Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Oscars #79

I don't care what any reviewers say, I liked the 2007 Academy Awards. I must admit that I had not seen so many of the movies as I have in other years, but I still wanted to watch the show and root for some of my favorites. First of all, Ellen DeGeneres did a decent, if not excellent, job. She bantered nicely with the audience, and did her standard self-deprecating shtick. Not fall on the floor funny, but good enough to make you smile a few times.

I was most pleasantly surprised by the interpretive dancers. Usually anything being called interpretive dance is painful in the extreme, but this was actually quite clever and impressive. Behind a shadow screen several dancers would jump onto the strange and quickly form themselves into shapes representing the movies. A van with people inside for Little Miss Sunshine, a trio of penguins for Happy Feet, and so on.

The musical number with Will Farrel and Jack Black was really very funny. They sang (badly) about how they will never win Oscars because they are comedians. Then John C. Riley (I think it was him) jumped out of the audience to sing about how he had made the leap from comedies to serious roles. It was, I think, a statement about Eddie Murphy's nomination (and loss). I still believe they should create separate categories for comedies/musicals and dramas. You just can't compare the power of a performance in, say, Schindler's List with one in a comedy. That doesn't mean that there aren't some great comedic performances out there.

Another very interesting segment was the sound effects choir. This was a group of about 40 people who created a soundtrack for a movie montage. If they were really providing all the sounds, then they were truly awesome. Many people are doubting the authenticity of this piece, but I can't imagine it being included if it was fake. The sounds they created for airplanes, trains, water, and several other images were amazingly convincing.

Oh yeah, I guess there were movie stars winning awards too. They were okay I guess. No one was really very moving or breath-taking though. Al Gore was probably the best "actor" there with his acceptance of the Best Documentary award. People delighted by his humor, and everyone wondered all over again where this warm and charming person was during the unfortunate presidential race. If only he'd run (sigh).

On the whole, I have more complaints about the slate of movies than I do about the awards show. At least the Oscars was relatively fresh and amusing this year. If only I could say the same thing about the film industry. Better luck next year I suppose.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Risotto in Seattle

Warning! Spoiled bourgeois and ranting vegetarian content ahead!

Proof that we are, in fact, yuppies is that our favorite Seattle area restaurant promotion is back on. Every November and March 25 of the nicer restaurants (although not the uber-fancy ones) do a special pre-fixe menu for $25. Usually you can choose one of three starters, one of three or four entrees, and one of three desserts from the set menu. At most of these places the normal prices are such that this represents a pretty good deal, and so M often takes me out (generous person that he is) for a few semi-fancy dinners. Lucky us.

The perennial challenge in all this is to find places that deign to include a vegetarian option on their pre-fixe menus. Now, I must admit, there are some restaurants where change is not a problem. The Barking Frog, for example, was more than happy to swap in something meatless and still honor the 25 for $25 deal. However, most restaurants are not so accommodating (I've eaten dinners of buttered noodles or mashed potatoes more than once), so finding something already on the menu is a very good thing indeed.

This year a 14 of the 25 have vegetarian options available. Andaluca, Brasa, Cascadia, Earth & Ocean, Fish Club, Market Street Grill, Nells, Nishino, Ponti, Zoe, Sazerac, Sarafina, Six Seven, and The Yarrow Bay Grill are all very thoughtful indeed. They deserve a round of applause for thinking of all the people who, for one reason or another, don't eat meat. I'm truly grateful because I know that in many parts of the country not a single vegetarian item would be offered. For that, I am happy to live in the Seattle area.

That said, I can't help but offer one small complaint (aside from the 11 restaurants who ignored me of course). Risotto. Risotto, risotto, risotto. Don't get me wrong, I do like the stuff, but when 7 of the 14 serve risotto as the only veggie option it does tend to get a bit old. Now I know this sounds terribly spoiled of me, but when you are facing the third plate of risotto, you too will start to feel a little green. Perhaps we could try out a pasta dish for the veggie option? Or a nice veggie pie? Or some sort of veggie stew? Or a delicious fancy pizza? There are so many options, and they are so inexpensive to prepare. Here is the menu in case you want a cheesy rice fix:

Andaluca--- Mushroom risotto
Earth and Ocean--- Carrot, that's right, carrot risotto
Nell's--- Butternut squash risotto
Ponti--- Red and yellow beet risotto
Ray's Boathouse--- Farro risotto cakes
Zoe--- Roasted beet risotto
Tulio--- Lemon risotto (but this one really doesn't count because it has chicken)

Once again, hooray for those restaurants who stopped to think of us freaks. We really do appriciate the notice. Now if we could just break out of the usual, and get a teensy bit more variety it would make it even better.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Snow Drops

Hooray! There are Snowdrops blooming in our front yard! I thought for sure that the squirrel had eaten all of them just after planting in the fall. However, low and behold, several came up! I'm so happy to see them. They are such perfect little white bells, and it almost seems a shame that they aren't blooming through the snow. It's proof that spring is out there somewhere.
I was also very happy to see a little patch of irises begining to bloom under our Japanese maple. M said they were there, but I couldn't for the life of me remember having planted them. They certainly weren't there last year. Then I remembered having a pot of irises on my desk at school. When they were finished blooming I couldn't bare to throw away the healthy plants, so I took them home and poked them into the ground. I guess they liked the spot just fine, and now we have beautiful little mini-irises.
Last, but not least, are the bulbs that show promise, but have no flowers as yet. The crocus I planted in the fall ALL came up. I think there must be something about them that squirrels don't like because these didn't even get disturbed let alone eaten. The daffodils were all dug up and thrown around several times, but I kept putting them back. I think most all of them are now sprouting including the one that lay on top of the ground all through the snow and ice, and even sprouted some nice green leaves before I noticed it. All in all, the future looks good for spring flowers. Now if we can just get through the end of winter without another snowstorm...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

T' Latte

For a while there M and I were spending quite a bit of quality down in the old town part of Bellevue. My long-time mechanic is down there, so every time I would take a car to be inspected, I had an hour or more to kill. My usual solution was to walk up to the mall, but on these inspection days the time was just too short. On the most recent visit M and I decided just to wander around a little bit.

We've been to a truly awful tea shop in the area before, and we were glad to see that it had gone under. I've also noticed the bakery and the Rudy's barbershop housed in the old gas station. Wandering a little further we found a nice looking coffee shop called T'Latte. It was very cold outside at the time, so the warm steamy atmosphere was very welcome. The coffee smells were pleasant, but not old or acid-smelly like some coffee shops I could mention. They had a nice array of goodies, and the selection of coffees seemed reasonable. I ordered a decaf mocha (damn you school schedule!) and M had a regular mocha, but with Dilettante chocolate (I think). The coffee came in real cups and the taste was very good. Over all, I would really recommend the place. The next time you are in old Bellevue near the bridal salon, visit T'latte for yourself and see what you think.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

So Long Molly Ivins

A few weeks ago author and newspaper columnist Molly Ivins passed away. This is truly a sad loss to the realm of political thought and to the world in general. About politics she famously remarked that "We can't cry so we might as well laugh." and that seems quite apropos here as well. Her razor-sharp wit and keen sense of justice made her a vocal and sometimes vicious commentator on politics and on the foibles of the political elite.

She first began writing and the current president when he came to office as governor of Texas. Her opinion of him did not improve with time, and she frequently criticized his policies as well as his failure to turn a phrase. The president was not her only target, and her columns almost always elicited laugh-out-loud responses from many. Some of her most famous quotes are included here:

• The first rule of holes: when you're in one, stop digging.

• What stuns me most about contemporary politics is not even that the system has been so badly corrupted by money. It is that so few people get the connection between their lives and what the bozos do in Washington and our state capitols.

• It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.

• It's hard to argue against cynics -- they always sound smarter than optimists because they have so much evidence on their side.

• Being slightly paranoid is like being slightly pregnant - it tends to get worse.

• I am not anti-gun. I'm pro-knife. Consider the merits of the knife. In the first place, you have to catch up with someone in order to stab him. A general substitution of knives for guns would promote physical fitness. We'd turn into a whole nation of great runners. Plus, knives don't ricochet. And people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives.

• I still believe in Hope - mostly because there's no such place as Fingers Crossed, Arkansas.

• Any nation that can survive what we have lately in the way of government is on the high road to permanent glory.

I especially like that last one. It is a commonly held belief that people from Texas tend to be larger than life. Molly Ivins was one of those characters who really makes that idea seem true. She will certainly be missed.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Soothing Soup

I started to feel sick on Valentine's Day. It made for a really romantic evening:

"Hi Honey! (SNEEZE!) How nice to see you (SNEEZE!). Come and have some of this dinner I've made for you (SNEEZE!). What a lovely present! Thank you. (SNEEZE! COUGH! SNIFF!)"

I tried to take the next day off of work, but there were no extra subs, so I had to go in anyway. It was the LONGEST day of the whole year. I put in for a sub before I'd even gone home. By the time I got home I had such chills that I was shaking. M brought me medicine and tissues (with lotion!) and some nice little bits and pieces. I went to bed at 8pm and did not get up until 9am the next morning. Today was very quiet. I still have some fever, but the chills are gone and my bones don't hurt anymore.

M is out tonight, so I needed to think of something that might actually sound good for dinner. My mom always used to make soups for us when we were sick, and this is sort of an approximation of one of her soups. It does have a decidedly hippie element with the brewers' yeast, but it melts in and gives a nice depth of flavor (and lots of good B vitamins). Amounts are for one large serving but double or triple nicely.

Vegan Onion Soup
1 onion per person
1 tbs olive oil
1 sprig thyme
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup water
1 tbs miso or soy sauce
1-2 tbs brewers yeast
opt. black pepper
Slice and saute the onion in the olive oil. When the onion is brow (but not burned!) deglaze the pan with stock. Add the thyme. Simmer for at least 30 minutes (more if you have time). When the onions are falling apart, take from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Add miso or soy sauce and brewers' yeast. Stir until combined, ladle into bowl or mug, add a good hearty bread if desired. Feel better soon.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

10 Randomly Selected Things I Love About M

In no particular order. Don't read if you don't like schmaltz.

10. The way he makes the tastiest tomato paneer and preserved lemons EVER.

9. The way he hardly ever takes himself too seriously.

8. The way he always remembers to put the seat back down.

7. The way he listens to my ideas crazy and not.

6. The way he gets excited about things and MUST know more.

5. The way he is kind to people; even the ones who don't deserve it.

4. The way he is convinced that all foods are better on toast.

3. The way he lets me set the pace when we hike because he knows I'm a wimp.

2. The way he drinks tea and reads the paper with me on Sunday mornings.

1. The way his eyes crinkle when he smiles.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Vocabulary Fun

Vocabulary is very much a regular part of my curriculum. Regardless of what else might be going on, we have a vocab lesson every single week. I give them the list of words and definitions, and then they have to write down the example sentence that I give orally for each word. For example, if the word "ecstatic" is on the list for the week, I might say "Jose was ecstatic on the first day of summer." I always try to give hints about the meaning in my sentence, and the kids then have a week to study before the test. Every week we have a list, and every week I make up sentences.

Last week I decided to have a little fun with the list, and I made a little story out of the words.

1. Bob had a tough dilemma because he couldn't decide whether to invite Nicole or Sarah to the dance.

2. Bob ran down the hall towards the lunchroom because he was famished.

3. In the hall Bob met Sarah and invited her to the dance, but she just looked mortified.

4. Sarah rebuffed Bob's offer because she said he was not rich or handsome enough for her.

5. Sarah swaggered off down the hall with her nose in the air.

6. Poor Bob just lolled his house doing nothing and feeling sad.

7. Pious Nicole attended temple as she always did on the weekend.

8. After temple, Nicole decided to travel in a convoy of cars to go hiking with her friends.

9. As they began their ascent of the mountain they saw their friend Bob in the distance.

10. Bob was crooning a sad song to himself, but then he saw Nicole and smiled.

I know some of these are a little weak, and I do take certain liberties with grammar to make some of them work. However, the kids did get all excited about the prospects for Bob and Nicole. We'll have to see what might happen next week. The list is as follows: amiable, habitual, apparition, ghastly, opponent, diligent, navigate, placate, shambles, and exuberant. Any great ideas?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Coping With Stress

Few could argue that stress is an ever-present part of life. Part of becoming a healthy adult is learning how to deal with stress in a way that does not harm yourself or others. Some adults choose to take baths, light candles, meditate, or go for walks. Unfortunately not everyone is able to use calming strategies to combat this problem. Young people often have an especially difficult time learning to cope. In middle school we often see tears and stomach aces, and sometimes we even get shouting, stomping, and penises. "Penises?!" you are probably asking. "Why penises?!"

Fortunately I am not talking about actual penises (if I never see one of those at school I'll be a happy woman) just pencil drawings of them. One of my students was very upset a few weeks ago over an essay we were working on in class. He very much wanted to avoid finishing the essay, and he was very unhappy when my aide and I would not let him off the hook. His solution to this problem was to draw several pictures of well-endowed aliens and cavemen all over his essay packet. He was shocked and very annoyed when we simply brought him a new packet and made him START OVER ENTIRELY!!! It seems that Mrs. H and I are not so easily rattled as all that. Perhaps he can take up yoga in the future.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Obit For A Little Blue Car

I promise to keep this short, but be warned that it may be both maudlin and saccharine at the same time.

Seven years ago I was in graduate school. I was in the middle phase of my studies which meant a full class load, a major research project, and full-time teaching. It's one of those times in life when you are in danger of forgetting what your friends and family look like. My teaching assignment was 9th grade American history in a small town not far from the university. I hated this class. The amazing thing about 9th graders in this school is that half of them hate you before you even walk through the door simply because you are the teacher. I did not drink at the time, but they almost convinced me to take it up. Did I mention the part where I had less than no money? In short, I was feeling more than a little sorry for myself.

My car was also a source of trouble. I was driving a Toyota with more than 250K on the clock. The compression was gone from the engine, the water pump was going, there was a serious dent in the frame from an old accident (not mine thank you very much), and every time you used the turn signal the brights would come on. The car did get me where I needed to go, but it was not much fun keeping it running. Then came Christmas.

Well, okay, it was actually a little before Christmas, but still. My older brother called, and asked if I might want a different car. His co-worker was going to donate his extra car to charity, so my brother offered him a very small purchase price instead. I jumped at the chance. I didn't really know what I was getting, but anything with fewer miles had to be an improvement. My sister-in-law drove it down the following weekend. It was nearly mid-night when she arrived. I went out into the frosty November night, and... words fail me. I know this sounds overly dramatic, but it really was one of those moments.

At the time, the car was already nearly ten years old. However, it had only 40k, and it had been garaged through most of its life. In short, it was mint. Driving it for the first time was also quite the experience. The power and handling of that car were the perfect fit for the Mazda jingle "Zoom Zoom." That was only the beginning of our good times together. I won't bore you with too many (more) details, but having the RX-7 really was as good as I imagined. Perhaps my favorite drive was Peoria road where the pavement was in good shape and road curved and went over gentle hills. You could drive fast and not meet another car for miles.

Of course, there was the sad bit at the end where she got less and less reliable. However, none of us can help our failings when we start to get old. It was really hard signing the papers to sell, but it was time. I am grateful that I got the chance at all. I could have spent those years driving some other nice, reliable, and totally boring car, but I got to have my little blue RX-7 instead.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Grand Car Parade Part 5

If you're growing tired of this endless car story, rest assured that I'm almost done. If you're really tired of it just skip the next post or two. What can I say; car buying is not something I do every day.

Okay, back to the story, we went o Michael's Toyota after striking out at a number of other places. Our cheerful, purple-clad saleslady had two possibilities in my price range. In fact, she did an elaborate interview and search thing that resulted in the two cars I'd identified online. One was an '00 Honda Civic with 62k, and the other was an '02 Toyota Corolla with 42k. On that level this Corolla seems the obvious choice. However, adding difficulty to the decision was the fact that the Honda was an automatic (a feature I wanted) and had a smaller price tag. We decided to take them both for a test drive.

The Corolla reminded me strongly of the Tercel I used to have. It is a stripped-down model down to the manual windows and the cassette deck. However, the driving experience is decent with tight steering, peppy engine response (at reasonable speeds anyway), and responsive brakes. The turning radius is good, and the clutch does not drive me crazy (I have a thing about clutches), and the visibility is okay. Over all, it's a good little car without many extra bells or whistles.

The Honda had many more "features" such as power windows and locks, a cd player, and an automatic transmission. Perhaps because the car is older it also had a much noisier more rattled ride, and the brakes were not as crisp. You just can't beat that Honda steering though. There was a slight shimmy at all speeds. The engine was also less peppy (partly because if the automatic of course), and it had annoying high whine when going up hills. In hindsight the choice seems obvious, but at the time it was a real struggle to decide which was the better deal. In the end, the warranty left on the Corolla sealed the choice.

Once I'd decided, it was time to argue about the trade-in value of the RX-7. This part was not fun. The salesman (oh yeah, our purple lady was, of course, replaced by a tough guy) tried at first to offer $1600 for my little blue streak. I was horrified, and told him so in no uncertain terms. After some finagling he agreed to double the price. I was still not happy about this, but I was willing to accept. The price of the Corolla also came down a bit, so I was feeling at least okay about the whole deal.

Lastly, we had to go to the back and finish up with "the financing guy." Why him when I don't need financing? Good question. He spent some time trying to sell me extra warranty coverage. I sincerely hope that M will blog about this because he will have a better memory for the tactics used. The man spent quite a bit of time showing us an extended math problem about why warranties on new cars are stupid, but warranties on used cars are smart. He also tried to tell me that Toyotas are not as reliable as they used to be (was the saleslady lying then?). Finally, he tried to get me to buy a glass-etching service designed to protect against theft. Did you know that 85% of car thefts happen in King County? (Yeah, and about 85% of the people do too) It was very helpful to have M sitting next to me. Every once in a while I would glance over at his face. He had incredulity written all over him, so I knew I wasn't wrong to resist. Finally, I wrote one of the biggest checks of my life, and we were all finished.

Now I am the proud new owner of a Toyota Corolla. It isn't glamorous, but it is safe and reliable. I took it to my mechanic for inspection, and he said that it needed new windshield wipers and nothing else. It was hard getting rid of the RX-7, but in the end it really had to be done. The best part is that I own the car outright, and I didn't need a co-signer to do it.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Grand Car Parade Part 4

Wheew! As you can tell from the previous posts, this whole car thing is getting pretty wearing. Not only is there the sorrow of losing the RX-7 and being rejected for the car loan, but I also have to put up with Slimy (note the capital "S") used car salesmen. The problem of getting a new car was just not resolving itself as quickly as I'd expected. Then, on yet another Saturday morning M and I set out to look at cars.

Our first stop was a dealership in the Northgate area of Seattle. Northgate is not my most favorite part of town, but this dealership had three different cars that looked like good candidates. The favorite was another '03 Toyota Matrix with only 39k, power everything, and a sunroof. When we arrived the car seemed just as nice as it seemed in the ad, but the dealership itself made the whole thing suspect. I have never seen anything like it.

The name of the business was painted in ten foot letters on the side of another building, but you could barely read it because of the pealing and cracking of the paint. The lot was fenced in a conglomeration of chains, airline cables, and plastic rope, and the asphalt had certainly seen better days. The most impressive part, however, was definitely the office. The door was made of plywood and was stained and warped to the point that it needed a shove just to open. The carpet inside looked like it came from a crime scene, and there were piles of junk all over the place. The best (or worst) part was the salesman himself. He was there by himself and trying to make three deals at once. He quickly unlocked the Matrix, but when I told him I wanted an inspection in Bellevue he just refused completely on the grounds that it was too far away. He said he just didn't have time to deal with us then, and could we come back another time? We left as quickly as possible.

Finally, after a few more false starts, M and I went back to Michael's Toyota where we'd driven a Matrix several weeks before. Our first salesman, Jo Jo (I'm not making that up) was not available, so a middle-aged lady in a brilliantly purple coat took charge of us. Their stock of Matrixes (?) were priced out of my range, but they did have several other cars for me to look at. The two strongest contenders were an '00 Honda Civic and an '02 Toyota Corolla. More on this experience tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Grand Car Parade Part 3

Once I'd decided not to pursue a car loan, I started to look at cars in a slightly more conservative price range. I found one little Toyota Matrix that seemed nice, so M and I went over to the dealership on a Sunday. The first guy who came out to greet was friendly, and his personality did not make me want to rush home and take a shower (if you know what I mean). He told us a little about the Matrix, gave us the keys, and told us to take it out on our own for a few minutes.

The test drive went fine. The automatic Matrix is not a sports car, but it is reasonably peppy, and it has a decent amount of power going up hills and passing other cars. Steering is tight although not as good as a same-level Honda. My only real complaints were a poor turning radius, and bad blind spot visibility due to the location of the center pillar. I do not see any of the problems with the instruments panel that some reviewers complained about. Over all, it's a nice, if not special little car to drive. I decided I was interested.

I took the car to my trusty mechanic who's been working on the RX-7 (frequently!) for the last seven years. He gave it a thorough going over, and determined that the car, in spite of only having 50k, had an oil leak in the engine. He felt that it was probably a small thing, but that it might also be a cracked head gasket (not a small thing at all). He suggested that the dealer fix the small thing, clean the leaked oil off the outside of the engine, and then run the car for a few miles at highway speeds. If the small fix did the trick there should be no more oil leaking out. He said he would be happy to take another look at it after they'd done the small fix (for free too because he's a good guy).

Given this information, I drove the car back to the dealer, told them what he said and gave them his documentation. The dealer was SHOCKED that it didn't pass inspection. He was AMAZED that we thought it might be the head gasket. There was NO WAY it could be the head gasket. He agreed to make the small repair and call me when it was ready to go back to my mechanic. He promised it would be repaired by the next afternoon. I've never heard from him again. What would you make of this experience? I could be wrong, but I would say that Championship Motors in Redmond is not a very trustworthy place.