The waves were up at Jaws off the coast of Maui last week. I've always thought this looked amazingly fun (and also like a good way to bite it). Probably safer to live vicariously on this one. Enjoy!

Canon 5D Mark II Slow Motion + Jaws ( Peahi ) 12-7-09 from iamkalaniprince on Vimeo.


The signs of San Francisco

I'm not sure I want to know ...



I try to enjoy Christmas, I really do. I love the religious significance, but amid the commercials and the traffic and the crowds of shoppers decidedly not in the holiday spirit, I often find myself wishing we could cancel the whole thing and replace it with Thanksgiving redux (meaning all of the food, none of the stress).

Twinkle lights help matters. Much like donuts, there are few situations they can't improve. I also turn up the Christmas music to help me stay in the mood. This can go well, but sometimes, like when I try the "all Christmas, all the time" radio station, I end up even more sour than when I began.

Inevitably, the song playing when I first tune in is a good one, like Bing Crosby's White Christmas or my childhood favorite Feliz Navidad (don't mock!). Then things get ugly. It might be Mariah Carey trying to shatter glass with her vocal range or maybe an R&B artist bringing a little funk to a classic or, worst of all, a brand new song about Christmas and love and someone's feeeeeelings. Bleh. In any case, it's contemporary, updated, and often quite painful.

Rarely do modern versions get the tone right when it comes to Christmas music (Chris Isaak is a notable exception). I like funk as much as the next girl, but I don't want it in Jingle Bells. Instead of forcing innovation or trying to show off one's entire vocal range in one poor, beleaguered song, I'd rather musicians kept it simple. With a talented artist and a classic song, you can't go wrong playing it straight.

So I've learned my lesson. I will stick with church choirs, Chris Isaak, The Boston Pops, John Denver and the Muppets and, of course, Bing Crosby. Those never fail to get me in a holiday mood.


Yo professor! Kick it one time!

A couple years ago, I told a friend that one of my requirements in a man was that he know the words to Ice, Ice Baby. I figured this would ensure that he was of an appropriate age and that he didn't take himself too seriously. Early in my relationship with Kurt, I was happy to discover that he had the mp3 and even more pleased when he told me he knew the song. Good character, intelligence, and Ice, Ice Baby? Trifecta!

So in the fall of 2008, after 9 months of dating, it was a bit of a blow to learn that ... wait for it ... he didn't know all the words. Apparently, my dear Dr. H. could only sing along with the chorus. You know the chorus? The one with two whole lines? Yeah. Not good. But he was a great guy with a deep appreciation of the absurd, so we moved on.

Fast forward to 2009. It's the day after our wedding, and we're driving in Madison, IN. I'm taking photos out the car window when I say, "Stop," so I can get a shot. As he stops the car, Kurt says (very calmly, mind you), "Collaborate and listen." Huh. Kurt is known for crazy talk, so I don't think much of it. Then, as we round the corner, he says, "Ice is back with a brand new invention." I look his way with narrowed eyes, trying to figure out what is going on. Another block. "Something grabs a hold of me tightly." And so he continues, a line every few minutes, while I clap and smile and kiss his cheek in delight.

Apparently, he spent the week before our wedding learning the lyrics. He said it was harder than he expected because "it really doesn't make any sense." (Me: What? Doesn't everyone "wax the chump like a candle" and "flow like a harpoon, daily and nightly"?) Given how busy he is with teaching and research, that he would remember this and take the time do it is amazingly romantic. For all of the wonderful things he's done, Ice, Ice Baby may go down as the most special. Who would've thought?

Comic courtesy of xkcd


The beauty of imperfection

Since becoming more seriously interested in photography, I've spent a lot of time reading books, looking at the work of other photographers, learning about the options post-processing offers, and considering how I want my photographs to look. Gone are the days when I point, snap, and get what I get. Now I evaluate the light, consider the aperture, compose carefully (hit and miss on that one!), and then sharpen, blur, filter, and do all sorts of other craziness in GIMP. Instead of simple snapshots, photos become created pieces where my imagination, the world, and the lens intersect. It's fun, challenging, and deeply satisfying when the image on the screen approaches the one in my mind's eye.

During this process, I've noticed that I consistently prefer "imperfect" photographs. By this I mean old photos that are grainy or have strange color casts, photos with lens flare or areas "blown out" from overexposure, and photos that are too vivid, too contrasty, too anything. The Japanese have a term, wabi-sabi, to describe the beauty of imperfection. The lomography movement embraces this aesthetic, taking advantage of the quirks and defects of low cost, plastic cameras. While I have a lomo (a Russian Smena generously donated by my friend John), I most often play around in GIMP to add in the imperfection that my high tech digital SLR lacks. Cheating? Probably, but I've been too spoiled by digital to fully return to film. Besides, the tenth rule of lomography is that "there are no rules", so who's to say?

Photo by Dr. K


One unhappy puppy

Ernie's first bath at home. He was ... not pleased.


I wish I had a prehensile tail

Kurt and I have spent the last three months trying to buy a home. Sounds easy enough, right? Not so much. We've seen things no potential buyer should see (red heart wallpaper, dirty towels tacked up as "curtains", etc), and our three attempts at purchasing a home have ended in disaster. The last attempt was especially disappointing because I loved the house. Unfortunately, I didn't love what we found in the inspection. I've found myself moping about and saying "I wish the house had been in good shape" repeatedly these last few days.

Then this thought came to mind: "And I wish I had a prehensile tail." Which I do. I could hang upside down and swing about with my hands free. A prehensile tail is high on my list of God's most awesome creations. But the point is that I don't have a prehensile tail, and I never will. For all of the Botox and rhinoplasty and enhancements I read about in my spam folder, no one has yet found a way to give humans this magnificent appendage. And I am ok with that. I don't stay up nights lamenting my lack or find my days dampened with disappointment. I accept the way of the universe, and I get on with my life. Which is why remembering that I also wish I had a prehensile tail puts things in perspective for me. It's my version of "It is what it is."

So I've let my disappointment about the house go. Clearly it's no more meant to be than my dream of having a snack while swinging from the rafters. Of course, we still need to find a place to live ...

Drawing by Brehms Tierleben


A month in the life

I generated a "TweetCloud" of the words I used most on Twitter this past month. Looks like I was all about the wedding, the death flu, and New Orleans. Oh, and food, of course. A fun snapshot of life!


Muppetian Rhapsody

Thanks to Ben of Tweep for the link!


Wedding photos!

Our wedding day was wonderful! 70 degrees and sunny in Indiana in November? Unheard of! As you can tell from the slideshow, it was a small, non-traditional wedding, but that fit us perfectly. The best part was that it marked the start of a new life with my best friend. I love you, Kurt!

Many thanks to Country Mouse, City Mouse for amazing food and going above and beyond in every possible way with the catering, Taylor's Bakery for a delicious red velvet cake, McNamara for creating gorgeous flower arrangements, Hillary Gordon for recovering beautifully from a fender bender on the way to the church (!!!) and taking fabulous photos, and Pastor Schulz at Divine Savior for being so gracious and officiating the ceremony. You all were wonderful to work with and made our day very special!


Golfing frog, how I love you

We found golfing frog at a wonderful/bizarre lighting store by the Chinatown Gate in San Francisco. Definitely worth a stop if you're in the area, especially if you're in the market for a 10 foot tall chandelier.


Don't call it a bucket list

It's become apparent that, contrary to my assumptions, most people do not have a life list. You know, a bucket list (dislike the term, disliked the movie even more) of things to see or do before going paws up. I thought this was fairly standard practice, but I've yet to meet anyone else who has one. And believe me, I ask.

My life list isn't about lofty goals and impressive achievement, instead it's a way for me to remember all of the things I want to be sure to experience while I'm still here. Instead of "write the great American novel," I include things like "ride an ostrich" (#9) and "have dim sum" (#43). So far, the list includes 88 items, and I've done 19 of them. I seem to add them quicker than I can knock them off, but that's fine. It's there more as a reminder, so the next time I'm in Paris I can check my list and remember to try the deux-milles feuilles at Pierre Herme (#80) instead of spacing it and kicking myself when I get home. Maybe no one else is scatterbrained enough to require a list of this stuff? Quite possibly.

Scatterbrained or not, I highly recommend making a life list. There's something exciting about compiling all of the wonderful, kooky things you've ever wanted to do. It's a reminder that we won't be here forever and that all of the minutiae that makes up our days will eat up our lives if we let it. You have to make room for bi-plane rides (#64) and seeing the Taj Mahal (#37) or whatever your special dream is, or it probably won't happen.

So I encourage you to rack your brain, dig up those things you've been itching to do, and set about doing them. Maybe they're for yourself, or maybe they're things you want to do for others. Either way, I think your life will be richer for it. Mine has been.


Wishing I were a Soviet bride

The above slogan is from a t-shirt (available here). Funny enough, but lately the idea of limited choice has become seriously appealing. We're having a small wedding, but even with only 10 guests, I am faced with limitless choice as I plan the event. I can have any color scheme I choose, any theme (whatever the heck that means!), any flowers, any cake. You get the idea. Google images sounds like a bride's best friend, but after sorting through page after page of options, I longed to be a bride in the pre-Internet age.

Camera shopping was nearly as bad. Like a wedding, it's a big investment, so I wanted to do it "right" and make choices that would work for me over time. Once again, my ol' friend Google was there with pages of data, reviews, and forum discussions. I'm thinking the Big G is the passive-aggressive friend I never wanted.

The whole thing, particularly the wedding, reminded me of the book The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. His premise is that trying to optimize your choices in a culture of limitless options is a recipe for stress and depression. He advocates "satisficing" which means setting a standard for yourself, taking the first option that meets it, and not looking back. I'm usually good at this, but somehow the pressure of the wedding got me in full on maximizing mode.

Thankfully, the big choices are made, and my job this week is to sit back, handle some minor details, and look forward to the big day. Because it's not really about the flowers or the cake anyway, it's about being excited to marry my best friend and one of the greatest people I've ever met. I just had to step away from the Big G for a moment to remember that.

My advice to brides: Hire a wedding planner or strongarm a friend into presenting you with a small subset of options based on your basic likes. Maybe 10 bouquets or cakes or whatever else you need. Choose one, and get on with your life. You will save time, feel more relaxed, and enjoy the process infinitely more. Plus, no one cares about the details as much as you think they do. They do, however, care if you become a raving nutjob. Just sayin'.


Oh, the irony

I don't like poetry. I've said this frequently and fervently for nearly three decades. When we had to write poems for a young authors' assignment in seventh grade, I penned "Ode to a Cheeseball" in rebellion (I got an A on the project. The teacher said she enjoyed the absurdity. Sigh ...). I have called poetry 'nonsense', 'jibberish', and gleefully quoted Tom Wolfe's scathing essay on modern poets.

So I've been as surprised as anyone at my recent poetic output. Poems come at writing group, in response to prompts, and sometimes out of the blue. I'll often want to write prose, but all my mind produces is poem after poem. Even worse, I enjoy it. The shame! The horror! I created (un)modern verse to house the results of my newfound obsession. If you'd like to read some poetry (or maybe just bear witness to the destruction of my identity), please check it out.


All I wanted was a picture in his Halloween bandana ...

"I'll just stay over here, thanks."

"Hey! What's over there?"

"Hey! What's over there?" (take two)

So boring.

He had his mind on his kibble, and his kibble on his mind.




A little mid-week poetry

Firelight casts an
Orange glow on your face
The ash by my feet
Bears yesterday's news
I watch it
Flare red at the edges
And curl into nothingness
I shake my head
And raise my palm
Without a word
You rise and walk
Into the dark
As if we never were


So that means we can't buy any shoes?

Kurt and I got a kick out of reading about K. Lo and his mad basketball skills at Lucky Feet, Happy Shoes in San Francisco. Turns out it was not a real storefront, but an art piece for the Chinese Culture Center's Present Tense exhibit. A shame since that may be the best shoe store name I've ever heard.


To you know who

you're better
you're smarter
you win

i accept that i'm wrong
and tacky
and dim

so if you could
just go
and sit over there

i've got things to do
i'm sure you won't care

i've poems to write
and pictures to take
constellations to spot
and cupcakes to bake

you won't want to see it
i'm quite sure of that
so please leave me alone
you insufferable prat


One Book, One City

The Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library recently announced that this year's choice for their One Book, One City project will be Some Buried Caesar by Indiana native Rex Stout. The book features fictional detective Nero Wolfe was chosen to support to 40th annual world mystery convention known as Bouchercon which is being held in Indianapolis this weekend (October 15th-18th). I've never participated in the One Book, One City project, but I put my name on the waiting list and decided to give it a go this year. I love a good mystery and have heard only good things about the Nero Wolfe series.


Photoshopping for free

Photoshop Express is a free online photo editing program. While it lacks the full feature set of Photoshop (or even Photoshop Elements), it's straightforward, easy to learn, and offers some fun ways to alter a photograph. You can upload up to 2.5 gigabytes of photos or video and will receive a personalized URL to share with friends. You can easily email your photo or publish it on third party sites like flickr or Facebook.

The most fun will be had in the editing and decorating sections. Editing allows you to sharpen your photo, enhance highlights and shadows, pop a color, correct exposure, or add a tint. You don't have a "sliding" scale of results; instead, you choose from several options shown at the bottom of the screen. For example, if you choose highlight, you will see thumbnails of your photo with increasing levels of highlighting.

The decorating section allows you to add thought bubbles, titles, costumes, frames, and even animal or sports themes. Your options are limited (there are only a handful of fonts, for example), but this helps make the program easy to learn and simple to use. This would be a fun project to do with a small child. I think they'd delight in adding balloons and bow ties and silly hats to the family pictures. I know I did!


I love fall, part 2 (foliage edition)


Even the weeds are pretty this time of year


Black-eyed Susans

This one reminded me of spring

A sea of purple


Not technically foliage, but it wouldn't fall without pumpkins


I love fall

Donkey would rather not be identified

At the orchard store

Al-Mar Orchard, Flushing, MI

Buckets of black walnuts

Wood for the evening fire

Ripe golden raspberries

The start of fall color

Waiting for sunset

A perfect end to the day


If I'd picked them, I wouldn't be in 7th ...

Thanks to Laurel for sharing the video!


How do you like them apples?

Al-Mar Orchard ~ Flushing, MI

The Trip of the Damned, part 2

To recap: I'm in Arizona, hunched over like an old woman and periodically yelping, and the overpriced Geo Metro has just been rinsed clean of caked on manure.

The next stop was the Grand Canyon. The overpriced food and gas in the town outside the park were expected and don't really qualify as part of the special misery of the trip. What wasn't expected was the man who rammed his car door into the poor Metro at the gas station and left a 2 inch dent. Of course, he drove off without giving our car a second look. Nice.

The weather that day was cloudy and brisk, but there was no sign in the forecast of the trouble to come. As we entered the park and drove to the rim, we were shocked to see that while the air at ground level was clear, grey clouds had settled in the canyon. They were dark and thick and allowed not even the slightest glimpse of the beauty below, giving me the special distinction of having visited the Grand Canyon but never actually seen it.

We headed to the east exit hoping the clouds would thin, so we could see something other than murk before leaving. It was a weekday, so the park was largely deserted. Or maybe everyone else knew that the view disappeared on cloudy days? It's hard to say. As we stopped at yet another viewing point and were greeted with yet more fog, we noticed that the front tire seemed a bit low. At the next stop, it seemed even lower still. The map indicated that the nearest town was at least 45 minutes away, and a check of the trunk showed that our dear little Metro did not come equipped with a jack or spare tire. Wonderful. We decided to forgo the rest of the stops and make for town as fast as possible. This was years ago, and neither of us had a cell phone. If we had to stop, we would be stuck until someone happened to come by to help. Not a good prospect.

As we headed out of the park, the temperature dropped and the sky became dark. Lightning flashed in the distance, and we could hear the distant rumble of thunder. That's when things got Biblical. Within minutes, ice started falling from the sky. That's right, ice. Not hail, not rain, but hard little slivers of ice. I've never seen such a thing before or since. It reminded me of the plagues of Egypt, and by that point I would not have been at all surprised to see swarms of locusts coming our way.

We made it to a gas station in town to fill the tire, but it was apparent that it was losing air rapidly and we'd need to head back to Flagstaff (and quickly!) to have it fixed. The ice had turned into snow, and the ground was soon covered. To say that I hadn't packed for a fall snowstorm is an understatement. I layered on long sleeve t-shirts and a fleece vest, and every time I stepped outside I felt chilled to the bone by the wind.

It was around that time, with the tire losing air, a frigid wind blowing and not even a jacket to keep warm, constant fear of being stranded alongside the road in the desert, back hurting, and generally frustrated at the non-stop trouble the trip had been that I lost it. A hysterical woman was the last thing the situation needed, but I couldn't take any more. It was also around that time that our luck started to change. We passed a tire shop (dumb luck!) that was still open (dumber luck still!) and that would patch the tire for free (Hallelujah!). When we walked in the door for dinner later that evening, the first thing the waitress said on seeing our shivering selves was, "We have hot chocolate." Sweeter words have never been spoken.

While there was one more lapse - the road to the west entrance of the Grand Canyon is unpaved and not Geo Metro-friendly; we learned this the hard way - things returned to normal from then on. By the return flight home, I could stand without wincing, and my "I'll just put a nickel in to say I did it" gamble in Las Vegas ended with flashing lights and the machine spitting 200 nickels my way. Still, I've never been so happy to get home.


The fashionistas of the sea

Thanks to Ashley for the link!


The Trip of the Damned, part 1

It's fall break, and it's raining. My plan for orchards and pumpkin patches and haunted corn mazes is in a holding pattern until the sun returns. This is only a minor setback, but it does call to mind a time that my plans went wrong in a much bigger way. I've come to call it The Trip of the Damned. I, unfortunately, was the damned.

The plan was simple: fly to Las Vegas, cross the desert to the southern California coast, swing by Palm Springs and then into Arizona before returning to Las Vegas for the flight home. It was October, so the crowds would be low and the weather ideal, or so I thought.

It began uneventfully. The flight was on time and landed in Vegas without a hitch. The first sign of trouble came when picking up the rental car. Somehow we only had a debit card with us, and, as we quickly learned, you cannot rent a car with a debit card. No, they will not take a deposit. No, you cannot call someone and use their credit card. No, no, no. No credit card = no car. Who knew? (Ok, quite possibly everyone, but not me!) We were referred to the one rental company who didn't know this rule and would accept a debit card. Smelling blood, they saw our desperation as an opportunity to make a Very Large Profit. Frustrated and out an extra $150, we took the keys to our Geo Metro and headed west across the desert.

The next "event" occurred at 6am two days later. I woke up and couldn't move. My back was having a series of painful spasms, and I was unable to get out of bed for 45 minutes. When I could finally move, the pain was intense, and it took at least ten minutes each time I got up to fully straighten my body. I'd never had back trouble before (or since) and can hardly imagine what it's like to experience this regularly. It's truly miserable not to be able to walk and sit and rise with ease. It was nine days before the pain subsided enough that I could move semi-normally.

My hunched self made it through Palm Springs and into Arizona without incident. Things were going smoothly until we drove through what looked like mud on a backroad in Arizona. It was thick on the road and splashed up to nearly cover the car, but we didn't think anything of it. Until, that is, we stopped for lunch. Upon exiting the car, there was a horrible farm smell in the air. We were in town, so it was surprising that it would be so strong. It took several minutes before we realized that we were the source of the smell. The "mud" was in fact manure, and it was caked on the car from top to bottom. There is an old saying that "No one ever washed a rental car." Whoever said that never encountered the manure-mobile.

To be continued ... (translation: Yes, it gets worse.)



Rekindling an old love

I used to love photography. I took classes, knew my way around a darkroom, and hauled an unwieldy camera bag on every vacation. Somewhere along the way though, I let my interest slide. When it came time to upgrade to digital, I went with a high end point and shoot to lighten the load on trips. While I've taken some good pictures, I've been itching lately for results my trusty p&s can't deliver. The inconvenience of an SLR once again seemed like a fair trade for the images it could produce.

So I began my least favorite part of the whole endeavor: the research. I read about cameras and looked at sample images until my head spun. As is always the case in life, no one option offered everything that I wanted. Trade-offs would have to be made. Did I want image stabilization in the lens or the camera body? Prime lenses or zoom? Did I need more megapixels? What about video capabilities? Were they worth a shorter battery life?

This afternoon, I (finally) made a decision. The Canon images consistently resonated with me, and the XSi offered the features that I cared most about. After shooting over 20 test shots in the store, the choice was clear, and I re-entered the world of "serious" photography. Judging from my first test shot (low light, hand-held), I chose well. I don't just mean the image. Even better than that was feeling the heft of the camera in my hand and hearing the old familiar click of the shutter. Some loves never die.


Anyone have $150 million to spare?

The new blog on the block

Check out my dvd reviews at The Sofa Chronicles! I'd love to hear what you think of the movies under review.

Unfortunately, the fab red sofa isn't mine. I wish it were!


Sometimes you just want to eat

Today for lunch, my dad and I visited a chain restaurant. Not usually my first pick, but he had a coupon for a free entree, and they make a mean chicken wrap. As is often the case in this type of restaurant, a premium is placed on friendliness. Two waiters held the doors open for us, and we were greeted four (!!!) times before making it to our table. While this was a bit overwhelming, they meant well, and I assumed we'd be left alone to eat our meal in peace. Little did I know the worst was yet to come.

Our waiter Steve (not his real name) came over and offered the standard "Hi, I'm Steve, I'll be taking care of you today." Fine, normal, status quo. I've never particularly felt that such introductions were necessary, but no harm done. Then, instead of taking our order, Steve proceeds to bend down, look me in the eye, and engage in the following conversation:

Steve: What brings you in today?

Me: Um ...

Steve: Other than being hungry.

Me: Um ...

Steve: Are you out shopping? On your lunch break? What's going on?

At this point, my mind short-circuited. I was there to eat. Why wouldn't I be there to eat? It is a restaurant, isn't it? Why was I being interrogated? Will he hold my chicken wrap hostage until I provide a satisfactory answer?

Thankfully, my dad stepped in and gave ol' Steve a non-committal answer. Which, of course, Steve had to bring up repeatedly throughout the meal. A meal during which he interrupted us several times. Not with a quick "Everything ok?" but with prolonged chattering.

I'm not an unfriendly person. In fact, I often lament the rudeness that has become common lately. But Steve, while overtly "friendly", was not in the least sincere or considerate. Interrupting someone's conversation to cajole them into signing up for some stupid rewards program isn't my idea of friendly, no matter how much nodding and smiling accompanies it.

I tried to give Steve the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was the victim of some very bad corporate programming. Still, I think I detected a maniacal edge to his smile. It seemed that Steve enjoyed his role as waiter / new best friend / harasser a bit too much. Give me surly and flair-free (see clip below) any day.


The importance of being Ernest

It's hard to believe four years have passed since I drove to Ligonier, IN to decide which four week old puppy would eventually come home with me. I like confident dogs, and when Ernie fell asleep with a stranger holding him, I knew he was the one. He was unflappable at four weeks and hasn't changed a bit since.

I got a sign that evening of another aspect of Ern's personality: his single-minded devotion to his own comfort. There were four puppies in the litter, and three of them were huddled together asleep. When we put Ernie down, he walked over, looked at them, and then climbed on top and went to sleep himself. His sister's wails of protest didn't phase him one bit. He snored away while the others wiggled beneath him. He's been climbing on me, hogging the couch, and stealing my pillows ever since.

I went back to pick him up when he was 8 weeks old. He'd grown a good bit and resembled a fuzzy brick with small legs and big brown eyes. He'd gotten cold that morning, so the breeder bought him a red argyle sweater to wear on the drive to Indy. As she passed him off to me, I learned something else about Ernie: nothing interrupts his naptime. He was passed from the breeder to me, put in a car, and driven off, and he only woke up for the briefest moment to give us a hard stare for disrupting his sleep. Only 45 minutes later did he wake up, poke his brown face out of the box, and try to figure out what was going on. That's Ernie, always keeping his priorities in order.

While he can be a pampered little bull of a dog, he's also one of the happiest and most loving animals you'll ever met. He worked as a therapy dog at a nursing home and always seemed to know exactly what to do. He was exceedingly patient as he was held, petted, kissed, and passed from stranger to stranger. Nothing phased him, not a strange smell or face or a wheelchair or whirring machine. He looked at every resident with wide-eyed love and acceptance, as if they were the most wonderful person he'd ever seen. A nurse told me that Ernie's visit marked the first time they'd seen one particularly grim woman smile in the six weeks she'd been there. She became a regular on his rounds, and her face would light up every week when she saw him coming. He settled in beside her in bed and would have been happy to remain there as long as she wanted him. I've never been so proud of my little boy.

So to my headstrong, happy, silly, patient, loving, good-hearted little boy:
Happy 4th Birthday!!!


Easy dinner: Baked Ziti

Yes, I use penne instead of ziti, but "baked penne" doesn't have the same ring. Feel free to substitute ziti if you'd like.

Baked Ziti

1 lb penne
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2 T fresh or 1 t dried basil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T olive oil
1/4 t sugar
1 t salt + more for pasta cooking water
1/3 c grated Parmesan
8 oz mozzarella

Preheat oven to 375.

Boil penne in salted water.

Heat 1 T olive oil over medium heat. Saute garlic until it begins to turn golden (about 2 minutes). Stir in crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes with juice. Cook sauce until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in sugar, 1 t salt, and basil.

Add drained pasta to sauce and stir thoroughly. Add half to a 13x9 in. casserole dish. Top with half of the mozzarella and half of the parmesan. Add the rest of the pasta and top with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 25 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden brown.


Pass the book!

Beginning October 3rd, the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library will launch its "Pass the Book" experiment. Check out the video to learn more!

Pass The Book with Books by John Green from Indianapolis Marion Co. Pub. Lib on Vimeo.

Shameless plug

Giving some love to one of my favorite states that's had a little trouble lately. Michigan in the fall is truly spectacular!


My beefy little secret

I don't eat mammals. I last had a burger in '94 and can't really say I've missed them much. This makes it all the more strange that one of my favorite destinations on the web is A Hamburger Today. An offshoot of Serious Eats, AHT is a website devoted to the (obsessive) love of the burger.

Why would such a site interest a semi-vegetarian? Part of it is anthropological curiosity. A relatively temperate person myself, I've always been fascinated with subcultures passionately devoted to a subject, be it Star Trek or burgers. But main reason I make AHT a regular read is the high quality of their writing. So many restaurant reviews these days are middle of the road exercises that leave me uncertain if the writer even liked the place (Indy Star, I'm looking at you!). AHT offers well-written, well-reasoned, painstakingly demanding reviews of hamburgers. No restaurant is off limits. They'll try anything from a .79 fast food burger to a $20 upscale burger. Even though the reviews serve no practical purpose for me, I enjoy quality food writing the way they enjoy a quality burger. Until Jeffrey Steingarten comes out with a new book, I'll get my fix at AHT.

Photo by Jef Poskanzer via Wikimedia Commons


Beware the Chinese donut!

One of the highlights of our recent trip to San Francisco was sampling dim sum at the City View restaurant. Since the servers spoke little English, part of the fun was checking out the carts as they rolled by and trying mystery dishes. But when it came time for dessert, we didn't expect a mystery. The waitress clearly said "Chinese donut" and pointed to three long cylinders of dough coated with what we thought was icing. Since the answer to "Donut?" is always "Yes!", we pointed to the pastry and passed up the rice puddings, almond jellos, and sesame balls on offer.

The first sign of trouble came when the waitress snipped the rolls into three sections each and drenched them in what appeared to be soy sauce. But that couldn't be right because soy sauce on a donut = crazy talk. Kurt began to look skeptical at this point, but I naively assumed that it must be a sweet sauce of some sort.

Oh, how wrong I was. While I won't say the Chinese donut is bad, the soy drenched center and slippery, flavorless exterior were quite a shock at first bite. Apparently, the exterior is not frosting as I thought, but instead glutinous rice noodle. Whoops! There was no sweetness in the dish, only the salty bite of the soy sauce. The interior had a promising crunch at the edges but was overwhelmed by the soft, almost slimy noodle. Kurt ate one piece and generously said that I could have the rest. I managed a couple slices, but resorted to peeling the noodle off with the chopsticks to make it more palatable.

While I grew to (almost) appreciate the taste, under no circumstances would I consider it a dessert. When the next cart appeared, I took the safe route and snagged the almond jello with fruit. It was mild, refreshing, and not at all surprising. Just what I needed after the "donut" experience.


Get your fiction on

The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) will begin this November 1st. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel by November 30th. Last year 119,301 people participated with 21,683 people completing the challenge (verified by a word count on the website). Several novels found publishers, and one even became a New York Times bestseller. The thinking behind the concept is that it can be healthy for a writer to focus on on quantity rather than quality for a period of time. Here's how the website puts it:

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

I'm tempted, but I worry that the wedding, mini-honeymoon, and Thanksgiving might leave me with only three weeks (or less) to write. I still might sign up. As a relentless tweaker, it would be good practice in letting go and seeing where the process takes me. Anyone want to join me?

ETA: Kurt persuaded me that trying in November is a bad idea (understatement). So, I have declared October ReNoWriMo! Wish me luck!

Photo by Lin Kristensen via Wikimedia Commons


A twist on tuna salad

Tangy tuna salad

2 cans tuna (5 oz each), drained and broken into chunks>
1 red bell pepper, diced
2/3 c mayo (low fat worked fine)
1.5 T honey mustard
2 t sweet relish
salt and pepper to taste

Combine mayo, mustard, relish, salt, and pepper. Add tuna and mix well. Fold in red bell pepper.

Other veggies, such as carrot or celery, could be added if you like.


For James

Jarbas Agnelli saw a photograph of birds on a set of five electrical wires and decided to set the pattern to music. Here is the result:

Birds on the Wires from Jarbas Agnelli on Vimeo.

Hurrah for the Hubble!

Check out these shots from the revamped Hubble telescope. Amazing!

Photo courtesy of NASA


Signs of San Francisco: No!

In Golden Gate Park, the answer is always "No!"