Monday, September 29, 2014

More Adventures on the Road

Go on a road trip with someone.  You'll learn a few things about yourself, and about them.

For example, I have learned that I'm not always very good at matching up the maze of intricate streets in front of me with the image appearing on my GPS.  Had to backtrack a couple of times.  I've also learned not to get into heavy traffic with Mom, although technically I already knew that.  But it was confirmed.

You also learn things about the places you're driving through.  I learned that I-70 in Missouri and Kansas passes by a wealth of historical sites.  I discovered a part of Denver to not spend the night in.  And I found out that Topeka, Kansas has an excellent Barnes and Noble.

I also learned, thanks to Mom's coffee habit, that Starbucks has a series of 'You Are Here' mugs - different designs for different states and major cities.  They're kind of cool, and big enough to use for soup! You can only buy them at the location - very clever.

Part of the wrap-around image on the Colorado mug.  Very nice.

There's nothing like a road trip.  :)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Anglophile Trap in Missouri

Yesterday, Mom and I went to the National Churchill Museum, in the basement of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, designed by Christopher Wren.

No, we did not travel to London yesterday.  We were in small-town Fulton, Missouri, at Westminster College.

The back roads are not the only opportunity for finding random historical sites and curiosities - we were on I-70 when we saw the sign and pulled over at the visitor's center to see if it would be worth the 7-mile drive out of our way to Fulton.

It was.

First let me explain about the church.

The original church burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666; the Christopher Wren design replaced it.  In 1940, it was struck in the London Blitz and gutted; only the foundation and walls remained.  In 1946, Winston Churchill visited Westminster College and gave his famous "Iron Curtain" speech; the college decided to commemorate his visit by moving the remains of the church from London, England to Fulton, Missouri.  300 years after the Great Fire of London, reconstruction began in Fulton.

And that's how an old London church came to the US.

Photo by Penny Lulich

And now for the Churchill museum.

Located in the basement of the church, on a small campus in a small town in the middle of the US, you've probably never heard of it.  Doesn't sound like much.

But it is.

I was very pleasantly surprised - it's really an excellent museum.  Lots of text, lots of photos, lots of audio-visual displays; very high quality, and much larger than it looks from outside.*

In addition to the Churchill museum, the basement currently houses the Smithsonian's traveling Mail Call exhibit, which we unfortunately did not have time to see (I didn't even finish the Churchill Museum itself!).

Seriously, if you're going to visit this place, give yourself an entire day.

What about the Gift Shop?  (I like a little shop.)  They've got Churchill and historic church paraphernalia, of course.  Then there's your random British stuff: Union Jack notebooks, Keep Calm and Carry On trinkets, tea things, boxes of PG Tips (which is what I drink), and so on.

And then there's your British pop-culture gear; Harry Potter house scarves, etc.  And right at the entrance to the shop, a nice big, blue display of Doctor Who** merchandise.  Made me giggle just to see it.  It wasn't the biggest assortment I've ever seen, but they had the basics, as well as several Doctor Who novels - they make Doctor Who novels!

I didn't buy any DW stuff (mainly because we had to leave), but I am currently sitting at the Topeka, Kansas Barnes and Noble debating on a Desktop Patrol Dalek.

What can I say?  I'm a fan.  And I'm a writer!  And I'm available for work - have TARDIS,^ will travel!  Just sayin'.

Mr. Moffat...?

*It's bigger on the inside!!
**Finally watched Time Heist.  Ocean's Eleven meets Doctor Who - what could possibly go wrong?  >>>Hinting Spoiler<<<  You know...other than me figuring out who The Architect was early on. And also why they were there significantly before the reveal.  *sigh*  But it was a lovely romp!
^Yes, I do.  It's blue, it's bigger on the inside, and it takes me through Time and Space (sort of).  It's my 2008 Jeep Liberty, and it's called the TARDIS.  That's right.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Why Interstates are Awesome

So we hit the road yesterday, me and Mom.  We left Bloomington, Indiana and made our way to Saint Louis, Missouri.

Did we take the freeway?  No.

Mom wanted to drive through Amish country and show me Dinky's auction and Gustav's.  So, we took State Road 50 through the countryside.

Now, State Road 50 is not bad at all coming out of the Bloomington area.  Yes, it's slower than the interstate, but the road surface is pretty good and it's very, very pretty.  Because Indiana Amish country is very, very pretty.  Lots of corn and soy bean fields, rolling hills, big green trees, and, thanks to a big horse auction at Dinky's, plenty of buggies to pass.  Since I love horses, that's no bad thing.

Gustav's (which is actually pronounced 'The Gasthof' - Mom doesn't know German) was alright.  Located in Montgomery, Indiana, they've got an antique store, a crafty home goods store, a restaurant, a bakery, and of course, the Gasthof itself (guest house, or Inn).  We looked in the shops and visited the bakery where we purchased a pretty little loaf of freshly-made bread (you can see them baking behind the counter) that tasted remarkably like Wonder Bread, and two cookies which tasted remarkably like nothing.  We were a little underwhelmed.

We got back on SR 50 and continued west, having a pretty nice time, aside from the Great Bakery Let-Down.  Eventually, we crossed the state line into Illinois.

We were supposed to continue on SR 50 until O'Fallon, right before Saint Louis, where we would get onto the Interstate.  But after an hour and a half or so on SR 50 in Illinois, we abandoned our back-roads plan, hopped on I-57 S, then I-64 W the rest of the way to Saint Louis.


We got bored.

There is *nothing* on SR 50 in Illinois, as far as we traveled it.

Oh, you'll pass the occasional sign for a historic site.  Don't follow them unless you have tons of time on your hands.  Trust me.  I know.

Also the road needs to be repaved.  Just sayin'.

Anyway!  We got on I-57 S at Salem, Illinois, and had a wonderful time zooming down a smooth, 4-lane road at 70 mph.

We finally arrived in Saint Louis.  Traffic was fine, but there was some road construction.  We had a little GPS confusion and passed our exit, but the GPS took us an alternate route that I think was actually nicer (partly because the exit we missed was clogged with cars).  We got to our hotel, made it to our room and, although it was only 5:00 local time, crashed.

We had dinner courtesy of the store at the neighboring hotel and spent the evening watching NCIS re-runs.

So, first day of travel from Indiana to Oregon.  A mixed bag in terms of recreation, but no flat tires and the weather was beautiful.  I call it a success.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wednesday Review: Lewis' SciFi

Finally, a Wednesday Review about a book!

This one is for nerds, adventurers, and fans of C. S. Lewis.  In short: imaginative people.

The first book in Lewis' Space Trilogy.

Introduction: Everybody's heard of The Chronicles or Narnia, or at least The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  Most Christians further associate C. S. Lewis with such works as The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity.  But what about the Space Triology?

If you walk into a bookstore and head for the children's section, you'll inevitably find The Chronicles of Narnia.  Go to the Christian section, you'll find Lewis' books on theology.  But you probably won't find the Space Triology.  It's Science Fiction, and I had to go to the SciFi/Fantasy section of the bookstore to find them.  If you're not a nerd and/or serious about your C. S. Lewis, you may never see these books.

And what a shame.

In the first book, Out of the Silent Planet, philologist Elwin Ransom is kidnapped and taken aboard a spacecraft bound for an unknown planet.  Fearing the intentions of his kidnappers, once on the planet Ransom makes a hasty escape and has the adventure of his life. ... Until, presumably, book 2.

That's pretty much all you need to know.

My Review:  I really enjoyed this book.  It's short, it's readable, and it's very imaginative.  Think Robinson Crusoe meets Lord of the Rings meets Narnia.  In space.*

Personally, I thought it was a bit slow in the beginning, though strange enough to keep you reading.  It starts getting really interesting at the end of chapter 7**, and if you read through chapter 9, you'll be hooked.

Lewis incorporates some linguistic information from the planet Malacandra, but only what is helpful to the reader in making the world of the story more real, and in seeing certain connections.  There's a fair spattering of philosophy in various parts of the book, particularly in the middle; it starts to get bogged down at one point in terms of plot, but the substance is interesting and should not, in my opinion, be skimmed over.

Once Ransom arrives in Meldilorn to see Oyarsa, things really get interesting.

The scenes in Meldilorn comprise one of my two favorite parts of the book.  Ransom's audience with Oyarsa is fascinating.  I was reminded a few times of stylistic elements from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but those elements are more subtle and much more refined in the Silent Planet.  One recognizes the presence of allegory, but one isn't annoyed by it; it's twisted just enough, and quite re-contextualized, and is both more direct and more skittish of being found out than anything in Narnia.  Very well done.

My other favorite part of the book is the final chapter, in combination with certain bits from the Post Script.  Had to smile while reading those.  Even laughed out loud, once.  It's a nice spin on an old technique, and a great way to make you want to read the next book - to be one of "the very few" readers who know.

If you suspend a little cosmic disbelief (remember the book was written well before Sputnik), you should be able to enjoy it very much.

Placement in trilogy: First book
Publication date: 1938
Length: 158 pages in pictured Scribner edition
Genre: Science Fiction (a "space-and-time story")

My rating: 4.5 stars.

*And much shorter.
**The chapters are not very long.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Adventures in Cooking

I am not known for my prowess in the kitchen.

"Rachel is such an amazing cook!" Said no one.  Ever.*

This is one of the reasons you should not expect lots of beautiful photographs of incredible, sophisticated food on this blog.  (The other reason is that I don't have a nice camera.)

However, every once in a while, one must set aside the venerable can of tomato soup, the excellent Tillamook cheddar, and the store-bought bread.  One must actually cook.

And that is exactly what I did.  Here's how it happened:

On Saturdays, Steven and Meredith get a sack of randomly assorted vegetables from a local community farm thing.  Alarmed at how many potatoes he'd received the past two weeks, Steven piled a bunch of fresh produce on the kitchen counter and asked who wanted to make a vegetarian mystery box dinner.

I volunteered.

Everyone's faces were carefully straight, my own included.  No grimaces or smirks.  Brave eyes that looked right at you without a hint of despair.  I made my way to the kitchen.  Let the real hunger games begin.

With great deliberation, I surveyed the piles of potatoes, dill, beets, onions, green beans, acorn squashes and a bag of greens that Steven informed me was spinach.  I must choose, but choose wisely.

I eyed the squash.  They sat there submissively, offering no challenge to my authority.  I remembered a stuffed acorn squash dinner at my friend Erica's two years ago, and decided to make my own version thereof.

I had never cooked an acorn squash before, but take courage!  I own a netbook, and my brother and sister-in-law have internet service.  It took two minutes to discover that cooking acorn squash is dead easy.**

I had chosen well.

I made a stove-top quinoa filling (quinoa, carrots, onions, red bell pepper and wilted spinach), and served the entree with sides of roasted potatoes and a spinach salad with walnuts and apple slices.  Inspired by the recently viewed Master Chef finale, I even plated it!

It looked better in focus.  It tasted great!
It turned out the greens weren't spinach after all (too peppery).  We're guessing mustard greens.***  Still, it was good.

Emboldened by my success, I volunteered to make Sunday dinner, as well.  Another quick internet consultation, a glance in the spice cabinet, a combination/alteration of two recipes, and voila!  Crockpot chicken and vegetables.

Onion, carrot, potato, dry rub, small chicken.  Cook on low for 5 or 6 hours.

And there you have it.  Dinner by Rachel!  Warm, healthy, creative - and best of all, completely edible.  :)

*To be fair, I do make an excellent chocolate chip cookie.
**Cut in half, gut, place upside down in a rimmed baking dish, add two cups of water, cook in oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
***I know.  But he said it was spinach!  Yes, it looked and smelled funky, but how was I to know it wasn't some sort of small-farm, heirloom variety?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Saturday Farmers' Market

This morning we all packed into the car and went to the Bloomington Farmers' Market.

The market is held every Saturday, April through November, and it's pretty good!  They've got food to eat, plenty of vegetables, crafts and flowers for sale, and fresh meat, milk, cheese and eggs.

I love the peppers hanging in strings!*

And then there's the live entertainment!

Today we were treated to some folk dance.  There were musicians playing tunes for a group of six dancers, all dressed in traditional garb with handkerchiefs in their hands and bells on their legs.  It took me right back to a class I took in college, called Myth and Folklore of the British Isles.

Was not expecting to see British Morris dancing in Indiana.  :)

Bloomington Quarry Morris, dancers and musicians.

Traditional English folk dancing in the heart of the USA.

I had a lot of fun watching these guys, alongside my nephew Ezekiel.

Me and Ezekiel, watching the dancers.*
You just never know what you'll find at a Farmers' Market!

We had a great time.  The boys got huge, fresh chocolate chip cookies, Mom had some tomato pie, Steven had a hand pie, and I got spanikopita from the Feast stand.  Delicious!

After the market, we stopped by Underground Cupcake for desert.  That's the first time I've had a cupcake from a dedicated cupcake company, that I actually liked.  Usually they're overbearingly sweet with sub-par frosting (and lots of it).  But not Underground Cupcake - it was fantastic!

All in all, a fun morning.  :)

*Photos by Penny Lulich

Like the dancers?  Watch the video:

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Report: Wine, Kids and Poetry

It's been a busy couple of days in Indiana!

On Wednesday, Mom and I went exploring.

Now, Mom used to live in Bloomington, but only for a year, and that was back in 2010.  She basically knows her way around, but she's often not sure which turn she's supposed to take until she's upon it.  Given that I was driving and she navigating, this is not ideal.

We explored quite a bit, but first we went to Oliver Winery.  We took the back roads, which was a very pretty drive; lots of trees, curves, ups and downs to the road, and old-looking stone walls along a few properties.

We eventually met up with the highway.  Mom kept an eye out for the winery; the entrance has no light, no exit, no turn lane - just a driveway off the highway with a small sign.  As we progressed down the road at great speed, Mom suddenly shouted: "Here!  Turn here!  This is it!"

Now, I'm moving across the country.  My car is full of stuff.  When one stops on a dime, this stuff tends to move around.  So I applied the breaks as firmly as I felt was safe, both for my stuff and for the other drivers.

It wasn't enough.  We passed the driveway.  Fortunately there was a wide shoulder on either side of it that I was able to get onto and do an awkward, super-wide turn into the establishment.

Unfortunately, it was not the right establishment.  The winery was one driveway farther up the road.

Once there, I wandered around while Mom did a wine tasting.  I got a Seattle Chocolates bar (delicious!), a cane sugar root beer, and a bottle of Muscat.

Mom enjoying her tasting of some Catawba wine.  The grapes were good, too!

But enough about our day off!

Yesterday Mom and I had the boys all to ourselves, all day.  This was both fun, and a lot of work.  I don't think I've 'played' this much since I was 5.

Early on, Mom sent me outside to collect some good teepee materials.  There's a small wooded area in the backyard, with plenty of sticks to be found.  We tied them together on the patio, and Mom proceeded to conduct a photo shoot of the boys in their new fall outfits.

We ended up staying outside the rest of the morning.  We explored the woods, buried and rescued cars in the gravel by the patio, and ended with a picnic lunch.

Ezekiel (left) seemed quite at his leisure. Nehemiah declined to sit still.

After the boys were in bed, I took a few minutes to work on my poetry book!

Here's where it stands: I have finished editing all but one troublesome poem.  I have worked out my basic cover design, front, back and side, including choosing a front cover image.  I again reorganized the first section of poems (grouped around the theme Prayers and Praises) last night, which reorganization finally forms an arc to the section and met with Steven's approval, which means it's done.  Locked in.  At an end.  Finished.  Closed.  Final.


So, if you find yourself sitting around the house with nothing to do, go spend the day exploring, playing with little kids, or wrangling poetry.  That'll keep you busy.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Family Matters

Well, I don't know about you, but I had a full weekend.

On Saturday we all drove down to Otisco, Indiana, where the majority of my sister-in-law's family live.  It's a pretty area - hills and trees and small towns.  Lots of corn and soybean fields on the way.

The reason for this particular visit was my nephew Nehemiah's 2nd birthday party.  Nehemiah's birthday (September 10th) is the day after mine, and the exact day I left Afghanistan back in 2012 (if you don't worry about the time difference).  So off we went to the big family celebration.

Older brother Ezekiel watches as Nehemiah gets new toys.
Which Ezekiel promptly started playing with.*

It was a good time with the McCoy Clan.  We had fun eating dinner, watching Nehemiah get his presents, and mingling over cake and pie.

Everyone understands the candles except the birthday boy.*

On Sunday, we went to church in nearby Charlestown, where Meredith's Uncle Jimmy is the pastor.  It was a good message on Zephaniah (they're doing a series on the minor prophets), coupled with some lovely music - I learned a new song (new to me), called 'Behold Our God', which I really loved.

Following lunch at Bob Evans, Steven and I took Dad to the airport, then joined Mom and Meredith back home with the kids.

Kids, by the way, get tired.  And when they get tired, they get alternately fussy, clumsy, careless, spacey, and overly sensitive.  That was our evening.

Didn't bother me, though - I'm the Aunt.  Aunts don't have to wrangle sleepy youngsters.  :)

In other news, I started reading Lilith, by George MacDonald.  Don't know how I feel about it yet.  It's kind of an odd book.  I also spent some time on my poetry book, discussing cover design with Steven.  We settled on a design he's going to help me create, and on the front cover image.  Thanks, Steven!

All and all, a busy couple of days.  :)

*Photos by Penny Lulich

Friday, September 12, 2014

Nobody Here But Us Luliches

How many grown-ups does it take to wrangle two little boys?

I'm visiting my brother Steven and his family on my way from Georgia to Oregon.  Steven and Meredith have a four-year-old and a two-year-old.  These little guys love helicopters, cars, trucks, trains, airplanes, and generally running around.  Which means we all love helicopters, cars, trucks, trains, airplanes, and generally running around.  :)

Last night Steven had his lab students over for a BBQ and lab meeting.  After the meeting, everyone ate ice cream and played games for a while.  Then Ezekiel, the four-year-old, took center stage and a dozen college kids sat around and listened as he talked and passed his stuffed animals around for everyone to have a turn holding them.  There was a lot of laughter - Zeke can be pretty funny.

But keeping up with two sweet kids and their two demanding grandparents is a full time job, and I've got to get going.  Short post today.

You know how it is.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wednesday Review: Dixie Stampede

Have you ever been to dinner and a show?

I don't mean dinner and then a movie.  I mean dinner and a live show at the same time.

I've been to a couple of dinner theaters, and that's a lot of fun.  But yesterday I had dinner at Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge, TN.

Introduction: The Dixie Stampede consists of a pre-show (three guys playing music and generally entertaining the crowd), and a main show with dinner.  You get there about an hour before the main show if you want to see the whole pre-show.  They file you into the 'saloon', where there's a small raised stage so people can see the musicians as they nibble on popcorn or sip a drink (these things cost extra).

After the pre-show, everyone files out of the saloon and into the arena.  The layout is pretty cool - you've got big long counters with big long benches (very cushy benches, I must say, with a nice cushy back to them).  You're directed to your seat and the waiter takes your drink order (included in the meal).  From there, you sit back and enjoy.

The main show consists of singing, dancing, a really awesome magic trick, audience participation events, and lots of horseback riding.

Over the course of the show, you're served dinner in several courses.  There is no silverware - you eat everything with your hands.  Except the soup.  Your soup bowl has a handle - you sip your soup directly from the bowl.

And that's it!

My Review: I had a great time, and I'll tell you about it piece by piece:

The Pre-Show: This was pretty fun.  The banjo player was amazing.  It's your typical family corny pre-show, but it was a kick.  At one point they did a medley of unlikely songs to do bluegrass style (including Justin Beiber's Baby, ugh).  They did a gospel medley, too.  And of course, a bunch of mountain music.  It was entertaining.

The Dinner: The food was surprisingly delicious (you'd think, in those quantities, that it would be mediocre.  It wasn't.  It was fantastic.  Creamy vegetable soup, savory biscuit (no that's not apple butter in that bottle - it's BBQ sauce.  Trust me.), a whole (small) rotisserie chicken, a slice of pork loin, corn on the cob, and half of a big roasted potato, then apple pastry for desert.  Yum.

The Main Show: Alright.  The main show starts with some fancy synchronized riding, and the leader introduces the through-line for the evening: a competition between riders representing 'north' and those representing 'south'.  The audience is split in half according to where you sit and told which side they're rooting for.  First sign that this will be a show that loves audience participation.

After the opening ride (and song), there are quite a few acts.  One of the best acts of the evening was a magic trick.  It was really well done, so much so, that even Dad was impressed!  The second best 'act' was the pig race. They had four little pigs run a half-circle track, then they had two run it with two little fences to jump over.  This was highly entertaining and the adorable factor was pretty high.

There were a few audience participation activities; kids chasing chickens, folks doing a bucket brigade, etc.  The kids and the chickens were fun to watch.  Personally, I would've traded the rest of those events for some more horseback riding - there wasn't as much of that as I had been expecting.

Still, they did a flag race and a slalom race and a wagon race.  There was some trick riding, which is always cool to watch.  The bit with the buffaloes (or were the bison?) was cool, as were the doves.  And the Indian act with the guy on horseback and the bird in flight was pretty mesmerizing.

The riders stayed on the edges of the arena afterwards for people to go down and meet them and pet the horses - great for the kids in the audience.

Overall, a fun, delicious way to spend an evening.  If you're ever near Pigeon Forge, you should go!

Duration: 2 or 3 hours
Number of acts: Lost count.  Quite a few.
Locations: Pigeon Forge, TN; Branson, MO
Restrictions: No photography or video taping during the show
Warning: You'll eat with your hands; there are live animals; it can get loud; there is real fire

My Ratings:
Pre-Show: 3 stars
Dinner: 5 stars
Main Show: 4.25 stars

Overall Rating: 4.5 stars

Monday, September 8, 2014

On the Road Again

I've made more than a dozen major moves in my lifetime, plus a whole bunch of minor moves.  This is merely the latest.  Augusta, Georgia to Portland, Oregon.  It's nice to have company when you move.  This time I've got Dad driving with me part of the way.

Allow me to chronicle our trip so far:

Zero Hour was Saturday at 2:30 pm.  Having finished at the house, eaten lunch downtown, filled up on gas and weighed the car, we hit the road for Atlanta.  We got pretty close, too.  Then the traffic hit.

Now, you wouldn't think there'd be much traffic headed into Atlanta on a Saturday afternoon.  Unfortunately, they're doing something to the roads up there, and three lanes became one in a terribly inefficient manner.  We were in stop-and-go traffic (mostly stop) for a very, very long time.

Finally we reached an exit, and thankfully we could see ahead a bit and could tell that, even after the lane closures finally occurred, the interstate was still crawling for as far as the eye could see.  And that was pretty far.

We took the exit.

Now, recently in my Civil Air Patrol squadron, one of our Senior Members was explaining to the Cadets how the earth's gravitational pull and the moon's lesser gravitational pull affected the planning of space flights from the earth to the moon.  You've got to head a pretty good distance before the moon's gravitational pull becomes stronger than earth's.

The same is true with my GPS.  We knew roughly the direction to go on the back roads to get around the city to our hotel in Marietta, but not exactly which roads to take.  The GPS was constantly 'recalculating', but the gravitational pull of the interstate (if you will) is much stronger than that of the back roads.  We drove on guesswork for quite a while, until we finally got far enough northwest that the gravitational pull of I-75 took over, and the GPS became useful again.

That was fun.

Yesterday we made our way from Atlanta to Nashville, Tennessee, where we spent the night at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.

Now, unless you're shelling out a whole lot more money than we were, a hotel room is, at the end of the day, a hotel room.  But a hotel is not necessarily a hotel.  This hotel is huge.  Endless corridors of rooms.  Tons of ballrooms.  Several restaurants and shops.  A radio station.  A FedEx office.  And most of all, the gardens.

Looking through a waterfall at part of the lobby.  Part of it.

This hotel has a couple of huge atriums filled with such things as tropical plants, waterfalls, koi-filled streams, trees, winding paths, a river, and an island.  Nothing any other hotel doesn't have, right?

This is *inside* the hotel, folks.


We got lost trying to find our room after check-in.

Once you've got your bearings, it's really not that hard, but there are about 10 different ways to get from point A to point B, and none of them are straight.

Oh, you know.  Just a little boat ride inside the hotel...

The ceiling is all glass in the atriums, and during the day that lets a lot of natural light in.  At night, they've got lights set up all throughout the gardens, but it's mood lighting - it's still obviously night time, and very pleasant.

I'm impressed, Opryland.  I'm impressed.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Cow Tongue and Growling Dogs

I had an eventful evening yesterday.

First, my friend Jen and I were invited to dinner.  We were promised a home-cooked meal of cow tongue tacos.

This may not sound very appetizing, but I knew the woman who was hosting us is a good cook and makes tongue all the time.  And honestly, once you've lived in China for a year, you're not too squeamish about trying new things.

Unfortunately, by the time we got there, my stomach and taste buds weren't feeling very adventurous.  I'd had another full day of errands and packing, and I was feeling pretty darn sleepy.  I was determined to try it, though, so I reasoned with my stomach and taste buds.

I pointed out to myself that the tongue was a muscle (as opposed to an organ), and was therefore exactly like any of the other cow meat that we eat.  Steak, for example.  Just another muscle.

You know, I had never thought of it that way.  As soon as I did, I realized the truth of it, and no longer felt that I was doing anything adventurous at all.  It worked!  And a good thing, too - the tacos were amazing!  Tongue, cooked right, is pretty much like pot roast.  Tender, nice texture, and delicious.  Thanks for dinner, Norma!

After dinner and some packing, Jen and I took a walk around the neighborhood.  It was a pleasant evening, warm but not hot, humid but with a breeze.  We took the same route we took two nights ago.  Should have been pretty relaxing, and it was.  Until the Muscular Growling Dog.

The Muscular Growling Dog looked like a large pit bull of some kind.  That is not, in and of itself, terribly concerning to me.  Nor is the fact that it approached us as we walked down the street in the night, although it was clearly unaccompanied by human handlers.

What was concerning was the way it approached us.  Most dogs who approach strangers walking by do so casually, and will stop when you speak sternly at them.  They'll hear the firmness in your voice and it will give them pause.  This dog did no such thing.  It approached us not so much confidently as aggressively.

We stopped.  I told it in no uncertain terms that it should go away.  It did not.  It just stood there.  Except it didn't just stand there.  It stood there, a belligerent two feet away, barring our path.

Now, this is a fairly large dog.  And did I mention muscular?  Also growling.  It growled menacingly at us.  I've heard dogs growl in various ways before.  This dog meant business.

I snapped my fingers and pointed away with my hand/arm while telling it to sternly to 'go home'.  Another growl, and I repeated myself.  It walked away into the night.

I thought about turning around, but Jen recommenced walking, and I thought better of it - the dog had gone, after all.  We kept an eye out and passed the area it had gone to.

And then there it was again, coming toward us from behind.  We stopped, it stopped, probably about 5-10 feet away this time, perhaps escorting us out of its claimed territory.  I repeated the previous 'go home' routine that had worked before.  This time the dog did not respond.

Incidentally, I kept thinking about those episodes of the Dog Whisperer that I watched over the summer.  But here's the thing.  I'm not Cesar Millan.  I haven't been hired to correct bad dog behavior.  I'm a dog civilian trying to walk through the neighborhood without being attacked.

So rather than stay and try to dominate the dog into a submissive state, we resumed walking carefully away, keeping an eye over our shoulders.  The dog disappeared back into the night, and I walked backwards for a bit just to make sure.


I don't mind telling you that I had a mild adrenaline crash after that second encounter.

Now, I didn't see a collar on this animal, but it looked way too well fed and groomed to be a stray.  So to the owners of that dog:  Keep your dog in your yard.  That was not fun.  I have never felt threatened by an animal before, even when I was followed by a jackal in Afghanistan that one time.  This was much more disconcerting than being stalked by a wild animal in a foreign country!

Be responsible dog owners!!

And that was my evening.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Ramblings and Mini-Review

So, I'm kind of cheating a little bit.  I'm writing this very late Thursday night.  Because I have a lot to do tomorrow, the last full day before I move.  And my antique Toshiba Netbook zips to new pages and folders like a sloth in slow motion.

But I am smarter than my Netbook.  I know that if I type this now, and merely post it tomorrow, I will be much less frustrated.  Because you can always stay up just a little bit later, but there are only so many business hours in a day.

Anyway, I'm busy and sleep deprived.  You'd better prepare yourself: This may be a scattered post.

Now, a friend suggested I review Into the Dalek, the most recent episode of Doctor Who.  I want my Wednesday Reviews to have variety, so I hadn't planned on it, but sure.  Why not?

So here's a spoiler-free mini-review of Into the Dalek, even though it's not a Wednesday.

Introduction: Doctor Who, blah blah, Time Lord, blah, Clara, blah, TARDIS.  Read a proper intro to the series here.  (See?  Sleep deprived.)

My Review: First, I know a lot of people out there have Dalek fatigue.  I get it.  I really do.  We've seen them a lot.  Fine.  I understand.  I'll roll my eyes at a Dalek-centric episode with the best of them if it's stale.

That said, I'm quite fond of the Daleks in principle.  It brings me a childlike glee to watch a good Dalek episode.  And when it comes to Daleks, Steven Moffat is a genius.*

Here's why: He somehow manages to take an (arguably) over-used monster and come up with an astonishingly creative story to make it fresh.  He did it with Asylum of the Daleks last season, and now he co-wrote this wonderful new episode (the premise was his idea).**

But enough about The Great Dalek Controversy!

This episode was awesome. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.

I was very nervous about the stuff w/Clara at the school, but it was so well-written and acted, I just can't dislike it.  It's actually quite charming.

The Dalek plot concept was nicely creative; it felt fresh in a way that a certain other Dalek episode (which I can't actually mention in the post for fear of suggesting too much about the plot concept, but here's a link) most definitely did not.

Some of the visual effects could have been better.

The 12-Clara dynamic continues to delight.  Loved the little dialogue through-line they had.  Enjoyed the way she got after him - harsh Doctor gets harsh treatment.  But even harsh Doctors have sensitive souls and Clara takes care of that, too.

And there you go.  Not so 'mini' because of addressing The Great Dalek Controversy, but it had to be done.

And what else?  I have so much to do tomorrow.  I'd like it all done so that when I pick Dad up at the airport on Saturday, we can just run by the house, load up the car, put out the trash, walk around to make sure I didn't forget anything, go fill up on gas and weigh the car, have lunch at Farmhaus, and hit the road.  We'll see.

*See?  Not a Moffat-hater.
**To those who think Asylum of the Daleks and/or Into the Dalek were rubbish episodes: You are wrong.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wednesday Not Really A Review: Toshiba Netbook


Yesterday the movers came and packed everything, and today they came and carted it all out to their truck.  Hence the lateness of the hour for this post.

I only kept the bare minimum items that I will need for the next month or so - everything else went into the moving truck.  It occurred to me too late that I should have kept my folding chair.  Now I'm sitting on my fireplace hearth while I type; there's nowhere else to go.

Another thing that was packed away was my primary computer.  This means I am relying on my lovely external hard drive and my hardworking little Netbook for all of my computing needs.

You know, this little Netbook and I have been through a lot together.*  It was my first major electronics purchase as an adult.  Certainly my first frivolous (at the time) major electronics purchase.  It's TARDIS blue, which is a pleasant coincidence (it was the only color they had in stock, and I had yet to see a single episode of that superlative show).  Most importantly, I took it with me to Afghanistan.

Yes, sir.  This little computer weathered more than seven months of cold, heat, dust, trans-continental travel and lots of experimentation to try and get the most out of the wretched internet service I had out there for a few months.  What a good computer.

Fond though I am of it, I am forced to acknowledge that, at 4 years of age, it's 'getting on'.  Its processing abilities were already limited simply by virtue of the fact that it's a Netbook.  Add to that outdated software, and pure old age, and it's running pretty slowly.

Someday soon, I shall have to get a new portable computing device of some kind.  We'll call my move from Georgia to Oregon its last hurrah.  I will miss seeing my USAF unit sticker and the Doctor Who Worlds in Time new paradigm Dalek sticker that I put on it while I was overseas.  :)

One last trip together, Netbook.  One last golden day in the sun.**

*Accidental Star Wars reference.
**Apologies for all the overly sentimental language and personification of an inanimate object.  It seemed like the thing to do...

Monday, September 1, 2014

Wild Weekend

So, in case you don't know, I'm moving.  Out of state.  Out of region, actually.  From Georgia back to my home state of Oregon.  That's a pretty big move.

Because my church family here is awesome and southerners are ... southerners, I was thrown a big going-away / early birthday party extravaganza extraordinaire.  I have to say, it was pretty awesome.  My friend Jen knows how to throw a shin-dig!

So.  The party decorations were dual-themed.  The going away aspect included cross-country travel decor: a big plastic US map with my starting point and destination circled in dry erase marker and the mileage between the two dramatically written across the top; a map of Georgia; a map of Oregon; etc.  The birthday aspect was all-out Doctor Who themed.  :)

TARDIS birthday cake - it was bigger on the inside!  Seriously.

Aside from being tasty and turning everyone's teeth, lips and tongue blue, this cake was pretty awesome to look at.  :)  No, no the candles are not an actual representation of my age.  They are abstract.  Because from a non-linear, non-subjective perspective, time is actually a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey...stuff.

The letters.  Look at the letters on the mirror, not the skulking people.

 What's this?!  Graffiti?  At a private party?  I wonder what it means...

Ah, Blink.  First episode I ever saw.

The creativity continues with a reference to the first episode of Doctor Who that I ever saw, the one that started it all, the one that got me hooked, the one after which I said, "I'm in.  Let's go back to season 1 (2005) and watch them in order."  Good times.


Yes, well, it's not my favorite Doctor Who reference, and it acquired an extra letter in the party-planning chaos, but it's still awesome.  Ok?  Because it's a Doctor Who reference.  Got it?  Stop being so critical. I say Geromnimo now.  Geromnimos are cool.

Sunflowers, dahlias.  Potato, potahto.

So, I love this.  I, like Vincent, am not fond of sunflowers anyway, so I wasn't heartbroken that Jen was unable to find any and had to go with Dahlias (which I rather like) instead.  They're a good substitute, I think, because they're kind of like miniature, different colored, prettier sunflowers.  Anyway, if you weren't sure about the relevance, you can see the TARDIS blue tinted water they're drinking and the blue curlicue ribbons they're accompanying.  I thought they looked great.

There were other decorations, as well.  Star-shaped balloons (red and TARDIS blue); curly ribbon hanging from the kitchen lights with stars on the ends, representing the time vortex; plastic ware wrapped in blue napkins and tied with blue string and called Sonic Screwdrivers; and so on.

Plus, there was tons of food.  And there were games!  Those were hilarious.  Improve, acting, a pop-quiz, reminiscing.  Fantastic!

Thanks, everyone!  Not a party I'm going to forget.  :)