Thursday, October 23, 2014

Five Nights at Freddy's: a Noble Fail

We've been having an argument with our son, Joseph, who is 10. He and one of his friends, who is a similarly-aged girl growing up in this neighborhood full of boys and who, as a result, is a bit of a tomboy, want to buy a computer game. They want to buy the game on Husband's account with Joseph's friend's money. The idea is either that the friend a) will be given access to Husband's Steam account so she can play the game at her house, or b) will come to our house to play it. Why this girl can't use her money to buy the game at her house on her computer has not been satisfactorily explained.

The name of the game is "Five Nights at Freddy's," which tells the tale of the gamer being assigned as a night security guard in a children's restaurant for five nights. Inside the restaurant, the gamer must avoid the animatronics, which come alive and view the gamer as a damaged animatronic and will attempt to fix him by putting him back into an animatronic costume. Unfortunately, the fix is deadly for a human. The game is incredibly stressful. Though there is no blood and gore, there is a lot of the thriller factor, which is sufficient to induce nightmares in, say, a certain seven-year-old boy who also lives in this house.

I know about this game thanks to Gabrielle, who is currently taking (and excelling in) a college-level game design class. I cannot thank her enough for introducing it to my boys. Thanks, Gabrielle. Thanks so much.

Anyway, Husband KO'd the plan right off for obvious reasons. I heard the conversation even though I was in another room, so I knew the score (ha ha! See what I did there?). Later, Joseph came to me with the same arguments while Husband was at work.

I told him he was talking to the wrong parent, because not only am I completely immune to the desire to play video games, I have absolutely zero desire for Joseph to have any more access to games than he already does. Besides, I told him, I had overheard his original argument to his dad, and I opposed the game for all the same reasons. Then I called him out for coming to me when he already had an answer from his other parent.

Today, frustrated by our close-mindedness, Joseph wrote up a little persuasive essay, printed it out, and slid it under the door while I was briefly using the bathroom (because why should the bathroom be the one place I can be alone for a moment or two?). I'm not persuaded, but I was pretty impressed with his writing skills and his desire to lay out what, to him, is a logical, rational argument in his favor.

Here is the text of his essay, unedited (though my editing fingers did itch just a little):

Five Nights at Freddy's
 I have many reasons that have many things to back them up, so just hear me out. You may say "It will give you nightmares!" Which leads to my first reason, many therapists say that the best way to get rid of fears is to confront them, so you want me so every time I think of it I get really scared? No.
You may think that "you will get even more scared if you play it too much." Don't worry I have more reasons to back this one up. It's a human urge to do what we are told not to, if you say "Don't do this!" than [editor's note: argh!] we want to do just that. It's actually proven that no smoking signs make you want to smoke more. If you constantly guard us and protect us from doing that then we will get overwhelmed with want that we will be grumpy. If we learn that it IS scary.
If WE get it with out OWN money then we have the right to play it, scary or not. I may be going on and on and on but we can both agree that I have good reasons. I hope you can agree, if not I will write another. (ha ha just kidding) only not really. Please agree THE END 
Well, kudos for trying, son. The answer's still no. Hopefully, telling you "no" will not overwhelm you with the grumpiness of want and force you to take up smoking near no-smoking signs, but that's a chance I'm willing to take. Plus, you're frequently grumpy enough that I think I've already got the practice I need to deal with it.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Say Hello to My Inner Mad Scientist

My mother sent over a box of apples from her tree. These apples are perfect for eating out of hand or baking into a pie.

Mmmmm, pie. I still love pie with a fervent depth of passion.

So perhaps there will be a pie for dessert tonight--that is, there might be if by this evening I haven't decided that I'm too tired to be bothered whipping up a pie crust, the making of which remains my biggest cooking pet peeve of all time. Ugh, I hate making pie crusts. I have literally thrown a temper tantrum making pie crusts. It's sad but true. Husband doesn't throw temper tantrums whilst whipping up pie crusts, so maybe I'll hand that duty over to him and I'll be happy to peel, core, and slice the apples and mix the filling.

What I'm also hoping to whip up is some high-dose liposomal Vitamin C in the next little while. I have the ultrasonic cleaner, thanks to the in-laws, who got a good tip from Husband about what I wanted for my birthday, and they bought it even though it seemed like an incredibly odd gift. I ordered the sunflower lecithin yesterday (thanks to a gift card from one of my awesome brothers), and it will arrive tomorrow. The freeze-dried, powdered acerola cherries (a birthday gift from Sian) will take a little longer to ship, and this is where my patience will be put to the test.

At this point, I usually launch into some long lecture about the benefits of whatever experiment I'm trying now. This time, however, I'll leave it up to you to do the research. Suffice to say, I feel my family needs this desperately, and I'm very interested to see what happens.

(Well, "interested" is a bit of an understatement. Picture a mad scientist rubbing her hands together and cackling in nerdy glee. That's more like it.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I'm No Good at Teasers

Why are the forbidden books the sweetest?


I'm back.


I haven't decided yet, really, but I'm feeling more extroverted these days. These things go in waves and cycles. I remember at college or on my mission, when I was constantly surrounded by other human beings with little or no time alone, that I'd occasionally go off into a sort of mental fog. I'd feel disconnected from those around me, unable to really be part of the moment for a couple days at a time, even if I was in their company. It wasn't like I was thinking about something else in specific, it was more like my unconscious needed some meditation time without me present, like dreaming while awake (without any frightening hallucinations, thankfully). After a couple days, I'd snap back all of a sudden, ready to be social and present again. Weird.

So, what's new? you ask, sitting on the edge of your chair, breath caught in your throat as the sense of anticipation builds to a trembling crescendo.

Gosh, I hate to leave you hanging like that, but I'm just not going to tell you. Let's just move on, and you'll pick it up as we go.

Here's a teaser, though: I've read lots of books lately. Gobs. Stacks. Entire shelves. Husband had to buy yet another book case so I could deal with the increasingly dangerous pile of books next to my side of the bed as they spilled out of my nightstand and onto the floor.

When Husband got Jonathan Stroud's newest addition to the Lockwood & Company series, The Whispering Skull, he said very firmly, "I want to finally read a book before you do. Leave this one alone until I finish, please." But it wasn't my fault that he was gone to work all day and the book just sat there appealingly alone on his nightstand. I was very good for a few days, but finally I broke down and read it while he was gone. It was excellent. It was delicious, as all of Jonathan Stroud's books tend to be. And I didn't admit to anything until Husband came home and noticed his bookmark was in the wrong place because it had accidentally fallen out during my forbidden reading and I couldn't remember exactly which page it was supposed to mark. Then he forced me to admit I'd read the book before him, after which he tut-tutted at me for several evenings.

I'm afraid that I felt little guilt. I mean, I didn't tell him anything about the ending, did I? And I promise that I never steal his Jack Reacher novels, mainly because I feel like if I've read one, I've kind of read them all.

So it should be fairly obvious to you that some things haven't changed much. And that wasn't much of a teaser, either, was it? Again, not much has changed.

Here's a real teaser, though: why did my in-laws buy me an ultrasonic cleaner for my birthday this year? Oooh! Can't wait to tell you!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

All I Want to Be is the Healed Leper Who Turned Back to Thank the Lord

Here's a question: 

When Jesus healed the blind man so he could see or caused the lame man to walk, what happened to them in the days following their transformation? 

Imagine if you'd been blind since birth and suddenly you had vision. Suddenly, you are inundated with color and movement and shapes, and you have no idea what any of this crazy new sensory overload is. How could you tell what a ball is just by looking at it, much less identify its color? How could you get the hang of visual depth perception if, before, your only sense of your environment was through touch, taste, and sound? 

Likewise, if you had been lame since birth and had never learned to walk, would being healed suddenly give you the ability to know which muscles to flex and how to balance on one foot at a time?

I thought about this a lot before. I've also thought about it a lot since my own healing. I know I haven't mentioned much about it since that post, but that's only because I don't have the words, not because it hasn't been utterly profound for me. On a daily basis I continue to be utterly amazed and grateful for what I have been given.

Before, I often wondered if those whom Christ healed were also given new mental abilities, if their perceptions and thought processes were healed along with their physical bodies. I think I can tell you now that not only is that possible (when all things are possible with God) but very likely.

I wouldn't have imagined before that having fears removed from my heart through what can only be described as a spiritually surgical process could also fundamentally transform the way I think, that habits could be erased and replaced in one sudden, glorious moment. When you can't remember a specific fear, the habit of a thought spiral is also gone. I will have a thought and then brace myself for the inevitable spiraling cascade only to be pleasantly surprised that there is no need to brace. The fear is gone, and, therefore, the cascade of other thoughts are also gone. In their place is only peace.

Could I have removed those fears on my own? Probably not. I tried. Oh, I tried. But if the removal is beyond your ability to achieve, no amount of trying will force you to succeed. Until they were gone, I honestly had no idea how deeply they were ingrained, and that has been another startling revelation.

But in the end, it wasn't the removal of those fears that was most important. What is most important is the fact that I had to humble myself and exercise my faith when the moment seemed too grim to endure. Only when I completely surrendered myself to God's mercy was I healed, and that healing was complete and perfect. While I remain imperfect as a human being, I know with absolutely certainty that when Jesus Christ implores us to lay our burdens at his feet so they will become light, He means it in a way I still can't quiet comprehend. It's a promise that is both literal and figurative, and it's beyond human imagining. It is sublime. And it is very, very real.

To try and give you an example of what I am experiencing, I'll use my issue with my physical looks. I don't know why, but it's always been impossible for me to separate my self-worth from my physical appearance. I know it's irrational, illogical, and harmful to think I'm only worth something if I am reasonably attractive in appearance, but no matter how much I read or thought or released emotion or reasoned with myself, that fear stubbornly remained like a big, ugly toad squatting on a bed of pearls and refusing to be budged. Now the toad is gone and all that remains are the pearls. I literally do not care if others perceive me to be more or less worthy based solely on my physical appearance. But that doesn't mean I don't care about my body, either. The outcome is that I want to take care of my body because I am grateful for it, not because I see in its imperfections that I am unworthy of any love or respect or that carrying extra weight turns me into a life failure. There is this confidence brimming inside that I can achieve the goals for health that I am setting, even if it's difficult. And I am gentle with myself. That's very new. Where, before, I tried to think this way, tried to convince myself that this was how I operated, now it's real.

It's a pathetic example because I can't really communicate everything in my heart, but it's an example that a lot of people can relate to. 

I don't know that I need this blog anymore. The need to write this blog seems to have stemmed somehow from holding onto fear. I've enjoyed writing it sometimes, and it's been kind of therapeutic for me. But now it's seems superfluous. I tried to keep it up, but my interest in it is non-existent. I have other things I want to do. So maybe I'll come back, and maybe I won't. For those who have read these ramblings, thank you for sharing my journey with me. 

For now, I'm going to enjoy learning to use a new sense. And every day I'm going to thank God for the miracle of my life.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Fulfilling My English Bakery Fantasies One Loaf at a Time

Bread may be the staff of life, but it sure does require some commitment to bake. Normally when I make bread, I'll do enough for four loaves at once and be done. Lately, however, that recipe just hasn't appealed. I want European bread: crusty, chewy, and with no sweetener in the recipe. I have these memories of the English bakeries with their racks of bloomer and cob and farmer loaves piled high behind the counter, while under the glass you can droolingly survey the assortment of pastries both sweet and savory.

Mmmm. I could kill for a hearty Cornish pasty right now...

So I was looking online for inspiration, and I found this blog post that contained a simple European-style bread recipe and instructions. I've messed around with clay ovens and baking stones before, and I've had some good--but inconsistent--results. With this recipe, however, I'm baking up consistently amazing bread. It's substantial, it has a crusty exterior, and the crumb is dense, chewy, and not in the least glue-y. I baked loaves to bring to both of my recent choir performances, and I haven't had to bring home any leftovers. Plus, my family absolutely loves it for bread-and-jam and sandwiches.

(This is where I start daydreaming about having a double oven or building my own cob wood burning oven in my backyard.)

Simple European-Style Bread

(This recipe is in the blog post I linked to above, so I'm copying it here but adding my own observations. The author of the blog also includes a very handy video to demonstrate the method.)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour (I have been using unbleached white flour)
2 tsp salt (I use unrefined sea salt for the best flavor)
2 tsp yeast
1 1/2 cup very warm water

a pizza stone, large unglazed terra cotta tile, a stone 9x13 casserole dish (this is what I have), or other stone large enough to hold a loaf of bread
pie pan filled with very hot or boiling water

Mix all the ingredients at once in the bowl of a mixer with a bread hook or by hand. Begin sprinkling in more flour a little at a time until you get a shaggy dough that is still sticky.

Pour the dough onto a floured surface and knead for at least 5 minutes. You can't really over-knead this bread dough, so don't worry if you aren't sure when the dough is ready. Sprinkle small amounts of additional flour over the dough to keep the dough from being too sticky to knead, but be conservative with the flour. Allow the dough to remain somewhat sticky.

Shape the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl (use extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil), turning the dough to coat it in oil on all sides. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place a clean dish towel over the top. Allow to rise for 1 hour.

When the hour is up, carefully and gently release the risen dough from the sides of the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. You don't want to punch this dough down. The key is to keep as much of the gas inside the dough as possible.

With lightly floured hands, tuck and shape the dough into a tight ball (this is where watching the video is a really good idea so you can see how it's done). Slash the top of the dough a couple times with a very sharp knife to allow for it to rise while in the oven. You can shape the dough into a ball (cob) or into a longer French-style loaf. I find a cob shape works the best.

Spread a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil on the top of the dough and cover it with plastic wrap and a dish towel. Let rise for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat your oven to 500 deg. F. If you have a really hot oven, like I do, preheat it to 475 deg. F instead. Put the pizza stone, tile, or stone casserole dish into the oven to heat after sprinkling on a couple teaspoons of corn meal. The corn meal will keep the dough from sticking to the pan. You could also set the dough on parchment paper for its final rise and for easy transport to the oven, but I prefer corn meal and using my hands to move the dough into the oven.

After the 20 minutes' rising time is up, and when the oven is pre-heated, open the oven and quickly set the dough onto the hot stone. Slide the pie pan full of very hot or boiling water onto the rack under the stone or on the floor of the oven. Set the timer for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, turn the oven temperature down to 350 deg. F and set the timer for 25 minutes. Remove the bread and let cool completely on a cookie rack before slicing. Yes, wait until it's completely cooled. Be patient.

The reason I use a pan of water is to create some steam. Professional bakeries use steam injection ovens to create that lovely, crusty exterior, but a pan of hot water does a really good job in a kitchen oven. Just don't open the oven once you put the bread in or you will lose all your steam.

When I'm making multiple loaves, I'm kind of married to my kitchen for the day because it's crucial to be really close on the rising times in order for the bread to turn out really, really well. There's only one level in my oven at which to bake the bread, so using two racks at once is out of the question: one loaf would be burnt on top, and one loaf would be burnt on the bottom. Plus, I only have the one stone casserole dish, and I don't want to load two loaves in it or they will touch each other.

Therefore, I start another batch of dough when the first dough is on its second rise. If you don't have anywhere to be, it's a good way to make some incredibly delicious bread while doing other things around the house. Once the first batch is done, you can have a lunch of fresh bread, a hunk of cheese, and some salad. What's better than that?

After you've done this recipe a couple times, you won't even need to refer to the recipe at all. It's so simple and easy.

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Little Venting

I haven't been on Facebook for over two weeks now. I'm very proud of myself. But sometimes I just want to share something with others and I have no way to do that.

This article talks about health issues that I think are relevant to every single American. I was shouting out loud the more I read, and what I was shouting was not anything complimentary about how our government has facilitated and even forced the rise of autism and the incredible rise of many horribly diseases by pushing more and more vaccinations containing thimerosal (mercury) and aluminum as preservatives (and which heavy metals have been proven to have horribly adverse effects on the brain and body), accepting bribes from Monsanto and other big companies that genetically modify crops, and calling people who disagree with the government-sanctioned rape of our health "radical," "extremists," and "terrorists."

Thanks for letting me vent.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Book Report

Here are my favorite shoes, as promised:

It's a little hard to tell from the picture, but these classy Misbehave heels feature black needlework on white "leather" (all parts are man made). They remind me of Spanish blackwork, which is a style of needlework that, were I to ever pick up a needle and thread, I would very much like to try. They're comfortable, easy to wear, and always make a statement.

And now I'm bored with shoes. I want to tell you about two books which you might be interested to read. The first book is called The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists, and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised As Freedom, written by David Kupelian. I don't know anything about the author other than through this book, but it is obvious that he identifies himself as a Christian who believes in right and wrong. Either you find that blatant bias annoying or refreshing. Personally, I don't have an issue with it at all, being a believing Christian myself who goes to church every Sunday and tries to live her religion every day of the week. Kupelian goes through ten areas in politics and society where concerted marketing efforts have been made to turn what was once unacceptable into something to be tolerated and celebrated. There were people who are the "they" to whom we like to refer, and Kupelian points out who they are and quotes them directly. "They" did actually plan and execute campaigns to change the American mindset about things like homosexuality, what teens should worship to be cool, the importance of marriage and nuclear families, abortion, public education, and more.

I couldn't read half the chapter on abortion. I just couldn't stomach it after a while. The rest of the book was truly disturbing as well, but the lies that were told to the public in an effort to make abortion legal and the description of ripping a baby apart while it is still in the womb made me so sick I had to skip to the next chapter. But even if you also can't read that entire chapter without wanting to cry your eyes out and call upon God to blast our world into oblivion for our sins against innocents, I would encourage you to pick this book up and make yourself that much more immune to the seductive pull of carefully planned marketing campaigns that call evil good and good evil.

The other book is more cheerful. I had seen it referenced in an article I recently read, and when I was at the library yesterday wandering through the non-fiction section, I noticed its sunny yellow cover at the end of a stack. Happily, I picked it up and started reading it as soon as I got home. I'm only two-thirds of the way through, so I haven't quite finished it, but it's a tremendously fun and interesting read. It's called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg.

I've read quite a number of books on habits, but this is one of the best that I've read. I love books that explore the whys and wherefores instead of just telling me what to do. Duhigg, whose writing is engaging and informative, divides his book into three parts: the first part explores "the neurology of habit formation" and goes into depth on how Pepsodent toothpaste and the marketers of Febreze were able to turn what looked like total product failures into national obsessions through the science of appealing to how Americans create habits. Part 2 delves into the habits of corporations and organizations, showing how changing the habits of the individuals in just one aspect of an organization can create a ripple effect of changes in other, unrelated aspects. Duhigg uses the story of Paul O'Neill (former treasury secretary) and what he did to turn struggling Alcoa, an aluminum company, into one of the largest companies in the world (hint: he used heightened safety standards). And finally, the third part looks into the habits of societies.

If I've made it sound dry and boring, let me assure you that it is most definitely not. In fact, I'm ending this blog post just so I can go and read it some more. Don't call, don't come over until I'm done.