Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Did You Ever Want A Goat?

I first read about goats in Hobby Farms Magazine and the book, The Urban Homestead. It wasn't long after I'd agreed to raise chickens, and I was so delighted with the experience that I was curious what other kind of mischief we could get into. We haven't yet indulged our fantasies of goat herding, but....haven't you ever wondered about having one? Maybe you were at a petting zoo or a state fair and you had a chance to see a goat or feed it. Maybe you noticed how clever the goats were, and how oddly cute they are, and thought, "Wouldn't it be cool if I had a goat?"

But then someone said, "They eat everything. They'll even eat their way out of the fencing. They're terrible to keep!" and you gave up the thought.

These days, urban homesteaders are making poultry farming so commonplace that big-box stores like Petco are starting to carry chicken supplies. And goats aren't far behind. 

Goats are great for milk, meat, and hair, depending on which breed you select. I can't speak much to the meat and hair, and I'm only speaking from what I've read, not what I've lived, so from what I've read, goat milk is no different in taste from cow's milk and many people find it easier to digest. I've read that goats need to be milked twice a day, which can be a bit of a burden (and is one of the big reasons we haven't actually delved into owning goats yet). There are dwarf and pygmy goats, which means you need less room, but you still need loads of attention and the goats require some training and socialization.

Leo and I are still pondering the possibilities (where would we keep a goat, are we even allowed to have one in our neighborhood, and do we have time to monitor our goat?), but don't be too surprised if you see sometime in the future that we've decided to add a goat or two to our little urban homestead. You just never know.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Why Eat Organic?

We've all seen the signs for organic produce and foods. And with few exceptions, organic produce is more expensive than regular produce. So what's the deal - is organic food better than regular food? And is it worth the price?

I have to confess, while I try to eat organic as much as possible, I don't always enjoy the price tag that comes with organic eating (which is why we have a garden!) But when I think about the alternative, I have a hard time thinking that organic isn't better.

A lot of people don't actually know why organic food is cool or important. So what is "organic"  anyway? "Organic" refers to a couple of different, important things. First, organic food is food raised without the use of toxic chemicals like herbicides and pesticides. Second, organic food is food that is in its original form, free of genetic modification. 

Genetic modification is what certain companies do to try to improve the hardiness of various plants, using little changes to the DNA of the plant. For example, Monsanto once put some frog DNA into the genetic makeup of a strawberry plant to make it resist a certain weed or insect. The problem with genetic modification isn't just that it creates freakish, live Frankenberries, but also that we don't honestly know what the impact of such genetic modifications does to our bodies. And without that knowledge, I think GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) are a bit creepy and scary.

Now, one of the biggest problems with organic foods is that they've tried to keep the foods GMO-free, so that people are able to choose not to ingest GMOs, but because many plants are "cross-pollinated" (meaning the wind carries pollen from one plant to another, as in the case of corn or apple trees), these days it's getting harder and harder to guarantee that any food is GMO-free.

Most think that you can wash an apple and get the toxic chemicals like pesticides off, but it's quite difficult to get all of the pesticides off, and you can't wash off the GMOs, because they're in the building blocks of the food - the DNA.

So here's my thinking: if I can afford to avoid toxic, carcinogenic chemicals like herbicides, pesticides, GMOs, and the hormones they give to cows to help them produce more milk....why wouldn't I?

And that's where the price tag comes in. Next week, I'll talk about how to make organic produce more affordable - stay tuned!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What's It Like In Indiana?

I'm not 100% sure what people imagine, when they think about what Indiana is like, but I suspect it involves a lot of cornfields and rednecks. Today I'll talk about what Indiana's really like.

The Weather
In Indiana, the weather is, predictably, hot in the summer and cold in the winter. But in the summer, it's not just hot...it's really hot. And it's humid. Indiana isn't as hot as Texas or as humid as Florida, but summertime is fairly uncomfortable nevertheless. In the winter, it's cold. Again, not quite as cold as Iowa, but definitely cold, and we do get a fair bit of snow. 

My favorite time of year is springtime, when the temperatures are mild, humidity is just something you anticipate in the coming months, and there's an occasional gentle breeze. It's perfect. Autumn is similarly pleasant, and that's why my favorite seasons tend to be what I call the "in between" seasons (having said that, I should mention that Leo has told me several times that the Canary Islands are like my "in between" seasons all year-round, which has filled me with a longing of epic proportions...don't be surprised if you see us summering and wintering there someday soon!)

The People
Hoosiers (natives of Indiana) are some of the nicest people you'll ever meet. Americans, in general, are among the friendliest in the world. And while these days, most people (even in the Midwest) are overly rushed and  overly-stressed, Hoosiers have a native hospitality and small-town warmth, even in our capital city of Indianapolis. 

Indianapolis, also referred to as "Indy" or "Naptown," has an estimated population of just over 2 million people. Indy possesses what I refer to as an "urban-lite" vibe, meaning that we have a downtown and some cool urban areas, but we still maintain a small town sentimentality.

On occasion, I think Indianapolis gets a little too big for its britches. Sometimes as a city, we think we're a little more cosmopolitan than we are. Don't get me wrong - Indy's a great town. But we're only the 23rd biggest city in America and certainly don't have as much cultural diversity or depth as other cities might. At least, not yet.

Indianapolis has plenty of sports to keep visitors and residents busy. While we used to be referred to as the "Amateur Sports Capital of the World," I'm not sure that we're still plugging that as a plus. We have a pro football team (Colts), a pro basketball team (Pacers), and a pro women's basketball team (Fever), but baseball (Indians) and hockey (Ice) are more like farm teams in whatever the second level of those sports would be. We even have a roller derby team (Naptown Roller Girls), if you're into that.

Indianapolis is home to The Children's Museum, which I think is the largest in the world. It's an absolutely fantastic museum, if not a bit expensive to visit. We also have the Eiteljorg Museum, which houses Native American art collections, and The Indianapolis Museum of Art, which is absolutely wonderful. (BTW, you'll find links to just about everything I'm talking about in this post in the links on the right side of this web site, listed under "Cool Stuff To Do In Indy") There are other museums in Indy, as well, including the Indiana State Museum, plus we have a really awesome zoo that's totally fun to attend (even if zoos in general make me a little sad).

Indianapolis has lots of great music. We have a symphony orchestra, loads of theaters, and great places for cool bands to play. We also have a nice local jazz scene and a thriving folk community, where you can watch and learn to play unique instruments like the hammered dulcimer and the autoharp, and can learn old sea shanties and folk tunes. While the pro circuit is lacking, amateur music in Indy abounds.

There's no shortage of things to do in Indiana. We have tons of festivals and events year-round. In fact, I can't even keep up with all of them. There are cultural and ethnic festivals, art fairs, farmer's markets, music events...there's even a covered bridge festival. I honestly can't even come up with a reasonable list, because there are so many wonderful events. You could find some sort of festival or fair every single weekend to keep you occupied throughout the year, if you wanted to.

Sometimes, as in the case of Barcelona Tapas, Indy-area restaurants get it so horribly wrong. But we have absolutely tons of excellent restaurants that get it right, and many are also super-affordable for families. If you check the Restaurant Reviews link in the category cloud on the left side of this web site, you'll find that I've already reviewed quite a few Indianapolis-area restaurants, and there are more to come. 

In Indianapolis, you'll find tasty restaurants of most cultures, plus restaurants devoted exclusively to breakfast, delicious dessert spots, and more. Within 5-10 minutes of my house, for example, we can choose from Mexican, Japanese, Italian, Indian, Chinese, Peruvian, Ethiopian, and an English or an Irish pub, not to mention all of the little American spots nearby.

Suffice to say, food in Indy is not lacking. I wouldn't say, however, that we're 5-star dining in Indianapolis. We do okay, but personally, I don't think we have any restaurants that really hit the highest Michelin rating. 

Finally, Farming
Yes, we do have farming, and plenty of it. We have all kinds of farms in Indiana, but our biggest crops are corn and soybeans (referred to simply as "beans" by most Hoosiers). We have a pretty active 4-H community in this state, and the Indiana State Fair is a great time to see all the stuff our farmers are up to, get a sense of what 4-H is all about and how it serves the kids who participate in it, and eat a bit of fried butter or fried Pepsi while you're at it (ewwww!)
But as you've seen, Indiana is far, far more than just farming and hicksville rednecks. Indianapolis provides a welcome oasis of cultural diversity that surprises most visitors. To be fair, I haven't even scratched the surface here. Part of the reason for that is that Leo and I haven't taken the time to explore our city quite as much as we might have. As we venture out to learn more about our local resources, you'll find more reviews and discussion on what Indianapolis (in particular) is all about and what's here. And who knows? You might find yourself wanting to visit soon. :)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cool Travel Accessories

In my travels, I've found a few accessories that make my travel a heck of a lot easier. Today I'm going to share a few of the things I always take along when I'm on the road. Note that this isn't an all-inclusive list. I have a few more, but these are the top items.

I love, love, love my iPod. I have a 32Gig iPod that's about five years old, and I guard it with my life. One day, I'm sure I'll drop it and my heart will break (since the iPod has outlasted the backup drive I kept all my music on, and what's on the iPod isn't fully backed up), but then I'll upgrade to a bigger, better, and super-improved iPod.

My iPod rocks because it's small and can carry so much entertainment in just one little package. I've got music, TV shows, movies, and books on CD, all on this little device, and I could easily travel with just the iPod and stay fairly well entertained on a trip.

Flight charger
I love my in-flight charger. I can charge up my laptop, Bose headphones, iPod, mobile phone, all while I'm on the plane. It pretty much rocks, especially if I've got a lot of work to do and a limited battery life, or worse, haven't had time to charge up my headphones before the flight.

Bose headphones
My Bose headphones rock like nothing else. They're a little bulkier than I'd like, but they're amazing and I'm totally addicted to them. The headphones filter out all of that noise the airplane makes and reduces the annoying sounds of other passengers, making it much easier to relax, enjoy the in-flight entertainment (or your own), get work done, or just take a nap.

I admit it - I was one of the first early adopters of the Asus EEEpc. I have one of the first 200 to enter the US and as a result, it's crummy. Don't get me wrong - it's great for watching movies from my hard drive or iPod or getting some writing done while I'm flying, and it's actually really useful for Skype - the webcam's pretty decent - but overall, my particular v1 EEEpc leaves a lot to be desired. Personally, I'm dying for an operating system I understand, since Linux isn't my particular forte. I understand that in later versions of the EEE, they added Windows, which I'll be experimenting with this weekend as I play around with my stepmom's later version EEE. 

I recently killed my EEE by deleting what turned out to be a pretty important file while attempting to set up a hamster-cam for Abe and Willa. I'll probably take it in for repair, but only so I can sell the thing and replace it with a subnotebook I like better. The greatest thing about a little computer is that they're so lightweight, you hardly even know they're in your backpack!

Sleep mask
I'm a big fan of a great sleep mask. Not the cheap, cheesy ones they give you when you fly business class, but a real sleep mask that actually does some good. I'm a fan of the 100% light-blocking sleep mask. I have one that's a gorgeous embroidered red Chinese dragon fabric and it is absolute heaven on a long flight. With the sleep mask and my Bose headphones, I can actually get a fairly nice rest, even in coach.

These are my top favorites and must-haves for travel, but I have a few more as well. Look for upcoming posts with more cool travel accessories as well as a post on which item speople tell you to take when you travel that you rarely need.

Friday, August 27, 2010

My Top 10 Favorite Movies Of All Time, Part 1

I'm a big fan of movies. But I have to be honest- I'm not a fan of the kind of movies that win Oscars. In fact, winning an Academy Award is often the kiss of death for me. I like movies that provide absolute escapism in the form of cool sci-fi adventures, action that involves alien spacecraft, car chases, explosions, and awesome "tough guy" moves, and intelligent comedy.

It's not that I think indy films or dramas are bad. I actually think they're wonderful and when you see an actor who is truly exploring his or her craft, it's an extraordinary experience. However...I've had a taste of "real life" and the tragedy and sorrow it can bring...just a taste, mind you - I've been far more fortunate than most - but as a result of my life experience, I just decided that I would rather focus on movies that don't tear at my heartstrings or make me cry. I just don't need it. I can watch a Terry Gilliam film, for example, but only to placate my beloved husband. I would never watch one alone...at least not on purpose.

And don't get me started on how irritated I was when I watched "Million Dollar Baby." I was led to believe it was a movie about a tough female boxer...and when I discovered what that movie really turned out to be, I was unspeakably horrified and annoyed. My entertainment is strictly that- entertainment. And as such, I want excitement and fun.

So here are my favorite top 10 movies of all time, in no particular order (because I'm bad at deciding which I like best, and I pretty much love them all):

  1. Planet of the Apes...all of them.
    Planet of the Apes was a really cool series and is probably my favorite movie series of all time. I love the concept and I love the series. I love Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell, and Ricardo Montalbán, and I love that they made not just a TV series, but a comic book and a cartoon out of the movies. The original series is the best, though I didn't despise the Tim Burton-Marky Mark remake, and I'm definitely looking forward to the 2011 Rise of the Apes.

    The Planet of the Apes movies also give me an opportunity to explain my one caveat to my "No Academy Awards Winners" policy, which is that if a movie wins an award for music, makeup, or costumes, I will still watch it. Movies that win for "Best Actor" or whatever...forget it. Planet of the Apes won a couple of Oscars, but not for "Best Screenplay," which is why the series is allowed to maintain my top spot of all time.
  2. Iron Man 1 and 2
    I love all of the Marvel Comics movies, but I love the Iron Man franchise for two reasons: 1) Robert Downey Jr. is the quintessential actor for the Tony Stark role, as I can't imagine anyone who could carry the tragic-yet-witty-alcoholic concept more effectively, and 2) they've done an absolutely unparalleled job with the CG and special effects, like no other Marvel movie to date.

    One of the things I love most about Marvel movies is how they're tying them all into the upcoming Avengers movie, which should feature Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Nick Fury.

    Incidentally, here's a tip for all of you who are watching Marvel Comics movies and leaving when the credits roll: stick around. There are usually extra scenes at the end of each movie after the credits, and these scenes give you hints about what's coming. For example, at the end of Iron Man 2, they showed a bonus scene where archaeologists discovered Thor's hammer. Stop leaving before the credits are over!

    And here's something else I love about Marvel movies: they put little treasures into every film for the comic fans. In Iron Man, for example, you can see Captain America's shield, and it's something Tony Stark is working on. Plus, Stan Lee, creator of the X-Men and Spiderman, has a cameo in every film. In the first Fantastic Four, Stan Lee was a mailman. In the second Hulk, he played a guy who drank a beverage tainted with the Hulk's blood. He's also played Hugh Hefner, which I thought was hilarious. Among these treasures are images taken right from the pages of the comic books, and that's a big bonus for the fans.

  3. Wolverine: Origins
    I was super-excited about this movie, because it was just a few years before this film came out that Marvel released the Wolverine: Origins comic. Before that time, nobody really knew much about this character's history, and everyone was excited to learn where Wolverine had come from. Hugh Jackman's been a big surprise as Wolverine - when they announced he was playing the role at the very beginning, I was skeptical. But it's turned out to be an exceptional casting. So when they made this movie, I knew it was going to rock..And it did.

  4. X-Men 1, 2, and 3
    Let's face it, the X-Men franchise rocks. It's not just that the special effects are awesome, or that the makeup is cool. It's that the X-Men as a whole has always been an interestingly controversial comic, tackling issues like racism, religion, LBGT rights, and civil rights, and the movies treat that almost 50-year history with respect. And like the other Marvel movies, there are hidden gems and treasures for comic fans.

  5. Sabrina
    I figure after the high geek quotient of the last five films, this one would throw you for a loop. Remember, these aren't in order, and I'm doing this in two parts, because frankly, this is already too long. Fact is, I like other movies besides sci-fi and comic movies, and Sabrina is one of my all-time favorite films.

    I'm talking about the remake, primarily because I still haven't gotten around to watching the original. Horrible, I know. I keep thinking I should watch it so I can discover which one's better. But I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

    So why do I love Sabrina? First, Paris is one of my favorite cities in all the world, and Sabrina describes Paris so beautifully and lovingly. Second, who doesn't love Harrison Ford, and who could've expected that the combination of Ford with Greg Kinnear would be so funny? Third, Julia Ormond is a perfect Sabrina, and the way she interacts with John Wood as her father is sweet. Look, the movie is a bit sappy and probably falls far too close to the "chick flick" genre for my personal taste. But for whatever reason, Sabrina is one of my all-time favorite films of all time. I've seen it probably a hundred times and will probably see it a hundred more.
I'll continue this list next week, and there'll be a few more surprise on the way. In the meantime, go out and rent or buy a few of these, and sit down with a bowl of yummy, buttery popcorn.

    Thursday, August 26, 2010

    Restaurant Review: La Jolla Mexican Restaurant, Indianapolis, Indiana

    They say location, location, location. In the case of La Jolla Mexican Restaurant, Indianapolis, Indiana, location is pretty much all they've got going for them.

    La Jolla is located in Broad Ripple - to be more precise, La Jolla is located in what just might be one of the best locations in all of Broad Ripple. I say this because relaxing on the deck of La Jolla as the sun goes down in the late spring is one of the most pleasant experiences Broad Ripple offers....except for the food. You see, everyone I've talked to who has ever been there (and more importantly, who's gone back a second time) has gone for the location and the ambiance. Everyone agrees without reservation: the food at La Jolla stinks.

    From the moment they set a basket of stale chips on your table, you pretty much know that your culinary experience isn't going to be good. The salsa's bad, the entrees are bad, heck, even the water is bad. Now, I myself haven't tried the drinks at La Jolla, but just to give you an idea of how this place is run, I have it on very reputable authority that the margaritas are made by the bucket and individual glasses are merely dunked into the bucket when a drink is ordered. Yuck.

    Don't bother complaining about the food or your drinks at La Jolla - your server doesn't care. The service is bad, too. I've heard a lot of rumors about La Jolla, most of them about the owner, who has been trying to sell the place off and on for years, which could explain why the staff acts like they don't care. If your staff doesn't know from one day to the next if they're going to have a job, that can have a big impact on how they do their jobs.

    Bottom line: if you're in Broad Ripple and you're looking for great Mexican food, stay away from La Jolla and go to La Piedad instead. On the other hand, if you're looking for a pleasant outdoor cafe to have a (non-margarita) drink and some stale chips, La Jolla fits the bill.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    The Simplest Salad

    When I met Leo, I loved making big dinner salads with salad dressing. But since living with Leo, I've learned a much simpler way to create a salad. It's light, refreshing, and flavorful.

    Salad greens
    Crazy-Good Pan-Seared Shrimp
    Lemon juice or vinegar
    Olive oil
    Pine nuts

    All you have to do here is spread the salad greens out in a bowl or on a plate, sprinkle some lemon juice or vinegar over it, add a little olive oil, throw some pine nuts onto the salad, add a dash of salt, and place your shrimp on top.

    It's simple, I'll give you that. But then, many of the recipes I've learned from Leo are incredibly simple, but unquestionably delicious. And this one's no exception. In fact, he made it for me today for lunch and I couldn't have been happier. Sometimes he'll serve it next to a boiled potato, a little avocado, and some mayonnaise on the side, and that's even better. Give it a try - it might be simple, but it's tasty!

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    Cool Presents From The Heart

    When I give someone a gift, the last thing I really want to do is spend a fortune. I'd much rather give a gift that touches someone's heart, rather than something that impresses them with how much I spent. So how do you give a gift from the heart, to the heart, and show someone what they mean to you?

    I start by thinking about the person. Who are they? What are their interests and hobbies? Maybe I'll find a book related to something that appeals to them or something I know they want to learn about. Or maybe I can find a tool they need for a hobby they enjoy. 

    Next, I think about what I can do that is from the heart, but also appeals to their heart. Not long ago, I used some of my mom's old piano music with her handwritten notes on it and decoupaged it onto some canisters for my sister. The music was falling apart and couldn't be used, and my sister and my mom bonded over their love for piano, so I knew it would mean something to my sister.

    A few years ago, my dad made a CD for my sister and me called "Dad Sings!" on which he recorded himself singing some of the songs we grew up with. That's something I'll treasure forever, and something he recently gave to my stepchildren, passing on the tradition to another generation.

    Personal, heartfelt gifts don't have to be made by hand, but they do require a personal touch. Our first Christmas together, Leo found a company that took a letter he'd written and printed it on a scroll, which they placed inside a heart-shaped bottle and nestled inside a beautiful box with a leather strap around it. It was an amazing, romantic gift, and so well-done that I was absolutely blown away.

    The point of a present from the heart is that you think about the other person and what will be meaningful to them. Focus on the other person and what matters and is important to them, and you'll easily come up with a cool present. And remember, it's not about what you spend or how perfect the gift. It's about being thoughtful and giving from the heart.

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    Vitamins, Phooey. Give Me Broccoli.

    I take vitamins every day. But if you asked me if I want to take vitamins, the answer would probably be no. What the heck am I talking about?

    Look, here's the deal: we're not actually meant to take vitamins, people. We're meant to eat the fruits and vegetables that come from the planet. If you eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, theoretically you should get all of the vitamins and minerals your body needs to maintain optimum health - no supplements needed. But if you eat chips and fast food and drink soda, you probably take supplements "just in case" you don't get all the nutrients your body needs.

    Problem is, despite that over half of all Americans buy vitamins, the truth is, there's no real research to show that vitamins and nutritional supplements actually work. We do know for sure that our bodies synthesize the nutrients that come from food far better than the ones that come from vitamins, but I can say from a purely anecdotal standpoint that I feel a lot better when I take my Stress Complex B vitamins and evening primrose oil. 

    So...what's a girl to do? For me, lately, I've been too busy and too careless and simply haven't eaten healthy enough that I feel confident I'm satisfying all of my nutritionary needs. As a result, I take vitamins as a sort of "insurance policy," since the research just isn't clear. If I ate healthier regularly, I have a feeling I'd feel better, sleep better, and live better. So give me broccoli - I favor it over hard, ugly pills that smell funny anyway.

    Sunday, August 22, 2010

    The Life of A Bibliophile

    I've had a longstanding love affair with books. I haven't stopped reading since I started as a tiny girl. Reading is the one thing I can do anywhere, anytime. I feel safest when I'm surrounded by books, and no matter what question I have, the answer can almost always be found in books.

    Whenever I want to try a new hobby, I know I can find a book that will tell me what I need to know. When I want to improve a particular aspect of my life, I can find a dozen books with different strategies. If I need to study any topic in any field of interest...you guessed it. My preferred reference materials are books.

    And when it comes to entertainment, well, there's nothing better than reading. As I wrote a few years ago...

    I have...
    ...traveled the world several times over.
    ...fought in many wars.
    ...broke hearts and lost loves across the galaxy.
    ...jumped out of planes and been a spy.
    ...dined with kings and started with peasants.
    ...made and lost billions of dollars.
    ...traveled through time and space.
    ...lived dozens of fascinating lives.
    ...laughed with the gods.

    Reading - the greatest adventure of all.

    Saturday, August 21, 2010

    Secret City Tours

    Maybe you're a fan of the double-decker bus tours. Maybe you like traipsing around a city with someone carrying a brightly-colored umbrella. Or maybe you just can't get enough of the amphibious Duck Boats. As for me, I'm a fan of the Secret City Tour.

    You won't find it in your guidebook and it doesn't appear in Google. The Secret City Tour, in fact, is simply a tour you can take just by asking your cab driver. Most cabbies are trained to conduct these tours and though they're rarely publicly advertised, all you really have to do is ask. You'll get a private tour that you can tailor to your own interests and curiosities, and you can ask all the questions you want. Most cabbies have a standard price for their tours, so you're not paying for time or miles, but rather for the tour.

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    Entertainment Review: Net Heads, Carmel, Indiana

    If you're a fan of XBox 360, Wii, or just gaming with other people, Net Heads, in Carmel, Indiana, is definitely worth checking out. Leo and I took the kids there recently for a fun family afternoon. 

    When we walked in, we were immediately greeted by friendly staff members who gave us the lowdown on how things worked. They've got a cool system, so if you want to leave your kids there for an afternoon (within their minimum age requirements), the staff will keep an eye on them and make sure they have a good time and don't play any games you've blacklisted. 

    The way it works is that you tell the staff what game you want to play and they set you up. It's pretty simple, actually, though frankly, sometimes the setup does eat into your play time, which is a little frustrating, since you pay by the hour. 

    We felt that the cooperative game list was a little bit limited, given that we had a 10 year-old girl and a 13 year-old boy with us. At home, we have a few games that we play together on our ancient XBox, but and it's fun to work together as a team toward a common goal. But most of the co-op games fell into the category of being either too young for Jay or too violent for Raemie. 

    And when Leo and I decided to play on the Wii (they only have one), they didn't have all of the necessary equipment for us to try the boxing game, which was a bit disappointing. Plus, the space where you play Wii is a bit limiting, which can be a challenge, given how much movement the Wii requires.

    But those were really the only drawbacks we found. And since the food they do have is pretty tasty, given that Net Heads isn't actually a restaurant, we weren't too put off by the lack of healthy food options The cheesy breadsticks are pretty heavenly, I have to confess. 

    Net Heads is a lot of fun if you don't have a game console at home or want to try some of the newest games. What Net Heads does really well is that they've got an exceptional setup with solid equipment that allows you to have a great gaming experience. I mean, where else could you go in Indy where you'd have your own personal speaker system outfitted in a snazzy dome right over your game station?

    If you're looking for a fun afternoon or evening out with the family (or heck, just by yourself), Net Heads is a cool option that isn't too pricey, especially if you do their Family Fun Night package, which includes two hours of game play, a sandwich, and a drink, for just $10 per person.

    Thursday, August 19, 2010

    Restaurant Review: Cinema Grill, Indianapolis, Indiana

    I love dinner and a movie, so one of my favorite places to go for a great date night with Leo (or a family fun night with the kids) is Cinema Grill, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Cinema Grill has been around for a long time - not necessarily as a restaurant/movie theater, but "back in the day," it was Greenbriar Cinema, which was a fantastic place to see movies that were just slightly past being "new" at a huge discount. Today, the revived cinema features a full-scale restaurant that you can enjoy while watching a brand-new flick.

    When you enter Cinema Grill, it's not the most impressive place. I suspect that the current owners haven't the necessary capital to remodel the place or even to quite maintain it. But if you can set aside the fact that the decor is a bit worn and nothing is quite new, what's most important is that the food is yummy and the prices are reasonable.

    We recently visited Cinema Grill to see "Despicable Me," which was one of the most delightful films I've seen in quite some time, and definitely a movie I highly recommend if you're looking for a sweet movie with plenty of giggles.

    One thing that I like about Cinema Grill is that their menu features plenty of options for weirdo eaters like me (you may recall I'm an ovo-lacto-pescetarian). I've enjoyed the almond-crusted tilapia quite a bit, and Leo has sampled their burgers and found them more than adequate. And their kids menu features reasonable portions at a reasonable price. A note of caution: if your young one is looking for pizza, the small-sized appetizer pizza may be enough for a little one, but is an inadequate portion for a teenager, as we discovered when Jay ordered this item and was still a bit peckish. The one food item I have a problem with is their popcorn, which itself is fine, but with the butter, takes on a slight chemical flavor.

    Cinema Grill is a fantastic option for dinner and entertainment in Indianapolis, and well worth a try, especially if you have kids. They won't care about the less-than-new decor, and they'll have a great time doing something different.

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    The Great Sugar Cookie Experiment, Part 1

    One evening, not too long ago, following a tasty meal, Leo said, "I'm in the mood for dessert." We had nothing on-hand, so I decided to make Leo some sugar cookies. Unfortunately, we were completely out of butter, so sugar cookies from scratch were out.

    I keep a few mixes on the pantry shelf for "emergencies" (even as I wrote that, my inner voice snorted and said, "Emergencies? Really? What emergency would require a Williams-Sonoma plum cake?"), so I went a-hunting and discovered a fairly old sugar cookie mix that my dad and stepmom brought back from a trip to Maine. It even came with a lighthouse cookie cutter attached. I wasn't too sure it would still be good (do mixes like that ever go bad?), but decided it was better than nothing and started mixing up the batter. 

    Well, it was late, and somehow I managed to mis-read the directions, so instead of 1/4 cup of water, I added 3/4 cup water. Oops. 

    I didn't actually realize my mistake at first. I just kept wondering why the batter was so soupy and how on earth I was going to make it into cookies. Finally, I checked the box and realized the error I'd made, and in a panic, started throwing ingredients into the mix. I added flour by the spoonful, then, fearing the mix would be bland and tasteless, added sugar, then an egg, then some dry milk, then a little vanilla, then more flour...until the batter resembled a thick, rubbery substance which, if it had been black, I might've used to repair a tire or two. 

    I was just about to throw everything out when Leo discovered me in the kitchen and wanted to know what mischief I'd gotten into. He was overjoyed to hear that I had been making him some surprise cookies, but dismayed when he heard I was considering throwing out the dough. We agreed we should at least see what happened when we put them in the oven.

    The results of the Great Sugar Cookie Experiment, Part 1.
    So I baked the creepy, rubbery dough as the mix instructions indicated, and...much to my absolute shock, the results were incredible and delicious! The cookies resembled something in between a cookie and a scone. They were a little bit fluffy, too, like a cake. And when we added a little of the lingonberry jam from IKEA, well, it was heavenly. 

    And Leo's dying for me to make them again. Only problem is, I don't know exactly how I arrived at these cookies to begin with. I saved the box from the mix and wrote down all the ingredients I added, but it'll be a bit of a challenge to make these cookies a second time, since I'm not entirely sure how much of anything was in the original formulation. 

    I plan to make one of those "cookie mix in a jar" recipes for sugar cookies. You know the one you make to give as a cool homemade gift? Well, I'm going to mix that up, then add three times the water I'm supposed to add, then add a bunch of the ingredients I added the last time to try to re-create the rubbery dough I had before. I'll actually keep track this time, and maybe over the course of a few attempts, I'll be able to recreate my fabulous sugar cake cookies. Keep your eyes peeled for future experiment results.

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    What's a "Fairy Egg?"

    Every once in awhile, we get a "fairy egg" from our chicken coop. What's a fairy egg? It's an egg that's about a third of the size of a regular egg. We've been getting about one or two a week since the weather heated up, and while they're adorable, they kind of freak Leo out so he won't eat them. 

    From what I've read, fairy eggs occur when a little reproductive tissue breaks away inside the hen. The body thinks it's an egg and treats it as such, crafting a shell around it and sending it out as an egg. Fairy eggs (or witch eggs, as they're also called) have no yolk, only a white, and are edible, but as I mentioned, not by my hubby. 

    I do worry a bit about which of our hens is having trouble, if it's just happening to just one of them, (maybe it's happening to all seven of them once in awhile, but just seems like it's happening more because we get the fairy eggs so often). Since none of our hens shows any signs of feeling less than perfectly grand, though, I think it's okay. The fairy eggs are really small, and to be honest, I just think they're kind of sweet.

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    My Love/Hate Relationship With Exercise

    Okay, I'm admitting it loud and clear. I have a love/hate relationship with exercise. And I can't seem to resolve it...yet. 

    When I was growing up, I loved being outside and playing in the sunshine. I liked running and jumping and skipping rope and riding my bike...but what I loved more was curling up on the sofa with a really good book. And that's always been my struggle. 

    A few years ago, I made a concerted effort to get in shape. I wanted to stop worrying about my figure and focus on my health. I exercised every day, going to the gym and walking around the track listening to books on my iPod or working with a trainer who loved inventing new exercises for me. For two years, I was dedicated to my fitness.

    And then a few things in my life changed. I got married and Leo and I were living together, and I discovered we had different rhythms about exercise. He prefers to exercise at night. I love getting up in the morning and working out first thing (maybe that's a girl thing - I don't care for washing my hair twice in one day, so I'd rather get up, work out, then shower for the day and get on with things). My business shifted and I got busier and somehow, exercise fell down the list of what was most important.

    It's been a year and a half since I was really invested in my health and exercising regularly. And recently I've started to really notice how much I'm paying for that lack of attention to fitness. I've gained some weight and  I'm vain enough to say that I really don't like the way that new weight looks on me and I really don't care for how my clothes fit anymore. I don't have the feeling of power that I used to have, and though I never really felt that surge of energy that people claim they get when they exercise, I am getting tired faster and I don't have the endurance I used to have.

    A couple of months ago, a fitness pro told me how important it is to exercise and get fit to be successful in your business. We talked about the benefits of exercise and nutrition for making your brain work faster and better, and for having more stamina for public speaking and client work. And I agreed with everything she said....and didn't do much about it. 

    Leo and I have committed to each other that we're going to do something about this lack of fitness in our lives. We're researching options, learning what we can, and talking about what we need to do to get healthier. I'll be posting what we've learned and the steps we take in this blog...and maybe, just maybe, I'll find a way to evolve my relationship with exercise into a love/love dynamic. Stay tuned.

    Sunday, August 15, 2010


    The horribly inadequate photo my Sidekick took from the car.
    A couple of weeks ago, Leo and I were driving back from Chicago and caught an amazing double rainbow in the sky. What is it about rainbows that captivates us so? Because indeed, there is something special and magical about seeing a rainbow. 

    When I notice a rainbow, I'm inclined to pause whatever it is that I'm doing in order to be fully present in that moment and experience that beautiful, natural phenomenon in its entirety. It's almost as if for me, a rainbow is a signal to take a moment out of life to do nothing but appreciate something momentous and beautiful that doesn't happen every day.

    I'm a bit sad that the camera on my Sidekick is so lacking and didn't actually capture the second rainbow very well. All you can really see is the first rainbow and a mere hint of the second, but I assure you, it was there, and it was stunning. Even better, when we passed this tree-lined area of the highway into a clearing ,we discovered that in fact, it was a full-arc rainbow - absolutely, undeniably magnificent.

    Saturday, August 14, 2010

    Kid Stuff: The Great Taste Test Competition of 2010

    Recently, while watching "Top Chef," Leo and I decided we should try our own version of the blindfold taste test. In this test, chefs are blindfolded and have to taste various foods to try to identify them. Leo and I decided we ought to try this and see how sophisticated our palates are. But then we realized it would be way more fun to do this with the kids. Here's how we did it:

    We went to Whole Foods with the kids and split off into teams. Each team had $5 to spend on fruits, vegetables, nuts, or sauces, and anything we already had in the house was fair game. The kids picked out and weighed their own produce, and took everything to the checkout to pay, and Leo and I chose our items and paid separately. 

    The food items the kids chopped up for Leo and me to test.
    When we got home, we created score sheets on the computer (the kids like using WordArt in Word) and Leo and I went upstairs while the kids prepared their items. If you have younger kids, I'd recommend splitting teams so that there's one parent on each team who can supervise chopping. Then, the kids covered up all the dishes and called us downstairs. We were blindfolded (thank you, American Airlines, for the sleep masks from Business Class, which turned out to be perfect for this game) and in turn, given spoonfuls of each food to identify. 

    Beware: eating a large spoonful of onions isn't the most fun you can have, and it stays with you. :D

    After Leo and I did our taste test and our scores were tallied, we sent the kids upstairs and prepared their test. We were all surprised at how well we did, which makes me wonder how the chefs on "Top Chef" can do so poorly, but then, I think part of our success had to do with how many items that were already in our kitchen were used - I know my ingredients pretty well, but given an unfamiliar ingredient or given something I didn't already know I owned...I'm not sure how well I would fare.

    In the end, the kids definitely won, and a great time was had by all. Give this one a try in your own home - it's a lot of fun!

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    Is Friday the 13th Really Unlucky?

    We've been accusing Friday the 13th of being a bad luck day for centuries. Chaucer mentioned it as far back as the 14th century, but in the 17th century, Friday the 13th became widely referenced as a day when things went horribly wrong. People would put aside everything from daily household tasks to important medical decisions so that nothing could go wrong on Friday the 13th. And according to Wikipedia, some 17-21 million people are reported to experience a fear of this day. But is it really unlucky, or is it all superstition?

    The Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics reported in 2008 that there are fewer accidents and fires (or at least claims stemming from Friday the 13th), and explained this phenomenon as a result of people just being more careful due to the superstition. However, before that, in 1993, the British Medical Journal compared accidents on Friday the 6th and Friday the 13th and found that there were many more accidents on the 13th. My take? Much of this is probably spurious and besides that, you can find a statistic to support virtually anything you'd like to claim...so...it's hard to say.

    All I can tell you is that for me, the only thing that's unlucky about Friday the 13th is that if I'm not out having dinner with Leo, my evening will surely be disrupted by TV channels that insist on showing scary movies...which I pretty much hate. I'm going with silly, annoying superstition on this one.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    Restaurant Review: Sartori Robatai, Knightsbridge, London, England

    Last week I talked about kaiten sushi, or "conveyor belt sushi." This week I'm sharing one of my favorite kaiten sushi restaurants, Sartori Robatai, in Knightsbridge in London. The food at Sartori Robatai is far superior to chain kaiten sushi joints like Yo! Sushi, and I think the pricing is similar. 

    But what I love the most is the fun and the adventure of it. The best time to go is right when they open, so the food is freshest. The food comes around as they make it, and you have to decide right then and there if you want it. Take too long to decide, and you risk losing it before it has time to come back to you. Leo and I have had many giggle-filled moments trying to decide if we want something, and then leaping to catch it after it passes.

    Another great thing about Sartori Robatai is the service. You might think that a kaiten sushi place wouldn't have great service, because the food is delivered via conveyor belt. But in fact, the service is fantastic. It's virtually impossible to be smothered, though, because the server really only comes when you need her. A little button is embedded in the bar where you eat, and if you need help, you simply press the button and she quickly appears.

    The food at Sartori Robatai is absolutely delicious, but the star of the show for me was the plum wine, which is sweet and served over ice. All in all, Sartori Robatai is one of my favorite restaurants, and one of the few places I'll return to again and again.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    Leo's "Sopa de la Abuela"

    "Sopa de la Abuela," or "Grandma Soup," as it's called by both names in our house, is an incredibly flavorful, comforting soup that Leo's grandma used to make for him. It's one of the simplest recipes, fast and easy to make, and we enjoy it year-round. It's best with a little crusty bread.

    The pasta used in this soup is acini di pepe, which I'd never heard of before. It's a tiny pasta- acini di pepe means "peppercorns" and indeed they are exactly that size. They're really just tiny balls of dough.

    We serve this soup as my husband eats virtually all soup - with a very healthy serving of Parmesan cheese. Leo's Italian side is partial to grated Parmesan and he's easily satisfied with a giant jar of Kraft Parmesan cheese from Costco, so that's what we use. It might be a little pedestrian for some who might prefer a freshly grated cheese, but Leo hasn't complained yet.

    Water (approximately 2-3 cups per person being served)
    Knorr vegetable stock cubes (1 cube for every 4-6 cups water)
    Acini di pepe pasta (approximately 1/4 c. per person being served)
    Parmesan cheese to taste

    Put 4-6 cups of water in a pot and throw in a couple of Knorr cubes. Wait until the water is at a rolling boil, then add 1/2 box of acini di pepe pasta. Let the pasta cook for about 10-11 minutes, stirring occasionally, then when the pasta is just a bit al dente, turn off the heat and ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese liberally over the top of the soup and serve with crusty bread.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Personal Injury Isn't Quite So Personal

    Last week, Leo had a little fender-bender in the Blockbuster parking lot. The other driver apparently looked to the left and to the right, but never behind her, which is why she backed right into Leo. Even though it was a tiny accident, there was a bit of damage to our car and I knew I'd want to have it fixed, so the police were called. I know most people just exchange information, but the one thing my mom and dad always taught me was that if there's an accident, you always call the police, so that you can make sure that everything gets properly documented by a third party. That way no one can make outlandish complaints later, and everyone is clear on who was at fault.

    A couple of days after the accident, when we looked through our mail, Leo had three letters from attorneys. At first I felt that small sense of alarm that one naturally experiences when one sees something legal in the mail. But then I noticed the small "Advertisement" and "Advertising Material" printed in the corner and when we opened the letters, they were all from personal injury attorneys advising Leo that he had rights! 

    We've received more letters since then, and the question in my mind every time is, "How did they know?" It feels invasive and uncomfortable, a very similar sentiment to what I experienced when I got my first mortgage and mortgage companies were calling and sending me letters that included the exact amount of my mortgage, and when I last applied for health insurance and failed to mention a back injury from several years ago on the application. It had been so long and was so unimportant that I had completely forgotten about it. I received a phone call from the insurance company asking about it, and was surprised that they even knew about the injury at all, since I'd paid out of my own pocket for the treatments and never filed a claim with my insurance company.

    We have so little privacy in our world today. Even as I write this, I'm thinking of the irony of writing about how little privacy we have, when I'm also writing about my personal life for all the world to see. Yet there are simple matters that I believe should be private - specifically, financial and health-related matters, but clearly, more than that. But I fear that we'll never be able to go back, so I'm left wondering...what's left in this world that is truly personal and private?

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    The Great Mosquito Bite Remedy Experiment of 2010

    We live in an area where mosquitoes abound. The "Mosquito Control" truck, with its trademark, low-pitched hum and clouds of fog, is a common sight in summertime, though how effective it truly is, I can't be entirely sure. As someone who really can't stand the uncomfortable heat and sticky humidity of Midwestern summers (and someone who works from home), I'm not overly affected by mosquitoes, as I don't really spend that much time outdoors in the summertime. Spring and autumn are my preferred times of the year. 

    I have to confess that Leo provides a distraction for the mosquitoes, as they like his warmer-than-normal body temperature much more than mine, so when I am outdoors, I am rarely victim to mosquitoes, as they naturally gravitate to Leo. As such, Leo is a big fan of repellents of various sorts, but we had yet to locate an adequate remedy to the itching, which, on Leo's foreign skin (which is, even after two summers here, still not entirely used to our domestic mosquitoes), is practically unbearable. Leo is so susceptible to mosquito bites, in fact, that when he first moved here, he was working in the yard and got a couple of bites on his face that swelled up so much that he looked a little bit like the Elephant Man. And though he's gotten a bit more used to them (I suppose he's slowly developing an immunity of sorts), his bites are much larger than normal and seem to cause him a great deal more distress.

    So when Jay and Raemie came inside last week with their first American mosquito bites of their visit here, I  immediately started searching the web for some fast solutions to the scratching. 

    The Common Plantain Weed
    In my search, I was surprised when I happened upon a description of a remedy that involved simply squeezing the flower stalk of a weed and rubbing it directly on the bite, but more surprised when I looked up the weed and discovered it was something we have in our yard in abundance.

    It's the common Plantain Weed, and it grows right outside our back door! I immediately asked Jay if he wanted to participate in a scientific experiment and of course he agreed. So we went outside, found ourselves a plantain weed, and rubbed it on two of his four mosquito bites. The itching stopped right away, and by the next day, the bites were remarkably smaller.

    Last night, we conducted our secondary experiment, this time on a bite Leo had just received on the back of his hand. Raemie rubbed the weed on Leo's hand and poof! The swelling went down and the itching stopped, and this morning, his hand looks like he never got bitten. 

    So there you go - a brand-new, totally free mosquito bite remedy! The flower stalk of the common plantain weed, squeezed and rubbed onto the bite. It couldn't be simpler, and it's been totally effective in our family.

    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    The Awesome Power of Music

    Music has been a part of my life for as long as I've been alive. My mother was a pianist and let us plonk around on the piano from a very early age. She loved to settle my sister and me on the piano bench, one on either side of her, and she'd play the piano and we'd sing Disney theme songs and Christmas carols.

    My dad was a "jack of all instruments," loving the thrill of picking up something new. He liked the standards - guitar, violin, trombone- but favored the more unique, folksy sound of instruments like the zither, ukelele, and dulcimer. 

    When instruments weren't being played and experimented with, the record player was always active, especially during dinnertime. So music was a strong part of my childhood, but became even more personal to me when I turned six and started learning to play violin (I played until I was a sophomore in college, but that's a story for another day).

    Regardless of what role music has played in my life, though, there's always been one constant - the way I use music as a kind of therapeutic device. Music has a great deal of power. One can become energized or depressed, joyful or morose...all by listening to music. 

    In recent years, I've formalized my therapeutic music, via my iTunes playlists. I have "Bring Me Up" playlists for when I'm feeling blue, "Time For Bed" playlists for when I need to relax for sleep, and "Energize Me" playlists for when I'm heading into a speaking engagement. 

    Basing my theory of music therapy on my work in neuro-linguistic programming, I've always used a "pace and lead" method of building a playlist - start the first song where my mood is, and gradually bring my mood up through music. 

    For example, if I'm feeling angry, I don't start with a happy song; I start with Motley Crue and work my way through Bon Jovi, and gradually work my way toward lighter and happier songs until I've achieved a gentle peace. If I'm feeling blue, I've created playlists based on why I'm feeling blue - any of these might start with Sarah MacLaughlin, Rufus Wainwright, Kelly Clarkson, Jimmy Wayne, Sister Hazel, or Bonnie McKee, but it's usually more about the tempo and the feel of the music than the lyrics. 

    And for a romantic evening with Leo, as we're cooking dinner and dancing round the kitchen, you'd be likely to hear Andrea Bocelli, Ben Folds, Chris Rice, John Mayer, Kate Bush, Marva Wright, Lizz Wright, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, or Josh Kelley. Heck, I even have playlists for power walking, precisely calibrated by metronome, for the exact pace that I like to walk, including a warm-up and cool-down.

    Of course, music is highly subjective stuff. I highly doubt, for example, that most people get quite as upbeat and optimistic as I do when I hear my personal theme song, "MMMBop," by Hansen. People think I'm joking about that, but I'm not. Whenever I hear that song, I just feel happy. And I think everyone should have a personal theme song that makes them happy when they hear it.

    Saturday, August 7, 2010

    Just A Carry-On For Me, Thanks.

    Did you know that you can travel for a week or two with just a carry-on? The biggest mistake I see travelers make is taking too much stuff along. Most people overpack, because they're terrified to leave something behind (and for a truly genius comic commentary on "stuff," check out George Carlin's "A Place for My Stuff"). But don't you know that no matter where you go, it's most likely that you can find what you need there?

    Now, don't get me wrong - I'm pretty particular about a couple of things. I need my laptop on most journeys, though on many excursions, I can make do with an Eee PC. I'm dependent on my skin care and makeup regimens and my choice of shampoo and conditioner. But if I get to my destination and I don't have my toothbrush or toothpaste, it's no big deal to find replacements.

    This knowledge was reinforced when Leo and I took the kids to Spain this past Christmas and British Airways lost our bags for virtually the entire trip. I quickly discovered that while I prefer my own deodorant and toothpaste (and even clothes), I can certainly make do with substitutions when the situation calls for it.

    These days, my favorite way to travel is with a carry-on bag only. The Spain trip was an anomaly, and here's how that happened: Leo and I spent a lot of time during our courtship traveling back and forth across oceans and continents to see each other. But since we married in 2008, we haven't spent a whole lot of time traveling, so we got out of practice a little bit. As a result, we ended up overpacking for Spain. Still, even if we hadn't overpacked, it's likely we would've checked at least one bag, because in addition to our own stuff, we had Christmas presents for the kids.

    After the lost baggage fiasco (which is still being resolved, seven months later, but there is hope on the horizon, as British Airways has just asked for my bank account information so they can wire my reimbursement finally), Leo and I agreed that whenever possible in the future, we'll travel light and stick to carry-ons when we can.

    Generally speaking, carry-on only is a pretty nice way to travel and you get really good at taking only what you really need. Plus, you don't have to schlep heavy suitcases around, and that really rocks.

    I've traveled around the States and to Montevideo and London using just a carry-on and it's so liberating, you can't even believe it. The trick is knowing what to take and how to pack. My first best tip is to make sure you have a great carry-on suitcase. Mine is a Briggs & Riley expandable bag, and I absolutely love it. Briggs & Riley is on the pricey side, but the quality is impeccable. OTOH, Kohl's regularly has amazing deals on Samsonite and you can pick up a really decent, durable bag for under $100.

    Next, I have a little Baggallini fold-up tote bag that fits easily into my suitcase. It provides one more bag, so I can buy cool stuff in interesting places, and check a bag only when I'm going home - when I don't mind waiting a little while for my stuff.

    Finally, I carry a backpack. Mine is a black and pink plaid backpack made by Roxy, which I actually bought at The Apple Store several years ago. I'm sure I could find something more sophisticated, but it's quirky and I like it. It has a side-access pocket designed with extra padding for a laptop, and it's super-easy to take the laptop out for security, though the extra padding makes the backpack a bit warm to wear sometimes. It has an outside pocket on each side, one that holds change and the other a bottle of water, and another outside pocket on the front that is good for storing stuff I need quick access to. There's a nice interior pocket with an organizer and a large interior pocket where I can fit file folders, books, notepads, and a change of clothes. Plus, it now has the "sentimental attachment" feature, acquired after I repaired one of the straps with heavy-duty nylon thread at a department store in Newcastle.

    So that's what I carry on the plane with me. As for what goes inside...well, that's a subject for another day. Until then, travel light!

    Friday, August 6, 2010

    Abe & Willa Update

    Well, people, it's official. Abe and Willa are most definitely boy and girl (respectively) and they're growing up way too fast. At approximately 6 weeks of age, they're already mating. They've both grown really fast, and Abe, who was initially quite a bit smaller than Willa, is starting to catch up, though he's still not quite as big as she is. I suspect it won't be long before we have babies.

    Abe and Willa have proven to be entirely irresistible to the entire family. The best treat so far is holding them and petting them and then hand-feeding them Cheerios and Rice Krispies, which they either stuff into their cheeks, up to four at a time, or hold in their tiny hands and crunch away at until they're gone. They're getting more and more friendly and seem to be getting more and more used to our presence.

    During the day, Abe and Willa spend most of their time spooning in the corner of their habitat, but occasionally you'll find one or both of them squished up inside their little TV, one or both faces pressed against the "screen."

    They continue to be avid wrestlers (though some of their wrestling has taken a decidedly "adult" turn) and are endlessly entertaining to watch. Leo and I kind of hope if they do have babies, they'll have them this month, so the entire family can enjoy the teeny tiny little ones. Stay tuned!

    True Confessions: I'm A Reality TV Show Addict...But A Discerning One!

    I've been watching reality TV since the very first episode of "The Real World" aired back in 1992. I've watched everything from "Survivor" to "The Bachelor" to Richard Branson's "The Rebel Billionaire" and even "Joe Millionaire." Realizing I've been watching reality TV for almost 20 years makes me feel a bit like an aficionado of sorts. And after watching reality TV for this long, I know what draws me in and I know what bothers me most.

    I'm endlessly fascinated by people. I always have been. I love watching people, pondering nonverbal language, wondering about relationships. It's probably why I pursued my Master's degree in sociology and social psychology. 

    I love watching contestants evolve over a season. When you watch someone's journey in a competition like "Top Chef," you often see them evolve in their field. On "So You Think You Can Dance," we often witness fresh talent learning new styles and creative forms of expression. 

    I like shows that encourage growth.  Unlike other shows, "So You Think You Can Dance" balances smart packaging with honest encouragement. The SYTYCD judges aren't just nasty, as you see on "American Idol," where Simon Cowell pointlessly bashes contestants for not being packaged well enough to sell records. And while it might be a function of the specific medium of expression, the SYTYCD judges promote creativity, passion, talent and skill...though in the most recent season, I suspect they're becoming a bit jaded by the "America's Favorite Dancer" part of the show. 

    I like shows where I learn something. I've learned a great deal about food from "Top Chef." I've discovered new restaurants, tried new ingredients I'd never heard of, and learned that there are things going on that I never even knew existed, like molecular gastronomy. To compare, I've learned little from "Hell's Kitchen," though I did discover that it must be really hard to work in a restaurant kitchen, something I've never done. And watching the artists on Bravo's "Work of Art" this season has been intriguing to me - most of the artists create work that would be more at home in the Tate, say, than in the Louvre (please don't think I'm grossly overstating the talent there - just making the point that the artists in the show are of a much more modern style of art than is my particular taste or understanding). As a result, I've gained a larger appreciation and comprehension of where modern art really comes from and why it is the way that it is (more on that at a later date).
    I like watching shows - even the dumb ones- with my friends. Okay, I admit it - I watch "The Real Housewives of New York." I'm intrigued by the NYC culture. In my neck of the woods, we don't go out  nearly that often and rarely dress up that much. And, I love watching RHONY with my friend, Gina. Gina lives in Denver and I'm in Indianapolis, so I can't invite Gina over for a glass of wine on RHONY night. Instead, we meet on Facebook and use the chat feature to analyze the show and talk. It's just really good, lighthearted, girly fun, and a great way for us to spend some time together. 

    I don't like all reality television. A few years ago, we saw a big trend in reality TV where producers were creating cheap, mean TV, exploiting people, hurting people, and generally, just creating crummy shows. And while much of that still exists, there are shows that I think merit at least a little of my time.

    My personal favorites these days include "Top Chef" and "So You Think You Can Dance," simply because these shows focus on excellence in specific industries, and encourage an evolution among contestants. And I have no doubt that "Top Chef: Just Desserts" will quickly fall into my favorites list. After all, what could be better than a reality show about exceptional pastry?