Friday, February 27, 2009

Kindle, My Darling

Woo hoo! My Kindle arrived safe and sound last night. Amazon did a great job with the packaging, making opening up the Kindle a fun experience. Similar to all of Apple's packaging, it was minimal, well thought-out, and every part had a purpose.

Immediately, I was impressed. Set-up was instantaneous and so easy. The wireless worked perfectly and was surprisingly quick. It was very easy to search for books, see bestseller lists, and Amazon's recommendations for me were there, too.

I love the sample option, where you can download the first chapter of a book for free, read it, and then decide if you'd like to purchase the book. I downloaded several first chapters, read one, and of course, bought the book.

Although bestsellers are $9.99, there are also a lot of bargains to be had . . . classics are a couple dollars and there's free stuff too.

Holding the device and reading pages felt extremely natural.

This one's a keeper.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cooking Shows to Inspire Creativity

I'll admit it -- I get hooked on reality shows. Some good ones (Amazing Race), some horribly embarrassing ones (Rock of Love, anyone?). One genre of reality shows that always catches my eye is cooking competition shows -- like Top Chef, Chopped, Iron Chef, and Hell's Kitchen. I like each of the shows for different reasons, but realized there is one similar thread to my enjoyment -- trying to figure out what I would do in each situation.

I remember when I first saw Iron Chef -- the original Japanese version -- about 5-6 years ago and couldn't believe my eyes. I had never seen many of the ingredients used on the show and all of the foods they were preparing looked slightly inedible from a Western food perspective. Now when I see some of the old shows, I'm pleasantly surprised that I now recognize and have eaten many of the foods. It's nice to see what a few trips to Asia can do with regard to opening up one's eyes and palate.

When watching the American version of Iron Chef, I enjoy seeing the chefs from Food Network and great restaurants, but the highlight is Alton Brown's commentary. I think watching this series was the first time I started trying to figure out what I would do with the mystery ingredient while viewing master chefs at work.

Top Chef (on Bravo) is another great show for testing out what I would do in similar situations. Their quick-fire challenges are especially interesting. Plus, I love it when Anthony Bourdain pops in as a guest judge -- they should really try to get him as a full-time judge.

I just watch Hell's Kitchen for Gordon Ramsey. I have no desire to put myself in that kitchen or to try to butcher a whole slab of beef or shuck thousands of oysters. I don't understand how the contestants can have so many issues in the kitchen . . . maybe I'm missing something since I have never worked in a professional kitchen . . . but it doesn't seem like it would be too difficult if you have prior restaurant experience.

Chopped, the latest in this genre, is on Food Network and probably most closely resembles what goes on in my house on a regular basis. On this show, there are rounds of cook-offs. Each round showcases 4 ingredients that must be used in the dish. Of course, the ingredients don't go together intuitively and there are often ingredients that make the chefs cringe -- canned cream corn, cream of mushroom soup, fruit punch -- that sort of thing.

Currently, I'm trying to destash the kitchen and use up all pantry items, both as a way to make sure I use items before the expiration date and to save some money in the short term. I kind of like seeing what is already in the kitchen and coming up with a new creation. Fortunately, I was taught at a very young age general cooking techniques, the advantages of being creative, and that recipes are guidelines, not laws. As a result, I love reading cookbooks, but find it nearly impossible to 100% replicate a recipe. At some point in the process, I always find some extra ingredient or spice that will make the dish better.

I'm grateful that I was brought up to not be scared to try new things in the kitchen.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


This week is a week of anticipation . . . not because of any exciting upcoming event, but because of UPS and/or the USPS.

I go through these spurts of online shopping and then end up with multiple boxes being delivered to my house in big batches. I'm sure my fellow condo association members love it when I get in these stages. Oh well, no one's said anything and I DO pick up my packages from the front door promptly.

Three categories of excitedness:

1. Kindle from Amazon -- This one wins the most-waited for prize. I signed myself up to the wait list in mid-January after hearing from several friends that they enjoyed their Kindles and seeing one in action on the el. I couldn't resist. Sunday, I received a notification that my Kindle had been shipped, so it should be here any day now. I'm really looking forward to this purchase and hope it will help tame the book madness going on in my condo at this moment.

2. Meats from Burgers Smokehouse -- I grew up on Burgers meats and can't live without them. The smokehouse is owned by distant relatives (distant in blood, not distant in area because they actually went to the same church I did, my parents see them every weekend, my mom has their grandkids in school). We would go out to Burgers for field trips back in the '80s and it was great. This was before the time of many sanitary rules/regulations, so we were allowed to go right into the inner-workings of the factory, talk to the employees (we knew them so it would be rude not to talk to them!), and go into the various smokehouses (by season - winter, spring, summer, fall) to see thousands of attic hams slowly curing. It was great.

When my parents come to visit, a must on the "bring to Chicago" list is Burgers products. It's perfectly acceptable to give anyone on my mom's side of the family Burgers products. But sometimes, the "meat stash" needs to be replenished.

Therefore, this week, I will be the proud owner of country cured ham, yummy bacon, summer sausages from different meats, and ham style bacon. It's all going in the freezer and being slowly doled out over the next six months. It's an indulgence, but also a necessity because it's SO good.

3. Crafts from more than one outlet -- This is the category that is absolutely not necessary, but irresistable to me. Whenever I get catalogs in the mail, I go through them and rip out pages with items I'd like to purchase for myself or others. This is very handy in the holiday season because I can whip through Christmas shopping in a couple hours. Not so handy when I look at what I'd like to buy for myself.

Last week, I decided to go ahead and order those cross-stitch kits (numerous) I'd been coveting, as well as more sizes of double-pointed needles, an afghan kit, some sock patterns, a nifty gadget to hold and amplify patterns, and cotton yarn that was on sale. There may be a couple items I've forgotten about, but this is the gist of the situation. I'm very excited to see all of them.

These purchases don't help with my lack of organization in the second bedroom, my increasing, not decreasing stash, or the fact that I will want to start every one of these projects as soon as I see them even though there are already other things I need to do first.

As with books, I'll say that I'm stocking up for the future. If anything ever goes wrong, everyone is invited over to my house for safety -- we can read, complete numerous craft projects, eat meat, and I'm sure I could scrounge up some pasta and veggies to round out the situation.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Can't Believe I Forgot - Oscars!

I can't believe I spent all of that time lamenting about my lack of organizational focus and completely forgot to talk about the Oscars!

As a bit of background . . . I moved to Chicago right after undergrad and was so happy to finally live in a large city where you could dream of something to do and then could actually do that in the same day. I grew up in a very small town in the middle of Missouri, so there were many things that weren't immediately at our disposal, including great ethnic restaurants, quality (or any) museums, first-run movies (other than the total blockbusters and even that was a 22 mile hike), etc. When I moved to Chicago, I completely overindulged in all of those things -- it was impossible to catch me in my apartment!

I've calmed down quite a bit now, but still love the fact that I can see practically any move that's been released any time I want to see it. For some reason, going to the movies is a treat to me.

About 5 or 6 years ago, I decided that I'd like to see all of the best picture nominated films before the Oscars aired. It made the Oscars so much more enjoyable that I've carried on with this tradition. Sometimes, I'm good at planning ahead and seeing films are they are released, while other years I have to do a mammoth movie-watch the day before the Oscars.

This year, I was good and kept on track by watching films as they were released. I'm glad I did so, because it would have been quite a depressing Saturday if I had to see of the films at once.

Overall, I'm pleased that Slumdog Millionnaire received many awards. I thought it was very well done - both the acting and the cinematography. I don't think it would have been quite so praised if more Americans would see more foreign films. I don't think Slumdog would have come out on top if it went up against 4 Bollywood films. Those are amazing.

I love the fact that Sean Penn won for best actor. I think Mickey Rourke gave a fascinating performance in The Wrestler, but also think he's been adequately rewarded for his comeback. I hope he sticks with it and continues to find good acting roles. Sean Penn completely transformed himself in Milk. When I saw the film, I didn't think "oh, that's Sean Penn playing Harvey Milk" . . . rather, Sean completely disappeared in the role. He was amazing. I'm also so happy that Milk was rewarded in the midst of all of this Prop 8 craziness.

Kate Winslet is amazing. Her performance in The Reader was heart-breaking.

I haven't seen Vicky Christina Barcelona yet, but hope to do so soon. I used to love Woody Allen movies, but now, I see them when I'm able, but don't run out to see them on opening night. I think I like his older films more than his recent works . . . before he had to be sure he was "Woody Allen" enough for a Woody Allen film.

In terms of the awards ceremony itself, I honestly can't understand why these shows run over every year. It's not like people who have never seen or worked on an Oscar's show are in charge of production. I could easily have deleted 30 minutes from the show and no one would have been the wiser. For example, Hugh Jackman's initial performance was great - witty, showcasing the recession, including great props and sometimes clever lines - but I didn't see the purpose of the ode to musicals feature in the middle of the show.

I loved the star power of past award winners praising the new nominees. It was clear that some of the "assignments" were good (Shirley Maclaine, Robert DeNiro) while others were a bit desperate (Nicole Kidman, Adrian Brody). I hope that the nominees who were short-changed didn't mind too much. I also loved Tina Fey and Steve Marin as a duo -- why don't they co-host next year's show?

Overall, a good show with no real surprises.

Craft as Procrastination Device

After this weekend, I have to admit that crafts often act as a procrastination device in my world. For some reason, I have no problem devoting 6 hours to knitting or embroidery or (and on and on and on), but it usually pains me to take 30 minutes for some household chore. As a result, I end up looking very productive on the "fun projects" front, but fall miserably behind on day to day life projects.

I completed the ruffled cowl Sunday morning and it looks great - just needs a button. I'm still surprised at how much I didn't mind the short rows once I got the hang of wrapping and turning. For a fleeting moment, I considered knitting on in order to make a scarf instead of a cowl, but I really don't need another scarf at the moment. I was also anxious to get to my dishcloth project.

Even though partners haven't been assigned in the dishcloth swap, I couldn't resist starting (and ultimately finishing) one and casting on for a second. Now, I'm secretly hoping that my swap partner hates the colors I used for the dishcloths so I can keep them myself. This sort of thinking does not help in conquering the craft as procrastintion device dilemna.

One project on the household chore list that really must get done soon is organizing my second bedroom AKA office/craft room. Over the past couple years, I have managed to accumulate WAY too much stuff (stash) and it is not organized. While making purchases, I always used the excuse that I would be prepared for whatever I decide to make on a whim. I am now officially prepared for hundreds of whim projects but am still seduced by new products or even new hobbies.

So far, I've made minimal progress on this project. Progress is mostly in the form of purchasing large ziploc bags to hold supplies, sharpies to label said bags, and even little bags for embroidery floss. I've also had dreams about organizing (scary) and have seen some very impressive shows of organization on the web.

Ugh! I just have to buckle down and do it. If I did, then it would be much easier for me to do what I want to do tonight . . . start putting together colors for a tea towel set. If the area were already organized, it would be a breeze. Since it's not, I'll have to tear through several boxes to see what I have or at least part of what I have to work with for the set.

All of this highlights a personality trait that I have never possessed and am amazed at when I see it in other people - the desire (even enjoyment) of organizing big bunches of stuff. I stand in awe of people who take delight in organizing and even organize for other people. At times, it's tempting to hire one of those organizers for my own collection of items; however, I fear that whatever processes they would wish to put in place would bug the hell out of me very quickly.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Short Rows and W1

A couple days ago, I started a knitted ruffled cowl that is primarily done with short rows. It's one of those one-skein wonders from a big book of ideas and it caught my attention because I had some beautiful dark pink wool from Peru (Christmas gift) that was begging to be used.

Although I had read patterns involving short rows, I hadn't starting any because the "wrap one" step sounded confusing. The cowl was so cute that I decided to give it a try. If I didn't get the hang of it after 20 or so rows, I'd frog and find another idea for the yarn.

It was tough going for the first few rows because it seemed like I spent all of my time readjusting the needles only to knit a few stitches. I remembered that I could do the whole "knit backwards" thing, but I haven't practiced that much (just one night of experimenting), so I felt that would actually make things slower and less even than more efficient.

Last night, I really got into the groove and am now loving the way this project is turning out. Once the ruffles started ruffling, I was hooked. And it no longer seems like a huge chore to switch needles. The W1 move isn't even that bad, although I've caught myself a couple times in mid-purl before remembering that I was supposed to W1. I think I'll have this cowl done this weekend. Chances are incredibly good if we really get the 4-8 inches that it predicted.

Today, I decided to join a couple swaps over on I was really hooked on swapping the second part of 2008, but had to take a break from it after a really killer swap with some outrageous expectations. I knew when I signed up for it that I was signing up for a mammoth commitment, but by the end of it, I was really showing signs of fatigue. I'll not be doing anything that large again, ever!

The two swaps I joined now are much smaller and manageable. Knitted dishcloths and embroidery. The other good thing about these swaps is that they attract crafters who are typically very talented so the swaps turn out pretty even. It will be fun to see who partners are and start brainstorming the packages.

My other big craft to-do is something I dreamed up last night. I'm attending a wedding soon and really wanted to do something more than order off of the Crate and Barrel wish list. Of course, I don't want to be one of those people who gives the bride/groom something that is absolutely absurd or will live in a closet. With that in mind, I'm going for small and useful. Tea towels!! Who doesn't need a set of nice embroidered tea towels? I'm off to search for some fun designs -- I need cute pics of a kitten, a bunny, and a squirrel (long story) -- and then I'll be all set to select colors tonight.

Wow - reading this over makes it sound like I'm settling in for a long winter hibernation! I think I'll refer to it more as making sure I make the most of my time 1) if the snow comes and 2) during the Oscars. I love Oscar night and look forward to watching it with a fun dinner . . . maybe appetizer/small plate-themed . . . some champagne, and one of my projects


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Knitting Therapy

I've always known that hobbies like knitting, embroidery, cooking, sewing, etc can have therapeutic uses, but this fact was really driven home to me over the weekend. After having to tell two work friends (in my department) that their positions had been eliminated last week, it was incredibly difficult to get back on track. I felt that there needed to be some sort of personal closure, but wasn't quite sure how that could happen in a short period of time.

Friday night, I decided that a small knitted gift may do the trick. I would be able to focus on each of their personalities . . . selecting the right pattern and yarn from my overflowing stash . . . and be able to do something productive while sorting through the changes. I'd also be able to share one of my personal hobbies with people I regard as friends, but won't be able to see on a daily basis moving forward.

In the past, I reserved handcrafted gifts for family or as part of craft swaps because it is giving away a part of me. This seemed like the right time to break tradition and give to two people who had made a big difference in my life.

Three days later . . . after watching numerous movies and changing my mind on the pattern for one scarf several times . . . I had two scarves that I personally liked and felt would be appreciated by others. I'm about to go out to lunch with them and give them their gifts. I can't wait to see their reactions and hope that it's apparent that this gift is from the heart.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


When I started this blog in September 2008, I had high hopes that I would overcome my lifelong lack of desire to keep a diary. I've enjoyed so many people's blogs and learned so much from them that I figured I'd give it a whirl. Obviously, that didn't work out so well.

I couldn't figure out how to post more than one picture in an entry. Everyone had all these cool sidebars but it wasn't apparent how they were created. I'm thinking the "edit html" option has something to do with all of the upgrades, but ran out of time (or didn't make time) to figure it out. Then, the battery in my digital camera died and I still can't recall where the battery charger is hiding in my condo.

Excuses, excuses.

So, the decision was to delete the blog entirely, delete my 12 poor little posts and pretend to start a blog for the very first time, or resume where I had left off in 2008. I didn't want to lose my blog name . . . although how many people in Chicago would be lined up for it? . . . and it's never good to erase history . . . so I'm going with option #3.

I'm picking up now because 2009 is destined to become a year of rebalancing and reprioritizing. Things are grim at work, with layoffs occuring and compromises being made on roles (including mine), so work can not take up as much of my time as it has for the past few years. Although I've always been known for being a "lifestyle person", even I can see that lines were becoming fuzzier and fuzzier. There truly is no need to check my blackberry at 10 pm . . . anyone emailing me at that time had better not be thinking that there would be a response that night.

I'm going to allow this blog to have a life of it's own and not be strict about it being solely devoted to crafts or any such parameters. Some posts will have pics (when the battery charger emerges or if I break down and buy another one) and some will be ramblings. Maybe there will be some starts of short stories, maybe not. Maybe I'll figure out this html thing, maybe not. Maybe I'll tell people I know that this blog exists, maybe not. Everything is up for consideration.

I hope that this will be a useful way for me to work through a difficult year and rebalance my life in a way that is more rewarding.

Here's to new starts!