Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Chai Me

Around the holidays, someone in my family usually makes a traditional recipe we have always called "peppernuts."  They are not "pepper nuts."  There is no space.  And there are no nuts.  This is a nut-free food.  I'm told the German name for them is "pfeffernusse," so I'm guessing the recipe was passed down for a few generations before it ended up in my kitchen.  In any case, these non-nuts are very hard cookie-bites made from flour, lard, sugar, and lots and lots of spices.  I forget if there is actually any pepper in them, maybe a little, but most of the spice comes from cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and maybe some ginger.  I forget.  I do know, though, that butter and vegetable shortening are NOT acceptable substitutes for lard in this recipe.  It's just not right without the lard.  To eat them, I usually pop one or two teaspoon-sized "nuts" in my mouth and suck on them for a few seconds before trying to bite them.  They're really, really hard.  But they are so amazingly wonderful, completely unique, and traditional for me.  Worth all the work to make them!

I don't really have a good transition from peppernuts to chai, so bear with me...

My sister has been drinking this stuff she calls "chai" for a long time.  Now she's a fan of coffee, lattes, iced coffee, that whole grouping of what I consider "gross" drinks, so when she said she loves chai-whatever, I was certain to put it off my radar.  The only hot drink I tolerate is hot chocolate--and maybe two cups a year.  Water for me, thanks.

This weekend, The Man and I were grocery shopping.  He's a tea drinker, not all the time or even very often, but he does drink tea.  He seems to prefer red teas or oolong teas since they aren't very strong.  I asked him if he wanted to try something different, maybe try this "chai tea" stuff I found on the shelf near the usual oolong variety.  Sure, he said, he's liked chai tea before.

It's kind of a stop-the-presses! moment when he reveals something he likes that I didn't know about already.  It's almost easier to name the foods he likes rather than dislikes, so any agreement to try something new... well, let's just say I had a *moment* right there in the store.  I threw the box of teabags in the cart and went about my day.

Later, while my soup was doing that souping thing it does on the stove at a low simmer, I decided to try this new tea.  I filled a mug with water and nuked it for a minute.  Splash went the tea, swirl went the spoon, and taste went all over my tongue.  I made chai tea all by myself.

And I liked it.

No, no, I pretty much loved it.

Chai tea is warm and fuzzy and sweet and bitter and homey--if tea can be homey--and tasted like Christmas all in one mouthful.  It tastes like peppernuts in liquid form!  I don't even consider it tea in my head, it's just a speedier spice delivery system than crunching on peppernuts, and I'm more than okay with that.  So GOOD!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas 2011

Christmas was a very typical holiday for The Man and me this year.  We celebrated with my extended family a couple weekends ago, so that left my little family, his little family, and his extended family for the holiday weekend.

With gifts in tow, we sleighed over to my parents' house on Christmas Eve to celebrate with them and my sister and her hubby.  We decided to forego the traditional foodstuffs and dined on tacos and Spanish rice instead.  My uncle commented that it seems Mom and I pretty much only eat "Mexican" food when we get together, and he's pretty accurate.  Mom and I could live on tacos, taquitos, enchiladas, and salads.  What's not to love? Chicken, cheese, lots of veggies, fresh salsa in the summer (even if I do hate raw tomatoes!)... mmmmm.  After lots of eating, we settled in for a gift exchange that netted everyone very good gifts.

The six of us then played the new game Sour Apples.  It's just like Apples to Apples but with a winner and a loser selected, and the loser of each hand faces a random consequence.  The game is only available at Target, and we played for hours and hours.  Lots of fun.  The Man and I finally dragged ourselves home by 11:00pm and didn't get to sleep until almost 1:00am.

At the entirely-too-early hour of 7:00am, we were up and getting ready to drive to The Man's parents' house.  Attitudes weren't exactly pleasant, but we made it there in one piece.  We exchanged gifts and enjoyed some time together before getting the house and food ready for The Man's big family gathering that started around 11:00am.  Everyone seemed to arrive at once, so the house quickly swelled to capacity.  Once everyone arrived, we had a large traditional Christmas dinner, entirely too many wonderful desserts, and a white elephant gift exchange.  The Man and I stuck around after everyone left in the early evening, and we didn't get home until 8:00pm.  It was a very long, very good day.

Monday was also good.  We were able to do some post-Christmas shopping with gift cards, and I got a bunch of groceries to finish out this month under budget in that category.  I cut more fabric for my parents' quilt, organized a bit, cleaned some, and watched a couple movies to boot.  Busy busy, but progress was made.

I don't think I'll be hungry for days after this weekend.  Also, I need more free time in which to play the piano, create with my Cricut, have a moment to quilt, and keep up on bloggy... so much to do! and so very little time.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Still Shopping

I still have some Christmas shopping to do.  I'm usually done by the time the Christmas season even rolls around, but this year?  We are so incredibly far behind!  I have some presents wrapped, some waiting to be wrapped, and some not even purchased.  I'll try to get on this tomorrow, and I shouldn't have any problem, but it's just the fact that I'm so behind that makes me frustrated.

Last-minute shopping shouldn't happen to organized people.  It's like an insult or something.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Brain Itches

I get brain itches.  My brain doesn't physically itch, but it does, in a way, itch sometimes.  And it's really hard to scratch or rub or get to stop itching.  It doesn't often just go away on its own.  The itches must be scratched.

I don't really know how to describe what these itches are other than compulsions or really motivating desires or something that makes me want to, need to do something.  And they're not like hunger or thirst that can be satiated in one or two moments.  They're not like a disorder either.  The itches are generally rational, normal thoughts, wonders really, that have to be expressed.

I had an itch to learn about corsets recently.  The itch came about because I had been watching The Forsyte Saga on Netflix.  Logical connection, right?  I think so.  The costumes were beautiful, and the whole idea of corsets is foreign to me, so somewhere in my brain an itch started.  I spent about three days devouring every source of online information I could find about corsets.  I learned about boning and busks, about corset construction through the years, about shape and function.  I found patterns and suggestions.  I even researched places to get corsets near where I live, but that was grasping at straws.  I didn't make a corset myself, and I didn't spend any money on the learning process.  It's all knowledge stuck in my head now.

I did the same exact thing for a few days after I read an interesting article about hats.  I'm not an expert now, but I have random bits of hat trivia floating around my noggin.

This last weekend was a Gabriel Macht itch.  He's an actor, a rather good-looking one in my book, and I've been a fan for years.  I rewatched the entire first season of Suits, then set out to find what else he'd been in over the last decade since I sort of lost track of him after Behind Enemy Lines.  He's done some pretty awesome stuff, and some not-so-great work (but I think that was the writing, not the acting).  As soon as one movie would end, I'd queue up the next without missing a beat.  I ate, crafted, and dozed through movie after movie in the last two weeks.

It's not an obsession.  These itches usually die within a week.  I don't need to scratch the itch to survive.  But sometimes I really, really want to.  I want to learn more, I want to learn about something as fast as possible, to consume knowledge and remember it.  That assimilation of information is so empowering to me.  I like the itches.  I like that moment, hunkered down, fully engrossed in learning something new, watching something unfold.  It's like one more tiny bit of the world becomes mine.

I have no way of knowing what the next itch will be or when it will happen, but I am glad when they happen.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Movies Movies Everywhere

The Man and I actually went out to see a movie last night, the first movie date we've had since just after we got married two years ago.  We saw the new Sherlock Holmes movie and enjoyed it very much.  Good plot, excellent acting, great stunts.  We get disappointed when films don't get gun fights accurate, so that was a bit of a downer (unlimited bullets, perfectly aimed long range weapons, and using weapons that didn't exist at the time).  On the whole, though, it was a great experience.  The theater was packed for opening night, and we got lucky to be in a good-humored crowd.

During the previews, they showed a trailer for Red Tails, a biopic of the Tuskeegee Airmen.  I learned about these heroes a long, long time ago from my dad, and I've thought for years a good tribute ought to be paid to them.  Finally one has been cast, so I'm hoping it is appropriate.  The airmen changed the war, provided the best air support during the war, and were barely recognized for it, so I'm very thankful the movie is coming out.  It's about damn time.

I think we'll be going out to the movies more often.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Forsyte Saga

I mentioned yesterday that I find Damian Lewis rather attractive.  What I was unable to clearly define was how much I absolutely love his acting.  He was fantastic in Band of Brothers, and The Man and I were in awe of him in Life (curse you, NBC, for dropping the ball on that one).  I've been enjoying his new character in Homeland.  We have seen a few of his other parts as well, and liked them too.  I had the opportunity to see him in The Forsyte Saga this weekend on Netflix.

I should add that I'm not usually one to watch these Victorian love story type films.  I much prefer more popcorny blockbusters, not necessarily violent films, but at least some action scenes or a foot chase or something more exciting than watching hedges grow or seeing women spurned for daring to ride a horse astride (or whatever it is they do in Pride and Prejudice--I have so far been able to miss it).

But, knowing Damian Lewis as a fantastic actor, I set out with my trusty Netflix queue and watched all six hour-long first-season episodes this weekend.  The second "season" of four episodes is only available by disc on Netflix (stupid, stupid, stupid), or can be found on YouTube (yay!).  You can figure out how I watched those.

You can read the Wiki about the series here.  I will just continue with my review.

How difficult that role would be to play!  Soames Forsyte must be cruel and heartless for much of the series, yet someone the audience sympathizes with in the end.  He is a good man with good intentions, but he goes about things so incredibly wrong.  It was hard to watch him being mean.  It was hard to see him trying to be nice.  He just isn't a likeable fellow through the whole thing.  The acting was superb.  Lewis walked that fine line perfectly, breaking from Victorian stiffness at just the right moments.  I've seen other reviews that call his portrayal of Soames as flat or dull, but I don't think overacting would have been better.  Lewis was right to act as he did to bring out Soames' true colors, be they for good or evil.

I have now been introduced to Rupert Graves also.  Can I just say wow?  Well done on that end too.

If you like Victorian films or epic miniseries (or crazy love triangles told through overly stiff characters), you'll love The Forsyte Saga.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

He's Always the Answer

No, I'm not speaking of God today.  Though God may be the answer for some people in every situation, my story isn't about God.  It's about a man named Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.  In many ways, he's been the answer in my life.

The story begins in high school.  Tenth grade to be exact.  I managed to get into Advanced American History or Advanced U.S. History or whatever you want to call it.  It was not an AP course, not in tenth grade, but it was more challenging than the regular tenth grade history.  However similar or dissimilar they may have been I don't know.  It's not like history changes much.  Anyway, my teacher, Mr. S, taught what he believed to be the most important part of our country's history, the Civil War.  We spent seven months learning the Civil War, one month about WWII, and one month on the rest of our country's history.  Please don't ask me to tell you what the Dust Bowl was or where Fort William Henry was or the route of Lewis and Clark, as I never really got into those points.  They failed to be as important to my teacher as the great Civil War.

Though I may be lacking all common knowledge of our history, when it comes to the Civil War, I dance circles around most college professors.  Who was George Meade you ask?  Allow me to write a dissertation.  What happened at Antietam?  I shall give you volumes.  Mr. S made us draw battle maps from memory, had us able to recognize dozens of officers, both Union and Confederate, by picture or by name.  We learned about war technology (from Gatling guns to advances in battlefield medicine).  We sat, absolutely riveted, through movies and slides about the war.  And he tested us regularly.  Every test had only one requirement: if you didn't know the answer to a question, write "Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain."  He would give partial credit for that answer even if it was totally wrong.

You see, Mr. S was a bit obsessed with Chamberlain.  He made that known from the start.  He thought JLC was a hero, someone that should be admired unconditionally, and he helped us to learn why.  At the very end of our Civil War studies, he made us watch Gettysburg, a monstrosity of a film, with Jeff Daniels playing the role of Chamberlain.  Even as a sixteen-year-old girl, Chamberlain's monologue as he rallies his troops before battle made me want to defend the line.  I now own that movie.  I love that scene.  And Chamberlain is a hero.

Several times since high school, I've encountered trivia questions or little moments where I need to whip out my Civil War knowledge.  "Who defended Little Round Top?" or "What unit..." Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, 20th Maine, is the answer.  "Which school teacher led..." and "Which Civil War officer went on to become a professor at..."  Pick me, pick me, I've got this one.

And today, as I watched the eleventh episode of one of my new favorite TV shows (Showtime's Homeland), the main character (played by the very yummy Damian Lewis) took his family to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  He was teaching his children what had happened there, and he pointed out almost nothing but the story of JLC and his defense of Little Round Top, his troops and their courageous bayonet charge down the hill.  The way Lewis's voice told the story took me back over ten years to those moments in Mr. S's classroom.  It was stunning to have all of the pictures and battle maps flood my mind.

For the record, I've never really needed to know where Fort William Henry is.  It doesn't come up in conversation much.  The Dust Bowl also doesn't get much air time anymore.  But Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain?  He was the answer again today.  And I'm really, really glad I knew that.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Came Early

Some people define Christmas as a single day of the year, December 25th.  Some people think of Christmas as the day they open presents or eat a traditional meal.  Some people celebrate Christmas the day before or the day after the 25th.  Christmas, for me, happens when my mom's family all gets together a weekend or two before the actual holiday.  This year's festivities happened on Saturday.

What is Christmas?  For me, it's people.  Christmas is a too-warm house with too much food eaten by lots and lots of people.  My mom and dad, mom's siblings and their spouses, all of my cousins, and even some of their kids (since we are all old enough for that now) gather at Grandma's.  Gifts are sometimes exchanged as we did this year in a white elephant pile.  My cousins and I used to draw names, but we stopped when we were all giving each other gift cards and the oldest few stopped participating.

Our food isn't traditional with a goose or ham, though sometimes we have ham.  It is usually a hodge-podge of family recipes, some new food adventures, and the requisite mound of sugar cookies.  I made some baked taquitos this year which all disappeared quickly.  I'll have to get on another batch of homemade tortillas soon since I have none left in my freezer now.

I feel like Christmas has already happened.  What I need for my holiday to be complete is done.  I'm thankful for that.  Of course I'd still like to spend more time with all of these people, but perhaps more individually than in such chaos as the dining room.  And I'm thankful I have more Christmas to go.

Four more Christmases to go.  My little family, The Man's little family, The Man's big family, and a very small one with just the two of us.  I am skipping the work one.  I have to draw the line somewhere...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

10 Quick Cricut Lessons

I've had my Cricut for a few days now and the opportunity to sit down and make a full project.  I've learned a lot in a very short time that I'm not sure I've seen explained elsewhere.

1) New mats are sticky.  If you put a sheet of construction-type paper on a new mat, be prepared that you will never get the whole sheet of paper back off the mat.

2) Don't use construction paper with a Cricut.  Not worth the hassle.  Cardstock weight is much, much easier to work with, lifts off better, and doesn't leave as much paper fuzz behind.

3) If your item is less than a full sheet of paper, cut out a piece of paper a little larger than what you expect to use.  Sticking down a whole sheet of paper just to cut out a half-inch circle is crazy.

4) The little lift-off tool that can be purchased separately from the machine isn't really worth it if you have an x-acto knife or two.

5) Picking up tiny little pieces is a pain in the butt, especially if they're stuck to the mat.

6) Measure your project first and decide how big to make your pieces, then cut them out.  I had three different "Berry Sweets" (Simply Charmed cartridge) before I realized none of them would fit in a card envelope.

7) Pop-up dots are amazing!

8) Black paper is awesome for shadows of darker papers, but using grey or other neutral colors as the shadow looks really good for white backgrounds.  Don't always stick to black shadows.

9) Take the time to clean up edges where any tape-adhesive hangs over an opening as it will be shiny and obvious on the front of the card or in a scrapbook page.

10) Hours can pass quickly if you get lost with a new cartridge.  I swear I had just finished eat dinner and it was already time for bed.  Not cool, but I did learn a lot.

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Un-Cricut Weekend

Was that a weekend that just few by?  I must have missed it with all I did this weekend.

Friday was a treat as my Cricut arrived.  I purchased a Cricut Expression cutting machine on Amazon on Cyber Monday for half-off.  It came with two cartridges, plus I ordered one on Amazon and bought one at a craft store later.  I also got some paper this weekend, so I'm set to cut, cut, cut!

Saturday was filled with shopping, errands, and my parents came over, so we were busy the entire day.  The Man wiped and reinstalled their old computer's software, so they took us to dinner as a thank-you.  The last updates finished around 11:00pm.  We pretty much went straight to bed.

Sunday was painful.  Sometime, probably Friday night, I must have pinched a nerve in my shoulder or slept on it wrong or something, but it was almost unbearable by Sunday morning.  I took an Aleve before we left for church, and then, after grocery shopping and snuggling in for a movie with The Man, I tried to nap the pain away.  By the afternoon, things were much better.  I could lift my arm enough to shower and fold some clothes.

Between my full day Saturday and a lazy day on the couch Sunday, I haven't hardly had time to play with the Cricut.  That's my plan for tonight.  So excited!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Cyber Monday Exploits

We had been researching TVs for months and narrowed down the field to three or four TVs that we really wanted.  Obviously we don't need a TV, so this was truly a want.  Our living room TV was fine, though small and not full-HD, but the bedroom TV was one of those old boxy, heavy, ugly, outdated things that just didn't cooperate all the time anymore.  We decided to get a new one for the living room and put the old (lighter, thinner, prettier) TV in the bedroom.

Must-haves included 1080p HD capability, at least two HDMI ports, a computer-to-TV connection, and the ability to have more than one game console attached at a time.  We have both an X-Box 360 and a Wii, and swapping connections was not high on our list of fun things to do every evening.

After checking out every store in our rinkydink town on Black Friday, we started looking online.  Online shopping poses a small challenge for us since whatever we order online has to be delivered to us.  We can have things delivered at our apartment complex office, but they are only open until 5:00pm, so retrieving our purchases always has to wait until the weekend (booooo).  Or we can have purchases shipped to work, and that has always worked well for me, but having a brand-new TV shipped to work poses a how-the-heck-do-I-move-this-thing-to-my-car problem.  Yuck.

Newegg, Dell, and Best Buy were all very competitive on prices, but we ended up going with Best Buy so that we could pick the TV up at a store at our convenience.  I paid for the TV online, and we drove down Monday night to pick it up.  Except for the fact that the lady waiting on pick-up customers was scary, the guy manning the counter by the front door needed to lay off the java pronto, and that we lost two hours driving down and back, it was a very nice trip.

We saved about $200 thanks to sales.  Not bad!

...And then I promptly sank that $200 into a Cricut.  I'm doomed, but in a very happy kind of way.