Monday, January 27, 2014

Another Snow Day!

I know a lot of tongues are wagging about global climate change, rightly so, but in some ways, this winter is a reminder of the way things used to be. No, I didn't walk 3 miles barefoot in the snow to school, but I remember when winter was winter. That is, the ground was covered with snow, more of less, December through February.

I recall my first winter back in Chicago after a few years in Texas when I was trying to go to work, but was frozen out of my car. Oh, the outrage and frustration!

Flash forward a dozen years and I remember hosting a toddler play date in December during which the kids played outside. Without jackets. While delightful in its own way, it felt Very Wrong.

A red-breasted robin used to be one of the first signs of spring. It was a delight spotting your first each year. I saw a robin two weeks ago when I brought my pup to the vet (again!).

So even though we're on the third snow day of the calendar year, I appreciate that this winter feels like winter. I'm trying to focus on the bright side:

  • The quiet joy of being the first to make tracks in freshly fallen snow.
  • Lake Michigan water levels will rise.
  • The water level on the Mississippi River should rise up, too. (In 2012 it was at a record low.)
  • The extreme cold kills vermin.
  • The cold is also killing emerald ash borer eggs or larvae. Those little buggers have been killing trees all around the metro area.

Keep safe and warm, everybody. And if cabin fever's got you down, check out winter fun ideas on The Maker Mom.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

So Many Books, So Little Time

In the years since I've been blogging my book reading has dropped off. I suspect know I'm not the only one in the digital age with this issue. But I have plans to make this a year of books--I even added a tab/page on my blog header to track my reading*. Most likely via books in their old-fashioned form.

I was gifted a 2nd generation Kindle year ago when they first came out and, although the screen is easy on my aging eyes, I almost never pick it up as a first choice. I love going to the library to look over the new arrivals and staff picks and slipping into the stacks to locate a particular book and only to get distracted by others nearby.

So, anyway, I kicked up my reading in November/December 2013 and I'm on a roll. However, as I enjoy the blessing of a good book, I recall its curse. It's so hard to put a good story down! Even if it's late and night and my vision if blurring and my heading nodding with exhaustion, I want to will myself awake and lure myself from much-needed sleep to keep on with the story.

Good books make it hard to Get Things Done.

On a recent trip to the library, I picked up a newish release, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman's debut novel. I returned it unread.

Then I read that Lena Dunham, creator, writer, director, etc. of the HBO series, Girls read that booked and liked it so much, she had her staff read it. I'm not so much a fan of Girls as I am of the young, outspoken Dunham, but I do keep up with the show, so I checked out Love Affairs again.

It reads like a piece of Girls fanfiction with a male lead who reminds me of an adult Holden Caufield. The novel features a Brooklyn-based bunch of young adults, a few years out of college striving to develop careers, many as writers. One of the central characters is even named Hannah and hails from Ohio, like Dunham's character.

It's hard to tell who is riffing on whom, though. If you saw this season's first episode, you'll recall a scene in the coffee shop where Adam, (Dunham's boyfriend in the series) runs into an old girlfriend (and her galpal played by an over-the top Amy Schumer, who has some pretty funny and edgy moments on her own Comedy Central show). It's incredibly derivative of the first scene in Waldman's book.

The book follows Nathaniel, Nate, through reflections on girlfriends past and present. In keeping with the Girls, theme, he's a lot like a more successful version of the grumpy and annoying coffee shop guy who used to date Shosh, and whose name I always forget. He's really shallow, self-centered and obnoxious.

Waldman provides interesting and honest insights for every woman who has every felted jilted in a relationship. That said, we cannot forget that Nate's character was written by a woman. However, Waldman apparently receives male fan mail saying how astutely she described Nate's thoughts.

If you like Girls, this book is worth a read.

I read the hardcover edition and noticed at least a half a dozen typos, which was disappointing. Really, it's the kind of thing I expect from an indie self-published e-book, not an acclaimed novel from a major publisher.

*Admittedly this is as much to help me remember the titles as it is to hold myself accountable. I'm also using it to jot down interesting titles for my to-read list.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

iCoffee Review

iCoffee machine review
I was sent an iCoffee innovative coffee maker to review. The iCoffee is a hot new product and named by Consumer Reports and other leading publications as a must-have for coffee lovers. But how does it hold up for less picky (and less thirsty) coffee likers? As the main coffee consumer in our house, my husband provided this review.

At home, our Tassimo brewer (it’s like a Keurig one-cup machine but with far fewer choices in coffee varieties available) brews just the amount of coffee I need. It cleans up easily, although each cup contributes another plastic pod to a landfill. A weekend morning java costs less than a store-bought cup but more than if I ground my own beans. However, if I want a dark roast and a guest wants decaf, it’s a breeze to satisfy the both of us. Because there’s no carafe, only the cup needs cleaning.

At work, the industrially brewed coffee is free for employees, and although generic, contains caffeine and does its job well enough. Every employee has the same brew available all day long. An outside service maintains the equipment and keeps the supplies coming, so we avoid the bitter tang often associated with frequently used equipment that goes without regular cleaning.

My weekday alternative is to walk to any of a dozen coffee shops within three blocks (half of them are Starbucks). I enjoy the freedom of choice and the tastier product, but it makes for a pricey habit.

The good folks at Remington provided Kim with an iCoffee machine, with the I standing for innovation. The big innovation is that steaming water circulates the grounds instead of H20 dripping through a densely compressed wad of beans. The higher water-to-surface-area contact allegedly eliminates the bitterness that accompanies traditional drip brewers.

I brought the machine to work for a taste test. My neighboring co-workers offered to host the device in our area and offer their opinions on the results.

Long review short, the coffee it produces IS less bitter. It’s also the hottest coffee (my preference) I've drank and the hot plate keeps the carafe at a perfect temperature for quite some time.

iCoffee wastes less material than my Tassimo or a Keurig, using a rinseable mesh filter instead of paper. However, to brew a decent cup, we found that we had to make at least 6 to 8 cups at a time. At work this is fine because there are plenty of volunteers to drink it. At home, this would translate into a lot of leftover coffee.

Klatch Result Notes:

  • One Coffee Klatch member said the Starbucks Breakfast Blend we brewed tasted better than the cup he bought at the Starbucks across the street.
  • Another noted that the coffee oils, which traditionally absent in drip brewers, clearly gave it a more complex and robust flavor.
  • The iCoffee leaves a residue of fine coffee grounds at the bottom of each cup, although it’s nowhere near as thick as, say, Turkish coffee. The grounds in no way detract from the flavor or mouth feel.
  • The Klatch member on whose desk the iCoffee sits said the resultant coffee is similar to French-pressed drinks, which is a gold standard for coffee to many drinkers.
  • The device plays a Mozart tune to signal the start and end of the brewing process. Disabling this beeping quelled complaints from a neighbor who does not imbibe.
  • A head-to-head “drip-vs-iCoffee” test against a co-worker’s machine failed because we could not match the exact strength in both machines. A rematch is set for after Christmas.
  • The proper water:grounds ratio is a matter of taste that is left to the user. Therefore, there are no fill levels marked. On two occasions, this resulted in the machine being overfilled with water which in turn caused a messy coffee volcano eruption.

A helpful feature feature in future versions of icoffee would be notches in the mesh filter to indicate how much grounds to put in for each measurement of water, as well as suggested water fill lines.

When brewing for a crowd, this is a better solution than a drip coffee maker. The end result is a tastier, more interesting beverage.

Much as I enjoy the results, I’m keeping the iCoffee in the office to share with my neighbors and keeping my Tassimo at home for my own weekend enjoyment.

The iCoffee retails for roughly $170 and is available at stores like Sur la Table and Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Disputing the Notion that We Have Nothing to Eat

Let someone else's kids eat cake!
Though they often fail to recognize it, my boys lead a life of privilege. This lack of insight leads to hyperbole on their part. For example, when they say, "We have nothing to eat," it does not mean that our pantry is bare and they will be forced to fill their rumbly tummies with, say, crumbling bits of wall board.

No, my spoiled children are really grumbling about the lack of a food fairy who magically appears with high-fat, high-sugar, carb-centric treats the moment they feel a pang of hunger. As they whine about limited options, they're actually calling out for a maidservant or perhaps a mother who will dote on them well into their teens rendering them incapable adults. I do not strive to be such a mother.

My boys are smart and physically fit. Not only are they, in theory, capable and washing and peeling fruits and vegetables, they know how to scramble eggs, boil pasta, and bake cookies from scratch. When they whine about not having anything to eat in the house, it's like nails on a chalkboard* to my ears.

So, for the record, here is a sampling of what there is to eat in the house:

Apples, carrots, celery
Canned beans
Canned olives and artichokes
Canned tuna and salmon
Yogurt (various flavors and brands)
Dry cereal (mostly low sugar, high fiber)
Oatmeal (plain and flavored, quick and slow-cook)
Shredded cheese
Goat cheese
Sandwich bread
Canned soup
Ice cream
Frozen chocolate waffles (homemade)
Frozen meals (microwaveable)
Frozen pizzas
Frozen vegetables
Frozen pot stickers
Dry pasta (and water to boil it in)
Spaghetti sauce
Popcorn (kernels and microwaveable packets)
Basic ingredients: from flour and sugar to herbs and spices

*I can understand a child who comes from a long day school or sports practice wanting a quick snack, but a child who wakes up after sleeping in during winter break? Ugh.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Toyota Teen Driving Contract

As I was surfing around online, an ad caught my attention. It might have been because I was forced to watch the ad before I could access whatever "free" content or service I was looking for. I'm the kind of person who ignores roughly 99.99% of ads in my view, but this one caught my eye. It's a campaign from Toyota focused on teen driver safety, TeenDrive365.

I don't have a teen driver just yet, but I likely will before the year is up. Yikes! I printed out a copy of the Mutual Driving Agreement because I think it's full of items worthy of discussion even before he starts driving school.

The site appears to have other useful resources, too. I haven't fully explored it, but wanted to share it for my friends who have or will soon new drivers in their house. Let me know if you find anything you like!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy New Year!

2013 was a pretty good year with highlights including our youngest son's bar mitzvah, the adoption of our puppy, and a fabulous anniversary trip (even though the government conspired against us), but I feel compelled to focus on achieving more personally and professionally in 2014.

The other day I read an inspiring Facebook update and thought, "Yes! I can do more! I can be more!" and then I cleaned up a bunch of dog poop in our frozen yard (apparently I'm the only one who can see the piles) and then I came inside to find a clogged toilet containing the scatological equivalent of a virgin birth (i.e. a poop that no one in the family claims to have deposited), and so, I don't know. Maybe 2014 is another year of maintaining and going with the flow. Or should I say plunging and going with the flow?


So should I be fabulous in 2014 or do I simply my act together for the next five years until both boys are out of the house?

At least one member of our house is fabulous: