Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Family party: Happy birthday Elliot!


Brother Ian 

Surprise visit from my nephew! I love the look on Mom's face.

No more kids in the family! We're all a bunch of big people now.

Happy 19th, Elliot. Hope it's your best year yet. I love you.

I've posted more St Patrick's Day photos here.

Recipe for Potato Lovers: Irish Nachos

On St Patty's Day we successfully recreated our favorite pub's recipe (if you like baked potatoes or nachos, you're going to love this). I took pictures to share with you.  

We lined our cookie sheet and broiling pan with foil for easier clean-up.

We used 10 lbs of potatoes...

...but you don't have to prepare that many at once.

See how fun it is to clean potatoes?!

Slice potatoes into wedges (leave skin on), 1/4" to 1/2" thick.
Too thin, and they'll burn. Too thick, and they won't cook evenly.

Drizzle with a little olive oil, toss to coat.
Sprinkle with garlic powder and Johnny's seasoning to taste
(OK to use lots; it gets "diluted" as all the moisture cooks out of the potatoes).
Bake for 30 minutes at 350 F.

While potatoes are in the oven, cook bacon.
This is a whole package (again, for a huge batch) on the George Foreman.

After 30 minutes, check potatoes: make sure olive oil is distributed evenly so they don't stick to the foil.
Rearrange any slices that are getting over-cooked along the edges.
Keep cooking for another 30 minutes or until potato wedges are soft.

Potatoes may be saved in the fridge for future use, or transferred to another pan without olive oil
(they shouldn't be wet).

After bacon is cooked (till crispy) and cooled, break into chunks.

Spread cooked potatoes on a cookie sheet without olive oil
(what you've used so far should have absorbed).
Sprinkle with cheese (we use Mexican blend grated cheese).
Sprinkle with bacon.
Bake at 350 F for another 10 minutes or so
(long enough to reheat potatoes if necessary, but brief enough to melt cheese without over-cooking potatoes).

Serve with sour cream and chives.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Life: St Patricks 2011, Sewing Projects, Love & War, & Log Cabin Quilting


We had friends over for St Patrick's Day and served Irish Nachos, Guinness bread, bratwurst and sauerkraut (sort of a St-Patty's-Day-Oktoberfest-hybrid meal). I love hosting parties. St. Patrick's Day is in Hubbins' top 4 "Holidays Worth Celebrating" so it was a win-win (the others in that list are 4th of July, Halloween, and Shark Week).

We had a three day weekend (part of Hubbin's holiday planning) and it felt wonderful. I sewed all three days: pillows for a friend using fabric she found (a $1.99 remnant from Goodwill was redeemed as four themed pillows for her movie room) and tackled a pattern for PJs. Picture MC Hammer pants on a clown. That's what they look like, but sooo comfy.

Got together with girlfriends on Saturday and bought my first grown up purse through Miche. No more fanny pack on a shoulder strap for me. I'm living on the edge, folks.

Argued with Hubbins on Sunday over a stupid miscommunication (the cause of 99.9% of our marital conflict) and was angry for two days. Talked it over Monday night and resolved a bunch of stuff. Highly recommend this book we're reading together; it prompted a conversation about how we fight approach conflict individually and how we sabotage ourselves without even realizing it (metacommunication at its finest). Whoa. Blew my mind.

Love and War: Finding the Marriage You've Dreamed Of

I'm so grateful it's Friday! Coming up this weekend: birthday party at our house for baby brother who turned 19 this week, snuggle time with that nephew of mine, and this little treasure that just arrived from Amazon.com (bestillmyheart):

Modern Log Cabin Quilting: 25 Simple Quilts and Patchwork Projects

What are your weekend plans?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Projects: Denyse Schmidt Hope, Granny Square Crochet, Duvet Cover for Nephew

What a productive weekend.

I made two pillow covers, using this fabulous (free) pattern from Denyse Schmidt. I LOVE this woman's style and color choice and modern take on quilting. No dusty rose calico or lacy crap here.

I finally finished my granny square afghan (remind me not to start one of these again.....months and months worth of crocheted squares were a pain). Feels good to have it done. Only thing left to do is have it blocked so it lays flat. I just made up all the seams as I went, but it passes the cozy-enough-to-fall-asleep-with-on-the-couch test, so I'm happy.

I panicked a couple of weeks ago, when I started putting the squares together. I was afraid it was going to be teensy and not even cover my legs. It ended up being about 5 ft by 4 ft. Perfect. It's heavy. I hope I can keep the cats off it so I don't have to wash it anytime soon. It's all cotton, and I don't want it to end up looking like a giant wash cloth.

I made my nephew a mini duvet cover (44" x 49") without a pattern. Pretty pleased with how it turned out!

Sorry about the pastels, kiddo. I ran out of blue and green. When you're older I'll make you something more masculine.

Ivan approves.

Wonder of wonders, I figured out button holes! I had to download the owners manual to my hand-me-down sewing machine, but I found what I needed, and voila.

Other images from a fantastic weekend:

Our couch doubles as a kitty bunk bed

Spring, is that you?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ash Wednesday: Emily attends Mass

Wednesday night, I went to Mass with my mother-in-law's boss.

I'd never been to Mass before. And I'd never spent time with my mother-in-law's boss (except for a baby shower we both attended).

I told Mom-in-law a few months ago that I was curious about Catholicism. She said her boss (and close friend) was a devout catholic, and she'd probably take me. So I got to attend Mass on Ash Wednesday.

First impressions:
  • Silence (no talking amongst the congregation before the service other than very low whispers)
  • Bright (all the lights were on)
  • Gold (lots of shiny stuff up front)
  • Candles (they stood for things, but I'm not sure what)
  • Respect (everybody knelt at the end of their pew before sitting)
  • Interactive (the congregation said stuff out loud in response to the priest)
  • Scripted (the whole year's readings and order of events is published in advance)
What a contrast to the protestant, evangelical mega-church I'm used to attending where the volume is loud, the lights are off, and the attendees are spectators in theater seating.

I didn't really understand what Ash Wednesday even meant. Here's what I learned: Ash Wednesday...
...is one of Catholocisms' Holy Days of Obligation
...is the first day of Lent
...is 40 days before Easter.

Lent is about repentance, reflection, gratitude and contentment. The priest (who had an awesome Irish accent) said, "Before giving up typical things for lent (like candy, alcohol, overeating, etc), give up sin." He said by sacrificing habitual sins, the next 40 days can result in individual transformation.

The decor on stage inside the simple church building (built in 1902) was ornate and kingly. The front of the building (the "stage") looked like a throne room. I was curious about what all those features were called and why they were significant: the table where the priest prepared communion, the pillars and shelves and "backdrop" behind that, the three dimensional "last supper" artwork against the front piece, with clean-shaven Jesus and his disciples all mid-sentence, eating a meal from one loaf and one cup.

Everyone knelt on fold-out knee benches, touched their faces, crossed themselves, prayed silently with palms together. We looked like children learning to pray, exaggerated and earnest. I wasn't quite sure where all the genuflecting was directed. Life size statue-Jesus with an outstretched hand? Small gold-Jesus hanging on a cross? Little box where the sacrament went after communion (kind of crypt-like)?

In the middle of the service, we made two single-file lines and the priest put ash on our foreheads, in a little cross. Every time he did this, he repeated "Turn from sin and follow the gospel." He was fast, reaching for the first person in each line in quick succession as we filed past him. I liked the rhythm of his voice, varying only slightly in cadence. "TURNfromsin and FOLLowthegospel."

When it was time for communion, I stayed in my seat and felt awkward. I didn't know the rules about communion for catholics, but thought it was best to err on the side of caution. Plus, everyone was sipping from the same goblet. That seemed archaic. Granted, little individual plastic cups with less than an ounce of grape juice (in the communion services I'm familiar with) hardly seemed reverent in comparison.

After being given bread and wine, people came back to their seats and prayed. When I knelt to pray like everyone else, I was crunched between the pews. I almost kicked over the kneeling bench in the row behind me. I closed my eyes and tried to ignore all the temptation of watching people receive the elements, which felt like spying. I had to consciously visualize the Jesus familiar to me: a Keith Green, parable-telling, bearded hippie character. Much more casual. He seemed inappropriate in that setting. I pictured Jesus as an earthy guy, using things like wheat and plowed dirt and sheep to illustrate his points.

I realized the church setting represented the respect and investment of the clergy and congregation. The building we were in  wasn't supposed to recreate Jesus' surroundings to make him feel at home (unless that was meant to look heavenly). It was a sign of respect for someone loved and admired. It made me wonder about the laid-back, "seeker-friendly," coffee-serving comfort zone of the church I'm used to.

My mother in law's boss talked about her faith very easily. Her Catholicism was an aspect of her life she had no difficulty describing. I liked that. What made the service special was the sincerity of her faith. She said finding this church felt like coming home. I could see the same appreciation and relaxed reverence in others, too. Nothing felt forced.

It made me want to cry, for the absence of that kind of contentment in my own life, and out of gratitude. Christian faith lives on, even though my own has been long neglected. The rhythm of the service (standing, kneeling, praying, singing, listening, responding) was unfamiliar to me, but I could see the appeal of the repetition. I recognized that the significance of each portion of the service depended on the participants, not the ritual itself.

Next time I attend my own church, I'm going to remember that what I get out of a service depends on what I bring to it: cynicism, criticism, and my silent stream of editorial comments don't lend themselves well to faith-building. What I saw at Mass was dedication, buy-in, investment of time, receptivity.

That's what I want, whether the setting is casual, "Shake hands with someone you didn't drive here with!" or liturgical, "Peace be with you."

And also with you.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Embrace the inner nerd

We woke up earlier than we usually do on a Sunday. My husband was excited for our comicon day trip; I wanted to allow time to stop for coffee. He was ready to go at 7:00 am, even though he told me the night before he wanted to leave "a little before 8:00." We left the house with plenty of time to stop (7:35 was all the longer he could stall) so we started the day at our favorite sci-fi themed donut shop.

On the drive to the convention center, we listened to Dr Horrible's Sing Along Blog, to get us in the mood. "Everyone's a Hero" is my favorite song.

The convention center was busy, but not overflowing like it was the first two days of comicon, according to news reports. We met two of my brothers there. Hubbins had some serious shopping to do (all the vendors want to get rid of their inventory on the last day, you know). So I spent time browsing with these two handsome gentlemen.

People in costumes were very willing to pose for photos

I took the sketch in front that says "Batman was here"

A very tiny Jawa looking at toys
Contrary to popular belief (held by me) there was no single stereo-type present. I remembered that the event was described as the "Premiere Comic Book and Pop Culture Convention," so the appeal was widespread.

Imagine my surprise when I felt right at home.
I expected the majority of attendees to be basement-dwelling, computer-game-playing, movie-quoting, social-skill-lacking teenage boys. I expected to have some fantastical counter-cultural experiences. I worried about conversations in Klingon without a translator. I was afraid of what might happen when thousands of awkward people got together. Would fight or flight instincts be triggered? Would they stampede? 

Nobody stampeded. (Although, at 10 am sharp, the organizers let all the vendors know via public address system "we're opening the doors!" and someone played the familiar "start the races!" song on a trumpet. I didn't expect live music.)

Everywhere I looked vendors were selling witty T shirts and mouse pads and laptop decals.

Admiral Ackbar tries a Chinese finger puzzle and realizes “It’s a trap!”

"Nerd" isn't a subculture, or a minority, or an affliction. It's a celebrated social status. The jargon was specialized, the inside jokes were nuanced, and most of it went right over my head. But there was a lot of personal pride in that convention center. I recognized the sense of accomplishment and community. The emphasis was on achievement: high scores, intricate artwork, replicas, and collections. The mood was cheerful and congratulatory. And everyone had a "team:" DC, Marvel, Dark Horse comics; zombies; steampunk; anime; Buffy; Star Wars; Star Trek; every subcategory was represented, including the good guys and the bad guys.

Hubbins told me he almost saw an epic battle take place. A tiny Darth Vader (a 4 or 5 year old in full costume) with an oversize helmet and light saber was walking with his parents, when a tiny Jedi walked by with his parents. The Jedi took his role very seriously, and without provocation, lunged at Darth Vader. Darth was goofing around, and didn't see Jedi coming. The parents intervened before things got ugly, but had to drag the little Jedi away from the altercation.

In my last post, I mentioned the 501st Legion. Well. They were, by far, my favorite. They win the prize for most accessible, friendliest, nerdiest, coolest part of my day.

They had a photo station set up with a movie-photo backdrop. Various characters posed for a professional photo for a $5 donation to charity. The "extras" in costume wandered around for photos too.

Me and scout

Me and pilot

The caution tape behind us says "Imperial Occupied Zone"

My brother had his picture taken with the stars from Boondock Saints, Hubbins found some great deals, and my brothers and I were inspired by the skill and gumption of self-marketing artists and enthusiasts.   

There was little bit of everything in the way of art at the convention. I steered clear of the really gory, sexual, or absurd stuff (of which there was 'lots) but I took business cards from all these artists. I've brazenly copied and pasted these pictures, so follow the links and check out their work. Some very cool stuff.


Just look at this painting. Who comes up with this stuff? A genius, that's who.
I had a great time. I could have stayed longer. We're already planning next year's expedition. Maybe we'll come up with our own costumes.

But nothing can top this: