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Before I Die, and Book 18: Unsouled

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I think this is the first year in a very, very long time that I haven’t really done any re-reading.

At some point recently, I sat down and did some calculations. I’m almost 27, so if I live an average female lifespan (about 80 years as of 2011), I’ve got 53 years left. I have to assume that there will be points in my life when it is much more difficult to make time to read than it is right now–such as when I have young children–and that possibly, as I age, my reading pace itself will slow down. So maybe, for the rest of my life, I’ll read about 3 books a month on average. (In addition to not re-reading this year, I’ve been purposefully selecting books that I think will make my 50 book goal more difficult and my blog more interesting to any random internet user who happens across it. “I devoured this YA series in a weekend” is kind of boring, and feels like cheating, so I’m hitting about 4 a month right now. Normally I’d guess it’s more like 5.5.) So, 3 books a month x 12 books a year x 53 years: I’ve got time to read approximately 1,908 books before I die (but, you know, who’s counting?)

This means a few things:
1: I should maybe be a little pickier about what I read! Really get the most out of those books. I should look for books that challenge and enrich me, not just fun stories–more literature, less pulp. And if I don’t like a book, I should put it down and move on.
2: I should read a much higher percentage of fun stories than I do right now! More pulp, less literature! Then I could easily read a book and a half per week for the rest of my life and read a lot more books!
3: I should re-read books less often! How many times have I re-read the Harry Potter series, and how many new books will I never get a chance to read because of all the times I’ve done that?

And I’ve decided to completely ignore all of those things.

First of all, the first two contradict each other. If I have any goals in this matter, I should aim to strike a balance between the two, and I find that the best way to do that is to read heavy stuff until my brain feels like it’s about to fall out of my head from all the thinking, then do a quick literary cleanse by reading two or three books that require very little of me. (Of course, my favorites are the ones that don’t require much of you, but will reward you handsomely if you put a lot of yourself into them anyway. I’m always looking for books like that.)

As for re-reading: I like re-reading. I have an aunt who has asked me a few times how I can re-read books, so finally I asked her, “Well there are billions of people in the world you’ve never met before; how can you keep celebrating holidays with us?” And at first I was kind of joking, but after I said it I realized how true it is. There are books out there that are family. I already mentioned the Harry Potter books–I’ve probably read the series 25 times, if when you think “series” you think “everything that’s out at the time of my reading,” because there were definitely many, many times when I re-read everything that was out at the time before they were all out. And it’s gotten to the point where, when I read anything else by JK, even if it’s something I’ve never read before, I immediately feel like I’m home. I’ve re-read the City Watch stories in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series so many times that they’re pretty much completely falling apart by now, and I’m actually kind of relieved by this: The new books in the series are about 3/4 of an inch taller than my copies, which means that when I put the new one on my bookshelf, it made the shelf uneven. If the others fall apart, I can replace them with new copies and it’ll be even again. I can stop being angry every time I look at my shelf.

In summary, reason 1 to re-read books: A book that you love is like family.

Reason 2 to re-read books: You never catch everything the first time. Would you believe, in all those re-readings of Harry Potter, it wasn’t until about book 4 in my most recent re-read that I finally smacked myself in the forehead and said, “Diagon Alley. Diagonally. I am a fucking dumbass.” And sometimes you read something else in between your reads that sheds light on what you’re reading, like the time I re-read American Gods shortly after re-reading The Chronicles of Amber and tweeted at Neil Gaiman to ask if Roger Zelazny was one of his influences, and would you know it, he was. And sometimes a book has something at the end that completely changes how you would have looked at the rest of the book, and you just have to see how it feels to read it now that you know. And other times, a book is one of those “it’s a thinking book if you want it to be” types of books, and you want to read it when you’re in the other mode and get more of the fun story that you missed because you were thinking, or more of the thinking that you missed because you were tired and just wanted fun. There are a lot of reasons to go back and look for more in a book. More is always there.

Reason 3 to re-read books: The next one in the series just came out, and you remember nothing about the rest of the series. Or even if you remember a lot, you just feel better if you read them all in a row, or at least fairly close to each other. The continuity feels good, and you miss less that way. This is probably the cause of most of my re-reads. Of course, there are situations where it would be ridiculous to do this. If there are already 15 books out, that’s a lot of time. At time same time, it’s still not as much time as it’ll take when book 6 of the Song of Ice and Fire series comes out and I have to re-read 1-5 because there is just so damn much in those books that I remember almost nothing from the first time (and the show is great, but it’s not the same).

This post’s book, Unsouled by Neal Shusterman, would normally have fallen under reason 3. It’s the newest book (until, I believe, October) of his Unwind dystology. I tried not to re-read books 1 and 2. I went and found a summary of book 1, because I remembered nothing about it. That worked okay, though there was still stuff in Unsouled that I remembered being a reference to Unwind but couldn’t remember what the reference was. I know I still missed stuff. I looked for a summary of book 2, Unwholly, as well, but I couldn’t find one. So I figured I’d skim a little of the book to remember vaguely what happened, and I ended up re-reading the whole thing. I’m glad I did, because I had basically forgotten about most of the main characters’ existence who weren’t in book 1. Re-reading would have been the wiser thing to do from the beginning, but I was playing catch-up and didn’t want to take the time. However, I still don’t think I will when book 4 comes out. Maybe eventually I’ll go back and read the whole series from beginning to end. So far, it’d be worth it.

Book 18: Unsouled by Neal Shusterman

And the prize for most terrifying cover art goes to…

The premise of the Unwind dystology: A second American Civil War occurred, and this time, they were fighting over abortion. There was a pro-choice side and a pro-life side, and it went on for years. During this time, so much funding was diverted from education into the war effort that teens were left wandering the street all day, with no education, no skills, and absolutely nothing to do with themselves. Finally, someone sarcastically suggested a solution to both problems: How about if, instead of allowing abortion, parents could choose to have their kid “unwound”– surgically disassembled with every single bit of the kid being donated to someone who needed it–starting at age 13 and continuing through age 18? This way, no one would be getting an abortion, and since every part of the kid needs to be used, the kid’s not really dying, right? And though the suggestion was sarcastic, everyone agreed: This was the perfect solution. Both sides were happy, and parents everywhere had a way to keep their delinquent kids in line. Don’t misbehave, we’ll have you unwound.

If you’re pregnant and don’t want the kid, there’s an option put in place for you: Rather than having an abortion, you can have the kid and stork it. This refers to, basically, leaving the kid on someone’s doorstep. If a baby is left on your doorstep, you’re obligated to take it in and raise it as your own (until you can unwind it, of course), but if you catch the person leaving it there, they have to take it back.

And some ultra-religious families have an extra kid and raise him specifically to be unwound. These kids are called tithes, and they’re treated like royalty their entire lives (the whole 13 years) until they eagerly go off to experience the sublime joy of life in a divided state. They’re excited about it. They’ve been told how amazing it’s going to be their entire lives.

This whole series is fucked up.

The thing that makes it great, though, is that it’s pretty much believable. If someone showed up in my living room suddenly and said they were from 20 years in the future and the same civil war had happened, the funding had been taking from schools, the teenagers had roamed freely, and someone had suggested basically just killing all the teenagers, I wouldn’t be all that surprised. The book reinforces the realism constantly by providing links to real news articles that you can type into your browser and read on a real news site about something horrible that people are trying to do right now. For example, this article about an Arkansas candidate for the House of Representatives, Charlie Fuqua, and his desire to instate the death penalty for rebellious children because that’s how it worked in the Bible. He says, “I think my views are fairly well accepted by most people.” He also says that oh of course no one would actually ever do this, that would be horrible, but it’d sure be nice to have that to hold over the teenagers’ heads when they’re being little shits.

This series is fantastic. It is absolutely chilling, because while you’re pretty sure it would never actually happen, you then have evidence right in front of you that there are at least a few people who are already more extreme than the solution in this book–I mean, at least in the book the body parts have to be donated, right? Fortunately, with 3D printing technology advancing as quickly as it is, we’re unlikely to have that drastic a shortage of organs anytime in the near future, but that doesn’t mean some psychopaths won’t think this whole unwinding thing is a good idea. (I can’t help but wonder if anyone reading this books thinks that.)

The series is told from the point of view of a number of kids who were meant to be unwound but escaped. A rebellion springs up with them at the center, and they struggle to avoid the juvenile police officers who want to find them and send them off to the harvest camps where their society thinks they belong. By book 3, one finds himself forced into a cult leader sort of position. Two are at the front of different ends of the rebellion, and I got a very interesting Professor X/Magneto sort of vibe from them (okay, okay, a MLK Jr/Malcolm X vibe). Some just try to stay under the radar and get old enough not to be unwound. And one part of the story comes from the point of view of someone who was never born, but made: A secret organization built a new kid entirely out of parts of unwound kids, and he’s part science experiment, part marketing ploy, and 100% human–though he’s never been taught what that means.

Should you read this book? If you’ve read other YA dystopian lit and want something a little more thought provoking, this is the series for you. Or if you’ve avoided the YA dystopia craze because it seems a little silly and immature, this series is definitely worth a shot. The premise is realistic and terrifying in a way that no other series I’ve read really has been. The characters are flawed, but mostly lovable, and their story is riveting. If you have a very expressive face, your facial muscles will be well exercised after the insane rollercoaster of emotions in this series–I promise, there are hilarious parts. If you’re a member of the Tea Party, please don’t read this book. I’m afraid you’ll get ideas.

Coming Soon…

18. UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20. Lexicon by Max Barry
21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson
23. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
24. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” a.k.a. J.K. Rowling
25. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
26. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny
29. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

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A Completely True Story, and Book 17: Warriors: Into the Wild

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People keep asking me how my move was.

Unfortunately, most people who have asked this have asked via text message, where it’s difficult for me to respond with more than a few words. “Not bad, hired movers–still unpacking, though!” It gets the gist across, but it leaves out a lot. So: It was stressful, and it sucked, and it killed a part of me I will never get back.

My name is Rachael, and this is the story of how I died.

For most of the move, nothing happened. Nothing at all. We packed, we cleaned, we hired movers to do all the hardest parts for us, which is absolutely the way to go if you’re in a situation where it’ll be reimbursed (which, fortunately, we were). We had this great plan for the Official Moving Day: The movers would get there. I would go on a coffee run, since they probably woke up around 5am to get there when they did and it seemed rude not to offer coffee. (Only one wanted coffee, but that was okay.) Then we’d load up my car and I’d head out, taking our cat, Zoombini, with me. Mike would take the other cat, Chloe, when he left later on, since Chloe’s less likely to get in the way or bolt out the door.

Some important backstory that I should share with you at this point: Zoomy is loud. She’s not always loud, but if she is displeased or impatient, you know about it. We’ve taken her to the vet a few times and she just yells for the entire 15 minute drive. She hates the car. When she hears a can open, she’s sitting right by the counter (or sometimes trying to jump onto the counter) making more noise than you’d think is reasonable for a cat to make. For this reason, I wanted to give her some Benadryl before the drive. I figured, she’ll sleep, and when she wakes up she’ll be somewhere new, it won’t be as traumatic for her! And she’ll be quiet, so it won’t be as traumatic for me!

But we couldn’t find agreeing sources telling us how much Benadryl to give a cat, so Mike found something online that said you can put a blanket over the cat carrier and, like a bird, they will think it’s night and go to sleep.

At the very worst, we figured, how long could she possibly yell for?

So of course, as soon as I start the car: MROWWWWW! MROWWWWW! MROWWWWWWWWWW!

I put the blanket over her carrier. It becomes immediately apparent that this isn’t going to work. It’s July, and the air conditioner in my car is pretty good, but I can hear her panting between MROWWWWWWWWWs. I didn’t even know cats could pant.

MROWWWWWWW! *pant pant* MROWWWWWWW! *pant pant*

This wasn’t going well. I pushed the blanket off. She kept panting. I tried reaching my finger into the cage to rub her head, but she pulled back. She’d have none of that.

At this point, I’m about 15 minutes into the drive and I’m already looking for a phone pole to crash into. Two hours and 15 minutes to go.

I decide to sing to her.

We sing to our cats at home. We take whatever song is stuck in our head, or playing in the background, or on the TV, or whatever, and make it about them. Occasionally that means some loose semblance of lyrics constructed that describe the cat, but mostly, it’s singing their name to the tune of the song. I don’t know if this is a normal thing people do–in fact, I’m sure it’s not–but they seem to like it.

I search my brain for some songs that she’d be familiar enough with and might comfort her. I’ve been on a Joss Whedon kick lately (okay, I’m always on a Joss Whedon kick), so I go with some Dr. Horrible. I go through “A Cat’s Gotta Zoom when a Cat’s Gotta Zoom,” “With my Zoomcat I will Hug my Cat,” and “I Cannot Believe This Cat.” Nothing’s working. I continue the Joss Whedon trend by trying out some stuff from the musical episode of Buffy (“She will Zoom Through the Fire” and “Let Me Hug My Cat”).

Nothing’s working. I’m sitting in my car trying to think of anything that I might sing to her regularly enough that she’d recognize it. I try Disney (“I’ll Make a Cat out of Zoom,” “Let Her Zoom”). I try Broadway (“Zoomycat,” to the tune of “Popular”).

Nothing’s working. I try turning the air conditioner up, thinking maybe she’s really hot, but the extra noise just seems to freak her out more. The MROWWWWWWWs become MROOOWWWWWWWWWWs, and she’s suddenly also bodychecking the side of her carrier. This is not better. This is worse. I turn the AC back down.

Finally, I realize what I sing to her most often: TV show themes. No specific TV show or anything–I just usually sing the theme to her.

I try the Doctor Who theme. Zoom-EEEE-zoom….ZOOOOOMY zoom….ZOOOOOOOMY zoom, zoom zoom zoom. MROWWWWWWWWW!

Sherlock. ZOOMY! Zoomy-zoom-zoom-zoom ZOOMY! Zoomycat zoomycat zoomycat zoomy zoomy zoom. MROWWWWWWWWW!

I’m grasping now. What else has an easily sing-able theme?

New Girl? Zoomy zoom! (zoom zoom zoom) Zoomy zoom! (zoom zoom zoom) Zoom cat! MROWWWWWWWWW!

Big Bang Theory?

Zoom zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom zoom zoom
Zoomy zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom
Zoomy zoomy–ZOOM!
Zoomy zoomy zoom, zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom
Zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom,
ZOOMY ZOOMY ZOOM!
Zoom zoomy zoomy zoom
Zoomy zoomy zoomy zoom
Zoom zoomy zoomy zoom zoom.
ZOOM!

……

Silence.

For the entire time that I sang the Big Bang Theory theme song, and about 5 minutes afterward, Zoomy is calm. She is quiet. She is kind of panting because it’s hot in the car (I try the AC again and the silence breaks), but she is quiet. And I am happy.

…..mrowwww….

MROWWWWWWWWWWWW!

The silence lasts about five minutes, at which point I begin to wonder: Will it work again?

I sing again.

Silence.

And five minutes later, MROWWWWWWWWWWWW!

I endure the yelling for a couple of minutes. It’s really only been about 40 minutes at this point (an hour and 50 minutes left!) and I’ve already done this song twice.

I try another song again. No luck.

I sing the Big Bang Theory them again. Silence.

We developed a pattern. I would sing, and it would buy me five-ish minutes of silence. At this point, her patience would run out and she’d start yelling again. I’d put up with it for as long as I possibly could, and then sing The Song again. I have never hated a song more. I begin to fantasize about the next time I’m at home watching TV and the show comes on and I throw the TV out the window.

Toward the latter part of the drive–probably the last half hour or so–the silences started getting a little longer. I glanced over, and she’s squatting in her carrier, tense, her eyes closed and her mouth open. She looks like she’s given up and is just waiting to die.

Inevitably, she starts yelling again, and I start singing again. I am wishing death on every person who has ever been involved in The Big Bang Theory. Zoomy is quiet, and I am grateful, now, for those very same people.

Finally, I get to the new house. I bring Zoomy inside. I set her up in one room with her food and her litter box, open the windows,  and close the door. She is hiding under something.

I look around. The house is perfect. It’s sunny, and warm, but not so hot that I’m uncomfortable. The gardens are gorgeous. I have a swingset. I go sit on it.

I realize, then, that I died. I have died, and this is heaven. At some point between the 15th and 30th rendition of “My Cat’s Name Over and Over to the Tune of the Big Bang Theory Theme Song,” I snapped and drove the car off a bridge.

I’m surprisingly okay with this.

Until, of course, I look at my arm and realize I have driver’s sunburn, because I broke my #1 Rule of Summer (never go outside without sunscreen) for the entire drive down. I’m not dead.

I hear a faint mrowwwww come from the house.

Book 17: Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter

From a story about my cat to a book about cats.

I like to take book recommendations from people I care about. If someone I like really loves a book, chances are, unless it sounds truly horrible, I’ll give it a shot. I figure there are two things that can happen. I could love the book, too. Maybe they have similar taste to mine, or they just have a feeling it’s something I’ll love. That’s a great outcome. But at the very least, even if I don’t love the book, I get to know that person better. It gives me a little bit of insight into them, what they like, what matters to them (and since I like buying books as gifts, what I should get them for Christmas).

So one day, I was at my dad’s house and there was this book on the table. It wasn’t Into the Wild, it was much later in the series. I look at it and laugh, because (a) the cover is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen, and (b) it’s exactly the type of book I imagine Mia, my 11-year-old stepsister, would love.

At dinner, I ask her about the book. I always ask kids about books if I can. It makes for much more interesting conversation than “Soooooooo are there any cute boys in your class?” or “Oh my GAWD your HAIR is so CA-YOOOOT” (I hate myself right now), and there are much better things to talk about than boys and physical appearances, and I think it’s nice for kids to know that.

This book, though. Mia’s eyes lit up, and I knew this would be The Topic of Conversation for the Night. Never mind that my brother is with us, freshly home from Afghanistan, with crazy war stories. No, I asked about a book about cats. Everyone is pretty okay with it. Mia launches into a description of the books.

“These are the best books ever! It’s about these tribes of warrior cats that live in the forest! There’s Shadowclan, they’re evil, an’ there’s Riverclan an’ Windclan an’ Thunderclan an’ they’re the good guys!” She opens the book to show me a map. “See, Thunderclan lives here, an’ Shadowclan lives over here, an’ this here, that’s the rock where they have meetings! An’ that’s the thunderpath, and these are the houses where the twolegs live, and that one’s where Firepaw comes from! They’re sooooooo good!

“WAIT! LET ME GO GET YOU THE FIRST BOOK!”

So I sit, working on my dinner, and begin to question my decision to ask Mia about a book about cats.

She returns and gleefully shoves a book into my hand.

“You’ll love it! It’s soooooo good! An’ when you finish it, you can borrow the second one!”

At this point, I’ve accepted my fate. I’m reading the first book. But.

“Mia,” I say, “I’ll read this one, but I might be a little too old to read all of them.”

“Oh, but once you read the first one, you’ll have to read the rest! They’re just soooo good!

So I take home Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter (which, as I soon learn, is a nom-de-plume for a group of five people who write the Warriors series together). I hope it will offer me insight into Mia’s mind, but I doubt it’ll offer me anything I couldn’t figure out from the fact that she’s 11 and her favorite movie is still (I believe) The Lion King and she likes to roar.

She’s the coolest kid.

This book surprised me. SPOILERS AHEAD.

It was every bit as cheesy as you expect a book about four clans of warrior cats who rule the forest (which, if you look at the map, is really more like a small wooded area between some houses), but it was still much better than I expected. It worked well as the beginning to a series–I remember reading books as a kid that were the first in a series but solved every single problem by the end. This book didn’t do that. It left questions up in the air, which had me almost tempted to take Mia up on her offer of the second book. (Almost. I’m 26 years old.) I didn’t see the traitor immediately, though I did see him long before the book revealed him as such–however, even then, I didn’t figure out his treason right away. I just knew I hated him.

And that’s where it really surprised me. I felt something for one of these characters.

And later on, when the character I could have sworn was the  eventual love interest for the main character died, I was shocked. THIS IS A KID’S BOOK. YOU CAN’T KILL THE PRETTY AND SYMPATHETIC MEDICINE CAT. YOU JUST CAN’T.

But they did, and it really upset me for a minute, before I said to myself, Rachael, this is a kid’s book about clans of wild cats that rule the forest. Calm yourself down. (But to be honest, it still feels like a betrayal.)

END SPOILERS.

So even though it had lines like “Unsheathed claws glinted in the moonlight,” I liked this book more than I thought I would. The one thing that really bothered me was the prophecy at the beginning and how it plays out. The clan leader hears a prophecy that only fire can save their clan, and as soon as a bright orange cat (or rather, “kittypet”–a cat who is a human pet) shows up, she invites it to join their clan against all tradition and advice of her clan members and renames it Firepaw. I would have preferred for someone who hadn’t heard the prophecy to have renamed Firepaw, because it felt like cheating the way it happened.

For the most part, this book went the way I expected it to, and if “kid’s book about clans of wild cats that rule the forest” sounds like something you’d enjoy, I recommend it. I can imagine these being really fun beach reads if you’re the sort of person to go to the beach.

I made some predictions after I finished this book, and the next time I saw Mia, she confirmed that every single one of them does, in fact, come true. I, therefore, will not be continuing to read the Warriors series, but I look forward to future updates on the goings on in Thunderclan whenever Mia reads a new book. And even if it didn’t offer me some great new insight into her mind, I’m glad I know what she’s reading, and I’m glad I know they’re not quite as ridiculous as I expected.

Coming Soon…

18. UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20. Lexicon by Max Barry
21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson
23. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
24. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” a.k.a. J.K. Rowling
25. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
26. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny

 

Horrible Medical Advice: Martha’s DIY Plastic Surgery

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Hi.

It’s been a while, I know. See, I finished school, and then I was desperately searching for a job, and then I got TWO jobs, which took up more time than I expected considering that I still work much less than full time. But you know what? I’m blaming the fact that Netflix has pretty much every show that I’ve ever thought, “Oh, I want to watch that, but I missed the first few seasons” on streaming, so sue me I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix recently.

But more importantly. Do you remember last summer, when I said that sometime I’d get drunk and write a post?

This is that time. This…is sometime.

And it’s more Horrible Medical Advice. I know y’all love that shit. And this is reader-request, so no one can even complain.

Dear Oh Rachael,

Ever since I became a real grown-up (as opposed to some whiny teenager who only thought her skin sucked), my skin has totally sucked. I have wrinkles and shit. What do you recommend I do for this?

Sincerely, Your Aunt.

(Okay, my aunt didn’t, technically speaking, write to me. But she did say I should write this, so that sort of counts.)

Dear My Aunt,

A lot of people think their skin sucks when they get past age 20. In fact, I’ve recently been plagued by the “Dammit Why Doesn’t My Skin Look Like It Did When I Was 18 Only Six Years Ago” Virus as well. However, if your problem goes beyond “my pores are bigger than they were, WHAAAAAAA,” then I highly reccommend the Martha Stewart Approach.

Has anyone else noticed that Martha Stewart doesn’t age?

I can't guarantee this is a picture from 2000, but it did come up in an image search for "Martha Stewart 2000."

Well, that might be a picture of her in 2000. And what does she look like now, a full 12 years later? And remember, she’s at an age where a 10 year difference should be HUGE. (I mean, I have friends who are 20ish and friends who are 30ish and they don’t look all that different to me, but from 40 to 50 and 50 to 60 and 60 to 70 and so on…those are supposed to make a huge difference.)

Showed up when I searched "Martha Stewart Current," so it might be a current picture.

You may notice that she looks exactly the same.

Okay, one picture is HD and the other isn’t. In that case, my advice is to not take pictures with HD cameras, because hot damn will they show off every imperfection. But what REALLY happened here?

What happened is that good ol’ Martha did some jail time. And by “jail time,” I mean “house arrest.” And by “house arrest,” I mean “the same ol’ thing Martha always does, except she’s got an excuse for the cameras not to show her for a while so if she has a visit from a little ol’ plastic surgeon no one will be the wiser.”

That’s right, folks. To look asthe-same-age-you-looked-ten-years-ago, all you’ve got to do is get arrested. Then, you’ll be free to do all of Martha’s DIY Plastic Surgery you can.

If you can’t afford an at-home plastic surgeon, don’t worry. A facelift is simple, and that’s the most basic of your underlying needs. One you have one, it’ll be a long time before you start worrying about your really minor imperfections!

All you need for a facelift is a scalpel and some medical tape. You can get the medical tape at any drugstore–just tell them you’ve got a kid with a sprained finger and you need to tape it into the splint and they’ll take you right to it. Hell, you might even have some on hand!

Now all you need to do is imagine your skin like a piece of plastic wrap over the dip-bowl of your face. Pull it tight in segments, starting at one temple. Work in opposites–that is, pull one temple fairly tight, then pull the other temple the rest of the way. Now move down a little bit. Repeat–pull one side a little tight, then pull the other side so you’re completely wrinkle-free. Keep working around your face.

Once you’ve reached your chin, you’ll be all set! All you’ll have to do now is let your project (that is, your face) dry completely (that is, heal completely) and you’ll have a full Martha Stewart DIY At-Home Facelift. You can start a little higher by cutting around your forehead, or customize your lift to focus on problem areas–it’s up to you! That’s the beauty of DIY.

Now, dear My Aunt, I hope this has answered your questions and concerns. I’m sure that in a few months, after hiding in your home and avoiding any social interaction for a long, long time, you’ll look just as young and beautiful as you did ten years ago. In the meantime, I hope to give you as much reading material as I can without getting distracted from the series I’m currently reading (just say NO to Netflix, kids!).

Thank you all so much for your time.

Sincerely,

Oh, Rachael.

Do you have a question for Rachael? Well, she now has a special email address just for you! Whether it’s medical or just, you know, a random question, send Rachael an email at dearohrachael@gmail.com. She’ll respond with a Horrible Medical Advice post, a Horrible Advice post, or just a Horrible Advice email to help get you through your misery!

(Seriously, please email me. Your questions are inspiring, and I miss writing for you.)

DOCTOR BOYFRIEND SAYS: Dammit Rachael I thought you were done with this shit. PEOPLE, NEVER DO SURGERY ON YOURSELF. IT HURTS AND YOU MIGHT DIE.

Thank you, Dr. Boyfriend. We all appreciate your advice. However, you’re male, so you can’t possibly understand, and we’ll be getting back to our DIY surgeries now.

I’m Starting a Design Firm

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In light of my recent job search, I have been forced to sit back and re-evaluate what I want in life. What I’m good at. And one thing I know I can do is design: I’ve been working with my aunt’s interior design company since I was probably around five. By this point, I’m good with colors. I get textures. It all makes sense.

What I didn’t realize is that it would be so easy to do!

Okay, so “Design Firm” isn’t really the right term. It’s more like…Design Inspiration Hub. But that sounds weird.

You want the full story? Okay. Are you on Pinterest? If you are, you’ve probably noticed these pictures going around. They’re nothing but cutesy pictures with some color swatches next to them, from this website called Design Seeds. They seem to be intended to inspire anyone who is planning to redecorate a room or a wedding.

Well, it seems everyone on Pinterest is currently planning three weddings and redecorating two whole houses. I can’t say I’ve never pinned something from Design Seeds, but seeing 500 of their pictures filling up my page gets annoying. And I’m sick of the cutesy pictures. Why can’t they find beautiful colors in less adorable things? Gross things, even?

So when Siren wrote a blog post about how, despite the fact that some pictures she’d taken made her really sad, she had to post them because she loved the colors, I knew exactly what I’m going to do with my life.

Behold, Siren’s Dead Dolphin:

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Decomposing Dolphin consists of a gray-blue ombre with a coral highlight and a neutral sand background. It would be the perfect color theme for a beach wedding, a nautical-themed nursery, or a comfortable living area in your home. The colors will evoke the feel of the slowly decaying dolphin without being too blatant about it, but you can always add a framed print of the dolphin to complete the look!

And why stop there?

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Dog Vomit is a beautiful array of fall colors, which would be–need I say it–perfect for a fall wedding. Getting married in October or November? Look no further for your theme, inspired by an image from Raising a Puppy. It would also be perfect in the kitchen, brightening up and energizing your cooking space to entice you to cook some fantastic foods. I know I’m in the mood for ethnic cuisine right now! Who wants Indian?

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You may have to tilt your screen back a bit to notice the delicate bone hue at the end of Mass Graves, inspired by a National Geographic photo of skeletons of soldiers and babies, but trust me when I say it’s worth it. Planning a garden wedding, and don’t want a super bright palate to contrast with the natural beauty around you? Mass Graves is the perfect neutral, natural palette–just make sure to order your dress in Bone! Not planning a wedding? No worries! Because the colors are so simple and pleasing to anyone, Mass Graves would be a wonderful palette for a guest room. And if you throw a lot of parties, why not decorate your main party room with Mass Graves? The room will look gorgeous on its own, and the neutral shades won’t contrast with any temporary decorations you put up!

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Of course, neutral isn’t for everyone! This moldy salad, inspired by a photo from New York Shitty, creates the perfect palette for anyone who wants a natural feel with a POP. The yellow and tangerine colors here are two of Pantone’s top colors for Spring 2012, so you’ll be right on-trend using them to highlight your sage green ombre. The neutral brown and gray provide some variety, allowing you to stray from the bright hues you’ve chosen while still fitting perfectly within a color scheme! And where couldn’t you put this in your house? Kids would be delighted by the bright colors, while the greens would make a perfect background in a master bedroom. Looking for something fun to do with your bathroom? Look no further than Salad Mold!

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And with Valentine’s Day coming up, how could I leave out this gorgeous pink palette? Inspired by blood spatter from a real crime scene in Bermuda, this palette screams love. Are you an NCIS fan? Have you heard that Pauley Perrette, who plays the lovable Abby, is engaged? Well I can’t imagine a better palette for her wedding–or anyone who loves pink (or blood)! Young girls would love to have their rooms decorated in these gorgeous pinks, or you could create the most romantic atmosphere in your master bedroom! Get ready for some passion with Spattered Hues!

When you design, remember how important it is to look for inspiration everywhere. Any image that catches your eye, no matter how beautiful or grotesque it is, can have some gorgeous colors hidden inside it! For this reason, I’m willing to help any of you lovely readers who need help with design. Do you have some redecorating you need to do, or a wedding to plan, and no ideas? Well, send whatever awful image you have to me at dearohrachael@gmail.com and I’ll respond with your dream palette. If I like it enough, I may even feature it here, right on this very blog!

Have you looked for beauty in anything disgusting recently? Or possibly found the perfect use for Comic Sans? Because I’m pretty sure I just did.

Baking Up a (Shit) Storm

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Every year, I bake a billion pies for my family’s Christmas celebration. In fact, up until I started going to Mike’s family’s Thanksgiving, I baked two billion pies a year. TWO BILLION PIES, all completely from scratch. This started after the time that I was 12 and decided I should see if I could make a pie. It was delicious and I’ve been stuck with the job ever since.

However, as you might imagine, baking a billion pies in one day is difficult and highly stressful. This year, I thought it would ease the pain a bit to change it up–maybe not the same old apple, pumpkin, pecan thing I always do. I found some fantastic looking substitutes (though I’m not allowed to not make apple pie), bought seven hundred dollars worth of ingredients (fuck you, maple syrup pie), and decided that it looked kind of stressful after all so maybe I should have some booze so I’m not freaking out.

How to bake two Guinness Chocolate Cakes with Bailey’s Frosting, one Maple Cream Pie, and one Apple Pie in One Night

Step One: Wonder if the cake will actually taste like Guinness and, if it will, if you’ll even like it. Drink a bottle of Guinness to find out. Realize that the cake requires a springform pan, which you only have one of, so you can’t make them both at the same time. Use one cup of Guinness in cake batter, finish second bottle.

Step Two: Preheat the goddamn oven. Pour yourself a glass of wine! You deserve it.

Step Three: Stick the cake in the oven and set the timer. Drink more wine while you prepare the first pie crust. Bring a timer with you to your computer to watch an episode of Torchwood while the cake’s in the oven.

Step Four: Upon removing the cake from the oven, realize that you turned the fucking oven OFF when you set the timer. Pat yourself on the back (read: have a mild nervous breakdown, but you’ve only lost about an hour, which isn’t so bad, right?), wonder what you can mix with eggnog, and try heating the oven again. (Decide on butterscotch schnapps.)

Step Five: When you go to put the cake back in the oven, notice that the springform pan doesn’t seal properly and has dripped all over the stove. Don’t clean it up, but put the cake on a pizza pan so it doesn’t drip more in the oven, since you can already smell burning. Rinse out your glass and pour another glass of wine.

Step Six: Double-check that the oven’s heated. Watch another episode of Torchwood while the cake’s in the oven.

Step Seven: Prepare maple cream pie filling while you par-bake the crust. Wonder if par-baking actually does anything. Filling seems to go perfectly–have a glass of wine to celebrate! Lose track of alcohol consumption.

Step Eight: Remove par-baked crust from the oven and realize you forgot to line it before filling it with beans. Pull each and every individual bean out with your fingernails. Be very glad you didn’t cut your fingernails because fuck this is hot. Stick it back in the oven. Drink.

Step Nine: Pour filling into par-baked crust until it overflows. Stick it on a cookie sheet so it won’t drip and wipe up the huge mess that is now on your counter. Stick it in the oven, set a timer, make sure you didn’t turn the oven off again. Go wrap some presents. Drink.

Step Ten: You ran out of ribbon. Cry. Drink.

Step Eleven: Remove pie #1 from oven. Place on counter. Prepare cake batter #2. Make Harry Potter jokes as you melt two sticks of butter into a cup of Guinness. Things are running smoothly! Drink.

Step Twelve: Get extremely frustrated when the rolling pin seems to slide the entire crust-and-wax-paper assembly around on the counter rather than rolling out the crust. Eventually succeed. Drink.

Step Thirteen: Take cake out of oven. Prepare apple pie filling: Peel apples, cut into slices, cut anything you don’t want off the slices. Eat some apple peel. It is delicious with the Riesling. Start mixing all the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg into the filling but the bowl’s too small and, really, that takes effort. Decide that it looks good enough and it’ll all melt together in the oven anyway. Eat some more peels. Drink.

Step Fourteen: While putting cinnamon and nutmeg back in the spice cabinet, knock everything onto the counter. Realize that “the counter” right there is actually the cream pie you already finished making, which used to be gorgeous but now is just gorged. Have another nervous breakdown. Cry. Drink.

Step Fifteen: Assemble apple pie. Successfully put bottom crust in pie plate. Dump apples in. Don’t even pretend to spread them out evenly. Get top crust from refrigerator. Forget to let it warm up a little before you put it on the pie. Break it into a million pieces. Realize you now have to decide between really ugly pie crust and overworked pie crust. Reassure yourself that rustic patchwork style things are in and it’ll be fine. Make sure each piece of crust is connected to another piece at at least one point. Place pie in oven. Wait. Drink.

Step Sixteen: Remove pie from oven. Let cool. It is now almost 4am. Cover everything with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge. You can do the frosting tomorrow.

Step Seventeen: Wake up at 1pm on Christmas eve, amazed at how not hung over you are. Brush your teeth. Trigger gag reflex with toothbrush and realize that you are, in fact, hung over. Whine incessantly about still having to make frosting. Drink some Pepto Bismol straight out of the bottle.

Step Eighteen: Begin to feel better. Prepare frosting for two cakes. Frost one cake, transport second batch separately. Wonder if you made the apple pie last night. Check the fridge. See apple pie. Wonder if you baked it long enough. It looks done. Hope.

Step Nineteen: Transport everything. You did it! Maybe. The jury’s still out on the apple pie. Agonize over the integrity of your apple pie, suppressing a third (mini) nervous breakdown.

Step Twenty: It is now Christmas. All you have left to do is frost that last cake, putting aside some of the frosting for the people in your family who can’t have gluten, and you’re good. (Except for that apple pie. Maybe. Still not sure.) Go to frost the cake and realize that the frosting has hardened in the fridge. Freak out. Attempt to stir frosting back into a reasonable texture. It won’t work. Attach to kitchenaid and whisk. Not changing anything. Finally, your aunt looks up how to fix a meringue buttercream and miraculously saves Christmas with a pan of hot water. Frost your cake. Realize that the apple pie is delicious, though it does seem like you may have put a quarter cup of cinnamon into it. Bask in the glow of a job well done.

My Holiday Miracle was that these desserts were finished and actually pretty damn tasty. What was yours?

What the fuck, Halloween?

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Last night was my first-ever time handing out candy to trick-or-treaters from my own place. Sure, I’d been the one giving kids candy from my mom’s house before, but there was something different about it this time. I wasn’t the girl handing out candy in place of her mom anymore. That made a difference, and I cared.

Mike bought a ton of candy. To be specific, he bought 11 bags of candy. I put aside any multiples and poured everything into a 8-quart stockpot. With two bags of candy missing, it was still overflowing. Awesome, I thought. There’ll be tons of leftovers. Of course, I didn’t want it to all end up being leftovers, so when our first trick-or-treaters didn’t show up until 45 minutes into the time slot, I started giving out fistfuls of candy. See, Mike tends to get excited and buy tons of candy or baked goods or ice cream or what have you and then completely forget and I become responsible for eating all of it. I didn’t want to eat 11 bags of candy. I didn’t want to get diabetes because I was stingy with the kids. However, the kids then started pouring in, and by the end I was almost out and giving out two pieces. Maybe small handfuls next year, Rachael.

At the end of the night, it became clear that my expectations had been too high. I realize now that I shouldn’t have had expectations at all.

Did you, as a kid, hate those houses that made you say “Trick-or-Treat!” to get candy? I didn’t hate it, but I never liked it. I was shy and felt dumb threatening to play a trick on people who didn’t give me candy when, really, I’d just walk to the next house that had the bucket out with the ‘take one’ sign and take a whole handful. (How much do I love that commercial with the little “I can’t read” girl? So much.) But when hordes of children started showing up at my door and staring at me expectantly without so much as a “Hi!” or a “Please!” or a “Happy Halloween!” I understood. I mean, I at least always greeted people. So I became one of those people who makes the kids say “Trick or treat!” before giving them candy. Whatever. That’s not even the point.

The point is this one girl. She ran up to my door with her sister close behind her. When I opened with the pot o’ candy balanced on my hip, she reached up and pulled it down. She didn’t say a word. I was too blown away to hold it back from her. So she runs up to the door, grabs the pot o’ candy out of my hand, takes one piece of candy, and runs off. What the fuck? Okay, one bratty kid. I wonder if her sister told her about the handful I gave her for not sucking.

The parents were the worst, though. Despite the fact that I had a lighted jack-o-lantern at the end of my porch, strings of Christmas lights lit up all along the railing, lights in the house on, and the porch light on, they wouldn’t let their kids approach my door unless they could see me waiting to give out candy. I was doing homework. I had to relocate to the chair in the corner of our entryway so that they could see me if they looked. One mom didn’t look and told her kid, “I don’t see anyone there, but if you want to go knock on the door and see if they’re giving out candy, you can.” Try to imagine the bitchy, skeptical tone of her voice, as if her kid was crazy for seeing a clearly decorated porch and thinking she could get candy from me. Isn’t the point of Halloween to go door-to-door and knock and ask for candy? Should I really have to leave the door open for two hours when it’s fucking cold out just because you don’t want to waste a few steps to see if I have candy when I clearly do? The rule as I always knew it was that if there was a light by the door, the house was giving out candy. Porch light’s on? Cool. We didn’t need decorations.

Who the fuck would put out a Jack-o-lantern and not give out candy?

At one point, a whole bunch of kids approached me in rapid succession. It seemed like five siblings from one family and two from another. They all said trick-or-treat, most of them without needing prompting, and they all got handfuls of candy. Then they all ran back to their parents (or possibly chaperones; I forgot that some kids go with their friends and their parents stay home). When they were out of sight, I could still hear the parents talking loudly to each other. One said something that sounded kind of worried about the candy her kids were getting–I wasn’t sure if it was the sheer amount of it or the fear that it was poisoned.

Another replied. “Oh, there are candy buyback programs.”
“Really?”
“Yeah, there are a couple places in town where you can go and they’ll buy all the Halloween candy from you.”
“That’s great! Where?”

What. The. Fuck. Seriously. That’s all I can say. No wonder kids are such brats–their parents aren’t even letting them keep the candy! Do they even get the money? And how much? At the end of the night, does each kid even have 5 dollars worth of candy? I feel completely ripped off. Do they even realize that Mike and I spent money on this? Would they throw a birthday party for their kids and then give away all the presents people bought?

Are parents treating this as a holiday to parade their kids around in costumes that the kids probably don’t even like? I’m reminded of women who buy tiny dogs and use them as accessories. Oh, look, I’m going to carry him around in my purse with this cute plaid jacket! People will love it! No, they won’t. We don’t want to see kids who don’t give a shit about the candy we’re giving them because you’re just going to sell it back for way less than they think it’s worth. I wouldn’t want to walk around for two hours in the freezing cold in a weather-inappropriate costume and knock on a bunch of strangers’ doors for nothing, either.

There used to be this house that I went to when I was little, sort of diagonally across the street from mine. The woman who lived there gave out candy, but she also invited everyone in. There was always plenty of mulled cider to warm us up from the cold, fresh cookies to enjoy, and I think there were caramel apples a few times. I loved going to that house. Maybe that is an unrealistic dream now, or maybe you’d at least have to live in a neighborhood where everyone knows you for anyone to come in. But the fact that Halloween paranoia has extended to not even keeping the candy is such bullshit.

Everything sacred about Halloween as a kids’ holiday is gone. There’s no knocking on doors, no visiting with neighbors, no saying “trick or treat,” no keeping your candy. All we’re left with, it seems, is awful parenting and the I’m a sexy candy corn movement.

Well clearly, I’m pissed about Halloween. What holiday traditions have you seen completely destroyed as you grew up?

ALIVE. With ANSWERS.

Every once in a while, something happens that causes me to disappear completely. Nobody sees me except for Mike and the people who see me in class and usually the barista at the Starbucks near school. (Which I can’t explain, because I don’t even do caffeine. I should cut that shit out.)

School starting is one of those things that happens that causes this. For the past few weeks, I have been overwhelmingly busy with homework and this neat new internship I’m doing. On the days that I’m not doing one of those things, it’s because my brain broke down and can’t handle to do anything other than sit on the couch and stare at the NCIS marathon that is inevitably playing on USA, or obsessively read through the archives of Overcompensating, or find out that there’s this book series called The Hunger Games that I somehow missed out on and then accidentally read the entire series in two days and then refuse to acknowledge any inquiries as to whether I cried at the end. I’m kind of a book addict. Sorry. P.S. Anyone who comments with a spoiler will get hunted down by one of my trained assassins, just in case someone else hasn’t read them and wants to.

TL;DR: I’ve been super busy, and on the days that I’m not super busy, I’m fucking lazy. Also kind of burnt out. And really all that’s going through my head most of the time is that I love one of my professors and hate the other, and if I’m honest with myself, you don’t want to read about that.

I’m trying to start keeping a list of things worth blogging about as they come into my head so I’ll at least be able to think of something when it occurs to me that I should write a blog post. If you have any suggestions, I’m willing to take them, but no promises.

Anyway. You’re probably wondering about that “with ANSWERS” thing up there, aren’t you? No? You think I was referring to everything I just told you about why I suck at updating my blog when I also have other things to do? Well then you’re WRONG. (Thought that would be a very reasonable conclusion to draw. Now that I think of it.) I discovered these questions that some dude who was French and had a TV show used to ask every guest he had. They seemed fascinating. They are called PIVOT’S QUESTIONS and I thought I would answer them for you, so here goes.

(Are you excited? I’m excited.)

What is your favorite word?
Do people actually have favorite words? That’s news to me. Does it have to be in English? I wonder how Pivot would have reacted if someone’s favorite word had been in Klingon or something. (I won’t judge you if your favorite word is in Klingon. I just think he would have.) Okay. Mine’s schadenfreude. Which is German but is also technically in English dictionaries now so I guess it’s both. If you’re not familiar with it, it means “happiness at the misfortune of others,” and if you want to really understand it, you should go listen to this song from Avenue Q. You’ve felt it before.

What is your least favorite word?
Chunk.

What turns you on, excites, or inspires you creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
Books. Good books can do anything the above question implies. Though most of the stuff I ready is too dystopian to actually, y’know. Turn me on.

What turns you off?
In the middle of the night, a train pulls up to a quietly sleeping city. The sounds emanating from the train gradually wake everyone. Just as they’re getting out of their cozy and safe houses to investigate, the train’s passengers burst out. Clowns. But not just any clowns. Fucking clowns. And I mean that literally. A fucking clown train. And I have some very special people to thank for this very specific mental image.

What sound or noise do you love?
Silence. Is that allowed? Probably not. Wait, no. I don’t want complete silence anyway. How about the sound of an air conditioner? Or a loud fan? Or a car engine? I don’t really like noise most of the time but those sounds are very comforting to sleep to. Now that we have the air conditioner off it is hard to sleep in the silence. (Ooh, add that to the reasons I’ve been absent. Lack of sleep. Fucking miserable.)

What sound or noise do you hate?
The voice of Mike’s Grand Theft Auto IV character saying “Howdy, partner” over and over and over.

What’s your favorite curse word?
If I say “fuck,” can it include “fucking”? Because nothing feels better than saying “fuck yes” when something is awesome except maybe saying “fucking” for emphasis. Fucking fuck yes. “Fucking” is more versatile, so I’ll go with that.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Whenever I’m watching NCIS I’m overcome by a desire to be a super badass federal agent. My spy name would be Raptor Fury. Either that or that’d be the name of some mission I was involved in. Or leading. That would be so fucking cool if it weren’t for the fact that I’m a total wimp and would not survive a day as a federal agent.

What profession would you absolutely not like to participate in?
I don’t want to be a teacher. Ever. Or a professor. Too few students would actually care for it to be worth it, and I’d constantly be a nervous wreck about that. I’d end up completely convinced that they hate school (or whatever class I’m teaching) because they hate me, even though it’s more likely that they just hate it in general anyway. Some people say it’s worth it for the one or two kids in your class who actually care and are excited to learn what you’re teaching, but I’d be way too broken up about the rest to be excited about them.

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
I wouldn’t want him to say anything. Going back to NCIS for a second. You know how when Gibbs is really happy about something, he just kinda tilts his head a teensy bit and gets a slightly bemused look on his face and nods a tiny bit? Almost imperceptibly? If you watch it, you know what I’m talking about. That is what I would want him to do. Failing that, I would accept a Caff-Pow.

I hope this has been eye-opening for you. It would be really cool if you answered your favorite question in the comments.