Saturday, August 28, 2010

Conversations on Video Games

Jordan just got a new video game.  I should state now, in his defense, that he does not play that often.  He does have, I think, every Nintendo console ever built (with the exception of the Wii) plus a Play Station 2.  We also have, carefully stacked in clear plastic boxes in our closet, a myriad of games for each of those consoles.

His new game is callled Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance.  I asked him what it was about.  He said, "You hit people, get points, then buy things to hit more people with."  A strong narrative arc, as you can see.

Today he said, "We should go get a second controller, so you can play with me."
I said, "Ok, but I think we should also take turns reading Anne of Green Gables out loud to each other."
He said, "Mmmmm."

Right now, he is playing, making the little guy run around and, what else, hit people.  Every once in a while he gets tired of just having the guy run, so he does a few jumps.  The little guy swings both arms, and grunts loudly.  I think Jordan shouldn't make him work so hard.

He's not just hitting people any more.  Right now it is strange creatures that walk upright but have fur.  I asked, "What's that you're fighting?"  He said, "I dunno," as he blasted another with his shiny sword.

Anne of Green Gables may not have a lot of action in it, but at least all the figures are identifiable.Baldur's Gate: Dark AllianceAnne of Green Gables Boxed Set, Vol. 1 (Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Today was a good day at the library...

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wisenberg

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rising Slowly

I love making bread.  I made my first loaf over a year ago.  It is a complicated and time-consuming process, and that is probably why it is so comforting.  That, and the smell.  Despite the fact that I love to do it, I have not had great success in making bread.  There always seems to be some problem.  Sometimes the crust comes out hard and chewy.  Sometimes it is dense and bland.  I want it to have as much whole wheat flour in it as possible, but that doesn't always improve the taste.  I have a bread machine, and like it for quick jobs, but baking it in the machine doesn't always provide for enough control, and besides, I like kneading the dough myself.  I got the recipe for my latest attempt from Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads.  Reinhart is a proponent of slow-rise bread making.  According to the recipe, I made two different doughs first.  On the left is the biga, which is bread flour, yeast, and water, and on the left is the soaker, containing the whole wheat flour, salt, and milk.  I left these in the refrigerator for a couple of days, and then kneaded them together, adding more yeast, honey, and flour.

This rises once in the bowl (above) and then again in the pan (proofing it).  It baked up quite nicely.  It is soft and "damp-crumbed" and tastes pretty good.  The main problem I had this time is that middle of the loaf is a bit unstable - like Yeats said, "the center can not hold, things fall apart." :)  So when you slice it, the middle tends to crumble away and you get jelly slipping through your toast.  More research needed, I suppose.  I kind of think I let it rise too much when it was proofing, but I don't know if that is the source of the problem.

I am pretty happy with the result.  I think I read somewhere that even the worst homemade loaf of bread is going to be better than the best store-bought.  I don't know if I entirely agree with this, but I am enjoying putting it to the test.

Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Summer Days, Drifting Away...

Another summer is almost over.  Classes begin again next week, and it will be a flurry of lesson plans, grading, and meetings.  But until then, I want to focus on the things that make summer summer.  Like:

1) Peaches.  Pictured above with Greek yogurt, honey, and blueberry granola.  Yummy.  I love the colors of a peach and this one was especially pretty, all sunset colors - orange and red and yellow and pink.

2)  Hanging out at the pool.  Our apartment complex has a nice pool that is never crowded when it first opens in the morning.  I've enjoyed having friends with kids over to swim - I have never met a kid who didn't think swimming was the acme of human bliss.

3)  Fun reading.  I haven't had as much of this as I would like, what with the dissertation and all, but there has been some.  I had an especially fun evening, curled up with Robin McKinley's Chalice while it stormed distantly outside.  For me, reading is always enhanced by atmosphere.

4) Stargazing.  I realize that I am not outside enough at night.  Like most people, I get home, I flop down, I turn on the TV and forget that there are things like sunsets and stars and moons out there.  Jordan and I did turn out for the Pleiades meteor shower the other night.  We took the car around to the local landing strip where it was marginally darker than at our apartment.  We sat on the trunk, leaning back against the back windshield and watched.  We saw one really amazing meteor and then watched as clouds rolled in, with lightning flickering inside them.  It was pretty cool.

5)  Baseball.  I am not a sports fan.  But I kind of am.  Our church has "Family Fun Night" every third Sunday.  We have our business meeting and then do  This summer, that has meant ice cream and a softball game.  It is kind of amazing to watch the grown ups and the little kids all playing on teams together, people on the opposite teams sharing gloves as they switch places from infield to outfield, other members sitting on the sidelines cheering.  It is not "church softball" in the sense that it is organized or practiced.  It is a pick-up game in a field.  It is fun.  We also had fun taking our youth group to a minor league game the other night.  It was quintessential summer to sit in the stands, hearing the crack of a bat.  I can't believe I'm waxing sentimental over a ballgame, but there you go.

6)  Watermelon.  And blueberries, corn on the cob, tomatoes, squash, lettuce.  How can I live the long winter without them?  Our church is really amazing.  Almost every Sunday, someone brings us a bag of cucumbers or some tomatoes.  Usually there is a heap of produce sharing space with bulletins and brochures on the table in the foyer, free to anyone who cares to cart them away.  Often there are also farm fresh eggs.  I love our little country church!

OK, now some things that I haven't gotten to do this summer:
1) Go to the beach - we did go to England so I am not in any way complaining about not seeing the beach this summer.  But it is the summer thing. 

2) Go camping.  I love camping; and camping in the fall is pretty spectacular too, but that rarely works out.  Jordan and I have plenty of camping equipment that we never use, because a camping trip requires planning and somehow we just never plan it.  I want to go camping!  Camp fires, marshmallows, stars, lanterns, the earthy-nylon smell of a tent; I never sleep better than I do curled in a flannel-lined sleeping bag in chilly mountain night air.

And, some transitional-type things:

1) Back to school shopping.  My needs are few at this point: a new legal pad (white instead of yellow, this time) and my new bag, but I enjoyed buying things to donate for our school supplies drive at church.  Pencils and notebooks, yay!

2) Knitting.  Working with wool in summer seems kind of pointless, but with fall around the corner I'm in the knitting mood again.  Right now I am working on a corset-style vest in a beautiful amethyst-colored yarn - pictures to follow, of course!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Second-Hand is My First Love

I have been having this conversation with my sister lately that goes something like this:
Her: Hey, that's cute, where did you get that?
Me: Oh, that consignment store.
Her: Ack (I'm not sure how this sound is supposed to be spelled, but it's the sound that you make when you are expressing admiration and disbelief at the same time.)

"That consignment store" is how I refer to My Secret Closet, which I think is a very silly name, to the point of being embarassing to say.  What is not embarassing is finding really nice items for a very low price.  I have been doing the second-hand thing for about a year, and I don't think I will ever really be able to give it up.  Consider: I'm sure you all remember my most recent shopping conundrum, the need for a school bag.  I appreciated everyone's suggestions, and found some lovely specimins on ebay, but decided to check out the consignment store to see what they had.  I found a Liz Claiborne leather tote for $20.  After applying my credit from my items that had recently sold, the bag cost $10.  It's not the perfect bag - it's a bit trendy, but it is the perfect piece for right now.

I have bought several items from the consignment store, including my current favorite thing - my brown leather Ralph Lauren purse for $22.  And I don't stop at the consignment store.  I do it.  I go to Goodwill.  I know that there are mixed feelings out there about Goodwill.  On the one hand, it can feel a bit icky.  Unlike the consignment store, items are not tastefully displayed.  They are packed on racks under harsh lighting.  Goodwill requires courage and a bit of determination.  On the other hand, that courage and determination can pay off.  Like the lovely dress pictured above.  It is an Isaac Mizrahi for Target.  It has beautiful draping and pleating, a lovely print lining, and a layer of net tulle that causes the skirt to flare in that delightful 1950s style.  It is beautifully made.  It cost me $5.  That's right, for the price of a magazine, I got a dress.  There are drawbacks of course.  It is a bit large in the top, but nothing that my seam ripper and sewing machine can't make short work of.  It looks lovely with a garden green cardigan and brown leather belt.

Second-hand shopping is rewarding not just because of that thrill of discovery, and the satisfaction of saving tons of money, but also because it eases my conscience.  I wrote a while back on some things I had learned about where clothes come from and who makes them.  I wasn't very happy about it.  Buying things that are second-hand allows me to maintain a decent wardrobe without directly contributing to that process.  It's like recycling... but more satisfying!


ChaliceI just finished Robin McKinley's beautiful new novel, Chalice.  I love this book - it is lyrical and warm and the first book in a long time that I have devoured in under 24 hours.  McKinley is a young adult novelist who writes fantasies and fairy tale retellings - my favorite is Beauty, a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast."  Her novel The Hero and the Crown won a Newberry Award  and the prequel, The Blue Sword was a Newberry Honor book.
Chalice is set in a mythical world where each region is governed by a Circle - the highest ranking members are the Master and the Chalice.  Marisol is an obscure beekeeper when she is chosen to be Chalice - she bears a cup that has the power to bring people together and to heal.  She is uncomfortable in this new position, but determined to help the new Master - the younger brother of the previous wicked Master.

The story is a mixture of parts - fairy tale, fantasy, romance.  It is knotty in parts - long sections of exposition without dialogue and a convoluted time-line that often loops back on itself - but overall, it is a very enjoyable and engrossing read.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Corn on the Cob Cupcakes

I can not take any credit for these super-cute cupcakes - my aunt (my favorite aunt, she would insist that I add) made these for our annual family reunion.  The "kernels" are actually buttered popcorn flavored jelly beans, the "pepper flakes" are black sugar crystals, and "pats of butter" are yellow Starburst candies.  Don't they look just like corn on the cob?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Tintagel, England

Tintagel, England is almost certainly the most beautiful place I have ever seen.  I first heard about Tintagel in a small clip from a documentary I saw.  It mentioned that Tintagel is supposedly the birthplace of King Arthur, that there was the ruins of an castle, and a cave in the cliffs called Merlin's Cave.  Based on these bare facts alone, I knew that Tintagel had to be on our first tour of England.  Although I was excited to see it, I had no idea how strikingly beautiful the place was going to be.

Tintagel is a small village in northern Cornwall.  It consists primarily of a few shops, pubs, and inns, the castle ruins, and a small cliff-top church called St. Materiana's.  It is situated along the coastal path which runs along the craggy, headlines of the coast.  Rocky cliffs and outcroppings jut out into the sea, making this one of the most dramatic and atmospheric landscapes I have ever seen.  As soon as we arrived, Jordan and I dropped our bags and ran out, exclaiming in delight and astonishment over what we saw.  The pictures don't begin to capture the experience.

We went first to Tintagel Castle.  There isn't much left of it now, but it must have been an impressive place once.  There are actually two parts to it, part of it built on Tintagel Island (not a real island, as it is actually connected by a narrow isthmus) and part on the mainland.  The view in the above picture is from the island looking back toward to the village.

While browsing in a bookshop, we found a picture of a waterfall in a book on Tintagel.  We asked the clerk where it was located, and moments later we were on our way.  It was a short hike to the top of St. Nectan's Glen.  The waterfall is so old that it has carved out a deep chasm in the rock and even a perfect circle where the water flows through.  According to Arthurian legend, this is where Arthur's knights were baptized before their search for the Holy Grail.

This is a view of the coastal path.  Had we world enough and time, we would have walked miles.  As it was, we managed only a small section.  But it was amazing.  Rugged sea coast on one side, pastoral fields on the other.  Absolutely astonishing. (Can you see the moon in the picture?)

This is inside Merlin's Cave.  It runs the entire way under Tintagel Island, and can only be reached at low tide.  At high tide, the sea rushes in, so we became friendly with the tide clock at our bed and breakfast.  I definitely wouldn't want to be caught down there with the tide coming in because it does seem to come in fast, at least to someone who is used to the benign rhythms of the mid-Atlantic coast on the US side.  We wanted to traverse the entire length of the cave, and so waded through a crystal clear and cold pool and came out the other end where the waves were crashing about.

Tintagel is quite a ways off the beaten path.  Although we came across a few German tourists in the village, ours were the only American voices we heard the entire time we were there.  Tintagel was the whole reason that we rented a car and drove hours across the English country-side.  And it was beyond worth it.  I almost feel disappointed, in a way.  I'm afraid that no matter where I travel in the future, I have already seen the most beautiful place in the world.  I just can't see anything topping it.