Friday, October 31, 2008

Dear Ms. Michaels

Dear Ms. Michaels,

I recently viewed your workout DVD, Jillian Michaels: The 30 Day Shred. I wanted to share a few thoughts with you as a seasoned exerciser. You may not recognize my name from the fitness guru crowd you run with, but I suspect you will find my opinions and ideas useful, what with my two years experience of step aerobics instruction, and completion of several 1/2 mile Fun Runs in elementary school (plus the one time I walked the Walleye Run).

First, I applaud your use of two thin and leggy backup girls in the video - bold move! Showing that many different types of people can successfully participate in your exercise routine is of course not a major selling point you should concern yourself with. Personally, when I work out, I feel much better viewing freak of nature 20-something women with the metabolism of high school boys literally waltz through 439 squats without soiling their matchy workout outfits or smudging three coats of eyeliner.

Second, and I can't say this enough, thank you for employing a tough love brand of encouragement throughout. Hearing how much of a pansy I am, while attempting to lunge my body weight half way across the room, motivates me enormously.

Third, you really do a fantastic job selling the idea that three minutes of strength training, two minutes of cardio, and one minute of abs is going to be like a pleasant walk in the park. It sounds so manageable until a person is on their 200th consecutive jumping jack and their calves are shaking. You, Ms. Michaels, manage to complete the circuit breathlessly, all the while wandering back to chat with Barbie and Lindsay Lohan behind you. Well done, well done.

Fourth, I never quite realized what muscle burn felt like until now - I only wish I could introduce you to a feeling equally enjoyable.

And lastly, congratulations! Despite causing blinding pain (it physically hurts to type today), buckets of sweats, and I think, a momentary black out, I survived your torture. And because I'm that kind of person, I'm going to continue the suffering again tomorrow. See you then.


P.S. If you'd like to recommend to your audience that they can substitute full Nalgene water bottles in place of the hand weights (oh yes, that's the kind of quick thinking and ingenuity a liberals arts degree can do for you people), I would be fine with that. However, I will request a 15% residual fee for each DVD that sells with that genius recommendation included. :)


Wedding Tricks and Treats

In honor of Halloween, a fellow blogger posted several examples of Halloween "tricks" common at weddings.

Check out the post here.

Editor's Note: Tricks, pranks, and other things you may think funny will not be appreciated at a certain wedding in May 2009.


Nature Fights Back

First, deer strolled across our yard and driveway like they owned the place. Then, a crazy bird divebombed my bedroom window while I was innocently watching TV, and managed to reduce my lifespan by a good four years.

And last night, weird howling and yipping kept me up way past my bedtime.

Nature - I will never love you! You tried to be nice initially, and now you've switched to tough love tactics. It will not sway me! I cannot be blackmailed into saying I am outdoorsy!

Seriously, this was the conversation as NavyGuy and I tried to fall asleep last night:

Setting: A dark and spooky night. Loud howling and yipping can be heard cutting through the dark.

Mugs: Do you hear that?

NavyGuy: Yeah.

Mugs: What is it?

NG: It sort of sounds like a coyote.

M: I'm sorry - a what?

NG: A "cay-oht."

M: You mean, a coyot-E (as in Wiley the Coyote).

NG: Whatever. Yes, that's sort of what it sounds like.

M: You have GOT to be kidding me! Coyotes! In my backyard! Why did you force me to live in the woods?!

NG: Mugs, I heard them every night when I was at survival training. They're just scavengers.

M: Yeah, they'll probably scavenge my cute pumpkins on the front porch.

NG: There is no way they will come that close to the house.

M: Still, yuck. Now I have another thing to add to my list of ways I'm afraid I'll die here.

NG: Coyotes are harmless!

M: Nothing's harmless.

NG: Mugs, they're like dogs.

M: Are you insane! They're not like dogs! Dogs are like dogs - coyotes are like vicious killers!

NG: I'm going to sleep now. You make my head hurt.

I was kept away by the cute, dog-like beasts in the nearby woods another half an hour. I swear they were talking to one another, plotting how to make me pay for harping on the outdoors.

You may have won this battle, but the war's not over. I know you're out there coyotes. I know you're out there...


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bring Your Best Ms. Michaels

Yea!!!!! My copy of 30 Day Shred with Jillian Michaels (that evil dictator from The Biggest Loser) arrived last night (see link for a video preview). I heard about this workout via several bridal blogs, with brides swearing it got them in shape for their wedding. Now before all of you who know me personally start harping on how I am the last person who should be complaining about losing weight, give me a chance to explain...

So remember how last week I talked about going to NavyGuy's promotion ceremony? Well, you can't show up to these things in jeans and your favorite sweatshirt (rat farts), so I had to dig through all of the winter dress up clothes that were still packed in a tub from Pensacola. As a teacher, I have quite the collection of moderately fancy dress pants, khakis, and tame skirts suitable for high school classrooms. However, as I pulled item after item out of the tub and tried them on, the pile of "Lord No!" clothing was climbing drastically higher than the "acceptable-for-public" or "only-if-all-else-is-dirty-and-you-have-awesome-undergarments" piles. By the time NavyGuy arrived home and I had finished my fashion show of sausage casing pants, I was moping in bed eating Cool Ranch Doritos to soothe my depressed soul.

Luckily (and this is reason #783 why I'm marrying him), NavyGuy reminded me that because of some health problems last fall, I had lost about 20 pounds (a significant amount for a 5'5" girl with good metabolism). Hence, I had purchased several pairs of smaller pants, and now that I was back to my normal (healthy) size, I could not expect to fit into the middle-school sized garments I had previously donned. (Is it wrong to wish for a split second that I was still sick and Hollywood thin? Yes. I said I only wished it for a second! Jeez.)

Okay, so back to the point. I clearly had regained the lost weight (and then some) by a steady diet of man food (meat, carbs, liquor, fast food, and cream sauces), the road trip that would never end (squating over skanky gas station toilets so as to avoid actually touching the seat hurts the quads, but doesn't burn as many calories as you'd think - nor does sitting in a car 10 hours a day), and perhaps a general slowing down of my metabolism (I'll also lay blame on the higher altitude I now live in if that'll help explain it). And, regardless of other people's perception, I was/am not thrilled with how I look and feel. Losing a few pounds wouldn't hurt, nor would toning up and generally getting in better shape.

Besides all the health and well-being reasons, I have vanity as a motivator. One of my biggest fears in life is showing up in my gorgeous wedding dress next May and having back fat. Or armpit fat. Or any fact leaking over the edge of the dress, anywhere. I also have an immense fear of arriving at the dress fitting and not being able to shoehorn myself into the gown.

So, the torture has begun. With cold weather setting in (and my overall hatred of all things running), I've decided the most likely means of my sticking with a workout routine is through exercise videos. The past few days, I've been test driving various workouts through Netflix (side note - second after my TiVo in a list of my favorite things in the world). Netflix has a feature where you can play some of their selections right on the computer, immediately, so I tried out a cardio fat-burning Pilates workout, samba crunch dancing, and a front muscle group workout from the aforementioned Ms. Michaels. Each was lively - and if the pain I felt the day after was any indication - a good workout.

But I have been anxiously waiting for the 30 Day Shred to arrive, because it is a series of three different 20 minute workouts (Levels 1-3). 20 minutes! I can totally do that! If can find time in my day to watch the 20 minutes of TiVo'ed Daily Show, I can definitely fit in 20 minutes of sweating. As soon as I test it out, I'll give a full review for the rest of you who are looking to find a means to getting in shape / battling the holiday food orgies / looking trim and fit in your wedding gown (or bridesmaid dress... mother of the bride dress... whatever!).


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Scrappy Goodness

If you haven't noticed, I'm becoming increasingly obsessed with paper crafts (scrapbooks, greeting cards, etc.). The evidence lies in my suggested reading blogs, where I recently added a separate craftiness category to fuel my addiction.

In that vein, here are my latest card creations. I know most of my readers are not scrappers, but a few are, so I continue to post my work in case they need inspiration, (though clearly, from my internet surfing, there are thousands of other blogs and websites where they can find more skilled inspiration!). Plus, I like to have pictures of what I make because ideally - these cards all get sent out to other people eventually!

This card opens at the top (4x5 1/2), and includes ribbon, three layers of paper, and a leaf stamp from a holiday set.

Simple, but I like it. Again, the coloring doesn't show up fantastically on screen, but I swear the two buttons are complimentary shades of brown. The doo-dads on the other two circles are small leaf cutouts.

Both of these are 4 inch squares. The card on the left includes an apple cutout (thank you new Cricut machine), and my $1 alphabet stamps (ONE DOLLAR) from Michaels. Clearly, I can write straight on a classroom chalkboard, but I'm still working on stamping expressions in a straight line. The card on the left is a fall scape, but it's hard to make out the brown tree cutout. (Squint and look closely.)


Pie. Was. Made.

I am starting the official countdown to my first Thanksgiving as the hostess. T-minus 29 days until my and NavyGuy's families arrive in our zipcode and expect to celebrate a treasured holiday. It's funny how these kinds of things always sound like such a good idea when you're just talking about them...

Before Turkey day, I need to
1. create a menu
2. de-boy-ify the house
3. turn the house into a scene from Martha Stewart Living
4. build another dining room table to fit the expanding guest list
5. learn how to cook several infamous side dishes and desserts
6. assemble an outfit that will look effortlessly chic while also resisting gravy stains and cooking/stress induced hot flashes
7. give up control of the bird to NavyGuy who plans to deep fry the main entree...

With that said, I began my taste-tests for the big meal, and I started with dessert. This afternoon, I made a pie. Yes, I did. No, I was not wearing heels and pearls (nor was I barefoot OR pregnant thankyouverymuch). I wore jeans and a look of sheer determination. The mission: chocolate chip pecan pie. There had been a prior attempt at my apartment in Wisconsin, but there was an oven temperature situation and I still hold that the resulting pecan goo was not my fault.Today's experiment (with accurate oven temperature readings) turned out better, but alas, it will not be making the menu come T-Day. NavyGuy and I both thought it tasted alright, but the filling still doesn't set quite right, so it does not meet my exacting presentation standards (plus I managed to scorch the pecans on top). I have included the recipe though for the more accomplished chefs out there, because I'm sure in the right hands it's a wonderful pie.

Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie - Woman's Day Magazine


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Halloween Costume Suggestions

Oh you poor saps who have to dress up for Halloween at work or school this Friday. I do feel bad for you, enough so in fact that I will help out those of you who have slacked and neglected to plan your perfect costume until the last minute. Below are my humble suggestions for fast/cheap/easy (but still creative!) costumes you can throw together by Friday.

1. Bubble Gum Underneath a Shoe.
I have in fact rocked this costume, so do not be hatin'. Here's all you need: a pink shirt, pink pants, and a tennis shoe. Tie the tennis shoe on top of your head, and you're good to go. Check Goodwill or Walmart for cheap pink sweatpants (or even nurse's scrub pants will work).

2. Artist
Cut out a piece of cardboard (use an old cereal box) in the shape of an easel, use markers and draw on a color palette. Carry a paintbrush in one hand, the easel in another, and wear all black. Bonus points - use an eyebrow pencil and draw on a thin obnoxious mustache.

3. Teacher/Librarian
Glasses (on a chain around your neck). Hair in bun. Seasonal-themed sweater. Tights. Loafers. I pulled all this together from Goodwill (plus a plaid skirt) for less than 10 dollar. Extra credit if you throw in a seasonal turtleneck (or dicky!), plus as many apple, children, or pencil pins you can tack onto the sweater.

4. Fried Egg.
Take a white bedsheet, and cut a hole for your head. Find yellow material (old t-shirt that can be cut, fabric a store, felt, old rags, etc.) and cut a circle. Using double-stick tape, apply the yellow "yolk" circle on the front of the white sheet, and voila - egg over easy.

That's the best I can offer at the last minute. Of course, one can always throw on devil ears, a mask of some sort, or an old graduation cap and gown if you become completely desperate. Sister - my vote would be for the gum or the fried egg (unless you can squeeze in Lucy's bumblebee suit).

A few more ideas for you...

From Real (Last minute costume ideas - gotta love a good pun).

  • A green clown wig + a schoolgirl outfit = Broccoli Spears
  • A plastic laundry basket with holes cut out for legs + white balloons + a shower cap = Bathing Beauty
  • A white dress + a pipe-cleaner halo + leaves in her hair and “dirt” on her face = Fallen Angel
  • Black clothes + yellow electrical tape down his torso + toy cars + Velcro = Highway
  • A pig nose + a blanket = Pig in a Blanket
  • A blue T-shirt + cotton balls + tape + a water gun = Partly Cloudy With a Chance of Rain
  • A polo shirt + khakis (or madras shorts) + a name tag = Jay Crew
  • A clear umbrella (preferably dome- shaped) + party streamers or metallic ribbons = Jellyfish
  •

    Cheers and Jeers

    Cheers... for the slogan for a local chimney sweep company: "Don't Make an ASH of Yourself... Call XYZ Chimney Sweepers!"

    Cheers... to Bravo TV Network for airing a day long marathon of The West Wing. Bartlett for President!

    Jeers... to NBC for ever canceling that gem of a show.

    Cheers... to my new hair stylist at Red Salon in downtown Anacortes who managed to cut and restyle my misshapen rats nest into something resembling a coif.

    Cheers... to the Cricut company for better than expected customer service. My new Cricut dream machine arrived today, complete with free shipping to return the broken one - yea!

    Jeers... Madonna and Guy Ritchie for dragging their household staff into increasingly absurd divorce proceedings.

    Cheers... to the oven-fixer team that eliminated my excuse for ordering pizza.

    Jeers... to the general bad economy that is causing the shortfall in the Anacortes School District budget, leading the School Board to freeze all hiring.


    Fright Fest Films

    Even if you're not dressing up in a costume or going to a party this year, you can still celebrate Halloween -- with a good old fashioned film festival, chock full of fantastically scary flicks! I love watching scary movies, despite the fact that I usually end up then sleeping with the lights on in my bedroom. So for you fellow masochists out there, here's a few recent horror films that I've seen:

    The Messengers (Dylan McDermott, John Corbett, Kristen Stewart; PG-13; 90 min.)
    The basic plot is: New family moves into haunted farm house. Only the kids see the creepiness that ensues. Not a great movie, but if you watch it at night by yourself, you'll still be startled a few times. FarmerWife - this one's a no no for you living out in the country mostly by yourself.

    (Kate Beckinsale, Luke Wilson; R; 85 min.)
    I have always sworn that motels are 5000 times creepier than hotels (something about having your door lead right to the outside world). This movie, proves my point. The two leads find themselves trapped in their motel room being watched on hidden cameras. Roomie #1 and I watched this on his brother's recommendation, and we were both completely freaked out. It's got great startle parts, plus an absolutely terrifying premise. (Bonus - if you're a Criminal Minds fan, you'll recognize the general plot from last week's episode).

    Prom Night (Brittany Snow, "Stringer Bell" from The Wire; PG-13; 88 min.)
    I'll admit right off the bat that this is a very standard teen slasher film - everyone you expect to die gets it, and the pretty girl lives. That said, of the three movies I've seen recently, this is the one that is still giving me chills when I think about it. Giving away the set-up takes some of the shock away, so I'll just say that if you're not seriously disturbed by the first five minutes - you're crazy. The villan has demented eyes and a great serial killer voice, there's lots of startle and scream moments, and no matter how awful your prom night was, this wins. is also getting in the spirit with their list of Hollywood's 20 Scariest Movies of All Time. It's going to be a spoooooktacular Halloween!


    Reader Questions Answered

    Well, because of low turnout (seriously - I hope you people show more initiative when it comes time to vote for President!), I'm going to answer all of the questions submitted.

    Q. From a stressed educator: "Could you come and finish my p/t conferences tonight so I can go to dance? And pack? And vacuum? And do laundry? Etc., etc., etc."

    A. No. But well played guilt-trip, well played. Might I suggest the following? Leave a note at your classroom door indicating you're out due to some sort of contagious rash causing disease, plan a packing list in your head while you tap dance, and screw the vacuuming. Oh laundry. Hmm... ah ha! Febreeze.

    Q. Do you watch How I Met Your Mother?

    A. Not yet, but obviously based on the glowing recommendations I've received from several reliable sources, I'm going to have to start! Hopefully, it will fall in a timeslot that isn't already occupied in the TiVo. At the moment, I have 8:00pm Monday or 4:15am Friday available :)

    Q. How's it going not working full-time? Do you miss the high school kids?

    A. When they write the biography of my life, I'm going to plead with them to leave out my decision to quit my full-time (amazing benefits) dream job during the return of the Great Depression - it will not reflect well on my intelligence. To be frank though, I love not working. Who wouldn't? Can I tell you what I did yesterday without anyone sending death threats? A majority of the day was spent watching The West Wing marathon on Bravo, broken up by a) a haircut, b) a nap, and c) a walk to the mailbox. Yeah. Anyone that tells you they'd be bored if they didn't have a job to go to everyday, just doesn't know how to entertain themselves. However, I do actually miss those crazy teenagers (except when I see smashed pumpkins in the street and remember how stupid some adolescents are), and I do miss a steady income.

    Q. What are you going to do if Marine 1 doesn't have the office cleaned up soon?

    A. I cannot reveal the exact details of my plan, but I will share that it involves duct tape, electrodes, a baseball bat, and cheese whiz. That office WILL be unpacked and WILL be organized soon...


    Monday, October 27, 2008

    Reader Questions

    Hello cyber-friends! I thought I would try something a little different this Monday. Instead of blathering about my less than exciting weekend, or listing all the Wisconsin restaurants I'm missing (how much would I have to pay one of you to bring me a Culver's hot dog right now?), I'm going to open it up for your burning reader questions. They can be serious or fanciful, simple or complex. They can be about me, the Navy, life in the Pacific Northwest, crafting, politics, ice cream - whatever you can come up with!

    You have until 12:00am (Central Time) tonight to bring your best. Post in the comments section, and the most interesting or creative submission with get answered first :) Let's see what you can do people - and in the meantime, I'll try to do something blog-worthy to write about for tomorrow.


    Friday, October 24, 2008

    Photography Magic

    I wanted to show off a couple of the photographs that NavyGuy took on our wilderness adventure yesterday. He has a fairly fancy camera and has been playing around with an editing process called HDR (High Dynamic Range Imaging). HDR is basically a technique that combines the best lit parts of the same photo, to produce a more true to life image. In order to do this, you have to take three photos of the same shot, each with a specific different light exposure (clearly, I'm not a photographer, so I apologize for the less than technical explanation). For instance, here are the original photographs NavyGuy took of a view from Mt. Erie.

    You can see in the photos that each looks different; parts of each photo are darker and lighter. Regardless of which picture you look at, none of them show what NavyGuy and I were really seeing as we stood on top of the mountaing - HDR is way to alleviate that. Check out the photograph once the HDR technique has been applied and the best pieces of each photo have been compiled.Awesome, right? (By clicking on the photo, you should be able to open up a larger image.) In this photo, all of the shadows that showed up in the original images have been omitted, and you can see almost exactly what NavyGuy and I saw :) I included two other HDR photos from yesterday as well:
    This is a photo of cliffs in Puget Sound. (If the photo hadn't been HDR'ed either the sky or the water would be significantly darker and less clear.)

    Here's a view of the forest atop Mt. Erie.

    Any votes on which photo we should turn into a large poster for above our bedroom fireplace?


    One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State

    As part of today's New York Times endorsement of Senator Barack Obama for President, they have created an interactive timeline of their previous presidential endorsements, going all the way back to President Lincoln. Even for those of you who don't get high on history, it's an interesting look back at how the paper has gotten it right - and wrong - in the past. A few of the more interesting misfires by the NYTimes:

    ~ in 1904, they endorsed Alton B. Parker a Democrat. Who? Oh - the man running against incumbent Theodore Roosevelt. Had Parker won, who knows if we'd have had the Food and Drug Act (spurred by Roosevelt's outrage at descriptions of meatpacking plants in Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle), the expansion of the Navy, or President Lincoln's likeness on the penny! (Roosevelt commemorated Lincoln's 100th birthday in 1909 with the new coin.)

    ~ the paper got it completely wrong throughout the 1920s. Each election (1920, '24, and '28), they endorsed the Democratic candidate; each time the Republican, business minded, candidate prevailed.

    ~ apparently, the paper wasn't fond of another Roosevelt either. On the eve of war in Europe, the NYTimes editorial board believed a lawyer named Wendell Wilkie -- who had never held elected office -- was better suited than two-term President Franklin D. Roosevelt to continue to lead the country out of the lingering Depression and protect the nation's security from the fascist threat across the pond. My interpretation? The NYTimes was not willing to break the two-term tradition set by President Washington, and support Roosevelt's unprecedented quest for a third term. (Remember - it wasn't until the 22nd Amendment was enacted in 1951 that Presidents were Constitutionally limited to two four-year terms.)

    The track record for the New York Times' endorsements has not improved in the second half of the century; slightly more than 50% of the elections since 1948 have gone to the candidate who didn't receive the endorsement. So will their support of Obama make any difference this year? Not likely, considering that the paper's readers skew towards the left side of the spectrum to begin with. But you never know - this could be the year where they turn their sketchy record around.

    Rock the Vote!


    Thursday, October 23, 2008

    Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (the final post)

    I realized I never finished my final topic from the latest book I reviewed. Don't worry - it's not going to be about how you should eat more vegetables or make your own cheese (although Kingsolver definitely does, and describes the process in the book). Instead, it's a societal issue connected to cooking - women's roles. I know the excerpts are long, but plow your way through (and you can consider it your "intellectual" reading for the day and avoid any feelings of guilt for realizing the only other thing you read today was either work related or unnecessary information about Miley Cyrus).

    From the book,

    "Cooking is a dying art in our culture. Why is a good question, and an uneasy one, because I find myself politically and socioeconomically entangled in the answer. I belong to the generation of women who took as our youthful rallying cry: Allow us a good education so we won't have to slave in the kitchen. We recoiled from the proposition that keeping a husband presentable and fed should be our highest intellectual aspiration... Somehow, though, history came around and bit us in the backside: now most women have jobs and still find themselves largely in charge of the housework. Cooking at the end of a long day is a burden we could live without."
    Hell yeah - I didn't go to college for four years to become an expert chicken roaster! Yet... I do like roasted chicken, and I'd hate to pay Colonel Sanders $9.99 each time I get a hankering for it. Hmmm....
    "When my generation of women walked away from the kitchen we were escorted down that path by a profitteering industry that knew a tired, vulnerable marketing target when they saw it. 'Hey, ladies,' it said to us, 'go ahead, get liberated. We'll take care of dinner.' They threw open the door and we walked into a nutritional crisis and genuinely toxic food supply...
    Exhibit A: Eggo Waffles.
    Exhibit B: Easy Mac.
    Exhibit C: Hot Pockets.
    Exhibit D: Totino's Pizza Rolls.
    Exhibit E: Taco Bell.
    "Now what? Most of us, male or female, work at full-time jobs that seem organized around a presumption that some wifely person is at home picking up the slack -- filling the gap between school and workday's end, doing errands only possible during business hours, meeting the expectation that we are hungry when we get home -- but in fact June Cleaver has left the premises. Her income was needed to cover the mortgage and health insurance. Didn't the workplace organizers notice?

    "Career women in many countries still routinely apply passion to their cooking, heading straight from work to the market to search out the freshest ingredients, feeding their loved ones with aplomb. In France and Spain I've sat in business meetings with female journalists and editors in which the conversation veered sharply from postcolonial literature to fish markets and the quality of this year's mushrooms or leeks. These women had no apparent concern about sounding unliberated; in the context of a healthy food culture, fish and leeks are as respectable as postcolonial literature. (And arguably more fun).
    Agreed. It's irritating that women are still only given two options in life - be a career woman or a homemaker. Dang it, I like both! I derive significant pleasure from lecturing teenagers on the intricacies of the Cold War, and from successfully creating a soup from scratch. I'll gladly argue about the merits of the Presidential candidates, the solutions to climate change, AND whether Angelina and Brad should add any more kids to their litter (clearly you can see where I stand on that last important issue). I am proud of my college degree and my scrapbooking prowess. The women's movement of the 60s and 70s was about choice - and if I want to choose a little bit of everything from the buffet of life, so be it! (To be clear, I will also choose a little bit of everything from a Ponderosa buffet, provided the different foods on my plate do not touch.)

    Kingsolver does acknowledge that viewing cooking as a creative process and not just a chore requires important elements such as the contributions of other family members, a reprioritizing of household chores (you can't have homemade broccoli soup and spotless kitchen floors), and again, the right attitude. Much like what Kingsolver addresses in the other sections of her book, you have decide if nutritious, well-balanced meals are a priority - if you'd rather eat a Turkey and Cheese Lean Pocket off your sparkling clean kitchen floor, so be it (but I'd strongly urge you not to).

    Thanks for sticking with me through this drawn out review/reflection on the book. I know most of us are not going to change our habits overnight (point in fact, I'm really hungry for some pizza rolls right now), but at least finding a few minutes to think about your priorities and habits is always healthy.


    Ewww... Nature Touched Me

    "Is that a worm!?!" "No - shoelace."

    "Ow - stupid branches hit me."

    "Jeez, it's cold out here." "Well, we're in the shade on a mountain."

    "Wait up!"

    "Ugh, I'm hot." "Well, now we're in the sun."

    "Agh! What was that!?!" "Rabbit."

    "It smells like ocean."

    "Oooo, stand over there. No, not with your hands on your hips - you look like Peter Pan. Yeah, that's good. Wait, why won't the camera work? Oh, hold on, okay, yeah, I've got it. Dang, you moved. Or the sun moved. Shift a little to the left."

    "I'm losing interest in this."

    So if you've ever wondered what happens when NavyGuy and I try to go outdoors and do things - this is a good glimpse into the fun.

    NavyGuy arrived home from work early this afternoon armed with a good idea. His good ideas are usually offered in a very upbeat tone of voice, and phrased in a manner that tries to make me feel like I actually have the option to not participate. Today's plan was to explore a few of the nature-y parts of our new home in the Pacific Northwest. It was a gorgeous fall day, and we a) decided we should take advantage of the nice weather before it's gone, b) could get some cool photos of the area, and c) should scout some sites to take our families to when they visit us at Thanksgiving.

    So, we headed out first to summit Mt. Erie, the highest point in Anacortes. It was a steep drive to the top (reminiscent of Hwy 1, but less nauseating) but we were treated to a fantastic view once we reached the top. We could see Mt. Baker in the distance, and the view across Deception Pass. Climbing over rocks and ledges, feeling like a hearty mountain climber, I bravely trudged behind NavyGuy as he explored each individual "path" along the side of the mountain (until the rabbits and branches and shoelace worms started attacking me). After I plopped down on a rock and starting picking at my fingernails, NavyGuy sensed my growing impatience at his Ansel Adams impersonation and we headed back down the mountain.

    Our next stop was a random road we'd driven by several times, that looked like it led down to the water (there are like 63 different lakes and bays and inlets within a five mile area, so don't ask me what water we were at). The park area we explored was off of a road named Cougar Gap (which sadly, did not make me fear cougars the animal, but instead snort giggle at the idea of a bunch of 40 year old women cougars prowling the park). I believe it was some sort of Deception Pass park (the major bridge crossing from Fidalgo Island to Whidbey Island), because there was a giant statue of the Maiden of Deception Pass (follow the link if you want the crazy story of a woman turning into seaweed or something). We hiked through a few more trails (despite signs posted - Warning, Harzardous Area), and eventually accepted our disappointment that we could not in fact see the Deception Pass bridge from the park.

    We headed to our last stop - another park area near Deception Pass. This one had a larger playground area, plus a fun pier that we got to walk out on. It was also a former CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) location - historical note for Farmer Girl -- the CCC did lots in the Washington forests, and CCC alumni erected a bronze statue of a CCC man (shirtless!) near this last park. NavyGuy declined to take a picture - spoil sport. Oh, the CCC was one of the programs that President Roosevelt began during the Great Depression in order to give young men jobs working in the outdoors, improving public spaces. Perhaps we'll see a resurgence of the CCC soon ;)

    By the end of our adventure, I was ready to ditch my tennis shoes and outdoorsy winter vest for slippers and a hot bath. As NavyGuy helped me limbo underneath a tree while trekking down a nonexistent trail on Mt. Erie, he commented, "I forget how uncomfortable you are in nature. It's so fun to drag you out and watch you stumble through this. We should do these types of outdoorsy things more often."

    Don't worry - I didn't push him over the edge. But he probably deserved it.


    Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    10 Questions

    A few days ago I caught an episode of James Lipton's Inside the Actor's Studio. If you aren't familiar with this show, Lipton interviews actors and actresses in front of a student audience at Pace University in New York City, and always ends the show with a short questionnaire for his guest (modeled after a previous famous questionnaire by French television personality Bernard Pivot). I decided the questionnaire would make for a fun blog post. I am going to force myself to answer the questions spontaneously - no deciding what would be the best answer, no editing - just instant responses...

    1. What is your favorite word?

    2. What is your least favorite word?
    committment (because I always misspell it)

    3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

    4. What turns you off?

    5. What is your favorite curse word?
    ass (it can be combined to express so many ideas... kick your ass, asshat, get off your ass!)

    6. What sound or noise do you love?
    NavyGuy's belly laugh

    7. What sound or noise do you hate?

    8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

    9. What profession would you not like to do?
    sewage treatment plant manager

    10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
    There's a two drink minimum.


    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    Birthday Madness

    October is a very full birthday month for me - at least six friends and family are Opal babies. So, it was a busy card-making month. Having just moved in a few days before the earliest cards needed to be sent, they were not photographed (nor were they my best ever - made with lots of love guys, but not lots of skill). The month ended on an up-note however; I modeled this card after a template featured in a scrapbooking book that I got as a birthday gift last year (from one of the October card recipients - coincidence...?).

    What I enjoy about this card is that it's a simple color scheme, yet it looks quite put together and fancy. (Sorry about the photo quality - the fuzzy greeting in the middle says "Birthday Wishes.")
    Two special grandparents will be getting these very soon...

    I'm off to start working on November birthdays!


    Crisis Averted... for Now

    Cricut Update - After a lengthy phone call -- primarily spent listening to hold music -- I will be receiving a replacement Cricut 24" Personal Electronic Cutter in 5-7 business days. Thank the lord!

    Now, we just have to hope that FedEx can find our invisible house. (Living on a new street that isn't yet in Google can prove problematic.)

    (Farmer's Wife - Plan B was definitely going to be tears and an emergency trip to Michael's with NavyGuy's credit card ;).

    My emotional state once my new Cricut arrives.



    The world hates me.

    My magical Cricut dream machine is broken.

    What did I ever do to deserve this!?!?!?!?!

    My current emotional state.


    Monday, October 20, 2008

    Ohhhhhhhhhh 2!

    Big day for NavyGuy! Today marked his official promotion - instead of being a lowly O1 (the first level of Ensign), he's now a more mature and infinitely more important O2! Well... sort of. See, the Navy automatically promotes ensigns every two years, for the first four years of their commitment. So exactly two years ago today, NavyGuy was commissioned in the Navy, and today, as he puts it, the Navy rewarded his accomplishment of "still breathing after two years of Navy life." Truth be told, he's accomplished tons of training, flights, hardships, one permanent change of duty station (aka a move), and survival training; the Navy plays it cool though and as long as he's still breathing two years later, he gets a promotion!

    So, his promotion ceremony was scheduled for late this morning. Before that he had class on base. Now what should have been a simple morning instead became increasingly more and more complicated. The biggest problem was that our truck was still being worked on at the auto shop. The other car we have is stick shift (which I cannot drive - lecture me later people), so I had to go with NavyGuy to base at 7:30am when he went in for class, and wait around at the base "library" until it was time for the promotion - at 11:30. Of course the plot thickened, because the library wasn't open right away, and at one point I was wondering around a random Navy building in dress clothes hoping I wouldn't raise suspicions or illicit some kind of body cavity search, but eventually we all got over to the correct building and were ready for the big moment.

    All of NavyGuy's friends from class were there, as well as many of his instructors (which he did NOT expect). We were gathered in a small room, and a higher ranking Navy dude introduced himself, and made a little small talk with me (did I have NavyGuy well trained already, how would I spend the promotion money - you know, military small talk). NavyGuy repeated the commissioning oath and as the fiancee, I was given the honor of putting NavyGuy's new rank insignia on his uniform. Not as easy as it sounds! You have to remove the old pins, and put the new ones in exactly, EXACTLY, the same holes so as not to mar the khaki uniform. Whew. I was sweating bullets, but I think I came across as the epitome of grace in the photo :)

    After he was officially promoted, we headed to the Officer's Club with the other flight students for lunch (on NavyGuy of course, since he's promoted and now officially making slightly more money). He's also responsible for throwing what's called a "wetting down" party. I can't explain the name (nor do I want to for now), but all I know is that the point of the party is essentially for NavyGuy to pony up however much more money he's now making towards kegs for the rest of the flight students. Oh goody gumdrops... there goes my IKEA shopping trip! But, it's a big deal for NavyGuy, so we celebrate.

    In other news, the truck is fixed, so I have wheels again - hurrah! Our bedroom has new blinds (no more monsters looking in at night), and hopefully a new part for the oven is on its way. Tonight was also "Chicken Curry in a Hurry" night (see older posts for the recipe), one of NavyGuy's favorites, so all in all - a good day!


    Sunday, October 19, 2008

    Wedding Planning Updates

    I realized it's been quite a while since I've posted anything about the wedding planning. It had been on the bottom of the priority list until we finished relocating, moving into the new house, unpacking, and so on and so forth; therefore, I had been seriously slacking.

    A quick glance at my knot page however, snapped me out of my wedding planning denial - 220 days to go! Crap nuggets! We don't have a photographer, officiant, dj, or baker. We still haven't signed the contract with the ceremony and reception venue. Literally, aside from my dress, and a binder full of inspirational pictures - we have NOTHING. I flipped into psycho planner mode earlier in the week (much to the delight of my unofficial wedding planner) and started delivering tasks to NavyGuy drill instructor style.

    So, where are we at right now?

    ~ Photographer booked: Dave Watkins out of Madison. We knew early on that photography was a huge priority for us, so I spent hours and hours reviewing online options, made some phone calls, and made a gut decision. After seeing the stress that was Sister's wedding photographer, I wanted to make sure it was someone we would click with, and I think Dave fits the bill. (Plus the photos on his website are my dream mixture of artsy, formal, creative, and classy.)

    ~ We revamped our ceremony site. Long story short, we're now doing the ceremony in the Promenade Terrace at the Overture Center. The rooftop garden option at the Museum of Modern Art was becoming way more drama than it was worth (plus now I don't have to have panic attacks about a bad weather outside wedding... double plus, it's cheaper :).

    ~ Blocks of hotel rooms for our guests are currently causing me migraines. I didn't get on the ball and do this earlier, so now several of the hotels in downtown Madison are completely booked for the wedding weekend (you explain to me who wants to have a business conference on Memorial Day weekend, but I rest my case). NavyGuy and his parents are working some magic and hopefully we won't have to stay at the YMCA on our wedding night.

    Part of the hold up at the moment is the inconvenience of planning a wedding 2000 miles, and 2 time zones, away from home. There's a lot of phone tag with vendors, and way too many internet searches. Luckily, NavyGuy is an expert at calming me down and reminding me that it will all get done. The good news is I'm getting better at making phone calls (those who know me know I would rather have my toenails forcefully extracted than talk on the phone to people I don't know), and... we still have 216 days to make it all happen!


    Friday, October 17, 2008

    Good Move Bad Move

    Good Move: Sending NavyGuy out with the boys to see Max Payne and get some drinks.

    Bad Move: Watching The Ring... home alone... by myself... at night.

    Good Move: Moving into a brand new house with huge scenic windows.

    Bad Move: Not insisting that we immediately get blinds, so the murderers/ghosts can't look right in at me.

    Good Move: Deciding I'll turn off the television before I get so scared I call my mommy at 12:30am her time.

    Bad Move: Deciding I'll just keep watching until the next commercial break...

    And that was Friday night.


    Thursday, October 16, 2008

    Rants of the Day

    ~ Why do we care what the Oprah show audience thinks about the issues? It seems like everyday, Oprah is quizzing the studio audience about something and they're voting on some (brand-name-major-company-advertiser) device. Oprah - you are not Bob Saget, and your show is not the new American's Funniest Home Videos! End the nonsensical voting!

    ~ When something breaks on my fancy pants oven, a failure code shows up on the fancy pants display screen on the front. Guess which failure code showed up at lunch today? F0. Guess what F0 means - the touch screen is broken. Grrr.

    ~ If your dog poops anywhere except your own yard, pick it up! I am stalking an old couple who walk their sheepdog up to an empty lot in our neighborhood on a daily basis, and I watch - yes, I watch - as that dopey dog takes a poop and then those two old farts walk away without so much as trying to shove some grass with their foot to cover it up! Pooper Scooper - Wal-mart.


    Halloween Cards - Cut Outs

    This holiday seems to lend itself well to cut-out shaped cards. I saw a few ideas online and from there my brain just kept going. My biggest suggestion with this is to test out the card shape on scrap paper first. That way you can make sure to have all the cuts in the correct place, and you can hold up the card and do a "what-do-you-think-this-looks-like?" test on a willing guinea pig in the house. Here are a few of the ones I tried out:

    A witch's cauldron... not my best decorative showing, but I do like the shape. (Can you tell the green blob is supposed to be the brew boiling over?)
    The card flips open and was taken from a pattern by Zany, Not Crazy.

    A ghost... the card is 4x5 1/2, but you need to fold it longwise (in other words, if you open the card up, it would be 11 inches top to bottom). That allows you to have the card flip open at the top (see where Mr. Ghost's head is a little bit flattened... that's the fold in the card). You also can't tell from the photo, but the eyeballs are 3-D (you can use thicker mounting tape).

    A Haunted House... It opens along the left side. The front door also opens. Each picture is stamped on the inside of the card so it shows through the windows/door.

    A coffin... (the card flips open along the longer left side)

    And my favorite... an eyeball! It's another Zany, Not Crazy pattern. I didn't have the stamp, so I just free-handed the writing, but other than that, it was super quick.

    Other ideas that came to me that would make good cut-out cards for Halloween: a pumpkin, a gravestone, a bat, or a witch hat (see previous post for photo). If you're in a creative slump, just changing up the shape of the card can make a huge difference. Happy Halloween!


    Halloween Cards

    The lack of posting yesterday can now be explained - I was living life instead of ranting about it! (I'll save the oven rant for later.) As I noticed on my small Google calendar, Halloween is rapidly approaching, and if I don't finish this card project, I'll have to either send the cards late, or save them until next year (which I'm not above doing, I'd just be really irritated).

    Here's a 4 card collection I made with primarily scraps and supplies I already had (I consider it a "collection" because each card shares colors, patterns, styles, or features of another card in the group).

    The papers are a Target dollar-spot find. The trees are a punch I got half off at Michael's this year (I punched one tree out of the black paper then made double use of the scraps for a tree outline for a second card.) The stamps are all part of a set I bought last year, and the polka dot ribbon is left over from Sister's rehearsal dinner invites! I also used these nifty shiny gel markers that Mom got me from Archivers (a "you got accepted to grad school" gift), that look wet even after they're dry. Each card is 5 1/2 x 4 so they'll fit regular white envelopes I already have.

    More inspiration - this began a plain white card. I added patterned paper on the inside of the card, then traced a roll of masking tape on the upper right side corn to create a half-circle cutout so you could see the cool paper inside (I'll just write the message on the back of the front). The front is covered in purple paper, and the "frame" looking thing towards the top is actually chipboard (again, Target dollar spot rocks). I covered the chipboard with the same Halloween paper from inside the card because the chipboard was originally baby themed or something. Throw a couple more scraps on top, stamp a witch's hat and greeting and you're good to go!


    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    Recipe: Rosemary Chicken and Veggies

    Real Simple magazine sometimes features recipes they deem "Make-Ahead Meals." In other words, the meal can be completely put together beforehand, and all you need to do after a long day at work is throw it in the oven, and wha-la! Dinner is served!

    I didn't make this ahead of time, but the freezing steps seem simple enough. The ingredients you need:

    Rosemary Chicken with Zucchini
    1 pound new potatoes
    2 carrots
    2 small zucchini
    2 Tbsp olive oil
    2 Tbsp whole-grain mustard (I just bought cheap non-yellow mustard)
    1 bunch rosemary (1 Tbsp - but just throw a handful in)
    4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
    4 1-quart resealable plastic freezer bags (if freezing)

    Quarter the potatoes. Peel the carrots. Cut the carrots and zucchini into 2-inch sticks. Mix all the veggies in a bowl with the olive oil, mustard, rosemary, and some salt and pepper. Season the chicken breasts with some salt and pepper. If you're freezing the meal ahead of time, you next need to put one chicken breast in each resealable bag, and add some veggies to each bag. The brilliance here is that you've now got four servings. If you live by yourself, you pull out one bag when you want the meal, cook it up, and bam - you're done. If you live with several military boys, you double the recipe to begin with, and throw 8-10 bags worth in the oven :)

    Now to cook. Heat oven to 400. Empty the contents of the bags (or just put everything fresh from the bowl if you did not make-ahead), into a baking dish. I used a 9x13 glass dish which seemed to work well. Roast for 25 minutes. Toss the veggies, turn the chicken, and continue roasting until the chicken is cooked through, another 20-25 minutes. I flipped the veggies around a couple extra times during the process to make sure they didn't burn. The chicken was thawed when it went in the oven; the recipe doesn't indicate that you need to thaw the bags beforehand if frozen, but obviously, adjust cooking times so you don't give yourself salmonella.

    It was great. I would maybe add a side dish of crescent rolls or some type of bread next time, but the fact that NavyGuy ate it when a major taste ingredient is mustard, is a miracle. Real Simple triumphs again!


    Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Continued

    Below are additional selections from Barbara Kingsolver's book on seasonal eating. If you have not read the first part of this book review, most of this will make absolutely no sense to you whatsoever; I highly encourage you to scroll down and read part 1 first.

    "Waiting for foods to come into season means tasting them when they're good, but waiting is also part of most value equations. Treating foods this way can help move "eating" in the consumer's mind from the Routine Maintenance Department over to the Division of Recreation."
    This is where the instant-gratification culture becomes a problem; why only eat asparagus during the few spring weeks when it's actually at it's peak, when you can buy it at Safeway year round? According to Kingsolver, most Americans don't even know what good asparagus tastes like, because we've transformed it into a fancy side dish available any time in any restaurant. I would argue that one should aim for more balance; ingest all the asparagus you can stomach when it's really good in the spring, and then save it as a special treat a few other dinners during the year.
    "Woe is us, we overfed, undernourished U.S. citizens - we are eating poorly for so very many reasons. A profit-driven, mechanized food industry has narrowed down our variety and overproduced corn and soybeans. But we let other vegetables drop from the menu without putting up much of a fight. In our modern Cafe Dysfunctional, "eat your vegetables" has become a battle cry of mothers against presumed unwilling subjects. In my observed experience, boys in high school cafeterias treat salad exactly as it it were a feminine hygeine product, and almost nobody touches the green beans. Broccoli was famously condemned in the 1990s, from the highest office in the land. What's a mother to do? Apparently, she's to shrug and had the kids a gigantic cup of carbonated corn syrup. Corn is a vegetable, right? Good, because on average we're consuming 54.8 gallons of soft drinks, per person, per year."
    Yeeeooowza! First off, picture 54 gallon containers of milk. Compare your stats - does your household go through a gallon of milk per week? Because that's probably the minimum amount of soda you're going through if we're playing the law of averages. Second of all, I've been in high school cafeterias in the recent past and can personally vouch that "salads" and all other green items were not well received. Peer pressure is a huge factor in high school diets; find a kid who admits to not liking french fries, and you'll find a kid who's ribbed mercilessly by his friends. Find a kid who admits he'd rather eat carrot sticks than french fries - well, if you find that kid let me know, cuz I haven't found one yet. Kingsolver does not address the school cafeteria proper in her book, but most are as horrible as you remember, and teens are not rewarded for choosing healthy options - if they even exist. For some reason, a turkey sandwich costs more than a slice of pizza; gee, which one of those do you think a teenager is going to pick?
    "... A perception of organic food as an elite privilege is a considerable obstacle for the farmer growing food for the middle-income customers whose highest food-shopping priority is the lowest price... Grocery money is an odd sticking point for U.S. citizens, who on average spend a lower proportion of our income on food than people in any other country, or any heretofore in history.... it's interesting that penny-pinching is an accepted defense for toxic food habits, when frugality so rarely rules other consumer domains. The majority of Americans buy bottled drinking water, for example, even though water runs from faucets at home for a fraction of the cost, and government quality standards are stricter for tap water than for bottled. At any income level, we can be relied upon for categorically unnecessary purchases: portable-earplug music instead of the radio; extra-fast Internet for leisure use; heavy vehicles to transport light loads; name-brand clothing instead of plainer gear."

    "Shoppers who are most daunted by the high price of organics may be looking at bar codes on boutique-organic prepared foods, not actual vegetables. A quality diet is not an elitist option... Globally speaking, people consumer more soft drinks and packaged foods as they grow more affluent; home-cooked meals of fresh ingredients are the mainstay of rural, less affluent people. This link between economic success and nutritional failure ahs becomes to widespread, it has a name: nutrition transition."
    It is certainly interesting as we barrel towards the Great Depression "the sequel" (trademarked by my mother - no copyright infringement here), to reflect on the personal economic decisions that many made in the past few years. I love Kingsolver's argument that we're willing to go into debt to entertain ourselves in our downtime (iPods, premium tv channels, vacations, and so on and so forth), yet not willing to pay an extra dollar for arugala... which according to many is "elitist." (Remember the uproar over Obama's comments about the price of arugala - since when is it elitist to name-check a vegetable? Sigh.) Anyway, Kingsolver addresses the elitist/budget issue in several ways throughout the book, and the argument that I fall back on is that a person has to prioritize; if you want to spend your money on entertainment, that's fine, but don't expect that that choice won't come with consequences eventually.
    "A survey of National Merit Scholars - [super smarty pants high school seniors] - turned up a common thread in their lives: the habit of sitting down to a family dinner table."
    Not rocket science, but, a good reminder nonetheless. Mom, thanks for forcing us to sit at the kitchen table and eat tuna noodle casserole with you so often - it did more than just a body good.

    There is one additional topic that Kingsolver raised in her book, concerning cooking and women, and because it extends for several pages, I'm struggling to condense her points without retyping four pages. So, I will likely be subjecting you all to one more post on this book. (Who knew I would have so much to say about food!?!)


    Monday, October 13, 2008

    Programming Note

    When it rains, it pours! Tomorrow's Oprah show is a Lisa Ling investigation into where our food comes from! It's like Barbara Kingsolver knew I just finished her book, and phoned Oprah to tell her to do this show :)


    Lisa Ling Reports: How We Treat the Animals We Eat (PG)
    Have you ever wondered what "cage-free" or "range-free" really means? Lisa Ling gets a rare look inside some of America's farms. Where does our food come from?
    I'll try to watch and give a quick recap after.


    Recipe: Chicken Teriyaki Sliders

    Yummo! Or at least, that's how Rachael Ray described these mini chicki-burgers this summer when she convinced my mom and I to print off the recipe after watching her whip them up on The Rachael Ray Show. Well, it only took three months (actually not outrageously long) for me to actually try out the recipe. Tonight my willing guinea pigs were NavyGuy and Marine #1. Needless to say - there are no leftovers.

    Quick and easy, these are a fun alternative to a traditional hamburger, but were still complimented nicely by frozen french fries.

    Rachael Ray's Chicken Teriyaki Sliders
    (This link has the recipe, as well as the clip from the show where she makes them. Notes: My version excluded the pickled ginger (and the Bibb lettuce, but that was just a shopping oversight, not a conscious exclusion). The uncooked ground chicken is a little mushy and messy to work with, so prepare to wash your hands often as you're forming the patties and placing them in the hot oil.)



    Sunday, October 12, 2008

    Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
    Barbara Kingsolver (with contributions from Camille Kingsolver and Steven Hopp)
    c2007 Harper Collins, 400 pgs.

    For dinner tonight, I had two slices of sausage and pepperoni pizza, washed down with a Oreo blizzard from Dairy Queen (an extreme example, but it could be a homecooked meal and it would still make the same point). The sauce on the pizza was potentially made from tomatoes grown in China, responsible for 1/4 of the world's output. The cheese on the pizza and milk in the ice cream may have come from cows in California, or far away Wisconsin. Not knowing what specific brand or type of sausage and pepperoni Papa Murphy's chooses to festoon their pizzas with, I can't be certain where the meats came from, but the lack of livestock roaming the hills of northern Washington leads me to believe they didn't come from around here. Needless to say, had I not been engrossed in the book featured in this review, I would not have given my dinner a second thought - except perhaps to contemplate a third slice.

    Thinking about and being aware of where your food comes from is only one aim of Barbara Kingsolver's most recent book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Kingsolver is a well-known novelist (begin with The Poisonwood Bible, and go from there), so when I saw her latest on a table at Barnes and Noble, I was curious what a fiction writer would have to say about a year's worth of food. The book is essentially a year of Kingsolver's life; quoting from the book, "This is the story of a year in which we [she and her family] made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew...". Basically, using a lot of family gardening know how, some helpful rural connections, and extensive use of local farmer's markets, the Kingsolver family swore off Pop-Tarts and grocery store ground beef for a year, choosing to provide their bodies with only food that they knew had been grown or tended in a healthy way - healthy for the animal or vegetable, the environment, and the humans consuming it. They have some ups and downs, but by the end, the family celebrates their success. Kingsolver chronicles their year with educational information on food and farming; statistical information substantiating the idea that eating locally is better for your diet, wallet, waist, children, and planet; anecdotes about turkey sex and cheese making; and thought-provoking information about the priorities most Americans have and how our food choices seem too often in contradiction with every other goal we have in life.

    For those of you who know me well, you might be wondering at this point how or why I read this entire book, basically encouraging a lifestyle I am not only completely unqualified to subscribe to, but also probably not really interested in. In the past, I've been known to use the word "organic" as a slur, and vegetables usually arrive in my body via ketchup, pie, or mistake. However, I am turning over a new leaf - figuratively and literally! Why this change of heart? Well, several reasons: 1) for budgeting reasons, I am trying to force NavyGuy (and myself) to eat homecooked meals more often, requiring actual cooking, not just radiating Lean Cuisines; 2) in an attempt to retain my youthful physique (for health reasons solely, I would never be so vain as to want to be super fit and hot for the upcoming wedding...); 3) doctors claim that injesting vegetables and other healthy alternatives will improve your overall health and wellness, and they're probably right; and 4) I can't figure out any rational downsides to this idea. Additionally, this book is incredibly convincing; reading it inspires a person to want to cook more, to shop more discriminately; to be more patient, and to search out quality instead of quantity (or our modern equivalent - the cheapest/fastest option).

    Kingsolver is not a rabid environmentalist or an angry farmer ranting about the big corporations who are killing the small family farm (she rants a few times, but that's just good writing). She doesn't expect the majority of readers to start their own gardens in the backyard or survive just on roots and grasses for life. She simply wants people to be more involved in what they put in their mouths - where the food came from, whether it has any nutritional value, etc. It is difficult to summarize all of the issues covered in the book, but when you stop to think about it, food and the act of eating is really a "current event" that impacts everyone on a daily basis; it connects to countless issues in society - environmental concerns, food costs, transportation costs, childhood obesity - even family values. Kingsolver gives a wonderful sound bite about the irony of how many Americans complicate their attempts to provide a healthy lifestyle for their children:

    "Family time is at a premium for most of us, and legitimate competing interests can easily crowd out cooking. But if grabbing fast food is the only way to get the kids to their healthy fresh-air soccer practice on time, that's an interesting call."
    Throughout the book, Kingsolver refrains from sounding preachy or condescending, which I appreciated. Obviously, I'm not going to go out and start only eating locally produced food; Nabisco and General Mills will still have my business. Krispy Kreme and Qdoba can still count me in their quarterly profits. But, I can take small steps - the other day, instead of buying pre-cut, bagged baby carrots, I bought a regular bunch of full length, un-cleaned, fresh from the ground, carrots. Sure, I have to clean them and peel them and cut them and sort them into my own small baggies, but it felt kind of good! Plus, I finally got to use the cute vegetable peeler I bought at Target four years ago. Did it take a little more time? Yes. Did I do it while I watching a television show I would have normally been sitting on my ass watching? Yes. Did I save a little money? Yes. Do I feel better? Yes.

    I could also try the Anacortes Farmer's Market this coming weekend and see what kind of fall vegetables I can find. Another major point in the book is to eat things in season, instead of paying a premium for fruits and vegetables that are not meant to be harvested in October in the northern hemisphere. Not only do, for instance asparagus or artichokes, cost more in the fall, but according to her, they just plain do not taste as good out of season. She brilliantly points out how our instant-gratitication culture has forced us to do away with all normal growing seasons:
    "The main barrier standing between ourselvs and a local-food culture is not price, but attitude. The most difficult requirements are patience and a pinch of restraint - virtues that are hardly the property of the wealthy. These virtues seem to find precious little shelter, in fact, in any modern quarter of this nation founded by Puritans. Furthermore, we apply them selectively: browbeating our teenagers with the message that they should wait for sex, for example. Only if they wait to experience intercourse under the ideal conditions (the story goes), will they know its true value. 'Blah blah blah' hears the teenager: words issueing from a mouth that can't even wait for the right time to eat tomatoes, but instead consumes tasteless ones all winter to satisfy a craving for everything now."
    The beginning of the book takes a little while to rev up; there's a lot of vegetable explanations and for a novice, it's a lot to absorb. Kingsolver's explanation ("picture a single imaginary plant, bearing throughout one season all the different vegetables we harvest...") of a "vegetannual" helps create a visual mnemonic device for remembering when different plants are in season (left). Regardless of your political feelings, beliefs about climate change, or personal food tastes, I would strongly urge each of you to read this book (or if not, at least carefully read the excerpts I've included below and in a following post). Living in an urban area, struggling on a limited budget, or having any specific dietary regulations are all challenges to changing the way you eat; the most difficult obstacle to overcome though is willpower and attitude. I am certainly not trying to guilt trip any of you into avoiding Pick'n'Save; I will still be eating pizza at least once a week. It's quick, it's easy, and I almost never mess it up. However, there's nothing wrong with me buying an actual onion or pepper to chop up and add to the basic pizza though... food for thought? :)

    I have two special recommendations. Farmer's Wife - not only do I think you would find this book fascinating (based on your green thumb and obvious occupational connections), but I'd be curious to hear your opinion knowing what you know about dairy farming, etc. YellowBunny Girl - you may find this book helpful from a dietary standpoint. There are countless recipes in the book (and on their accompanying website) that would probably work well with your food restrictions.

    Additional bits from the book that stuck out to me and/or made me think:

    "In two generations we've transformed ourselves from a rural to an urban nation. North American children begin their school year around Labor Day and finish at the beginning of June with no idea that this arrangement was devised to free up children's labor when it was needed on the farm. Most people of my grandparents' generation had an intuitive sense of agricultural basics: when various fruits and vegetables come into season, which ones keep through the winter, how to preserve the others... Few people of my generation, and approximately none of our children, [know this]. This knowledge has vanished from our culture.

    "We also have largely convinced ourselves it wasn't too important. Consider how Americans might respond to a proposal that agriculture was to become a mandatory subject in all schools, alongside reading and mathematics... The baby boom psyche embraces a powerful presumption that education is a key to moving away from manual labor, and dirt - two undeniable ingredients of farming. It's good enough for us that somebody, somewhere, knows food production well enough to serve the rest of us with all we need to eat, each day of our lives.

    "If that is true, why isn't it good enough for someone else to know multiplication and the contents of the Bill of Rights? Is the story of bread from tilled ground to our table, less relevant to our lives than the history of the thirteen colonies? Couldn't one make a case for the relevance of a subject that informs choices we make daily - as in, What's for dinner? Isn't ignorance of our food sources causing problems as diverse as overdependence on petroleum, and an epidemic of diet-related diseases?
    I leave you to hem and haw over this tidbit. It was the first page I folded down in the book, and I'll post more excerpts from the book soon. If you're interested in more info now, check out the accompanying website: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.


    Saturday, October 11, 2008

    A Manly Night (Belch)

    Can I describe for you the last hour of my life? I sat with three boys watching Ultimate Fighting Champtionship (UFC for those in the know), eating a brat, and drinking a beer. I did not use a napkin. My pretty house has officially become taken over by farting, drinking, belching, scratching, smelly boys. Besides my highly unusual actions, how do I know this?

    a) the coffee table in the livingroom is covered in XBox 360 controllers and games.
    b) the fridge has two entire shelves devoted to beer.
    c) it is only considered a meal if it includes meat.
    d) fruit platters are not necessary, or desired, side dishes.
    e) silverware is optional.
    f) the television seems to only receive the following channels: Spike, FX, military channel, and ESPN.
    g) apparently, watching a television show in regular broadcast quality when an HD version is available is "lunacy."
    h) the only shoes that have been removed and carefully set on the mat by the backdoor are mine.
    i) boxes containing kitchen items have stood unpacked in the middle of the kitchen since arriving on Monday; boxes containing DVDs were unpacked within hours.
    j) it is not out of the question to consider driving twenty miles at nine o' clock at night to buy the video game Rock Band when the urge strikes.
    k) also not out of the question is choosing to grill out when it's 45 degrees.
    l) had I a nickel for every inch of cable or cord now running along the pretty white baseboards in this house, I could afford to pay for this house on my own!

    Sigh. NavyGuy on his own is actually quite domesticated. He was well-trained and does appreciate a clean countertop and is capable of doing most household chores unsupervised (honestly, often better than I). However, when his good habits are combined with those of an undomesticated beast (aka, a single guy), all bets are off. I'm going to go scrapbook and paint my nails in an effort to gain back some lost estrogen.


    Weekend Wanderings

    Friday got off to a fun start with a lunch date in Oak Harbor. Upon arriving in my new home, I realized that NavyGuy would not be available to entertain me every hour of the day once he went back to work; therefore, I set about trying to find other Navy ladies in the area who yearned for girl talk, crafts, and/or anything unrelated to airplanes. Luckily for me, I met a girl (B) and we set up lunch so we could meet and see if we actually hit it off in person.

    Hit it off we did! We have discovered we enjoy many of the same things - crafting, men who like to tell us things about airplanes that we don't understand, chicken teriyaki - and had a great time chatting about our new home in the Pacific Northwest. We chatted for so long, that NavyGuy texted and called, worried because I was gone so long (apparently, he feared I had wandered into an Asian restaurant in Oak Harbor and was then kidnapped and sold into white slavery). Hopefully B and I will get a chance to get together again soon :)

    The fun continued when I got home and found my first Anacortes mail had arrived - a package from Mom! Four Newsweeks, one Real Simple, one In-Style, one Pottery Barn catalogue, and one nifty fall themed table runner later, I realized I had a lot of good reading to do (and would finally need to tackle the pile of nonsense residing on the dining room table if I wanted to actually test out the cute runner). Dinner was Japanese food at a pretty good restaurant in downtown Anacortes, and then I crashed in bed with my book early.

    So far on Saturday, I've been highly productive. The dining room table AND piano have both been cleared (and dusted), several framed pictures have made it onto walls, and I've unpacked the box of fall decorations and dolled up the house. The "boys" (NavyGuy plus whatever random combination of other male flight students show up) are headed to see Body of Lies and then come back home and grill brats for dinner (you can take the girl out of Wisconsin, but you can't take the Wisconsin out of the girl). And the fun continues...


    Friday, October 10, 2008

    Recipe: Cheesy Potato and Broccoli Soup

    I went old school and made my first soup yesterday. Yes, Laura Ingalls would be so proud. On the plus side, it doesn't take many ingredients, the stuff you do need is fairly cheap, and it's freaky-deaky easy to put together. The recipe with my notes are included below.

    Broccoli and Potato Soup - Better Homes and Gardens

    - 2 medium red potatoes (chopped)
    - 1 14oz. can of chicken broth
    - 3 cups small broccoli florets
    - 2 cups milk
    - 3 Tbsp flour
    - 2 cups (8oz.) smoked Gouda shredded (I substituted regular cheddar)
    - 2 cups winter greens (romaine, spinach, curly endive, or other) (I left this out because I forgot about it. Ooops.)

    1) Combine potatoes and broth in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil; then reduce heat and simmer covered for 8 minutes. Mash potatoes slightly.
    2) Add the broccoli and milk; bring to simmer.
    3) In a medium bowl, toss the flour and the cheese; gradually add the mixture to the soup, stirring the cheese until it's melted. Season with black pepper.
    4) Serve in shallow bowls and top with greens.

    That's it! So easy! I followed the directions pretty much exactly - except for adding the greens - and NavyGuy deemed it filling and worthy of keeping around :)


    Thursday, October 9, 2008

    HOW much is that paper?

    Here's the thing: I'm not a total cheapskate. Contrary to vicious rumors circulating in some circles, I will in fact occasionally pay more for quality products (for instance, Cold Stone ice cream, Cheerios vs. the store brand Taste-ios, the new twisty shaped lightbulbs that are supposed to save the earth). However, I draw the line at paying $2.90 for a sheet of 12x12 scrapbook paper.

    Oh wait - except I DID today! Yeah - that's right, I could have gotten three or four candy bars, but instead, I got one freakin' piece of Halloween themed paper! And why did this happen?!? Because of Catholic guilt. Catholic guilt and improper price tag postage. Oh, and because NavyGuy wanted to see a movie.

    Okay, so... NavyGuy wanted to see a movie in Burlington at the real theater. Scratch that. NavyGuy suggested we see a movie, and I willingly went along with the plan since it was a flick I wanted to see (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist - good, but not the point of our story). I had a strict nine o'clock date with Jim from The Office, so we had to catch a matinee. The drive to Burlington can take anywhere from twenty minutes to forty-five minutes depending on the number of idiots on the road, so we had to leave early, lest we miss a preview. However, we got there quickly, and that gave us time to stop at the scrapbooking store, Pages in Time, located in Burlington (are you following the dots?). It's a small hole-in-the-wall shop that I hoped would yield unique finds not available at Michael's Crafts. NavyGuy stayed in the car (he was on a phone call with his dad and was devastated to have missed the scrapbook store experience), so I wandered in alone, unaware of the paper trap I was innocently stepping into.

    The store seemed so innocent, so friendly and open. A decent amount of supplies, but as I started checking prices on the back of punches and stamp sets, I could feel my stomach start to turn. Meandering over to the paper stacks, a few shiny Halloween patterns caught my eye. How much could a couple sheets of paper cost? I flipped over the paper. No price sticker. Hmmm... maybe there's a price sign posted above the stack... nope... errr... okay, the saleslady is busy talking about church missions with the high school girl buying bulldog stickers, aw, I'll just get these couple sheets.

    Now, you would think that when I got up to the counter, I would have asked for a price check before agreeing to trade a kidney for some paper. But, the last in the trio of deadly downfalls struck - the Catholic guilt. I already had the paper in my hand. It was a small shop - the saleslady was probably the owner! Oh jeez, and there's a picture of her granddaughter. She probably needs this income to be able to buy food for that little girl. Gosh, I can't ask her for the price, and then not buy the paper and walk out of here empty handed...

    So now, instead of paying my phone bill this month - I got four pieces of Halloween themed paper! Agh!!!!! Plus, I spent so much damn money on them, I can't even bear to cut them up and use them for cards. I may have to just put them in frames and use them as wall art for the rest of my life. Sigh. What have we learned? 1) Do not let Mugs go into craft stores alone. 2) Catholic guilt never fully leaves a person regardless of how long it's been since she's gone to church. 3) Products should always be properly priced in stores, and this is why I usually stick to the big box stores that have clearly marked Dollar Spots!!!!!

    Oh - this little story is why I already busted my budget for my $10 Halloween cards challenge. I will accept none of the blame, and will still be angling for extra money for the Thanksgiving decor. It's also why I don't have another finished Halloween card to post here tonight. Sorry. Complaints can be directed to NavyGuy, the Catholic church, and/or the proprietor of Pages in Time.


    Craft Project: Halloween Cards

    For my Halloween greeting cards this year, I am challenging myself to create all of the cards on a budget of only $10. I usually make about 10-15 cards for friends and family, and am determined this year to reuse last year's stamp set that I purchased, as well as the plethora of paper scraps, doo-dads, etc. that I have stocked in my scrapbook area. I figure, if I spend very little on these cards, it will be significantly easier to convince NavyGuy of my need to shell out when it comes time to make Thanksgiving and Christmas cards.

    That said, my first card was inspired by a sample I found online last night. (I've included the original inspiration below, which has more detailed instructions on how to cut the shape of the card.) I like this card because of the cute hat shape, as well as the wording - a pun! Fantastic :) The brim of the hat is just a piece of black paper attached to the bottom of the front of the card. There were two types of paper, and I stamped small bats on the patterned paper to make it a little busier. The wording was also stamped with black ink (not my best stamping effort, but I'm a little rusty). I'm also not thrilled with my paper combination, but as a prototype, it turned out fine.

    This second photo shows how the card opens.
    Online Inspiration and Tutorial


    Wednesday, October 8, 2008

    Christmas Came Early This Year

    I have officially rejoined the world. Our palace in Anacortes is fully wired - phone, internet, cable!!!! It's almost too much for me to take. Earlier in the evening, I was sitting on my bed, surfing the internet, watching tonight's episode of Project Runway (part 1 of the finale!), and deciding whether I could call my mom long distance on our new digital phone line (as it was 11:30pm her time, I refrained from calling). If the Comcast guy had not resembled a hobbit with scary facial hair, I might have kissed him once he announced his work was complete. I know, I know - in the grand scheme of things, living for a bit without modern conveniences like cable TV and internet access is not exactly what one would call a hardship; but, I'm sure the people in poorer countries, if they knew the joy that is a high-speed wireless connection, would be just as desperate for that amenity as they are for, you know, food and stuff. (Judge all you want, folks - I can tune you out with my 99 channels of cable goodness.)

    Additionally, my evening included red wine and Cold Stone Creamery!!! (Again, judge away. Red wine has antioxidants. Ice cream has calcium. Need something rationalized? Call your local "Justifier"! For a small fee, she'll develop a reasonable argument to make you feel better about any questionable choices you make in your day.) Honestly, what more could a girl want? I knew the technology stuff was happening today, but the liquor and empty calories were just (literal) icing on the cake! I'm off to bask in the glow of my television screen - I wonder what the world record is for most hours of television watched in a row...


    The Green Monster Rears its Ugly Stamp Pad...

    So not fair! Apparently, in what I can only imagine is a reward for buying into all that Scientology crap, Mrs. Tom Cruise gets 3K a month to spend at craft stores - primarily buying scrapbooking supplies! Celebitchy broke the story (Katie Holmes loves Scrapbooking), and while it helps me believe that little Joey Potter has not completely morphed into a cyborg, as a scrapper of limited means, I'm totally jealous!


    Tuesday, October 7, 2008

    Noteworthy News of Others

    Not much to report on my front, so I thought I would share some tidbits/messages about the fun peeps I've caught up with lately...

    ~ Shout out to my two fabulous aunts... who happen to share a birthday tomorrow! Happy Birthday ladies! May you both get all the chocolate, wine, and/or gifts you so richly deserve :)

    ~ Farmer's Wife (blog in other reading material) celebrated her daughter's first birthday over the weekend. Check out the blog for the super cute pics of Baby A wearing her first birthday cake!

    ~ A big ole bon voyage goes out to TWP for her upcoming trip to New York. She, her hubby, their daughter Baby M, and her mom are headed there this weekend, she's going to get to go to a big dessert party with all the Food Network Stars!!!! (I've already requested that if she sees Duff from Ace of Cakes, she could perhaps put a bug in his ear and find out what he's doing Memorial Day Weekend 2009...). In other news from her life, she walked into her livingroom a few days ago to find her nine month old daughter eating the dog's poop, and from our discussion today, it sounds like she's still washing Baby M's mouth out (and I thought the spider in my laundry room was gross!).

    ~ Sister's pooch Lucy, (aka my niece), needs a "get well soon" walk and puppy bone. Apparently my absence has left her mentally weak and sick to her stomach.

    ~ NavyGuy got a haircut.

    If I've missed any important news, give me a shout! The librarian is starting to give me the stink eye for setting up a temporary office at the good table and perhaps drinking a liquid that is not properly covered. I better get going or else all of my hold books will mysteriously never arrive...

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