Monday, September 28, 2009

your library request is ready to be picked up

Two years ago last August, Abe & I bought a pair of Ikea's black-brown Billy bookcases. It was our first furniture purchase that didn't involve Salvation Army (or it's equivalent). Aside from a wedding ring and plane tickets home, it may have been our single biggest purchase together.

What does it say about us that our next big furniture purchase (last Saturday) was 3 additional Billy's?

I think it says that I shouldn't be surprised to look at our library accounts and find 74 checked out items - 68 books*, 6 DVDs.

We relegated the original Billy's into our bedroom. Now our living room sports the more stylish half-width Billy's, including one wall mount. The shelves will be arranged in a sort of square arch around our piano. This creates a shrine-like space above the piano and below the wall mount (the keystone, if you will). Abe has suggested a series of 3 cat statues, in increasing size, for this space**.

In transit, these books have taken residence on our bedroom floor.

I've always felt that books on someone's bookshelf are a good conversation piece. A sampling of titles from our floor:

Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter
Biology of Life (Bio 101 textbook)
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Rational Herds: Economic Models of Social Learning by Christophe P. Chamley
Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
Jane Austen's Complete Works by Jane Austen
4 hymnals
The Authoritative Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Beowulf by a heroic epic poet

Surprisingly, we actually own all of the above books.

*Until last week, this included one book, Trees of Michigan, that I have been renewing since June 2008 (approximately 22 renewals).
**It is disturbing that my Google search for "cat statues" came up with this photo:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

pg 314 out of 1024 ... fiddle-dee-dee

I have Goodreads updates on my blog sidebar of books I've read lately. It's been stagnant for some time. Not because I haven't been reading, but because I've been reading Gone With the Wind. I reserved it at the library, not realizing it is 3 inches thick.

And today I realized I could catch the whole thing in 3.06 minutes, thanks to YouTube videos set to sappy romance songs.

I may never live to finish it, but I do recommend the book. The film version is also one of the best book-to-movie conversions I've seen. (238 minutes long.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Garden Variety

Last night we had a delicious Spinach Basil Pesto, made with basil from our garden. It turned out much better than some other basil dishes we had earlier in the year. That's because earlier this year I was actually cutting Impatiens from our garden, not basil.


This summer was my first attempt at a garden. We planted several pots of herbs, and, because we had leftover soil and pots, also planted a few flowers. Everything was from seed, so I was excited to see what the plants would look like as they grew. The basil was doing well, and so were my flowers.

After a few weeks, the basil looked old enough to cut, as a garnish for our pizza or spaghetti. It didn't add very much flavor, though. I was disappointed.

Time passed.

I noticed that my flowers were looking more and more like my basil. In fact, basil seemed to be springing up in all of my pots. Then I noticed that there were 2 subtly different looking plants growing in my basil pot.

And that's when I knew: some of these plants were not basil. And I was pretty sure whatever wasn't basil was Impatiens. Finally, turning on my Cub Scout Commissioner/Forestry Merit Badge Counselor skills, I noted that one of the plants had "opposite" growing leaves and the other had "alternate" growing leaves - one of the basic traits to look for in plant identification. A few Google searches confirmed that we had been eating our Impatiens as garnish.

So last night, I was confident that it was basil I snipped and put into this lovely recipe.

Spinach Pesto

10 ounces torn spinach leaves
2 garlic cloves, halved
3 tablespoons pine nuts (I didn't used these)
3 bunches fresh basil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp. salt
hot, cooked linguini

Place a few spinach leaves, garlic, pine nuts, basil and a little oil in blender or food processor container. Cover and puree until leaves begin to look crushed. Continue adding spinach leaves a few at a time with small amounts of oil to blender, using a rubber spatula to help to combine pureed mixture. Add Parmesan cheese and 1/8 tsp. salt. Cover and process until spinach pesto mixture is smooth.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions; drain in colander. Serve with the spinach pesto sauce.

I also added sauteed mushrooms.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Where the fishermen meet!

In my family, Saturdays always meant day trips in the family van. Which was no small thing (the van, I mean. We sported a 12-passenger Ford Club Wagon, like this one but baby blue and with curtains made of PVC piping and canvas).

One memorable trip was down the Lake Michigan coast of Wisconsin. Actually, I remember nothing about the trip, except that we stopped in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, for dinner. Mom really wanted a Saturday night fish boil, with fresh fish from the Great Lakes. Of course, none of us children remotely comprehended why this would be a better option than, say, McDonalds. But to a fresh fish boil we went.

And ended up at M&Ms, or perhaps MOMs -- the restaurant's logo was ambiguous, so we were never quite sure. Maybe we should have left when they sat us at a table that still had the previous diners' trash on and under it. But we didn't leave. After all, fish boil.

Mom ordered her fish and we all got something with fries. But even the fries weren't a safe bet. They had a distinct yeasty taste. Being in Wisconsin, there was a strong possibility that they were deep fried in beer. We added more ketchup, but the yeast taste got worse. Then we realized the ketchup bottle was marked with an expiration that pre-dated my birth.

It didn't help that I had ordered a kiddie-sized milkshake (we're a "I'll just start with a water" family, so I knew Mom and Dad wouldn't take a full shake well). The shake came in a shot glass-size paper cup that I managed to stretch out to 2 spoon fulls.

M&Ms/MOMs has always been something of a joke to us since. My family moved away from Wisconsin about 13 years ago, and (to their surprise and ours) my parents moved back about 2 years. In between, Dad was on a business trip there and ended up in Two Rivers. He bought a black logo truckers hat from M&Ms/MOMs for me.

And this weekend, I finally found the perfect venue to wear it at.

Demolition Derby! The Michigan state championship, no less, held at the Saline Fair. My friend Elizabeth invited us, and, as she says, if you haven't gone, you should go because "it's a lot more fun than it should be".

Some footage:

Generally, what happens at a demolition derby.

Note the dirt flying at us.

Captioning: "He's got the rear end shoved up in the sheet metal." And just which one of these cars might you be talking about, sir?

They also had a truck heat.

In my M&Ms/MOMs hat.

p.s. I actually found M&Ms/MOMs website, and confirmed the name. M&Ms Lunch and Catering. Catering?! Their slogan: "Come and eat where the fishermen meet!"

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Toronto Days 3 & 4

The last of my Toronto series.

Saturday we went to lunch at Spring Rolls with the BYU political science crew. Good food, lacking in service. They forgot to bring desserts until we remembered, which was right before we had to go. They gave us 10% off gift cards good between 2-5 and 8:30-10:00 weekdays. So, next time we're in Toronto...

I walked around the farmer's market, then headed to the harbour front, where I sat in the grass reading The Pelican Brief and lost track of all time.

Abe & I met up again. CN Tower in the background. Tallest tower in the world, before DuBai beat them last year.

In the evening we went to High Park to see The Tempest performed outside. It was wonderful. Though by the time we got back it was 10:30 and we hadn't eaten. We made a wrong turn off the subway and ended up walking nowhere towards food. We finally landed at our hotel (photo above) and got sandwiches from Tim Hortons across the street.

Tim Hortons in the morning - we had to go back for donuts.

Eating donuts in traffic. We got 2 chocolate glaze, Boston cream, strawberry jelly with white frosting glaze, strawberry jelly powdered, and Canadian maple (also with cream). Boston cream was a clear winner, with Canadian maple coming in at a close second.

In traffic, for 1.5 hours just getting out of Toronto. I prefer seeing the city by foot.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Toronto Day 2

Continuing my final summer vacation series...

I started Day 2 by going to Abe's conference to see him present on his paper "Applying Voice Recognition to Vox Populi: State Transition Models and the Study of Public Opinion and Political Communication". There were 5 people on the panel and about 15 of us in the audience. Actually pretty good average for an academic conference.

Afterwards, we went to lunch at Richtree Market. I enjoyed delicious pad thai.

The restaurant was based on an open market concept. After being seated, you received a "shopper's card" and could then stroll through a maze of different eateries, swipe your card to get some of their food, return to eat, and then pay for your entire shopper's card when you left. Think high school cafeteria meets bistro.

After that I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario, which my guidebook said was $5. It was actually $18, so I left and went to the Bao Xi contemporary art gallery across the street (free). It was a two-story, 15-ish-painting gallery and I absolutely loved it.

Then I headed over to campus to see the rare book library and museum. The "museum" was 5 display cases with 16-18c books. But it was on a floor that sort of floated inside a round hall several stories high, filled with rare books. Despite the bust of Shakespeare, I sited no Shakespearean writings in the museum.

While contemplating vellum, I heard shouts and screams outside. Come to find out, freshman orientation at Toronto University includes 1,000s of students parading through several city blocks. Everywhere I went, I could see or hear their giant snake of different colleges and clubs, weaving up and down the streets.

Campus, sans students.

I met up with Abe and his academic folk at a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown for dinner.

Abe got the XL soup.

We finished the night by walking to the city hall building. You can see the spacecraft ready to shoot up, just above the fountain.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

End of Summer Series

To finish my string of vacation posts, here is Part 1 of the Toronto Series. Abe & I traveled 4.5 hours to Toronto last Wednesday. He had a conference and a graduate program-subsidized hotel room downtown, so I tagged along.

My adventures began Thursday morning. I took on the city with only my Timbuk2 messenger bag, Keens sandals, and 3 Toronto travel guides.

First stop, Ontario Science Centre. I don't have many photos, maybe because I wasn't very impressed. My analysis of their exhibits needs its own blog post, when I'm ready to get more philosophical and less travelical, so more on that later.

Early afternoon I was back downtown - Chinatown, to be exact. I took the subway here, started walking, and didn't stop until it was 8 pm and I'd seen most of the city. Lunch was delicious shrimp dumpling and noodle soup, for $3.95.

From Chinatown I headed to Kensington Market. I wish I had more photos of the market. Tight city streets lined with Indian boutiques, Chinese bargain shops, and vintage treasure houses. The shops are all in old Victorian-style (maybe? I think?) homes. Or, the odd vehicular reclamation project car.

I trekked across town to the Bata Shoe Museum, which may be one of the coolest museums I've been to. 10,000 shoes, telling stories about different cultures, religions, women's high heels through the 1920s-1980s, and Sir Elton John.

After that, Crepes A Go-Go, a small French bistro, where I had an amazing buckwheat crepe filled with strawberries, brie, spinach, and a drizzle of maple syrup.

During my 45-minute walk bag to the hotel, dusk was settling in, so I got some nice shots of city buildings. Toronto is a very clean city. There were some street corners where I could stand, look in all four directions and not see any trash - not even cigarette butts.

Monday, September 7, 2009

5 Years and 40% Chance of Rain

We just got back from a great vacation in Toronto, Canada, but I'm still a trip behind, so more on Canada later, eh?

Two weekends ago we headed out to Traverse Bay and Sleeping Bear Dunes in northern Michigan for a 2 night, 3 day camping trip in celebration of our 5th anniversary. The original plan was to leave Thursday morning, but because I needed another vacation day for Toronto the next weekend, we made it Thursday after work. Even then, Thursday at 5pm found Abe frantically finishing a paper due that night that he'd been working on non-stop for 3 days. His eyes were glazed when I met him at the bus stop, and he said he felt like he was floating. With my editor's pen in hand, I helped him round out the rough edges and get it in by 6:30.

With a late start, we didn't make it to camp until about 11:30pm. Luckily, the camp manager was across the road from us and kept blazing Christmas lights around her camper all night, so we had plenty of light to set up our tent.

We were so excited to be on a getaway together, and to have actually gotten away, that we were determined not to let anything ruin the trip - including the weather forecast of rain until Sunday.

Despite threatening skies, we enjoyed beautiful hikes around the dunes off of Lake Michigan.

Four things to note from this photo. 1) Gorgeous water. 2) Sand you want to roll it. 3) Skyline that looks like we're on the edge of the world. 4) Steepness and length of the dune climb (this is only half of it).

Do we look like we've been camping?

We went on a 4-mile dune hike to the edge of the water. When Abe got there he gathered white and black stones and played a game of "Go" (Ancient Japanese game, still around today, supposed to be harder than chess. Note: I sat on a log and laughed at a piece of driftwood that looked like a bunny. And you wonder why our two family reunions were so different.)

If you noted the cloudy skies in above photos, then you won't be surprised that we hit a rainstorm in the late afternoon. Luckily it cleared long enough for Abe to start a fire out of wet wood (I don't know how he does it, but he can basically start a fire anywhere) and for me to cook up some tinfoil dinners.

It rained all night. This is our tent in the morning, after we cleared our gear out. Look at the photo again. See the water line by the disc? See how it goes all around our tent. It's dry in the middle because that's where our air mattress was. The air mattress and blankets soaked up the rest of the water. While we were sleeping.

It was still raining the morning and we were hungry. This was our solution.

They may have been the most delicious blueberry pancakes I've ever had. Bonus - I got to wear my baby blue jumpsuit, which I stuffed in a paper bag at a local thrift store a few weeks ago when they were having a Bag Sale (everything you can fit in a bag for $5 total).

We don't have any photos of us kayaking and swimming in Traverse Bay, because it never happened. The rain persisted until we drove home late that night. Instead, we showered, drove around admiring the wet scenery, bought blueberries (they were out of the famous sweet cherries), and went out to eat in Traverse City at a bay-side restaurant with a great view and even better white fish and balsamic vinagrette.

In the end, we were both surprised at how much fun we had.