Summer 2017

In 2016, and all the years prior, the school year started the day after Labor Day. That would have been today if our county hadn’t changed the start date this year making it one week earlier. So today my daughter starts her second week of 10th grade.

I don’t know where the summer went. It was a good one! Just short. Really short. I really would have preferred longer.

We visited Pittsburgh twice — once for my cousin’s wedding and once for Pinburgh and ReplayFX.  Both were wonderful, amazing experiences (especially the wedding which was really a one-of-a-kind event). ReplayFX and Pinburgh, a pinball tournament, will be there again next year. But it was gobs of fun! Some people go to the beach, we go to Pittsburgh. (Okay, we like the beach too, we just didn’t fit that in quite yet. Hopefully it will still be there for a while.)

In August we visited South Carolina both to visit my dad and to witness the total solar eclipse.  My dad lives in an area that would have been about 99% eclipse but not quite total. We drove a little over an hour southwest landing us in a delightful town called Newberry, South Carolina. I am SO very glad we drove the extra distance to see the total eclipse. It is a different animal — the difference between a partial and total eclipse is literally like night and day. (Really literally.)

Partial eclipses aren’t that different from each other. Granted 99% is going to be more impressive than 85% but you still get a tremendous amount of light from a tiny sliver of the sun. We were impressed at how light it was even when the sun was almost entirely covered.

Moments before totality


During a partial eclipse, it still looks like daytime, but with a large enough occlusion it’s a dimmer daytime with sharper shadows. It looks strange, and it’s pretty wild!

Totality is like somebody hit a light switch and turned the world to night for a couple of minutes. The crickets chirp. The air cools. Some people can see stars and planets. We saw Venus! There is a glow around the entire horizon that looks like the last few glimmers of sunset before pitch blackness. But the sun itself is still overhead and covered by a black disk that is the moon.  The corona radiates from that sharp black disk. It is mind boggling! I want to do it again.

Totality – removing the eclipse glasses.


Between the fun out-of-town events, my daughter had several camps. Like many previous summers, this year I spent many a lunch hour driving her to or from camp and then drove back to the office. I love that she gets to do some fun and educational things like her orchestra camp and dance camp. But it makes for a busy, tiring day with less time than I’d like for things like eating or breathing. And there’s scant little time for blogging or even for visiting the pool. I want more summer! I guess it will be back next year.

So that’s about it for this update.

One more thing, I maybe had like 1.5 seconds of “fame.” Saturday, I went to a new eye doctor because I really needed new glasses (I haven’t gotten real, new glasses in YEARS), and I had some flex spending to use. When I gave the receptionist my email address she asked me if I blogged. Yes. So I asked if she’d just Googled me. She said, “no,” that her sister-in-law (or somebody like that) blogs, so she reads a lot of blogs and my email addy rang a bell (my email is similar to my blog name). So I guess that’s like a second and a half of fame, maybe, right? Though I’m still not convinced that she didn’t Google me or look me up on Yelp to see if I write reviews. Regardless, the eye doctor got me in that same day, I found frames I really liked and was able to get a reasonably okay deal after a little haggling. I’d have gladly gone to Walmart if their price was too high, so there’s that. Still waiting to get my new glasses… but I just had to share. It feels kind of weird, but maybe kind of good too.

The glow of the horizon during a total eclipse.

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Happy 40th Anniversary, Star Wars

May 25, 1977, Star Wars was released in the United States. 

I first heard of it was in class in elementary school in Wheaton, Illinois. Our teacher mentioned it. I think one of the dads of the kids in my class worked for an advertising firm, and they were trying to promote it. So she heard of it from him (possibly through his son). And before it was even released, the teacher (who wasn’t really my favorite for a variety of reasons) mentioned it to the class. I think it was something like, “there’s a new movie coming out this summer called, Star Wars, and it’s supposed to be really good.” (With this, she redeemed herself some … )

So we saw it sometime after school got out (though I don’t think it was the first day …) Looking in the newspaper, I saw those bold black letters in the movie listings and show times, and I remembered the mention in class. Newspapers were needed to see show times back them. No online listings or apps.

We went. I sat mesmerized. I barely moved I was so captivated, and with my brain so alive with spaceships and laser (blaster) fights and lightsabers, my foot fell asleep. It blew me away! 

I’m pretty sure there was an extra scene in the very first showing that I saw — one where Luke throws th grappling hook and misses the first time as the storm troopers are trying to capture Luke and Leia. Later, he makes the shot on his first try. Maybe there are others … or not.

I saw it many times after that first one. It would be the first movie that I’d want to see multiple times. And at the end, seeing Darth Vader spin away in his damaged TIE fighter (not dead), I had hope that they would make more movies to continue the tale of Luke, Leia, Han, C-3PO, R2D2 and the others …

The rest, as they say, is history. 

Happy 40th Anniversary! 

May the 4th be with you!

Somewhere … sometime … a long time ago … in a galaxy we’re in right now, somebody noticed that, “May the 4th,” sounded a lot like, “May the force,” and thus Star Wars day was born. So may the 4th be with you … always!

I have a lot of catching up to do on this blog. We’ve been busy. Sometimes super busy! And it meant that I had to lighten up on something or I’d just fall down exhausted and become a blob. Actually, I did become a blob and exhausted, so I guess I should say that I would have been a worse blob. So the blog got lightly set aside. Sorry, blog. Sorry, WordPress.

I’ll do some catch up in the coming days and weeks … things we’ve been doing … are doing now … and stuff that may be yet to come. Subjects covered with include Science, Robotics, Apatite, Salad Surprise, Dance, Balcony Gardening (Herbs and Plants that Survived the Winter), and more!

I hope you enjoyed the rainbow I posted on May 2. The photo was actually taken on May 1. Rainbows may be a little cliché in some ways, but they are still so amazing when they show up in all their spectacular glory. It was a really impressive start to May.

May the 4th be with you, and may it be a good one!

Rainbow 

Yesterday evening we had this spectacular show of sky and color and general awesomeness. 

Rainbow


 

We all dashed outside when my daughter noticed the light coming inside through the window looked a little strange. It is probably one of the most beautiful rainbows we’ve ever seen. 

If you look a bit to the left of the main rainbow you’ll see a faint second rainbow. And we even saw a little third rainbow that was quite unusual too — it was right next to the main rainbow but the stripes were thinner and maybe the colors were reversed. So possibly it was like a reflection of the first rainbow? It was really hard to capture that in a photo. But Dave got a close up where you can kind of make it out. 

The way the light reflected off the clouds just made it that much more amazing. The photo here is right out of my phone with no Photoshopping. It doesn’t do it justice. I might try to bring out the other rainbow in Photoshop, but you just can’t really capture the feeling on “film.” It was huge. You could see the rainbow stretching over so much of the sky. Amazing! Photos are just souvenirs of this rare and spectacular show. They will have to do for now. 

Same rainbow but on the right side of the sky.

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.

nps

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

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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.

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