Monday, December 31, 2012

Pre-New Year's Resolution

As the days have counted down, I have been focused on making this last month of the year my most productive year of blogging yet. It is a small, but worthy accomplishment in my book. I can't say that I have posted at least once a day in the month of December, but I did come pretty close. I surpassed my next most productive month by eleven posts. I am not proud of the increased productivity for the sake of touting a higher blog yield. To me, more posts signifies that I have been able to uncover more sources of inspiration to write about. As long as I can keep the creative juices flowing and feel that I have worthy topics to write about, I feel like a pretty accomplished blogger.

With the first two weeks of January off as well, I plan on getting a good head start for the 2013 year of blogging. Here's hoping that 2013 unleashes even more creativity than the previous year. Cheers everyone.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunk Canoe

As a Christmas gift for myself, I found a paper boat making kit that for some reason I could not live without. I was particularly enamored with the kit because it included a waterproofing stick, so I could play with my paper boats after making them. My mom stowed the kit away until Christmas, and presented it to me as a stocking stuffer. I have been wanting to learn how to craft my own origami creations, although the art has always been a little intimidating to me. My hope was this kit would lend itself well to a person who likes to craft but generally sucks at crafting. As it turns out, I had trouble following even the most basic instructions. My first attempt at constructing a paper canoe failed miserably.

After carefully reading through the instructions and reviewing the types of folds presented in the beginning of the book, I began to construct the canoe. Everything seemed to be going well. Then, somewhere in the middle, the instructions informed me to cut four specified areas of my little canoe. Huh? I thought there was no cutting involved in origami. Nowhere in this instruction manual does it say that scissors may be used. I frantically flipped to the page describing the different types of folds. I thought perhaps there was some type of "cut fold" that I had overlooked. After failing to uncover such a fold I resorted to the only thing I could think to do. I reluctantly made the tiny incisions into my precious little canoe. Trying to hold the paper as steadily as I could, my heart thumped louder and louder as I focused on cutting accurately.

Once the cuts were made, I continued following the instructions. It didn't take long for me to realize I had screwed up. Royally. My poor little canoe had jagged pieces jutting out where no jagged pieces should have been protruding. It was a disappointing first attempt at trying to be crafty. I was too ashamed to even test my canoe in the water.

Paper I was instructed to use and
the magical waterproofing stick

They don't look too similar

How to Train Your Dragon Breath Dog

My grandma is convinced she can train her new dog to be better behaved using a combination of logic and soft spoken words. Sometimes I actually suspect my Grandma believes Shaggy can understand full length sentences as she slowly explains to him how he ought to behave. He will happily listen as he stares at her with his big brown eyes, but what he hears is probably a whole lot of blah-blah blah blah blah. Shaggy is six years old, but you might think he is still a puppy by his level of energy. He is now in his third or fourth home (we're not quite sure) and he needs a lot of work.

Shaggy's biggest fault is one that can be difficult to take issue with: he loves us inconsolably. We can never give him enough love. Shaggy's need to be acknowledged and given attention is obsessive. He will follow us around the house, often tripping on our back heels. Wherever we are sitting seems to be the exact place he wants to be sitting as well. He is a one-hundred pound dog that would gladly sit right in my lap if I would let him (sometimes I do because it's cute for a second before it becomes painful).

Shaggy demonstrates his affection for us in another, less tolerable way. His tongue seems to have a mind of its own. He often reminds me of a reptile when he strikes within licking distance. His big slobbery tongue flicks in and out of his mouth constantly, as if he is tasting the air like a serpent. It makes it very difficult to give him a loving pat without getting a sleeve covered in a slimy layer of dog slobber. As sweet as he is probably trying to be, we have been trying to train this trait out of him. I think he is starting to realize that we are much more likely to give him affection if the seemingly uncontrollable tongue stays in his mouth.

Besides the sound of a tongue ferociously lapping, there are a few other ways to tell if Shaggy is near, you know, besides looking around... One method is catching a whiff of the fishy smell of dog breath. The other is the sudden feeling that one of your butt cheeks is rapidly heating. That would be Shaggy panting right behind me. He always pants, even when he appears to be very relaxed.

Shaggy dog exhibiting his panting skills

Morning Delight

This morning's tasty breakfast includes a slice of warm chocolate chip banana bread (baked by yours truly) and a delicious cup of candy cane green tea. The hint of mint gently soothes a sore throat and leaves the breath with a lingering, sweet freshness. The bread is my favorite variety of sweet bread. Peering into the calm frontyard, veiled in a cushion of white, the early morning sight is as delightful as the breakfast in front of me. Mornings like this remind me why breakfast is my favorite meal of the day.

Could the tablescape be any more festive?

Sick and Twisted

I came across this photo somewhere on the internet, and it made me laugh a lot. This will give you just a small glimpse into the kind of sick humor I can't help but love. For the record, I would be the loser with the pet rock, although as a child, I would not have resorted to bludgeoning a foe. I would be more apt to challenge an enemy to a race around the playground.

Moonlight Snowshoe Adventure

It's healthy to be a little daring every now and then. When I'm feeling particularly devilish, I can often be found exploring some place I am probably not supposed to be. Last night for example, I was dying to break in my snowshoes for the season. For some reason I love getting exercise in the evening, even though many evils lurk in the cover of darkness. In case I encountered any figures of authority questioning why I was disobeying park regulations, I had mentally compiled a list of reasons why I was illegally traversing through a snow capped park after hours:

1) It wouldn't be a moonlight snowshoe hike unless it was night time (although the moon made one quick appearance in the purple, overcast sky during my voyage)

2) If anyone tried to run me down through the deep snow, I could easily outrun any non-snowshoed individual

3) No sort of riff raff would bother coming to a park with over a foot of snow to trudge through

4) With my surroundings completely covered in a layer of white, I would see someone coming long before they could get close enough to ambush me

With these compelling explanations tucked away in my mind, I felt confident I could get myself out of a sticky run in with a cop. I will say that when the ground is covered in the same monochromatic, white color, my depth perception is slightly thrown off. It was a bit tricky determining the depth of some of the depressions I came across. This was honestly the biggest danger I confronted during my trek. One of the most beautiful sights I beheld in the park is a sight anyone can take in after a fresh snowfall. The way the trees hold the snow, as if they have just been dusted with a sweet layer of powdered sugar, is so serenely beautiful. I had to stop to take some terrible photos on my phone that could never do the real life version any sort of justice.

I swear the moon magically
appeared just for this photo

The snow was blowing right at me. See
how pretty that barely visible tree looks?

The wonderful snowshoes

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Recyclable Playground

A few weeks ago I babysitting the two girls I watch every Sunday. We were wreaking havoc on a playground and scaring off all of the small defenseless children. That's a lie. It was cold out and we were the only ones there. As we were making up games and chasing each other, I noticed something interesting about the playground equipment. Apparently it is recyclable. Most of the structure is made of plastic, but I never stopped to think what happens to the playground equipment once it goes out of commission. This durable plastic would last for a considerable length of time anyway, so no one is worrying about how to dispose of it just yet. When the time comes to tear it down for whatever reason, the #2 plastic will hopefully be transported to the nearest recycling center.

Just Can't Scat

When I'm driving around town, there is a ninety-five percent chance I will be listening to the local jazz station, WJZR North Coast Radio 105.9. No matter my mood, jazz always seems to be what I want to listen to.  Just the other day I had the pleasure of listening to a jazzy rendition of "Roxanne," which made my driving experience quite enjoyable.

In all of my many car rides spent listening to jazz, I have come to truly appreciate a very unique skill that many jazz singers possess, known as scat singing. I am fairly good at making up stories when I have time to sit and think about what to write. I have never been able to make up words on the spot that sound good in song form. Lord knows I have tried to scat along to a few jazz songs while driving (alone of course). Every time I try, my scatting sounds clunky and awkward. On numerous occasions, I have even spouted out obscenities completely on accident. If I ever dreamt of being a serious jazz singer, I would have to pre-plan my scat words in order to avoid offending the audience and making a fool of myself. Scatting seems fairly easy, but after trying my hand at it, I have come realize that it must actually take a great deal of practice.

Taxidermy Dog

I usually get called out for being the wacky sister in my family. Today, however, the tables were turned. My mom, sister and I were lounging in the den, enjoying the company of our two lovable dogs. Mason is the older brother, approaching the ripe age of ten. The term brother is used loosely in our family, because Max and Mason are by no means blood related, but they are as much a part of our family as any other human member.

We all hold a special fondness for Mason because he is much better behaved than Max, who is still a puppy. Mason is considerably more calm, and gentle, and even more handsome than the adorable but mischievous Max. My sister was giving Mason a good belly rub when she suddenly inquired, "Mom can we please get him taxidermied?" I stopped to ponder the possibility of a stuffed Mason sitting in the corner of the living room, or perhaps the den we were currently occupying. The thought of it sent a chill down my spine. I understand why some people choose to honor their pets by preserving them, but it is not how I would choose to remember a family pet.

After envisioning a stuffed Mason sporting a ceaseless blank stare with cold glass eyes, peering down to admire the warm, tail wagging, alive version, seems so much better.

He is a handsome boy

Friday, December 28, 2012

Driving with Grandma

We always get where we're going, but it is usually an adventure. When it comes to cars, my grandma doesn't like to fix it unless it's really broken. The bright yellow "Service Engine Soon" light means nothing to her. She also seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to the gas tank. Grandma always says there is more gas in the tank than  what the meter says. We're often driving around long after the "Low Fuel" warning pops up on the dashboard.

We often joke about the story she tells of when she was a young mom. The story goes, she was out driving with her four children, and running low on gas. It was a hot day and the thought of an ice cream cone was on everyone's mind. My grandma didn't have much money in her wallet, and asked her kids, "Do you guys want gas or ice cream?" Of course, being children, they all chose ice cream. After stopping for their frozen treats, the car expectedly ran out of gas just as they pulled into a local gas station. Luckily they didn't live far, but were forced to walk home to retrieve the gas can.

"We did a lot of stupid things that were lots and lots of fun," she recalls wth a mischievous chuckle.

One of these days a similar situation will present itself, and you can bet a million bucks Grandma and I will choose ice cream. We always love having a good story to tell.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

When the Snow Comes

The magical twinkling of freshly fallen snowflakes enlivens the little girl in me who dearly loves to frolic through a fluffy, white yard. The twenty-year old me could do without driving along icy and dangerous roads, but this is the price one must pay to enjoy the winter wonderland of Upstate New York. The old fashioned girl in me prefers clearing the driveway with a shovel rather than a high-tech snow blower. It's a sure way to get some fresh air and exercise at the ass crack of dawn. Once the hard work is done and the car can make it down the driveway, you can be damn sure I'll be hightailing it to the nearest hill to get in a couple good runs on my sled.

There is more work to be done

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Soap Puddle

I am sad to report the loss of a very dear member of my collection of bath products. A few days ago, a bar of African black soap was devastatingly lost to a deceptively large and dark rain puddle. There was a very unique  chain of events that led to the loss of this bar of soap.

It all started many weeks ago when I first purchased this bar of soap from the grocery store. I was in need of a new face wash, and selected this bar of soap as my new face cleansing mainstay. Since I only use this bar on my face, I never left it in the shower to melt away and amass dark strands of hair as a bar of soap in any shower of mine typically does. Instead, I placed this bar of soap on a decorative plate to rest and remain dry and uncontaminated when not in use. Travelling home for winter break, I transported this bar of soap back from school with me on the same plate that it normally sits. It rode in the car, with a whole seat in the back where it would hopefully remain undisturbed.

All seemed well until one fateful evening when I packed a bag to spend the night at my sister's apartment. I stupidly left the soap on it's decorative perch, and drove to her place with the soap precariously lounging in the back seat. As I pulled into the back lot of my sister's dwelling, we quickly realized there was an enormous puddle flooding her parking space. Instead of parking in the dirty puddle, I stopped the car short to allow my sister to exit the vehicle. The only way she could safely exit without soaking her feet was by climbing through the backseat and escaping through the side door. As she hastily clambered her way between the seats, she accidentally chipped the bar of soap off of its tiny glass throne, and it splashed into the depths of the murky, black puddle.

I'll admit it, I contemplated the idea of rescuing that bar of soap, rinsing it off and using it like nothing ever happened. I can't help these thoughts; it's the frugal college kid inside of me. Then my senses returned to me, and the thought of those contaminated waters lapping at my precious soap left no other alternative but to abandon the soap as a lost cause.

The next morning I went out to examine the puddle and its soapy victim. The puddle had receded considerably, and I could easily spot the shrunken white corpse of my once luscious bar of soap.

This could almost be a lake

Nineties Nostalgia

Of course everyone remembers Pokemon cards. My sister and I both loved collecting them, although we never actually played the game. We adored the cute animal characters like Ponyta and Squirtle, especially if the cards were metallic and shiny. It's impressive that these cards have remained popular even today. One nineties toy regrettably not around anymore is pogs. Does anyone remember those little cardboard discs? Apparently my sister and I weren't too fond of playing by the rules, because pogs were also part of a game that my sister and I did not observe. We just loved collecting the pieces.

The pog fad seems rather ridiculous now, but they were the coolest thing back in the day. There was even a toy that allowed kids to create their own pogs, called the Pog Milk Cap Maker. Watching this ad almost makes me wish I had one as a kid. Then I realize how pointless it seems, and I'm glad no one ever bought it for me.

So many pogs...

I would have loved this as a kid

Treat Everyday Like Christmas

For me, one of the worst parts about Christmas is the evening of the 25th, when I must come to terms with the fact that Christmas is almost over and won't come around for another 365 days. After weeks of cheerful greetings, twinkling lights and general merrymaking, the thought of all of that rapidly disappearing is slightly depressing. As Elvis wistfully croons in one of his festive ballads, "Why can't everyday be like Christmas?" I think this is a very valid question to be asking. We would simply replace saying, "Merry Christmas!" with "How do you do?" or "Good afternoon!" It's really just being polite. Many people seem to employ a higher level of politeness around the holidays. I've said "Merry Christmas"to more strangers than I would regularly speak to. But why? It's that magical feeling of holiday spirit that courses through our veins around this time of year.

Can't we all just be a little more friendly all the time? To me, this jolly outlook is optimistic, but not beyond reason. People are in high spirits around the holidays, and when someone acknowledges my presence, even just to say "Merry Christmas," it brightens my day. As the Code of Elves emphasizes, "Treat everyday lik Christmas." I think there is some genuine value to that outlook.


Hundred Dollar Delusion

I didn't do it this year. I couldn't manage to limit my spending to one-hundred dollars total for gifts for everyone on my list. It didn't help that I accomplished little Christmas shopping until coming home for winter break. I had less than two weeks to locate satisfactory gifts for all of my friends and family. A combination of thrifty shopping and home crafting helped limit my spending, but next year I'm going to work even harder to see if I can amass an array of lovely gift options without exceeding the hundred dollar mark.

This is coming from my own twisted, black heart, but I believe gift giving should remain as a small token of appreciation, symbolizing some connection with the receiver of the gift. It is all to easy to pick an item from an online wishlist and ship it off, never even inspecting the gift in person. When this tactic is employed, the gift giver can claim no credit or creativity for choosing the gift, only footing the bill. If you don't know a person well enough to think of something thoughtful, then why give a gift at all? For me, a clever gift could cost ten dollars or ten cents (especially a homemade card).

There are two keys to selecting a good gift. The first important consideration is to keep an open mind. There have been numerous occasions when I have thought of the perfect gift. I could picture it clearly in my head, and could not rest until this gift was located. Having such a narrow focus can make it extremely challenging to find exactly what you're looking for. The other key is to give it time. Waiting until the last minute to think of what to give someone is an instant stress-inducer.

When you have an open mind and you have the time to consider multiple options, you don't have to settle for one of the first, and probably more expensive items you come across. The more time you reserve for leisurely holiday shopping, the more fruitful your experience will be. Some may claim not to have enough time for this gift giving method, but why not keep an open mind all year round? If I come across an item that would make a good gift for someone, I get smart and buy it, even if Christmas is six months or even a year away. If these gift giving methods are employed by the whole family, it can transform the holiday into a fun challenge as family members seek out the most clever and thrifty gift ideas.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Papa's Books

For as long as I can remember, my papa has been an avid reader. When he's not watching TV or telling stories, he has a book happily resting in his hands. The other day my grandma and I were paying him a visit, and he was reminiscing about how he came across some of the treasures displayed in his house. Every painting and piece of furniture seems to have a unique story behind its acquisition. Then I asked him about the book collection resting behind his cozy leather couch.

"Oh those? I've probably read all of those in the last two or three years."

I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped. The piles of books resting on the window ledge nearly stretch from one end of the room to the other. Taking a closer look at the titles, it is evident that David Badlacci and James Patterson, top mystery and thriller novelists, are among his favorites. Besides these two authors, my papa  also loves to read books about horses. Seabiscuit and Secretariat are two of his personal favorites. If he could find a good thriller novel detailing the mysterious life of a famous racehorse, my papa would probably reach the pinnacle of his leisure reading career. Maybe I'll try to find such a book to give him for Christmas. Wish me luck.

Not only an impressive collection, but also a fire hazard

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

They Really Act Like Brothers

Sometimes my mom's two dogs can surprise me with how well they get along. This happens about one percent of the time. The other ninety nine percent of the time they are fighting over the same bone, the same stick, or for the same affection from one human.

Aww, look at them sharing the comfy bed 

And here they are, battling for
control of the giant stick!

Scrumptious Lunch

What goes better with a delicious cup of Moroccan lentil soup than a slice of warm, doughy rosemary olive oil bread with a thick, crispy crust. Better yet, how about a whole loaf! Grandma and I are known to devour entire loaves of bread in a shamefully short amount of time. Today for lunch, we managed to save a quarter of the loaf from our voracious appetites. Thank goodness for a little self control, at least this time.

We could have eaten the whole loaf...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

One Man's Technology is another Man's Antique

My Papa has always loved telling stories. The other day he was recalling his experience as a young professional. He started working for IBM and for the first three years of his career, he went door to door selling type writers and dictating equipment. It was such a joy to hear him reminisce about the cutting edge type writer technology back then. He recalled how the Selectric typewriter was all the rage when it entered the market. This typewriter included interchangeable typeballs that could be changed depending on the desired font. Imagine that, one machine that can type multiple fonts!

Just from the way my Papa lit up, I coud tell this was pretty exciting technology for the time. It is astounding how far the world of dictating equipment has come. Last time I conducted an interview, I used an app on my phone to record the entire conversation. I could have typed that conversation out on the sticky note app also included on my phone. Granted, typing an interview on my phone would have been a lot slower, but probably still faster than a typewriter. Even having grown up in the age of technology, I am still amazed that a single piece of technology possesses all of the capabilities that only a few decades ago, only one gadget managed to do.

The IBM Selectric was produced in array of
groovy colors way before the Apple iMac

Which font would you like?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Haunted Vacuum

Lounging in the living room while chatting with Grandma, she was mid-sentence when the vacuum suddenly growled to life with a chilling roar. We both gave each other a puzzled look before she shuffled over to the spooky appliance to switch it off. Apparently equipment at Grandma's house only needs to be plugged in for it to turn on.

"Make a note of the time," Grandma said after cutting the power.

"What for?" I asked as I looked at the clock.

"You never know, it might have been a spirit that did that."

Note to self: at 12:02 pm, there is a chance that an appliance at Grandma's house will come alive unannounced.

The evil culprit...

Friday, December 14, 2012

Writing to My Own Beat

I turned in my last final paper early this morning. I worked late into the evening last night, perfecting my work. I cannot work with distracting background noise. I can't even listen to music with lyrics because it throws me off. Once in a while I'll be typing along and mid-sentence my thoughts will trail off and pick back up with the lyrics of the current tune. This dangerous habit must be avoided at all costs. Elvis, I love you man, but you gotta stay out of my research!

This semester I have become quite fond of the Cool Jazz online music station. I came to realize I have a particular fondness for the soothing sounds of the corpulent accordion, which mentally transports me to a small cafe in a posh corner of the grand city of Paris, France. I even narrowed my music preference down to the oddly specific music station titled, Dan Newton's Cafe Accordion Orchestra. This station favors the musical stylings of Django Reinhardt, a prominent gypsy jazz guitarist of the early twentieth century. One of his better known songs, Swing 42, has been stuck in my head for the past three days.

When a live version of a song starts playing, there is typically applause recorded on the track as well. Listening to a live track while sitting at my desk, hard at work, I sometimes imagine the crowd is cheering for me, thoroughly impressed with the new sentence I just formed on the page. It's more of a silly thought than anything else, but it still perks me up as I silently laugh to myself. In instances such as this, I can admit to myself how silly and weird I am, and then I just smile even more.

Veggie Deficiency

Since returning to school after Thanksgiving, I have not gone grocery shopping once. This abstention from groceries was a combination between being broke, challenging my inner culinary genius, and not wanting to have a bunch of food to bring back home over winter break. That bean soup that I made not too long ago lasted me for a whole week. Not only is it a filling dish, but combined with rice, this meal constitutes a complete protein, so I'm still getting all of my essential amino acids.

While I've made due with what's in the cupboards, the refrigerator is devoid of anything green or healthy. The closest I could get was a jar of organic salsa that I have been rationing by the spoonful. It mixes well with rice and tastes like a deconstructed (slightly lame) burrito. The salsa even spices up an ordinary can of tuna, which sounds strange, but by golly it is tasty! I used it in place of lemon juice to give the tuna a nice tanginess and unique flavor.

 Last night a very dear friend came over and we cooked a tasty dinner as a way of saying goodbye before he heads off to Australia next semester. We planned to make stir-fry and I supplied the rice because it was one of the few ingredients I had on hand. He brought over a bag of frozen veggies and the eggs. After taking the first hungry bite, the satisfying crunch of carrots and broccoli had never been so delightful. After weeks surviving on a Christmas cookie based diet, a mouthful of veggies was the ultimate treat. Am I proud of the fact that I have been eating like a savage these past few weeks? Not really. But what's going to be left in the cupboards when I leave? Not much, and I'm pretty proud of that.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Running in the Rain in the Dark

It sounds like a dumb idea, and really, that's because it is. There is something truly invigorating about running in the rain. The heavier the rainfall, the harder I find myself running, almost as if in defiance of the unfortunate weather. I wouldn't let a pair of soggy shoes stop me from enjoying the outdoors. The glowing Christmas lights that illuminated the streets with a soft, comforting luminescence made it all the more enjoyable.

Slowing to a walk after this evening's jog, I took in the sensations of a warm body immersed in the cold, wet rain. I could feel the warmth from my eyelids as they opened and closed. It was a new sensation that I had not experienced before this evening. Filling my lungs with the cool night air was like taking a long drink of ice cold water. Although I will be getting ready for bed shortly, I feel mentally and physically restored. Returning to the house and abandoning the wet sidewalks and rain puddles, my humble abode seems even cozier than usual. The perfect start to a relaxing, good night's sleep.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Squid Brain

Lately, my mind seems to be occupied with thoughts related to killer squid and octopus species. Last night for example, I dreamt that a man-eating octopus was terrorizing a few unlucky students on campus who mistakenly walked within reach of its slimy, muscular arms. I vividly remember sitting in a computer lab with my Writing for Environmental Professionals class. Usually when other people are in my dreams, their faces are nondescript, flesh toned blobs. This time, I could clearly recognize my actual professor for this class, along with several of my student peers.

The building housing this computer lab was very different from any building on my actual school campus. It was similar to a skyscraper, although the computer lab was only a few floors up from ground level. The room was rectangular in shape, with a large window facing out onto the ocean. The beach backed up right to the edge of the building. My peers and I had all flocked to the large window to investigate the blood curdling sounds of a person's screams. We were horrified when we peered down at the beach to glimpse a wriggling purple blob of tentacles and human appendages as the octopus devoured it's human victim.

It is curious that it should be a purple octopus in my dream, because it is the exact tattoo soon to be emblazoned on my sister's upper arm. It's an absolutely gorgeous piece of artwork, though much larger than I would ever consider for myself. I also recently watched the first installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. There is a particularly frightening scene taking place next to a lake outside the mines of Moria. It is in this lake that the Watcher in the Water lurks, waiting to take on any foes that cross its path. This scene always gets my spine shivering.

The octopus is a very admirable, highly intelligent creature. I am relieved that as far as we know, human flesh is not a part of any octopod diet. Apparently this is an irrational fear I have.

Artist's rendering of the scene from my dream

My sister's scary arm. It reminds me of my
nightmare now. Will it be more or less scary
when the purple is colored in?
[Photo courtesy of Dylan Tate]

Artist's illustration of the Watcher in the Water

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Leguminous Soup

I love soup. Especially bean soup. My favorite is lentil soup. Soup soup soup. Today it's snowing outside and you know what the perfect remedy for that is? Soup! I'm not using a recipe. Recipes are for squares and people who like to read. Actually I love to read, but now is not the time. Going recipe-free also means if I mess up, there is no one to blame but myself. Kind of like when you live alone and your tupperware goes missing but you can't blame your roommate for misplacing it.

Today I'm using three kinds of beans: kidney beans, black beans and those lens shaped beans called lentils. I started by fast-soaking the kidney and black beans. I did this by adding 1/2 pound of each kind to a pot of hot water and boiled them for two minutes. Then I turned off the heat and let them sit and think about their problems for an hour.

Came back to the kitchen an hour later and saw that the kidney and black beans had solved all the world's problems. Not really. They're just getting closer to being part of a delicious bean fusion. I drained and rinsed the beans and let them sit in the colander while I prepped the cooking pot. First I poured in a splash of olive oil, heated it up a bit, and then tossed in about four cloves of minced garlic. I let the garlic simmer for a minute before adding some water. Then I added the kidney and black beans, along with half a pound of green lentils. I added enough water so that the beans had a bit of swimming room. This is the part where I hypothesized that I may not be using a big enough pot, but it was the biggest pot in the house, and it was too late to go back now...

Next I added a sprinkling of each of the following: turmeric, garlic powder (just for good measure), chili powder, celery seed, oregano, and a bay leaf. Some of these spices I happened to have after my pickling endeavor earlier in the year. Were it not for that, there would have been a great deal fewer spices in this recipe. Why add all of these spices in the first place? I figure the more spices I add, the more chances there are for this bean soup to reach a state of deliciousness.

Boilin' away

Unknown amount of time passes...

After several stirrings and bean tenderness tests, the beans became mostly tender to the teeth, and I released the cooking pot from the blaze. The kidney beans and green lentils cooked faster than the black beans, and I chose to enjoy the soup with a slightly chewier black bean rather than over-cooking the other two bean types. Forming a leguminous mush was not part of the no-recipe plan.

A quick taste of the soup revealed a flavorful bite of beans fit for eating. I had boiled up a batch of a wild rice blend to pour the bean soup over, and the two components paired together nicely. It was a fabulous dish on a college kid budget, and perfect on a chilly December day. You really should have come over for dinner.

Soup's on! And look at how wild that rice looks

The soup in its final form

Sneaky Sparrows

You would never guess it, but sparrows can make for a terrifying encounter if you catch them off guard. At least I think they were sparrows. They were small and brown, and normally very cute, except for the day when they became terrifying. I remember clearly walking down the short flight of steps to the left of Moon Library. I was briskly walking toward Baker Laboratory, travelling just fast enough to look like a loser in a hurry to be an hour early for the nerd convention. On the right hand side of the landing between two short sets of stairs, there is a lovely congregation of young trees growing harmlessly behind a perfectly nice wooden bench. I often gaze in that direction when  there is no one walking towards me to smile at as they stare straight ahead, eyes glazed over, trudging along as if no one else in the world exists. As I passed the landing on this particular day, I heard a sudden WOOSH that sounded just like a giant wave crashing against a sandy beach. It was so loud, I almost took my own shoes off so I could knock my socks off. There must have been at least one-hundred tiny little birds minding their own business on the dirt surface before I came along. In perfect unison every single bird rushed to the safety of the young tree branches. They were probably terrified of my ridiculous speed walking, but they sure as hell scared the shit out of me. The best part is, these birds blend in so well to the ground cover and the trees, that even standing just a few feet away, they were barely visible. The one guy walking towards me up the stairs probably thought I was a schizophrenic nut case as I wheeled around in panic to analyze the explosion of sound.

Believe it or not, there are a bunch of
tiny brown birds littering the ground

Close to Christmas at Clinton Square

Paying a few dollars to try to not fall on your butt for a couple hours is a yearly holiday tradition for many. I am of course referring to the dangerous sport of ice skating, as it is one of my favorite holiday festivities. Clinton Square, in the city of Syracuse, boasts an enormous live Christmas tree decked out in lights at the east end of the rink. My dendrological studies led me to believe the tree is a Norway Spruce, and my prediction was correct! See mom, I am learning things in school. The Clinton Square Ice Rink is  surrounded by a lovely assortment of holiday lights, casting an enchanting, colorful glow on the ice after the zamboni works its magic.

The rink is aglow with holiday spirit!

The Fabulous Female Drummer

Miss Viola Smith is the name. Performing as a female drummer in the 1930's is the game. In a time when the jazz scene was dominated by man, this bubbly young female took center stage, showing off her skills at tapping a beat. It sure is nifty to see a woman doing something that is historically improper or unsuitable for the time period. Take a look at Miss Viola Smith performing with jazz ensemble, the Coquettes. In this video she is doin' her thing, jamming with the Kit Kat Band. In both instances Miss Smith is performing alongside all-female company, which is pretty remarkable for the time period. Who knew women were any good at anything back then!

The one and only Miss Viola Smith behind the drums