Muffler Man sighting

I forgot to post this at the time, but we spotted a Muffler Man just off Highway 51 in Macon, Ill., when we went to visit Ron’s family just before Christmas:

Excuse the shoddy image quality. My iPhone camera has been acting the fool ever since I installed iOS 7. 😡


Based on the odd proportions and the non-standard hand positions, I think this guy is a latter-day variant and not an original M-Man. Awesome that he’s holding a giant fiberglass ice-cream cone. If you go see him, stop at the convenience store nearby, grab a snack and a drink, and pay your respects to the Macon Ironmen trophy.


Carnies and Buckfasts and Italians — oh, my!

It’s 22 degrees outside, and snow is in the forecast for tomorrow, but I’m not paying any attention to winter’s tantrums at all, because my mind is already assembling frames and dumping boxes of bees into hives.

One summer without bees was about as much as I can handle, so I’m really amped about the fact that Ron has placed an order for some more of those ornery Buckfasts from Texas and made an appointment to pick up a nuc of Carniolan-Italian hybrids from an ol’ boy over in Stoddard County in April.

I can be content without many things, but an apiary is not one of them. It’s been way too long since I suited up and popped open a hive. I expect this will be the sweetest spring ever.


The effects of bullying, Part 2

This is the third entry in an occasional series on how being picked on as a kid influenced the sort of adult I turned out to be.

I read an article yesterday about a nonprofit organization that picked up the tab for a 15-year-old girl’s rhinoplasty because she was tired of being “that girl with the big nose.”

My heart broke for her.

I very easily could have become That Girl With The Big Nose. I basically have the profile of an Afghan hound — all snout and legs and hair — and I was a spectacularly awkward child. I didn’t grow into my face until I was 23.

When I was a kid, a favorite game among some of the boys in my class was to pick an unpopular girl (frequently me) and pretend to have a crush on her. The ringleader would shower his target with wildly exaggerated compliments and over-the-top professions of love. The goal was to find a girl gullible enough to take him seriously, because what could be funnier than an unattractive girl mistakenly believing somebody loved her? That’s right up there with fart jokes and belching the alphabet.

I never fell for it. Instead, I learned to be deeply skeptical of compliments on my appearance, especially from men. I was well into my twenties before I could acknowledge such compliments without inwardly cringing, and I’m still not comfortable accepting them.

But in my skepticism, there was something else I never fell for, either: the sexist notion that my value depended on my appearance.

I figured out pretty quickly that once the pecking order was established, I would be considered the ugliest girl in our class whether it was true or not. But I also understood that looks weren’t everything — so while I couldn’t help being the Ugly Girl, I could make sure that wasn’t the sum of my identity. I was the Ugly Girl, but I was also the Smart Girl, the Feminist, the Journalist, the Artist, the Liberal, the Hippie and several other labels I chose for myself, and I was just noisy enough that people had to acknowledge them.

I hope our young rhinoplasty patient has a few other identities to fall back on, because if she doesn’t, “that girl with the big nose” is just going to become “that girl with the big nose who had plastic surgery,” and her detractors — having learned that she can be bullied into making life-altering decisions just to get people off her back — will find another excuse to target her so they can feel powerful.


Warm drink on a cold day.


It’s cold out, and getting colder. We’re supposed to get several inches of snow before the day is out, and we’re looking down the barrel of subzero temperatures. Days like this make me miss my woodstove. I hope the guy who bought our old house is enjoying it. Today would be a good day to have posole simmering on the stove.


A road trip was out of the question today, so Ron and I just went to breakfast at the Sands Pancake House on Highway 61, made a trip to the hardware store and then spent part of the early afternoon at the Sears tire shop after pulling into the driveway and noticing one of the tires on the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcar looked low.

When we got back, Ron started laundry, and I put a clothesline in the basement so we don’t have to run the dryer so much.

Now I’m just sitting around listening to Joan Baez and sipping ginger lemonade while the snow falls outside.

Ginger lemonade is nice on a cold day — warm and spicy, and it tastes like candy. Here’s the recipe, in case you’re cold, too:


1. Start with fresh ginger root. You can get it in the produce section of just about any grocery store. It’s a popular ingredient in Asian food, so a lot of stores keep it near the bean sprouts and snow peas.


2. Cut off a chunk about an inch long and peel it.


3. Use a garlic press to mince the ginger and squeeze the juice into a microwave-safe cup. You may have to cut it into smaller pieces and squeeze it several times to get it minced up. It’s OK if it doesn’t all mince; the juice is the important part.



4. Squeeze a lemon into the cup.


5. Add honey to taste and microwave about 30 seconds, then add enough water to fill the cup and microwave for another minute or two until it’s good and warm. Stir it up and add more honey if needed.


6. Enjoy with a warm blanket and your favorite folk record. Ginger will warm you up from the inside out.

Stay warm, wherever you are.


Eco-Saturday: LED lightbulbs

Install LED bulbs in light fixtures to save energy. (The ambient light I used to shoot this photo came from the LED bulb in the overhead fixture, incidentally.)

Today is the first-ever Eco-Saturday here on the blog. Throughout 2014, I’ll be offering tips and ideas to help you reduce your environmental impact — and in many cases, your expenses, too.

Let’s kick things off with something good and cost-effective: LED lightbulbs.

I bought my first LED bulb from Thinkgeek in 2007. I’ve bought a lot of cool things from Thinkgeek, but that bulb wasn’t one of them. I think I gave $36 for it, which was the early-adopter fee for an intriguing bit of technology that clearly was not yet ready for primetime:

Good for a reading lamp, but worthless for most other purposes.

Like most technology, however, LED bulbs improved. The problem with the early ones, aside from the ridiculous price tag, was that LEDs produce an intense but highly directional light, and the manufacturers hadn’t quite figured out how to diffuse that light. My expensive bulb worked fine in my desk lamp, where I could point it directly at whatever I was reading, but it wasn’t so great in overhead fixtures, as it lit only one spot instead of illuminating the whole room.

The developers have sorted out that problem, and seven years later, LED bulbs are easy to find (most big-box lumberyards carry them); reasonably priced (if you catch a sale, they’re comparable in price to the CFL spirals we all know and love); and illuminate a room as well as an incandescent.

Better diffusion lets the new bulbs throw more light. This is the one we have over the kitchen sink.

A 4.5-watt LED bulb will produce more light than a 13-watt CFL or a 40-watt incandescent, and during cold weather, LEDs work better than CFLs in outdoor fixtures. They also last longer, tend to cooperate better with dimmer switches, don’t contain mercury, are nearly impossible to break, and pay for themselves over time. That last bit pretty much makes them a no-brainer.

If you can’t afford to replace all your bulbs at once, start with the fixture you use most and go from there, swapping out a bulb or two at a time as you have the funds.

One caveat: Some LED bulbs come in weird shapes or sizes, so if you have a multi-bulb fixture with a globe on it, it’s a good idea to buy just one bulb to make sure it will fit before you try to replace all of ’em.


Vegan Friday: Black bean chili

Black bean chili garnished with avocado, olives and vegan sour cream.
Chili makes January suck less.

Let’s face it: January sucks. About the only thing I can say for it is that it’s great chili weather — and chili is one of the easiest vegan meals you can make.

Mmm … shallots.

1. Start by chopping up a small onion or large shallot.


2. Saute it in a little olive oil. Once it’s browned, add two or three cloves of minced garlic.

Add beans, tomatoes and chiles.

3. Add a can each of chopped green chiles, diced tomatoes and black beans. I drain the beans and rinse them before I add them to the pan. I don’t remember why I do that, but somebody (my mom, probably) told me it was a good idea.

Season to taste.

4. Season with chili powder and cumin.

5. Stir and bring to a boil. At this point, you can either cut back the heat and let it simmer, dish it up into containers to take to work, or serve it immediately. If you let it rest a few hours, the flavors will blend nicely. (If you want, you can add a tablespoon of cocoa powder or a splash of red wine along with the tomatoes to expedite that process.)

The finished product.

Also, keep in mind this is just a starting point. You can add green pepper if you have some on hand. For a meatier texture, add a handful of bulgur wheat or texturized vegetable protein. Want it thinner? Add water or tomato juice. Thicker? Add a little cornmeal. Hotter? Throw in a finely chopped serrano pepper. Feeding an army? Double or triple the recipe, or stretch it by serving it over rice or pasta. You get the idea. I made mine more photogenic by adding avocado slices, a dollop of Tofutti vegan sour cream and some sliced olives.


Make this your resolution.

I’m not cool with all the body-shaming that Madison Avenue heaps on people (especially women), but eating less junk food and exercising regularly are good for most people regardless of weight or body type, so if you rushed out to buy a gym membership today — congratulations!

That said, if your resolution involves more exercise, please also resolve to be courteous to others who have the same goal.

A few tips for newbies:

1. At the gym, leave the equipment at least as clean as you found it.

2. If you need to take a call or respond to a text message mid-workout, please don’t do it while sitting on a weight bench or standing on a treadmill with the belt stopped. Other people may be waiting to use that equipment. Don’t tie it up while you socialize.

3. Put away equipment when you’re done using it.

4. Before you get on the track, ask a staff member which direction you’re supposed to go, which lane you’re supposed to be in, and whether that changes from day to day. And NEVER walk side-by-side on a narrow track or trail.

5. Cyclists: If you’re approaching someone from behind, please call out, “On your left” or “On your right” before you pass.

6. Pedestrians: On narrow trails, please yield to cyclists, skateboarders and rollerbladers. It’s a lot safer and easier for you to step off the trail than it is for them.

7. Skaters: For safety’s sake, please pick up your board and walk in congested areas.

8. On public streets: Pedestrians should go against the flow of traffic; cyclists should go with it. This reduces the risk of serious injury in the event of a collision.

9. Dog owners: In public spaces, keep your pet on a sturdy, short (six feet or less) leash, and clean up after him/her. If you aren’t willing to pick up poop, you don’t need pets. Oh, and burn that retractable leash. Seriously. They’re useless.

Got any other tips for newbies? Share ’em in the comments!