because life doesn't always have rhyme and reason either...
chronicling home improvement projects, savvy saving tips, movie watching adventures, with a splash of traveling 'round the world!
chronicling home improvement projects, savvy saving tips, movie watching adventures, with a splash of traveling 'round the world!
Posted by ms. mishmash at 9:35 AM
so my dad really is a nature lover and really is a man with a heart of gold for the creations by his Creator. Dad has always loves landscaping, nature, and animals. He's always made sure our home has plants all over and he manages to keep them green all the time! It's pretty amazing how he can keep all of them going! Besides plants, he also loves fish and has always kept an aquarium (or two or three...) where all kinds of fish dwell. A few years back, he found 2 doggies running around with no collars and no one claiming them. We waited to see if anyone would put up signs around the neighborhood asking for these two dogs, but no one ever did, and so we adopted Brownie and Fido.
Posted by ms. mishmash at 11:31 AM
I thought this article from the Washington Post was very interesting...
As Jon and I continue to make our house a home, doing interior decorating and outdoor landscaping, we are planning to have a house-warming some time, hopefully this year. This article sure made me wonder, hmm... am I ready to play host to any party? =)
Well, I most certainly will make sure my party is more low-key and a much smaller production!
Be My Guest
By Ellen McCarthy
Friday, November 3, 2006; WE30
Here's the thing. At what point during a dinner party should a good host actually break down and call Domino's? Is it when you've had 10 people squeezed into a basement efficiency apartment in Mount Pleasant for three-plus hours and they start to name Disney dwarfs and Supreme Court justices to pass the time between courses, and the lamb still looks animate even though it was supposed to be done 45 minutes ago and your smart-aleck foodie friend Neil keeps saying, "Let's just give it a few more minutes," even though the clock is inching toward midnight and the wine is starting to run low? Then is it time to hang up the apron?
Yeah, well, whatever.
The story of my dinner party debut is a long and not particularly flattering one. But I'll tell it. I'll tell, if only because you seem so eager to listen and you look, more or less, like the understanding type. Please, have a seat.
It would be disingenuous, I suppose, not to admit that the whole production began out of something akin to laziness. The given assignment was simply to document someone's early adventures in entertaining. At this point, I could've, probably should've, gone forth to find an eager subject -- an ambitious Young Professional Everyman who would smile while he sauteed and discovered a latent love of cooking wondrous enough to fill every aching hole in life. But, uck. How to find this person? And what if his prep sessions coincided with new episodes of "The Office"? I would start to resent my earnest guinea pig and his gross food and boring friends, and the whole thing would end badly.
Besides, I was lucky enough to have found in myself an ideal prototype. Ideal in that worst-case-scenario kind of way, which just happened to be the exact ideal necessary for this little experiment. As I mentioned, I live in an efficiency apartment. Also, I own one chair and can't cook. Oh, I suppose that's not entirely true. Two days before I took on the assignment, for instance, I made an omelet. The operation set off a smoke alarm and sent my landlords rushing downstairs to check that I wasn't torching their property, but, in the end, it was quite tasty. Charred is an underrated style for eggs, especially when accompanied by cheese.
So, a dinner party.
Lovely affairs, aren't they? You get the intimacy of a coach cabin on a transcontinental flight combined with the sustenance of a semi-professional eating competition. Plus enough wine consumed in a stationary position over a prolonged period to ensure that at least one guest will say something fantastically offensive by the end of the evening:
The cutoff is a C cup. Any woman with less than a C cup should be forced, by law, to get a state-funded boob job. Come on. Why not?
The intention was simply to serve 10 people a four-course, homemade meal without giving any of them due cause to pursue legal action upon exiting the apartment. Piece. Of. Cake.
Now, be a dear and allow me just a moment to set a bit of a scene. At the time I embraced this assignment, my refrigerator contained the following: one package of shredded cheese (for use in omelet), two milk cartons with expiration dates best left unrevealed, a mustard jar of mysterious origins and a lone cucumber, given to me by a friend who also offered the words, "I'm scared you don't know how to live."
That, by the way, is categorically untrue. I get on just fine and quite happily, though I'll admit there are some facets of modern existence that hold no interest for me, and finding uses for stray cucumbers is one of them.
Anywho, the refrigerator is flanked by a counter measuring one foot wide by three feet deep. I also have a Lilliputian stove, a bed in the middle of the foyer/living room/library/den and that chair, on which I sometimes do some sitting. It's actually a charming place, bigger than one might think when first descending past the medieval gate that guards the entry.
The Hobbit Hole (official property designation) has many fine qualities: wonderful landlords, good water pressure, picturesque Mount Pleasant location. But I had never fully tested its potential as a space to entertain. Surely, with some tweaking it could become the very definition of elegance.
The food aspect of this shindig proved trickier. My mother, a good woman who doesn't talk much about the undergarments that may or may not have been burned during her college days, said this: "If you never learn to cook, you'll never have to do it." Very wise, and entirely true until I got myself into this little predicament.
I should mention that I had one major advantage heading into this debacle (besides the ample space available in my refrigerator). I have, over the years, logged tens -- okay, maybe dozens -- fine, tens of dozens -- of hours watching the Food Network.
What remained to be seen was the extent to which a major Food Network investment could aid one's talents in the kitchen. I'm quite sure I'm capable of constructing a sugar skyscraper worthy of medal contention in any major national contest, and I absolutely know where to head next time I find myself in the mood for the cheapest food greater Cooperstown has to offer, but would that translate to culinary mastery?
An answer in due time, my friend.
My journey began with a stop at a 20-person beginners' cooking class at L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda. At least I thought it said "beginners." Maybe most beginners begin a bit differently than I do. We jumped right into the secret of good pie dough, how to cut shallots along the "fingers" and the importance of a well-organized mise en place . (It's important -- apparently very, very important -- that every tool and every spice stand at the ready before one even thinks about starting to cook.)
"What we're actually doing here is making a sauce, a sauce for our greens," said our instructor, a big-bellied chef named Dave Arnold. "It needs to have the right taste, the right color, the right viscosity."
Say what? I enjoyed myself immensely and departed with the overwhelming sense that I was up a creek without a paddle. Or a boat or a cellphone or a snack pack of trail mix.
I'm sorry, but do you have any idea how many things are involved with the preparation of food? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, little buddy, but the answer is many, many things. Apparently, a can opener and a Brita filter will take a girl only so far in life.
Anyway, on to the menu. No matter where I turned, everyone -- my colleagues, siblings, the Ethiopian woman on the bus who kept fiddling with her headphones while I was trying to talk -- had a piece of advice. Actually, they all had the same piece of advice: Serve only things you can prepare in advance. That's right, if executed properly, I could spend the afternoon before the party getting a nice blowout and penning handwritten notes to old grade school chums.
(In truth, though, everyone in the group scheduled to attend the affair had another suggestion: "Stock up on the booze if you expect us to stay past the appetizers.")
After three days of cookbook reading and Internet searching, I decided on the following: an arugula salad with figs and prosciutto, butternut squash soup, rack of lamb and a chocolate torte. Delicious, huh? Well, delicious in theory.
Five days before the event, I drove to Pittsburgh to steal every gift my sister received for her wedding last year. Glasses, mixing bowls, silverware, 18 pairs of candlesticks. But if I was concerned before about the physics of fitting 10 people into my apartment, I was frantic now at the thought of squeezing in 10 people and four tons of gadgets.
Hey, Tara, how are ya? Listen, do you think you could do me a favor and bring half a dozen chairs when you come on Friday? Great, great. And you won't mind if I store a crockpot on your lap during dinner, will you?
On the eve of the eve of the big day, I took to my hands and knees for a cleaning marathon and penciled in a quick trip to pick up a practice rack of lamb, but, uh . . .
"Nope, sorry. We can't keep it in stock, and there's no guarantee we'll get a new shipment by the end of the week," said the friendly butcher at the P Street Whole Foods.
That was grocery store No. 3 at 9:30 p.m. I went to bed that night short four chairs and a main course and dreamed that my party started before I had a chance to buy wine.
But the next day, the gods smiled and Harris Teeter sold me four big racks. Ugly buggers, and not cheap; I loved them regardless. And was merrily on my way to pick up the other 48 items on my shopping list.
"Can I help you find something? I see you circling," said the nice man at the Van Ness Giant.
"Well, yes, I'm looking for parsley," I replied.
"Okay, do you want the flat leaf or regular?"
"Right. Um. Why don't you choose this time?"
By the end, every Giant employee in the mid-Atlantic was enlisted in my little brigade, and still the cocoa powder alone took 15 minutes to find. "It's on Aisle 6, with the hot chocolate." Of course it is. Why didn't I intuit that?
The cooking began at 6 the night before the party and lasted until midnight, and I have to tell you, compared with the planning and cleaning and shopping, it was virtually a trip to the day spa. Sure, an onion ended up in the chocolate glaze and my first attempt at soup produced a liquid the consistency of a sand milkshake, but at least there was progress.
And it turned out -- I'm saying this only because I feel very close to you right now -- that I had more counter space than originally thought, though some might technically refer to it as "floor."
I woke up the next morning with the excitement of a C student on SAT Saturday and began by removing the batteries from my smoke alarm. There would be no time for a test run with the lamb, but I can follow directions when they really matter. And three people assured me unprompted that it's a foolproof dish. (Several others chose to describe it as "ambitious," but no matter.)
The next 10 hours blurred by in a frenzy of chopping and cursing and wishing I could turn back time to go find that smiley guinea pig and get myself out of this ridiculous fiasco.
Just before my guests arrived, I did a few sun salutations to get into a Zen place of peace so I could focus on what really needed to come of this evening spent breaking bread with people I care deeply about. In a moment of clarity, I realized only one thing mattered: that no gastrointestinal distress be induced until they were way the hell out of my apartment.
Oops, did I forget to mention that mine is the subterranean door? Hellooo! Down here!
It probably breaks some cardinal rule of hostessing, but all the people I invited were already close friends, with the exception of my landlords, who are Canadian, and, well, you know what that means.
A bottle of champagne or five were uncorked, and I began to consider the possibility that I might be a natural. The place worked pretty well, for starters. The chairs (which probably looked familiar to some of my guests, from whom they were hijacked) fit comfortably around a long table, and my bed didn't seem to be obstructing any major escape routes.
Even the food was working out. True, there wasn't enough salad to go around, and Neil was kind enough to mention later that he would have added a touch of honey to the soup, but all in all it was unfolding splendidly. And honestly -- you should have seen the way they raved about the mixed nuts I had set out as an hors d'oeuvres. Genius, really.
I tried not to get cocky; my pièce de résistance, the lamb, was still to come. But the searing had gone well, the oven was properly preheated and my trusty Internet instructions were laid out before me.
Let me tell you why I picked lamb, which I chose before doing any comparative pricing analysis. It seems to have a very specific -- and short -- cooking time. About 25 minutes, according to my printout from "Peggy's Fine Dining Gourmet Recipes." (Peggy doesn't seem to have a last name, which maybe should've told me something.)
So in went the racks, and I carefully marked the time on my watch -- and by "watch" I mean cellphone. Does anyone still wear a watch?
After a half-hour in the oven and 10 minutes of resting, we were ready to carve. Ewww, is there supposed to be that much blood?
"Yeah, let's just stick it back in for a bit longer," Neil suggested.
Right, excellent idea.
"We're getting close," I announced to the table at 10:20.
"We're getting close," I said again at 10:35, after a second slice showed no signs of improvement.
"It may be a while," I said at 10:48.
Okay, one more time. Please, Lord, let this work. And it was perfect -- medium rare and stunning to behold. Plate up the microwavable veggie medley side, kids, dinner is served!
"Aaaaand, change of plans," Neil announced, snatching back the two dishes that had been delivered after every other cut revealed more wretched rawness.
What in the name of all things holy is happening here? And where is that damn meat thermometer I so meticulously remembered to snatch from my sister?
"This is a big meal for being so late," my landlord Elayne noted about 11:15.
"Don't worry," responded my helpful friend Erin. "It's almost breakfast."
Sigh . . .
Well, so, the lamb finally made it to the table just before 11:30. It found a fan in Clifford, the dog who lives upstairs, and 45 minutes later, when the (not completely awful) cake was cut, I settled in for a good, long rest. A rousing debate on the merits of professional sports was just getting underway -- one Canadian is anti and he has some interesting points -- and while I couldn't care less either way, I found myself falling in love anew with the joy of sitting.
It has been a week now since that fateful night, and I'm happy to report that I have absolutely no idea whether the evening was a success. I'm not sure any host ever could. Of course my friends are going to tell me they had a fine time. What else would they say? No one volunteered information on any food-related suffering that may have occurred in the aftermath, and I am smart enough not to inquire.
Is it a sign of a good dinner party when guests start to curl up on your bed at the end of the evening? Unclear.
Ellen McCarthy is a Weekend staff writer, but only until Martha Stewart calls.
Posted by ms. mishmash at 10:41 PM
A friend send me pictures of these cars that are from Italy (or driven in Italy). They sure would save us Americans tons of gas and also alleviate a lot of the parking problems
***** (share with your loved ones, pass on to friends!)
This is a very touching story for kids and adults. Primary themes are anything can be achieved with teamwork. The story is of a girl living in the poor suburbs of LA who lost her father at an early age but learned to spell. She first rejects the coach who offers to help her and tries to make it through the regional spelling bee on her own. After barely squeaking through she realizes that she needs the coach’s help. In time she learns words as the whole community helps her learn words through the 5000 flash cards her coach made up for her.
The movie was so good that I won’t spoil the ending for you. It suffices to say this would make an awesome family movie and is perfect for encouraging children. I give it a 5 star and a highly recommendation to all of you who read this blog.
I do not recommend this movie as it was not very little in the way of
entertainment value unless women are dying to see Harrison Ford. The
movie centers around Harrison Ford who plays the US president on a
terrorist commandeered Air Force One and his nearly single-handed
action to defeat them. Many people get shot and has quite a lot of
hand to hand combat scenes which would be loved by more violent movie
lovers. However, I found the content rather bland as it was the basic
Hollywood good guys win and the bad guys lose movie.
The movie also gets an F rating for believability, as there are so
many security protocols for the president of the United State's plane
for anything like this to occur. Its violence involving a popular
children's figure also makes it ill advised for a family's movie
night. It would probably keep your toddlers up with nightmares.
**** (good enough to rent)
"That's the problem with you kids! You're all grown up! –Derek
This movie is Hollywood's attempt to tone down the very popular James Bond movies to a younger crowd. However, the very real martial arts choreography and high-tech weapons have given some younger children nightmares. This aside the movies are very amusing as it follows Cody Banks and his fellow young CIA recruits as they dodge parential and peer suspicions to fulfill their top-secret missions.
For secret agent gadget lovers these movie have plenty of them. From directional microphones in the form of retainers to hilarious self-playing violins and clarinets, the movie pushes the envelope on how small things can be made.
Another way I've been living within a tight budget and still having a good time is to watch TV on the internet. The proliferation of TV shows available online has been a wonderful thing. Afterall, I usually don't have time to watch TV at scheduled periods of time, say, every Thursday night at 9pm for Grey's Anatomy or every Wednesday night at 10pm for LOST. I often forget to catch shows when I have to remember to watch them at set times and sometimes things come up so that I can't get myself in front of the tube right when I need to. I know a lot of people subscribe to TIVO or Comcast On Demand, but if the point is to live simply, live cheaply, save a lot, so I can travel more, retire earlier, and give out of my savings, then I am going to avoid any outlay of money as much as possible, especially if the same services or similar entertainment can be obtained for free! So I was delighted when a year or so ago ABC rolled out their version of on-demand TV where several shows including my favorite at the time, Alias, was available for viewing soon after a new episode has aired each week. I was able to watch all of the current season of Alias last season, and when Alias ended, there was still Grey's Anatomy which I continue to follow every week. ABC offers many more shows now than they did when they first started. Pretty much all of their prime-time shows are available. LOST is a really good show that I did not follow until recently when a coworker with whom I eat lunch regularly got me interested and I spent one weekend watching like 6 episodes to catch up on the plot she was describing to me. What a great thing this online TV phenomenon has become! NBC has started showing their shows online as well. Although my experience is that their portal is not as good as ABC's.
Finally, there seems to be other private companies coming onboard to provide online TV viewing services for a fee or for free besides the network companies. Read more about sources of free TV online here.
Today we begin to roll out movie reviews from our guest writer, Jon, my boyfriend. He loves to watch movies and has a good eye for blockbusters as well as a nose to sniff out the ones that are not worth the bother. So without further adieu, let's bring out the first of many movie reviews. You can use the tags on the right side of this blog to find all of the movie reviews. We aren't professional movie critics, but we think our tastes will be much closer and more useful to you than Ebert's since these movie reviews are by the everyday movie lovers for each one of you movie lovers!
Remember to pass the popcorn!
***** (worth buying)
A Cinderella Story
But her two bad girl step-sisters look to derail her as she finds her Prince Charming to be none other than the most popular boy in her high school. Jealousies flare as girls seek to win over the boy of their dreams and their Prince Charming attempts to unravel the mystery of the lost cell phone.
This is truly a movie teenage girls can relate to and enjoy. However it’s entertainment value should not be underestimated. This is a very enjoyable movie for all those who enjoy a happy ending.
So this site is officially lifting off now. I've been too busy to set up all the logistics of this blog, but now everything is pretty much set to go with only minor modifications. I hope you'll enjoy reading this blog as much as I will enjoy just documenting, observing, and commenting on the amusing and mundane aspects of life as a Californian. And no I definitely do not fall into any Baywatch stereotypes, so all readers can relax. ;)
In any case this weekend has been a very full and fulfilling one. Saturday Jon and I went to this local brick factory to see if we can find any deals. Apparently there is this one day a year only "open to the public" clearance sale held by this large factory that manufactures bricks/pavestones, etc. that I very serendipitously found out about while driving to work every morning because there was this big banner. Anyhow, since Jon and I have been working on our backyard (technically his, since we aren't married yet, but he very lovingly reminds me that it's our house), pulling out all the weeds in that overtaken backyard and putting in sand (that's for another post with pictures, I promise), we are now ready for pavestones to be put in. So we've been going to Lowe's and HD at least every other weekend and looking at prices and trying to figure out how we will transport several dozen bricks/pavers at a time back and forth and back and forth every weekend when we begin to put pavers down in his small Saturn S-1 and/or my Toyota Camry (oh, the pain of not having a SUV or a truck like the rest of America ;), NOT!) Still, we felt we'll somehow managed, but I had dreaded the prospect of spending the whole summer going to HD everyday to buy a few more bricks until the 540 feet of ground gets paved.
So imagine my joy yesterday when at the "Brick Factory" when we saw that pallets of nice bricks were going for 10-15 cents per brick! It was like I was 5 again and opening presents on Christmas morning! We got there a little later (the sale was only from 8-2) almost around noon and the selection was not very good anymore, but still we managed to get 3 pallets (525 bricks per pallet for those who are numbers-oriented :D) of the "Folsom gold" color and 2 pallets of a grey color one. The total price (including 5 wood pallets that cost $10 deposit/pallet going out and $8/ea back when we return them) came out to only about $330! Fantastic deal! I could've imagined a better way to spend a Saturday morning. I really was saying a prayer of thanks to God at this point. Wow!
So if you're a new homeowner/young couple/single starting out and wanting to create a nice backyard on a budget, or thinking of re-doing/upgrading your existing landscaping in your backyard with pavestones/bricks, I recommend looking into brickyards/local brick factories for these one-day a year clearance sales of 'seconds', samples, and just odds and ends that to the factory are just extras and that they just want to get off their lot/inventory but that to you is a pot of gold! We have yet to set up the delivery of the 5 pallets of bricks, but even adding the estimated cost of about $150, about 1/3 of our backyard would only cost $500 + the sand, weed blanket and labor we put into it. We'll continue to share pics and progress here. Hopefully, as we find out about more deals and ways to "Do it Yourself" on a shoestring budget, we can pass on some things we've learned and learn from all of you too!
Here's a picture of the backyard at this stage (we hired people to do our concrete and did some graveling along the side yard, but the rest of it will be our own sweat and hopefully-no-blood):
Share your backyard adventures!
Happy Mother's day everyone! With this new blog, I want to introduce myself and also get started on all the random stream of consciousness that's been trapped in this bit o' grey matter of mine.
My name is Joy and I decided to start this blog because I'm one of those people who are always thinking about weird and random things and laughing out loud when I'm alone. Strange, I know. But with this blog, I hope to just to write about things that come to me, non-consequential observations of daily life on this planet, and to inform where I can. Most of all, I hope to get you laughing out loud in front of your laptop with me! Occasionally, my boyfriend, John will join us here as a guest writer. He's a wikipedia buff and loves to share about all kinds of random facts about animals, natural phenomenons, etc. I'm sure you'll get some useful (or usefully show-off-able) knowledge from him.
Anyhow, let me just share something funny that happened yesterday as my boyfriend and I celebrated Mother's day with my mom and dad.
So our tradition is to have dinner the day before Mother's day so as to avoid the crowd on the actual day. My mom's notorious for saying pretty much what's on her mind. So somehow the topic of conversation as our family was driving home after a nice dinner at Fresh Choice, which by the way, has improved in their freshness, variety and overall tastiness of their offerings, got onto this interracial couple that recently joined my parents' church. What ensued turned out to be the highlight of the evening!
Apparently this a new couple started attending my parents' church a few months ago. The wife is Chinese and the husband is black. That combination is quite rare among us Chinese. They have two daughters and the wife stays home to homeschool her kids. Having met quite a few bi-racial children and have confirmed what people have told me that bi-racial people are especially beautiful, I asked my mom whether those two half-black/half-Chinese girls are noticeably mixed. Specifically, I asked her whether that couple's two daughters look Asian? In response, my mom said, "No, they just look black, but their hair is like those poofy dogs.' What are those called again? Poodles, right?"
She had me clutching my buffet-full belly laughing uncontrollably. On the one hand, her off-the-cuff comment was very frank and un-edited. But on the other hand it illustrates well how the older generation of many cultures are still quite entrenched in their mind-set about interracial relationships and also perceptions of other races' and cultures' characteristics. Don't get me wrong, my mom is a very kind-hearted person and has never (and would never) act upon any of her prejudices and stereotypes (and we all have them). But this incident, though funny at one level, demonstrates how norms and rules are still rigid in many cultures. In my culture, it is always considered "best" to marry one's own race and ethnicity. For a Chinese girl like me, the best would be to marry someone Chinese. Then the order of "acceptability" goes something like this: Asian > white > latino/mexican > black. Essentially very similar to many other race and cultures' preferences with a highly positive correlation between what's considered "acceptable" (and even a "good" choice) with less skin pigmentation, if one couldn't manage to fall in love with a person of the exact same background. Very unbelievable for the 21st century in our multicultural melting pot society in the great US of A, right? Yet from what I've heard and witnessed, surprisingly common.
Your thoughts and experiences?