Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Some Reviews

Now that school is back in session after a summer of ho-hum new films, movie season is just getting started.  Fall is always a banner time for really good movies with the Oscars just a few months away.  I've seen three films since we've been back to work, none have been Oscar contenders, but they all warrant a quick reviews.
A Walk in the Woods - Bill Bryson books are a lot of fun to read.  I thought the book was better than the film.  The scenery was beautiful and there were a few funny one-liners, but I found it more contrived than anything else.  Each time I watch a film with Robert Redford in it, I think, "Ya know, he's not really that good of an actor."  I find myself wanting more, and this was one of those films.
Black Mass - Another new movie based on a book, which I also read as I'm fascinated with the mob.  The movie was very good, interesting, and well done.  Johnny Depp transformed into Whitey Bulger, an organized crime boss of the Winter Hill Gang in Southie (South Boston) who also informed for the FBI.  It is a crazy story, which came to an end here in Santa Monica where he was hiding in plain sight.
The Intern -  Speaking of mob movies, it's hard to think of Robert DeNiro in a non mob/tough guy role, but I absolutely adored him in this sweet, sappy movie.  Paired with Anne Hathaway as the very busy owner of a successful internet company, DeNiro plays a retired widower who is having a hard time filling his days so decides to apply for a senior citizen intern position at said internet company.  His character was so endearing and kind, bringing tears to my eyes several times.  It certainly won't be nominated for anything substantial, but it was a very nice, feel good film.
And as I am pressing the "post" button, we just had an earthquake!  It was a decent-sized one...ugh.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Greed vs. Morality

This past week has seen two "scandals" brought to light.
First, we had the former hedge fund manager turned pharmaceutical CEO Martin Schkreli increase the price of an important drug for patients with compromised immune systems upwards of 5000%.  Shortly after that story bombarded the media outlets, the Volkswagen news came out.  Rather than come up with technology that actually met EPA emission's regulations they came up with technology that cheated those regulations.  Software was installed to recognize when emission tests were being done, demonstrating regulation numbers when the rest of the time the cars emitted much much more pollution.
While I'm no Pollyanna, it's stories like these that deal a low blow to my faith in humanity.  I heard someone say in response to the Schkreli story that this is a byproduct of a capitalistic society.  If we support capitalism, we are supporting this type of behavior.  And that got me thinking, do capitalism and "being a good person" have to be mutually exclusive?  Since I live my life trying very hard to not harm or inconvenience other people, I would classify myself as a good person.  But I'm also not a capitalist.  If my life revolved around making money, would my views on humanity be skewed.  Would I screw someone else over without batting an eye?  It's easy for me to say I wouldn't, but does the need for making money just turn everyone who does so into an asshole?
This Schkreli guy is indeed an asshole!  If you haven't read about him yet, the list of jerky things he's done in the quest for wealth can be found here.  I wonder if this is a guy who has always been inconsiderate of others or if it's a byproduct of becoming a capitalist.
Then we have VW.  This is a company who had really come into its own here in the last few years.  It was thought of as a trusted company of mid-priced cars that were helping the environment.  And what blows my mind about the whole thing is that the time and money was taken to cheat the system. Now a half-million people could very likely not be allowed to register their cars again.  This company made billions on their lies and will most likely pay a pittance (as most companies do when fined by the government) while each of their customers could be out 35 grand each.
It seems like "we'd" have all the tricks and jerky maneuvers figured out and be able to regulate accordingly.  Instead, there's always a new trick - something else done to rig the system.  What a shame this ingenuity is so often used for evil instead of good.
Between the 2016 presidential election clown car and the rich jerks they "work" for, I'm going to need to start taking a Xanax when I watch/read the news.  It's just too much!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Oodles of Zoodles

After my relative success with using mandoline-sliced zucchini as a replacement for noodles in lasagna, I decided to look into additional recipes that used these vegetable in place of pasta.  That's when the term zoodles became part of my vocabulary.  I guess technically zoodles are any type of veggie that has been spiraled into long thin strands, like noodles.  But because of zucchini's ability to take on the flavors of whatever is cooked with it, that's where I focused my search.
This is the zoodle slicer I bought from amazon, and I started pinning recipes on Pinterest.  This weekend I made some zoodles!
Italian is my biggest pasta weakness, but I happened upon an Asian-inspired zoodle dish in which I had most of the ingredients in my kitchen so started with that.
After mixing up a dressing/sauce made up of soy sauce, rice vinegar, Sriracha sauce, garlic, peanut butter, and sesame oil, the zucchinis were zoodled.
 I wasn't quite sure how easy the peeler would be to use.  But it was very easy, smooth even.  The zucchini is twisted inside while the gadget slices the flesh of it, leaving just the core. 
After getting the hang of it, things went quite quick and I was left with miles and miles of zoodles. Afterwards they needed to be cut into shorter lengths in order to be more manageable.  Since this was really an experiment, I also did half the noodles thicker and the other half thin, just to see if one did better than the other.
Since I wanted a noodle-like consistency the zoodles were sautéed in a little olive oil for a couple of minutes.
Zucchini releases tons of water when cooked.  When I make the lasagna the slices have to be sweated with salt first and then baked in the oven to dry them out as much as possible.  Fairly quickly, the zoodles were cooking with a lot of liquid.  That made them a bit waterlogged and heavy.
After draining each batch as best as could be managed, I added chicken breast, a handful of peanuts, some sesame seeds, and the dressing.
The thinner noodles sopped up the liquid quite a lot and while they tasted just fine, they were very heavy and didn't mix up as well.  Plus, they watered down the dressing a bit.  
After my experiment, I am pleasantly surprised (not with the photos which are unfortunately not very appetizing).  It was not the prettiest meal, but it tasted really good.  They were made to pack in my lunch this week, but I did do a small taste test of each size noodle.  They were still warm after sautéing.  For lunches, I ate them cold.  Both were good, and as I had hoped, the zucchini really took on the flavor of the other ingredients.  Other than a slight al dente crunch, you'd never know they weren't actually noodles.  My work husband even tried some yesterday and couldn't believe they were zoodles.  He went home and bought the peeler as well.
I'm going to have to do some research on how to get the softer texture I prefer without them giving off so much water, but I will definitely make zoodles again!  

Monday, September 21, 2015

Every Man Needs...

Stevie Wonder with an iPhone in the passenger seat of his car.
I don't watch the Late Late Show, but these "Carpool Karaoke" bits are a kick.  This is the most recent one.  Imagine that phone call!

Friday, September 18, 2015

That Never Happens!

Over summer break, I visited the dentist for my twice-yearly cleaning.  This visit also happened to be the X-ray/check up visit.  While most of my silver fillings had been replaced with the white porcelain 5 or more years ago, I still had two silver fillings left during that appointment.  They've been noted on my chart to watch for years, and if any changes were observed, it would be time to replace those as well.
Upon the check up portion of the summer visit, the dentist noticed some cracking around the silver fillings and a treatment plan of removing the silver and crowning both teeth was recommended.  While I am not really a fan of the dentist (an irrational fear at best), it wasn't surprising this needed to be done.  I think I was 10 or 11 the last time I had a cavity filled - after 4+ years of braces changed the angle of my teeth I never had cavities again - so this silver was OLD.  Crowns are VERY expensive.  Luckily I have pretty good dental insurance and hadn't used any of the allotted treatment amount this year, so I went ahead and made the appointment for this past week.
My favorite of all the dentists in the office was assigned to my treatment, which was a relief.  Even though I spent about two hours hanging upside down in a chair, my mouth stuffed with instruments and cotton and hands and a thing jammed in to keep my jaw open, I did not feel even one tinge of pain the entire time, not even from the numbing shots.  Hence the favorite dentist!
About half way through the appointment, he stopped working and told me that I actually didn't need two crowns.  While one was still needed, the other was actually in pretty good shape and could just be refilled with porcelain.
It is my opinion that dentists tend to be "upsellers" when it comes to treatment.  I always expect to leave the office with a "recommendation" for something that needs to be done that costs a lot of money.  So leaving the office having had LESS treatment than was originally estimated is unheard of. Quite a pleasant surprise actually.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

It Rained Today!

It rained for about 11 seconds 4 hours this morning.  This video was released as well today, and it's pretty funny.
And, just like that, the rain was over.  Always more anticipation than actual rain.  I will admit, I'm not quite as blasé about earthquakes, but I also don't usually feel them.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hard to Open

In my quest for water efficiency, a new shower head is a must.  All of the models have various settings, but not all of them have a "pause" setting.  That's needed to reduce the water coming out of the head when the water doesn't need to be running, like while shampooing.  This weekend, I have installed my THIRD such shower head.  The first one, about two months ago, sprang a leak in the hose within two weeks after installing.  I got about two months out of the second one before the button that paused the water stopped working.  Here's hoping the third time IS a charm.
When shopping for the new fixtures. There are two options - inexpensive plastic painted to look like metal and easy to install or very expensive metal and difficult to install.  Since I'm not really in the position for the expensive/hard to install models, I have opted for the former.  I think I've always had that level of shower head in my bathrooms, and they've always lasted quite some time.
The three fixtures purchased were each a different brand, but they all had one thing in common...they were all packed in that thick plastic, hard-to-open blister packaging.
Man, I hate that stuff!  I think it is quite possible to cut off an arm with the packing itself, not to mention a few fingers or a hand using the scissors.  It was easier to install the fixture than it was to get it out of the package.  Which begs the question, in the year 2015 when I can essentially run my life using my iPhone, why hasn't this packaging become easier to open?!?!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Laboring on Labor Day

My washer and dryer have been on their last leg for quite some time.  I bought them from the previous owners of my house - they didn't have to take them, I didn't have to buy new ones.  The machines were old, I'd had them myself for ten years.  A couple of years ago, the washer started leaking onto the garage floor.  The repairman said everything looked fine, but it might have been a balance thing.  I kept using it, watching to keep things spread around.  But I realized that when using a the small or medium load setting, there was no leaking.  It was only when the super-size load was chosen that it leaked.  So I managed - there aren't many super-sized loads in this house.  Then the dryer started acting up.  The drum began "eating" anything that dangled - I have about 6 pairs of drawstring workout pants that no longer have a drawstring - and there were what seemed to be hotspots which would leave a burn mark on certain colors and fabrics.   Again, I managed by hanging most things to dry, turning things inside out or tying dangly things down.  I REALLY didn't want to have to buy a new set.
I read an article this summer that said this time of year is the best to buy certain appliances and with the Labor Day sales announced this past week, I started to do some research.  The amount of water saved with a new high efficiency washer makes the cost of the machine just about paid for over time.  And the more I researched, the thought of having appliances that don't leak or burn clothes was pretty appealing.
So this weekend, I broke down and bought these bad boys at Lowes.  They were delivered yesterday evening.
They're too pretty to be stuck in the garage.  And now I'm almost giddy when I'm doing laundry.  I'm almost sure the old ones were older than my last car, probably 15 years old, so I'm having the same reaction to the newness of them as I did with my new car.  There are so many bells and whistles, and they literally look like something out of the Jetsons.  I've done 5-6 loads of laundry thus far, and they work like a charm.  There is a see-through opening on the door of the washer where all of a wash cycle can be viewed.  The high efficiency machines work so differently than the old ones.  They are fascinating and seem like there's no way they are cleaning anything.  But so far, everything has come out fresh and clean and almost dry.  I look forward to seeing the change in my water bill the next month.
The only drawback?  The drum inside the washer is enormous so it's very difficult for me to grab a lone sock or unmentionable sitting on the bottom without almost falling inside.  I may need to put a small stool nearby for such an occasion.  

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Teacher Talk

As I've touched on before, it's been a very busy and frustrating start of the school year.  Between several new-this-year programs we've had to implement without the needed materials and a school constantly under construction (which means things aren't working or are breaking or people are in the way and THE NOISE) my team and I are pretty much at our limit with things going wrong this year.  There is a sense of urgency in the classroom, and there always has been for teachers, but due to new standards and testing the urgency isn't just coming from within ourselves but many outside forces.  The frustrating part is that many of those we work with on a regular basis outside of the classroom don't have that same sense of urgency. Instead of our support systems catering to us and our needs in the classroom (ya know, the reason why we have school) the teachers and the kids are left to make it work when someone else drops the ball.  And dropping the ball seems to be the theme of this year's school year.  It's been challenging to say the least.
Yesterday, my grade level team and I walked across the street to grab a bite of lunch before starting our regular Friday afternoon meeting.  The frustrations of this new year came to a head and lunch simply turned into a bitch session.  We complained and lamented about everything.  It is hard to be around a lot of negativity so we try not to have bitch sessions very often, but venting was necessary.  And that we did.
After lunch, we cleaned up and headed back outside.  That was when we were stopped by a man who walked outside at the same time.  He said that he had been sitting across from us at lunch and couldn't help but overhear our conversation.  All four of us admitted later that we were worried he was going to tell us to we were a little too tightly wound and needed to take it down a notch and stop complaining.  But he didn't.  He said he appreciated hearing our compassion and concern for the kids and wanted to thank us.  We all breathed a collective sigh of relief that he wasn't there to reprimand us and expressed our appreciation.
And we were appreciative.  There seem to be ebbs and flows with teacher bashing, and with the 2016 presidential election approaching (ugh!) the rhetoric about how greedy and awful teachers are has been flowing.  After feeling unsupported by those who are supposed to support us early in the new year, this man's words were so meaningful.
This has been making the rounds among the teacher set.