Wednesday, October 10, 2018

My Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

I can’t say I’m the best baker I know, though I’m related to a couple excellent ones, but I’m pretty good. My Mom’s peanut butter and jelly cupcakes and chewy ginger Sugar Baby cookies, and my Grandma Jo’s pecan pie and key lime pie play a major role in my dessert fantasies. (You know, the ones you have when you’re on a diet or it’s 2am?)

Or is that just me and Homer who do that? ANYWAY! I’ve always loved baking. My grandmother gave me the copy of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys & Girls that my Dad and his siblings had used. Some of the dishes were a bit horrifying, particularly “Three Men in a Boat.” Yes, just what every child will enjoy! A potato filled with cream chipped beef, topped with cold cheese and mushrooms. The picture makes it look like such a treat.

The one in the middle is Ted Danson.

But one of the more appetizing looking recipes was the Drum Cake, a devil’s food cake with white icing, decorated with peppermint sticks and maraschino cherries. Look how stunning this is! Sure, the cake contains neither cherries, nor peppermint, but that’s not Betty’s concern. It’s a pretty cake, and that’s all that matters.
My mother and I made it when I was probably 8 years old. (I’m sure there’s a picture somewhere in one of my mother’s many photo albums! Remember those things???) This was before either us knew about things like crumb coats or my lack of artistic ability. To say that the cake did not reflect Betty Crocker’s photo would be an understatement. The cherries hadn’t been drained, so the juice went everywhere, including on the peppermint sticks, which caused the red to bleed onto the white icing, which was filled with chocolate crumbs… The best I can say is that it tasted good. As a child, I frequently found myself in the kitchen while my parents were asleep. They’d wake up from naps to discover I’d made brownies (and wrecked the kitchen.) This has continued into adulthood. I recall many nights, home from college, baking cookies with whatever my parents had on hand, using up all of their butter, chocolate chips, or light brown sugar. And wrecking the kitchen. One of the earliest things I can remember baking completely on my own was a chocolate cake from the American Girl magazine. It was a straightforward chocolate cake with a simple icing made with milk and powdered sugar on top. I never managed the beautiful, simple swirls the magazine showed though.
They required too much artistic ability.
But I found it was okay if cookies were ugly--with the exception of decorated cookies, they aren’t meant to look artistic. They generally fall under the heading of, ‘As long as they taste good!’. I am particularly fond of chocolate chip cookies. Before the internet, I was only able to find recipes that were immediately available to me in books, and most of those recipes were cakey or chewy chocolate chip cookies. Quite by accident, I one time made a chocolate chip cookie that was crispy at the edges and chewy in the middle, but I had no idea how I’d managed it, and I was unable to replicate it again. So I kept baking chocolate chip cookie recipes, hoping to happen on that magical crispy, chewy cookie again. My cookie holy grail, if you will.
Not this one.
It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I finally found the right recipe, a Martha Stewart recipe, no less! I adore Martha. She has always been one of my role models. (Homemaking, not financial or legal!) The recipe makes cookies that are beautifully thin, crisp at the edges, but chewy in the middle where the chocolate chips congregate.

I’ve made the recipe my own, with a couple of tiny tweaks. When baking them, the cookies will look puffy and pale until the last minute. You just have to keep faith that they’ll turn out. They also want to spread out a bit, so don’t crowd your pan. A tablespoon scoop will be your friend here, along with a half sheet pan that has been lined with parchment paper. I also keep my batter in the fridge between batches to make it easier to scoop and prevent the chocolate chips from migrating in the batter. Let me know what you think of these beauties, if you bake them!

Martha’s Thin and Crisp Chocolate Chip Cookies Ingredients: 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar 3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar 1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 2 large eggs 2 cups (about 12 ounces) semisweet and/or milk chocolate chips 1/4 cup of room temperature water Directions: 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda; set aside. 3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter with both sugars; beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. 4. Reduce speed to low; add the salt, 1/4 cup water, vanilla, and eggs. Beat until well mixed, about 1 minute. 5. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. 6. Add in 1/4 of the chocolate chips and mix on low speed until combined. 7. Stir in the rest of the chocolate chips. 8. Using a tablespoon sized scoop, place balls of dough about 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. 9. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn pan to ensure even baking. Bake an additional 5-7 minutes until golden brown. 10. Remove from oven, and let cool on baking sheet 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool completely. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Taco Bell: Fries of Lies

Taco Bell recently added a new menu item that immediately caught my attention—FRENCH FRIES. And not just any French fries—NACHO FRIES! Two of my favorite things, combined(!!): French fries and NACHOS!

Now I can feel some of you judging me right off the bat. Some of you are food culture enthusiasts who pretend you would never eat anywhere besides your locally owned eatery, where the drinks are fancy and food is artisanal, in favor of a fast food chain. But I see y’all during 4th meal at 12am, shame eating a Crunch Wrap Supreme in your cars because your artisanal dinner could have fit on a postage stamp. I SEE Y’ALL.

Make sure you save room for dessert?

Taco Bell REALLY wants people to try their new menu item. They rolled out a shiny ad campaign during the SuperBowl featuring Josh Duhamel, along with sponsored social media content. They added a layer of kitsch by offering a special stand for you to use while dining in. (Do people still dine in at Taco Bell?)

(Side note: Does the bell look um.. odd here? I think it looks odd. Like something odd happened to the bell that the bell didn’t want. Who did that to that poor bell?!)

But I didn’t need selling on these fries. I was already prepared to be a customer. Look at those fries as they lounge in their stand! They’re seasoned—according to their website—with “Mexican seasoning,” whatever those might be. Cumin? Chili powder? Garlic powder? They come with cheese dip, which, sure, it’s the same cheese that they give you with the chips, but that’s fine—it’s still yummy! Not to mention, they’re only a dollar! And if you're feeling like a big roller, there are any number of toppings you can add to make your nacho fries truly SUPREME! (Har-har!) So yeah, I was on board. These fries look delicious, with their come hither crunchy looks and cheesy sauciness.

So I went through the drive thru, I ordered my entree, drink, and a side of fries with nacho cheese. As soon as I got them, I pulled into my usual spot a random parking place, and prepared to engage in rapturous shame eating. I popped open my little container of cheese—I know what that’s going to be like—I pull out a fry—that’s crispy feeling and it’s golden, must be those Mexican spices!—and I dunk it into the cheese. I put the whole fry in my mouth. And I wait for angels to start singing.

And… nothing. I just taste cheese. I’m confused. So I skip the cheese and I just eat a fry by itself. It’s crispy, but there’s… there’s still nothing. Not even salt. It’s just… it tastes like potato.

They lied to me. They made me think that I was going to have a magical fry experience. I thought I was going to relive my glory days of French fries—when I lived in Salem, Virginia, and there was a Rally’s.

Now Rally’s has magical fries. (Rally’s is also known as Checkers, depending on where you live.) They’re the kind of crispy that leaves crumbs at the bottom of the bag that you fight over with whoever you’re unfortunate enough to be sharing your meal with (I say unfortunate because many a friendship or relationship has dissolved over these crumbs.) The flavor is the perfect balance of zesty, sweetness, salty, and spice with their seasoning that’s been cooked into the whisper of batter that they’re put into before being fries. They actually improve the flavor of ketchup, bringing the flavor of vinegar, forward. Didn’t know ketchup has vinegar in it? Now you do. They are so good that they try to soothe the masses by offering them in the frozen food section at your local grocery store, but they just can’t hold a candle to the original.

Aren’t they beautiful?! Frozen just can’t properly convey the perfection that one experiences when they eat these fresh from the industrial sized fryer. Frozen.. they’re just not the same.

And neither were these French fries from Taco Bell, masquerading as something as delicious as Rally’s fries. I could have sat in the parking lot and shame ate my Cheesy Gordita Crunch, but the heart had just gone out of me. So I put the lid back on my gelatinated, imitation cheese topping, and I drove back to work, where I sadly ate a few more Taco Bell fries, hoping maybe it was just the fries on top. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t.

And yes, I really did just blog about French fries. No, I wasn't paid. I just have a lot of feelings about French fries.

Bonus: The beginning of this video is a segment about a potato who aspires to be a Rally’s fry!!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Working Out, Part 2: The Unfattening

See this post was going to be all about how I battled through a back injury, recovered, reinjured it later carrying cat litter, and even suffered through a stomach bug, but you know what? That’s not really a great thing to talk about. Because who the hell cares? The point is it hurt and I had to deal with it because that’s just part of life. I will say that a big part of dealing with it was a massage from my friend/massage therapist extraordinaire Mike Gray, who, in an hour, made me go from feeling like this:

To feeling like this:

If you ever need some help in that area, let me know. I'll get you Mike Gray's contact info!


On to the real point of this post: Going to the gym.

The truth is the hardest part about working out is putting on pants. I’m not even kidding. Because pants are the enemy. I mean, I’m sure I could go to Orangetheory Fitness in a toga to workout. People would look a little askance at my outfit, but let me workout anyway. That’s because they’re awesome though. I actually had a woman concede the point this past week when I confessed that I was exhausted. She nodded sagely, ‘Well you’ve already got pants on, so the hard part is done.’ Perhaps the studio (that’s what OTF calls it) needs to consider a pants-free workout?

Maybe not.

Anyway, let’s go back a few weeks. I had a realization after a few weeks of just simply treadmilling my workouts. No other activities, basically because I was trying to baby my back (which is sort of like Baby Got Back, only no Becky.) At one point Wes (one of the trainers) pointed out that it’s an easy trap to fall into and that maybe I should just try a little to push myself further, all while listening to my body. If it hurt, and more than just you know, ‘Ew, exercise!’ I needed to stop. But if it was just uncomfortable because I love nachos and sitting on my ass? That’s a bearable level of exertion. So I did. And I actually started to see results on my speeds on the treadmill. Heidi (another trainer) made the point of mentioning that hills could put strain on my lower back (where I was injured) so I was mindful of not putting too much incline on me, but I kept increasing my speed…...sometimes rapidly, say when there was a trainer around.

You know we all do it.

It was a couple weeks after my back injury that Mike (another trainer) showed me some stretches I could do--even in bed before I got up in the morning. This is what I love about Orange--he knew I was trying to increase my range of motion, he helped me, and I didn’t feel shy or dumb for asking for the help.

So every morning I started disrupting the cats with my stretches. I’d bend this way and that, Cheddar and Colby would run from one end of the bed to the other, extremely disgruntled. As I eased into the floor exercises (utilizing weights, straps, mats, and other tools for torture exercise,) the team showed me modified exercises to help keep me in the game, especially when things looked like this:

What is that even, fit people? You are outside of your minds. Mike told me that as long as I kept moving, that was all he cared about. If it meant doing jumping jacks while people were doing a form of push up that should be reserved for prisoners, so be it.

Anyway, something weird happened. While I was pushing myself harder on the treadmill, I noticed that I would feel like I was dying, what with the exercise and all, when suddenly I would… not be dying. It would only last 30 seconds or so, but it wasn’t just a mental thing. My heart monitor reflected that indeed, I was doing something besides dying. My heart rate would drop slightly, and I’d have this feeling that I can only describe as comfortable. What is that, y’all? If it’s a runner’s high, I call bullshit, because y’all made it sound like that lasted a lot longer than 30 seconds and that it felt way nicer.

Another interesting thing happened to me, this one far more recently. I was wearing a pair of jeans that were admittedly kind of loose. And then I was almost not wearing the jeans, and a good number of people found out I have some really cute turquoise underwear. Related: I am now in the market for a belt.

It’s been over a month of working out. I haven’t lost weight--in fact I think I’m up 2 pounds, but my pants don’t fit. So that’s progress, I guess? The real issue is consistency on my part. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve let my physical maladies and life in general sidetrack me a few times.

Recently someone asked me if I liked working out and without missing a beat I replied, ‘No.’ They were confused. I went on to explain: I don’t like working out. I will never be that person. But I like working out at Orangetheory Fitness and I love both the people who work there and those who participate in the workouts. We’re a team, all of us, and I have never felt more supported as I do when I’m there, ugly sweating all over the treadmill with the person to my left quietly cussing, the person to my right singing along with the music, and Mike dancing around behind us. It’s actually quite inspiring, all of it. So no, I don’t like working out, but damn it, I love working out with these people.

If you’re ever interested in hearing more about the studio, I definitely recommend you give ‘em a ring. If that feels intimidating, you can always drop me a line!

I was talking to my friend Kat, who runs regularly with a club of some sort. She’s been preparing for a death march half marathon and very kindly read my last post. She shared a thought with me that really stuck with me. Running isn’t anymore fun for her than it is for me--and she’s very fit. She described exercise as being kind of like brushing your teeth; it’s not something you enjoy, but it’s you’re supposed to do. After that I stopped exercising AND brushing my teeth. Kidding, kidding. But she makes a great point.

So I’m going to keep working hard. I’m going to keep putting on pants. I’m going to keep stretching. I’m going to keep moving. And I’m going to keep exercising--because like brushing my teeth, it’s what I’m supposed to do.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

To the Evil Effing Child and his Evil Parents: You are Human Garbage.

To the evil child and his parent who undoubtedly purchased the fat mask he wore for his Halloween costume: I almost took your kid’s candy away. I mean it. I have literally been running over what I’d have said if I had thought of it, and all I can think is that you are an evil jerk and so is the parent who paid for it.

Allow me to explain. I was giving out candy to kids, and up comes a 15 yr old-ish kid with a fat mask. I have attempted to find a replica online to show you, but as I’ve been unable to, please just imagine Mama June in chin form. Literally that was all that was involved. A chin that hooked around the bottom half of the face. I asked him what he was, as he wore this mask and sweats. And he replied, ‘I’m a girl.’ That was it. He was a fat girl, y’all. He was just wearing a mask, asking for candy, and pretending to be a fat girl, because it’s funny. Because it’s a farce.

There are no funny gifs. No RuPaul pics. Nothing. There was a child who looked me in the face and told me he was a girl while wearing a fat face and demanding candy, and somehow, I didn’t take his bag from him. I didn’t tell his parents to go eff themselves. Because I’m a good Southern girl. I’m supposed to be jolly and just deal. So I did.

His parents are awful. That child is awful. And they can all go to hell. To that kid: If I’d had the presence of mind, I’d have taken your candy, and I’d gone to the street to talk to your parents. I hope you feel like utter shit in your life, you pathetic nothing of a 15 yr old and parents.

You are human garbage.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Let's Get Physical

This is part one of several posts regarding my size and what I'm doing about it. It is a pretty personal story, but I invite you to please follow along as I laugh, whine, complain, celebrate, swear, and sweat.

In case I haven’t made it abundantly clear, I am fat. And not like Mean Girls fat.

I’m actually fat. That doesn’t mean I don’t love myself or that I think I’m ugly. It doesn’t mean that I don’t think I’m deserving of a man who treats me right and thinks I’m beautiful or that I need to wear nothing by dark circus tent-like outfits to disguise my curves. But I do think that I ought to lose weight in order to live a nice long life that I can spend telling the world to go to hell.

Except it would be less fat.

I wanted to acknowledge my fatness from the get go, because for whatever reason, sometimes people feel the need to inform me. When I politely acknowledge that this is not a surprise to me and that I’m attempting to do something about it, frequently these very “well meaning” people will break into a lecture filled with concerned tones and helpful hints. It’s like they can’t help themselves--they’ve gone to the trouble of coming up with this lecture, and by God they’re going to get to say it, no matter what I say. It’s actually a bit of a Christmas tradition for some folks: As an evening holiday party winds down, someone pulls me aside and tells me with a look in their eyes as though I’m a breath away from dying all about how I have to get my life “under control.” Oh and “Merry Christmas and thank you for the lovely gift.” It’s inevitable, it happens every year, and there is nothing I can say to stop the awkward exchange.

It used to be that I’d list what I was doing in order to not be fat, but there’d be this doubtful look in their eyes and they’d continue with their personal appeal to my skinnier nature. This year I’m trying to get ahead of the concerned folks because I have this theory that if I lose enough weight by Christmas that they can tell that maybe I won’t have to have another lecture.

I know, that’s no reason to lose weight, but it’s enough motivation, in the short term. In the long term I don’t want to be dead by 35. I want to be able to shop in a store that isn’t Lane Bryant and not online. I would like to be able to walk into a restaurant without worrying that the geniuses who designed the place haven’t bolted the tables and booths to the walls so that I have to contemplate whether Miss Manners would equate stomach fat spillage on the table with putting my elbows on the surface.

To that end, I have recently enrolled with Orangetheory Fitness. It’s a gym with a philosophy that guides you through your workout. You’re given a monitor to wear under your clothes and it puts out a real time read out on your heartrate. The idea is to reach the “Orange Zone” and maintain it for a portion of your workout so you can maximize your after-burn (meaning you continue to burn calories after you’re done working out.) My friend Brooks is a partner with the place. He saw a post I made on Facebook, where I think I was expressing dismay at my size, the largest I’ve ever been, and a desire to do something about it. A few months later, once the gym was built, I was sweating to the dulcet tones of their trainers and my ragged breathing.

In my first class I lost my mind completely. You see, they have this pace setting thing called, ‘Base, Push, All Out,’ which works out to be, 'Ugh, this sucks.' 'OMG, no, THIS sucks!' and finally 'WHAT DID I DO SO WRONG IN MY LIFE TO DESERVE THIS?!' At least it feels that way or me. I gave into a little bit of perceived peer pressure and tried to keep up with people who consider 3 miles an hour on a treadmill to be a leisurely pace. Within about 10 minutes I was puking in the bathroom. Yep, I was that girl. Then I managed to get myself together and dove back in. And I made the mistake of looking in the mirror at some of the people working out. For whatever reason, there was one girl who kept locking eyes with me, but not in a friendly way, but more in what FELT like judgey. I felt so uncomfortable that I tried to run hard again, just to get her to stop scrutinizing my pace as she gave sidelong glances at my control panel. For all I know, the girl was thinking, ‘Wow! She is impressing me with her effort!’ But in my head I was thinking, ‘This skinny girl is judging me!!’ My face just got redder and redder, my coughing became more and more pronounced, and breathing was more than a little labored. The entire time though, the trainers kept checking in on me, giving recommendations, and correcting things like posture or my speed and incline. Eventually though, after only a half hour, I had to go sit down in the lobby while the rest of the class continued. It was around then that I realized my hands were shaking and my body was on the brink of becoming even more uncooperative.

Enter Brooks, with an icepack. He sat next to me and we talked about how I could I approach this differently--like, for example, acknowledging that my base speed wasn’t going to be as fast as everyone else’s. He also praised me, pointing out that I had gotten into the Orange Zone and maintained it for a 13 minutes--which is pretty good, considering I only worked out for a half hour. In any other situation I would have felt like a complete failure, and in fact, those first couple minutes I sat there, I did. I felt like such an idiot, that I had made a big mistake. But talking to Brooks and the other people who work there afterwards, I had a new attitude: I could do this, I just needed to do it on a level that worked for me. After the class concluded, I went back in and got a tutorial on the most intimidating piece of equipment: The Rower of Doom! Well, that’s what I call it. A trainer (Wes) showed me how to use it in a no pressure environment, (Read: With no one else around!) and I headed out to visit at my grandmother’s house, feeling optimistic, kind of proud (with a dollop of disappointment in myself), and a very red, sweaty face.

The takeaway from that night? Exercise is awful, hard, and sucks. But I'm told it gets easier and eventually can become enjoyable. I suspect that last bit is a skinny person lie, but we shall see. You know skinny people--they lie all about all sorts of things. 'Greek yogurt tastes great on a baked potato!' 'I love hiking!' and 'Nothing tastes as good as being thin.' Why must you lie to fat folks, skinny people?

That evening, a couple things happened.

  1. I picked up a bunch of cat toys off the floor for my grandmother. My back suddenly began twinging, but I assumed that this was due to being fat and having exercised.
  2. My car got broken into and my workout shoes stolen. Talk about irritating. I didn’t even like working out really, and now the thing that made it a little bit easier was gone. That’s not even mentioning the sudden feeling of vulnerability and having to clean out part of my car at 2 in the morning in the dark. (Meaning I was crouching, nearly upside down in the front seat, trying to get up pieces of glass.)

Would almost be pretty if it didn't cost me $300+.

And sometime around #1 and #2, I threw out my back.

Next post, coming on Monday: Bunny squats, my new fiance--the heating pad, and how I unexpectedly started to like going to a gym with a preoccupation with the color orange.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Truly Outrageous

When I heard they were making a live action “Jem and the Holograms” film, I was over the moon. Why? Because Jem is excitement. Jem is adventure! JEM IS OUTRAGEOUS!! See??

She squeezes her earring and she and her bandmates--who run a foster home for girls, because they’re that selfless--become technicolor marvels. Glamour and glitter, fashion and fame! And more! They take on bitchy “enemy bands” with as much panache as they do while taking on a God damn volcano!

They are superheroes in their own right--saving royalty from being unseated, foiling the plans of cheaters in the many, many battles of the bands, and bringing attention to important issues like world hunger. And they did it all while looking amazing and singing a song.

“Jem and the Holograms” was an amazing part of the 80s. So naturally everyone was excited when the news came out that there was a film in the works. And then the trailer was released.

What you just saw is outrageous for all the wrong reasons. It surpasses awful. It does not even slightly resemble the original canon. It looks like a Disney Channel movie. (And not one of the good ones. If only it could end up as great as “Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century” we’d be okay!) They’ve completely changed the spirit of the original material. This is now a coming of age story about girl who learns about being herself and the real meaning of friendship and family. And that’s a great, sugary, cliche story that’s worth being told. Again.

And if it had been told as “Judy Smith and her Rocker Girlfriends!” I’d politely clap and say, ‘That’s very cute!’ But that’s not what’s happened here. What’s happened is director Jon Chu of Justin Bieber concert film fame and his similarly credentialed team decided they’d take something with a previously established following, use the names in order to bring along that built in audience, and wrote a completely unrelated story. It’s like fan fiction, except at least EL James had the decency to change the names of her characters.

But there’s more at stake here. Female superheroes have been facing an uphill battle for years. The fact that there have been how many superhero based movies (I’m not going to count them, just think about all of them though) and only one centered on a female lead is atrocious. And well, yeah, the movie was atrocious too.

 Execs gave in, (finally) deciding to do a Wonder Woman flick--and it only got greenlit after “Batman vs. Superman” and the “Justice League” films were picked up. Prior to that, attempts at getting a female superhero movie were shot down repeatedly.

‘But Jess! Look at the Avengers! Black Widow is a major character in the film!’ Yeah, well consider this: In the current hit “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Black Widow has a badass scene where she drops out of a moving plane on a motorcycle and proceeds to look badass while kicking many an ass.

But what happened when it was time to develop the toy? Oh, they gave the badassery to Captain Americain one version of the toy and Iron Man in the other version. There is no toy version with Black Widow.

How does this all relate to what looks likes to be a shitty “Jem and the Holograms” movie? It’s all symptomatic of this idea that girls can’t kick ass. They can fall in love, lose their way, turn their back on friends, realize that there’s no place like home, and have a group hug with the people who really matter, but they can’t save the day. They are capable of rom-coming. And that? That’s detrimental. It goes beyond pissing off a fandom. It becomes damaging to society. It’s pandering, it’s limiting, and it reinforces the idea that men are physical beings and women are emotional beings.

I hear what you’re saying. “Jess, you’re judging a movie solely based on its trailer! Isn’t that jumping to conclusions?” No, because the people responsible for that trailer wanted the public to come away with an idea about the movie’s feel and narrative direction. Look at that and tell me I wasn’t supposed to get a rom-com vibe. You can’t.

There’s a missed opportunity here; an opportunity to tell a fun, female led story with a kick ass message, wrapped in a color palette that hurts your eyes. And that missed opportunity? Well, that’s truly outrageous.

Friday, January 2, 2015

10 Years Later: Remembering Lance Cpl Karl Linn

My adulthood begins with Karl Linn. Karl and I dated while we were both at VCU. It didn’t work out, but even when we weren’t dating, we were very good friends. For those of you who don’t know, on January 26, 2005, Lance Cpl. Karl R. Linn of Chesterfield, Virginia was killed in action in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. It was not until the next day that we heard he had died. On January 27, 2005, I turned 21.

I won’t go into that day, because I’ve gone over it in my head, with others, and in my writing so, so many times. My Dad’s memories of that day will have to suffice. And that’s not really the point of this post.

The point of this post is two-fold. Firstly, it’s been 10 years and I still feel this impulse to tell people, ‘There was this really amazing guy who’s not here anymore and his presence and absence in my life plays a huge role in who I am and the way I carry myself.’ I need people to know and remember him.

Last year I was asked by a publication what I wanted people to remember about Karl.

To those who didn't know him, I hope people remember that when he set out to achieve something, no obstacle could stand in his way. He fought hard to become a Marine and he absolutely loved it.

Karl was a smart, sweet guy who was respectful of all people, who demonstrated over and over again that chivalry isn't dead and did so through his good manners, consideration of others, and simple gestures of kindness. He was a man of integrity with a strong moral compass. He was a good son, brother, grandson, boyfriend, and friend. He was a talented artist, an analytical thinker, a designer, and above all, a nerd.

But that's not what stands out in my mind when I look back at his life. To me, what I remember most fondly is a tree in Stuart Circle. After a week of midterms, he and I were burned out, so we went for a late night walk through Richmond's Fan district. On our way back to the dorm, we passed by St. John's United Church of Christ located on Stuart Circle. There is tall a maple tree next to the church, and as we passed it, like some kind of woodland creature, Karl leapt up, grabbed a low hanging branch, and scrambled up the tree. He grinned down at me from his perch, "I can go higher," he informed me, proudly. I remember smiling and telling him he probably shouldn't—he could fall out and break his neck. So naturally, he climbed higher. He checked for my reaction every branch or so, his grin getting bigger each time I laughed or squealed that he could get hurt. When he finally made his way down, I told him he was crazy; that made him laugh. When I think of Karl, I remember a boy who climbed a tree, just to make me smile and maybe impress me a little, because that's the kind of guy he was."

Grief never really goes away. It becomes a companion, a part of you, but not apart. If you let it work its way through you, loss can grow into celebration and remembrance, but the pain itself never really goes away. It just becomes a dull background noise that occasionally gets sharper.

This is one of those sharp times for me.

So now we’re at the second reason why I’m writing this post. This birthday I don’t want any presents. Karl loved being a Marine, but he saw the toll it took on his brothers and sisters in the military. The lack of normalcy, constantly being on alert, and being away from familiar places and loving faces weighs heavily on members of our military. So in memory of Karl, I’d like to ask that you all consider helping me raise $1000 for the USO. That’s $100 for every year he’s been gone. I’m also asking you to consider passing along this request to anyone you know who might be willing to contribute.

You can contribute by donating here at my GoFundMe page! If you’d rather make your donation directly, you can do so by going to the USO site.

Thank you all for the years of support you’ve each provided. I’m so proud of Karl. He inspires me every day. He saw some things in me that I couldn’t see. He saw some things in the world that I’m still trying to see.

Thank you for helping me honor his memory and thank our men and women in the military. All my love, guys.

Friday, December 12, 2014


Every now and then someone starts throwing around the idea of a ‘Dislike’ button on Facebook. And for whatever reason, people tend to get behind the idea. And to them I say, NO!

Fortunately, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg dislikes the idea of a ‘Dislike’ button as much as I do. And to him I say, thank you! Oh, and thanks for letting us use Pusheen stickersthey’re so gosh darn cute!

Why am I such an opponent of the ‘Dislike’ button? My reasons aren’t exactly complicated. But in case you don’t want to continue reading, the simple answer is that it discourages civility, effort, and critical thinking.

Sorry, I just wanted to post another Pusheen. SO CUTE.

As if the internet wasn’t already a hostile enough place, we would be in a position where we don’t even have to specify why we don’t like something, we can just click ‘Dislike.’ Think about any comment section you’ve seen for a news item--even on a topic that’s not really that controversial. It’s littered with trolls and assorted asshats who have a keyboard and a comment section, and they’re speaking their minds, regardless of how ignorant, hateful, or incorrectly spelled it might be.

Do you really want to just give those folks a button? At least right now they still have to take the initiative to state why they don’t like something someone’s posted. (As opposed to ignoring it, but who does that?!! Lolz!!!) Commenting requires effort and at least a minuscule amount of thought--something that doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people. The convenience of a button would bypass both effort and thought, making Facebook and Facebook linked platforms an even more vicious arena for semi-anonymous, completely detached feedback, trolling, fighting, and general rudeness.

A ‘Dislike’ button will also encourage attention whores to be even worse than they already are. You’ve seen the posts. They’re like diary entries with an emo soundtrack. ‘Life is le sad for whatever reason and these are all the things wrong with life and life is terrible and I’m terrible and everything goes wrong in my life and this world and I’ll always be unhappy’ etc., etc., etc. Usually people post words of encouragement, along with the occasional clever person who posts, ‘dislike!!’ If there really was a button, imagine all the people who would select ‘Dislike’ as a sign of solidarity and support. The poster would be validated with the attention and amount of ‘Dislikes’—look how many people recognize the depths of despair you feel!!

Although to be honest, most people would really just be thinking this:

Not because we don't love you, but because you're being a drama llama and it's better to talk to your friends directly than to post to the world at large how awful life is for you. We just want you to be happy! WHY AREN'T YOU HAPPY??

But on a very basic level it creates a setting for people to feel bad about themselves. Bullying would take on a completely new dynamic. But setting aside the enormous problem of bullying, think about how you’d feel if people ‘Disliked’ what you were posting about? And I’m not talking about controversial topics. I’m talking about posting things like, ‘Just bought a new dressI feel so pretty!’, ‘Person A and Person B are now engaged!’, ‘I really like [whatever it is you like]!’, ‘I had a great time with friends A, B, and C!’, a duck-faced party pic, a selfie, or an oversharing/TMI pic of yourself/your family/your vacation. Yes, people post everything from the inane to the routine to the life changing on Facebook. And sometimes others think what you’re posting is dumb or uninteresting. Sometimes these people will take the time (why??) to post a dry, sarcastic remark, a backhanded compliment, or a passive aggressive response. But again, that requires effort and thought. There are people who are rude, petty, and bored enough that they’d revel in such a button.

Now naturally there are arguments for a ‘Dislike’ button. There’s the efficiency of simply clicking ‘Dislike’—it would save time! Or perhaps one might lack the appropriate research or vocabulary to tackle something they don't like, but they could still express their feelings on the matter. To mirror one of my previous points, arguments on the internet would be revolutionized! No longer would we feel the need to argue with trolls; we could simply ‘Dislike’ what they’ve said! Take that, jerks!

But those arguments of support don’t really outweigh the arguments against. A ‘Dislike’ button is just a bad idea. It engenders hostility, negativity, and laziness--things we already have enough of in this world. So let’s 'Like' more things! Let’s be more civil! Let’s have thoughtful, well researched debates and conversations! Let’s support one another! Let’s be awesome!