Saturday, December 15, 2012

December in West Texas

A quick visit downtown

I'm currently home in Texas enjoying the holidays with my family. While I'm here, I've been sure to gather stories, think about goals for 2013 and work on finishing that book I started writing.

See you in the new year!

Monday, November 19, 2012

I love marshmallows, or highlights from my birthday day camp

I'm still embroiled in attempts to meet my Nanowrimo goals. I'm most definitely behind but am feeling really good about where things are headed. Anyway, I took a little break to finally celebrate my birthday. We were originally headed out to Western Maryland to sleep in a yurt, but schedules just wouldn't cooperate. Instead, the day's theme was Birthday Day Camp! I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

requiem for a dream

Master of the Tiny Twig Gathering

end of camp

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Farewell, October

October and November are two of my favorite months of the year. Like most everyone else, I get all silly for fall traditions, layered fashion and warm drinks. I don't know about you, but this year my October was pretty much a blur. All told, I probably spent more than two weeks of it out of town. Still, it's amazing how many good times you can cram into the open spaces when you try. Elkins, WV
Monogahela National Forest
Sticky Rice is always a good idea.
waiting for the uke concert to start Untitled

Last night in Philly
Grindcore Coffee House
October was filled with...
- West Virginia, specifically Elkins, the Monogahela and the Canaan Valley
- Out of town visitors (aka Allie from Germany and Terra back from Seattle)
- Ukelele concert at Strathmore with Steven and more work trips down to Staunton
- Riding out Hurricane Sandy in Philly with these guys
- Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
This month I've got a pretty spectacular birthday to dream up, even more work and am planning to finally tackle NaNoWriMo (5,074 words and counting). I'll see you on the other side!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

slow cooker pumkin chicken chili

Pumpkin chicken chili

This chili is such a surprise. As I was putting the ingredients into my slow cooker, I knew I should be grossed out by the combination of flavors. Instead, I was rewarded with a tasty dish and an apartment that smelled like Fall always should.

Inspired by these recipes from Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice and A Beautiful Mess.

1 can (14 ounce) diced tomatoes
1 can (14 ounce) pumpkin puree
1 cup chicken broth
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 packet mild chili seasoning
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 dashes of cinnamon
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts or cutlets, skin and visible fat removed
1 can (14 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained  
Note: I made this recipe in a 2-quart slow cooker. 
I dislike chunky cooked tomatoes, so I pulsed the diced tomatoes in my Magic Bullet for a couple of seconds first. Add tomatoes, chicken broth and pumpkin to the slow cooker. Whisk until well combined. Add garlic, chili seasoning, cumin, cinnamon, salt and pepper and stir once again. Add chicken and chickpeas. Cook 4-5 hours on high or 6-8 on low.

I added whole wheat pearl couscous before cozying up with a bowl and The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Vote 2012 - Election Pinning


I guess you could say I'm political. I'm not obsessive to the point of only reading, talking and breathing politics. Oh, you don't know those people? Avoid DC if you don't want to. Still, I was raised to give a damn and to get as involved as possible. I read candidate biographies, study up on the issues I care about, try to track positions from a variety of sources and talk a lot of smack just for fun. I've even volunteered and worked for candidates at different points in my life.

Anyway, I've been struggling with how to express myself this election. Over the last few (er..12) years, I slide into cynicism now and then. This election cycle I've finally found myself getting pissed again, needing to speak out. To fulfill this need, I've come up with a couple of fun* ways to get political on here between now and November 6.

First up is a pinboard I created to help me work through what I'm looking for in a candidate. I've included a few above, but you can check all my pins here.  Given that Pinterest is such a visual tool, I don't really feel it's an ideal forum for issues or advocacy (others would disagree). I had a hard time finding good photos of issues that weren't protected. I finally found my footing when I began to stumble across typography and quotes.

Sources: big oil/coal, visionary, education, poor

*I'd rather save my impassioned rants for issues, legislation, etc.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Nonfiction Reading List

I love Amy's idea of creating your own self-paced history course. Nonfiction was my jam while I worked part-time at the bookstore, but lately, I've been all about fiction. Her list got me thinking about some of the titles that I've been considering and ways I can round out my to-read list.

I think I may have to pick up Midnight Rising in anticipation of the upcoming movie, Lincoln!
  • Midnight Rising by Tony Horowitz - Lincoln, the John Brown raid in Harper's Ferry and the Civil War!
  • 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart - I love everything I heard about this book last year on Slate. The Civil War as imagined through the day to day lives of the average person. Storytelling at its best.
  • Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America by Cameron McWhirter
  • Salem Possessed: Social Origins of Witchcraft by Paul Boyer - I have an odd fascination with witchcraft from an historical and alchemical perspective.
  • Annals of the Former World by John McPhee - The river and geology geek in me has been wanting to read this for years!
  • Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963 by Taylor Branch
  • Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-1965 by Taylor Branch
  • At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968 by Taylor Branch

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

My story as told by water, part II

early Serena

I don't recall being aware of how incredibly hot Texas was until high school. It's as if someone flipped a switch, and I suddenly realized how much I despised sweating or the way in which my hair would cling to my face. Still, memories of swimming pools and summers spent in the water have been a part of my story since my beginning.

Summer after summer being driven to lessons at the San Angelo Municipal Pool, a cool Pueblo-style building built during the '30s by the WPA. It's where I learned all those fancy strokes and eventually took the lifesaving course where you learn to take off your jeans and turn them into a flotation device.  All the while my grandma watched from stadium-like steps along the side.

I remember my eyes, red from heavy doses of chlorine, and how I wore that embarrassing nose clip to keep from inhaling water. Quickstepping across the sizzling concrete trying to avoid scraping up the bottoms of my feet. I know they made it rough to prevent slipping, but wasn't it painful?!

The just-for-fun swimming trips were always to Brown's Pool. It was on "our" side of town and right next door to a trailer park. The dressing rooms were grungy, but they had the best tubes for floating and a high dive. Note my graceful diving skills in the photo above.

There was the above-ground pool we had in the back yard with the deck built by my grandpa (see backwards swan dive above) and afternoons spent floating on my back, looking up at the clouds. A couple of summers even involved competitive swim club at a local high school. As I grew up, there were pool parties at my friend Cindy's and perhaps a bit more self consciousness at the thought of putting on a swimsuit and actually getting in the water.

A part of me will always associate summer with concrete and chlorine.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Search for Stars Hollow: Hagerstown, MD

Not to knock on the fine folks of Hagerstown, but we should probably get something straight right up front. Hagerstown is no Stars Hollow.

Still, even if it's not my mythical Shangri-La, Hagerstown has some good things going for it. Hands down, best reason to visit Hagerstown is for the antique malls.


Clustered right down historic Route 40 are three solid places. Antique Crossroads is my favorite. While there are certainly some overpriced booths inside this massive building, they are definitely in the minority. You're almost guaranteed to find some great pyrex, mid-century tins and cake carriers, blue ball jars for $2/piece, and so much more. You just have to know which booths to visit. On a recent visit, I walked away from an amazing unicycle and the above dresser.

If you make it through Antique Crossroads and still have energy left, you can head to either Beaver Creek Antiques and A & J Antiques to continue shopping. If you head into downtown Hagerstown, you can get your craft on at the Potomac Bead Company or find a show to watch at The Maryland Theater (though I can't say I saw anything that piqued my interest).

Hempen Hill BBQ

One of my better finds on a recent trip was Hempen Hill BBQ. The venue is fun, waitstaff friendly and the food was fantastic!

lunch and dinner
They give you enough food for leftovers. And, yes, please forgive the lighting.

Even better is the fact that they have a great selection of vegan and vegetarian fare. As someone who inadvertently begins to crave barbecue when hanging out with vegan friends, this place is downright miraculous. Do yourself a favor and get the smoked mac and cheese.

After you've had a good meal, go for a stroll through some of the Civil War battlefields near Antietam or rent a canoe and paddle down the river.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A few figs from thistles


                                                                                   First Fig 

                                                                                   My candle burns at both ends; 
                                                                                       It will not last the night; 
                                                                                   But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends-- 
                                                                                       It gives a lovely light! 

                                                                                                 - Edna St.Vincent Millay

Another find from Saturday was a beautiful 1922 copy of Edna St. Vincent Millay's A Few Figs from Thistles. I couldn't walk away from something whose first few pages spoke to me so.

Sufferin' Succotash: More on Regional Foods

thrifted cookbook
Remember last November when I mentioned a passing interest in regional food traditions? I don't think I ever followed that post up, but a couple of weeks later the Crooked Road cookbook I mentioned showed up on my doorstep (thanks, mom). Well, this has spawned a (slowly) growing collection of regional and/or historic cookbooks.

I picked up the above title while thrifting in Hagerstown on Saturday. It begins with an introduction to the region and its history and is chock full of recipes and little tidbits on things like why a certain recipe was important. Let's be honest. A lot of the recipes look pretty gross. There are recipes in there involving animal body parts that I never want to get to know. Still, I was determined to find something to whip up.
suffering succotash
Enter the winter succotash! I've included the recipe below as it appears in the cookbook with the strikeouts and red reflecting my modifications. Needless to say, I wasn't exactly going for historical accuracy. :-)

winter succotash

1 cup lima beans (2 cups frozen)
2 quarts cold water
1/4 pound salt pork
1 can corn
1 3 tablespoon melted butter
1 2 tablespoon flour
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cup cream (if desired)

Parboil the beans, then put in a kettle with the cold water and salt pork. (1/4 lb butter may be used instead of the pork). Cook for 3 hours, then add the corn, melted butter and flour. Cook 3/4 of an hour longer. Season with salt and pepper. Heat the cream and add just before serving.

I pretty much followed none of the actual cooking instructions, since I'm pretty sure they're based on using dry beans. I cooked the lima beans according to the directions on the package, draining them before adding in the corn, melted butter and flour. I cooked the mixture an additional 5-6 minutes before adding salt, pepper and a splash of cream.

Let's just say the Nova Scotians know how to take the healthy out of vegetables.

P.S. Speaking of food culture, I pulled out one of my grandma's seasonal potholders this weekend.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Research is fun when it involves a comics run

Posing @ Victory Comics

I've got a research project up my sleeve, and to kick it off, I ventured to Victory Comics on Saturday night. I wasn't a comic store virgin* (they have great toys), but I only know enough about comics to know how incredibly confusing it can be to dive right in. Instead, I took an ambassador (see above) to this foreign land.

Can I just tell you how much fun I had? I love passionate people. If you are obsessed with a hobby/job/issue, there's a pretty good chance I'll gravitate toward you. Comics people have passion in spades. They also aren't afraid to welcome you into their club**. I was clearly a poser and felt even worse going in asking about various Avengers spinoffs (research...just you wait!). Minus a bit of good-natured harassment, I spent over an hour monopolizing both the guy who worked there (aka Comic Dude) and Ravena (ambassador).

I went in with plans to pick up two comics for my project and left hoping that I discover a hidden love for comics in the volumes I picked up. As I told Comic Dude, two of my favorite things are art and reading so, theoretically, comics should be right up my alley. Holding up a compendium of The Walking Dead, he declared it a work of art with storytelling to rival some of the finest literature, and in that moment, I thought that maybe, just maybe, he was right.

*Both Austin Books & Comics (in Austin...duh) and Atomic Comics in Baltimore are impressive.
**Glen Weldon was right!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My story as told by water, part I

Beach baby
My first memory of water isn't of trips to the beach. It's not swimming lessons or playing in the backyard pool.

White, fake fur coat zipped with the hood pulled tight to ward off the chill in the air.  My feet pedaled my Big Wheel furiously near the apartment's pool area, eyes squeezed shut. Memories of the plastic tire grinding against concrete and what I'm sure is a faint smile at the freedom of my four year-old self barreling along.

I've lost time over the years either due to the unreliability of a toddler's mind or because it was a freaking long time ago. I don't remember why I stopped. I only remember it was abrupt, and when I opened my eyes, my Big Wheel was poised at the edge of pool. I can't tell you what color my trike was, but I can describe the pool drain in the deep end and how it seemed as deep as the parts of the ocean where I imagine sharks live. I know that, despite my young age, I knew I had escaped something by stopping just in the nick of time. Somehow, even then, I already had a healthy respect for water.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Life's too short...

Goodbye, St Paul!

From A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

“I hate all those flirty-birty games that women make up. Life’s too short. If you ever love a man, don’t waste time hanging your head and simpering. Go right up to him and say, ‘I love you. How about getting married?’”

                                                                                                                              - Francie’s mom

I have a collection of quotes in the notes section of my phone. This is a new favorite and seemed appropriate on a day when we're all reflecting on the brevity of life. One day, this will be my story, and I'm very okay with that.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The sweet life in DC

New Union Market
view of the main hall
Union Market timeline
pie in the sky @ Dangerously Delicious
counter culture

Reishia, Ravena and I headed into DC this weekend to check out the grand opening of Union Market. As you can see from the photos above, they've totally opened the space up, giving it an airy, industrial feel. While many of the shops were still getting up and running (or not open at all), you can see the potential there. Perhaps one day it will be DC's own version of Reading Terminal Market. We didn't really* buy anything, but I'd like to give it a couple of months and go back.

Since we were on that side of town, we couldn't help but pop into Dangerously Delicious pies to pick up slices for later. The rest of the weekend wasn't quite as sweet (*rimshot*), but nonetheless, it was productive.

*I may have bought a small serving of sweet potato pie ice cream for us to try. Yum!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

30 Days of Lists: Week 1

This month I managed to get my act together and register for 30 Days of Lists, created and organized by Kam and Amy. I've been meaning to do this for the past couple of rounds because, well, I like to make lists. However, I've always been hesitant because (1) the thought of adding even a 30-day challenge to my day was daunting and (2) I don't scrapbook or do any other paper journaling.

Despite what I just wrote, I signed up and even decided to make something tactile. I'm no art journaler, but I kind of enjoyed encouraging myself to express myself in this way.
30 Lists - cover 30 Lists - day 130 Lists - day 2
30 Lists - day 2 detail 30 Lists - day 330 Lists - day 4
30 Lists - day 5 30 Lists - day 630 Lists - day 7

Friday, September 07, 2012

On re-reading that embarrassing diary

There is no more humbling experience than looking back through past diary entries.

After seeing a “tweet” a couple of weeks ago from @amytschubert on pruning her archives, I found
myself revisiting my own early posts. Immediately, I was surprised to discover that I’ve kept this blog, posting off and on, for roughly eight years. Whoa.

I also quickly discovered how annoying the Serena of eight years ago was*. This space has always been a personal journal and place to tuck all of those thoughts and opinions away. Still, I found myself cringing at how much I whined and complained. I’m not talking about the political or social rants (I still stand by those) and am, instead, talking about the posts on people upsetting me or how tired I was or apologizing for not blogging. I painted such an unhappy picture of myself when, I know for a fact, I was having a blast.

While the little historian and archivist living inside me cringed a bit, I decided then and there that I was overdue for a little purging of my own. Even though the purging isn’t complete, it seems appropriate that I record the lessons I’ve learned or been reminded of.
  • I used to go to a lot of concerts and listened to some mighty fine bands.
  • Sometimes the extra money made working two jobs isn’t worth it. I contend that 90% of my perceived unhappiness at that time can be attributed to the fact I was sleeping roughly 3 hours a night and was constantly tired.
  • Lots of goals, very little follow through. Finish things, McClain.
  • Cut some of the younger folks a little slack in Twitter and on their blogs. Turns out, you were just as annoying as they can be. Everyone needs an opportunity to grow.
  • That said, constantly complaining and apologizing for not blogging is a no. Keep it authentic, and don’t be afraid to be transparent with your feelings on occasion. That should be mandatory. However, just stop apologizing for not blogging, complaining about not blogging, etc.
  • Looking back, the posts I’m the most proud of really do reflect the things I still enjoying writing about the most.

*Yeah, yeah. I’m still annoying. Whatever.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Community Cooking Circle

cooking circle 2

Inspired by sewing circles of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the new community-driven food movement, we've decided to start a cooking circle! Something about the coming fall makes this seem like the right time to start this kind of venture. While I do cook during the summer, I'm more apt to turn on the oven when the temperatures finally start to drop. Soups, breads, granola...the list is endless.

Live in the Northern Virginia/DC area and want to join us? This likely won't involve meetings or anything like that, and we're trying to keep the numbers low to start. We're still working out the details, but the basic gist of it is that once a month we'll each make and package something* to share with the group. For example, I made more of Joy the Baker's homemade curry ketchup** on Monday. Instead of hoarding all of the ketchup for myself, I could have prepared small jars for the cooking circle.  

Once we solidify a small group of charter members (we're aiming for 5 to 7 to start), we'll finalize the guidelines and pull together a calendar.

Leave a comment here or email me at to join us! It'll be fun.

*There's at least one vegan in the group. If that scares you, you may want to skip this. 
**Best ever. Make your own!

Monday, September 03, 2012

Shadow of Night

shadow of night

If you haven't started reading the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, you really need to stop stalling and pick it up. I finished the second book in the trilogy, Shadow of Night, early last month and was so completely satisfied with Harkness's second novel that I've been hesitant to pick up a new title and face potential disappointment. 

Harkness is an historian by training with a specialization in science and medicine in the 15-17th centuries, and it's the way her scholarship is so expertly woven throughout that draws me to this series. Before you balk, remember that this is a novel. She brings the history and science to life, all while building complex and emotional familial relationships. My heart swelled to bursting can be such a cliche phrase, but it's also such an accurate description of how this story left me.

P.S. She does some fun things with the explorers and poets of the school of night that I think you'll love.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Kam's disposable camera swap

Several weeks ago (yes, I'm running a bit behind schedule), Kam of Campfire Chic decided to host a disposable camera swap as a way to kick off her third year of blogging. What? Receive surprise pictures from a stranger*? Count me in!

I was lucky enough to be assigned Maryam of Pamplemousse1983 as a swap** partner. She's certainly no stranger to the camera, so I was excited to see what she came up with. Her flipbook-style photos were begging to be made into a little stop action video.

*When I put it like that, I feel like I should have been leery. ;-)
**The film pics I shot aren't viewable yet seeing as how I only put the camera in the mail today. See running a bit behind.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Road to Saint Paul (via Chicago and Madison): All the Rest

Columbus, OH
Downtown Columbus, Ohio

Searching for something different takes effort. We're hardwired to take the path of least resistance. Navigation tools and apps default to routes along the biggest, fastest highways that bypass towns, and rest stops are identical, appearing to have rolled off an assembly line and playing into our quest for the familiar.

The vanilla* sameness of it all bums me out. I live in the suburbs of DC and am constantly struggling to find the beauty in my beige surroundings. I harbor fantasies of living someplace where I won't be able to tell you how to get to the 4 Wal-Marts, 3 Targets, 10 Starbucks and 11 McDonalds that all reside within 5 miles of my apartment. Google it. It's real.

Dirty Frank's View from my hotel room in Chicago
 Dogs from Dirty Frank's in Columbus, Chicago River as seen from my hotel room  

It's why I get a bit obsessive when planning to visit somewhere new. I'm the girl sitting on her couch at 10:30 at night googling "Chicago adaptive reuse hotel" and "Chicago historic hotel". I'll pour through Small Demons for ideas referenced in books and stalk local bloggers (thanks for being an inspiration, Allison!) for recommendations off the beaten path.

I do believe Chicago was flirting with me.
Palace Theater at St Paul architectural detail in St Paul
Downtown Chicago (top), Saint Paul

It paid off. I had a great time, got some fun snapshots and ate well (mostly). I didn't hit everything on my list because there actually was a lot of work accomplished, but I made the bits in between count. I also passed by SO much I need to go back and explore. Chicago, Madison, Saint Paul and Minneapolis each left me wanting more.

The Bachelor Farmer
 The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis, MN. Good food, great atmosphere and cute, friendly guys. No cell phones allowed. ;-)

Eating/Drinking Highlights Places to Sleep
Dirty Frank's
Sweeney's Saloon
Mickies Dairy Bar
The Bachelor Farmer
Dunn Bros Coffee
Ruam Mit Thai
Club Quarters (reasonable!)
Hotel Ruby Marie

*I feel bad for using a lovely word like vanilla in this way. I love vanilla smells, vanilla flavor...all the vanilla!