Category Archives: Fun Stuff

Happy Mothers Day

This may clarify a few things about me. What life lessons did your mother teach you?

10 Things Mom

 

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Really Useful Super Powers

I haven’t seen ‘The Avengers‘ yet, although I hope to remedy that in the near future. While not at the level of comic book geekdom (her phrase) that my youngest is, I have thoroughly enjoyed the other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, I have to ask: why can’t the writers come up with superheroes that have really useful skills?

In ‘The Avengers’ we have a guy who swells up and turns green when he gets mad, a Norse guy with a magic hammer, an American guy with a boomerang shield, a really good archer, an assassin chick ,  and a rich genius who likes to tinker in his upscale garage. They are led by a guy on anti-aging serum who at least has good organizational skills. I say this with love in my heart…but…really? These are supposed to be cool powers?

The best of the lot seem to be leader Nick Fury (never sneer at the ability to prioritize), Black Widow (but then every female should know how to kill people) and Captain America, with his potential Dice-o-Matic shield. Tony Stark could have used his resources to figure out how to make Cap’s shield small enough for kitchen use, or invented a self-vacuuming house or something. But noooo, he puts his mini-reactor into a flying suit armed with lasers that create huge, billowing clouds of dust and messy rubble. Pah.

The villain of ‘The Avengers’ at least has potential. In ‘Thor‘ we see that Loki has the ability to instantly clone himself!! But we know he is a Bad Guy Who Will Lose, because all he uses his power for is to taunt his adoptive brother. Slacker. If I could create instant multiples of myself, my house would be spotless 24/7, my freezer would always be full of home-cooked meals, and with one of myselves at the computer night and day, I’d pump out a new book (or at least a rough draft) every three months.

So (drumroll please) here are some super hero suggestions that Marvel might find useful:

Laundry Man: Never mind creepy stalker X-ray vision. This guy would have the ability to sort, clean and fold a pile of dirty laundry with one look. Toy — Super Stain Remover Ray Gun that works on all stains, on all materials. Seriously, this guy would have more chicks following him around than Tony Stark and the three Hemsworth brothers combined.

The Navigator: A human GPS, male or female, who can maneuver around any traffic snarl, red light or backup. Toy — the EMS Vehicle, whose horn sends out a small electro-magnetic pulse that stalls all cars in the immediate vicinity and allows the hero to get passengers to their destinations on time. Am undecided whether the EMSV is a green compact car or something more along the lines of a Sherman tank, however.

The Rash: The result of a freak accident with radioactive pollen while an infant suffering from diaper rash, this superhero has the ability to swell up and turn red on command. In this state, his or her touch on bare skin causes an allergic reaction, including uncontrollable itching and sneezing. With this particular skill set, the Rash could be an irritable loner with great potential to go rogue, upping the dramatic stakes in his or her stories. Toy — Super Antihistamine Spray to protect allies.

Bull Detector Woman: This would be quite a useful super power indeed, if more on cerebral side. BDW would appear to use feminine intuition (actually scientifically enhanced powers of observation combined with serum-enhanced neuron transmitters) to detect falsehood. Invaluable in singles bars, all forms of negotiations, watching infomercials and major election years. Toy — with super powers like this, you wouldn’t need toys.

If you could have any super power you wanted, what would it be?

A Circle of (Imaginary) Friends

At some point, even the most successful people on the planet suffers setbacks and self-doubt. As someone who’s moderately successful but still learning, I often have to fight my way through the secret convictions that 1. someday people will discover that I can’t write worth a damn and 2. my mother is right and my hair or whatever I’m wearing at any given moment looks awful.

Hopefully if we confess our doubts and flaws to our family and friends, we will instantly be reassured that we are good and smart and that our dream of starting a heavy metal band of retired electricians isn’t stupid. Sometimes, though, our loved ones don’t understand our ambitions, or because they’re not mind readers, they don’t say the exact words we want to hear. And some people don’t have others around them willing to offer support and encouragement at all.

At that point, it’s time to pick out a charmed circle of imaginary friends to be our advocates. No, I have not gone off to Looneyland. Harnessing mental imagery works — look up the benefits of biofeedback if you don’t believe me. Barbara Sher refers to this process as ‘finding cheerleaders’ in her book Wishcraft: people we admire giving positive feedback about our endeavors. And the cool thing is, we can pick anybody we want!

The imaginary friends can alive, dead, male, female, celebrities, historical figures or fictional ones…it doesn’t matter, as long as you pick them for other reasons besides being cool or famous. For example, here’s my circle of imaginary friends:

-My late grandmother:  As an aspiring concert pianist who set her ambitions aside for love and marriage, she understood that every choice has a price, and that those things not attempted are not gained. She’d say, “If it means that much to you, you should try to put that retiree band together.”

Bette Davis: In my mind, she represents the flip side of Grandma. She was a tough, scrappy, ambitious artist and she didn’t whine when she had to make sacrifices to get what she wanted. I imagine her saying “If you want a geriatric metal band, you’d better make damn sure everybody knows what they’re getting into.”

– Maksim Chmerkovskiy: The Slavic slave-driver is a hot-tempered and outspoken, but this is why he’d be the voice telling me to stop feeling sorry for myself and get back to work. My guess is he’d sound like this: “So you’re old. That means you’d better get your butts off the floor and start playing, because you’re only going to get older.”

Michelle Kwan: The years she spent climbing to the top of the figure skating world did not impair her grace on or off of the ice. “Always make the next performance better than the time before.”

George Clooney: Okay, I did pick George partly for his looks. But he combines intelligence and a work ethic with a sense of humor, so I’m not completely shallow.  He’d be the one thinking of possibilities: “You could go on the road and tour retirement communities.”

The idea here is that even positive feedback from Imaginary Friends is still POSITIVE. It’s a way to trick yourself into seeing your own good qualities and encouraging yourself to work on your dreams. And you thought I was crazy.

Who, real, fictional, alive or dead, do you admire so much you’d like to have them in your circle of imaginary friends? What would you like them to say to you?

Bad Movies I Love

I guess you could call this sort of anti-Oscar post. Not as in against the Oscars, which I watch faithfully every single year, both for the dresses and the awards. I love film. ’31 Days of Oscar’ on Turner Classic Movies is one of the high points of my year.

And then there are those movies referred to as guilty pleasures. Sometimes they’re called camp classics. I just call them bad movies I love, because they are so, so cheesy and delicious.

Van Helsing, 2004: A mashup of Dracula and Frankenstein saved by the presence of Hugh Jackman in a sexy leather coat. Jackman plays the vampire hunter, who is sent by the Vatican to save the lives of the last two members of a family of vampire hunters, one of which is Kate Beckinsdale in skin-tight pants and high-heeled boots and the other of which is her brother, who becomes a werewolf partway through the movie.

Still with me? I didn’t think so. Really, the plot doesn’t matter much since it gets lost pretty quickly among baby vampires (world’s ugliest babies), a not actually evil Frankenstein monster, anorexic winged vampire chicks, and the requisite sidekick, a bumbling monk played by David Wenham (who would team up with Jackman later in Baz Luhrmann’s Australia.) Forget trying to follow what’s going on. Just let the badness flow over you and focus on Jackman in that coat.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, 2003: Based on a dreadful comic book series, an alternate title could be Famous Victorian Fictional Characters Stop World War I. Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, The Invisible Man, Dorian Gray, Dr. Jekyll (plus his alter ego Mr. Hyde), a grown up Tom Sawyer and Mina Harker (of Dracula fame) must seek out and destroy a group of anarchists led by the unidentified Fantom (as in ‘of the Opera’, one presumes). Their handler, by the way is known only as ‘M’. Groan.

Sean Connery as Quartermain leads the group as they travel to Venice in Nemo’s HUGE GIANT submarine that somehow manages to escape notice in both the Thames and in later in Venice. The sub is the best part. Seriously, it shouldn’t even be able to fit in the Thames, much less narrow Venetian canals. I rewatch the movie in hopes figuring out how that works, but so far, no luck.

Mystery Men, 1999: Stupid comedy, yes. But it’s quality stupid comedy. A bunch of delusional or gallant (depending on your view) collection of wanna-be superheroes try to imitate the derring-d0 of their role model, Captain Amazing. Sadly, their super powers cover things like impotent rage (Ben Stiller), throwing silverware (Hank Azaria), shoveling ditches (William H. Macy), thinking one is invisible (Kel Mitchell), bowling (Janeane Garofolo), and extreme farting (Paul Reubens), only the last two of which could be considered serious weapons. Captain Amazing, in fear of losing his lucrative sponsorships, arranges for his arch-enemy, Cassanova Frankenstein (Best. Villain. Name. Ever.) to be paroled and tries to cut a deal with him. Frankenstein harbors a grudge and captures the Captain, leaving the unlikely wannabes to step up to the plate.

Classic scenes include superhero auditions, the appearance of the pompous Sphinx (Wes Studi), anything with Geoffrey Rush as Cassanova Frankenstein, and William H. Macy delivering the line, “We’ve got a blind date with destiny… and it looks like she’s ordered the lobster.”

The Fifth Element, 1997: It’s the special effects and supporting roles that make this movie. Bruce Willis plays the same guy he does in the Die Hard movies while Milla Jovovich runs around half-naked. But Sir Ian Holm plays a priest with secret knowledge of how to defeat evil aliens bent on attacking earth and Gary Oldman is one of the most original bad guys you’ll ever see. Totally the best part is watching Chris Tucker as a drag queen intergalactic talk-show host suffering a permanent panic attack.

A convoluted and not terribly coherent plot, characters that have fuzzy motivations, and clichés everywhere. I love this film’s awfulness with every fiber of my being, perhaps because of what the Fifth Element turns out to be in the end.

Mine are all less than 20 years old, but I know Hollywood has made plenty of other bad movies to love in the last 84 years. What are your favorite movies that are so bad they’re good?

Picture from from http://www.moviescreenshots.blogspot.com

The Gentlewoman’s Guide to Tea

Ah, the pleasures of the tea table! The fragrant liquid, enjoyed in between tidbits of delicious finger sandwiches, cakes and gossip. (At least the sandwiches and cakes are delicious. No Person of Breeding ever calls gossip delicious, unless in the company of Trusted Friends. But I digress.)

Few of us are aware of the background of the drink consumed in every home from Buckingham Palace down to the lowliest cottage. Thanks to the help of Mr. Tim Smith, a most knowledgeable purveyor of fine teas, (and an American, no less!) I can pass on some interesting facts to share with friends. Just in case there is a lack of goss– er, amusing stories — to share at teatime.

Worldwide, only water is consumed more often than tea. And he variety of teas boggles the mind. In England, we greet the day with a full-bodied black tea, such as English Breakfast or Earl Grey. In the afternoons, Oolong is preferred. Let us not forget green teas, used by the Japanese, and white teas. The latter do not seem to play a part in any formal ceremony, but Mr. Smith assures me he sells a fair amount of them in his shop, the Tea Smith.

Imagine my amazement when Mr. Smith informed me that all  those different kinds of tea come from the same plant, camellia sinensis! I thought he was jesting, but he assures me that it is simply a matter of how the leaves are prepared.

All Quality tea starts with the two tenderest leaves and a bud from each branch of the plant. White teas are produced from leaves that are plucked, steamed, and then dried. To make green teas, leaves dry and wither somewhat before steaming, and afterwards, leaves are rolled by hand and dried near a source of heat. The delicate flavor of Oolong teas come from actually bruising the leaves after they are withered, to increase oxidation. Once the edges turn red, the leaves are rolled and dried. Black teas attain their deep coloring and rich flavor because they are made from leaves they are left to oxidize completely before rolling and heating.

(I am Shocked at all this plucking, bruising and rolling. I had no idea processing tea leaves involved such Violence.)

One hears rumors of a something called a ‘tea bag’, in which the lowest quality of tea, referred to as ’fannings’ or ’dust’, are gathered into paper envelopes attached to a string. How Revolting! How can one indulge in the frivolous but charming pastime of reading one another’s tea leaves? As any Civilized Person knows, good tea can be reused after the initial steeping. Furthermore, the leaves, once the flavor is completely brewed out of them, make excellent compost. Or an economical household will strew the damp leaves over the rugs each morning and then sweep them up, thus removing dust. Tea bags, indeed!

The dashing botanist Robert Fortune introduced tea plants to the Darjeeling province of India by smuggling them out of the hinterlands of China. The writer cannot help but Wonder how the entire East India Company missed the species of tea plant growing one province over, in Assam. Possibly the observant eyes of females, so used to noticing important details, could have prevented this Embarrassing Oversight. On a happy note this means we now have access to India’s camellia sinensis assamicus in addition to the Chinese plant.

Climate and soil affect the taste of tea leaves, much they do the taste of grapes used in wine-making. Teas are labeled by their location and type (white, green, oolong or black). If more than one kind of leaf or ingredient as added, the tea is referred to as ‘blended’. Our beloved Earl Grey tea is considered a blend, as are English and Irish Breakfast teas. Other blends are jasmine, orange and mint teas, all of which sound most Exotic!)

Mr. Smith says that he imports teas from not only China and India, but from Kenya, Taiwan and Japan. By the first two names, he refers to parts of the globe labeled on my maps as British East Africa and the island of Formosa. (One is concerned about the teaching of Geography in the United States.) I have included his address below, in case any reader should like to investigate his wares.

www.thesteasmith.com
345 N 78th Street
Omaha, NE 68114
(402) 393-7070

1118 Howard St
Omaha, NE 68102
(402) 932 3933

Fall: Football and Food

Warning: This will be one of those cheesy ‘Hello Fall’ blog posts.

I can’t help it. This is my favorite time of year. The broiling temperatures of summer are relieved by cooler temps, yet the wicked winds of a Nebraska winter haven’t started blowing. And the violent weather of spring (rains, tornadoes, thunderstorms, hail, etc.) have disappeared for the most part.

My favorite sport resumes in the fall. Around here, Husker football approaches the status of a state religion. Our home games have sold out for the last forty-nine years. (The 50th anniversary will be in early November 2012.) We do have four seasons, but they have different names: Post-Season, Spring Practice, Pre-Season and FOOTBALL! I not only remember where I was for the Game of the Century, I can describe the outfit I wore.

This year, we’re pretty excited about joining the Big Ten. For one thing, the Cornhuskers will be going up against new (to us) opponents, which is exciting both because we hope the team will do well, and because the competition will be tough. But you have to love a conference that has its own TV network. Yes, that’s right: the Big Ten Network. Yeah, baby! Candy bar!!

Both cooler weather and football games means I start to enjoy cooking again. When it’s over 95 F outside, my goal for dinner is ‘do not heat up the house’. Come autumn, we can go back to stews, oven-braised meats and what may be my kids’ all-time favorite dish: Roasted Rosemary Potato Slices. And then there’s baking — muffins, cookies, brownies, cakes. Life is good!

Now if only we could get Oklahoma back on the schedule.

Here are a couple of my go-to recipes: One is a great year-round appetizer and the other is the aforementioned potatoes.

Cucumber and Cream Cheese Appetizers

1 loaf of party rye or party bread

1 8 oz. package of cream cheese

1 envelope of dry Italian salad dressing mix

1 cucumber

Combine the cream cheese and dressing mix until well blended. Let it sit while you cut the  cucumber into 1/8 inch slices, or a bit thinner if you prefer. Spread the cream cheese onto slices of the party rye bread and top with a cucumber slice. Easy peasy!

Roasted Rosemary Potato Slices (serves 4)

4 Russet potatoes, scrubbed

4 T melted butter or olive oil, as you prefer

1 t salt (Sea salt or Kosher salt are also yummy)

1 t dried rosemary, crumbled

Cut the potatoes into 1/4 inch slices. Pour half the butter or olive into an 8-inch baking pan and swirl it to coat the bottom. Layer the potatoes in the pan, in separate rows, arranging them so that they overlap slightly. Pour the remaining butter over them, then sprinkle them with the salt and rosemary. Add pepper to taste.

Bake in the middle of a 425 F oven for 22 minutes. Turn the potatoes over. Supposedly you can do this with a long, thin spatula. I’ve tried to and failed, so any more I use a regular spatula and don’t worry about keeping them in rows so much. They’re not as pretty, but they’re still delicious. Aaanyhoo, after you turn the taters, put them back in the oven for another 20-25 minutes, until they’re golden brown.

My Not-So-Secret Habit

Original B.B. crayon boxes from the collection...
Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes when I am alone, I indulge in an old habit from my younger days. I feel somewhat silly revealing this, but hopefully you will understand that I need to come out of the closet about this activity.  It’s not really harmful to anyone, but it’s not that productive either.

Anyway, here’s the big secret. Drumroll, please.

I like to color.  With crayons in coloring books, or with colored pencils on smooth paper.  And it is coloring, not drawing, because I can’t draw worth a darn.  Even my stick people look peculiar.

In my defense, my mother made me do it.  Well, not exactly made me do it, but she used to color a lot too, so you might say she set a bad example.  I knew we had a genetic predisposition to coloring when out of the blue, my oldest started bringing coloring books and crayons to her skating competitions.  At the age of 16 on. I fear she may have corrupted several of her competitors.

I had been clean for several years when I happened to be wandering down the aisles of my local craft store.  I only went in for embroidery floss, I swear!  And I needed a few pens & things, so I took a quick detour into school supplies.  I walked past the classic 64 crayon box the first time, but I kept glancing back at it.  Remembering how all the coolest kids in grade school had *that* box, not the sad little 16 or 48 count boxes unless the teachers specified them.  (They had the 96 crayon box when I was a kid, too, but that bringing that to school was just pretentious. And they never fit in your desks.)

I know, I should never have stopped to pick it up, much less opened it to gaze at the untouched crayons, uniform in shape, but promising a bounty of colors.  Pine Green, Sky Blue, Sea Green…I didn’t need to pull them out to recognize them.  And of course the magically shiny Copper, Silver, and Gold. I stood there, undecided, for a few moments, mentally reorganizing them the way I preferred.  (I always color coded mine by labels…browns, oranges, yellow, reds, greens & blues together.)  I inhaled.  That’s what did me in.  The waxy, cool scent of fresh crayon.

Next thing I knew I was smiling sheepishly at the cashier as I handed over the box, a Barbie coloring book, my floss and a token package of pens.  “I have a niece visiting,” I explained.  Both of my nieces live in the same city I do, and one was 18 at the time.  Curse that slippery slope anyway.

At the moment, I’m crayon-less but I’ve been playing with colored pencils, printing out sayings that inspire me and coloring them in, all on the sly. In my defense, it does make me feel a lot better.

What do you do when you need an activity to soothe yourself with that isn’t reading? Colors? Needlework of some kind? Journaling?