Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My new interest in baking really cheap bread (yeast is the most expensive thing about bread, for real) lives symbiotically with my continued visits to the gym. Back when I wasn't working out, I really felt like I had to limit my intake of delicious, thick, buttered slices of bread, all chewy and toothsome... because eating too much bread made my pants tight. I don't know how the bread actually altered the fabric of my clothes, but there it is. Anyway, yeah, I've been working out, still, plus we now use the rock-climbing wall once a week. I think we've gone four times, maybe? It's pretty fun, and scary, and hard. But mostly fun. Even though I know I won't plummet to my death, I definitely get some adrenaline flowing when I'm near the top and I have to lunge upwards to try to grab a hand-hold. My arms give out after about three climbs, which is just pathetic. It's not even that I'm "feeling the burn" or whatever, but my arms just won't hold me anymore. Which sucks. But whatever.

Anyway, I've made two more loaves of sourdough since the first one. The second was a more traditional bread, with short-ish rises and lots of kneading, and it was fine. It rose well, the crumb is nice and even. Like a regular loaf of bread, with a bit of a sour taste. Nothing to write home about.

Here it is sliced open.

Pretty much just regular bread.

It was not really what I was going for, so I went back to the no-knead recipe, and this time I, you know, actually followed the directions. And it came out great!

Beautiful crusty sourdough!

Unfortunately, I ignored one of the crucial parts of the recipe, because a couple of blogs said I could: the preheating-the-pot part. So I put my dough in the dutch oven, cold, and then put it in a cold oven before turning it up to 425. As a result, the bread became one with the bottom of the pan. Here's what it looked like once I managed to scrape and pry most of the loaf from it.


I had to do two rounds of soaking to get the pan clean. I did some further googling, and it sounds like you can use parchment paper to avoid the problem. There's a "local foods" potluck this Saturday as part of, and I plan on bringing a loaf of local-yeast bread. And it will be perfect! Or the greenhouse gases will have won!

Monday, October 05, 2009

My new thing is making sourdough from scratch. I've been working on the starter for a couple of weeks now -- at one point it seemed to have stalled out at the "very stinky" phase, but I added some rye flour and it got right on track -- and tonight I am finally baking my first actual loaf of bread. I put together the "recipe" based on about 10 different sources online. Due to having started this right before a work day, I decided to do a "no knead" dough, which is meant to sit for longer than a regular dough. Anyway, in about 20 minutes, I should find out if I made a lovely, crispy-crust, tender-chewy-inside loaf, or a hard little shitbrick.

I got a cold last week. The past few times I've gotten sick, I've followed the advice of cold medicine advertisements on the television: I took Advil and Sudafed and made my ass go to the office. And lo and behold, I would end up feeling terrible and sick for days -- weeks, even. This time, I started feeling cold-ish on Thursday, I took Friday off (though I felt guilty about it), slept all day Saturday (I didn't even get dressed), and felt well enough by Sunday afternoon to attend an afternoon mulled-wine soiree. I'm still a bit phleghmy but otherwise I feel pretty ok. Staying home and resting a lot did me a lot of good. Is it possible that the cold medicine companies do not have my best interests at heart?

Edited: Ok, here's the bread:

Looks like an actual loaf of bread, right? But no, let me open it up to get the side view:

As you can see, it's way too flat. I think I should have let it rise more once I had loaded it up with the extra flour today. Regardless, it tastes fine (needs more salt), is not too terribly dense, and the crust is impressively crusty. The bottom is nearly burned, though, and I'm not sure what's up with that. I just scraped it off, like you might with some burnt toast.
Anyway, I learned a lot for next time. And now I have a small amount of hearty bread to eat!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Alright, I am slowly catching up. Go to my Flickr account to see the (annotated) highlights of my trip to Brooklyn last weekend (Sept. 4-7).

Thursday, September 03, 2009

So, I turned 37 on Monday. Today I went to the gym and it was the first time I had to put my new age into the workout machine computer -- looks like my heart rate goal has slipped a beat: 146, down from 147. Just another step downward towards the grave!

I went to that weekend, and there were indeed some hippies. I made sauerkraut and kim chee (both are in my fridge, uneaten -- I never eat that stuff normally, so it's going to take some effort to eat these), I got some sourdough starter (also chilling in the fridge), and I learned how to make yogurt. We did not get innoculated mushroom logs, but that's ok, as it takes like a year to grow a mushroom from it, and you have to leave it undisturbed in the woods during that time. I did not get to swim in the pond because the mosquitoes were voracious and it was not very warm out.

More later!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What I will be doing this weekend (Friday evening until Sunday mid-afternoon, that is):

HEALING THE EARTH, NOURISHING OURSELVES: Growing, Eating & Preparing Food Locally

Come join Andrew Faust, one of the premier Permaculture teachers in North America, from The Center For Bioregional Living in New York City and Ellenville, NY.
This course will cover how to design abundant and productive local food systems using Permaculture and offer a series of fun, hands-on, food-oriented activities.
Topics include: Local and seasonal foods and their preparation; Extending and over-wintering your backyard or container garden; Growing indoors and fermented foods; Eating right for your region, season and vitality.
Demonstration and hands-on activities will include:
-Lacto-fermention -- kim chee, sauerkraut, etc.
-Water-bath canning of seasonal local tomatoes *
-Root cellaring
-Solar drying
-Culturing raw dairy*
-Inoculating and baking sour dough bread!*
-Designs and techniques of mushroom cultivation: return home with an inoculated log!

Come and learn how to live well and in harmony with the earth while boosting immunity and increasing longevity!

*Bring a wide mouth pint jar if you would like to take home some sourdough starter. Please also bring a few 1 qt. glass mason jars if you would like bring home some fermented foods.

(It's happening here.) I am not sure I am brave enough for homemade yogurt, but I am totally up for canning tomatoes and making pickles and sourdough. If I liked mushrooms, I'd be psyched about growing them, too. Does anyone want my inoculated log?

Monday, August 17, 2009

I am alive, I have just been doing things on Facebook (under my real name) and Twitter (under chowflap) and not here. I was sick, and now I'm still a little sick. My house has been being sanded/prepped for painting for weeks now. I finally chose a color, though, so that's progress! (it's a nice golden yellow.)

I have also become addicted to a game on my deactivated iPhone: Bookworm. I used to play this online, but playing on the iPhone is just so, so much nicer. Not only do you just have to touch the letters to spell a word, but since it's on the iPhone, I can play it in bed. In the dark. While CJ smartly falls asleep (at a decent hour) beside me. And suddenly it's 1 a.m. and I have work in the morning. Whoops.

The iPhone version of Bookworm has a few major flaws, however: Occasionally there will be a word that it does not think is a word. Sure, I grumble that it doesn't recognize "shit" or "cunt," but I don't mean those words. I'm talking about "seriously, that is a word, no freakin' question" words like "rut" or "went" or "was." I've actually developed a completely-unfounded theory that the game's dictionary was built by Brits, because "lorry" is in there (except that I'm pretty sure that the English say those words too...). I have screwed myself into losing by expecting to make a word with a burning tile, just to have the word to not show up in the dictionary, leaving me totally hosed. Can't they do an update adding these EXTREMELY COMMON words?

Anyway, besides that problem, it's a good game. Very addictive. Don't download it, though. Save yourselves.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

My goodness, it has been a while! I can account for the past two weeks: first I went to my Quakery retreat thing in the Adirondacks, where my nephew infected me with one of his various viruses, and then (this past week) I was sick with a cold. I was just barely not-sick enough to have to come to work, though I probably would have taken a day or two off if we weren't on deadline. And then yesterday was the big-deal event my neighborhood association puts on. The association of which I am president. However, I had been away, and then sick (see above), and didn't end up contributing nearly as much pre-event work as I thought I would. Yet it still came out okay! Not super-well attended, but whatever, right? Right. Sure.

The event was a few hours of speakers and then a couple of bands, and I emceed the whole dealie. Mainly I said "here's who's coming up to talk" and then "thanks to the person who just talked; the bathrooms are there and there, and there's an art show over there, next speaker is in 10 minutes." Besides getting the title of the author's book wrong, I did a respectable job and did not stress too much about it. I am mainly happy that got to announce, "Ladies and gentlemen... THE FAWNS!"

To our collective knowledge, this is the first time ever that actual rock bands have played here; usually this event features a gospel singer or a barbershop quartet, which excites our elderly residents but doesn't do that much to bring in the under-65 crowd. At another neighborhood event today (one that drew more of the 'established' residents than yesterday's), a few of the older people said that they liked the bands, though they were quite loud. "I guess this rock and roll music is here to stay," they did not say while sighing heavily. (I'm actually surprised at how "edgy" they seemed to think the music choices were -- these people are just a bit older than my parents, who spent their teen years with the Beatles and the Stones and everything.)

Anyway, we are all glad it is over and are already thinking of ways to make it better next time.

Meanwhile, my house is getting painted, at great expense to me. It has been getting scraped and sanded for the past 2 weeks, and they seem to be almost done. The house looks terrible, with trampled plants, muddy holes (where they pulled up the fence that hides the propane tanks), and big ladders lying everywhere -- plus they are re-doing my porch screens, so we are screen-less right now (which means we are porch-less, too, since the mosquitoes are unbearable). I should be picking the color of my house any day now, really... I have the main color choices down to "pear green" and "sherwood forest" and the trim will either be some kind of blue or some kind of yellow ("nacho cheese" is the name of a color in the mix). Pics will be posted once all is shiny and new.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pictures, I have pictures!
First are some photos of the epic, 2.5-hour hike CJ and I took last weekend in the Mohawk Trail State Park. Epic only because we had not planned to be hiking for more than an hour or so, but the map we were given was terrible and the paths pretty much not marked at all. Anyway, it was a gorgeous day! See several photos here. My favorite one:

More recently, I did another bike ride to Hatfield, which I do as a nice-weather substitute for the gym, so I try to bike pretty hard (for me) and far (again, for me). This time I finally found a non-tresspassy way to the dyke and the Connecticut River. Photo set is here, and here's a nice representative shot:

Those two photos are pretty similar. Huh. (Armchair analysts, what does it mean? Don't tell me unless it's something good.)

I have been trying to spend plenty of time outside, now that it's stopped being 60 degrees and raining. I am actually typing this on my screened in porch, surrounded by ecstatic cats, a lovely breeze, and the sounds of birds, windchimes, and motorcycles on the highway.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I have not Zumba'd again, though I did consider it. I was very sore afterwards and that made me feel productive. No pain no gain, right? Do they still say that, or have people gotten soft now that it's no longer the 80s?

Last night we had some new friends over for badminton and dinner. They brought over all of the food, which was both awesome and necessary because our cupboard is nearly bare. I took over the grilling portion because that is what I do. The guy who brought the food was Dutch and apparently they don't really "grill" over there - they just use those ridged pans on the stove, because nobody has a yard, or something. We ate on the porch and once we realized there were fireflies about, we turned out the lights. Then a thunderstorm started, almost immediately. It was very nice sitting there in the near-dark, chatting and watching the pine grove get illuminated in flashes. Yay, summer!

Now in my neighborhood there's some plant blooming -- maybe a tree -- whose perfume is so sweet and heady that you want to go, Hey, maybe take it a little easier with the eau de toilette, grandma. My garden is growing in starts and fits. The eggplant and bell peppers have hardly budged. I think they don't like all of the rain. However, my sweet peas look great, and my bean vines are much taller than me. The peas are almost ready to eat. I took one pod on Monday and shared the peas with CJ. They were the sweetest things ever. This is my first time with shelling peas. I grew up with a scoop of frozen green peas (usually seasoned with margarine) on my dinner plate almost every night because it's an easy way to square up a meal. Real peas, that you can eat raw? It's like a completely different vegetable.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Friends, two firsts happened to me at the gym today.
1. They ran out of towels twice, so for my shower I had to use one of the tiny towels stacked up in the weight room for the lifters to use to clean their sweat off the bench, and
2. I Zumba'd.
I actually rearranged my appointment with my therapist so I could try this Zumba class because I had heard it was so fun. It's so popular at my gym that you need to pick up a pass at the desk before the class starts, because otherwise the room would fill up. I made sure to situate myself in the far back. The instructor was tiny and tan and wiry and apparently spine-free, so frenetically and effortlessly did her hips swivel and shake independently from the rest of her body.
I am relieved to say I was not the only one having trouble following the moves. I did ok, all things considered. I am fairly uncoordinated — I sometimes have trouble remembering to alternate my legs as I walk down the stairs, seriously. But I kept up, mostly. Though my neighbor complained of burning thighs from all the squats and such, my legs felt fine. I did start feeling it in a bad way in my knees, however, which made me feel old. (The multiple girls with words printed on their asses also made me feel old, but also a little superior.) At one point I got a bad stitch in my side and had to just stand there while everyone else hip-swiveled and did the salsa step back and forth. By the end of it my face was flushed, in the weird way it gets sometimes when it's like the blood has filled every single capillary. My face was super-hot, so red as to be purple. It's not a good feeling. After my shower with the ratty, tiny towel (which tore as I inadequately dried myself), I drove home with the air conditioning directed directly into my face. But only a chocolate eclair bar got me completely back to normal.

I can see why people like Zumba, but I think I need a class that's more about proper form and less about dance steps, since my knobby, inward-facing knees are prone to being messed up.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hey, my little village is in the Boston Globe! The main house in the photo belongs to my good friend Kandy. I don't love the article's emphasis on the "low prices" to be found here, since my house was not exactly a steal, price-wise. However, it is one of the biggest houses in the park, so there's that. I need to get it painted this summer, and I want a nice yellow-green that's not too bright. CJ claims the color I've picked is "neon" which is most certainly is not. I've been sitting on two quotes from two painters in the park and god help me, I think I might go with the more expensive one, mainly because I know him better. It's such a huge chunk of change that I haven't been able to bring myself to make the call saying "Do it."

My garden is looking well, though I have an aphid problem. And the peony plant I bought last fall gave me three big blossoms this year! Exciting. I tenderly staked them up so their heads wouldn't droop over. Here are two of them:

That's all for now.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

My overburdened Primary Care Physician's office now does this computerized appointment reminder phone call thing. They called me last week and the recording said I had an appointment for Tuesday, and to press "1" to confirm that I'd be there. That's all it said -- no "press 2 to speak to a receptionist" or "press 5 if you need to cancel" or whatnot; just, press "1" to confirm. Dudes, if you aren't going to give me a choice, why bother make me press anything at all? I didn't press anything, because I had no idea what the appointment was for, so I just hung up. A few hours later I remembered that I still needed a booster shot for an immunization I got right before traveling to Belize, and that I had probably made this appointment way back in January, so I called back and spoke with an actual human to make sure I still had the appointment, which I did (see? I didn't press anything, and it didn't cancel the appointment. So stupid).

Anyway, the booster shot appointment was for this morning, so I hauled ass over to Easthampton, where the receptionist (who looked to be about 16 years old) told me she was sorry, that someone tried calling me but I didn't answer (I was in the shower, duh), but that they actually shouldn't give me the booster for another month and a half. Huh. If only an actual human had called me instead of a computer, or I had been given the option of speaking to a human last week, we could have cleared this up then and saved me some gas and time. Sigh. I made an appointment for the end of July and that was that.

[This post has been #385 in the series "Things that could be greatly improved if only people listened to me, the expert on everything."]

It's pollen time down at the 'park. My "back yard" (really a common area) looks like it's been shot in sepia tone. Pale yellow covers everything. We need a stiff rain to wash it away. Amazingly, this particular sort of pollen doesn't bother my allergies, though the sheer amount of it makes me sneeze (as it would if it were regular dust) so I wear a mask whenever I futilely try to sweep off my porches. The little particles are so tiny, you really can't get them all off the porch floor. And though I have considered it, I think using a vacuum cleaner in what is technically an outside space is a little too close to have-to-scrub-my-hands-100-times-a-day town for my liking.

I've sort of finished an art piece that's been sitting on my desk for months, and I'm in the middle of converting an XL men's buttondown shirt into a shirtdress. The sleeves are tripping me up, big time. I'll try to post a picture of it when it's finished. (I should have taken a "before" shot... oh well.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hey! The event happened. And it went ok! We somehow bought just the right number of hot dogs, ending up with just 3 veggie dogs (and selling out of the beef and turkey ones). And everyone seemed happy with everything. A couple of people even congratulated us on the success, which was nice. I still wish we had had a couple more people on the ball with us, since I needed to be in two places at once for most of the time. But whatever, it worked out.

And the work situation has improved since I met an important deadline yesterday, though some details have yet to be determined and could easily come back and bite me in the ass. (Is this post just full of metaphors? Like, more that you could shake a stick at?)

In other news, my cutie 5-year-old niece apparently thinks my phone number is 4, since that's my speed dial number on her mom's cell phone. CUTE. She keeps calling me to talk about (or leave messages about) the video game Katamari Damacy, with which she is obsessed (like she was with Wall-E, and to a smaller extent, Spongebob Squarepants). She's a pretty cool kid.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Helloooooooooo! Is anybody in here? *taps door*


Well, here I am. Why haven't I written? Because I keep having to write how-to lists like this (actual list; all items need to be completed by noon Saturday, only two or three are done):

Find people who will let us borrow their barbecue grills
Make sample paper kite, procure all ingredients to make multiple kites, make template for kite
Figure out how much food we should buy for an unknown number of people (could be 10, could be 50)
Then, find someone with a CostCo membership who wouldn't mind driving down to West Springfield with us and letting us use their card (I actually found one! A total angel. We are going right after work tomorrow.)
Dust and swab down large screened-in patio, tables, and chairs
Wash two loads of drinking glasses and melamine plates
Find/borrow/purchase Bingo set
Set up parking signs
Send multiple emails and make multiple calls to multiple people arranging help and promoting the event

This is all so dumb. It's for a neighborhood picnic/party thing that my neighbor/coworker K and I are hosting as part of the association we're heading up, and not many people have told us they're coming, so we have no idea what the reception will be. K and I want to live in a place full of interesting, open, and friendly people, but we sure do seem to live amongst a fair share of complainers. And when a person works full time and is giving up big chunks of free time to make something like this happen, and some retiree has some minor complaint about this or that, it can be hard to not say, "Hey you know what? We're just trying to do something fun, for neighbors to get to know each other and have fun. It's taken us hours to put it all together. YOU'RE WELCOME."

Not that I know anyone in a position like that personally. *cough*

Whatever; our goal is to keep the event relatively simple so that we can have fun at it, even if nobody else shows up beyond the few people who promised to help us. Fun is our goal.

I haven't even mentioned the crap going on at work, which I won't, because I do not want to get fired. My job is not in jeopardy or anything -- not today, at least -- but let's just say I have had more than usual to drink the past two nights (which means having two drinks instead of the usual one. Don't freak out, mom). And CJ's motherfucking cat now meows loudly and non-stop from the first dawn's light onward. It's like having a newborn baby, what with the sleep disruption, though at least if it WERE a baby I could breastfeed the fucking thing to get it to fall back asleep.

Time for bed, more later. Thanks for still reading.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Does anyone else hate my new template? I'm not sure, but I think instead of growing on me, it's shrinking. Or growing mold, instead of something good like carrots or affection.

Speaking of growing! Me and my neighbor/coworker/awesome friend K finally put together our square foot gardens this past Sunday. This is 2009's battle plan against the voles -- planting vulnerable plants inside 8-inch-tall, 4-foot-square boxes, with unchewable steel mesh bottoms. If the voles are brave and determined enough to clamber over the sides, that will mean total WAR. I'm not sure what we'd do. Add a huge mesh cage that goes over the whole thing? Affix broken glass with mortar along the edges, or that spiky anti-pigeon stuff? Perhaps a tiny electric fence? K and I are fairly tender-hearted, but watching our plants last year get destroyed by unseen, under-earth predators has hardened us. We are ready to draw blood if this doesn't work.

I am going to use the rest of my garden space to grow the kinds of things the voles didn't eat last year (mostly flowers and herbs). So far in the box I have planted seeds for lettuce, chard, carrots, and peas. I actually made a second, small, 12-foot-high box -- a cubic foot -- garden just for growing carrots.

In other news, I've been going to the gym regularly, doing cardio stuff and then some hand weights and crunches and crap like that. I went overboard and played a new-to-me Gameboy Advance PS for many hours this last weekend, and now my shoulder and arm is killing me, so I am laying off the upper body stuff for now.

I am getting more familiar with my gym. For instance:

Almost everyone at my gym is already in great shape. There are a few really buff women who I see all the time (naturally, since they're there all the time -- one of them was sighing about going to the gym twice a day to train for some unnamed competition).

Strangers will make friendly small talk with you in the locker room. Even the girl with the perfectly smooth, tanned skin and the dangling, crystal-encrusted bellybutton ring will talk to you about how she's got to put on more makeup before she "gets out there." ("Huh" I said neutrally, as I pulled on my old, holey t-shirt and $10 target shorts.)

It turns out I am NOT the only one on this planet still using a relatively-ancient iPod.

I have been doing the "high interval" heart training routine on the elliptical (in which you alternate three minutes at a high heart rate -- for my age/weight, this is 147, according to the machine -- with then three minutes at a lower rate, 119 for me). In order to slow back down to the lower heart rate, I have to go so slowly that the machine thinks I have actually left the room, and the screen says "WORKOUT PAUSED" for a second, until the machine realizes that I'm still on it, moving, just very slowly. Fuck you, elliptical machine.

My gym has a kid's room with some kind of two-story crawl-through play structure (like you might find at a McDonald's). This room is apparently enough of a draw that kids have their birthday parties at the gym. These parties always involve pizza, which is delivered to and served at the little juice bar area in the center of the gym. Smelling hot, fresh pizza while you are wheezing away on the elliptical machine? Not so helpful. It makes me alternately nauseous and starving.

Anyway, there's a bunch of neighborhood association leadership stuff that I did and am planning but I've already written too much for one post.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Yesterday the guy at the pizza place said I looked like Cynthia Nixon from Sex and the City. I’ll take it as a compliment, though Ms. Nixon is like ten years older than me. Maybe I should start wearing makeup? It just seems like a complete waste of time.

In other news, I joined a gym! I’ve been there 4 times in the last 9 days (I would have gone more, but I went to NJ for the weekend). I haven’t yet met with a trainer – you get two free sessions with a personal trainer – so my strategy is to spend 30 minutes on a cardio machine (elliptical or recumbent bike), doing interval heart training if the machine’s computer offers it, and then I go stretch and do mat work (sit ups and such) and/or some free weights for a while until I get bored. I know I should up the cardio to 45 minutes, probably. There’s some science that says doing cardio at a low constant level is best for burning fat, and interval training – doing a few minutes at a low rate, then a few minutes at a high rate, back and forth – is better for strengthening your heart, or increasing your metabolism, or something. Whatever it is, that’s the one I want. My vague fitness goal is to increase my endurance and get stronger. I want to be able to ride my bike from my house to the Hadley mall and back (or even all the way to Amherst) without it being a huge, exhausting, multi-rest-stop production.

My gym also offers spin class, which is a mystery to me. I have seen the class cycling away in there, while the male instructor shouts things at them (I can’t make out what he’s saying) and I think there’s some music on, too, maybe? The elliptical machine I keep using is on a sort of second-floor balcony area so I get to watch the spinners exit the first-floor spin room after class. They mostly look happy. Gaunt, pale, and sweaty, but happy. I got to see my aunt over the weekend and I asked her about spinning, since she used to be really, really into it. She talked about it like it was this kind of transcendent physical experience, that if you have a great instructor it can be amazing, it gets you in great shape, etc. I don’t know. She also once told this story about a man passing out on his bike during class, and a helper just came in and pulled him out of the room, and the class didn’t skip a beat. I am pretty sure I would end up being that man, at least right now.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I've been having symptoms of a cold? Maybe allergies? For about a week now. It's all sinus-related, that's for sure. So yesterday I decided I would try my neti pot again. For those who don't know, a neti pot is a sort of short teapot that you use to pour salted water into one nostril, up in through your sinuses, and out of the other nostril. This takes some doing. For one thing, you have to tip your head forward and to the side just so, then you have to breathe through your mouth so the water doesn't pour down your throat. Pretty much all of the times I've tried using it (I've had mine for 10 years at least) I pour the water in one nostril, I feel it go into my sinuses a little, and then, nothing. The water doesn't flow.

This time, I poured water in one nostril, and let it fill my sinuses, and unlike the other times, it felt TERRIBLE -- like you feel when you fall into a pool and accidentally get water up your nose, except I was pouring it in MYSELF, and not letting myself blow it out. My eyes started watering but I just let it happen, and finally the water came out the other nostril! yay. I poured most of it through, and then I got bored and I stopped. Afterwards you're supposed to keep your face facing the ground and gently blow your nose a lot. Which I did, a lot, but I still had a ton of water in there or something, because I was feeling water and junk drip down my throat for the rest of the evening. Today I don't feel any better.

In short? Waterboarding yourself = not as fun as you'd think.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My mom sent me this in an email; she found it written on an old scrap of paper:

[Crossed out at the top is "This play is by Debbie," which makes me
think I was taking dictation for the early sentences.]

Debbie, Sarah, and Wendy present a play called "The Mother, The Father, The
Little Kitten, and The Roasted Horse."

The Little Kitten came home pulling a horse in a cart. She wants roasted
horse for dinner. They roast it and eat it, and then the Little Kitten
decides it was her pet horse. Then the Father remembers that when she was at
camp she learned how to make a horse alive again. "Let's see, if I can only
remember...Refrigerate 2 1/2 hours, put salt and pepper on it..."

(The horse is placed under the tall speaker that is serving as the refrigerator. But while the horse is refrigerating, the whole plot changes and the casts wander off to a different set. The horse is left under (in) the refrigerator, and the audience has to put it away.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Here's why I haven't posted in two weeks:

Broken Picture Telephone

...and a very busy time last weekend, when I was preparing (cleaning, decluttering, shopping, buying a light fixture at the very last minute, making a lasagna) for CJ's birthday potluck on Saturday. Oh, I also forgot to mention that I bought him an ice cream cake and decorated it with portraits of our three cats?

It was actually pretty magical, since the day before at work, Dunkin' Donuts sent the office a press kit that included tubes of gel icing in brown, orange, pink, and white. So I only had to go buy black. Thanks, DD! I had visions of cat-headed grandeur in my head, but when I finally started working on the actual gel artistry, I realized how incredibly impossible this goop is to work with. Thus, the cake above, which still got a lot of compliments (though I expect most people were just being polite).

Then CJ's cool friend from Boston stayed the night, so of course we had to go to Green Street and get eggs benedict, then since we were right on Smith campus, we had to walk over to the botanical gardens and take in the bulb show. Then it was time for a Crafternoon (trademarked by me) with some ladies from work. And we really get into making stuff, so I was there pretty much until dinner time. Oh, also, I brought a small "extra" lasagna to the crafternoon, and ate some of it there, along with some cheese and a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting. For dinner I had yet more lasagna, but I did have a small side salad too. Because I like to eat healthy.

And then last night I had a 3-hour meeting of the association I am the chairwoman of, and it was somewhat tense and annoying. And here it is, today, and in 20 minutes I am going to watch the new episode of The Real Housewives of New York City, because I DESERVE it, people.

Monday, March 09, 2009

To read my photo-filled Belize travelogue in order, try these links:

Part 1.

Part II.
Part C.
Part four.
Part 5.
Part VI.
The finale.
Final Belize post! Here it is! For reals!

So, the day after our Tikal-touring day, we had a long journey to Caye Caulker, which culminated in an hour-long water taxi ride in the rain. Actually, it stopped raining just before we boarded, luckily. But the water was still super-choppy, which I had been scared to death of, but the Bonine worked its magic. We stepped off the boat and retrieved our luggage from where the sailors had hauled it onto the dock, and we walked a long way to our hotel, Shirley's Guest House. It was very windy and somewhat chilly.

It did not look like this at the time (since this photo was taken at a sunny time), but this is part of Shirley's yard:

I had read that she had a dock you could swim from, like most of the other beach-side hotels. But when I asked Shirley, she non-chalantly said, "after the second time a storm took it down, I decided not to rebuild it again." I was a bit miffed, but what can you do?

Here's the back entrance to Shirley's. When you walked there after dusk, you'd here loud clicking and clacking noises from the huge land crabs walking around in the fallen palm fronds:

I'm just going to sum up our three days on Caye Caulker. It was freakishly cold (which here meant temps down to the 50s at night) with scattered showers and gusty wind for much of the time. We had two full days to work with, so we put off our snorkeling adventure for the second day, which ended up being a good bet. Besides the snorkeling, we spent a lot of time just wandering around the town, up and down the sand streets, then going back to our room for a nap, then going out again to eat. I remember feeling sad that I had to wait a few hours before I could reasonably eat another meal.

We bought some reasonably good sweetened bread at the bakery on the right:

Here's another street, this time in the sun:

Here's the shoreline. Lots of mangroves; a lot of the island is mangrove swamp, though it's slowly being build into. That white blob is a great egret; there were many wading birds about. You can't really swim directly from the shore, as there's a lot of sea grass and stuff you don't want to step on.

On one of the days we rented some crappy bikes, which were guarded by this fierce dog.

The bikes made getting from one end of the island to the other a lot quicker. Shirley's is pretty much at the southern end of the inhabited part. At the northern part is The Split, a channel in the island that was created during Hurricane Hattie. There's still the remains of a cement road there. I think I took this photo from the split, looking south:

We ate a lot of good food there, but I think the best meal was at Rose's. They have the fish (caught that day, of course) all laid out at the entrance, and you choose which one you want:

Shish kabobs were $10, the snapper were $20-30, depending on size, and the lobsters were $30. That's in Belize, so in American dollars, it's half that price. Once you pick your fish, the guy slices it open, rubs some seasoning on it, and throws it on the grill. Meanwhile you sit down and order a couple of side dishes (which are included in the price) and a Belikin beer (if you're smart). It was pouring rain the night we went here, and like most of the restaurants here, all of the seating was open to the air (though covered). But it didn't matter. We got a snapper and a lobster and shared them. So. Fuckin'. Good.

It took us a while to decide upon what snorkeling trip we wanted to do. By "we" I mean "me," because it was not getting any less windy and wavey out there, and I was petrified of being stuck on a boat for several hours while throwing up pretty much non-stop. I came very close to not going at all, figuring the stress wasn't worth it. But I finally got over myself, and we went with a "full day" snorkel trip to Shark-ray Alley, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, and the Coral Gardens. "Full day" just means 10 to 4, by the way, and includes an hour or so stop for lunch at the larger Caye to the north, Ambergris.

The boat trip to the reef action was insanely bumpy, but I didn't get sick at all (again, thank you god for Bonine). It was seriously so bumpy that people were laughing at how hard the boat would slam down onto the water when it skipped off the top of a wave. The first stop was Shark-Ray Alley, and there were many huge rays about, but no sharks. The water wasn't very cold, though getting out and being in the wind was no picnic. The second stop was Hol Chan, which had sharks -- nurse sharks, which are like overgrown catfish, really. The tour leader had thoughtfully brought a small container of chum for the sharks, who swam right up to the edge of the boat as soon as he cut the engines. Here's one begging for a treat:

I hopped in soon after taking that photo and got to pet a baby shark, who seemed to actually enjoy the attention, like a slippery puppy. Cute.
We saw many incredible fish and coral, but I don't have an underwater camera, so you'll have to close your eyes and imagine. Or go to YouTube and search for "Hol Chan" or something.

After Hol Chan we motored over to San Pedro, the main city on Ambergris Caye. We docked on "Bottom Time"'s pier:

You can see it's more upscale and built up than Caulker. Here's a San Pedro street scene, on an actual paved road, with two actual yellow-dyed poodles:

We got cheap, greasy (but tasty) tamales at a counter place and ate them on a beautiful deck on the beach. Then we met at the boat and were taken to Coral Gardens, which was pretty much the same as Hol Chan, except no sharks. Apparently there used to be more sharks around but climate change has fucked with their habitat.

Anyway, we returned to Caye Caulker safely, and the day afterwards, we went home to New England. It was a lovely trip.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The day after our day of wandering around the San Ignacio area, we packed up and took a cab to the Guatemalan border. We had arranged a driver to pick us up on the other side. We had to pay about $30 in various fees and taxes to leave, and got our passports stamped twice. Here's the scene on the Guatemalan side; lots of taxi drivers waiting, and money-changers wearing fanny packs (they ended up being legit), with a few cops wearing semi-automatic weapons.

The roads in Guatemala are way worse than the ones in Belize; tons of huge potholes and ruts, and cars slow to a creep in order to traverse them. The trip to Tikal from the border took about an hour and a half. About halfway through our driver stopped at a very nice and clean and way overpriced tourist shop which also had bathrooms and free coffee. Parked at the house next to the shop was this car:

(It refers to the end of the Mayan calendar, which some think means the end of the world, or the time the aliens will finally come to collect us, or something.)

The Tikal ruins are in the middle of a huge nature reserve, so they have a lot of animal crossing signs: turkeys, snakes, coati, and of course jaguar:

Our hotel was the Jaguar Inn, one of the three right at the entrance gate to the ruins themselves. It was kind of like Midas -- very jungly, but even moreso since we were in the middle of a reserve. In fact, the power is from a generator that they shut off every night at 9, and hot water is only available a few hours a day.

Here's a path to the dining patio:

We put our stuff in our room and got lunch and watched some toucans while we ate. There's one in the middle of this photo:

Then it was time to do the ruins. At the gate we decided to save the $50 a guide would have cost, and bought a guide map for a few bucks instead. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the beginning of the ruins, and then a half-hour to get to Temple IV (which is what our guidebook suggested). The paths are well maintained and travel through serious jungle. Before we reached Temple IV we passed a bunch of smaller structures -- Tikal is enormous -- and so we looked to the map to explain what we were looking at. That is when we discovered that we should have sprung for the guide. Here's what it says about the first ruins we passed, Complex Q:
"This complex of twin pyramids is the biggest constructed in Tikal. To the north of its square there is located an enclosure inside which one finds the complex alter - stela. To the side south, a structure is located with nine income and at the head of the placed pyramid eastwards, nine stelas and smooth altars. The monuments esculpidos dedicatory for this complex are the Estela 22 and the Altar 10 that date the end of the katun of 771 Classic Late and there were constructed by the leader 29, Yax Nuun Ayin II."

(The map also gave "recommendations to enjoy his visit" such as "To behave for qualified paths, not to take paths it does not know." And "It uses the accesses authorized to rise and to get off only the structures." And "leads 45 kph and avoids to knock down the wild fauna. It takes to himself record of his speed.")

So yeah, we pretty much gave up on trying to glean any information from the map besides where things were. We did eavesdrop on another group's guide a couple of times, which was nice.

Anyway, on to the photos:

Here's the aforementioned Complex Q:

And this is Temple IV peeking out of the canopy; it's in the process of being restored, thus the scaffolding. The six big temples had wooden stairways to use to get to the top, instead of letting you use the steep, railing-free stone steps (which they used to do, apparently). Those signs say stuff about how you have to walk around to the side of the temple to climb up:

And the view from Temple IV:

It is high. Those are some big-ass trees, and the temples just rise right up above them!

Near the base of Temple IV was a rest area with actual bathrooms and even a little soda-selling counter. You can see it in the background here, with a pretty wild turkey hanging around in the foreground:

There was also a coati, which is like a raccoon; it was searching for tidbits in the leaf litter near a trash can, and was totally ignoring all of the tourists taking photos of it:


(That's CJ on Mundo Perdido.)

The main attraction at Tikal is the grand plaza, which has two big temples and a ton of smaller buildings, full of little rooms to explore. The coolest-looking temple is Temple I, which you're no longer allowed to climb. This shot is taken from the top of Temple II, just across from it:

Temple I from the side, showing some of the Acropolis in the background. There are little people there, for scale:

I captioned this photo with Central Acropolis but I think it's the North Acropolis. But I really don't know for sure:

From, um, one of the Acropoli, we could see Temple V rising up in the distance, which reminded me of the shot of Endor they filmed here (from Return of the Jedi, OF COURSE):

We did a LOT of walking and climbing but I had heard Temple V was the most insane, so we went. We didn't see anybody there, or on the way there or back. Here's the approach to Temple V:

What's insane about Temple V is the way up: A rickety-looking staircase that's so steep it's really more of a ladder. A seven-story-tall ladder.

I was not going to not climb this. DAMMIT, WE HAD COME TOO FAR. So we did. At the top, of course, there was no railing or anything to stop us from slipping and tumbling forward down the steep stone steps. Here's the view from the top:

The climb down was much scarier. We climbed down backwards like we were descending a ladder. Note the angle of the stairway railing, and how very acute it is:


After that we went back to the entrance and explored our dinner options at the other two hotels. Not great. While we were peering through the twilight underbrush at a gibnut (we had no idea what it was at the time, but it looked like a cat-sized capybara), a guy in his late 50s or so started talking to us. He said that he had heard the cheap place near the campsites was supposed to have authentic local food, which would be a huge step up from the weird American-diner-like mixture offered by the hotels. So we ended up meeting up with him and hearing about his interesting life as an ex-Earth Firster who had spent some time in the clink, but who now just travels most of the time (possibly financed by his wealthy son). He was a friendly and intriguing guy, and he generously bought us beers, but at the end we decided that one of the reasons he liked traveling around third-world countries so much is that it enabled him to be rude to the waitstaff without any consequence.

The power did in fact go off at 9, and I had a hard time falling asleep without my sound machine (such a delicate flower I am). And then we had to get up and catch our ride at 8 the next morning, so we could get dropped off at the Guatemalan border, take a cab back to Midas, meet a shuttle van there at 12:15, and then get driven an hour and a half or so to Belize City, where we would catch the water taxi for the 45-minute-ride to Caye Caulker. But that's for the next post.

Monday, February 16, 2009

On to Xunantunich! You pronounce it "zoo-nahn-too-niche." You're welcome, I am sure it'll come in handy. The day after the cave tubing and the zoo, we had wanted to spend the morning wandering around town and the afternoon horseback-riding through the countryside, maybe stopping at a gorgeous swimming hole along the way. That didn't happen; the horse person the resort owner liked was on vacation, and they had a hard time getting in touch with the other one they liked, and when they reached a third place, the price they quoted was ridiculous. So the owner gave us a good alternative plan: Take a cab to the top of Xunantunich (which is on top of a small mountain), walk around, then walk down the hill to the river crossing, and grab a cab. Instruct the cab to take you to the Cahal Pech ruin, and after touring that, walk up the hill to the Cahal Pech Resort, where you can pay $2.50 to use the pool for the day. Then it's an easy walk back to Midas.

Well, the first part of the plan worked great. After a relaxed breakfast in town, we took a cab up to the Xunantunich ruins — which involves crossing the river via hand-cranked ferry. Here's the ferryman:

And here's the ferry, from the other side, taken on the way back. A note here about my photos: Up until this point, actually when I was on top of the pyramid here, I hadn't realized that the light setting on my camera was set to "incandescent light" -- which is why everything beforehand is blue and washed out. I did a lot of work on adjusting the levels in Photoshop, but there's only so much I can do. My photos got a LOT better after I changed it to natural light.

Here's the approach to the main plaza:

The main pyramid, El Castilo. You can climb to the top and all around. Very exciting. No guard rails anywhere.

One of the stairways leading to the top:

A view from the top:

There are two carved friezes on the Castilo, here's one:

And here's a close-up of the other:

The archeologists found three carved slabs called stelae here, and they now live in a little house to protect them from the elements.

I liked the ceiling, which is like a wooden stave church from Norway (well, like the one in Epcot, at any rate. Heh).

Afterwards, we walked the mile down the hill to the bottom, caught a cab to the ruins of Cahal Pech. (Catching a cab = waving down a beat-up car that happens to have "TAXI" painted on the side, and that already has two passengers -- one of them was a guy going to his job at the Cahal Pech resort.) But by the time we got to the second set of ruins, the notion of paying another fee to walk around more ruins was not very appealing. We walked up to the hotel instead and paid our fee to lounge around the pool. The hotel is on top of a hill and it was windy up there; though we had been hot before, we were a bit too cold to swim. It was not too cold to lie around in our bathing suits, though. Eventually we decided to get a snack there, and our waiter was the guy from our taxi! CJ got a delicious mudslide, and I got a nauseating Mai Tai which seemed to be mostly cough syrup. We split some quesadillas too, which were tasty.

Here's a look at the pool. The round one in the foreground is not a hot tub; we were disappointed. I got in up to my waist:

And here's the view of San Ignacio from the pool patio:

Then we walked down into town. We had heard about an iguana sanctuary at a hotel on the way, but it was closed for the evening. So we kept walking. And walking. It was a very long way -- at least 2 miles -- back to Midas. But we can now say that we have seen most of San Ignacio.

Next time: Guatemala and Tikal!