12.23.2010

My stalker

I have a stalker.

He's a short, white male with dark brown eyes and a high pitched voice.

And he's obsessed.

I go to bed. There he is.

I wake up. There he is.

He follows me from place to place, and I can hear him crying when he can't get to me.

He's been to jail, but upon release, he just tracks me down like nothing ever happened.

I can't sleep. I can't eat. I can't move without his beady eyes on me.

Send help.

12.19.2010

Not so a-maze-ing, really

I love labyrinths.

Wait, let me amend that.

I love labyrinths, in theory.

In practice, what is advertised as a labyrinth is often of the contemplative nature rather than the ... say ... Jack Nicholson in The Shining with an axe nature. (I'm looking at you, Brookgreen Gardens!)

Awesome:


Not awesome:


Yes, I know meditation and contemplation and all that spiritual stuff is good for you.

I got it. You walk, you contemplate, you become a better person.

Whatever.

I want a true hedge maze. With high walls and mystery lurking around every corner.

I want a minotaur in the center devouring young adventurers.

I want danger, the unknown, the potential to get hopelessly lost.

I want Jack Nicholson with an axe, darnit!

Enlightenment has got nothing on that.

Photo by allatan

12.18.2010

My life in one week

 

Thanks to Kat for sharing the link on Facebook!

12.17.2010

Night of 1000 Candles

Last night, Kurt and I went to the Night of 1000 Candles at Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, SC.

No idea why they call it Night of 1000 Candles when there are actually 5000 candles (and 145,000 twinkle lights!). If I'm lighting that many candles, people are gonna know about it, but maybe that's just me.

In addition to the gorgeous lights, we got to enjoy live music - everything from a classical quartet to an acoustic guitarist to a surprisingly good rock band - while we strolled through the gardens drinking our hot chocolate. That the evening was 60 degrees and breezy made it all the sweeter. It was truly magical from start to finish.

The event runs through tomorrow evening, opening at 3pm and closing at 10pm, so there's still time for those in the Carolinas to come visit.

The pictures don't do the evening justice, but at least those of you far away will get a taste. I will admit, this is the first time I've been in the Christmas spirit this year. If they can convert a grinch like me, you know they've got something special going on.

12.16.2010

Lion and wildebeest

We have two cats.

There's James: quiet, gentle, and more than a little nervous. And Nelson, the kind of ornery playground bully who has been giving wedgies to the Jameses of the world since the beginning of time.

In our house, the wedgie comes in the form of Nelson's favorite game: lion and wildebeest.

You can guess who is the wildebeest.

Since Nelson is declawed, he never actually hurts James. I'm not sure he even wants to. It's more a game of psychological warfare. James never knows when Nelson will strike and spends a good bit of his time peering around corners and tiptoeing through the house.

Kurt and I decided to combat this situation with a program of feline behavior modification. (I can almost hear the cat owners laughing right now ...)

Every time Nelson attacked James, he would be put in jail (his cage), with his sentence varying by the severity of the attack. A swat of the paw might yield a ten minute stay, but the full monty - a flying leap onto poor James's back - could land him in the slammer for an hour.

We've been diligently following the plan for a couple months now. And there's definitely been a change.

Now, after Nelson attacks James, he walks to his cage.

And sits down.

And looks defiant.

There's a reason he's the king of the jungle.

Photo by will.huen

12.11.2010

Apologies for the cell phone picture, but ...

Is this not the pinkest store EVER?


To paraphrase Steel Magnolias: That shop looks like it's been hosed down with Pepto-Bismal!

(It's on King St. in Charleston, SC, for those of you wanting to make a pilgrimage.)

12.10.2010

Focaccia for the yeast impaired

I have a bad track record with bread baking.

There were the donuts that took 4 hours (!!!) to make and then sank to bottom of the fryer, the country loaf that managed to be both burnt and raw all at once, and more batches of dough that refused to rise than I can count.

While I can cook most anything and bake sweets all day long, I accepted the obvious truth: Yeast was my nemesis.

Recently a friend mentioned an easy bread recipe. It ended (of course) in more unrisen dough being thrown away, but this time my ornery streak kicked in. I was going to make bread, darnit. I didn't care how much time and flour and misery it took.

I would make bread!

Success finally came with an easy focaccia recipe and a good bit of trial and error on my part. Below is the formula that worked for me. I use a stand mixer due to ... well ... general laziness, but those who like a workout could knead by hand.

Focaccia

4-5 cups bread flour
1.5 t salt
2 t yeast
13.5 ounces water
cornmeal (optional)
olive oil
herbs

Mix 4 cups of flour with salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.

Heat water to 100 degrees. Dissolve yeast and let stand for 10 minutes. While the water can be a notch warmer, do not exceed 120 degrees - that will kill the yeast.

Add yeast-water mixture to flour.

Using the mixer attachment, incorporate the water into the flour until a sticky dough forms.

Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5 minutes.

Ok, this is where it gets interesting. This is a sticky dough, so don't be overly alarmed by that. The goal is to reach a consistency where the dough sticks to the dough hook but can easily be peeled off of it. I've needed to add anywhere from an extra 1/4 cup to an extra cup of flour to achieve this state. Knead in the flour in 1/4 cup increments, checking after each to see if you've reached the desired consistency. The dough ball that forms will be a little shaggy and not the smooth round ball that other recipes require.

Warning! Many recipes mention the 'window pane test'. This is where you stretch your dough and a thin, semi-transparent area forms. This dough does not pass the windowpane test. Don't worry. It will taste fine. Just keep going with the gloppy dough ball. It'll all work out in the end.

Place the dough into a floured bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise for 1 hour.

Tips on rising: This is where I've run into trouble before. Most recipes say to let it rise in area that is around 80 degrees, but no place in my house fits the bill. My solution is to preheat the oven to its lowest setting (150 in my case) for 3-4 minutes, turn it off, and let the dough rise in the warm oven. For later rises, I preheat for around 30 seconds more to keep a nice level of heat in there. The goal is to get the oven warmer than room temperature but not hot.

Oil a pizza pan and sprinkle with cornmeal. You can skip the cornmeal if you'd like, but I find it makes it easier to remove the bread after baking and adds a nice texture. Stretch the dough and spread it out to fill the pizza pan. Let rise for another 30 minutes.

Once the dough has risen a second time, use your finger to make indentations in the top of the bread (1 indentation every 3 inches or so). Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with herbs. Thyme, rosemary, and dill all work well.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Photo by bookgrl

12.03.2010

Actual conversation with my husband: Dream edition

Me: I had a bad dream.

Husband: Mmm.

Me: Seriously. BAD!

Husband: What happened?

Me: I had a demon following me around.

Husband: (raises an eyebrow)

Me: And he didn't hurt me, but whenever my back was turned he wreaked havoc.

Husband: (suspiciously silent)

Me: At one point, he tried to suffocate you when I was out of the room.

Husband: Was he grey?

Me: No.

Husband: Long haired?

Me: No, he was short and bald.

Husband: Mmm hmm.

Me: Why are you looking at the cat?!

Husband: No reason.

11.30.2010

The emperor's new wig

Kurt and I watched Bottle Shock last weekend. Since this isn't a movie review, I won't get into the plot (good!) or the execution (bad!). Instead, I'll focus on the movie's most memorable element:

Chris Pine's wig.

Now this isn't just any wig. This wig is epic.

Imagine the lovechild of Garth from Wayne's World and Dolly Parton with a broken curling iron.

What boggles the mind is that many people were involved in making the movie - actors, directors, editors, camerapeople - and no one ever said what they must all have been thinking:

What the heck is on his head?!?

Forget the Bay of Pigs, this takes groupthink to a whole new level.

It was hard to focus on the story because I couldn't stop contemplating the dead animal on Chris Pine's noggin.

Who made it? Did they mean for it to look ridiculous? Was he mortified about it? Did someone in the costume department really hate him?

The shame is that he's a handsome guy. One glance at him strutting about as young Kirk in the Star Trek remake will show you that. And his character is supposed to be a ladies' man, so it's not that the wig was an attempt to tone down his good looks.

The most absurd scenes were those in which his character wasn't being taken seriously. Um ... let me guess why!

The whole thing is inexplicable.

I'll offer up some screenshots, but be warned that they don't do it justice. The wig in motion (or not in motion, given how stiff it was) is a wonder to behold.



11.27.2010

11.21.2010

11.20.2010

My people

When I moved to South Carolina, I fully expected to be emerged in a new culture.

What I didn't realize was that the new culture wouldn't only be a southern one. By choosing to live east of the intercoastal, we had moved not just to South Carolina but to Long Island, south.

New York (and New Jersey and New England) accents dominate the area, often seeming more prevalent than southern ones.

While my new neighbors are unfailingly friendly, their more brusque way of speaking has taken some getting used to. If someone uses that tone in Indiana, they are seriously unhappy with you. It always takes me a second to override my initial "Uh oh!" reaction.

I hadn't realized how foreign things felt until I went to book club the other day. As we went around the circle and said our names and where we were from, my heart actually fluttered when two women said they were from Wisconsin.

Wisconsin! Big Ten country!  

My people!

It only got better as we encountered Illini and even a fellow Hoosier (from Danville! That's almost Indianapolis!).

These were the first midwesterners I'd encountered since moving down here, and it was amazing the kinship I felt for them. And they for me, given the reaction I got when I said I was from Indy.

Since there are so few midwestern transplants around here, it's a special moment to run into one. Rather like being in a foreign country and bumping into another American.

While I know it's illogical, I can't deny the comfort that came from talking with these women during book club. They're not nicer or friendlier than others I've met, nor do we have more in common per se. I think it's simply the lack of difference that puts my brain at ease, the sense of normalcy and "getting" one another.

Plus, I don't feel like they're yelling at me.

Photo by Diamondduste

11.18.2010

The first rule of book club

DO NOT TALK ABOUT BOOK CLUB!

Wait, no, that's fight club.

The first rule of book club is, quite obviously: read the book.

This doesn't sound so hard, does it? Four weeks, one little book. Piece of cake.

Of course, I had already read this month's selection a couple years ago, so I had it in the bag. Just pop to the beach the afternoon before, give it a skim and ... have absolutely no memory of any of it.

#%^&!@$!

So there I was, on the beach, realizing that while I know I've read the book, not one word or character remains in my (apparently addled) brain.

I did the only thing I could and started skimming like a crazy woman. I assumed that once I got into it things would start to stick and the story would come back.

Never. Not once.

The whole experience made me wish I'd taken one of those cheesy speed reading courses advertised on late night tv.

Instead I skimmed and skimmed and skimmed until I finally fell asleep and then woke up the next morning to skim some more. I got done with 25 minutes to spare.

While this may not be an A+ result, I thought I was in solid B territory, ready for any discussion that didn't get too terribly detailed.

I arrived and took a seat, introducing myself to the woman next to me.

I asked her what she thought of the book.

Her response, "Oh, I didn't read it."

Photo by REMY SAGLIER - DOUBLERAY

11.15.2010

Move over mocha

I am a mocha-holic. I start each day with one, and they're my standard coffee shop order. This morning, however, I decided to abandon my beloved mocha in favor of something more exotic: Thai coffee.

Authentic Thai coffee is made with Oliang Powder Mix - a blend that contains coffee, corn, and soy bean. Given that all I had on hand was decaf Starbucks, we're going to call my version Thai-ish coffee.

Feel free to cut back on the milk and increase the sweetened condensed milk. From my reading, a dessert-like sweetness is authentic (but also more than I can handle first thing in the morning).

I seasoned with cardamom, but other flavorings such as cinnamon and almond extract may also be used.

While it won't replace my morning mocha, I enjoyed my Thai-ish coffee. It's definitely something I'll make again. I think anyone who likes chai tea would probably enjoy it as well.

Thai-ish iced coffee

4 oz. coffee concentrate (from cold brewing) or strongly brewed coffee
4 oz milk
2 T sweetened condensed milk
1/4 t ground cardamom
optional: cinnamon, almond extract

Blend all ingredients and serve over ice.


Photo by moominmolly

11.14.2010

The Ladies' Dog

Ernie made his first trip to the beach yesterday. While he wasn't a fan of the water (it took about 10 minutes to even get a paw in), he did like one thing about it: the ladies.

Ever since he was a pup, Ernie has preferred women to men. The minute he hears a female voice, he perks up. And when he sees a lady, he really turns on the charm. Ears back, eyes wide, head cocked. He even starts batting his lashes as he looks up at them, the little player. He treats every women he meets like they are the mostly special, wonderful person he's ever encountered.

Of course, this works like a charm. I've yet to meet a woman - even one who claims not to be a fan of dogs - who didn't coo and praise and pet and baby talk him. He, of course, eats up every minute of it.

This isn't to say he doesn't like men. Ernie pretty much likes everyone. Men just get different treatment. He wants to follow them and be part of what they're doing and strut beside them, but they don't merit the full charm assault.

Kurt and I have often said that all a single man needs to meet some girls is an afternoon out with Ernie. If we were more entrepreneurial, we'd rent the little guy out. Of course, the man in question would have to be open to meeting all kinds of women. Ernie's charm doesn't discriminate, and everyone from little girls to 90 year old women are drawn to him. (There's also the issue of a heterosexual man explaining why he's out with a purse dog, but that can be worked out.)

So Ernie is a fan of the beach, if not for the reasons we expected. I think in his mind, it's the ultimate pick-up joint - a buffet of fine ladies ready to shower him with love.

My boy may not do tricks or even obey half the time, he may be short and a bit lacking in the survival department, but there's one thing no one can deny: Ernie's got game.

11.10.2010

Passion fatigue

My twitter feed has a theme this morning: passion.

People are passionate about internet marketing and realty and small business development. They want to know if I'm passionate about photography and impoverished women and my own personal growth.

Passion seems to be a buzzword these days, a meter by which you measure the depth and sincerity of your actions. Of course, sincere people don't tend to spout off about their sincerity, but that's another story.

What was I passionate about this morning? Well ... I wanted a mocha. I'm not sure I'd call it passion as much as thirst though. Post-mocha, I did my work by editing yesterday's scene before adding two more. Did I feel passionate about this? Hardly. I wasn't even in the mood at first, but then that's why they call it work.

I wonder if the people spouting off about passion really feel what they claim or if they just like something well enough and want to get a bit of attention for it. I mean, passionate about internet marketing? Really? Someone feels that? I guess it's possible but certainly outside the realm of my experience. Passionate about sending your kids to college or putting dinner on the table? Now that I understand.

The ubiquity of the term also leads to a pressure to claim feelings that one might not have. It's like the Martha Stewart Christmas Special of emotions - you can't help but compare yourself to all these self-actualizing, vocally passionate people and wonder what you're missing.

There are things I'm passionate about, of course. Faith, family, values. But I'm a bit burned out by the expectation to experience high emotion about so much else.

Nonetheless, I will admit to feeling quite passionate about one thing right now: a nap.

Big Heart of Art by qthomasbower

11.08.2010

Actual conversation with my husband: Blog edition

Me: Can I blog about {charming thing he does that will remain nameless}?

Husband: No.

Me: But it's funny! 

Husband: No.

Me: But not in a bad way. Good funny. Charming funny.

Husband: No.

Me: But ... but ... the people would enjoy it. Think of the people!

Husband: No.

Me: (pout)

Husband: You're pouting.

Me: (nod)

Husband: (sigh)

Me: So I can blog about it?

Husband: (pause) 

Husband: No.

He paused! At the end there. This is a good sign, I think.

11.03.2010

Like a rat with a book

I started reading a book (that will remain nameless - you'll see why) a couple weeks ago. It's from a series I usually enjoy and gets a 4.5 star rating at amazon.com.

My take?

I've struggled through 50 pages and have no inclination to pick it back up again. Ever.

Logically, I would return it to the library, choose something else, and get on with my life. Instead, I marked my page, put it aside, and ... haven't read anything for nearly two weeks.

Oy.

I did this without thinking of course. For me, starting a book - especially a well reviewed one like this - creates a compunction to finish it. Same with movies. A movie has to be truly offensive for me to stop partway through (I'm looking at you Natural Born Killers).

One might say I have relentless optimism, always assuming that something is just about to get good if only I'd stick it out a little longer. One might also say I have a failure to learn because seriously, how many books get better after 50 or 100 pages? Or movies after the 45 minute mark?

A few do. And therein lies the problem.

Psychologists will tell you that animals don't manage these situations any better than I do. Unpredictable rewards are a sure way to get a rat or a dog or a Vegas gambler to do more and more of what you want.

Somehow that doesn't make me feel better.

So will I weigh things logically, put the book aside, and move onto something I'll enjoy more?

Of course! Right after the next chapter ...

Skinner box diagram courtesy of Andreas1

10.27.2010

Cold brew (on the cheap)

Cold brewed coffee has been a revelation for me. All the flavor and none of the bitterness, plus it makes an iced coffee that you actually want to drink (instead of the watered down mess you get when you ice hot brewed coffee).

There are several methods for cold brewing at home.

1) The contraption method: I've gotta say, I'm not a fan of gadgets, so this holds little appeal for me. But if you have plenty of cabinet space and/or want the easiest method, this is probably for you. There's the original Toddy system and a cheaper version by the always awesome Ron Popeil called the Coffeetime Cold Brew system.

2) The French press: Coffee can also be cold brewed in a French press. This is good for those who want to brew hot coffee at home as well. Caveat: start with a medium grind or coarse grind for best results.

3) The cheap method: This is where I landed. I didn't see the point in buying something new when I had everything I needed already here. The downside is that you have to filter yourself which can take time and be a bit messy (but not bad once you get the hang of it). The upside: cheeeeeap! Plus, you can try cold brewed coffee without much investment to see if it's for you.

You will need:
1 glass jar/bottle with a lid (preferably something easy to pour from)
1 mesh colander (the finer the better)
Another bottle or large container (a Pyrex measuring cup would work well)
3-4 paper coffee filters

Add coffee and water to the glass jar with a lid at a 1:4 ratio (4 times as much water as coffee). Let sit 12 hours in the refrigerator. Pour the coffee into the second bottle/container, filtering through the mesh colander. Discard grounds. Rinse out original bottle, and pour the coffee back through the colander that you have lined with a coffee filter. I find I go through 3 to 4 filters depending on how much coffee I am brewing (yes, I do get impatient and squeeze it through - why do you ask?).

Voila! You now have coffee concentrate! Dilute it with water or milk and warm it in the microwave or serve it cold over ice. I dilute at a 1:2 ratio of coffee to milk, but you can make it as strong or weak as you'd like.

Photo by JcOlivera.com

10.26.2010

Enjoying it while it lasts

Jumped into first last night. Wahoo!

10.18.2010

Impaired

I have a confession. While I am a decent enough cook, there is one dish that I have attempted for decades and have yet to make successfully. Even worse, it's one of the most "simple" dishes out there.

My nemesis? Steamed rice.

I know, I know. For those of you who are not rice-impaired, this seems absurd. You will tell me (as I've been told before), "You just ** insert simple instructions here **, and it will turn out fine!"

I have heard you. I have obeyed (or at least tried).

I have failed.

My results are either hard little rice grains or sticky glop but never the evenly cooked, fluffy side dish I had envisioned.

My workaround has been to use other methods to cook rice. I make baked rice and curried rice in the oven. I use a Fannie Farmer method for boiling rice on the stovetop. It all turns out great. Why simple steaming eludes me remains a mystery.

I have considered a rice cooker, but my aversion to kitchen clutter (and small appliances in general) has always kicked in and steered me away. Until, that is, I read about "The Pot."

"The Pot" is what Roger Ebert calls a rice cooker in his blog post and book: The Pot and How to Use It.

According to Ebert, the simple appliance is more than just a rice cooker, it is a one pot meal factory. He cooked a variety of full meals in it - including oatmeal for breakfast and even chili - and claims they are easy, tasty, and won't leave your kitchen a mess and your sink full of dishes.

Am I skeptical? Of course. If there was ever someone the "idiot proof" rice cooker wouldn't work for, it's me. But ... the idea of steamed rice (and more!) - without mess and drama is awfully tempting. This appliance may be worth a look after all.

Photo by Tamaki

10.15.2010

So horrible, so funny.


She's fine and ended up giggling at the memory. In case that makes you feel any less guilty for laughing at this ...

10.11.2010

10 signs that I am old

1) When the radio lands on the smooth jazz station, I no longer flip away.

2) I do not understand Lady Gaga.

3) I use the phrase "kids these days".

4) High school students look far too young to be driving.

5) Staying up all night is no longer an option (without mass quantities of Excedrin).

6) I have sent one text in my life. It was to a wrong number telling him to stop texting me.

7) I don't understand why one would want to send a text in the first place.

8) Upon seeing a dvd player inside of a minivan, I launch into a semi-coherent rant about the character building effects of boredom.

9) I don't know who half the people in the gossip mags are these days.

10) I get most of my electronics to work by randomly hitting buttons until the right thing happens.

10.08.2010

10.06.2010

Life is beautiful. Life is hard. Repeat.

My dad came to visit us in South Carolina this week. We've spent our afternoons on the beach, soaking up the sun and watching the waves roll in.

Life is beautiful.

A fine lady and good friend had surgery last week. She didn't wake up and is now on life support. All prayers for her are appreciated.

Life is hard.

I celebrated another birthday recently ~ in good health, with a wonderful husband, and in a new town by the ocean that I love.

Life is beautiful.

Another friend's daughter is undergoing chemo. I read today that she's very weak and struggling with this round of treatments. Please send your prayers and good thoughts her way.

Life is hard.

My heart soars ... and breaks ... and soars again. And I wonder why, since we're all in this crazy cycle together, we can't go a little easier on one another along the way.

10.04.2010

Nelson: 1, Rocky: 0

My dad's dog Rocky came to visit yesterday.

Rocky is a ... um ... joyful dog. And he expresses his joy by yipping and bouncing and running around non-stop.

Basically, Rocky is a handful. But a happy one, so it's hard to mind too much.

Ernie (our shih tzu) tolerated Rocky pretty well. He spent most of the visit following him around "his" house to make sure, well, I'm not sure what he wanted to make sure. Possibly that Rocky didn't make off with the silverware.

Nelson (our cat/evil genius) spent the visit on the back of the couch, eying Rocky with contempt and waiting. For what we didn't know.

His moment came when Rocky climbed in his cage and sat down for a minute. Nelson got up, walked over, and looked Rocky square in the eye.

Then he shut the door in Rocky's face and walked away.

Of course, Nels neglected to lock the door. I'm sure he's working on that for next time.

10.03.2010

I *heart* Food Lion

Where else can you get soda that sounds like a plastic surgeon?


And then there were giblets


Last night, I tackled #96 on my life list: roast a whole chicken.

This may not sound like much to most people, but I am a bit squeamish about raw meat (ok, more than "a bit"), so tackling a whole bird was daunting to me.

Translation: I was gonna have to touch the thing. Bleh.

I settled on a recipe that involved roasting a 5-6 pound bird atop a bed of veggies. It looked simple enough: rinse bird, stuff bird, season bird, bake bird. How bad could that be?

Things even started out pretty well. I covered the bottom of a casserole with veggies and got the bird out of the package with little trouble.

Then it came time to stuff the bird. I looked in expecting to find a wide open cavity and instead found ... parts. Giblets, I think they're called. I recognized a heart and a liver before I put it down in horror.

Once I calmed down, I decided to upend the bird over a plastic sack and dump whatever the heck was in there out. I flipped the bird and gave it a good shake.

Nothing.

Another shake. Still nothing.

Apparently the opening wasn't large enough, and the giblets were wedged in there. I knew what I had to do. The only way the awfulness was leaving was if I stuck my hand in and pulled it out myself.

I took a breath, closed my eyes, and reached in quickly, pulling out a handful of who knows what. I threw it in the sack before my mind could figure out exactly what I was touching.

After a couple handfuls, the bird was clear.

And then I saw it: the neck.

I've bought rotisserie chickens before, and I know that the end result should definitely not have this bit of bone and spine flopping off one end. The question was how to remove it. I don't own a cleaver, so I hacked and pulled and twisted (and gagged) until the vile thing was gone.

The rest of the process was fairly smooth. Unless you count the lemon I stuffed in falling out the back end at one point. Compared to what I had been through, that was nothing.

When I told Kurt and my dad about the horror, they were surprised. They thought giblets were usually in some sort of bag, and neither ever remembered seeing a raw chicken with a neck still attached.

Apparently, I got a rustic style bird where they chopped off the head and feet and called it good. At least they plucked the thing.

Next time, I'll see if they have a city girl version.

** Yes, the bird is upside down. No, I didn't mean to cook it that way.

10.01.2010

It's important to have goals

Goals are important.

Some are lofty. Some are noble.

And some are dreams that tug at your heart and won't let go.

I have such a goal. Not noble perhaps. Not lofty, but mine nonetheless.

My dream? I never want to wear real shoes again.

That's right. No sneakers, no flats, no heels, no loafers. Nada. Only sandals and the sweet joy of going barefoot.

I took a step in the right direction by leaving the midwest for South Carolina. So far, I've been here six weeks, and nothing but sandals have graced my feet.

Unfortunately, my new Southern paradise doesn't enjoy summer all the time, and temperatures may dip soon into the 60s, 50s, and (heaven forbid!) even the dreaded 40s.

Then it will become a question of my fortitude, my desire, my sheer strength of will.

Can I do it? Or will I sell out and succumb to blue toes and frozen piggies (or even worse - social pressure to dress like a grown-up)?

As the old saying goes, "The heart is strong, but the toes are weak." Or something like that.

Only time will tell. Feel free to place bets, if you'd like. Right now, my money is on lasting until Thanksgiving or possibly Christmas (any trips to the deep freeze of the midwest are exempt, of course).

Who knows though, maybe I'll go the distance. Does Tony Robbins have a program for this?

Photo by PR

9.30.2010

The Great Flood of 2010

I didn't have 'be in a flood' on my life list, but I think I'll add it just so I can cross it off. I've gotta say, it's an awful thing. You feel so helpless watching the water creep up and the rain come down. Thank goodness the house stayed dry and everyone is ok. We're lucky that the worst we got was being stuck for a couple days.

Waterfront property!

Trucks were making it through, but cars couldn't.

The entrance to the neighborhood

The welcome center

Upside(?): You can fish right on your own lawn!

9.29.2010

Live tweeting my demise

We're having rain in South Carolina.

Lots of rain.

We're talking Biblical, grab-some-animals-and-ready-the-ark rain.

Tonight, Tropical Storm Nicole will pay us a visit. Bringing (you guessed it) more rain.

The canal behind the house is making its way up the not-so-steep banks. The street out front is covered in water. And today's downpour has only just begun.

The property manager assured us that the neighborhood has a system in place to manage the water - pumping from one pond to another and ultimately into the Intercoastal Waterway.

I hate to be skeptical, but driving through flooded streets and watching the pond creep toward the house doesn't inspire confidence in their rainwater-management skills.

Nonetheless, I will soldier on. As I told my husband, "We may get flooded, but I'm gonna tweet every minute of it."

Noah would do the same, I'm sure.

9.26.2010

My favorite rice

Curried rice with raisins and almonds

1 yellow onion, diced
3 T olive oil
1 c long grain white rice
2 t curry powder
1/2 t salt
2 T butter
1/2 c raisins
1/4 c sliced almonds
2 c chicken broth

Preheat oven to 375.

Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft. Add rice and cook for 3 minutes. Add raisins, almonds, curry powder, salt, and butter. Cook for an additional minute.

Transfer to buttered casserole dish. Add 2 c chicken broth and stir.

Cover and bake for 1 hour.

(adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook)

9.25.2010

The 21st century has its moments

Kurt's new car came with an XM radio trial. This isn't a feature I thought I'd care about until one evening I was scanning channels when I found it, the holy grail of radio:

Bollywood and Beyond!!!

They weren't playing cheesy Indian restaurant music either. Instead it was one Indian pop hit after another - all with incomprehensible lyrics and wicked beats. I still wonder why P. Diddy or JayZ or whoever the latest rap mogul is hasn't sampled the heck out of this stuff.

Since I wasn't too keen to buy an XM receiver and shell out $13/month for one station - even one as fab as this - I went looking for streaming Bollywood radio on the internet.

Within minutes, I was sitting in South Carolina, listening to the Indian top 40 being broadcast from Paris.

I know the 21st century has had a rough start, with the recession and wars and general gloom, but I've gotta say that was a very cool moment. Perhaps this new millennium won't be so bad after all.

9.23.2010

Mooncake madness

Kurt brought home mooncakes last night to celebrate the Chinese Moon Festival. We had one with the traditional bean paste and salty yolk center and six wee ones filled with durian.

For those of you who haven't had (or smelled) durian, it is known to be stinky. Very stinky. Like illegal to have in public, people wonder where the rotting corpse is stinky.

When I cut open a durian mooncake, Kurt took a whiff and immediately threw it down, jumped away, and said things I can't repeat on a family blog. Oh, how I wish I had my video camera!

I smelled one and didn't think it was so bad really. Kurt claims this is proof that my sniffer is dead from years of sinus trouble.

Clearly he wasn't eating one, so the job fell to me. I managed to down a couple small pieces. It wasn't good exactly but not awful either. It had a rotten fruit taste, possibly with a hint of onion.

The bad part came when Kurt got a whiff of my breath.

And threw up.

I am not kidding.

Next year, we'll keep it Southern and stick to moonpies.

9.21.2010

Driving Mr. Lurch

For our honeymoon, Kurt wanted to rent a convertible for part of the trip. Given the rain and vog (volcano fog) on the Big Island, we decided to get one for our week on Maui.

This sounded fine until it came time to price convertible rentals. The cheapest I found at a major company was over $500 for the week. A regular car: $130.

Um ... heck no!

Being the miser recessionista I am, I decided to go bargain hunting. My dad said he'd gotten good deals at local car agencies, and while the cars weren't always brand new, there was nothing wrong with them.

I hunted through the local Maui agencies and finally settled on one that shall remain nameless (you'll see why soon enough). They offered a weekly convertible rental for half the price of the big guys.

The choices were a Sebring or a Mustang, and you could almost hear Kurt's heart murmuring, "Mustang, Mustang, Mustang" on the drive to pick it up. When we arrived, we were presented with the keys to a not-so-shiny, not-so-new Chrysler Sebring. Poor Kurt.

Upon a (lengthy) inspection, it was determined that amid the dents and scratches and general aesthetic scariness, the ol' Sebring had a malfunctioning convertible top. Jackpot!

Before we knew it, we were ushered into the white Mustang that Kurt had been eying the whole time and were heading off to Kihei. Granted, the seats looked a little off and the car was hardly pristine, but with the top down, the seabreeze blowing, and the radio on, how could we go wrong?

We were so naive.

When we turned onto the main road, we noticed something odd. We got dusted by ... a Corolla?!? Not even a new one at that. Before we knew it, several cars had passed us, and we were barely getting up to speed. What kind of Mustang was this anyway??

Honeymooners, meet Lurch.

Not only was Lurch not the peppiest car on the block, he also made some disconcerting sounds. At one point, I turned to Kurt and warned that from the sound of it, the passenger door might fall off at any moment. It didn't, thank goodness, but I was ready.

When we got out and inspected the seats more closely, we noticed some stains. Concerning stains. Quite possibly blood stains. The pattern on the back seat inspired jokes about a mafioso who met his end back there (clearly a midget mafioso since leg room was sparse). We spent the rest of the trip tugging our shorts down to avoid making contact.

Lurch also had rust in unusual places. Like inside the car. While Maui is humid, it seemed like Lurch might have spent some time in the Pacific at some point. Snorkeling perhaps (or see above re: mafioso).

Lurch hobbled along fairly decently for a while, rattling, shaking, brakes squeaking until one evening midway through a left turn when he decided he didn't feel like going any farther. Maybe he was tired, or he'd had a bad day, or he was feeling put out from the 600 turns on the Hana Highway. I don't know. He just coasted to a stop, and we sat on the side of the road in the dark wondering what we should do.

We sweet talked Lurch a little. Pounded .. er ... patted his dash a bit. Before too long, we were up and moving. We never knew what the problem was.

Our most troubling moment with Lurch came driving up Haleakala to see the sunset. As we navigated the hairpin turns with steep drop-offs to the side, I turned to Kurt and asked, "He will be able to make it back down, right?"

Silence.

"Kurt?"

More silence.

Finally, Kurt said, "Probably."

We did make it down - slowly and with lots of protesting and squeaking on Lurch's part (and in the center of the two lanes since there was no one else around).

It was almost sad to say goodbye when we dropped him off at the airport. If nothing else, he had personality.

But next time? We'll spend the $200.

9.17.2010

Healthy (and yummy!) dinner: White bean and veggie soup

White bean and veggie soup

1 carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T olive oil
1 cup corn (fresh or frozen)
2 14.5 oz cans white beans (Great Northern or cannellini), drained and rinsed
2 14.5 oz cans vegetable broth
bay leaf
salt and pepper

Heat oil over medium heat. Add carrots and onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add celery and garlic and cook an additional 3 minutes. Add corn, broth, beans, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Puree to desired consistency (I often remove 1/3, puree the remainder, and then add it back in). Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with brown bread or top with croutons.

Serves 4

9.12.2010

Breakfast with Topper

Dilbert.com

Kurt and I stayed at a bed and breakfast on our honeymoon. Everything was going well - the setting was lovely, the room was comfortable, the location was good.

Then came breakfast.

Things started out well enough. There was a gorgeous spread of tropical fruit and Hawaiian sweet bread. Jackpot!

As I was loading my plate with pineapple and papaya, I noticed that the conversation at the main table was a bit ... strange.

On the surface, everyone was just talking about what they had done on vacation and their plans for the day. But there was an edge ... an urgency even ... that felt a bit odd. I placed my waffle order and went to eat on the lanai. Better safe than sorry.

Kurt joined me, and I was soon glad I'd veered away from the main breakfast room. The "friendly" conversation had turned into a pissing match. The goal was to see who had done the most extreme, unusual activities and brag about them without appearing to do so. It was all done with a smile, but the meaning was clear: My vacation is better than your vacation.

Since the conversation was loud (why brag softly after all?), I resolved to eat my waffle and get back to the room as soon as possible.

Then they sat down. Pisseurs extraordinaire: Mr. and Mrs. Topper.

It was like Muhammad Ali vs Pee Wee Herman. We had no shot.

"What all have you done?" they asked. This was politeness only, of course. A set-up to allow them to bore share with us their many exploits.

We went to Volcano National Park. Well, they hiked 11 miles, uphill both ways, into a steaming caldera.

We drove to South Point. They braved the turbulent waters of the Pacific to swim with hot lava.

Blah blah blah.

You get the idea. If I hadn't already ordered a waffle, I'd have been out of there in minutes.

The kicker came when they asked our plans for the day (after telling us of their itinerary which involved naked boar wrestling or something along those lines).

"Well," I said, "we're going to a botanical garden and then to the Waipio Valley."

"Will you be hiking it? We are riding down on mules tomorrow. Bareback."

"Um ... no. No, we're just gonna look."

"Look?" they asked.

"Yup. And after, we're getting donuts."

"Donuts," they said, unable to hide their contempt.

Of course, I didn't tell them they were the sixth best donuts in the world. That they were hot and fresh and as close to fried dough perfection as man has achieved. And I certainly didn't tell them to stop by the Tex Drive In to see for themselves.

No, I respected them as the hard core adventurers they claimed to be. And I reveled even more in our mornings sleeping in, our leisurely drives, our days lazing on the beach, and most of all, in some fabulous mango donuts.

9.09.2010

Sorry Tom!


I cursed Tom Brady.

I didn't mean to, if that helps.

It started in the fall of 2008 when I was drafting my fantasy football team. It came time to pick a quarterback, and he was the highest ranking choice left. As a Colts fan I knew better, but in a moment of weakness and lust for fantasy football glory, I did it anyway.

I drafted Tom Brady.

So began the downward spiral for Tom and me. It was announced in early September of that year that Tom would need knee surgery and would miss the entire season.

While I acknowledge that this took a harder toll on Tom than on myself, it was still a rough year for my poor Hapless Hedgehogs (I know ... I put "hapless" in the name. What did I think was going to happen?!?). No other viable quarterback was available, and my team limped through the season to finish last in the league. A distant last at that.

I had fallen from first place to tenth in two short years, and I had only myself to blame.

The moral of the dark saga: Colts fans don't draft Patriots. I heard the message loud and clear, and Tom and I both had a more successful 2009 season for it.

Flash forward to 2010. I signed up for auto-draft and logged in yesterday to see which players I'd be working with this season. Things were looking good - Adrian Peterson, Steven Jackson, Jason Witten - and then I saw it. Quarterback: Tom Brady.

Noooooooooooooooo!

Of course, Tom once again had it worse than I did. Check out this morning's headline:

9.07.2010

Update: The $8 experiment

I recently ordered a couple pairs of prescription glasses from Zenni Optical (story here). They arrived today after only a week's wait, and I am beyond pleased with the results.

The styles are cute, the quality is as good as at a "normal" store, the prescription is right, and they came well packaged and protected. I couldn't be happier.

And all this for under $30. Amazing!

Buying tips:

~ Call your optometrist to find out your pupillary distance. It's often not listed on the paperwork they give you after your eye exam, but they're required by law to tell you and it's not something that expires like the rest of the prescription.

~ When ordering sunglasses, remember that higher percentages represent darker tints. I ordered 80% grey, and it's very dark. Perfect for the bright sun at the beach, but not something I can see well with inside.

~ Grey tints will give the world a blue cast. Amber tints will improve contrast and amplify greens.

~ Check your current frames to learn the size you need. The numbers inside the arm represent the lens size, bridge, and temple length. You have a little wiggle room (as much as 5mm in temple length), but try to stay close to what you already know looks good.

I have a simple prescription, but my dad has ordered a more complicated pair with bifocals and transition lenses and also had good luck. Hopefully your experience will be as good as ours!

** Zenni has no idea who I am. I just took a chance on some cheap frames, had a good experience, and wanted to share.

9.06.2010

If Mama ain't happy ...

Kurt is car shopping. We decided not to bring his previous car down to South Carolina (no a/c was sort of a deal breaker), and the time has come to get something new.

Buying a new car sounds like it would be a fun task. Heck, for what cars cost these days, it ought to be a fun task. We were even fairly excited about it ... at first.

Then came the salesmen.

One had a road rage incident and yelled at another driver during a test drive. One called Kurt a "tirekicker" because he wasn't ready to buy a car right then. Another told us a car with 1700 miles was "identical" to one with 15 - and got irritated when we didn't agree.

My personal favorite not only knew the going rate of heroin, he also shared his insights on area strip clubs and how tourists "drive up the price of p***y." (Yes, that is a quote.)

Even the relatively better ones were unable to answer basic questions and were prone to stretch the truth (if not outright lie) if it might help make the sale.

One of their most irritating strategies is to make it difficult for you to leave without taking a car for an overnight test drive (whether you want one or not) or buying something. Normal, honest, sane responses fly right past, while they continue to talk and push and act as if you hadn't spoken.

On this front though, Kurt has a secret weapon. He found the one thing he can say that will stop them in their tracks and end the madness.

The magic phrase?

"My wife doesn't like it."

That's it. If a man on a car lot utters those words, it's game over. They have an answer on price, on miles, on style and performance. They have an answer to everything except the unanswerable: an unhappy wife.

So after enduring hours of frustration and lies and general insanity, Kurt feels free to use this trump card - whether it's 100% percent accurate or not. As the salesmen themselves would say, "You gotta do what you gotta do."

Photo by Brandon Doran

9.05.2010

Actual conversation with my husband: Heavy metal edition

On tv: a Def Leppard video

Me: Oh! Def Leppard! Are they the group with the midgets?

Husband: The what?

Me: The midgets!

Husband: *long pause*

Me: Seriously, there's a heavy metal group with midgets.

Husband: *long pause*

Me: They wear shorts! Midgets in shorts. That group.

Husband: You mean AC/DC?

Me: Are they midgets?

Husband: No, but they wear schoolboy shorts.

Me: And suspenders?

Husband: I think so.

Me: That's them.

Husband: But they're not midgets.

Me: Huh. But they're short, right?

9.03.2010

Real cats wear pink

A couple weeks ago, someone stopped by our home and met our cat Nelson for the first time.

It went something like this:
Visitor: She's a pretty cat!

Nelson: *preen*

Me: It's a "he". That's Nelson.

Visitor: *looks at Nelson*

Nelson: *preen*

Visitor: I just thought ... with the pink collar ...

Me: Oh yeah, that's his favorite color.

Visitor: *silence*
You could practically hear her thinking, "Cuckoo!" I can't blame her. You put a baby pink collar on a cat, and people are gonna think it's a girl.

And cats having favorite colors? Do cats even see in color?

Of course, Nelson is no ordinary cat. He can open drawers and cabinets and even the occasional closed door. He knows how to start a scuffle between his brothers and then run to us wide-eyed (always wide-eyed!) to get credit for being "the good one". He knows to pull keys off of Daddy's laptop and never ever touch Mommy's MacBook. He's basically a cat genius.

And he has a favorite color: pink.

When he lived at the mini-shelter in the Castleton PetSmart, the staff knew that he would only play with the pink toy, never any of the others. They even sent it home with him since he had such a strong preference.

Nothing has changed. He still loves his original pink rope, and his second favorite toy is a fluffy pink flamingo. He turns his nose up at non-pink options as if they are unworthy of him.

The cat loves pink.

I caved to social pressure and made him wear a turquoise collar for years. I might buy him pink toys, but I wasn't ready to deal with issues of feline gender confusion. Would a pink collar make him a transvestite? This was not a question I was ready to contemplate.

Kurt helped change my mind when Nelson's turquoise collar broke. "He should have what he likes," Kurt said. "Who cares?"

And he was right. I've gotta let Nelson be Nelson. Pink collar and all.

Am I a crazy cat lady? Quite possibly. Anthropomorphizing beyond all good sense? Almost assuredly.

But he's my Nelson.

And he loves pink.

And I'm ok with that.

8.31.2010

Change overload

I love South Carolina. Love the herons that fly behind the house, love the Carolina pines, love the warm weather, and of course love the beach. The decision to move here has been overwhelmingly positive. (And I didn't even mention Cheerwine and fish shacks and the delightfully quirky Southern ladies!)

That said, today was a little more change than I wanted. Nothing big, mind you, just one small thing after another until I found myself in the Food Lion parking lot thinking, "I just want to go home!" As someone who prides herself on embracing change, I was surprised to find myself chafing against it.

Everything worked out in the end (as it usually does). The new groomer does things differently, but Ernie ended up looking great. I couldn't find exactly what I was used to at the grocery, but I'll make it work. Traffic here is a little different, but it's nothing I can't handle. Who knows, some things may even turn out to be better.

Still, I wish we had technology that would make it possible to live in SC but pop back to Indy when my psyche needs a break - something along the lines of Star Trek's transporter beam. Then I could drop Ernie off at his normal vet, swing by Trader Joe's for some goodies, grab a kebab in Castleton, and be back on the beach before sunset. That's not too much to ask, is it?

Image courtesy of Marvin01

8.29.2010

Pimp your ride: Girl-car edition

Even Snowball isn't this girly ...

8.28.2010

The $8 experiment

One upside to moving is that it forces you to sort through everything and makes clear what you do not own. In my case: a back-up pair of glasses.

Last fall, my dad ordered a pair of glasses from Zenni Optical and said they were a great deal. He claimed that I could get a pair of basic prescription glasses for only $8.

$8!

Since my glasses normally run $200+ per pair, I was skeptical about a pair this cheap. $8 is the cost of two lattes or a cheap t-shirt. At the very least, I assumed the selection at that price would be limited and/or scary.

Wrong! They have well over a hundred frames at each price point ($8, $9.95, $12.95, and $15.95) and many cute styles, even in the $8 section. I favorited a few pairs, narrowed it down by size, and settled on a pair of red cat's eye shaped frames. I figure for $8, I might as well have some fun.

Since shipping is only $5 for the entire order, I decided to add a pair of black Jackie O sunglasses for a whole $12.95, tint and all.

In searching for reviews about Zenni, I discovered that there's a whole world of discount internet eyeglass sellers. Not everyone has them for $8, but even at $19 or $39, they're a steal compared to the traditional options. Some sites even allow you to upload a picture and "try on" frames before you order. Who knew?!

My glasses should arrive in about 2 weeks. I'll post results when they get here. Stay tuned!

Photo by Grace

8.27.2010

Retro photos for the iPhone impaired

I do not have an iPhone. This isn't a fact that would bother me were it not for one thing: Hipstamatic.

Hipstamatic is an app that mimics the results of low-quality toy cameras of the past. Translation: it takes some really groovy retro photos (and costs only $1.99!).

Since one wee app doesn't justify an iPhone purchase, I've been looking for ways to get Hipstamatic-like results during post-processing on my Mac. GIMP was moderately successful once I got past the (steep) learning curve, but the process was more time consuming than I wanted and the results were good but not stellar. There are a few options for Lightroom but nothing entirely satisfying. Since I don't use Photoshop, I can't speak to the quality of the actions available for it.

I tried several Polaroid knock-offs with varying degrees of success. Often these come with limited choices and strong color casts that yielded sometimes-interesting / sometimes-awful results. My favorite of the clones was Poladroid which I found to be fun and easy to use. You simply drag a jpeg to the icon, wait, and a Polaroid emerges. Rather like the real experience I remember from my childhood (only with less shaking).

Here's a sample image I created with Poladroid:
The top contenders to mimic the Hipstamatic seem to be Toycamera AnalogColor and CameraBag.

Toycamera offers the most control with 7 processes, 2 lens options, and the ability to add flare and Polaroid framing. You can adjust 9 additional variables including blur, contrast, color, and noise. It's essentially a mini-Lightroom aimed at creating toy camera results. While you can achieve striking results, more is demanded of the user in terms of experimenting and choosing well.

Here are samples processed with Toycamera AnalogColor:
CameraBag is a simpler system. There are 10 filters, 3 black and white and 7 color. Other than cropping and adding borders, your primary means of control lies in how you choose to layer the filters atop one another. While this can yield great results, I often found myself coming close to the image I desired and wishing I could make small tweaks in contrast or color to achieve it. This program gets points for authenticity since it better mimics the "take what you get" nature of inexpensive cameras. However, I found it frustrating to come so close at times and be unable to get the exact image I wanted.

Here are samples processed with CameraBag:


My verdict: those experienced with post-processing (and the control freaks) will probably enjoy ToyCamera AnalogColor more. Those who want simplicity and the ability to achieve Hipstamatic-like results with only a few clicks will find CameraBag to be a good option.