Monthly Archives: November 2009

It’s always best to go when it’s snowing outside

Dan and I seem to make it to the zoo at least once every winter. We usually try to go when it’s snowing outside, which seriously cuts down on the crowds and screaming children, but yesterday we just needed some exercise and so we decided to walk to the zoo, crowds be damned. It was actually pretty cold, so there weren’t as many people as there could have been, and there were lots of cute babies and little kids.

There were also lots of animals. Here are some of the good photos I got.

Peacock looks for forbidden snacks in strollers parked outside the Tropical Discovery building.

Cheetah in repose. Usually he’s pacing because there are kangaroos in the next enclosure over but they weren’t out that day.

Rhino hanging out right near his paparazzi.

Same with Komodo dragon.

Polar bear feet are REALLY BIG.

Just hangin’ out with his giraffe homeys.

Two-headed lion

Funny-looking bird is funny-looking

We spent a good amount of time, as we always do, in the Great Ape area. On display were the two bachelor brother gorillas (rather than the big silverback and his family) and they were amusing themselves. We spoke with a docent who volunteers in the Great Ape area, who told us a lot about the apes that we never would have known.

The Denver Zoo may not be world-class, but it’s still a pretty good zoo, and, all things considered, an excellent deal. Plus, walking to and from the zoo is good exercise for us during a weekend of sloth and gluttony!

Loki loves Petra


Petra decided to hang out with my knitting on the couch, where she almost never goes. Loki decided to hang out with Petra.

How to process a pumpkin: a pictorial essay

Materials you will need:

1 sugar pumpkin (not the kind you carve)
1 knife
1 cutting board
1 9×13 pan
aluminum foil
oven
large spoon
colander
food processor
cheesecloth

Preheat oven to 400F.

1. Using big knife, cut pumpkin in half across the middle.

2. Scoop out seeds using your hands or a spoon. If you want to keep them, do it over a colander under running water. Separate the seeds from the strands, rinse, and place on a cookie sheet to dry for a day.

3. Use a spoon to scrape out as many of the strings as you can. It’s not a big deal if you can’t get them all.

4. Place pumpkin halves flesh-side down in the baking pan and add about 1/4 inch of water to the bottom of the pan. Cover with aluminum foil and roast for 45-60 minutes or until flesh is soft when poked with a fork. Let cool.


before


after

5. When pumpkin halves are cool enough to handle, use large spoon to scrape soft flesh from rind. Put 1/4 of the flesh in the food processor at a time. Process until very smooth (the consistency of baby food). Add processed pumpkin to a bowl and repeat until all the pumpkin is pureed.


6. Cut a length of cheesecloth big enough to create a pouch, making sure you have several thicknesses layered on top of one another. Place square of cheesecloth over a colander and spoon some of the pumpkin into the middle.

7. Gather cheesecloth up over pumpkin puree and make a little sack with your hands. Use your hands to massage and squeeze as much water as you can out of the pumpkin without squeezing flesh out the holes in the cheesecloth. This may take a while.

8. Put now-dry pumpkin puree into a different bowl.

9. Repeat steps 8 and 9 until all pumpkin has been dehydrated. (If you aren’t in a hurry, you can spread all the pumpkin over cheesecloth in a colander in the sink and let it sit for several hours so the water runs out. I am not that patient.)

10. Voila! You now have at least one pumpkin pie’s worth of fresh pumpkin mush. You can rinse out and reuse the cheesecloth for another project. It will dry in a short amount of time and be only slightly orange.


Coming soon: making pumpkin pie from scratch.

(All photos by Dan except the one of the pumpkin seeds, which I took.)

Twenty years later

Not long after we moved into the new house in the ‘dale, Laurel turned three right around Thanksgiving. We didn’t know many people her age in town, so most of the party guests were Lissa’s friends, the neighbor kids, and their cousins.

L-R Kid, Laurel, Kid, Me, Kid, Lissa, Kid
Also, I just want to point out that whoever took the photo managed to get every one of our faces in shadow! hee.

Mostly I remember that the kids spent a good portion of the party jumping in leaf piles in the backyard. What’s a better activity than that?

Happy birthday, little sister. May every birthday be as carefree as that one 20 years ago was.

Things for which I am thankful

Good food

Healthy family and friends

Healthy pets

Getting to see my family via webcam and say happy birthday to my little sister.

Wine

That I found jeans that fit

That I am capable of lifting 40 pound bags of cat litter

A wonderful, awesome, and loving husband

A job that pays the bills

That I get to see snow fall, and sunny skies, and rain, and everything else that makes each day different from the last

Wrangler butts drive me nuts

It suddenly occurred to me last week that I had exactly two pairs of functional, fitting jeans, and one pair of pants that weren’t jeans and weren’t Nice Work Pants. So last weekend, we went in search of new jeans for me (and some for Dan).

Saturday’s excursion was singularly unproductive. Every singe pair I tried on, everyplace we went, felt like a pair of tights made out of jean material. Now, I understand that jeans go through fashion seasons and styles just like anything else. In my opinion, jeans are comfortable pants that are acceptable to wear in public. Personally, I don’t find tights made out of denim to be comfortable. I’m not “slim through hip and thigh” like every pair of jeans I tried on seemed to be. Even going up two sizes to fit the hip/thigh area created a bizarre waist gap.

Look, I’m not asking for a lot. I want a pair of jeans that look good on my ass, and aren’t creating sausage casings for my legs. I want to be able to sit in them and still have circulation. I like a bootcut or flared style to help counteract my enormous calves, and a dark rinse. Once upon a time, it wasn’t that hard to find what I was looking for, but Saturday was an exercise in futility. When we came home empty-handed, Dan brought up the idea of a brand of jeans I’d tried on before and never purchased, Cruel Girl.

Cruel Girl jeans are sold at the local cowboy superstore, Shepler’s. So on Sunday, we went down to the cowboy store and I tried on about 89983049835 pairs of jeans in every imaginable size, shape, rise, and iteration, and at least 6 different brands. I gotta say, if you’re looking for quality jeans at a decent price and a wide variety of brands, Shepler’s in Denver is a good place to go. Dan managed to find a new brand of jeans he liked, too, and I found one pair that I decided I had to get. They were 30 bucks and comfy as hell. They weren’t Cruel Girl, though, which I decided were just took expensive for one pair. Then, when we got home, Dan found that the brand he liked (Cinch) and Cruel Girl are made by the same company, a local company, that has an outlet in North Denver.

On Monday I took the opportunity to head down the 16th street mall and look for jeans at TJ Maxx and Cross Dress for Less. After several false starts, I found a pair that made my ass look fantastic for $20 on clearance (Seven brand!) so I bought ’em. I wore them on Tuesday, and probably should have washed them first, because they had sizing that made me itch all day and I got welts on my skin around the waistband. (They’re in the wash now). And then today I had off (unpaid furlough day, and don’t get me started), so we went to the outlet store that sells Cinch and Cruel Girl, and I tried on at least 20 pairs, with several I really liked, while Dan found a pair that look great on him on the clearance rack. But after buying 2 pairs of jeans already this week, and with the expense of having a Very Sick Kitty, I decided against buying any of the Cruel Girl jeans. Maybe next time.

Synchronicity

Sometimes I get a kick out of little things that other people might not notice.

The other day, I was at the gym, listening to my ipod, doing a cooldown crunches/leg lifts sort of deal after the cardio workout. On my ipod was a medley of Sublime songs. As I started my 100 crunches, I thought to myself how funny it would be if the song that were on, Jailhouse, happened to play the line “Had the ’89 vision” when I did crunch #89 (I count them in my head). Then I forgot about it until I got to number 80, when I realized it might happen, and then it did. I did the 89th crunch just as that line played.

It’s the little things in life that make me happy.

The things I do for you, Internet.

Ever since my office moved from a dank basement to the 11th floor of a building that overlooks the Capitol, I’ve enjoyed some of the creature comforts available. There’s a little kitchenette thing that allows me to wash dishes I use, and a fridge in which to store stuff. But my favorite is the area that has somehow sprung up, like magic, at the end of the row of cubes where I sit. It’s right by the window, and there’s a comfy chair and an end table with a pile of free books.

I’ve found all kinds of entertaining trash in the free book pile, usually things I wouldn’t bother to buy or check out of the library, but things about which I am curious. Like Eat, Pray, Love, for example: I got around to reading it because it was in the free pile. I’ve read a whole host of whodunit procedurals and other sorts of brain candy/trash in the last year, thanks to the free book pile. But on Friday, I went over to check out what was available, and lo and behold, I hit the motherlode. There, on the top of the pile, were the movie-tie-in cover versions of everyone’s favorite sparkly emo vampire trash, Twilight and New Moon.

!

Internet, I never intended to read these books. I have not and would not have sought them out. I would not have borrowed them from the library or paid any amount of cash money to own them, nor would I have borrowed them from someone I know who owns them. But the siren song of the free book pile at work called to me for a reason on Friday, and I knew that I would have to take one for the team and read some sparkly emo vampire trash so that you wouldn’t have to, Internet.

I find it difficult to believe that anyone out there who pays any attention to popular culture whatsoever would not know of these books. They’re the biggest new thing since Harry Potter, beloved by tweens/teenage girls and middle-aged moms alike. Fans are called Twihards (or something?) and man, are there ever fans, because despite terrible reviews the movie version of New Moon, which came out this weekend, was the 3rd biggest movie opener ever. I knew there HAD to be some reason why so many people love these books, and I decided I needed to figure it out for myself.

Despite clocking in at around 500 pages, Twilight took me about 2.5 hours to read. Maybe 3. It was not the most difficult or deep material, and the plot primarily consisted of Girl Meets Boy, Girl Discovers Boy Isn’t Human, Girl and Boy Pine Chastely For One Another, Fin. Which I already sort of knew, just via cultural osmosis. There wasn’t anything about the writing style that drew me in. I didn’t really like any of the characters very much. Bella, aforementioned Girl, is kind of a whiny melodramatic martyr-ish brat. Edward, aforementioned Sparkly Emo Vampire, is creepy and obsessive. Bella makes up her mind that she will be miserable in her new home (Forks, Washington) before she even gets there, and does everything she can to make her prediction come true. She fends off attention from friends and boys alike, then falls head-over-heels with a guy who spends the first part of their acquaintance either acting like he hates her or ignoring her completely. Later, he admits he’s been stalking her to the point where he hangs out in her bedroom while she’s sleeping, without her knowledge or consent. Yikes. He falls for her because she’s the only person (human or otherwise) whose thoughts he can’t hear; she falls for him because he’s perfect and completely unattainable, sexually.

Because, yeah. They can’t do it. They can barely even touch, let alone kiss. Twilight is written by someone who obviously has a large amount of experience in the “I’m so attracted to someone but we can’t touch each other, we’re so in love and must stay pure” area. It makes sense that Stephanie Meyer, the author, is Mormon – pious teenagers in that religion (among others; I’m sure pious Musim teens and pious Jewish Orthodox teens are the same way) don’t give in to their carnal lusts. Or something. And because I assume she has a lot of experience with it, she’s good at writing about it. I told Dan after I finished reading it that I could totally understand why a 12-14 year-old girl would enjoy reading a book like this. It has the perfect imaginary boyfriend: a guy who is dangerous, beautiful, and disciplined enough to look but not touch, an excellent choice for a 12-year-old who isn’t ready to handle the idea of sex yet but is all about the idea of romance and love.

I’m less certain about why older women seem to like the books. Maybe because they’re easy escapist fantasy, involving something marginally more interesting than Fabio’s chest? Or maybe women who are too prudish to be into bodice rippers can get into what’s essentially the same thing without any actual ripping bodices? I’m pretty flummoxed on this one.

New Moon was closer to 600 pages, and it took me about the same amount of time to read it. I liked it marginally better than I liked Twilight, if only because Sparkly Emo Vampire isn’t in most of it (he leaves because…something something about…I dunno, it’s not really explained), which makes Bella, the main character who rarely takes any action on her own, fall into a pit of despair. A few months later she pulls herself out of it, sort of, to realize that her friends don’t care about her anymore and she’s kind of secretly thrilled about it. Then she makes friends with another boy, with whom she seems to actually have a good relationship, until he turns into a werewolf and treats her like crap for a while. Then the vampires come back. Then SparklePire himself is going to commit suicide by Other Vampire because he thinks she’s dead, even though he spent the previous six months traipsing around the world, studiously avoiding her, so she drops everything despite being begged by Wolf Dude (aka Jacob) not to go, and she flies to Italy, and saves SparklePire, and he vows he’ll never leave her again.

Apparently, vampires and werewolves are Mortal Enemies so she can’t be friends with Jacob and maintain a relationship with Edward. Or something. I liked New Moon better up until Stephanie Meyer decided Edward needed to be brought back into the picture. I liked Jacob until he decided that Bella couldn’t be friends with her vampire friends. At least he treated her better than sparkling chiseled marble Edward ever did, and didn’t hang out in her room while she was sleeping or anything. I dunno. I guess if I have to pick, I’m Team Jacob, but I don’t have much intention of reading the other books (unless for some reason they show up in the free book pile at work) and honestly I can’t bring myself to care that much.

So there you have it: my review of Twilight and New Moon. Now, if you’ve read the books and want to read the funniest review of them ever, click here.

ETA: I found another good review, and this one has visual aids!

Creep

Three songs with the name “Creep” all came out around the same time when I was in high school. The most well-known is probably the Radiohead song, off their album Pablo Honey. Another is TLC’s “Creep”, which came out in 1994. And the one that I thought of when I told Dan that I still hadn’t written a blog post today was Stone Temple Pilots’ “Creep”, because I had to learn the lyrics to the song one time.

It was Feb Camp, the mid-winter long weekend version of the camp I went to throughout high school, and some very talented musical friends wanted a girl voice to go with their deep masculine voices when they performed this song at the talent show. I had heard the song, but didn’t know the words, so my friend Jesse wrote them down for me and I memorized them. You may know it as the “Half the man I used to be” song, since that’s about all they say in the chorus.

Forward yesterday
Makes me want to stay
What they said was real
Makes me want to steal
Living under house,
Guess I’m living, I’m a mouse
All’s I gots is time,
Got no meaning, just a rhyme

(Chorus)

Feelin’ uninspired,
Think I’ll start a fire
Everybody run,
Bobby’s got a gun
Think you’re kind of neat
Then she tells me I’m a creep
Friends don’t mean a thing,
Guess I’ll leave it up to me

(Chorus)

Man, I was totally nervous to sing in front of everybody, especially since the other people I was performing with were vastly more talented (Jesse, for example, could (and did) play NINE instruments). But we still had fun. I wish I could remember Jesse’s last name, because it wouldn’t surprise me if he were a professional musician these days. Alas, Google needs a bit more information than what I can pull out of my brain.

mmm cookies

I started baking when I was around six years old, helping my dad (who was the cookie baker in my family) stir batter and plop it onto tiny cookie sheets that fit in our large toaster oven (we didn’t have a real oven until I was 10). I started baking on my own when I was maybe 8, picking blackberries and then bringing them home to make things like blackberry cobbler. I make a mean pie crust and have been baking special birthday cakes for people since I was 17 or so. When the baking urge comes upon me, I tend to just follow it.

Today, I got the baking urge. It took me a while to decide what to bake, and was thinking for a while I might do something with nuts and chocolate (inexplicably, I have the desire to start baking some of my family Christmas cookies…and it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. What gives?) Then Dan said Oatmeal Chocolate Chip and that sounded pretty good to me.

Here’s an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie I made up.

1 stick unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1.5 cups rolled oats
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375F. In a medium-sized bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar until thoroughly combined. Add vanilla and eggs, mix. Add flour, baking soda, salt, oats, and spices, mix. Add chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes or until cookies are set.