Sunday, July 31, 2011

July 2011 Round Up

Click mosaic to biggify. Created using Big Huge Labs Mosaic Maker.

What books and/or magazines did I read this month?
Nearly finished with Wuthering Heights, which I've never read before. Honestly not understanding the fascination.

What movies and/or tv shows did I watch this month?
* TV Time: Still going with The Closer, Rizzoli and Isles, Suits, and In Plain Sight. Watched a lot of Murder She Wrote this month, for some reason, usually late at night (not sleeping well). Finally catching Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work on PBS. Saw an excellent GPB special on Margaret Mitchell.
* New Films: There were a bunch this month, so I'll bullet them.
- Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Meh, though better than the second one.
- Captain America - Really great movie! About as close to a chick flick comic movie as we're going to get; old fashioned, genuine, and romantic.
- Social Network - Well acted, but I didn't necessarily like it; I prefer my Sorkin in West Wing form.
- Secretariat - Pretty good, though I think Seabiscuit was better.
- Don Juan De Marco - Definitely different, but that's pretty normal for Johnny Depp; very sweet movie, though.
- How the West Was Won - Interesting; glad I saw it, and amazing to see all of those classic actors in it, but can't say I really liked it.
- Winnie the Pooh - Excellent entry to the Pooh tales! Absolutely loved it; laughed loud and often.
- Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole - This was okay. Definitely different, and awfully violent and intense for a PG film; too old for Luke for now.
* Old Favorites: The Land Before Time II, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Star Wars, Disney's Sleeping Beauty, Groundhog Day, Atlantis, FernGully, Ratatouille, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Tangled, Avatar, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, Cars 2 (yes, again, in the theater; went with my best friend while she was here, as she and her daughter hadn't seen it)

What special days did I celebrate and how?
We decided to go out with a bang before clamping down on all spending. As a Christmas gift, we had promised my mom a visit to Fogo de Chao, since neither she nor Dad had ever been. Combine that with our anniversary and our last chance to spend any money, and we made reservations for Saturday. Everyone had a great time and really enjoyed the experience. (And I am kicking myself for not having someone take a picture while we were there.) Now we don't need to go back for another 5 years! LOL

What gifts did I give and/or receive?
My dad sent me a new external hard drive, since mine is old and full (only 300 GB, how was I to live on so little! LOL). I now have a lovely new 1 TB drive. I also received a couple of gift certificates to Amazon from my parents and a friend, and a movie gift card from my brother for my birthday. Gave Connie some things for her girls while they were here.

What illnesses or health concerns did I have?
Oh my goodness, do I really get to say it? For real this month? None! I had to change my prescriptions, because I couldn't afford the other meds I was on with our new budget (or lack there of), but that's more of a financial concern.

What fun things did I do with my friends and/or family?
Visited with my best friend from Texas, and met some old friends for dinner while she was here. My birthday was very low key, just cards and lunch at Olive Garden. I did have lunch with my parents the following weekend on their way home from a trip to New Mexico to see my aunt.

What new foods, recipes or restaurants did I try this month?
Alton Brown Cocoa Brownies (yum, need to try again when baking alone), Bubble Up Pizza (good for something different on occasion, needs a little tweaking, sadly not any cheaper than frozen pizza, though does yield leftovers when frozen pizza does not; hmm). We also ate at Figo for the first time with our friends while Connie was here.

What special or unusual purchases did I make?
I started buying the Sunday paper, which is definitely unusual.

What were this month's disappointments or frustrations?
I've been trying to adjust to some new blood pressure meds (these are less expensive), but my head hurt for nearly two weeks (adjustment, not pressure), and the fatigue has been incredible. After three weeks, it is a little better, but I'm still not completely adjusted. And apparently, I am more stressed than I thought, because I had a complete and total meltdown one day in the last week. Let's just say it wasn't pretty. It didn't help that I had a nibble on the resume (which was nice), but nothing came of it.

What were my accomplishments this month?
How about a 101 Things in 1001 Days update? I completed three new items, and made some progress on some others.

4. Try a new recipe or restaurant every 3 months. Not a bad little goal, and I enjoyed it. I think I'm going to split out the goals for new recipes and new restaurants next time around, though.

6. Send an RAK every 3 months. Finished. I tend to do these secretly, so I can't tell you who/what/how! LOL

99. Make and install a favicon on my blog and website. I had tried to do this more than once, but couldn't make it work. Then I found, which allows you to either download some of their user made favicons and gives in instructions for how to get them to work (that's what I did), or allows you to make your own. It was really neat! All of my blogs and some of my website pages (the ones I actually use, like the 101 Things page) now have favicons.

Speaking of the 101 Things list, I thought I already had item 101 wrapped up (have a new list of 101 things ready by day 1001), but the change in our financial circumstances have caused me to have to drop about 1/4 of the items I originally had! I'm still short 15 or so, and I am really having trouble with the last few. I've got, um, 60 days.

In financial news, I made excellent progress on my price book for groceries, which allowed me to do a Costco price analysis. That showed that we could probably save enough to make it worthwhile, so we joined. We switched to a new cable package to save some money. Get this: we now have (VoIP) phone, plus have all major movie channels (Starz, HBO, Cinemax, Showtime), plus faster internet, and cable bill went *down,* plus we got to drop the land line bill. How crazy is that?! Cutting back on eating out has also caused me to lose 5 pounds in July, bring my total lost since Memorial Day to 13 lbs. To chronicle our fiscal progress and accomplishments, I started a new blog about our frugal experiments.

Speaking of blogging, I finally started blogging about Boston. I started writing the entries in late June, but I waited until I had several entries written before starting to post them because I didn't want too much time to lapse between entries. Really have to get back to writing them, because I'm about out of buffer! LOL I tried making brownies from scratch with Luke, which I also blogged about. The brownies themselves were way yummy, but I'm not sure the mess and frustration were worth it.

In the silly department, I watched nearly all of the longest Braves game in Atlanta history. I stuck with it until the 18th inning, but after 6+ hours and the equivalent of two full baseball games, I had to go to bed! The boys finally managed to win it in the 19th. I've also started participating in the Get Glue community. You "check in" to various things (I mainly use it to track TV shows and movies) and you can earn virtual stickers. But, every 20 virtual stickers you earn can be printed as actual stickers, absolutely free! I know, it's not much, but I managed to earn my first 20 stickers and they should arrive in the next few weeks. I am embarrassingly excited about this.

What were Luke's accomplishments this month?

Completely missed a weekly photo there. I think I've only done that once or twice before. Anyway, I'm not sure Luke accomplished much this month besides surviving. It has been *so* hot, especially the end of the month. But school starts in a week, so there should be lots more in the accomplishment department next month.

Anything else noteworthy to record?
Watched the safe launch and landing of the final shuttle mission. Wondering where the American space program is heading next.

Monthly Round Up courtesy of Katie the Scrapbook Lady.

Currently feeling: finally rounded up

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Winnie the Pooh

I will admit, I am a completely unabashed Winnie the Pooh fan. Love love love!! As you probably know by now, we usually screen every single movie that Luke sees before he sees it, even in the theater. (Yes, DH and I have seen Kung Fu Panda 2 twice this summer! We would have also seen Cars 2 twice, but instead we let him go with my parents (after we had seen and approved it) while we went to Transformers.) But we decided that Winnie the Pooh was probably a safe bet and went today, sight unseen. Special thanks to my brother for the gift certificate for my birthday!

[Side Note: One of my favorite things about our movie theater are these excellent "home made" (not a studio provided promo kit) window displays. I wish I'd been taking photos of all of them over the years!]

What a delightful movie! I laughed more in those 70 minutes than I have in the last few weeks (months?) combined. It was beyond adorable, quite clever with language in some places, and even a couple of references just for the adults (but not "adult" in any way). Just a great fun sweet classic film. If you are a Pooh fan, you simply must see it.

I haven't watched much of the new Pooh stuff, so this was my first prolonged exposure to the new voices. Pooh and Piglet are spot on! I haven't seen the original in a few months, but I'm not sure I could have told you that these were not voiced by the original guys (except that I know that both men are no longer living). Amazing! Eeyore is close, but the person they got is a perfect replacement in tone and spirit, if not in actual timbre (I know him from other things). Tigger is pretty good, and he's been doing it long enough that I am accustomed to the differences. (Note: the same man does both Pooh and Tigger!) Rabbit and Owl aren't close to the original, but they are in keeping with the spirit of the characters, and the narrator was *much* closer than I ever would have imagined he could be, given who it is. I love trying to place voices in animated films, so I had a great time admiring the work and picking out the differences. (I know, I'm weird! LOL) Truly a fun film, and we all had a great time.

Except when the power went out! Less than 10 minutes from the end, the entire complex lost power for 10-15 seconds. The emergency lights came on and everything! It wasn't storming or anything, and the manager said he had no idea what caused it. It took about 5 minutes for the movie to restart; operators had to go to each theater booth and restart the films by hand. But it picked up exactly where it left off, and all was well. Do stay for the credits if the kids will let you. They're cute on their own, and there is a small coda/stinger at the end.

Currently feeling: loving my Pooh bear

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Boston 2011 - Day 2, Part 2: Museum of Science

Previously: Boston 2011 - Day 2, Part 1: Museum of Fine Art

After spending the morning at the Boston Museum of Fine Art, we needed something a bit more interactive for Luke to do in the afternoon, yet it still needed to be inside due to the cold and the rain. Our next stop was the Museum of Science. Well, once we figured out how to get there. The Science Park T Stop is right at the museum, but the train stopped at North Station and forced everyone off onto buses due to some sort of renovation going on. At least the signage was good, but it took several buses to pick everyone up and get us to the next station.

The atrium is huge, but there isn't much to see. The ticketing lines were long (again, forgot it was Sunday), but the kiosks weren't too bad. They only had one entrance turnstile open and there was a woman arguing about her tickets with the guy. By the time he sent her to customer service, there were a good 40 people waiting to go in. ::rolls eyes:: But once we got in, it was impressive.

Okay, big dinosaurs, good. What else ya got?

Now we're talking! LOL We had a primary purpose for being at the museum, but it wasn't time yet, so we found some stuff to keep us busy nearby.

Finally it was time to enter the Theater of Electricity!

And what do those big things do? This!

Note that second picture up there, with the lightning striking the tire. Proof that it isn't the rubber tires that keep you safe in a car, it is being surrounded completely by metal. Don't believe it? How about a demonstration:

Bird Cage Lightning Strikes

He is completely surrounded by a metal cage, with no rubber or other insulators. He even touches the inside of the cage as it is being struck! Not sure I'm that brave, but obviously, it works. We also got to see the Tesla coils.

Including hearing one "sing" the William Tell Overture (this is cropped to just a few seconds).

Singing Tesla Coil - William Tell Overture

Sadly, the finale "lightning storm" was a huge bust. Apparently, it was just too humid with all the rain of the past two days. I think we might have gotten a single strike? According to a quick YouTube search, we got robbed! The presenter guy was quite embarrassed, but there wasn't anything anyone could do about it besides come back for the next show, but I knew Luke wasn't going to be able to sit through it again, so we just moved on. I just advise you to go on a dry day if you're going to try it.

Now, to see what else the museum had to offer! We headed upstairs to the "Physics of the Playground" area, which had a bunch of fun interactive things to do. I didn't get photos of all of them, but he liked the see-saw (his first time getting to do it with other kids!).

And he really liked this "calculate your speed" experiment, though he had no interest in his actual speed (and we didn't bother calculating). Clearly, the grown-ups were having fun playing with the optic capabilities of their cameras, though. See, physics really is everywere! LOL

This is an Archimedes Screw, which I had never heard of before. As you turn the cylinder with the tube wrapped around it, the liquid moves up the tube. Totally simple and brilliant!

We may have canceled our plans to go to Yosemite, but we still got to see a sequoia! (well, part of one)

This was always my favorite room in any science museum room growing up, the optics room. They had the usual optical illusions and such, but they also had prisms and light games:

Another thing I always fiddled with as a kid, and Luke was fascinated by it. Match the color (he was pretty good at it).

I found these spinning discs fascinating. They had several, but this one was the most striking. I'm sure it was basically lenticular, but the cheap ones I am accustomed to only go through 2 or 3 "steps." This one had several more; it was very impressive in action.

Spinning Bat Disc

And I really wanted to take a quick group shot.

I thought this wall was so cool! What, you don't see us? How about now?

Still no? Here are some close ups, cropped directly out of the photos above.

I picked the "group shot" above because it shows 4 of the 5 of us really well. Naturally, no single shot showed all 5 of us clearly, and we didn't have time to fiddle with it. So just to prove I was there, here is a crop out of one of the other photos:

There was tons of other stuff to do there, much of which we didn't even get to, but we were all crashing, and it was time to go. As we were leaving, we spotted these footprints on the carpet, then noticed the glass. Nothing like standing in two cities at once!

As Mom and I sat on a bench to figure out dinner, I noticed Luke in this pose, with the reflection in the glass. It is one of my favorite photos from the whole trip.

And I took it from an entire city away; he was in Cambridge and I was in Boston! LOL We decided on Quincy Market for dinner since we had to go right through the station to get back to the hotel. I think we all ate at different places. Mom and I split a skewer of chicken wrapped in bacon with roasted potatoes (had to be roasted in the bacon fat, they were so yum!). Dad got a breakfast bagel from Finagle a Bagel, DH got Japanese hibachi teriyaki chicken (yes, from a "food court"), and Luke got some chicken tenders. Good heavens, it was expensive! Yummy and convenient, but expensive. Not so expensive that we didn't return another day, though (remember, yummy and convenient).

I'm not sure what time we got back to the hotel, but I can tell you that the three of us were in bed by 7:30 and asleep by 8, and I imagine my parents were similar. We were just *so* tired. We'd been walking and/or on our feet nearly the entire day. Such was to be the story of the entire trip, but it was a great first full day in Boston!

Continue Reading: Boston 2011 - Day 3, Part 1: Freedom Trail, Part 1

Currently feeling: scientific

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pavlov is alive and well

Twice this month, we have proved that Pavlov and his theories on conditioning are still hard at work. The first time was at the very beginning of the month. The front doorbell rang, and Luke says "is it pizza?" Never mind that it was 9:30 AM! No, honey, it's not pizza, it is a mail delivery. I'm a little embarrassed that this was his first thought! LOL

The second time was less than a week later. We put Luke to bed, then DH went out to pick up just a couple of things from the grocery store. As soon as the car door slammed, indicating he was home, Tigger (our cat) got up off the sofa and trotted over to my chair, jumping up on the arm. At first, I had no idea why she did that. Then DH came in, dropped off the things in the kitchen. She was looking at him very expectantly, and I finally figured out why. She thought he had gone to Dairy Queen! Sadly, that is the usual pattern: put child to bed, dark outside, DH leaves and comes home quickly with ice cream. I am both amused and dismayed that we do (well did) it often enough that she makes the association. Who says cats can't be trained?! LOL

Currently feeling: a bit embarrassed

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Boston 2011 - Day 2, Part 1: Museum of Fine Art

Previously: Boston 2011 - Day 1: Arrival

More cold and rain greeted us for our first full day in Beantown. DH and I only had one pair of jeans each, and I had thrown a second pair for Luke in the suitcase at the very last minute. Again, the high was only supposed to be about 60F/15.5C all day. In June?! Still, given all the walking we were doing with no car, I'd prefer too cold over too warm any day (and we had that theory proven to us later in the week!). As predicted, Luke was up early, though not insanely so (if you consider 630 AM not insane), and we were breakfasting in Mom and Dad's room before 7.

Our first stop for the day was the Museum of Fine Art. It was truly one of those pleasant surprises of our 2003 trip, and I really thought everyone would enjoy it. And we did, once they let us inside. They had us queueing outside in the cold and rain for several minutes "to let the inside line die down some." I assumed that meant that they were completely packed out in the lobby, and I was dismayed. Turns out, they had *plenty* of internal queue available, but they didn't want it "looking too full." Um, excuse me, you'd rather us wait in the cold and rain than ruin the asthetic?!! THIS is what happens when you let artists run things, sheesh! (They also had one of the worst maps known to man inside; way more artsy than useful.)

I had a couple of main targets for Luke while we were there, including the music room (he's been asking lots of questions about musical instruments recently). The fourth photo below is a hurdy gurdy, and we actually saw someone playing one outside the Old State House later in the trip!

There was a really neat collection of model ships on the lower floor.

And there was also the the "Ancient Cultures" area:

A.k.a. the mummy stuff!

Luke thought that was pretty cool. It even held his interest slightly longer than I expected. They had other ancient cultures on display as well, but believe it or not, I am trying to limit the pictures a little. But I did want to show this one in particular, as it has special meaning for me.

To quote part of the sign accompanying this lion:
Lion from the Processional Way
Colored glazed tiles

Iraq (Babylon), Neo-Babylonian Period, reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, 604-561 BC

In the 1890s, German archaeologists excavated at Babylon 120 tile reliefs of striding lions - sacred to the goddess Ishtar - that had decorated the walls along the Processional Way, leading from the Ishtar Gate to the temple tower of the god Marduk, Babylon's chief god. (It was this tower that inspired the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel.)
So why do I think this is a big deal? I've seen the wall this lion came from in another museum! The rest of the Ishtar Gate is housed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. I saw it in person back in 1995 when I went on a choir tour of Germany. (Remember, Leah?) It is actually one of the few things I remember distinctly about the museum, and as soon as I laid eyes on this lion, I knew exactly what it was from. I'm sure I have photos of the gate somewhere, but they are likely buried in the basement at the moment. Google Pergamon Museum and pictures of the Ishtar Gate will show up. Anyway, it was just amazing to me to have seen the whole gate with "replica" animals in it over 15 years ago (that hurt to type), then to see an original animal all these years later, in Boston of all places.

However, the star attraction that made this museum visit a must was in the basement.

I wish I had a photo of my mom's face when she saw the banners in front of the museum announcing the Chihuly glass exhibit. She was *so* excited! I'm so glad I kept it a secret and was able to surprise them. If you have no idea who/what Chihuly is, just keep reading. For the record, it was near impossible to cull these photos! I've whittled it down to these few (yes, few!), with a montage of lots more at the end. All photos in this post (and all of these Boston posts) are a mix of those taken by my parents and me, with even the occasional shot from my husband. Hope you enjoy!

I absolutely *love* the shadows cast on the wall by that chandelier. It was huge, by the way. Not sure the photo conveys that very accurately. See the spikes on the tree? You can get a fair idea of the size of them with the people in the photo. Okay, the spikes in the red chandelier were at least half again as big, maybe twice. Huge! Next up was the boat.

Again, I feel like some of the scale is lost. I would guess the boat is at least 15 feet (5m) long, likely longer. That blue flower in close up was about the size of a dinner plate (10-ish inches (25 cm) or so across). Next was a room full of vases. I got Luke in frame on one of those to show scale, but he is a good 6 feet (2m) behind it.

These were really neat. They remind me so much of ocean creatures; I imagine that was intentional but I don't really know. With us having to follow Luke around, making sure he didn't touch anything and that he didn't get too bored, I didn't get to read all the info about each piece. (Actually, I'm not sure I got to read anything!) They were also packed. I had forgotten that it was Sunday when I planned our visit, and I couldn't figure out why there were so many people there on a weekday.

Then came this huge room just full of huge glass pieces. I call it the garden. I think Mom is the only person who made it down the far side, though I think they were largely similar/symmetrical.

Next up was the ceiling. I could have stayed in this room all day long. I would guess that it was at least 16x20 feet (5m x 6m), maybe larger. Walking into a white walled room after so many completely black rooms was a bit of an adjustment, but so beautiful. Even Luke was fascinated for a while. With all the glass, all the light, and all the people, it was terribly hot in there as well.

The next room is full of what I think of when someone says Chihuly, these squiggling shapes. There were six of these hanging pieces, though one of them no one in the family really liked, so there were only 4 or 5 photos of it, none of which are included here (Mom said it reminded her of guts, and she would know; she works for a GI doctor! LOL). The smallest was over 6 feet (2m) tall.

Luke liked the blue one best.

And I think this yellow one was my personal favorite, though it was much higher in the air, so it was more difficult to photograph.

As you exited (into the gift shop, of course, which was *packed* with people and way overheated), this was the last piece on display. Very serene and lovely, but frankly, not the most impressive piece in the world.

Still, the Chihuly glass alone was worth the visit, and the other things were simply icing on the cake. You can see more photos on this montage, if you're interested.

After the glass, it was time to eat. There is a cafe set up right in the main courtyard of the museum. We checked the menu, and it was terribly expensive, serving mostly things that I couldn't pronounce. For goodness sake, people, I have a 6 year old! Is there no where in this gigantic museum to get normal food? Turns out that yes, there is. It was the Garden Cafeteria, and other than being a total pain to find, it was pretty good. A bit overpriced, but we expected that, and close (i.e. not out walking in the rain) was more important at the time. It was also full of the waiters for the froufrou restaurant we had passed up! LOL I consider that a pretty good sign. We had pizza and hot dogs, and they were quite good, though Dad does *not* recommend the ballpark mustard.

Sadly, we had only barely scratched the surface of what this museum has to offer. We didn't do any of the left side of the museum, and we never made it to the second or third floors. You could easily spend the entire day there, likely two, and still not see it all. But there is only so much "look at the pretty things" Luke can do before he goes crazy, so we needed to find something more interactive and/or stimulating for him that afternoon. Like the Museum of Science! But that's another post....

Continue Reading: Boston 2011 - Day 2, Part 2: Museum of Science

Currently feeling: amazed