Thursday, January 31, 2013

New sheets

I am kind of into bedding. I like high thread counts, nice flannel sheet sets, interesting quilts and blankets, and old army blankets. I also love down comforters.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="430" caption="He's helping."][/caption]

James likes bedding too. He reeeally likes bedding. I can't make a bed in the house without his help (which translates to him attacking the sheets, burrowing under every set of sheets and blankets as they go on the bed, and generally being a terrible nuisance).

Anyway, I've got two nice sets of regular sheets and one set of flannel sheets for both my master bedroom and guest room, and a couple of "Bed in a Bag" (do other people know what I mean by this? The cheap, 200-threadcount sets that include comforters and shams and ruffles and stuff. Generally in soothing, neutral hotel colors.) sets for the futon in the office. I had a Kohl's gift certificate to spend, and nothing I really needed from Kohl's, so I thought I'd check out their flannel sets. Now is, weirdly, the time when those start to go on sale. It is freezing outside. It is bitterly, bitterly cold. Now is the time to hike the price up on flannel sheets, department stores! Stop trying to sell bikinis! What is wrong with you? Anyway, I went to Kohl's and found an amazing sheet set for the futon.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="430" caption="He's trying to catch the owls."][/caption]

My only complaint is that these owls aren't dressed in winter clothes. A lot of flannel sheets feature characters wearing hats or mittens or scarves. Maybe because flannel sheets primarily get used in the wintertime! Anyway, owls wearing scarves would have been better, but these are pretty fantastic. As I was telling my boyfriend earlier this evening, if I were to have friends visit, and they had small children, and those children go to stay in the office, and were also really into owls, they would think I was really cool.

He said that was a lot of hypothetical stuff going on to justify these sheets, but I feel good about it. That imaginary kid and I are going to be great friends.

One of the many nice things about having your own house is that you can do things like purchase pink owl flannel sheets for the office futon and no one can try to stop you. HAHA!

 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Still doing this juice thing

I have made a batch of juice every day since January 22nd. I have spent $30 on supplies. I have started a spreadsheet that tracks what I'm buying, how much I'm spending, and average cost per batch of juice. Each batch is about a liter. I average 6 minutes for prep, 10 minutes for juicing and 7 minutes for cleanup, though today, I managed to do everything in 20 minutes.

The takeaway from this is that juicing is kind of fun, and I really, really enjoy spreadsheets. I enjoy spreadsheets as much as the cats hate the sound of the juicer (it is a lot).

So far, I have managed to not buy any more containers, and I've started taking a big bottle of juice to work in the mornings. I typed "it's better than coffee" and then deleted it. It is not at all like coffee, and it's not better (nor is it worse), but it does have an energizing effect without the caffeine crash.

I have also been tweaking the juice recipe. If I see dark leafy greens on sale, I try them. Tonight, I got a bunch of turnip greens for $0.69 for a big bunch. I am pretty sick of turnips, but the greens worked well in juice and weren't as bitter as kale. I've also switched to collard greens over kale. Another thing I have learned? I'm not a huge kale fan! Why is it so popular? I've been adding spinach to the juice, because I have a huge bag of spinach from Costco and I'm worried that if I don't use it, it'll go bad. I've learned that cucumbers are oddly expensive at a lot of stores, and that a little ginger goes a long way. I've also determined that 2 apples makes for juice that's a little sweeter than I'd like, so I've subbed in a couple of carrots.

Current recipe:
6 stalks turnip greens/collard greens/kale
several handfuls of spinach
4 stalks celery
2 large carrots
1 granny smith apple
1 cucumber
1/4 lemon
thumb-sized piece of ginger

Friday, January 25, 2013

Unsolicited house-buying advice and juice update

I am helping certain people with their house hunt, and I often think about my house hunt, how much I love my house, how terrible my house-buying timing was (I bought RIGHT before the bubble burst, and RIGHT in the tiny window between one set of new homeowner tax breaks and the next set of new homeowner tax breaks) and how my house-buying experience was not really stressful in the ways that I assumed it would be.

Houses are a huge investment. This is probably the largest purchase I will ever make. The short list of things I did was 1. Found great people to help me do stuff. 2. Had a very clear picture of what I wanted. 3. Didn't settle for anything less than amazing.

Here is a long list of the things I did during my house-hunting process:

1. Researched mortgage rates and talked to multiple banks before deciding where to go. Things taken into account included rates, fees, closing costs and customer service.

2. Went with a local bank that told me that while they contractually *could* sell my mortgage, they probably wouldn't, since they hadn't ever sold mortgages to other companies. This came in really handy when interest rates plummeted. Modifying a loan is much, much easier than refinancing. I think it took me 5 minutes. On the phone.

3. Found a realtor. I lucked into this one, actually. I decided I wanted to find a realtor, I went to a condo open house, and talked to the listing agent there. I liked her a lot, and she agreed to work with me. She is amazing. If anyone in the KC area is looking for a realtor, I have a recommendation for you. The thing about a good realtor is that, ideally, they will know more about houses than you do. In my case, I thought I wanted a condo. When I described what I was looking for (size, dedicated parking, $120K limit), I was told that what I probably wanted was a house. Yes. Turns out, that was totally accurate. I was able to make a list of things I really, really wanted (true ranch, 3 bedrooms - one for me, one dedicated guest room and an office - garage, basement, hardwoods would be nice) and that helped narrow down houses. She was also very good at seeing what was wrong with houses. As someone who had previously lived in apartments, I did not know things about, say, foundations. She did. That's really helpful. If you can swing it, I highly recommend working with someone who has rehabbed houses, or who has an extensive background in something like that.

4. Looked a ton of houses. I looked for about three months, I looked several days a week, and I looked at two or more properties each time. This was grueling, but it helped me figure out what I liked and disliked about real-world houses. Since my intention was to buy a house that I would stay in forever, I needed to find something that I loved.

5. Initially thought I'd get a fixer-upper for cheap, but then changed my mind and decided it would be worth it to just get a house I already liked and could occupy immediately. I think a lot of people do this. There is something very appealing about getting a good deal and learning how to do useful things with houses. However, I've found that getting a house, any house, comes with a lot of on-the-job learning opportunities, so to speak. Only now can I fully appreciate how unprepared I would have been to fix up a house!

6. Made an offer on a house that I felt okay about, but didn't love. That offer was not accepted. THANK GOODNESS. I would not have been happy in that house. That was an "this is close enough and I'm so tired of looking at houses" house.

7. Found a house I loved, looked at it twice, and paid for a home inspection. Always get a home inspection. It helped me get a handle on the things I'd need to do if I bought the house (in my case, I had to get the furnace flue relined, install a new garage door, get some siding replaced and get the chimney cap sealed. None of these things were awful, and knowing what I was getting into was incredibly helpful).

8. Checked on the utilities. In Missouri, at least, if you're looking at a house, you can usually just call the utility companies, explain what you're doing, and get a monthly bill average for the last year. This is somewhat helpful, but by no means a perfect system. It can give you an idea of how much your bills might be, if people have been living in the house. Though your energy/water/gas usage will probably be different, it's a start. The more information you have, the better.

9. Listened to my realtor when it came to making an offer and things to ask for. A home inspection is going to turn up a LOT of stuff. Some of it is really important. Some of it isn't. I had certain things that I wanted the sellers to fix, and I had certain things that I was okay with taking care of on my own.

10. Closed quickly, and had about a month where I still had my old apartment and the new house. This made moving a lot less stressful. I didn't feel rushed. I also had a very motivated friend with a truck who decided that we were going to move my bed to the new house very early on in the process. It turns out that when your bed moves, you have effectively moved as well. This gave me plenty of time to sort through items in the apartment and clean it up in preparation for my departure.

The end result of all of this is that I've been in my house for almost six years. It's a solid house, it's had a totally reasonable number of house issues, which I have either fixed myself or had fixed by others. I've gotten to be pretty handy, and I feel comfortable tackling a range of house projects. I also never look at other houses and think "I really wish I could live in that house." At most, I think "that house is really cool." And then I think "I really love my house." I do occasionally have fancy apartment envy, because fancy apartments are soooo nice, but it is fleeting. It is more than overpowered by my hatred of moving and my love of this house.

To sum up: It took a long time! It was a lot of work! Totally worth it! Find a good realtor!

Juice update:

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="323" caption="Super green."][/caption]

I keep buying containers for juice. In addition to the glass carafe, I now have a 2-liter jug (for big batches!) and a to-go cup thing (not pictured). I made a double batch today with kale, collard greens, spinach, cucumbers, apples, a lot of ginger, lemon and celery. I have made juice every day since the first day I made juice (which I believe was Monday). I have also started a juice spreadsheet to track how much I have spent on things for juice (it does not have a containers column, but if I get any more, I will have to add one). The batches of juice (each batch is just under a liter) have averaged a little under $4, when I take into account the fact that I have a lot of vegetables and fruits that I have purchased but not yet used.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Juice Part 2

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="430" caption="I love glassware!"][/caption]

Made another batch of juice, this time adding a couple of carrots. Definitely added some body and sweetness. This recipe yields a little less than a liter. I know this because I bought an adorable liter carafe today. I decided to time the entire process, and it took about half an hour including everything - produce preparation, actual juicing and cleanup. Not bad. I think this time will improve as I continue to do this.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

First Foray into Juicing

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="an array of things, but not a cucumber. there should be a cucumber in there somewhere...whoops."][/caption]

I have been sick for the last two days, which for me, means that I have been basically asleep for the last two days. Since I live in a house with very affectionate cats, this has meant very happy cats, and the occasional nightmare where I think I'm dying, but it's just Donald trying to sleep on my chest. he weighs 17 pounds. I am never without company, is what I'm trying to say.

During the three hours that I was awake yesterday, I watched "Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead." It was interesting. I hated the animations, and the Australian dude was kind of annoying. However, Phil Staples was awesome, and there were some interesting things mentioned in the movie. Mostly, if you tell me that something might help eliminate migraines, and it's not dangerous or prohibitively expensive, I'm going to try it. I guess my official stance on this movie is "I didn't like most of it but when Phil Staples showed up it all became worthwhile. That dude is awesome."

So I watched this movie, and it was all "juice juice juice, juice is awesome, I will now go into awesome diners and try to make people feel bad about their diets because I am a wealthy mildly obnoxious Australian" and all I wanted when it was over was juice, but all I had in the house was a lot of chili. So I had some chili (I also got some potatoes, so technically, I had an awesome baked potato with chili on it) and I ate a carrot because that was the best I could do under the circumstances.

Now, my mother gave me her old juicer a couple of months ago, and it's just been sitting around. I was glad to get it, and I remember using it when I was little to make carrot juice, which I did not enjoy (no small children enjoy carrot juice, pretty sure) so this seemed like a good opportunity to use an appliance that I hadn't used in ages. I love appliances! But I didn't feel well enough yesterday to go get stuff to make weird hippie juice.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="460" caption="20-year-old Waring juicer, last used to make carrot juice that I did not like, about 20 years ago."][/caption]

Today, I slept forever, then I went to the store and picked up things to make one of the juices featured in this movie. It's called "Mean Green" (adorable!)

Ingredients:
4 stalks celery
1 cucumber
1 ginger root (size of thumb)
1/2 lemon
2 green apples
6 kale leaves

I went to ALDI and Trader Joe's and spent about $10 (but I'll have enough to make a few batches...ok, did the math and this batch, which yielded about 30 oz., cost $2.62). Peeled the cucumber and the apples (ha - I didn't peel the apples! But I should have! I will next time) and cut off the lemon rind. Then I made some juice!

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="juice! more juice than expected!"][/caption]

It's definitely healthy juice. It's not super sweet juice like I'm used to, but it tastes nice and it's not so healthy-tasting as to be off-putting (do you know what I mean? I drank kambucha once and the only reason I finished it was because it was $5 and it was so awful I *knew* it had to be good for me. Just me? OK.). I got two big glasses of juice out of it, and I was impressed by how well this juicer did. They have all sorts of fancy juicers now (there's a very long article on The Wirecutter about them, which is a fun read if you're into that sort of thing), and I do love gadgets, so I was kind of expecting this to not do a great job. I did try to feed things into the juicer slowly so that it would have a chance to extract the most juice. Juice juice juice juice juice...it doesn't even look like a real word anymore...Clean-up was pretty easy, and overall, it was a neat experience. I will do this again.

Juice!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday night routine: cook, clean, wash. Read a book.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="574" caption="Thebes, Diet Mountain Dew and Baked Doritos. I did this earlier in the day."][/caption]

I like routines. I think they're helpful for people who are not naturally organized or motivated to do things that aren't fun. This is why Wednesday night is vacuuming/light housecleaning night.

Sunday night is my arbitrarily designated "check the laundry levels, do some laundry if necessary," "do whatever dishes need to be done" and "get groceries and cook something that will last the whole week." For the laundry, this means doing the actual wash and then folding and putting things away. No dryer storage! For dishes, this is running the dishwasher if it's full then putting dishes away when they're done. Any dishes that need to be done by hand are done immediately after using them, so there's no sink of dishes to deal with EVER. This is all part of the "make everything a routine because otherwise it's all going to get messy and terrible." This is how it works for me. I realize that there are lots and lots of people who can totally handle their stuff without having to do everything completely. People who can do half a thing now, and the other half later! I'm not that person. This is all about how I've figured out how to manage my tendencies toward clutter. As for the cooking, in the winter, this is usually something in the crock pot. Tonight, it's chili, in anticipation of the very cold front that is moving in!

All of this is a nice end to the weekend, it gives me some semi-forced reading time (I have a tendency to check out library books and then put off reading them because I've got so many things I could be doing! Like napping! Or playing with Donald and James!). If I'm really organized, I can start the food in the morning and by the evening, it's ready, and my house smells amazing. This gives me plenty of time to play board games or go shopping or take naps or look at purses online or whatever I have chosen to do with my Sunday.

Crock pots are amazing and magical and every person living alone should at least seriously consider getting one. I will say that if you do this and you have cats, you might get yelled at for doing inexplicable things like "slicing vegetables" instead of "paying attention to cats."

Chili recipe from tonight (big crockpot):

1# ground turkey
1/2 # ground beef
1/8# ground sausage
2 onions, diced
(brown all of these together in a pan)

2 cans diced tomatoes
2 cans tomato paste
1/4 # dried pinto beans
1/4 # dried great northern white beans
2 12-oz. cans cheap beer
chili powder and cumin to taste
4 medium-sized carrots
the biggest turnip I've ever seen
3 cups assorted hot peppers, seeded (I used habaneros and jalapenos)

Combine all in enormous crock pot. Cook on high until done.

Add some sort of vinegar and cayenne hot sauce to finish.

(Gee, that's a lot of meat for someone who just talked a whole bunch about not wanting to eat so much meat because of ethical considerations! This is the meat that was in the freezer. I have more, and I'll have to use it up as well, but from here on out, all the meat I buy will probably end up being INCREDIBLY EXPENSIVE, and I will have to come up with a good veggie chili recipe)

Tonight's book: "The Left Hand of Darkness" by Ursula K. LeGuin. I'm excited.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Dominion" and how reading a book can change your life

Not always in a fun way...

I recently read "Dominion" by Matthew Scully, a Conservative Catholic vegan. He wrote Sarah Palin's VP nomination speech! We could not be more different. It's eloquently written and very, very compelling. It's about a number of things, but mostly about stewardship and how we are failing to live up to what we are called to do, from both a Biblical and an ethical standpoint. Among the topics explored are big game hunting (and hunting in general), whaling, animal experimentation and factory farming. I wonder if part of why it's so viscerally affecting is that I came to this book from a place of skepticism. What does a Conservative Catholic vegan have to say to me? Lots and lots. I spent the last two hours of reading with a knot in my stomach caused by grief and guilt. It's not a fun read, but I believe it's an important one.

For me, the sum of this is that the thin veneer of plausible deniability that I have so carefully cultivated over the years has been removed, and I've been wrestling with what this means for me and my relationship to food - particularly meat and dairy. It's easier to not read this book. It's easier to not think about what goes into what I eat, but I can't pretend that I don't know anymore, and I can't keep contributing to the amount of suffering that takes place in the meat industrial complex.

I am fortunate to live in a place where an organic, ethical food movement has taken hold. There are a number of farmer's markets and co-ops in the area where pasture-fed meat can be obtained. I can easily find Shatto milk at the store (if I really wanted to, I could take a day trip out to the dairy itself). Tomorrow, I'm probably going to check out Howard's Organic Fare/Vegetable Patch, which is a kind of local 24/7 membership grocery thing (I'm not entirely sure how best to describe it, but it's fascinating to me).

Equal in importance to this accessibility, I am in a position financially where purchasing these products is something I can do. This is certainly not something I could have even considered when I was younger, so in some ways, I'm lucky that I've come to this quandary at this point in my life.

I've considered vegetarianism, and there are many health benefits (as well as the prospect of environmental sustainability) but my biggest motivator is the guilt I feel over the living conditions of animals in factory farms. I'm not concerned about my health, and I'm a fatalist when it comes to the state of the world. We're doomed! I have come to accept this! I don't go out of my way to do awful things - I recycle, I try to minimize my driving, but we're not headed in a good direction, and I haven't seen anything in policy or other sea change that makes me think that we're going to turn this around in the time we have left to do that! I'm oddly chipper about it. But in the time we have left, I'd like to at least reduce the amount of suffering that my own personal existence encourages.

What's probably going to happen is that I'll go mostly vegetarian, and on the rare occasions that I eat meat, I'll try to buy it from ethical, local sources.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Seeing things, wanting things...(mostly pi)

I have been aware of the Raspberry Pi for quite some time, but I only saw one in person tonight. I want one. It's funny how seeing something tangible sometimes makes me want it more than just being interested in it conceptually. Another example: lightsaber replicas. Along these same lines, I hope I never meet Jeremy Irons...

Anyway, it seems like a fascinating project component. I certainly don't need any new hobbies or projects ... in my copious spare time, I help plan an international fantasy/sci-fi/concept/etc art convention (I'll probably post about this here one of these days) so I'm definitely keeping busy ... it's just that this is such an appealing intersection of cheap and technical and *interesting* that it's going to be hard for me to just pass on it.

Now I'm trying to figure out what I'd do with it. And, of course, what to do about the enclosure. (Legos. Obviously Legos.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

In Which I Ramble About Operas and Symphonies and I Do Not Talk About Cats At All

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="We have nothing to do with this post whatsoever!"][/caption]

I have the best intentions when it comes to seeing shows. I really, truly believe that I'm going to take advantage of the marvelous arts scene in Kansas City. There are fairly affordable tickets to a lot of things, and I always think "I'll just get back row tickets and it'll be cheap and easy and I'll see everything!" I never do this. I never, ever do this. I just forget, and things come and go and I realize after the fact and it's frustrating. This is how I missed "Tosca" at the Lyric Opera. I was so upset about "Tosca" that I got season tickets to the opera and have just continued to do that every year since. When I was younger, I got the cheapest package you could get. I really appreciated that with a subscription, I could switch performance dates and get additional discounted tickets. Now that I'm older, I get slightly nicer seats. I don't think I'm ever going to be a person with super fancy awesome seats, but the fact that I'm someone who gets season tickets to the opera at all, frankly, feels very fancy. As of this year, I'm trying this with the symphony as well. Sundays at the Symphony - the little subscription! For people who are interested in seeing symphonies, but are also kind of cheap.

Two facts about going to see live musical performances:
1. You can dress up!
2. You totally do not have to dress up.

Not everybody is into opera. (I would go so far as to say that most people are NOT into opera. Certainly not most people my age.) I love it. Yes, operas are long. They can be ridiculous, their storylines can be maddeningly inappropriate ("Cosi fan tutte" is TERRIBLE. "Turandot" is TERRIBLE.) but the music can be sublime. Opera is amazing. If you have never seen it live and you live in Kansas City, I urge you to give it a try. I would also urge you to not see "Norma" because it's a tough opera for a non-opera person to enjoy/stay awake for. Maybe try "The Barber of Seville," anything by Gilbert and Sullivan, "Carmen," "Turandot" or something with a piece that you've heard before. I think it can be very helpful to see a show where the music feels familiar. Opera is used in a lot of popular media (Bugs Bunny cartoons!), and when something is familiar, it's a lot less weird and intimidating.

I attended a performance of Mahler's 6th on Sunday at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It was the first time I had been in the Helzberg Hall, and I was definitely impressed. The acoustics were wonderful, and the seats were supportive but not so comfortable that I worried about nodding off (I love classical music, but I do tend to get a little bit sleepy sometimes).

Music has always been a huge part of my life. When I was growing up, my dad worked at the UMKC conservatory, and I'd get to see a lot of shows. I've played the piano and the violin since I was four, and I've been in multiple string orchestras. I've performed in competitions and recitals, and while I haven't done any of these things in years, it is still of interest to me. Mostly, I enjoy music that I have nothing to do with. I find it engaging and relaxing, and similar to my advice about opera, if you have never listened to a symphony all the way through, preferably live, I think it's a good thing for people to do at least once. Some people find it incredibly boring. I recommend, again, something familiar. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky...Mahler is great. I'd stay away from Brahms if you're a first-timer...you will fall asleep. No judgment. It's veeeery soothing.

Kansas City is a very interesting city for the performing arts. It's sometimes surprising to remember that not every large city has an opera company or a symphony. Tickets to performances can be incredibly expensive. I consider myself to be very fortunate to live in a city where these kinds of experiences are both available and reasonably affordable. They have student rates, and back-row seats, and little packages that are all a huge blessing to people who are interested in this kind of thing.

Go see some shows! Attend the symphony! Check out an opera! Even if you hate it and you never do it again, you can say that you gave it a shot.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Three Words

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="574" caption="I don't always eat breakfast, but when I do, I prefer it like this."][/caption]

After a morning of waking up early and going to the vet (I'm not going to go into it. Everyone is fine, and Donald is the sweetest cat ever.), I decided to make a full breakfast. Right now, I've got smoked bacon from Hatfields Smoked Meats (owned by the Hatfields of "Hatfields and McCoys" fame. Missouri! If you're ever in Neosho, they are pretty amazing.) and brown farm eggs from some people my parents know. The coffee was roasted by a friend of mine. Sometimes I'll make waffles, but I run the risk of taking a mid-morning nap if I do that, and that's not the most productive start to a day (though it is very relaxing). Sometimes I'll make orange juice! Coffee AND orange juice? Fancy like a restaurant!

I didn't used to cook things like this unless I had friends over, because it seemed like a lot of effort for just one person, but I've come to the realization that cooking for one can be very rewarding. Washing a pan takes a couple of minutes, and more than makes up for the feeling of "ehhh" that sometimes accompanies cereal (I love cereal, but if you want a big breakfast and you settle for cereal, it can be a little bit of a bummer).

People who live alone and want breakfast, in the immortal words of Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle: Treat. Yo. Self.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Why You Should Be Watching "Cougar Town"

1. It has nothing to do with its unfortunate title.
2. The title screen changes every week, and is almost always hilarious.
3. It's full of TV veterans who possess impeccable timing (Courteney Cox is the best, but everyone is fantastic too).
4. It has a lot of heart.
5. There are elements of magical realism that are engaging and delightful.

I often have trouble watching shows about terrible people ("Up All Night," "Happy Endings," "Seinfeld"), so my love of "Cougar Town" is sometimes hard to understand. I think that my problem with "Happy Endings" is that those horrible people are 1. horrible and 2. horrible to one another. That's part of their charm. I loved the first season, but after the hiatus, I just couldn't get back into it. "Up All Night" is unwatchable for me at this point. I try to watch an episode and I just end up turning it off after five minutes. I think the same problem with "Happy Endings" applies.

"Cougar Town" has people who meddle incessantly in each others' lives, but they never seem to be motivated by mean-spiritedness. For every episode where someone inadvertently does something awful to someone else, there are two more episodes where everyone bands together to help someone out. They all like each other, and that's what motivates them. It's very, very sweet, and I appreciate it more and more as television becomes more populated with selfish and unlikable characters.

Like so many other shows, of course, you can't start from the beginning. Like "The Office" (American version), "Parks and Rec" and "New Girl," you have to start about halfway into the first season. That's when the show really starts to find its footing, and where the storyline diverges from what the showrunners (as evidenced by the title) thought the show was going to be about.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

It's just what we do now

Lens flare in movies used to be something undesirable. You'd try to avoid it. You'd remove it in post. It was a bug.  Then, like static being digitally added to music, it became a feature. When it didn't end up in things accidentally anymore, it was added back to lend realism. This cartoon planet? Totally a place with lens flare! This thing you are watching is real!

Imperfections are interesting, and if you get the details right with the imperfections, you can create a world that feels more authentic than a sanitized, perfect replica. (See Kamino and its perfect, unblemished buildings...its smooth, video-game feel. Contrast this with the crappy, scraped up, dirty spaceport of Mos Eisley.)

For a while, it recalled a gritty authenticity. Later, it meant you were watching a J.J. Abrams movie. Then, it signified a desire to trade on an authenticity that may or may not have been present. Now I think it has lost all meaning. It's just something you put into movies because people expect it, because that's just how things are done now.

It shouldn't be so surprising to me that movies are as susceptible to shifting signifiers are anything else, and most of the time I deal with lens flare by just getting annoyed and trying to figure out how, logistically, in whatever situation is being represented, so much lens flare could even occur.

Then I shake my fist at J.J. Abrams. I shake my fist at George Lucas too, just out of habit.

Later, I wonder why anyone would want to make a "Total Recall" movie that has nothing to do with Mars.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Unsolicited advice about kitchen stuff

If you are interested in cooking, or if you know someone who is interested in cooking and is in the process of building up their kitchen, and there's a budget to consider, there's a great article on that here. I agree with all of it, I think.

Things that have been particularly helpful to me over the years:

Santoku knife
Big cutting board with handle
Big mixing bowl with cover
A good wok
Crock pot
Electric kettle
French press

(these are in addition to the usual things - spatulas, frying pans, copper-bottomed pots if you're fancy, etc.)

I have an immersion blender that I really like, but honestly, I mostly use it for soups. It could be used for more things, and that helps to justify its purchase (also the fact that I think it was $20) but most people already have regular blenders and those are fine for soups too (though potentially messy).

I've also got several teapots. These aren't strictly necessary (there are so many ways to make tea), but having *one* teapot can be very helpful if you have people over and more than one person wants tea.

If you're into cooking but you don't have cable, PBS has a lot of really great cooking shows. My very favorite is "Jacques and Julia: Cooking at Home." If you don't already love Julia Child, you will. It's also incredibly informative.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Movie review: Goon

After seeing it on a number of "best" lists (especially "best movies you didn't see this year" and things like that) and after hearing multiple friends rave about it, I finally got around to watching "Goon" on Netflix.

A brief aside about Seann William Scott: I used to think he was one of the most obnoxious actors out there, and then I saw "The Rundown." If you haven't seen it, go watch "The Rundown." You will not regret it. It perfectly captured the impressive physicality and even more impressive sense of charm and humor that contributed to The Rock's success in the entertainment wrestling world. I haven't seen a movie since that has done such a good job of showcasing his considerable charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. Seriously, The Rock is awesome. I know what his real name is...IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT HIS NAME IS! That movie is great. And Seann William Scott was hilarious in it! Obnoxious, yes, but in the service of a very entertaining film. I've basically liked him ever since. He's got a talent for playing sweet, dim characters. He's also got a talent for playing incredibly obnoxious characters. Happily, "Goon" is a case of the former.

"Goon" is the story of a very nice, very dim guy, who loves his family and has a talent for violence. He beats the living daylights out of a hockey player in the stands at a hockey game and is then recruited by a hockey team. Hilarity ensues. It's a very sweet (for real), very R-rated (the vulgarity! the amazingly over-the-top vulgarity!), very violent movie, and it is legitimately hilarious. Two things in particular stick out about the movie, from a "this is an interesting about movies in general" standpoint: It has been a long time since I saw a movie that was so unafraid of its R rating. This is a hard R. It's also been a long time since I saw such a deep cast of actors fully commit to unusual characters (and as been mentioned in pretty much every review I've read, yes, Liev Schreiber does a fantastic job). There are sequences that are so over the top that you think that surely they'll cut to another scene soon, but the scenes are allowed to unfold and get weirder and funnier and the overall effect is just amazing.

SWS does a great job, and imbues his character with a quiet self-awareness and dignity that is very endearing. It's a wonderful, unexpected performance.

I was surprised and impressed by this movie, and if you don't mind incredibly rude language and brutal, bloody fight sequences, you should really watch "Goon."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Tonight's soup: ham, turnip, bean, carrot and onion

As someone who takes lunch to work, has a crockpot (2 crockpots now, actually!) and often receives random root vegetables from people, I often start a crockpot of something with whatever I have in the house on Sunday afternoons.

Tonight's soup, in the small crockpot (I made a pot of soup in the big crockpot last time, and it was a HUGE mistake. Too much soup, if such a thing is possible. Lots of people got gifts of soup!):

1 very large turnip, diced
1 onion, diced
3 small carrots, sliced
1/2 pound great white northern beans
1/2 pound pinto beans
1/2 cup (up to 1 cup) of cooked, diced ham

Everything's cooking in the crockpot on high. I assume it will be delicious.

Edited to add:

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Delicious."][/caption]

It took about 4 hours on high.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Book Review: "The Long Earth"

I recently read "The Long Earth" by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. While I thought it was an enjoyable read, I noticed two things in particular about the book as a whole.

1. The Pratchett "voice" seemed to be almost entirely missing. Or perhaps just very, very faint.
2. There were a lot more interesting ideas that were brought up than were followed through on. This is often the case with science fiction, but the nature of this book made this both inevitable and irritating.

It's set in an Earth where there are (potentially) infinite other Earths, a little like the DC Multiverse, and the majority of the population can move from one Earth to another via a process called "stepping." Most individuals require a device called a Stepper to do this. Some individuals can Step unaided. Some individuals can't Step at all. This is where the book seemed to aim for cogent satire, but it was one element among too many other elements for it to tackle this successfully.

The passages that were both the most engaging and the most frustrating were in describing two travelers' journeys through many of these other worlds. There were a lot of very inventive landscapes, flora and fauna introduced and then quickly abandoned as the travelers continued along their journey. There was the notion of being alone in the universe, alone WITH the universe, which turned out to lead nowhere. There were some cute Indiana Jones jokes (seriously) and a robot cat. Lots to like, but nothing to love.

I would read more books in this series, as I think the universe being created would lend itself very well to multiple books. I just don't think that this was the strongest start.

If you're looking for a Terry Pratchett fix and you're already familiar with the Discworld books, I'd highly recommend "Nation." It's not part of the Discworld universe, and honestly, I am beginning to suspect that it is the best book he will ever write. It is really spectacular.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Kitchen Gadgets

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Gadgets of unexpected usefulness."][/caption]

From left to right, this is a 1950s Sunbeam stand mixer, a circus waffle maker from Macy's (clown! elephant! lion!) and a Cuisinart blender I got off of Craigslist.

After getting the stand mixer, I started making cookies. Mostly chocolate chip cookies. Sometimes oatmeal scotchies (FINE. I lied about that in that one post. I have made non-chocolate-chip cookies with this mixer). So many cookies that I don't even eat cookies anymore. I just make them and give them to people. It's becoming a problem. I want to explain that I'm not particularly friendly, I just have a stand mixer...and I feel compelled to bake cookies because it's fun (it is really fun). It's also easy! The alchemy of cookies - you can turn things that had previously sat forgotten in your pantry into little delicious things that might impress people who never bake cookies from scratch (mostly kids these days. they don't know any better.).

The circus waffle maker was purchased for me as a thank-you/joke gift by a friend whom I rescued from a hilariously bad pants purchase. "Do not buy those pants. Go find pants that fit you." It sounds serious, but I was laughing very, very hard, along with the lady in the Macy's men's clothing section. Other things said included "Why do you think those fit you?" and "Can you even sit down in those?" I have used this gadget a LOT more than I ever thought I would. Waffles, as it turns out, are very, very easy to make. And very delicious. When you have a waffle maker, if you get a waffle craving at midnight, you can totally make waffles. Night waffles. And you can sing a song about it to the tune of "Night Moves." It might mostly end up going something like this: "Workin' on some NIGHT WAFFLES!" ... because I do not know any of the rest of the lyrics to that song.

The blender was purchased during a period of time where I was reading a lot about juicers online. The Wirecutter is a really interesting/dangerous site. I eventually decided that a blender would be a more reasonable purchase (because of cost and predicted use), and after getting one, I went through a period of several months where I had a smoothie every single day. I also got very interested in the price and selection of various stores' frozen fruit. ALDI has a good mango/peach/pineapple/strawberry mix, that when supplemented with yogurt (plain or vanilla) and banana (fresh or frozen) and milk is super delicious. I almost didn't mind our ridiculously hot summer, because it justified this outrageous amount of smoothie consumption.

Not pictured is the electric kettle I have. It's an electric kettle. I love it. If you like tea, and make pots of it frequently, I highly recommend picking one up. They are cheap, and very fast. So fast.

Recently (earlier today!), my mother brought me a little gift!

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="460" caption="Hello, new friend!"][/caption]

I am very excited.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Review: "Joe Golem and the Drowning City"

I read books! I actually read a lot of books, sometimes. When I'm not distracted by "Jacques and Julia: Cooking at Home."

For my birthday, I read "Joe Golem and the Drowning City" by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden. I meant to just start reading it, but suddenly it was 1 am and I was pretty much done with it.

This is a short book, under 300 pages, I believe. The illustrations are by Mike Mignola, and have that very characteristic blocky and evocative style. The book itself is a fusion of eldritch horror, steampunk, adventure and mystery, starring a plucky young girl, a man who may or may not have once been a witch-hunting golem and a delightfully rendered Sherlock Holmes analogue. It also has a mad genius with a host of appropriately creepy henchcreatures.

One of the most intriguing elements of the book was the city itself. This is a story set in a world where parts of New York are underwater, and the character of the city permeates every page. It's a clever commentary on social strata as well as a wonderfully rich setting for a story with otherworldly elements matched with very relatable human relationships.

The mood isn't as dark or as skin-crawling as Lovecraft, but it's also not as (frankly) boring and overwritten as Lovecraft. I love him, but come on. The genius of Lovecraft is in how the tension and the dread stack with every story you read. Read one, and you go "eh, is this it?" Read two and you go "Hey, I'm going to turn this light on, okay?" Keep reading and suddenly you're very, very nervous and maybe you WOULD like a cup of coffee, thank you...and maybe you will never be sleeping again! Coffee and the Home Shopping Network's selection of faceted gem packets for everyone!

"Joe Golem and the Drowning City" is exciting and creepy, but in a fun way. The pace is lively and the writing engaging. While younger children might find it to be too intense, it's the kind of thing that precocious horror enthusiasts will love. It's also a very fun read for adults, and showcases some marvelous writing and some brief glimpses of ancient cyclopean monster-gods.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Magazines I Read

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="160" caption="Vanity Fair, Bicycling, Everyday Food, Cat Fancy."][/caption]

I enjoy reading magazines. Physical magazines. Not as much when they have perfume or cologne inserts, but that's getting harder and harder to avoid. Three of these magazines don't have them! Stay unscented, everyone but "Vanity Fair."

I originally got "Cat Fancy" as a joke gift for an ex-boyfriend, but I find the articles to mostly be interesting and informative. There is an advice column "written" by Garfield. Seriously. It's also worth it for the bizarre ads - things like embroidered fleece jackets that are outrageously expensive, and feature appliques of kittens playing with string. Again, seriously.

"Everyday Food" is a mystery. It just shows up at my house. It's someone else's subscription, but I've been getting it for about a year. It seems like it would be really helpful, if I cooked with recipes. It all seems very straightforward and manageable. I read it cover to cover, and if it ever stops appearing, I may have to subscribe for real.

"Bicycling" is a new addition, because I have only recently start to ride bikes! I got a Raleigh Eva 8.0 mountain bike and a Capri 3.0  road bike in 2012, as well as a very old M60 that I use to ride around town (to the store, mostly). It's really interesting, with a blend of gear reviews and health articles that I find very appealing. It's speaking to a user above both my tax bracket ("best bikes under $3000!"*) and my skill set ("best century rides in the southern hemisphere!"*) but it's a slick magazine with some talented writers.

"Vanity Fair" has a lot more nudity than I would have expected, in that it has any nudity at all. For example, Kate Moss is VERY naked in this issue. Why? Is this really necessary? Who is this magazine for? This is a question I ask myself frequently as I flip through the hundreds of pages of this magazine. A friend of mine gives it to me every month, and I still have no idea who the ideal reader is, nor why they need so many perfume inserts. Booo, perfume inserts. Boooo.

*not real articles, but they COULD be.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

How to Write Angry Letters

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="He just saw a Dr. Pepper 10 commercial and he's pretty mad."][/caption]

I sometimes write letters to corporations when I am angry.

Examples of this:
Dr. Pepper 10: Oh, how I hate you, Dr. Pepper 10. I have never tried you, but your marketing campaign makes me furious.
Bic Cristal for Her: ARE YOU SERIOUS, BIC? Come on.
AMC Theatres: I got carded when I went to see "Pitch Perfect." So angry.

Some guidelines for writing a corporation to express displeasure:

1. The most important rule: remember that the person who will be reading your letter has NOTHING to do with the thing that you're upset about! Don't take it out on them. Be polite. I tend to reference the fact that it's not their fault! Because it isn't. Customer support people have enough terrible nonsense to deal with. Don't vent at your computer and think that it's harmless...there's a person on the other side of that screen and this really isn't their fault. Full disclosure: I used to be in customer support! It's kind of terrible! Some people are great at it, and they can just let things roll off of them, since nothing they are reading is directed at them personally. I am not one of those people, and I found it to be incredibly stressful and upsetting. Be polite to customer support people! You can write letters of this nature without being a jerk.

2. Know why you're writing. Do you just want to let them know that their marketing tactic is sexist and insulting, and that it will keep you from ever enjoying their products (Dr. Pepper, perhaps?) again? Cool! Tell them that! Do you want something out of it? (Like, not getting carded when attending movies aimed at tweens?) Good luck with that, it probably won't happen (but sometimes it might!). If you are upset because, say, you were overcharged or something like that, it doesn't hurt to outline what happened, how you feel you were wronged, and what you'd like them to do about it. This actually happened to me with an entry fee at an outdoorsy-type place, and I wrote them to apologetically explain that yes, they overcharged me, but I didn't notice at the time, and it would be difficult to prove one way or the other. They were super apologetic and offered to give me a refund. I've also written to companies about products falling apart. Sometimes they've been helpful, sometimes they haven't, and one time, they asked me for my shoe size and replaced the broken shoes without me even asking. (Melissa! If you want kicky rubber shoes, Melissa's customer service is amazing.)

3. Don't expect to get anything out of it. I've gotten canned responses (I hate you, Dr. Pepper 10), personal responses (AMC Theatres...I still am mad at you) and no responses (Bic! Deafening silence!). These are all totally fine. You wrote your letter, you got whatever thing you wanted to say out there, and now you can sit back and wait until the next seriously misguided corporate decision sets you off again!

Seriously, though...remember #1. Don't be a jerk to customer support people. Remember to tell them thanks if they go above and beyond to help resolve your issue. Nothing can resolve Dr. Pepper 10, though. UGH.

On Cookbooks

I am a person who loves cookbooks, but almost never cooks from them.

[caption id="attachment_52" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="These are just the cookbooks that live in the kitchen."][/caption]

Of the cookbooks on this shelf, I have only ever used "Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts." (Even then, just one recipe: the chocolate chip cookie recipe. Which is amazing.)

[caption id="attachment_53" align="aligncenter" width="224" caption="We live in the basement along with many, many other books! Don't worry, we have bookshelves."][/caption]

I have never made anything from any of these!

It is both a blessing and a curse that I work for a company that publishes cookbooks. On the one hand, I have easy access to things that I enjoy. On the other, see how many cookbooks? This is unreasonable.

[caption id="attachment_54" align="aligncenter" width="224" caption="Remember meeee? You were going to make a fancy apron that one time! And then you just completely forgot about it UNTIL NOW!"][/caption]

I still think I'm going to make an apron...

I don't know whether it's hubris or laziness, but when it comes to making food, I like to see what I have on hand and then throw things together. Soups, chilis, curries and stir-frys are the bulk of what I cook, and I've been cooking them for so long that I don't really need to follow recipes to feel confident that they'll turn out well.

For baking, I will absolutely use recipes (theoretically - so far, I only make chocolate chip cookies). I only started baking a few months ago, when I got a vintage Sunbeam stand mixer from my mom.

[caption id="attachment_55" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="I don't know if it's the additional ease of not having to hold the mixer, you know, with my hands, or the fact that stand mixers are usually stored on counters where people can see them, but I have made a LOT of cookies since I got this thing. "][/caption]

I sometimes look around and realize that I have a lot of cookbooks for someone who doesn't use cookbooks. It's not a collector's mentality, since I don't feel compelled to get ALL the cookbooks, it's just that I currently live on the intersection of interest and ease of acquisition. "This looks interesting, I guess I'll just take it home."

This is why I will never allow myself to volunteer at a kitten shelter.