Archive for the ‘best things’ Category

Life and the monetary support of such got in the way of me doing what I really wanted to do today, and that was to write about the ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC weekend that Bill and I just had. We had a Jeep Wrangler for the whole weekend and we USED THE HELL OUTTA IT. So. Consider this a taste of the gloriousness to come:

Roosevelt Lake from the apex of Four Peaks Road.

Roosevelt Lake from the apex of Four Peaks Road.

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“We’re Extremely Fortunate”

We’re extremely fortunate
not to know precisely
the kind of world we live in.

One would have
to live a long, long time,
unquestionably longer
than the world itself.

Get to know other worlds,
if only for comparison.

Rise above the flesh,
which only really knows
how to obstruct
and make trouble.

For the sake of research,
the big picture,
and definitive conclusions,
one would have to transcend time,
in which everything scurries and whirls.

From that perspective,
one might as well bid farewell
to incidents and details.

The counting of weekdays
would inevitably seem to be
a senseless activity;

dropping letters in the mailbox
a whim of foolish youth;

the sign “No Walking On The Grass”
a symptom of lunacy.

— Wislawa Szymborska
(Translated, from the Polish, by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.)

The final poem from the collection View With A Grain of Sand: Selected Poems.

I revealed my uber-embarrassing choice in movies for nothing! Turns out Bill didn’t have the part he needed up in the City of Tubas, so he did a one-day turn around and waltzed in the door at about 6:30. I’d called him twice, in the hour leading up to his waltzing, and he didn’t pick up his phone. Whether he was hoping to surprise me, or catch me in the act of something nefarious, is debatable.

Anyway, the upshot was that I didn’t watch the movie. We *did* watch the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, though. Linus’ monologue makes me tear up every time.

———-

Occasionally, I like to peruse the stats over at World Famous Nosh, to see what people are cooking these days. Seems lately folks have a hankerin’ for Steak Dinner with All the Fixin’s, Hershey Kiss Cookies (which would be AWESOME with the caramel kisses, wouldn’t they???), Incredible Crock Pot Meatloaf (and it is), Five Flavor Pork Roast, and Irish Cream Brownies.

The meatloaf recipe has had the most hits of all time (1,212!), followed closely by the World War II Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake (972), with the crock pot recipe for Chicago Italian Beef coming in third (736).

I’m probably the only one who finds stuff like this to be kind of interesting.

———-

Here’s some wicked awesome stuff that has come to my attention in the past week or so:

– A recipe for Apple Cider Sugar Donut Muffins, courtesy of Dlyn, that you can BET YOUR BIPPY I will be making in the near future.

– Sweet Salty gives us permission to suck. Thank God, since I’ve been sucking in an unauthorized manner for all this time!

– Did I share this with you guys? I forget. How to deal with your camera getting lost or stolen. Link shared by Karl over on the Twitter.

– This OH MY FUCKING GOD AWESOMENESS that Heather shared with me:

– This other OH MY FUCKING GOD AWESOMENESS that Blogography Tweeted:

– This video that a co-worker shared with me that made me laugh until I pee’d:

There. You’ve been entertained.

“A Note”

Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;

to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;

to tell pain
from everything it’s not;

to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble on a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another,

mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;

and to keep on not knowing
something important.

— Wislawa Szymborska
(Translated, from the Polish, by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.)

I’m making my first beef stew of the season. I’ve made a few tweaks since posting the original recipe on World Famous Nosh, so I thought I would let you know how I turned this:

Raw Ingredients

Raw Ingredients - sorry for the weird lighting.

Into this:

Beefy Stewey Goodness!

Beefy Stewey Goodness!

Ingredients
– 2 lbs stew meat, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
– 1 tbsp sugar
– 2 tbsp Worcestershire
– salt and pepper
– 1 bay leaf
– 4 cups low sodium beef broth or stock, divided
– 4 large potatoes or 6 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1 inch cubes (yukon golds seem to work the best for stew)
– 2 cups (or more or less to your taste) peeled baby carrots, cut into thirds
– 1 large sweet onion, peeled and cut into chunks (I leave the chunks large so Bill can pick ’em out)
– 2 stalks of celery, sliced thin

– 8-12 oz whole mushrooms, stemmed and sliced to your preference (I leave them thick so Bill can pick them out)
– 2 cloves, or 1 tbsp, minced garlic
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 1 tbsp Worcestershire

– 1/4 cup corn starch, mixed with 1/4 cup of water
– 2 cups frozen baby sweet peas (more or less to taste)

Put the stew meat in the crock pot, add sugar, Worcestershire, bay leaf, and salt (omit if you’re using regular broth instead of low sodium) and pepper to taste. Add one cup of the beef broth, stir to combine, and let that marinate while you’re chopping all the veggies. Peel and chop the potatoes, chop the carrots, cut up the onion, slice the celery. Add all the veggies to the crock pot, stir to combine, and cover with the remaining three cups of beef broth.

Cover and cook on LOW for 10 hours. Add additional broth if things look a little dry.

Raw ingredients in the crock pot.

Raw ingredients in the crock pot.

Fifteen minutes before the end of the cooking time, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the garlic and sautee for thirty seconds. Add the mushrooms and Worcestershire, toss to combine, and sautee until mushrooms are tender, about five minutes. Add mushrooms to the crock pot.

Shrooms!

Shrooms!

Combine the corn starch and water and stir until smooth. Add to the crock pot and stir to combine, this will thicken the stew. Add peas to taste (they can be thrown in in their frozen state), or keep them out of the pot and add them to individual bowls (this is what we do because Bill doesn’t like peas).

Dish it up in huge bowls, and serve with potato rolls or crusty bread. We really like these.

These cloth dollies used to reside on my grandmother’s bed. When she went to sleep at night they’d be moved to her headboard. She made two, and my mother made two (I don’t know who made which). Some cold mornings, when I was very small, I’d pad into Grandma’s room and get into bed with her (I just heard her voice in my head, “You awake, Tiffy? Come get in here with me.”). We’d lay there and talk for a while, and I’d play with the dolls. She never let me take them out of her room, and ALWAYS when she made the bed, she’d put them back in their place among the pillows.

After Grandma’s funeral, I visited with my Uncle Fred and his girlfriend Simone, who were by that time living in Grandma’s house. I took home two very important mementos that belonged to my grandmother – her recipe book (which is DEFINITELY a “thing I love”), and this particular dolly, which had always been my favorite:

She rode home on the airplane on my lap. I held her and paged through the recipe book and cried. My poor seat neighbor didn’t know what to think.

Not too terribly long afterward (I know I wrote an entry about it but I can’t find it), Uncle Fred sent me a box of stuff. Among the ribbons I won in horseback riding competitions (a satisfactory complement of blues, among the reds, whites, greens, and yellows), a few knick-knacks from my childhood bedroom, and some grade-school papers, were the other three dollies. Simone convinced Fred to part with them, which is tough to do because he’s fiercely protective of anything belonging to Grandma or my mother.

They don’t live on my bed – too much ribbon and lace to tempt the cats into mayhem. They reside in an upstairs closet until the day that I have a guest room, and then they will live on that bed.

They make me happy.

I have very, very few mementos of my early childhood. VERY few. When my mother passed away and I went to live with my grandmother, my sister (then 18) moved into my mother’s home. She lived a lifestyle that was, shall we say, less than gentle on my mother’s possessions. And, too, she was a teenager, with a teen’s lack of respect or care for preserving family mementos. Then, there was a fire that destroyed much of what should have been cherished. My sister salvaged some, and my grandmother had some. Now some is just kind of scattered around Grandma’s house, now inhabited by my Uncle Fred and his girlfriend Simone.

My mother enjoyed “doing” ceramics. She was all about those ceramic rooster statues and wall hangings that were all the rage back in the 70’s (like these – not mine, photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons). She also loved to make ceramic frogs, like the one I wrote about previously, and this little guy pictured above.

The sponge frog lived under my mother’s sink, and held brillo pads and scrubby things. I remember it starkly, clearly, vividly – a background detail of my childhood that never really jumped to the forefront of my mind until I saw this little guy under the sink at Grandma’s house, back when Bill and I stayed there in July (hmm, I have yet to write that installment of the Maine Saga).

I kind of squee’d, “Hey, I remember that frog!” Simone leaned over my shoulder to see where I was pointing, and said, “Oh, yes, that was your mother’s, would you like to take it home with you?”

UM. YES PLEASE.

So, now he lives on TOP of my sink, holding my kitchen sponge. I look at that little froggy and I think, what a strange thing life is. My mom made him in Maine in the 70’s, he lived under her sink for years, he survived a fire AND my sister, wound up at my Grandmother’s somehow, lived under HER sink for years, and now he’s in Arizona. Fulfilling his froggy duty as a fixture on MY sink.

I don’t know. He just makes me happy.

Heather and I share a “Bad Anniversary” – that of the death of her mother, and the death of my grandmother. They both passed away at about the same time, in the same year, and it was one of the shared life experiences that helped us bond as friends. So, each year we commiserate with one another, usually with phone calls and “Thinking of you!” e-mails.

This year, though, she went above and beyond the call of friendship. She gave me a head’s up to expect a package in the mail, but didn’t tell me what it was. So, it was waiting for me in my mailbox when I checked it before work one morning. I sat in the idling car, and opened up the package. I saw… a domino on a chain. Puzzled, I didn’t inspect the package, but went for the card that Heather had enclosed. She mentioned that the picture of my grandmother had always been one of her favorites (this one). I had a, “Huh?” moment, then pulled the necklace out of its little package. It spun around, and I saw the picture of Grandma.

I’ve never smiled and cried all together in an instant, before. It was a unique experience. Now, every time I wear the necklace (which is most days), it completely warms my heart that I have such a beloved, thoughtful friend in Heather. She made that necklace, and I LOVE hand-made gifts. I just think they have so much more meaning than anything bought in a store. Which sucks for MY friends, because I have no crafty talent to speak of. I DO love you guys, though.

Anyway, now I can carry my Grandma’s picture around with me wherever I go, which Heather knew I would LOVE. I thanked her before, but I’ll thank her again. Heather, you are so wonderful! Thank you so much. I am truly, entirely blessed to have you in my life.

Wax ecstatic

Posted: September 3, 2010 in best things, Inner Geek, photography
Tags: ,

So, those of you who follow me at Beyond Megapixels or on my Flickr feed may have come to the realization that I received a new toy on Wednesday. That toy being a Canon 7D with the 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens. I really didn’t think I’d be able to get one for several more months, but fate shined upon me and planets aligned and the heavens opened up and lo, I am possessed of one BITCHIN’ camera.

My extreme level of geekitude is such that Bill is starting to get annoyed. I’ve been sitting on my side of the couch, fiddling and pressing buttons and taking experimental shots, all the while hooting and chortling and cackling like a magpie. It’s… just… so COOL. I’m starting to suspect that this is one camera that will bring truth to the table when folks say to me, “Your camera takes such nice pictures.” I mean, normally a photographer gets annoyed when someone says that to them – the thought being that it’s the photographer, not the camera itself, that takes nice pictures. In this case, though… well. Yeah.

I am very, VERY fond of my Digital Rebel XTi. It was a fantastic camera to start with, when I first ventured into D-SLR. I learned, well, everything on it. Aperture and exposure, HDR and bulb shots, composition and flash compensation, white balance and bokeh. The XTi is going to make a great backup body, because it’s one quality camera in and of itself. I’ve just learned as much as I’m going to on it, and gone as far as I’m going to with it. After three and a half years, it’s time to step up to the next level.

This next part here may only be interesting to fellow photography geeks. If you’re in the market for a new D-SLR, allow me to convince you of this purchase:

– 18 megapixels (my XTi has 10)
– 8 frames per second (XTi does 4)
– 3-inch LCD with Live View (XTi has a 2.5 inch screen, no live view)
– HD video (XTi has no video capabilities)
– 19 point auto-focus (XTi has 9 point AF)
– Intelligent Viewfinder with 100% field of view (not offered on the XTi)
– On-the-fly switching between RAW and JPEG (XTi’s switch is buried in menus)
– ISO up to 6400, expandable up to 12,800 (XTi goes to 1600)
– Dual Axis Electronic Level that displays the roll and pitch of the camera in 1-degree increments, through either the viewfinder or LCD. You can’t IMAGINE how geeked I was to find that particular feature. (Goes without saying, the XTi ain’t got none of that.)
– 63 zone dual-layer lighting sensor with color management functionality, which takes into account the color and luminosity surrounding the chosen AF points. What this basically means is that this camera will take KICK ASS correctly-exposed shots in low-light situations (which I find myself in frequently), without needing the flash. (XTi ain’t got this, either.)
– An Integrated Speedlite Transmitter which allows the camera to control multiple off-camera speedlites (flashes). Previous to this a separate transmitter was required. (Not offered on the XTi.)
– Automatic flash exposure compensation, which controls the power of the built-in pop-up flash to correctly expose the shot. (XTi requires fiddling with a less-than-stellar flash compensation manually – again, buried in menus.)

Essentially, this is a beast of a camera that is going to open up a whole new realm of photographic possibilities for me – creatively, professionally, personally. I am verra, verra excited. I can already see the difference in the handful of shots I’ve taken (the animals, natch), just using Program mode.

You guys are going to be INUNDATED.

(Here is a GREAT review of the 7D from The Digital Picture. This is my go-to source for reviews on cameras, lenses, and photography equipment.)

Ben!

Posted: August 30, 2010 in best things, Friends, Motorcycle, photography, vacation

One shot of a million billion zillion.

Ben Spies during practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday, 8/27/10.

Ben Spies during practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday, 8/27/10.

Oh my FUCKING GOD, did we have a good time. I have eight thousand things to do over the next few days, so if you’re craving recappy goodness, Taoist Biker is being his usual loquacious self over on his blog!