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!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

What-What?! The Week of September 1st

I had to get a tuberculosis (TB) skin test this week – for my new job with the local YMCA.  Oddly, I’ve gotten them before, and I don’t remember them hurting as much as this one did.  It was also on my left arm (my dominant one) and very annoying.  I had a terrible time finding a place that could do the test, because apparently there’s been a shortage that was just alleviated in May, and medical facilities are still catching up to get stock of the TB testing fluid.

The other exciting thing that happened is that my daughter (almost 6) has started reading a lot more; yesterday when we went to the grocery store, she was reading me streetsigns and my grocery list.  The husband and I have started homeschooling her as well, which has been quite fun.

Cooking: Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Scones

I woke up the other day with these scones in my head, and just had to make them.  These are mildly sweet, and just perfect toasted, with a pat of butter.
  • 3 cups Flour
  • 3/4 cup Brown sugar (up to 1 cup if you like yours a bit sweeter)
  • 2 teaspoons Cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon Baking powder
  • 1 stick Butter
  • 1 cup Milk
Set oven to 400 degrees.  Mix dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, then cut in butter with a pastry cutter, two butter knives, or your fingers.  Stir in milk until a dough forms, then roll onto ungreased cookie sheet, and cut into desired shapes (I do triangles or squares for simplicity).  Bake for 30 minutes, until lightly browned.  Enjoy!


This is one of those interesting things about my generation, which I have actually had personal problems with.  Millenials use phones aplenty – but not for talking on.  They will e-mail, text, or otherwise send a message before physically calling someone and talking with them on the phone.  One interview I had specifically brought up in talking on the phone as a requirement.  My interviewer (the owner of the company) said that he needed someone who was willing and able to talk on the phone; no texting or e-mail.  There have been times that I’ve needed to set up an appointment for an interview, and the company opts to do this through e-mail.  Like the article discusses, this takes three times as long because it’s much more difficult to have that conversation in little bits (“Can you do this date?  What about that time?”), rather than all at once over the phone.  The other problem I’ve had with people my age is when they send several texts when an e-mail or a phone call would be more efficient.  If it hits the third text just asking a question, then a call or e-mail would be better.  When that’s happened, I’ve called or e-mailed my reply – because it was a complicated question with a complicated answer.


Movie Review: The Gamers: Hands of Fate via watchthegamers.com
*POSSIBLE MILD SPOILERS*


After four tries, I was finally able to download my copy of Hands of Fate!  The husband and I watched half of it the other day, and so far, it was brilliant.  Cass makes for an excellent protagonist, and honestly after his jerkish actions in the other film, it was kind of nice to watch him take some of it.  The actress who plays the love interest was entertaining, if a bit bothersome; I get that she was suppose to be somewhat abrupt and hostile at first, but sometimes it felt like she was overacting.  The other thing that bothered me is quite insignificant – the makeup was sometimes poorly blended down actors’ necks, which looks funny.  Mind you, this is also a problem I’ve seen in big Hollywood films as well, though not quite to the same extent.  The scenes that occur in Countermay (the fantasy universe) were well done and sometimes quite surreal, what with the being an illustration on a card.  I totally identified with the characters' plight of having real life get in the way of gaming.  Especially in the past few years, that has basically been my life.  Overall, a heartily recommend it, though I would suggest watching the other film for a bit of background first.
Oh!  You can actually see my husband and me in the credits under Kickstarter contributers; we're in there as Thorn Blackhammer and Kanoth the Mighty and Illustrious -- Because if we're going to do something geeky, we're going to go all the way! :D
'Til next week!