:bio, x-style:horror, x-setting:dystopian.

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