Saturday, December 28, 2013

What-What?! Week of December 29th

Our Christmas was pretty nice.  Unfortunately, the baby was sick and fussy for that part of the week, so that the husband and I got little sleep.  Other than that, we had a pretty good holiday; the big kids enjoyed seeing my extended family, as well as opening presents and leaving out cookies and milk for Santa (a first for this year).

Cooking:  Colcannon via Simply Recipes

colcannon-b.jpg
This year, my husband made a simple, classic Christmas dinner of roast turkey, Colcannon, and cranberry sauce.  The unusual element in this meal was the Colcannon, an Irish variation of mashed potatoes involving kale, cabbage or other vegetables.  I like this side in particular because it's a non-offensive way to get dark green veggies into the children (and the adults, for that matter).

Cooking:  Butterscotch Pie via Food.com

Jolean's Butterscotch Pie,  Pennsylvania Dutch Style. Photo by NoraMarie
A Southern pantry pie (that is, made from things you have in your pantry), butterscotch pie is a simple brown sugar pudding pie.  This recipe makes a thick, mildly sweet filling, perfect with a dollop of whipping cream atop it.  I was really surprised and pleased at the level of sweetness; rather than being almost sickly sweet like many other Southern pies, it was sweet enough to be dessert, but not so sweet as to leave your teeth aching.  This pie was easy to put together, though the 30-45 minutes spent stirring it is pretty mind numbing.  I passed the time by bugging my husband every two minutes or so ("Whatcha doin'?  Whatcha doin' now?").  I do think that I overcooked this recipe a bit --- I stirred it for about 35 minutes, and next time I'm only going to try 30 minutes.  It's difficult to tell what the final consistency will be when it's hot, so keep that in mind while you're cooking it.

News:  Do We Want an Erasable Internet? via WSJ.com

And now, something not about food. ;)
I understand what's attractive about an ephemeral internet -- that picture you took (post you wrote, flame wars participated in, etc.) while a foolish teenager won't come back to haunt you when you're an adult trying to get a job.  But would it really give you more privacy?  Rarely is anything ever truly deleted.  It's not like a paper journal, which you can throw away, set alight, or drop in a puddle, and have it be well and truly gone.  On the internet, and frequently on your computer, this is not so.  I think an ephemeral, erasable internet would give the impression of privacy, without actually being more private.  I'm not sure that's what we really need.

(imgs via simplyrecipes.com, food.com)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Art Thursday - December 26th


Santa and His Reindeer.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Weekly What-What?! Week of December 22nd

I haven't done much else this week.  I did publish a new article on Yahoo! Voices -- 3 Ways Businesses Can Use Behavioral Economics to Increase Sales and Profit.  So there's that.  I looked at graduate schools some; not sure about that yet.  We're not doing a Christmas tree this year, but we now have the stockings up.  You can see our (somewhat sad) setup here:

Music:  South Valley Symphony's Winter Romance

Last Saturday, the husband and I went to see the South Valley Symphony (SVS) perform, which we've done a few times in the past.  Since taking music history in school, I've developed a love of classical music, which my husband happily shares.  On Saturday, the SVS did its Winter Romance set, which was largely exciting and unusual (you can check out the full program here).  The more conventional pieces that they played, which were the Overture to A Merry Christmas by Wendel, and the Christmas Overture "Vom Himmel Hoch" by Klein, were well-orchestrated and beautiful, but it was truly the other pieces that made the evening.  My favorite piece was the Emperor Waltzes, op. 437 by Johann Strauss II; this piece begins with a lively march, and then moves into a fun, bouncy waltz.

The Suite from The Fantastic Toyshop, by Rossini and orchestrated by Respighi, was interesting partially for its history, but also partially for its form: unlike many other suites from ballets, this one had very abrupt, definite breaks between scenes.  The history of this piece is pretty hilarious: Rossini became tired of writing operas, so he wound up writing a series of piano pieces instead.  He titled the collected work "Sins of My Old Age", and the titles of the pieces themselves ranged from "The Harmless Prelude" to the most hysterical, "Gherkins".  A beautiful piano piece about gherkins.

Respighi took a selection of these pieces, orchestrated them, and arranged them into the story, The Fantastic Toyshop.  Which is also pretty ridiculous:  The story goes that the pride and joy of a toyshop is this pair of clockwork can-can dancers; one is bought by one family, while the other is bought by a different family.  The families pay the toymaker and leave, planning to return the next day to pick up the dolls.  That night, all the toys come alive, and decide that the dancers must stay together, so they hide them away in the shop.  The families come the next day to pick up the dolls, and when the toymaker cannot find them, the parents start beating the poor toymaker.  The toys come alive again, and kick the families out of the shop, firmly closing the door (with the wonderful BOOM! of a drum) behind them.  The toymaker and toys then celebrate.  The end.  That's it.  My husband dubbed it "every retailer worker's dream" -- being able to throw out unruly customers.  If you'd like to watch a ballet version, there's one in four parts on Youtube.

Sorry for the short post this week; I did do some reading, but haven't seen anything interesting enough to post here.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Art Thursday - December 19th

My Little Ponies -- The upper left hand side has Celestia and Luna, while the rest of the page shows the main six.
(I forgot to schedule time for this yesterday.  Oops!  I will do better in the future.)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

What-What?! Week of December 15th

Today is my middle child's birthday party.  He's turning four years old this coming week, and this, too makes me feel horrifically old.  We'll be having chocolate cupcakes, topped with this delicious chocolate chip frosting -- which almost has the texture and taste of fudge (be sure to use powdered sugar, though, you'll regret it if you don't).  It is so good!  I had about a million tastes as I was making it. :)

Ants, Ants, Ants!

The house is covered in ants.  In the bathroom, in the hallway, but most obnoxiously in the pantry.  I have cleared out my entire pantry, and it's not a small space; I have more pantry space than my mother does.  It was horrific.  I might have cried.  So for most of the week, I've had groceries all over the place, and I can't just leave them someplace easy to get to, because then the 18 month old will just be into them, squirting mustard all over and knowing all the packages open.  The husband and I were finally able to put groceries away on Thursday afternoon, after we got all the ants blocked off.  The upside to all this is that my pantry is very organized now.

Simple Wonton Soup

Last Sunday, I did make this really fantastic soup.  It's simple, but has all these delicious flavors, plus a bit of spice, and really fit the cold, cold weather we've had here.  Like most soups, it can easily be customized to whatever veggies you have on hand, and is surprisingly fast to make.  The wontons that I used are the frozen kind from Costco, but I bet some homemade ones would be absolutely divine.

Ingredients:
  • 1 medium Carrot, chopped
  • 1 Green Onion, chopped
  • 1 clove Garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Butter or oil
  • 2 cups or 1 small can Chicken Broth (homemade is best, but use what you have)
  • 1/2 cup Water
  • 1/4 cup Soy Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Padang Sauce (can omit or substitute with peanut butter if you don't like it spicy)
  • Dash of Crushed Red Pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 10-12 Frozen Wontons
  • Other vegetables, as desired (cabbage, onion, bean sprouts, cilantro, etc.)
Saute vegetables and garlic in butter/oil until almost done.  Add chicken broth, water, soy sauce, Padang Sauce,  and crushed red pepper.  Bring to boil over high heat, then add wontons, and bring back to boil.  Cook wontons an additional 6 minutes, or until cooked all the way through.  Enjoy!

This makes two hearty servings, and could be stretched to four people pretty easily with some rice or other side.  If you plan on having leftovers, I suggest only cooking as many wontons as you want to eat right away; wontons left in the broth will continue to release starch, creating cloudiness.

News:  Flip Phones via The Wall Street Journal

Samsung Hennessy is official: a dual-screen flip-phone with a quad-core CPU

I thought that this was pretty hilarious, because I have a flip phone -- a simple little LG.  I like it.  My husband recently got a smartphone for work, which in some ways is quite convenient, for taking pictures and finding directions, and so on.  But, he has to charge it up all the time, and it's got a giant screen that can break, and real buttons are (in my opinion, of course) better in every way.  I think a flip smartphone has some real possibility, though the one they mention in the article still has an outside screen that can break (mind you, most flip phones do, but this ones outside screen is still huge).

(img via engadget.com)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Art Thursday - December 12th

 
"Jake and the Neverland Pirates".  Captain Hook's feathered hat (top left) is especially cute!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

What-What?! Week of December 8th

This week, my kids watched The Magic School Bus episode about computer programming.  It reminded me part of why I loved/love programming:  When you ask a computer to do something, it will do exactly as you asked it to do.  When you ask a fourth-grader to do something, sometimes they do exactly as you asked;  sometimes they argue with you about how or why they need to; sometimes they start to do it and get distracted; sometimes they tell you they will, only to wait until you're not looking, in which case they start lollygagging; and sometimes they think up the most ridiculous excuses why they don't have to (my favorite this week: "I can't do my homework, because my lips are chapped and it's too distracting").  One thing in common, though, is that both computers and children will do exactly as you've asked them to when you've told them to do the wrong thing.  Yes, I've had this conversation: "What are you doing?" "What you told me to" "...Oh, I see.  Oops.".  D'oh.  >.<

Literature:  I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen via Imgur

My husband came across this gem while browsing Reddit, which follows a bear on his journey to find his hat.  It is a pretty normal children's story, up until this page:

When the husband and I got to this page, we laughed out loud.  We've all had those "hey, WAIT!" moments, and I think the author conveyed it very well.  I like that this book leaves what happened between the bear and the rabbit up to the reader: Did the bear eat him?  Did they make up?  Was the rabbit sorry?  It could be a great discussion point about conflict and conflict resolution, while at the same time being silly enough to get kids interested.  Looking it up on Amazon, I found that it won the New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book in 2011.

Fixing that Gas Smell in a Subaru Legacy

Our car has occasionally had this odd gasoline smell when we turn on the air conditioner, but this last week, it's been significantly worse.  When we went looking online to see what the problem could be, we found that it's because of the weather; when it's especially cold, the rubber fuel lines contract and pull away from the steel clamps that fasten everything together, creating a gas leak that can be smelled inside and outside the car.  From the reading that we did, this is pretty common in Subarus, but can also happen to other makes as well.  Luckily, using a Philips head screwdriver and these photos, we were able to fix the problem in just a few minutes.  We only tightened the driver's side clamps, as seen in those photos above, as the passenger side ones (shown here) involve more effort to get to.

Reading:  Hohenzollern Castle via Time Travel Turtle


Browsing the internet, I found this nifty travel blog written by a man who quit his job in Australian broadcast journalism to travel the world.  Though I haven't read through all his posts yet (there's a lot), I did read about his trip to the Hohenzollern Castle in Southwest Germany, which was rebuilt in the 19th century.  The photographs of this are just fantastic.  It is so beautiful, the blue/gold color scheme that runs throughout the place reminds me of Cinderella's castle.  Definitely take the time to look at the pictures, even if you don't read the story that goes with it.
(img via imgur.com, Time Travel Turtle)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Art Thursday - December 5th

Sunset Shimmer and Twilight Sparkle, based on Saffron's new dolls.
(The kids have played with these nearly non-stop since we got them on Tuesday).

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What-What?! Week of December 1st

It's already December!  When on Earth did that happen?  I had this past week off from work (school's out on holiday), which was quite a nice break.

If you haven't noticed, I am now posting on Thursdays with one piece of my daughter's artwork.  I thought this would be great to both preserve memories and to encourage Saffron's creativity.

Food:  German Spaetzle via AllRecipes.com

On Monday, the husband and I made a German dinner, with schnitzel and spaetzle.  Spaetzle is a German noodle/dumpling hybrid, made out of a simple egg dough.  The spaetzle I made was "vom brett", which translates roughly as "off the board"; made without a spaetzle maker, just a wooden cutting board and a knife.  Here's a great (and impressive) video showing the technique for spaetzle vom brett, and while I didn't do nearly as well as that lady, it still came out well enough:



Rather than making plain spaetzle, I actually made kassespaetzle, which is a bit like the German version of macaroni and cheese; I layered my spaetzle with butter and shredded cheese, which melted and became absolutely delicious.  The spaetzle itself has a rustic, egg-y taste, and a soft, slightly-doughy texture.  If you haven't had it yet, then you need to try it; my children loved it, and it was a quick and easy side to make, taking no longer than regular noodles.
(A word from the wise on cleaning up after making spaetzle:  Whatever touches the dough needs to get rinsed off immediately.  I didn't do this, and had to spend a while scrubbing the bowl, board, knife, pot, and so on.)

Film:  Disney's Frozen Review and a Discussion of the PG Rating via Forbes


I read one article about Frozen before we went to see the movie, and while it didn't discuss the content of the film specifically, it did discuss the PG rating it had received... along with nearly every other children's movie in recent history.  In the films I grew up watching, characters were thrown off buildings, trampled to death, and so on.  These films were rating G.  Recent films have been rated PG for mild action and peril, which would obviously be in a movie, because what else is going to happen?  Beyond the ridiculousness of this, it makes it difficult for parents to decide which films to allow children to watch.  Some PG films are perfectly okay for my children, but many are not appropriate for young children at all.  At that point, why bother having ratings?

***MILD SPOILERS***

 
 
My daughter really enjoyed Frozen, which I guess is what counts in the end.  However, I have to admit to liking things as a child that, now as an adult, I can see are just terrible.  This wasn't terrible, but it had the potential to be a lot better than it was.  I went to this movie hoping for something similar to Sleeping Beauty, or Beauty and the Beast.  Instead, Frozen was more like Tangled, where the original story has been somewhat bungled in the effort to make it funny ("entertaining"?).  The comic relief character in this film, the snowman, did have some jokes that were genuinely clever, but it still didn't save him from being annoying.  Even my daughter didn't really care for him much (!!!).  There were two mild villains in the film, which confused the storyline a bit, and really they were all secondary to the main plot, the sisters' relationship struggles and the fallout from that.  While Hans was needed to move the story, the Duke of Weselton was completely superfluous; I think he was there only because someone became attached to the gags that could be played at his expense.  If they had removed those bits, then there could have been more time spent filling out the real villain -- maybe even make him actually frightening.

The other thing that bothered me about this film, is that when Elsa becomes the snow queen, she magically gains a slit on her skirt, high heels, and a hip-swaying gait.  While watching the film, I was honestly surprised.  Why does this character gaining her freedom have to be translated into looking sexy?  The point would still have been well made without those elements.  I think the best single indicator of the change was in her hair style.  Just that would have been fine.

Beyond that, I did very much like the scene in the lodge, because it was an actual dose of Scandinavian cultures -- a lutefisk joke(Norway), and the sauna (Finland).  But overall, I was disappointed.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

What-What?! Week of November 24th

My 18-month old has started lining up trucks.  And cars.  And trains.  On every available surface.  I'll get up from my desk to get something to drink and come back to find trucks lined up on my chair.  I remove those trucks, and sit down to find trains lined up on my desk.  I turn around and see cars and trucks lined up on the dining table.  And on the floor, the play table, and the TV stand.  All day long.

The middle child has decided that he wants a Lego dump truck for his birthday next month... and chose the most expensive truck set they offer, which he saw on the back of a Lego instruction booklet.  I did find a less expensive set that is about the same, so that'll be what we're getting him.
My behavioral economics class is chugging along.  This week marks the end of the class proper, and we've now moved on into exams, and the final projects.  I've come up with some great ideas, and in another week or two, I'll post some more information about them (with images!).

Cooking:  Meatloaf with Brown Sugar Topping via AllRecipes.com

We tried meatloaf this week, using our new Zaycon ground beef that we special ordered, with a ketchup and brown sugar topping.  Everyone liked it, except for my daughter, who was most put off by the topping.  My husband already reduced the amount of sugar in the topping, but we still thought the topping was too sweet; next time, I think we’ll omit it entirely.  Oh!  One great addition he made to the recipe was cubed cheddar cheese, which we’ll definitely be doing next time.

Fashion: One Scarf, Five Ways via Yahoo!  Fashion

How to tie a scarf
The weather here has started to get quite cold, but still not cold enough to remain inside, which makes it perfect weather for scarves.  Now, normally I just wrap my scarf around my neck, and call it a day.  However, I came across this article from Yahoo!, which details five ways to tie a scarf, and so I've been trying new looks; I've had such a good time doing this, that I've decided that I need more silk scarves, because I currently only have one.

News: Winning a Job at Lego via The Wall Street Journal

image
How does Lego choose designers to build its sets?  This great article examines the process, which is really fascinating; the company invites its most promising candidates to a two-day recruiting workshop, where candidates are challenged to brainstorm, design, and build sets, all in front of senior designers, who evaluate their potential.  Before candidates even arrive, they are mailed a box of Legos, and are challenged to create a set to bring with them, which acts as part of their introduction.  The unusual set of skills and talent that the company requires really begs this kind of interview process; a standard formal interview would be little help in determining which candidate is the best suited for the job.  I'm sure that the candidates who aren't chosen for the position also enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime process as well.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What-What?! Week of November 17th

I am finally ahead of my behavioral economics class!  This is fantastic, because it means that I now have some time to work on the extra written assignments, and I can start planning my final project, which involves developing two nudges and accompanying experiments.  I forgot how intense six-week classes can be, especially when you spend two of those weeks with sick children.

Black Friday 2013

If I didn't live in a podunk little town, I wouldn't do any Black Friday (BF) shopping.  The crowds are scary, people get trampled, and a good deal just isn't worth that amount of aggravation.  But since I can fairly leisurely stroll in, get my things, and check out, I've started shopping on Black Friday.  With that in mind, I started looking for early releases of the BF ads, specifically Target and K-Mart, since those are my options.

If you plan on BF shopping, here are some suggestions to help you prepare:
Make a List
If you do nothing else before you go, make sure you have a list in hand.  Even a general one will help, though the more specific, the better.  Before I go, I make sure that I have a list and a budget.  I try to figure out exactly how much I'll spend, then add a buffer, so that way if there's something there we just have to have, it's already accounted for.

Is That Really the Best Deal?
With all the BF ads out so early, it's pretty easy to do comparison shopping in order to get the best deals.  With big ticket purchases, though, it is important to examine the deals closely; many times, better deals can be had at other times of the year (I got my an excellent deal on my current TV in March of last year), or even just waiting a bit closer to Christmas.  It's also important to look up reviews of the big ticket items as well; Target will put Westinghouse brand TV's on sale for great prices on BF, but the reviews on them are really mixed.
Be Choosey
When I'm making my list, I try to ask myself if I want to buy something because it's a good deal, or because it's a good deal for me.  No matter how cheap something is, if it goes unused, then it's a waste of money.  Stores always have good deals on toys, but then, how many toys do my kids really need?  With this in mind, the husband and I are probably going to buy a new printer, and little else.

Bacon and Cabbage Salad

This recipe was inspired by an episode of Kitchen Nightmares (U.K.), where it was part of a meal.  It sounded so delicious that I just had to make it.  Since then, the husband has cooked it once, and I've cooked it once, and both times we enjoyed it greatly.  It has an almost sauerkraut-ish, all without actually being sauerkraut, which is brilliant for those who, like me, dislike the taste of sauerkraut.
When I last cooked this, I added another half-pound of sausage, as well as some farfalle noodles, and made a whole meal out of it.  The children don't dig this dish that much, probably because it has so many strong flavors.  That's okay, though, because there's more for me!
Ingredients:
  • 1/2 small Cabbage, chopped in thin slices
  • 1/2 medium Onion, chopped in thin slices
  • 8 ounces, Bacon (sausage would also be a good substitute)
  • Pepper, to taste
Saute the bacon in a medium skillet (a saucepan would work, too); cook for 3-5 minutes, until the edges are browned.  Add the cabbage, onion, and pepper, then cook until the onions are translucent and the cabbage is soft.  Enjoy!

(img via nymag.com)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

What-What?! Week of November 10th

Finally this week, the children and I are getting better.  After getting over Fifth Disease, the kids managed to catch a cold, and now they’re still coughing from that.

Edited to add:  I did do some writing this week!  See the above tab, "Farm Books for Children", which has a collection of my favorite children's books involving farms and farm animals.

Behavioral economics moved somewhat away from experiments, and on to the discussion of examining how people make intuitive decisions.  The professors actually discussed one thing that I’d discovered on my own—that people, when given the vocabulary to describe something, will take the time to examine more closely their own likes and dislikes.  When my sister took art classes, the class would look at a piece of art, and each student had to explain why they liked or disliked it; they were not allowed to say “just because”.  They learned the vocabulary to describe art (compositions, techniques, color theories), then applied that to the pieces they viewed.  A few years ago, I became much more interested in food, tasting food, and trying new things.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why I like or dislike a food, and through this, I’ve learned new words, and I’ve learned a lot about myself.  I’ve gotten a lot of practice asking myself why, and examining the answers.  I think this has helped me understand other people, too, because now I can ask more detailed questions when I want to know, “how do you like this dish?”

Creamy Ham and Rice Bake
Want something creamy, a little salty, and a little cheesy?  Then this is the casserole for you!  I liked how the veggies in this complemented the rich sauce very nicely, helping the dish from becoming too rich.  This is based on the Veggie, Ham & Cheese Rice Bake from Tasty Kitchen, I simplified the recipe and subbed out the cream of chicken soup for a simple white sauce.

Ingredients:
  • 2-3 tablespoons Butter
  • 1/4 to 1/2 Onion, diced
  • 1-1/2 cups Ham Steak, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Flour
  • 2 cups Milk
  • 1 cup Fresh or Frozen Broccoli
  • 1 cup Fresh or Frozen Cauliflower
  • 1 cup White Rice (long or short grain)
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1/2 cup Shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • Salt and Pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9x13 baking dish and set aside.

Saute onion and ham in butter on medium heat, until onions are translucent and ham is browned.  Add flour and let cook 1-2 minutes, then stir in milk.  Bring mixture up to a simmer to thicken, stirring as needed.  Add broccoli and cauliflower, then simmer another 2-3 minutes, or as long as needed to heat them all the way through.  Add rice, water and cheese, mixing thoroughly.  Add salt and pepper as needed.  Pour into prepared baking dish, and bake for 40 minutes, until rice is cooked.  Enjoy!

Film:  My Little Pony:  Equestria Girls via Netflix

Netflix just added this to the video library, and because my kids are pony fanatics, we had to watch it.  Consequently, we have watched it every day since.  I was pretty pleased with it, though make no mistake:  I would not watch this if I didn’t have children.  The story was good, though the ending is weak, and the romance feels like it was inserted in order to pander to the desired demographic of tweens (or tweens’ younger siblings?).  At first, I actually thought that the love interest was Twilight’s brother, and my mistake didn’t actually become clear for quite a while (storytelling oops!).  I enjoyed that the alternate world that Twilight Sparkle steps into is nothing like home, except in every single detail.  I worry that the dependence of the story on technological elements will mean that it will become dated quickly; one of the things that I enjoy about the old My Little Pony show is that it really isn’t that dated, other than the clothes that the children are wearing, and a few other things like that.  The next season of the regular My Little Pony show is due out on November 23rd, so be prepared for more pony talk in a few weeks. ;D
(img via mlp.wikia.com)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

What-What?! Week of November 3rd

My eldest baby is now 6 years old!  We celebrated her birthday last Saturday over at my parent’s house, and overall it went well.  For her birthday, mostly the husband and I got her activity-type gifts rather than toys, like an artist supply set and a junior cooking set.  She also received quite a few engineer/steampunk vintage-ish books, and while she didn’t seem too excited about them at first, we’ve spent a lot of time reading them over the course of the week.

Unfortunately, this past week, we were also horrifically sick.  One day, I had a fever, then the baby had an ear infection and high fever (which necessitated a trip to the ER), and then on Halloween, the big kids had fevers, and were vomiting too!  The worst part is that they are still not better yet.
 
Here's my older babies, in costume, with matching fevers.  My daughter is a "witch cat" (a cat who is also a witch), and my son is an alien from Spaced Invaders (seen here).  I feel somewhat bad that I didn't do a costume for the baby, myself or the husband, but by that point, it'd already been a very long week. 
Behavioral economics this week sort of switched gears to setting up, running, and evaluating experiments.  I am so glad that I took statistics, and had a relatively recent review when I took an operations class, because this week, I needed it.  I also have an exam for the class that I’ll be taking this evening – if I pass the exams, discussions and final project, I will be getting a certificate for the class.

In my business classes, I’ve read numerous times about microloans being used in third world countries as a way to help the poor break free of their poverty.  I’ve read about a woman in India who, because the microloan loan she received meant that she could haggle better prices with her suppliers, she was eventually able to grow her business to the point that she could afford better food, and a place to live off the streets.  I’ve read of families that have done similar things, and now can afford a house and to send their children to school, thus breaking the cycle of poverty.  I believe very strongly in the good that microloans do, despite the fact that not all of those who receive loans experience such great success.

Now, though, through Grameen America and other nonprofits, low income people in America can also enjoy access to microloans.  These loans are defined as less than $50,000, and given to people who cannot take out traditional loans.  Many times the loan comes with additional services like business planning and financial literacy, in order to help ensure success.
One quote in this article that particularly touched me is “Families in rural Africa are more like U.S. families than everyone wants to believe”; the article goes on to state that the unavailability of credit, the cobbling together of multiple part-time jobs, and the general insecurity are very similar in both countries.  I have seen it, and in some ways, I have lived it.  Since the Great Recession, I have seen it get harder for low-income people especially due to tighter credit rules.  On one forum, I pretty frequently see people who wind up in a bind temporarily, where a credit card would be a huge blessing; in these situations, there are always people who respond “oh, just put [whatever] on your credit card”, and it frustrates me so, because many people do not have the easy access to credit that they once did.  Hopefully programs like these will be able to help entrepreneurs get off the ground, expand, and help give people stability.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

What-What?! Week of October 27th

I spent a lot of this week just trying to get everything done.  Between my behavioral economics class, my CPR/first aid class (this week only – I am now certified!), my daughter’s birthday, putting together Halloween costumes, and having quite a stressful week at work, I have just been run ragged.  Oh!  I did have an article published on Yahoo! Voices, in response to the book Homeschooling: The Bigger Picture; this book legitimately made me angry, which is pretty unusual.  Since reading that book, the author has since published more, though thankfully it is fiction, not non-fiction or advice.

Week 2 of my behavioral economics class covered mental accounting and “unmoney”; that is, paying with anything other than cash, and the affects it has on behavior.  Very interesting, though mostly information that I’d read elsewhere before.  Every week, there’s a debate topic where experts discuss their opinions, and then us students discuss their reactions and the topic.  This week’s topic was asking if credit is a boon or a curse, and one of the experts said the most insane thing:  “Credit card companies are there to provide free debt to consumers”.  Uh… what?  I heartily disagree with that; they are in it to make money.


Earlier this week, I followed a link here and a link there, and came across these adorable Disney / Pokemon mash-ups; while most are of princess and Pokemon, I think the best ones are the non-princess characters, like those above.  Hit the link for more.

This is one of the few Kindle books I’ve read that I would give five stars.  It follows the experiences of an engineer through his last year of college, and his last year competing in the Formula SEA student design competition as the main manager of the project.  He and his fellow engineers work, struggle, and grow in their effort to produce a winning car.  The management and interpersonal growth the group experiences are really the stars of the tale, with all the engineers transitioning to from bickering and spite, to a cohesive, effective team.  It really is a good read, whether you’re interested in motorsports or not.

Halloween next year....
Now that I’m not in school, I spend a lot more time doing things with my kids related to the holidays.  While looking for activities to do, I came across this great list of healthy Halloween-themed snacks.  I haven’t done a lot of them, but the one that I have done (over and over!) is the ghost bananas.  These are simple as can be, and the kids have been enthralled with them.  Just press chocolate chips into the banana for eyes and a mouth, and BAM, you’ve got a ghost banana!
(img via deviantart.com, kellytoups.com)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

What-What?! Week of October 20th


This past Sunday, my husband took our daughter to the local renaissance faire.  My daughter loved dressing up as a fairy and they had a great time.

Monday, my behavioral economics class started; it looks very promising, with the first week discussing what counts as rational, how humans are irrational, and using decision points to help people be rational.  The idea with decision points is to create a pause that gives you the chance to think rationally.  An example of this is that, if you have a giant bag of popcorn, you’re more likely to eat the whole thing in one sitting than if you had four smaller bags of popcorn.  Because you have to stop and open another bag, it is just enough of a kick to make you say “do I really want to eat this much popcorn?” – even if you do the undesirable action (eating a lot of popcorn), you’ve made a purposeful decision to do so.  So far, it’s really fascinating, and I look forward to next week’s lesson.
Cooking:  Homemade Graham Crackers


These aren’t strictly what I’d call graham crackers; they have no graham flour in them, so mostly they’re just crackers.  That’s okay, though, because you will love them anyway.  These have a strong note of honey, with brown sugar, cinnamon, and a nice crunch.  They are not quite the same in consistency as store bought, but the flavor is far and away better.
Ingredients:
  • 1-1/2 cups Flour
  • 1/2 cup Brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
  • 1 stick of Butter, melted
  • 4 tablespoons Honey
  • 2-3 tablespoons Water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix dry ingredients well, then add butter, honey and vanilla.  Slowly add water until dough forms in a ball.  Roll out between two sheets of wax paper (parchment paper works, too), then either cut squares using a knife or pizza wheel, or use small cookie cutters to create fun shapes.  Bake 12-15 minutes, turn the oven off and open it to vent.  Leave crackers in oven for 45 minutes to crisp up.  Enjoy!
Based on the recipe over at Heavenly Homemakers.
Blogging:  Dissenting Voices and The Pioneer Woman

Recently, I have come across forums, blogs, and other websites devoted to tearing down The Pioneer Woman, Smitten Kitchen, and a few other blogs that I read. Right now, though, I'm going to focus on Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman.

One complaint is that Ree is a narcissist. However, I can't help but think that blogging in and of itself is a narcissistic action.  My blog is, generally speaking, all about my thoughts, experiences, and so on.  Or maybe I'm a narcissist, and I didn't even know it? Wikipedia tells me that 1 percent of the population suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  I always wanted to be part of the 1 percent, though maybe not that 1 percent. :P

The bigger issue, though, is that many posters complain that Drummond isn't genuine. Her blog and her real life aren't the same. To be honest, I kind of knew that some parts were pretend, even without much evidence for it. Many blogs show this fantasy world of the picture perfect life, and The Pioneer Woman is one of them. I view it as entertainment -- fiction. The fact of the matter is that her life isn't like what's shown on her blog and on TV. This is the edited version, showing all the best parts, some of which have been manufactured. My real life isn't as good as what I show on my blog. Why? Because no one wants to hear about how many times the husband and I had to do laundry this week, that's why. And you know what? Some of it is manufactured. I had to cook dinner two weeks ago, and knew that a new recipe would be a great addition to my blog post. It's what we ate, and it was delicious, but we probably would have just had chicken and noodles if I didn't have a blog post to write. Does it make me less genuine? I don't know. I genuinely cooked it. My family's reaction was genuine. Maybe it's only okay because I'm a small-time blogger, and different rules apply?

I'm not sure that I care if Ree Drummond, as we know her through her blog and TV show, is wholly real. Yeah, she swipes recipes from other people, changes some minor things, then posts them as her own. While those actions are obviously not okay (intellectual property theft, anyone?), I think most of the other issues are pretty harmless.

(img via thewannabechef.net)

Friday, October 11, 2013

What-What?! Week of October 13th

This week went well -- had some bumps at work, but thankfully nothing huge.  The husband has this weekend off, which he's using to spend some one-on-one time with the older kids.  It can be difficult to find time for that, so I'm glad he has the opportunity.

Cooking: Simple Candy Apples


One of the highlights of this week was making candy apples with the kids. It was a simple project, and nice because it could be scaled down to just four apples, enough for each child to have two.

Materials
  • Apples
  • Candy melts
  • Popsicle sticks (we used plastic knives)
  • Toppings like sprinkles, nuts, chocolate chips, etc.
First, wash and dry the apples thoroughly, then insert the stick into one end.  Prepare a pan for the apples to dry on by placing some wax paper on it (butcher paper would also work well here).  Put toppings into bowls for easy dipping. Put the candy melts in a deep bowl, and melt in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until smooth.

Dip the apples in the candy melts, covering completely, then dip or sprinkle toppings onto apples.  Place on prepared pan and wait for the candy melts to harden.  Enjoy.
 
We did!

Food Review: Starbucks Chocolate Chai Latte

The husband and I tried this chocolate chai lattes, and were really disappointed. My husband and I agreed that they were just too sweet, which is pretty common with Starbucks, unfortunately. I liked the spiced chocolate taste, but my husband thought that it there was too much ginger. Normally I abhor ginger, but in this instance, I thought the chocolate offset the spices nicely. However, the whole thing was ruined by the sheer sweetness of the drink. Needless to say, we won't be buying them again.

(img via polyvore.com)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

What-What?! Week of October 6th

After much talking and thinking, the husband and I have decided that we will be relocating to Washington state, specifically the Seattle area, sometime in the next year.  Because I continue to be unable to find fulltime work, we think it would be prudent to move on to greener pastures, as it were.  There are actually many reasons to choose that area, enough that I actually wrote an article discussing them.  Funnily enough, since writing the article, I keep stumbling into more and more information that goads us towards the Seattle area.

On another note, I am now registered for the BehavioralEconomics class at EdX; it’s being offered by the University of Toronto Extension, and will start in just over a week.


This week, I watched Mean Girls.  Yeah, it stars Lindsay Lohan.  No, I’m not a Lohan fan.  However, the film is entertaining, and well written.  Rachel McAdams is delightfully evil, and I appreciate the awkwardness that Lohan brings to the role of a homeschooled student thrust into conventional high school.



This is a pretty cool book that I’ve been reading; it’s a collection of essays that look at philosophical elements that exist in super hero media.  The first essay, which discusses the concepts of justice and mercy in the Thor comics, was a particularly interesting read, considering that I am now responsible for a class of 19 children, and I frequently find myself having to decide how much mercy to give a rule-breaker.  I tend to be on the lawful side when it comes to alignment, which in my experience tends to favor the justice side of the justice/mercy balance.  Some essays are definitely more interesting than others, both because of writing style, and because some of these topics are ones I’ve considered before.  Overall, I think it is a worthwhile read, especially since the book is currently free.  If you don't currently have a Kindle or other reader, I suggest downloading the PC or smartphone (Android?) app from Amazon, which is also free (yay for free things!)

Food:  Chicken Tetrazzini Casserole via The Pioneer Woman
Now that’s getting colder here, I’m looking forward to eating comfort foods, hot dishes, soups and stews. Thursday, my husband made a really great sausage, potato and broccoli chowder; it would have been good anyway, but what really kicked it up a notch was some Worchester sauce. It added just the right amount of umami.

Friday, we took the family to Costco for our monthly shopping trip there, and bought a rotisserie chicken for an easy dinner that night.  We had enough leftover chicken that I made this delicious tetrazzini casserole yesterday, and we’ll be eating the leftovers for dinner tonight (if you’re not cooking for a crowd, I suggest halving the recipe).  This is good, basic, comfort food.  Yum!
I’m also looking forward to more baking, as well.  I bought a 4-pound sack of chocolate chips while we were at Costco, and I’m looking forward to making chocolate chip cookies and muffins with them.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

What-What?! Week of September 29th

This week was pretty ho-hum.  The husband is now done with his mid-week market, which is a fantastic relief, both in terms of work schedules, and just the stress of having to run both morning and evening markets.  My job is pretty well the same; what was frustrating about this past week is that the afterschool leaders were never given materials to do 3 of the 5 craft projects, and so there were several days that we had to make up our own projects.  Talking with my site coordinator, it seems there used to be a person whose job was to develop the curriculum and ensure that school sites had the appropriate materials.  The position doesn’t exist anymore, so it’s now up to leaders and site coordinators to figure it out for themselves.  It’s okay when it works, but frequently it doesn’t, because the process at the school site isn’t formal enough, or we don’t get the curriculum in advance.

I’m currently considering taking some classes from EdX, a nonprofit created by Harvard and MIT that offers MOOCs on a variety of subjects.  There’s a class about behavioral economics that I’d be interested in taking, as well as one on the science of cooking.  Really, neither one of those things is particularly useful, but the classes are free and I like to learn.
Crafts:  Dinosaurs

This week, I did do a few dinosaur crafts with my kids.  I did this one at work as well, and it is one that I made up in about ten minutes, just looking at the supplies we had around.  We used small envelopes to create dinosaur heads, complete with teeth, tails and so on, and then the kids decided if their dinosaur was an herbivore or a carnivore.

After that, we made appropriate foods for the dino, then “fed” them.  This was a pretty good hit, and all the kids (from my 3.5 year old son to my fourth graders at work) enjoyed making the foods and feeding their dinosaur.  (I know, my daughter doesn't look very happy above, but she was upset that I interrupted her dino's feeding time).
Mine, at top, somehow, wound up looking like Toothless from How to Tame Your Dragon.  It's the eyes.

Film:  Ripper Street via Netflix

After watching the 2005 Bleak House series (based on a Dickens novel), which was recommended to me by my sister, I looked around for other period series that were well rated.  One of Netflix’s first recommendations was this, Ripper Street, a sort of late Victorian CSI.  Set in the Whitechapel area of London in 1889, the series begins six months after the Jack the Ripper murders, and follows Inspector Reid through a series of misadventures and mysteries.  The settings and wardrobe of the series is very good, though I have to admit that I spent the first two episodes simply staring at the American’s coat and hat any time he was on screen; where everyone else is dressed in dreary blacks, grays and navies, topped with a top hat or bowler, the lone American wears a deep green coat with a copper colored lining, and a beat up fedora.  Later in the series, the other characters wear more colored clothing, but those first two episodes, and especially the first, make for a particularly jarring contrast.  The Guardian (watch out – SPOILERS) also published a great read on the historical accuracy of the events in the show; I was pleased to see that the show was reasonably accurate.
I have yet to watch all the episodes yet, but so far I’ve enjoyed it.  The mysteries and character development have been well balanced, the characters suitably likeable, and the situations realistic (and sometimes too realistic – I do not recommend eating while watching).  The only thing that has bugged me is the relationship between Reid and his wife; while I understand that events have made their marriage unhappy, there have been scenes that should have had genuine warmth, and yet they fell short.  I don’t know if the actors just do not have good chemistry, or perhaps it has a greater purpose in the larger story, but watching those moments of not-quite-mustered warmth was uncomfortable.
(img via bbcamerica.com)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

What-What?! Week of September 22nd

Unfortunately, since I am now gone for dinner five days a week, I haven’t had much time to cook anything interesting.  My husband, on the other hand, has done a great job in my absence.  He has made the most delicious mushroom and onion sauce, cooked in a red wine reduction, served over breaded pork chops and baked potatoes.  Somewhat an odd mix of flavors, but delicious nonetheless.

Talk Like a Pirate Day
This past Thursday, the 19th, was Talk Like a Pirate Day, which is a brilliant holiday celebrating all things piratical.  In honor of it, before I went to work, the husband and I did some fun games and crafts with the children.
First up, we played Ship Captain, a game that worked out far better with my kids at home than my class at work.  The kids particularly enjoyed running around when there was a shark, or an island with treasure (my middle son pretended to carry a giant treasure chest back on the boat).
 

Then, we did a pirate character craft; at first, my son wasn’t interested in it, and instead made a ship with pirates on it.  My daughter, though, was all for it, and quickly put together a face.  We used q-tips for the crossed bones on the hat, and simple construction paper for everything else. (Saffron's is left, Corey's is right).

The last thing we did was have “sailboat sammies” for lunch, which were simple turkey sandwiches with cheese “sails”.  This is one of the few times recently that my son has eaten a turkey sandwich without complaint, and may lead to this entering the regular rotation.  Next year, I hope to be a bit more extravagant with the activities, maybe even being a bit factual and teaching the kids some history.

News: 3 Ethical Ways to Boost Positive Online Reviews via Entrepreneur
This article features three vignettes showing strategies that companies have taken to increase online reviews, and the benefits of increased consumer trust, notoriety, and success.  The only thing that I dislike about this article, that the comments section points out well, is that one of the companies recommends not responding to negative comments in public.  In my opinion, that is just backwards.  When I see a review on Amazon (or Yelp, or wherever), if someone from the company has taken the time to reply to a negative review, even if it’s just a “I’m so sorry, please contact me at…”, it tells me that the company actually cares.  That someone has a job monitoring comments, and that feedback is appreciated and important enough to garner a public response.


I was re-listening to the Emphatical Piratical album and think that it’s probably the most grownup song on there.  I read one review of the album that described this song as “wistful”, which is very apt for this romantic view of the pirate life.

'Til next week!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What-What?! Week of September 15th

This week I officially started my position as an after school leader with the local YMCA.  It is somewhat of a bumpy ride; the location for my class is poor.  The situation is temporary, but at the same time makes working with the kids difficult.  I’ve been coming home quite spent.  As it is, I am waiting to see if the situation remedies itself, or if I need to apply some pressure to get things put right.  Thursday, I came home from work very sunburned.  I hope not to repeat that in the future.

I haven’t written an article in a while – or actually, I should say, I haven’t published an article in a while.  Two are just sitting about, waiting for me to decide where to put them; I’m unhappy with Yahoo! Voices, but at the same time, there aren’t a lot of other notable options.  Now that I’m working, I’m not sure how much I’ll be writing other than this blog; because I’m missing the baby’s naptime, it makes it hard to find uninterrupted time.


This is one of those special local issues; Carmel is an upscale town in the Monterey that is particular about preserving property values.  The town hosts few (or no?) chain stores, and many people vacation there.  So, having a giant dinosaur in your front yard is not well looked upon.  I think it’s awesome (though I’m not sure I’d want it in my neighborhood, along with this family's display).

Companies will soon be able to export slaughtered chickens to China for processing, which will then be imported back to the United States – and will not be required to be labeled as such.  This is honestly pretty off-putting.  In recent memory, Chinese companies have poisoned infant formula, dog and cat treats, sold rat meat as mutton, and had cases of bird flu in live poultry.  No way do I want to eat poultry processed in China, and for that matter, I’m not excited about raw meat being shipped that far before it even gets anywhere near my dinner table (risk of spoilage, anyone?).
To add insult to injury, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has brought up serious doubts about the legitimacy of domestic inspections, since the USDA is expanding a pilot program that would allow companies to use their own employees as inspectors.  The GAO claims that the USDA didn’t accurately examine the effectiveness of this program before deciding to expand it.  This would most likely reduce the USDA’s overhead, but the question remains if this is furthering their goal of protecting the American people.

Music:  Lyle Lovett – In My Own Mind via Youtube.com

After writing last week’s post, I had to go look up this, which is far and away my favorite Lyle Lovett song.  Sometimes, to me, this song is about The Secret Life of Walter Mitty:  The secret fantasies and other lives that we live when no one is looking.  Other times, the song is about perspective: What happens in your life is colored greatly by how you view it in your own mind.

I love that he pronounces foyer properly.
(images via The Monterey Herald and Simply Fresh Cooking)
 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

What-What?! Week of September 8th

Had to get fingerprinted on Friday; this was another one of those things where I ran around trying to find a place, only to wind up waiting over a week to get them done.  Also, the scan area for fingerprints is tiny; my fingers barely fit, and I don’t have large hands at all.  How do they fingerprint people with large hands?  Do they just do one finger at a time, and that’s it?

News:  Chobani’s Mold Woes via BusinessWeek and ABC News
Chobani Issues Moldy Recall; Yoplait Pours It On
Chobani has apparently had quality control issues with about 5 percent of their greek yogurt products, causing the product to have mold.  Chobani’s handling of the situation has caused the FDA to open an investigation to see if they acted too slowly, putting consumers’ health in jepordy.  When I read about this incident, it was like a lightbulb went off; we had bought some Chobani brand yogurt tubes from Costco, and numerous tubes were inedible long before the expiry, possibly before we even took the box home.  While scientists have said that the mold isn't harmful to "most consumers", I’m not sure I’ll be buying Chobani again.

More on The Gamers: Hands of Fate via watchthegamers.com
*MORE SPOILERS*
The husband and I were able to watch the rest of the film earlier this week, and I’ve had more time to think about it.  Watching the film, I couldn’t help but think of an interview that Joss Whedon gave recently, where he discussed the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and it’s moment of self-reference where Indy tries to repeat the swordfighter versus gun scene in Indiana Jones and THAT ONE.  Hands of Fate has all these scenes that emulate or make inside jokes about Dead Gentlemen’s other projects, that, while funny, sort of devalue the originality of the film.  The last hour of Hands of Fate has a lot of self-referencing “look at this *wink-wink*” scenes; from a scene that’s basically the opening of Journey Quest, to Cass being pushed over by two guys, as he was in The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, and on.  While I think that some of it would be okay, this film kicks it up to 11, which is just too much.  It is enjoyable nonetheless, but I’ll probably stick with watching Dorkness Rising.


These would be awesome if they weren’t so creepy.   It’s surreal, which is fine because it’s fantasy, but there’s something else just a bit creepy about them.  The other problem is that some of these roles are so linked to their actor/actress that anyone else portraying them is odd.  For example, Whoopi Goldberg as the Genie, what?  Robin Williams will always be the Genie to me.

I guess the other thing that bothers me about the people they chose is that I look at them and think about their personalities – Taylor Swift doesn’t seem like a good match for Rapunzel, even if she’s got the blonde hair.  I could see Amy Adams; she was a fantastic princess in Enchanted, but of course, she’s a brunette.
I do very much like Lyle Lovett as the March Hare, though; it seems like it'd be a great fit.

'Til next week!