19 September 2009

150 Years of Protest Music

So, when I taught 10th grade English last year, I gave my students an assignment: To find a protest song. It couldn't be the same as anyone else's song (in that hour at least), it had to protest SOMETHING (their choice of topic), and it couldn't have profanity. If a student REALLY wanted to present a song that had profanity, they could present it to just me, before or after school. They also had to be able to explain WHAT was being protested.

I had been collecting protest songs on my own for awhile, but the kids found me LOTS of worthy songs I didn't know about, both from modern times, and from the 1960s. It was gratifying when my husband heard me listening to 99 Red Balloons (which was from when WE were in HS) and said "That's a protest song?" Yup, it is.

Inspired by the Disney Animated Robin Hood, where everyone sings "The Phony King of England" (Too late to be known as John the First / He's sure to be known as John the worst / A pox on that phony king of England!), I went looking for historical protest songs, and turned up a Negro spiritual called "No More Auction Block For Me" that dates from the 1800s, but was recorded by a modern a cappella group called Sweet Honey on the Rocks. It's an unbelievably beautiful song.

In answer to the question "did your students like the assignment, I have to say, no, not really. Some did, of course, but many others just found it a hassle. I'll probably do the assignment again, but I have to re-think how to approach it. Early on, all of the students actually followed along with the lyrics up on the overhead, but later , as the end of the school year loomed, they tended to pay less and less attention. But I also caught glimpses of students who cared - they watched me intently, as I listened to the lyrics. I only bought the songs that I liked, and I could see that a few of them were quite gratified when they saw me buying their song. One kid even offered to burn me CD of similar songs from the band he presented (Coldplay).

Anyway, for some reason, not all of my songs made it into the iMix. One of them has never been available in iTunes, so it's no surprise that that song isn't available. But all of the others should be - I mostly got them from iTunes. The missing songs are:

  1. Bomb The World (Armageddon Version) by Michael Franti (the regular version made it - both are from the same album, and both were purchased from iTunes. It's a shame though - the Armageddon version is edgier and better)
  2. Handlebars by the Flobots (another Flobots song made it)
  3. I Ain't Marching Anymore (LP Version) by Phil Ochs
  4. Imagine by John Lennon (probably due to the new Beatles releases)
  5. Jacob's Ladder by Chumbawamba (not available on iTunes)
  6. Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream by Simon and Garfunkel
  7. Lyndon Johnson told the nation (LP Version) by Tom Paxton (an awesome song that even my 15-year-old likes, and bought for himself from iTunes after I played it for him)
  8. Peace Train by Cat Stevens
  9. Teach Your Children by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
  10. Travelin' Soldier by the Dixie Chicks (a great song with a controversy attached to it - it was the song they were promoting in Europe, when they made a rather rude statement about the president, and lots of fans boycotted them afterwards - you know - the "shut up, and sing" story.)
Anyway, hope you enjoy the music.

18 September 2009

A Tribute to Mary Travers

I created my very first iMix on iTunes in honor of Mary Travers' death two days ago. These are my favorite songs that feature her as the prominent voice. All but one are Peter, Paul and Mary songs, and one is a solo recording. I tried to pick a variety of songs from a variety of times - some of the earliest songs that display the "crystalline" voice of her youth, and later, the ones that show the deeper voice of an older woman. Some of the songs are children's songs, and others are protest music only adults would understand, but children still love. For what it's worth, I did include "If I Had a Hammer" but the iMix ignored it for some reason. That's OK - it's one of my least favorites of the bunch. Anyway, here's to you, Mary. "We've missed the train you are on, and we know you that are gone..."

31 August 2009

Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream

So today was Garrett's birthday, and he requested apple pie. Knowing he also likes fruit ice cream, Kivi and I went to a you pick place, and bought a bunch of wonderfully fresh strawberries. Then I looked up recipes. All of the recipes called for eggs (either 2 eggs or 3 egg yolks) and because I was uncomfortable serving raw eggs, I opted for one that made a custard. Otherwise, I mixed and matched from various recipes, until I came up with this one, and it's pretty good. Well, delicious, actually. And I don't even like strawberry ice cream.

1 pint fresh strawberries hulled, chopped and pureed (about 12 ounces after prep, or 1.75 c of puree)
1/3 cup sugar
juice from 1/2 lemon
zest from 1 lemon

Custard base:
3 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour

Combine egg yolks and ¾ cup sugar in a bowl and whisk until thick and pale.

Combine milk, cream, and vanilla in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Heat, stirring constantly until it reaches approximately 160 degrees, then remove from heat. Spoon cream mixture by ¼ cupfuls into egg mixture and beat between each addition until about ½ of cream mixture remains. Add the eggs/cream mixture back into the saucepan with remaining cream. Return to medium heat, stirring constantly for 4-5 minutes until mixture coats the back of a spoon, and temperature is 180 degrees. Remove from heat and chill thoroughly.

Puree the strawberry mixture  (even if starting with puree - need to ensure sugar is dissolved) and add strawberry puree to custard base. Add to ice cream maker, and follow the manufacturer directions.

Yes, it was the best strawberry ice cream I've ever had, but there was one big flaw: Originally, I'd only pureed half the strawberries, and left some strawberry in chunks. The chunks when frozen were flavorless hard bits, and were texturally kind of strange in the ice cream. I learned quickly to puree the entire strawberry mixture.  If you want chunks of strawberry,  serve some chilled (but not frozen) strawberry chunks in a strawberry syrup on top.

31 July 2009

Pancakes, Pancakes

No, I don't mean the book by Eric Carle, which is cute and teaches kids the origins of the ingredients for pancakes. What I do mean, is a new recipe that I sort of invented by adapting an existing one.

My family - with the exception of my husband - love pancakes. To his credit, Chris puts up with them without whinging, but when I find a recipe HE likes, then I know it's a winner.

Now, pancakes aside, I was always taught that the best way to cook was to follow a recipe exactly as written the first time, and then monkey with it after that if you like. However, I'm a vegetarian who actually LIKED some of the meat dishes she used to eat (like Chili con carne), and if I want to even try a meat-based recipe, I must vary it some from the beginning, or else not bother. I'm also always looking for ways to improve the nutrient density of a recipe without sacrificing taste, or better yet improve on the taste if I can. So, that means I fiddle with recipes from the get-go pretty commonly.

One of the things I've discovered is that with pancakes, you can pretty much just use the vegetable oil of your choice (though not olive oil, as the flavor is too strong), in place of melted butter. The end result is very slightly healthier, and the taste is pretty much identical. I've also used soy milk instead of regular milk loads of times, but the pancakes don't rise QUITE as well (though still OK). I've also used whole wheat instead of all-purpose flour, and generally that works fine, too - though the cakes are usually a little denser.

Anyway, I stumbled onto a delicious variation of a recipe that I had to share. This time, my changes were caused not by attempts at better health, but by what I happened to have (or not) on hand. I was attempting to make the Four Grain Flapjack recipe in The Joy of Cooking, but I discovered that I didn't have either milk or enough soy milk on hand. What I had was 3 quarts or so (don't ask) of whole milk yogurt.

"Chris, do you think I could use yogurt instead of milk?"
"Yeah, probably. Try it."
"Will it make it sour?"
"I dunno. Try it."

I also, out of habit used 4 tablespoons peanut oil instead of 1/2 stick of melted butter. And, I couldn't substitute whole wheat for the all-purpose flour as I only barely had enough whole wheat to make the recipe as originally written. So all-purpose went in this time. And, I also wanted blueberries in my pancakes. So I added 1.5 cups of them after combining the rest of the ingredients.

And the result was...wow! Delicious, and not sour at all. I had made this recipe once before with my usual substitutions, but it was so much better this time around. The batter was thicker/fluffier than I'm used to - it didn't spread out as much, which means I had to keep turning them to get them to cook all the way through (cooking longer on a lower heat would also work). Anyway, the full recipe looks like this:

Blueberry Yogurt Four-Grain Flapjacks

1 c. whole wheat flour
¾ c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. cornmeal
¼ c. rolled oats
2 tbs. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
1 ¾ c. plain yogurt (whole milk or low-fat)
4 tbs. vegetable oil (not olive)
¼ c. honey
3 large eggs
1.5 c. frozen or fresh blueberries

Cooking Instructions
  • Heat skillet or griddle over low heat.
  • Whisk together dry ingredients in large bowl.
  • Whisk together wet ingredients in another bowl.
  • Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients & whisk until just mixed.
  • Stir in blueberries
  • Increase heat to medium & brush skillet with oil. Pour batter, about 1 rounded tablespoon at a time.
  • Flip when set (watching for bubbles didn't work so well with this recipe. Just keep peeking under, and when brown, turn).

Oh, and yes, Chris thought these pancakes were really good. So, a winner!

28 July 2009

My "past lives"

I just created a Facebook account. Cathy and Garrett have them. Lots of friends and acquaintances do. So while Facebook seems vaguely creepy to me, I wanted to know for real -- rather than just having opinions in ignorance.

So, having just opened this account, I've been digging back through my past and looking for people that I've known whom I could befriend. In doing this (as some of you may have seen) I've written notes about gathering friends from my "past lives." An old friend, Tim, asked about that wording. And thinking about it, I decided to catalog them. I'm calling the "lives" blocks here.

My life prior to moving to Missouri (1970-79) is basically one block. The only people I might connect with from this time are family. I'd kind of like to find my two cousins and catch up a bit.

I think the next block is something like 1979-1984. During this time, I lived in Webster Groves, MO. I went to school for one year at Clark and then 3.5 years at Classical Junior Academy in St. Louis and half a year back at Hixson. And I loitered at The Shire and The Dragon's Lair quite a bit. There are people from CJA that I'd like to contact. Tim was the son of my dad's coworker and also a fellow Dragon's Lair orphan. I found him. Shawn, Mark, Steve and Mike are peers from this time also -- we also became acquainted around gaming at The 'Lair and I found all of them on Facebook right away. I suppose Paul deserves some mention here too. I met him in the same way, but I really think of him as being later in my life since we weren't yet BFFs (God, shoot me now).

High School (1985-88) must be the next block. I'm not sure who I'd want to talk to from this time. I was friends with the people from the previous block through this time also and most of the people I knew otherwise from HS were pretty casually acquainted. I bet that's not true for most folks...weird. I guess Josh would count from this block even though I knew him from Shawn, not HS (at first) -- I should look for him. And maybe Dawn. And Melanie.

1989-90 were my lost years. I dropped out of college, had like eight jobs and failed to take my community college load seriously. I think I hung out mostly with Paul and Josh and Inkpen as I drifted away or had falling outs with Shawn and Mike and Steve...and hey, Doug...is he around? Oh and MarkS... I did meet Bill during this time, so that was good.

90-91 were spent in Chicagoland living with Inkpen and Mike and Bill. I found Inkpen on Facebook and Jay -- but she hasn't responded yet to my friend request. No Keith, but I'm not sure of his spelling.

In 91 I moved to Columbia to go to school and stayed there until 99. I guess that's all one block. So that time could include ErikJ, a roommate. And coworkers from the Labs. And theoretically my employees at the labs, later. And my wife. :) And Teresa and Beth and David (who fit into the coworkers category). But also, Edmund and Aaron and James and Charles and Avril and Tim and Tim and ... who am I forgetting? Maybe Cathy's family since I got married during that time. I suppose I should count Garrett in that time though he seems to transcend these blocks in some ways. I guess this was also our first Gathering, so Bruce and maybe others would fit there, or maybe the next block.

My next block is the time lived in New Jersey -- 1999-2004. I worked at BMS -- I'd like to find Mark and Rui, maybe Jim and Bill and John. Who else? And we gamed at The 'Realm. Larry, Diane, Nick, Rob, etc.

And since 2004, we've been in Minnesota. So I have a few coworkers here. And my indie-MN group maybe, though I haven't searched for them yet. I have some online friends from this time too. I have to think about how to process them.

It's interesting, to me at least, that it was totally subconscious to allocate blocks, not only based on where I lived, but on who I was friends with and what I was doing.

25 July 2009

Trip to the North Shore

We just got back from Duluth and points north. Fun was had by all.

26 June 2009

More uses for kimchi

So, I had some noodles from the Thai restaurant near work for lunch yesterday. There were enough leftovers to be worth saving but not enough for a full meal. And I have this home-made kimchi -- so I brought it to work and stirred a bunch of it into my freshly microwaved noodles.

Who knew? It worked great! They are astoundingly complementary flavors. It's great that this stuff is easier to use than I had feared.

Tonight or tomorrow I'm going to start a new batch and document the making of it here.

24 June 2009

Blogging -- how, where and when?

If you're one of our three readers, you've noticed that we're crazily sporadic in our blogging. There's the whole "why am I blogging" question, of course, but also some other issues: When do I have time? Where am I when something blog-worthy happens? How is it best to get the notional information into the blog?

Cathy and I have had iPhones for a few months now. Wow. We love them. I'm thinking they should help us blog on the go. I can Tweet pretty easily from my phone, so why not "real" blogging. But after a few hours of looking around and configuring various services, I think the options are pretty lame just now. At least if you're on blogger/blogspot/Google. They don't have a custom iPhone app -- maybe because that would be unsupportive of Android and the combination of other things doesn't add up to a seamless whole.

Here's what I can do:

I can email to the blog. From the iPhone, this can include a single picture and I have to initiate the process from the image -- I can't just attach it from the email client (can you say stoopid?). But this is actually a pretty elegant solution for simple posting while out and about.

I have enabled the iGoogle widget that lets me blog (among other things) from within Safari. It's also an adequate option for low-complexity posts. The good thing with this is that I can save the draft and edit it later. And I can even do it immediately -- this tool provides a quick link in. But no images without following that link. And the tool is a bit hard to use on the mobile screen.

We have a Flickr account under Cathy's name. And there is an app for the iPhone called Flickit. It does a pretty astounding job of getting images from my phone to Flickr. And I configured Flickr so that we can blog right from an image over to here. That's neat. But again, it only supports a single image. You can add more, but it's a hassle on the phone. And actually, what I do from my desktop PC seems to be impossible. Flickr knows that I'm using a mobile browser and present a simplified interface. One of the simplifications includes not displaying the "small" version of the image and not giving out the URLs. So again, it's a pretty hopeless tool for anything but the most simple use-case.

There's also an SMS-posting tool but we're on a limited texting plan and I don't want to go down that route.

So, with this imperfect array of tools, I'm going to try to blog stuff a bit more. Maybe I'll have to come back and edit things when I have a real keyboard or maybe I'll develop a style around these tools.

I keep thinking about buying a new Mac Mini so that I can write iPhone apps of my own. Here's an amazing example of something that needs to be written.

Home-made food

I've been reading Wild Fermentation lately. Inspired by the book, Cathy helped me make some kimchi. And a few days ago I made a ball of Farmer's cheese.

So...making these things is very cool, but I don't always know what to do with them. Tonight I decided to dive in.

I started by sauteeing the "paneer" with pepper and celery salt and then I dump quite a bit of the kimch into the pan and stir-fried them together. To round it out, I added a package of commercial vegetarian kebobs -- some textured wheat gluten magic.

It was actually quite good.

(Also, this is me blogging from my iPhone for the first time -- it's a bit awkard, but cool.) (And as it turns out, I haven't yet figured out a decent way to add images...I had to come back in and edit...grr!)

31 March 2009

Random RPG entry

Over at Story Games there is a thread about creating random RPG covers. Some of them are really funny. Mine's not so much, but I followed the instructions and got what I got. Behold:

10 March 2009

Our lost decade

Over at Daily Kos, there is a GREAT essay on the last ten years and what we did with it. Go here. Read it. Thanks to JWalt for pointing it out.

20 February 2009

Discs looking for a home

Hi all, we're getting rid of a bunch of old CDs that we don't care about. We'll donate them to the library or school district and write them off for a bit over $2 each. I figured I should offer them to people I know who might want them. So, if anyone wants any of the following CDs for say US$2.50 plus shipping, they're yours (assuming they're not already claimed).

GenreArtist/GroupAlbum titleNotesComposerPerforming groupConductor
AlternativeSuicidal TendenciesSuicidal Tendencies
AlternativeSuicidal TendenciesHow Will I Laugh Tomorrow...When I Can't Even Smile Today
AlternativeSex PistolsNever Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols
AlternativeSkinny PuppyToo Dark Park
AlternativeMeat PuppetsForbidden Places
AlternativeMeat PuppetsMonsters
AlternativeMeat PuppetsToo High to Die
AlternativeWeenChocolate and Cheese
AlternativeRed Hot Chili PeppersMother's Milk
AlternativeThe ClashThe Clash
Alternative & PunkJesus JonesLiquidizer [Bonus Tracks]
Alternative & PunkScreeching WeaselAnthem For A New Tomorrow
ClassicalTokyo String QuartetString Quartets CompleteBartok / JanacekTokyo String Quartet
ClassicalBernstein Favorites: OverturesVariousNew York PhilharmonicLeonard Bernstein
ClassicalVarèse: Arcana; Holst: The PlanetsHost/VaresePhilharmonia OrchestraLeonard Slatkin
Classical"Grieg: Symphonic Dances, Norwegian Dances, Lyric Pieces"GriegGothenburg Symphony OrchestraNeeme Järvi
ClassicalJohann David Heinichen: Lamentationes PassionsmusikJohann David HeinichenMusica Antiqua KolnReinhard Goebel
Classical"Dvo?ák; Symphony #9, Slavonic Dances"DvorakNew York Philharmonic OrchestraKurt Masur
ClassicalHeinz Holliger"Handel: Oboe Concertos, Concerto Grosso"English Chamber Orchestra
ClassicalBernstein Arias and BarcarollesLondon Symphony OrchestraLeonard Bernstein
ClassicalAndre RieuThe Vienna I Love: Waltzes From My HeartJohann Strauss Orchestra
ClassicalModl & WindgassenWagner Tristan und Isolde Highlights
ClassicalRomantic Overtures: Wagner and MendelssohnPhilharmonia Hungarica"Arthur Gruber, Alois Springer"
ClassicalMozart Orchestral Legends
ClassicalPablo CasalsCasals Early Recordings 1925-1928
ClassicalSteven IsserlisBoccherini: Concertos and Sonatas for CelloBoccheriniOstrobothnian Chamber Orchestra
ClassicalCantus ArcticusEinojuhani Rautavaara
ClassicalBryn TerfelOpera AriasMetropolitan Opera OrchestraJames Levine
Classical"Copland: El Salón México, Music For The Theatre"Aaron CoplandNew York Philharmonic OrchestraLeonard Bernstein
ClassicalHaydn: London SymphoniesPhilharmonia OrchestraLeonard Slatkin
ClassicalDvo?ák's New World Symphony & Other Orchestral MasterworksDvo?ákChicago Symphony OrchestraFritz Reiner
ClassicalRussian Choral Music - Music of the PassionGlinka Choir Of Leningrad
ClassicalRussian Choral Music - Russian EasterChoir of the Trinity - St. Sergius Laura and the Moscow Theological Academy
ClassicalRussian Choral Music - Liturgy Of St. John Chrysostom - TchaikovskyPeter Ilyich TchaikovskyUSSR Ministry Of Culture Chamber ChoirValery Polyansky
ClassicalRussian Choral Music - Liturgy Of St. John Chrysostom - RachmaninovRachmaninovMoscow Chamber Choir
ClassicalRussel BrazzelTwentieth Century Cuban Music
Classical"Mozart Concerti K242, K365, K466"MozartEnglish Chamer OrchestraSir Georg Solti
ClassicalGorecki: Symphony No. 3Henryk GoreckiLondon SinfoniettaDavid Zinman
ClassicalItzhak Perlman and Daniel BarenboimMozart: Die Sonaten Fur Klavier Und Violine4 discsMozart
ClassicalJohn Williams and Arthur FiedlerAmerica The BeautifulBoston Pops Orchestra
ClassicalThe Wedding AlbumCompilation of music played at weddings.
ClassicalCarreras Domingo PavarottiThe Three Tenors in ConcertMehta
ClassicalKoechlin and ZinmanThe Jungle BookBerlin Symphony Orchestra
ClassicalVariousMaxiplay: Go For the Gold"""Greatest Hits"" of classical music. It's a good disc, though many music snobs would dislike it."
Classical"Cecilia Bartoli, Myung-Whun Chung"Chant D'Amour - Mélodies Françaises
Classical"Ravel: Boléro, Rapsodie Espagnole, Pavane, Alborada Del Gracioso, Daphnis Et Chloe"RavelChicago Symphony OrchestraDaniel Barenboim
ClassicalSibelius: Syphonies Nos. 2&6London Symphony OrchestraSir. Colin Davis
ClassicalThe Met OrchestraDon Quixote and Tod und Verklarung StraussThe Met OrchestraJames Levine
ClassicalRichard Strauss: Vier letzte Lieder; Tod und Verklärung; MetamorphosenStraussBerlin PhilharmonicVon Karajan
Classical"Strauss (R): Also Sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan"StraussBerlin PhilharmonicVon Karajan
ClassicalTchaikovsky Symphony #5TchaikovskyRadio Symphony OrchestraAnton Nanut
ClassicalThe Soloists From ZagrebThe Best of Vivaldi: 7 All Time Faborite ConcertosVivaldi
ClassicalNigel KennedyVivaldi: The Four SeasonsEnglish Chamber OrchestraNigel Kennedy
ClassicalItzhak Perlman and Israel ZoharTradition: Itzhak Perlman Plays Poplular Jewish MelodiesIsrael Philarhmonic OrchestraDov Seltzer
Classical"Eveline Schuler, Folk Harp"Sound of Austria: A Treasury of Alpine Folk MusicSchuler Folk Ensemble
ClassicalMusic Of BulgariaEnsemble of the Bulgarian RepublicPhilip Koutev
ClassicalThe Best of the German Marches IIThe Maritime Self Defence Force Band of Tokyo
ClassicalWagner: Ride of the Valkyries"""Great Orchestral Music From ""The Ring"""""WagnerCleveland OrchestraGeorge Szell
ClassicalSimon DentGreatest Oboe Concertos (Die Schonsten Oboenkonzerte)Vladislav Czarnecki
ClassicalGil ShahamViolin Romances: Romances for Violin an OrchestraOrpheus Chamber Orchestra
ClassicalVariousThe Magic of the CelloVariousVariousVarious
ClassicalCharles GerhardtClassic Film Scores For Errol FlynnNational Philharmonic Orchestra
Electronica/DanceFront 242Geography
Electronica/DanceFront 242Tyranny (for you)
Electronica/DanceFront 24205:22:09:12 Off
Electronica/DanceNitzer EbbAs Is [EP]stained case in poor shape. CD fine.
Electronica/DanceNitzer Ebbebbhead
Hip Hop/RapBeastie BoysLicensed to Ill
Hip Hop/RapBeastie BoysCheck Your Head
Hip Hop/RapDigital UndergroundSex Packets
Hip Hop/RapDJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince"He's The DJ, I'm The Rapper"
Hip Hop/RapDigital UndergroundThis is an E.P. Release
Jazz"Harry Connick, Jr."When Harry Met Sally Soundtrack
JazzLouis ArmstrongLaughin' Louie
JazzKenny GDuotones
JazzCharlie ParkerBird: The Original Recordings of Charlie Parker
JazzNatalie ColeUnforgettable With Love
MetalTwisted SisterBig Hits & Nasty Cuts
PopNeil DiamondHeartlight
PopElton JohnThe One
PopPhil CollinsSerious Hits… Live
PopThe New Christy MinstrelsGreatest Hits
PopThe Mamas and the Papas16 of their Greatest Hits
PopCarole KingTapestry
PopJefferson AirplaneJefferson Airplane
PopCarly SimonMy Romance
PopGeneration X Perfect Hits 1975-1981
PopAretha FranklinWhat You See is What You Get
PunkDanzig IIIHow the Gods Kill
R&BAretha FranklinThe Best of Aretha FranklinStill in shrink
R&BSly & the Family Stone Greatest Hits
R&BRay CharlesMy World
R&BThe DriftersGolden Hits
R&BRighteous BrothersAnthology 1962-1974 Disc 1
R&BRighteous BrothersAnthology 1962-1974 Disc 2
R&BRay CharlesThe Best of Ray Charles
RockThe AssociationGreatest Hits!
RockB-52sCosmic Thing
RockBow Wow WowI Want Candy
RockOingo BoingoBest O' Boingo
RockBlondieThe Best of Blondie
RockT-RexThe Very Best of T-Rex
RockStyxCome Sail Away: The Styx Anthology
RockMekonsThe Mekons Rock N'Roll
RockU2Rattle And Hum
RockThe TubesThe Best of the Tubes 1981-1987
RockSteve WinwoodRoll With It
RockThe RembrandtsLP
RockMen at WorkBusiness as Usual
RockElvis Costello & The AttractionsArmed Forces [Bonus Tracks]
RockEric ClaptonThe Cream of Clapton
RockGeorge Thorogood & The DestroyersThe Baddest Of George Thorogood & The Destroyers
RockRushMoving Pictures
RockSammy HagarUnboxed
RockDon HenleyI Can't Stand Still
RockJerry Lee Lewis18 Original Greatest Hits
RockJethro TullThick as a Brick
RockJethro TullAqualung
RockJethro TullOriginal Masters
RockVariousPunky But Chic: The American New Wave Scene
RockCreedence Clearwater RevivalChronicle
RockElvis PresleyThe Top 10 Hits disc 2RachmaninovUSSR Ministry Of Culture Chamber Choir
RockElvis PresleyThe Top 10 Hits disc 1
RockElvis PresleyThe Number 1 Hits
RockGolden EarringThe Continuing Story Of Radar Love
RockThe Guess WhoTack Record: The Guess Who Collection2 CD set
RockBob DylanUnder the Red Sky
RockAerosmithBig Ones
SoundtrackVariousPump Up The Volume Motion Picture Soundtrack
SoundtrackJohn WilliamsStar Wars Original SoundtrackJohn WilliamsLondon Symphony OrchestraJohn Williams
SoundtrackJohn WilliamsStar Wars A New Hope SoundtrackJohn WilliamsLondon Symphony OrchestraJohn Williams
SoundtrackJohn WilliamsTHE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK - Symphonic Suite from the Original Motion Picture ScoreJohn WilliamsNational Philharmonic Charles Gerhardt
SoundtrackBraveheart Original Motional Picture SoundtrackJames HornerLondon Symphony OrchestraJames Horner
SoundtrackIndependence Day Original Motion Picture SoundtrackDavid Arnold
SoundtrackJurassic Park Original Motion Picture SoundtrackJohn Williams
SoundtrackMission: Impossible - Music from and Inspired by the motion picture
SoundtrackHamlet Original Motion Picture SoundtrackEnnio Morricone
SoundtrackDances With Wolves Original Motion Picture SoundtrackJohn Barry
SoundtrackWyatt Earp: Music from the Motion PictureJames Newton Howard
SoundtrackWolf Original Motion Picture SoundtrackEnnio Morricone
SoundtrackStar Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace Original Motion Picture SoundtrackJohn WilliamsLondon Symphony Orchestra
SoundtrackVariousMusic from the Films of Clint EastwoodVarious
WorldBuckwheat ZydecoTaking It Home
WorldHebrew NationalKosher Classics

17 February 2009

Charlie's Soap: Best Laundry Soap ever!

Ok, I feel a bit silly blogging about a laundry soap, but I really like this stuff.

It's called "Charlie's Soap," and it's a small family-owned business. The soap is biodegradable, hypo-allergenic, and has no dyes or perfumes. The clothes come out of my dryer smelling... clean, not perfumy.

I got some of the soap because I'd heard that it actually eliminates the sour smell that comes from leaving laundry in a front-loading washing machine too long. I love my front-loader - it gets things cleaner than any other washing machine I've ever had, but if you leave a load in the washer for more than 4 or 5 hours, the clothes get stinky, and I'm TERRIBLE about starting a load in the evening, and forgetting about it until the next morning. Sigh... all that water savings goes right down the drain if you have to re-wash your clothes all the time. So, I'd taken to using the delay wash feature for when I started a load relatively late in the evening, so that the clothes would actually start washing the next morning. And I try to be prompt about transferring the clothes to the dryer.

Anyway, Charlie's Soap doesn't fully eliminate the mildew smell if you leave it overnight, but it's enormously better. And best of all, once you've used it awhile, you can stop using fabric softeners. Most of the stiffness in the cloth comes from all the chemicals and detergents and surfactants that never really get rinsed away fully (some fiber artists told me that it takes 15 rinses before it's all actually gone).

I asked why it works on the mildew smell, and it's because things like bleach and mildew killers actually kill or dessicate the mildew organism, but don't actually wash it away. So the mildew is still there, just in a dead form. And dead mildew is an EXCELLENT medium for growing new mildew. Charlie's Soap actually breaks up the mildew and washes it away. Mildew, if you leave wet clothes sealed up in the washer for long enough, will still happen, but it takes longer. Leaving the washer open when not in use also helps.

Charlie's Soap has very little suds, and rinses away completely, so no soap is left behind, which is why it helps those with chemical sensitivities, or dry or sensitive skin.

Even the pickiest members of my family agree that the clothes are coming out softer - plenty soft enough that we can discontinue the dryer sheets.

It comes in two forms - Powdered and Liquid. The latter is better for washing Gortex fabrics, but the powdered is great for just about everything else. And best of all? You use only a tablespoon per wash, and it really does dissolve completely. I can detect a faint odor when I stick my nose very close to the powder. The liquid has a more noticible scent, but it just smells kind of soapy to me. I'll be using the powdered most of the time. It's more concentrated, and you can buy it in 5-gallon buckets, which is good for well over 1000 washes (the price ends up being $0.11 per load if you buy it in that quantity at full price (I bought a few other items, which dropped the price on the big bucket even farther), which is better than 1/2 the cost of liquid purchased at a grocery store. I got some of the all-purpose cleaner to use as a spot cleaner.

Shipping is always free on the big buckets. Right now, through the end of February, shipping is free on any item, but it's goes back up to free shipping with orders greater than $25 or thereabouts, in March.

05 February 2009

Best book for learning to knit?

I'm learning to knit.

I've learned one cast on stitch (I think it's called the "slingshot" cast on), and I know one stitch - the "knit" stitch. Instead of doing 10 rows as my learning piece the way the little manual said, I've kept going with it, aiming for 10 rows with no mistakes before going on to the next stitch.

I've found the little books on knitting to be confusing and hard to follow - it wasn't until I watched some videos on Youtube that I was able to figure out how to cast on, or how to do the knit stitch.

There's a video at Amazon that people seem to like a lot (110 reviews, and rated at 5 stars):

My main gripe with this, is that I don't think I'll be going back and re-using it over and over once I've learned the basic items. I like the fact that once I've SEEN how to do something, the pictures in the books all start to make sense. I'd pull out a book and glance back at it regularly, but a DVD is less handy.

And then I found this book:

It's relatively new and so has no reviews yet. But it looks REALLY cool.

My husband says the Teach Yourself Visually books are pretty good:

It's got pretty good reviews (4.5 stars in over 70 reviews) but there are comments that said it was hard to follow the pictures.

Anyone have any suggestions for the best overall book for beginners?

03 February 2009

Snow Tubing and Girl Scouts

Kivi is a Girl Scout Daisy (Daisy is the group before Brownie), and tonight we went to Buck Hill in Burnsville, Minnesota to go tubing for a Girl Scout event. We got the group rates ($12/person), and everyone on the tubing hill was either a Girl Scout, or a family member of one.

It was insanely fun.

First of all, they had a pull lift that towed you up the hill on your inner tube. So that was kinda fun, but a little slow (it took 2-3 minutes to get to the top of the hill). Then you rolled off your tube, and towed it over to the edge of the hill. Then when the attendent said "Go!" you got on your tube and slid down the hill. Really, really fast. So fast that my shoulders, incased in a long-sleaved Tshirt, a sweat shirt, and my Maine Warden Parka from LLBean, got a little cold. So fast that if I'd wiped out, I could have broken my neck. So fast that if I didn't get onto the tube right, and my knees could drag, it was like slamming them repeatedly into rocks (well, ice and snow chunks).

I have to say it again. It was insanely fun. And cold. And tiring. But after 2 hours, I was good to go another few times down the hill despite being 50 pounds overweight, and my 7-year-old daughter was asking to go home (though she asked if we could return the following night). Wow. I could really get into this.

Oh, and my new mittens did a pretty good job - it was 1 degree above zero Fahrenheit, and pretty cold, but my hands stayed pretty warm.

It was really fun. Wow.

28 January 2009

Quest for the best mittens

I live in Minnesota. I have rather poor circulation in my hands and feet. I don't have Raynaud's (and yes, I've been tested for it), but it IS hard to keep my hands warm while in the very cold outdoors.

I've lived near Minneapolis for just over 4 years now, and I've learned a few things:

  1. Thick wool socks (Smartwool is my favorite) and boiled wool slippers do an awfully good job of keeping my feet warm in my house, particularly in my basement, where my computer is. I find the boiled wool slippers warmer and more breathable than shearling-lined slippers.
  2. A foot-of-the-bed warmer (like a bedwarmer, but only across the foot of the bed) does a GREAT job of warming up my feet faster so I can go to sleep (so the wool socks aren't always perfect!). We have ours on a timer, so it comes on at 8:00pm, and goes off at 12:30pm. It only warms the bed to about 80 degrees, but it's great!
  3. Warm boots (sporting good stores have some that guarantee down to -20, and they work!)
  4. Layers. I now own Smart Wool glove liners and ordered a pair of their heaviest weight long-johns.
  5. Gloves or preferably mittens are REQUIRED for outdoors. And not just any ones will do. After awhile you learn to do nearly anything without removing them.
That last issue has proven the hardest to solve. I had a pair of Northface gloves, that cost me $60, and even during moderate activity like shoveling snow or snowblowing, or ice skating, my finger tips would get painfully cold. Northface, which is a fine company, probably has warmer hand wear, but those gloves just didn't work for me, and I dealt with them for 2 years. And then, after two times in as many days of getting excrutiatingly painfully cold fingers, I decided to upgrade.

As I did my research, I found that most people urged me to get something with leather. Lots of people urged wool. As a vegetarian, I try to avoid leather, so I don't get leather purses, though I still wear leather shoes. But I try to care for them and extend their use as best I can (my Birkenstocks are on their way to be re-soled).

And mittens were UNIVERSALLY recommended over gloves. So I tried 3 different gloves in the $80-$100 range (you can find gloves that run well into the hundreds of dollars). I didn't want electric gloves - would rather avoid batteries or disposable chemical warmers.

All three mittens are available in both men's and women's versions, though I show the women's below. The shipping ranged from free to $10 to get them to me, and all three vendors were good to work with and were very nice and accept full returns. LLBean accepts returns forever, and Snowshack asks for them back within 30 days and Backcountry Gear asks for 60 day returns. I don't remember if they have requirements as to sellable condition, but I always expect to return them that way anyway, so any tests I did would not be rigorous, or mark them up at all. I didn't even cut them apart. I bought a women's size large in all three, and one fit, one was too big, and one was too small, yet all assigned my hands(7.5" long and 7.5" around the knuckles) to the same size (I bought up a size in all 3 cases). I have strong, squarish, capable looking hands, that are far from slender. I tend to prefer my gloves to be a little big, rather than small. I don't like gloves to feel constricting.

Now, here are the results and observations about each one. The links are to the vender's page that sold me the mitten.

1. Swany X-Cell II Mittens:

These are the ones I'm keeping. They were the most expensive, and were all leather. I had hoped to avoid leather, but these were hands down the best when all was taken into consideration. They are simply the most comfortable hand wear I've ever felt. They are soft and warm, very very supple, and not very bulky. They are in fact, shockingly NOT bulky, such that you wonder how they can possibly be warm. They are mittens on the outside, but the non-removable liners had separate slots for your fingers. They slide on and right into place. They also have shielded (so wind doesn't go through) zippers on the back to hold change or a key, or a chemical hand warmer. They were the only pair that had that. I CAN put them on over my Smart wool glove liners, but they are a bit tight. Because I couldn't find any reviews of these gloves (or of the previous model) I contacted the company. I saw lots of recommendations for a cheaper model (the "toaster") as being warm, and as these are supposed to be the warmest of their mittens, I wanted to double check that these would be warmer than the toasters. The lady listened to what I had to say about my circulation problems, and she was actually hesitant to recommend their gloves given my problems. I appreciated her honesty, and decided to test them out anyway. The size large was perfect. The gauntlets were a little more minimal on these, and could go either over or under my coat sleeves, depending on preference. I suspect that the glove version would also be delightful, but I wanted the added warmth of the mittens. Maybe I'll treat myself to the gloves in a few years. :-)

2. Black Diamond Mercury Mitts:

I saw LOTS of reviews that said these were some of the warmest mittens they had tried on. They are made of man-made materials, except for the leather palm. They are quite bulky, and were the least dexterous of the bunch, and in fact, I couldn't get my car door open (from the inside) while wearing them - I had to remove them to do it. They are DELIGHTFULLY soft on the inside and fuzzy, and have a "trigger finger" removable liner - the liner has a separate index finger AND thumb, and a third slot for your last three fingers. However, these gloves ran big, and I found myself sliding all 4 fingers into the 3 outer finger spot, AND there was plenty of room that way. My husband who has big hands could get them on pretty well, even. I suspect that over time, I'd get used to how to hold my hands to make my index finger go into the right spot, so I would NOT consider this a deal breaker or even a problem. The liner also velcros firmly into place so they act and feel like an integrated unit, making them easy to get on - no weird adjusting necessary. They also accommodated a Smart wool glove liner with ease and comfort. I suspect that these would have been the warmest, IF they had not been too big. But even if the size had been right, they still would have been bulkier than I wanted. So, I do give these a hearty thumbs up, even if they were not my ultimate choice. If your hands are like mine, I would get these in a medium. The gauntlet cuff was much longer on these, and I believe they are designed to go OVER your coat sleeves.

The test: I wore BOTH pairs of mittens - the Swanys on my right, with the extra mitten dangling, and the Black Diamonds on my left, with the extra one dangling (I didn't disconnect them to avoid making them less sellable). I walked (at a stroll) for 5 blocks to pick up my car. It was after dark, and a degree or two below zero. My hands never got cold under that very light activity, in either glove. Initially the Black diamonds seemed warmer, but as they were too big, cold pockets formed just beyond my finger tips, and to the side of my pinky, and if I shifted my hand a bit, it was like sticking them into a fridge. I really believe this would not have been a problem with a smaller mitten. Initially during the walk, the Swany's seemed ever so slightly cooler, but by the end of my walk, my hand - while not quite toasty, was not at all cold (an ENORMOUS improvement over my old, expensive, and supposedly high-tech gloves), and there were no cold pockets, and my hand was warmer. Then I tried to drive home, and discovered my problem with opening the car door in the bulkier mittens. I could open the car from the outside with either one - it's just that the inside latch was smaller. I also hit my turn signal once by accident due to the bulkiness. I suspect that would also be something you'd learn to work around. I also expect that I will always be doing light to moderate activity while wearing them. Main use: ice skating, and shoveling or snowblowing snow, or walking. Walking is the lightest of the 3 activities. So... Swanys were better when considering bulk AND warmth.

3. Ascent Mittens by L.L. Bean:

Finally, I also tried the LLBean Ascent mittens, which were the only ones to not have any leather at all. I've got lots of interesting things to say about these mittens. LLBEAN service is by far the best. I LOVE L.L. Bean. I buy lots of my clothes there. And I suspect that these gloves, had they fit properly would have been my choice. But, the removable gloves liners, which are made of power-stretch polartec fleece, are just too constricting. I also found it slightly hard to get my hand past the narrower wrist area. They were less bulky and much more dexterous than the Black Diamonds, and similarly bulky but less dexterous than the Swanys. I don't know how they would have rated in warmth with regard to the Swany's, but Bean is sold out of the bigger men's sizes until next fall, so I cannot order the next size up until then. The removeable liners are actually usable as gloves, and would even be pretty good that way - they have a grippy fabric sewn to the index finger, thumb and palm. They felt warm, but were so tight, they simply were not comfortable, and it's completely the fault of the liner (and from the reviews on their site of the men's version, I'm not the only one who found this to be true). I tried my wool liners with just the shells, and they were much more comfortable. I was also concerned that the men's medium, which was very slightly bigger, MIGHT have been too long, and I would have given them a try, but they just aren't available at the moment. Again, I would say that they are likely very good mittens, but definitely get a couple of different sizes or just order up a size. And maybe that's not necessary for your hand type if you have slimmer fingers or hands. Interestingly, I found a Good Housekeeping review of them, where the reviewers put temperature probes inside, and turned the temp down to 30 degrees, and it took 130 minutes for them to cool down to 30 degrees on the inside. So I suspect that these are fine, and quite warm mittens. They just didn't work for me.

Anyway, I hope folks find this useful.

27 January 2009

I'm an illiterate boob

I'm educated. Sort of. I have degrees from university. And I can participate in most conversations. But sometimes I get the feeling that I really have just the tiniest hint of a proper education. The thing that causes that this time is reading through the list of 1000 novels everyone must read as selected by The Guardian.

I've only read 61.

I've seen motion picture renditions of another 20-25 of them, but that doesn't really count.

There are a few more that I started and stopped, but those don't count either.

22 January 2009

Compare two text files, an application

I write tons of little applications (in Windows XP) for my day job. I should share more of them. This one allows you to browse to two text files and perform a line/character comparison. If you want it, download the installer here. Let me know if it does(n't) work or you have any suggestions.