Tuesday, December 21, 2010

old fashioned, huh?

I know I'm a food snob, but this cracks me up.

"Old fashioned" beef pot pie featuring canned soup, frozen vegables, refrigerated biscuits and a can of French fried onions.

Mmm-boy. Gimme some of that.

I've been mentally toying with my beef pot pie recipe lately. The one I've made in the past is very good, but it's very similar to my chicken pot pie recipe–potatoes and carrots with a cream sauce.

I want to do something brown and rich, with onions and a brown sauce. I've recently discovered that parsnips and turnips are quite delightful with beef. Celery, too. Must meditate on this. And acquire some root vegetables.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Santa Harley has been naughty and nice

This is my lovely client Elise Archer, looking cute as a cherry bomb in the latest costume I made for her (copied from a design worn by Harley Quinn in "Batgirl Adventures #1", with a few modifications of Elise's own design). This costume was spread all over my workroom for a year and a half; I got sick of looking at it. So it's a real treat for me to see it whole, complete, and so beautifully modelled; it's like a jewel in a perfect setting, in a velvet-lined box. Perfect.

Cross-posted from deviantArt.com. Go give E some love, she works hard for her art.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

transcending the literal

I had a creative writing prof in college who was always talking about "transcending the literal" and after 15 years I think I can finally articulate what he meant.

The literal is the "text" or plot of the story: what happens to move the characters from point A to point B. A story can function on merely the literal. But it will be shallow and forgettable.

The "transcendence," you see, is that elusive thing, the "point" or "moral" of the story. We might call this the "subtext," which is rather ironic, since "sub" means "below," and to "transcend" has connotations of rising above. One definition of "transcend" means "to surpass; to exist above and independent of."

You might say, the plot or text is the bones and muscles of your story; the subtext is its soul. Granted, some stories, like some people, have rather thin and weak souls.

In the last week I've seen "RED," starring Bruce Willis, and "Predators," with Adrian Brody. They were very similar types of movies--both big retro action flicks, although the former was funny and a bit spoofy, and the latter was grim and a bit maudlin. But they both basically worked.

"RED" had a couple of minor romantic subplots that were dotted in like gold beads on an embroidery sampler, plus some allusions to honor and self-sacrifice, and Doing The Right Thing instead of Every Man For Himself. None of it was laid on heavily, but those little dabs of subtext fed our expectations of what Good Guys and Bad Guys were supposed to do in these kinds of movies, so we went away happy. In fact, the light touch with which these "morals" were applied, actually added to the success of the story; anything more would have seemed like artificial attempts at "depth."

"Predators" took the opposite tactic--all of its viewpoint characters were bad people, anti-heroes, and the viewer can really only identify with them via their being humans, fighting for survival against monsters. No one was alloted more than a line or two of backstory, but you knew what kind of people they were by the way they behaved and spoke to each other. That's a combination of skillful writing, directing, and acting, when you can convey character in such a small space, and without dragging down the pace. (Although, in an action flick, the director uses those moments of character development to allow some downtime; without them, the pace is too frenetic and becomes numbing.) The subtexts of "Predators" had to do with humans being shades of gray, not all good or bad, and sometimes they hide their true natures. Again, these themes were not the main focus of the story. They just made it go down easier.

There are, of course, instances where the pendulum swings the other way: where the subtext outweighs the text and drags it down. We often say such a story is "preachy."

Recently I read two short stories that were basically just arguments about religion. One was a rather scornful depiction of believers and quasi-believers and how they react to mysterious events. The other was a "dialogue" between God and a reporter that ended with the affirmation: "there is no one true faith." (Wow. Thanks for that, guy.)

Neither story worked because the subtext was all there was. Neither of them had sympathetic characters or a plot to build suspense. The characters were just mouthpieces for the writer's viewpoint, staged in a situation where they could talk about it.

I think it's safe to say a story needs a balance of text and subtext to be satisfying; the two exist on a spectrum and you may need more of one or the other for a given type of story. I think the best stories tend to have a balance of the two, in hefty amounts.

Right now I'm watching the Swedish movie adaptation of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," and wow is it intense. I haven't read the book yet; when I picked it up last year it seemed dense and hard to get into (and frankly I haven't had the time or brainspace lately to spare), but based on the strength of the movie I shall take another stab at it. I do know, based on critical reviews, that Stieg Larsson had a definite point to make in that book, and the rocketship plot is in complete and total service to that point. Text and subtext, in perfect synergy.

Friday, October 29, 2010

chaps my hide

Gratuitous steampunk-western by Mike Resnick, who happened to be one of the editors at Baen's Universe when they bought "End of the Line."

Is that indicative of anything? Probably not. But this title appears to be everything I hate about steampunk and everything I hate about alternate-history, rolled into one. I mean really, you take a bunch of historical figures and rub a brass finish over them. Yawn.

ETA 11/11/10: Seems the reviewers at Publisher's Weekly agreed with my initial assessment:

From Publishers Weekly
In this lusterless steampunk western, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are outfitted with superhard brass body armor and Gatling-style handguns; Thomas Edison is a cyborg working with Ned Buntline on motorized stagecoaches and other wonders; lawman Bat Masterson has vampiric tendencies; gunslinger Johnny Ringo is a zombie bent on besting Holliday in a gunfight; and Geronimo is a successful shaman and general making sure the United States stops at the Mississippi. Five-time Hugo winner Resnick brings a sparse, dialogue-centric writing style to the classic story of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, twisting it ever so slightly to blend magic and mechanism into its narrative weave. The larger story of the feud is untouched, making Resnick's rendition feel like a copycat of Tombstone with gears glued on. (Dec.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

PVC Batgirl costume

This is a test drive of the costume I made for a client. I tried it on me, because she and I are the same height and vertical proportions (I'm a couple sizes smaller, though, so this is pinned at the back). Also I like to make sure I get pictures before I release my creations into the wild.

All PVC except for the mask, which is leather. All my own patterns. Strongly based off the Bruce Timm illustrations. I ought to Photoshop some red hair in there.

Monday, October 11, 2010

R.I.P. steampunk

Seriously. You know the trend is dead when Halloween Express has a line of Steampunk-themed costumes and accessories.

This has got to be my favorite.

Let's see... You're Steampunk Spock dressed as Dracula at a goth rave! Right?

I know it's not any more ridiculous that the generic-Goth wigs they sell in those places, or all the slut-bunny costumes that get pushed on women. But it kind of highlights the problem with "Steampunk" as a subculture, namely: you can't extrapolate from steam-age technology or aesthetics if you don't start there in the first place. (We won't even talk about Victorian ethics!)

Frankly, a pair of Steampunk goggles mass-produced in plastic may be the definition of irony. If you want a pair of goggles, go buy a repurposed vintage pair from some artist on Etsy.

Better yet, hit the antique malls and make 'em yourself.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Sabine's spirit board

"You asked once whether I had your psychic abilities," Miss Fairweather said. "You stopped short of asking how, in lieu of them, I communicate with the spirits. I am going to show you one method."

She picked up a feather, as black as the rest of the bird, and dipped it into a small silver bowl of oil. With it she drew a circle around the cage. Then she took a piece of crumbly yellow chalk and drew a few symbols at four compass points outside the glistening circle. At last she lit the feather in the candle. A horrid smell filled the air. She quickly blew across the smoldering feather, directing the smoke toward the bird in the cage.

It hopped up and down on its perch a few times, then began to bow rapidly and caw, with strangled urgency. Abruptly it dropped a load of birdshit onto the floor of the cage and fell like it had been shot.

"Nice," Trace said. "That work with humans, too?"

"Be quiet," she murmured. "Have you not seen this done before?"

"Not with a bird. I saw a hoodoo woman put a charm on a pig, once, and send it to find a murderer." The raven lay twitching on the spirit board, its eyes rolling.

"Did it work?" Miss Fairweather asked.

"The voudouenne said it did. I hope the pig was right, because they hanged the man it ran to."

The raven abruptly rattled its feathers and hopped to its feet. It bowed to them twice, tapping its beak on the floor. It cocked its head, waiting for acknowledgement, then tapped twice more.

"Be welcome," Miss Fairweather said to it, and a chill ran through Trace. The bird’s eyes were brighter than they had been a moment ago, he would swear to it, and the light in them was not the gold of candlelight, but the cold silver of spirit-light. "Name yourself," she commanded.

"Crick-et," the bird croaked, and Trace felt the hair on his arms and neck stand up.

Miss Fairweather nodded in satisfaction. "It is always best to make them name themselves," she said to him. "If they will not give you a name, it is probably not an entity you will want to transact with."

"I should think not," Trace said, leaning away from the cage. "That’s a demon."


So I had this itch to make a spirit/talking/ouija board.

No, I do not believe in them or any of the hype attached to them. I don't think I've ever actually played with one. I don't intend to play with this one. I find it equally amusing and appalling that people are so afraid of something that was invented to exploit the enduring hoax that is/was Spiritualism.

I just wanted one because my character had one, and I am that big of a geek.

Also, I think they're pretty.

So I made one. On leather. I did the lettering by hand, with a woodburning pen. And because I was making the kind of board Sabine Fairweather would find useful, in addition to the standard letters I threw in some alchemical symbols and the five Chinese elements (wu xing). The Chinese calligraphy was especially fun to do.

It can be rolled up, for storage. Or travel, if one were so inclined. Miss Fairweather has a tidy mind.

Hey, I also make dresses I never wear anywhere.

I may hang this on my wall. I need something to put me in the writing mood. Heck, maybe I can use it as a plot generator.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

critiquing: it's not about you

I finished a story last week. The first new Trace story I've completed in five years, and one of only two stories I've written in that time.

I finished "Scapegoat" just in time to take to my writer's meeting last weekend. I love my writer's group. I've been in several, and this group is by far the most knowledgeable, the most comfortable with themselves as readers and critiquers, and the least likely to take anything personally.

They're all fans of the Trace stories, so I was getting a little complacent about taking them things. Before last weekend, I was starting to wonder if they'd accept anything Trace-related and call it good (after all, they'd been waiting five years!). Happily, I was wrong. There were pacing problems with the end of the story, and they let me know it. They all agreed, however, that the thing wrapped up well enough, and with some structural tweaking it would be fine.

And I trust 'em. They've certainly let me know before when I've put my foot in it.

We have a new member in the group. I've known her peripherally for a few years, and finally invited her to join the group, since I thought she was in the right mindset, and an advanced enough level, to benefit from the kind of critiquing we do.

I don't think my initial assessment was wrong, but there was another factor I hadn't counted upon. In fact, I'd come to take it for granted in the group--the ability to separate one's personal beliefs from the story at hand.

In college, I was trained as a formalist. I look at the text. When it comes to fiction, I don't give a hang about the author's biography or the political climate influencing the book: if it ain't in the text, it doesn't count. I'd even argue that formalism is the only legitimate way to approach speculative fiction, since SFF/H writers are always talking about "world-building." Yes, you can write contemporary political allegories into your novel, but somebody who's not hip to the politics of the 2010's had still better be able to read it and get meaning out of it.

My writer's group, at least what I consider the core of it, has the same attitude. I doubt they have a name for it, much less any formal training (they all learnt their writing chops on the street, as it were), but they adhere to it.

New Member had a problem with "Scapegoat." And she had a hard time saying what her problem was. She objected to use of the word "witch" to describe the villianness, despite the superstitious 19th century setting of the story.

She objected to the objectivism of Good and Evil... in a horror story. She protested that she'd seen 3000 years of that attitude and she wanted something more... What, she couldn't quite articulate.

She said that in badly written stories she could ignore it, but in a "good" story, like mine, she expected better. But she couldn't quite say what "it" was.

I tried to help. I did. I have learned that people often make up reasons to justify things they feel with their gut, and understanding those unspoken values helps me accommodate a wider range of readers. I asked if she would be happier with an X-Files type ending, i.e. 'It could be spooks, but here's a rational explanation'. No, that wasn't it. Every suggestion I made, every effort to repeat back what she was saying, to interpret, was shot down and another layer of finely-minced equivocation sprinkled on top.

"But you never explain why," she whined. "Was [the villain] abused as a child?"

I was rolling my eyes at this point (seriously--traumatic childhood is the most overused literary device of our age), but I pointed out the places in the text where it stated the girl had been taught badly by her mother, and had done Bad Things in the past. She was greedy, lazy, manipulative and deceitful--all traits supported by the text. Other members pointed out that the girl was not bad because she was a witch; she just happened to use her powers for evil.

But New Member was not happy.

After a couple days' thought I've deduced she wanted me to retcon my story (and coincidentally, nineteenth century history and morals) to accommodate modern attitudes toward witchcraft. And she didn't want to say so, because it would reveal her prejudices, and invite speculation about whether she is a pagan/wiccan/witch/whatever.

Y'know, I don't care a hill of beans what she believes in. All I care about is how fairly she can critique. And in a writer's group, you're not there to tell the writer what kind of story you want to see. You're there to evaluate what's on the page.

It's interesting to note, as well, that "Scapegoat" takes place in a "black town" in Kansas, c. 1880. Racist themes permeate the story. I knew, writing it, that SOMEBODY was going to be offended, however lightly I strove to tread. And I was sweating the reaction of another Newer Member of our group, a young woman of mixed race, who would've had a lot more legitimate cause to complain about the historically-accurate use of ethnic slurs in the story. But she's apparently more formalist--or maybe more sophisticated--than Old New Member, because her feedback was unequivocally approving.

I'm not saying everyone has to like or agree with every story submitted by every member. It's entirely appropriate to say, "I'm not the right audience for this story, but here's what I got out of it that you may find helpful..." In some cases it's even appropriate to say, "this offends me," because that can help the writer determine his audience better, whether that includes you or not. But say it and move on. Don't condemn the story for living in a different world than you do.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Jesca Hoop: The Kingdom

This is quite the most gorgeous video I have seen in years.

In fact the video is so mesmerizing it's hard at first to hear how beautifully the poetry is constructed:

In the morning you are called, she said
you must go to the battlefield
and follow the cries of the men rampaging
and gather the ones who won't heal...

But In the high desert, you are dying
for your God, and his ghost, and the son.
Do not hold to the earth on which you are lying
for the Kingdom can never be won

I've been listening to this obsessively for two days. The album was $7.99, but the inspiration is priceless.

Friday, August 13, 2010

instant-karma pizza

I haven't posted a recipe in a long long time (or much of anything else, either) but I felt compelled to brag/bemoan the pizza we had for dinner last night.

It started with some basil. I adore basil. I hit the farmer's market on Wednesday to get some tomatoes, and this woman had a pile of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes in every color of the rainbow, plus a bouquet of basil that I could smell from six feet away.

I bought a bundle, which looks pretty and summery in a straight glass vase on my kitchen counter, and announced I was going to make pesto with it.

"Ooo," said my husband, the enabler. "Pesto flatbreads. Pesto flatbreads!"

And because I can't say no, either to him or to the craving for pizza I'd had the last couple weeks, I said, "Okay, what else do you want for toppings?"

"Carmelized onions," he said without hesitation. "Pork. Brie."

"Brie??" I said incredulously.

"Brie. And maybe some crumbled feta."

It sounded like a strange combination to me, but I set out to make it work. Clearly this was not a pizza that would need or want tomato sauce. The pesto would serve for the oil and the salty flavor, plus I was already looking at 3 cheeses (given the parmesan in the pesto) so I could skip the mozz, too.

I got some pork sausage at Steve's Meat Market in DeSoto. It's mild, breakfasty, and full of good pig fat. I browned it in a little olive oil, with balsamic vinegar, rosemary, pepper, parsely and bay leaf.

For the pesto I used a recipe that Sifu Sit provided. He'd made some the night before, and claimed it was superior to many recipes because it had a dab of butter added. Y'know, he was right?

For the crust, I used this recipe, which truly is perfect in my mind. I mixed it up Wednesday night, let it sit in the fridge all day Thursday, and it was ready to go when I got home. I like a tad more salt and sugar in the dough than they call for here, but YMMV. If you spread the dough quite thin, it makes a 10 or 12 inch, crackerlike crust with a bit of chew. I made two balls of dough, each one mixed separately (which takes, like, 5 minutes) and then put in the same bowl to rise.

So: onions sliced thin and gently sauteed in the pig fat. Sun-dried tomatoes from the pantry, diced and warmed with the onions. Tony wilted some spinach to go on his flatbread. I found a shrivelling red pepper in the fridge and elevated it to divine roasted status. Thin slices of brie, sprinkling of feta, dashes of fresh pesto.

I'm embarrassed to admit I ate the whole thing. A whole 10-inch flatbread, by myself. Tony managed to hold back a slice of his, which he had for breakfast.

My fingers were so swollen this morning I could hardly get my ring on. It'll probably take me the rest of the weekend to undo the damage of all that wheat and salt.

But hey, if you're gonna sin.... at least make it worth the while.

Friday, June 11, 2010

no really--you shouldn't have

Guys (and gals)--take note of this: approaching someone you know casually, with declarations of undying love and the details of how you've f*cked up your own life in hopes of winning them -- not the turn-on you might imagine.

The last couple weeks I've had some thoughts about the dynamics of friends, fans, stalkers. As a public service, I'm going to share them here.

Friends bond over shared interests. Initial interaction is shallow and polite, and the mutual interest is outside of themselves. Over time, they may share personal information and develop an emotional bond. That's a normal, natural progression.

Fans find something in the work or the creator that feeds some basic unconscious or semi-conscious need in the fan. It's an isolated facet of the whole, usually, and highly subjective, which is why fans spend all their time bickering over details. They twist their observations to fit their own needs, which makes any disagreement potentially threatening. Now, that's not to suggest that all fans of everything are demented or divorced from reality. Fantasy is a healthy thing if it's kept in proportion with reality. But in my costuming business I've had people objectify me as the provider of their fix--they assume I'm their friend because I helped feed their habit. Or they assume that I'm into new-age spiritual crap because I practice tai chi. Or whatever.

Stalkers, at least the type I've dealt with, are an extreme type of fan. They latch onto the person, and then cultivate, or feign, interest in subjects that interest the object of affection. This is not the basis for a healthy relationship of ANY kind.

It's also the reason so many love affairs and marriages fail. If you meet someone, and crush on them, and try to get close to them by being something you aren't, it may work in the short term--because who, after all, wouldn't be flattered by someone praising and supporting the work that is most important to her?--but eventually the facade will wear down.

This is also how those "How to get women" books work. And it sounds good in theory, but it's not a good long-term game plan.

The difficult thing is that people who become fans and/or stalkers often don't have enough real-life experience, or options, to see the fallacy in the their fantasy (assuming there isn't some underlying drug use or more severe disorder). That's why they sometimes turn violent--the bubble will eventually burst, and they lash out in frustration, trying to regain control.

It's a sad but true fact: until the stalker has something else, something worthy and rewarding to focus his energy on, he will not abandon the obsession.

Happily, I've never had to deal with a violent stalker, or one that was more than mildly annoying. I think that's partly because I'm not the kind of person who'd get caught in an abusive relationship in the first place. I don't empathize, I don't negotiate, and I don't care if the other person feels like shit, (or hates my guts!) so there's no way for a potential abuser/stalker to manipulate me.

But there's another kind of stalker, who happens to be attracted to women like me--as the Eurythmics put it, "Some of them want to abuse you, some of them want to be abused." Submissives, you might call them. My type of stalker is invariably awkward, weak, and attracted to my capability and confidence.

When I was in my early 20's I had a guy follow me around for about eight months. He sent me letters describing how he could love unconditionally--even if I were disfigured by burn scars or dying of cancer--and bits of fiction containing scrotum-crushing scenes.

I believe now that it was classic erotomania--the guy was being treated for various anxiety disorders and may have had delusions as well. It didn't matter that he was 20 years older than me, and from a completely different social, educational and economic background. In fact, I recently read that erotomaniacs tend to fixate on people who are "out of their league." I suspect, given the general ineptitude of these stalkers in all aspects of life, that this fixation expresses a desire to be rescued and "taken care of."

Anyway, I eventually got rid of the guy by ignoring him. I told him no, sent back his letters unopened, and hung up the phone when he called. I guess I'm lucky that he quit, although I will take some credit for never letting it get past the first stage. I later found out he pursued another girl with similar, but more escalated results.

There's another fan I half-seriously refer to as my stalker. He's been hanging around for several years. He's bought my fiction, sent me letters and birthday cards, and when we meet at Cons, he tries to strike up conversations as if we were just talking on the phone the other day. I just say hello politely and then move on, but the guy won't get it--his latest innovation is to approach my husband in the same overly-familiar manner. Luckily he's an old, slow guy and I can simply avoid him.

That's really the only thing you can do with a stalker, or an admirer who's approaching creepy territory. Ignore them. Pointedly. Sometimes this means acknowledgement of their presence or behaviors without reaction. You have to say "no" without giving them an emotional response, which is what they want. You have to be a cold calm bitch, and tell them unequivocally that the behavior is inappropriate and unwanted.

I don't know yet about this new potential stalker--he crossed a major line, but it's the first such incident, and so doesn't yet qualify as "stalking" per se. I think he may be having a breakdown of some kind. The fixation on me is only partly about me, but more about my status in the social circle we share. The rest of the circle is drawing in around me, so I don't feel particularly nervous or threatened--just annoyed. I refuse to carry the weight of somebody else's problems.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

steampunk convention report, ConQuest 41, 2010

Tony & I took a mini-vacation for Memorial Day weekend, and went to ConQuest in Kansas City. Saw some friends, ate some overpriced food, wore our pseudo-Victorian finest, and generally had a good hedonistic time.

I hadn't been to ConQuest in a few years. Too busy, too broke, not writing anymore, generally put-off by the fandom scene. But the Steampunk theme lured me back, and gave me an excuse to make up the red ballgown I'd been promising myself for the last 5 years.

Of course, I gave myself 2 weeks to get it done, which probably would have been ample time if I had a) started with a strong plan of what I was going to do, and b) not volunteered to make Tony a vest and alter 2 or 3 other garments for him as well. (Not that I regret it; he was unbearably handsome in that vest.)

Naturally, I was tacking down linings an hour before we left for the hotel. But all turned out well:

It's red/black shot dupioni silk for the underskirt, and black/red iridescent velvet in silk/rayon. Slinky, soft, decadently rich and heavy. Black nylon fringe at the skirt hem and sleeves; black beaded trim at the bodice hem. Silver and garnet necklace from my lover.

I had a heckuva time finding garnet earrings to go with this ensemble; in the end I found some "butter-colored" amber stones in a silver setting. There was an amber-jewelry dealer at the con who had some lovely cherry-red pieces, so I bought a ring set in filigree and a pair of drop earrings.

There were a lot of other costumes to see, which was part of the fun of going. Steampunk is so funky and creative, and quite wearable. Tony & I wore our tweed ensembles all day Saturday and were quite comfortable.

I made my skirt and vest a few years back; Tony's vest I made last week, out of some old wool stash I had. He found his pants and shirt in consignment stores, and we accessorized via antique malls and ebay. I think his ankle-gaiters are particularly cool.

Then there were were the lovely folks we encountered in the hotel halls (sorry if there's a slight blur on some of these--convention hall lighting is never optimal for photos):

Susan Satterfield, doyenne of the Con.

A dancing Sultana...

A couple of waifs...

A fun-loving lady...

a pair of steamy street urchins...

A couple of proper ladies, and a lad who took the "punk" to heart and said, "[bleep] this Victorian [bleep]."

Klignons, of course, make their own fashion:

Nice use of cogs and striped stockings:

This young lady was quite charming. She looked to me like she'd just popped over from a dig in Cairo. She did a skit in the Masquerade on Saturday night, as well--something about Miss Pomeroy searching for golden bells to save her world? The reference was lost on me, but the costume was adorable.

This dapper gentleman had a booth in the dealer's room, selling leather pouches, belts, top hats and accessories. He also had some serious weaponry. His website is www.boarsheadleather.com.

A genial trio of airship time-travellers.

This guy was one of my favorites. From his boots to his waxed mustache, to his slightly reticent and blustery air, he was perfect. His weapon was a marvel, too. See those glowing cartridges on his bandolier? They had LED lights inside to make them glow, and they detached from the bandolier to plug into his gun, for back-up ammunition.

He had probably the most detailed accessories belt, too. A gentleman should never go into the wild without his tobacco and tea cup.

And here he is with a hunting companion, set for adventure. I figure they'll be taking down pterodactyls with those guns.


Monday, March 29, 2010

open letter to Whole Foods Market

Dear Management and Employees of Whole Foods,

There are many things I love about Whole Foods. However, the recent pushing of vegetarian propaganda is not one of them.

Since your Overland Park store opened I have been a regular visitor to your prepared foods/food bar for lunch and/or breakfast. I eat there at least 3 times a week, every week.

For the past month, I have been increasingly frustrated with the lack of meat on the salad bar. You have added the whole grains selection to the end of the salad bar, and virtually eliminated the salmon, tuna salads and chicken salads that were previously available.

Over the past three weeks, I have counted six separate occasions in which I went to get a salad and the rotisserie chicken was either depleted or never there. Twice I have heard other customers request more chicken from prepared foods. Twice I have done it myself. EACH TIME I have waited around for 20 minutes and the chicken never appeared.

Now, I appreciate you may be short-handed in the kitchen, but this is not good customer service, particularly since today, there was one staff member serving pre-made sandwiches at one end of the salad bar, and another offering me fat-free "healthy" salad dressings at the other.

Since I don't eat wheat and I happen to believe that low-fat dieting is a good way to make yourself vitamin-deficient, I set my salad down and left without buying anything.

I know it is good business practice, not to mention goodwill, to provide for the vegetarian/vegan demographic of your customers. You have done so in the past by providing sprouts, tofu, whole grain salads, and vegetarian entrees. Since the beginning of the year, the selection of vegetarian items has doubled, but the meats have nearly vanished.

I suspect these changes have less to do with a desire to please your customers and more with the desire to please your stockholders. Due to grain subsidies in this country, I'm sure the unpurchased grains you throw away every day still cost less than the chicken and fish you were selling off the salad bar. Meanwhile, the price of your food bar has not gone down, even though vegetarian proponents argue that eating vegetarian is cheaper, and many people profess a desire to eat less meat because "meat is so expensive." Ergo, the benefit is to Whole Foods, not the customer.

I, for one, do not subscribe to the theory that vegetarian eating is good for our bodies or for the environment. There are plenty of other educated, informed people who feel the same.

Today I noticed a large display of books near the customer service counter under the sign, "Healthy Eating Resources." Every book in the display was about vegetarian, vegan, or raw foods eating. While these books undoubtedly contain some valuable information, I would like to see the opposite side of the argument represented. There are two books coming out in May that I think should be added to your shelves: "The Vegetarian Myth" by Lierre Keith, and "The Primal Blueprint" by Mark Sisson. While no one book should be taken as absolute truth, presenting both sides of the argument is fair AND "healthy."

Let me be clear: I fully support local and organic food production/consumption. My husband and I buy all of our meat from local ranchers. Our beef is grass-fed; our chickens and eggs are free-range. I don't mind paying more for quality and sustainability. Having Whole Foods so close to my workplace was a tremendous convenience for me.

However, given the recent changes I doubt I will be spending much more time or money at Whole Foods. While I appreciate the quality of your goods, I simply can't find what I want there anymore, and I resent being told, implicitly and explicitly, that what I want is the wrong thing.

Holly Messinger

Monday, February 08, 2010

community banks do a vastly disproportionate share of small business lending

Shocking, I know.

I opened an account at UMB (used to be United Missouri Bank until they expanded out-of-state) in Liberty, Missouri--in, oh, probably 1993 or thereabouts. I still use that account for my sewing business. There's a branch maybe five miles from my work, but generally I pay all my bills online so I rarely need to go there.

Today, I found out UMB was named the 2nd-strongest bank in America by Forbes. Although I don't have any particular praise to heap upon UMB, when I consider the grousing I've heard from friends and family about Bank of America (and considering what BOA did to my Visa account after they bought out MBNA), it may be praise enough to say I've never had a problem with UMB.

After the Sparring Partner and I got married, I opened a new account in my married name with the local college-town credit union. I got a super car loan with a second credit union, at about half the interest rate that everyone else was offering, given that my credit was looking shaky after the divorce.

I still have all those accounts open and they cost me not a thing. I'm on the verge of paying off my car loan, and looking at ways to transfer part of our debt load to one of the credit unions, to make it easier to pay off. I'm still hoping to have all my personal debts paid off by my 40th birthday.

Anyway, the take-away lesson here is, Bank of America is evil. They may seem convenient because they have ATM's everywhere, but trust me--you're gonna pay for that convenience, one way or another. Put your money in a local bank.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

manliest mustaches of all time

Those of you who read The Art of Manliness have already seen this. Those who don't.... well, you should!

The 35 Manliest Mustaches of All Time

Tom Selleck is at the top of the list, naturally.