Avatar: WOW!

There's nothing quite like seeing a really excellent movie. It's sad that it happens so rarely.

I saw Avatar today.
Wow, was it ever a fantastic movie!
I've seen comparisons of it to Star Wars (the best one is Jim's). The comparison is apt in many ways. It is truly an amazing technical piece that takes movie story-telling to a whole new level. (Remember how amazed we all were with how realistic Gollum was? Multiply that by 10.) And the funny thing is, the criticisms I've seen about the movie, about it being too simplistic, too predictable, those are all criticisms that have been leveled at Star Wars. All those "stereotyped" characters are also archetypes. So yes, the Noble Savage is not so generally wonderful as portrayed, and the Military is not so generally single-minded as protrayed, but it is in the context of a fairy tale and we have the knowledge that real life is not so simple.
It is fun, the writing is great (don't believe the critics!) and so is the acting. I love how the hero shrugs off digs on his intelligence because of his profession. "Yeah, whatever you want to think," it seems to say. Sam Worthington, the actor playing the hero is great. He really manages to embody the curious, eager, passionate, courageous, and charismatic character. (I saw an interview later in which he talks about how he felt that a hard core Marine would be difficult for people to access and identify with, so he modeled the impetuous, childlike nature on his 7-year old nephew. It was a brilliant move, because that excitement and energy really carries you into the movie.)
The animation was fantastically done and the emotional value of the natives really comes through. It helps that it's modeled after real people. Little details really made a difference, and yet there was still an alien feel to them. They weren't just people with funny ears or bumpy foreheads. The world really felt real to me and I was sad when the movie ended. I wanted to get back in line and watch it again (this time in 3D) IMMEDIATELY! :D

I will watch it again in the theater. I will see it in 3D, as I understand that takes the fantasticness to an even higher level. SQUEE! I can't wait! :D


I also got some awesome cookbooks from Hot Chick Janiece. I really look forward to using the recipes in my day to day cooking! :D Thanks so much, hon! I really wish I hadn't forgotten your (actually, Boogie's) gift at home!


First Present

This morning, on my way to work, I thought I saw a beached cloud. At least, that's what it looked like. It wasn't up in the brilliantly sunny sky like it was supposed to. No, this one was lying on the ground near the highway. Very peculiar.

Work was very productive (as it usually is when I'm at work when no one else is around). I felt good enough about what I was doing that I regretted having to leave it unfinished. AND I was learning a cool program (Google Sketchup). It's very intuitive and it's free!

I spent the evening with my family, eating yummy Crockpot lasagna and talking about nonsense, as usual. My nephew kept us entertained and my latest marshmallow experiment - vanilla marshmallows made with honey, sesame and poppy seeds - turned out well.

This evening, I returned from my brother's house and decided to check that I didn't have any presents tucked into the inside corner of the front porch. Good thing I did, because sitting there unobtrusively was a gift package from the lovely and talented Jen A.

Inside was a thoughtful card, cookies, a cool reusable bag, a lovely bracelet (perfect color for me!), and a sweet little keychain with a pair of people hugging. I love it!

The bag was a really clever design and quite attractive when open.

Thank you so much, Jen! You are wonderful!

Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays to everyone!


Something to Think About

My wonderfully thoughtful friend, Janiece, posted today about a series of essays that probe into what one believes.

I followed some of the links she included and found this fabulous essay by Norman Cousins. It really says a lot about the human condition in a short space and I highly recommend reading or listening to it.


1001 Tales AND Gifts From the East

Just noticed that the last post was my 1000th post, which makes this one = 1001. Here's to another thousand posts, just as random and personal as the last thousand posts. :)

Today, I found a package on my front porch -- a package that had been threatened by one John the Scientist, infamous sender of such heinous delicacies as Durian Cookies and Swallows Nest Soup. He also forced a member of the UCF to eat stinky tofu at gunpoint. (Ok, maybe it was his finger pretending to be a gun, or maybe it was just strong peer pressure. Nathan can be a big pushover sometimes...)
Anyway, it wasn't without some trepidation that I opened the box. Who knew what vile edible items lay in wait within?

Turns out, some pretty cool edible items did.

Remember my post about taste testing ramen?

John sent me a variety pack of different brands of ramen, mostly in the beef or seafood/shrimp flavors.

Neat! I'm looking forward to trying them. MWT's favorite, Sapporo Ichiban is there, as are a number of other essentially (because I can't read Korean or Japanese, though I can identify them) nameless brands. There are two made in the US and marketed for Asians (Sapporo Ichiban is one). One is from Hong Kong, one from Korea, and one from Vietnam.
Squee! This is going to be fun. :D

Thank you, John!

Edited to Add:
Michelle has posted on her latest mystery package from John. As MWT says elsewhere: "Yay tentacles. :) Nomnomnom..."

MWT has also posted on some tasty sounding Asian treats from John. Which confirms things for me, I'm making rice krispy treats for Christmas!


Not Present

I think this photo pretty much sums up how out of touch I've been for the last few weeks. I discovered this a few days ago. Obviously, I haven't been drinking much milk lately. Fear not, I poured the milk... or cheese... down the drain.
I hope things are improving, but holiday craziness should eventually die down. I do have things I've been doing and can chat about, but I just haven't had the time or the energy to post about them. We'll see what I can do about that in the near future.

In the meantime, I need to go to bed. I would like to get up early-ish so I can do some quick chore things. My parents are coming to stay for a few days tomorrow and I like for things to at least be presentable... :)


Can't Catch a Brake

(Attention: bad pun only tangentially related to actual problem.)

Monday, on my way to work, I had the wonderful experience of seeing smoke/steam streaming from under my hood and the temperature gauge spiking at the top end of the gauge. I got off the interstate, popped the hood to allow it to cool. I found lots of steam and green goo (coolant) decorating the inside of my engine compartment.

After a couple phone calls, I ended up buying a gallon of water to put in the radiator (after it had cooled, of course) and taking the long (lower speed) way to the mechanics.

I'll confirm the details when I pick up the car Tuesday morning, but it seems* that the radiator was cracked and needed replacement.

Why is it that my car waits until my savings account is severely depleted before having serious problems?

* Stay tuned for more accurate techno-babble...


Holiday Crush

I hate the "sorry I haven't been posting" posts, but this one will serve also as a run down on how my life is going recently:

- Historic Preservation project at work that has three days of exterior work planned for next week (was planned for last week, and fortunately able to be rescheduled, or we'd have been popsicles)
- Design project at work with an extremely short schedule, understaffed, and the client refuses to take any responsibility for decisions
- Cookie Exchange Party next weekend (I have no time for anything new and fun, so it'll be baklava, I think)
- Insulation needs to be put into the above ceiling (above grade) portions of the BitB (Bathroom in the Basement) project. I was thinking I'd do it this morning, but I "wasted it" sleeping in and relaxing.
- Drywall insulation on the BitB, scheduled for Wednesday evening.
- Making a Christmas gift for my nephew
- Buy a Christmas gift for ... someone in my family.
- Go through the finances to make sure that my household finances on track and the BitB project won't go over budget. (Need to pay some people next week.)

Addendum: Just foiled an escape attempt by Matti by grabbing him by the tail as he jumped off the railing. (Didn't plan it, just reacted.) I held him in my arms as soon as I hauled him close enough and even moments afterward he didn't seem too worse for the wear. A bit shocked at myself, but it turned out OK. Whew! I'm super glad I didn't hurt him.



If you want to generate a sudden and intense cleaning frenzy, invite an electrician or two over to do some work. The fine layer of gritty drywall/plaster dust left behind will drive you to it, no matter how late it is.


Interesting Quote

"Love is friendship on fire."

A friend of mine posted this on her Facebook page. It is compelling in its simplicity and definitely thought provoking.



Mmm... Baking Tools

My lovely friend, Tania, recently downsized her household and wanted to get rid of some pans. I, always on the lookout for cool free stuff, volunteered to receive them. Yesterday they arrived -- two springform pans with molded inserts, one tube cake pan, and one giant heartshaped cookie cutter (?). She also sent along some fun gifts, coffee beans, birch syrup, cat treats, and catnip (yippee!) for the cats.
Thank you so much, Tania!




I was getting ramen soup at the grocery store yesterday (yes, I still eat ramen, even though I have a job) and had an idea. I always buy the same brand. What if I had a taste test between my brand and the other one (which was twice as expensive)?

So, here are the results:

On the left, we have the current favorite, Maruchan. They have a greater variety of flavors, including "roast chicken" and "creamy chicken" (the latter of which is my favorite).
At $0.17 per package at King Soopers, it's also the cheapest.

On the right, we have the challenger, Top Ramen. They have fewer flavors, though they have one non-standard flavor "picante beef" that sounds interesting (actually that's what a cheesy marketer might call pho...). At $1.00/3 packages at King Soopers, cheap, but not as cheap as the other.

Long story short, the Maruchan is still my favorite. Top Ramen had a peculiar aftertaste (no doubt they both have peculiar tastes, but I'm just used to the Maruchan) and seemed a bit oily (though the nutritional data on the package is the same). The noodles in the Top Ramen seemed a bit better quality, but not enough to offset the difference of flavor.

Long live Maruchan...

Yes, I'm still silly.


Lovely Dream

I had an awesome dream over vacation:

I was in a house that was my house (not my current house, but some sort of townhouse) and it was full of people. There was a party going on -- a surprise party for me -- and all my friends were there, laughing and having a great time. It was so lively, it felt like a restaurant (though there was one quiet little secret room for writing). The food and the service was great, and when I finally had a spare moment to go to the bar myself, the bartender complimented me on what fun and cool friends I have.

The truth is, my life IS full of fun and cool friends and family.

Thanks for sharing my life with me.


Weekend Rundown

I had a wonderful Saturday, including babysitting my beautiful nephew. I hadn't seen him in three weeks and in the interim, he's gotten more mobile and more alert. He is a funny little monkey man and boy oh boy will he be hell on wheels when he's older. (And he'll be able to charm his way out of anything, I'm sure.)

Then, my dear friend Susan came down from Loveland and we went to a holiday party for WiD. It was *fabulous*. First of all, we looked fabulous. Susan wore a lovely charcoal gray asymmetrical blouse and long black slacks that unfortunately covered the sexy black heels she was wearing. I wore a purple silk cocktail dress with my killer purple heels and a Julie Knudsen necklace. Second, the party was hosted at a fabulous place: a penthouse apartment at the Denver Art Museum Residences. The building was designed by Daniel Libeskind (a smooth talking architect that a friend of mine described as being like Saruman) and the apartment was on the top floor with a view of the art museum and the city beyond. Every room in the house was an architectural showpiece with gorgeous bathrooms, a heavenly kitchen (which had been taken over by the caterer, but we sought out to admire), a second floor with bedrooms, and glass everywhere. In fact, the glass that provided such lovely views from the upper level (though the two story space of the living and dining rooms) had privacy settings that would make the glass opaque when electricity stopped flowing through the glass (this has a good graphic of how it works). Every bathroom was decorated differently and somehow managed to be cooler and cooler with each successive room, culminating in the master bath that had a giant shower that must have been like showering in the rain and a dual flush toilet that had the tank in the wall. On top of that, there was artwork everywhere. It was, essentially, an apartment turned into a gallery. It was fabulous, if a bit unsettling. After all, every time you sat down, you wondered if you were sitting on a piece of art. Granted some stuff was just uber expensive or even just expensive.
The food was really great (catered food will always be disappointing to me now that I know how good it could be) as well as the service (something I think really separated first class from the rest). The crowning touch was the lovely company. Intelligent, creative women and their lucky/smart spouses.

Afterward, a lot of the gals were going out for drinking (an dancing, I found out later). Susan and I declined. I had a craving for sushi (one of the appetizers at the party was tuna and roe on a disc of cucumber), so we went to Sushi Sasa, which is quickly turning into my favorite sushi restaurant in Denver (which leaves Junz to be my favorite sushi in Parker). Of course, we had to wait, since it was Saturday night and we didn't have reservations. By the time we were seated, we had been standing most of the night, so our feet were killing us, but the wait was worth it. We had a fancy roll (that was tastier and half as expensive as Namiko's), a really good spider roll, and yummy yummy nigiri. When compared with what I had at Namiko's it really was astonishing how mediocre that sushi was. And the price! What Susan and I got was not that much less than what I had in my previous dining experience, AND we got sake and it still cost less. I don't think I can manage to convince myself to waste money at Namikos again -- not when I can go to Sushi Sasa.

Today, Susan and I made homemade oreos. I'm very embarrassed to say that I screwed up the amount of butter (we were doing a double batch and I didn't double it properly). They are unfortunately flawed (which really tears me up, funnily enough) but good enough that I'll still share them with others.
I'll just have to make more, I guess!



I usually eat smoked clams with Melba toast.
Well, I've been out of Melba toast for a while and I keep forgetting to buy more.
Yesterday, I defrosted some bread for toast (to have with my "Janiece's Extra Special Chokecherry Jam" I have some and you don't, nyah nyah nyah) and had some leftover this evening. I realized "hey, I could make my own toast."
Well, when I got home from work, I went into an automatic cooking mode in which just started making a full meal from the disparate pieces of this idea.
Here's what I did:
I thinly sliced about 6-8 oz. of mushrooms and minced a small shallot clove.
Then, I sauteed these gently in butter and seasoned it with a little salt and a little ground sage. (Sage tastes like stuffing... or rather, stuffing tastes like sage) When that was done, I served it on toast with smoked clams.
It was SO yummy!


There Are Two Lights

Today I found that all the bulbs in my dining room light were burnt out. Two of the three had lovely burn patterns on the sides. Knowing how much some of you appreciate details, I managed to get a good photo for you. :D


Architecture In the Future

Ever wonder what drawing buildings might be like in a 3D virtual environment? No? Well, I have. And this video postulates a really cool version of what it might be like!

(Thank you to Eric for pointing it out.)


Review: Two Sushi Places

Since I researched sushi restaurants in Golden (near work), I stumbled across a sushi restaurant near my house that had received great reviews in the past.
Tonight, feeling hungry but too lazy to cook, I decided to go try it out. It's called Namiko's and it's in a little strip mall space near I-70 and Wadsworth. The interior was a little cheap, but that's not a bad thing in a place where the prices are affordable and the food is good. (A good example of this is Saigon Phở at 72nd and Federal -- great phở and great prices, chinzy surroundings.) Unfortunately, the service at Namiko's was not great. I sat at the sushi bar and my waitress, after trying to rush my selection the first few minutes, disappeared. Eventually, the sushi chef working just across the glass from me took my order. Then, I had to be creative about getting my check, etc., since my waitress was MIA.
Let's get on to the important part. I ordered the sushi dinner (which is a good way to try a lot of different fishes, even though the roll included was the California roll, which is a little boring in my opinion) and... I did something I rarely do... I ordered one of the fancy "chef-designed" rolls. I think I was swayed by the reviews I had read. In a nutshell, I was mostly disappointed. The fancy roll was boring and the California roll was boring, though the fish on the nigiri was good. So, at this point, I'd say it was average food. Problem was, all that was pretty pricey. Undeservedly pricey, considering the service and ambiance.
However, as I was about to leave, I watched one of the chefs put together a plate that was attractive in its arrangement and looked like an interesting selection. (I had tried to find something like that on the menu, but it wasn't apparent from the descriptions.) So, I might visit again to try that (and only that -- no extra stuff to raise the cost...

I find that I really much prefer to have sushi that's been composed by the chef, as in the next review...

A couple weeks ago, finding myself with time in downtown Denver to eat before a show (the Trans Siberian Orchestra) at the Pepsi Center, I decided to try out Sushi Sasa, about which I've heard very good things.
It turned out to be well deserved praise. The ambiance was beautifully modern. The service was great. (Again, I ate at the sushi bar.) I chose to try a dinner bowl of sashimi on aromatic rice. It was gorgeously composed, like a flower arrangement; all little bits of different sashimi. Most of the time, I had no idea what I was eating - animal or vegetable - but it was all fascinating. I would post a photo, except that I didn't have my camera, and the picture from my phone is trapped inside my phone.
Because I just got that bowl dish with no fancy rolls or alcohol, it felt like a reasonably priced meal.

The contrast between the two places is quite dramatic. If I had gotten the sushi and sashimi mixed plate that I saw before I left Namiko's, the bottom line on the bill would have been nearly the same. And let's say the food would have been better, since it would have focused on the quality of the fish, which I did think was decent there. Even with those two factors, Sushi Sasa would have had a clear edge, for the quality of the environment and service.

By the way, for those not interested in eating raw fish: Namiko's had an exclusively Asian menu. Non-sushi eaters would have to have something like teriyaki chicken, udon noodles, or tempura. Sushi Sasa, on the other hand, had a wide variety of western dishes with Asian influences (including Chilean Sea Bass).

Cheap Comfort

I got some plumbing fixtures in the mail and the box was a great size for cats, so I put it under the bench by the front door (where I've noticed the boys sitting lately) and layered the bottom with an old towel. Sure enough, it was an instant hit.

I think the new location is preferred, since it's near a heat register. I know I keep the house temp low (I have to wear a fleece and/or hat a majority of the time) and this is how the cats compensate.
Sitting on me:

Sitting on each other:

Or sitting on the stove (the pilot light makes the metal warm):

They are soooooo cute.


Name That Bird

Yesterday, during the lovely snow, I spotted the above on my ash tree. At first, I thought it was an enormous woodpecker, since it was clinging to the tree in the same way a woodpecker does. After taking some photos I decided to look it up online and it seemed to lack one major woodpecker feature, red coloring on the head. It seems like it might be a yellow shafted Northern Flicker. The white and black spots on its breast were particularly beautiful.

Now I want to put out some suet and sunflower seeds. :)


The Latest Snow

Here's your latest snow picture of my deck. I think I got somewhere around 8-10". I've had a nice quiet morning, but I'm thinking I'd better put on Princess Bride or Star Wars or LotR to have on in the background while I do a nice thorough cleaning. And maybe make some more Oreos. And do some writing.
Yep. It'll be a good day.


Tiny Screen

Second try at posting something frrom the PDA.

Oh sure. The second time it goes through fine.

Will repost my thoughts later, when I'm at a keyboard.

OK. What I had laboriously typed into my PDA, only to have it not publish was something like this:

A while back, I considered a PDA as a portable computing device. My laptop had crapped out and it was (at the time) too expensive to replace with something similar (original had cost $3K). I decided to get a desktop ($800, as I recall) and use a PDA as a portable computer for writing. Of course, I was going to get a keyboard attachment (which I never got). Years later, I bought my netbook. Today, I was killing time in a Borders and got online with their free wifi. I didn't have my netbook, so I am picking away on the PDA. The moral of the story: netbooks rock!


BITB: Before

Here's a picture from 6 years ago when I first bought the house. It's the laundry room, with the storage room beyond.

This one is a clearer "before" photo, showing the laundry and storage room with the wall between them removed. It is the blank canvas, prepped and ready for work to begin! :D



I can't even claim my recent blogging silence has been due to being busy or "away from keyboard."

I've had a few little post items (that you'll see in the next few days), but I've been feeling pretty escapist lately. I spent a day off work (don't remember if it was a weekday or a weekend) last week simply reading a book. I recently (in the last couple months) picked up the third book in Lynn Flwelling's Tamir Trilogy and reread the first two, which I don't usually do. She's a great writer. The subject matter is a little dark, full of vengeful ghosts and blood magic, but the characterization is done very well. It's a coming of age story, but doesn't feel teeny-boppery in the slightest.
I've finally finished watching all the Get Smart episodes (will return to Stacey next time I see her!) and caught up on the TiVo.
I've been getting SOME stuff done:
- Demo in basement (found a 35 year old porn magazine - BONUS!) for the BITB project.
- Buying up a storm for the BITB project (my savings account will take a nose dive after my next credit card payment)
- Making donations of crap from the garage and basement to clear up space for the BITB
- Making up a cool acronym for the "Bathroom In The Basement" Project

- Making Homemade Oreos a la Michelle

- Making Sugar Cookies for a fairy-tale themed Baby Shower (last weekend)

- Making cards with the cool book Janiece got me
- Sending out a package or two
- Making catfood to stock up for my trip over Thanksgiving
- Editing my new writing project, Midnight City and thinking through the next steps.

Work has been a bit lightweight, though my next project is this:

OK, yes, it sounds like I have been busy, but I have had time to blog and I haven't. :/



It's blog posts like this one by Michael Ruhlman that make me think: How fascinating it would be to be married to a man who is a better cook than I am. I would eat well AND learn something new all the time. That would be SO cool.

(Logical Anne says: That can't be the only criteria. Marrying a guy who is a good cook but a real ass would NOT be cool.
Thanks, Logical Anne, for pointing out the obvious. You can take a break now.)


'Tis the Season

Even my favorite online comic has gotten on board the NaNoWriMo train.

Really looking forward to this story arc. :D Go Team Jade!

Writers in Thier Element

A four Christmases ago, I got a book called American Writers at Home from Stacey and JR. It's a really neat book about the homes of iconic American writers such as Twain, Emerson, Melville, Whitman. It's a great blending of my two main interests, architecture and writing.

In an interesting modern version, here's the website of Kyle Cassidy, a photographer who has a series of photos depicting modern science-fiction and fantasy writers. They are wonderfully varied. One thread through many of them is the inclusion of the pets. It's definitely worth a look.


And So It Begins

I'm going to cheat and post some previously written posts to start off my latest writing exercise in sympathy with the NaNoWriMo marathoners. It will hopefully continue long after NaNo is done.

Here's the plan:
- Post the episodes of Midnight City (a semi-gothic noir mystery) that were written significantly before today.
- Start writing new episodes on a MWF schedule.
- On the new episodes, give readers a chance to influence the storyline. I haven't decided if it'll be in major or minor ways, so I'll probably play around with both.
- Comments and suggestions are (for the present) appreciated. ;)

You can find Midnight City here.

(And sorry for the late posting, I was most of the day at a lovely baby shower held in honor of a good friend of mine. The rest of my day was spent tidying the house and doing chores. One of the reasons I'm not doing the full NaNoWriMo -- I'm not willing to let the house slide into disarray for a whole month. Just not in the mood for it...)

A Beautiful Thank You

Mum, remember I said the flowers were mostly buds when they arrived at my office? Because of that, the arrangement was continually in bloom for ages. Four blooms so far and one more possibly to open (or open now).


Feeling Strangely Insular

Here are some belated photos from the big snowstorm last week.
Sorry this blog has been quiet. I've had the time, I've had the subjects (like the pictures below). I guess I just haven't had the inclination. For that, I apologize.
Seeing as tomorrow is November, a month devoted to writing, I will pledge to do better in the days to come. I do have a plan for writing some fiction for NaNoWriMo, which I will unveil tomorrow (Nov. 1).

Until then, marvel at the quantity of snow on my deck!

As you can see, Matti braved the 1/2" of snow that had collected in a corner. Couldn't get much further though.


Carving Fun

Some of the fabulous jack o' lanterns made at the pumpkin carving party this afternoon. (Some had been taken home already at this point...)
I think my cousins had a good first experience with American Halloween traditions. I had roasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin pie, artichoke dip, hummus, carrot sticks, caramel apples, and mulled cider. Cheryl brought apple crisp. So, it was a lot of the traditional fall treats.
The process of the pumpkin carving was explained and the kids set to the task as if they'd been doing it all their lives. Even Angeles ended up making one after her husband drew the guidelines of a lovely cat profile.
A good time was had by all (and I figured out that 14 is the maximum number of guests I may have at my house when the outside is not a good overflow option.)

Thanks for blessing my house with your presence, all!


Mixed Weekend Before It Even Starts

Keep me away from your expensive mechanical stuff, people. Right now, I'm deadly.

On my way up to see Auntie Ruthie, my engine died. Yup, DIED. Fortunately, it's death scene was a little longer than 5 minutes so I could get off I-25. Here's the transcript:
Big D: [Hiccup]
Me: Uh Oh
Big D: "Check Engine. Check Engine."
Me: [puts on hazards, since I'm going so slow, then drives on I-25 shoulder to the nearest exit]
Me: Come on, just keep going a little longer...
[Right turn, right turn to convenient parking lot. Just reach a clear spot out of the way and...]
Big D: [gasp! DIE.]

I called Ruthie, let her know what was going on, then called the dealership (of the two places I've taken the car, they seemed like the more reliable, if possibly more expensive, choice). For the auto-savvy among you, when I stopped and opened the hood, the area under the radiator (towards the back of the engine stuff) was smoking lightly. There were no strange noises, only a change in the power available.

Fortunately, I had a book with me since I did a lot of waiting. Waited for the tow truck and waited at the service center while they diagnosed the car. Turns out its something going on inside the engine and they needed to wait until Monday to get in there and take it apart. I'm thinking this bill will measure in the thousands and is the raison d'être for savings accounts. :(

I got a rental and ended up going up to Ruthie's anyway. It was only half past two at that point and I certainly wasn't going to let it ruin my day. I'm really glad I did, since Ruthie and I had a good time making soup for her and chatting. :)

Now I'm tired and going to take a hot bath and read more of my book. :D

Neighborhood Watch

Martin, keeping an eye on stuff going on in the alley.


Dubious Customer Service

Now that I have a job again, I'm needing to take things to the dry cleaners. It's not that troublesome, as there is a place a couple miles away that is also very near the grocery store.
[An aside: I take my slacks and cocktail dresses to a "ecologically friendly" cleaner that uses less harmful chemicals like CO2 to clean. Traditional dry cleaning chemicals are so hazardous as to have a higher hazard rating in the building code.]
Something I never saw before (same service, but different shop than before) was all kinds of tags and notes on my receipt about the state of the clothes. Yes, I realize I don't have brand new clothes and should really think about replacing some of the older ones, but really? MUST you point out the flaws on every piece of clothing? I'm not sure if it's "customer service" or fear of liability, but it's quite annoying. I have a tendency to wear clothes until the last gasp, though not so much with the office clothes, but I'm not going to retire a blouse because of a stain I can hardly see, nor pants because the fabric has started to pill on the thighs.
They are making me very self-conscious about the state of my clothes. And I am not a good judge. :/
Might be time to call in the troops.


Writer's Humor

UCFer and fellow NaNoWriter Jeri, Twittered a link to a delightfully funny writer oriented cartoon. Check it out.

Thank you, Jeri!

NaNo Story

Wandering around the NaNoWriMo site today, a story caught my eye. A Marine serving active duty in Iraq managed to "win" with the help of her fellow Marines. Very cool story...
Read it here.

The Culprit

The old regulator and the new regulator.
I have a friend who describes fixing the bike as "find the part that looks like the new part and switch 'em." Turned out it was really that simple. Luckily for me, I have the maintenance manual, so I knew where to look.
The bike seems to be fixed. I have to wait for the next warm day to really test it out, but preliminary tests say yes, it's all good again.


Roasting Weather

I have been meaning to roast more chicken, ever since I found out how easy it is. I'm not so much a fan of chicken on the bone... or really of chicken as an entree at all. There's nothing really wrong with it, but it's not really all that appetizing to me.
What IS appetizing (and the real reason I roasted a chicken last night) is chicken soup! I wanted those bones to make stock and the chicken meat to put in as a tasty counterpoint to carrots, celery, and thick egg noodles.
So, what you see above is the quick and easy roasted chicken with vegetables. In a few days (since I'm making the stock today) you'll see photos of yummy chicken soup.

[Next time though, I might buy one of those rotisserie chickens in the grocery store. They taste pretty good and eliminate a few steps. Only downside is that I don't know where the chickens came from, like I do with a raw chicken.
The other alternative is to check the flavor of the homemade stock against some of that boxed stock that claims to be organic, etc. etc. If it tastes pretty decent, I might shortcut even further to there and just make the soup itself.]

Hallowe'en Farm

I had stopped playing Farmtown some time ago, when it became like a second job that I would need to take care of when I got home from my paying job. I even tried a routine that would only require me to visit the farm twice a week, but the fact that there was the word "require" in there makes it pretty clear why I dropped it. The main draw of Farmtown was the community, and I didn't have time for any of that.

Well, the fine developers behind Farmtown managed to lure me back for a little more play by including Hallowe'en decorations for the farm. It's pretty well done (thought about the tree of skeletons that you can see at Nathan's, but it seemed a bit gruesome for my taste), as you can see above.

Thanks, Farmtown, for bringing me back, even if it's just for a little while.


Morning Routine

Every morning, when I emerge from the bathroom after my shower, Matti or Martin (usually Matti) is waiting for me to emerge. As I walk to the bedroom, he trots happily ahead. See, my job is to pet them after I shower. Not positive why, but it's definitely an expectation. After we do some of that, I turn to the closet to select clothes for the day and lay them out on the bed as I do this. Almost invariably, this happens:



I was already planning to have a quiet weekend, but the passing of my furry nephew, Strider, made me want to hang out with my own furry boys more than ever. I've been working late and when I wasn't doing that, I've been hanging out with friends and family. They have each other to keep company, but I'm sure they miss me when I'm gone. So, this has been a nesting weekend.

Above is a picture of what I've been doing all day... making pasta. Yesterday evening, I made a couple batches of plain egg pasta. Some fat and short noodles for addition to chicken soup and some thinner linguine to boil up and have with some tomato sauce or butter and Parmesan.
Today, I had a brilliant idea... one of the pasta recipes I've tried recently had olive oil in it, and the final product tasted of olive oil. (Mmmmmm!) What if I added rosemary? I made some and cooked it up and I was right, it was delicious. (The ratio for that one is 300 g flour, 3 eggs, 30 g olive oil, salt to taste, and 1 T. dried rosemary, ground with a pestle to break down the size a bit.) I made up a batch to freeze for my sister:

Then, because I wanted it to be a proper gift and because I'd been thinking of trying it, I made fresh saffron pasta. I found the recipe here, but I think I used half as much saffron as they have. That makes the recipe: 1 t. saffron threads (I ground them a little, in order to have bits of saffron spread throughout), 1 T. hot water, steeped for 10 min., 2 c. flour, 2 eggs. I also added a bit more water in the long run, probably because I live in such a dry climate. It turned out beautifully.

(Yes, that is a chair I'm drying the pasta on.)

And the lovely photo at the top is the completed saffron pasta.

The other thing I tried out was mixing the dough on the table, instead of a bowl. It was really neat! It worked better than the bowl and was more fun. :D

Goodbye Strider

I take great enjoyment out of being a doggy auntie, and my first real experience being one was with my nephew, Strider. He was a wonderful dog and I will miss him terribly. He was put to sleep yesterday after they discovered aggressive cancer throughout his digestive system. The picture above is one of my favorites of him (in the black collar) playing in the leaves with his brother, Jag.

Goodbye, sweet boy.


Big Sigh of Relief

Minutes ago, the last of my three projects walked out the door on the way to the client. One of the other projects keeps calling me and tell me it needs me, but it's pretty minor.

This means the end of late nights at the office and the beginning of using up the comp time I've piled up for the last three month. This is a GOOD thing, since I need some time to recover.

I am still dragging a bit from the marathon workday that was Monday, but I promise you can expect more content here in the weeks to come. :)

(Edited to add: I do have another project starting up in a couple weeks, so no fear on that front!)


Do Not Follow the Links While Hungry

I haven't had much time to read a lot of my usual blogs. Despite this fact, I've somehow managed to still "waste" time on the internet. I've been toying with going on an internet diet, I did kind of pull back from being online too much this past week and it was actually quite nice. Sunday, however, instead of doing work as I was planning to, I binged and caught up on some of my Google Reader feed.

One post from the blog of a favorite cooking writer begged to be passed on to you for your mouth-watering entertainment:

Back in June (when I was unemployed and reading and writing daily), I read about a fun challenge on Michael Ruhlman's blog. He's a big proponent of people being more aware of what is going into their food and he loves to support those who are enthusiastic about cooking and cooking photography (his wife is a photographer and does fantastic photos of food on his site). On June 6, he posted a challenge: make a BLT from scratch. Really from scratch. Grow your own lettuce and tomatoes. Cure your own bacon. Bake your own bread. Make your own mayonnaise. Make a BLT. Photograph it. Submit it for consideration.
This was essentially a summer project and the due date was the end of the summer.

Sunday, I ran across the results of that fabulous challenge and boy o boy did I wish I had a BLT to eat while reading that post. (As y'all may remember, I'm a big fan of that particular sandwich.) So visit Ruhlman's blog. Read about the results and look at the delicious photos. I'd recommend wearing a bib.


Madonna and Child

Mummy Grabill and Son


Creative Tastes

I love those moments when I put together some wonderful flavors.
Four months ago, I blogged about making homemade butter. At least one of those ramekins (the lemon basil butter) I put in the freezer. Because the "seal" was ice and the ice was starting sublimate, last week, I took it out to use. It was sitting in the fridge for a couple of days until one day, after getting home late from work, I thought, "I really need to use that. What will I eat it with?"

I decided on bread and took a ciabatta out of the freezer and put it in the toaster oven to defrost and warm. I then sliced it up and toasted it. As I was putting the lemon basil butter on to soften and melt, I thought, "What else should I have with this?"

Some tomatoes sitting on the counter (I rarely refrigerate tomatoes) caught my eye. I sliced them, put them on the lemon basil buttered toast, sprinkled on some kosher salt and took a bite. MMmmmmm! Heavenly!

This photo was actually taken this weekend, when I made it again for Susan. This time around, I managed to not wolf it down and savored what exactly about the flavors worked so well. I think it was the fact that it had so many of the basic flavors. The tomatoes were sweet, the salt was salty, the bread was nutty, and the lemon butter was both fatty and tart. It was perfect harmony.


No Bounce

One of the challenging things when you live alone is that you lack easy access to a sounding board. I've managed to make do with friends and family, but there are times that you don't even realize you haven't thought about something.

For example, when my mum was visiting a while back, she was watching me make the cats' food. She asked a few questions and because of that, I've changed my routine and cut 10-15 minutes off the time it takes me to make the food. A similar thing happened when my mum and dad asked me some similar questions about how I package it up for freezing. These are not things I would have thought to ask someone to critique.

(And before y'all offer to be a sounding board for me, fear not. You already are. I'm just talking about these little routine things that sometimes just need to be observed from the outside or another perspective.
No, you cannot come live with me for a week for the sole purpose of critiquing my every action.)

So today, thank your spouse or significant other for asking the silly questions. It really does help.


Four Horsewomen, But No Apocalypse

Having a good time on horseback...

The scenery...

A large herd of elk -- these are the bachelor bucks on the fringes hoping to sneak in when the leader, a big seven point buck, wasn't looking.


I Miss Cooking

I've been so busy lately, I haven't had the opportunity and the energy to spend on my cooking the way I'd like. Susan's visit this weekend was cooking "lite" but it still afforded me the focus that I had lacked to bend my energy and time to cooking something tasty. I wanted Susan to see how I made marshmallows, so we started a batch of the yummolicious chocolate marshmallows.

A secret: I almost decided to quit making marshmallows. My sweet tooth, never very large, has been getting smaller and smaller as the years march on. Marshmallows are not difficult to make, and certainly not difficult to give away, but I had been getting a bit tired of the sugar. However, I decided to give it one more go, since I hadn't yet made chocolate marshmallows. They were so different and so challenging in different ways, I have felt a renaissance of interest. The chocolate marshmallows (recipe here, same fabulous website) have been turning out more moist than the previous flavors. That has made them less marshmallow-like and more like solid chocolate mousse. NOT a problem per se, but when you aim at something and you get something else, you'd like to know why.

After we made those, Susan and I made pasta. Another fun activity. I've had a craving for soup lately and had some defrosted chicken I needed to use. What should we make? How about chicken soup? MMMmmm! Here's what we made with: chicken stock, leftover mushrooms and cabbage, celery, carrots, and thick egg noodles.

I really would like to do this more often. I plan to find a way.


A Rejuvenating Visit

This weekend, my dear friend, Susan, came to visit. We happen to be cousins, but I love to be with her. She is creative and intelligent and beautiful and loving. She is wonderfully self aware. So, even though she only lives an hour away, I treasure her visits. Other visits have been well documented here.

As that last link describes, during the last visit we planned to do to much at once. So, this weekend, she and I planned very little and simply went to have dinner at the divine Junz, in Parker, with Janiece and her SmartMan. We had a great time eating delicious sushi, heavenly risotto, and splitting two excellent desserts, chocolate crème brûlée and rice pastry wrapped mango ice cream. The conversation was, as usual, first rate.

We got home late-ish and proceeded to stay up late talking. I have to admit, I would have been disappointed if we DIDN'T do this.

Our cooking entertainment I'll leave until tomorrow's post, but I'm glad to say we already have at least one visit planned for November. :D


It's Official

I had my three month "review" at work yesterday. Big surprise - they like me! :)

AND I got my new business cards.

I'm officially requesting that someone get me a nice business card case for Christmas. (Now I'll get fourteen card cases. Life time supply!)


Getting a Foothold

There was a while there that I felt like I was at the bottom of a pit and not sure how I was going to get out. The last week or so (bike issues notwithstanding), I've managed to make a little progress towards getting things under control. I'm still staying up WAY too late (affecting when I get up in the morning and therefore when I get into work in the morning), but I'm accomplishing some major housekeeping tasks (last night it was financial housekeeping for the month) and that feels good.

I'm also starting to find my place at work, which feels good too.

This weekend, I have plans to see some of my wonderful friends and hopefully get some more housekeeping (this time, clearing out the basement - again - for work on the bathroom-in-the-basement project to begin).

Slowly but surely...


More Bike Challenges

This weekend I had a great time hanging out with my mum and my family and friends here at home and up at RMNP. On the beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon, I started up towards Erie on the bike. About halfway there I had some trouble that I initially interpreted as a low gas tank. Unfortunately, even after I filled the tank and even when I was going downhill, the engine just wouldn't go. I parked the bike and made a few calls: one to my gathered family (waiting for me to arrive) to give me a ride, and one to a friend of mine who has been riding for most of his life. I needed an expert ear to diagnose the problem.

Now, after some thought and some tests (and with the bike back in the garage), here is the working theory: the regulator (akin to an alternator) is no longer working. From my house to the point where I started having trouble, I was using the electricity in the battery, not the electricity generated by the engine. I ran out of electricity, not gas, and only recharging the battery with a trickle charger allowed me to ride the back back home. So now I plan to order a new one and with the help of my friend, install it.

What a great "opportunity" to learn about my bike!


It's Beginning to Feel Alot Like NaNo

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know that every November, I participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). In a nutshell, it's a writing marathon - 50K words in 30 days. For some, that's easy, and some become crippled by their inner critic. I'm somewhere in between. I have successfully completed it twice out of the five years (every year since 2004) I have participated. The question now is, am I going to participate this year?

I'm not sure. On one hand, it's a tradition. I even made a mild (alternative) attempt the year I was also taking licensing exams. On the other hand, I am maxed out. Every time I turn around, there's a new work deadline, a new bike issue, and new requests from friends and family to get together (requests I do NOT want to turn down -- my relationships with you all are too important to me). We'll see if I've managed to get things under of control by the end of the month.
I do know that 50K words has never gotten easier for me. I am just not a fast writer. Even blog posts take me an hour.

I may do some work with automatic writing. It won't be a story, but it may work out some of the kinks. And maybe it'll loosen me up to start doing some real writing on a regular basis.
Or maybe I'll promise to read x number of books and post a review in the blog.
I'd also like to do something as a daily serial. I'm sure my readers would like it.

Any thoughts?


Tired of these "mixed bag" weekends. I've had three. It can stop now.

(More later)


Back From Nature

I am back from a lovely camping trip in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a warm, if windy, night and in the early morning, I went on a two hour horseback ride with Stacey, my mum, and my sister-in-law, Jenn. We had lots of fun (despite Mum's substandard saddle) and saw elk herds quite close up. One studly buck had a harem of at least 20 females.
When I got back, I put on the TV in the background as I checked my online connections and coincidentally, I am now watching Ken Burn's latest series on PBS about the creation of the National Parks System. It is wonderfully moving, especially for those, like me, who love to see and experience wilderness. John Muir was a great man who saved this nation's wildest places from those who could not see anything beyond the immediate desire for cash. Without his and other's efforts, I'd probably have camped on a private campsite that would probably be surrounded by other campsites, not by unoccupied wilderness. (An example of what might have been is the commercialism of Niagra Falls. In fact, according to the documentary, it was used, even back then as a cautionary tale.)
Thank you, John Muir! Thank you, General Sheridan! Thank you, all who understood that those of us in the future who love the wild would need your help and foresight.


Women in Trades

Someone sent me a link to an interesting site for Moxie Trades.
It was started by a woman who wanted to sell pink work boots for other women in construction and now they sell other women oriented work wear. I'm not huge into pink as a symbol of my femininity, but I think it's awesome to have a resource for women who do. The other cool thing is that they have a registry of women owned businesses.
Interesting, isn't it?


The Empress' New Eyeshadow

You see, madam, not only is the color exquisitely beautiful and exentuates every eye color to perfection, but the eyeshadow has the miraculous ability of appearing invisible to anyone who is unfit for office or unquestionably stupid.


Taking Care of the Kitties

While I was away last week, Da Boyz boarded with my good friend, Stacey and her infinitely patient hubby. I was a little nervous since I've never resorted to that before, and only once in the 5 years I've had them have I taken them with me to someone else's house. I know they're very domesticated and sweet in their own home, but I didn't want to completely stress them out. However, these worries were counterbalanced by the knowledge that they are also very social cats and would get lonely left on their own for four days.
So, on Monday afternoon, I nabbed them (so easy, since they didn't know to be wary of the cat carriers) and drove them over to Stacey's. They did get stressed, meowing and panting (a classic sign of distress in a cat), which distressed ME too. At Stacey's we let them out (to disappear under the bed and behind the desk) and I stuck around for a couple hours. By the time I left, they were out and investigating (warily, but at least they were out!).
Stacey and JR took very good care of them in the intervening days. Stacey even took care of ME by sending me periodic updates. I was relieved to find that they were good guests, peeing/pooping in the approved location, not meowing all night, and providing companionship and entertainment to Stacey.
When I got back, it was a very simple process to lure them out from their napping spot under the bed, petting them both for about half an hour, then popping them into their carriers for the return trip. Stacey drove us back and thankfully, the return trip was only punctuated by a little meowing and no panting.
They were, naturally, very happy to wander around and make sure the house was unchanged.

Thank you, Stacey and JR, for taking such good care of them!

(As you can see above, they are very relaxed and happy.)


Brother in Wheels

While I was in Carlsbad, I saw my bike's twin. It was blue, instead of red and was in worse shape, but all the details are the same (sans windscreen). Of course I "had" to take a picture.
And, for easy comparison, here's my bike: