Archive | September 2011

minor triumph and cakedom

If you read my last post, you may have become aware of dramatic events unfolding in the comments section. It wasn’t the usual sort of comment drama you read about on other blogs (negative comments, dissension in the ranks), no this was drama I instigated with my own hand, well, actually finger.

You see, I can’t keep my hands off the blog…and it’s even worse now that I have the iPhone and can “check in.” I was doing that the other morning while walking into work, and there was this nice long comment by Cathy…I read, I walked, I scrolled, I smiled…and then when I put my finger on the phone to go back….I hit the trash can icon to delete the comment.

What followed next was me no longer trying to multitask (I stopped walking and smiling) as I watched the swirly thing in the middle of the screen that indicates something is happening [honestly, the swirly motion reminded me a bit of a flushing toilet] get to work on deleting Cathy’s comment. My eyes searched frantically for an “undo”…but I didn’t see one. I wanted to rescue the comment, but wasn’t sure if I could do it on the phone, so I did the next best thing…went to Cathy’s blog and ‘fessed up that I’d deleted her but hoped to retrieve her. She was (as always) gracious and encouraging.

When I was finally able to check in on a “proper” computer, I was relieved to see that my memory of a “Trash” collection in comments was correct. I found Cathy’s comment (and one of my own I accidentally deleted several weeks ago, what does it say that I didn’t find it worth poking around for my own comment?) and “untrashed” her. I feel so momentarily technically savvy that I officially declare this a “new experience.” [Ooh, and I also just figured out how to link to individual comments!]

My other new experiences involve cakes. The first type is pancakes. I was making them the other night and thought…hey, I could throw cocoa into these pancakes. I’ve never done that before, but why not give it a whirl?

cocoa pancakes

(poorly lit) cocoa pancakes with slivered almonds and maple syrup

They were yummy.

My other new cake experience is something that combines technology and cake. I found a free iPhone app called “Easy-Bake Oven.” Now, I never had an Easy-Bake Oven as a kid (sigh), so I was intrigued. And it turns out this app lets you bake, frost, decorate, and eat virtual cupcakes.  I had a lot of fun selecting my cake, frosting, and decorations. And so I sort of finally got to use an Easy-Bake Oven.

what happens when I eat cupcakes

I don’t usually use a knife and fork with cupcakes, but the example above was a particularly challenging cupcake to handle. Yummy all the same though.

If you have a blog, what were your moments of bloggy technical triumph? Did you ever have an Easy-Bake Oven?

flicks

I had the chance to catch some movies or parts of movies over the last few weeks.

Last weekend, I had an evening to myself and finally saw a movie that was hogging up a lot of space on our DVR, Eat Pray Love. I remember that it didn’t get great reviews and after watching it, I have to throw in my own “meh.”  I should mention I haven’t read the book. I’m interested in reading it now because I’d like to see why it resonated so much with (women) readers. But watching it, I sort of felt unmoved by the fact that Liz was suffering so much because she had asked her husband for a divorce or “given up on her marriage.” I think most women have had relationships that ended badly, most of us don’t have the resources to travel around the world for the year to “get over it.” I really didn’t find myself feeling sorry for her. I did appreciate James Franco’s and Javier Bardem’s appearances though!

This weekend, I ended up watching the last half of Titanic (after the ship hit the iceberg) with mr. strivingcynic and his daughter (sc teen). I find that certain things really strike me. The first is how brutal the last half is…watching people trying to get off the ship and then hanging on for dear life as it sinks, watching them in the water, and the merciless cold. The second thought is how freaking young Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio were when they were in Titanic (early 20s). It’s hard to believe that movie is almost 15 years old. Also, watching it this time, I realized that April will be the 100th anniversary of the trip.

On another note, sc teen had mentioned earlier that day she didn’t know who Celine Dion (who she came across in a crossword puzzle) is.  I was surprised at how surprised I was that she didn’t know Celine Dion [I suspect this might be the state of 14-year-olds today] and, yep, Titanic is older than she is. So, I pointed out that all the warbling going on at the end as young Rose is rescued and old Rose goes back to Titanic was Celine.

Staying with the water theme, last night I caught the end of Finding Nemo. Aside from the fact there was a commercial break every five minutes, it was fun to see this again (I’d only seen it once). Gotta love Nemo.

And today, an *authentic* movie experience, my first since seeing Bridesmaids months ago. I went to see Moneyball with the sc’s. Although I wouldn’t say “If you see one movie this year, see Moneyball” (nope, see Bridesmaids!), this was a really good movie. I’m not a baseball fan and have no memory of the events in this movie taking place, but I found it pretty compelling. The movie portrays how the General Manager (Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt) of the Oakland A’s forms a winning baseball team when he doesn’t have the funds to compete with the big big leagues. One of the aspects I found so interesting was the aspect of how the element of “romance” was pitted against math…how the people Billy worked with wanted to believe that there were elements of chance and gut feelings in finding good players and melding them into a team and how they felt threatened by the idea that it could all be boiled down to numbers. I suspect I wouldn’t want to see parts my own life, with the things I think of as fate, chance, or luck,  mapped to mathematical formulas either (even if Brad Pitt were somehow involved).

Do you have any thoughts to share about any of these movies? Which of Celine Dion’s songs would you mention first to describe her?

some clothes go away (and it’s for the best)

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a pack rat, and I’m definitely not a hoarder, but I have to admit, I have a hard time letting go of things…or maybe it’s just I find it easier to hold on. Deciding to let go of something feels like more of a decision to me than deciding to keep it…I mean I can always let go of something I kept, but I can’t get something I let go of back. Right?

And that is why I made cleaning out 1 closet one of my goals this month. It’s just too easy for me to put this sort of thing off. Looking back, I noticed what I said was I wanted to “go through my clothes and get real about what I’ll probably never wear again.” And this is pretty much what happened the other day.

The clothes that made it into the donate pile fell into two categories. 1) Things that I had for many years that, although they were physically still intact were not in the best condition (eg, faded, stretched out); and 2) Things that didn’t fit.

In category number 1, I give you black pants and brown pants. I think I’ve owned them for something like 7-10 years. I have actively been on the lookout for a new pair of each. And in the case of black pants, I actually found one. The moment I brought them in the house I probably should have taken the old pair away, but I didn’t. I tried to let them coexist, but had to admit, the old pair were indeed tired, haggard, and worn out. Although I haven’t found a replacement for the brown pair, it was time for them to go…every time I put them on I knew I was pushing it since they weren’t in the best condition. But sometimes in my head, as long as they were literally not falling apart, they were wearable.

yep, the brown pants are pretty sad...

the black pants drew an observer...

Ugh. I think the wrinkles are from how packed my closet is!

In category number 2 was a very pretty Target/Liberty of London dress that my mother bought me when she found it on the clearance rack several years ago. It was a size smaller than what I normally wear, but she took a chance (because as we all know, the number differs from one store/collection/designer to another…one reason I admire people daring enough to buy clothes without trying them on first). And I tried it on and it didn’t quite fit. And I held onto it for a year or two and tried it on again…I needed to ask mr. sc for assistance getting the zipper up, but it wasn’t happening. I finally realized, it wasn’t even something where I could think “maybe I’ll fit into this one day.” Instead I could see that this dress was never going to fit around my ribcage. And really, there’s not much I can do about that (and if there is, I don’t want to do it). So, the fact that it’s pretty and I’d like to wear it isn’t really enough.

sorry I never got a chance to wear you....

I don’t even remember what else I got rid of…I think it was maybe 8-10 items and there were some things I just couldn’t make the “let go” call on. I have several other closets and dressers I need to go through as well. So, who knows, maybe next time I look through this closet, I’ll be willing to be even more “real.” At least this was a start.

How are you with letting go of clothes or anything else? Do you have any rules for keeping versus ditching?

posting milestone and a few emmy thoughts

I have to admit, I’ve been a WordPress statistics addict since I started this blog back in December. Actually, I must have somehow posted something back in November when I first “bought” it, because my stats tell me I had views back then.

As I’ve logged on, I’m always curious to see how many views I have, how many comments, so I know that as I type this, I’m at 600 comments (and thanks to their new feature where they tell you how often your commenters have commented, I know I’m my own best commenter [but I think that's a good thing because I like responding to comments...on occasion one slips past me, but it feels friendly to me when I say something back]). And if memory serves, after I publish a post, it tells me what post number I’m at….the last time it told me 99, which means…

So, wow. 100 posts. But funnily enough, my brain just can’t focus in for an amazing “THIS IS MY 100th POST WOOOOOOOOOO!!” post. The few ideas I’m chasing round my brain aren’t working for me right now…they need to form a little more (and I need to gather up the strength to transfer any accompanying photos off my camera). So, instead I’m just thinking…wow. 100. I signed up to do postaweek 2011 back in January in the hopes that I would keep the blog up once I started (I can be wishy washy) and although I hoped to do more than once a week, that was what I was comfortable with (there’s also a postaday one. I would have crashed and burned on that one). And here I am…8+ months later at post 100!

strivingcynic cat is so excited by all of this

So, I’m going to make what’s left of this post a 3 random Emmys thoughts post–here goes:

Emmys 2011

1) How great is it that  Melissa McCarthy won an Emmy? (Of course it would have been wonderful if she’d been nominated for Gilmore Girls, which alas, was nomination free [ooh..and I got my issue of Self today and was thrilled to see Lauren Graham on the cover].) I’m still expecting her to get nominated for an Oscar for Bridesmaids.

2) When the Modern Family cast was up accepting their award, I took one look at Ariel Winter and thought…I do not think that is an appropriate dress for a 13-year-old. A little Googling told me I wasn’t the only one. I wasn’t a fan of Julianna Margulies’s look either. And although I think it’s great that Melissa McCarthy designed her own dress….I wished she’d glammed it up a bit more (hopefully she will for the Oscars).

3) I was psyched to see Downton Abbey win some awards. I had seen an episode while visiting the UK last year and was happy when it came onto PBS so I could finally see the whole thing (except [spoiler alert] it turned out that they decided to do a second season, meaning, no firm conclusions till next year [maybe]).

If you have a blog, are you a stats addict and do you pay attention to “milestones”? Any Emmy dress thoughts you’d care to share?

put a pin in it

pin collection

I’ve managed to get through another book I’d wanted to read for a while, Madeleine Albright’s Read My Pins.

I have to admit, I don’t know much about Albright. I know she was U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and the first woman Secretary of State during the Bill Clinton years. And I know that she rather awesomely played Rory’s mother in a dream sequence in an episode of Gilmore Girls (which cemented any thoughts I had as to her awesomeness). One thing I didn’t know about her? Well, apparently she is well  known for her pins, in fact, her attitude towards a diplomatic meeting or occasion could be read in part by the pin she was wearing. One world leader called her a snake, so she wore a snake pin to her meeting with him. Good for her.

Despite not knowing too much about her, I felt the lure of Read My Pins because I loved the idea of a powerful woman feeling comfortable expressing herself using her jewelry. Actually reading the book and seeing the pictures of her pins, I admired how she had all sorts of pins, from very expensive to from the dollar bins, and how she had collections of themes. This inspired me to consider my own pins.

First thing, I don’t actually have that many pins. I don’t really wear them. I don’t like poking holes in my clothes (Albright admits to having shredded some items due to pin use). But, I was curious to see what I had and like Albright, consider why I have them, how I got them, and possibly why I kept them. So, let the pins begin.

duran duran pins

My duran duran pins. Wow…I am amazed these survived my adolescence and beyond. I suspect I used to have more. I remember wearing one to an 80s Halloween party years ago. I suspect I bought these at a mall…and I kept them out of durannie nostalgia.

charity pins

Charity pins…well pins I got for donations. The one on the left is the “pink ribbon” for breast cancer research. The one on the right is probably back from when I donated blood fairly frequently (I am no longer able to donate because they changed their requirements so that they don’t want people who spent too much time in Europe in the 80s and 90s  because of mad cow [I was there several years...] ). I know I’ve had other charity pins (AIDS research, Humane Society) so I don’t know why these made the cut and others didn’t.

pins I got as gifts

Pins I got as gifts: I believe the one on the left came from my mother. I’m not sure who gave me the cat pin. I get a lot of cat things and now black cat things as presents because people seem to think that if I like cats, I want cat stuff (yes and no). I suspect I kept them because they were gifts, and looking at them again, I think both are kind of nice.

one I bought, one was a gift

The other pins. The one on the left I bought on a trip to Europe (I think in Ireland). I liked the Celtic design and what I thought was the bird creature biting its own foot appealed to my Goth-like “life is pain” proclamations (20 years ago). I had another Celtic design pin I wore with everything and was shocked that I don’t seem to have it any more. I’m pretty sure that my late grandmother gave me the one on the right.  I think I held on to it over the years because she gave it to me, but looking at it, I love the mosaic-y look, the bright colors and the floral pattern. I’d say of everything it’s the one I’d be most likely to wear out and about.

So, Madeleine Albright’s account of pin wearing (which I’d recommend) inspired me to show off my pins. I hope this might  inspire other pin posts (and if it does, please let me know).

Do you like any of the pins you see here? Do you wear pins and if so, do you have a favorite?

fail tale (peanut butter version)

So, I finally had the opportunity to try another “blog standard” late last week.

You see, I’d say I like my nut butters as much as the next blogger, but there are some real nut-butter-loving people out there in blogland. That being said, it’s good stuff.  Looking back at my “nut butter history,” I have many a fond memory of happily hacking away at a jar of peanut butter with a spoon. More than 20 years ago, when I started to get in shape, I followed weight watchers. I gather now they have a points system, but back then it was all food groups. Peanut butter was considered a combination of “protein” and “fat.” Which was great because even then I wasn’t a big meat eater…but the problem was that WW stated I should have half as many servings of fat  (not many) as protein (too many for  my taste) a day. So, peanut butter became an even bigger treat to me.

Flash forward a few years to when I was doing my junior year abroad. My friend and I carried around a jar of peanut butter when we did our winter and spring breaks taking the train all over Europe (don’t ask me how we were able to find pb back then….it’s never been as popular in Europe as in the States and not every place carried it). It was cheap, healthy, unlikely to spoil….and I ate so much of it that I couldn’t stand the sight of it for the next two years. But then I found myself thinking of it fondly one day and it was if we’d never been apart. Over the years, other nut butters came along–almond, cashew,  and most recently, sunflower seed (okay, I guess that’s a seed butter). So, having more than one type around, it takes me a while to get through a jar…and when I finally did I thought. “Now is my chance to try Overnight Oats in a Jar.”

So, how’d it go? Well, I have to admit, not great. I think I might have gone about it the wrong way. I took my nearly empty jar, put in about 1/2 a cup of oats and one cup of coconut milk. Closed the jar, put it in the fridge expecting it to thicken. Except it didn’t….I think there was too much milk to absorb it all. When I finally ate it, well it was just okay. I wasn’t keen on the textures (soggy..and the pb was a little odd too…maybe like the milk had dissolved it?). It was just cold and vaguely flavored.

a little on the milky side!

doesn't look any more appetizing...

For me the plus side was getting all the pb out of the jar. Of course, I guess I could just go at it with a spoon next time. I do think I’ll try the overnight oats thing again…maybe with yogurt instead of milk next time so that it does get thick. Or maybe you just cook the oatmeal and pour it into the jar so it becomes like a pudding? Hmm.

But, I decided this fulfilled one of my “new experience” goals for the month of September. Even though I have “make two things with recipes found on blogs,” I don’t feel this counts for that one since I improvised and obviously not very well (should have looked it up).

Do you do the oats in a jar thing? How do you prepare it? Do you have a favorite “butter”? Have you ever eaten so much of something you got sick of it?

bitter girls speak out

Being a cynic in a world that tells you to be positive in the face of anything can be a challenge sometimes. I often feel that the message I get from others is that my feelings aren’t “correct.” “You shouldn’t feel that way…” tops my list of remarks I cringe at even though I acknowledge that it’s often used to help me see things from an angle that will make me feel better (and to be fair, sometimes it does). But sometimes, I feel like I’m stuck not just feeling the way I feel, but feeling bad about the way I feel.

So, it’s often a relief to come across someone whose mindset makes me look like I’m glowing with positivity in comparison, which brings me to a book I finished recently, called I Love Everybody (and Other Atrocious Lies): True Tales of a Loudmouth Girl by Laurie Notaro. The book is a collection of stories from her life. She comes across as an angry person, but it’s an angry funny…sort of like when you have a disagreement with someone and later realize what you should have said or done. She actually says it/does it and takes it way past where it needed to go. The sort of level of exaggeration that makes my vengeful thoughts (because they never progress beyond that) mild.

Her stories recount conflicts with dumb colleagues, neighbors, family members, school children (yes, really), and others. My favorite is the story that gives the book its main title, in which Notaro depicts an attempt to bring better things into her life by practicing a more loving behavior to others (ie, trying to rack up good karma). This practice is severely tested as she attempts to navigate a Costco, needing to get her errand done in a relatively short amount of time. As people nab her parking space, push their shopping carts at glacial speeds, and cut in line in front of her, she reminds herself of her aspirations and desperately holds on to the mantra that she “loves everybody” thus missing out what she calls “opportunities to enlighten” people about their ridiculous behavior. Notaro is tested repeatedly….and eventually gives in in ways that ensure she’s got a lot of bad karma coming her way.

And I have to admit, I laughed–out loud–quite a bit reading this book. This was another friends of the library book sale find. I had never heard of Notaro before coming across this book (which I believe was her third). Some other book titles? Her first book was  The Idiot Girl’s Action Adventure Club: True Tales of a Magnificent and Clumsy Life and her most recent is It Looked Different on the Model: Epic Tales of Impending Shame and Infamy.

Notaro’s writing reminded me of Jen Lancaster, whose Bitter is the New Black I also reviewed in this blog. Considering that Amazon.com has an author one-on-one with them, I can see this comparison has already been made. And I’m happy to know why.

Does anyone else get a thrill from reading about the (funny) bitterness of others? Are you a naturally positive person or do you have to work at it?

a dash of absurdity

So, I’ve spent a number of posts extolling the great things I saw in Chicago….but there was one teeny little thing I just have to mention. To be fair, this wasn’t even something particular to Chicago, but when I saw it, I did one of those grimace-y type snorts (or snorty-type grimaces). I knew I had to document it…and taking it one step further, I feel compelled to share.

So, why did this little thing make me snort/grimace and laugh. Well, it was a turn of phrase I’d never quite seen before. And not just any turn of phrase, but one that pertains to something much beloved in blogland (at least in the healthy living part of town)–the revered bowl of oatmeal.

You see, one morning, I went to my hotel’s restaurant for breakfast. Even though I knew an overcharging was in my future, I was hungry and didn’t feel like hunting around. And when I looked at the menu, I saw this:

the hot cereal options

Now, aside from the “10 bucks for a bowl of oatmeal (I knew they’d overcharge)?!” aspects, all I could think was “Crownings?” “Crownings?” “What’s the matter? Good ol’ “toppings” wasn’t fancy enough?” Maybe it was meant to be charming, but there was just something about it that didn’t quite work (maybe the fact that it sounded ridiculous?)

At any rate, I got the French toast (which I think set me back [sigh] 16 dollars.

And that was my bit of Chicago absurdity. One more cool picture before I move off this topic:

Sue

I got a chance to go to the Field Museum where I got to see Sue the T. rex up close. This is only most of Sue…her head’s a replica because it’s too heavy to work in this display. But, you can see her actual head on flight up (okay, maybe that’s absurd in a different way….but she’s still cool).

Does the fact that the oatmeal is “crowned” rather than “topped” justify the price? What sort of “crownings” do you enjoy on your oatmeal?

where the fish swim

One great thing about my having to spend extra time in Chicago, I discovered there was an aquarium (The Shedd Aquarium) there.

Although I pretty much refuse to set foot in the ocean (it’s usually cold, the idea of rip currents freaks me out, and there are creatures in it waiting to get me), I love aquariums. I just love them. There’s something about watching the fish swim around in their tanks that I find peaceful, hypnotic, calming, tranquil . . . and that makes me meditative, contemplative, peaceful, lulled (you get the picture).

In the last ten years, I’ve been to the aquariums at Monterey, California; Mystic, Connecticut; Baltimore, Maryland; and Camden, New Jersey. I even did a beluga whale encounter at the Mystic aquarium (basically, I got to go and play with them in the water) which was AWESOME.

Now, with the Shedd Aquarium, I decided to only get a ticket to see the main galleries (a steal at 8 dollars), but not the special exhibits. My favorite part was the big tank the “Carribean Reef” which had turtles, rays, (small) sharks swimming around with other fish. Going through the other galleries, I was amazed at the colors and features the fish and other aquatic life had.

Here are some fish:

what a great face!

I loved this guy. I have no recollection of what sort of fish he is though. Those eyes! That mouth!

floating by

showing off his pretty colors

black and white fish!

beautiful pattern

B-52s' crustacean (lobster, rock lobster....)

they're blue!

The jellyfish change color though. Wait for it…..

now, they're red/purple!

And that is my aquarium picture show. I do have some more, but I took them on my camera…I wasn’t happy with how the pictures were turning out and (halfway through, after the Caribbean tank) decided to try my iPhone, which took the pictures I’m posting. I was pleasantly surprised by how well they turned out. Also, when I got my iPhone, I found there were a few “watch the pretty fish and calm the hell down” apps, and immediately put the free ones I found on my phone (Pocket Pond rules) and admit I will play with my fish when I need a break from life in general. I might not want to swim with them, but I do enjoy watching them swim!

Which of the fish in these photos is your favorite? Are there places that you find calming?

strolling in Chicago

As I mentioned, I was in Chicago for what was supposed to a week (for work), but was there a little longer (I changed my flight home to leave early, but the airline started canceling flights because of Irene on Friday night, and since I was due to fly Saturday, there was no chance I was getting home). Once I established I had a place to say, I realized that Chicago wasn’t a bad place to be stuck.

People always rave about the architecture in Chicago. Everyone suggests taking an “architectural boat tour,” which I’ve done when I was there previously. You sit on the boat (by the way, I hate how you often have to start these things by posing for a picture that you can get overcharged for afterwards…) and as you go down the Chicago River, the guide points out various buildings, who built them when, features, etc.

some of that Chicago architecture

Since I love water views, I get jealous of people with views of the lake or river (and I wonder “who are these people who can afford these places?”)

Lake Michigan, with the Navy Pier ferris wheel in the distance . .

As I look at the Chicago architecture, I can see that it is beautiful and impressive, but I also have to admit I know so very little about architecture. I don’t have a vocabulary to really appreciate it, which makes me feel a bit fake when I talk about how impressive the architecture there is. People will also mention the way the city was planned and laid out. All I can say is that it makes for gorgeous views! Since I had some time on my hands and the weather was beautiful, I had plenty of chances to walk around.

Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park

Something else I noticed is that people seem a little friendlier in Chicago. The people at the cash registers of various grocery stores, drug stores, and food places (Au Bon Pain shout out!) were polite and chatty….and it didn’t feel fake. Now, the stereotype of unfriendly easterners always bothers me, but I think we do rush around a lot, so it sort of surprises us that the people at work would want to do anything more than move things along rather than engage. Maybe it’s also beyond my expectation that people in a big city would be so polite and friendly, small towns yes, but the city is supposed to be cold and anonymous.

and a little bit of night time

darn pretty, isn't it?

The pictures above  were taken from the terrace bar of a Donald Trump owned condo/hotel. I heard the drinks were 20 bucks a pop, so I just came for the view. However, as I was walking around pre-stranding, I was saying how I’d love to see Chicago with mr. strivingcynic, whose hobby is photography. That thought still holds, even though right now, I just want to stay at home. When it’s time to think of traveling again, I think Chicago would be a great place for us to go. I’ll even buy us both drinks at the terrace bar so we can enjoy the view without guilt!

The Bean in Millennium Park. Notice the architectural reflection!

Have you been to Chicago and what did you think of it? Where are some of your favorite views? Have you been to a “friendly” city?