Monday, September 29, 2008

debate cake!

In honor of the presidential debates on Friday night.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Breathing into my BodyMind

One benefit of being unemployed is that it gives you time to pursue personal hobbies to your heart's content, bounded, of course, by your ever-decreasing budget. Which is why, when I decided to take up Yoga again, I checked out a few DVDs from the library that I will faithfully renew every week until someone else puts them on hold. (Two years ago, when I was also unemployed and picking up yoga, this technique worked for about 3 months).

I've been on my new routine for about a week and a half now. I could barely bend over to touch my toes on the first day. But today I was thrilled when my nose almost touched my knee while in a seated forward bend. I attribute my success to the gentle reminders from my digital Rodney Yee to breath into my bodymind.

My favorite pose by far is chavasana, or corpse pose. It consists of lying on your back, legs stretched out in front, arms to the side, eyes closed. Oh, and breathing into your bodymind. This pose comes at the end of the workout, and is accompanied by pleasant music and the instructor's voice saying things like "receive into your palms", "imagine your tension as a darkness, and let the light heal that darkness", and "relax your eyeballs to the ground".

Yesterday while in chavasana, I had this sudden vision of a scene from the fantasy book A Wizard of Earthsea: me in a small rowboat, wearing a billowing scarlet-violet cloak, rowing in crystal blue ocean toward the end of the world. (Also, perhaps, reminiscent of the afterlife boat scene in Waking Ned Devine.) The thought that accompanied this mental image was that I should write a novel.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Get? ... hmm, grr, ahh, yes, it reveals so much about me...

While becoming a master of information, I learned all sorts of things about information visualization - how the human mind processes information, and what designers can do to display information in a way that helps that process.

For some reason, many students - and professors - in the program were enamored with word clouds as information visualization. Everyone wants a visual of words from some corpus resized according to frequency. Throw a word cloud up as "findings" in your presentation, and the class makes non-committal grunts of deep mental contemplation. But I dare you to infer something meaningful from this information jumble.

Still, it is kind of pretty.

So here is a word cloud of my blog, thus far. I did this using Wordle, and got the idea from Janssen. A note of caution if you try this yourself: if you simply paste the url of your blog into Wordle, the resulting cloud will be strongly biased toward your latest posts. To work around this, I copied the text from my entire blog (easy to do if you use a feed reader), removed some meta-notes (things like "post from edibles by Erin" and "stop starstar this post add" that repeated for every post), and pasted the text into Wordle.

Friday, September 19, 2008

"my little burrito! you are talking!"

Burritos are near the top of my favorite foods list. Perhaps this love of rice, beans, meat, and salsa wrapped in a warm tortilla came from spending my adolescent years in Arizona. My favorite burrito joint there was Adrian's (mentioned in thrift stores). I still have their business card. "Adrian's #2," it reads, "The Real Mexican Food. Especialidad de la Casa Milanesa, Mole Poblano, Barbacoa, Carnitas y toda clase de Mariscos." I don't know what any of those especials are. The menu was in Spanish, too. So I always just got the burrito. And it was great. (1011 W. Main St., Mesa, Arizona, if you're interested and if they're still in business.)

But I would peg my Mexican affinity to earlier years. In 5th grade, my class performed a holiday play, "The Talking Burro". Oh - you haven't heard of it? Well, it is about a talking burro, or donkey. I led as Carla, a little Mexican girl who discovers that her beloved burro talks. I don't remember any of my lines (contrast to when I played the ghost of Christmas present in "A Christmas Carol" the year before: "I am the ghost of present. Look at me! Have you never seen the likes of me before? I have many brothers - more than 1800."). But I do remember having to regularly shake my braids and exclaim with childish delight "My little burrito!" several times throughout the dramatization.

Over the past few months I have been developing my burrito making skills. I am near perfection. And I chose to reveal my secrets here.

Ingredients to the perfect burrito:
- Big tortillas, warmed in the microwave
- Rice with taco seasoning of some kind added
- Black beans, partly drained of juice and then added to rice
- Beef of chicken strips - thin and long, marinated in soy sauce and lime, then pan-cooked on the stove, don't overcook, it should only take a few minutes
- Fresh salsa - cut up tomatoes, onion (don't use a food processor - it makes the onion sour), cilantro (must be fresh!), and garlic (also fresh); mix with salt and lime juice
- sour cream
- avocado (optional, but only barely)

- Lay out a piece of tin foil, about 4 inches bigger than the tortilla
- Lay a warmed tortilla on the tin foil
- Using a spatula, spread sour cream on the whole face of the tortilla. Don't be shy. The sour cream sticks everything together and gives the final burrito a nice texture.
- Slop a big scoop (about 2 cups) of rice and bean mixture on the tortilla, and spread it to make an oval-like lump in the center of the tortilla.
- Spread the cooked meat, salsa, and avocado on top of the rice and beans.

- You will now think the stuff on top of the tortilla is too big to fit inside the tortilla. It's not. Here's how you fold it. All of your stuff should be in the centered on the tortilla, but in an elongated shape. See Figure 1.

Fig. 1

- Fold the short sides in. See Figure 2.

Fig. 2

- Fold one of the long sides over the top of the stuff. Grasp the short side fold and the long fold you just made, packing the stuff tightly, and then rolling the whole thing toward the remaining long side. This figure is too difficult to draw. Think of tightly rolling a sleeping bag. Just squeeze the stuff inside; it'll fit.

- Once your burrito is folded, wrap it in tin foil to keep the shape. Serve immediately or warm up more in the oven.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Crickets for a rainy day

My plans for refinishing a table, learning how to sail, and attending an Ultimate tournament have all been foiled by the weather. This is a rainy day post.

A few days ago I was talking on the phone with my sister, Sarah. In the middle of the conversation I heard her say to her three-year-old, "Get it! Get it!" Apparently, recent rainstorms drove the crickets to higher ground - inside their house. They have been battling the infestation for a few days now. Crickets make a formidable enemy, as they blithely hop away from incoming swats and then stay up all night chatting. Sarah was both proud of and sickened by an inadvertent victory when she squashed one of the creatures with her bare feet one evening.

Our conversation was interspersed with directives to the three-year-old to squish spotted intruders, and with Sarah's own attempt, which left her splattered in projectile goo.

We hung up and I went to the kitchen to eat lunch. After a hearty round of pasta salad I retired to the bathroom to take a shower. I turned on the water and saw, in the folds of the shower curtain, a small, brown cricket.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Oooh! Oooh! A List!

As a follow up to my lament on women in film, here is a list of movies that - as a moderate feminist - I can comfortably watch. Two notes of explanation. First, I made up the term "moderate feminist". Feminism is a clumsy term we use for basically anything having to do with women. The weak version is fluffy puffy let's feel good about women without it actually meaning anything. The strong version touts women as absolutely the same as men excepting anatomy, while saying under the breath that we all know women are actually far superior to men in every way.

As a moderate feminist, I believe that women are absolutely equal to men, but men and women hold different roles and responsibilities. The ultimate potential for both man and woman is as a perfect compliment to the other.

Perhaps moderate is a misnomer. My view may be seen as quite radical by some. Maybe it is not a half-way between on the scale I set out, but rather a third point all together...

Regardless, I don't have a better name right now.

The second point of explanation. Because of my definition of moderate feminist, you will notice that some of these films portray woman as wife and mother. Some of the these films portray woman as independent and successful. And some of these films portray women as wife, mother, independent, and successful. I am satisfied with all three.

Movies for the Moderate Feminist

Amazon Queen
A Man for All Seaons
Anne of Green Gables
Driving Miss Daisy
Fiddler on the Roof
Howl's Moving Castle
It's a Wonderful Life
Little Women
Million Dollar Baby
Mona Lisa Smile
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Much Ado About Nothing
October Sky
Pride and Prejudice (1995 version)
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Thin Man series
To Kill a Mockingbird
Waking Ned Divine
Whale Rider

What movies would you add?

Monday, September 8, 2008

When Being a Woman Meant Something

I have been at a low boil for some time about the portrayal of women in movies. Blockbuster hits constantly reinforce the women as objects syndrome.

One recent offender is Iron Man. On the near completely male-dominated screen, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) stands out as a level-headed, competent secretary - a protege of the profession, really. Be astounded as she completes the most complicated and arduous tasks by following very detailed, step-by-step directions from a man.

(I will refrain from mentioning reporter Christine (Leslie Bibb), whose sole purpose on the screen is to display her ... well, let's just say it's not her cunning intellect.)

So I was pleasantly surprised when we watched Cranford last week. Cranford is a TV mini-series (made in 2007) based on Elizabeth Gaskell's novels, written in the 1850s. The series is about the lives and relationships of the residents of a small town in 1840s England. Women get a larger share of the screen time. But that's not as important as what that screen time shows. A variety of vices and virtues - town gossip, loose flirtations, and rigid propriety mixed with sincere compassion, neighborliness, strong wills, compentency in society and intellect - creates women of depth and diversity. Women who are actually like the women I know, and the woman I'm trying to become.

Okay. Okay. I know it's an unfair comparison. The men in Iron Man are nearly (though not quite) as flat and inestimable as the women. Victorian literature arguably pays more attention to character development than Marvel comics. The audience and expectations for each is completely different.

Still. It makes me wonder what ground we have gained in the last 150 years. Or lost.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Okay. On three. 1 ... 2 ... CLICK! hehehe

One of Abe's hobbies is to take random sneak photos of me.

The result:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Last week, we met my parents at Brevort Lake in the UP (upper peninsula of michigan, for those non midwesterners out there) for a few days of camping.

On the drive up, Abe & I saw numerous roadside ads for the "Mystery Spot." We ended up driving right by it, so we decided to see what it was all about.

The plaque at the "Mystery Spot" just said this: "In the early 1950s three surveyors stumbled across an area of land where they surveying equipment didn't seem to work properly. As they continued their research of this land, they noticed a constant feeling of being light headed. Later, realizing that their queasiness and problems with surveying equipment only occurred in an area about 300 feet in diameter they felt they had discovered a 'Mystery Spot'."

For only $7 we could have gone on the guided tour to the spot. We declined.

Abe, Mom, and Dad on the boat out to Mackinac Island.

While biking around Mackinac Island (no cars allowed), my shoelace got caught in the chain of our tandem bicycle. It's a lot harder to stop for emergencies when 2 people are driving.

Lake Michigan beaches are gorgeous! The lake temperature was a bit too - refreshing - for my taste, but still fun.

We rented a boat to go fishing on Brevort Lake. The worms we used measured longer than our biggest catch.

Yum. Smoked fish jerky fudge.