Mushroom Popcorn

This is a follow up to my post on types of popcorn.

I ordered and received a two-pound bag of mushroom popcorn.

Not having read my previous post on popcorn, my daughter thought I’d ordered mushroom-flavored popcorn. It is not. But mmm,  we might have to try that sometime. I’m not sure how I would add mushroom-flavor but it could be interesting.

It is also not some kind of 1960s psychedelic snack food.

The “mushroom” part refers to the shape of the popcorn when it’s popped. Butterfly or snowflake popcorn is the kind found in most grocery stores for popping at home. Mushroom popcorn is generally used by commercial poppers for caramel corn, kettle corn, or other kinds of popped popcorn that benefit from a rounder, more durable popped kernel (also called a flake).

I ordered JustPoppin’s Tru-Pop brand Mushroom popcorn from Amazon because it came in a 2-lb size — manageable for at-home consumption. Plus it had generally good reviews as well as popping tips and a hotline in case you had trouble achieving a mushroom-shaped flake with their kernels. It costs a little more than typical popcorn but is still pretty economical for snacking.

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Just-Poppin’s Tru-Pop Mushroom popcorn with instruction sheet and a hotline for help.

In the bag, it doesn’t look much different from standard yellow butterfly popcorn. But side-by-side unpopped kernels are a little larger.

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Clockwise from top: White kernels, standard yellow, and mushroom kernels.

The popping instructions said there’s a narrow temperature range for optimal results. We followed the recommendation of using a higher heat and adding the kernels only once the oil was hot enough. Readiness is determined by putting three kernels in the pot. Once they’ve popped, add the remaining kernels.

The oil used should be one that tolerates a higher cooking temperature like peanut or coconut. We like refined coconut oil — no coconut flavor, but a good cooking oil that tolerates high temperatures and may have some health benefits.

We use a three-to-one ratio of oil to kernels and cook it in a single layer in an ordinary medium-size stainless steel cooking pot with a lid. We love multitasking kitchen utensils, so we don’t have a specialty popcorn maker. (Except my daughter, she likes making it.)

Our results were excellent.

A bowl of mushroom popcorn, lightly seasoned.
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Mostly shaped like little balls.

As you can see, our flakes look rounder with fewer little blobs protruding. This looks a lot like the kettle corn or caramel corn we’ve purchased at fairs and festivals minus the carmel or sugar coating. We had very few unpopped kernels, on par with other quality varieties.

In the photo (below) the top flakes are white kernel popcorn that I purchased at a farmers’ market. It’s also available at many supermarkets. The bottom right flakes are standard yellow popcorn — the most common variety at grocery stores. The bottom left is Mushroom Popcorn with large, round flakes and a few that look like standard butterfly popcorn too. It’s available online and may be carried at some gourmet and specialty shops.

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Comparing three varieties. White (top) is a little smaller and brighter white. Yellow (bottom right) is typical size and shape, not quite as white. Mushroom (bottom left) is similar in color to yellow popcorn but larger, rounder, and with more noticeable husks.

As you can see, the mushroom popcorn has more husks attached to the flakes themselves as well as left behind in the bowl or pot. I included a few husks in the photo. The husks are pretty tough. You can shake out a lot of the larger pieces and/or let them collect at the bottom so you don’t get a mouthful of husk. But there are still little bits attached to the flakes themselves. In caramel corn, those husks will be masked by the sugary coating. The white and yellow flakes have fewer husks attached and left behind in the pot. The husks they do have don’t seem as tough.

Along with the difference in shape, the flakes themselves have a slightly different texture. As previously reported, the mushroom flakes are a little tougher. They have more of a crunch whereas the standard butterfly flakes have a lighter crispiness to them.

The flavor was better in the butterfly kernels. It’s a small difference, but if I was eating plain popcorn then I would definitely choose butterfly popcorn. It was a little sweeter and cornier tasting. The mushroom kernels had a slight styrofoam taste. That sounds terrible. But it wasn’t bad, just not as good — a little blander overall. Naturally, adding salt and a sugar coating will overcome a lot of the difference in taste. For now, we tried it with our usual salt and butter- and cheddar-flavored topping.

I can definitely see how the mushroom popcorn would work better for commercial popping purposes and even homemade caramel corn. The rounder shape allows for a thinner, more even coating of sugar. When I made kettle corn at home using standard popcorn, there were some fairly thick globs of sugary coating stuck in the deeper nooks and crannies of the butterfly shapes.

The mushroom popcorn includes a notice that it should only be used as intended — for eating — and that, while not GMO, it is a specially bread popcorn and is proprietary. So they don’t want you to use these as seeds to plant a crop. No worries for me, I don’t have room for growing corn on my balcony.

It was fun to try. We’ve made a couple of batches now and like mixing the two varieties. I would definitely suggest mushroom popcorn for homemade caramel corn and kettle corn. But if you just want a nice snack, butterfly popcorn is still the way to go.

Catch Up – Red Tie and Rangers

Our nation is on week two of the 45th Presidency. It has been interesting … I still feel like we’re all stuck in an alternate universe. Three years ago watching a few episodes of The Apprentice, no way would I have imagined Donald Trump to be president here in 2017. But it happened. And I gotta say, it’s a little stressful.  I’ve been craving yoga and chamomile tea.

At his inauguration our new president wore a very large red tie. I guess that’s one of his signature looks except that I hadn’t watched enough television before that to know. So I saw it and thought, “wow, that is one ginormous tie.” And I wondered if I was the only person on the planet to notice the tie. I Googled it. Then I wondered if I was the only person on the planet not privy to the fact that this was his “signature tie.” Then I wondered about some other things  because …

The president talked about how the people were taking control of their government again — a very populist sounding speech. But it would be more accurate to say that about half the people were “taking control.” No wait, maybe about 35-40% of the people. Because while he has some very loyal supporters (whom you may have missed if you live in a big city like L.A., Chicago, or New York), there are also people who voted for him who simply didn’t want to vote for Hillary or any third-party candidates. And, really, it’s not like any of them are really in control either.

A few spotty protests took place during his inauguration.

There was dispute about how many people attended Trump’s inauguration. I don’t know why this is a thing. It shouldn’t be a thing. I would absolutely expect Obama’s inauguration to draw more crowds. He was the first African-American president, it was a very historic moment.

A huge Women’s March took place the day after. Women and men around the world marched for women’s rights. The streets of D.C. were positively flooded. Many expressed their anger over some of the president’s past comments about women and worried how they may be treated as a whole by the upcoming administration and its policies.

The throngs were speckled with pink hats. I hadn’t read much about the march ahead of time. But that day I saw all kinds of reports on costumes, signs, and on what the hats were. The hats were usually a bright pink and had two protrusions — one on each side. Were the hats supposed to be lady parts? Ovaries? Uteruses? Some folks dressed up as those things. I thought, “those hats don’t really look like lady parts; they look more like kitty ears.” “Ah ha!,” I thought. They’re pussy hats!

Some folks who marched or spoke were loud, in your face, and used a lot of language probably not suitable for children. Some people were offended, some thought it was a great expression of the hurt. Basically, the marches remained peaceful and non-violent. So that’s good.

The president announced a hiring freeze on government employees, and later I saw reports that the National Park Service, NASA, and other federal organizations weren’t allowed to Tweet or send out press releases without first having the information reviewed by the administration. Basically, the reports said these science agencies had been given a gag order.

Then I saw Press Secretary Sean Spicer at a press conference saying that the order did not come from the White House. That there were already rules about what could be sent out, so that reports of a gag order from the White House were wrong.

So whom do we believe? As usual, I’m sure there are lies and misunderstandings on both sizes of the political spectrum. It is always that way. Though neither side usually admits it.

Regardless of whether there was really a gag order or not, these are the days of the Internet and Twitter and instant everything. So the National Park Service went “rogue.” They set up an Alt National Park Service Twitter account and started Tweeting about the environment and how a wall between the U.S. and Mexico will affect the wildlife that lives in that area (and I don’t mean the people). NASA and several other departments of government also set up rogue accounts on Twitter and Facebook.

Officially, these accounts are not set up by the Park Service or government agencies. But unofficially the accounts are probably set up by park service and other similar employees on their own time.

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I generally like parks and go camping in them, so this was an interesting turn of events. I would love to see this as a movie. There’s something reassuring about park rangers.

Then I saw the president on the news saying he was going to ban “catch and release.”

Now here’s where my brain does what my brain does and uses past experience to make meaning of the present, and I think, “he’s going to ban catch and release? Does that mean we’re going to have to eat all the fish we catch?”

But no, immigration is what he was talking about. He wants to change current policy.

He signed papers to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. And lots of people thought, “But there’s a hiring freeze. Who’s gonna build the wall?” Days later he signed executive orders banning folks from 7 mostly muslim countries from entering the U.S. for a period of 30 to 90 days depending on stuff. People who had already been vetted to enter the country were stopped mid-travel at airports. I mean, I would have been pissed. Tickets paid for, flights flown …

This made quite a few people furious because it stranded a lot of good people including women and children and people with paperwork saying that they could be here and live here.

There was a lot of confusion. (Which may be the understatement-of-the-day.)

But other people were like, “hell yeah!” Because they don’t want terrorists to enter our country and they see this as a move to prevent that.

One side sees Trump as evil incarnate —a budding fuhrer. Forbidding specific ethnic groups along with a gag order on scientists only fueled that fire. But did the president even issue a gag order? Maybe yes, maybe no. Some reports said that everything that happened with the park service was nothing more than standard internal procedure during a change of administration — happens every four years, give or take four years. They were just doing their thing.

But once these ideas spread, it’s hard not to have them stuck in people’s heads. And I mean, ROGUE PARK RANGERS! That’s like rogue Bambi or superhero cottontail bunny rabbits. How cool is that?

But rogue scientists or not, there are a lot of people who are thrilled that they have a president who actually follows through on his campaign promises.

I’ll give them that. Good or bad, there aren’t many politicians who’ve attempted to do so much of what they said they would do in so short a period of time.

But plenty of people didn’t like what this man said he would do in the first place, and he could really use some lessons in diplomacy (oh look, another understatement). He issues his own brand of rogue, ego-fueled Tweets.

We tend to hear more from people who are mad — happy people don’t usually complain so much. But there are a lot of mad people right now.

With some people loving what he’s doing and some hating it, straddling between is a challenge. There’s hardly a middle-of-the-road anymore, it’s more of a suspension bridge.

Cabinet members have been nominated and mostly confirmed. Some love them, some hate them.

There are enough protests going on that I’m pretty sure there must be clandestine operations taking place that we may or may not hear about later. (All these protests are the perfect cover and distraction.)

At least a few things probably aren’t even the way people think they are because that is how it works. Rarely do we ever get the whole, real truth, and rarely is one side all right or all wrong. Though sometimes things can run 60% – 40% or even closer to 90% – 10%.

I would love to have a good, reliable source for news and analysis, but I’m not feeling that right now.

The best I can hope for is to read and listen to what both sides have to say and hope some of the truth is filtering through.

It is so very early in this presidency. What will happen today? Tomorrow?

 

Hidden Figures on MLK Day

This morning I saw the movie Hidden Figures with my daughter and her Girl Scout troop at a theater that had been rented to show it to a crowd of all Girl Scouts.

It was the perfect day to see it and a great bunch of girls to see it with.

I laughed. I cried. I felt shame and pride and joy.

Hidden Figures is a fantastic movie based on the even more amazing true story of three very special woman who changed a bit of the world as they made their mark on the U.S. space program (NACA which would later become NASA) in the 1960s and beyond.

Katherine G. Johnson,  Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson used their smarts to politely break down barriers, worked hard (I mean relentlessly hard, constantly, for years), and used their sharp, talented brains to the very best of their abilities.

It’s hard to imagine that less than 60 years ago women and men of different colors had to use separate bathrooms, separate drinking fountains, and were allowed such vastly different opportunities. That’s less than a single lifetime ago. It’s not some ancient fact from 300-plus years ago. People who lived that are still alive including Katherine Johnson (who is 98 as of this writing). On the other hand, some days I feel mankind should be so much further ahead in jettisoning antiquated ideas. There is still hope. 

I’ve seen other movies and read books portraying the space program — The Right Stuff, Apollo 13 … It’s a fascinating time in our history. (And I hope the space program remains a part of our world for a long time.) It’s hard to image how those stories could be told without these women. I’m glad their stories are finally being shared outside the small circle of people who have known about them for decades.

These women are truly inspirational.

It can be easy to think, “I can’t.” These women didn’t let that get in the way even with other people telling them they couldn’t. Even with laws that slowed them down. Even as working mothers. They educated themselves, worked smartly, and succeeded.

It was so nice to see the movie in a room full of Girl Scouts from so many walks of life as they got to hear the story of Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary at NASA. The Girl Scout troop that organized the movie planned it well. An engineer from modern-day NASA spoke to the crowd about how she got to be an engineer there with the help of education and summer internships.

I know, even today, it is still hard for a lot of women to break into male-dominated fields.

After the movie, I dropped off my daughter and went in to work for the remainder of the afternoon. Then I ran errands — dropped off some cookie forms, stopped by the grocery store, and went to a homeowners’ association meeting. I cooked and ate dinner with my family. (I probably should have let them do more cooking, but it was just quicker this way.) And I’m finally blogging a bit. It’s been a full day. And I’m very thankful that I didn’t have to run several buildings over, a quarter of a mile away, just to use the restroom. (I think that would have done me in.)

The movie stuck with me throughout the day. And I have a feeling it will stick for quite some time.

I hope everyone had a great Martin Luther King Day.

Pop Popped Popcorn

Well, I learned something new about popcorn today. I’ve known there was a difference between the shape & size of popcorn that we make at home and the stuff that is coated in caramelized sugar yumminess on carmel corn or kettle corn that we get from fairs and other commercial popcorn vendors.

One is type larger and rounder — more ball shaped. The other is more irregularly shaped, less round, with more poofs sticking out like lobes or wings.

What I didn’t know, was what the actual difference was. Color? There are yellow varieties and white. There’s multi-colored popcorn too with reds and blues.

We made a nice batch of home-popped popcorn yesterday for an impromptu movie night which was really just an excuse to make popcorn. But then, MOVIE! So bonus. Anyway, I’d purchased some white popcorn from the farmer’s market a month or two ago, and I hadn’t used it. So yesterday we used both yellow and white popcorn.

There are differences between yellow and white, but they are still the same basic shape. So I looked up more info about popcorn online. Thank you, Internet.

Apparently there are two major kinds of popcorn shape.

There’s Butterfly-shaped popcorn and Mushroom-shape popcorn. Both can grow on the same cob of corn, but there are also hybrids that produce more-or-less exclusively Butterfly- or Mushroom-shaped popcorn. The Mushroom-shaped hybrid was developed only as recently as 1998. Growing conditions can make a difference too.

By the way, a popped kernel is called a “flake.” (Something I also learned today. So if anybody ever calls you, “a flake,” maybe you should consider it a compliment. Popcorn is pretty and yummy. And it’s popular for movies. So another plus.)

Butterfly-shaped popcorn (sometimes called, snowflake-shaped) is the kind usually popped at home. It is reported to be more tender, be more fragile, and have fewer noticeable husks than Mushroom-shaped popcorn. So it may feel better in your mouth when you snack on a bowlful of light & fluffy Butterfly-shaped popcorn. All (or almost all) of the (un-popped) popcorn that you find in a typical grocery store will be Butterfly-type popcorn.

Mushroom-shaped flakes are rounder, more like a ball or a bell, with far fewer protrusions. These flakes are denser, have more noticeable husks in the popped product, and are more durable. Since they’re tougher, they hold up better for pre-popped commercial popcorn purposes especially the kind coated with sugar like carmel corn or kettle corn. Some of the pre-popped popcorn you find in grocery stores may be Mushroom-shaped popcorn. But you’ll have a hard time finding this variety un-popped to pop at home. It can be ordered online, and may be available from some gourmet providers.

Yellow and white butterfly popcorns have differences too though.  Along with the obvious one, kernel color, there’s a slight difference in taste and texture. Some people prefer one over the other — much like some people prefer white corn-on-the-cob and others, yellow.

Generally, white flakes are a little smaller, more tender, and, some say, more flavorful. Both look white when popped, but side-by-side, the white popcorn is a brighter white than the yellow.

There are other factors that make differences too like freshness, growing conditions, and popping technique.

Any kind of popcorn can be a healthy snack with a large amount of fiber, as long as you don’t load it up with too much butter, salt, or sugar.

Hot-air-popped popcorn is healthiest because it’s popped without oil, but I find the texture to be tougher and overall not as appealing.

Microwave popcorn is, probably, the easiest to make, but offers few options to experiment with different types of popcorn kernels. I’ve also heard that the fumes aren’t healthy to breath (individual results may vary). So it’s good but not the best.

You don’t need a special popcorn popper to make popcorn at home. We go for a balance of ease and flavor by cooking it in a pot with coconut oil and adding a variety of toppings. We’ve purchased white, yellow, and multi-color popcorn and tried organic and conventionally grown. I plan to order some Mushroom-shaped popcorn soon too.

How we pop:

To make yummy popcorn, we add about a rounded Tablespoon of coconut oil along with 3 Tablespoons of un-popped kernels to a medium-sized stainless steel pot that has a tight-fitting glass & metal lid. It’s nice to see the kernels as they pop. A plain metal lid will work fine too though.

Heat on medium-high heat (depending on your stove). Too low, and the kernels won’t build enough pressure inside for the steam to make them explode (which is the mission-critical pop). The kernels will just lightly toast and mostly remain un-popped. Heat that’s too high will burn the oil and your popcorn too. Adjust as needed.

You can heat the oil first and add three kernels of popcorn to the pan. When they pop, add the rest of the kernels to the pot.

Keep the lid on (or you’ll have a mess), and shake the pot back & forth several times per minute. Kernels should start popping in a minute or two. Shaking keeps the un-popped kernels rotating in the heat at the bottom, so they can pop. The fluffy popped kernels will rise to the top up off the hottest heat so they don’t burn.

When the popping stops or slows to only a few pops in 20 seconds (or when the pot looks full), remove it from heat and take the lid off. You don’t want it to burn, and you’ll want to let the extra steam escape. (If you start to smell something burning that’s another good time to remove it from the heat.) Turn off your stove. Put the finished popcorn in a bowl or other heat-resistant container, and season as you like.

We add salt, pepper, butter-flavored seasoning, white-cheddar seasoning, garlic powder, dried herbs, or even a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. (Not necessarily all at the same time.) Sometimes we add no oil after it’s popped, but a small drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or a hint of real melted butter is extra yummy. These also help the other seasonings to stick better. Yummy!

 

Copyright 2017 Deb L Kapke. Sharing is permitted with attribution and stuff. Contact for commercial use.

iTunes Shuffle Seasonal Disorder

I suffer from iTunes Shuffle Seasonal Disorder, iSSD. (Or should it be iTunes Seasonal Shuffle Disorder?) I should probably join a support group. But I doubt there are any. I’m probably the only person on the planet who can’t get this right.

My problem is that I can’t get my iTunes shuffle to stop playing Christmas music for the ten months of the year that I don’t want to listen to Christmas music.

I know I can make playlists and leave the holiday tunes out. But that’s not as easy as it sounds.

My phone often ignores my previous playlist and plays whatever the heck it feels like. Then I end up with holiday music in March … July … August … again and again. Until, by Christmas time I’m not sure if I even want to listen.

I’ve tried deleting the Christmas music from my phone, but it keeps coming back. How does it do that?

The family is not fond of the holiday music in July. In a fit of frustration, Dave once tried to permanently delete a particularly energetic and cheerful Barry Manilow Christmas number from my whole iTunes account (not just a phone or iPad).

I was a little upset at first because about once or twice a year (total times, not months) I liked listening to it. I think I got it for free back when iTunes had lots of free* stuff.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure one of my devices played the “permanently deleted” Barry Manilow song again this season. Or possibly I have a second Barry Manilow Christmas song that I didn’t know I had.

Barry Manilow sings Christmas



In January it’s a little better. Last year I discovered that I like Disco music in January. Don’t laugh. Okay, laugh. I probably deserve it. (I probably shouldn’t even admit to it. Send an S.O.S. Don’t leave me this way.)

But January is gray and cold. Disco music is relentlessly energetic, sunny, and cheerful even about broken hearts and breakups. (It is hot stuff.)

There’s nothing like a little ABBA to counter the grayness of midwinter. So I have a Disco Playlist (not its real name) that has zero holiday music. I play it a lot this time of year (thank you, also, The Martian soundtrack).

ABBA in January and maybe February and a little in March

But often I want to listen to random music too. A mix. A heavy does of alternative, some soundtrack, then a smidge of country,disco, and something metal in between (like a palate refresher). Birdy, Mumford & Sons, Howard Shore, George Ezra, Sia, John Williams, Disturbed, Johnny Cash, Thao, Abba, David Bowie, Donna Summers, Fall Out Boy …

But then here comes Barry Mannilow’s Bells again. I scramble to fast forward except sometimes it will be followed by Silent Night from one of four different artists (how do I even own four copies of Silent Night?).

The Christmas music keeps sneaking in.

It’s especially annoying when my phone reverts to playing songs from my entire collection thus ignoring my most recent playlist preferences. (Maybe it doesn’t like the Disco.)

The iPhone-with-a-mind-of-its-own will play songs from any that I own including but not limited to holiday songs. So if I’m not careful there will be Christmas music right around the corner. Any corner. Any time. (Plus I think it’s becoming contagious — my daughter sometimes sings Christmas carols in seasonally inappropriate months.)

And I can’t seem to make it stop. I can only skip to the next song and hope I can avoid another. Help?

I’d really like an iTunes setting to play-all except the holiday music. Or a setting that allows me to play Christmas music in only November and December. Until then, I’ll try to delete the holiday music from my phone again and be ready to skip a track once in a while too.

*Free songs: U2 maybe-kind-of ruined that for everyone with Songs of Innocence. I liked the free stuff, but I didn’t want to auto-download an entire album, thanks. I liked one of the songs a lot though. It would be nice to have a free song-of-the-week again, iTunes. Thank you.
Copyright 2017 Debora Kapke

Non-commercial sharing is permitted with attribution and linkbacks. Normal stuff. Contact me directly for commercial use.

Oh Look, 2017!

It is 2017. I’m going to have to get used to that. 2016 is gone.

For part of my job, I work with text that will be sent out a month or two in the future. (Sometimes more than that.) As a result I’ve been using the numbers “2017” for a few months now. But having the actual year here is something else. It’s supposed to be 2017 in the future, not now. But it is now.

Since it’s the future, are we supposed to have flying cars and hover boards? We have “hover boards,” but they don’t actually hover. And cars may fly down the highway, but we sure don’t have flying cars. In fact, car technology hasn’t changed much in decades. Look at computers and phones. Big changes. Cars not so much. There are better computers in cars now, though, so I guess that’s something.

The holidays were busy here, and then just in time for Christmas I got sick. I’m not sure if it was a cold or the flu, but I had a fever one of the days so, maybe flu? I felt completely yucky.

I planned to blog and do many other things, but then all of a sudden I felt like doing absolutely nothing but sleeping and occasionally groaning about how terrible I felt. I felt bad for my family as plans got changed, and I became less fun and more blobby and possibly smelly too.

I’m feeling better now which is a good thing for all of us, I’m just a little bummed because it’s already 2017 and there were things I wanted to get done in 2016 that are still undone. 2016 is gone. I kind of want a do-over, but no not really. New year. New goals.

But a recap of the last bits of 2016:

We got a cute, fresh-cut tree. No artificial tree for us this year. But I nearly threw our beautiful little tree off the balcony as I tried to saw a bit off the trunk to keep it fresher. It was a challenge. I don’t think I used the right tool for the job. I tried to use a tiny saw that’s supposed to be used for PVC plumbing pipes. I should have asked for help, but at that point I was determined. I would not let that tree defeat me. I would do it myself. I finally got the job done, then asked Dave and Sara to help me get the tree into the tree stand. (I was short on patience at that point, and our metal tree stand is kind of a pain.) We got it all done, and we love our tree.

Tree trunk

Tree

I caught our squash-eating, balcony-visiting squirrel actually on our balcony. He’s a chubby little (not so little) critter. His girth is no surprise after all the pumpkin he ate.

After spotting me, Mr. Squirrel fled to the nearby tree which allowed me to see how exactly he’d been getting on the balcony in the first place. He was using one of the thin branches as a sort of bridge from the larger tree branches to our balcony railing.

So I trimmed that skinny little branch off the tree. (The saw was handy from the Christmas tree.)

Chubby Mr. Squirrel post-escape.

Now, I feel a little bad about sawing off Mr. Squirrel’s bridge. I hope he doesn’t run across it like it’s still in tact and then meet with an unfortunate accident when the former bridge ends before it gets to our balcony. I didn’t want to hurt him, just discourage his marauding… I’m going to assume he’s okay. Squirrels are smart, right?

For the first year since she was two years old, my daughter did not sit with Santa at the mall and get her photo taken. I’m a little sad about this. That little girl is gone. She’s a teenager now, so I can understand it’s probably not cool to do the Santa thing these days (especially since it ended up on TV last year).

Plus, I swear they gouge us more for photos every year. This year there’s a single package deal, and it costs $40 dollars. This seems excessive especially when I’d practically have to force my daughter to sit on a strange man’s lap to get the photos taken.  (Oh. That sounds bad. And, yes, she could have sat on the chair next to him. We did that one or two of the years.)

Anyway, it is still tradition and Santa. So in order to make myself feel better about the end of this chapter of our life for now, I took us to the mall to look at Santa. (That way my daughter could still change her mind too.)

When we got there Santa was on dinner break. So we shopped a little (or tried to) and then stood around waiting for Santa to get back. We were like Santa groupies waiting by the entrance. (Maybe not so much “we” as me.)

I wanted to see Santa and say “hi.” After 12 years of pictures with him he should know us, right? He should know us from all the other zillions of people who visit him, right? (Okay, no.) But he’s Santa. He knows when we are sleeping. He knows when we’re awake. He knows when we are at the mall, for goodness sake?

My daughter was much more logical about it. We saw Santa. She was done.

Deep down inside I really wanted one last photo of my daughter with Santa at the mall, but I didn’t want to wait in a line or take up any of Santa’s time or pay the $40 for a small pack of photos.

So while Santa was on the first floor, I guided us to the second floor where there was a nice view of Santa. (The second floor was also handy because then Santa’s security team was much less likely to see us.) I wasn’t really sure if we were allowed to take our own photos of Santa, but that’s just what I wanted. It seemed to solve a couple of problems, so I went for it.

I was able to take a photo of each of us with Santa in the background. Santa didn’t know I was taking a photo of him with us. (Or did he?). Does this seal my fate as a Santa groupie or worse yet, a Santa stalker?

To be fair, Santa is so far away in the photos that we can barely get away with saying it’s a photo of us with Santa. He’s tiny. He’s like the size of an earring. Here I am with my earring-sized Santa in the background. I will not further embarrass my daughter by posting the photo of her. She’s sweet for putting up with me.

Me and tiny Santa.

So next year, maybe we’ll just cut to the chase and take photos of ourselves wearing actual Santa earrings. That’s probably a better idea. I’m sure security won’t mind. I’m pretty sure my daughter will like this plan a lot better too.

Also at the mall, we spotted this lovely ensemble. I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to be. Are real women supposed to wear this? Women who have cold hands? Women who want to hatch ostrich eggs in their pockets? The greens behind her head just add to the strangeness. Hopefully, this is one of the things that will be left behind as we move forward into 2017.

Mystery outfit with small child hovering in the background (top right). Huh, maybe we do have hover boards now.

Just before the new year, we went to see Rogue One, the new Star Wars movie. In the past, I’ve often been one of those midnight/opening night moviegoers for Star Wars movies, so waiting was foreign to me.

Since we already waited to see the movie, we aimed for the early showing, so we could get a discount rate. We showed up on time and everything.

Then we waited and waited for the movie to start. Finally, about a half hour after the movie should have started, a theater employee told us that they wouldn’t be able to show our movie that morning. So then we had to wait at the service desk to get refunds or tickets to another showing that same day. It could have been sucky, but …

We really wanted to see the movie that morning if at all possible. We’d already purchased popcorn and the overpriced-oversized beverage to match.

It ended up working out well because we got tickets to the very next showing which happened to be 3D. And on top of it, we got free passes to an additional movie for our trouble. I can’t complain about how that worked out.

We even liked the movie! There are some fun nods to other Star Wars movies (blue milk, Obi-Wan, and more). It shed a new light on Star Wars: A New Hope. It was a tiny bit long, but overall moved along well, and all three of us enjoyed it.

I’m hoping for more experiences like this in 2017 — movies, time with family, blogging, writing, and so much more. (Maybe less Santa.)

Have a happy 2017!

 

I’ll also add that this can be for WordPress, Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Gone.

 

And copyright 2017 Deb L Kapke.

So Long, 2016, And All that You Took

You were here and then you weren’t. I could say that about the year and a lot of other things — quite a few celebrities died plus our Mojo kitty and our hamster, Prarrie Dog, who passed several months ago too.

We miss our kitty dearly. He had the best character arc ever (especially for a cat). I think about his cuddle-bug personality daily.

David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Ron Glass, Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke, John Glenn, George Micheal, and more. All gone. Perhaps this year seemed so harsh because I knew who all of these people were, and I was used to having them around. They were popular for my generation. Plus so many of them weren’t even old. It seems unfair.

Carrie Fisher is the celebrity death that hit me the hardest. I still can’t believe she’s gone. Her mother, Debbie Reynolds, passing the next day only upped the sadness. What heartbreak for the family and all their friends.

I first loved Carrie Fisher in Star Wars, a movie that came out when I was nine years old and blew me away. It made me a different person. I could probably date my life “b.SW” and “a.SW”. Or maybe BS and AS. Anyway, it sparked my love of science fiction (though some may debate calling it science fiction) and my love of (most) things Star Wars that would follow. 

I had seen Star Trek before Star Wars, but Star Wars prompted me to watch Star Trek again. I was hungry for adventure and outer space. Star Wars ignited the hunger.

Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia was a strong woman, a leader, who could save the guys as much as they saved her. (Somebody had to get them into that garbage chute. You can’t just shoot all the stormtroopers.) She was the original self-rescuing Princess. If there were others before her, I don’t remember them. She’s the one that mattered to me. 

Carrie Fisher kept up that theme throughout her life. She became so much more than just Princess Leia. From her honesty about mental illnesses to her insanely funny interviews to her witty and amazing writing… 

And I really mean amazing. She wasn’t just some celebrity who decided to write a book and isn’t that cute. Her writing was awesome — funny and compelling. And it was more than just books. Carrie Fisher was a script doctor, a person the studios could call in to rescue lackluster scripts for movies and such. She knew her craft. 

She kept at it and excelled. 

She melded with Princess Leia in ways that made her own the character and allowed Princess Leia to become part of who Carrie Fisher was too. She was more than the sum of her parts.

And then she was no more. She will be missed. 

2016, I’m sure I will miss parts of you too. Other parts not so much.

May those of us who made it through, have a rich and wonderful 2017 filled with love and laughter, joy and peace. May we rise to the challenge.

Copyright Deb L. Kapke 

Checking In – 6 Days ’til

Okay, it is less than a week to Christmas. I’ve taken a vacation day today, so I can get some things done before Christmas. I’m going to blog a smidge because I haven’t in over a week. There is less time to Christmas than days since my last blog post. I feel like I should freak out now.

Though I have some shopping done, I’m not finished yet. We have partly decorated for Christmas, but aren’t finished yet.

We got an adorable tree from the tree lot where my daughter volunteered. It was one of the largest trees in the small-tree category. It is beautifully full and nicely shaped with a good top branch for the star.

I love the smell of fresh-cut trees. If I put my fingers into the tree water to check its depth, my fingers smell awesome. (I know, that sounds kind of weird, right? But it’s true.) The tree water is like some kind of beautiful fragrant, cold-brewed tea.

We have a smallish artificial tree that we purchased several years ago. We used that last year. It’s getting kind of sad looking. Some of the branches are a little droopy (because the cat likes to climb it) and the fake needles are falling off as much or more than any real needles. Plus it smells so not fresh. It smells like the storage area and old cardboard. Not really something that brings to mind the holiday spirit. I’d need some Glad spruce-scented spray or something to make that one a little more appealing. I should probably dig it out of storage and pitch it.

We went to a wonderful Christmas party on Saturday night where we got to see good friends and eat yummy food. I want to eat more yummy food and see more of our friends. Things get busy.

Sunday my daughter’s Girl Scout troop made and decorated Christmas cookies. More yum.

The past week had some extremely cold days, so if my tomato plants had any life in them at all before they are now completely done for the year. I rescued a few small plants from the balcony and brought them inside during the extreme temperatures. At least it felt like winter while we were thinking about Christmas.

I left one squash out on the balcony which froze rather solidly. It was like a big rock. I could probably take out zombies with that squash. Do not drop it. Once thawed it needs to be eaten or cooked quickly. So we made a large pot of squash soup for dinner yesterday. 

The good part of partially freezing is that once thawed, the squash softens up some, so it is much easier to cut than fresh and raw. 

But I think generally squash tastes better if it is cooked before being frozen. The squash soup makes a nice compromise. Plus it’s super healthy. Today I still have more squash to use up.

We’re still debating if we should see Santa at the mall this year. We’ve been every year since my daughter was tiny. Now that she’s a teenager, we almost didn’t go last year. But then we did and it was cute. Except that there was a TV crew filming the Santa at the mall. That turned out to be kind of fun and kind of embarrassing for my daughter.

Our mall has had the same man-in-the-red-suit for many many years. So he’s in all of our photos. It was only natural to go back there. I guess the TV crew had the same idea about Santa and was filming a piece on Santa at the mall since he’s been there so long. They didn’t want to use a small child in the piece, so they used my daughter. It was also timing — she just happened to be the next, older child in line when they were filming. It looked cute. She looked very nice on the local TV station.

But a couple of teachers saw her. So back at school they said, “hey, we saw you on the news with Santa!” So it got a little embarrassing for her. (Hey, the TV interviewer even sat on Santa’s lap. I thought there was a lot more potential for embarrassment in that.)

I have reassured my daughter that odds are extremely good that the same thing won’t happen again this year. My biggest hesitation is the line. It’s always massively huge. I hate to take up so much time just waiting. (Though I can bring electronic devices for playing games or writing, so it’s not that bad if I plan it right.) But we missed out on making a reservation since we weren’t sure if we were going. Now that we might go, we’ll have to wait in the line. Hopefully, we can go during a weekday when the line won’t be as long.

My daughter has been busy making lots of peppermint bark for gifts and dipping pretzels in chocolate too. We get to eat all the mistakes and “test” the non-mistakes too. We have very happy taste buds right now. She made more this morning. I need to go find a tin to put it in.

Hope folks are having a great week and enjoying lots of yummy things.

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World’s best peppermint bark. I could eat the whole tray myself.

 
 

Oh Look, A Saturday!

This has been one jam-packed week, and it’s not over yet.

Last Sunday evening my daughter volunteered for a late shift at a Christmas tree stand for her service club. We almost got a tree then, but I felt like I needed to get the car ready and a spot ready at home. Plus I couldn’t decide on a tree, and the stand was closing at that point.

Monday, my daughter had rehearsal for the orchestra winter concert. And later that evening I had to run some errands because I knew I wouldn’t be able to run any errands on Tuesday (or Wednesday either for that matter).

Tuesday was the Winter Orchestra Concert. Traffic around the mall was horrible. It’s extra bad this time of year. The mall is between my office and the school and home. Plus it was pouring rain which is always bad for traffic. It’s like we’re getting pre-melted snow. Traffic is instantly bad. I mean, worse. So I didn’t have time to pick up Dave to get him to the concert with me (he doesn’t drive). So I was there by myself, and he missed her first cello solo with the orchestra. Gah.

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Orchestra Concert

The concert was great! I only partly messed up the video. My phone doesn’t do well when taking long videos. Part of the video just freezes. Last time I tried to bring my iPad for recording. But I accidentally pressed the time-lapse button instead of the regular video button (and I almost dropped it on the floor). So the entire video plays back in fast forward and with no sound whatsoever. This time I have most of the sound and most of the motion too. That’s better.

The school always has wonderful concerts, but it was raining so it was all a little messy. I managed to buy the  CDs from both this winter concert and the fall concert. I keep forgetting to bring checks with me, but I had enough cash since I didn’t buy the Christmas tree on Sunday. Sometimes things work out that way.

Wednesday morning I was stressed I had so much to get done. Some of it done.

Wednesday evening my office had its annual Christmas party. It was very nice. We had a yummy buffet dinner with an assortment of proteins, salads, and pasta. Then, pumpkin cheesecake for dessert. We presented a plaque to the founder of the company who will be retiring from active consulting at the end of the month. He’s been doing this for 40 years! We finished up with a White Elephant gift exchange. I got a book called, “Infuse.” I’m going to have to try some of the suggestions. The most popular items exchanged were a bottle of Girlshine (like moonshine, but a kind of brandy) and a pair of messaging slippers that looked like giraffes. We had fun.

So by Thursday, I was still trying to get things done that I would rather have had done earlier. Plus my stomach was giving me trouble (maybe I’ve been drinking too much caffeine recently. I know I can’t do that).

By Thursday evening, I had playoffs in our pinball league. I only made it to D division this time, but I made the playoffs. So yay. And I came in second in the payoffs, so I got a nice prize pick. Double yay!

Friday was here before I knew it. Barnes & Noble bookstores were having a Harry Potter Holiday Ball from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Which I really wanted to go to, but apparently not badly enough to actually brave the cold and the traffic and parking at the mall this time of the year. Plus I was kind of tired.

We thought about getting a Christmas tree then too, but I still need to get the car ready (unless I want to tie the tree to the roof) and find a spot here at home. So the tree and Harry Potter Yule ball both got scrapped in favor of staying home and watching the movie, “Elf.” (I really know how to go wild.)

I carried a few more plants in off the balcony since the overnight temperatures were getting so low. Our balcony stays warmer than the average area temperatures, but once it gets into the 20s things start to freeze even there. I’m pretty sure most, if not all, of the tomato plants are toast at this point. Those are just too large to carry inside. Last year they lasted into early January. I picked some green tomatoes which may or may not ripen (or get fried or pickled).

Mostly frozen, tomato plant-cicles.
Rescued squash assortment plus green tomatoes and peppers.

 

Feeding the more adventurous of the area wildlife.

Mr. Squirrel has returned so many times that the pumpkin on the balcony looks like it exploded. I carried most of the other squash inside so they wouldn’t freeze.

There was a pigeon or dove on the balcony. He few away when I went outside. I think the bird was eating pumpkin seeds now that they’ve been released. I still think a squirrel has been our main nibbling culprit. He’s probably the American Ninja Warrior of squirrels and pumpkin is his reward for getting four floors up on a smooth-sided building.

Our balcony has become a popular feeding spot (I like it too). I should clean up the pumpkin. (And then hope the critters forget all about it in the Spring.)

Also on Friday, I started this blog post. But then I called it, “Oh Look, A Friday!”

I really miss blogging or writing every day that I don’t do any. I think I’m addicted. November was a better month in terms of actually getting writing done. I knew there would be times in December when it would be harder. This week was certainly one of them.

So here it is Saturday. Saturday! I don’t know how it got here already. It was just last weekend for cryin’ out loud!

Today, my daughter has a cyber security competition of some sort and will miss dance class. I’ll need to drive her one way or the other.

I really, really need to get my oil changed and my tired tires rotated.

Hopefully, I’ll get my blog post done for “Size Matters: Notes from the Balcony.” I’m working on the part covering herbs. But I’ve grown a lot of herbs, so the list is pretty long. It might be wise of me to make break that post into two parts.

Hopefully, we’ll get the Christmas tree today or tomorrow (whether I have a spot ready or not). And I got this blog post done, so that’s good! Yay! (Except when I went to save it, my WiFi went out so oops. Hopefully, I’ll actually get it posted. You’ll know one way or the other.)

I hope everybody had a good week, has a great Saturday and has a wonderful weekend overall.

I [Emoji] Holiday Shopping

Along with total fail at trying to register myself for the Pinburgh pinball tournament yesterday, I braved a couple of stores for some holiday shopping. (Not the mall. I’m not that crazy right now.)

I went to a Michael’s Craft Store. It’s scary enough in its own right this time of year, but not as bad as the mall.

Michaels has decorations overflowing each of the front aisles. Plentiful ribbons, stockings, and table-top decorations are on sale at 30% to 70% off. This attracts almost as many shoppers as Michaels has ornaments (maybe more). Men, women, and children scoop up treasures as they browse the selections. (One child sobbed uncontrollably when his dad said, “no,” to a toy. It was part of the holiday soundtrack.)

Then, they (we) all stand in long lines to use the day’s special-bonus coupon to bring the cost to a manageable price. I was one of these shoppers.

A couple of weeks ago my daughter found some cool holiday glasses in front of the tree display. These glasses look like the 3D-movie glasses we wore when I was a kid — paper frames with a thin piece of plastic for lenses. But instead of red and blue 3D-lenses, these glasses have tiny laser etchings on them that turn points of light into simple little pictures.

They work awesomely with Christmas lights (which is probably why they were next to the trees). Put the glasses on and suddenly your holiday tree is covered in glowing snowmen … or gingerbread men … or candy canes! It’s awesome.

These will probably make fun stocking stuffers or small gifts for those who might appreciate altering their reality with a simple pair of glasses. I’m hoping we can go to a festival-of-light display and mix it up a little with some Frosty glasses.

After thinking the store was out of these Laser Glasses, I found a new stash of them behind the Christmas tree display. Yay! My kiddo will be happy (and I like them too)!

I kept finding new and interesting things around the store.

I was standing in one aisle trying to move past another shopper when a young child behind me said, “look, a poo pillow!” He sounded so innocent and cheerful.

I was sure I couldn’t possibly have heard him right (sometimes I am a little hard of hearing). So I turned around to find that, indeed, there was a pillow that looked like poo.

The entire bin was filled with emoji-inspired pillows, and one of them looked like brown poop with a happy face. (Because that’s exactly what everybody wants for Christmas, right?  A good bowel movement? Did I just go there?) It can sit right next to the angry emoji pillow. I think they look nice together. Or maybe not.

You can also get purple poo (maybe in case you’ve been eating too many garden huckleberries).

Apparently, I am so not up on my emojis. I think I’d be happy with a smilie face or the pillow with glasses.  I’m probably not very cool that way.

Emoji pillows, including a poo pillow.

Later, I found marquee letters on sale.

Marquees seem to be a popular home decoration these days. The signs are words or symbols, like an arrow, as well as stand-alone letters. They’re made of metal (and sometimes plastic) and dotted with LED lights, so they look like old theater signs. (You can put the writing on the wall and then make it glow.)

The letters were on sale for a great price (maybe 70% off?), and I think they would look pretty cool on our bookshelf or mantle. I’d have to decide if I wanted to spell a word (short ones cost less and fit better), or go with a simple initial for the family name …

Marquee letters. I should have set them up to spell something fun before I snapped the photo. Oh wait! It does kind of spell something. It’s almost “grace.” But then the last letter is really an “i,” so it’s “graci.” which is kind of a word too. 

Then I noticed that each letter had a sticker on the side to indicate which one it was. Because apparently being letter-shaped might not do the trick for some people. Now I know with absolute certainty that the marquee letter that’s shaped like an “A” is, in fact, a letter A. (I did not check the poo pillow for a label, so maybe it’s really chocolate … happy, slightly melty chocolate.)

The one that looks like the letter C is a letter C. How handy! (I wonder how easily the stickers peel off?)

I guess the stickers would be helpful if the letters were stored on a shelf so that only the side shows.

And really, some days I do need this kind of visual aid, but not today. (And I still spent too much money.)

 

–Update 12/07/16–

I keep changing the title of this post because I wasn’t crazy about the first two titles. Plus I just wanted to experiment. So if you feel like you read this post before, then maybe you did.  I’ll probably stick with “I [Emoji] Holiday Shopping,” for now. (Because in my mind I can put any emoji there based on my particular mood regarding holiday shopping. It varies. Some days the pillow emojis shown (above) describe it perfectly.

Also, my daughter saw my photo of the emoji pillows and said, “wow, emoji pillows for only $5 !” I guess she thought it was a good price. She also confirmed that the brown pillow is supposed to be poo. I’m kind of wondering if I should be blogging about poo pillows. And, really, I kind of wonder why they make poo pillows. And why they have poo emojis in the first place.

(I looked it up. Apparently in Japan the word for lucky is very similar to the shortened form of the Japanese word for poo. So it is sort of a pun, but basically poo=lucky. I mean I feel pretty lucky when I poo. It sure does beat the alternative. Emojis started as a Japanese thing in the first place, so I guess the poo stuck around. And everybody poos, right? Added 12/15/16.)

I also wonder if I should be proud of our geriatric cat when he leaves a little present outside the litter box. “Oh look, Fletcher, you made an lucky emoji. Good kitty!”

(Um, no.)
Copyright 2016 Deb L Kapke

 

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