31 December 2007

A wee bit of progress..

We've been working on the bathroom every day that Dug is on vacation and we are seeing progress. We are in the building-back-up stage. Finally! The main reason we gutted our bathroom in the first place was because we had some water issues. The bathtub/shower had been put together poorly and it was leaking into our basement. Not good. The linoleum had some discoloration from water damage, the floor plan was less than stellar and our toilet had seen much brighter days. Oh, and we were using an adjustable wrench to turn the hot water on and off and the shower drain was slower than molasses in a blizzard.

side story-
When you think about things that can be devastated by children, one's first thought does not go to the toilet. But, alas, toilets are not impervious to my young ones. The porcelain throne's first injury was dealt by my oldest daughter. The tank lid didn't sit fully on the tank because the toilet was built in too close to the wall. (One example of the faulty floor plan.) The back side of the lid sat on the tank edge. Daughter #1 leaned on it in a funny way and it fell off. I think she was 3 or 4 at the time. It broke in two pieces. Dug fixed it with epoxy, but didn't realize the tube was for gray and not white. So our poor, white toilet had a jagged gray scar on its tank lid. Injury part deux occurred when Daughter #2 dropped a large glass candle holder into the poor toilet. It knocked out a hole about the size of my index finger in the bottom of the bowl, which proceeded to empty its contents onto the floor. The "upside" was that it had been recently flushed. I was so grateful. Odds like that don't come my way every day. So prior to the gutting, the john had two scars: a toilet's equivalent of a knife slash and gunshot wound. Poor thing. He never saw it coming.)
-end of side story

back to main story:

For defining purposes, when I say gutted, I mean gutted. The only things left standing are the studs and floor. The linoleum and sub-floor had been removed so we are standing on the actual floor boards, which, if removed, would leave a gaping hole into the basement. So, what do we do? Why remove them, of course. Not all, just a few. Some of the floor boards and part of the framing boards had rotted from the leak. With the kitchen wall gone, we had a hole from the kitchen through the bathroom, down into the basement. The picture of my kids peering down from the kitchen counter was taken by me while I was standing in the basement, looking up through the bathroom floor. Or, more correctly, where the bathroom floor formerly was located. They think this whole renovation thing is pretty fun.

Side note: My youngest son, who is three, does not remember there ever being a bathroom there. He wasn't yet two when we destroyed it. In his mind, having a gutted, non-working room in your house is completely normal. Wierd, huh?

Today we fixed the floor. It was so cool. It was progress. We took what was once a hole and made it whole again. (I just reread that, and that's just funny.) What accomplishment. Even though it was small in the grand scope of the entire project, it was still movement forward. And I'm all for forward momentum...

Here are a couple pictures of the beautiful fresh wood stuffs. The first one is from inside the bathroom. We put the new piece of floor in and replaced the missing framing 2x4 along the base of the wall.

This second one is from the basement looking up. You can see where we had to put in 2x4 pieces to attach and shore up the replacement piece.

That's all for now...I'll keep you posted.

30 December 2007

What are we buying into?

I can't remember how long ago I saw this Dove ad, but I do remember how astounded I was. It forced me to see how truly unreal advertising/Hollywood is. The girl on the billboard is not a real person. She is based off a flesh and blood woman, but you can not find that billboard woman walking around. She doesn't exist!

That got me snooping around at what is really going on. What I found amazed me. Not only is every advertisement "perfected," but every picture that goes into any magazine has routine touchups. They smooth out pores, whiten teeth, get rid of wrinkles and other "imperfections." Retouching, as it is called, is the norm.

I always knew that magazines and ads had women who represented less than 5% of the bodytypes out there and that hours of make-up, hair and wardrobe were provided. I also was aware that the model only had to look that way for less than a second, just long enough to get the picture. But I had no idea that they took what seemed to be the "perfect" representation of women and then "perfected" the photos again! It is not in anyway untrue to say that the women (and men!) in magazines and ads are not real. I've heard that before, but I didn't fully understand it until I saw the evidence for myself.

Retouch professionals post their portfolios online. Most have before/after shots. They take your breath away, but not in a good way.

Let's start off with a doozy. Digital Retouch has an Ashton Kutcher photo that he has retouched for a photo shoot. If you click on the Corrections tab on the right, it will take you straight to him. Now, we all know Ashton to be a pretty good-looking, fit guy. But apparently he has some flaws. Namely, hair on his thighs (oh no!), too much of a ponch, a misshapen knee and bags under his eyes. I, of course, wouldn't notice these things if I only saw the original picture, but apparently, they were too important to leave alone. If you grab the little square at the bottom of his picture and drag it to the right, you can compare the before and after shots. *WARNING* He is nude, but crouched in a position that doesn't reveal anything. And there are other pictures on the site that have some nudity.

This portfolio for digital Pablo, shows shots of professional models that have been retouched. Mouse over the pictures and you can see the original photograph. Now I understand photoshopping the colors, contrast, and background, those things are done for real film in the dark room. But the models themselves? They are given bigger boobs, their bodies are elongated, belly buttons changed, hair "foofed" up, it's amazing.

Glenn Feron has a lot of pictures of boobified women and shirtless men, but he also has some work of big names. Such as Conan O'Brien, Eva Longoria, Nina Garcia, and Jim Calhoun. I think the Conan one is for an ad and the Calhoun one is for his book cover, but the women I've listed are candid shots that have been touched up. Candids! They aren't selling anything or being featured in anyway except that they are celebrities that got their photo taken at some event.

The last one I found for you is the portfolio of Greg Apodaca. He only has three photos of people, everything else is digitally created images. But it incredible to see what these people look like in real life, compared to what they are turned into.

It's unbelievable what we are lead to believe and how far from the truth it really is. We are sold lies.

Perfectly packaged lies.

29 December 2007

Hold the presses!

I found a new site that is A-MAZ-ING! It is called Digital Photography School. It is wonderful. Not only does it have about a million tutorials, but it has a weekly lesson that can be shipped straight to your inbox. There is a forum as well. And if you have visited a forum you know how great the brain database is within them. This site even has a few pages on how to take better pictures with a point-and-shoot. It is such a helpful site. It's my new go-to resource for digital photography. Check it out, you won't be disappointed. (At least, I hope you won't!) Here's a great place to start.

28 December 2007

I'm like Bryce Howard's twin!

Okay, it's pretty silly. But I had to post it. I went to myheritage.com and did this celebrity look-alike thing. I think it's the only time anyone would say I looked like Ashley Olsen! What do you think? FYI Bryce Howard was the blind chick in The Village, the Lady in the Water, and the police chief's daughter who kisses Peter in Spider-Man 3. Personally, I don't know how they figure this out. But it's pretty fun, no matter how inaccurate. But if you look, I do have at least one matching feature on each one. So you could say that if you take these eight beautiful women and put them together, you get me. Superstar Tricia! (Sorry for the squish. It doesn't fit width-wise and if I shrink it anymore the quality is poor.)

To Deborah

Me and my oldest.

Me and my bro.

Me reminding myself of my mother. (Sorry, mom.)


Ooh! How artistic!

Vacation time is over!

We officially ended our Christmas vacation today. If yesterday was a do-nothing day, today had to be a do-something day. And what did we do? Why work on our bathroom, of course.

A refresher: Our bathroom is gutted. We need to fix it. Refresher ended.

As Dug was looking at the bathroom wall that the sink plumbing had to go through, he realized that the built-in spice rack shelf thing in our kitchen had to go. (See picture above.) The shelves were literally up against the bathroom wall, effectively closing off the between-stud area.

Unfortunately, our walls are lathe and plaster. Not too conducive to specific area removal. The lathe (little wooden boards running parallel to the floor and ceiling) are the "ribs" of the wall. The wet plaster is smeared all over it, making sure it gooshes through the gaps in the lathe so that when it dries, it's holding on tight. It's a sturdy wall and has a great texture, but that's where the pleasantries end. If you try to break off a piece of plaster, it breaks in highly irregular pieces. If you pull a piece of lathe free, it removes the support for the plaster and it can just fall off the wall. Any sort of trauma, even hammering nails, can cause the plaster to let go of the lathe and become unstable. So if we wanted to just remove this one piece of the wall, the violence of the act effectively destabilizes the entire wall. Huge cracks appear. It's not a pretty sight. So what could we do?

More demolition! I, for one, love demolition. It has always been a dream of mine to go to Pleasure Island with Pinnocchio and destroy stuff with all the bad boys. I think it would be worth it, even if I was turned into a donkey. Dug, on the other hand, hates demolition. It's messy and it is destructive. He prefers cleanliness and building. What is that they say? Opposites attract? In the words of Bethany, "Fo Sho!"

So to build the bathroom, we needed to tear some more stuff down. But with Dug around, it has to be in an orderly fashion. Which is probably best. If I was left to my own devices, we'd probably have the authorities knocking on our door, condemning the place. With Dug at the helm, not only would the entire process be systematic and organized, but at the end of the day, we wouldn't have much mess to clean up either. He's a clean-as-you-go kind of boy.

(He's right, you know. It is easier to clean as you go. You just do a little at a time. Where with me, the end is a huge disaster that takes forever to clean. So props to the big guy, I was able to make dinner about thirty minutes after we finished. But my way is soooo much more fun!)

The picture has those jagged edges because it is a blending of nine photos! I wanted to get the entire area but I couldn't get back far enough. Isn't Photoshop cool?! Notice how much more you can see compared to the "before" photograph.
So that's what we did today. Sounds a little counter-productive, but you've got to do what you've got to do. I think it's a bit of wisdom we can all take to heart: Sometimes to fix your bathroom, you've got to knock down 1/2 your kitchen wall.

26 December 2007

I know some more...

Out of the hundreds (literally!) of pictures that I have taken with my new camera, I think I really like three. Well, that may be a bit of an understatement. But I'm not that far off from the truth. I've learned two major lessons.

Lesson #1 - If you take a million pictures, you should get one really nice one, if only by blind chance.

Luckily for me, this is the digital age. If I had to deal with film, I would be completely bankrupt and/or need a separate storage room just for the film canisters. The first picture below is the daughter of one of my good friends, Mama P. Under her is the daughter of the great and mighty Mej, doing her best Cindy Lou Who impersonation. Of the forty-two pictures I took that night, these are the only ones that actually looked as though I used a nice camera. I think it might have been because their cuteness levels were so high, the camera, unable to withstand, was forced into a faithful rendering.
Lesson #2 - Black and white makes you look like you know what you're doing.

I don't know what it is about b&w photos, but they add a certain quality that really makes you look like a better photographer than you actually are. See exhibits A and B below.See what I mean? If those photos were in color, they wouldn't look half as good.

So what is the take-home lesson in all this? Shoot adorable children in black & white. I know its a bit limited, but if you want good photographs, that's all I know so far...

Choice Goods Wednesday!

Today's choice good was suggested to me by good ol' Laser Eyes. He noticed the excitement this particular good produced in me and thought I might spare some words for it. Thanks, B.

We had a gift exchange at a Christmas party this last weekend. Dug and I were to bring two gifts $10 or under. Straight away I found a $9.99 real Swiss army knife. I showed Dug and his response was, and I quote, "Sweet!" Then I thought of a head lamp, no such luck. The only ones Target had in stock three days before Christmas were over twenty dollars apiece. What to get? What to get? I grabbed a deck of playing cards and a deck of waterproof Uno. Dug's reaction: "Ummmmmm, no." (He's not into games.) I suggested the flash light section, and off we went. I showed him the too-expensive headlamp. He, too, agreed it would have been cool. We perused the very bare section and then we saw it. A mini-Maglite. (That's it in the picture below, 5" in real life.)Think of the mini as the eldest child in the Maglite family. It is a two AA battery flashlight. There are also D-cell, C-cell, and AAA flashlights. The baby is the Maglite solitaire single AAA.

I don't know if you know this, but full-size Maglites are the upper echelon of flashlights. They not only act as a powerful source of light, but their rugged aluminum construction and hefty size can not only withstand a lot of punishment, it can also make a handy weapon in the case of emergency.We have a 4-D Maglite (shown above, almost 15" in real life) and it is one of the few household items that has withstood not only our four kids, but myself as well. It's missing its little rubber button protector, but who needs a "pretty" flashlight anyway? It's been dropped, left outside, dropped, used as who-knows-what by the kids, dropped...I might have even used it as a temporary hammer once. (Don't tell Dug.) The only complaint I have about it is that it is pretty heavy. Of course it has to be in order to be so Tricia-proof, but that is exactly the reason for the mini-Maglite! You see how it all works together?

Here's the beauty of the mini-Mag. It is light but still made of that sturdy aluminum construction. It has an adjustable beam just like it's daddy. It is the perfect diameter to hold in your hand comfortably (not too small) and to hold in your mouth if you need both hands free (and don't have $25 for a headlamp!). But wait! There's more! The mini-Mag has an amazing feature, Candle Mode.It is specially designed for those times when you need a general source of light, not a solitary beam. Unscrew the head, set the flashlight in it and you've got yourself a free-standing candle. It is so cool. I can't explain to you how much I love this feature. You've just got to experience it for yourself.

In life I've realized that there are things that you buy as cheaply as you can and there are things that you really need to pay for quality. I think flashlights are in the latter group. When you use a flashlight, you are relying on it. If you think about it, they are generally used in two situations: specific lighting and emergencies. For times of specific lighting: working on your car, looking under your bed, fixing plumbing, it's probably not so imperative you have a great light. But when you are lost, walking through the forest at night with bears chasing you, you want to have a flashlight that not only won't die if you drop it when you trip over that branch you didn't see, but that is bright enough to make wild animals freeze in its intense beam and can withstand the solid ker-thunk of a bear skull. When that time comes, and I'm sure it will, you'll be ready if you have a Maglite. (And can run really fast and have strong enough arms to break a bear skull.)

Maglites...they're choice!

24 December 2007

I am not stupid!

If you've been reading the blog lately, you've found that I recieved a camera for Christmas. With a somewhat spendy camera (not in the photography world, but spendy in the normal world) I decided that I needed to figure out what those letters on the other side of "automatic mode" meant. So far I have lived in green-rectangle land, with a few turnings of the dial into the lands of "running man," "flower," and "lady face." That's been fine and all, but with the vast expanse of internet knowledge before me I no longer had an excuse. I needed to know.

So I looked.

What did I discover? Aye-chee-wah-wah! I had to find the equivalent of "camera buttons for complete dummified idiots." The problem is this: The tutorials often begin assuming you know what words like aperture, shutter priority, reciprocity and ISO speed mean. I consider myself a pretty intelligient individual and yet I felt like I was swimming in a pool of confusion, unable to keep definitions straight or follow what I was reading. Then I found it. A great site that explained things with the understanding that the entire subject matter was not only new to most, but that it was hard to fathom all at once. Geoff Lawrence is a photographer who set up Free Digital Photography Tutorials & Tips. I love Mr. Lawrence. After reading every tutorial (they're pretty short) I now feel like I can at least somewhat follow other websites. Thank you Geoff!

Have I learned what they all mean? Nope. I know what M, Tv, and Av mean. I can mess around with them although I don't know how to really use them for the best results. I'm not so sure with P and I have no idea what A-DEP means at all. But I'm learning.

It sounds horrible, but I really hate not knowing things. I have this almost insatiable desire to know. If not everything, at least everything I can think of to research. (Our household is partial to amazing, hard-to-believe facts. I had originally wrote "factoid," but on a whim looked it up and found that it means "an invented fact taken as true because of its appearance in print." Who knew? That is exactly what I'm talking about!)

So this photography thing is a pretty good patience-inducing hobby. Something I need in my life. Don't worry, I won't post everything I learn, but hopefully you'll notice the evolution of my mad photographic skillz.

21 December 2007

Eat Christmas Cookies!

A while back I posted about two food blogging events: Ice Cream Ireland's Ice Cream Party and Food Blogga's Eat Christmas Cookies event. The Ice Cream Party has come and gone, but the Cookie event is still going strong until 24 December. (hint, hint) Just bake some cookies and follow the instructions here. People from all over the world have sent their cookies in. Click here to see what they've submitted.

My Cookie story:
After baking four different batches of cookies with my children, it was finally my turn to bake alone, with no additional "help." My choice? Cherry Snowballs. I found the recipe on Allrecipes.com and, I hate to say it, based most of my decision on how they looked. White little coconut balls with a bright red center...how could I say no to such festiveness? Who was I to decide against such an obvious tribute to wintertime and Christmas? I didn't have a choice, those cute little snowballs forced my hand.

After buying the ingredients, remembering to leave the butter out and doing the dishes, I began. Almost immediately I realized an important item. Always read the labels. I bought two jars of maraschino cherries since one was supposed to have about 30 and I needed 36. Did you know that you can buy them with or without the stem? I didn't. So, while one jar was an easy open and dump, the other required the removal of 27 stems. (I counted.) Of course it wasn't difficult, just a bit of a pain in the rumpus.

When the cherries were all ready to go, I mixed the ingredients for the balls. This was super simple and since there were no eggs, I got to eat the dough, salmonella-worry free! Yay! The next step was a bit messy. Take a tablespoon of dough and shape it around a cherry. See, the problem here is that the dough is mainly held together with butter and when you mix the maraschino juice with the warmth of your hands, you end up with a sticky blob that wants to hold on to your fingers and not the cherry. Don't worry about me though, I powered through.

After creating twenty of these little goo-bobs, it was into-the-oven time. They baked for twenty minutes at 350! I've never made a cookie that had to bake longer than 12 minutes so I was a little nervous that it would burn and paranoidly gave it a quick look over my shoulder every few minutes. Of course it was the perfect amount of time to bake and they came out with the most beautiful golden bottoms. (tee hee)

Once they were baked and cooled I got to dip them in a powdered sugar/milk glaze and then sprinkle them with coconut. I was so naive thinking the forming-the-balls part was messy. By the time I was done with the whole coconut/glaze bit it looked like I had been tarred and feathered.

The results? Pretty darn good. I'm actually not a big maraschino cherry fan and quite loathe those cherry cordial chocolate candies, which I was a little nervous these cookies might turn out to be. But there ended up to be no reason to worry at all. They are quite delicious and not too sweet. That's a bad combo with me. A super sweet cookie gives me no troubles with self-control issues. It's the not-too-sweet ones that cause the problems. Those sneaky little punks will have me eating half the batch before I even know what's what.

If you've ever had Russian Teacake cookies, these are a little like that. Think Russian Teacake that grew wild, coconut hair and has a soft, sweet middle.

The real question to be asked, though, is this: Did they turn out looking as good as I had hoped? Well, see for yourself. Personally, I can't get past their bright red middles. They're just too cute.

19 December 2007

Choice Goods Wednesday!

Choice Goods of the week...What can they be? Why, they be journals, me hearty. Argh! (Sorry, the pirate-typer took over for a sec. I just finished a book about sailing, complete with pirates. The Dark Frigate, if you're wondering.)

So...journals. What's so special about journals? Well, I don't know exactly, but I love them. I'm drawn to their pristine pages, begging me to fill them with...well...with whatever it is they need to hold. I think the fact that they are bound books unhindered by the no-writing taboo, is part of the draw. From our earliest years we are told not to write in books, but these exceptions to the rule allow us to create our own bound editions.

Personally, I'm not your standard journal-keeper. Mine are used for more unorthodox purposes. The swirly pink one in the photo above lives in my purse. If I need a piece of paper for something, it's there. I keep measurements of my rooms in it so if I find furniture that I like, I know if it will fit in the room. When I'm traveling I write flight numbers, calling card numbers, etc. in it so they are handy. I use it to write my thoughts, doodle to pass the time, anything at all. Keeping a bound journal in my purse is one of the most useful ideas I've ever come up with.

I use the gray journal with the sewn black binding with my book reading. Whenever I come across something worthy of note, I jot it down. I mainly use it to remember what I've read for the book club I'm in. I'm the type of reader that retains information only long enough to read the book. Ask me to regurgitate what I just read and I'm at a loss. Enter the handy book journal and my reactions and thoughts are there when I need them. Plus, I think the journal itself is beautifully bound. It makes me happy just looking at it.

My most beloved journal I received from my husband before we were even dating. I saw it in the OSU book store and couldn't believe how beautiful it was. It had a leather cover pressed with Celtic knotwork and held closed by a leather string that wrapped around a metal button-like thing. (Sorry for my lack of correct wordage.) He secretly bought it for me and gave it to me a little while later. I was speechless because the reason I had passed it over was its exhorbant price tag. Ahhh, amour.

My journal of beautifulness was made by Oberon. The cover is actually just that, a cover. It's refillable and holds a hard-bound standard journal. Click here to see what I mean. I use it to write my prayers, God's answers, bible study notes, etc. It holds my most intimate thoughts because it came from my Dug.

I love my journals and am constantly on the lookout for the next addition to my collection. Let me know if you find one.

Journals...they're choice!

Our Christmas present arrived!!

This year for Christmas, Dug and I gave each other a new camera. In case you care, it is a Canon digital Rebel XTi. Of course, we had to "open" it early. Got to have it out and ready for Christmas morn.

And, of course I had to spend the last half of the afternoon trying out the different features as I read through the owner's manual. Yes, you read that right. I'm an owner's manual reader. Always have been. Not knowing exactly how something is supposed to work is a source of mild anxiety for me. It's an inherent defect with a, well, how do I put this?...anal personality. I don't want to get something to just work, I want to know how it was designed to work. What exactly am I supposed to do? None of this, "I'll figure it out as I go." There might be some key feature I'm missing if I don't read every word.

Anyways...I tested her out. One of my favorite self-portrait styles is the use of a fish-eye mirror. I love how they look. So what better prop to use than a silver Christmas ornament? At first it didn't work. A self-portrait in a reflective surface can not use a flash for obvious reasons, but without the extra light, the picture was blurry. So I read about ISO settings and found that if it was high enough (say, 1600) I could take a picture in low light without a flash...blah, blah, blah, technical camera stuff the internet told me that I don't understand...and the results? It worked!

The picture at the top of this post is actually the reflection from the Christmas tree ornament! The original is below. Can you believe that the resolution on the camera is good enough to get a picture similar in quality to the camera I had been using previously, but from a reflection off an ornament!! It's amazing! It's preposterous! I took the picture, zoomed way in and cropped it. Now, of course the picture is grainy, one of my fingers looks like it has elephantitis and my hair is, well, a bit horrifying to post on the web, but who cares?! It's from an ornament, for goodness' sake!!! Needless to say I'm a bit pleased with our purchase.Click on the picture to really appreciate it.

Now I'm off to read a tutorial that will hopefully explain all that photography jargon from the manual that went waaaaaay over my head...

18 December 2007

Any budding interior designers out there?

Okay, here's the deal. I bought three round mirrors for my dining room the other day. I really like them. They actually look a bit like port holes in a ship. I'm thinking of hanging them from ribbon as opposed to just using their little hangers in the back.

What's wierd is that they look waaay smaller in the picture than in real life. In real life, the wall just looks plain. Through the camera lens, the wall looks like it has three small eyes.

Anyway, it's not enough for the wall. I'm a horrible in-the-box thinker, an aspect of myself that I despise. I would appreciate any and all ideas, especially if they are without the box, if you catch my drift.


16 December 2007

Two more down...

I just finished two books, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron and Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata.

I'll start with Lucky, winner of the 2007 Newbery Medal. Meh. That's the best I can do. To me, this story is what people think of when I tell them I read children's novels. It's a cutesy story but that's it. It's about a girl, Lucky, trying to deal with her mother's death and her father's abandonement. She eaves drops on AA meetings and not fully understanding the twelve step process, is trying to find her "Higher Power." Hence, the title. The subject matter is worthy of an award-winning book, I just didn't think the story was. It was an entertaining, very quick read, but in the end, I wouldn't care if I never read it again.

Next up, Kira-Kira. This book is a batch of pretty amazing writing. Believe it or not, I've seen this book numerous times and never read it because I didn't like the cover. How juvenile is that? Anyway, the story is about Katie, a daughter to Japanese immigrants, and her life. Her parents work extremely hard to provide for their children, when their oldest daughter, Lynn, gets sick. Not only is it a look at life for immigrants in the 50's, it is a glimpse into a young girl's incomplete understanding of life. I'm amazed at the author's ability to write this story without dumbing it down since it is told through the eyes of a kindergartner. She does an amazing job of only letting you see what Katie sees. This book was pretty long and I had to actually force myself to read it at a couple spots, but it was good in the end. The Newbery people got something right when they picked this one.

14 December 2007

The results...

I haven't bought Christmas decorations since we were first married ten years ago. Our parents gave us a lot, which was much appreciated since we had to spend our money on other things, like food and rent. Since then we've had children. Our children and the typically glass ornaments/decorations of the Yuletide season have not been a good combination. We're down to just a few things. The bright side is that I've had to purchase new things when I'm finally figuring out what I like. So here's a little sampling of our holiday cheer...Is anything more welcoming than a candle in the window? (Even if it is an electric one!) I like that the picture is out of focus. Makes it look more candle-like. And I like the condensation on the window, it's purdee.
This is our Jesse Tree. It was my college dorm room Christmas tree. I love that little thing....hung by the chimney with care.

We still haven't decorated our tree. It's sitting in our living room, has been for four days. We put the lights on last night, but it's been so hectic around our house, we haven't been able to add the baubles. When the kids and I are available, Dug is working. When Dug and I are both ready, it's time to put the kids to bed. *heavy sigh* Oh well, maybe tomorrow...

12 December 2007

Choice Goods Wednesday!

What's the good for today? Dry Soda!

This is one of my most favoritist drinks of all time. Well, there are actually four separate flavors: kumquat, lemongrass, lavender, and rhubarb, but they are all so good I can't pick just one favorite.

What is Dry Soda, exactly? Think lightly flavored, sparkly, barely sweetened yumminess. Think the most refreshing drink in the world besides water. When you have those two thoughts, join them in holy matrimony and let them have babies. Their offspring is Dry Soda.

I first discovered these at Roth's in Salem. Mej and I were shopping for some dinner stuff and we noticed how pretty the bottles were. (Good job, Marketing Department!) When we moved in for a closer look, we were intrigued by the odd flavors. Kumquat? Rhubarb? Lavender!?! Who ever heard of Lavender soda? Of course we had to try them.

The lowdown:
Kumquat is the citrus representative. Different from any other citrus drink options out there, the flavor is still nothing too out of the ordinary. Verdict: Delicious

Lemongrass is your lemon-lime type option. I've had the herb in numerous Thai dishes, but never on its own so I can't say if the soda tastes just like lemongrass. Verdict: Superb.

There is absolutely no other drink out there that can be compared to Rhubarb Dry Soda. It has a very "green" flavor. The only way I can describe it is this: it tastes like you're drinking the plant. Not rhubarb pie or rhubarb crisp, but rhubarb the plant...but better. Verdict: Oddly enjoyable.

I have to admit I was skeptical of Lavender. Lavender? Whenever someone tries it for the first time, their response is always the same. "It tastes just like lavender!" No, really? Imagine a drink that tastes like it was created from flowers, but it was good. That is Lavender Dry Soda. Verdict: Exquisite.

I've found if people don't like a flavor, it tends to be lavender or rhubarb. But I think that's due more to lack of exposure. There really is nothing else out there quite like these drinks. The unfamiliar always evokes stronger reponses than the comfortable standby.

Don't let that stop you. On their website they list where you can find this tastiest of treats. Go and try Dry Soda, even if you don't like it you'll look super cool with the beautiful, minimalistic bottle in your hand. But you'll like it, nay, you'll love it! If you're like me and think that most bottled drinks are too sweet to be refreshing, you will adore Dry Soda. It is barely sweet, but hugely delicious.

Dry Soda...it's choice!

11 December 2007

The Christmas Bug finally bit!

Holy cow. I thought I would never get excited about Christmas. I normally start the holidays with the beginning of Advent, the fourth Sunday before Christmas. This year, because I was the auctioneer for our church's Christmas auction held on the first Sunday of Advent, because Dug had a business trip in Oklahoma starting the first Monday of Advent, because I was sorta in charge of our home schooling co-op's Christmas party held on the first Wednesday of Advent, because while Dug was gone, my children and I left our house to spend time with our Lute-friends on the First Wednesday and Thursday of Advent, because of all of this, I didn't unpack any Christmas decorations. Because I didn't unpack any Christmas decorations and my house was devoid of any and all holiday items, my mind felt no need to change the status quo. I felt nothing. I was empty of holiday spirit.

And then I needed to sweep my dining room.

From my vantage point I could see the dust under the purple chair in our living room. I moved the chair to sweep all the lost toys and dirt, when I noticed the dust behind the end table. So of course I needed to move the end table...I'm sure you can see where this is going. At one point, all the furniture in our living room was scattered about with no "place" to call its own. I knew Dug was wanting to get our tree sometime during the weekend, so I figured I would at least put the furniture back in such a way that would accommodate the future Potter family tree.

Since the house was now clean and the furniture was expectantly facing an empty "holding spot," I thought maybe I could attempt the dive into the cubby, an under-stairs storage area. The upside: the cubby is very organized. The downside: Christmas decor is in its deep, dark recesses.

I couldn't stop now. I had to go in.

I opened the two little doors and began. Out came the lamp shade, the bag of unknown electrical wires and the box of unused home decor items. I removed the extra rolls of paper towels and packages of napkins, but left the two huge speakers and stacked stereo equipment in the corner. I'd rather shimmy around them than move them. Stepping one foot into the narrow space, I grabbed the box of the broken 5-disc DVD player and heaved and hoed until it joined the lamp shade and paper towels on the couch. I stepped back in and when my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw them. The little hand-drawn holly leaves and the words "Christmas Decorations" whispered "Merry Christmas" to my soul...and my soul heard.

With a slight smile I lifted out each of the three boxes. The kids and I opened them all and pulled everything out. It looked as if a tornado had spun through Santa's house and then dumped all its spoils on our floor. This was Christmas!


06 December 2007

Why do I blog?

My friend and fellow blogger, Bethany of The Good. The Bad. The Ugly. recently asked this question of herself and then answered it. She challenged her readers to figure out the answers for their own blogs. Ever since I've seen the post, I've been wanting to respond with my answer. This is my third attempt to do so. The last two were deleted before they could even be called posts.

I think I can now finally sit for two minutes and put my thoughts together. So without further ado...Why do I blog?

Hmmmm. I don't know. Just kidding. I love to write. I love variety. Together they make the perfect combination for this thing called blogging. Originally I started in order to practice the skill of writing. I've wanted to write a book for years and have started probably half a dozen, but that's it. I've only started them. I can't seem to find "the book" that I want to write. I'm not sure what it is that God is preparing me for, but I really believe that writing is part of it. I figured in the meantime I would just write...so here I am.

Along the way, new reasons that I didn't foresee have popped into my "why." I have discovered that a number of my friends blog. I've been able to keep in touch and even further our friendships through this medium. Also, there is a huge sense of community among bloggers. Reading and commenting on others' posts brings new people to my own posts and vice versa. It is amazing, yet hard to believe, that people from all over the world have read my blog and that I can read the daily thoughts of someone ten thousand miles away.

In order to be completely honest I must address another reason. Keeping an online journal does touch upon the narcissistic. You have to think highly enough of yourself and feel confident enough to put your thoughts down and not only be okay with others reading them, but actually expect them to. Fortunately, that is exactly what happens all over the blogosphere. (For the record: I hate the word blogosphere.) In the end, people do care. Of course,the first people to read (and return!) tend to be family and close friends, but most blogs find their niche and slowly but surely, the people who are looking for just those words that only you can say will find you.

My final motivation is the simple act of entertainment. I really enjoy amusing others. In the end, I'm not the type to contemplate the deeper things in life and then post about them. I know others who can, and they excel at recording their thought processes and conclusions. To borrow the words of Mr. Powers, "It's not my bag, baby." Don't get me wrong, I can and do enjoy a philosphical discussion of serious issues, it just isn't my default. I automatically resort to humor and plain ol' fun. If I can make someone smile while they are reading my words, I'm feeling good about life and myself.

The quick and easy answer to "Why does Tricia blog?" is this: I do it because I really enjoy it. The long answer is everything I wrote above the last sentence. Weren't you paying attention?

p.s. What's wrong with the above photo? The answer is in comments.

05 December 2007

Choice Goods Wednesday!

Today's choice good is dedicated to Ellyn Canfield, cutie-extraordinaire!

Ellyn reminded me of one of the choicest goods out there. It was introduced to me by Miss Nina-Banina and subsequently I hooked the Ellynator on it. What is it? Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula with Vitamin E Swivel Stick for Marks, Blemishes & Rough, Dry Skin *or* Palmer's Cocoa Butter Stick for short.

If any of you have ever been addicted to chapstick, this stuff is heaven. It won't cure you from an addiction though, I can assure you. For that try this site. I found it years ago. Although educational, it means nothing to me. I haven't made it to the first step yet, "admitting I'm powerless over lip balm."

Back to the post: Palmer's Cocoa Butter stick is like a smooth, moisturizing dessert for the lips. While the aroma has the same rich, robust quality of chocolate, it varies greatly from that specific scent, but not so much that they're unrelated. To explain, when you first smell it, it seems vaguely familiar, but not enough to pinpoint it exactly. Then someone tells you, "It's cocoa butter, the same stuff they make chocolate from," and you think to yourself, "Yeah, I can see that."

While this stick can be used on any part of your body that is in need of some delicious moisture, the oversized tube lends itself perfectly to swiping both lips in one movement. Caution: People will assume you are using a glue stick. This has happened to everyone I know who uses it. The tube is the same size as that school-room adhesive, and since most people are uninformed of the wonderfulness that is Palmer's Cocoa Butter stick, it's not hard to see why they get confused. (Especially when I let my kids use it. That really gets people's hearts a-racin'. "Do you know your kid is smearing gluestick all over their mouth?" I smile, nod my head and answer, "Yeah." "Aren't you going to stop them?" I look back at my child and shake my head, "Nope.")

The cocoa butter formula is also completely different than any other lip balm out there. It doesn't have that waxy feel of Chapstick or Carmex. Anyone who has had a serious need for chapstick and found themselves without will understand this next description. Palmer's Cocoa Butter stick feels exactly like you thought lotion would feel before you actually smeared it on your lips. It is soft, moisturizing and normal feeling. My husband who hates anything on his lips, especially when it's waxy, can handle this stuff on occasion. (Read: he doesn't mind if I kiss him when I'm wearing it.)

Now, the largeness of the stick is not so conducive to jeans' pockets, but it does lend itself nicely to purses or bags. It is large enough to be easily found in their depths. Where normal lip balm tubes are lost, Palmer's Cocoa Butter stick holds its ground, ready and waiting for your lipful needs.

One problem remains: finding the stuff. While you can find Palmer's Cocoa Butter products in many places. (They have an entire line.) The swivel stick is more on the rare side. I know of one place that has it for sure. Rite-Aid, God bless 'em. They have also been known to show up at the Grocery Outlet and I think I saw them at Fred Meyer the last time I was there. The point is this: if you ever run across some of these pieces-of-heaven-in-a-swivel-stick, get yourself some. No, get yourself lots. You can never go wrong with a stock-pile of Cocoa Butter sticks. When any sort of civilization-destroying holocaust hits, the mobs are going to go after three things: water, food and Palmer's Cocoa Butter sticks, and I want you to be ready. At least with perfectly moisturized lips.

Palmer's Cocoa Butter stick...it's choice! (I know you love my catch phrase, Mej.)

01 December 2007

The eye of the beholder

I'm currently trying to read all books that have won the John Newbery Medal. If you don't know, this is an award "for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." I'm tracking my progress over at Lists of Bests and I am 18% finished! So why am I telling you this?

I recently read Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, winner of the medal in 1933. The story takes place in pre-communist China and the main character's mother has bound feet. I found this whole process disturbingly fascinating. Of course, because I am me, my curiosity needed to be satiated. This lead me to a little site called Google in which I typed out the letters F-O-O-T B-I-N-D-I-N-G. I clicked on a few of the pages that popped up and stumbled upon a site named simply Bound Feet.

The gist of the webpage is this: photographer Joseph Rupp visited China in 1985. During his visit he saw a woman with bound feet. He thought this was a lucky occurrence, but soon discovered that there were a great number of older women who still bind their feet. Fascinated, he began interviewing and photographing these women.

This site is different than any other I looked at. Most feature a report describing the history and practice of foot binding. Some dive into the philosophy behind it, like whether the practice was solely for "beauty" or if it was for the subjugation of women. Others just use the pictures for their shock value, giving a few historical or medical details. At Bound Feet you actually get first-hand accounts of what it was like to go through the ordeal and how binding has affected these women's lives. There are only 16 interviews and they are usually only a few paragraphs long, but after reading a few you start to understand that this really was just status quo. Nothing abnormal.

As a young American, I differ from these women not only in age but in almost every aspect of my life. Trying to put myself in their place is practically impossible with every other foot-binding article I've read. It's too far removed, too informational. But with the interviews from this website I can at least begin to imagine what it might have been like. It puts a human face to the story, a face that I need in order to make this ghastly ritual something I can understand.

It is still difficult for me to really fathom how an entire society could ritualistically cripple their women for almost one thousand years. The amazing fact is that although most of these women see the benefits of "normal" feet, they still think small feet are more beautiful. Even if I never can fully comeprehend this, I need to keep one thing in mind: I can't judge them unless I've walked a mile in their teeny, tiny, three-inch shoes. Yep, no judging for me, I wear a size 9, for goodness sake!

29 November 2007

To Bonnie Potter: a tribute

Dug's paternal grandmother, Grandma Potter, died yesterday. The hard part was that it was so unexpected. She went to the hospital complaining of abdominal pain earlier this month. During surgery for a supposed hernia they found out her gallbladder was the problem. She never fully recovered and passed away in the hospital.

I didn't know her really well. We didn't see each other often because of the great distance, but I loved her. She will be missed.


Soon after Alaska became a state, Jerry and Bonnie Potter moved up to the "Last Frontier" to homestead with their three boys, Roger, Paul and Mike. Their oldest, a daughter Sharon, opted to stay behind in Oregon to finish high school.

Grandma told me that she agreed to go to Alaska on condition that they would return in a few years. But after getting used to the entirely different way of life that is Alaska, she realized when she visited her daughter that she didn't particularly like the hustle and bustle "down south." Alaska has a way of weeding people out. Most who dream of Alaska don't have a proper understanding of the place. Of the new settlers, few make it beyond their first winter. But if you make it through and still love it, you probably won't leave. Grandma and Grandpa were two of the latter.

The first house they built was this tiny, tiiiiiiiiny little place. It's Grandpa's workshop now, but when the boys were still home, Grandpa, Grandma, Roger, Paul and Mike all lived in that shed. The boys slept in the attic. I don't think the whole thing is more than 600 sq ft. How Grandma lived year after year with all those boys is beyond me.

Eventually they built a larger house. The one they have now. Doesn't sound like much to us city-folk until you find out they did the whole thing themselves. Chopped the trees, milled them, the whole shabang. And they were sixty!

When we went to see them the last time, I was still amazed at everything. They have a little stream that feeds their own resevoir that provides them with ice-cold glacial melt for water. They have a huge garden (practically a small farm) that they get most of their vegetables from. Grandpa has those big tractors and wood-working machines.

They lived the homestead life thirty-one miles outside town. And believe me when I say "outside" town. The big town of Haines has a population of 2000 people and when you drive 1/2 mile down the highway you are in Alaskan wilderness. Thirty-one miles under those terms becomes pretty significant.

And Grandma thrived there. Amazing. She had a frontier spirit if ever there was one. Winter after long-cold winter, Grandpa and Grandma were each other's companions.

You would think that in order to survive, Grandma would have turned into a gruff, old woman. But somehow she didn't. She was the sweetest, comfortable-in-all-the-right-places, white-haired woman you ever met. Now that's not to say she was a pushover. If she thought something was ridiculous, she'd let you know. But I never heard her raise her voice to anyone except Grandpa. And that was only because his hearing is so bad.

Grandma Potter and Dug's dad are now living the good life up with the heavenly host, for which I am so happy, but the hardest part when someone dies is the regret of those left behind. I wish that I had asked her more about her life. I wish I had called and written. I wish I was more involved. But I know Grandma would never hold that against me, so I have to let it go as well.

I guess the greatest tribute I could give her would be to turn the above "I wish"'s into action with those who are still here.

I love you, Grandma. You will be missed.

28 November 2007

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze

I just finished this book. It was excellent. (except the end, more to come on that)

Young Fu is the 1933 winnner of the Newberry Award. It follows the youth of a farm boy who comes to be a coppersmith apprentice in Chung-king after the death of his father. The book gives an intriguing look into pre-Communist China during the early years of the 1900s. I really enjoyed it, all but the ending. I just finished reading a chapter and turned the page to start the next one, but the only thing on the next page was an appendix of pronunciation. It wasn't that the story hadn't eneded, it was that the writing didn't finish the story. I don't think that's exactly clear. The story was at a perfect place to end, the author just didn't get the actually ending words nailed down. Instead of feeling resolution, you feel abandoned. Like you had to leave in the middle of the conversation.

Oh well. I still liked it. If you want an interesting, yet light read, check out Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze.

Choice Goods Wednesday!

Can you believe it's already Wednesday again?

Today I'm going to share with you an excellent item worthy of notice. This, my friends, is the Intuition razor by Schick.

In case you are not aware of the finer points of this specific razor, please take note. The razor itself looks as though it was carved into a bar of soap. But that's not soap, no siree. That is, according to Schick, "Skin Conditioning Solid." Whatever, I call it shaving cream bar. Essentially every time you swipe the razor over your skin, it lays down a thin layer of the conditioner before and after the blade. This negates the need for a separate can of shaving cream, or conditioner, or bar of soap, or whatever it is that you usually use. Since the blade is surrounded by the "conditioning solid" it doesn't matter if the water is pouring directly onto the spot that you are shaving. In the past I had to make sure my leg was out of the line of fire of the shower nozzle or else it would be rinsed clean of any and all shaving cream. I now find the whole ordeal a lot less stressful and a bunch more comfortable. I can stand directly under the hot water instead of avoiding it. This is a big deal in the winter since anyone who has been shaving for any length of time knows that razors + goosebumps = painful red bumps of yuckiness.

Now one thing I can't say is that you will save money since you're not buying shaving cream anymore. This razor is a bit on the spendy side. The refills are what really matter, and they're not cheap, either. It's like those darn printer manufacturers. They don't make money on the printers. They make the money on the ink cartridges. Stinking ink cartridges. But I digress.

Where was I? Oh yes. The refills. These are just one of those things I'm willing to splurge on. I don't get razor burn as much anymore and I can shave superfast now that I don't have to worry about anything extra. That, to me, is worth the extra moolah.

Oh! And before I forget, the refills come in different varieties such as Cucumber Melon and Sensitive Skin.

So there you have it. I love it. And while I could get by and shave with plain, practical razors, I'd rather not.

My Intuition razor...it's choice!

26 November 2007

I'm 15% done!

I've read 15% of the 86 Newberry Award Winners. That just doesn't sound as impressive when it's typed out.:-(

I just finished Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon. The pigeon's name is actually Chitra-Giva which means "neck painted in gay colours." They just shortened it to "Gay Neck." Considering the times, with the completely different connotation of the word gay, and that nowadays things tend to be very ethnically correct, I wish they had called it "Chitra-Giva: The Story of a Pigeon. Oh well, que sera.

This is the 1928 Newberry Award winner. Since it's based on the life of a 12 year-old boy and his flock of pigeons, you get a lot of insight into life in India. (At least 1928 India.) I had no idea the all-encompassing pasttime of pigeon-rearing in India. It was (don't know if it is still going on) such a normal thing for everyone to raise and train pigeons on their rooftop.

Interesting to note: at the time this book was published, no one had yet scaled Everest. The Indian prayer was that no one would ever conquer it. It was a symbol of divinity that would be best left untainted by man's footprint. It is such a different viewpoint than that of the western world where we are always trying to conquer the next "unconquerable" thing.

This story follows Gay-neck's birth, training, trials and eventual drafting into World War I. While I wouldn't describe it as fascinating, I would say it was an interesting read. Not gripping, but you wouldn't be wasting your time.

Note: The entire thing is saturated with Hinduism ideals and values. Very educational.

Murphy's Cookies Ice Cream Recipe Test *or* How Many Times Can Tricia Screw Up a Recipe and It Still Taste Good?

As I posted earlier, today was the last day for Ice Cream Ireland's Ice Cream Party. In order to test out the recipes for their up and coming book (hooray!), Kieran of Ice Cream Ireland asked for help from the world of bloggers. I answered his call. (Trumpets blaring, I stand with arms akimbo upon a skyscraper, my cape flapping in the wind.)

The first challenge was to pick the flavor. I was going to try the Cardamom Honey, but when it was time to print out the recipe, it had been removed from the testing list. (Kieran updated the list so too many people didn't do the same flavor.) Perhaps if I wasn't the most talented procrastinator in the known universe I could have tried that one. Oh well. If only the sky wasn't blue or the grass green...

I looked over the list and saw the deliciousness that would be my own: Cookies ice cream. (That's Cookies 'n' Cream for us Americans.) Mmmmmmm...yummy.

Second challenge: gather the ingredients. It took me three stores and two separate trips, but I managed to obtain the whopping six ingredients. Interesting to note, this was my very first purchase of a vanilla bean. I have to admit the glass test tube holding the shiny, black beans made the experience all the more special. Seriously, my whole family was impressed by that glass cylinder. I was more impressed with the price. ($11.99 for only two beans! ouch.)

Fast forward to "the making of". Challenge #3 - Follow the directions. Yeeeaaah. Right. Sounds simple enough. But then again, it always sounds simple, because it normally is simple, to everyone else that is. Okay, cut the vanilla bean, check; milk to simmer, i think so, check; beat sugar and egg yolks, check; beat milk in, check; mixture into pan, stir until 60C, check; let custard cool; check. Problem! Tricia apparently can't read instructions. I was supposed to stir the custard until it was thickened. On the recipe it was noted that the temperature would probably be around 60C, not that I was supposed to cook it only until it reached that temperature. Okay, now what do I do?

My choices were as follows: do nothing and hope all goes well or reheat and hope it thickens. It hadn't cooled too much so I popped it back on the burner. As I was stirring I realized that it really was thicker than before and I didn't really know enough about custardy things to know if reheating would even work. Sooooo...I took it back off the burner and hoped for the best.

Next, I was instructed to whip the cream a bit. As far as ice cream recipes go, this was the first time I had seen that. No big deal, just another step that I could somehow mess up, yet amazingly didn't. After folding the custard and partially-whipped cream together, I put it in the fridge to get nice and cold. Note: that's not part of the recipe, that's just something we always do.

The next step was by far the easiest. I put the mixture into the ice cream maker, turning the switch to 'on'. Woohoo! Success! About thirty minutes later there was one last ingredient to add: the cookies. I put four Newman-O's (Think Oreos without the hydrogenated oils.) in a baggie and beat the poor little guys with my rolling pin. Poor them, happy me. I dumped the little chocolatey pieces into the machine, watching them follow the river of ice cream flowing around and around.

There it was, a frozen bucket filled with the perfect mixture of cookies and milk. The heavens opened up, a beam of light flooded the room as it rested upon the evening's creation. Angels sang and a loud voice resonated for all to hear, "This is Cookies Ice Cream, in which I am well pleased." Well, maybe it didn't happen quite like that, but it sure felt like it.

The fourth and final challenge was putting the finished product into the freezer for a couple hours so it could firm up. I failed, my husband failed, my kids failed. Don't give me any of your talk of patience, you would have been a failure, too if you had been there.

We all got a bowl with a scoop of ice cream. It was delicious. Smooth, rich, creamy, and did I mention, delicious? I'd pay money for a scoop of that stuff. (Well, I guess technically I did.)

So what do I have to say about the recipe? (Remember, this was all for testing purposes.)
  1. As far as the recipe goes, it's pretty straightforward. The only tricky part is determining custard thickness. I would put a section in the book dealing with that specific aspect of the process, just for clarity's sake, since most, if not all, recipes use the custard method.
  2. It tastes a little different from a standard tub of store bought cookies 'n cream. But that is mainly due to the fact that we are talking grade A quality home made ice cream. I doubt anybody is adding a vanilla bean to their mass-produced varieties. You can definitely taste it. The recipe mentions that the bean is optional, which I'm sure would lend a more generic flavor to the ice cream (something worth noting). But would omitting that delicious bean be wise? I think not.
  3. The whipping of the cream is an excellent addition to homemade recipes. The final product was smoother and lighter (not in the caloric sense, mind you) than any other recipe we've tried. It lacked that almost butter-like texture that a lot of homemade ice creams have.(You know, that tongue-coating feeling. Blech.)
  4. All in all, excellent and, need I say it again, delicious! Thank you, Kieran for Cookies Ice Cream!

As I am finishing this, I just realized that the deadline of the 25th is technically over in Ireland. Darn it! One more aspect of this entire ordeal I've screwed up on. Oh well. Maybe Kieran will be merciful. I mean, I finished with twenty-one minutes to spare here in Oregon, USA! (That's early, according to the Procrastinator's Handbook!) And that's one more thing going for this recipe. If I can do it, anybody can!