Recipe: (Possibly imaginary) Lake Quinault (or Maybe Lake Crescent) Lodge scramble

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In 2014 I didn’t make reservations fast enough for Lake Crescent (nine months in advance wasn’t advance enough – the place is that good) and we ended up at Lake Quinault for our anniversary, instead. It’s still in my favorite national park, it’s still a historic lodge, it’s still on a lake, and it still has amazing food, so no complaints here.

I distinctly remember eating a scramble for breakfast in the lodge one morning that had goat cheese and peppers and smoked salmon. Then again, I also remember it being called the Marymere Something or Other, and Marymere Falls is at Lake Crescent, not Lake Quinault. Furthermore, it’s not on the menu of either lodge, so I either imagined it or they’ve discontinued it.

No matter. Here is my imagined scramble made real. And it’s really good.

(Possibly Imaginary) Lake Quinault (or Maybe Lake Crescent) Lodge Scramble

  • Servings: 1
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For breakfast, pair this with some buttered billion grain toast. For lunch, pair it with a simple mixed greens salad with an equally simple vinaigrette. This recipe scales up easily, so keep it in mind for brunch. Some thinly sliced red onion and/or capers would not go amiss.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp butter or olive oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbs milk or cream
  • 1 oz plain goat cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tbs jarred roasted red peppers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 oz hot-smoked salmon or steelhead, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Directions:

  1. Heat the butter or olive oil in an 8-inch nonstick skillet. When it is up to temperature crack the eggs right into it and pour in the milk or cream. Season with salt and pepper and mix roughly right in the skillet. (This is very rustic – you’re not making a French omelet, it doesn’t need to be perfectly blended and homogenous.)
  2. Scramble as usual. When the eggs are just about as done as you like them, add the smoked fish, goat cheese, and peppers.
  3. Tip onto a plate and eat immediately. That’s it!

— Amanda

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Going to a Halloween party this weekend? Bring a Nine-Fingered Pumpkin Pie!

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An annual tradition on my blog going back (wait, hold on, let me check my old posts, uh …) 7 years: the pumpkin pie post. (Biennial, really, because I trot it out again around Thanksgiving.)

A recipe I infamously bled for (and which set me back $100 at the clinic – a visit that would cost $200 today), this is the perfect pumpkin pie. This is what you hope to taste when someone puts a wedge of pumpkin pie in front of you. (Though, hopefully, without any human blood in it. Knife safety folks!)

Get the recipe (and read the harrowing tale of my nearly-severed thumb) here.

— Amanda

Recipe: Corn chowder with goat cheese

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My sour cream corn chowder has leveled up! If you like you can skip the butter in this recipe and use the fat left over from frying a few strips of good bacon — which should then be crumbled and added back in at the very end.

Corn chowder with goat cheese

  • Servings: 3 1-cup servings
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Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 large stalk celery, diced
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp Better Than Bouillon vegetable base
  • 1 lb frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 4-oz log of plain goat cheese (chèvre, not feta)

Directions:

  1. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter. Saute the onion and celery until softened and the onion is translucent.
  2. Add 1 cup water and the Better than Bouillon. Stir until dissolved. Add the thyme and corn and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Bring to a boil, then immediately turn to low. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. Stir in goat cheese until fully melted. Using a sieve or large slotted spoon scoop out 1/2 to 2/3 of the solids into a large bowl. Using a stick blender, blend the remaining solids and broth. Return the removed solids and stir to combine.

— Amanda

Recipe: Summer fruit tart

20170527102844_IMG_1112_1We went to a BBQ at the home of some friends yesterday evening and I wanted to bring a dessert. (I’m making a reputation for myself with party desserts.) I had a couple of previous winners that I could have made from stuff on hand, but they all needed to bake and uuuuuughhhh it was hot. Too hot to cook. Icebox cake to the rescue!

IMAG1976_1_FotorI typed this recipe on an iron Royal that I haven’t owned since probably 1999, so I know I copied it down in my teens. (Though I couldn’t actually cook until I was in my late 20s, I entertained a fantasy of being a chef and/or restaurateur as a teenager.) The source is a little foggy though. I have a vague notion that it was a cooking show on PBS, because I used to watch hours of cooking shows on PBS as a kid, but it could also have been Martha Stewart Magazine. This is one of those rare instances where Google fails me. I can find similar recipes but none quite like this.

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The plate would have come back empty if this stuff weren’t so rich. Everyone wanted seconds but no one had anywhere to put it.

Summer Fruit Tart

Use a regular pie pan, not a deep-dish one.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pre-made Oreo cookie crust or make your own (see below)
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups (12 oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/3 cups lemon juice (about 2 large lemons)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Fruit (I like a mix of kiwis and berries but you can use whatever you fancy as long as it isn’t crunchy)

Directions:

  1. If you are making the crust yourself, remove the filing from about 20 Oreos and whiz the chocolate part in a food processor. Combine with 6 tablespoons melted butter and press into a pie pan. Using waxed paper will keep your hands clean. This stuff would much rather adhere to your skin than the pan.
  2. Beat the cream cheese with a mixer and slowly add the condensed milk, lemon juice, and vanilla. Scrape the bowl a few times because the cream cheese really wants to stick to the bowl. I have found that I can’t beat it at high speeds without sending it all over the room but that beating it for a long time at a low or moderate speed not only makes it smooth as silk but I swear it sets up quicker. It starts out very liquid and ends up like a very thick pudding.
  3. Pour the filling into the shell, level the top with a spatula, and adorn with the fruit. Thinly slice things like kiwi or peaches. Make whatever pattern looks nice to you. I usually do concentric rings because that’s what they did on whatever TV show or magazine I nicked this from, but I have seen cleverer folks than me on the internet making similar tarts and creating psychedelic patterns or simply heaping mixed fruit on top. Whatever you do, don’t skimp!
  4. BONUS: For extra pizazz, you can dust powered sugar on top or drizzle with a simple sugar-syrup glaze to make the fruit glisten.
  5. Chill for at least 2 hours.

— Amanda

Parrying frustration and anger

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I held onto that teenage hardcore-cynicism phase waaaaay too long, so just reading about this a few years ago would have made my eyes roll right out of their sockets. But here I am now, advocating the stuff of self-help books. Suck it, old me. I *like* being happy.

I am trying a new thing wherein when I am frustrated by or angry at someone I try to think of another someone with whom I am pleased and I let them know about it. I may need to let the offender know, too, but as soon as that is done (or maybe even beforehand, if I am in real danger of throwing my phone out my car window on the highway) I find a positive outlet.

Example:

We recently found out (by way of a State Trooper and not, say, an informational flyer) that Matt needs to have a Common Carrier Permit to haul gravel to his job sites in his dump truck. OK, whatever, another permit, yay. We fill out the paperwork, we scan it, we send it in with a special form from the insurance company. When it’s reviewed and accepted it’s time to pay. It’s not a cheap permit, so I double check that we have sufficient funds in the business account before I try to pay. (Sometimes I don’t look at the calendar for a few days and get blindsided by a mammoth automatic withdrawal from the fuel card company.) I log in and try to pay. It says it worked and it gives me a confirmation code. Five minutes later I get a text from Matt that says he just got an email that the payment failed. I try another card that withdraws from the same account. It tells me it worked – Matt gets an email that it failed. The next day I try again. Same thing. Then a fuel bill *does* come so I wait for a check from the mill before trying again. (At this point the permit’s been suspended because we haven’t paid. Matt can’t rebuild his customer’s driveway on schedule. Yay.) I give it one more try. It fails. I call the state and ask why the payment isn’t working. They tell me that my bank is declining the transaction. I call my bank. My bank says that *no* transactions have even been *attempted* from the third party payment site. None. Scathing email time. Someone replies “oh I looked into this and I see you were trying to use a debit card and we don’t take those thanks.” Excusemewhat? Out of sheer curiosity and a deep desire not to have to mail a fucking check I try the only other payment on the site: ACH. I type in the routing number for my bank and the number of the account those two rejected cards were linked to and BAM! This time it not only works, but I am not charged a service fee. Five minutes later there’s an automatically generated email saying our permit is reinstated. I spend the rest of the day trading very nasty emails with the person who finally got around to telling me that their payment partner doesn’t accept the #1 most widely accepted form of payment in the universe. Finally, they accept that I am, as I have repeatedly stated, not holding them personally accountable for a shitty system and assure me that they will tell someone who *is* responsible that their system fucking sucks.

The problem is solved, but I am still seething. I have wasted hours over the course of weeks when someone at the sitebuilding level could have included the 4 words “debit cards not accepted.” Or one of those rejection emails could have mentioned it. Or, hey – here’s a thought – maybe they could upgrade their card processing system to one made in the 21st century, where any debit card with a MasterCard or Visa logo can be run as a credit card.

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I have gone off, but I still want to go Office Space.

But I don’t.

Instead, I try to think of someone or something that *doesn’t* make me want to brain a printer with a baseball bat.

I go to Tumblr, where I waste the majority of every morning, and I send a bunch of anonymous notes to bloggers I love. I tell one that I admire their snark in the face of adversity. I tell another that I just followed their Instagram and it is *goals*. I tell another that I am proud of their recent personal accomplishment.

I feel so much better all of the sudden that I can hardly even remember being pissed off. It’s not euphoria and I don’t believe in catharsis, but I feel quite nice now. Instead of taking my $30 Canon printer out back and wailing on it with the bat we keep by the bed, I start a new home improvement project. Not only do I still have an all-in-one printer/scanner/photocopier, but the fresh paint on the hallway doors makes them look brand new.

I’m going to make a habit of this. When someone tries to ruin my day I’m going to try to make someone else’s. Why pay garbage forward? Drop it like the turd that it is. I’m gonna take what they’re throwing at me and use it as a step stool to get out of this emotional hole they’re trying to bury me in.

Apparently this is how I am manifesting my new daily affirmation to “release negative feelings.” By dropping metaphorical turds. Lol.

— Amanda

How I do it

how-i-did-itI had a request over on Tumblr (Hi, Toadleeah!), where I spend most of my Internet time, asking me about my publishing process. I don’t know that I have any original insights, but seeing as how I am on the cusp of releasing book #2 into the wild I can’t shut up about publishing anyway, so I may as well feign productivity by writing up a big ‘ol blog post.

***DISCLAIMER I KNOW ALL COMMENTERS WILL IGNORE BUT WHICH IS HERE FOR ME TO REFERENCE WHEN PEOPLE GET UP IN THE COMMENTS LIKE ‘THAT’S NOT RIGHT’ OR ‘THAT’S NOT HOW SO-AND-SO-DOES IT’ or ‘THAT’S NOT HOW I DO IT’: No, it’s not how so-and-so does it or how you do it, and I’m not saying it’s the right way. I’m simply saying this is how I have done it. I’m not even saying this is how I’ll do book #3.***

That out of the way, let’s begin. At the beginning, I suppose.

WRITING

I can’t tell you how to do this part. I have hard time with it, myself.

EDITING/PROOFREADING

Print on demand publishing houses offer editing packages. I have no idea what they cost. I have, on average, $0 to invest in my writing, so I do the editing myself. Does this show in the final product? Yes. It’s too soon to be saying this since Ghost Stories isn’t on shelves yet and I haven’t actually put Ellipsis in its grave, but when I finished Ellipsis I thought I had created a fucking masterpiece. One year later I was mortified by what I had written. My proofreading and line editing skills are apparently pretty darn good: there were no grammar or spelling errors to be found. My substantive editing: ARRRRGH. (I am already turning blue holding my breath over whether or not I have repeated my heavy-handed mistakes in a whole new genre with Ghost Stories, but only time will allow me the perspective to tell.)

Beta readers are a valuable resource for the starving writer type. They are free, monetarily speaking, but you must pay for them in time. You need to start advertising your need months before you are actually ready for them because no one is ever ready for you when you need them. I consistently fail at this and as a consequence I have just the neighbor girl and my husband as beta readers.

Where do you find them? 1) Put the word out on social media. 2) There is a forum on the NaNoWriMo site just for this. There are also whole sites devoted to critiquing and receiving critiques, such as Scribophile. Generally, unless you have a captive audience (a family member, for instance) it is polite (or, on many sites, required) that you return the favor and critique the work of your beta reader(s) as well.

PUBLISHING

I can’t tell you anything about traditional publishing. I can’t tell you about vanity presses (the old model of independent publishing in which a run of several hundred or several thousand books were printed by a small publisher and paid for up front by the author for the author to distribute and market on their own). All I have ever used is print on demand.

There are a lot of print on demand companies and I cannot tell you which one is right for you. It depends on what you need or want. They don’t all offer audio books or ebooks or hardcover. Some are better than others for comic books and art books. Some have restrictions on which print sizes they will help you distribute or market. Some have better royalties than others. And everyone is always changing their rules and offers, so you’ll just have to roll up your sleeves and Google till your fingers fall off.

My first time around I went with CreateSpace. I was not starry-eyed about Amazon (the owner of CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing), but I know people who buy everything (and I mean EVERYTHING, including their toilet paper) from Amazon (admittedly these people are shut-ins). Other selling points at the time included the purported ease of use and the automatic listing on Amazon and Kindle. (The distribution package I opted for also allowed me to submit my first book to other online book retailers like Barnes & Noble).

It was, by my standards, pretty easy. But keep in mind that I also singlehandedly do two business’ state and federal taxes, insurance, and licensing from my living room and I used to manage several multi-million dollar public works construction projects (before spectacularly burning out), so what I find doable with a spreadsheet and a cup of coffee may not jibe with what you find doable. However, we do all this on the Internet, and there are shitloads of people offering good advice about how to manage the many technical hurdles involved in self publishing. (I would like to add, though, that in my experience in the forums on CreateSpace about 50% of respondents are pretentious fucking assholes and want to be damn sure you are aware of their utter superiority.)

Another consideration is your ISBN. Generally, you have three options: 1) No ISBN. Not all print on demand publishers offer this option. If you go this route you can sell your books through the publisher’s website and your own website but they will not be accepted by libraries or bookstores. This is a good option for short run, special-interest stuff like family histories, personal photo books, and community/club cook books. 2) Buy your own. They are cheapest in packs of 10 from the issuer, Bowker, but as that price is currently a whopping $295 it’s out of my price range. 3) Get an ISBN through your publisher. Sometimes this is free, sometimes it is not. When it is not, expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $125 for a single ISBN. ($125 is the current going rate for a single ISBN from Bowker. Sometimes the free ISBN comes with restrictions, such as fewer distribution options or loss of the ability to make up your own publisher name for the information page in the front matter of your book.

FORMATTING AND COVER DESIGN

In keeping with my life’s theme of being both cheap and poor, I do everything with free software (with the exception of a heavily discounted copy of Scrivener – thank you NaNoWriMo!). The final manuscript is formatted in OpenOffice Writer and I make my own covers in GIMP. These, again, are things that the printer can do for you, for a price. Not everyone is going to have 12 uninterrupted hours to fiddle with margins and page styles like I do. (Not kidding about 12 hours there, but book #2 only took like 3 nonconsecutive hours, so it gets better!)

Publishers offer a free cover builder on their websites, but if you aren’t careful your results will not look remotely professional. I have but two tips on this subject, because design is very subjective. 1) Only scholarly publications, research papers, and text books can get away with having an image inset into a field of solid color. I don’t know why. I just know it to be true. If I see this format without a Ph.D. behind the author’s name or without a fancy-assed title like “Ontological Gerrymandering of Eschatological Ecumenicism in 13th Century Rome” I recoil as if I have been slapped across the face. 2) DO NOT USE THE FONT CALLED HOBO. I prefer to call it “Hobo Spider” because it is just as dangerous. If you decide to use this font please DM me your address and a bus ticket to your home town so that I can beat you to death with your manuscript. Go to your local library’s website and browse the documentaries. Notice how all the ones with their title in Hobo are conspiracy theories? 2b) I would also urge to to please not use Papyrus unless you have, in fact, gone back in time to the 90s to write a book about your favorite pharaoh.

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Be sure that your cover fonts are free for commercial use. If you are using fonts that your publisher did not provide, look into their licensing. Just because it came with the computer program you’re using doesn’t mean you can use it on a product you will profit from. When in doubt, download fonts from a website that clearly states that they are free for commercial use or buy a license to use them for commercial purposes. On both of my books so far I have gotten my cover fonts from 1001fonts.com. (Be sure to check the little button that looks like a price tag, which will restrict your search results to fonts that are free for commercial use.)

I design my own covers using a free program I can just barely maneuver in, called GIMP. (Thank dog for YouTube tutorials or I would still be weeping about layers.) This is one of the very few areas of publishing on which I spend money, because I purchase cover art. I pore over stock photo sites until I find just what I want. The cover photo for Ellipsis was just fucking enormous and also landscape-oriented, so I was able to center the center-line of the highway on the front cover and still have plenty of image left over to wrap around the spine and back cover. It cost me $20 and that license allowed me to make up to 500,000 impressions and edit the artwork however I liked. Not fucking bad.

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CreateSpace’s template includes a no-go space you need to keep clear so that they can insert the ISBN block for you.

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Lulu gives you an ISBN block for you to copy and paste. Ghost Stories has purchased art on the front cover only. The back cover is a simple gradient.

CreateSpace, after I uploaded the PDF of my text block, gave me a template that I was able (with the help of a really great tutorial) to use as a layer in GIMP so that I could arrange all my elements (art, text, ISBN) to be right where they needed to be. Lulu, the service that I’m using this time, gave me a list of parameters and measurements in three different graphic design measuring systems, from which I was able to construct my own effective (though less WYSIWYG) template.

DISTRIBUTION AND MARKETING

Here is where I suck the mostest. I am not outgoing or confident so I have trouble schilling my stuff. To an extent, your publisher can help you with this. Most offer expanded distribution for free or a small fee (around $50 in my experience). This gets your book automatically listed on (or made eligible for you to manually list it on) Amazon and other online retailers.

Some publishers also offer an option that will make your book available to libraries. But this does not mean that it will magically appear on library shelves the way it magically appears on Amazon. A librarian has to read the description of your book in a book broker’s or wholesaler’s list (my library system uses B&T) and feel moved to spend (in the case of my library system) taxpayer money to buy (or rent, in the case of some B&T books) a copy or copies. If you really want to see it on the shelves of your local library you should call or scour their website for a more direct option. In my system, they will accept a free copy of any local author’s book and will put it in the system after someone reads and approves it.

A similar scheme is necessary to get into brick and mortar shops. Independent bookstores are just as picky as libraries about what they’ll order from the wholesaler and some are very very leery of people toting armloads of books that they paid to have printed. However, several of the bigger indies in my area have a local author promo in which, for a fee of $50 and your promise to bring donuts, they will let you have an in-store event (a book signing and/or reading) at which they will let you sell your books if you give them a cut. If you don’t bomb they may be convinced to consign some copies for you.

Get a website and/or a blog. Learn some SEO. Tweet about your book using preexisting hashtags. Get some business cards printed up and hand them out shamelessly to anyone dumb enough to respond “that so?” when you mention that you have a book coming out. (They will NOT remember the title without your business card!) Go to “local author” events (neighborhood bookstores and libraries have these or you can Google other local indie authors and make your own). Politely badger other indies to trade interviews on their blogs or podcasts or whatever.

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This is what my business cards for Ellipsis looked like. They had my name, the name of the book, where to get it, how to contact me, and even the cover art. I designed them myself using a cheap online printer.

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The business cards for Ghost Stories are vertical and have all the contact info on the back. This time the emphasis is on the book and not me.

Questions? Please ask!

— Amanda

The dark specter of Barbecue Man returns

grill-931878_1280The first time I moved out of my parents’ house I moved in with a couple of equally ill-equipped girls I’d known since elementary school in the dismal trailer they were renting in what I now see was a really lovely (quiet, well-kept) trailer park one zipcode from where we were all raised. None of us could balance a checkbook, cook, or hold a job for more than a few months at time time, so it was a failed experiment from the get-go.

(There’s a whole book in that wild, fun, desperate, grotesque, coming-of-age summer, but there’s half a dozen other projects already in the queue and I might need a lawyer before I can publish it.)

We had contact with only one neighbor in the trailer park because most everyone kept to themselves. (I told you it was a lovely place.) Our neighbor to the north was a large man who barbecued three meals a day. Breakfast: barbecue. Lunch: barbecue. Dinner: barbecue. We didn’t actually talk to the guy so we never knew if he was a barbecue connoisseur or if maybe his stove and/or microwave were broken and this was his sole means of cooking.

Barbecue Man, as we cleverly called him, had a wife, Mrs. Barbecue Man, whose face we never saw because the only times she stepped outside it was to position herself in a plastic lounge chair with one of those folding aluminum sun reflectors hiding her face. (This remains the only time in my life I have seen one of those things IRL.)

Barbecue Man had two means of communicating with us: 1) Screaming “Fucking lesbians!” out his window if we made too much noise during the day and 2) calling the park manager at 10:00 pm exactly if we were still making too much noise at 10:00 pm exactly. (And, of course, we gathered around a clock and ramped up the noise-making until it was at a fever pitch at 9:59 pm, at which point we could see his silhouette lumbering to the phone, and we promptly ceased all audible activity at 10:00 pm precisely – even going so far at one point as to flip our own breaker after a particularly high-energy bout of lightswitch flipping and screaming with three stereo systems pegged to 10.) The second method, too, was followed by a cry of “Fucking lesbians!”

(I hope he knows not a one of us was even a little bit upset by being referred to as a lesbian, and also that he was wrong to assume that three single girls with two cats and a parrot were lesbians just because we never had any boys over.)

That was 16 years ago now.

A few days ago I was listening to the clatter and bang and hiss and cussing of the stepfather of the Horrid Little Girls next door firing up his barbecue for a late breakfast when it dawned on me (after 10 years living next to that asshole) this is the only other person I have ever encountered who barbecues breakfast. While the stepfather of the Horrid Little Girls doesn’t barbecue every meal every day he does barbecue about half of all meals and, again, is the only other person I have ever seen barbecue breakfast when there is not a power outage.

I ran out to where Matt was welding and asked him. What if. WHAT IF?!?!?!

“It’s possible,” said Matt.

I explained about the wife with the reflectors and how she bore no resemblance (based on body shape and pitch of voice) to the wife the stepfather of the Horrid Little Girls had when we moved in next door to him out here ten years ago.

“He’s on his fourth wife,” said Matt.

It’s not impossible. It is in fact, totally possible. What if, guys? WHAT IF. We’re not looking at a whole book here, of course, but this bizarre coincidence could at least make up one short story chapter in a book I have on a back burner.

Though geographically large, this county I have lived in my whole life is not densely populated and is, figuratively, a very small world. Matt and I were friends for years before discovering that our mothers had been friends in their childhood in their tiny hometown, that my mother had dated his uncle in their teens, that our mothers’ first husbands had owned a business together, that his best friend was the guy I complained about from my first job. A friend of ours at the restaurant where we met logged with Matt’s grandfather, machined with my grandfather, and trimmed and tied the crown roasts of beef that my mother used to order for Christmas dinner. I could go on for hours; everyone knows everyone somehow.

It will be a while before we can know, though, if this guy is indeed that guy. There (thankfully) aren’t many unfortunate moments in which the stepfather of the Horrid Little Girls heaves himself over to the fence to attempt to bond with Matt using unchecked negativity and racism (Dude assumes that anyone who looks a little like him must share all his disgusting sentiments and he is perpetually shocked that we don’t want to deport the Mexicans across the street, that we don’t want to evict people who can’t afford to keep up their houses to his standards, that we didn’t want to assassinate Obama, that we don’t regret getting married, and that, no, we really weren’t joking about not being Christian.) and he hasn’t tried to talk to me since that time he jeered at me in a singsongy voice “Does Matt know you’re using his tools?” and I snarled back “They’re my fucking tools.”

But rest assured, readers, the next time I see them engaged in verbal combat I will text Matt urgently to find a way to ask if the asshole ever lived in Marysville next to some obnoxious teenage lesbians.

— Amanda