All posts by taylo3em

I Think I’ll Have Another

As the holiday season arrives, traditions old and new emerge from the boxes of memory to brighten homes once again. For me, the holidays mean eating great food surrounded by even greater company.

And for decades, a staple of holiday fare for my family has been homemade shortbread cookies.

I’ve made them with my mother every year for as long as I can remember, as she made them with her mother, and her mother before that, who first made the cookies with her own mother (though the recipe has evolved over the years). Though the recipe has evolved over the years, it has maintained its delicious Every time we gather the ingredients together, the roots of the past grow up through the years separating us and sprout blossoms as colorful as the many shades of sugar we decorate the cookies with.

Making shortbread cookies is a serious undertaking in my family – we tend to make three batches of the delicious treat in just one setting. We compile the ingredients, get out the necessary utensils and cookware and pull out the containers of cookie cutters and decorative sweeteners. Dozens of silvery cookie cutters litter the counter, and countless shades of sugar sit ready at the decorating station. A few hours later we emerge from the kitchen, congratulating ourselves on a job well done, our taste buds singing in agreement after sampling a cookie, or two, or three right out of the oven.

At the next family gathering, our extended family shares in the mouthwatering goodness. Kids’ eyes widen, chewing slows, smiles brighten, then eyes close, savoring the flavor as the cookie melts in their mouths.

The recipe is simple, the joy it brings, profound. Allow me to share it with you.

Nannie’s Shortbread Cookies: 

  • 1 egg yolk (save the egg white)
  • 1 cup of butter, softened but not melted
  • ½ teaspoon of vanilla
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • ¾ cup of packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda

Roll out the dough and use cookie cutters to shape the cookies.      Use the leftover egg white and paint it across the surface of the cookies before decorating with colored sugar.                                              Bake at 350 degrees for 7-10 minutes.

You’ll never go back to store-bought shortbread cookies again!

Blood and Sweat, Tears and Fears

As the spirit of Halloween swells during October, once again friends dare one another to test their courage in Fear Forest.  And so, with trepidation in their step, they risk venturing into the darkness and never returning.

The hayride over to the forest seems innocent enough.  But as the wagon crests the hill, a spurt of flame bursts upward and the sound of a gunshot causes everyone to duck.  Lurching to a stop, you see witches dancing around a huge bonfire and a long line of people huddled together waiting to enter the forest.  The wait lulls you into a false sense of security, but soon enough you learn to look over your shoulder every so often, as shadowy figures creep around in your peripheral vision.  The ghouls and creeps are bad enough, but when a chainsaw-wielding madman revs his bloody weapon right next to you, you can’t help the scream that escapes your mouth.

Closer now to the forest, shrieks punctuate the whispered conversation, causing the hairs on your neck to stand up, almost like an ice cold hand has trailed down your spine.  A bloody skeleton in battle armor bares his sword at your group, halting you in your tracks.  He says nothing, but you recognize it is not time to enter.  He herds the frightened band in front of him through the door and into the darkness, returning without them.  A bloodcurdling scream sounds from behind him then is cut off.  He gestures with his sword that it is your turn to enter, and you gulp.  Your friends cower behind you, pulling at your sleeves, and with shaky steps you enter the Fear Forest.

All your senses are on high alert as you tiptoe forward – you hear the crackle of leaves, feel a cold wind tug at your hair, smell the musty forest and the sharp tang of…blood?  They can’t touch me, they can’t touch me, you think, over and over again as you enter the darkness.

Suddenly the Grim Reaper looms in front of you, a scream leaps from your throat, your friends slam into your back, and you almost stumble to the ground.  Losing your balance and your head, you sprint past the ghostly apparition and soon come to a halt outside an abandoned shack.  Something rustles in the darkness behind you, and too afraid to look behind you, you take a deep breath and plunge into the creaking structure.  Bloody body parts swing from the ceiling and opaque sheets separate you from the haunts beyond.  Preoccupied by the movement of the gory limbs, you fail to notice the butcher until he jumps out at you.

Adrenaline pumping, gasping for breath you run ahead and shriek at the sight of another grotesque figure popping out at you. Ominous fog floods the ground, and eerie lights illuminate the path, but the horrors that lurk on every side stay hidden behind trees and scraps of metal.  A howl sounds in the distance, and you whimper with fear.  What comes after the first shack is a blur, a whirlwind of fear and doom.  Figures coming to life, statues that may not be statues, a school bus with frights in every row, a clump of grass that came to life and starting chasing you, psychedelic lights that prevent you from walking straight, and circus freaks (clowns and all) cackling, giggling, taunting you.

The bloodcurdling scream behind you sounds vaguely familiar, but at this point it’s every man for himself.  In the distance you see a pinprick of light, and it gradually gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

Why spend money on food or gas when you can have…

brokelogo1

As the TAD writing team returns for fall semester, so does our silliness. For this month’s blog we will attempt to persuade the other poor souls in college why our chosen items from ThisIsWhyI’mBroke.com is necessary in their lives.  And so, down the rabbit hole of very cool, but very unnecessary items I went, emerging into a world where panda onesies, offensive fortune cookies and inflatable bumper soccer existed!

Amidst the camera lens coffee mugs, deluxe mermaid tails, bubble wrap calendars, and target practice alarm clocks, I finally found something my heart just couldn’t say no to: a USB typewriter.  For a mere $799, you’ll be able to write in style while satisfying your inner hipster!  The real question isn’t why you should buy this practical tool, it’s why you shouldn’t.  Who needs money for food or gas when you can own a USB typewriter?!

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Ladies and gentleman, forget soulless Mac laptops that all look the same, you can add personality and diversity to your workflow.

Rated highly as a “groundbreaking advancement in the field of obsolescence” by those who sell it, this outstanding product represents the holy matrimony of manual and digital.  The USB typewriter lets writers type out their thoughts on paper even as it electronically records to an SD card.  Not to mention, this versatile device can also function as a keyboard for your desktop or tablet computer and iPad, while Bluetooth allows users to connect to smartphones as well.

Rave reviews have poured in all over; it’s been featured on NPR, Wired, CNN, was named one of the “Top iPad Accessories” by PC Magazine, and even Martha Stewart has joined the bandwagon.  A product of this caliber might even be something that Kanye would love more than Kanye!

The USB typewriter will earn you the envy of everyone on the block, or at least everyone in your office when you bring that bad boy in to work.  Indulge yourself or a loved one, but mainly yourself, in this functional and practical treat.  Join the cult that is the USB Typewriter.

type5

Bonne Fête!

By Elaina Taylor

If you could create any holiday, what would it be?

I thought for a while about this, toying with various ideas both serious and completely ludicrous. The jokester in me threatened to write about a Chipotle Appreciation Day, or a holiday dedicated to pun-tificating (endless comedic possibilities), a celebration of Corny Compliments, Be Your Favorite Disney Character for a Day, a Pajama Day, an Appreciate Yo’self holiday, and No Disclaimers Day.

My first serious thought, as someone who is profoundly interested in other cultures and diversity, produced the idea of an International Culture Day. It could be a day devoted to celebration of differences by learning about other cultures. People could cultivate respect for other ways of life, even if they couldn’t muster understanding or appreciation.

But tensions seethe in today’s world, and sew fear of immigrants, refugees, and other religions. Rooted as many are in their ethnocentrism, I don’t think people would be able to fully embrace the purpose and spirit of an International Culture Day. Instead, perhaps people can connect and bond with one another over common interests. What brings people together? Food! But also music. So why not an International Music Day?

Music is one of the few things that can transcend all barriers humans place between themselves. What else is so universal? Maybe a smile or a tear, but little else. Culture, ethnicity, race, language, age, gender, nationality, education level, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, income and more all separate us from one another. Melody, harmony, rhythm, and percussion speak to us on levels that transcend all those boundaries because music is a language that every person can understand and feel. Leo Tolstoy said, “Music is the shorthand of emotion.” Emotion is the soul of humanity, therefore music is a fundamental part of what it means to be human.

So why not a day that celebrates all kinds of musicians and genres, and is devoted to listening to varieties and styles of music that you have never encountered before? A day devoted to music festivals and concerts around the world?

It may be too much to ask for people to accept one another on a holiday that celebrates culture. So beginning with music, something that every culture creates, may be the perfect starting point. We may not be able to talk to or understand each other, but we can create music together. Cheesy as that tagline is, I stand by it and believe in the power of an International Music Holiday to make this world a better, more caring place.

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” – Victor Hugo

Creative Juices, On The Rocks Please

By Elaina Taylor

~Oh but they’re so spaced out, ba-ba-ba-Bennie and the Jeetttsss
Oh but they’re weird and they’re wonderful
But Bennie she’s-a really keeennn~

“Elaina, what on earth are you doing?”

I pause my singing, twist my head. My door, which was formerly ajar, has now been pushed fully open to reveal a very baffled roommate. I just laugh, surveying the mess strewn around me on my bed, the product of handing my inner five-year-old paper and scissors and setting it free.

“I’m searching for creative inspiration!”

It’s Sunday night and my essay for my creative nonfiction class is due tomorrow, yet I am stuck, firmly wedged between my perfectionist tendencies and writer’s block. Tantalizing ideas always dart around in my head and then dissipate like morning mist when the time comes to translate them to paper. I’ve sat at this computer for a whole hour now, and that eureka moment has eluded me thus far. After a few more mind-numbingly-frustrating minutes, I begin actively searching elsewhere for inspiration.

~ • ~

Occasionally this means sifting through my stockpile of inspiration, my imagination compilation; I constantly collect quotes, little snippets of information, random facts – harbored in the notes section on my iPhone, set adrift on seas of sticky notes, or scribbled on whatever writing surface was closest at the time.

These tidbits always tend to spark something in my brain, even if they’ll never get used, they always get me thinking, questioning, curious. Did you know that our sense of smell is most closely linked to memory? Oh, would I love to peek into your brain after you read this sentence to discover what first popped up in your thoughts. Lobsters, yes, lobsters the culinary delicacy, can live to be over a hundred. Food for thought, quite literally. Thanks to technology, with an electronic eye and an implant, a man who previously viewed the world in grayscale due to an extreme form of colorblindness can hear color. One of the more captivating TED talks for sure – “I Listen to Color” by Neil Harbisson.

~ • ~

Most often, I turn to music in search of creative stimulus. My poetry professor says that the creative process to craft one art form is the same for all other artistic compositions, and I love seeking out ingenuity through other mediums of creation. As one who sings constantly, in music I find both solace and a challenge. There’s just something about the freedom, joy and ease I feel when singing that allows my cramped brain to loosen up and finally let the thoughts that had been percolating there to flow unhindered onto the page. And more often than not, this singing is accompanied by none other than dancing, usually done with complete abandon in the comfort of my own room. (It’s right around this point that my brain gets so embarrassed by the actions of its physical vessel that it will ship over the necessary language just to get me out of the dance funk I’m shimmying around in.)

~ • ~

But when that doesn’t work, I let myself get swept up in another world – that of the human experience. Little else captivates the human brain like stories, which explains why, for as long as I can remember, stories have always enthralled me. The medium through which the story is expressed matters little; I always get lost in the world of books, films, and TV shows. As a kid, I would constantly get in trouble for reading in class when I wasn’t supposed to be. But more than that, I love hearing about people’s lives, their interests, their experiences, what makes them unique. Perhaps that is why inevitably, at least once throughout my day, I check for new posts on the Humans of New York Facebook page. A blog created by photographer Brandon Stanton, he travels around NYC, and occasionally other countries, taking photographs and collecting quotes from his subjects along the way. For me, the breathtaking result is not only a daily dose of perspective, it’s a reminder that these short interviews barely skim the surface, and that these amazing human beings have so many more stories to tell.

So I ask you: What mesmerizes your imagination? How do you stay creative? What inspires you?

Are Those Footsteps?

By Elaina Taylor

Weak moonlight filters in through the slits in the window blinds, dappling the little girl’s bed. Eyes stretched wide against the near darkness, covers wrapped protectively around her small body, she tenses at every sound that reaches her ears. A fierce wind raging outside provokes the old house to complain and moan around her, causing her to shiver with fear. It’s October, and the terrifying trailers for horror movies inhabit the TV channels. It doesn’t take much to give her nightmares and keep her awake at night scared to fall asleep, and the trailer she accidentally watched today is no exception.

Every time she closes her eyes, the fear overwhelms her so she keeps them open. But the problem is, if she strains her eyes and ears too much, the two senses start to play tricks on her, and her imagination begins to run wild.

Monsters aren’t real, she tells herself. Those aren’t footsteps you hear, it’s just the house creaking. Those aren’t footsteps, but wait…those sound like footsteps.

Trying to creep around on the staircase is impossible; nearly every step anyone takes will result in a loud protest from the stairs, so there’s almost no way to walk undetected. And the girl can definitely hear the rhythmic groans coming from the stairs as someone, or something, advances. The girl holds her breath to make sure she isn’t imagining things, but that only makes the pounding in her heart louder. Could it be Mom or Dad? No, they went to bed forever ago, so that can’t be them.

As the footfalls get louder and closer, the little girl whimpers and reaches out to grab her favorite stuffed animal and pulls it close. My lion will protect me, she thinks. She fixes her eyes on the gap in the door. There’s a momentary pause as whoever it is reaches the landing, then continues down the hallway. Slowly, the sounds get closer.

Now with the footsteps she can hear heavy breathing, the kind a large person or animal would make. Certain it’s almost at her door, she closes her eyelids until they’re just barely open, deciding she’ll pretend to be asleep until she figures out who or what is creeping around the house.

A dark, clawed shape appears at the edge of the door, curls around it, and then slowly begins to open it. Creeeeeeeaaaakkk. A hulking figure, barely visible in the dark, now stands at the entrance to the girl’s room. It takes one step. Then another. Then another. The creature moves closer, and the little girl wants to scream but all sound is caught in her throat and she can’t get it out. It’s now right next to her bed, and just as the little girl is about to faint from fear or scream until her lungs give out, the creature suddenly stands erect and howls to the moon, “Scooby Dooby Doooooo!”

There’s a momentary pause.

“Dad!” my sister and I exclaim indignantly, “That’s not a spooky story, that doesn’t count!” He laughs, and then begins another story, only to end it again on, “Scooby Dooby Doooooo!”

To The Freshman I Used To Be…

September 28, 2015

Dear Freshman Elaina,

Look at you, all grown up and ready to take on college life! I’m so happy and proud you’ve come this far, and I’m excited for all that you’ll discover in the coming years. But before you get ahead of yourself, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I, the author of this letter, am you, now a junior at JMU, writing back in time to give you the advice and guidance you’ll so desperately need during freshman year. It won’t be able to change your path, but it may make freshman year a little easier on you.

First off, honey you’re an adult now – learn to dress like one. Go out and find some nice business casual clothes that look both cute and professional. I know you don’t like to splurge, but this is the one occasion you won’t regret having done so. Make an effort to look at least halfway decent for your classes, too.

Learn to let go babe. Make peace with the fact that sometimes friendships pass like the seasons. People will be in your life for a reason, but don’t count on them always staying there; where one friendship slowly withers another will blossom in its place. And this ties into …

Learn to recognize your own self-worth. If people don’t make time for you, then don’t make time for them. I understand that this bit of advice will feel especially impossible, but trust me, you will love yourself more for understanding you are worth people making time for.

Don’t shy away so much from meeting new people. Own your awkwardness. Wear it like a badge, girl. Just because you feel anxious as a spooked hedgehog in a room full of new people doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort to meet others. Your inadvertent networking will pay off in time.

Call your parents, and especially your little sister. I know you’ve never been good at staying in touch with anyone, but your sister really needs you. Freshman year of high school for her will be just as hard as freshman year of college for you.

Take time to write and don’t be a perfectionist. You love jotting down random ideas that come into your head until you have oceans of sticky notes, but you never do anything with them. Write that story you’ve been visualizing, but are too afraid won’t be good enough. While you’re not good at reading people, that doesn’t mean you can’t write a convincing and entrancing story.

Just know that I made the journey too, and now I’m happier than I’ve ever been with some great friends, roommates, and coworkers by my side. You have a hard year ahead of you, but you will grow exponentially as a result of your freshman year experiences. Embrace the tears as equally as you do the laughs, and be strong. Have fun and just be yourself, and the rest will follow.

Love you girl,

Elaina (your future self)