20 December 2012

money and fear

Recently, I asked myself the question, "Why is it that money can cause me more stress, and more terror, than almost anything else?"

It's a conundrum. We don't have a lot of money, and never have, and our lives are in flux right now, but we'll manage. Because we always do. In the past, when things have been really tight, we've always made it. Personally, I think it's that God always comes through, rather than us doing it on our own. I mean, seriously. I'm not an idiot with money, but I've never been brilliant with it, either. I hate dealing with bills and bank stuff. I really do. It kind of drives me nuts, and my personality type is of the kind that wants to avoid the things that make me nuts. Usually I try to buckle down and deal with it, despite wanting to stick my head in the sand. And yet...at the end of the day, we have a roof over our heads and we have food.

So what does all the stress and fear surrounding money mean for me? Is it a lack of trust? A lack of confidence in my and my husband's abilities to do what we need to do? A matter of wanting the wrong things when it comes to our finances? That is, wanting to be financially stable without doing that much to achieve it, or valuing money more than I value the things I say are more important?

I already know I'm more materialistic than I want to be. Ideally, stuff wouldn't matter all that much to me, and I'd able to be calm about dealing with money, rather than terrified. How much have I really bought into our culture's focus on materialism, despite my desire to be free of it? Why do I have so much stuff, and do I really need most of it?

These are questions I find myself asking a lot lately. I don't have too many solid answers, other than realizing that I need to figure out why I react so strongly when it comes to money problems (e.g., the bank screws something up, and I freak out about it, because it's so frustrating to get it fixed), and why this, of all things, triggers my conflict-avoidance tendencies. Conflicts with other people are so much easier to deal with somehow, and I've never known why. It's easier to deal with my fears about relationships than my fears about money. Why?

J.'s theory is that it's because money's harder to control in some ways. Unexpected things that cost money happen, and you don't have any authority over them. Car breaks down. Someone gets sick. Rent goes up. And that's terrifying. Fears about money add to the stress of something that's already difficult. True enough, but I wish I could control my reactions better. It'd certainly be easier to deal with things calmly (although since that's J.'s typical operating procedure, two of us being calm all the time might get boring).

Well, now I have a whole new list of things to talk to my counselor about. Yay!

12 December 2012

Redeeming the Fruitcake

My family didn't really do fruitcake when I was a child. I'm not sure if this is because my mother didn't feel like baking it and didn't see the point in buying it, or because she felt there were plenty of sweet things around at the holidays, and she didn't need to add to the sugar overload. I know that my grandparents like fruitcake, but I don't recall it ever being out on the dessert table at family Christmas (and believe me, their dessert table was impressive). The only time I've ever had fruitcake at their house was when we were there several weeks after I made my very first fruitcake, and was telling them about it.

I'd heard the jokes about fruitcake, but since I hadn't really encountered it (except for the fruitcake used as a prop in a series of sketches my drama class did for Christmas in grade 7), I didn't really have an aversion to it. Nor did I have a preference for it. I liked candied cherries, but raisins were only good cooked, in my opinion, and I've never been overly fond of nuts. Then off I went to university, and suddenly encountered the cornucopia of fruitcakes at Christmas-time in the grocery store.

I hadn't noticed this before, despite going grocery shopping with my mum quite frequently, so I am inclined to ascribe it to the American/Canadian difference. Americans don't seem to embrace fruitcake quite as passionately as Canadians do. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. I may have just been frequenting the wrong grocery stores before I emigrated, and been surrounded by non-fruitcake-eating people.

To go back to the grocery store, I was curious. So I bought a fruitcake from Save-On and brought it back to my dorm and nibbled on it for months. It was rather intense, and there were too many nuts, and the icing on top was absurd. But I liked the fruit part.

The fruit was really the only part I did like. A store-bought fruitcake is really mostly fruit and nuts, held together by the tiniest amount of cake batter. It falls apart into a sticky heap if you look at it cross-eyed, and it tastes of too many bizarre preservatives, since they can't sell extremely alcoholic fruitcakes in a grocery store. And sadly, the liquor store just sells liquor, not cake.

After J. and I got married between third and fourth year university (yes, we're crazy, but it's worked out well so far), I embarked on fruitcake-making that Christmas (I would have tried it earlier, but I'd lived on campus before that, and our university had a no-alcohol-on-campus policy. Well, technically, at that time, they had a no alcohol, period policy, which has since been relaxed. My paranoia about getting caught with a giant bottle of brandy in my hand as I made cake kept me from making fruitcake while still living there). My first fruitcake was okay, but I've since played around with my favourite recipe (I don't remember where it came from at this point; my copy has no citations) and come up with a variation that I, at least, like much better. J. likes it, too, but he'll eat almost anything if it's made of cake.

My recipe eliminates the nuts and chopped citron. I tried the citron, and I just didn't like the flavour it gave the cake. Out it went. I increased the amount of candied cherries in proportion. I switched in brandy for the sherry, and added more of it, and starting pouring it on the cake to help the aging process. I skipped the suggested garnishes (if I didn't like the citron in the cake, I didn't think I was going to like marmalade on top. Plus, it would make the cake needlessly sticky. Have I mentioned before that stickiness truly bothers me? Heaven knows how I'll cope with children).

The cake ends up moist, a little chewy, a little crumbly, and rather alcoholic. It's a dark fruitcake, because light fruitcakes seem like a waste of time. Well, not really. I just prefer the dark fruitcake, the way I prefer dark beer. A slice of it goes very well with hot black tea with milk in. It's quite rich, and I'm sure it's calorie-laden, so you'll probably start to feel full after a single slice.

December 2012's Fruitcake

Fruit Cake

1/2 cup currants

generous 1 cup raisins

1/2 cup sultanas (or golden raisins, if you can't find sultanas)

1/2 cup (or a little more) glacé cherries

1/2 cup brandy, divided

3/4 cup butter, at room temperature

scant 1 cup dark brown sugar

2 size 1 eggs, at room temperature

1 3/4 cups plain flour

2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. each ground ginger, allspice, and cinnamon

1 tbsp. milk
1 tbsp. golden syrup (This is not corn syrup or molasses, for those unfamiliar with golden syrup. It's a sugar syrup that's a by-product of the sugar refining process and has a distinct caramel-like aftertaste. The darker kinds are usually just called treacle, but you want the golden kind here)

At least a day in advance, combine the dried fruit and cherries in a bowl. You may change the balance of dried fruit if desired, so long as it all adds up to about 2 cups (dried cherries do well in this, as do golden raisins rather than sultanas). Stir in 1/4 cup of the brandy, cover and soak overnight. Feel free to let soak for a couple of days, adding more brandy if desired.

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F. Line and grease a 9x3 inch springform tin with greaseproof paper. If you don’t have a springform pan, grease and flour a 9 inch cake tin. Place a tray of hot water on the bottom of the oven.

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices together three times. Fold into the butter mixture in three batches. Fold in the syrup, milk, dried fruit, and liquid, adding the second 1/4 cup brandy.

Spoon into the tin, spreading out so there is a slight depression in the centre. Bake for about 2 1/2—3 hours. When the top is golden, pour a capful or two of brandy over the cake, then cover with foil to prevent over-browning.

Cool in the tin on a rack for about 10 minutes. Pour another capful or two of brandy over the cake while it cools. Turn it out onto the rack to finish cooling, and pour more brandy over the bottom of the cake.

When it is cool, wrap it in parchment paper and store either in a sealed container or a sealed ziplock bag. Sprinkle with brandy every once in a while, to help the aging process. You may eat it right away, of course, but it will be better if it has aged for a week or three.

11 December 2012

DIY Christmas and Body Scrub Recipe

Making Christmas gifts: the aftermath
The picture above illustrates the chaos that is my kitchen table. We're supposed to send off the gifts for the in-laws this evening with J's sister, who is spending Christmas with them, and in my usual fashion, I had procrastinated. Partly this is because they can be difficult to buy for: they already have everything they need and most of what they want, and J. and I don't have lots of money. While I'm sure my father-in-law would be thrilled with a newer, fancier telescope (he's an amateur astronomer, among other things), we simply can't afford one. Same with his mum and her harp-playing. I could have tracked down some harp music, but there aren't any really good music shops in our town, so I'd probably have to go on an adventure in downtown Vancouver, and I haven't been in the mood for that sort of thing lately. It's a 2-3 hour bus and Skytrain rain, depending on the destination, and it is cold and wet outdoors (I'm not a wuss, I just don't want pneumonia this winter).

Anyway, searching for Christmas gift ideas led me, as usual, to making things. It's more interesting, and honestly, less stressful than running around the mall. And it can be more affordable. In this case, yes (although since I had to buy ingredients to make face cream and lip balm, I spent a little more than planned, but now I have supplies to choose from for making lotions and lip balms). As you can see from the above picture, I made a lot of lip balm. Lip balm for everyone!

I'd show off pictures of some of the completed things I made, but I already wrapped them (they don't read this blog, to my knowledge, so there'd be no problem with surprises). I made a table runner, turned a piece of an inkle band into a bookmark, made a couple of hair ornaments (ribbon work is way harder than it looks, btw), and then the lip balm and face cream, which will become gifts for more than just my mum-in-law and sisters-in-law. My mum gets some, and so do my cousins and grandmother (probably). This was mostly in the last couple of days, and I even managed to fit in a very long walk around town to get ingredients that has, for some reason, left me hobbling around the apartment like I have arthritis. I'm probably too young for that, since I'm not even thirty yet (and no, I don't have juvenile arthritis or early-onset arthritis or whatever it's called), so I think it's just a pulled muscle somewhere in my thigh that makes it feel like my hip is 80, even though the rest of me isn't. I'm blaming it on the long walk in the cold and wet. There was lots of rain, and it's been hovering around 5 C this week, which isn't so bad. Unless you're soaking wet.

The DIY Christmas gifts haven't stopped there: I have a ukulele strap planned, as well as a couple other random things. We'll see where it goes. I think I prefer this version of Christmas craziness to the rummaging through the bookstore trying to find something that the recipient will enjoy and not be offended by.

Last week I experimented a little with making a sugar scrub, with the thought of making more, also as gifts. I quickly learnt that I prefer salt scrubs. They're less sticky, and made on the same principles.
Brown sugar scrub
This is a vanilla and brown sugar scrub. It works, but I recommend using it in the shower, rather than in the bath, like I did.

Vanilla Brown Sugar Body Scrub
2 cups brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar, but golden brown sugar would also work)
oil (I used olive this time, but would recommend almond or coconut--they're a little more moisturising and I prefer the scents of those to that of olive oil in a body product)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Scoop the brown sugar into a bowl. Drizzle some oil in and mix sugar and oil together with a spoon, adding oil until the scrub reaches the desired consistency. Add the vanilla and mix well. Put in a jar with a decent seal. Use a body scrub, preferably in the shower, for easier clean-up.

You can alter the dimensions of the recipe pretty easily, since it's "add oil until you're happy with it" and then tossing in some vanilla extract. If you had vanilla essential oil or fragrance oil, you could use that and use less of it (if you use fragrance oil, make sure it's one that's okay to use topically).

05 December 2012

Vampires and the Ick Factor

We have Netflix, so I end up watching my way through shows on there. Earlier this year I watched Bones, Lie to Me, and then Numb3rs. Now it's the X-Files. I was too young to handle watching the show when it was on TV; I was one of those kids who was terrified of everything. And no one does creepy quite like the X-Files.

Early in season 2, there's a vampire episode. What with all the novels and television shows about vampirism, it's not exactly an unusual choice. However, the X-Files takes a different stab (pun not intended) at the vampire genre.

From Twilight to True Blood, vampires in popular culture are generally portrayed as erotic. The odd evil one pops up (the one wanting to kill and eat Bella in the first Twilight book, for example), but the hypnotically sexy portrayal is the one that usually dominates. It's intriguing that monsters who steal lives by draining people of blood, monsters who are dead themselves--dead but unable to truly die, stuck in some sort of half-life that compells them to stalk the living--are idolized. Immortal, but undead. Beautiful and unaging, yet condemned to exist without changing in a world where change is a constant factor. And this is what we claim to want.

My favourite works in the vampire genre tend to lean a certain direction. Sunshine, Buffy--they can interpret the vampiric as conflicted, as good mingled with evil--human, in a sense. But being a vampire, the taking of blood, is not sexy. It's not erotic. It's evil, and it's disgusting. Revolting. Vampires are to be destroyed when possible, because otherwise they will continue to kill. With or without remorse, they are still driven to kill, and being sentient, discerning beings, they can admit that murdering humans, the race from which they have sprung, is wrong. Yet they continue to kill, using a hunger for blood as an excuse (there's an argument for vegetarianism in here somewhere, I'm sure, but since I'm mostly definitely an omnivore, I'm not going there tonight).

The X-Files episode on vampires most definitely leans toward the revolting side of things. It captures the grossness of the vampire, the absolute wrongness of it. Personally, I think there's more to be said for that perspective. It's far more realistic. If I'm going to fantasize, I'd rather have a daydream that involved something healthier than a creepy vampire stalker boyfriend.

04 December 2012

a question posed

Steinel Glue Gun from Howard Electronic Instruments, Inc
Am I a proper crafter when I don't even own a hot glue gun?